When couples come to me for help, they often start talking about a particular argument or issue they may be having at the time. However, therapy is not about solving whatever the current hot topic may be. Therapy is about getting to the roots—your core values, your world view, your baggage, your communication style. When we address these issues, we can usually reconstruct the relationship in a healthy way, so that the “hot topics” that seemed so formidable when you walked into my office have now shrunk to a manageable size.
This does not mean that creating and maintaining a healthy, happy relationship will suddenly be easy! Anything good takes work. You don’t expect to run a marathon when you first start running. You must learn certain principles then practice, practice, practice. If you stop practicing, your running skills will deteriorate.
If this is true for physical exercise, why would it to be any less true for the relationship with the most important person in your life?
So be ready to work. But the rewards will be worth it. You will come to know yourself better, you will come to know and appreciate your spouse better, and you will learn better communication skills. When these three core lessons are learned, everything else falls into place.
Don’t come to therapy thinking your partner needs to do all the changing, though. If I can get away with another analogy, imagine paddling a canoe. Each of you paddles on opposite sides, but if you don’t both pull the same weight, you’ll go around in circles. So it is with therapy.
Both of you need to be prepared to open up. Our experiences in life have shaped us, and often times, those experiences cause us to have trouble trusting, expressing ourselves in a healthy manner, or even feeling lovable. Sometimes it’s possible to pinpoint some behavior by your spouse that has damaged your trust in them, but sometimes the real culprits are past relationships that you or your spouse may be carrying over into your current relationship. By deeply examining your motivations and your past, you can both come to a better understanding of where you are coming from and where you both want to go.
This understanding improves your bond because you now see each other more clearly and can understand better why certain “hot buttons” trigger certain reactions. You can now work to create a system of communication that affirms each other and respects each other’s sensitivities.
There are many aspects that we address in therapy regarding improved communication. Communication is very complex, involving not only choice of words, but also tone and body language, and it changes depending on the situation. Listening is also part of communication; it is the other half of talking, and is perhaps even more important. But most of us listen to respond rather than listen to understand. Communication usually needs to be relearned when couples are having problems. The goal is to learn how to communicate in a way that assures each partner that he or she is loved and valued.
With couples therapy, you will grow to understand yourself and why you react the way you do. You will understand the same about your partner, and you will learn listening and communicating skills that will help you appreciate your partner more, affirm your love, and work towards a happy, healthy relationship.