The decision to begin couples therapy can be challenging. One or both partners may feel apprehension about the decision to delve into the areas of their relationship which have been either ‘no go’ zones because of the difficult feelings that arise during conflict, or ‘danger’ zones because of the fighting that ensues and the hurt that lingers after a fight. Why would anyone sign up to pay for 80 minutes of that dynamic?
Some individuals may worry that they will be identified as ‘the problem’ by the therapist. While others may worry that the therapist will not see that it is really mostly their partner’s fault. In my practice, some couples have candidly expressed their concern that I may deliver a judgement on the relationship, that I may deem it either salvageable, or not. The vulnerability of inviting a third party into the most important relationship of your adult life can be very frightening.
One of the most revelatory concepts of recent couples work is that negative emotions are where the most growth can occur. In other words, willingness to engage in a conflict conversation with your partner and to share with them your fears, frustrations and disappointments in a safe way, can lead to a stronger bond. Dr. John Gottman developed the “Dream Within the Conflict” conversation for just this reason. What is it that your partner believes, hopes for and needs? Is there something from their past that is fueling their strong emotions? Once partners are able to get at the dream, the need and belief system imbedded in the conflict, they are able to understand their partner and grow empathy, compassion and grace. Difficult emotions are not to be avoided and feared, in fact they can bond couples closer together, giving a sense of safety, security and love.
An attuned therapist will work with a couples’ strengths in order to grow the areas in their relationship that are gridlocked, stuck, conflict ridden, lonely or all of the above. Choosing a therapist that both you and your partner feel good about is an important element to the process. Chris Paredes, MA., LMHCA puts it this way, “People say that marriage is ‘work’, but really it is about being intentional.” Great healing and transformation can come from the intentional communication and emotional connection that couples learn with their partner in counseling.