Couples Problems and Therapy
As human beings we have a tendency to stay stuck in patterns- We are creatures of routines. A pattern doesn't have to be enjoyable for us to repeat it, just familiar. It is what we naturally do without intervention. Some of our patterns are positive (our waking up routine, putting on a seat belt). Some are problematic. They are frequently “below our radar”; we don't recognize when they occur, we just notice afterwards that they don't work.
In relationships each of us comes with models from our families of how relationships should be. It is not a conscious choice, nor blaming our parents (they had parents too). It is noticing how I might do some of the things dad did, both positive and negative. Over time we create our own model- often a mixture from both families. Sometimes problems begin to occur.
Conflict is normal in relationships. When it is excessive, violent, or often does not lead to resolving an issue, then there is a problem that needs to be addressed. Below are some of the mistakes couples make that keep them “stuck”.
1. Going with the flow- Sometimes in disagreements we become sidetracked from the original disagreement into other things that bother us. When that happens multiple issues get voiced, frustration increases, and little, if anything, gets resolved. We need to remain focused on the disagreement at hand, even if we need to write down other topics for future discussions.
2. I know what he/she thinks- After living with someone we feel we know them enough to anticipate how they would react or think. We may be right, or we may be wrong. We would not feel comfortable with someone answering for us, we need to do the same. We can ask if they think or feel that way, but need to respect their boundaries.
3. Getting stuck in history/Ignoring history- The value of looking back is in examining what happened and using that information to make a decision and/or make changes. Sometimes we get stuck in the past. We argue, someone brings up something from the past and, again, we “go with the flow” arguing about what happened or bringing up other past issues, not resolving anything. If we wish to move on, let's recognize that we were hurt, discuss solutions and hold each other accountable to change. Stay focused on what needs to occur today and now.
4. If it were me- Each of us is different; different biological families, different histories, different genders, different cultures, different thoughts, different values, different priorities-we are not the same. Though we may be similar in some ways, we are different in others.
5. We're different people- While we can sometimes use our reactions to predict how they might react in a different situation it can often be incorrect (see #2 above). It is best to ask.
6. Responding without listening- Sometimes in our haste to respond we don't listen to what other's say. Many times I have to point out to couples that they are actually saying the same thing a different way! We need to take turns and listen to each other.
If we keep repeating patterns despite our attempts, continue to have conflict or when problems in the relationship are causing significant stress help is needed.
Couples therapy by a trained therapist is invaluable. Many insurance companies keep lists of therapists providing couples therapy in addition to other specialties. The therapist should have considerable training and experience. - We recommend a Masters or Doctoral degree in Social Work or Psychology in addition to years of practice. They should be able to answer your questions about their experience and style.
Couples therapy is not arguing with a therapist there as a referee. It is about noticing patterns, eliminating problem behaviors, finding mutually acceptable solutions and initiating them. Breaking patterns takes time and practice. Awareness of our mistakes come first, then we continue to make progress. Our goal should be to continue to grow, one day at a time.