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What is NOT going to happen in Couples Therapy

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What is NOT going to happen in Couples Therapy

California is beautiful in the winter. Sunny deep blue skies, fluffy bright white clouds and a fresh breeze were compelling arguments for a walk on the beach. Nevertheless, I sat down to write this quick blog. In my mind I replayed this morning’s conversation with a prospective client.

He found me online, searching for a couples therapist in the Los Angeles area for him and his boyfriend. I clarified that since May of 2020 my couples therapy practice has moved completely to the cyber-space. I verified that both of them live in California and offered him and his partner online couples therapy services.

He proceeded to explain the reasons he decided to seek help: “We argue all the time. Disagreements become fights, we both get angry, hurt, defensive, and nothing ever gets resolved. We just need someone objective, a professional, a couples therapist, who can tell us who is right and give us advise on what to do. I don’t know if I should stay. I need to know if this relationship is for me…”

I have heard a permutation of these words so many times before. I spend next few minutes clarifying what to expect in the process of couples therapy, what are the things that can happen during this process and what are the things that lay outside of therapeutic intervention. After we scheduled our first session I realized that there are several common misconceptions about therapy that would be important to debunk. So here are few things that will (almost) never happen in couples therapy:

1. Adjudication: Deciding on “who is right” is a dead end both, in our relationship, and in couples therapy. In vast majority of cases both  partners make sense, given their vantage point, their beliefs, experiences and their “lenses of perception.” In other words, we usually make sense to ourselves, hence, we tend to believe we are right – both of us. Each party can present arguments in their favor, and trust me when I say that they have done so numerous times, hoping that their partner will finally see the light and agree that they are indeed right! Unfortunately, it rarely happens.

Mediation is a powerful alternative. Instead of deciding who is right, we can work toward increased understanding of each others experience and needs in the relationship. We can strengthen our ability to step into our partner’s shoes and look at the world through their eyes. Understanding and empathy are powerful catalysts for increased sense of connection and closeness, which is one of the common goals of couples therapy.

2. Advocacy: Couples often start therapy hoping that the therapist will align with them against their partner and help them prove they are right, they are the victim, their behavior is justified, etc. Unfortunately, if therapist aligns with one of the partners, couples therapy will collapse upon itself. Not only will it immediately break rapport with the partner against whom this coalition was formed, but also it will reinforce the pattern of attack-defense-counterattack, which is a therapeutic dead-end.

Instead, therapist will work toward insight into how each partner contributes to current situation. Often our habitual relational behaviors sustain the reason we sought relationship help. Changing these behaviors and roles will dramatically change the way our relationship unfolds.

3. Making decisions: We tend to strive toward clarity and definitive answers. Often clients will ask me directly whether they should stay in this relationship and work on making it better or leave and try again with a different partner. I believe this is not therapist’s decision to make. Deciding for a client what is good for them would not serve to empower them. It violates the principles of self-determination, personal choice and inner growth, which are the bedrock of couples process.

Instead, we can work toward greater understanding of our own relationship needs and whether they can be met in this union.

Our love relationship can be a wonderful source of wellbeing. It is also a powerful teacher, forcing us to grow. The destination of shared bliss usually comes with a few obstacles on the way and couples therapy is a powerful process to guide us along the way toward the wellbeing we all very much deserve.

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