Frequently our patients call our office with concerns about their own individual problems, which also have an impact on their relationship with their partner. The therapist is faced with the decision, which may not be made immediately, whether the best therapeutic approach would be to focus on the individual’s personal issues or to treat the couple as a whole. It is not uncommon, when couples appear to be in extreme and acute conflict, to begin working with each individual member of the couple until a greater degree of emotional stability with each person is obtained. Couples therapy may be started when each individual has a sufficient degree of stability.
Types of Therapeutic Approaches in Couple’s Therapy
There are different schools of thought that lead to different types of therapeutic approaches in couple’s therapy. Couples therapy can be conducted with a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Model (CBT) or on a more psychodynamic level. The therapist will help each of the individuals become more aware of how their past history, as well as the history of their prior relationships, impacts the relationship with their current spouse. Despite differences in theoretical approaches, strategies and techniques often overlap.
Couples that have conflict typically have problems in communication. Such common problems are mind reading (knowing what your spouse is going to say before they say it); limited capacity for empathy or compassion for your spouse, often because of feelings of anger or unfairness, and tendencies to bring past transgressions to solve a current conflict. Challenges to be sufficiently patient to understand and integrate your spouse’s point of view reflect severe conflict. When there is severe marital conflict, there is a lack of interest and a tendency to negate or devalue anything that your spouse may say.
There is a didactic quality in couples therapy in which each individual is taught communication skills and helped to increase their ability to listen. This will aid in one’s capacity to empathize with the messages given from your spouse.
Couples in conflict usually are not able to satisfy the other. They may feel so cheated and hurt by their spouse that they have no interest in satisfying their spouse’s needs. They may have lost the ability to understand their spouse to such a degree that they are not able to interpret or care about the needs of their partner. Often, therapeutic approaches start with suggestions and strategies that are focused on increasing the amount of pleasure one spouse can give the other. More constructive and healthier messages between participants become reinforced.
Couples therapists differ in their allowing participants to have an individual session with the couples therapist. Often the individual may feel not ready or too uncomfortable to disclose matters that need to be talked about. If the therapist permits an individual session, the dilemma is that the therapist has now learned a “secret” that the other spouse does not know. This often requires the individual to talk about the secret at some point when they are able,. Therapists often avoid individual sessions just for this reason.
Couples therapy is often useful to help a couple decide whether they want to continue their marriage. A couples therapist can be beneficial during phases of separation and divorce to help give each person a clarity and to help promote a sense of fairness during the stressful time of a separation and divorce.
Please contact us for more information on couples counseling.