Sunday, August 8, 2010

Together or Separate: Why I See Couples Together for Marriage Counseling

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Many marriage counselors tell the couple that comes to them with marital problems that they each have issues that must be addressed individually in order for their relationship to improve. What does this mean?

It may mean that one partner’s mood or personality is judged to be so disturbed that marriage counseling is unlikely to be an effective strategy for change. Or it may simply mean that the therapist is more comfortable doing individual therapy than working with couples. I typically see couples together. Why?

After doing marriage counseling for more than 30 years, I believe that most couples seeking help for their marriage are bringing in a broken relationship, not two broken individuals. The broken relationship is reflected in how the couple relate to each other. Initially, I focus on how the couple interacts, not why they interact as they do.

Most couples will point to their partner’s faults during our initial sessions in the mistaken notion that I will be able to change their partner. They quickly learn that a blaming stance only creates a defensive posture from their partner. Only when couples examine their contribution to their relationship difficulties are they able to begin to rebuild a new, more intimate relationship.

Think for a moment, where did you learn to negotiate an intimate relationship? You probably had the same training for this important task that you did for parenting and a sexual relationship. You were expected to pick it up naturally without any direct instruction. You learned by observation of those close to you, yet those lessons are often a lesson in how not to behave, not how to attract your partner to cooperate in building the closeness that you each desire.

When couples learn that an intimate relationship can be built through changing their interaction, their defensive posture slowly fades while they take small steps to reach out to one another. But old patterns die slowly and couples often neglect to maintain changes in how they relate to each other, especially when under stress.

Take a minute to consider one thing you could do differently to change how you and your partner interact. Apply this today and see how it affects your interaction with your partner. You’ll be surprised how small changes can produce big results!

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