The most important relationship…
Our most intimate relationship can be a double-edged sword – bringing us happiness and joy at its best or pain and disappointment at its worst.
The relationship between two people in love is one of the hardest to keep healthy and whole. It’s complicated by many factors – family life when growing up, expectations and dreams, different ways of interacting, different ways of expressing love, different personalities, differing values – not to mention the demands of daily life and parenting.
No relationship is without its difficulties!
Difficult, yes. But this, no.
Communication is at an all-time low – except perhaps for logistics coordination. There isn’t much sex, if any. There are no intimate moments. Disappointment and anger fill the days. You wonder if this relationship is worth it.
Divorce seems like the best answer – but what about the children? The stress level is high. You love your partner or at least you did at the beginning, but now you feel lonely and insecure about the future of the relationship. But deep down, you think there must be something more.
Why is it so hard?
It’s hard to untangle intimate relationships because certain patterns prevail and get stuck – but you can’t really see them clearly. All you know is that things aren’t working.
Here’s a typical pattern: One partner is feeling left out and dismissed. She works hard at trying to get her partner to pay attention and “see” the problem. Her partner feels attacked and withdraws to protect himself from undue harsh criticism. The focus quickly becomes who is to blame and who needs to change.
The finger usually points to the other person! This pattern leads to increased frustration, heightened distance and more arguing.
The truth is that usually neither person is at fault. It’s the unique pattern that causes the spiraling down and thus – the disconnect.
There is hope!
Couples therapy is a way to sort through the patterns and find new ways of relating that foster intimate connection.
The first step is to de-escalate the prevailing conflict. Next, we identify the patterns that aren’t working and what is motivating each person’s actions. From there we create new patterns that enhance intimacy and communication.
Most of my couples become aware very quickly of the meanings they attach to their partner’s behavior – usually meanings that are not really the case. It’s a life-changing insight.
One of the most meaningful experiences for couples is to learn their partner’s vulnerabilities that have been hidden. Opening the door to sharing these soft spots serves to build intimacy in remarkable ways.
But what if my partner refuses therapy?
This happens sometimes. But a relationship can change when one partner comes to therapy. Work can be done with the motivated partner that will change the dynamics enough to positively impact the relationship. In time, the refusing partner may be encouraged and want to come to therapy.
Other intimate relationships…
Sometimes, it becomes important to involve other members of the family – children, siblings or parents. Family sessions are usually longer in length. I have also worked with other intimate duos such as siblings, grandparents or friends.