Most couples therapists work in a systemic way, meaning that they see your relationship as a dynamic communication system. This gives the therapist some useful tools that can hep you understand how your problems have come about and how you can begin to address and resolve them. The communication between you, such as the quality, tone and content of how you speak to one another, is a direct indicator of the success and happiness of your relationship. You will be offered support and coaching to practise effective communication and talk about difficult subjects. You will also be shown how to hold a more understanding and accepting attitude to your partner’s mis-communications.
The key is learning to communicate your needs effectively, and learning to respond to your partner in a way that makes you both feel better. Are you both able to ask for what you need and look after one another’s wellbeing equally?
You may be asked to focus on your communication, first by removing all destructive and negative forms of communication and protest, even when you feel they are justified. These include, for example, blaming, criticism, nagging, complaining, point scoring, being attacking, being accusatory, bringing up the past, withdrawing, sulking, threatening to leave, not answering calls or making calls obsessively, picking fights, expecting your partner to know what you need without your needing to ask, dismissing what the other person has said, not listening accurately, and raising an important topic at the wrong time – for example when one of you has just arrived home, is about to leave, or is trying to go to sleep. Then you will learn to replace these with more skilful forms of communication.
ALL your communications with one another need to be kind, respectful, patient, warm and attentive to your mutual needs. If this sounds difficult or impossible, in couples therapy you can work to change and transform all the emotional and contextual issues that have got in the way.
These forms of mis-communication and protest behaviour are often a very indirect request for love and attention. You can learn to replace them with simple statements and requests, where you ask directly for what you need, using specific, “I feel” statements – given in a kind and respectful way. Focus on what you want rather than on what is wrong, and be clear, confident and assertive in asking for what you need from your partner, while at the same time you consider equally their own needs and sensitivities. When there are conflicts and you cannot agree on something important, there are ways you can have a fair and equal discussion rather than a row where one person wins and you both feel incredibly stressed and upset.
You will also need to focus more directly on building the strength and health in your relationship. Many couples I have worked with were initially surprised at the idea that in order to look after a relationship you need quality time together where you are focusing mainly on one another and not on a screen or an activity, or endless tasks and responsibilities. You need to co-create space together in which to experience harmony and connection, or simply enjoy being together. Sometimes couples feel it will be awkward to sit and look at each other and listen to one another, or just go for a walk where you focus on your conversation – but this is exactly what couples do at the beginning of a relationship when it feels fun and exciting and they are making every effort to connect! Each person in a healthy couple understands that nurturing and caring for their partner is the key to a happy relationship. If you are both equally focused on the wellbeing of the other, then the relationship has space to grow.
Most relationships go through times of struggle, especially around times of loss, change and transition, or in response to massive challenges that you face. In addition, couple relationships go through developmental phases, throughout your life cycle, where you need to keep re-negotiating your mutual needs for closeness and independence, and often one partner is slower to adjust to change or will experience some of the developmental stages as more threatening or challenging.
Learn more about Couples Therapy below