When couples therapy gets stuck there are some common reasons why. Here are the top four.
- “He/She needs to change!” When partners come in for couple therapy it is a given that they want change in the relationship- the status quo is not cutting it! And what this usually boils down to is that they want their partner’s behavior to be different….and they want to stay the same. For example, he wants his wife to have more sex with him, and is unwilling to do anything different to have more emotional intimacy. Or she wants him to be less irritable but does not want to consider having their child not sleep with them every night.
- Not acknowledging your contribution to the issues is a related obstacle. Often therapy feels like a courtroom with each side arguing their point of view and hoping to convince the other that they are right – and also hope that the therapist sees things their way. Until the finger pointed at the other can reverse and take responsibility for their part, no progress can be made. Communication skills such as listening to develop empathy for the other’s point of view are key.
- Keeping secrets. Some partners start couples therapy with secrets — such as an affair or addiction — and they protect these secrets, Clients who continue to keep secrets from their spouse while engaging in couple therapy are fooling themselves and their loved ones, and creating an unreal environment where no effective change can be made. Not only do secrets injure trust but they maintain a false image of self and reality. Therapy can assist with the process of ‘getting real’ and it can be a real opportunity for personal growth as well as relationship change to come clean.
- Giving up on therapy too soon. Couples therapy is challenging to keep up because it involves coordinating three people’s schedule. Making a commitment to a certain number of sessions and being accountable promotes a team mentality. It’s also important for me to check in and see how things are going and make adjustments if necessary. Be honest with your therapist about how you’re feeling about therapy and if it’s negative that’s ok. I don’t like to work harder than my clients do – and being upfront about expectations promotes a more collaborative and effective therapy experience.