Over the past 15 years, I have been noticing a shift with many of the couples I see in my practice. When I began my career as a couples therapist, I had envisioned my role primarily as a mediator or referee for high conflict couples on the brink of divorce. I often work with couples who are facing serious issues like infidelity, addiction, and violence, but more and more I am seeing a different type of couple.
Rather than choosing therapy as a last resort, I am now seeing more couples who are basically in good relationships but feel that their relationships could be better. Couples who have not necessarily faced a crisis, but find that they may be lacking some of the tools to create the type of relationship that they had envisioned. Or they have found that the years of demanding jobs, children and busy lives have caused them to drift apart; couples who feel that they could communicate better with their partners, share greater intimacy, or find new ways of reconnecting with one another and rediscovering the things that drew them together in the first place.
Couple who really want to improve their relationship approach therapy the way that some people use personal trainers. They set aside time on a regular basis to focus on the health and well-being of their relationship. These couples use couples therapy as a way to enhance their relationship to keep it strong.
Here are 6 ways that couples therapy can enhance your relationship:
1. Making time for your relationship
Couples therapy provides a set time and place for couples to leave all of their outside concerns behind and really focus on one another and on their relationship. I have been amazed over the years at the number of couples who tell me that the time they spend together in therapy is so precious since it is the one, and sometimes only time in the week that they have a chance to really talk about the things that matter to them without interruptions.
2. Developing a greater understanding of your patterns
Couples therapists are specialized in relationships and relationship dynamics. Your therapist can help you to identify and understand some of the patterns in your own relationship that may be holding you back. Through asking the right questions and helping you become aware of your triggers and reactions, you and your partner can begin to discover new ways of relating to one another.
3. Developing a deeper understanding of yourselves
Our families of origin play an important role in teaching us about relationships, about how to deal with emotions, and about how to manage conflict. Our early years provide us with the emotional blueprints for our adult relationships. Couples therapy can provide a space for you and your partner to explore each of your unique histories and begin to examine how these experiences have shaped the adult you have become and the type of relationship you have formed. Through this process, you develop a deeper understanding of both yourself and of your partner which can foster a greater sense of closeness and connection.
4. Learning more about what makes relationships work
Couples therapists have access to research and knowledge about what makes relationships successful. For example, renown couples therapist and researcher, Dr. John Gottman, has found that for a relationship to be successful, the couple must maintain the magic ratio of 5:1 for positive vs negative interactions and that if, during conflict, one of the partners heart rates exceeds 100 beats per minute, they experience what he calls ‘emotional flooding’ and constructive resolution is not generally possible after this point. Your couples therapist can provide you with information and resources so that you can learn about what factors and habits have been proven to build solid relationships.
5. Practicing new skills
Couples therapy can provide you with a space to learn and practice new relationship-enhancing skills. Couples therapists have many tools at their disposal- readings, interventions, homework exercises, among many, that can help you to try something different. Your therapist is there to offer support and feedback and to guide you along the way as you and your partner practice new ways of relating to one another.
6. Learning to communicate differently
One of the most common complaints I see as a couples therapist is ‘communication’. This can mean a lot of different things to different people, but one common challenge that many couples share is that they don’t feel heard or understood by their partners. Learning to communicate effectively, and also to listen effectively is a skill that takes practice. Communicating in a way that allows you to be heard by your partner is an important part of managing conflict, resolving differences and maintaining a sense of connection over the years. Learning to listen in a way that allows your partner to feel heard and understood brings a greater sense of harmony and a willingness to open up and share. As you begin to open up, you can share your vulnerabilities and fears with your partner which will bring you closer as a couple and allow you to turn to your partner as a source of support.You can also begin to share your hopes, dreams and goals which can invigorate your relationship.With improved communication you are better equipped to handle any challenge that comes your way.
More and more, couples are using therapy as a way to enhance their relationships.Many of the couples I have worked with over the years have told me that they look forward to their sessions each week and are excited to learn new things about themselves and their partners.These couples have used the process to build stronger and more fulfilling relationships.
By: Rebecca Murray, M.A., CFT & Director of the Montreal Therapy Centre