A quick note about this, triggered by a recent research note I read.
Couples work is somewhat different from individual psychotherapy. Mainly, the therapist does not climb into the individual experience of a person with the same persistence and intensity. Instead the therapist will focus more on the communication between you and your partner. He will try to bring into awareness the layers and meanings of what goes on between you and through that you’ll find out what’s going on inside each of you – through exploring what it is you’re doing to each other.
The goal of couples therapy is to improve or restore the communication. A relationship is only as strong as the communication between the partners. All else is secondary. That can’t be stated too strongly: If there’s no communication – if you’re not talking – there’s no relationship. There may be an arrangement, cohabitation, even a smooth running machine. But there’s nothing that grows and in which you’ll grow. It’s like – at best – having a really good roommate: Maybe no bumps, but no reason in particular to hang around either. And given what we really want from each other this kind of arrangement always sours. When he moved to an assisted living facility and made a new batch of friends, a friend told me recently, he was shocked to discover how many people spoke of being in loveless, even silent marriages for decades. None of them were happy in them. All of them were at least regretful, some quite bitter.
But the road to a real relationship, something you look forward to as opposed to putting up with, is exactly the same as in individual psychotherapy: Increased awareness yielding changes in feelings and behavior within the relationship. Furthermore, as with individual psychotherapy, the work should have a logic and excitement to it; it should be more than someone telling you how to manage your relationship. And if there is no movement in 10 or 15 sessions, if you and your companion are still bickering in the same useless way or whatever has been your pattern, talk about this with the therapist and consider a change in therapist or in the type of psychotherapy.
Now here’s the research that triggered this posting. Turns out people wait, on average, six years from the first sign of trouble before they seek any help. And that’s been my experience as well. How I wish someone would call and say the marriage was fine for 10 years, the past 2 have been a problem. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that the numbers are usually reversed, or worse. Two couples I saw in recent years came in with 13 years together, of which only the first two – if that – worked.
So to quote what physicians have been moaning since the breed was invented, “Why do you all wait so long to see me?!” By the time many couples come in, they have built up so many years of dissatisfaction, resentment, disgust, and eventually loathing, that it becomes a Herculean task for them just to sit in the same room together.
If you and your partner have quirks, little bumps in your interactions that eat at you and don’t seem to resolve in your respective minds and hearts, don’t keep shrugging them off! Don’t wait until one of you is ready to walk out. Go and sort it out with an someone specializing in human feelings and communication, which is a good definition of a psychologist.