As a Psychotherapist in private practice, I see many couples and families and hear a lot about relationship issues. While relationships are as diverse as people, there are some similarities when it comes to relationship well-being.
We yearn to feel safe and satisfied in our relationship
Research in relationship health is based on ideas about how we learn to feel safe and satisfied being vulnerable and interdependent, based on theories of early learning about attachment.
There is also a lot of science on effective communication and problem solving, and how they impact relationship satisfaction. Equally important, is self-awareness and an individual’s ability to cope with and regulate emotion and behavior because that too impacts relationships. These factors can be addressed in therapy.
Deal with relationship challenges with professional help
While not everyone is always open to reaching out to a professional to help deal with relationship challenges, most are ready to seek help for relationship wounds. Yet a therapy can be a way of being proactive in preventing relationship break down. People in relationships developed patterned responses to each other that are very resistant to change because they become automatic, and hard to detect or redirect.
A therapist can help people become aware of blind spots, understand what is behind reactions, and allow people a chance to change the patterns. Therapy can help to offer new ways to see each other and communicate towards better problem solving and mutual satisfaction.
Challenge of relationship therapy
A therapist often knows what is needed and just needs to be effective at knowing how to help clients see it, and facilitating their learning. Here we come to the challenge of relationship therapy. As mentioned, sometimes people come in when they are ready to break up or leave.
Readiness for change, however, takes some awareness, courage, motivation, and openness. This can be a challenge for therapy as a therapist can only progress things as much as the least motivated person wants them to progress. If someone has one foot out the door, that’s a huge hurdle. Again, being proactive and motivated is essential.
Clients are often highly motivated to reduce their personal suffering in a relationship, and they look towards relationship therapy to hear their complaints and relieve their pain. This can also be a challenge, as there are usually different views and different needs to be met in the room. The therapist must ensure all parties feel heard and respected in order to create trust and help people open up and move forward. Sometimes this need to just be heard on how an individual feels wounded by another person’s behavior can actually interfere with creating a trusting relationship between the couple and the therapist if it continues too long or is not balanced. Here we come to the golden nugget.
A therapist can facilitate a satisfying relationship for you
A therapist’s role in helping a couple is helping the relationship. The goals of therapy need to be collaborated and agreed on. All parties involved should at some point, have a sense of what they want out of therapy and what they want from the therapist. Not all therapists would agree with this, but it has been my experience that the more clarity people have about what they want to gain from therapy, and the more clear everyone is on the role of the therapist, the more effective the outcome of therapy will be. People often come in when they are almost out of hope. They need to be heard and feel understood. They need to learn to more effectively hold a safe space for each other’s feelings and to empathize.
However, this is necessary but not usually sufficient for change to happen. The more a couple can begin to think about what they want from each other and from therapy, the more the therapist can help them make the changes they need to make to have a more satisfying relationship.
If you are feeling wounded and running out of hope for the health of your relationship, but there is still some ability to communicate, it can be really helpful for a couple to be ready for therapy by discussing what their common goals might be. If this isn’t possible, then the right therapist can help facilitate a respectful conversation where these goals can grow. Open up to change!