cou­ples ther­apy: what to ex­pect We get the low-down from the ex­perts

Have you con­sid­ered see­ing a re­la­tion­ship ther­a­pist, but are ner­vous about what to ex­pect? Lar­raine Sathicq gets the low-down from the ex­perts

Essentials (South Africa) - - CONTENTS -

The idea of sign­ing up for re­la­tion­ship coun­selling can be un­der­stand­ably daunt­ing. Shar­ing the in­ti­mate de­tails of your per­sonal life with a rel­a­tive stranger, and re­vis­it­ing is­sues you may have dis­cussed a mil­lion times in pri­vate might feel like pick­ing at a slow-heal­ing scab. But peo­ple who en­list pro­fes­sional help to mend a dam­aged re­la­tion­ship or find new ways to deal with con­flict can learn valu­able lessons and tech­niques to move for­ward as a cou­ple. Time with a ther­a­pist might just res­cue your re­la­tion­ship. Three ex­perts ex­plain what you can learn from cou­ples ther­apy.

A good ther­a­pist doesn’t take sides

You might be the one who in­sisted on go­ing to cou­ples ther­apy and booked the ap­point­ment, but even if your part­ner’s be­hav­iour is up­set­ting to you, a good ther­a­pist will want to hear both sides of the story. Re­la­tion­ship ex­perts are neu­tral and even-handed and the end game is not about chang­ing your part­ner to suit your ideal. Be­cause most re­la­tion­ship crises are caused by poor com­mu­ni­ca­tion, ther­apy pro­vides a safe place for both of you to be heard with­out fear of judg­ment.

And ev­ery­thing is up for dis­cus­sion. You will also learn how to lis­ten to each other in a ma­ture way, with­out tak­ing ev­ery­thing per­son­ally. Your ther­a­pist is not there to me­di­ate about the last fight you had, but rather to help you set goals for the fu­ture of your re­la­tion­ship through ne­go­ti­a­tion (or rene­go­ti­a­tion), ef­fec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and love. Philipa Thorn­ton, psy­chol­o­gist and mar­riage coun­sel­lor

It re­ally isn’t just about you and him

There are three needs in the room at any cou­ples coun­selling ses­sion – your needs, his needs, and the sep­a­rate needs of the re­la­tion­ship. For ex­am­ple, you may need

more sup­port with par­ent­ing, he may need time out to pur­sue his hob­bies, and your re­la­tion­ship may need both of you to put ex­tra time and ef­fort into re­ally be­ing alone to­gether on a more reg­u­lar ba­sis. Cou­ples ther­apy can teach you how to bal­ance the needs of each in­di­vid­ual with the needs of the re­la­tion­ship. He­len Poyn­ten, fam­ily re­la­tion­ships ex­pert

De­struc­tive pat­terns are the real enemy

You go on the at­tack, he with­draws and stops lis­ten­ing, and even­tu­ally you both stop talk­ing to each other for days. Most peo­ple get that re­la­tion­ship prob­lems are a two-sided af­fair, but of­ten turn up to ther­apy with a fixed idea in their own minds of who is re­ally to blame. If ev­ery ac­tion de­mands a re­ac­tion and you both find your­selves re­peat­ing the same hurt­ful words and be­hav­iours over and over, it might be time to have a re­think. Cou­ples are al­ways sur­prised at the num­ber of prob­lems that can be solved by sim­ply recog­nis­ing and stop­ping the cy­cle of neg­a­tive feed­back that keeps you in con­flict. Margie Ul­brick, cou­ples psy­chother­a­pist

Nei­ther of you is a mind reader

Some­times you have to clar­ify all of your ex­pec­ta­tions and re­ally lis­ten to your part­ner.

It’s easy to as­sume that he un­der­stands your def­i­ni­tion of things like in­ti­macy and monogamy. He might see in­ti­macy as purely sex­ual and monogamy as just not cheat­ing on you, but think it’s en­tirely rea­son­able to sug­gest a three­some as long as he’s not hav­ing an af­fair. In­ti­macy for you might in­volve dis­plays of af­fec­tion and monogamy might mean never be­ing in­ter­ested in any­one else.

Cou­ples ther­apy pro­vides a safe, non-judge­men­tal space for clar­i­fy­ing each per­son’s po­si­tion and find­ing a way to ne­go­ti­ate a shared net of ex­pec­ta­tions with­out dis­hon­our­ing those of ei­ther per­son. He­len Poyn­ten

The kids will likely ben­e­fit just from you at­tend­ing

Tak­ing steps to­wards re­la­tion­ship re­pair can im­prove your kids’ men­tal health, no mat­ter what their age. Cou­ples are of­ten sur­prised to learn how much im­pact their re­la­tion­ship is­sues have on the moods and be­hav­iours of their chil­dren, even the ones they think are too young to know what’s go­ing on. On­go­ing re­la­tion­ship is­sues can cause a gen­er­a­tional pat­tern that cre­ates prob­lems long af­ter the kids leave home. Your de­ci­sion to have cou­ples ther­apy can do more than just fix your mar­riage

– it could also im­prove how your chil­dren re­late to oth­ers and boost their chances of hav­ing their own lov­ing and happy re­la­tion­ships in the fu­ture. Margie Ul­brick

Yes, you can sur­vive an af­fair... to­gether

You may have al­ways told your­self that cheat­ing is a deal-breaker, but many cou­ples have man­aged to put their re­la­tion­ship back to­gether af­ter an af­fair. A ther­a­pist can help you deal with the ini­tial hurt and trauma of in­fi­delity, as well as the on­go­ing anx­i­ety and hy­per-vig­i­lance that can fol­low. Ther­apy can also help you both set firm guide­lines that work to sup­port this form of re­la­tion­ship trauma. This will help you both gain in­tegrity while trust is be­ing re-es­tab­lished. The process will con­nect you to what heals and what hurts, leav­ing you room to do more of the re­cov­ery with be­hav­iours that help. You will ini­tially need to look in the rear-view mir­ror to have an hon­est dis­cus­sion about why the cri­sis hap­pened in the first place. Although it might seem dif­fi­cult or even com­pletely im­pos­si­ble at first, cou­ples who are com­mit­ted to work­ing through th­ese stages, turn­ing to­ward each other and their fam­ily, can find a way to stay to­gether, even af­ter a ma­jor be­trayal. Philipa Thorn­ton

Ther­apy can teach you how to bal­ance the needs of each in­di­vid­ual with the needs of the re­la­tion­ship

You can fall in love again

Ther­apy can show you how to see each other through fresh eyes. When you be­come more aware that each of you is a per­son as well as a hus­band, wife, fa­ther or mother, you’ll also im­prove your abil­ity to speak kindly, lis­ten fairly, and to un­der­stand each other. Even cou­ples who are long past the ‘honey­moon pe­riod’ and be­lieve they will never get back those en­am­oured feel­ings they had when they first met are re­ally sur­prised at the en­ergy and ex­cite­ment that re­turns when they see each other in a dif­fer­ent light and change how they re­late to their part­ners as hu­man be­ings. Margie Ul­brick

It doesn’t al­ways work out the way you wanted

There are no guar­an­tees that cou­ples ther­apy will fix your re­la­tion­ship and put ev­ery­thing back to how it was in ear­lier days. But even if you do de­cide to part ways, you’ll have learnt enough about your­self to fast-track your own heal­ing and over­come the stress, pain and the re­sent­ment that of­ten comes with a break-up. This is es­pe­cially im­por­tant if you have chil­dren be­cause you will likely still be in each other’s lives long af­ter you move on. Ther­apy can strengthen and en­hance your re­la­tion­ship as co-par­ents and help set you free to even­tu­ally find love again with some­one else.

Philipa Thorn­ton

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