Being a Counseling Client

Couples Counseling Stigma: Slowly Eroding As More Couples Seek Help

The dilemma of the couples counseling stigma is all-too familiar to professionals who work with couples. We’ll sometimes hear:

  • We feel like a failure that it’s come to this — that we need help with our marriage.
  • We didn’t know where to go for help — We were embarrassed to tell anyone we were struggling.
  • We put off going for years because we were intimidated by why might occur in therapy for our relationship.

In this post, we’ll discuss the stigma of seeking relationship counseling, marriage counseling fears that keep couples from coming for therapy and what couples can expect when they take the step to come for help.

Why Michelle Obama Shared Her Marriage Counseling Experiences

“That was jaw-dropping news,” one radio commentator said when discussing the former First Lady’s disclosure. That phrase, alone, reveals that the couples counseling stigma still exists. 

However, in interviews, Mrs. Obama has said why she revealed this personal information: “I know too many young couples who struggle and think somehow, there’s something wrong with them. I want them to know that Michelle and Barack Obama — who have a phenomenal marriage and who love each other — we work on our marriage, and we get help with our marriage when we need it.”

She notes that marriage counseling was “a turning point for me” and that “marriage counseling was one of those ways where we learned to talk about our differences.” “I want young people to know that marriage is work. Even the best marriages require work.”

Couples Counseling Stigma: Diminishing, but Still There

The stigma of going to counseling or therapy of any kind has long existed. Unfortunately, keeping the stigma “alive” are some outdated and even false beliefs.

These marriage counseling fears have included:

  • Counseling is associated with mental illness, and having any emotional problems has long been stigmatized in our culture. In fact, however, many people who seek counseling are looking to address very common concerns, including low self-esteem, grief and loss and, of course, help with a relationship. 
  • Seeking counseling has been associated with “weakness.” Some people believe we should be able to independently solve our problems. Americans, in particular, may feel that independence is an important personal strength. Part of the couples counseling stigma is that couples should be able to solve problems themselves.
  • Talking about problems is not a seen as a valid way of coping. Many believe that people should be able to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” rather than looking to professionals when they need help.
  • Therapy isn’t really “science.” It’s just talking. However, over the past few decades study after study has validated the role of counseling — whether for individuals or couples — as a scientifically based source of help for a range of problems and a valid resource to get through tough times.
  • “Our relationship has been hard for us to talk about ourselves — much less with a stranger.” It feels so vulnerable to open up about such highly personal issues. Professional relationship therapists recognize your marriage counseling fears, and we make every effort to go at your own unique pace.
  • “We have put this off for so long. We’re afraid we’re hopeless.” This is a fear we often hear; however, as mentioned above and discussed below, we use the most-researched and most-successful approach to helping couples regain closeness, trust and joy. 

We Understand You May Delay in Seeking Help 

Myths and misconceptions abound that contribute to the couples counseling stigma. It is well-known that couples often delay seeking help — putting off the decision for years, sometimes decades. 

It’s unfortunate that the misunderstandings about couples or marriage counseling have been so prevalent. You’re not alone, however, if you have felt concerned or intimidated. 

Some of the misconceptions — and the actual facts — include:

  1. “The counselor will take sides.” This common marriage counseling fear  is understandable because we all want to be heard and understood — particularly by a professional whose help we seek. However, in Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (known as EFT), the focus is on helping both partners understand themselves and each other. 
  2. “We’ll be judged by the therapist.” No one wants to be criticized or felt not accepted by their counselor. In EFT, the role of the therapist is quite different and well-defined. We help couples learn to understand why they argue or have become distant. We assist in teaching you how to resolve issues. We accept that each of your intentions are wholesome. There’s no place for judging of any type!
  3. “Counseling will take years — and we need help now.” We understand this concern. The EFT model is considered a “brief” therapy model, with many couples gaining a new understanding of their challenges in the first phase of the process. Yes, counseling does require a commitment; however, it is our intention to help you quickly acquire new skills and tools to reduce distress as soon as possible. What you learn in counseling can then be used well beyond after therapy has ended.
  4. “We tried marriage counseling in the past, and it didn’t work.”  But not every counselor is skilled in working with couples. According to a survey by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, while 80 percent of therapists in private practice offer couples therapy, few have taken a single class in couples therapy or have completed an internship with someone who has mastered the art. 

Here at A Peaceful Life Counseling, our therapists are skilled and trained in EFT. The path of learning this model is lengthy and arduous and includes study and supervision by a Certified EFT therapist/supervisor.

“I’m Ready, But My Partner’s Not Willing to Come”

Marriage counseling fears can weigh more heavily on one of you than the other. The greatest gift you can offer your reluctant partner is compassion and honoring his or her trepidation.

Yes, it’s possible to get some benefit if only one partner participates in couples counseling. You can learn about your own contribution to the issues and disconnection in your relationship and perhaps gain insight into your partner’s concerns as well.

However, the best chance of reaching your goals occurs when you both make the journey together.

Also, recognize you may have different marriage counseling fears: It’s easy to dismiss or minimize the importance of your partner’s concerns when you don’t share the same perspective. Accepting their fears as valid for them can be a first step in fully listening to each other and realizing that seeking relationship counseling is a big step for both of you.

Perhaps the Biggest of the Marriage Counseling Fears

One of the key focuses — and what distinguishes the EFT model — is on the patterns of interaction between the couple. This often diminishes the biggest fear: “I’ll be blamed and found at fault for our relationship problems.”

We refer to the arguing and disconnection couples are experiencing as a “negative cycle” that has emerged between you. Couples learn that this negative cycle — not each other! — is the source of their misunderstandings and repeated, unresolved arguments.

The negative cycle can have different forms:

  • One partner keeps pressing the other to talk and for answers during an argument. The other partner withdraws, leaves the room or goes silent.
  • Both partners argue and pursue the other to talk things through, often causing an escalation or continuation of the argument.
  • Both partners withdraw, feeling reluctant to engage in a discussion, often fearing he or she will make matters worse if they try to work on the issue.
  • One of the “symptoms” of the negative cycle is the feeling that one or both of you are frequently “walking on eggshells” and afraid to try to reconnect.

In our sessions together, couples learn to recognize their own cycle. Then, importantly, they learn to stop the cycle more quickly. Without blame, they then learn to talk through their differences calmly and repair any misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

The Fear of Being Vulnerable

Being open about personal feelings can be more challenging for some than others. And, to do so with someone you don’t know can seem overwhelming. 

For some, feelings were not openly discussed in their families. Or, expression of feelings and emotions was discouraged. Children may have been chastised, even, when they spoke up about problems or concerns they were experiencing. Parents may have had the best of intentions to help their children be able to weather life’s challenges; however, these early memories can surface when thinking about going to counseling.

Professional relationship counselors are well aware that you may feel fearful about opening up and about revealing your true feelings. We ease into this process gently and respect the brave work you are willing to try.

When You’re Ready to Seek Help for Your Relationship

We recognize that “making the call” might be difficult for you. We make every effort to respond quickly to you and to help you feel as comfortable as possible when you visit with us. Let us know any concerns you may have, as we are always open to your thoughts.

We also want to emphasize that marriage and couples counseling has evolved greatly in recent years. We have chosen to offer EFT because it is the most research-supported and scientifically based approach. We want to give our couples the greatest opportunity to rekindle their relationship.

We encourage you to read more about Emotionally Focused Therapy with A Peaceful Life!

Attachment Styles: Unlocking the Keys to Loving Well

attachment styles

Attachment styles have moved into more discussions and writing about relationships over the past few years. And for good reason: Understanding your own and your partner’s style can forge a new bridge to a deeper awareness of your differences. Most importantly, this new awareness opens the door to greater compassion — and then closeness.

There’s science here, too, that supports the growing use of attachment styles in helping couples better navigate the challenging times in their relationships.

In this post, we’ll address the basics of the science of attachment, how couples can struggle with different attachment styles and how couples can increase the depth of their connection by heightening their awareness of how attachment impacts their relationship.

Attachment Styles in Action: Familiar Scenarios

Diane is enjoying a girls’ night out at a local club. Dave is home playing board games with their kids. Both are relaxed, having fun. Dave is not worried about Diane, not anxious about when she’ll be home.

At a party, John is talking with a woman who is the date of a colleague. His wife Jane notices, and she’s becoming more angry and wishes he would come be with her. And, why is he spending time with this other woman?

Ann wants Andy to open up about issues at his job; Andy, though, prefers to leave problems at the office and deal with them as needed. Ann feels closer when they talk; Andy can be uncomfortable discussing emotions.

Each example demonstrates a different style of attachment. Without understanding attachment styles, couples can struggle to connect and feel close, fall into arguments frequently and even have different parenting beliefs they struggle to understand.

So, what exactly is attachment? And what are its origins for us as individuals?

Attachment: The Science, Briefly

We learn to love and be loved in our earliest years. As infants and young children, we are entirely dependent on our parents to feed us, keep us safe and to help us feel secure.

Our young brains are learning whether or not we can count on our caregivers to be there when we need them, to offer comfort and to help us experience joy that comes from connection with those important to us.  Children look to their caregivers for applause and encouragement when we take our first steps, to encourage us when we go out into the world on those early days of school and when we need reassurance to try something new.

Our early experiences are unique — and they begin to influence our brain development and how we will connect and bond with others as we grow. And, these early experiences of relying on others can set the stage for how successful we are in our adult romantic relationships.

Keep in mind, however, we are not intending to blame parents for misguidance. Parents themselves are influenced by their own family of origin, their culture, the era and times and stress they may be encountering.

As we mature, adult attachment is the bond formed when we fall in love. Attachment includes:

  • Seeking and maintaining emotional and physical connection with our beloved.
  • Reaching for this one special person for comfort during times of stress, offering us a safe haven from the challenges of daily life.
  • We miss our beloved when we are apart, and separation can bring forth intense emotions.
  • We depend on our loved one to support us emotionally, and it is this closeness that gives us confidence and courage to venture out into the world as individuals.

Benefitting from this New Understanding

Understanding our own ways of attachment and how we connect with others is important learning. And, we can, as adults, make changes to become more secure in our attachment styles.

The science of attachment was at first resisted — as often occurs with any new discovery. However, over the years, science has been better able to understand the roots of attachment. Today, we can actually see on brain images the impact of attachment when people receive comfort from their partner.

The source of our attachment styles can reach beyond childhood. We also find that experiences in previous romantic relationships can influence attachment feelings in the current one. If you had troubled, perhaps abusive, adult relationships, your attachment style now may reflect those traumas. Or, when a previous partner had an affair, you may be particularly anxious or cautious in subsequent relationships.

Understanding the Three Main Attachment Styles

Let’s take another look at our three couples mentioned above.

Diane and Dave have secure attachment styles, which include:

  • They are comfortable depending on each other
  • They assume their partner’s intentions are positive
  • They support each other’s growth and development
  • They don’t worry about abandonment and can easily trust each other

John and Jane may not share the same attachment style. Jane is anxious and she may tend to:

  • Need to be reassured that she is loved
  • Not feel John is as close to her as she needs
  • Be sensitive to any signs of rejection and need to know exactly where she stands in the relationship
  • Persistently call and text and worry if John doesn’t reply promptly when she feels the relationship is in any way insecure.

John, on the other hand, struggles to understand Jane’s worrying. His attachment style is secure, and her persistence can lead to arguments when he becomes frustrated with her needs for reassurance.

Ann and Andy also have different attachment styles. She is anxious when he is quiet and seemingly withdrawn. Andy’s behavior tends to align with the avoidant attachment style and can include:

  • A reluctance to get too close to others
  • A desire to be independent and minimize the need for others for assistance
  • Pulling away when things are going well and not be responsive when his partner wants connection
  • Not making his personal needs known

One of the foundations of Emotionally Focused Therapy is helping each partner understand his or her own attachment style and to be aware of and sensitive to the style of their partner.

It’s also not unusual for a person to have a “mixed” attachment style. These folks can struggle with:

  • Fear of losing their partner but also have difficulty with closeness and intimacy
  • Suppress his or her own needs, which appears as passive or uncaring by the partner
  • Typically includes some attributes of the anxious and avoidant attachment styles

“Aha! Moments” Bring New Understanding

When John and Jane learned in couples counseling about each of their differing attachment styles, their eyes opened to greater insight.

John began to understand and gain new respect for Jane’s jealousy and her fears. Her first boyfriend way back in high school had cheated on her with her best friend. So, alarm bells go off for her when she sees her new husband talking with a woman at a party.

John learned to comfort and reassure Jane, and she learned she no longer has to feel haunted by her past hurts. She also learned in therapy to voice her fears and to let John know when she wanted him to be close.

Indeed, couples can learn and grow by understanding their own and their partner’s attachment styles. Jane, with John’s help, can become more secure in their relationship.

Not Set in Stone: Attachment Styles Can Change, Evolve

Challenging events can cause a change in attachment styles, particularly as the couple struggles to recover from an unusual occurrence in their relationship. For example, discovery of any kind of unfaithfulness by one partner commonly triggers considerable anxiety in the partner. A death of someone in the family may cause an avoidant partner to reach out to the other.

Newer research confirms that couples counseling can create shifts in attachment styles. When the anxious partner is able to express his or her fears, the other partner can begin to respond in ways that can promote security. Avoidant partners can begin to feel more comfortable opening up.

Our brains are capable of change — of growing new habits even in our later years. As we begin to gain new awareness of our attachment styles and the benefits of making even small changes, we can learn to become more secure.

The Core of Attachment

Decades of research have affirmed the role of attachment in couples’ relationships. Dr. Susan Johnson, the principal creator of Emotionally Focused Therapy, notes that these many studies “confirm that our need to attach continues beyond childhood and also establish that romantic love is an attachment bond.

“At every age, human beings habitually seek and maintain physical and emotional closeness with at least one particular irreplaceable other. We especially seek out this person when we feel stressed, unsure and anxious. We are just hardwired this way.”

We can see that the need is strong for connection. Where couples can struggle is with the “how.” Gaining greater insight into each partner’s obstacles to the closeness they seek is a first step.

To learn more about Emotionally Focused therapy, read Emotionally Focused Therapy: The Most Effective Approach

How Often Should We Come to Couples Counseling?

How often should we come to couples counseling?

“How often should we come to couples counseling?”

On every initial phone call with a couple interested in couples counseling, I get asked “How often should we come to couples counseling?” I recommend weekly sessions for the first 4-6 weeks, and then re-evaluate after that. That isn’t a requirement, but there are several good reasons to consider doing this when you are wondering how often you should come to couples counseling:

    1. You want your couples therapist to get through the assessment period quickly.

      If you come to couples counseling every two weeks in the beginning, it will feel like it’s taking forever for your couples counselor to really dig in.  A good couples therapist takes the time to really understand each of you and what’s going on from a clinical perspective. And, it’s more complicated than “I yell and he shuts down.” It can take a few sessions, and at the rate of twice a month, this can feel like forever.

    2. You want to get the most out of the momentum of being new and fresh in therapy.

      Sort of like starting a new exercise routine, there can be a great motivation in the beginning of therapy that can really help you set up a strong foundation for how the rest of your couples therapy goes. If you are motivated to get in shape and only go to the gym once a month, you won’t see changes and you won’t feel committed the way that you do if you get a running start to your endeavor.

    3. Coming in less frequently may feel like you are starting over each time.

      While this is less of a concern with a therapist experienced in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, if it’s hard for each of you to remember what you talked about in the previous session, it will be hard for the therapist to help you build on any gains that were made. If so much happens in your life between sessions that you have to update the therapist on several key things before getting started, you are wasting a lot of time and money in giving the therapist a rundown of what they’ve missed in your life. Depending on how good the therapist is in directing traffic, you could be wasting a large portion of your session.

    4. Gains are deeper and more powerful when they can immediately follow from a previous experience.

      Following from the previous reason, if you are able to string your experiences together, you will be getting to the heart of the matter and sticking to it. No more sweeping things under the rug and wondering whether you’ll ever get back to resolving that one issue.

    5. You’ll be able to accurately determine whether to step down to twice a month with a perspective on how it feels to have more frequent visits.

      If stepping down is the right thing for you to do, you’ll want to know how to tell. Being able to compare what kind of progress you made at once a week with twice per month is vital to being able to accurately determine what’s best for you.

    6. My personal belief is that it makes your vulnerable to dropping out prematurely, or adds sessions to the overall number you attend.

      This isn’t backed by research, but I’ve seen it a lot and it makes total sense. Given all of the above, it’s not unreasonable to think that adding barriers to your progress could add sessions, money, and time to your journey in healing a relationship. The majority of the people I’ve seen who drop out of therapy before resolving the things that brought them in were twice per week folks. Not all of them, but enough for me to believe in a correlation. The rest of them took more sessions to graduate.

These questions are great, and they usually come from wanting to know what’s going to make you better, faster. And though money isn’t something that should drive your decisions, it’s really important. From a financial perspective, twice a month seems like it may be better, but the overall cost may be greater when you consider adding sessions and/or losing your momentum and progress in therapy and ultimately dropping out before you have lasting change. That’s probably the biggest danger, and though I can’t make these decisions for you, I’m a firm believer in people having all the info they need to make the best decision for them.

Understanding the process of couples therapy and how often we should come to couples counseling is important. Just like going to the gym, your body doesn’t change overnight. And your habits that keep your body healthy don’t change overnight. Your stamina, strength, oxygen efficiency, all of this is built with consistent attention. Couples therapy is similar because we are rewiring your ability to deal with conflict, which is a very automatic process, in a way that slows things down and prevents a bunch of old habits from hijacking your interaction. It takes time to train your brain to do this, and to build in the familiarity with how to navigate your issues together in a better way. This isn’t saying that the answer to “how long should we come to couples counseling” is going to be years. It just means that the answer depends a lot on you – how consistent you can be with therapy and how much effort you put into your relationship outside of sessions.

If twice per month therapy is all you can do, it will benefit you to be aware of these issues and watch for them cropping up. Communication with your couples therapist is key. Feeling stagnant in couples therapy, unmotivated, etc. are big red flags that your couples therapist can only address if it’s being talked about.

To have a free half hour consultation with one of our Denver Couples Counselors, book online here.

You may also like:

 

Your Free Therapy Consultation: 5 Ways to Prepare

What to do When Your Partners Won’t Come to Therapy

Read More About Emotionally Focused Therapy

Why Relationship Advice Doesn’t Work

Why Relationship Advice Doesn't WorkWhy Relationship Advice Doesn’t Work

The danger behind being seduced by relationship advice, tips, and tricks.

Don’t you just wish that someone would tell you how to fix relationship problems? How many billions of dollars a year are spent in the self-help section, promising the solution to our most complicated issues? Unfortunately, there are real reasons why relationship advice doesn’t work, and why a good couples therapist would steer clear.

Most normal people assume that fixing relationship problems means first understanding what the problem is and where it came from, which should lead to a solution. How to fix it. Knowing what to do. Making a plan. Do This, Don’t Do That.

Humans Like Easy Answers

We are human, and our brains evolved to solve problems. From building fires to hunting, our survival has hinged on making the outside world better. This is called the Problem Solving Mind. It tries hard to help, the only way it knows how: Logic! Determination! Fix it!

The Problem Solving Mind isn’t great at solving problems that have to do with our emotions and our relationships. It wants to make us believe that it can help, but it actually causes more harm than good. The main job of the Problem Solving Mind is to keep you feeling like you are on the right track. You are going to solve this. This isn’t out of your control. You don’t have to be miserable.

All you need is some quick advice and you’ll be OK. But that’s not true. 

It’s Scary When We Have No Quick Fix Solutions to Relationship Problems

Relationships aren’t like machines that you can take apart and tweak here and there to fix. The only way to solve relationship problems is by working through them, not around them.

Relationships are hard. We don’t have control over how people act, how we react, and whether we could lose each other. The stakes are SO HIGH. We want to get it right, we don’t want to mess things up. We don’t want to have problems, hurt and heartache. No wonder we want quick answers! Who wouldn’t?

When the Problem Solving Mind asks for magic bullets, quick answers, easy tools and instructions on how exactly to fix something, therapists sometimes feel pressure to oblige. We want you to feel hopeful and effective! A good therapist is full of ways to help you, and that may include something you can do right now. But, a good therapist does not dole out relationship advice like french fries at the drive-through. Relationship advice doesn’t work. 

Magic Bullets: Solutions or Quick Tips for Relationships

Magic Bullets are a type of relationship advice that doesn’t work. It may work for a little while, but then they stop working and you are sometimes worse off. Let’s use the Five Love Languages as an example. While the actual ideas in the book aren’t bad, couples routinely come in feeling defeated that they have been doing Acts of Service or saying Words of Affirmation for three months, and for some reason, their partner still doesn’t feel loved enough. What’s the issue?

The tool gets sucked up into the problem itself. The tool starts to feel like it’s not working. It feels forced, it isn’t coming from your experience and you can’t keep it up.

People fall into a bartering system. “I will do what you need if you do what I need. You haven’t done what I need, so I’m not budging.”

Things feel better and different for a while, but the actual core issues aren’t resolved. There isn’t more trust. People don’t feel secure in the relationship.

It starts to feel like your partner is just doing those things because they have to, not because it comes from their spontaneous love and intuition on what would make you happy.

If your partner isn’t doing the thing at all, then it’s evidence that they are terrible.

You blame each other and feel hopeless. 

 

When things fall apart it confirms your original story about why things aren’t working.

“You don’t care about me.”

“You don’t even try.”

“We aren’t compatible.”

“You aren’t capable of sustaining change.”

“Nothing ever pleases you, it’s not enough.”

“You don’t know what you want, because I’m doing this perfectly and you still aren’t happy with us.”

The result? You are back at square one, only now you failed and you guys suck. You feel worse about the relationship.

What Would A Real Couples Therapist Do Instead?

You are trying to climb a mountain as a couple, to the top, where your relationship problems are conquered and you feel trust and security, and love. You are hiring the couples therapist to guide you. You want them to just tell you what to do.

A real guide is not going to stand in the parking lot and say:

Good luck on the way up. Let me tell you, it can get really windy. All you need to do is duck. I know you’ve never climbed this mountain, or any mountain, but if you just duck every time the wind blows, you should be prepared for any and all kinds of obstacles up there. Ice, hunger, low visibility. You’ll be fine. If it doesn’t work, you have yourselves and each other to blame, because that’s a sure-fire solution I’m telling you. But, I’m going to hang back here at the trail head and make sure I can see you through my binoculars! That’s what you pay me for. Good Luck!!

NOPE. You might leave the session feeling like you have a plan. But you will not make it to the top of that mountain.

A good couples therapist would say:

Let’s suit up. It gets really windy, so I’ll be guiding you and taking care of you both. Sometimes I’ll lead the way, and as we go over the terrain and the rock, and get knocked around by the wind, just focus on letting me know how you are doing. I can’t predict exactly what we’ll find, but I can promise you that I’ll help you through whatever we run into and you won’t fall to your death because I’m right there with the rope. As you climb, you’ll get stronger and more confident in your footing, and you’ll start finding your way with all that you’ve experienced and learned. By the time we get to the top, I’ll barely be helping. Until then, we have to meet every unique challenge together.

And then, they’d blaze the trail. Can you see the difference between Magic Bullets and real help? 

As I began writing this, I really just wanted to talk about why Magic Bullets don’t work, but it’s really a deeper thing. It’s about what really makes successful change (experiences) versus what we wish would make successful change (Book Learning). If you find that your Problem Solving Mind is mounting a pretty convincing argument for the easy solution, please do yourself a favor and at least read a good book that won’t set you up for failure: Love Sense by Dr. Sue Johnson, or reach out for a free consultation to get an idea of what having someone climb the mountain with you would feel like.

What Couples Therapists Believe About Relationships

What Couples Therapists Believe
About Relationships
(or at least they should)

What couples therapist believeWhen your relationship isn’t going as it should be, it’s easy to rack your brain with all sorts of interpretations of what is going on, predictions about the future and what will happen, what needs to happen, etc. All of this can be very confusing, leading you to question the relationship itself.

There is a fundamental belief that every couples therapist should have about your relationship.

This is a belief that we share, and it is something that we try to help you cultivate. The belief is that you have a bond. It’s there. You are not fighting because you hate or don’t care about each other, no matter how infuriating each other’s behavior could be, or how distant you feel. If there were no bond, you wouldn’t be working so hard to get through to each other that there’s something threatening this bond.

“But wait, no one is working on this!”

“All we do is fight, how can you say that?”

“I feel ignored. There is no bond.”

This is something that can go against everything your mind says to you when you are fed up, exhausted, angry, sick of it, feeling hopeless, etc. Your bond may be buried under all the things that are going wrong. Your bond may be in danger of being broken if these things don’t get fixed. But, the bottom line is this: You wouldn’t be able to get to each other if there weren’t a bond. No one would get upset about anything. No one would shut down and freeze up in the face of an argument. No one would be bothered by a lack of closeness if there has been a growing distance.

A good couples therapist knows this, and will use this to help you revive your bond. Because it very well could die if it’s not attended to.

If you are having issues in your relationship and there is any notion that you both don’t like what’s going on, then there’s a bond there. You don’t have to wonder about that. You have to believe that it’s there and fight to save it. Don’t waste your energy analyzing whether your partner really loves you, really wants to be with you. That’s like sitting in a sinking ship and debating whether it would have gotten a hole if it were a good ship, without doing anything to fix the hole.

But, my partner had an affair, what do you think about that?

Bonds can be injured, and if your partner is saying to you that they are done and want to pursue a new relationship, you may be in trouble. However, the occurrence of an affair doesn’t mean that your relationship is meaningless and can’t be fixed. We’ve helped couples take a hard look at what was going on and how their relationship became vulnerable to an affair. Couples can heal after a husband or wife has cheated.  We do believe that this is much more likely to happen in therapy, and with a therapist who has the firm belief that there is a bond there, it just needs desperate help.

What Does This Mean?

It means you aren’t going to marriage counseling to see if you have it in you to work things out. You are going so you can see why it’s so hard to try.

You aren’t going to see why you seem to hate each other. You are going so you can find other ways to let your partner know that you aren’t OK with things that threaten your bond. 

It means that there is hope, even if you question that.

It also means that you need to find a marriage counselor that actually believes this. If they aren’t sure that people sitting in front of them really have a bond, they won’t be as likely to have confidence in their own treatment. This is a problem, so seek a couples counselor with real training in couples and marriage therapy. Seriously.

If you are ready to have a complimentary consultation with one of our trained Denver marriage counselors to see if we can help you develop an unshakable belief in your relationship, please call us at (720) 443-1947, or use our contact form to get in touch.

What Will Kill Your Couples Therapy

couples therapy hopefulnessCouples Therapy has a Killer.

A frequent problem we see for couples in our couples therapy practice in Denver is that it’s just so hard to see a way out of something when you are in the midst of it. Most couples wait an average of six years before entering couples therapy, and by this time there are a lot of stories that they really buy into. They feel like this is just the “way it is.” They are convinced that they have tried everything, and they probably have (until they get into couples therapy). The issues that have plagued their relationship have been going on for so long that they just seem like they are dead ends, and the couple may be pondering whether they are actually right for each other, whether they are “falling out of love”, etc.

This is called hopelessness, and we need to see it for what it is. It is an evil, energy sucking, distraction that sits on your shoulder and tells you that you shouldn’t even try. That you don’t have the energy to try. That nothing is going to change in your relationship, it’s not going to work. Hopelessness is a relationship killer for obvious reasons, but did you know that it’s a major barrier to getting effective therapy services?

Couples who are hopeless about their relationship often:

  1. Don’t seek couples therapy, or don’t seek it in time.

  2. Don’t do the internal work necessary to really look at the issues and create change, because they are already checked out.

  3. Unwittingly sabotage the couples therapy or undermine their partner’s attempts to make positive changes by resisting them.

I think the most harmful effect of hopelessness on the relationship is that it becomes the lens through which we see everything. Your current state of feeling about the relationship becomes the filter through which you see all the issues and possible solutions. Like rose-colored glasses, but… not rosy. It’s the relationship is half dead phenomenon.

The trick is that you have to sidestep hopelessness so that it doesn’t rob you of the chance to improve the relationship. This is difficult since you need to see something positive to become hopeful. Unless you kill hopelessness.

It’s easy to just go along with the hopeless thoughts and not question whether they are even true. Many of our thoughts are not true, or at least are not the absolute, undeniable, unchangeable, fully objective truth. In couples therapy, there are a lot of things that challenge your perception of reality, because you are both deepening your experience of each other to create more understanding, connection, and trust. So why not start on that path before couples therapy by working on your hopelessness?

Here’s how to kill hopelessness:

1. Notice it.

Notice that you are having thoughts that things are pointless, or whatever your mind tells you about why this is just not going to work.

 

2. See it for what it is: a thought.

Thoughts are not always true, and even if they are, they aren’t always helpful. Realizing that, strong as they are, they are still just thoughts, can free you a bit to act (such as pursuing couples therapy even if you aren’t sure it will work, instead of using hopelessness as an excuse).

3. Ask yourself what’s scary about letting hopelessness go.

Is it protecting you from trying and getting hurt? From getting your hopes up? From showing that you are hurting?

4. Bring it out into the light of day.

Talk about the hopelessness with your couples therapist. Chances are, your partner is feeling some of that as well, and a good couples therapist knows that it’s there and wants to help you slay it.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but as a couples therapist I just wish that I could kill hopelessness. It’s such a demon. It’s a symptom of the problem, not the predictor of whether the problem is fixable. And we can do a whole lot in spite of hopelessness if we realize that we are caught in its grips and don’t want to let it run the show.

If you are feeling hopeless in your relationship and just aren’t sure about whether couples counseling could help, we invite you to have a free consultation with one of our wonderful couples therapists in Denver (Lakewood) where you can chat about what couples therapy could do for you.