Couples therapy is a time for learning and growing as a couple. It’s a time to take a moment to sit down in this fast-paced world and really listen to what your partner is saying. Whether you’ve been going to couples therapy for years or are about to have your first appointment, these tips can help you make the most of marriage counseling.
Reframe your belief about couples therapy.
It is not a sentence for bad behavior. It is an opportunity for educational growth. It helps you to become more conscious and learn about yourself, your partner and what is really going on in your relationship.
Have you ever thought about what is really happening when you fall in and out of love? When you first fall in love, all is right with the world. Your mate appears funny, sexy, and happy. He or she seems to complete you. He’s a thinker; you’re a doer. She plans; you‘re spontaneous. Opposites attract, right?
Then something goes haywire. It could take months or years. Suddenly your partner is different than you thought. What initially attracted you begins to grate on you. The power struggles begin. Fighting replaces communicating and connecting.
Guess what? That’s actually supposed to happen. In Imago Couples Therapy, you will learn to reframe conflict. Conflict in a marriage is something natural and normal and is actually a good thing. It is when the honeymoon is over that the real marriage begins.
Imago Couples Therapy starts with a simple but profound belief: Everyone unconsciously picks their perfect mate — their Imago mate. At this point, that may be hard to believe. You marry someone who is an Imago match, that is, someone who matches up with the composite image of your primary caretakers (generally being your parents).
In doing so, you seek what you lack in your partner. You are disorganized, so you are attracted to a neat freak. Or you are shy, so you are attracted to someone outgoing. But then you begin to criticize your partner for being too organized or too boisterous, calling them loud and obnoxious. You eventually try to squash the very traits you were looking for in the first place.
The purpose of marriage counseling is to provide you with an updated education in growing as individuals and partners.
Recognize the part you play.
Before your first couples therapy appointment, ask yourself: What can I do differently than I have done previously? It may be something that seems deceptively simple. For example, listen more and talk less. Or speak up instead of keeping the peace at all costs.You have no control over how your partner responds or if your partner changes. You do control your ability to recognize the part you play.
Let’s listen in on a typical couples therapy session. You will see how a partner started learning from the inside out. She began to recognize the part she played instead of only directing her anger outward.
Partner: You used to be funny, light-hearted and interested in me when we were dating. Now, I just feel angry toward you. You are the exact opposite of how you were when we were dating.
(Is this true? Truthfully, I don’t know. My guess is the client is also angry with herself, and this anger is being played out in their relationship. Here is a concrete example of how the client can truly recognize the part she plays in the relationship conflict by naming it and claiming it.)
Partner: I know I have really been angry toward you (name it). I realize I am so angry at myself. I wish I didn’t act so impulsively. I have to own that and not just blame you for our situation (claim it).
Name it, claim it is a simple and effective place to begin to recognize your part of the problem. Your partner probably will be able to look at their part of the problem when you begin to point your finger inward instead of outward. What happens when this kind of dialogue begins? Connections with yourself and with your partner in a safe atmosphere that offers respect, truth and empathy.
Resolve to move out of your comfort zone.
So far we have talked about two Rs: Reframing your view about couples therapy and recognizing the part you play. Now let’s move on to the third R: Resolve to move out of your comfort zone.
Do something out of the ordinary for you. In Imago Couples Therapy, we talk about two different processes: stretching and growing.
Let’s start with stretching. When you are listening to your partner, it is really easy to start defending yourself. Instead, we suggest the listener has the opportunity to “stretch” and add to their usual repertoire of responses. For example, the listener would only reflect back what he or she is hearing.
Try to think of it this way: You have the opportunity to “stretch” and make a connection instead of a correction. You want to keep your eye on the long-range goal.
The second process, growing, is reserved for the person who is doing the talking. It is easy to point the finger at your partner. The secret is to remember the R: Recognize the part you play and speak in terms of your own behavior. Don’t shortchange yourself by putting the focus on your partner. The power of healing lies within you. You have the opportunity to clarify and deepen what is really going on inside of you.
The result? That is the bonus R. You will have taken a major step in developing a conscious relationship. You will learn to see your partner not as an extension of you or as you wish he or she would be, but as a unique individual with his or her own ideas or dreams that no longer collide with your own. In giving your partner what they need versus just what you need, you will learn a true and lasting love.
Couples therapy photo available from Shutterstock