Maybe I love couples therapy because I want to save them from the hurt, anger, loneliness, and depression that I felt when my first marriage failed 35 years ago. Maybe I want to protect them and their children from the emotional, social, and financial pain of breaking up; pain that can last a lifetime. Maybe I want them to know the emotional security and comfort of a good marriage like I have with Linda since 1988. I know I like to hear each couples love story, how they met and how they connected so deeply at their beginning. I know I like to help them really listen, feel heard, and understand each other deeply. Then they can have that safe, heart to heart connection that we all desire (and maybe a mutually enjoyable sex life that naturally follows).
When working with couples I draw upon the excellent research of John Gottmann, our field’s foremost researcher on what truly works in love relationships. I highly recommend many of his books such as “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” by John Gottmann and Nan Silver. His work tells us clearly what to do and what not to do in a committed relationship. But they don’t clearly show us how to stop old automatic behaviors and learn new ones. Knowing doesn’t always guarantee real change.
A frustrated wife told me recently, “I heard marriage counseling doesn’t really work”. That’s often true, I told her, but it doesn’t have to be. Many therapists provide marital therapy with minimal or no training for it; and they do it in only 45-55 minute sessions.
Couples therapist is the hardest work I do – and I take it very, very seriously. I will only see a couple for 90 to 120 minute sessions. That’s what it takes to really understand each person’s perspective and emotional reactions, and simultaneously, understand the stuck relationship patterns that we get trapped in. I use the IFS model of therapy with couples. This method helps each of us focus on where we’re stuck, where we’re hurting the most, and helps us deeply understand our selves and our partners. When I help you find and express what is most deeply meaningful to you, and help your partner really hear you, then you can get that closeness and loving feeling back between you. This method is powerful enough to help couples recover from the pain of infidelity, loss of a family member, chronic illness, or serious mental health symptoms.
To learn more about IFS couples therapy read Richard Schwartz’s book (founder of IFS therapy), “You are the One You’ve Been Waiting For”, or Toni Herbine-Blank’s book, “Intimacy from the Inside Out”. These are available in the IFS Store on the web site: http://www.selfleadership.org.