Couples counseling is difficult, for all involved, but more so for the couple. Often by the time couples reach my office they are in significant distress. They've tried what they know to do and it's not working. It's scary and frustrating and hope is frequently in short supply. I'm used to this presentation of emotions and behaviors, and I carry the hope willingly and gladly. You see, I've seen people, on the verge of calling it quits or others wondering if that's their only recourse, turn things around, like really turn things around, recapture the love, support, and companionship that has years-long been lost. When this happens, it is a wonderful experience. And it can happen.
The key word is change. It isn't a miracle...it requires committing to the process even when the process is uncertain and feels crappy. It is not uncommon for the situation to feel worse before it starts to feel better as therapy is a place to really take a look at all the concerns that have been swept under the rug. Just as an illustration of the work of therapy, one couple I'm thinking of started therapy and they were both pissed, furious, lonely, and sad. But they were committed; that never wavered, although the hope was tenuous as they could not see their way out of what their relationship had become. These two got busy with me, did their homework even when they did not understand how it would change things, came into session ready to discuss what was coming up for them, and kept a consistent schedule, making time in their very busy lives to be at sessions weekly.
The key word is change. It isn't a miracle...it requires committing to the process even when the process is uncertain and feels crappy.
Most importantly, they stuck with it. And after all that work, it was as if the dark cloud had miraculously lifted.
And guess what, their interactions started to de-escalate, their blame/defend cycle was replaced with listening and asking heartfelt questions to understand. They both learned their perspective roles in co-creating the dead-end dynamic and they learned their partner's raw spots. They listened as I challenged each of them, open to a discussion with me so we could figure it out. At home, they began to have emotional intimacy again, sharing about their inner worlds. And lo and behold, the little complaints that seemed to trip them up before, they could work through on their own. And when the old pattern crept up, they could recognize it and fend it off. Sure, there were tough sessions and times when they slid back into old thinking and behaving, but even those times are ripe with information to learn from. Most importantly, they stuck with it. And after all that work, it was as if the dark cloud had miraculously lifted.
Before one appointment, I could hear them laughing and chatting in the waiting room. Gone were the silent, sullen faces, the protective walls, the accusatory jabs. In their place were plans for the future, times spent together, new ways of interacting, and vulnerabilities with tender emotions. Even thinking back on that day makes me smile. But it wasn't a miracle; it was work, hard, sometimes frustrating and scary work, with me, with each other, but that's what therapy looks like.
I tell this story of just one couple because too often people have unrealistic expectations of therapy. They report, "I'm done" "I've tried" but when I inquire what that really means it is usually a reflection that they are tired of living the way they have and they have tried with the tools they have, which often are not effective. How many therapy sessions have you attended? Most often the average is around 3-4 sessions. Come on, we know you can't fix anything in a little over three hours. This outlook is a reflection of the distress and how awful it feels, not an accurate reflection of trying in a way that will produce a positive outcome. It's just that our romantic relationships and marriages are so very important and vital to our overall well-being that when they are rocky, it's a tremendous blow that impacts everything. We want the distress, the acrimony to end NOW. I get it, but I also encourage you to commit to the process in a way that will lead to the results you desire. The good news is, the heartache can end, but it requires realistic expectations and work, sometimes uncomfortable work and growth, but I believe it is so worth it for you, for your family, and even for future generations.
We want the distress, the acrimony to end NOW. I get it, but I also encourage you to commit to the process in a way that will lead to the results you desire.
About the author: Melissa Hudson, Ph.D.(c) is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Plano, Texas specializing in couples and marriage therapy, anxiety, and depression. She also works with adults and families on a full spectrum of psychological concerns. Have more questions? Want to get your relationship back on track? I'm here to help you as an experienced couples and marriage therapist. firstname.lastname@example.org | 214-235-8175 | www.counselingsolutionstexas.com