Many couples therapists, in my opinion, have got it wrong.
Personal disclosure: I started doing family and couples therapy during my training years in graduate school. I tried my best with some tools in hand and books read, but I really didn’t know what I was doing. Most of us start here and some of us stay here.
There are so many brilliant therapists out there, but there are also tons of quacks out there, so be careful when you’re looking for a therapist. I have heard countless horror stories!
There are also many roads to Rome, and at the end of the day, the technique that your therapist uses hasn’t been shown to have much to do with how well you do in the end.
But that being said, many couples therapists, like me at one point in my career, miss the boat.
I’m not writing this to say that what they do isn’t helpful at all, but many therapists get caught up in the symptoms of the major problem at hand, without ever articulating or getting to the major problem at hand.
Many therapists will teach you communication skills. They will tell you to speak with “I” statements. Or they will help you make deals with your partner to have some kind of quid pro quo exchange. They might say that you are involved in a power struggle with each other or they may ask you to talk endlessly about your childhoods. Perhaps they’ll suggest some new sex positions to spice things up between the two of you. More likely, they might get caught up in the minutia of your weekly struggles without a map in place or a goal in mind. Or they might just sit quietly and listen.
My bet is that you aren’t an idiot and you have no problem communicating with other people in your life, just your partner. So you might not need basic skills in communications. Your problems with your relationship are probably not because you haven’t tried the latest cool new sex position either.
And the last thing you need is someone to quietly sit and watch you fight.
You can do that at home and save yourself some cash.
None of these things are terrible in and of themselves, but if that’s all a therapist has, he or she has missed the crux of the issue.
In essence, relationships break down when people don’t feel important to each other.
And when someone starts feeling unimportant to the most important person in their lives, a primal panic sets in that may or may not be acknowledged.
Sure, primal panic may sound extreme, but that’s what happens.
We are hardwired to connect with each other.
If you’re disconnected from your most important other, it’s like your shelter from the trauma of life is shattered.
So you freak out. Your brain — your amygdala, to be specific — literally freaks out.
Perhaps it happens on a level you might not even be aware of, because this stuff is subtle. Further, no one actually says in life that biologically you are wired to need your partner and your whole nervous system goes haywire when you can’t connect to that person. Rather, you are told quite the opposite: you should be fine on your own, cool off, keep your emotions in check, etc. So you don’t really have the room or the permission to acknowledge that something might be wrong.
We’re taught to stuff our emotions. Or take pills to make them go away.
We do that well with each other in relationships, and get into serious trouble as a result.
When you feel unimportant to your most important other, you might act like everything’s fine. You might doubt yourself. You say to yourself, “I’m too needy, I’ll let this go.”
That primal panic is swept under the rug, and you act as if everything’s fine. You might be extra pissy though, or you might distance yourself ever so slightly at first.
Eventually, though, you are both caught in this pattern of disconnect that you can’t seem to get out of.
It’s like a pebble in your shoe that really isn’t much of anything for a few steps, but after a mile your foot is bloody and all torn up.
You find yourself talking about actually seeing a couples therapist.
Ugh, couples therapy.
Horrible. Not how you want to spend one of your few hours off each week.
But, if your couples therapist gets it that relationships are really all about safe connections with each other, and if your therapist knows how to help you re-establish that with your partner, then it really won’t be so bad!
In fact, it might be – dare I say – awesome. And it can revolutionize the way you relate to not only your partner but the world.
It is my hope that you can find a couples therapist that can help you peel away the built up layers of protection that you and your partner have built up around yourselves in order to get to the pebble in your shoe.
If you both want to make this work, I am going to bet that you both care about each other more than you allow yourselves or each other to realize.
A good couples therapist will help you get in touch with that.
It’s so deceptively simple, even though it is hard work!
Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) does just this. Check out the International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy to find a certified EFT therapist near you.
Cheers to tossing that pebble and to your best relationship,
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