Because people change as they move through their lives, intimate relationships need to change and grow as well. When partners remain open and accepting, intimate relationships can be a source of great pleasure, comfort, and vitality. But just as intimate relationships stir our greatest longings, they can also awaken our greatest fears and spark intense feelings of disappointment and hurt or resentment and betrayal. Sometimes avoidance, defensiveness, or even destructiveness take hold as each partner struggles to protect their vulnerabilities and maintain their balance. Couples therapy can help intimate relationships get back on track and transform the confusion and pain of relationship gridlock into opportunities for growth and intimate connectedness.
What kind of problems do couples deal with in therapy?
Communication: This can take the form of too much hostility, anger and conflict, or conversely, it can take the form of silence, depressive feelings, withdrawal, hopelessness or deadness in the relationship. Problems in communication frequently are connected to sexual difficulties as well.
Reenacting Old Patterns: Perhaps you find that you are behaving toward each other in the same way that you reacted to your parents during childhood. Conversely, you may find yourself replicating dysfunctional aspects of your parent’s relationship with each other. This includes difficulties that survivors of child abuse and/or neglect as well as adult children of substance abusers bring to relationships.
Trauma: Many types of trauma can effect couples such as assault, rape, death, accidents, robbery, suicide (or attempted suicide), illness, disability, affairs and other types of betrayal. You may need assistance dealing with a current trauma, or dealing with a trauma that occurred in the past.
Life Transitions: Couples go through predictable developmental stages, each stage containing tasks that need to be completed successfully. There are also transitions that are not predictable such as career change and relocation (including immigration). You may need assistance with a present transition, or with the results of past transitions.
Commitment: Taking the next step, whether it be monogamy, cohabitation, marriage, or starting a family can bring up new concerns and issues. The two of you might need to explore unconscious expectations and fears, values, lifestyle differences, money management, extended family involvement, etc. Conversely, if you are choosing to break your commitment by separation or divorce, you may need assistance as well.
Diversity: In mixed marriages, ethnic, cultural and religious differences may lead to misunderstandings and conflict. If you are in a gay, lesbian, multi-faith, multi-racial or multi-ethnic relationship you might need assistance with the ‘isms’ whether it be from family, friends, or other sources.
How does couples therapy compare to individual therapy?
There are two major differences:
Safety: Many couples never come to therapy precisely because they fear that opening things up would worsen the situation or even destroy the relationship. They realize that they may want to say things to each other that they have been afraid to say for years, or one or both may fear that they will be ganged up on and blamed for everything. I am aware of the anxieties created by seeking help and therefore encourage a slow pace that honors the delicacy of the situation. As we move forward in understanding your couple’s dynamics, it becomes apparent that no one person is to blame.
Roles: While each of you, particularly at the beginning of therapy, will spend time speaking directly with me, increasingly the time will be spent with the two of you talking to each other. During this time I will assist and support you with suggestions and observations. The three of us will collaborate in generating new understanding and behavior.
How would we get started?
A consultation can assist you in determining whether therapy might be useful for you. We will explore your present situation, needs and questions and concerns about therapy. We will come to understand whether it would be appropriate for you to enter therapy at this time, and if so what kind of therapy and whether or not we would like to work together. If the answer to this is no, I will provide you with referrals for other therapists.
Emotionally Based Therapy (EFT)
Western culture views independence as a virtue. We’ve been taught that a truly strong person doesn’t need anybody to survive and thrive. But being attached to your partner is actually a good thing. In fact, a secure attachment underlies the strongest relationships. And both partners in such relationships tend to feel calm, connected, centered and safe.
Emotionally focused therapy or EFT draws on attachment theory, which asserts that humans are hardwired for strong emotional bonds with others. According to EFT, couples have relationship problems when they’ve experienced emotional disconnection with their partner at key moments, which then leads to struggles with negative cycles of criticism and anger (among other emotions and reactions). Therefore, the aim of EFT is to help couples overcome these negative cycles, re-establish their connection, and strengthen their emotional bond.
A secure attachment signifies a successful and secure relationship in which both partners are able to tune into, identify and accept their own emotions and needs. They’re able to recognize when they’re feeling disconnected and distant from their partner and to speak candidly about their needs and emotions.
Trust is another part of a secure relationship. Both partners must be able to reach out to each other and trust that they’ll respond sensitively.
How Does EFT for Couples Work?
- Identify the Problem:I assess and identify key conflicts between the partners, and then explore how each partner contributes to what’s called a “negative communication cycle.” Even though it often feels like one’s partner is the cause of most conflicts, it is actually this negative cycle that is the common enemy and source of distress. This negative cycle hinders partners from being able to talk freely about their feelings and needs. As a result, they have difficulty finding solutions to their conflicts.
- Find a Solution:The negative cycle involves various combinations of one partner pursuing and the other withdrawing. I help each partner learn to indentify his/her contribution to the negative cycle and express emotions, needs, and wants. Then, I integrate these into new relationship interactions. A positive communication cycle begins as the withdrawn partner re-engages and the pursuing partner softens judgment and criticism. This promotes engagement and bonding. Couples find new solutions to old problems.
- The Results:An increased level of trust and respect starts to form between the partners. There is an appreciation of each other’s emotions and needs. This creates a shift away from the negative cycle. A positive, healthier cycle promotes new ways to handle and resolve conflict.
“One of the few approaches to marital therapy that has been proven to be effective.” —Jay Lebow, Ph.D, President, Division of Family Psychology of the American Psychological Association
“EFT gives a proven road map to the process of change in couples therapy.” —John Gottman, Ph.D, Bestselling author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
“EFT is one of the best documented, most substantive and well researched approaches to couples therapy.” —Alan S. Gurman, Ph.D
“EFT has achieved an astounding 75 percent success rate. Results are lasting!” —American Psychological Association