by Carol Weiss, MA
Couple therapy goes by many names. Whether called couples counseling, marriage counseling, or relationship therapy it can be helpful to all couples, married or not, gay or straight and at all stages of life. Couple therapy can help newly committed partners get off to a healthy start, can guide a couple through many of life’s challenges, can rebuild a troubled partnership, or can help a couple decide to separate in a way that will be healthiest for themselves and their children. You don’t need to have a troubled relationship to seek therapy. Healthy couples can receive skillful support to strengthen their bond and better understand one another.
Who can benefit from couple therapy?
Most relationships aren’t perfect. Partners have different cultural backgrounds, values, and personal histories that can affect the quality of intimate relationship. Differences don’t always mean conflict. Some differences are complimentary. Often we are attracted to our opposite and then find difficulty living with those very traits that attracted us. Each phase of the life span brings new challenges. Strong, healthy relationships mature and grow through challenges. Many couples can use support in learning the skills, especially communication skills, that increase intimacy through the years.
Pre-marital therapy provides a forum for the discussion of hopes and dreams as well as potential conflict areas and helps couples off to a healthy start. First babies alter forever the couple’s relationship and have the potential to greatly enrich it. Parenting brings many challenges. The opportunity to discuss child rearing issues with a therapist knowledgeable about child and teen development and parenting skills is available under the umbrella of couple counseling along with help for the added issues of blended and step families that so many couples face these days. Partners can learn techniques to keep their own relationship strong while attending to the needs of a growing family.
“Empty nests” as children leave the home and identity issues of midlife parents also deserve attention. Many relationships falter at this time and issues of infidelity can arise at this as well as other times. Marriages can be strengthened in the aftermath of an affair or some couples may seek help to come apart in a way that does least harm to all concerned. (An article on the topic of infidelity is upcoming.) Couples entering retirement face a whole new series of adjustments that can cause conflict or provide enrichment when smoothly navigated. Couples faced with issues of illness, cognitive decline, anxiety or depression, grief or loss deserve skillful care whenever these conditions arise. Sometimes couple therapists work as part of a care team with family physicians, medical specialists, or alcohol or substance abuse counselors. Couples experiencing domestic violence or other forms of abuse can seek help through Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services available on all islands.
How does couple therapy work?
Choose a therapist who is a licensed mental health professional designated as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT). This state license requires a master’s level degree in psychology and specialized training in working with all kinds of couple relationships. Couple therapy typically brings couples or partners together for joint therapy sessions, usually once a week. The therapist helps partners to articulate and understand the sources of their conflicts and teaches skills, especially communication skills, to help resolve conflict. Problem solving techniques are explored, as are healthier conflict styles. Exploration of relational patterns and assignments for strengthening the relationship are part of the process. Sometimes only one partner is willing to work on the relationship by coming to sessions. That individual can learn a lot about reactions, patterns, and behavior even when attending solo. It’s ok for couples to express anger and bring conflict into the therapy office. The therapist will provide a safe arena for exploring the nature of hurts and disappointments and help couples understand and correct nonproductive patterns. The therapist does not take sides but rather supports both partners in becoming the healthiest individual and partner possible.
Carol Weiss, MA is a WA Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with over 30 years experience. She has special training and expertise in both parenting and Geriatric Mental Health. She can be reached on Lopez at 468-4006.