Relationships play a central role in our lives. When we feel satisfied and secure, relationships can be a source of strength, comfort and meaning. When we experience difficulties in our primary relationships it can have profound effects on our day to day lives. Often times, romantic relationships can start out feeling light and natural, even easy. Fast forward (months, years, maybe decades) and this same relationship can feel tense, empty or combative. 

Why do couples seek therapy?
Couples seek therapy for many reasons: to improve communication, feel more connected, seek help during a life changing experience (i.e., pregnancy, death in the family, relocation), learn more about themselves and their partner, or address hot topics on neutral ground.

Most couples seek therapy to address a problem or problems that don’t seem to fade or get better. It is not uncommon for challenging issues and themes to resurface when they aren’t fully addressed and worked through. Most couples attempt to manage their problems in private, but this doesn’t always produce the desired results. Often times, well-meaning family or friends offer advice, but this can result in conflicting or bias opinions that aren’t very helpful.

What are the criteria for entering therapy?
Both persons need to willingly attend. Couples therapy probably won’t work if one person feels coerced or threatened into attending. That said, it’s commonfor one person in a relationship to feel more strongly about couples therapy than the other.

What are some common issues seen in couples therapy?
There are many reasons for couples to seek professional help, but here is a list of some of the more common issues:

Arguments can range from bickering to full fledged shouting matches. Attempts at gaining more power and/or control over the situation are often at play when talking (or shouting) has taken precedent over listening. While the content of the argument is part of the story, it is often the feelings underneath that are getting overlooked.

Emotional Distance
When it becomes harder and harder to relate, one or both people in the relationship can become disengaged.  Perhaps it felt easier to avoid a difficult situation or uncomfortable feelings than to talk about it. Letting things slide from time to time is one thing, but a pattern of avoiding difficult or uncomfortable areas in a relationship can lead to feelings of isolation and a sense of “going through the motions.” 

One Partner Pursues While the Other Withdraws
This is a familiar dance for many couples. The unfortunate part is that the pattern is circular and tends to leave couples off right where they started.  Pursuers tend to want more from their partners and let that be known in direct or indirect ways. The person who withdraws tends to feel overwhelmed and criticized. This combination of feelings can often leave couples feeling stuck. Many couples in this situation describe a frequent need to retreat to their separate corners.

Sexual/Intimacy Difficulties
Sex and intimacy are a natural and healthy part of relationships that can be a source of pleasure and allow couples to feel close. Difficulties related to sex and intimacy can take on many different forms.  For some couples, sexual difficulties may have to do with arousal issues, performance fears, or varying sex drives. Intimacy has to do with feeling connected and involves revealing oneself on an emotional level. Intimacy can create strong feelings of closeness and love for some and for others it can be associated with discomfort and vulnerability.

What should I expect from couples therapy?
Couples therapy should lead to a better understanding of yourself, your partner and how you relate to one another. Speaking about thoughts and feelings in an open and honest way is part of the process of couples therapy. As a couples therapist, it is my job to make sure each participant feels safe, heard and understood. Depending on the unique needs of the couple, I may ask clients to try relational exercises in session designed to help couples experience new ways of being together. Overall, a couple should feel more connected and better able to manage the inevitable challenges that are a part of all intimate relationships.