Principles of Couples Therapy
All therapy begins with listening. A couples therapist should be, first and foremost, someone who wants to understand how both partners in a relationship feel and why they feel that way. I listen carefully to achieve this. When clients sense this genuine sympathetic curiosity in a therapist, it’s easier for them to explore difficulties in their relationship.
Once this sense of trust is established, I am active as a therapist, working to explore the couple’s areas of dissatisfaction, identify obstacles to change, find ways to overcome them, and teach “what works” – the skills that help many couples resolve conflicts constructively and feel satisfied and intimate in their relationships.
While many therapists are trained not to take sides in couples therapy, what works better is for the therapist to actively take both partners’ sides. I try to put myself in both partners’ shoes and use that sympathetic understanding to help them better understand each other.
Identifying and promoting strengths
Couples bring their problems into therapy but they also bring their strengths. The relationship can be a reservoir of resources for each partner and each partner can provide valuable resources to the relationship. I strive to help couples identify their strengths and resources and then utilize and promote those strengths to work towards their goals for treatment.
Between and within
Couples therapists need to explore and work with what goes on between the two partners as well as what goes on within each of them. When therapists only look at one of these areas, they are missing half the picture. Either of these realms can produce obstacles to satisfaction, intimacy and vitality in the marriage, just as either can provide resources for enhancing them.
No couple can avoid hurting one another at some point in some way. Couples who can repair those injuries are more likely to continue to feel close and satisfied in their relationships. When couples seek treatment because of an emotional injury of some kind, the process of repair – along with learning how to repair on their own – is often at the heart of treatment. When successful, it leads to forgiveness, allowing them to “close the book” on the injury and reconnect emotionally.
One size does not fit all
Even when couples present with very similar problems (see Common Couple Problems), every relationship is unique. For this reason, therapists need to tailor an approach that fits each particular couple. This involves decisions such as how often to meet, for how long, which issues have to be resolved before others can be addressed, when to focus on feelings and when to focus on action, among others.
Length of treatment
I strive for the shortest course of treatment that accomplishes clients’ goals. I’m delighted when clients feel they have achieved the changes they want in a handful of sessions and am willing to “hang in” for as long as it takes to reach that point. Couples often come in for a short series of sessions, stop when they’re satisfied with the progress they’ve made and come back for “booster” sessions if new issues arise.