My Approach to Couples Counseling
DELVING INTO THE PAST TO HELP PARTNERS UNDERSTAND why they have resorted to these strategies can be helpful, but it often doesn’t provide immediate or lasting relief, or hope.
I take a different approach to couples counseling.
From our first sessions, I work proactively to create a new experience of relating so couples can feel what it’s like to be vulnerable again. Some partners feel overwhelmed and involuntarily close down; others see a red flag and turn up the heat and anger. In the safe environment of therapy, they can learn to recognize and track the ebb and flow of these arousal states in their own body and in their partner’s body.
Focusing on these automatic responses helps partners learn to identify repetitive, physiological cycles as they’re happening, and to shift gears quickly to a more thoughtful and positive response. Together we can then explore the underlying emotional needs that get lost and go unexpressed when arousal hijacks a couple. Over time, angry, critical partners are able to risk softening, while fearful, withdrawn partners can risk transparency.
Couples report that this two-step process — helping partners track the moment-to-moment dance of habitual patterns they use to protect themselves, and providing repeated experiences of healthy relating — gradually builds closeness and mutual empathy. Over time, it creates a powerful incentive to change as partners begin to see each other’s vulnerability, sometimes for the very first time.
This newfound recognition can rekindle kindness and tenderness, the basis for all sustained intimacy. And as partners begin to take steps toward each other, their combined efforts set a new trajectory for relationship renewal.