couples counseling

Courtesy of Folkert Gorter.


When Love Hurts

Nothing feels better or more wonderful than falling in love at the beginning stages of a relationship and realizing this could be the person for you!

However, nothing feels worse than having your first disagreement or conflict and later getting stuck in repetitive arguments from which you can’t find your way out. You wonder how your partner can go from feeling like he or she loves you to acting so mean, cold or aggressive. What happened to the person you loved? Where is that sweet person you used to know? You sometimes feel like leaving, wondering if you picked the right person, while other times you feel alone and forlorn, maybe experiencing actual pain in your body.


Relationship Conflict Is Often Due to Current or Past Attachment Wounds

Attachment theory teaches that we are all wired for attachment and emotional connection. Humans have innate fears of abandonment that are probably hardwired for survival reasons. This is present in adults as well as children, even though they are more obvious in some people and covered up better in others (for more on this, see my attachment page). In fact most adults have their reactive child self still alive and well inside of them, and those parts often come out during stressful interactions, like fights. Then what we are really dealing with is two hurt and angry children rather than two rational adults, which is why fights often get out of hand. However, if those hurt and angry people can feel heard, understood and responded to, the fight will be over more quickly. In this kind of therapy, we learn to become aware of how we are communicating and what our deeper selves are feeling. We learn to identify and take ownership of our part in the negative dance we are both doing, creating a sense of compassion for our partner. This sense of compassion can get each person back in touch with their feelings of love and caring for each other.

Therapists have different approaches to couples counseling. One way is to teach clients communication skills and offer practical solutions. This is a valid way to provide couples counseling, but it does not address the deeper attachment issues present in relationships. These deeper issues can cause the same problems to resurface over and over again if they are not addressed.


In Couples Counseling You Can Create the Safety And Security Love Needs to Thrive

People need to feel safe and secure in life. Our primary relationships are the perfect opportunity and place for this to happen. The goal of this kind of couples counseling is to help each partner find that safe, secure feeling with their significant other. People need to know they are important and matter to their partner, and that they can relax and trust them, not feeling as though they are walking on eggshells.

Some of us have never experienced this kind of safety and security in our own family, so that presents another layer to the work. If one or both of us is coming from this baseline insecure place, it makes the relationship harder in general. We might be controlling, withdrawn, disappointed, untrusting or  anxious – baggage we have carried over from our  family of origin that is now playing out in our relationship. Fortunately attachment-based couples counseling can help you identify the negative patterns playing out in your relationship so that you can  begin to understand the fear and hurt that they are based on.

Often the results are surprising: one partner (Bob) might look very angry and attacking, and the other one (Joan) feels like Bob’s victim, so her only power (and sense of survival) is in being passive aggressive or withdrawn. During the therapy session I make the effort to find out what is making Bob so upset and what triggered him. In truth, when we get under the layers, we might find a very different picture. Perhaps Bob was actually afraid that he didn’t matter as a result of something Joan said. Joan did not realize she could have that much power in the relationship because her experience was of feeling withdrawn, powerless and victimized by Bob’s anger. As we explore, we find out she had shot him a barb as a result of feeling disconnected and alone, and that she misses the “old” him.

All relationships are doing some kind of “dance.” As we get to know our particular dance, we can join together to look at it, explore it and commiserate with each other over it. Now there will be a way out! If Joan and Bob had only learned communication and fair-fighting skills without being given the opportunity to look deeper, they probably would not have been able to arrive at this new place of healing and understanding.

None of us had any training on how to have a long-term relationship (unfortunately, relationships don’t come with an instruction manual!). Couples counseling is a place where you can become an expert on how to have a healthy, loving sustainable relationship.There are many gifts that therapy can give you; you can learn to accept who your partner actually is, rather than the person you imagined him or her  to be in the beginning of your relationship. I believe that counseling  can help you to feel more compassionate towards yourself and to your partner as you learn more about what his or her motivations might be instead of the story you created to explain it to yourself.


How Can Couples Counseling Help Us?

Relationship Therapy can help you stop blaming and arguing and start really talking about the issues and real feelings between you. You can learn to be a team instead of adversaries and develop the tools and awareness necessary for having a satisfying, long-term relationship.


What if my partner doesn’t want to come with me?

Even if your partner refuses to participate, working on oneself in a troubled relationship will most likely change the dynamics. Both of you can benefit positively from the work you do individually in therapy.

However, relationship counseling for individuals should not be about the therapist agreeing with you about how bad your significant other is behaving. It’s more about understanding the role you play in the conflict, learning healthier ways to communicate and developing more realistic perceptions about yourself and your partner. You may need to do some of your own attachment or trauma work as well.


It’s Possible to Heal Attachment Wounds and Experience a Loving, Gratifying Relationship

Most couples wait at least six  years before they will seek help! However, postponing therapy will only cause your problems to fester and grow worse over time. I invite you both to come in and meet me to see if we are a good fit. I work with gay, straight and lesbian couples as well as people involved with open or poly relationships. I would love to help you in your relationship. Please contact me to ask any questions you have about my practice or to talk about your concerns.