View from the therapist’s chair
What brings couples to therapy? Over the years I’ve discovered there is no single answer to this question. Couples seek help at different times during their relationship and for myriad reasons. Relationships, whether short or long-term, are dynamic not static, always a work in progress.
I learn constantly from my clients: about resilience, hope, compromise, creativity, companionship and partnership. And this is by no means a comprehensive list. Couples are tough, and they do not give up on each other…or at least, not easily, and not without first trying everything possible to make things work. This is where hope and resilience play a major role.
Near the top of any couples’ wish list is better communication. What exactly does this mean? Again….there’s no one answer. It is equally about listening and hearing and also about being able to state clearly what one wants. It’s about recognizing that people may choose to communicate in different ways. Some like to talk, while others may prefer to communicate by touch or facial expression (so, more non-verbal). When couples are communicating well, they are doing a good job at picking up on these contrasting methods.
It’s very easy, however, for couples to fall into patterns of behaviour which become entrenched over months and years. It is sometimes hard to see that this is happening but what people do notice are the rising levels of frustration when interactions are not clear and messages get blurred or misunderstood. This is often when couples do seek help and doing so is a wise decision. It shows the desire for something different and hope for things to be better. And often it is the little things that matter the most: saying what is on one’s mind rather than assuming that the other knows or can guess. For a therapist, it is wonderful to watch when couples begin to express simple appreciations of each other; or when they come back for a follow-up session and report that things have been “good” or “smooth”, all because of little things (helping each other in daily tasks, the husband offering to take the kids out so the wife can have some time to herself, or simply giving each other a bit of space) and the fact that date night is a reality rather than being a distant dream. I see all of this happening with couples who’ve been together for years as well as couples who are contemplating a long-term commitment and want to iron out various issues early on. It’s always rewarding and also deeply humbling to be part of a couple’s journey to strengthen their relationship.