A child needs to be loved. An adult wants to love. Couples counseling helps you love more maturely.
Are you lonely in your relationship or marriage?
- Has the excitement in your relationship cooled?
- Are you and your partner just “going through the motions”?
- Has your sex life disappeared?
- Do your attempts to discuss relationship issues turn into arguments?
- Are you disappointed that the changes your partner promised to make haven’t happened?
- Do you daydream about a partner who would “get” you better?
- Are your friends or other family members in happier relationships?
When you got together as a couple, you may have felt full of hope, had frequent sex, felt loved and appreciated, and looked forward to spending time together.
Now that the newness has worn off and you’re facing the pressures of work and maybe children, you find that sex happens infrequently and may feel like a chore, and your partner seems clueless about what’s important to you.
The contrast between the warmth and closeness you expected from your relationship and the actual coldness and lack of connection leave you feeling frustrated and disappointed. You talk with your partner and he or she promises to try harder.
Things are better for a period of time.
But then things go back to the way they were, and your hopes are dashed yet again. There’s tension and you feel alone.
If you have children, they feel the tension and either try very hard to be good enough to make up for your and your partner’s disappointment in each other, or they act out because they can’t tolerate the tension.
You may be preoccupied by your relationship worries and find that you don’t have much energy and concentration for your work, for your own satisfaction, and for your children.
Your resentment and/or anger have taken over, and you wonder if this loneliness in the relationship is the way it will always be for the two of you.
Relationships tend to ebb and flow
It’s important to know that relationship dissatisfaction is common and painful. In just one week in 2015, the New York Times published two articles about unsatisfying relationships: “The Ambivalent Marriage Takes a Toll on Health” and “After Full Lives Together, More Older Couples Are Divorcing” so you’re not alone in wanting more!
Once the newness of your relationship wears off, you and your partner are no longer always on your best behavior and you’re left with what is, rather than the idealized romantic partners you created in your own and your partner’s minds.
A patient once described the difference between her behavior and demeanor when she was trying to impress a new potential partner versus when she was just being herself as “dating Mary” versus “regular Mary.” “Dating Mary” cared about her appearance, thought things through, and was on her kindest best behavior, whereas “regular Mary” didn’t consider her partner and often picked fights.
Some people say that the romance of a new relationship lasts just long enough to get you through the beginning stages of a relationship.
And then you have to do the hard work of really getting to know each other, finding empathy for each other on a daily basis, learning to handle differences of opinion, solving problems, and compromising creatively.
You may have the unrealistic expectation that the romance of the new relationship should extend throughout the life of the relationship, and that if you’re with the right partner this should happen effortlessly. So when the “first blush” fades, you may move on to another relationship, chasing the excitement and gloss of one new relationship after another, never progressing beyond the new stage in a relationship. Or you may stay in the relationship, disappointed in and resentful of your partner and daydreaming about a better partner.
The reality is that a satisfying relationship requires a lot of work and maintenance. And goals and decisions in life—whether or not to have kids, where to live, how much emphasis to place on career versus relationship, how to manage the tasks of everyday life, how to deal with financial matters—require in-depth ongoing discussion, rather than making assumptions or expecting your partner to read your mind and to want the same things that you want.
You may also have unrealistic expectations of what place a relationship occupies in a satisfying life.
Is it the icing on the cake?
Or is it the cake itself?
As a human you’re a social creature, and from the moment you pop into the world, you want to connect and relate. It’s an emotional and biological necessity. But if you’re looking for the important people in your life today to make up for the unconditional love and acceptance your parents may not have been able to provide, you will be disappointed, whether you’re looking for that from your significant other, your friends, your coworkers, or your children. The only people who have the right to expect unconditional love are children!
Adult relationships collapse under the weight of these unrealistic expectations, and then you feel lonely and alone in your relationship.
So the answer to the question above is that a romantic relationship is the icing on the cake of the satisfying life you make for yourself, not the cake itself.
The good news, however, is that couples counseling can help you sort through the problems, look at your own part in what’s not working as well as the two of you would like, and begin to improve the quality of your side of the marriage or couples equation.
The truth of the matter is that, as much as you may believe that your partner’s deficiencies keep the relationship from being satisfying, the problems in a relationship don’t belong exclusively to one partner. In therapy I’ll help you identify and improve your part in the stalemate. And if your partner does that, the relationship may be infinitely more satisfying.
Couples counseling can renew your relationship
All couples go through challenging times.
And it’s a sign of strength to know when you need professional help and to get it.
According to research by the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, couples who have participated in couples counseling indicate high levels of patient satisfaction and 93% of those surveyed reported that they had more effective tools for dealing with their problems.
Couples therapy can be useful in helping you and your partner identify your issues, develop empathy for each other, and improve your communication skills and strategies.
If you have only a hammer in your toolbox, that hammer will be used for painting, cleaning windows, tightening screws, sealing the shower.
And if you and your partner have only one communication tool—raising your voices and arguing, or expecting your partner to read your mind—that’s what you’ll use for dealing with differences of opinion, financial decisions, parenting challenges, differences in sexual desires.
In marriage therapy I’ll help you develop new tools, more nuanced methods, for dealing with yourselves and each other, not through a behavioral approach, but through an increased understanding of your and your partner’s psychological make up.
We’ll also explore what love is.
My favorite definition is this:
Love means putting your partner’s satisfaction and well-being on the same plane as yours—not above, and not below.
The adult version of love is a verb, not a noun: it’s not something that you sit around and wait to be given; it’s what you do! And why do you do it? Because it feels better to go about your life being warm and loving than being cold. Love has great side-effects for the people in your life, but you ultimately do it because it feels better to you.
Marriage counseling and couples counseling: separating fact from fantasies
So if you approach love in an adult manner, as something you do because you want to, because it’s satisfying, do you get happily-ever-after?
Nope, that’s the child-like fantasy again, with the one true love who will make your life golden.
The good news and the bad news is that it’s your job to make your life satisfying: good news, because you don’t have to depend on someone else to do it for you; bad news, because you can’t depend on someone else to do it for you!
In the long run, this is all good, because it means that if the relationship ends for any reason, you’re still fine, because you know how to make a satisfying life. And good, because if your partner is having a tough time, you can still feel good—it’s about emotional autonomy, though of course you will be compassionate to your partner, as he or she is struggling.
In relationship therapy—couples counseling, marriage counseling, whatever you want to call it!—I’ll help you form a warm, cooperative partnership, rather than an adversarial one, so that money and sex become pasta conversations: “Do you like linguini or spirals, red sauce or white?” instead of the emotionally-charged arguments couples often have.
It’s not about pointing out your partner’s faults and shortcomings, but looking at your own contributions—both positive and negative—to the state of your relationship.
People in NYC often say that it’s hard to meet people for a serious relationship. But when you’re really open to meeting people, you will meet them, whether you live in New York City or Des Moines. A willingness to be vulnerable is key, and that may be a scary proposition, if things were shaky for you growing up. That same willingness to be vulnerable is also an important part of an ongoing satisfying relationship.
And as you work on your relationship in counseling, through learning what worked and didn’t work so well from your earliest life experiences, building on the strengths and facing the challenges in new ways, you may find closeness and satisfaction with your partner that you didn’t know were possible.
You may have more questions about couples counseling….
What if my partner doesn’t want to come to therapy?
If your partner doesn’t want to come to therapy, you can still come and learn about yourself, your part in the problems, and what you want to do to address these issues.
Sometimes when only one person gets help in dealing with their part of the problems, the relationship starts to shift and the unwilling partner may notice and appreciate the change and decide to begin treatment after all. But that’s not the reason to begin. The reason for you to start treatment is to improve your life and overall satisfaction.
It’s too expensive
What’s the cost of not addressing your relationship problems?
If you ignore the problems or continue the same ineffective ways of trying to deal with the problems, the cost in unhappiness for yourselves and your children (if you have them) is huge.
The stress that you feel in dealing with the coldness, loneliness, tension, and arguing can have an effect on the family’s physical health, as well.
And then there’s the potential for loss of productivity and missed work, which can result in financial cost for the adults and perhaps the equivalent loss of productivity for children in school, which can result in lower grades, due to anxiety and difficulty in concentration.
What’s couples counseling or marriage counseling like?
I foster a safe, compassionate environment, which allows you to open up without fear of humiliation or attack.
I don’t allow fighting in the sessions, because it’s not productive.
And I don’t take sides—except the side of mental health!
Chances are you and your partner already know how to fight, but are not as practiced in airing your differences in a non-threatening, calm way. This is something we’ll work on together, among many other skills and techniques. I start with four sessions, which may be spread over the span of one to three weeks, depending on our schedules:
- couple together
- one partner individually
- the other partner individually
- couple together to talk about the treatment plan going forward.
You didn’t just wake up with these problems this morning, and you’re not going to learn to deal with them productively overnight. So you can dig in and work on improving things, or you can live with more days, months, and years of dissatisfaction and disappointment while you keep trying the same failed strategies.
I won’t tell you to stay together or to break up.
Only you can decide whether or not you find your relationship satisfying, after putting in the time in treatment to improve your side of the equation. I’ll help you with your thought process, communication, and whether or not your expectations of yourself, your partner, and your relationship are realistic.
What if we can’t work things out?
As you look more closely at your life goals and your values, you may realize that yours and your partner’s are not compatible, that you really want different things in life, and that you can’t make a satisfying life together. That’s still a successful outcome, because you can each move on to make satisfying lives on your own, rather than continuing to try to force that square peg into a round hole.
It’s crucial to have a therapist without a “stay-together” agenda, so that this sometimes-reasonable option isn’t closed off.
Some couples and families are much happier and function better separately than together.
You and your partner may be more effective as co-parents than as coupled parents, and your children may be relieved to be living with less tension and conflict. If there is eventually a more successful new relationship for you and/or your partner, your children will have a better model of relationships and love than if you unhappily remain together “for the sake of the children.”
If you decide separate, I’ll help you do so without fault finding, without making your partner all bad in your mind. Your partner has the right to be who he or she is, just as you have the right to be who you are, and with that knowledge you can both walk away without the blaming, mud-slinging, and devastation that characterize many breakups.
If you can have a respectful ending to a relationship, the healing process is much less complicated.
How do we get started?