“How come the only way to know how high you get me
Is to see how far I fall
God only knows how much I'd love you if you let me
But I can't break through at all.
It's a heart, heartbreak…”
John Mayer writes about relationship struggles, sometimes a never-ending cycle of love and conflict, in “Heartbreak Warfare.”
Couples come for therapy when they can’t take it anymore, although sometimes for lesser reasons. Some simply want to keep the water under the bridge low, while others want to stay connected, continuing their intimacy with an increased awareness for how life and past relationships can get in the way.
When I see a couple for the first time I want to know how each of them sees the presenting problem.
Usually there is a “he said, she said” beginning, however, the goal is to begin to converge these two realities. I ask each partner to tell me what they want to work on and what they want to get out of the session. I assess childhood roles and the dynamics in their families growing up. Most importantly, this work helps couples understand each other better and gain empathy as to how the past is affecting the present.
In addition, I assess the power dynamics between a couple. Who is in the one-up and who is in the one-down position? Shame (contempt against self) and grandiosity (contempt against others) are both toxic to relationships. When a person is in either of these states of mind they are not being relational but being overly self-focused.
Confrontation is an intimacy skill.
We are all vulnerable people, though some of us are more walled off than others. Intimacy can only exist if we can be vulnerable with our thoughts and our feelings, especially negative ones such as fears or insecurities. We must also have the courage to be vulnerable through confrontation, which can be learned and used to resolve issues with the people we love and care about in our lives.
I help patients reconnect and become relational.
My role as a psychologist is to facilitate a safe space for this process of exploration, understanding and learning. If one or both people struggle with honoring and valuing their own thoughts, feelings, and realities, things can get messy quickly. However, if each person is dedicated to working on his or her own issues, this will enhance our couples work together.
In couples therapy we also practice communication techniques, paraphrasing, listening and hearing, supporting, understanding, and setting healthy boundaries. Those I work with learn the value of “time outs” and we sometimes do deeper work on childhood or other types of trauma. However, this is usually best accomplished in individual therapy.