The Nuts & Bolts
Having problems with a lack of companionship in your relationship or want more emotional intimacy? Feel like you aren’t seen or heard, feel lonely, invisible, like your partner is nothing more than a roommate? Having arguments about finances, sex, children, infidelity, social media? Lost respect or trust for your partner? Problems in these areas can and do cause stress, anxiety, and depression. We withdraw from the pain and that withdrawal can cause more stress. The more stress we feel the worse our problems feel to us.
These are the common problems couples come to me with. Past trauma is often a factor as well as individual baggage. Baggage can bog down and destroy a relationship, and includes unvoiced needs, expectations, and assumptions as well as attachment styles. Each of us has individual baggage or burdens we’ve accumulated over the course of our lives. Some of that baggage is positive … and some is negative. And past trauma and conflicts about baggage often cause problems that couples can’t see because they’re too close to the issue.
We all have our own expectations, needs, and assumptions about relationships. Most of the time these are realistic, but at times they’re not. We also have our own primary attachment or relational style; it’s another part of our personal baggage. Finally, we’ve all had relationship classes. We learned how to have relationships from our parents, our peers, from the media, etc., etc. Sometimes those lessons were pretty good … and sometimes they weren’t. Simply working on communication is never the whole answer to a couples’ problems, although it helps.
How I Work
This is the process I use with couples. The process I use with families, children, and individuals is very similar.
I commonly address companionship, respect, trust, boundaries, emotional and physical intimacy, relationship expectations, needs and assumptions, as well as communication, baggage, and past trauma with couples I work with. I also take a look at physical health and may make recommendations here as well.
I do a detailed assessment in order to understand as much as possible about what’s happened. For couples the assessment is generally 3 sessions; first with the couple, then with each person, and then the couple. Therapy actually begins in the assessment phase where I encourage couples to talk about each others positive qualities. This often softens some of the pain couples are experiencing. We start to talk about emotions and feelings and talk about these in most therapy sessions. At the end of the assessment we create a treatment plan together, a road map of how you want therapy to proceed. This is your treatment plan and you can make changes as needed. We use that treatment plan in every session and we take a look at progress in each session. These two actions keep both of us focused on the treatment plan and the work we’re doing together.
I often give homework and reading to do between sessions; this may be for each person or for a couple do to together. This is important as you’ll actually get more out of therapy between sessions than in a therapy session, and I hold people accountable for this work. For couples, the focus is generally on emotions, companionship, rebuilding respect and trust, boundaries, but it can vary. If there is a history of past trauma we may decide to work on that before in-depth couples’ work, or we may do trauma work as part of couples’ therapy. If infidelity is an issue I often have the offender write a detailed letter describing why they had the affair, what they got out of the affair, and what they’re going to do to never have another affair. And we often explore and define individual and couples’ values, goals, and beliefs.
I work a lot with expectations, needs, and assumptions about relationships. A gentleman I worked with several years ago told me, “I will respect anyone who respects me the way I want to be respected.” When I asked, “How do you want to be respected?”, his answer was basically “I don’t know.” He couldn’t put his expectation into words. A lady I worked with recently told me she expected good communication and honesty from her partner. When I asked her what these terms meant to her she was stumped, but she did see the point. If we can’t put our expectations and needs into words for ourselves how can we expect anyone else to live up to them?
Lack of this knowledge can cripple or kill a relationship. Unfortunately, we seldom blame ourselves for the fallout. We’re often blind to what we don’t know about ourselves. This exercise – identifying, writing down, and challenging, your own needs, expectations, and assumptions, and discussing them with your partner is a common but difficult homework assignment.
Attachment is yet another kettle of fish. Children can have one of four primary attachment styles – secure, anxious, avoidant, or disorganized. Adults, however, don’t think like kids and don’t relate to other people like kids. Adults can have one of four predominant and different attachment styles than children – secure, dismissing/avoidant, fearful/avoidant, or preoccupied. But for now, think in terms of just two – secure and insecure. With a secure attachment style, I think of myself as “I’m okay and you’re okay.” Insecure attachment, on the other hand, can lead to some negative beliefs – “I’m okay and you’re not,” “you’re okay and I’m not,” or “neither of us is okay.” These latter three negative beliefs can lead to a host of emotional, relational, work, social, and physical health problems. We can learn to have secure attachment as an adult. Our minds are plastic, we can change and we can grow, we can achieve secure attachment, but we may need some help and guidance to do so.
I work a lot with baggage – helping couples understand each others’ baggage. That’s hard and takes time. The really hard work comes in blending your baggage, expectations, needs, assumptions, attachment styles, and other lessons you’ve learned about relationships with those of another person. You may not be responsible for all the baggage you carry. However, you are responsible for knowing what you’re carrying around, what you do with it, how you express it, and how it affects you and your relationships.
One of the most rewarding things couples have told me they experienced was a better understanding of what’s not working well, why, and coming up with solutions they can work on together to make their relationship better.
It’s not a quick process, but couples do recover and often end up stronger than before. At the end, typically 10 therapy sessions but possibly more, couples are often laughing, smiling at each other, they’re talking more and spending more time together, touching and holding hands, and have a renewed sense of commitment and intimacy in their relationship. They’ve learned a lot about themselves, each other, and how to make their relationship really work.
Need some help or have questions about relationships, baggage, or attachment? Send me an email asking for a free consultation. Include your availability in the coming week and I’ll respond within 24-hours with a day and time that works for both of us.