Couples Counseling

For many of us, the romantic relationship is the most important relationship in our life, and when things get difficult with our partner, it affects our entire quality of life. It is entirely natural for problems to arise in various areas over the course of a long-term relationship. People can change, and over time, it may be that we no longer agree on what we want or how we want to live together, that we have different priorities and ambitions, that romantic feelings fade, and that communication fails. Statistics show us that many relationships and marriages come to an end, and this is not a problem in itself, as some relationships are naturally not in the best interest for both involved. But often, relationships end not because someone has understood that they are no longer compatible with each other, but because psychological defenses and unhealthy relationship patterns take over.

Many of those I meet in couples therapy have had problems in their relationship that actually began to surface relatively shortly after coming out of the "honeymoon phase," which can last from the first few months to the first few years of the relationship. Some of the most typical issues include difficulties in communicating needs and feelings, lack of emotional and/or physical intimacy, a partner who does not sufficiently consider the other's needs, relationship patterns pulling in different directions, etc. Unfortunately, most people come to couples therapy too late, not necessarily so late that the relationship cannot be saved, but much later than I would recommend. If you find that you and your partner have had problems in your relationship over time (and it is sufficient for one person to consider it a problem), and despite repeated attempts, you cannot achieve any significant or lasting change on your own, then trying couples therapy is a very good idea.

My approach to couples therapy is based on psychodynamic principles and informed by the method I use in individual therapy, ISTDP (Intensive Short-Term Dynamic Psychotherapy). This means that the goal is to promote honest, authentic, and open communication with emotional closeness between the partners.

When couples come to therapy, there are often some obstacles to overcome in getting the therapy started. Perhaps one person is much more motivated than the other, who may not want to be there at all, even though they agree that things could be better. For therapy to be successful, both partners must have their own will to engage in therapy, seeing something beneficial for themselves beyond just appeasing their partner. Awareness of problems and how things could be different will often help in understanding what can be gained from therapy if successful. Even if there is agreement that things could be better, there may not be a consensus on what the problems are or who or what is to blame for them. By looking at situations from both perspectives, we can try to come closer to a shared understanding of this.

In approach to couples therapy, we will together try to have an open and authentic conversation among the three of us in the room to understand and, if possible, resolve the issues. This may involve examining specific situations that have occurred since the last session, as well as what is happening in the present, understanding each other's viewpoints, reflecting on differences in attachment styles, etc. I will help you tolerate each other's emotions so that you can meet each other in a more pleasant and curious way. It is important that we facilitate emotional intimacy, which involves being able to openly and authentically share thoughts and feelings with each other.

Many people I meet struggle significantly with emotional intimacy, and this can be for various reasons. They may be overwhelmed by anxiety and withdraw to calm themselves, or they use unconscious defenses that hinder genuine closeness. For example, avoiding eye contact or assuming a defensive position before the other person has even had a chance to communicate their thoughts and feelings. Sometimes, it may be due to a fear of hurting the other person's feelings, but in the long run, holding back and postponing our needs, thoughts, and preferences until they explode like a bomb in the relationship does not help and actually undermind the relationship. 

Whatever you are struggling with, I will be actively involved in helping you see how your behavior may hinder emotional intimacy, pointing out what you can change, and encouraging you to do so. If one or both of you are overwhelmed by anxiety, I will actively help you regulate that anxiety. I will also intervene if one person talks over the other or uses dominance tactics. I will try to remain neutral but will always adhere to reality. Sometimes, one of you may be more responsible for the problems than the other, and I don't believe denying this helps.

Another common phenomenon is that one or both behave as if the other is an extension of themselves. This can manifest in acting as if one is entitled to have the other want what they want, or see things the same way. It can be frustrating that your partner doesn't want what you want, or see things the way you do, but they are their own person. In a certain perspective, we cannot demand that they change; however, if our partner chooses not to consider very important needs that have been clearly communicated over time, is aware of this, and what it does to you and the relationship, and still isn't willing to compromise, the question is what you are going to do.

This brings us to an important final point. Successful couples therapy does not always end with the partners staying together. One can imagine two successful outcomes of couples therapy. One is that the couple understand each other better, increase emotional intimacy, break out of negative patterns, and have a better relationship. The other is that the couple understand each other better, increase emotional intimacy, and one or both come to a decision that the healthiest thing they can do for themselves is to exit the relationship - preferable on good terms with their partner. So in therapy, I will try to stand for honesty, openness, and authenticity - and it can go both ways. However, my perception is that when both partners find the will and motivation to work on themselves, many relationships can be repaired, even after significant challenges like infidelity.

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