As a couple and family therapist there are several issues that are presented in couples therapy. Some of these issues can be resolved quickly, however there are some issues that can be resolved but through time and hard work. Without that many couples run into different issues that can have long term effects on overall relationship satisfaction. Some of the main difficulties that I have seen in couples coming for therapy that couples are able to get through are:
- Financial Hardships
- Communication Barriers
- Blended Family
- Lack of Intimacy (emotional and sexual)
- Infidelity (but not multiple as it is abusive)
Why are these issues important to be able to work through in a relationship?
These things are important because in my practice these are the things that most of the couples I work with go through. These topics are the things that can cause divorces. Finances, Communication, Trust and Intimacy are the pillars of a solid relationship. When one or more of those things are lacking there is a significant decrease in relationship satisfaction. I also specialize in infidelity recovery and find that a lot of people have a difficult time moving past it, however the some have shared that it was one of the best things that could have happened in their relationship because it not only exposed the infidelity, but it also exposed some of the other things in their relationship that needed to be improved upon. As it relates to blended families, in marriage these couples are twice as more likely to get a divorce because of the difficulty of managing children prior to their current relationship and bringing them together along with their parenting styles and child rearing which could be difficult for relationships to seem more cohesive. There is also the difficulty of having children for the first time as a couple where that could also lead to some discord if there is not a strong foundation. I always share that children do not necessarily make things worse, however they can shift things. If the foundation of the relationship is not solid it can break the relationship down.
What are some tools/strategies/etc couples can use to move past each of these things?
Some tools to finances that I like to share with couples is creating a financial plan, budget sheet. On this sheet you both can discuss what is coming in and out from individual accounts as well as joint accounts (if any), there is also the importance of being able to be transparent and comfortable with one another. I find that someone is only as honest as they are safe to be. There are several communication exercises such as the use of "I" statements I feel _______ when you _____ because _____ and this is what I need moving forward. There is also the use of reflective listening which is typically in response to an "I" statement which helps each party feel understood by one another. Most people try to get each other to agree as opposed to gaining a true understanding, I always quote that these are two different things. An example of reflective listening would look like "Okay so what you're saying is ________ and you would like me to ______. The goal is to get to the root of the issue and create some form of resolution and resolve. Communication is #1 and when that is solid then the other areas are more easily managed (children, blended families, intimacy, etc). Intimacy is a big piece as for most it is only considered as sexual when there are several forms of intimacy that can influence sexual intimacy. Emotional intimacy is necessary in creating more sexual intimacy which requires emotional vulnerability and transparency in the relationship. In infidelity there has to be re-established intimacy, trust, and open and honest communication. There has to be a sense of honesty and transparency which are two different things. There also has to be a continuous trust building process to ensure the betrayed partner that there will not be any instances of infidelity currently or moving forward.
What are some difficult conversations that all couples should have for their relationship to be successful?
Conversations about sex and sexuality and what they need from one another
Conversations about child rearing, parenting styles, and discipline.
Goals for the relationship
Transparent and open conversations about finances which I find a lot of couples do not discuss in detail, they are typically very vague.
Conversations about needs in the relationship which I have couples do at the second session to express explicitly what they need from one another.
What is important about these specific conversations?
These specific conversations can aid in building great communication with one another as well as getting into the habit of being transparent and providing a safe space for one another to share their most vulnerable selves in a way that they don't with any other person in their lives. Intimacy is an important factor in aiding couples to get through their difficult moments in their relationship. One of my mentors always shared that conflict increases intimacy when its done effectively because it allows us to expose our emotional selves and creates a space for us to feel safe, and reassured which aids in closeness in the relationship. There is more cohesion therefore creating more positive experiences between the couple which gives an increase in relationship satisfaction.
What are some ways to bring up these difficult conversations effectively?
Ways to bring up these conversations are to create pulse check meetings which I share with my couples often. Whether its once/week or twice/month it is intentional space made to have conversations about whats going well, and areas of growth and improvement. These are not spaces for arguing but for having difficult conversations that end in resolve and leading with "I" statements and reflective listening is a way for couples to have these types of conversations effectively.