For whatever reason, it is always one; one member of a couple will spend time observing the relationship and see a great need for therapy. Out of hope, they identify areas where significant changes can occur, but the idea of approaching their partner with the proposition of finding a therapist feels more like dread than hope. Often, their partners make excuses, procrastinate, or simply shut down the entire conversation. Seeking help feels like a burden to the unwilling or uninterested partner. And if this resistance is happening, I would say that therapy is more important now than it has ever been!
If you are the one thinking about therapy, I have listed some of the top reasons couples come to therapy to help you make your case.
1. Repeating Arguments
One of the most common cases we see at iAmClinic is a couple who argues over the same dilemma or pain-point repeatedly. Like a lost boat floating on the waves of emotions, the couple will feel a lull in the argument in one moment and an upsurge in another. The core issue for these partners is not feeling heard, respected, understood, or validated. In fighting to have their needs met, they often forget the original point they were trying to make because they start arguing instead about context within which their pain occurs, not the pain itself. But don’t forget, the argument has less to do with the actual circumstances (who said what and how they said it, for example) and more to do with trying to feel seen, safe, soothed, or secure.
If you find yourselves in this repeating predicament, therapy can help you identify the primary feeling you are craving from your partner (e.g., seen, safe, soothed, or secure) and give you the tools to talk about your craving in a workable way and approach resolution as a team.
Drop the repeating argument. Trust me, you’ll feel new life and passion flooding your relationship. It’s a real game changer.
2. Communication Issues
Communication is always one of the hardest mechanisms of a relationship. We can speak perfectly articulate English, and our partners will hear something entirely different than what we intended. As a result, our heads spin in frustration as we wonder how two people can interpret the same thing dramatically differently.
Efficient communication requires a mature ability to listen without taking it personally. Listening in this way allows us to use a boundary that allows us to hear what our partner is saying as though they are describing an internal experience, rather than launching a personal attack on our character. When you master your internal boundary, you possess the ability to listen with objectivity and give your partner the ability to be a human with functioning emotions.
Here’s another little tip: Never use the “When you _____ I feel _____” template. That will lead to devastating explosions of anger. A new, refreshing way to articulate your pain is to say, “I am telling myself that _____ (e.g., you don’t care about what’s important to me), and when I tell myself that I feel _____ (e.g., like you don’t love me). I don’t know if this is true or not, but I need you to know what is happening inside my mind and heart.” This allows you to own your interpretation of your partner’s behavior, rather than telling them what they are “doing to you.”
3. The Needy vs. the Overwhelmed
We want our partners to prove that they see our point of view, understand our pain, or listen intently enough to see who we truly are. In the battle to get your partner to do what you want, we can fight endlessly. Our legitimate claims become distorted by our desperate tactics. An innocent and valid request transforms into divisive demands and instead of being perceived as strong-willed, we may come across as needy. In this place, our partners will not be able to hear our innocent pleas, but may begin to feel overwhelmed and controlled.
When a partner feels overwhelmed, they will instinctually pull away from the relationship, block you with walls of anger and/or frustration, and even take time away from you. This response feels protective to them, but can leave you feeling even more isolated, emotionally hungry, and unrelenting in your battle to win.
Getting your relationship back into a healthy flow requires that you learn to talk about what you need, rather than explaining how the other person is leaving you feeling empty-handed. Doing this will help your partner put up that internal boundary so they can really hear about how it feels to be in your position.
4. Broken Sex
Sex is an incredibly important facet of bonding, and going without sex can be incredibly worrisome. Couples who can’t find the mojo see their lack of sex as a major sign that something isn’t going right emotionally. And in some ways, I might agree with them.
Two of the most important facets to examine when sex feels broken are: 1) accumulating resentments and 2) lack of emotional vulnerability.
Some couples reach for medication that might help them experience a sexual rebound, thinking it might be a medical issue, but below the sheets of our sexual lives lurks the yearning that drives our sexual machine and the resentments that can shut it down. When resentments fill our bodies, the sexual machine has no room to function because it is too bogged down with anger, frustrations, and feelings of loneliness.
Healthy emotional intimacy, however, is a highly necessary component of a healthy sex life. When the body knows it is safe and cherished—to the core—the body is not only willing, but eager to bond, especially sexually. So if healthy emotional vulnerability is missing from your relationship, it might be causing your sex life to suffer.
Fighting for couples counseling might just be the best thing you could do for your relationship. In Part II of this blog series, we give you tips to communicate with your partner so that therapy might just be able to keep your relationship alive.