Clinical Psychology Seattle Creating the life you want

Couples Therapy

Life circumstances and difficulties can often create obstacles to acting with the utmost respect and love toward our partners. One or both partners may become tired, stressed, or discouraged with something that's happening outside the relationship.

These are some of the hallmark signs of a relationship in distress:

  • We begin to focus on what we need or what we always hoped, and downplay our partner's needs.
  • We begin to tally up the disappointments or slights.
  • We see our partner as the reason for our distress.
  • We start to make demands of the other person, with the idea that if they changed, our life would be easier.
  • We hold ourselves back, emotionally, physically or sexually.
  • We give ourselves permission to express our anger and disappointment without taking the time to understand what things mean.

People often come to couples therapy without the benefit of knowing what a healthy relationship really is. They don't know how to express anger, sadness and disappointment without attacking their partner or trying to extract guilt. Couples therapy becomes the place to untangle all the things that you might have been told were acts of love, but were in fact acts of criticism, judgment, harshness, coldness or self-preservation. It is the place to learn healthy love.

When I work with couples, I encourage each person to accept responsibility for their actions, thoughts and ways that they treat their partner. It is an opportunity to learn and implement healthy ways of expressing desires, needs, and feelings, as well as a way to accept and honor what the other partner is expressing. I am neither judge nor arbiter – it is not my place to tell either person what they are “doing wrong”. Instead, I assume that both individuals are striving for something better, but they are unable to reach this goal because of old issues that are somehow getting in the way.

Couples therapy is also quite useful at the early stages of a relationship, often when a couple is considering making a big or new commitment to one another, such as moving in, buying a house, relocating, getting married, and starting or enlarging the family. Our goal will be to identify which aspects of earlier relational experiences are likely to get acted out again in this current relationship, and to give an understanding of what some of the conflicts might be given each person’s history. Early on in a relationship is a perfect time to create healthy patterns of communication and expression of needs, as well as strengthen the couple's ability to handle conflict and differences without feeling unduly hurt or provoked. It's possible to do this work early in a relationship so that the patterns and habits that get created are healthy and generate strength and flexibility in each person, as well as in the relationship.

When I meet with couples, I usually meet with both people first, then have a separate, individual session with each partner. This is a chance for me to gather more historical information, as well as hear of things that one person might have difficulty saying in the presence of their partner. After these sessions, we will come back together, and create the plan for what our work will be. The overall framework of the couples work is intended to help each person identify their “best self” – how they most want to be in the relationship, and what is happening individually and between the two people, often times without their awareness, that is preventing this. The obstacles to being our best self are often imbedded in the underlying, historical roots of how we have come to relate to others. Once this is identified, it frees people up to relate to the real-life partner they have chosen, and develop new patterns of healthy communication and interaction.

Many people find themselves in the situation where they really want couples therapy, but their partner is not interested. Many couples issues can be addressed in individual therapy, especially the issues of what old, unhealthy, painful aspects of earlier experiences are being evoked or re-created in the current relationship.

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