Jan 20 2008

What happens in the beginning of couples therapy?

A lot happens in the very beginning of couples therapy. I ask questions about why the couple is consulting with me, explain how I typically work, and then get started with the problem solving process. Most couples want to start with improving the way they communicate…

Learning to communicate better is a good place to start. Once a couple begins to talk with each other more comfortably and effectively, they can address problems on their own and therapy moves more quickly.

I help the couple learn and practice some of the basics about speaking and listening. There really is an art form to this process.

When speaking to a wife, husband or partner, it is important to use “I” statements. This means focusing mainly on what you think, feel and want in the relationship.

Here are some examples of this:

Speaker: I think the recent holiday visit with your family was hard for me. There were a lot of things going on and I don’t think I managed the demands very well. I think your mother noticed that I wasn’t feeling very good and maybe that made her feel uncomfortable too.

Listener: So, the visit with my family was hard for you and you weren’t feeling well…

Speaker: Yes, when I think back on it, I feel sad that I couldn’t be there more for you and your family. I guess I get overwhelmed easily in those types of situations and check out.

Listener: I understand that you felt sad and overwhelmed back then. I could see that was happening for you. It was a pretty tense situation, so it is understandable that you would have a difficult time. Anyone would have had trouble feeling comfortable and knowing what to do and say.
Speaker: I really want to handle those situations better, so I can be more supportive to you and feel comfortable myself with your family.

Listener: I hear you that you want to do better in those situations. How can I be helpful to you?

The speaker uses “I” statements and focuses on themselves…what they think, feel and want.

The listener reflects back to the speaker in a caring, but non-defensive manner. They show empathy, understanding and validation for the speaker’s feelings.

Working on these issues early in therapy is really essential to make any progress. I like to tell couples that if they can master this method of talking with each other, particularly when things get stressful, things can get better quickly.

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