Recently, I saw a couple that has been married for 12 years and have 2 children. The husband presented his issue to me as: “ we are having difficulty communicating and we need to rekindle our relationship”. This issue is not unique to this couple, in fact many of the couples I see experience this very similar problem and as a therapist my goal is to bridge the communication gap.
Communicating in general can be difficult; now add fears of abandonment, rejection, and judgment from your partner and you have a recipe for communication exhaustion. I often hear, “I’m tired., I don’t feel understood. He/She doesn’t get me. Etc..”, from many of my patients. By the time couples get to therapy they feel like they are in 2 different worlds.
The expressions of fear, tension, loneliness and anger that I felt in the room when I met with this couple, are all too common. With this particular couple they stated that they began to see issues of communication arise “after the children”. What I see occur many times in relationships is that once children are introduced, couples often begin to put their relationship second.I truly believe that if a couple does not put their relationship first, trouble is just around the corner. Why you ask, because our primary relationship is with our partners, not our children.
When trying to repair a relationship in couples therapy, we must ask ourselves why do we choose to be in a partnership? The answers are often: for support, love, mutual respect, knowing we can depend on someone to be a witnessin our accomplishments etc. When kids come along it’s very easy to forget that our partner still has needs. I also find that couples feel as if their partner’s support is gone, the love has been replaced with taking care of the children, their needs aren’t respected and they have no witness. These feelings are even more conflicted when partners stay silent, or when one partner does bring it up and the other will become defensive.
In therapy my goal is to teach partners to listen to feelings, to look beyond the details or requests, and hear for the emotion. I find that when couples start hearing emotions there is a tremendous shift in energy. Couples will begin to come from a place of love and realization that they are on the same team. At the end of the day, isn’t that what we all want; a teammate to work towards the goal. What is the goal we are talking about here? Goals are couple specific and this is a question that I help my patients answer and come to agreement to. In therapy we develop a goal and then delineate specific steps to get there. Every couple has different goals; however, some common goals are around true intimacy, better communication, and a more fulfilling sex life.
If the goal is better communication, the couple is given exercises to briefly discuss their feelings about a particular situation and listen for the underlying feeling. This hones in on a language of validation and much needed clarity.
In my next post I will discuss how to take steps towards better intimacy and communication, so stay tuned.
If you have any questions regarding how to improve intimacy in your relationship, feel free to email me at: [email protected] and I may address your question in my next post.