I love working with couples! I find human relationships and human interactions to be one of the most awe inspiring and curious things about life. How we reach out to one another and try to establish connection, and how we’ve learned to protect ourselves with our unconscious defensive structures. All of it with its complexities, subtleties, and nuances is incredibly fascinating.
What Most People Want Out Of Couples Therapy
The majority of couples who enter couples therapy typically want one thing: They want their spouse to be different. Many people in unsettling and dissatisfying relationships have come to believe that their discomfort or unhappiness is a result of their partner’s actions, and if only their partner would change, things would feel and be much better. The problem herein lies usually that both parties in the relationship want each other to change, and most typically neither of them are willing to change. And so, we have a classic standoff; you change first, then maybe I’ll consider changing. In other words, “I need YOU to be different, because I am fine”.
This potentially endless cycle of finger pointing and demanding the other to be different can go on for decades with some couples if it’s never addressed and dealt with. When both parties are have locked horns and dug their heals in – change can not take place.
There’s Only One Way Out
Couples who are stuck in this gridlock have only one way out – To begin fighting with themselves. I like to ask couples if they can see even just a tiny fraction of their contribution to the marital dissatisfaction. However small, they must be able to see their part in the dance for forward momentum to take place in the relationship. This is the beginning of shifting the focus on how your partner needs to be different to opening up our self-reflective capacity with a fraction of humility and considering how I need to be different. This is a massive shift, and when it slowly begins to take place, lots of change will begin to unfold in the relationship.
Fighting with Yourself Is Not For The Faint Of Heart – But Neither Is Intimacy
Asking couples to begin fighting with themselves instead of their partner is a tall order. I’m asking a lot. There is a reason we like to fight with the other, instead of with ourselves…it serves as a very critical self-protecting state of being. We are all defensive creatures by nature and looking at our own shortcomings and human fallibilities are usually blows to our egos – and that hurts. And for this reason, we like to point out all the flaws in our partner instead of considering our own junk. However, if we desire to have happy & healthy marriages we need to grow deeper in our levels of intimacy. And intimacy cannot happen without looking inward.
**Disclaimer - We Are Not Trying To Shame Each Other
Fighting With Yourself is not meant to promote self-deprecating beliefs about yourself that hinder your self worth as a person! We can hold onto our self worth and simultaneously grow with insight into the ways in which we need to change. We all have parts of ourselves that may need re-appraisal. Working with a couple’s therapist who is skilled at assessing these relationship dynamics and areas of growth without inducing shameful feelings can be an incredible experience.
So, you know that fight you had with your spouse this past weekend? What was your part in that? What about that fight had to do with your areas of growing?
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Quentin Hafner, LMFT