When a couple enters into couples counseling they are usually at some sort of an impasse. It can be anything from we are not communicating very well to living with outside pressures from children, parents, friends, work and finances. It can also be that one or both partners are looking at other men or women on Facebook or dating sites; have begun or are having an emotional and/or physical affair. In these situations and difficult times, it is one or both of the individuals that has shut down in their level of trust in offering themselves to growing the relationship. There are many times when one person is having a difficult time understanding their feelings and thus sharing them with their partner. Then there are situations when the couple just needs a third party to facilitate certain understandings or struggles that they may observe in the relationship. In couples counseling we begin to peal back the multiple layers and issues that have begun to build a much more complex relationship between the couple then they had originally expected.
As we begin to work on the relationship together, I first work with the couple to make sure that there is space in our time together for all involved to speak and be heard. This, I hope, over time also begins to develop and maintain within the couple outside of the counseling work. To balance the speaking, being heard and having space means that we work to find and maintain fair and clear communication. Once we have begun to work with the balance in the relationship when it comes to communication, we then move into what it is each member of the couple wants in the relationship. This is at least a start of clear verbalization of ones needs and desires in the sessions that we spend together.
One way that I help the couple facilitate this is to identify their primary love language. I recommend that they read about the love languages from Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages. A key realization in this particular identification by each member of the couple is to find out that their partner does not feel loved in the same ways that they might. Sometimes couples struggle with this in that one is always trying to love the other in ways that they might feel loved, yet they are totally missing the point of their partner’s need and/or desire to be loved. Once one realizes that they feel loved through praise or affirmation and physical touch, yet their partner really feels you love them when you spend time with them and do things for them they start to build an awareness that their love for each other needs to be a little more intentional and thought out.
This intentional and thought out part of the relationship then becomes the work that the couple continues to do in the weeks following. One of those intentional acts that I work with couples on in the first session is to commit to spending some time together on a date or something together in the next week of so. I then have them report on their dates or activities together each visit. I often find that in the busy lives that many of us live, we can hardly find time, amidst the kids, soccer, television (shows and/or sports), careers, etc., to commit time to be with the partner we’ve chosen to spend a significant part of our life with. Truly committing to the relationship and being more intentional and clear about their relationship goes a long way to helping couples build a more rewarding and livable life together.