Couples Therapy +
Resolve Problems + Deepen Connection
Are you struggling with an emotionally unavailable partner, or are they hysterical and needy? Or do you find intimacy challenging and it is harming your relationship? Are you struggling to connect with your partner? Is there no communication? Do you, or your partner, focus more on work, alcohol, or other people than on the relationship? Or are you fighting over and over about the same things and struggling to find a solution? Are you foreseeing a break up, and wondering if there is anything you can try first? Is the passion gone, and you find yourself wanting more sex? Are you surviving infidelity that has recently occurred? Or are you about to get married, and are considering premarital counseling?
Relationships can be extremely challenging. But, we are often taught that they should be easy.
We meet, the heavens part, and we live happily ever after. This is a very old model for romantic relationships. Likewise, we assume that sex should be automatic, highly-charged, and totally fulfilling. Another old model. Despite what we have been taught, we often find that our relationships do not look anything like this. Many of us begin to feel disconnected from our partner, questioning whether or not we should break up, or get a divorce. Or we check out, become emotionally unavailable, and feel less and less for our partner. We can feel lonely in our relationship. And it hurts.
Sometimes we may aim that hurt at our partner, or vice versa. We find ourselves annoyed by many things they do. Or we cannot seem to have a serious conversation without fighting. Some of us may be surviving infidelity, and are wondering if we can ever trust them again? Or perhaps there was an emotional affair, and our feelings are deeply hurt. The list goes on and on.
It is natural for relationships to have problems.
It sucks. But it is natural. Even to be expected. And fortunately, couples counseling can help.
When we enter into intimate relationships, we share our thoughts, emotions, and dreams with our partner. Their problems become our problems, and we give them our bodies in sex. This is vulnerability. We open internal doors to our partner that do not normally provide invitation to others. For most of us, the last time we were this open and vulnerable was as a child, in our parents' care. Because of this, intimate relationships bring out parts of ourselves that no one has had access to since our parents.
In psychology, we call this our attachment system. Our parents (mostly our mom) were responsible for regulating our emotions and meeting our needs as infants. They were charged with the task of securely attaching to us, and by so doing, teach us how to attach to others. But unfortunately, many of our parents were not so good at this.
Perhaps they were drunk, constantly working, or emotionally unavailable themselves. Perhaps they were struggling to keep food on the table, managing their own mental health, or they simply never had secure attachment modeled for them. Whatever the reason, their unhealthy relationship patterns are often passed on to us as something we replicate, or rail against with a polar opposite, but equally destructive, form of attachment.
Then we enter into romantic relationship, open the doors to this vulnerable place, and out come unhealthy relationship patterns.
Working with the Nervous System
As an infant, the lack of healthy relationship is a threat to our survival, for obvious reasons. We not only needed them to protect and feed us, but we did not yet have the capability to regulate our own nervous system, and therefore relied on them for our homeostasis. This sense of threat comes through our newly opened doors into our adult relationships.
This is why an infidelity or emotional affair can be so scary. This is why an emotionally unavailable or hysteric partner can be so triggering for us. Our child part fears their leaving, whether actual or emotional.
In my couples counseling, I draw heavily from the Psychobiological Approach to Couples Therapy, also known as PACT. In PACT therapy, we work with the experiences of threat in a mindfulness-based way. We locate, in the present moment, how we become triggered and why.
We learn to regulate our own nervous system, and that of our partner. I also draw from Dynamic Attachment Repatterning to further deepen the work on our childhood attachment system.
How to Heal a Relationship
For those not struggling with serious relationship problems, or considering premarital counseling, this style of couples therapy can not only work to solve issues, but to locate and work through blocks to even deeper intimacy. It is very effective for increasing the depth of an already deep connection.
But for those in the midst of severe relationship challenges, we start by investigating the issues arising in the relationship. And what is often found through applying mindful awareness to these issues? Childhood attachment problems affecting our current relationship. We learn how to tend to those needs in ourselves and in our partner.
Then we establish new ways of handling destructive cycles that often come about because of these younger issues. This work can contribute not only to healing our relationship, but to the healing of each of us as individuals.
This is challenging, and can be extremely rewarding. Intimate relationships can be our greatest source of inspiration and repair. It just takes some work.