“I wish they would…”
These are pretty common conversation starters when I ask clients about their partners. But when I ask, “What do you like about your partner/relationship?” that usually it takes a long while to answer. Luckily it is usually answered, but it takes much more thought to come up with that answer and much easier to explain what they do not like about their partner.
I hate to admit it, but after you are “together” that is not the end of the game. The credits do not begin to role, and there is no secret clip at the end. Relationships are work, they are constantly evolving and changing.
I joked with a client a few weeks ago, that I wish it was feasible for me to have sessions in an Ikea warehouse and have couples put furniture together. Once with talking to one another, and once with no speaking. Unfortunately, this is not something that would be cost effective (but I am still working on it). I said this lightly because I feel as though it speaks to one’s relationship having to put something together and complete a task together. For some couples, this is not an option “We NEVER do tasks together,” then I am always curious as to why. What prevents you and your partner from working together to complete a task? Is it an interpretation, based off of one experience?
Another not cost-effective intervention I wish I could use, is to be a fly on the wall while couples go on a trip together. The whole deal, planning, airports, lost luggage, the trip itself, and the long journey home. As much as I would love to travel around for a living, again not a cost-effective intervention. But when was the last time you planned and completed a trip with a partner and it was smooth the whole time? If it was, what made it this way? Was one person doing all of the work and the other was just coasting?
The last intervention, I do not wish to be present for but is usually what brings couples in to my office; and that is when a tragedy, large life event, or death happens. True colors tend to show when this much emotion is involved. Couples handling a tragedy together is almost always difficult. Having to be emotionally present for one party, grieve together and separate, and deal with raw emotions is difficult. It is easier when both parties are happy and in a good place, but when life throws a curve ball, do you adjust your stance? Or continue to swing for the fence?
Good news is, there is a common theme between these three situations. That is communication and emotional intelligence. Couples that talk (not argue, actually talk) about their emotions, thoughts, feelings, needs, and wants are successful. The other half to talking though is listening. Listening is much harder than talking, because it requires you to be present, attentive, emotionally available, and let go of the preoccupying thoughts in your head. Listening also does not mean “fixing” the problem, unless the other party asks for it. Your strength/job might be to be a fixer, but your partner might not need that right now.
This is where more talking comes in, and sometimes a third party to assist in that process. Expressing one’s self and releasing worry can be difficult. Through the assistance of therapy, couples can learn how to express themselves to one another, talk, listen, and overcome obstacles. Therapists are not referees! We do not come into session with whistles and striped shirts. Therapists are more of a coach, there to guide, provide suggestions, and point out areas of improvement.
If you are curious about couples therapy, had an experience (good or bad) or any suggestions I would love to hear them!