Three ways that couples counseling can help your partnership
Couples counseling strengthens marriages in three ways.
What if you and your loved one are living the opposite of happily ever after? Do your marital issues leave you feeling less than loved and loving in your partnership? Are your disagreements creating tensions and distance between you instead of leading to mutually satisfying solutions?
If your partnership is yielding too much negative energy, maybe it’s time to reverse the trend. How can couples counselinghelp?
While couples counseling encompasses a wide range of philosophies and techniques, three levels of interventions stand out for me as critical for successful outcomes.
1) Skills coaching
An effective marriage therapist will coach the two of you in the skills that enable couples to succeed as partners in life. The therapist also hopefully will guide you in using win-win coflict resolution skills to guide you to new solutions on the issues about which you tend to spin your wheels or fight.
2) Look backwards at the sources
A good marriage counselor can help you to glance backwards to understand how your problems developed. Was there a period of time when your lives became too stressful and you began to turn against each other instead of staying united against the problem?
Also, did you learn to argue from how your parents interacted?
3) Emotionally hyper-sensitive issues
A potent therapist can help you to identify and clear the subconscious trapped emotions that make strong emotions like anger and anxiety seem to erupt out of nowhere.
The terminology I like best for these three aspects of couple treatment come from my therapy colleague Matthew LeBauer: How-to, How-come, and Landmines. Thanks Matt!
To illustrate the three levels of intervention, here’s a case from my practice: Jerry and Nora–names changed, of course–sought therapy to end their chronic bickering.
Level I: How-To
Marriage is a high-skilled activity. Technique for communication in relationships matters. Jerry and Nora needed coaching to upgrade their skills in four arenas. They learned how to:
1) Talk and listen cooperatively instead of becoming adversarial
2) Keep their interactions in the calm zone, with zero emotional escalations
3) Resolve their differences with what I call the win-win waltz
4) Sustain a steady flow of loving appreciation, affection, and pleasure
Over a series of sessions, plus home practice on myPowerOfTwoMarriage.com website, Jerry and Nora found that as they knew better, they began to do better.
Level II: How-Come
Pulling up old habits by their roots helps make changes permanent. Where had Jerry and Nora learned to bicker? In a household where parents speak English, the kids learn English. If they speak fighting, the kids learn the language of arguing.
Jerry learned in his family to be insistent; whoever hung in there the longest got his way. Nora’s parents were too swamped to listen to the specific preferences of any of their seven children. Nora learned to give up before even saying what she wanted, and then to issue criticisms to vent her disappointment.
As a married couple, Jerry and Nora triggered each others’ skill glitches. Jerry insisted on his way; Nora criticized; Jerry felt judged and snapped back, inviting further criticism from Nora, and round and round they went.
In sum, Nora and Jerry’s conflict patterns stemmed both from the habits they’d learned from their families of origin, and from interaction cycles they’d developed in response to each other.
Level III: Landmines
Identifying and clearing landmines–deeper emotional well-springs of negative feelings–completes the therapy process. Deeper, as described by psychologist John Norcross, refers to subconscious feelings that occurred historically earlier in life, and/or that are less accessible to conscious awareness.
To access clients’ landmine issues, I listen closely:
Clients’ repeated or metaphorical words of distress: “I felt hijacked.”
Thoughts that trigger intense negative feelings: “She doesn’t treat me like number one!”
Specific situations that disturb them unusually strongly: “I hate being interrupted!”
Jerry’s wife’s critical tone of voice could trigger in him a geyser of resentment. While no one likes to receive criticism, Jerry’s hyper-intense response to feeling unjustly accused stemmed from having been the recipient of unjust accusations in his youth. Similarly, Nora’s anger surged when she experienced Jerry as not listening to her.
My favorite techniques for neutralizing landmines are a depth dive, which I describe in my book From Conflict to Resolution, and energy therapy strategies from Bradley Nelson’s The Emotion Code.
Jerry and Nora completed all three levels of treatment: How-to, How-come, and Landmines. While they still experience occasional bumps, overall they now enjoy a vastly more collaborative, affectionate and bicker-free relationship. Mission accomplished!
Source:Lincoln Psychologist | Psychologist in Lincoln, NE | Southpointe Family Resource Center P.C fromMyStockPhoto.com
Susan Heitler, Ph.D., is a Denverclinical psychologist who specializes in treatment of anxiety, depression, anger, narcissism, parenting challenges, and marital difficulties. An author of multiple books, articles, audio cd’s and videos, Dr. Heitleris best known in the therapy community for having brought understandings of conflict resolution from the legal and business mediation world to the professional literature on psychotherapy. David Decides About Thumbsucking, Dr. Heitler’s first book, has been recommended for over twenty years by children’s dentists to help young children end detrimental sucking habits. From Conflict to Resolution, an innovative conflict-resolution theory of psychopathology and treatment, has strongly influenced the work of many therapists. The Power of Twoand The Power of Two Workbook, and also Dr. Heitler’s website for couples called PowerOfTwoMarriage.com, teach the skills for marriage success.
In addition to her clinical work, Dr. Heitler coaches boards of directors in skills for collaboarative decision-making and, in the world of professional sports, Dr. Heitler serves as mental coach for a men’s doubles tennis team.
Dr. Heitler graduated from Harvard University in 1967, and earned her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from NYU in 1975.
Awards and Accomplishments
The editors of the master therapist video series Assessment and Treatment of Psychological Disorders selected Dr. Heitler from all the marriage and family therapists in the US to demonstrate the theory and techniques of couple treatment. Her video from this series, The Angry Couple: Conflict Focused Treatment has become a staple in psychologist and marriage counseling training programs.
The editors of the Psychologist Desk Reference, a compendium of therapeutic interventions, selected Dr. Heitler to write the chapter onTreating High Conflict Couples. Other editors of books on counseling theory and techniques have similarly invited her to contribute chapters on her conflict resolution treatment methods.
Dr. Heitler’s 1997 book The Power of Two (New Harbinger), which clarifies the communication and conflict resolution skills that sustain healthy marriages, has been translated for publication in six foreign language editions–in China, Taiwan, Israel, Turkey, Brazil and Poland.
Dr. Heitler has been invited to present workshops on her conflict resolution methods for mediators and lawyers, psychologists, and marriage and family therapists throughout the country. She has been a popular presenter at national professional conferences including AAMFT, APA, SmartMarriages, and SEPI and has lectured internationally in Austria, Australia, Canada, China, Israel, Lebanon, Spain, and the United Arab Emirates.
Dr. Heitler is frequently interviewed in magazines such as Fitness, Men’s Health, Women’s World, and Parenting. Her cases have appeared often in the Ladies Home Journal column “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” She is often interviewed by Denver TV newscasters for her perspectives on psychological aspects of current events.
In May, 2004 Dr. Heitler appeared on the CBS Early Show where anchor Harry Smith introduced her as “the most influential person in my life—my therapist.” He encouraged his viewers similarly to seek therapy when they are emotionally distressed and pre-marital counseling when they are contemplating marriage.
Most recently, Dr. Heitler, three of her adult children and one of their friends were awarded a U.S. government Healthy Marriages Initiative grant to produce interactive games for teaching marriage communication and conflict resolution skills over the internet. Seehttp://poweroftwomarriage.com to experience their fun, low-cost, high-impact methods of teaching the skills for a strong and loving marriage.
Dr. Heitler and her husband of almost 40 years are proud parents of four happily married adult children and are grandparents, thus far, of a a baker’s dozen grandchildren.