“A healthy marriage is one in which only one person is crazy at a time” – Heinz Kohut
What is your definition of a healthy, happy, and successful relationship? Have you thought about this? Have you talked about this with your partner, and if so, how does he or she see things similarly or different?
If you’re not sure what such a relationship would look like, you’re not alone. Many of the couples I work with haven’t had great role models for how to deal with differences and resolve conflict well, how to be emotionally close, how to express affection and admiration freely, and how to find some (imperfect) balance of individual identity and the we-ness of being a couple.
Here are some characteristics that researchers, couple therapists, and couples themselves would likely consider in answering this question:
- How well do we know each others’ inner worlds?
- How well do we function as a team?
- Does the relationship add to the growth and well-being of each person?
- Does the partnership buffer outside stress?
- Is it a source of practical and emotional support in tough times?
- How well do we work with our differences?
- How do we solve problems and make decisions?
- How well do we do closeness and intimacy?
- Do we communicate and do conflict well?
- Do we understand each other and show this?
- Do we enjoy time together?
- Do we show caring, respect, and appreciation?
- Do we comfort each other?
- Do we do nice things for each other?
- Can we adapt and change as needed over time?
- Do we think good things about the other?
We are hard-wired for attachment and relationship yet we often take our closest relationship(s) for granted, treating strangers and acquaintances better than partners, or worse, hurt each other. Doing relationships well requires intentional thought and action.
I see a wide variety of couples and welcome diversity. Most are looking to improve communication, find better ways to deal with conflict and differences, heal old emotional wounds, and wish to restore good will and positive qualities in their relationship. Some have been suffering for a long time and are struggling to rebuild basic trust and security. Others are generally satisfied but could still use a bit of help.
What to expect?
It’s normal to have a number of mixed feelings about couple therapy. Some individuals are secretly fearful that they are “the problem” and hope that their partner is found to be “the problem”. Often one person is more reluctant than the other. I strive to create a safe place where each person feels respected, not blamed, and can find renewed hope. I primarily use the Gottman Method (I have completed levels 1 and 2 training) with couples, which is goal-oriented and based on over 30 years of research. We’ll start with a thorough assessment. I’ll spend the first session with both of you getting to know the history of your relationship and each of your perspectives on your current struggles. I usually will meet with each of you individually to learn more about you and build a solid relationship with each of you. I will often ask you to each complete a computerized assessment that will give me detailed ideas about your strengths, areas for growth, and best ways to help you. The three of us then reunite and I’ll provide you with feedback, impressions, and ideas of what will be helpful in the therapy phase.