How to get the most from Couples therapy and couples counseling
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Most forms of couples therapy and couples counseling have shown to be ineffective.
This is because many methods have not been adequately researched and tested.
An exception is two methods based on research by John Gottman and emotionally focused therapy by Sue Johnson.
Both have shown excellent long-term outcomes.
When doing couples therapy with my wife and later helping other couples, I found that a combination of tools from John Gottman, Sue Johnson, Social and Emotional Learning, and Sex therapy produced the best results.
John Gottman taught some great communication tools and pitfalls to avoid; however, these tools, like all communication tools, were of little use without the ability to manage our stress response as it all went out the window when we felt triggered.
So before learning useful communication tools, I realized we have to learn to manage our stress response.
Sue Johnson and emotionally focused therapy provide some great insight into how attachment theory can be applied to create safety.
Brene Brown has given us an excellent understanding of why vulnerability is vital to marriage or relationship satisfaction and intimacy.
And yet, with all these fantastic tools and researchers, something was missing.
I found that piece to be sex therapy.
As I trained as a sex coach, I realized how sex and mutuality are the two factors that separate an adult and child love and adult to adult love.
As adults’ sex is a way we feel wanted, desired, and loved.
It created bonding and flood us with oxytocin.
The vulnerability in sharing and showing our deepest sexual thoughts and desired to a partner is emotional nakedness and purity of love.
That’s how I concluded that no one method is the best.
It’s the combination of the skills and tools from all these methods that produce the best results in my couples therapy practise.
four skills I would teach you in couples therapy and couples counseling
Doing couples therapy and couples counseling has taught me some valuable lessons on what makes some relationship not only last but, more importantly, flourish and grow with love, safety, and mutual support.
I want to share the four critical skills that I learned in my couples counseling practice with you. They are the secret to a lasting and loving relationship.
Relationships mean bringing two people together with different backgrounds, upbringings, values, needs, boundaries, and habits.
It’s bound to go wrong.
We will get on each other nerves, and we are all a pain in the … to our partner at times.
It’s to be expected.
However, as you become closely attached, you also start affecting each other nervous system more, and it becomes easier to trigger and comfort each other.
If you keep triggering each other and don’t know how to comfort each other, you are heading for the divorce court.
And that’s expensive and painful.
So, the first skill you have to learn is.
The most important lesson in couples therapy and couples counseling is that all conflicts start with our primal brain hijacking us.
From that place, we are in fight or flight and we will cause destruction.
Your only chance of success is to calm your warrior’s brain and get your adult brain online again.
A relationship is the intervening of two nervous systems, and we impact each other on a neurological level.
A study found that if a couple feels secure and connected, then a simple touch of a hand calms down their nervous system.
Our stress also creates stress for our partner, even over video calls.
To facilitate safety and avoid the minefield of triggers we all bring to our relationship from previous relationships, we have to learn how to regulate our own and our partner’s nervous system.
You can self-regulate, so you don’t misplace your anxiety or anger on your partner.
When you are triggered, you are in the fight, flight, or freeze response, and there will be no positive outcome before you calmed down.
We all have triggers from the past based on experiences that make our partner’s reactions excessive and intense.
Once we understand our triggers (we will look at that below in self-reflection), we can communicate them to our partner.
This will help them avoid our triggers.
If they step on a trigger, at least they can understand why we overreact and be compassionate towards our intense emotional reaction.
This is part of giving them our love map, so they know how to navigate our emotional world and nervous system.
Without a map, we will take a lot of wrong turns, and at some point, we get lost and can’t find our way back.
Safety is the foundation of a relationship, just like mother earth is for the house you build.
If you start building your house on a cliff known for earthquakes and mudslides, then your home will eventually come crumbling down no matter how well constructed it is.
So, how do you regulate your own and your partner’s nervous system?
Great questions, I was just getting to that.
There are two methods:
We can do a lot to calm down our nervous system when we are triggered.
The adrenalin that’s pumped into the blood when we go into fight, flight, or freeze response is meant to be used to fight or flight.
So, to release it and calm your mind down, get physical.
This could be boxing a pillow, going for a run, or dance around the living room. Anything that moves your body will help you calm down.
Our breath is connected with our sympathetic (stress response) and parasympathetic (rest response) nervous system.
Luckily, we can control our breath, so after movement, focus your attention on your breathing.
Slowly breathe-in to the count of four.
Hold for one second and then breathe out slowly to the count of four. Keep doing this, and you will calm down more.
The beauty of a relationship is that we can also help each other calm down and feel safe.
In couples therapy and couples counseling, I experience the beauty of two adults turning towards each other to restore balance for each other.
This can be done in so many ways. Here are a few ideas.
Eye contact is one way we connect and is excellent at creating trust and intimacy, helping calm us down.
Verbal reassurance is another tool to create safety and get your partner back to calm.
This is even more effective if your partner is anxiously attached.
Reassure them that you care about their needs, respect their boundaries, and want to be with them.
Touch and my favorite.
Massage or a hug is a great way to relax both their body and mind. They have interconnected, after all.
Co-regulation works best if it’s an external trigger.
If you are the trigger, then wait until they have self-regulated, or you might end up like the fly on the wall.
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For couples therapy to work self-awareness is a must.
It takes two to dance and if only one of you are moving then it will be an ugly dance.
For us to know our part in conflicts and be able to share, we have to self-reflect.
Our brain is a storytelling organ.
It makes meaning by creating stories of events.
Knowing this means that our brains will fill out the gaps with our own stories based on our past experiences when we have incomplete information.
For example, if your partner is late, you might be upset and snap at them say, “I can’t believe you are late again. You don’t care about my time.”
Now, this is a story you made up as your brain filled out the gaps of missing information as you don’t know if it’s because they don’t care.
Be aware of your stories and question them by getting more information.
Monitor your stories and ask questions to your partner to understand the full picture.
Once you know your needs, boundaries, and triggers, you can share them with your partner.
None of these tools are going to work if you don’t have self-reflection.
To understand your triggers, how your past impacts your current behavior, your stories that you see the world through, and know your needs all require self-reflection.
Start writing down what triggered you when you get upset or feel frustrated, and you will start to see patterns.
Then write down what might have happened in the past to make you feel so strongly about this.
Feel frustration? Then look at what needs are not being fulfilled.
Also, write down the stories that you get when something happens. Remember, your interpretation of what happened is just that—a story.
And the story is based on your past, so our understanding is often not what our partner is communicating.
I can teach you many skills in couples counseling, but you need to find the courage to open up and be vulnerable.
We all hide parts of ourselves to be accepted by our caregivers and the people around us.
Our core desire is to be seen and accepted.
So, the pathway to intimacy and mature love is through vulnerability.
It’s what we experience as love from our caregivers when and if we are seen and accepted for who we are.
None of us have perfect childhoods, so most of us have parts we learned were not acceptable or shamed, so we had to hide them.
This could be sensitive emotions, needs, or desires.
So, to experience expressing our vulnerabilities and have them accepted by our partner is both healing and the core of intimacy.
When our partner shares vulnerability, how we respond is critical.
For vulnerability to become intimate, it must be met with acceptance.
Experience acceptance of our vulnerabilities is tremendously healing.
Responsiveness is answering the question, “will you be there for me when I need you?”
When your partner needs you are you there for them?
Understanding key moments will help you know when and how to respond.
Being responsive to our partner is vital for so many reasons.
Firstly, it’s the foundation for safety and secure attachment.
Responsive means we acknowledge our partner’s needs and try to fulfill them when we can.
It means being there when they need us the most and attuning them, so we know when something is off.
It means giving them reassurance and support when they don’t feel safe.
It’s meeting vulnerability with vulnerability and acceptance.
Responsiveness is, therefore, essential for both safety and intimacy.
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