Before going into more details about couples therapy, I think it is important to begin by debunking a couple of common misconception about couples therapy. While many people believe that couples therapy is only for couples dealing with near-relationship-ending conflict, couples therapy can actually benefit most every couple , just as individual psychotherapy has the potential to help all individuals. I’ve had many young adult clients worry that if they already needed couples therapy, their relationship must be doomed, when in fact, starting couples therapy early on in a relationship can help a couple establish a healthy and solid foundation for their future. Another misconception about couples therapy is that it looks like it portrayed in many movies – a screaming match observed by the therapist. While certainly conflicts are explored in the therapy room, another important part of the therapy is deepening connection and understanding, so some sessions are filled with lightness, laughter and admiration. Lastly, people often believe the measure of “success” is a happy relationship, but sometimes “success” means helping a couple realize that they are actually better off not together anymore. Couples therapy aims to create a space for couples to learn skills that will help them work through conflict, deepen their connection and understanding of one another and proceed through life in a way that honors both individuals and the couple.
As with individual therapy, there are many different approaches to couples therapy. One very common and highly regarded form is called The Gottman Method. The method is based on extensive research studies conducted by John M. Gottman and clinical application of these findings by his wife, Julie Gottman. The fact a couple has co-created the method seems fitting for such a successful modality of couples therapy. The Gottman website includes a lot of information about The Gottman Institute, their research and findings, webinars, trainings, certified therapists, etc. The Gottman Method considers nine components of what they term The Sound Relationship House, which essentially are the elements necessary for a healthy and meaningful relationship. One of the most important findings in Gottman’s research is that what they call the Four Horsemen (Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling) are more powerful in negatively impacting a relationship than positive expressions and emotions are in positively impacting a relationship. Therapy will help couples identify their use of these four horsemen and learn and practice more effective ways to express and communicate feelings. The Gottman Approach aims to help couples turn toward each other rather than away from one another, deepen fondness and admiration, and understand each other’s dreams and how said dreams influence their desires and values.
If you are interested in couple’s therapy with someone trained in The Gottman Approach, continue reading on for a bit more information about what you can actually expect. First and foremost, look for a therapist who has completed some level of training with the Gottman Institute. Madeline Weinfeld at Gateway to Solutions has just completed the Level 1 Training and will now incorporate this training into her integrated approach working with both individuals and couples. First, you will schedule a brief introductory phone call with the therapist to see if they seem like a good fit. If possible, it can be recommended for both individuals in the couple to have this introductory phone call, but if needed, one person can be responsible for making the initial appointment. Once you are ready to go in for your first appointment, here is what you can expect to follow.
The therapist will welcome the couple in together for the first appointment, during which you will have the opportunity to begin establishing a relationship with your therapist all while sharing some of your history about the relationship and goals for treatment. During this initial session, the therapist will be assessing the relationship. You may be asked to spend a few minutes conversing on a topic you disagree on so therapist can see a bit what a conflict conversation looks like. After the intake session, the therapist will provide some assessments for the couple to complete and schedule two individual sessions, one with each member of the couple. These individual appointments will allow each part of the couple to provide more history and goals for treatment with the therapist. After these individual sessions, the couple will come back together for the remainder of the therapy. Throughout the course of therapy, you will learn about the research-backed components of a healthy relationship as well as different interventions, tools and strategies that help couples achieve these components. Therapy will help you remember the friendship and fondness that brought you originally together as a couple and emphasize the importance of maintaining this friendship throughout the duration of your relationship. Furthermore, therapy will provide helpful conversational tools to foster healthy and productive conflict conversations. Gottman’s approach acknowledges that couples face perpetual conflicts in their relationships, and that what is important is not that couples stop fighting, but rather that they fight right.
Couples therapy can be invaluable for new couples still learning about one another and also for long-term distressed couples. If you may be interested in learning more about couples therapy at Gateway to Solutions, check out this blog, which outlines the five easy steps to start therapy at our practice.