Couples in Trouble

Relationships with a spouse, partner, or significant other can be one of the most meaningful and rewarding relationships we can have.

Unfortunately, they can also be the most difficult, frustrating and disheartening relationships when we become less connected or more conflicted.

What we have learned from Attachment Theory is that our spouse, partner or significant other becomes the primary attachment figure in our lives.

They have replaced our parents in this regard and we have come to depend on them, as we did our parents when growing up for our primary emotional needs and nurturing.

Marital or couple problems often begin when we are not able to access the emotional responsiveness from our partner when we need it.

The disruption of this primary connection may be related to our spouse or partner not being physically or emotionally available on a regular basis.

Communication begins to break down; conflict begins to increase often-bringing anger, escalation, defensiveness, resentment and polarization .

Pretty soon the couple begins to avoid each other or live a parallel life without the other.

Most of the couples, I see in my practice who come in for marital or couples therapy indicate they are disconnected and conflicted.

Couples I see tend to describe their relationship as a couple as being either non-existent or as taking a back seat to parenting their children, working their jobs or trying to advance their education or careers.

They become consumed with trying to keep up with bills, the kids, the household and other obligations at the expense of becoming less emotionally connected to their spouse or partner.

It is ironic that most of the time that couples begin to become less connected and conflicted it is related to being consumed by life’s circumstances.

While they have nurtured relationships with their children, other family members, friends and work associates, they have unknowingly neglected their couple relationship with their partner.

They often find themselves eventually living parallel lives rarely intersecting in meaningful or loving ways with their spouse or partner if not corrected.

Often their primary emotional connection with each other becomes negative leading to further avoidance and distancing.

Sometimes, in trying to make up for not getting their emotional needs met they may turn to working more, engaging in hobbies more, using alcohol or drugs, spending money, gambling, using pornography or having affairs.

Rather than engaging their partner in trying to reconnect and problem solve about their concerns and differences; they become buried in a negative emotional spiral that usually involves blaming the other for their relationship difficulties.

One of the first things I try to do with couples that I see for marital or couples therapy is to first frame how they have become emotionally disconnected.

This usually involves looking at the time line of their relationship, highlighting problematic events, unresolved conflicts or hurtful actions or communication they have engaged in that have led to the problematic place they currently find themselves.

We look at the relevance of past relationships and family of origin interactions that have been problematic and impacted their relationship with each other.

We also look at current circumstances, actions and problematic beliefs in terms of what needs to be different to resolve their issues and concerns, as well as make it possible for them to begin to reconnect with each other in meaningful ways.

Avoidance and escalating conflicts must be contained as soon as possible in order for the couple to reconnect emotionally in positive and more meaningful ways.

The focus is on seeing the relationship as a system they have developed together for better and for worse.

Each spouse or partner must be willing to see their part in the difficulties, as well as their partner’s part.

They must be open to see how to collaborate with each other to change the problematic aspects of their relationship, as well as meet each other needs and wants in developing a better relationship.

Copyright 2012, Couples In Trouble by M. Douglas Evans, All Rights Reserved.

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