Couple, marital, family and other relationships can be most challenging in maintaining strong connections.
Our beliefs, expectations, problematic events, life stressors, communication styles, emotional accessibility and responsiveness, as well as, how well we deal with conflict and problem solve will make a difference in the quality of our relationships.
The therapist’s role as an outside professional can help facilitate greater understanding of the problematic relationship patterns, improve meaningful communication and collaboration, work through differences, as well as, problem solve and improve the emotional connection in the relationships.
Here are some key aspects of relationships we may focus on:
- Pre-marital, Marital, Couple, Family and Other Relationship Issues and Concerns
- Separation, Divorce, Affairs and Reconciliation
- Dating and Finding the Right Fit in a Relationship
- Ending a Problematic Relationship
- Maintaining a Healthy Relationship
- Non-traditional relationships: Open Couple or Marital and Polyamory Relationships.
In my work with heterosexual and same sex couples, whether living apart, living together or married, couples often present with the challenge of wanting help to repair or improve their emotional connection and their sexual intimacy with each other.
Most couples, I see for therapy have considerable investment in their couple or marital relationship with their partner or spouse, who have been the primary person they rely on as a life partner and in getting their emotional needs met.
They may also have children or strong ties with their partner or spouse’s family of origin.
As a result, I strongly encourage couples to take adequate time to see if they can work together to improve their emotional and sexual connection in order to continue their couple or marital relationship.
Couples who come in for therapy have often drifted apart emotionally or sexually due to a variety of factors and stressors.
Sometimes, this can be the normal day-to-day-stressors associated with dealing with job and home responsibilities.
Other times, there may significant stressors or problematic events related to injuries, illnesses or medical problems, accidents, trauma, finances, deaths or other losses.
The couple may be considering ending their relationship, separating or divorcing for any number of reasons.
The status of their couple or marital relationship, as well as, their future is in question and they are looking to find help and a meaningful resolution to their difficulties.
Often they are very conflicted, frustrated, angry, hurt and emotionally upset to such a degree, it makes it difficult for the partners or spouses to communicate, empathize and be responsive emotionally in a way relevant to addressing the issues, concerns and feelings involved.
As a result, there can be repetitive patterns of escalation and polarization that gets in the way of having meaningful conversations needed to improve the couple or marital relationship.
While each couple relationship is unique, most couples, I see can and do make progress, if they are able to discuss their specific issues and concerns, as well as, both see their part in the couple relationship difficulties and how to make things better.
I help couples discuss the problematic issues, concerns, and feelings, as well as, how they would like things to be different in their couple or marital relationship.
We work together to see how they can make progress in bringing about their desired outcomes for their couple or marital relationship.
This usually involves problem-solving, making key decisions, improving their emotional connection, as well as, enhancing their sexual intimacy.
Often couples are surprised to find their feelings can and do change, if the right effort is being made and the right things begin to change.
However, while many couples like to think if you go to couples or marital therapy, you will inevitably improve or fix your couple relationship, this is not always the case.
Sometimes, couples come in too late, meaning their issues, concerns or negative feelings have gone on too long, leaving them feeling hopeless, indifferent or decided about the relationship being over.
Other times, couples find that they are no longer able to give or receive what they need in their couple or marital relationship despite wanting to.
The resolution for some couples may be to end the couple or marital relationship since there is no desire to work on it or it seems no longer worth working on.
Despite a couple or marital relationship being problematic, harmful to the partners or spouses or seems hopeless, some couples continue to stay together for a variety of reasons.
It may be due to having children, financial issues, health insurance, a house they like, pressure from parents, religious beliefs, as well as, other factors.
Couples who decide to stay together despite the relationship being problematic in key ways are supported in clarifying how the relationship will be different and encouraged to reach a new understanding about the status and boundaries of their relationship.
If a couple’s relationships becomes emotionally, physically or sexually abusive, I will encourage the partners or spouses to separate, go into individual therapy and then decide whether they want to continue to work on their couple relationship.
Couples are challenged and supported in taking the right steps between our sessions in making their couple or marital relationship better.
I will sometimes give couples related reading materials to read, as well as, occasional homework assignments or exercises to help the process of change begin.
If a couple can not effectively make things better or the relationship seems unworkable or hopeless, they are supported in ending the couple relationship and making the transition to being separated or divorced.
However, couples are encouraged to take an adequate amount of time to work to resolve their issues, concerns, as well as, improve their emotional and sexual connection.
I often see couples improve their feelings related to staying in the couple relationships feeling they are able to get their needs met if they give themselves an adequate of time to turn the corner.
One of the most devastating and difficult issues a monogamous couple or marriage can face is when they discover their partner or spouse has become emotionally or sexually involved with someone else.
This may have involved chatting with someone on-line in an intimate or inappropriate manner, as well as, a one-night stand or an ongoing relationship with someone the partner or spouse knows outside the primary couple relationship.
What characterizes an affair may vary, but is really in the eye of the betrayed partner or spouse.
If we are to define an affair, generally, we mean the multiple ways a partner or spouse may violate the emotional and sexual bonds of their committed monogamous couple or marital relationship with their partner or spouse.
There can also be betrayals in open couple or marital relationships, as well as, polyamory relationships when partners or spouses do not abide by the agreed upon rules of engagement with other people.
Most people in our society see affairs as being wrong no matter what the circumstances or contributing factors given it being a violation of having a committed monogamous couple or marital relationship.
Usually, the person who stepped out in some fashion and betrayed their partner or spouse is viewed as being to blame, as well as, the affair partner.
However, often the betrayed partner or spouse may also be seen as playing a part if we look at the couple relationship as a system with two partners or spouses involved.
This is not to excuse the betraying partner or spouse, nor is it blaming the injured partner or spouse for the affair.
Both, partners or spouses must assess what they may have done or not done that may have contributed to the affair.
Affairs are commonly described as cheating, infidelity, adultery, and as being morally reprehensible despite their frequency whether emotional or sexual.
It is easier than ever for partners or spouses to engage emotionally or sexually with the internet and social media.
Often, they don’t intend to betray their partner or spouse or for that matter consider what they are doing on Facebook, chatting, sending pictures, texting, visiting dating sites, or viewing sexual material on-line.
Usually, for most monogamous couples the betrayal or affair is not something most couples or marriages ever expected would happen.
For most couples, an affair is a major relationship betrayal or traumatic experience that brings into question the status of their couple relationship, as well as, a range of intense emotions including shock, confusion, hurt, anger, hopelessness, sadness and a state of panic about their future.
Often, the betrayed partner or spouse’s sense of reality is shaken to such a degree, that they begin to question whether their partner or spouse is really the person they thought they knew.
In addition, since the trust in their couple relationship has been shattered, they begin to question everything they have considered to be real or meaningful in their couple relationship.
Initially, due to strong and mixed emotions, it is difficult for the partners or spouses to talk or make any decisions as to whether to stay and work on affair recovery or to leave the couple relationship.
At the same time, it will be difficult to deal with the current emotional turmoil and uncertainty about the future that comes out of an affair.
I encourage couples to refrain from making any hasty decisions about the status of their couple or marital relationship, while at the same time finding ways of expressing and communicating their heightened emotional states in appropriate ways.
Both, partners or spouses need time to sort out their feelings, concerns and questions so they are able to engage in meaningful discussions about the status of their couple relationship or marriage.
There are many complex factors that contribute to most affairs, but whatever the issues and concerns were in the couple or marital relationship before the affair, it has been compounded and made more complex by the affair.
Any effective affair recovery has to involve addressing the contributing factors to the affair and the betrayal or trauma of the affair, as well as, issues and concerns the couple or marital relationship had before the affair.
It takes time, patience and empathy on the part of both partners or spouses to rebuild their trust and emotional connection.
Depending on the couple or marital relationship, it often is very challenging recovering from an affair and building a post affair couple relationship.
However, for many people, couple or marital counseling can help both partners or spouses maneuver through the stages of affair recovery to reach a decision about whether to stay or leave their couple relationship.
Sometimes, when a couple comes to couples counseling, and after working on their relationship they may come to the conclusion their relationship is too problematic or unworkable to continue.
As a result, they may be considering temporary separation or divorce.
A temporary separation may give each partner or spouse time to think further about the status of their relationship and what if anything they might want to do about it.
A temporary separation may also be necessary, if there are escalating conflicts making it difficult to have meaningful conversations relevant to addressing the issues and concerns of the couple.
The separation period may give the partners or spouse a break from the usual problematic patterns and time to think without being negatively impacted or constrained by the other partner or spouse.
A temporary separation may be of a short or unknown duration that the partners or spouses agree upon.
Some partners or spouses are fearful that any separation will more likely lead to ending the couple relationship or getting a divorce.
However, a temporary separation could also provide an alternative to ending a relationship or a divorce.
A separation often helps partners or spouses slow down and take time to carefully examine what they are thinking and feeling about the couple relationship in order to have more productive discussions or reach a resolution.
However, a temporary separation does not necessarily mean a reconciliation.
For couples that are living together, but are not married, a separation may be temporary or become a permanent arrangement.
A separation for those not married is certainly an emotional divorce, as much as, if they were married.
One or both partners or spouses may come to the decision to end a couple or marital relationship.
Most people I encounter in therapy in a monogamous marital relationship resist the idea of separation and divorce.
I have worked with couples who have separated and reconciled, as well as, eventually divorced.
It always depends on the individual couple circumstances.
Most monogamous married couples I work with view divorce as being a stigma they don’t want to have.
Many people view marriage as a life long commitment and have difficulty accepting it as an option even with overwhelming evidence that their couple relationship is no longer a workable or a fit.
Messages from society, friends, families of origin, children, as well as, people’s religious beliefs can all contribute to there being a stigma associated with divorce.
Many people see it as a failure on their part no matter what the reasons and have difficulty acknowledging that a couple relationship is a function of what both spouses do or not do, as well as, the circumstances related.
There are many myths about marital relationships, but one that stands out is that if you are married, you must have chosen the right person for you in the first place and if it is not working out, it is just a matter of trying harder.
In other words, no matter what the issues and concerns or how spouses or circumstances have changed, you should be able to work it out if you only keep trying.
However, some issues and concerns are not workable between two partners or spouses and some events, betrayals, trauma, losses or stressors can be so monumental, they are difficult to overcome or let go of.
Some things that occur in couple or marital relationships may be unforgivable or impossible to recover from.
However, most married couples feel divorce is a last resort, as it should be only after trying to work things out, if possible.
Some partners or spouses don’t want to divorce because they fear similar patterns will occur in their next couple relationship so they might as well stay where they are.
Of course this is not always true, different relationships can bring similar and different dynamics or patterns depending on the parties involved.
People sometimes don’t want to divorce due to having children, finances, lifestyle, fear of being alone or not being able to meet another partner, family pressures, religious beliefs and a host of other reasons.
Divorcing couples often need help coming to terms with what divorce means for them, what they learned from their couple or marital relationship, as well as, identifying next steps in dealing with the loss and moving on with their lives.
Separating or divorcing means dealing with the loss of the relationship, recognizing your part, as well as your partner or spouses part in what went wrong, acknowledging what was learned, and reestablishing your sense of independence.
Couple relationships are changing due to a variety of factors and reasons
While monogamy and commitment in couple and marital relationship is the preferred choice for many, there is a growing population that finds monogamy no longer works for them.
Some people have come to the realization that one person or an exclusive couple relationship or marriage is too limiting and cannot meet all their interests or desires whether intellectual, emotional, sexual or regarding some other aspects.
As a result, some individuals or couples, whether heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning or pansexual may choose to be in open couple or marital relationships.
What this provides is an opportunity to be involved emotionally or sexually with others outside a primary couple relationship or marriage in a transparent manner.
Others may choose not to be in a primary couple relationship or marriage, but to have a variety of partners, couple encounters or relationships that may be emotional or sexual.
People who are in open and polyamory relationships, don’t have the constraints of a monogamous couple relationship so they are free to be with who they want, with as many people as they want and don’t have to feel guilty or lie to protect themselves or the people they are involved with.
They strive to be open and transparent in all their relationships, but according to agreed upon rules of engagement with those involved with.
I work with all monogamous, non-monogamous, open, and polyamory relationships to work through any issues and concerns, as well as, help clients improve the quality of their relationships.
Whether monogamous, non-monogamous or polyamory relationships, all partners may face challenges, problems, issues, and concerns in their relationships they may need help in working through.
The relationship model people choose is their choice and will be supported in accordance to the rules and boundaries they have established with those involved with.
In most therapy with individuals and couples, discussion of immediate family or family of origin issues and concerns are often relevant to the issues couples are presenting with.
Sometimes this relates to partners’ or spouses’ childhoods and their experiences growing up in problematic family systems.
Often, there are difficulties in the present with immediate family members, as well as, family of origin or extended family members that become activated when family members come together at holidays or other family events.
Individuals, couples and family members may begin to experience the same difficulties, family roles and feelings they had when growing up in the family system.
There are times when it is more productive to have adult family members (parents, adult children, siblings or other extended family) come in for family therapy sessions to discuss conflicts and problematic patterns related to issues, concerns and feelings.
Other times, the patterns and personalities of family members may be so problematic that it may not be productive to meet as a family group.
In that case the individual or couple must work out their own resolution with respect to their family of origins without them present.
In working with individuals, couples or family members the family system and dynamics are often complex and problematic.
Because someone is a family member doesn’t necessarily mean you can get along with that person, anymore than if they were a stranger with the same issues and difficulties.
However, family relationships for most of us are important and worth working to improve, if possible.
Families are part of what made us who we are and what we might pass on to our own children and grandchildren.
It is important to remember, you as an individual or part of a couple are not stuck with what is not working in your immediate family, family of origin or extended family.
For most of us there are ways to work through past and present issues and concerns to have better functioning families, as well as, not pass on family problems.