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Couples therapy doesn’t work. Really? If not, it can leave a couple hopeless about having the relationship that they wished for, expected and wanted. Angelique called us and said she had tried couples therapy and it didn’t work before; now she wanted individual therapy to see if she should leave her marriage. In the process of helping her sort through her life and her part in the marital breakdown we asked her why she thought couples therapy doesn’t work. Unfortunately, here are all the pitfalls of their couples therapy that didn’t work:
Side-Taking: “Ironically, the therapist took my side. It felt good in the moment to be validated for my needs for household support. But each time we went, I noticed my husband got quieter and quieter. The quieter he got, the more the therapist ramped up trying to get him to see how he was lacking in responsibility. He finally said he wouldn’t go anymore. He said, since the therapist and me thought he was a failure, there was nothing he could do and started to agree with me that we needed to divorce.”
The problem with side-taking as a couples therapist is it doesn’t explore the push-pull dynamic and the couples emotions underneath this cycle. Angelique’s therapist never understood why her reasonable partner did not volunteer help or see what needed to be done – from his perspective. Just telling him to help with chores beat down the same message from his wife that wasn’t working. At Awakenings, we get underneath the dynamic.
Wrong Frequency of Sessions: Angelique and her husband went to 8 sessions every other week. They were financially strapped and didn’t feel like they could afford the recommended every week frequency. But by the time their session had come around, there had been so many fights, they had forgotten where they were in the process of stopping their negative cycle and their therapist seemed to drown in all their stories – just trying to referee who could complain next.
When you start couples therapy it’s important to think about this financial commitment as an annual expense, not as a weekly expense. Couples therapy is a relationship with an expert who needs to get a hold of what is happening in your process – the way you handle conflict by either getting angry or withdrawing; nagging or stonewalling. It really is ineffective to wait so long between sessions that you’re angry again and need to dump stories about what’s happened in-between.
You need trust in the therapist and they need to feel a good alliance with you before they are making suggestions. Many, many times couples therapy doesn’t work simply because of the wrong frequency of sessions. There’s not enough progress fast enough and then the couple quits thinking couples therapy doesn’t work. At Awakenings we highly suggest an every week frequency for at least the first 8 weeks.
No Mention of Sex. Couples therapy doesn’t work if the couples therapist won’t bring up sex. Our physical intimacy and our emotional intimacy are pivotal to the bond in the relationship. Maybe you’re reading this and thinking, “I’d be quite happy to not talk about sex; I don’t care about sex when my partner doesn’t talk to me.” But does your partner care about sex?
Sex is literally bonding because of the hormones released. It is the motivation for some people to give more and to forgive. It can absolutely feel like love to some people not just “getting off.” If a couples therapist doesn’t explore the sexual connection between the couple, there therapy is often vulnerable to being derailed if not immediately, then eventually. Often one person says I need connection to want sex and the other says, I need sex to feel connected. At Awakenings all our therapist see the emotional cycle and the sexual cycle as deeply important to the security of the partnership.
Often couples therapy doesn’t work, not because the couple is not fixable but because of mistakes a couples therapists makes, the wrong frequency of sessions that doesn’t really allow it to get going or a failure on the couples therapist’s part to bring up issues that are important. At Awakenings, our couples therapist have deep extensive training in Emotionally Focused Therapy that sees the problem as the negative push-pull; pursue-withdraw cycle between good people. They will offer their professional opinion about when to come every week and when there is enough progress that every other week might make sense. And they will gently guide the two of you through delicate conversations about sex. We know couples therapy works!!