When most couples call me for a couples therapy consultation, they have reached a point where the severity of their ongoing conflict has reached the danger zone. Some couples seek help when the early signs of trouble begin to develop. Others wait…and wait, either hoping that their difficulties will resolve themselves or that they will find a way to address their problems independent of professional help. Some couples, it seems, have chosen to consult a therapist as the "option of last resort" prior to initiating divorce proceedings.
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Many clients have spoken to me about their experiences with people in their lives wishing that they would – or, worse – telling them that they must "get over" some emotional condition or disorder from which they are suffering. This could be a state of depression, a grief reaction to the loss of a loved one, or something else that requires time – and maybe professional help – in order to overcome.
Some people, it seems, need to be 'right' more than they need almost anything else. I am frequently struck by the verbal lengths a person will go when they are very sure of themselves and someone challenges their belief, their memory, or their knowledge about something. This need takes many forms and is an interpersonal transaction often observed in the context of my work with couples.
It is distressing when a client tells me that they have never observed – or themselves, experienced – what they would define as a successful romantic relationship.
Jack, a 43 year old insurance executive, was referred to me by his family doctor for help with his "severe panic attacks" that had a sudden onset for reasons that were completely unclear to both of them. Jack's symptoms were disabling and resulted in his missing work for several days before his initial appointment with me.
Many people are under the impression that in order to forgive someone for some offense, like a betrayal, for example, they must somehow forget what happened in order to forgive the offender. These people will sometimes argue that it is impossible to forgive a person for some wrongdoing unless the offending act is somehow exorcised from their system, "deleted from my hard drive," as one client stated it, or forgotten by some other means.
In my ongoing work with couples, I have often listened to stories from clients about unfortunate developments in their relationship. They sound something like this: "we just don't have fun anymore," or "this marriage has been in a rut since our firstborn came along," or "there's no romance left," or "we're like a pair of comfortable old shoes…don't wear 'em much, but don't wanna throw 'em out, either," or "intimacy? are you kidding? what's that?!"
My work with Rachel was in the context of couples therapy with her and her husband, Ira. With Lila, an individual client, the work took place by using our relationship to help her work things out.
As you can probably guess, the gist of the presentation was that marriage is an 'action' word…an action experience; or, should be if it already is not.
On several occasions, I have observed clients who seem to be listening when I am talking to them, but leave me doubtful about just how much they actually heard of what I said. When my doubt is high, I might ask for a response in order to test my impression, since this is obviously important to address.