What Makes Couples Therapy Effective?
By Zur Institute
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What makes couples therapy effective is getting each partner to commit to something that they inherently view as irrational or counterintuitive - to changing before their partner does. We, therapists, help create this commitment by offering both partners a unique experience, both with us and with each other in the session: a relationship in which they won't be judged, blamed, or manipulated. We encourage special kinds of conversation; we teach people to honor their partner's efforts, clumsy though they might at first be; we help people define integrity for themselves, and communicate it to each other; and we help the couple envision the relationship they each want.
After months or years of feeling hurt, neglected, invisible, taken for granted, and exploited, focusing on what they actually want, rather than what they don't want, can be a powerful intervention in itself.
Did you know...
- Some clients feel so frightened or guilty after they have an affair, they're willing to do anything to appease their partner - even things that interfere with healing the relationship.
- Even when the therapy is going well, sooner or later each partner in the couple may feel angry, abandoned, or misunderstood by the therapist.
- The ability to tolerate a partner's distress (rather than reflexively rushing to fix it) is a key skill in successful couples.
- The therapist's humor can be a great resource in couples therapy as long as neither partner feels it is directed toward them, or toward people like them.
- Relying on gender stereotypes to explain one partner to the other can interfere with individuals understanding each other.
- Setting boundaries around couples therapy is just as important as setting boundaries around individual therapy.
- In working with heterosexual couples, there is no reason to think that a therapist will understand the partner of the same gender better than the partner of the other gender.
- Inviting couples to record their therapy sessions, and listen to the recordings during the week, can be a powerful and valuable intervention.