For many of us, problems with our partners can be the most frustrating issues we have to face, leaving us feeling “crazy,” overwhelmed, and miserable. We start our relationships feeling hopeful, buoyant, and exhilarated, believing we have found our “soul mate”. All too often, this dream fades within years, and we do one of two things: we jump from one relationship to another, blaming problems on our partners; or we stay in a miserable union, hurting each other and/or stagnating. Symptoms of a relationship in trouble can include one or more of the following: you don’t have fun with each other anymore; your sex life is unsatisfying or non-existent; you have angry, escalating arguments where you say hurtful, mean things to each other; you are cold and distant with each other; you disagree over everything, even when you know the issues are trivial. At the extreme, one or both of you may turn to ‘escape hatches’ like substance abuse, workaholism, or affairs, or the relationship can become physically violent. When things get bad in your relationships, you may tend to stay and suffer, silently or otherwise. On the other hand, you may flee to another partner, hoping you will leave your problems behind you. Unfortunately, neither of these techniques is very effective. Staying in a bad relationship without trying to improve it rarely has a good result; on the other hand, most of us find that we can change partners but usually repeat negative patterns.
Because intimate relationships are so difficult to maintain under the best of circumstances, many therapists consider counseling couples to be the most challenging work they do. For this reason, we complete special post-graduate training in this area, and we have frequent continuing education seminars and special supervision sessions where we improve our relationship counseling skills and share our wisdom on difficult cases. Our treatment approach concentrates on teaching partners pragmatic skills to deal with their here-and-now problems, help partners develop stronger attachment, deepen intimacy, and enrich their relationships.
While couples often focus on specific issues such as raising children, dealing with finances, and distributing responsibilities fairly, we also emphasis the broader issue of learning communication skills necessary to resolve conflict yourselves. We will teach you how to “fight fairly”, express needs clearly, and understand and empathize with your partner’s point of view. Our goal is for you to leave treatment and be able to be your own relationship counselors. We also will help you renew the positives in your relationships. In relationships, we all sometimes are so caught up in the logistics of life that we forget to have fun together. We know it is important to focus on “re-romanticizing” your love relationship, remembering the things that brought you together in the first place, as well as resolving the conflicts that currently divide you.
While many couples come for help in order to stay together, as many as half come because they may want to break up. We don’t assume all couples should stay together; in fact, in some cases – for example, if your partner is violent towards you or your kids, and refuses to get help – ending the relationship may be healthier than staying together. Therapy can be useful even when the outcome is break-up. Usually, counseling helps both people understand each other better and makes for a more amicable separation, which is particularly important when children are involved.
Although the majority of relationship counseling we do is with couples, we also work with polyamorous relationships, and we can handle these problems as well.