Couples Therapy - DOC by HC120918014149


									                                     Couples Therapy

                              The Case for Couples Therapy

"The bond with the person you live out your life with – the one you grow up and grow old
with – is the single most important connection you will ever have."

                                              Terrence Real, The New Rules of Marriage.

More U.S. marriages than ever are ending in divorce. According to data collected by the
U.S. Census in 2004, among men and women who had married between 1970 and 1974,
only 44 percent were still married 30 years later. (Nearly all marriages that ended by 30
years resulted from divorce rather than the death of a spouse.)

According to U.S. census data, divorce rates here skyrocketed during the divorce boom of
1965-1974 and have changed little during the intervening 30 years. Several studies found
that divorce rates in the U.S. during the period 1965-1985 increased by 20 to 25 percent.

*** Sources:

Sharon Jayson, USA Today, 9/19/07: "Divorce Threat Persists Throughout Marriage."

Why the dramatic increase? Perhaps chief among the factors contributing to this "boom"
in divorces was no-fault divorce legislation. Thirty-two states passed no-fault laws
between 1965 and 1974. These laws effectively changed the cultural norm, weakening
the notion of accountability for failure of the relationship and lowering our expectations
of marriage. By 1974, partners could leave a marriage on the premise that a short period
of separation constituted an irretrievable breakdown of the relationship.

Other factors have doubtless contributed to maintaining the postwar U.S. divorce rate, as
well. Among these are the added complexity of our lives, and the increased and
conflicting demands on couples' time, attention and resources. These demands stem
from multiple factors, including dual careers, increased mobility of nuclear families (and
separation from the support of extended families), ever-higher expectations of what it
means to be "successful," poor adult role models when growing up, and increasingly less
time and energy to nurture the love and friendship which bring couples together in the
first place.

Both men and women in marriages which they describe as happy and stable also report
improved physical health (e.g., lower rates of heart attack, breast cancer and prostate
cancer), higher career satisfaction, and more resilience in the face of stress. The children
of these marriages have more secure attachments as children and tend to go on into stable
and happy relationships as adults.

                                      My Philosophy

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Contrary to popular belief, the most common complaints I hear from couples seeking
marital therapy are related not to sex and finances, but rather, (1) "I'm exhausted," 2) "I'm
not in love any more," (3) "We can't seem to talk without it turning into a fight," and (4)
"We treat each other like roommates."

Couples typically struggle with these issues on their own for months, even years, before
they seek help from "outside." Ongoing or escalating conflict has left them feeling
discouraged, angry, and disillusioned. By this time, one or both partners are often
wondering if their differences are "irreconcilable" and whether divorce is the only
remedy left, and many couples simply bypass the couple’s therapist on their way to

Among my core beliefs are these:

       1. Friendship is at the foundation of viable, healthy marriage.

        2. In order to survive and to thrive, friendship requires that we learn and put into
practice some basic skills in communicating mutual trust and respect.

        3. Anger and disagreements happen in every marriage. It's how we handle these
disagreements that's important. Criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling are
all destructive to marriage, as they are to any friendship. However, conflict does not
signal "irreconcilable differences," nor does it signal the end of any possibility for a
happy and healthy marriage.

       5. By and large, we choose the person whom we marry for the right reasons,
although we are not fully aware of all the reasons when we marry that person.

        6. Conflict is inevitable in any intimate relationship. If couples learn to sort out
and to resolve these disputes thoughtfully and respectfully, each partner feels understood
and respected, and mutual trust and friendship deepen. There's another benefit: while
disagreements often expose old wounds, when handled thoughtfully, they can bring us
new insight into ourselves and are opportunities to heal old wounds from our past.

         7. Research has demonstrated that, if both partners learn and practice some
fundamental steps to communicate with their partner, if each respects and responds
thoughtfully to what he learns through that communication, and if they each agree to end
active addiction, physical abuse, and inappropriate extramarital relationships, the couple
is likely to remain married and to be happily married years later.

                                How I Work With Couples

Research indicates that healing and change occur in marital therapy, no matter what the
theoretical approach. Few, if any, therapists work strictly from a single approach
advanced by a particular "expert" in the field.

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In working with couples, I draw from six decades of life experience, 38 years of
marriage, 17 years of clinical experience, and from the combined experience and research
of three people, in particular, in the field of couples therapy: Harville Hendrix, John
Gottman, and Terrence Real. These three share the view that basic skills in
communication are absolutely necessary to marital satisfaction, and that most of us are
not well prepared with these skills. Each has also made distinct contributions of his own.

Everyone needs to feel understood. In intimate relationships, feeling understood is basic
to our feeling valued by, and in turn to valuing, our partner. Harville Hendrix recognized
that couples desperately want to understand their partner's point of view but that few of
us have learned to actively listen to our partner, to recognize how our unconscious
expectations, biases and defenses often interfere with what we hear, and to filter these
out. Hendrix' work in Imago Therapy provides a framework to understand how our past
experiences influence what we hear and what we seek from others, particularly from our

 John Gottman agrees that communication is important, but he sees friendship as the
foundation of a sound relationship. Whatever differences and conflicts bring couples to
seek help, we seem to share a universal notion of friendship, what it means to be a friend,
and standards for how friends treat each other. John Gottman is one of the country's few
empirical researchers on marital satisfaction. Through this research, he has found
specific ways which are particularly effective in teaching couples to build mutual trust,
respect and shared meaning.

Terrence Real, like John Gottman, stresses the importance of respect and friendship in the
marital relationship. However, he provides additional insight into how each partner's
mistaken and often-unconscious beliefs about himself and his partner profoundly
influence feelings and behavior toward the partner. (He refers to these beliefs as negative
expectations, or one's core negative image, of his partner.) In addition, Real offers
specific suggestions to help couples work through and dispel these beliefs, so that they
can learn to relate as respectful, rational, and loving adults.

                         Couples Therapy vs. Individual Therapy

Couples therapy differs in at least two important respects from individual therapy. First,
the focus in couples therapy is the relationship itself. In order to maintain that focus, and
to reassure both partners that I'm working for the benefit of the relationship, I meet with
both partners together for nearly every visit. Second, couples therapy is generally more
structured than individual therapy. Unstructured couples therapy generally doesn't work
well. During the early sessions, our focus is on assessing the state of the relationship.
Because the overall goal of therapy is that partners learn to communicate in order to
resolve conflict and to strengthen the bonds of trust and friendship, I encourage couples
in every session to talk to each other. My role is primarily that of a coach, rather than an

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In order to provide sufficient time to explore more complex issues with both partners, I
recommend 80-minute sessions. However, we may need to limit sessions to 45 minutes
(for example, to comply with insurance plans). I devote the first three sessions (or six
sessions if appointments are limited to 45 minutes) to a comprehensive assessment.
During these sessions, we will discuss each of your concerns, expectations, your family
and personal history, and the history of the current relationship. I pay attention to how
you and your partner are interacting. During the third (or sixth) session, I will offer
feedback regarding the strengths and areas of concern I have identified in your
relationship and in how you communicate. Of course, if you decide to continue couples
therapy beyond the initial assessment, we will continue to assess and monitor your
progress during subsequent sessions, and I may offer suggestions about what to discuss,
but I will encourage the couple to agree to the agenda we follow for each session.

                                  For Further Reading

John Gottman:


Books by John Gottman:
    Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the
      Country's Foremost Relationship Expert, 271 pages. (A New York Times
    Why Marriages Succeed or Fail…and How You Can Make Yours Last,

Take the Gottman Relationship Quiz:

Harville Hendrix:


Books by Harville Hendrix:
    Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples

Terrence Real:


Books by Terrence Real:

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    I Don't Want to Talk about It: Overcoming the
                 - 1998 - 388 pages
    The New Rules of Marriage: What You Need to Know to Make Love
     Work... - 2007 - 320 pages
    How Can I Get Through to You: Reconnecting Men and Women ... -
     2002 - 312 pages

Another View:

Making your marriage work
 By Edward A. Dreyfus, Ph.D.
Psychologist - Divorce Mediator - Life Coach

Lynda and William Talmadge: Love Making: The Intimate Journey in Marriage


Sean E. Brotherson and Jeffrey B. Teichert, "Value of the Law in Shaping Social
Perspectives on Marriage", 3 U. of Utah Jnl. L. & Fam. Stud. 23, at 47, citing Kevin
Andrews & Margaret Andrews, Rebuilding a Culture of Marriage, 18 Australian Fam at
20, 29 (1997).

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