Many years ago, when I took a course in couples’ therapy with José Antonio Carrobles, I remember that among other documents there was a sheet entitled “How to communicate successfully”. It contained a series of tips, all of which were very useful in improving communication.
However, we observe in psychotherapy that theoretical knowledge about how a problem is solved does not produce its solution . For example, we all know that an addiction to a toxic requires that it be overcome by not consuming it; however, this knowledge does not solve the problem. It is not enough, because the problem lies there, precisely in that it cannot not consume.
The goal of couples’ therapy: translating into action
Couple’s therapists know that for a good understanding and to solve conflicts, both must listen to their partner, not interrupt him or her, not file counter complaints, summarize what they have understood to their partner, etc. Sometimes, it is simply a matter of improving communication.
However, with the identification of the problem behaviours and with the mere transmission of the information about what needs to be changed or done, it turns out that , the necessary changes do not take place , the behaviours are not carried out. They cannot or do not know how to do it, despite knowing what they have to do. This is true much more often than is desirable.
We have tools that allow us to identify quite accurately what the problem behaviors are for each of the partners. We can also observe the scarce knowledge that they usually have about what the couple expects and needs from the other , as well as the scarce knowledge that they have about what certain behaviours gratify the other. However, with all this, many times it is not enough.
In other words, we can understand and clarify what needs to be changed, implemented, eradicated or replaced, but that is usually not enough.
The need to go beyond theory
Psychotherapy has made great strides in recent decades. We have developed techniques that favour change , in many cases, relatively quickly.
These techniques would lead us to achieve (often without the patient understanding very well what is happening at first), that the person takes to practice some actions and habits that lead him/her to experience his/her problems in a different way, to experience his/her problems in a different way at an emotional level, correcting at the same time those behaviours that not only did not solve his/her problems, but were usually the reason of his/her existence and persistence.
Therefore, an adequate use of language by the therapist will lead the couple to see their problem from another perspective , this will motivate them to comply with the agreement, which in turn will lead them to have a different emotional experience, correcting the behaviours that maintained and developed the conflict.
Combining couple sessions with individual sessions
It is true that it is very important to identify the problem behaviors, since what differentiates the success of some couples from others is the behavior (assuming that previously there has been an attraction, a desire and a compatibility), but it will be the realization of certain prescriptions, adapted to the uniqueness of each couple, which will produce the changes in the problem behaviors, extinguishing them, or drastically reducing their rate, or replacing them with others that will strengthen and develop the bond.
It will be then that the relationship will have the quality and warmth that the couple seeks and needs.
Many times we will have to intervene individually to get one of these members of the relationship (if not both), to be equipped with those skills that allow them to manage their emotions more adequately, and that this helps them not to have a conflict generating behavior.
It is common that the problems of one of the members of the couple have to be treated at the same time as the relationship in order to make adequate progress in therapy. Therefore, after one or several contacts with both, it is usually necessary to have individual sessions, separately, with each one . In other cases, individual psychotherapy will even be necessary, prior to the couple’s therapy.
Treating common problems
It will also be useful to check if there is a common goal . Sometimes people in a relationship not only have different, but even conflicting goals.
By looking at them, first together and then separately (especially if they have different objectives), it will be easier to draw up common objectives. Later on, you will work on the fact that they do not agree or they agreed together.
Obstacles in the development of therapy
If the intention someone has in going to a couples’ therapist is to show that the fault is the other’s, or the reason for attending is that one does not know how to break up the relationship, couples’ therapy (considering continuity as an objective) becomes very difficult, not to say unfeasible.
Another reason for discomfort in the couple is that, over time, erotic desire often declines . The phase of falling in love lasts as long as it does, and if there is not a conversion of the falling in love into something else we will call love, and moreover, eroticism is not cultivated, it will decline. As in almost everything, when we dedicate attention, time, energy and care to it, the interest will last.
The important thing is that we can and must modify those behaviours that are the reason for a bad relationship . Let’s not doubt that it is possible and that we have the tools to achieve it, if there is a real desire and motivation to do so.
When two people have a lot of fun together, carry out their projects together, are present in each other’s lives when needed, help and push each other to carry out their dreams, give each other continuous and frequent signs of affection, desire each other, admire each other and express it, treat each other with respect, share what they have it will be difficult to break or want to break a relationship like this.
Well, this is the goal of couples therapy , to help them solve their conflicts, change problematic behaviors and improve communication, and thus, produce those very desirable results between two people who say and want to love each other.