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Why couples counseling can make things WORSE

Have you tried couples counseling and it didn’t help?  Even worse, it harmed the relationship?  Since that experience with therapy, perhaps the conflict or distance remains the same; or perhaps the relationship has been deteriorating.  You may even be desperate for help.  You sometimes think about returning to counseling but haven’t because it didn’t work out the first time.  You’re thinking:  if a professional couldn’t help us, is there any hope for this relationship?  But maybe the problem with the therapy wasn’t you, but was an underskilled or untrained therapist.  Here are some indicators of a therapist who is well-meaning but underskilled in working with couples:

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?

  • The therapist started the session with “So, how was your week?” (invites negative thinkers to recount the problems instead of focusing on skill building);
  • The therapist allowed you to argue during the session (damaging an environment which should be emotionally safe);
  • The therapist seemed to side with one partner over the other (therapist was triggered and unconsciously aligning with the person they most agree with);
  • All you seemed to discuss were the problems and rarely their origins or their solutions (therapist didn’t know couples therapy tools and techniques);

There are many well-meaning generalist counselors who see couples.  Some don’t have ANY specialized training in working with couples.  Their desire to help is what makes them offer this service, but they may be doing more harm than good.  Why?  Because couples therapy is a specialty, just like addictions or eating disorder counseling.  Think of this in terms of medical care;  you wouldn’t have a chronic or acute heart condition treated by a PCP – you’d be working with a cardiologist.  Same idea applies to couples therapy.

What makes Couples Therapy Center of NJ different is …

Happy Couple 3

  • We have training (beyond our required degrees) in relationship counseling;
  • Our training is in evidence-based (research-proven) therapy theories and techniques;
  • We don’t allow couples to argue in our office – we redirect to something more productive;
  • We teach skills and strongly encourage couples to practice these skills between sessions;
  • We ask what is going well – this reinforces and strengthens good habits;
  • We open each session with “Tell your partner one thing you appreciate about her/him”;

How we orient clients so they get the most out of couples therapy…

At the first meeting, we tell each partner to talk about themselves and not their partner.  The reason is: it encourages self-awareness and the idea “I can only change myself”.  Also, it’s the opposite of arguing.  In an argument, each partner is essentially talking about the other person.  As if they’re saying, “YOU should be more X and less Y.  Then everything will be fine.”  They’re blaming the partner.  And when has that ever effected positive change?

Option 1:  You may come in as a couple to see if the relationship can be repaired.  You’re wondering if this relationship is salvageable.  We help couples to explore the issues and to gain insight and understanding for one another.  Then, we help couples to express love and appreciation because it’s likely still there underneath all the conflict.  As a result of working with one of our therapists, the couple learns to ask for their needs in a healthy way.  They learn to develop a full life so as not to be solely dependent on their partner for all these needs.  They see the bigger picture and want to work together because it's in the best interest of their children (and themselves).  They come to enjoy each other’s company once again and make their intimate life more connecting and fun.  The best part is their children are now being raised in a happier and more loving household.  But what if your spouse is unwilling or not interested in therapy?

Or Option 2:  You come in on your own.  That’s fine because good work can still take place on the relationship even if your partner isn’t present.  In fact, half of our clients come in individually and we’ve never met their spouse. The reason this works is:  you’ll be learning and healing and growing; then showing up in your relationship as a healthier spouse.  You’ll be better able to handle challenges, have more insight, and stronger communication skills.  You’ll be becoming the best partner you can be and we’ve seen this have a positive effect on the spouse.  That’s a much healthier and more mature role to take then focusing on trying to change your spouse AND a much healthier model for your children.

Reach out to us.  You’ve waited long enough.  Call us at 908-246-3074 or email getsupport@couplestherapycenterofnj.com to schedule your first appointment.

Meredith Keller's Book

Relationship Essentials

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Relationship Essentials book

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