What is the MOST important part of couples therapy?
Whatever reason you have for coming to couple therapy, you want to change your communication so that you are more able to talk to and listen to each other.
The major change that happens in couple therapy comes from practice talking to each other in a different way. The best method to learn to talk differently is to practice having these new conversations. Most of our clients don’t like the part of therapy where we say, “Can you turn and tell you partner about your [Insert… something vulnerable about yourself that you have just said to me.]? Technically, this is called an enactment.
Usually people protest, roll their eyes, and say some version of “He/she heard me already,” “I just said that,” “I don’t like this role playing,” “I’ve said it before,” or “This is silly and so awkward.” Yes, it can be uncomfortable, at first. As the therapy progresses over the months, couples get used to turning and talking to each other.
The reason for the turning and talking is to bring you into connection with your partner. Early in therapy, we watch to see if a couple can even make eye contact. We also want to see what one partner does with the other’s vulnerability. It helps us see, right in the room, the couple’s dynamic or cycle. If the interaction is initiated by one partner’s sharing, then it provides us a better understanding of what is driving the negative cycle. Sometimes couples can’t even turn and talk to each other, which provides us a lot of information about where things are going wrong.
As therapy progresses, your turning and sharing your internal experience—what’s happening inside—helps you learn to stand up for yourself, to accept responsibility for your behavior, and to own your position in the cycle between you that doesn’t work. Usually these shares include some element of vulnerability and your reactive behavior, examples might be shutting down or getting angry.
I personally have never met a relationship that is just one person’s fault; each partner contributes to and maintains the negative dance. By understanding, sharing, and owning your part of your dynamic, everyone starts to understand the deeper negative feelings that drive the disconnection between the two of you. After a new understanding grows of the deeper emotions, the tension gradually de-escalates. The moments of turning and talking begin to create emotionally significant interactions, and the couple begins to understand the reasons why they’ve felt disconnected in the past. They feel their connection.
This is where the real work of therapy happens, when the turning and talking reveals blocks that are typically about fears of reaching over to and sharing with the other person. Most people in a relationship have tried to share these deep feelings and have felt rejected in the past. The therapist choreographs change events by encouraging these deeper conversations. This is where the true change happens, when one partner shares their emotional needs in a complete way and is not rejected by the other. These are the key change events in Emotionally Focused Therapy.
At the end of this stage, couples don’t need therapy anymore. They can talk and listen to each other, because they have had lots of practice communicating in new ways that draw them together.