How can marriage (relationship) counseling really help?
Things aren’t going well between you and your partner, and you are considering counseling, but one or both of you has some fears about the counseling process.
Here is what I usually hear:
“The counselor will take sides, and I will be the bad one.”
“If the counselor is a women (or a man), they won’t see it from the other gender’s perspective.”
“We will just start fighting in front of the counselor.”
“It won’t do any good”
Counseling will help identify patterns and cycles*
Generally people get stuck in patterns that happen over and over again. There are typically 4 negative patterns.
Both partners trigger the negative patterns, and both suffer from them. These are the patterns that take over, creating a lot of conflict and loneliness in a relationship. Once these patterns are identified, a counselor can help you get beyond the surface fighting and withdrawing so that you understand the deeper emotions that are driving the cycle.
A clue that you might be in your cyclical pattern is if you have that “here we go again” feeling or if you hear yourself thinking “it’s always the same with him/her”.
See if you notice your relationship in any of these types:
“Hide and Seek” (Most Common) – One partner pursues, and one withdraws. The pursuer or seeker pursuer typically starts discussions, conflicts, asks for time together, and wants to fix for the relationship when it’s struggling. The hider or withdrawer seems less concerned about the relationship, appears more independent, and avoids the conflicts, believing that hiding will keep the relationship from getting into a fight. The hider/withdrawer might sometimes engage in conflict to defend, or might attack back, before withdrawing.
“Playing House” or “Roommates” – Both partners withdraw from conflict or connection. Both partners share the withdrawing style in the relationship. Both avoid conflict and problems in the marriage. The relationship looks like playing house, sharing the responsibilities, but without an emotional connection. Both might worry the other doesn’t care for the relationship. The couple starts to feel very distant and lonely, often wondering if the other even wants the relationship to continue. Most often, one partner is a pursuer who became hopeless and gave up seeking.
“Tag-You’re It!” or “Attack-Attack”– Both partners get stuck in blaming. This pattern is where both partners express their feelings and frustrations, which leads to arguments. The couple is caught in a battle of who is right and wrong, fighting over facts and figures or what happened or didn’t happen. The partners can’t get beyond the anger in order to feel close. Underneath it all, both want that connection and close feeling. Underneath this attacking cycle, one partner that is actually a withdrawer that is fighting back and defending against a persistent pursuer. One, if not both, will often retreat back to the withdrawing position after the conflict becomes hopeless.
Complex Cycles and Reactive Cycles – Chaotic patterns. There are several ways in which a couple’s patterns become chaotic. Sometimes partners are changing and alternating positions, sometimes the couple is reacting to a new event, such as an affair, threat of divorce or a recent death.
Can you identify what type of pattern you are caught in?
*Based on Emotionally Focused Therapy by Dr. Susan Johnson