In the previous blog we discussed some of the main reasons why couples tend to be hesitant to seek professional help when they experience serious relational problems. In this blog we will discuss what makes therapy work.
The therapist, in addition to his or her knowledge of relational problems and experience in the new field of the science of relationships, provides something for couples that most certainly nobody else can provide for them and that is absolutely indispensable for the health and renewal of any relationship. He or she can provide A SAFE ENVIRONMENT WHERE COUPLES CAN BRING UP THEIR PROBLEMS AND ADDRESS THE FEELINGS RELATED TO THEM without the fear of being attacked, ignored, dismissed, ridiculed, as it may happen if they were to talk to one another on their own. Let me explain what I mean.
When problems start to crop up in intimate relationships, feelings get hurt. The emotional safety partners felt with each other goes away. Now they are defensive when together, guarded. They don’t open up with each other any longer; and they don’t share how they truly feel. Often they don’t even know themselves how they truly feel, or where their feelings come from. They are only in touch with how angry they are at their partners; how betrayed, disappointed and frustrated they feel, and how dismayed and hopeless they are by how things devolved in their relationship.
So, certain areas – I might add, the most important ones for the health of an intimate relationship – no longer get addressed. Instead, they get shoved under the carpet. However, what gets ignored doesn’t disappear, but continues to fester, maintaining aversive emotions for one another. This situation can continue without any resolution and turn into a chronic way of being together, with both partners staying on the surface in their interactions with one another, and carefully avoiding anything than goes deeper. Avoidance may maintain a certain status quo, but it doesn’t help couples move toward a clearer understanding of the dysfunctional patterns in which they are stuck. So, couples caught in these unhealthy situations don’t have any chance to improve.
Therapy, on the other hand, can provide the safe environment that allows for issues and feelings to be raised and verbalized, heard without judgment and discussed, leading to increased understanding and acceptance. It is when couples can get past their anger and resentments at each other and reach down to deeper feelings and share them so that they can begin to reconnect and re-establish the emotional safety together that had been lost.
So, the fear of opening up to a stranger, the fear of being judged, criticized, and even the cost – after all, the cost of a breakup is by far much bigger and much more painful to sustain than the cost of therapy – are not good enough reasons to avoid therapy. Remember this when you are faced with this option, and don’t make a decision based on fear and share, but one based on a clear determination of what’s best for your relationship.