For some of us, we know we want to seek out support and are considering therapy as an option to potentially help with improving your relationship or to see if things are fixable enough to keep your relationship going.
And, understandably, it can get pretty overwhelming once you start looking for a therapist or you start seeing different kinds of therapy and wondering which one is the best one for you (or does it even matter the method one particular therapist uses?)
I’ll start off by saying this, generally the particular method or “orientation” as therapists call it, doesn’t really matter all that much. Sure, there can be certain ways of learning that work better for you and your partner or you may find certain approaches just “speak” to you more and we will get into all of that in a second. But, to begin, and there is research that supports this idea, for most people it’s the relationship they have with their therapist that is the most important thing when figuring out what may be right for you. Meaning, you feel comfortable with this person, you feel relatively understood by them, you get the feeling they have your best interests at heart and you just feel good working with them. So, with that in mind, you may want to meet with a couple of people just to be sure you’ve explored your options and found a person you feel the most connected with.
That being said, in recent years there have been a few different kinds of approaches that have emerged in the arena of couples therapy. All of them have similar goals in mind, to help couples feel more connected, communicate better and understand one another so they can feel overall better in their relationship. While there may be others I am missing for the purposes of this particular post, I will focus on two of the main approaches I hear most often in the couples therapy world and why I personally like the work of the Gottman Method and how I think it can best be of help to you and your partner.
One of the approaches I hear most often about, and it’s quite popular with most therapists, Emotionally Focused Therapy. In a nutshell, Emotionally Focused Therapy, or EFT for short, is an approach backed by research to help couples understand and identify the underlying needs and emotions behind any upsetting interaction and to build more compassion and empathy for these needs and emotions each partner is experiencing. This may mean talking about your upbringing growing up or experiences in your past that left a lasting impression and connecting it to your current relationship. The idea is, as you both share these experiences and the feelings/needs around them, you also start to build compassion and empathy around these feelings/needs helping to increase support and understanding in your relationship.
EFT is centered around a few ideas but one of the main ones is attachment theory. You may have heard about Attachment Theory in relationship to monkeys that were observed for research and how they responded to a cloth covered “mommy ” with a bottle attached to it in comparison to a wire mesh “mommy” that provided the same nutritional nourishment but was not nearly as soothing or welcoming as the cloth covered version.
Attachment theory talks about three different styles of attachment that we learned as children growing up (secure, anxious and avoidant), how we attached or didn’t attach to our parents/caregivers and how we may interact with others as a result of this attachment style. What EFT says is that couples who work towards a secure attachment style fare better in the long-term than those who have an avoidant or anxious attachment with each other. So, there may be work around questions like “Do you love me for who I am?” “Will you will leave/abandon me if….happens?” “Can you give me reassurance when I feel insecure or jealous in our relationship?” And the hope is you develop a secure/loving attachment and bond with each other which allows you both to be who you truly are in the relationship and know that even when you venture out in the world, your partner is there and supportive of you and who you truly are.
I have to say, I am a huge fan of attachment theory, and really got a tremendous amount of insight to my own attachment style, which for me was more on the anxious side, and how it was affecting my decisions, feelings and behavior in relationships. As I worked through the wounds of my past and feelings of unworthiness and feeling unlovable, it ultimately helped me to find and build the current relationship I have know into a secure and loving bond. It also might be worth mentioning EFT can be helpful in an individual basis as well as with couples and families.
The other approach, which is one where I have received a ton on training on and both my husband and I received our own couples therapy with, is the Gottman Method for Couples Therapy. If you have read my other blog posts, which, if you have, God bless you and thank you for making it this far, Drs. John and Julie Gottman developed their approach after observing over 3,000 couples over the course of about 20-30 years in their “Love Lab” Based upon this research, they noticed patterns of interactions and behaviors that made up the “masters” and “disasters” in relationships.
There are a few components the Gottman Method helps, through various exercises and skills to practice, including learning how to manage conflict, how to increase friendship and intimacy, developing a culture of appreciation, building meaningful rituals and supporting long-term life goals and increasing moments of connection.
This approach includes exercises you and your partner practice together that encourages improved communication and listening skills and gets rid of what John and Julie Gottman have deemed the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. They also have additional ways you can work towards compromise and problem solving and normalizes the fact that any couple, no matter how compatible and understanding they are, will have a certain set of issues that will remain unresolved.
One of things I really gravitated towards in the work of John and Julie Gottman was that, conflict is normal and, in fact, encouraged in a relationship. For me and my husband, who tend to be very polite, kind and flexible people for the most part, it was helpful to know that we should be having conflict from time to time and discussing the things that upset us and to identify and express our needs. In fact, it’s a vital part of a relationship to say these things otherwise you run the risk of resentment building and leading to a huge argument or just feeling very distant from your partner overall.
Related to this idea of conflict being normal and healthy, Gottman teaches you how to make your arguments and conflicts more productive and not dissolve into a shouting match or leaving you both shutting down and getting quiet. Most of my clients say to me at the conclusion of their work with me that they got the most out of the communication skills they learned from me and I attribute a good portion of that to the research from the Gottman Method.
So, when it all comes down to it, there is no right or wrong way when it comes to couples therapy. However, depending on what it is you are looking for and what you feel may be of the most benefit to you and your partner, understanding the different approaches may help you find the best path for you to a better and more satisfying relationship. If you have specific questions about my approach and the Gottman method, feel free to reach out to me with the information contained on my contact page. I also offer free consultations over the phone before setting up an initial appointment.