This Pain Feels Too Great to Bear
"I can't believe this is happening to me." How do couples cope with a loss that is invisible to the rest of the world? When we lose a grandparent or a pet, society has given us rituals of mourning, venues to express our pain, cultural normalizing takes its cue. But not all losses are equal. People who experience infertility and pregnancy losses all too often suffer in silence. Sadness, shame, guilt, loneliness, all experienced in isolation. This article is for all of the families impacted by such losses, and should be shared with the greater community at large to raise awareness of issues that remains under discussed and under studied. October marks another pregnancy and infant loss awareness month. Let's all do our part to raise our society's collective awareness around these issues.
Ask an MFT is an opportunity to answer questions from my followers on social media who would like some insights into the world of marriage and family therapy on many different topics. I want to reassure my readers that their identities are protected. While I get many questions, not all of them are useful for the general public so I can only respond to a select few each time.
Q: What can I do if I don’t want to go to therapy, but I know that my relationship needs work?
Robin: The first thing I would recommend you do is to explore and write about what is going on in your relationship that needs to change. Therapy can be a very powerful experience to bring about change, but it is not always needed. Most research-informed therapists will tell you that the change that comes about in therapy is roughly 70% attributable to the client. You are the one doing the work, you are the one making active changes to the ways in which you are thinking about your life and the ways in which you are taking action to bring about change. Here are several questions to get you started:
Listening, It’s Not as Easy as You Think
What do couples who come to therapy often fail to do in the beginning of their treatment? Most couples therapists will tell you that 95% of their cases involve couples who are looking to improve their communication. As a therapist, it is my job to see what it is that the couple cannot see, that they have a pattern of communicating that ends in hurt feelings, gridlock, and/or withdrawal. My job is to see this, and help the couple see it, and get them to see what it is that they are doing that contributes to this negative pattern, and then change it. Easier said than done right? That’s why they pay us the “big bucks.”
So what do couples who end up in therapy often fail to do? In my 5 years of experience, there are general trends that I’ve noticed, and most paths lead to a failure of expression of needs. We are taught how to ask for what we need (or not ask) in our family growing up. Many times a partner will criticize, or verbally attack their partner which leads to hurt feelings, defensiveness, counter attacks, or withdrawal. Underneath this exchange was an important need that wasn’t getting met. The key here is to recognize what it is that we are needing from our partner, and then express it in a clear and direct way using language that will not put our partner on the defensive.
I want to share what I have learned about men, women, and relationships in my time as a couples therapist. The way I look at my own relationship (with my now wife) after having trained at an accredited couple and family therapy program, is worlds different from how I understood my past relationships with previous girlfriends. As a relationship expert, I am excited to share some tips with you that you can start doing right now in your relationship.
Tip #1: Take responsibility
Actively look at yourself, and what you are (or are not) doing in the relationship. How are you nurturing your relationship? Do you take it for granted and assume it will be fine without putting any effort into it? When couples get into arguments both partners are actively playing a role in the conflict. Both partners are fighting to be understood and listened to.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the idea that when you choose to become involved with another person intimately it is somewhat like two people from different countries (or in some cases different planets) coming together to create a new country or planet. This metaphor was shared with me by my clinical supervisor, Dr. Emily Cook, and it has made a big impact on my outlook both personally and professionally. Each person comes into the relationship with their own culture, language, way of interacting with others, value system, and many other things that are personalized from their past experiences. Each partner is responsible for helping to teach the other their language and nuances of their family of origin while at the same time creating new ways to interact that mesh both individual’s pasts into one cohesive “new” language and country.
It can sometimes be tricky navigating through the murky waters of building your own family when each person brings so much from their past and their family of origin. It can seem impossible to bridge the gaps between your understanding and world view with those of your partner. While it may be more difficult for some than others, there are several important things you can do. There are some things you should keep in mind that take work and dedication but can help make your relationship stronger, creating a foundation for you and your partner to begin growing and building your own family with its own unique values and language.
Techniques and Tips:
What is premarital counseling?
So the wedding is coming up soon, and I bet you're very excited and eager to celebrate the big day. This is a time of high excitement and high stress for many couples, and I'm guessing that if you're reading this article, you're interested in why you should consider premarital counseling.
Premarital counseling differs from Marriage Counseling because premarital couples are usually not in counseling to fix problems in their relationship. Instead, these couples seek out premarital counseling so that they can discuss important aspects of their relationship that they know are going to change after they get married and begin building a life together. This type of counseling provides a chance for the couple to, "consider and discuss things that will increase the likelihood of a successful marriage," says family-law attorney Mark Baer.
How come more couples are choosing premarital counseling before marriage?
Is it because of the ominous "50% divorce rate" in the U.S? It may be because the research shows that couples who participate in premarital counseling programs report, on average, a 30% stronger marriage than couples who did not participate in these programs (Stanley, Amato, Johnson & Markman, 2006). Jason S. Carroll, assistant professor of marriage, family, and human development at Brigham Young University, says "After participating in these programs, couples reported or were observed to be better at resolving problems using effective communication styles, and on average, they reported higher levels of relationship quality."
February is a month to reflect on, appreciate, and increase our awareness of many different things here in the U.S. Chief among them being Black History Month. But as a couples therapist, I write to you today to bring awareness of the expectations that many couples put on themselves or their partner as Valentine’s Day approaches.
Novelist Elizabeth Bowen famously wrote, “When you love someone, all your saved-up wishes start coming out.” When we’re in emotionally safe relationships we feel safe enough to express our needs and wants. But this doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve communicated our preferences and expectations to our partner in a way where they really “get it”. And perhaps this is why many couples get into disagreements around Valentine’s Day.
Relationships haven’t been boiled down to an exact science…not yet at least. But some psychology professors whose life’s work is researching the nature of these relationships have come up with some pretty helpful tips, tools, and trends among healthy couples with lasting relationships.
After reading this article I wanted to highlight some of the most important habits (in my opinion) couples can adhere to:
To read more, visit the source article.
Photo taken June 13, 2010.http://www.flickr.com/photos/joewilcox/4759271926/in/datetaken/
Robin S. Smith, MS, LCMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in clinical practice in Bethesda MD, and specializes in relationship issues for couples, families, and individuals, for improved quality of life. His clinical specialties include: transition to parenthood for new and expecting parents, infidelity, sex and intimacy issues, premarital counseling, and trauma. Robin has given talks to various groups including hospital administrators, graduate students, therapists, and child birth educators. He is the primary contributor to Your Couples Therapist Blog.
Robin S. Smith is a psychotherapist practicing in Bethesda, MD. Robin created The Couple and Family Clinic Blog to provide useful articles on issues related to mental health as well as articles on local, national, and international news stories. Learn more about Robin on the About Page.