Couples Therapy and You
One of the most common, and the most damaging ideas, I see in couples therapy sessions is the belief that one’s partner is somehow inferior to them, less than themselves in some fundamental way. Some people wholeheartedly believe that it’s their partner’s shortcomings and flaws that are entirely responsible for the problems in their relationship, and it never seems to occur to them that the reason they’re in couples therapy in the first place is their misplaced belief in their own superiority.
There are many ways people justify this warped view of their relationship in their couples therapy sessions. The most popular comes courtesy of John Grey and his “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus”. By reducing their relationship to an oversimplified set of gender stereotypes, it becomes easier for someone to excuse their own behavior while at the same time removing the need to address their partner as an individual, with individual flaws and individual strengths. This can make couples therapy a very difficult and challenging process.
Another strategy employed by those who wish to view themselves as above reproach in their relationship is the “opposites attract” worldview. We’ve all seen couples where, just by looking at them, we wonder how in the world they got together. Many couples in couples therapy apply the same reasoning to their own relationship, overlooking the fact that the unlikely couple on the street only seems unlikely because we lack any deep understanding of their personalities. The same cannot be said for the people I see in couples therapy. For those couples, we do have access to the details of their relationship, and it quickly becomes apparent that there is no such thing as an unlikely couple.
Both of these views, and any other views of intimate relationships that focus on superficial differences between partners, are just ways of ignoring a fundamental truth; you always end up with the person who suits who you really are, not who you pretend to be. That is to say, if you were really so much better than, or superior to your partner, why would you be with them? What could you possibly be getting out of such an unequal relationship? The answer, of course, is that you are either a fool for wasting your time, or the relationship is not as unequal as you would like to think. You attract the people you do because of the person you are.
The good news is that by letting go of your limiting views on relationships, and being honest about your own personality, you can start looking more honestly at the real reasons your relationships are having problems. This can be very difficult, as it often involves acknowledging your own flaws, problems, and shortcomings, but it is also overwhelmingly empowering. You can really start to make the most of couples therapy once you realize that if you really want to change the types of people you end up with, you only need to change yourself.
Author: Bruce Derman Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Woodland Hills and Santa Monica, California who specializes in working with people in all stages of relationships. You may reach Dr. Derman by calling (818) 375-7194.