The Fundamental Truth of Effective Couples Therapy
The one thing that causes the most relationship difficulties, that is most likely to bring a couple to couples therapy, is a false sense of difference from, or superiority to, one’s partner. By focusing on gender stereotypes or the idea that opposites attract, couples are able to avoid taking any personal responsibility for the failures of their relationship while heaping the blame on their partner. The one fundamental truth that couples must learn if couples therapy is to be effective, is that you attract the people you attract and are attracted to the people you’re attracted to because of the person you are.
This focus on superficial differences between ourselves and our partners as a way of maintaining the illusion of superiority is what I call “The Difference Game” in my book We’d Have a Great Relationship If It Weren’t for You. The point of “The Difference Game” is to turn every aspect of your relationship into a way to prove how much better than your partner you are. Every word, deed, or thought is further proof that you are more loving, more passionate, more honest, or more successful.
Couples therapy, though, is about the two of you functioning as a couple, not you competing as an individual. As long as you continue to think of yourself and your partner as individuals in a competition, rather than as a couple in a relationship, you’re unlikely to gain anything of value in your couples therapy sessions. To build a truly intimate, satisfying relationship you need to drop the ego and start thinking of your partner as your partner, and by that I mean your equal, rather than as your competition.
If you can come to couples therapy and say:
• she cares about me as much as I care about her,
• he puts as much effort into our relationship as I do, or
• we are both equally open and honest
without qualifying your statement in any way, you’re likely ready to have an equal and mutual relationship. If you find it necessary to use words like nearly, or almost, or phrases such as “he would be, if”, or “she should be, but”, then you’re still trying to “win” your relationship — you’re still acting as an individual, and couples therapy is for couples.
Moving to such an honest and transparent assessment of yourself is by no means easy. In my practice I have seen people spend years in couples therapy without being able to take that step towards honesty and admit that the real reason they’re in their relationship is to glorify themselves. Admitting this, to themselves and their partner, is a necessary first step on the path towards a satisfying and equal relationship, but doing so leaves you feeling very exposed and vulnerable.
Although it’s difficult, couples that can humbly accept that they are no better than their partner, and that their partner is a reflection of who they truly are, are ready to start building an intimate, and mutual relationship.
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.