The Relationship Blog

Seeking Out Couples Therapy

When we find ourselves in an unhealthy relationship, we tell ourselves all sorts of stories about how we ended up there. Especially when it’s the latest in a long string of unhealthy relationships that has caused us to seek out couples therapy. “It’s a complete mystery to me,” we say, or “I guess opposites really do attract”. We may even convince ourselves that the flaws we perceive about our partner are simply “the way men are” or “the way women are”. What we often leave out, however, is the simple fact that the people we end up with are reflections of the people we are.

What you’re really doing, when you focus on superficial differences between you and your partner in your couples therapy sessions, is drawing comparisons between the two of you in order to build up your self-esteem and inflate your ego. Instead of competing with your partner over who’s the better individual, you should use your couples therapy time to work with your partner to become a better couple. Becoming a better couple means building a mutual relationship.

A mutual relationship is comprised of two major elements:

• Real agreements, and
• The WE

Real Agreements

Whenever two individuals come together to form a relationship, there are thousands and thousands of issues where they will need to come to some sort of agreement. In unequal and non-mutual relationships — the kind of relationships that tend to end up in couples therapy — these agreements are often sloppy and false. One partner says they agree with the other simply because “it’s not worth arguing about” or “it doesn’t really matter”.

A real agreement is one where, as the name implies, both partners are truly in agreement. When a couple makes a real agreement, they agree on a mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual level. Making real agreements requires a greater commitment of time and energy than the other kind, but results in solid, long-lasting decisions that don’t need to be hashed out again and again, every time the subject comes up.

The WE

Unequal relationships are a result of using differences among partners to prove something negative about the other. A mutual relationship consists of three parts. In addition to your needs and your partner’s needs, the needs of the relationship are also considered as separate from those of the partners.

By thinking of the relationship as a separate entity, with its own needs, the partners can more easily move their view of a conflict outside of their own perspective. This makes it easier for each partner, whether in a couples therapy session or in their daily life, to incorporate the needs of their partner alongside their own, and work towards finding solutions that lead to a strengthened and healthy relationship.

It’s easy to tell when a couple is making real agreements and thinking in terms of the WE. They tend to talk in terms of inclusion, rather than exclusion, and never put each other down. They also don’t usually fight very much and their conflicts are brief.

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.

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