Blog 115. Therapy Part E: The Process And What You Can Expect From Relationship Therapy.
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As a relationship therapist, some came to see me as a couple, others came alone. and sometimes their partners joined the sessions later. However when this happened, I will have already built a relationship with the partner that initiated therapy, and I would then have to ensure that the partner joining, never feels that they are at a disadvantage in any way.
However, during the therapeutic sessions, everything happens for a reason and often nothing is coincidence. Clients will tell you everything you need to know if you just learn to listen, watch and observe. And this is what I taught all my clients to do with each other and those around them.
But, when one partner enters therapy later than the other, often this became a theme that the couple needed to consider, although on many occasion it was the men who were dragged along – and who under my direction often did great work.
In other words, the minute a couple commit to therapy the work begins. And everything they say and do becomes part of what I had to observe and consider as well as the following four questions, although many more would crop up along the way but these would be questions particular to the couple or the issues they faced.
Also, how couples relate gave me an insight into the behavioural patterns which the couple will have developed over time. Usually these behavioural patterns or themes will have something to do with the internal worlds of each partner and it will relate to why they chose one another or why they were attracted to one another.
And once a couple decides to enter relationship therapy, four important questions need to be asked. They are:
- What is the presenting problem?
- Why now?
- What are the intimacy issues?
- What kind of relationship did both partner’s parents have?
The answers to these questions become the foundation from which everything springs.
Once a therapist has learnt what the presenting problem is, or what the couple think they need help with, the therapist will over time also keep in mind the “why now?” question. The first two questions and themes often resonate throughout the therapy and it can help keep the therapeutic process focused.
The third question is another important theme that needs to be discovered as soon as possible, as this is often the seed or origin of most people’s issues and relationship choices.
And the fourth question, stems from the third and tells a therapist much about what the couple will expect form the relationship and indeed, how the couple will relate – as a direct result from what they have observed from their parent’s relationship/s. What gets absorbed from watching how parents relate becomes the blueprint for a child’s future relationships. Understanding exactly what this means for each couple may require a third party.
However, during this therapeutic process, the couple often discover aspects about each other that they never knew or indeed aspects about themselves, that they’d either forgotten or kept hidden. All these events, and all these bits of information are the pieces of the puzzle that help a couple understand themselves and indeed, their partners better. But most importantly, it’s often also the little events that are remembered, and indeed their impact, that adds to the adults we become.
In any relationship however, these events can cause knee-jerk reactions and if a couple do not understand one another’s past experiences, they may not understand why these reactions or responses happen. As a result, unnecessary friction or misunderstandings may occur.
In other words:
- A partner may not understand their own knee-jerk reactions or emotions to certain things, as they haven’t ever thought it necessary to spend time finding out why. They may have forgotten past events or usually they may not realise how or why certain events can trigger their emotions or behaviour.
- Also, if these triggered emotions seemed a bit over the top or more painful than actually necessary, then this is usually the clue that the emotions relate back to childhood. And it may take the help of a therapist to pin point exactly when the events took place.
- What often happens too is that when an event happens, both partners may get triggered, either similarly or possibly differently, but triggered nevertheless. Both then regress back to a certain age when they first experienced the feeling and behave accordingly. A trained therapist will be able to pick this up and this is called “regression”. Usually the couple are unaware that: 1) They have regressed or indeed, 2) They are often unaware of the origin of their emotions or that 3) they can share past childhood experiences – even if they occurred via different experiences or events. This is why I kept reminding my clients that birds of a feather flock together and what we share in childhood becomes the link that helps us connect as adults. However, this link is not always obvious. Sometimes a lot of digging needs to occur and we don’t always have time for this.
- But until this is achieved, a partner may remain in the dark as to why the other partner behaves or responds in certain ways. Because all anyone can ever do – is relate to the present situation, if they have no understanding of anyone else’s past. In other words, the past will have no meaning until it is explored.
- And once a couple allow a deeper exploration to occur, once they discover just how much they actually share, this can help the couple bond again – and it can create a new level of intimacy.
- This exploratory process is so important as it also allows the couple to realise that there is more than just ‘love at first sight’ – and that their attraction is usually due to shared childhood experiences.
- The attraction may occur unconsciously. Therapy can help make this conscious and indeed, it can also remind a couple what they hope to get from their relationship or indeed, what they hope to heal. This is also known as ‘the unconscious contract’, which I have already explained much earlier on. Once this ‘contract’ is understood, the couple can find ways to work towards creating what they both desire.
- This is usually helped by having a third person identify and guide a couple to places they themselves were unable to explore. Doing this, can bring relief, new insights and then a deeper understanding and intimacy.
However in some cases couples leave long before this work is complete. Sometimes a couple returns later when they are more ready to delve deeper or sometimes they just need to move on when it becomes obvious to all involved that they’re wasting their time and money, and that no more progress can occur. Sometimes too, some couples (or one of it’s members), are so stuck in their heads, stuck trying to intellectualise everything, that progress is either very slow or non-existent. Often this is because the fear of letting go or indeed, feeling any emotions can just be too hard to consider, and as a result the couple may have to accept that any further progress is futile.
But also, we can easily slip back into our old ways of behaviour:
Without realising, human beings tend to cling to their wounds, either consciously or unconsciously. Often too quickly and without realising, many reasons or justifications can be proffered with regards certain behaviour and quickly excuses can lead to victimhood. This only proves an unwillingness to really let go and heal. Because in a strange way – our wounds gives our lives meaning.
This is because certain behaviours are safe and it’s what we know. And no matter how much we insist on healing – our behaviour can actually state the opposite.
I’ve noticed that in some cases when say an apology is required, the person may indeed, apologise – but this can be followed by a ream of excuses and justifications leading the person right back to where they started. And this is how we run rings around ourselves, if we don’t stop or if we don’t watch ourselves carefully. This is why the only true apology is one which is accompanied with changed behaviour.
And oh and we sure know how to fool ourselves. We get ourselves to think that we truly need our negative habits in order survive or get through the day. And some of our excuses can be seriously jaw-dropping.
But until these habits are made conscious – we will continue or we will find ways to behave in exactly the same way as before.
But learning about ourselves and exactly how we respond in certain circumstances, takes hard work. Even if we realise our behaviour has been shocking, horrific, embarrassing, and so on, if we’re not careful, this behaviour can slowly begin to creep back. And we may oh so conveniently forget to remind ourselves that this is bound to happen again and again – if we allow it to.
And how often have you heard people many say, “It worked for a while but nothing seemed to happen”. Indeed, we often land up setting ourselves up for failure even without realising this could actually be our inner intention. Because if we fail, then we’ve proven that we’re not worthy of success after all and so on. And this is how we so easily self-sabotage our lives.
What can you do if this happens?
Once you realise you are beginning to slip back into your old ways, this may require more therapy or if you can remember what you need to do, start again. You really don’t have to just give up. But don’t let this become your life’s reason for living – always trying to heal but never quite getting there…!
However, my clients left with a relationship tool kit that they could work with if they ever felt themselves falling back on old habits. This tool kit also consists of relationship wisdom that every couple can use when confronted with difficult issues.
Learning to listen to yourself and others.
This is one of the most important tools that therapy teaches.
Therapy provides a platform for you to begin to understand yourself better. By doing so, you begin not only to understand yourself better, you also begin to listen to yourself too – what and how you say things, how you react, what triggers your buttons and so on.
The spin off of this learning is that it also provides you with a new ability to listen to others – and this is important in both personal and business relationships.
Relationship therapy however, also provides clients with extra tools:
- You realise and learn the importance of asking the right questions before you fall in love.
- You learn to discuss money, religion, children and personal goals expectations with a partner early on and preferably before you even enter a relationship as this can prevent a lot of heartache.
- You realise the importance of getting to know a prospective partner’s family and indeed, their parent’s relationship status.
- You realise the importance of getting to know a prospective partner’s friends, as this will enlighten you further.
- You also learn how to listen and communicate better.
- You become more likely to take responsibility for your actions and less likely to blame or indeed, project your issues onto your partner.
- You realise too that expectations need to be discussed otherwise disappointment can emerge leading to resentment and anger.
Therapy in other words, provides one with much insight and these tools are absolutely invaluable especially if you are creating a foundation with your partner in which to have children. They too will benefit from all your insights.
You can now find out more by reading Blog 116. Therapy Part F: The Therapist, How Weekly Sessions Are Arranged And Paid For, But What If Things Go Wrong?
© 2019 Deidré Wallace All rights reserved.
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