Where Couples Therapy Begins
I love working with couples. It’s challenging, rewarding work that puts me in direct contact with one of the most fundamental truths of being human: we need each other. Science has unequivocally proven that human beings need primary attachment figures throughout life. In order to feel secure, human beings need someone that offers emotional support and physical care. We need to know that if we get sick, we’ll be cared for. We need to know that when we grieve, someone will bear witness to our pain. We need to know that our home is more than walls and heating, it’s the people who proudly claim us as their own. In short, we need to know in our bones that we’re not in this alone.
For most adults, our partners are our primary attachment figures. I believe there is a simple reason for this: we build our lives this way. We live in single family homes and our daily rituals of life are observed there. We share our most intimate moments with our partners. We are naked, unshaven, sweatpants clad, coughing, puking, sobbing and screaming with only our partner as witness. Our partner is the person we’re familiar with in the deepest sense of the word and that familiarity (when things go right) births a sense of safety and dependence.
Most of us have internalized unhelpful messages about dependence believing it is for the weak and needy. The truth is that needfulness is a crucial part of our humanness, and what brings us together. Growing up, we may have gotten the message that our needs were too much or shameful. In response, we learned to shut down our relational needs (turn down the volume), or become demanding of them (turn up the volume) or a mix of both. In a couple there is often one critical partner and one partner who is withdrawn. Both positions hide the tender need for the other person that is under the defensive position. Being angry or withdrawn does not invite the other person in, it pushes them away.
Everyone’s relationship needs are unique. Some people need more touch and intimacy, some people need more appreciation and less criticism, some people need to feel home is a calm, safe place. Relational needs are a unique blend of a person’s history, biological temperament and the alchemy between the couple. No person can meet every partner’s needs perfectly but knowing that the other person wants to, and is actively trying, to meet them goes a long way in ensuring mutual satisfaction in the relationship.
Need is where couples therapy begins. We tend to take our long-time partners for granted. We assume emotional support and care are nice to-haves, when in fact they are essential to living a full life. If any work is to be done in (or out) of couples therapy both members of the couple need to find a way to speak to their needs, to tend to them in the other person and stop trying to banish them. Trying to meet our partner’s needs is the action of love. I am often moved by the love that still exists, despite being covered over, bruised and shamed, in an effort to deny how much we rely on our partners. If relationship needs can be allowed for, couples can learn to become more skillful in responding to them. When this happens, loving feelings often emerge as if finally bidden. It’s been my experience that when this first step is taken, in a remarkably short period of time, a couple can find a way to a more loving and fulfilling relationship. Love turns out to be surprisingly resilient, in spite of us.
If you’re interested in exploring couple’s therapy. Contact us here.
The above information was written with couples in mind who are not engaged in a cycle of emotional or physical abuse. If you are experiencing intimate partner violence, the information below may be counterproductive. Instead, find resources here.