The most common problem I see couples coming in for therapy is there has been a violation of trust. This can be in the case of somebody discovering a text message, an email, a phone call, a picture or something indicating their partner may have another significant someone in their life. They may not necessarily mean having an affair, but they are getting “emotionally fed” by somebody or something.
Trust violations can also include some sort of a financial betrayal. If one partner finds something that suggests their partner has not been honest with them, that can feel like a major fiscal transgression. These types of incidents can trigger fears and defensiveness.
The other types of issues that would prompt a couple to seek therapy would relate to parenting issues, balancing work and family life, life transitions (career changes, health issues, launching teens, parents aging/dying, etc). Often, individuals report a feeling of no longer being a priority in their partner’s life; kids, dogs, job, and everything else seems to be higher on their partner’s totem pole of priorities. Some partners will articulate feeling emotionally neglected or forgotten.
More commonly couples come in and present this state of malaise; they will describe it as like they are “roommates”, like they no longer have this connection. They feel distant, unappreciated, and may feel a sense of disappointment or disenchantment.
I talk to them about the resentments that they have, trying to identify what I call the “Wall of Resentment”, and we begin to identify those bricks or stones in the wall that have built up over time. These walls end up creating emotional distance between the couple and prevent them from really connecting. This leads us to a conversation about unmet expectations and unexpressed disappointments.
The most common solutions aren’t necessarily easy or obvious. It often involves creating a space to address the issues, and that starts with setting up an appointment. Some people begin to have a sense of hope simply from making the appointment and getting their partner to come in with them.
I primarily work with heterosexual couples, and it is often the female partner that is initiating the intake session. The husband is often reluctant to enter into the whole couples therapy process because it’s totally foreign to them. Simply having the couple begin to talk about what some of their issues are is a big step in making some positive changes.
I see my principal role as trying to coach their “dance” – their relationship, how did they get to where they are today and encouraging them to talk about what is it that’s not working. When they “step on each others’ toes”, how do they process that? How do they acknowledge that someone has been hurt and not get caught up in the blame game or defensive responses?