At times people wonder how a stranger – i.e. a psychotherapist or a counselor – can help them with their problems as they feel they are so different from other struggling couples.
“How do they – i. e. marriage counselors and couple psychotherapists – know why we are at this point in our relationship?” they ask, and “How do they know what we need to do to get reconnected with one another again?”
While it is true that each situation is different and each couple has its own set of challenges and difficulties as well as resources and strengths, it is also true that there are fundamental similarities among couples in distress. And it is these similarities that allow professional people like counselors and psychotherapists to help. Most differences, in fact, tend to be more superficial than substantial, because fundamentally we all need and look for the same things in love, – being valued and cherished, appreciated and loved – and we all respond by feeling less at ease in situations where our needs are no longer being met – we get angry, hurt, rejected; we withdraw, criticize or disconnect.
The most important and fundamental similarity in all romantic relationships is the need for each partner to feel safe, both physically and emotionally, in the relationship. Now, this feeling of safety can be shattered in many different ways – think of your partner abandoning you at a time when you need him the most; or when she makes you feel responsible for all the problems in your relationship; or when you feel neglected by your partner because, after the birth of your baby, she is totally absorbed in her new mother role; or when you realize that your partner has life goals and priorities that clash with yours, and the two of you no longer are on the same page…
Realizing that you and your partner no longer seem to see things the same way, and he/she no longer is the person you loved, triggers feelings of insecurity and fear, and these, in turn, create anxiety. With anxiety, there is a need to self-protect, which means you are no longer open and trusting of each other, but you become cautious and vigilant when with your partner.
Acting defensively when together and no longer having each other’s back, foster feelings of hurt, fear, disappointment and betrayal. It is what creates disconnection between partners and leads to threats of separation.
This is what astute and seasoned psychotherapists and counselors sense when they work with couples in distress. How couples got to this place is often less relevant than what they need to do to move out and beyond it. So, marriage counselors and couples psychotherapists look for ways of repairing the damage caused by feeling rejected, abandoned, or dismissed and devalued by each other, and help couples change the ways partners interact and see each other by increasing their awareness of the underlying dysfunctional dynamics that maintain conflicts and insecurity in their relationships.
So, if you find yourself in a distressed relationship and are stuck, seek professional help. Just remember a relevant piece of information: on average, couples in distress get to a psychotherapist office six years too late… Do you want to be part of these statistics?
Daniela Roher, Ph.D.