Strengthening marriage relationships is near and dear to the heart of our clinical team at Relationship Solutions. Our counselors have trained extensively and studied intensely for years in order to successfully guide marriages into better health. Whether your relationship has only recently begun to struggle or if it has been in need of help for many years, our team knows how to help.
Our empirically based approach is a little different than other marriage counseling interventions. Rather than focusing solely on communication skills and conflict resolution techniques, our clinical team helps you repair and strengthen the core connection of your relationship while addressing the issues that brought you to counseling. This subtle distinction in our approach makes all the difference and is why marriages continue to grow and improve long after counseling at our office has ended.
What’s wrong with teaching communication skills and conflict resolution techniques? Absolutely nothing. Every healthy marriage needs both of these tools in their toolbox. What we have learned in the course of our work is that skills and techniques aren’t always enough. Especially when we are activated emotionally. When we feel threatened or distressed our body and our brain begin to function very differently than they do when we are calm and feel safe. It’s nearly impossible to remember that important information in times of relational struggle. Consider this:
You are driving home on a wintery night and the travel conditions are terrible. Snow and ice are covering the roads and more snow is falling so heavily that you can barely see the taillights of the car in front of you. There are cars in the ditch all around you and every so often you feel your own tires slide on the icy pavement while you helplessly pump the break of your car. That’s a pretty stressful scene, right? Now I want you to imagine being in that stressful highway scene but I’d like you to recite as much as you can of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address that you memorized in 7th grade. What’s that? You can’t? Of course not. It’s hard enough to remember any of that on a good day when you’re not driving in hazardous conditions. When you are trying to survive, your memory isn’t all that helpful.
Stressful situations in marriage are similar. We can’t remember communication skills or techniques for conflict resolution when we feel threatened or in danger. In those moments our limbic system is running things and it is much more concerned about survival than it is about communication practices. This is where our unique approach in working with couples can help.
The clinical counseling staff of Relationship Solutions is all trained in Emotionally Focused Therapy, an effective, evidence-based counseling model developed by Dr. Sue Johnson of Ottawa, ON. Emotionally Focused Therapy is grounded in attachment theory and focuses on building a connected, secure relationship between partners. Once this relationship security has been established, couples find that they can navigate most difficult scenarios much more successfully. In part, this is because couples feel less threatened by the responses from their partner and more confident in the connection of their marriage.
An important factor that we consider in couples work is the early life experiences of both partners. We believe that early childhood experiences have a deep and lasting impact on individuals and are carried into future relationships, particularly romantic ones. The way that vulnerability is expressed or suppressed, the way that emotions are experienced and demonstrated, and the way that comfort if offered in the family during childhood creates a sort-of playbook as the individual grows older. This “playbook” is referenced and refined over and over and over during the course of a person’s life. In nearly every marriage relationship both partners are operating according to an invisible relationship manual that they both developed prior to entering the relationship. Many times couples do not realize how different some of their basic understandings are when it comes to relationships, love, vulnerability, and comfort. One of our first goals with couples is to understand how their early life shaped them and how this affects them in their marriage.
Once we understand each partner’s early life experiences and how this has affected them, we begin the process of mapping their cycle of relationship response. It might come as a surprise to learn that every relationship follows a pattern or cycle when there is conflict or distress. Sometimes the pattern is obvious to both parties, sometimes it is subtle and difficult to trace. But the pattern is present and it can increase or decrease in intensity depending on what is occurring in the relationship.
Understanding the cycle is essential. Because once the cycle can be tracked and understood then it can be redirected in healthier ways that support improved connection between spouses. Where the former cycle often led to disconnection and isolation or conflict, the newly developed cycle can lead to connection, closeness and security.
How do I know if we need marriage counseling?
Most couples don’t schedule an appointment with a counselor until they have been struggling for several years. By the time they attend their first counseling session their relationship is in crisis. While our counselors specialize in treating distressed relationships, we recommend making an appointment before the relationship is greatly suffering. By taking steps to keep your marriage healthy, you can avoid the pain of relationship distress.
We believe all marriages can benefit from professional care in the same way that every professional athlete benefits from having a coach. Receiving marriage counseling does not mean that a marriage is in trouble. It could simply mean that your marriage health is a priority.
If you are struggling with communication, conflict, disconnection, sexual difficulty, infidelity or any other issues that interfere with your marital satisfaction, our counselors are here and ready to help you discover the marriage relationship you are seeking.
If you’re ready to begin marriage counseling, contact our office to schedule an initial assessment. One of our clinical team will meet with you and conduct an initial appointment where they will explore your needs and goals and they will make treatment recommendations. We look forward to hearing from you.