Dr. Lynn Margolies
Marital/couples therapy is a form of therapy which involves working with both partners of a couple to improve their relationship and/or help them make important decisions about the relationship. Couples enter into therapy for many reasons, often at a time of transition or stress in the relationship or in their lives. Couples may come to counseling at a time of crisis, for example, following an extramarital affair, or when one or both is unhappy in the relationship or may want to leave. However, some couples use therapy before getting married or early in the marriage in order to learn skills to resolve conflicts and differences, or to recognize potential vulnerabilities in the relationship, with the goal of preventing problems later on and protecting the relationship.
Other issues which may lead couples to seek help through therapy include: anger/resentment/lack of communication, trust issues, fighting, upcoming marriage/wedding/commitment, fertility issues, midlife crisis affecting one or both partners, illness: physical or psychological in one or both partners (e.g., depression, history of sexual/physical abuse), moving, parenting/family difficulties, in-law problems, religious/cultural/value differences, sexual problems.
In couples therapy both partners meet together with the therapist, who initially tries to get an understanding of each of them, their views and feelings about the relationship, and what they each want from the relationship and the therapy. The therapist also uses her own observations of the way the couple interacts in the session to evaluate what happens between them and determine how to best help them. The therapist understands that relationships and people are complex. Problems that develop within relationships involve an interplay of the personalities and life circumstances of each individual to varying degrees, as well as what they bring out in each other when they mix together.
To improve a relationship, the therapist may work on helping each of the individuals as needed, usually with the other one present, in addition to working on the relationship and changing problematic patterns which have developed between them. Individual and couples issues affect one another. For example, when one partner is depressed and despairing, the mood of the relationship is affected. Similarly, when the relationship is in trouble, one or both partners may become depressed.
Common tasks of marital/couples therapy are as follows: to develop better communication, resolve trust issues, manage anger/differences/conflict, determine whether the relationship is salvageable, learn fair fighting skills, enhance intimacy/sex, heal after an affair, change destructive patterns, improve understanding of one another and oneself (including understanding gender differences that affect behavior and communication, and learning how to translate the other’s “language”), increase empathy for one another, and repair/strengthen the relationship by healing old wounds. Entering into couples therapy is an act of courage and offers the possibility of freeing oneself and the relationship from tedious and/or destructive patterns of relating, as well as hope of greater intimacy, happiness, and/or peace/resolution.