"For many, relationships provide a sense of intimacy, safety and security."
I see couples in different stages of their relationship, including those who simply want to gain skills to keep their relationship thriving. All couples tend to go through 4 different stages, all which are not linear, but rather cyclical:
1) Attraction : Otherwise known as the "honeymoon" phase, this stage in a relationship can also be viewed as a fantasy phase as you see your partner as being "perfect." You're spending a lot of time with one another; it's a lot of fun, but in reality, unsustainable. On average, this stage lasts anywhere from 1-3 months before reality sets in.
2) Reality: You begin to see your loved one's flaws and imperfections in this stage. This tends to be the make or break in a relationship; your partner will decide whether they can accept your flaws or move on. You may wonder during this stage if you're still "in love" as the excitement of the honeymoon phase has died down.
3) Disappointment: Couples are working to maintain some type of stability as each partner is trying reconcile differences, while learning to accept flaws of each other. Couples who don't make it past this stage tend to struggle with communication, active listening and healthy conflict resolution.
4) Stability and Commitment: Here is a couple that has worked through differences, learned skills to have healthy conflict, and has accepted a vision of married life with their partner. Couples need to be cautious of just "going through the motions," and not investing into each other. While good things such as job, family and children can take attention away from a commitment to your partner, they can also take priority over your relationship. Couples in this stage need to continue to invest into their relationship.
These 4 stages are cyclical. It is not as if someone can just graduate from one stage and never deal with it again. But how we deal with each of those stages will play a vital role as to how healthy a relationship can be. Gottman discusses the "Four Horsemen," to indicate according to research, the likelihood that the end of a relationship is near:
1) Criticism: when your partner continues to carry a critical spirit, it can lead to feelings of rejection and hurt. Although there is nothing wrong with voicing one's opinion, criticism goes further to attack the core of a person.
2) Contempt: think of contempt as one step above criticism—you are treated with disrespect, often mocked with sarcasm, called named and wind up feeling worthless. It's been said that "contempt is the single greatest indicator for divorce," and thus must be eliminated and dealt with.
3) Defensiveness: Whereas someone who is not defensive accepts responsibility, admits their own fault and understands their partner's perspective, one who is defensiveness does not. As a result, communication breaks down, trust and security is lost and a relationship is on the brinks of becoming cold and distant.
4) Stonewalling: Stonewalling occurs when the listener simply withdraws from attempts of communication or interacting. Rather than engage in healthy conflict resolution, people who stonewall "shut down." They may do so by drowning themselves in work, "acting busy," or simply tuning their person out.
My goal is to leave couples with long-lasting change, which is why part of the work will not just involve skill building to resolve daily problems, but also to explore the deep work of how upbringing and childhood experiences play a direct role in how we respond to one another. This belief is founded on attachment science which is rooted in the goals of promoting a positive shift in interactional patterns, as well as to foster the creation of a secure bond between partners.
I agree with Lori Gottlieb on her take of how couples therapy works:
"Your job is to create your own individual objectives for being in therapy. The real challenge is why you don’t do it. (Although) the definite possibility exists that you have some flawed assumptions about your partner’s motives—and that he/she has some flawed assumptions about yours, the problem is, most of the time we don’t want to believe those assumptions are flawed. The hardest part of couples therapy (then) is accepting you will need to improve your response to a problem (how you think about it, feel about it, or what to do about it). You can’t change your partner but you can influence each other. Becoming a more effective partner is the most efficient way to influence your partner and change a relationship. Trust is the foundational building block of a flourishing relationship. You create trust by doing what you say you will do—consistently. You can learn a lot about yourself by understanding what annoys you and how you handle it. The major aim of therapy isn’t simply increasing your knowledge about yourself, your partner, and the patterns of interaction between you. Therapy becomes effective as you apply this new knowledge to break ineffective patterns and develop better ones. Before you say that you don’t feel heard, it will help to consider how well you listen."