Eric Berne once said, “Love is nature’s psychotherapy”, yet couples often seek assistance from counseling psychologists to enrich their relationships. With the high divorce rate, many couples may feel disheartened and without hope for a successful marriage. However, this is not the case. Couple’s therapy can help restore a better level of functioning and move couples from conflict to resolution in couples who experience relationship distress.

Couples therapy can include many different goals, outcomes and differing techniques. As psychologists, I believe that we must not only intervene effectively but in multidisciplinary ways in which we do not just follow a strict protocol therapy and instead consider other models to best meet our clients’ needs. In fact, I believe in the motto: it is about not thinking outside or inside the box, but about thinking without a box. In my many years of practice, I have seen the tremendous potential couple’s therapy has to help couples understand each other better and create positive changes in their relationship.

One of the most popular approaches to couple’s therapy comes from Dr. John Gottman. Dr. Gottman is a marital therapy researcher of over 25 years and a key leader in the field. Based upon years of research findings, Dr. Gottman’s approach encourages learning and developing relationship-skills which are relatively easy to learn and while not explicit, provides a clear and flexible model to couple’s therapy that integrates Mindfulness, Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), Acceptance and Commitment therapy (ACT) and Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT).
Based on his research Dr. Gottman has created a theory of all the behaviors successful couples engage in. Today, this has become known as “The Sound Relationship House”. The Sound is now called the Gottman Method of Couples Counseling or Couples Therapy.

This multidisciplinary model and method is based upon following concepts:

  1. Know each other.
  2. Focus on each other’s positive qualities, affirmative feelings for each other, and the good memories and experiences you have shared with each other.
  3. Interact frequently and in numerous little ways, such as by telling each other about your respective days.
  4. “Let your partner influence you.”
  5. “Solve your solvable problems” by communicating respectfully, without criticizing your partner, knowing when to take a break when you are getting too upset, and compromise effectively.
  6. Learn to understand your partner’s underlying feelings which may be preventing the successful resolution any conflict you are facing
  7. “Create shared meaning”, which can translate to shared values, attitudes, interests, traditions between individuals.

A couple’s therapist can help you develop constructive plans to help you target each of those aforementioned concepts. For example, counseling services can help you work towards a richly detailed love map that includes the major events in each other’s history and evolves as your partner’s world alters. This technique can help you better get to know one another. Another established successful technique a psychologist can help you work towards is learning to turn toward is the basis of emotional connection, romance and passion in your relationship.

As couples begin to use skills taught in couple’s therapy, which support the friendship, trust, warmth and caring which all couples yearn for, the hatred, resentment and aggression dissolve. Misconceptions about what couple’s therapy is and its purpose can also prevent couples from seeking the help of a psychologist. Very few realize that couple’s therapy actually focuses on the positives in the relationship, in order to improve the friendship between couples and not just the conflict at hand. In fact, having a deep friendship is the foundational level of Dr. Gottman’s Sound Relationship House Theory of happy couples. In his research, Dr. Gottman discovered three core elements of lasting relationships:

  1. They have a strong friendship
  2. They know how to manage their conflicts effectively
  3. They genuinely support each other’s dreams and hopes for the future

Dr. Gottman’s goals of marital therapy are to first help couples rebuild and strengthen their martial friendship, to help them learn to manage their disagreements and help them build a sense of shared meaning in their relationship. Aligned with Dr. Gottman’s findings, it is only when couples have a strong friendship as their base that is there enough love in their relationship to make them endure the disagreements and difficult times that are bound to happen over time. One of the ways in which a psychologist can help increase a couple’s marital friendship is by beginning to change the balance from negative sentiments to positive sentiments. This can be accomplished by reducing the number of negative behaviours and increasing the number of positive behaviours. Although doing so may seem like long term work, it is not; rather developing a marital friendship and increasing the positive interactions between two individuals in a relationship does take consistent practice.

In spite of the fact that myself and my associates do not follow one strict philosophy or method, in our approach to our couple’s therapy services, we cannot dispute the success and research behind Gottman’s point. It is without a doubt that it is imperative that strengthening the friendship between couples is at the heart of any successful, healthy relationship. Becoming a better friend to your partner can help you as you continue to navigate any inevitable difficult times that you experience in your relationship, in a much easier and beneficial manner. Marriage guidance or couples counseling can help bolster the bond that you have with your loved one and learn how to continue to solidify your friendship with each other through your passion, love, support and effective conflict resolution.

Couples therapy is a valuable way to obtain some guidance for any kind of relationship: straight, gay, mixed-race, young, old, dating, cohabitating, friends, engaged or married. In working together with a psychologist who specializes in marriage guidance and psychotherapy, and who is trained in the Gottman Couples Therapy method, your relationship can continue to flourish. Couples therapy can be used to help resolve a present-day problem, avoid an exacerbation of existing problems or even provide an opportunity for discussion and learning of skills to content couples that are experiencing a period of transition or increased stress that is impacting their marital friendships or their individual lives. 

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