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Peter van Veggel, Business Manager

People often arrive at their first couple’s therapy session at a point of desperation. It is interesting how easily and quickly we take the required steps to repair or prevent damage to our vehicles, our homes or even our material possessions; yet when it comes to our relationships, we often avoid taking any sort of action until the situation has become much more serious. Maybe you’ve reached that point where you think things just can’t go on like this. And so your instinct is to get out, to leave. However, I urge you to remember that you vowed to be together “for better or for worse.” Sometimes it’s worse. But this, too, shall pass with the appropriate changes and efforts. A counseling psychologists can guide you to possibilities you may not be able to discover on your own.

Although the practice of couple’s therapy may differ depending on the psychologist’s theoretical orientation and academic training, at Dr. Eliana Cohen and associates, we believe in a multidisciplinary approach which means that we do not just follow a strict protocol to therapy, but rather that we open up our thoughts and approaches to other models. In prescribing to a multidisciplinary versus a stagnant approach, we become the facilitator of greater access to buried emotions and conflicts in each partner, rather than simply repeating a standardized set of skills or techniques. The purpose is not to think outside or inside the box of absolute approaches to couple’s therapy, but rather it is about thinking without a box so that the needs and desires of each individual couple and each individual within the relationship.

Couples at or around the 15-year mark of marriage often experience emotional distancing or find that the emotional bond between partners has been severely weakened. Emotional distance is characterized by a lack of an emotional or intellectual level connection with your partner. Examples of emotional distancing can include partners who do not communicate about their feelings and the needs that are most important to them. Another example includes individuals who also respond to their significant other’s comments or concerns by acting passive-aggressively. The examples of emotional distancing are endless. A trained psychologist can be particularly helpful in teaching couples to monitor the occurrence of emotional distance and to resolve it early. This is not to say that couples therapy cannot be effective at resolving long-standing problems that may have occurred even prior to the 15 year mark. Couples therapy may also help couples avoid a decline into emotional distancing by providing them with an awareness of the ways to early detect the signs of discord and the use of rituals proven to enhance the emotional connection of that couple.

Psychologists may lean upon the Gottman Method of Couples Therapy. This method to couples therapy was developed by Dr. John Gottman and his wife Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman in the 1980s and is an evidence-based form of couples therapy based upon many, many years of research. Dr. John Gottman is a noted researcher who has over 40 years of experience exploring the details of marital interactions and the measurable differences in the interactions of happily married and unhappily married couples. It is from the data collected in these details, that the Gottman Method of Couples Therapy emerged.

As aforementioned, while we do not advocate the use of just one method, the Gottman Method of Couples Therapy is particularly useful in helping couples work through issues related to emotional distancing. Actually, the Gottman Method was designed to help emotionally distanced couples on the verge of separation, among other relationship issues. The Gottman Method can help the psychologist and couple examine the friendship, conflict regulation, meaning, trust, commitment and more that may be behind the emotional distancing. Couples therapy can help couples improve their understanding of one another and enhance the emotional connection between the individuals in the relationship.

Gottman’s research revealed that, most profoundly, a successful couple must have a deep-rooted friendship. It is believed that in order for this deep friendship to flourish and be maintained, it must naturally derive from: 1) Each partner having a solid understanding of the other; 2) A consistent culture of expressed appreciation, fondness, and respect between the two partners; and 3) Each partner understanding how the other requires and askes for their emotional needs to be met, and for the respective partner to not ignore these needs, but rather nurture them. Needless to say, for a healthy relationship to survive, both partners in the relationship need to establish a strong connection to each other, emotionally and truly value and listen to each other’s heart and mind.

Beyond the focus on cultivating friendship, The Gottman Method to Couple’s Therapy believes that couples that face no disagreements are actually not the happiest of couples. In fact, it is the opposite. The absence of conflict is largely a sign of emotional distance it precludes any friendship, and in turn, a successful relationship from sustaining. Couples who use ambiguous communication or avoid discussing issues as a way of avoiding conflict or even to avoid intimacy, set the stage for a relationship flooded with misunderstanding, frustration, stiffness and hurt.  But rather than having just any conflict in any old way, the Gottman Method aims to teach couple’s effective communication skills to help them overcome this conflict. One of the premises for sound communication skills is to avoid conversations which use the “four horsemen of the apocalypse”- four attitudes that wreak havoc in all the relationships that they encounter on their passage (Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt and Stonewalling).

Despite how happy your relationship may currently be, or may have been in the past, there may come a time when they experience emotional distance. Rebuilding an intimate relationship takes time and effort. Couples therapy can help you work proficiently through the process. While Eliana Cohen does not counsel solely based on The Gottman Method of Couples Therapy, her training in The Method, combined with her over fifteen years of clinical experience and completion of numerous intensive clinical training programs in psychodynamic, systemic psychotherapies and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, allow her to offer one of Toronto’s leading clinical counseling services to help you and your partner work through issues related to emotional distancing. Although emotional distance can be discouraging, there are ways for couples to overcome it and rebuild their relationship, and friendship.


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