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Seattle Couples Counseling

Seattle Marriage Counseling
Relationship Counseling

Learn about couples counseling,relationship,understand,educate,negotiation skills,communications skills and more.
 

he decision to enter into couples counseling involves a concerted effort on both individuals’ part to gain insight into the patterns, pitfalls, and areas of their relationship that are deficient or impede supporting a healthy satisfying relationship. Sometimes, a couple looses sight of the glue that initially held them together. Other times, they lack the skills or have difficulty adjusting to the developmental stages of the relationship or changing life roles. Couples counseling is a reparative undertaking, requiring sincere motivation by the couple to engage in direct conversation, explore new patterns of relating, and formulate a solid foundation. The following outlines common areas of difficulty experienced by couples and therapeutic strategies. The success of couples counseling is not always measured by the decision to stay together but by the growing ability of the two individuals to understand each other’s needs and respond respectfully.

 

Family History within the Relationship: Each person brings to the relationship the history of the family they grew up within. This history includes their role within the family unit, imparted value systems, messages around gender roles, positive experiences and traumas. It is each person’s responsibility to educate the other regarding their family history so that misunderstandings are minimized and the two together can make conscious decisions entailing the life view and values they would like to establish for their new family unit. Sometimes, the influence of the history is not clear cut. It is the therapist’s job to help the couple understand how their individual backgrounds are impacting on the relationship, promote compassion, and help the couple clarify what they would like to occur within their family. Sometimes, this involves the use of questionnaires and assignments to help the individuals ascertain the much needed information to illicit change. Once the couple arrives at agreements, the next step is to implement strategies to sustain the unique relationship they have defined.

Relational Patterns: Couples evolve relational patterns, modes of interacting, based on cultural/family background, birth order and personality. While these differences or similarities in approaching life may have been what initially attracted you to the other person over time they may become limiting or non-productive. The hope in any relationship is that both individuals learn and grow together and from one another. Below are three typical patterns couples adopt. In therapy the objective is to help the couple achieve a more balanced means of interacting with one another. Initially, this requires assessment on the therapist and couple’s part as to the pattern the couple has adopted. This often becomes apparent via observation of the interactions during the course of counseling sessions or the couple’s report of their relational style. Once the pattern has been identified the therapist can make suggestions as to how each individual can modify their own behavior and support changes in their partner. This process takes time and patience. Old habits die hard.

  1. Approach/Avoidance or Distancer/Pursuer: In this pattern one person, the pursuer, takes the lead in coming forward to bring up issues, press for resolution of problems, and often initiates the family schedule/running of the household. There is a need on this individual’s part not to let anything slide, they do not fear conflict but instead may experience anxiety that things will fall between the cracks and hence life will unravel. They assume more responsibility within the relationship than is necessary or healthy. The distancer typical avoids dealing with issues head on. They tend to wait for things to resolve themselves. These individuals dislike conflict. Their approach is less hurried and more pragmatic than their partners. They may openly admit they procrastinate. The objective here is to help the pursuer temper their anxiety, ask for deadline dates from their partner, and encourage their partner’s input. The distancer’s job is to learn to come forward and initiate conversation, take responsibility for activating change, and voice his/her opinions and preferences.
     

  2. Approach/Approach or Pursuer/Pursuer: In this pattern both people have a need to assert themselves in determining the parameters of the relationship, how problems are solved, what takes priority, and what is best for their family. Both individuals have a need to be to be heard, see things get done promptly, and be “right.” The often results in a standoff in terms of accomplishing objectives and arriving at solutions as each individual struggles to be recognized, appreciated and valued within the relationship. They mistakenly believe this happens when their way is the chosen way. The objective is to help the couple express their appreciation and valuing of each other in another way other than struggling. The therapist helps the couple learn negotiation skills and the value of compromise. Sustaining and enhancing the relationship becomes as equally important as the needs of the individual.
     

  3. Avoidance/Avoidance or Distancer/Distancer: In this pattern both people avoid the tasks of the relationship whether it be financial issues, allocation of household jobs, discussion of feelings, personal goals, or family values. Neither one is comfortable with conflict or expressing their needs. Things just seem to happen. While this does not result in a satisfying relationship; often one of parallel lives, the couple does not have the skills or role modeling from their families as to how to address problems as they arise or communicate their desires or wishes. In therapy it is the therapist’s role to help the couple learn communication skills, facilitate discussion of feelings, and help the individuals within the relationship to define their personal needs and wants. The couple’s job is to learn how to talk and listen, and tolerate their initial discomfort and anxiety while mastering new behavior.

Communication Patterns (non-productive): Each individual comes into a relationship with their own personal style of communicating. Some of these patterns were learned within their nuclear family while others were adapted as a means of coping over the years. Within the relationship these means of communicating can become restrictive and even damaging. The therapist works with the couple to identify their individual/personal communication style. The next step is for each person to take responsibility for curbing their old behavior and employing new communications skills as suggested by the therapist or requested by their partner. Below is a list of common non-productive communication patterns:

  1. Too little information, being vague.

  2. Not listening, interrupting.

  3. Too much information, overwhelming the other person.

  4. Making assumptions, placing your feelings onto others.

  5. Bringing up past history.

  6. Focusing on the other person’s behavior rather than your feelings and behavior.

  7. Using attacking language, talking in absolutes (“always” or “never”).

  8. Mindreading, expecting the other person inherently knows what you need or want.

  9. Not asking for the information or clarification that you need.

  10. Being defensive, needing to be the authority.

Communication Skills (productive): One of the primary reasons couples seek out counseling is to enhance their communication skills. They know something is wrong, but not quite sure what it is or what they need to do instead. With the fast growing changes in our lives and current expectations we have of achieving healthier relationships there is a growing need and desire to learn how to communicate in a more effective, respectful, caring manner. The therapist works with the couple via education, role modeling, and support in employing productive communication skills. Below is a list of valuable communication skills:

  1. Clarity, providing relevant information in a straight forward manner.

  2. Being present focused, what is happening in the here and know.

  3. Receptive/Reflective listening, not being defensive, interrupting, sensitive to other person’s language.

  4. Asking questions, clarification, genuinely curious about the other person’s view.

  5. Speaking from your viewpoint, taking responsibility for your actions and feelings, “I statements”.

  6. Expressing your needs and want, do not expect others to read your mind.

  7. Taking a problem solving approach, life presents challenges.

  8. Negotiating and Compromise, flexibility and desire for “win-win” outcome.

  9. Respectful language, come from a place of caring.

  10. Timing, enough time, appropriate place for conversation, and clear headset.

* The format for couples counseling sessions consists of an initial meeting with the couple to review their concerns. Then I may schedule one or two individual sessions with each person to gain insight into their personal history and family background before bringing the couple back to together to proceed with their objectives for counseling.