orange county california couples therapy

Misconceptions

misconceptions about  couples counseling.jpg

Let’s be honest: there are a ton of misconceptions about what therapy actually entails. And Hollywood has had a field day with their portrayals of what a therapy session looks like.  The most common visual shown, is of a client laying on a couch, looking at the ceiling and talking about whatever comes to mind.

In reality, though, therapy doesn’t always resemble its Hollywood portrayal. The result of the Hollywoodification of therapy has been loads of misconceptions about what people who are seeking help perceive therapy to be.

In my own practice, I see a lot of misconceptions, but especially as they relate to couples’ therapy. Today, I want to dispel a few common misconceptions of couples therapy that I see quite frequently.

Couples’ Therapy Doesn’t have to be “Last Ditch Effort”

By the time many couples enter my office, it’s a “last ditch effort.” In other words, they’ve tried working through marital issues on their own, devoured every Self Help book or blog they can get their hands on, and their gas tanks are nearly empty.

First off, there’s nothing wrong in trying to work through issues together without the help of a professional or reading books or blogs to get educated on the various schools of thought in couples’ therapy.  However, when it comes to making strides in your relationship, however, having an unbiased third party can work wonders.

Far from a last-ditch effort, couples’ therapy can be extremely useful at various stages of any relationship. If one or both sides are struggling with finding fulfillment or are experiencing frustration or betrayal, couples’ therapy can be extremely helpful.  Whether you’re just getting the initial inklings of something being “off” in your relationship or you’re weeks away from separating, couples’ therapy has been proven to help bridge the divide that has entered your relationship.

Learning to Listen

One observation I commonly see when couples are in my office is a lot of talking at one another and very little listening.

Instead of waiting for the other person to finish to get their own point across, I encourage couples to actively listen to their partner. Active listening manifests itself in a number of ways, but I try and ask my patients to repeat parts of what their partner said back to them to ensure understanding. From there, I ask each partner how these issues make them feel before having the other person respond with what has been bothering them.

This act of back-and-forth listening can help build compassion and empathy for both partners in a way that simple “getting things off the chest” doesn’t do.

No One-Size-Fits-All Solution

I like to let people know that therapy is unique to each couple since everyone brings in their own unique histories and perspectives. Not to mention that some couples have children while others don’t, and this factor alone drastically changes the way I approach couples’ therapy.

I believe in the power of couples’ therapy, because of the intimate nature of the sessions. While people can learn different techniques from a book or blog, having a licensed therapist who is actively helping to introduce new skills for communication etc., can be incredibly valuable. And while couples’ therapy doesn’t always result in salvaging a relationship, it often does.  In my experience, regardless of the outcome- both partners come out the other side with more insight and clarity.

When In Doubt, Reach out

If you and your partner are going through a rough patch, consider reaching out to a couples’ therapist.  Just starting the conversation can actually be quite beneficial. And once you decide to seek therapy, I suggest that you ask lots of questions- nothing is off limits. This initial dialogue is a great way to dispel any preconceived notions or misconceptions you may have about couples’ therapy.  Please feel free to be in touch if I can be helpful in finding you a therapist or therapy resources!

Working Through Insecurity

working through relationship insecurities

Lately my practice has been presenting with couples who have a lot of insecurity issues.  Why is this? Both partners are very successful, emotionally aware and appear to be great parents!

As much as I know that self-doubt and insecurity affect people in a variety of ways, and for a number of reasons; as a clinician, when a couple walks into the room with insecurity issues, I still wonder where the root of the issues lie.

Here’s what I see: when it comes to insecurity in a relationship, it can feel incredibly jarring and is emotionally unsettling when one partner is behaving in a way or acting out for some reason. But what causes such anxiety in these relationships? And if the causes are known, what can be done to lessen the feeling of insecurity people feel in their relationships with their partners?

If you’re feeling insecure in your relationship, there are definitely ways in which you and your partner can build or regain confidence that may be missing right now. I’ll outline them below.

Anxiety and Insecurity in Romantic Relationships

Feeling anxious and insecure in a relationship is more common that people think. In fact, hundreds of studies have been commissioned to understand why this feeling is so prevalent. One of the leading theories behind this is called Attachment Theory. To paraphrase the premise of attachment theory:

Attachment theory is the proposition that affectional bonds between individuals and patterns of early life interactions between caregivers and children produce internal working models that serve as templates guiding interpersonal expectations and behaviors in later relationships. Caregivers who are stable, consistent, and predictable tend to encourage the development of internal working models of the self as valued and others as trustworthy and reliable sources of nurturance. Unstable, inconsistent, or unpredictable caregiving in early life can produce maladaptive internal working models that are reflected in insecurity and anxious forms of attachment.(1)

In other words, there is a direct link in how people approach their adult relationships, and it is usually tied with their upbringing. People brought up with predictable caregivers tend to view adult partners in the same way: with positive, unconditional regard. On the other hand, people who have unstable or inconsistent upbringings may bring more insecurity to their adult relationships. Of course, neither upbringing is a guarantee that someone will have anxiety in a relationship or not, so it’s important to have compassion either way!

What to Do to Feel More Secure

When one or both partners in a relationship feel insecure or anxious, it’s important to know that no one is alone.  Typically, both people are experiencing similar feelings and are just acting out in different ways.  A few ideas to consider:

Open Communication

Clear lines of communication come easier for some than others. Having an open and honest discussion about relationship insecurities can often be the quickest route to feeling more confident and secure. When feelings are discussed openly and respectfully, root issues can be identified quickly and (ideally) actively worked through in therapy.

For instance, if one partner feels inadequate in their partner’s eyes, simply bringing it up may help the partner realize that their actions are contributing to this anxiety.  In other words, “normal” behavior for one partner may unknowingly be exacerbating insecurity in their partner. By addressing this together, one partner may be able to change small aspects of their behavior, which in turns builds confidence and security in the relationship.

Step Out of the Comfort Zone

If a relationship is approaching--or is already in--the zone of insecurity, sometimes doing something out of the ordinary can be helpful. When couples find an activity they can share where both people need to step out of their comfort zone, it can actually help with the feeling of insecurity. When both partners are out of their comfort zone, it can open the lines of communication and in turn; that vulnerability can help with the insecurity, too.

Be Kind +  Be Strong

Bottom line: working through insecurity takes trust, strength and patience. However, finding ways to talk about relationship insecurity with your partner is a step in the right direction.  And from what I’ve seen; with time, it is possible for partners to rekindle that spark that led them together in the first place.

Sources:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3330635/