Welcome. This site is for my current clients, future clients and anyone who has ever been in a relationship. I write about what I see every day in my office. Here are some questions and comments I get a lot.
- We have normal problems but nothing crisis level. Do we still need marriage counseling?
Marital health is no different than any other health concern. Have you ever said to someone, “It’s a good thing you caught it early” when they got news about a health problem? The earlier you diagnose the problem and start treatment, the better the outcomes. The biggest mistake couples make is not coming in at the first signs of marital distress. “Hoping” things will get better on their own is a terrible strategy when it comes to something as important as your marriage.
- I feel pretty hopeless that this marriage can be saved. I don’t think I even want marriage counseling.
Marriage counseling is not always about saving marriages. Sometimes they can’t be or shouldn’t be saved. Marriage counseling provides the perfect place to sort through your feelings of ambivalence and decide if you even want to work hard at reconciliation. If you decide you want to give it one more shot, a marriage therapist can help you see chronic patterns that are working against you and can teach you ways to reconnect. If you decide you want to separate or divorce, a marriage therapist can help you and your partner deal with the many emotions that come with this, such as grief, anger, confusion and denial. Having an expert guide you through the “uncoupling” process can prevent some of the intense pain that divorce brings with it.
- My partner would never agree to come to marriage counseling. Can I improve the relationship if I come by myself?
Absolutely, positively, yes. I frequently meet with partners individually to teach and practice new skills that will help them get what they want out of their relationship. Relationships are a closed, self-propelling loop. How you ask for what you need will determine how your partner responds. It turns out that getting your needs met requires a specific set of skills. Studies show that you can learn more effective ways of communicating that will increase the odds that your partner will respond to you in the way you want. When your behavior changes, your partner’s reaction will change and this sets off a chain reaction. Even if you are the only one learning new skills, you can still have a major positive impact on your relationship.
I need help with my relationship issues but don’t want to bring my partner. I want counseling just for me.
Ok, come on. We will focus on your goals. Is the goal to sort through the chaos in your head? Is the goal to have a very difficult conversation with your partner? Is the goal to get out of the relationship? Is the goal to bring your partner into therapy eventually? Individual therapy is always a confidential place to explore your thoughts and feelings with a trained listener who specializes in relationships.
We tried marriage counseling before and it didn’t help.
There are several reasons why prior attempts at counseling may have been unsuccessful. Sometimes one of the partners is not motivated. They may show up to sessions but not be invested in doing the necessary work for change. You may also have seen a general therapist that wasn’t trained in intensive couples work. When interviewing a therapist, make sure they have extensive training and experience specifically in working with couples. This is not something you can assume to be true. And finally, it may have been a bad fit. “Goodness of fit” is an essential part of successful outcomes in therapy. If the relationship between the therapist and couple doesn’t feel right, continue interviewing until you find the perfect fit for your situation.
What is your approach to working with couples?
The treatment approach I take with couples is scientifically based on a series of landmark studies on why relationships succeed or fail. Behavioral scientists have successfully pinpointed specific interpersonal habits that distinguish people who were headed for satisfying relationships versus headed for trouble. Researchers found a core set of habits that clearly and reliably distinguished the course of their relationship. People who had these crucial habits almost always ended up satisfied with their relationships and people who didn’t have these habits were almost always headed for break-up or unhappiness. Findings from these relationship studies have challenged many long held assumptions about how to improve relationships. Before these studies, therapists had to proceed on the basis of what generally accepted theories told them to do. Now, for the first time, we have scientific evidence about what people who cultivate satisfying relationships do differently than those who become dissatisfied with their relationships. My approach is also based on the latest neurological studies which suggest how we can rewire our brains for more flexibility, enabling us to develop these new behavioral habits. Couples who work with me learn:
- How to react when your partner says or does things that upset you or that you don’t like or agree with that decreases defensiveness and increases the chances that your partner will respond in a positive way.
- The most common mistakes that people make in relationships, why people make them and how you can avoid them.
- How your behavioral habits may actually be causing your partner’s bad habits to become more extreme over time.
- The habits that are characteristic of partners who form great friendships with one another.
- How to have conversations that promote healing from past hurts caused by one another.
- How to develop and sustain new habits as you navigate day-to-day frustrations that arise in your relationship.
- How to build upon the growing sense of respect and goodwill emerging from the gains you make in communication.
- How to sustain the positive emotional connection between you and your partner, post-therapy.
This model for working with couples was developed by Dr. Brent Atkinson of the Couples Clinic and Research Institute near Chicago. To purchase his excellent manual for couples go to www.thecouplesclinic.com/resources/books.