Pieces of the Puzzle to Marital Satisfaction: What the Contemporaries have to Say about it (By: Gabrielle Anderson, lmft)
Although the structure of many couples counseling sessions may be quite similar, what occurs behind the closed doors of a session is well tailored to the needs of the couple. Every relationship has its own dynamic, one that is unique to the couple. Negative cycles appear in all relationships from one time or another. Learning to recognize how to not get sucked into the tornado funnel of distance can be priceless and will look differently from one couple to the next. One’s communication style, levels of emotional safety, trust, love, friendship, and passion are all components and ingredients of a relationship. Where each of these lie and how balanced and fulfilling of a connective opportunity they yield helps determine where the couple feels they are. Helping clients evolve their relationships and determine what it is they want from love and marriage can be a rewarding process to help navigate and assist.
The Importance of Friendship & Respect in a Relationship
John Gottman, a well-respected couples researcher, has conducted many longitudinal studies with a focus on marital satisfaction. He claims to have the ability within 5 minutes to extrapolate and determine whether or not a couple will remain married or divorce just by analyzing the way in which they argue.
Arguments are inevitable. Good marriages have bad years. Terrible events happen to good solid families. What separates the satisfied marriages from those that are unfulfilled? Gottman believes friendship is the key. Being truly interested in building bridges and connections with your partner and liking who your spouse is as a person, makes you fight fairer and work towards resolution instead of defensively planning your next move of attack. He states that developing a curiosity and a desire to really know your partner creates a bond that gets stronger through connectivity and has the ability to weather times of adversity and pain.
Couples Need to Feel Emotionally Understood and Connected
Sue Johnson, another contemporary pioneer in the field of couple’s satisfaction argues that couples need to understand each other at an emotional level. She believes that when arguments and disagreements arise, couples sitting in their emotional brain can quickly recognize what they are truly fighting about and not just how it initially appears. Feeling this emotional connection can almost be addicting. Couples begin to seek it out not just to squelch disagreements, but also to feel that much closer to each other.
Johnson believes that teamwork and partnership are vital to a lasting fulfilling relationship. She looks at problems within the relationship as being a fault of the dynamic that the couple has created as opposed to looking to blame the individual spouses for the demise of the relationship. Teaching couples to understand their spouse’s emotional needs and desires and helping them to feel heard by their partner breeds connectivity and a deeper bond. When couples begin to routinely reach for one another, trust begins to build. Protecting this trust and union is often what builds the foundation of a newly evolving relationship and dynamic.
The Waxing and Waning of Passion in a Marriage
More than friendship, arguments and teamwork, where does passion fit into marital satisfaction? Esther Perel, a world renown couples therapist with a special focus on erotic intelligence, talks about the positive power of tension. Perel believes that couples need to develop separateness in order to spark romance. Helping couples develop individuality helps the couple re-kindle desire. She believes that intimacy and sexual desire are very different entities and attempts to help couples re-create a healthy degree of mystery within the relationship.
Looking at a marital dyad through the lens of roles can be an important step to understanding and dissecting waning sexual desire. When couples begin to fill too many roles for each other, it leaves little room for sexual mystery. Perel believes that knowing too much of our partner’s inner and outer world can cause us to not need to seek them out passionately and may even create an environment for sexual numbing to occur.
Sorting out the Pieces of the Marital Puzzle
With such differing information, how does one sort it all out? One word: Balance. Some couples come into my office with a well-established friendship and genuine love for one another. They know well how to be a team player and feel that their spouse believes in them and wants the best for them. Maybe they are living through a family trauma or lost the romantic spark. This couples probably does not need to learn connectivity and teamwork. Another couple may include one spouse who has grown accustomed to meeting his/her own needs in a self serving manner and who seems to struggle with focusing this energy on the family and spouse. This spouse probably does not need more understanding in creating differentiation and separateness, but may need to learn to look to the other spouse and understand his/her needs and desires. Even still, another couple may come into therapy after practicing fighting to win at all costs. This couple may benefit from learning to sit inside his/her partner’s shoes and begin to feel what it is like to be the other. To gain empathy and connectivity by experiencing a little of what it is like to be married to oneself can be a powerful motivator to change. Then of course there is the family of young children. Where the role of being a 24/7 parent begins to snuff out the role of passionate pursuer. This couple may need help creating distance from the baggy t-shirt, pony tailed mommy and overwhelmed over tired daddy and may need help initiating mystery and separateness.
How do you Know if Couple's Therapy is right for you?
Only you can answer whether or not you are ready for couples counseling. Therapy is hard work and you really have to be ready to take an honest look at yourself and your dynamic. I have seen therapy do wonderful things for many people, but you have to be ready. So often couples come into therapy hoping that the therapist will "fix" their partner. It is rarely about that and most often about collaborating together, as a team to create a dynamic and level of connectivity that is worth fighting for...learning to fight for what is best for the relationship and not just fighting to win.
Gabrielle Anderson is the Director and a therapist at the FamilyTherapy Center of Northern Virginia, llc.
She and the other team members can be reached directly from the Center's Meet the Team page.
These blog entries are written by our very own clinicians. When inspiration hits, another entry will be logged.
Get Blog Updates
What is an RSS FEEDER? If you click on the RSS Feeder, anytime a new blog entry is added to the website, you will be automatically notified of it. The only thing you need to do is get an RSS READER app. Chances are, if you click on the RSS Feeder, and you do not have a reader, it will take you directly to the app store so you can install one. It takes 60 seconds to get set up for auto notifications of new blogs sent directly to you!