6 Convictions About Couples Counseling

Recently I got the opportunity to receive some counseling.  (Yes therapist—at least the good ones—take their own medicine).  It wasn’t a great experience and made me realized that we were coming at this from very different assumptions.  They seemed more problem than person oriented and more concerned with fixing me than with connecting with me.  Not surprisingly they failed to convey that they wanted to collaborate with me.  I’ll go back because I know that therapist have off days.  But i’m not hopeful this is going to be a good fit.  

Therefore I wanted to share some of my convections about couples counseling with you.  These are certainly not all of my beliefs but are among the most precious.  

First, I assume that you have agency in the quality of your relationships.  This means that whether you have a good or bad relationship is not a matter of luck or chance.  Rather, you can learn to become more skilled in your relationships and improve the quality of your relationships and therefore your life.  This assumption is largely formed from my study of Drs. Bernard and Louse Gurney, and Mary Ortwein and their modality of Relationship Enhancement which itself is rooted in the humanism of Carl Rogers.

Second, I believe the quality of your relationship is largely about your perceived answer to two questions related to the emotional attachment between you and your spouse.  Furthermore, your answer to these questions remains just below your conscious awareness and yet determines the level of intimacy and overall satisfaction with the relationship.  The questions are: 

    1) “Can I communicate what I need and want in a way that you will respond to?”

    2) “Will you be there when I need you?” 

This assumption is heavily impacted by the work of Dr. Sue Johnson and her modality of Emotion Focused Couples Therapy which itself is rooted in Attachment theory.

Third, I believe the goal of couples counseling is therefore to empower couples to learn new relationship skills to improve their emotional atunement and capacity to successfully answer those attachment questions and to successfully repair the inevitable attachment rupture that daily life fosters. This assumption is taken from Drs. John and Julia Gottman and their modality of the Sound Relationship House.

Forth, I believe the desired result of couple counseling is strengthening a couple’s construct of and commitment to their couple-ship.  You enter the relationship as an independent person but over time bond with your spouse to such a degree that a new entity emerges—your shared relationship. Both become deeply impacted by this third entity and both deeply impact it, yet it exist beyond any individual's complete control.  This assumption is rooted in my reading of the Genesis narrative through the lens of differentiation as expanded by David Schnarch, Murry Bowen, & Robert Kegan).

Fifth, I believe as this relationships grows in importance for each person, they progressively seek to relinquish their individual life in pursuit of this shared life.  When this happens, it is nothing short of miraculous.  As they selflessly seek to serve their spouse and preserve their relationship they receive back a much fuller and richer individual life experience.  It is as Jesus said, you must lose your life to save your life.  This is a fundamentally sacramental paradigm for marriage and captures what I think Scripture meant by “the two shall become one.”  (See the wild woozy video above.)

Six, I believe while people have a remarkable capacity to change and to improve their relationships and quality of life,  it is the Holy Spirit that actually heals and transforms people.  Christian counseling is therefore a triune partnership between the counselor, the couple, and the Holy Spirit.  This assumption is deeply rooted in my awareness of my limits to impact real change in others and the regular observation of the Holy Spirit working to bring about transformation in the lives of my clients. 

In the comments, share some of your convictions about marriage, transformation, or counseling.