From Thin-Skin to Win-Win: How Couples Counseling Helps

From Psychology Today

Couples counseling addresses three levels of issues.

Couples counseling strengthens marriages in three ways.

What if you and your loved one are living the opposite of happily ever after? Do your marital issues leave you feeling less than loved and loving in your partnership? Are your disagreements creating tensions and distance between you instead of leading to mutually satisfying solutions?

If your partnership is yielding too much negative energy, maybe it’s time to reverse the trend. How can couples counseling (link is external) help?

While couples counseling encompasses a wide range of philosophies and techniques, three levels of interventions stand out for me as critical for successful outcomes.

1) Skills coaching

An effective marriage therapist will coach the two of you in the skills that enable couples to succeed as partners in life. The therapist also hopefully will guide you in using win-win conflict resolution skills to guide you to new solutions on the issues about which you tend to spin your wheels or fight.

2) Look backwards at the sources

A good marriage counselor can help you to glance backwards to understand how your problems developed. Was there a period of time when your lives became too stressful and you began to turn against each other instead of staying united against the problem?

Also, did you learn to argue from how your parents interacted?

3) Emotionally hyper-sensitive issues.

A potent therapist can help you to identify and clear the subconscious trapped emotions that make strong emotions like anger and anxiety seem to erupt out of nowhere.

The terminology I like best for these three aspects of couple treatment come from my therapy colleague Matthew LeBauer (link is external): How-to, How-come, and Landmines. Thanks Matt!

To illustrate the three levels of intervention, here’s a case from my practice: Jerry and Nora–names changed, of course–sought therapy to end their chronic bickering.

Level I: How-To

Marriage is a high-skilled activity. Technique for communication in relationships (link is external) matters. Jerry and Nora needed coaching to upgrade their skills in four arenas. They learned how to:

1) Talk and listen cooperatively instead of becoming adversarial

2) Keep their interactions in the calm zone, with zero emotional escalations

3) Resolve their differences with what I call the win-win waltz

4) Sustain a steady flow of loving appreciation, affection, and pleasure

Over a series of sessions, plus home practice on my (link is external) website, Jerry and Nora found that as they knew better, they began to do better.

Level II: How-Come

Pulling up old habits by their roots