There was a time when I would be very accommodating to couples who wanted to come in every other week or every three weeks. The reasons were certainly understandable. Finances are always a consideration. Many couples are very busy and have to work to squeeze in a couples therapy appointment when they can. Two jobs and children will do that to you! Then, a while ago, I realized that this was a big mistake and a disservice to my couples. Here’s why –
Albert Einstein shared this brilliant insight: We cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that created the problem. No better words could describe effective relationship therapy. In a prior post I discussed the rule that what couples are talking about really isn’t what they are talking about. To repeat what I said there, people come into a therapist’s office locked into this repeated disagreement that is driving them nuts. A very common example many of us have experienced involves division of household chores. The woman, usually, complains (often bitterly) that he does not help around the house. She feels like his maid and she is very angry about that. The man will often respond that this is just not so. Why, just two days ago, he did all the dishes after dinner and she gives him no credit for the mowing, gutter work and other chores he performs. Her exasperated reply is that he doesn’t understand. It’s the day-to-day chores that keep the house running that all fall on her. He gets defensive and comes up with more evidence of his own contributions. Many maddening couples’ conflicts look like debates. One person states their side. The other responds by stating their side. The first repeats what they said to begin with, maybe trying to say it a different way, maybe ladling on more supportive evidence. Whatever the words that spill forth, these conflicts usually reduce down to “I’m right,.” “No, I’m right.” “No, I’m right.” Like I said earlier, it drives these poor people nuts. The chance of a satisfying resolution falls just behind that of Donald Trump converting to Islam and losing the wig.
One of the keys to effective Emotionally Focused Therapy is the dawning understanding by each partner that the process of their conflict is what needs healing. They will never resolve the content of their disagreements without understanding and finding the safety to share the needs that underlie the cycle of conflict. The content is a proxy for what’s really eating at each of them. Understanding their particular cycle will almost always lower the anxiety and energy which fuels the intense and painful conflicts they endure. Yet, this is a new way of thinking. Without consistent reminders and the efforts of a therapist who can point out who the raging disputes over……whatever is upsetting them, a couple will fall back into the thinking that brought them into the therapist’s office to start with. Thus, if couples only come in once every two or three or four weeks during the initial phase of this work, they will almost never get it. They will spin round and round in their cycle. They’ll maybe get it during a particular meeting, but then completely lose the thread if the gap is greater than a week. So, really, in this kind of work, any schedule for meetings that extends beyond one week, is, I believe, a waste of time and money. My recommendation – don’t engage in relationship counseling (particularly Emotionally Focused Therapy) unless you are willing to devote the first three or four months to weekly meetings.