We are never so defenseless against suffering as when we love. ~ Freud
The fear of isolation and loss is found in every human heart ~ Susan Johnson, 2002
With divorce rates at 50%, it seems clear that families are in crisis and couples face the most severe challenges to relationship stability ever. At the same time there is mounting evidence that thenurturant solace offered by close relationships protects us from physical and emotional disease and improves resilience (Taylor, 2002).
There is good reason for couples to seek help in their intimate relationships, and yet current studies tell us that couples typically wait six years from the first sign of problems before they seek help; often when it is already too late. Why is this the case? While there are many reasons couples delay seeking help, for many, fear and uncertainty about the therapy process itself can make staying stuck in negative patterns of interaction seem like a safer option than making that first call for a therapy appointment.
Care and Counseling psychologists, licensed professional counselors, licensed clinical social workers and pastoral counselors believe in the great capacity that human beings have for growth and in the incredible adaptiveness of emotional responsiveness and needs. John Gottman describes marital distress as a state of being flooded by negative emotions and trapped in narrow, constricting interactions with one’s partner. If couples can be guided away from negative and rigidly structured internal and external responses and toward flexibility and sensitive responsiveness they can begin to rebuild the secure bond so essential for a lasting, mutually fulfilling relationship.
Therapists differ in the length of time they allot for the assessment phase of treatment, but generally an assessment of the relational issues and state of the relationship are made and a course of action determined within 3-5 sessions. Following the assessment phase, the therapist works as an ally to both partners helping each to expand and reorganize his or her inner experience and express it in such a way that it creates a new way of relating that evokes new responses between partners.
The strength of the therapy process is that it “presents a couple with opportunities to experiment with new ways of being together, so that they can make conscious choices about the kind of relationship they wish to create” (Johnson, 2002, p.12). The length of treatment varies from couple to couple and is largely determined by the length and nature of the difficulties and the level of trust and safety each partner feels in the therapy. Couples should expect the therapy process to be egalitarian and collaborative with the therapist acting as a facilitator to help the couple create a new, healing experience of engagement with each other.
* Johnson, S. (2002). The practice of emotionally focused couple therapy. New York: Brunner-Routledge.
** Taylor, S.E. (2002). The tending instinct. New York: Times Books: Holt & Co.