When working with couples I generally have 7 goals for therapy. These goals provide a practical and flexible outline for treatment while providing helpful categories to think through the relationship.
- Movement from Chaos to Stability – This is my first goal when working with any couple. If you don’t (or can’t) stabilize the “here and now” in the relationship, you can’t move onto the larger issues. The first step in any therapeutic process is to ensure that the relationship is stable (and safe) enough for therapy to be productive.
- Movement from Gridlock to Dialogue – Most couples find that their conflict demonstrates consistent (and predictable) patterns. Therapy is designed to identify and adapt to those patterns and create meaningful dialogue around perpetual problems.
- Movement from Having the Fight to Processing the Fight – Avoiding conflict should never the primary goal of any relationship. Conflict is inevitable. It is important, however, to learn to “fight fair” and to reflect conflict with dignity and grace.
- Unseating the Four Horsemen – John Gottman’s research has revealed 4 predictors of divorce – the Four Horsemen of the Apacalypse. It is critical to eliminate Contempt, Criticism, Stonewalling and Defensiveness from the patterns of relating between the two partners.
- Rebuilding a Broken Friendship – This is a more hopeful process than you might imagine. Most couples have a strong foundatoin for friendship, even if that’s gotten lost in the stress of life. Buildign Friendship (therapeutically) is proactive and will require you to build new rituals and patterns into your relationship.
- Anticipating Relapse – Even if you’re successful with 1-5, you WILL relapse. That’s just the nature of the game. The therapuetic process will include a plan for relapse and treatment. This does NOT mean that you will be therapy dependent. It simply creates a context for long term health and happiness.
- Moving from Today to Tomorrow – This is the exact opposite of Goal #1. Building a Shared Meaning System that you can both believe and invest in will be the greatest asset to your relationship long term.
So: What does all this look like? What kind of investment does it require? There are many “economies” to consider: time and money for sure, but also your own emotional investment. And an investment in hope. Personally, I think there’s no better investment.