By Concentric Counselors Katie Ho, LPC, NCC & Jennifer Larson, LCPC, NCC
A large part of the human experience, including the joys, losses and challenges, gravitate around relationships. In social and cultural regards, finding a partner and committing to a person can be a marker of happiness, success or accomplishment. But like with any experience, obstacles lay ahead. All couples find themselves navigating conflict, life transitions or faced with heavy decisions, and the related stress that comes with these expected issues.
There are some couples, however, which continue to exist in this perpetual conflict - one that doesn’t appear to have any resolution and creates continual gridlock. Or perhaps there has been a significant breach of trust, or betrayal. Maybe communication is poor, and creates dysfunction during arguments or otherwise, or possibly there has been a traumatic event which has challenged the feelings of safety within the relationship. All of these reasons, and those that might even fall in-between, can be indicators that a couple may benefit from entering couples therapy.
Seeking couples therapy takes courage, as much as it takes hope - hope that the relationship can be repaired or healed, or maybe hope that both individuals can find strength in different directions. Using over 40 years of research, The Gottman Method - developed by Drs. John and Julie Gottman - has helped couples and clinicians create a blueprint of understanding the dysfunction within relationships and the need for building friendship, shared meaning and intimacy. This method was created to serve a deep need in helping find effective intervention for couples looking for repair, healing and happiness. It serves as a theory in which people are able to know both themselves and their partner on a more meaningful level, fostering intimacy, positive affect and skillful conflict management.
When a couple is seeking therapy, there can sometimes be an already significant level of distress present. In their research, the Gottmans found that on average it can take up to 6 years before a couple will seek therapy! This can mean there is a long history of experiences, life phases or challenges that have a need to be explored and understood. Partners may feel overwhelmed, flooded or unsure of where to even begin the healing journey. This highlights the need for a trained couples therapist, equipped with scientific evidence-based practices and the skills to empathize equally with both individuals to help navigate that process.
In working to repair and strengthen a relationship, much like with building a house, there has to be certain core foundational components. The Sound Relationship House from the Gottman Method explains that at its roots, marriage and relationships need to be built on friendship. The essential components of friendship are described as ‘Building Love Maps’, ‘Sharing Fondness and Admiration’ and ‘Turning Towards’. In the first mentioned, to build a Love Map means to truly understand know your partner’s internal world.
People’s internal world changes over time; who are the current people they are involved with, what are their immediate and long-term hopes and dreams, ambitions, or experiences from childhood that may be playing into their current situations. Asking open-ended questions, remembering the answers and actively listening promotes genuine connectedness and friendship. Sharing fondness and admiration, and turning towards your partner, are other components to strengthening and building the friendship of a marriage or relationship. They focus on scanning the environment for what one’s partner is doing right and engaging in appreciation, affection and respect. Additionally, the last level of foundation in ‘turning towards’ describes opportunities for couples to accept and receive bids from the other partner for emotional connection.
The higher levels of The Sound Relationship House include ‘The Positive Perspective’, ‘Manage Conflict’, ‘Make Life Dreams Come True’ and ‘Create Shared Meaning’. These levels of building a healthy relationship are built upon those above-mentioned ideas of friendship. They encompass skills necessary to navigate conflict and life changes, promoting positive affect and a deeper understanding of their partner’s underlying values and dreams and building a life of meaning together. Couples therapy addresses both the necessity for positive connection and friendship, while also acknowledging the dysfunction which makes that task more challenging.
Construction of homes need to be buttressed and supported by its internal supports otherwise houses would collapse. The same is true of intimate relationships. Every relationship or marriage needs the supports and pillars of 'Trust' and 'Commitment' for stability, safety, and security. If the 'Trust' or 'Commitment' reinforcements on The Sound Relationship House have been significantly damaged, the relationship can feel shattered and even decimated requiring much repairing and rebuilding. Sometimes a relationship can be so damaged so that we tell couples relationship #1 has been damaged as if a hurricane or storm came barreling through wiping out your home. The devastation and trauma is real, but with hope, commitment, and efforts, we can help you re-build relationship #2 as in the case when people experience great natural disaster in their communities requiring building home #2. Some feel as though it requires blood, sweat and tears, but building relationship #2 can be done collaboratively with the support and care of a highly, skilled and trained couples therapist.
Having the skills to identify and change maladaptive communication styles and behaviors that plague relationships is of equal value. In our work at Concentric Counseling & Consulting and using the Gottman Method, we incorporate the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse - which is a metaphor in describing what can be a predictor for the end of a relationship. These include criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. In working with couples to address these maladaptive behaviors, the couples therapist will explain the antidotes, or remedies to address these bad habits in the work towards building healthier ones.
The goal for any couple is to promote understanding, connection, love, growth, and healing. That can look differently for every couple, as every couple experiences their own unique set of challenges and circumstances. The benefit of seeking a therapist trained in a data-driven theory and method such as the Gottman Method is that interventions and treatment plans are tailored to that couples’ needs through the use of thorough assessments and a framework that has been built based on research. The process to having a better, more enjoyable and healthy relationship takes commitment and hard work, but the reward exists within both the outcome and the journey.
For more information on The Gottman Method and services offered by Gottman-trained therapists at Concentric Counseling & Consulting, visit https://www.gottman.com/ and www.concentricchicago.com/couples-marriage-counseling.