Talking the Talk With Your Partner
Relationships require a tremendous amount of work and have challenges, both large and small. There’s a massive amount of stumbling blocks and stressors that can put a strain on an intimate relationship, many of which can be worked out with proper communication with your partner.
Some issues, however, can be tough to address, but allowing them to fester or build tension can lead to either of you developing poor habits and doing serious damage to the overall longevity of your relationship.
When it comes to working out and addressing those issues with our partners, sometimes it’s best to get an unbiased third party involved who’s specifically trained to deal with those issues. That’s where a relationship therapist comes into play.
How Do I Know If Therapy Is Good For My Relationship?
Simply put, couples therapy is designed to resolve conflicts within a marriage or romantic relationship, boost insights into that relationship and improve overall relationship intimacy and satisfaction through the use of therapeutic interventions.
Studies have shown that couples often end up seeking therapy not when the issues are first noticed or acknowledged, but when the issues balloon into symptoms which start to interfere with daily life.
While each individual therapist, licensed marriage and family therapist or counsellor has their own methods, the key objectives of couples therapy tend to adhere to the following general elements:
A focus on a specific challenge or problem (i.e. sexual difficulties, Internet addiction, jealousy)
Active participation on the part of the therapist in treating the relationship itself, rather than each individual separately.
Solution-focused, change-oriented interventions early on in treatment.
A clear establishment of treatment objectives
What Should I Expect From Couples Therapy?
Couples therapy is a comprehensive deep-dive into your family, values and cultural backgrounds, helping the couple focus on treatment and both long and short-term goals.
While this might sound like hard work, which it will be, studies have continuously shown that therapy can help even the most distressed couples.
There’s a variety of factors that might play a role in why couples seek therapy. Chronic illness, for example, is a factor that can put major strain on couples for a wide variety of reasons, along with factors like differences in parenting, cheating or just poor communication left to fester without being properly addressed.
As a man, our patriarchal society places a lot of expectation about how to behave and feel on your shoulders that, typically, you’re just expected to accept. A man who shows his emotions is often looked down upon one way or another by other men and because of societal norms and gender roles, men often suffer with that weight in silence.
That’s a core reason why the suicide rate in men is nearly four times higher than it is in women. That’s why when it comes to something as serious as marriage/relationship therapy, men might have some concerns and questions. It can be difficult to sit face-to-face with your spouse and be entirely open and vulnerable, let alone when there’s someone else in the room with you.
While it might be a challenge, it’s important to keep things in perspective. It might not feel the greatest to have to open up and address those long-held issues but the alternative, to not open up and dive into them could likely cost you your relationship – at some point every man in couples therapy will have to ask himself what’s it worth to salvage and build your relationship with your partner?
Tips From Pros
While therapy is undoubtedly helpful for many couples, there are things a couple can do for one another to help therapy go smoother and make their treatment more effective. We’re going to break down a few of these methods here.
First, make sure you’re being 100 percent transparent and honest with your partner. It’s widely accepted that communication is essential for healthy, lasting and meaningful relationships, so it’s vital to be open and transparent with your partner, especially in the lead up to something as big as therapy.
That communication links back to a common issue men bring up while in therapy, often expressing confusion about mixed messages from their partners.
Therapist Ryan Howes encourages male clients to communicate with their partners about their needs and what they really want instead of letting those feelings fester.
Next, be willing and open to compromise. As we’ve already established, romantic relationships are hard work for both people involved. A key to successful relationships is compromise.
Couples are not going to agree on everything, whether it’s personal feelings, food choices or even politics, but that’s okay. In fact, according to a study by FiveThirtyEight, only about 55 percent of couples completely agreed on politics.
Accepting, acknowledging and respecting those differences is vital to keeping things rolling and cohesive for couples. All your efforts at compromise lead to a higher purpose for your relationship which is intimacy, and alignment. The deeper your relationship the more accepting couples become about their differences, choosing to acknowledge that they may have different pathways towards achieving the same goal.
When asked about some of the most common issues men bring up while in therapy, mental health pros had some enlightening answers.
One common issue that men bring up is that they’re unsure of what to do when their partner gets upset. Often, men go into problem-solving mode while their partner is upset instead of offering a compassionate space or a listening ear.
Therapist Anna Poss said that tendency to want to solve the problem comes from deeply embedded cultural gender norms.
“Our cis-heteronormative culture means that many men have little exposure to emotional expression growing up or haven’t been taught how to handle uncomfortable emotions,” she said. “It can be like a new language to them, so part of our work in therapy may include building an emotional vocabulary.”
Treatment Options When It Comes To Therapy
One of the most popular and effective treatment methods when it comes to couples therapy is the Gottman Method of relationship therapy.
Developed by Professor John Gottman, psychology emeritus at the University of Washington, who spent the majority of his career developing mathematical models, scales and formulas to help determine elements of stability and patterns seen in divorces.
Gottman’s studies pointed out four factors he called the “Four Horsemen,” all signs that were predictive of divorce.
These factors predictive of divorce include:
1. Criticism of the partner’s personality
3. Stonewalling, or refusing to interact
Thankfully, it’s not all doom and gloom for the Gottman method. The method of treatment follows seven core principles, each designed to increase closeness and friendship behaviours, addressing conflict productivity and building a life of shared meaning together.
The Bottom Line
In the end, couples therapy has been shown to improve relationships, communication and cohesiveness between couples. Studies have shown that even smaller elements like mindfulness or meditation can have a massive impact on a relationship.
In the end, no matter what method of treatment you decide to go with, it’s the effort you’re willing to put in, level of communication you’re willing to reach and compromises you’re willing to make with your partner that will show the lasting effect.
While it can be hard for men to open up and face their emotions and be clear with their partner about needs and concerns, it’s worth the effort.