Couples Trapped in Conflict
Couples who come to couples therapy generally present with a “I’m going to show you” or “I can’t want to tell the therapist this one” mentality and attempt to present a case to reflect that in session. This narrative tends to include accusations, motivations and intentions for the cited disruptive and dysfunctional actions in said relationship which only lends to making the problem worse than it already is or at a minimum keep it going.
Well I’m mad at my spouse and I think my therapist needs to know why. This is a fair point, and at the same time it’s pretty much a given when couples come to therapy one or both parties are going to be pissed going into the process on one level or another. In cases where anger is consuming the client’s thoughts the best course of action as a client is to allow your therapist to ask questions and go with the flow in the session. This is so the clinician can parse what’s going on and to allow room for case conceptualization minus mitigating a verbal wrestling match in the session.
But they really piss me off and when I look at them I just want to tell them off. Granted this may be how an individual feels and if the goal is to replicate in the therapy room what happens at home in the context of fighting/arguing then this would be the order of the day. However, as a therapist what I have found to be most successful when working with couples is when both parties can agree to disagree without being disagreeable.
So agree to disagree without being disagreeable means I’m okay with being treated unfairly by my spouse? Not at all, but it does allow for the therapy process between two parties in session to begin. Think of it this way, if all you hear is your spouse yelling at you all of the time does that lend to an environment where you can begin to sit down, listen, paraphrase, validate, support, encourage, love one another, and actually work through those issues? Or does it lead to a never ending escalation of insults and arguments?
What if my spouse is trying to pull a fast one and be on their best behavior in therapy? Conversely if all that transpires in session is arguing, cussing, insults, and yelling under the moniker of being authentic then there won’t be a favorable outcome either. This elevates further the importance for both individuals to allow themselves to feel safe enough in the therapy room to allow their therapist to conduct the session and follow their lead to permit things to unfold naturally as opposed to forcefully.
So are you saying that by not fighting I can actually achieve more in therapy; Because I sort of feel like if I don’t fight for what I want or what’s important to me then I can’t get what I want. This is a fantastic question with a terrific follow on point. In all reality this is the entire point for going to therapy because it provides an environment for both parties to sit down and work with a trained clinician to get through some of the core content of the issues that the couple finds themselves struggling with. Sometimes (and I would say in most cases) not fighting allows for opportunity to discuss, negotiate, appreciate, understand, have empathy, compassion, and increased bandwidth to heal and repair relationships.
Daniel Acosta M.A., AMFT is a Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist in Mission Viejo, California. He works in private practice with men, women and adolescents and provides individual, couples, pre-marital, family and marital therapy for clients in Orange County. If you would like to schedule a session he can be reached at 949-943-7820 or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org