Couples Counseling

“Can my relationship be saved?” or, “Can you help us decide if we should stay together?”  These are questions I’m often asked and there is no one good response for everyone.  The most accurate thing I can say is something like this: “Couples work is hard and there are no guarantees, but you are wise to invest the time and you will likely learn something very important about yourself and each other.”

In order for couples counseling to be a valuable experience, both partners must be willing to express their goals for the relationship, whether they’re shared or not.  Couples therapy is fundamentally about being willing to change oneself.  It’s not looking for a victory-we can’t change someone else.  But by focusing on yourself and how you contribute to the relationship you not only learn about yourself, you also discover your needs and what patterns and reactions you can change that will more harmoniously foster your relationship.

Criticism or Bid of Affection?

Couples frequently start counseling by enumerating their complaints about one another.  This is reflective of a common communication dynamic that has usually been going on for a long time before they come in for their first session.  It is a stalemate where the couple is stuck in a negative feedback loop.  Tragically, the actual message couched in these criticisms remains lost.  ”You’re never present,” or, “you’re always on the internet and I want to spend quality time together.”  The response might be, “I’m working hard to keep a roof over our head why don’t you get that… why don’t you appreciate me?!”

This is a key point: the perceived complaint is actually a compliment.  She is really saying “I miss you.”  Interpreted differently, he’s not being a jerk he’s being vulnerable: “I love you and if I didn’t care about you I wouldn’t be saying these things.  The problem here is that the presentation is bad.  A poorly expressed bid of affection that’s interpreted as a criticism.  But both people really want the same thing.  They are each longing for the same connection.  

The focus is to improve how we communicate and modify the filter through which we interpret what’s being said.  Increasing awareness of words and tone is its own discipline.  The challenge lies in that anger is the easiest way to soothe ourselves.  It’s innate in all of us.  Our amygdala (lizard brain) floods and we fight or flight.  But while the words and tone may convey anger, it’s what’s under the anger that’s really important: “I feel sad,” or, “I feel lonely, neglected and invisible.”  These are the messages to extrapolate.  It is a process of both partners being committed to working on themselves, how they communicate their feelings, and how those feelings are heard.


Along with the ubiquitous interruptions of social media and the breakneck pace of our lives, the efforts necessary to cultivate a relationship are often overlooked.  Relationships are inherently comprised of periods of acrimony.  This is normal.  But without sustained attention and maintenance, emotional intimacy tends to wane over time.  It’s possible to offset this distancing.  Whether you struggle to make time for one another, find it difficult to communicate effectively, or are dealing with something a little heavier, couples counseling is an important opportunity to shut out distractions and show up for one another.

Final Thoughts on Relationships

Relationships require work and are bound to face challenges.  Simple, everyday stressors can lead to a strained relationship.  However, most relationship problems are manageable as long as each partner is willing to address the issue at hand, look inwardly and pursue personal change, and actively participate in a shared solution.

Speak Your Mind


1638 Eagle View Drive
Homer, AK 99603
(907) 602-2578

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