That's Not What I Said
Or, Why You Need Couple's Therapy (Hint: because you’re human.)
You don’t know everything. You own up to this human imperfection every time you call on a mechanic to fix your car or a plumber to address your pipes or that slightly annoying Mac genius to troubleshoot your computer. We humans cannot possibly know everything about everything and we very intelligently rely on experts to fill in the gaps in our individual knowledge. Millennia of collective data has proven that this system works, and most of us subscribe to it implicitly.
So why aren’t you seeking the help of a relationship expert to improve your relationship?
Whether your relationship challenges are subtle or glaring (because nonexistent is not an option), couples therapy can have a huge positive impact. And while I do believe that any opportunity or effort to focus solely on your relationship for some amount of time can be a good thing (i.e. the proverbial date night), the specialness of therapy lies in the presence of a knowledgeable and objective third party.
The right therapist (more on finding the “right” one in a later post, I promise) will help shine a light on the good parts of your relationship, even in times of darkness. Beyond that, she will astutely identify the tools you have, or lack, to make things right.
To me, couples therapy is akin to staring at one of those Magic Eye images that were crazy popular in the 90s - remember the jumble of horizontal patterns and pictures that you had to UN-focus on in order to make sense of? At first glance you may feel absolutely certain that there’s nothing more to it than those patterns and colors forming a pile of nonsense. But a great therapist will teach you how to diverge your vision so that you can see the 3-D image inside the mess before you.
If I’m making any sense at all here, then you probably understand that the 3-D image is the truth of what’s going on with you two. It’s the reality of your situation minus the resentment, self-doubt, hurt feelings and anger that cloud your view of your partner. With the guidance of a great therapist, you’ll find that you can even move around within that 3-D image. You can explore the depths and corners and jagged edges without fearing that this wonderfully clear vision will slip away into the mess again.
Another huge bonus my husband and I discovered in working with our therapist is the creation of a productive safe zone. It sounds hokey and new-agey and that’s okay, because the fact is that we can attempt to have the exact same conversation on our couch and it will end drastically differently than it would on the therapist’s couch.
The key difference is that a therapist can listen without being limited by the stories that we have in our heads. These old, often incorrect or maladapted narratives, cause many of us to decide that we know exactly how our partner will react to something before that thing is even presented. They take away our ability to actually hear what’s being said and that’s when things go off the rails. In therapy, this is simply not allowed.
The therapist is there to keep things grounded in reality; to guide us back to truth when my old injuries are talking or his outdated assumptions of me are getting in the way. She is just impartial enough to keep things on an honest, productive level, something we are not always capable of on our own.
My husband and I have been seeing a therapist on and off for six years. We go in for regular maintenance and when there’s a need for crisis intervention. In either case, we are never sad that we did. It is always helpful. I mean it. Every time. Can you say that about your mechanic?