iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Mark Goulston, M.D.

GET UPDATES FROM Mark Goulston, M.D.

Couples Therapy Made Simple

Posted: 06/16/11 08:32 AM ET

Immature love is loving someone for what they do right; mature love is loving someone is spite of what they do wrong.

"Couples therapy made simple" is not meant to be simplistic; instead, I mean to offer an approach to therapy that is accessible and doesn't require deep thinking or deep insights (something that most people find too difficult to use and apply, anyway) to be effective. Nevertheless, it is not for couples who are foolish enough to deny help when they need it. It is also not for newly trained therapists who feel that they need to listen to and indulge finger-pointing, blaming and excuse making for fear of ticking off their clients.

After years of seeing partners who were too blameful and excuse-making, or who saw themselves as victims with no responsibility for any of their problems, and after becoming exhausted from stepping in to stop them from acting on self-destructive or couple-destructive impulses, I've found that couples therapy has become much simpler and clearer -- so much so that I refer to it as Clarity-Based Couples Therapy (CBCT).

CBCT is not for everyone. It is not for people who, rather than being committed to making their relationship stronger and better, feel that they have to be right and have to get their way. It's natural for people to want to be right and get their way and to be disappointed when they don't. It's even natural for some people to need to be right and get their way and to be upset when they don't. Each of those can be tolerated, talked through and even gotten over. However, whenever one or the other partner has to be right and get their way, anything that threatens them with the possibility of either being wrong or not getting their way will be experienced as an assault, and they will do anything they can to defend their position, resist and fight back. The focus of therapy then becomes coaching each partner to react to the inevitable disagreements, disappointments, upsets and frustrations in their relationship, by not becoming upset, angry, shut-down or avoidant of each other. It also involves not beating themselves up.

Conversely, CBCT involves teaching and coaching each partner to confront and fully resolve conflicts as they arise. As it turns out, most people avoid conflict not because they lack the will to deal with it but because they lack a way to do it. Even more apropos, they believe that confronting conflict will only make it worse and have close to zero confidence that it will make it better.

As partners learn the skills to effectively deal with disagreements, disappointments and upsets and make things better without making them worse, each develops emotional toughness, self-respect and self-esteem. Add to that effective conflict-resolution skills and tools derived from mindfulness and positive psychology, and any motivated couple can move to a shared future that more than makes up for any emotional baggage they may still have from their genes and upbringing. Nature and nurture are still only two strikes.

As both partners share victories with each other and live into their shared future, they create and build a relationship that they both begin to take pride in. Within a short period of time, others start to notice the positive changes, and when you go from a couple who is embarrassed by each other to one that other couples want to emulate, the change is phenomenal.

But as I said at the beginning, CBCT is not for everybody. People who have to be right and have to get their way need not apply.

Read more from Mark Goulston, M.D.:
"Does Psychotherapy Make You Worse?"
"The 6 Secrets of a Lasting Relationship: How to Fall in Love Again... And Stay There"

 
 
 

Follow Mark Goulston, M.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/markgoulston