A couple's voluntary relationship is an interesting and paradoxical union, as one's partner is simultaneously your greatest friend and fearsome enemy. They know all your strengths and weaknesses, but they may not know you very well. In addition, any union of two unrelated people is inherently fragile. Most couples, at some point in the course of the relationship, become familiar with that fragility.
I had the good fortune of becoming interested in marital and family therapy early in my career over 35 years ago. That has led me into contact with lots of couples. Whenever a married person seeks therapy, the partner is always 'present' regardless of the style of therapy. Marital work is sometimes best accomplished with the regular attendance of both partners. Other times, one or both partners may have specific issues that need to be addressed in order for the relationship to evolve. A simple rule of thumb is that couples are developmentally paired. If the developmental levels of the partners are too different, it is more difficult for the relationship to last.
Instability in a relationship arises for many reasons. Some of those reasons fall under the category of 'external stresses'. For example, chronic financial stress puts an added burden on any family. Raising children, aging, and dealing with illness are all factors that contribute to unbalancing a couple's relationship.
Another set of stress factors fall into the 'developmental changes' category. These have to do with a partner's respective psychological, spiritual, and value-based changes, or maturation. People must change in order to stay alive and grow, and so must relationships. The problem is that we practically never change at the same rate as our partner.
A relational imbalance is most likely to occur in two particular situations: at times of significant stress in the couple/family; and in situations when one partner is changing quickly relative to the other. For couples, these include changes in jobs, geographic location, financial status, birth of children, periods of illness in the couple, changes in health or loss of a parent, spiritual awakenings, etc.
I always try to work with couples from a resource-base, rather than a pathology-base. An essential premise of my work is that any problem is a window into potential solutions. Accordingly, I try to help partners become more comfortable with exploring the 'normal' difficulties that keep them tied up. This involves learning how to relax when thinking about the things that have been disturbing them, and learning how to be present with their partner without resorting to those natural, but usually problematic, behaviors of attacking (anger, blaming, arguing) or withdrawing (depression, addiction, affairs, overwork).
Feel free to call or email me with questions about my work with couples and how we might work together. If you call, please include your phone number.
Updated on 2013-04-20