Dealing With the Couple, Not the Individual
When we think of therapy, we usually think of problems embedded within an individual that have to be uncovered and worked through. This is certainly very often the case. The psycho-behavioral problems come from early learned habits, lack of important developmental experiences, unmet needs for which people still yearn. However, the location of behavioral problems and issues can be, and often is, in the pair, the couple, the unit, not the individual. The solution often involves couples therapy.
Potential Issues with Marriage
Many psychological issues grow out of the messaging between people who are bound together in marriage. In extreme situations, people stay away from one another in states of misinformation or sensory deprivation. Often the mental illness diagnosis falls on one member of the couple or family, but it is in the relationship that binds the diagnosed member to intimate others that the real psychological issue really resides.
To provide counselling to help this kind of shared disorder, the therapist must dissect the way each member encounters the joint relationship then try to diagnose where it has gone wrong.
Couples Have Defense Mechanisms
Couples and families have their own kind of defense mechanisms that hide the truth. These must be revealed and opened up so that the real operation of the relationship can be untangled. Couples make up myths about the way they relate to each other. The myths may be very far from reality and the unreality of the myths may be a source of unhappiness and poor adaptation of behavior that brings the client to the therapist. Couples may require unrealistic things of each other. Members of a couple may be in a constant state of disguise, hiding their activities and their attitudes from each other. Members of a couple may be living happily in a state of paired collusion against others, like a conspiracy that they feel brings them closer together.
More About Couples Therapy
Couples therapy is a subset of relationship counselling which includes things like marital counselling and family therapy or even conjoint or multiple family therapy where 3 or more families work together in groups.
One couples therapist relates the following case as an example of how the origin of the problem is not located in either member of the couple:
Anna, the wife always talks about why she hates the relationship she has with her husband James. James complains that Anna is too controlling. James says since the couple had their baby, Anna "nags and bitches at me all the time about not pulling my weight. She's evil." The couple went into counselling after an incident where Anna screamed and spat at James and he lost his temper and pushed her."
Couples Therapy Leads to Happiness
The couple went into couples therapy to avoid the costly emotional and financial toll of marital breakup and divorce. There was enough mutual feeling between them to make them seek a resolution. The evidence suggests that people unhappy in a relationship, were no happier after a divorce. Linda White of the University of Chicago found in a 2002 that people unhappy in a relationship who did not divorce were, on average, happier after five years than people who did divorce.
The behavior that caused this couple's unhappiness was traced back to the extra pressure of the new baby coupled with the fact that James' father died four months earlier. His father's death made James angry and disengaged, just at the time when Anna needed James' extra support. The counselling lasted three sessions.
Anna said she "badly wanted the therapist to side with me and tell James he was an aggressive bastard. but she listened calmly to both of us. She said that I was winding him up (which was true).
Five years later, the couple was still together and have given birth to a second child.