In my years of practice, I have yet to treat a couple whose relationship was not on the precipice of ruin at the time of first contact. Their intakes are rife with blame, and subsequent sessions reveal neither partner understands his/her role in the dysfunctional dyad. Though not impossible, it is daunting work for any therapist to help rebuild relationships demolished by constant conflict. It makes me wonder if therapists’ roles would be easier if couples acted in a more proactive way.
With regards to our health, we tend to lean towards reactivity; medicating to cure ailments prevented with proper nutrition, rest, and exercise, or emptying wallets on car repairs avoided with regularly scheduled maintenance. Similarly, couples more often use therapy as a measure of response, and eschew its possibility as a conduit of crisis prevention.
The benefits of therapy as a preventative measure are many. When we begin a relationship, we are seldom aware of our partner’s styles regarding communication, conflict resolution, or expressions of love. Consequently, rifts develop when we are unable to tolerate differences exhibited by our partner, and we utilize defense mechanisms that protect us through isolation counterintuitive to the closeness we desire. If a couple chooses to enter therapy to explore similarities and differences before crisis hits, the result is sure to be developed understanding, and strategies to tolerate differences.
We are all born into families in which communication styles are perpetuated through generations. Given such diversity, it is inevitable partners raised with differing styles of communication will clash enough to warrant therapy if not relationship termination. The problem is that by the time therapy is sought, it is a measure of desperation akin to placing a band aid on a surgical incision.
I am by no means stating therapy should commence at the start of all new relationships. I am merely suggesting couples whose intentions are a long-term relationship explore the possibility at the first signs of conflict over repetitive issues. Surely, it is easier to stomp out a campfire than to extinguish a brushfire.
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