As a couples clinician one of the most common mistakes I see are couples that have waited far too long to work on their relationship. Often one person already has a foot out the door (or both feet) and much of our time is spent trying to convince them to reinvest or re-engage in the relationship. There are usually years of resentment, hurt feelings, and distrust built up which becomes increasingly more difficult to repair.
Dr. John Gottman, the leading couples researcher in the U.S., found that the average couple waits 6 years after a problem occurs to seek professional help. Imagine how much more damage that issue causes in a six year span!
If this sounds like your relationship, all is not lost. It is time to get a professional involved to give you and your partner the skills and insight you need to reconnect again. Even if the problems you have in your relationship don’t seem overwhelming it is good to do some preventative work to ensure your relationship stays strong.
Gottman’s premise to couples work is quite simple – we want the relationship to have more
positive interactions than negative. In fact, he recommends a 5:1 ratio based off of his studies.
These can be very basic interactions, such as giving eye contact, asking how someone’s day
was, a simple touch on the shoulder, etc. These add up over time and they are necessary for maintaining a healthy relationship. At times it is difficult to adjust to doing these positive actions as the relationship has fallen into a persistent negative state. But again and again studies have shown that positivity breeds positivity. We tend to do nice things for people who do nice things for us – “treat others how you would like to be treated” – right?
There are many other aspects to Gottman’s work, which is why I include a thorough assessment
as part of couples therapy. The assessment takes an hour to an hour and half and covers all
aspects of the relationship. This is done through the Gottman Institute online and it can be saved at any point so you don’t have to do it all at once. The answers to the assessment are
completely confidential and it will not be viewed by anyone else. I then have each partner come in individually to discuss the assessment and create goals for the relationship. After that we join back together, moving forward with our goals using Gottman’s recommended interventions (as well as some incorporated from other master couples clinicians – such as Sue Johnson).
As with all therapy, relationship with the therapist is key – especially when there are two people involved. It is recommended to meet with the therapist (be it me or someone else) prior to committing to anything.
Please don’t hesitate to ask me any questions or need additional resources.