What is the best, most proactive type of relationship counseling?
February 25, 2014 2:13 PM   Subscribe

My husband and I have been married for 5 years, together for 15. We both have our own issues (depression, ADD) and lately things have been very bad between us. Weekly fights with yelling and crying, instead of disagreements or discussion. He wants us to find a "coach" that will help us define and reach our goals, I don't know if just coaching will help us.

We both agree we need counseling. I want this to work and for him not to be discouraged.
What is the most effective type of relationship counseling/coaching/therapy?
We have both been in therapy before, and a never-ending psychoanalysis approach is what I want to avoid.
I am in the Boston area.
posted by natasha_k to Human Relations (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are either one of you in therapy for your own issues right now? Because while you don't necessarily need to be in individual counseling at the same time as you're in couples' counseling, you really can't address the problems between the two of you if you're not in a particularly stable place on your own.

What are your own goals for success in life, etc.? Why do you think they seem to conflict with your husband's goals -- whatever those might be? If you bring those to the table, that's a good start.
posted by Madamina at 2:19 PM on February 25, 2014

I suggest you look for solutions focused brief therapy.

The general idea is that you start with a miracle question (if you woke up tomorrow and all these problems were fixed, what is the first thing you'd notice that would tell you things are different now?) and go from there - you do not analyze the past or stuff like that. You go from where you are, to make things be more like what you want.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 2:39 PM on February 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Couples therapy is not psychoanalysis. It is goal oriented, not exploratory.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:01 PM on February 25, 2014

I have always been helped by stints in individual therapy, but am not confident in any kind of couples therapy. I don't want to dwell too much on my personal experience with it, so I'll just say I agree with what this NY Times article says about the systemic problems with couples therapy.

That said, I would go with what the SO wants. SO wants coaching? Coaching it shall be. I would not let the perfect ("the best type of couples therapy") be the enemy of the good (the type of therapy that you and SO can both be on-board with).

I have found individual therapy so much better at helping me be the person I want to be, whether in or out of a relationship, so I'd focus primarily on individual therapy, and let the couples coaching be the cherry on top.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 3:17 PM on February 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

When we were dealing with some challenging times, my husband and I both bought copies of Gottman's 7 Principles book and we read it chapter by chapter and chatted after (like a book club). We found a therapist that was familiar with the principles and we liked that he was able to work with the language we had started with. We just called around and asked potential folks if they were familiar with the Gottman stuff but it looks like there is also a way to search here. I'm not sure that's "the most effective type... " but we can be a data point for you.

(If it matters, our issues stemmed from being in a long distance situation for a while and as soon as we were back together, unicorns and rainbows and puppies appeared again BUT when the inevitable arguments and disagreements have come up since, we still rely on what we learned. I truly think it's made us stronger and more stable and I kinda want to give copies of the book to every one of our friends on their 5th anniversaries... but won't because that's creepy.)
posted by adorap0621 at 3:24 PM on February 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

So the thing our couples therapy turned into, which I think was ultimately what was useful, was that one person would say what they were pissed about, then she would turn to the other and say, basically, "Okay, what did he say?" And then, "Was that what you said?" And then if we were wrong we repeated it. Then the other party was asked to say their piece. "Okay, what did he say?" Ad infinitum. Super kindergarteny feeling, but ultimately effective.

Also when we started fighting in front of her she would let us go for a minute and then tsk and say "Guys, I think there's a real failure of [empathy/active listening/whatever] going on here." And because both of us have had lots of therapy and want to perform well for the therapist we would straighten up and fly right. So basically Pavlovian fake it till you make it.

Plus we were mostly able to stick to not bringing things up during the week if we knew it was going to start a fight.

I dunno if there's a name for that modality.
posted by PMdixon at 5:01 PM on February 25, 2014

Are you the one with ADD? Rhetorical question, but is he trying to go straight to solving the [performance / reliability / whatever it is he complains about] problem instead of finding a way to work together to solve all problems? Because that may not work.

In any case, this sounds like standard pre- therapy doubt. "I want this to be the kind of therapy that WORKS, not the kind that's just an expensive waste of time." Yeah, so does everyone! The only way to do that is to find a GOOD therapist whom you click with. The only way I know of to do that is to collect a handful of recommendations, then have short trial sessions with a few people (3-4).

While this may sound like a waste of time, the trial and error process of finding a good therapist should help you clarify what you're looking for from a therapist. And it may not be as painful as it sounds, because in my experience, having someone who is creepy, obnoxious, or clueless muck about in your relationship generates a nice "us vs. them" dynamic where you're united against this outsider and momentarily feeling warmer toward each other. YMMV.

The thing to keep in mind is that the therapist needs to be someone you both choose and respect, otherwise it won't help. Ideally you both would go in to the process committed to finding someone you both like.
posted by salvia at 5:58 PM on February 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Emotionally focused therapy for couples is a brief focused and well researched approach and available in your area.
posted by SyraCarol at 6:16 PM on February 25, 2014

Solution-focused or narrative therapy. They will both get you on the same page, headed in a positive direction, and have the potential to make you remember joy.
posted by vitabellosi at 7:23 PM on February 25, 2014

Best answer: Dittoing adorap0621's comment about John Gottman's book.

My partner and I had experienced a year of extreme volatility together, and at the lowest times, couldn't even function in each other's presence. Arguments, screaming, name-calling, threatening divorce, etc. Simple misunderstandings went from 0 to 60 in about a millisecond. It was an incredibly ugly spiraling-down after an amazing courtship, and up to that point, marriage.

We really lucked out in finding a wonderful therapist (I don't know much clinical therapy-speak, but her approach is "family systems therapy"), who works a lot with the principles from the aforementioned book. It was definitely different than what I had experienced before in individual therapy, which was far more open-ended and "tell me how you feel" and "let's talk about your family". In fact, I think it was months of weekly sessions before either of us even got into our family histories.

The primary focus was on breaking down what happened in a given argument, and practicing/learning new approaches to de-escalate potential arguments and own our respective actions. It was pragmatic and goal-oriented, eventually allowing us to rebuild trust in one another, which in turn helped us reconnect to the love we felt for one another.

FWIW, we found our therapist via the Therapist Finder on Psychology Today's website. I filtered by our ZIP, and marital therapy/family systems therapy.

Good luck to both of you!
posted by sixtyten at 8:18 PM on February 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

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