In practicing cognitive behavioral therapy in NYC for more than 30 years, I, unfortunately, have had the opportunity to treat many people for couples and marriage counseling.
If you are coming for couples or marriage counseling, you are almost certainly frustrated and angry. You may be arguing or not talking to each other, or going through periods of both. The simple explanation for the problem is that neither your expectations nor your partner’s expectations are being met. Anger is the result of expecting one thing and getting something else. You are both getting something else.
The first thing to determine is, what do you and your partner want. That may not be as easy to decide as you think. You and/or your partner might already be halfway out the door and not sure whether or not you want to save the relationship. If that is the initial issue, I will help you to sought through your emotions so you will have a clearer idea of your goals. Working with a therapist requires a commitment of time and energy, so you need to be certain of what you want to accomplish.
Typically, I do not see couples together for most sessions. As with everything that I do, I have reasons. Couples, because they are often angry and want to tell their side of the story, tend to either argue with each other or spend the session complaining to me. In either case it is difficult to move along with any sort of treatment plan.
The chances are you and your partner came into your relationship with the emotional responses and behaviors that are creating problems. Of course, the fact that couples’ relationships are so close, intensifies those issues. One of you may be bossy, one may be critical and the other sensitive, one may be very neat and the other not so much. Because the behaviors exist separately and usually pre-date the relationship, I prefer to treat them separately. Each person in couples counseling works on improving their behavior as well as their responses to their partner’s behavior. When there are issues that are best discussed in a group, we will all meet together. Usually I will see one person a week on alternating weeks.
A number of years ago a new approach to couples/marriage counseling was proposed and accepted by many psychologists, including me. Instead of focusing exclusively on the presenting problems and the aspects of the relationship that are going wrong, emphasize what is positive. In keeping with that concept, I usually ask couples to plan activities together. Plan at least 2 things a week that you like or used to like doing together. This approach recognizes that no relationship is perfect and we may not be able to resolve every conflict, but that it may not be necessary if there are enough positive things to share.
Saving a marriage or relationship that wants to be saved is one of the great rewards for me. By applying the techniques of cognitive behavioral therapy I have successfully done it many times, but there are failures too. If you know what you want and can follow directions, I can help you.
Dr. Merny Schwartz is a dedicated and caring licensed clinical psychologist and certified school psychologist serving patients in Brooklyn, NY for more than 35 years.
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Dr. Merny Schwartz, PhD