Union through choice - the conscious way forward
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Couples Psychotherapy with Sabine Young

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The Psychotherapy Process

Whilst Imago Relationship Therapy provides a particular approach to couples psychotherapy, there are basic fundamentals to re-establishing concord between discordant relationships, and although these well-established steps offer no absolute guarantees, they provide discrete stepping stones towards the reunification of a stale or battered relationship.

Underpinning each and every step and, in fact, governing the process is honesty. Honesty about the state of the relationship; honesty from each individual in the couple's relationship; and introspective honesty within each of the partners.

Establishing the Fundamentals

There are often many contributing factors to the impending dissolution of a couple's relationship, and these must be identified early in the process of couples psychotherapy, since these elements, whether environmental or inter-personal, grievance based or through poor esteem in either or both partners, are frequently long term disturbances whose cumulative effects are the unhealed wounds through which repeated infection raises the temperature of the relationship. Put simply, most long term relationships that flounder do so through well established grievances and dysfunctional interaction between partners. Establishing the discordant notes often is not an easy task since, for instance, there may be a dominant partner whose behaviour overshadows or intimidates their spouse into silence or where an issue may be considered too personal to discuss openly. But repeated counseling and an acute ear will allow the therapist to tease out the fundamental elements.

Behavioral Factors

Having established the backdrop, it becomes time to deal with the couple's interaction with one another, the way they behave towards each another, to then modify dysfunctional behaviour and re-establish coherent communication between partners.

Destructive behaviour like domestic violence, alcohol or drug abuse, gambling or other psycho-physiological illnesses are often symptoms of underlying emotional dissatisfaction, and such behaviour must be immediately addressed and the severity evaluated to best ensure no harm may come to either partner at this point during therapy. The risks of physical injury will take priority but the effects of psychological damage must also be considered if, for instance, one of the couple exhibits symptoms of an impending nervous breakdown. In such instances, therapy may be suspended for remedial action.

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Re-establishing Communication

Of course, not all couples requiring psychotherapy are experiencing such criticality. There may be a general malaise in the relationships due to character, career objectives or personal differences between the couple. Nevertheless, the next step is to develop or re-establish emotional rapport and nurture honest dialogue.

Couples can distance themselves from each other over time, resulting in a reluctance or inability to express their feelings to their partner. The reluctance may be through stagnation in the relationship; the inability may have far deeper roots such as childhood neglect or a dysfunctional upbringing and may have been inherent in the relationship from the beginning.

Overcoming the communications breakdown is crucial to couples therapy as this paves the way to reunification. Managing effective dialogue between conflicted partners - opening them up to each other - frequently requires guidance. Illustrating the difference between appropriate communication and verbal abuse, and managing the conversation to avoid ridicule, diatribe or other destructive verbal attacks, allows couples gradually to express their feelings, empathise and learn to listed to each other. This stage of couples therapy is arguably the more complex, since it requires incorporation of the backdrop to the situation and will be adapted to suit the fundamentals in the breakdown of the couple's relationship. For instance a control freak-related break up would require a different approach to that needed in a case of emotional detachment, or when a couple have lost respect for each other over time and resort to demeaning behavior.

Relationship Strengths

Once the couple have established their challenges and are able to communicate effectively, they will be better equipped to objectively examine their relationship without the excess emotional or psychological inhibitors to creative dialogue with which they began therapy. They will be able to look at the strengths in their relationship and identify areas they consider week or missing. They will have an opportunity to create, resurrect or enhance pleasurable experiences or enter into new activities that either or both partners enjoy.

This final stage of therapy is the staging ground for the couple's future. The differences with which they engaged in therapy will have been exposed and methods of conflict resolution or avoidance will enable them to exit therapy with a positive view on their future together.

Sabine Young offers couples psychotherapy at her London based clinic.