What is Couples Counseling?
Couples counseling is known by a number of other names, including:
- Marriage counseling
- Relationship therapy
- Couples therapy
- Family therapy –– if the couple has children and the focus is on family dynamics
- Premarital counseling –– if the couple is engaged and wants therapy before getting married
Regardless of its name, couples counseling is a type of therapy designed to help couples improve their communication, resolve conflicts, and strengthen their relationship. It can be helpful for couples at any stage of their relationship, whether they are newlyweds or have been together for many years.
When is Couples Counseling appropriate?
I have found that some couples seek counseling in times of crisis, while others want guidance with daily relationship issues. Sometimes couples come for therapy hoping to obtain professional justification for blaming their partner for all relationship problems. These couples benefit from couples therapy by transforming their thoughts toward that of a functioning relationship unit.
Couples counseling can help individuals deal with difficult issues such as:
- Divorce –– if married
- Financial troubles
- Generalized interpersonal conflict
What causes Relationship Difficulties?
Defenses and Coping Mechanisms
The issues mentioned above may arise from a variety of factors. From over twenty years working with couples experiencingtroubled, conflictual, and emotionally charged relationships, I have found that maladaptive defensives and poor copingmechanisms play significant roles in the development of interpersonal problems. Defenses and coping mechanisms are behaviors used to protect oneself from emotional pain or discomfort.
For example, one partner may have a defense of avoiding conflicts by avoiding difficult conversations and walking away when it is time to talk things out. The other partner may have strong feelings around loss and separation but all that is seen, on the surface, is the defense of becoming angry and aggressive when their partner walks away. By understanding these defenses, the couple can work to address them and improve their communication and understanding of each other.
Empathy and Trust
Empathy and trust are two essential ingredients for a healthy and fulfilling relationship. When couples are able to effectively communicate and understand each other's emotions and perspectives, they are better able to resolve conflicts, navigate challenges, and build a strong foundation of trust. One of the key challenges that couples may face is a lack of trust. This can occur for a variety of reasons, such as past betrayals, ongoing patterns of deception, or a lack of transparency and openness in communication.
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How do I work with Couples?
The following are the means by which I address each of the causes listed above.
Defenses and Coping Mechanisms
In couples therapy, I guide couples in identifying their defenses and coping mechanisms, helping them understand how these may be contributing to conflicts in their relationship. To do so, I use techniques like exploration, clarification, and confrontation in order to reveal patterns and relational dynamics occurring outside of your awareness. By illuminating these dynamics, you and your partner can work toward improving communication and your understanding of one another.
Empathy and Trust
In therapy, I work with couples to identify the root causes of their trust issues and to develop strategies for rebuilding and strengthening trust over time. It is my goal to help partners rediscover and strengthen their ability to empathize with one another. This involves helping them to listen actively and without judgment, to try to see things from the other person's perspective, and to express their own feelings and needs in a way that is respectful and open. From this baseline, I work on strategies to effect lasting positive change. Such work involves setting boundaries, practicing honesty and transparency, learning how to navigate challenges and conflicts in a healthy way, and working through past wounds and conflicts.
For a deeper dive and a more comprehensive look at how I work with couples, please click here.
What is my Approach to Couples Counseling?
I have found psychodynamic psychotherapy to be an effective option for those dealing with interpersonal conflicts. This approach is based on the idea that past experiences and conflicts play a significant role in current behavior and relationships. I help couples identify and address the root causes of their conflicts and improve communication and understanding by exploring both the distant and more recent past and exploring how they may impact the present.
For a more comprehensive understanding of how I think about and use psychodynamic treatment techniques to better understand emotional responses, please click here.
Is Psychodynamic Couples Therapy for Us?
It's important to note that psychodynamic couples therapy can be challenging for couples. In order for therapy to be effective, it is crucial that couples are committed to the process and open to change. It requires a willingness to explore maladaptive defense mechanisms and coping strategies and to allow yourself to be vulnerable. Through vulnerability, you invite trust into your relationship because it can leave you feeling exposed and at risk of being hurt. However, this will you to better understand your thoughts and develop healthy paths forward with your partner.
How do I contact Dr. Mazzella?
If you or someone you know are having relationship difficulties and would like an evaluation or treatment, please call my office today at 212-591-0152 or fill out the form at this contact page. From there, I can review your case and offer you a treatment plan to meet your needs.