I love doing relationship therapy. Individuals are fun but when there are more people in the room it is amazing to see the dynamics. It means I can get multiple perspectives. I can also impact the system from multiple places. The other big benefit is that you often see the results instead of just hearing about them. The dynamic can change right in front of me.
There are some benefits to using a therapist for relationship issues. They things I always say therapy provides are a different perspective and the opportunity to learn new tools. For relationships one of the features of that new perspective is that it is not part of the system and has less biases. I won’t say it is unbiased because we all have biases that come into play. In this situation they are just very different and less about a personal stake in the outcome.
What that does is allow me to say things that the individuals can hear more easily because they aren’t busy trying to figure out how what I am saying is about me getting what I want. That’s what they think about their partner…the partner is only saying that because is serves their ends. That often limits the effectiveness of what one partner says to the other. It is also what allows me to say it and have more impact.
Parents’ will recognize this. Have you ever told your child something over and over only to have them dismiss it? Then one day they come home from their friend’s house and says, “my friend’s mom says x,y,and z.” Exactly what you’ve been saying over and over and they act like it is the most brilliant thing they’ve ever heard. Frustrating, isn’t it?
That happens in therapy. I can help one partner hear something that another partner has been telling them over and over. It gets heard because I don’t have the same investment in the outcome so it doesn’t need to be defended against so strongly. I watch the person actually think about and comprehend the message.
And then it happens. “That’s what I’ve been telling you.” Or, “isn’t that exactly what I said?” Or, “where have you heard that before?” Or, “you could have just listened to me.” In other words, “see, I’m right, you are wrong!” Ugh. Everything I just did to get the person to hear the message suddenly goes rushing away. Defenses pop back up. Instead of being happy about change happening it is suddenly a battle about being right.
If being right is more important to you than creating change, you get to make that choice. However, if what you really want is change and improvement in your relationship, resist the urge to point out your “win”. You can think it, feel it, tell your friends about it. But don’t lose sight of the real goal just to feel good in the moment. Enjoy your small victory internally. There will be a lot more to enjoy when you achieve your bigger goals.