DIY couples therapy

The word ‘therapy’ comes from the Greek therapeia which means “curing and healing.” And that is exactly what transpires with many NYC couples who see me for relationship therapy. But truth be told: I do not do the curing and the healing—they do. And they do the great majority of it outside of therapy.

couples therapist—personal trainer for your relationship

It can be helpful to you if you think about couples therapy like you’d think about working with a personal trainer. In couples therapy, it is you (and your partner) who will be working on the relational equivalents of strengthening your muscles, building flexibility, increasing endurance and creating routines that optimize health.

Effective personal trainers and couples therapists know how to ‘put people to work’ in the right way with the right feedback, guidance and support—while also holding them accountable to attitudes and behaviors that lead to desired results. They also understand well (and are skilled at working with) the all-too-human tendency we all have to sabotage the very goals we set for ourselves.

ways we sabotage our relationships

John Gottman’s seminal research on successful and unsuccessful marriages has revealed some of the toxic relational behaviors that we use to sabotage our romantic relationships:

  1. Criticism
  2. Contempt
  3. Defensiveness
  4. Stonewalling (shutting down)

These emotional/relational behaviors are like toxic seeds. If they are allowed to sprout and grow in our hearts (and thus in how we relate to our partners), they perpetuate and intensify mistrust, tension, emotional distance and pain. The more that a couple can notice and neutralize these dynamics in the kindling stage, long before they erupt into full blown fires, the more the couple is able to create and maintain emotional connectedness and closeness.

Now here’s the rub: noticing and neutralizing these dynamics usually requires one partner to show some leadership. Since you are the one reading this (rather than your partner), then, at least for now, you should be the one taking the lead.

to get what you want in relationships, you have to give that very thing

If you want to feel loved, safe and connected in a relationship, you have to do some work on finding out what helps your partner to feel that way. If you want to feel adored and sexually desirable, you have to put thought and effort into helping your partner have this experience.

Whatever you want in a relationship, start by giving it. A lot.

And no, I’m not saying this will magically lead to your partner doing the same. But what it does is it helps you to build a whole new credibility and confidence within yourself about the relationship and your part in it. As you grow in this way, you will be able to initiate and participate more constructively in honest conversations about what you want and need from each other in order to deepen/strengthen the relationship.

As all good NYC couples therapists know—romantic partners talking in serious and loving ways about such things (outside of our therapy offices) is a fundamental part of creating a mutually satisfying relationship. In fact we might think of these conversations as ‘do-it-yourself couples therapy’ which is exactly what all relationship therapists and marriage counselors should be helping partners to do more often and more effectively.

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