By Author, Rob Peach
“Our finest moments are likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts to start searching for different ways or truer answers.” – M. Scott Peck
Relationship conflict can be like a tornado touching down. It can suddenly, almost in an instant, knock you off your feet and leave you scrambling for safety. It can leave a trail of damage and destruction in its path, forcing your relationship into a ‘state of emergency’.
But, like tornadoes, relationship conflict rarely touches down without warning. Changes in the ‘atmospheric conditions’ of your relationship give you clues that conflict is about to strike. And, before it does strike, you can have an ‘emergency preparedness plan’ in place so that you and your partner know how to weather any storm, no matter how severe it may be forecasted to be.
Instead of allowing conflict to tear you and your partner apart, it is possible to learn how you can hold onto one another for emotional safety in the midst of any relationship storm. Couples therapy can help.
If you are thinking about couples therapy as part of your ‘emergency preparedness plan’, you might not know what to expect. To help you navigate your way through this process, I’ve pulled together a list of eleven questions that your therapist might ask you during your first few sessions of counseling for married couples.
Keep in mind that every therapist is different and that it is important that you and your partner find a therapist whose personal approach and theoretical style fit with your views of relationships. ‘Marriage counseling Toronto’, ‘couples therapy Toronto’, ‘counseling for marriage’ and ‘Toronto relationship counseling’ are suggested phrases to help you begin your search.
My own approach to therapy is influenced by Emotionally Focused Therapy, or ‘EFT’. EFT is a clinically proven, evidence-based model for relationship therapy that supports couples to connect emotionally. You can read more about EFT at: The International Centre for Excellence in Emotional Focused Therapy.
1) Why today?
Social Workers, myself included, love to say that we ‘start where our client is’. Where ever you might find yourself and your partner, whether it is caught up in the ‘eye’ of an emotional storm or picking up the pieces afterwards, we will join you and together find a place to start.
2) What are your goals for therapy?
People come to couples therapy for different reasons. In fact, you and your partner might even have completely different ideas about what you are hoping to get from therapy. While most therapists are (hopefully) intuitive, we’re not mind readers and need to hear from you directly what you are looking for from our time together.
3) What is your relationship forecast?
If your relationship was like a weather report, would you describe it as ‘generally sunny with overcast periods’ or as ‘bleak and dismal’? Some relationships are generally stable with the exception of the issue that is bringing you to therapy, while others have more generalized issues that seem to impact all areas of your interactions. Assessing what works is as important as determining where and why you struggle.
4) How does your relationship make you FEEL?
Do you feel emotionally safe in your relationship? Do you feel that you can trust your partner? Or, that you can be trusted? Feeling secure in your relationship is not always easy. Through therapy, we can work together to help you reestablish a connection through open and honest communication about your emotions.
“In insecure relationships, we disguise our vulnerabilities so our partner never really sees us.” – Sue Johnson, Ph.D.
5) Is there a history of ‘cheating’ in your relationship?
As a Toronto sex therapist who also offers relationship therapy, many of the clients who walk through my door are struggling to cope with one or both partner’s sexual behaviors outside of their relationship. While ‘cheating’ impacts each relationship differently, most partners experience feelings of betrayal, anger and confusion.
6) Have there been other breaches of trust in your relationship?
Disagreements about finances, approaches to parenting or social relationships can create ‘storms’ in even the strongest of relationships. Sometimes these issues are a result of difficulties with communication, at other times they may be more reflective of differences in personal values. In therapy, we’ll work together to repair the ‘emotional damage’ that may still be impacting your ability to function as a couple.
7) What is your relationship history as a couple?
It’s important for us to learn about what brought you together as a couple. Understanding how you met, how long you have been together, whether or not you have children helps us to work more effectively. Also, we need to know if you share personal values and beliefs, or if there are religious or cultural differences that might contribute to conflict.
8) What is each partner’s relationship history?
Most therapists will likely ask to meet with each of you individually. Understanding both of your personal relationship histories is an important part to developing a sense of what you bring to the table. If you’ve been hurt in the past, or if you’ve been betrayed in a relationship, this can impact your capacity to trust your current partner.
9) How did your parents relate to one another?
As children, we learn what it means to be in a relationship by observing our parent’s relationships (either with each other or with other partners). If we are exposed to relationships that are characterized by mutual trust, respect and acceptance, we are likely to seek the same in our own relationships. If relationships were more volatile, we might expect or accept relationships for ourselves that are marked by more painful emotions.
10) What is your individual attachment style?
As children, did your parents or caregivers make you feel secure? If you were upset or distressed, did your caregivers respond to you with reassurance and acceptance? Or were you met with hostility and criticism? Or a combination of both? Your individual attachment style formed in childhood impacts how you, as an adult, emotionally commit to your relationship.
11) What is the communication style in your relationship?
Often, communication dynamics develop in relationships that repeat themselves. In many cases, one partner seeks out emotional connection, wants to address outstanding issues and talk through painful emotions while the other is more avoidant of confrontation and reluctant to engage as it can be painful to do so. Understanding the dynamic that exists in your relationship can be an important part of your ‘emergency response plan’.
“The details of what you are fighting over are negligible compared to your innermost experiences begging to be heard.” – Sevin Phillips, MFT
Your relationship can be a place of safety and security in the midst of the storms that life brings. Finding the right therapist can help you and your partner create a relationship that protects, validates and values you as individuals.