by Dr. Anthony Levitas
In marital or relationship counseling, we work to assess how severe the conflict is between the parties and then develop a plan of treatment best suited to their needs. Typically, the couple attends the first session together. Information is gathered. Goals, agendas and expectations are discussed. After the first session, individual histories of the couple need to be taken This can be done either together with both parties present or separate, depending on what the couple is most comfortable with. However, sharing in this process can give each member of the couple unique insight into their partner.
Communication is often problematic in couples seeking therapy. We help couples improve their communication by teaching active listening techniques and how to break destructive patterns of communication that the couple may not be aware of. Unresolved anger is also common. The analogy we like the best is called the "Bitter Bank." The Bitter bank occurs when one or both parties feel they have been treated unfairly or wronged in some way and the conflict never gets resolved. When this pattern is repeated over time, a wealthy account grows in the Bitter Bank, so that even when a small issue arises, it may be over-reacted to and responded to with venom, contempt and bitterness. We strongly encourage couples with this dynamic to help each other empty out their "Bitter Banks." Couples often have what we call "Toxic Issues." These are areas of discussion which repeatedly lead to impasse or conflict. While these can be numerous, our experience tells us that the five most common "Toxic Issues" are related to :
Once these have been identified with the couple, we help them to find alternative solutions to approaching these issues. Marital therapy is not a process of blame, but one of trying to apply new strategies to patterns of interaction which appear to be stuck. Therefore, when working with couples, we expect both parties to accept fifty percent of the responsibility for the state of the relationship, and fifty percent of the solution, unless there is some kind of overt physical or emotional abuse, or if one of the parties is abusing alcohol or drugs.
As veterans of marital therapy and marriage, we appreciate that a successful marriage takes hard work, dedication, commitment, sacrifice and acceptance. We know there is no easy fix or magic bullet. However, we can provide our expertise and offer couples sincere hope that things can be better when both parties are willing to work together.