Linda J. Engelman, Marriage & Family Therapist

Helping Couples Through Difficult Times

Linda J. Engelman, Marriage and Family Therapist

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Couples Therapy Moving Too Slowly?
10 Tips to Accelerate Your Progress


© 2014, by Linda J. Engelman, Licensed MFT
You may print & distribute this article as long as the author's byline and copyright are included.

TIP #1

It sounds so basic, but couples who go home from therapy and don't talk about things until the next week's session, are bound to feel like not much is changing. Want to propel things in a forward motion? Here are some ways to integrate your weekly sessions into your daily interactions:

  • Sharing "aha" moments can be very connecting! Example: "I had this moment in yesterday's session where I realized that when you are complaining about my anger, it's not that you want to nag me, but that you are really longing for the 'nicer, more loving' me."

  • Take Action! Start having some fun together! So many of my clients want to cop out by saying "we just don't have enough time...our lives are so busy." I always refer them to the interview with Michelle Obama who says (about her husband Barack), that as busy as he is leading the country, he still takes the time to tuck her into bed every night. (SERIOUSLY!!) Now if there's anyone that could use the excuse "I'm just too busy," he's the guy. And yet, he doesn't. He may be the leader of the free world, but he still takes a moment to tuck his wife in at bedtime. So, no, you're not too busy.

  • Let your partner know about a moment in session where you felt more empathy than normal! Example: "When you were telling the therapist about how I make you my last priority, I started to really get it for the first time."

  • Let your partner know where you felt stuck! "I noticed every time you talked about my ex, I started feeling defensive. I'm not sure what that's about, but I recognized that it was getting in the way of me wanting to be close to you."

TIP #2

Create your own homework assignment. Don't wait for your therapist to assign you something to do this week. Instead, make it more meaningful by coming up with something you want to practice. Think about the places you got stuck in session, and then plan to address these during the week. You don't need to share your homework plan with your partner. Just start doing things differently, experiment, try on a new behavior or attitude, and observe the impact.

TIP #3

Express more empathy in session. Even if you don't agree with all of what your partner is saying, there surely must be SOMETHING you can validate. The more things you can find to genuinely empathize with, the faster you will start rebuilding trust and positive feelings. The key here is to be genuine. Your partner will know the difference if you're expressing empathy simply to please your therapist.

TIP #4

If your partner takes a risk in session, becomes vulnerable with you, REACH BACK. Try not to miss the moment. It could be one of those amazing, connecting moments that catapult the therapy into high-gear. If your partner's risk-taking is met with rejection, or stonewalling, you may not see such vulnerable behavior again for a while.

TIP #5

Don't waste your therapy sessions dealing with the "argument of the week." Coming in each week, recounting the details of your latest disagreement (hoping that the therapist will take your side) often hinders the progress of therapy. It shifts the focus away from the deeper work in favor of useless debate.

Here's a better approach. Before session, try to figure out what it is about this week's argument that has a similar thread to other disagreements you've had. What common cycle or pattern is at play again? What cycle has hijacked the two of you again, and what vulnerable feelings did each of you avoid as you "threw sand" at each other? The answers to these questions will be fertile ground for discussion and will be much more likely to move things in a forward direction.

TIP #6

Start treating your partner the way you would if you were happy and fulfilled, if you were feeling all of those wonderful emotions you long for. Sometimes simply "acting as if" can generate the kinds of close and connected feelings that may launch you into a more positive cycle.

TIP #7

Read Dr. Sue Johnson's book HOLD ME TIGHT. I trained with Sue, and I can promise you that her book is the best way to begin to understand your relationship. I always recommend that my clients read the book together, not alone. Read it out loud to each other, or each of you read a chapter and then discuss how it impacts you.

TIP #8

In therapy sessions, talk about the things you're noticing in yourself, rather than what you do not like about your partner. Experiment with what it's like to come in to session talking things you notice that you do, things you wish you could change, ways you've caught yourself being difficult or stubborn this week. This shift alone is likely to accelerate the therapy by leaps and bounds.

TIP #9

Let your therapist know whether he or she is hitting the mark (or not). After all, this is YOUR therapy, and YOUR life. The therapist is there to guide you, but does not have all of the answers. Practice good communication with your therapist to ensure better, more productive sessions.

TIP #10

Work on changing the negative tapes running in your head. If you find yourself frequently thinking "this will never get better," or "I'll never get the feelings back again," or "my partner just can't change," you're going to sabatoge the therapy. People generally live up to your expectations....expect your partner to fail, and they probably will! Have a little faith. See what happens when you allow yourself to dream, hope, expect, believe, and look forward to. Be present to the possibility of change.

Remember, sometimes the obstacle is the path.

Linda Engelman, MFT, practices Emotionally Focused Therapy (a scientifically backed model of therapy developed by Dr. Sue Johnson). This framework of couples therapy effectively helps couples understand and break out of their negative cycles/patterns. In the safe space of therapy, couples begin to have corrective experiences that can lead to a lifetime of bonding and safety, vulnerability and secure connection.

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Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, MFC#46255
Psychotherapy and Counseling Services for Individuals, Couples, & Families

Office Located in San Ramon, California
(Contra Costa County, San Francisco, East Bay Area)

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