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Mountains

 

The Practice of Compassion

is a Shared Responsibility

Couples Counseling

Couples Counseling is an important resource for working with relationship challenges and changes, offering the opportunity to transform conflict, destructive patterns and old defenses into a path for healing. A well-trained couples counselor doesn’t “take sides” but instead is “on the side of” the relationship, on the look-out for places where empathy bridges can be built or rebuilt, so that both partners can feel heard, seen and valued. The couples counselor helps to create a “safe container” to address difficult issues and the difficult feelings that go with unresolved conflict. Each session becomes a learning lab, a place to reflect and grow individually and as a couple.

When a couple in trouble, they usually aren’t functioning from their “best selves.” Feeling hurt, vulnerable or angry, either partner may demonstrate a diminished capacity “to listen so their partner can speak, and speak so their partner can listen.” The felt sense of “us” seems missing or significantly at-risk.

Sometimes external stresses beyond a couple’s control have overwhelmed one or both of the partner’s resilience and capacity for self regulation- the ability to navigate fluctuations of energy, arousal and deep emotion. Under stress, we can more easily fall back to unhealthy strategies for getting our needs met. This can show up in behaviors such as bullying, isolating, pretending, shutting down, having an affair, or engaging in addictive behaviors. These destructive coping strategies create their own consequences, making it even more difficult for partners to be open, emotionally honest, compassionate and responsive - to their own needs and the needs of their partners. Long-term conflict or unresolved trauma can result in defensive patterns such as withdrawal, criticism, defensiveness and contempt.  Our tendency under stress, is to blame- to point out what our partner is doing that hurts us, without curiosity for how our partners may also be struggling with behaviors we are engaged in.

We long to be close, to love and be loved, yet so often we feel alone even within our most intimate relationships. We don’t always know what the “hard work of love“ entails. Each partner comes to the relationship with their own history. Sometimes that includes past relational trauma. Unresolved trauma has an impact on our capacity to trust and to function in many areas that affect our relational capacity. Couples therapy can help identify triggers to past trauma and the intricate dance of interlocking triggers. With couples counseling, new keys to healing and growth can emerge as we slow down and bring mindful attention, to the present moment and to the process. Slowing down helps each partner gain insight into themselves and their partner. Couples counseling can be an extraordinary pathway for personal healing work.  By finding new keys we can open new doors.

I have worked with couples for over 35 years. My theoretical orientation sits at the intersection of developmental neurobiology, attachment theory, depth psychology and contemplative practice. To begin, I often teach some self-regulation skills to help reduce volatility and support each partner to be able to become more “present” and learn how to  return to a calmer star of mind when triggered. I think we can safely say, there is nothing like being in an intimate relationship for getting triggered! But if we can learn to manage our own self-regulation skillfully, we can more easily address unresolved conflict with compassion, awareness and flexibility.

I love working with couples who are committed to characterological change, each taking their own responsibility for their part in the “hard work of love.” I would be honored to work with you!

Let’s get started with an initial consultation to see whether I might be a good fit for your couples counseling needs.

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