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Couples Therapy for Dummies

Nature and nurture are only two strikes

Immature love is loving someone for what they do right;
mature love is loving someone is spite of what they do wrong.

Couples therapy for dummies is like the series of the same name not to be disparaging, but to offer an approach to therapy that is accessible and doesn’t require deep thinking or deep insights (something that most people find too difficult to use and apply) to be effective (I wrote PTSD for Dummies for the very same reason). On the other hand it is not for couples who are so foolish as to deny it when they need help or too blameful to fight it when it is given to them.  It is also not for newly trained therapists who feel they need to listen to and indulge finger pointing and stupidity for fear of ticking off their clients.

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After years of seeing partners who were too blaming and excuse making, or who saw themselves as victims with no responsibility for any of their problems…  And after becoming exhausted at stepping in to stop them from acting on a self-destructive or couple destructive impulse, couples therapy has become much simpler and clearer.  So much so, that I refer to it as Clarity Based Couples Therapy (CBCT).

CBCT is not for everyone.  It is not for couples in whom rather than being committed to making their relationship stronger and better, each or either of the partners has to be right and has to get their way.

It’s natural for people to want to be right and get their way and to be disappointed when they don’t.  It’s even natural for some people to need to be right and get their way and to be upset when they don’t.  Each of those can be tolerated, talked through and even gotten over.

However whenever one or the other partner has to be right and get their way, anything that threatens them with either being wrong or not getting their way will be experienced as an assault and they will do anything they can to defend their position, resist and fight back.

The focus of therapy then becomes coaching each partner to react to the inevitable disagreements, disappointments, upsets and frustrations in their relationship by not becoming either upset or angry at or shut down or avoidant of each other.  It also involves not beating up themselves.

Instead it involves teaching and coaching each partner on how to confront and fully resolve conflicts as they arise.  As it turns out, most people avoid conflict not because they lack the will to deal with it, but because they lack a way to do it.  Even more apropos, they believe that confronting conflict will only make it worse and have close to zero confidence that it will make it better.

As partners learn the skills to effectively deal with disagreement, disappointment, upset and make things better without making them worse, each develops emotional toughness, self-respect and self-esteem.  Add to effective conflict resolution skills tools derived from mindfulness and positive psychology and any motivated and couple can move to a shared future that more than makes up for any emotional baggage they still have from their genes (nature) and child rearing (nurture).

Nature and nurture are still only two strikes

As they both share victories with each other and live into their shared future, they create and build a relationship that they both begin to take pride in.  Within a short period of time others start to notice the positive changes and when you go from a couple who is embarrassed by each other to one that other couples want to emulate, the change is phenomenal.

But as I said at the beginning, it is not for everybody.  People who have to be right and have to get their way need not apply.

Mark Goulston, MD, is the author of the new bestselling book Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone.

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