When Is Couples Therapy Not Safe?
In order for couple’s therapy to be effective it needs to be safe. Safety, in couple’s therapy, is vital because without it couples will not open up. In fact, what I mean by “safe” is having a sense that you can be open and vulnerable without fear. Of course, most of us have a normal level of fear when it comes to our vulnerability. The distinction is between that normal level of fear and fear associated with what many couples therapist’s refer to as the 3 A’s. They are: Affairs, Abuse, and Addiction. When there is active and on-going affairs, abuse, and/or addiction it undermines a basic level of safety needed to conduct effective couple’s therapy. In short, couple’s therapy is not safe when one or all of the 3 A’s are present.
The 3 A’s
When there is an active affair it is not safe enough to engage in couple’s therapy. This does not mean that a couple where a partner is having an affair cannot attend therapy. What it does mean, however, is that unless and until the affair is over any couple’s therapist will be limited in what he or she can do to help. Sometimes therapy can help the partner to end the affair, set up safety mechanisms to help with the process of rebuilding trust, and assist in the overall healing process.
Sometimes a partner is not willing to end the affair. Couple’s therapy in this type of situation is almost always unproductive. Crossroads Counseling offers Couple’s Counseling for One for situation in which this is the case. By working individually with a couple’s therapist you will be able to process through your own thoughts and feelings and identify what you want or need in the relationship.
When the affair is over couple’s therapy can be helpful. A couple’s therapist who is trained specifically in infidelity and affair recovery can help the couple given that now that the affair is over there is a greater sense of safety.
It’s not hard to imagine why the presence of any kind or any level of abuse makes couple’s therapy unsafe. A couple’s therapists goal, especially an Emotionally Focused Couple’s Therapist, is to facilitate deeper and more meaningful emotional connection in a marriage or couple’s relationship. If a person is not physically, sexually, verbally, or emotionally safe there is no way they are going to feel safe enough to be vulnerable with their core emotions and needs.
Individual counseling is typically the best approach when there is abuse. Counseling that focuses in on anger managment and/or domestic violence for the offender is necessary. Individual counseling for a victim of abuse is also a very good idea.
Once there is basic safety couple’s counseling for couples who are no longer in unsafe situations can be productive and helpful. Focusing on understanding your and your partner/spouse triggers, patterns of interaction, and learning healthy ways of dealing with conflict and managing emotions can help in creating a happy and healthy relationship.
Couple’s therapy is not safe when there is an active addiction. It could be an addiction to a chemical substance, pornography, sex, gambling, shopping, or any of the types of addictions. The reason why it’s not safe is that trust, in couple’s therapy, is foundational. It takes time, consistency, and vulnerability to build trust. When it is broken continually through an active addiction it’s like going back to square one all over again.
Addiction counseling is necessary to help the addict overcome their addiction. When the addiction is under control a good couple’s therapist can help to rebuild the trust and also the emotional intimacy. Emotionally Focused Couple’s Therapy that focuses on creating a safe and secure bond between two people also helps to act as a buffer against future relapse. The idea here is that when a person has a safe and secure bond with someone they can turn to that person for help with their emotions and not the addiction.
Are You Ready for Couple’s Therapy?
If you are dealing with one of the 3 A’s and are not sure what steps you should take call our office at 623-680-3486 to schedule a complementary phone consultation with one of our couple’s therapists so we can help you navigate through the storm. You don’t have to be alone. We are here to help. There are some situations where a combination of individual and couple’s therapy at the same time can occur. Let us help you find out the best course of action for you and your relationship.