We all come to couples counseling for a variety of reasons. As a couples therapist, I often hear similar complaints from clients, “he just doesn’t listen to me,” or, “we fight all the time.” Also on the list, “we’ve stopped having sex,” or “can you just change her?” While couples counseling can be the perfect venue to give you tools and tips on how to communicate better, resolve conflict differently, liven up your sex life, and make important relational changes, there are a few things that will stop the process right in its tracks.
Untreated psychiatric disorders will make couples counseling incredibly difficult. If you’re struggling with depression, anxiety, ADHD or any other psychiatric disorder, it is imperative that you get individualized treatment, first. Treatment typically includes a thorough assessment by a specialized professional, either a psychiatrist or a therapist in that particular field of study. If you don’t get individualized treatment first, your couples therapist will give you tools and tips that either you’re unable to utilize (yet). Your therapy sessions will be met with either failed attempts or frustration. All things that you want to avoid as you venture down the vulnerable journey of couples therapy.
While it is the hopes of many clients to change their relationship, such as wanting better sex, more aliveness, stronger communication, less fighting, and so on – the very first step is to take a look at yourself. If you are struggling independently, your treatment comes first , before couples therapy.
One example to illustrate this point is the classic case of someone struggling with undiagnosed adult ADHD. One partner complains that the other is late, lacks of organization, has the inability to prioritize and is unaccountable. It is easy for the other to potentially pin this on characterological factors, saying things like, “he’s just like this,” or “he’s selfish and doesn’t think of me.” However, what if your partner has undiagnosed ADHD? Your partner could be struggling with something outside of their control.
Another excellent example to display the importance is that of undiagnosed depression. A partner may complain that their spouse “never gets out of bed,” is “irritable,” often is “tired and lacks motivation.” Again, these are all signs that could point to a diagnosis of depression – but what if your spouse is convinced that it is because “you just don’t care,” or “you’re lazy.” Your spouse will end up persecuting you on behaviors that may have be out of your control.
Clients struggling with reoccurring symptoms that seem out of the ordinary may need individualized treatment. Through a thorough assessment, skills and coaching, the client has the ability to make individual changes that will impact their relationship. Once the psychiatric disorder is stabilized, couples counseling can be extremely beneficial. Skills such as communication, conflict stabilization, sex, and intimacy issues can be addressed – the very ingredients that help couples and relationships have stronger and more intimate connections.
For more articles and information from Erika Boissiere, MFT – Founder of the Relationship Institute of San Francisco, please visit www.trisf.com or call 415-519-6446.