Relationship Therapy is no longer a taboo. Educated couples do understand the importance of stability , financial security, children and sex in their relationship. In a tete-e-tete with
Dr. Shefali Batra, she shares interesting things about relationship therapy, treatments, after-effects and how couples can benefit from it.
What is Relation Therapy?
Most people spend much of their lives in close relationships to others. Romantic relationships add meaning to existence and are a source of deep fulfilment and are essential sources of support, love, health and well-being. They, however, demand a good deal of hard work, dedication, and compromise; and could face frequent challenges, thus making them a source of stress too. Unresolved or ill-resolved conflicts plague the relationship by allowing tension to mount and faith to crumble.
Relationship therapy is the art and science of making relationships work. It could focus on understanding interpersonal communication styles, interacting positively with each other (verbal and physical), correcting irrational expectations, and building a sense of dependability and accountability in the couple.
The severity of the problem and best approach for the couples
Although it appears abstract and intangible, relationship wellness can be objectively measured. There are numerous building blocks that strengthen romantic relationships. By creating and identifying the framework of wellness, we can conclude a relationship score card really, that describes a given relationship’s strength, and delineates areas which can be worked upon.
Wellness measurement tools are used that assess variables like communication style, relationship satisfaction, sexual contentment, sexual communication, partner reliability and dependability, and relationship cost benefit analysis, to name a few. The information obtained from these tests throws light on the couple’s perception of their relationship and behavioural aspects of their partner.
All of this information helps me understand how one or both the partners are impacted by the stressor(s) and where the relationship is headed. Some key questions I always ask the couple are –
– Do you think this will work?
– Do you want to make it work?
– Are you willing to change?
– Do you still love your partner?
These basic questions throw light on the severity of the problem and the action plan to mend the relationship springs from there.
The treatment approach transforms as therapy progresses. Initial phases are more of supportive listening and empathizing. Based on the client’s pace, they are engaged with more directive and engaging self-awareness and self-change protocols.
Assignments and exercises to the couples
Like any medical illness, relationship problems are unique to the couple hence the healing or mending process is also much customized. Some exercises based on the requirements of the particular couple are given. These are explained to the couple in session and a detailed protocol is sent on email so that they have ready access to the process of adopting these tools to fix the issues.
These exercises include introspection and awareness, setting one’s personal goals, setting relationship goals, monitoring one’s own mood, identifying conflict triggers, communicating assertively, avoiding personalization, clarifying misunderstandings, building interpersonal respect, replacing the ‘I’ with ‘we’, going out on a first date, mending nonverbal cues and taking a short time out.
These couples are advised weekly follow ups to see the couple’s compliance, monitor their successes, identify hurdles in self change and modify the strategies to overcome these hurdles.
Suggestions for couples to make an effort
“I always tell couples that-Two happy people make a happy couple. Two frustrated people make a frustrated couple.”
People hope that their partner will change and resultantly the relationship will change, but they rarely have the energy or commitment to change themselves. The world we need to change is actually within us. People get frustrated or angry with circumstances that are beyond their control. They believe if they can control these situations, they will be happy. But this isn’t always feasible. We can’t control the traffic or the emergency meetings or an illness in the family or the poor performance of a child in school, loss of a partner’s job or what a third person told our partner that made us feel insecure. We can’t change what’s happening outside us but we can work on how that affects what is happening inside us. This single thought can help couples take active steps towards mending their relationship.
Einstein said, ‘We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.’
Some patterns over the time which are common in most of the couples
Some toxic emotional and behavioural patterns I have noticed in couples.
– Overdependence where one cannot think for oneself, and relies on their partner for all life decisions as well as happiness. This strains the active partner while the dependent one feels neglected and uncared for.
– Possessive partners can get paranoid and controlling. A lot of effort goes into proving one’s fidelity and commitment, and as hard as one may try, the relationship crumbles from its root owing to lack of trust.
– Passive aggression relationships are constantly fighting a cold war. Sarcasm kills communication and even when one insists it was in good humour, the partner who was taunted gradually withdraws and the relationship gets ill.
– Lack of communication is by far the deadliest virus that distances couples from one another and closes channels for conflict resolution. I know of couples who choose to withdraw to keep the peace but are unable to get back as they treaded too far.
– Lack of accountability enables couples to renounce all personal responsibility and makes them believe that the other one partner is at fault. Even while in therapy, they tend to place it on the therapist but refuse to work on themselves!”
Time needed for recovery
“A medicine for headache usually takes 20 minutes to show effect while antibiotics take two days. Antidepressants need four weeks and cancer medicines can take over several months. Therapy response for emotional issues unfortunately does not have an absolute predictability quotient as multiple variables and confounding factors impact the response. The degree of self-awareness, willingness to change, co-existent anxiety or depression, ongoing stressors, the appropriateness of the therapy approach all impact how a couple responds. I have seen rapid changes in cognitively inclined couples who have managed to mend their differences with minimal outside help. But I also deal with couples with deep rooted and strongly held negative thinking patterns and ongoing stressors which might need several weeks and months of ongoing therapy. At an average, I think 2 months of weekly sessions is a good window to start seeing change.
After weeks and months of deep-rooted cognitive analysis, couples are already empowered to objectively identify variables that gauge their progress. Some of these include but are not limited to-Frequency of arguments, Mood state monitoring, Objective questionnaires, Communication in session and Corroboration by the partner.”
(In words of Dr. Shefali Batra is a Senior Consultant Psychiatrist and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapist. She’s the Founder of MINDFRAMES and Co-Founder of InnerHour.)