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Couples can bridge conflict and find support through couples counseling

Susan was getting fed up. Her husband John’s compulsive need to have a spotless house was causing increasing conflict. If they had guests, he’d clean before, during and after the party. The kids no longer invited friends over, because he’d get upset if they weren’t always neat. It was just one example of his obsessive compulsive behavior that he was working on in therapy, but Susan was losing patience.

They found ways to work on their problems together through counseling with a marriage and family therapist (MFT) who is specially trained in couples dynamics.

“Couples therapy is a good idea whenever couples need help with issues such as communication, kids, money or sex, or when one of the partners is dealing with depression or another illness,” says Cathy Hastings, PhD., a licensed marriage and family therapist who worked with Susan and John.

“If one partner is living with bipolar disorder, for example, the other may feel helpless or resentful,” says Hastings. “He may have had to take charge of the family while she’s been unable to get out of bed. It helps to be able to talk about all that, to be able to communicate feelings, to look at what’s worked and what hasn’t.”

They each want to be more understanding and supportive of each other. “It’s important for both of them to become educated about the illness and learn techniques for coping.”

Couples therapy, or Marriage and Family Therapy, is typically brief, solution-focused and designed with specific goals. Research has found that marriage and family therapy is as effective, and in some cases more effective, than standard and/or individual treatments for many mental health problems.

MFTs treat a wide range of serious clinical problems including depression, anxiety, marital and child-parent problems within the context of the family system. Their credentials include graduate training (a Master’s or Doctoral degree) in marriage and family therapy and at least two years of clinical experience. They are licensed by their state.

Compromise and understanding are keys to resolving conflict
With the guidance of their therapist, Susan and John have come to have a new understanding of the other’s point of view. She’s trying to understand how important it is to him to have the kitchen clean before he comes to bed. He knows that she wants to relax on the weekend after a busy week. The strategies they’ve worked out with their therapist start with baby steps.

“This weekend, they are having friends over,” says Hastings. “John has agreed to clean the house only before the party and after their guests leave.  In between, he’s going to try to relax and enjoy the evening.”

Susan now recognizes how hard he’s trying and is becoming more supportive. John is beginning to understand his wife’s frustration. Feeling like she’s “on his side,” he’s finding it easier to work at changing his behavior.

They both feel more hopeful about the future.

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