100 Marriage Retreats and Couples Therapy Intensives… What We’ve Learned
3 Myths and 10 Revelations
About Relationships and Couples Therapy
By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD
June 2020 – This month we celebrate the successful completion of 100 Connections intensives. Connections marriage retreats and couples therapy intensives are nationally recognized and rated as the #1 marriage retreat in Florida.
You can learn a great deal about one couple – one relationship – during a full day or weekend intensive therapy program. With the completion of 100 Connections intensives we have learned a great deal about relationships and couples therapy in general. We summarize these findings with 3 myths and 10 revelations about relationships and couples therapy.
3 Myths About Relationships
Relationships should be easy.
Many people believe their relationship isn’t right for them if there are too many problems or too much conflict. Relationships are not easy, but chronic distress and struggle is avoidable. All couples co-create the relationship they have together. Couples can create love, positive connection, and partnership. Or they can create negative reactive patterns. Disappointment and conflict are inevitable at times. Suffering is optional. And with a little effort, relationship repair actually works.
Relationships take a lot of work.
Not true – they take a lot of love. If you’re working too hard in a distressed relationship, it’s not because it takes a lot of work. It’s because there isn’t enough love, empathy, acceptance, and forgiveness. Some effort is required to maintain loving connection, but it can be a labor of love.
Good communication is the key to a good relationship.
Many couples begin therapy by saying that “Our problem is that we just don’t communicate.” In fact, most people communicate quite clearly, in words and deeds. Even the great shut down (or the silent treatment) communicates volumes. Talking incessantly about problems just makes matters worse. You probably know exactly what your partner thinks and feels even when you don’t talk about it. And vice-versa. And couples therapy that emphasizes communication skills and empathic forms of dialog usually fails. The problem isn’t a lack of communication – it’s a lack of loving connection and partnership.
10 Revelations from 100 Couples Therapy Intensives
Your Thoughts and Feelings About Your Relationship is a Story – Not a Fact
Your beliefs, feelings, and opinions are subjective. This is your story, about yourself, your spouse or partner, and your relationship. These stories are representational – they represent something about reality – but it is your subjective view about reality. Your personal story about your relationship determines outcomes. For example, when you believe you are right, you make your partner wrong. The outcome is self-evident – your partner feels blamed or judged and gets angry or distances. And that gives you more ammunition to be right. Your story continues to be reinforced in this manner.
Relationships Don’t Heal Themselves
And waiting for your partner to change is a losing strategy. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see happen.” Many couples wait too long to get help, and these problems will not magically go away. Studies show that couples therapy works. And we’ve found that couples therapy intensives and retreats outperform regular, weekly couples therapy. More is accomplished in less time. Traditional couples therapy requires a minimum of 3-6 months with weekly sessions. One weekend intensive often provides better results.
Expectations are Premeditated Resentments
The longer you wait for your partner to change, the more you become disappointed and angry. Your expectations belong to you – not your partner. Most of the couples we see are stuck on the victim triangle. They usually start in the victim position – hurt, mistreated, abandoned, unappreciated, unloved, abused. From this position they blame their partners for their misfortune, not recognizing how they participate – even create – this role. The resentment builds and they become persecutors (active or passive-aggressive). For more information about the victim triangle, including the third position of rescuer, please see my article.
Your Choices Determine Your Outcomes
The healthy alternative to being stuck on the victim treadmill is responsible choice. In our Connections intensives we talk about your Adult self. In my self-help model “Who’s In Charge?” we have 4 primary internal parts – Inner Child, Inner Critic, Teenager, and Adult. All of us have a loving and responsible Adult self. The Adult choice is to do everything possible to be the partner you would want in a relationship. Alternatively, you can choose to end the relationship. Have you truly done your best? To love and be loved is a choice.
Your Relationships are Recreations of Your Childhood
Our Connections couples are mostly unaware of the many ways their early life experiences contribute to their relationship distress. They are usually quite surprised and enlightened to discover how they recreate these early experiences in their relationships today. We first learn about relationships – how to “do” relationship – growing up. We unconsciously learn the language of emotional reactivity, how to deal with feelings and cope with distress, and how to relate to others during early childhood. Most of our beliefs (often unconscious) about ourselves, other people, and relationships are formed when we were too young to do any fact-checking. As a result, we literally recreate childhood experiences (such as abandonment and abuse) in our adult lives today.
Equality and Responsibility are Essential
Millennials have the right idea. Research studies have revealed a sea change in attitudes about marriage and equality. In the past, the man of the family was in charge. This traditional patriarchal model often seemed to work effectively because women had no voice and few civil rights. Millennials view the distribution of power much differently. More men stay at home or contribute greatly to child rearing and other domestic responsibilities. And more women are college educated with full-time careers. And the good news is this works. Millennials report significantly higher levels of marital satisfaction than ever before.
This dynamic of equality applies to emotional and relational patterns as well. Healthy, loving partnerships are created by couples who are equally responsible for what happens in the relationship.
Couples Therapists Facilitate and Teach – They Cannot Fix the Problem
As therapists, we can shine a light, encourage compassion and empathy, and provide some useful information, guidance, and tools. We can provide almost everything necessary for couples to heal, grow, and to create the relationship they desire. In that sense we are providers. But we can’t fix the problem. What we can do is give couples what they need to move forward on the path they choose.
Your Goals Activate Your Outcome
We’ve found that your true intentions will determine the path your relationship will take. We ask our couples to articulate and describe their goals for the marriage. It’s not unusual for one partner to want a better marriage while the other partner is considering the possibility of separation or divorce. An important goal to consider is personal growth and development.
The Problem is the Pattern – Not the Person
The problem in relationships is the negative emotionally reactive pattern that develops over time. This relationship dance can be clearly identified and mapped out. The dance includes emotional and behavioral reactions, unmet needs, and perceptions of self and other. Once the pattern is identified, we can help couples reverse course. The reactive pattern can be stopped at any point, and relationship repair methods can be introduced.
Couples Need More Than Just Tools
“We just want some tools to fix our problems.” Our Connections program provides a complete Workbook for Couples that includes exercises, detailed information about relationships, and plenty of tools. We talk about the most important steps in creating loving partnership and complete an exercise that teaches couples how to reverse course. But all the tools in the world will not work in the absence of love, commitment, responsibility, and partnership.
We deeply appreciate the opportunity to work with so many couples over the years. Couples who have openly shared their deepest feelings and concerns. Couples who have trusted us enough to be open and vulnerable through this healing process. We’ve learned as much or more from them as they have from us. And thank you to all the therapists who have trusted us with their referrals.
For more information about our Connections program, please contact us today. We continue to provide Connections intensives even during the Covid-19 pandemic.