Couples Therapy – Can you do it yourself?

When Marcus Barzun, US Ambassador to the UK, mentioned he and his wife attend couples therapy, he probably did not expect to hit the headlines or be splashed into a full page spread in the Times (Tuesday 5th July, 2016). Maybe coming from America where ‘therapy’ is generally more accepted as part of a normal approach to wellbeing,

he failed to realise that we Brits would rush to the conclusion that he was on the brink of divorce. But if you are looking at his picture and dreaming of being the next Mrs Ambassador – think again. Mr and Mrs do this to stay happy, not to get happy.

Top tips for a long relationship

Professor Janet Ribstein has written much on the secrets of a long marriage. In her book The Best Kept Secret, she sets out her findings from years of research. Apparently, the four secret ingredients to a happy and long relationship are:

  1. Focus – eat, play and go to bed together

  2. Show your gratitude – say thank you

  3. Balance the affection – talking for her, sex for him

  4. Pleasure – do things together

Oh, if it were all that simple!

What can go wrong?

Maybe the answer is in balance. Research by Gottman looked at the balance of positive versus negative feedback in relationships and came to the conclusion that he could predict divorce when the ratio tipped towards 5:1. The research showed, that at the start of a heady romance, couples tended to have a balance of five positive comments to one negative. Do you remember those days when he told you that you looked great, your cooking was sublime, you looked even cuter without makeup, that you were the most interesting woman he had even met, when he laughed at your terrible jokes? Yes, there might be the small comment about leaving loads of makeup in his bathroom, but it was not an issue. At the same time you told him and showed him he was strong, handsome, funny, intelligent, a great catch, and the wet towels he kept throwing on the bed were tolerable. Seven years later – where are you? Are you more likely to tell him that he is late home again, that he never helps around the house, that he has eaten the ingredients for your new recipe, that the kids are not just your responsibility, that he has put on weight, that he never talks to you and you don’t do anything together… oh, and when are you going to have a night of passion instead of him falling asleep in front of the TV? If he dresses up for a meeting you might tell him he looks smart – if you are not too engrossed in feeding the dog and getting your lippy on. The balance has tipped.

Sound familiar? 

What do you do?

Well couples therapy might be the answer. Google search relationship therapy and you will get a long list of counsellors, clinics and worksheets. Even on-line relationship therapy is available. However, with sessions costing between £100 and £400 a session, such investment is more than many can afford. Admittedly, a few thousand spent talking through a counsellor is cheaper than divorce, but it is still a lot to invest. In addition, many men tend look at the need for therapy as failure and the thought of opening their heart in front of a sympathetic counsellor is the equivalent to mental root canal without pain relief.

So we have trawled the advisory websites and books to see what you can do to tip the balance of your relationship back to positive and climb back up that slippery slope.

The six top tips for relationship-rescue

  1. Face it. If you are in the negative balance it is probably quite a long time since you sat down and admitted to each other that things are not great. Yes, you can wait for a crisis – illness, an affair, a death in the family to make you both wake up – but an early reality check is better. You need to address this positively. A ‘we need to talk’ threat is not going to get you far. A straight statement of ‘I would like us to get back to having fun’ will get you further. Then address the issue without accusing. Rather than a list of complaints, say what you miss. Then get agreement to do something.

  2. Make time. Top of your list is to make time for each other. You probably used to be each other’s best friend – so when did that stop? If you are making more time for people outside of your relationship (kids aside) then you are not making it a priority. Don’t overdo things too early – you have to get to know each other again. Opt for ‘dates’ in which you both do something you enjoy – and we mean both. If you are not willing to watch sport, don’t expect him to revel in shopping.

  3. Do something different. They say if you want life to change then change it. If your relationship is in a rut of work, home, cleaning, kids and TV; if he races for the computer when he used to race you to the bed then you need to impose change. It will not happen by chance – you need to take the steps. What did you do in the early years that you have stopped? When did you last go away for a weekend? When did you last go out to eat? Try it again.

  4. Get close. Has passion given way to comfy pyjamas? They say a relationship without sex is just house sharing (though that seems a little extreme – there are many couples in blissful celibacy). Get touching. If you are thinking night sweats and cellulite, then tell the truth. Your honest vulnerability will make him feel more appreciated and needed.

  5. Laugh. There is nothing more bonding than a shared chuckle. Be playful, tease, joke about yourself, go to a movie – it doesn’t matter. Fun is attractive and bonding.

  6. Compliment. Remember Gottman and reverse the ratio. Men are far more vulnerable than women under the skin. While we are talking about menopause and staying sassy, they are worrying about balding, beer gut, erectile dysfunction, whether they are still attractive, whether women can still fancy them, if they have made enough money – and on and on. Pat that ego - it won’t hurt you and it will help him.

So, in short, if you feel your relationship is in a rut and in need of a little TLC – then therapy may be the answer. But try a little back to basics first. You might just find that a bit of attention is all you and he need.

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