By Ellen F. Wachtel PhD JD, Paul L. Wachtel PhD
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Additional resources for The Heart of Couple Therapy: Knowing What to Do and How to Do It
Most couples are together because they do share some fundamental values and assumptions despite differences in personalities and interests. Couple therapy can help them develop a “we” narrative by bringing to the foreground those similarities and consonances that they take so for granted that they are scarcely noticed, though they may be the very ground of the relationship. Perhaps they have similar sensibilities, humor, work ethics, attitudes toward creativity, or fundamental values, to name but a few of the characteristics that often go unnoticed in a couple’s desire to define themselves through differences.
Topics that had been off the table may no longer seem so dangerous because the couple has experienced the therapist as building on their strengths and are no longer apprehensive that sessions will spiral downward into negativity and mutual accusations. But if the couple shuts the door on what the therapist has raised, it is extremely important not only to back off but also to help the couple feel good about all that they have accomplished—not bad about what they have chosen not to tackle. Feeling good about the work also makes it much more likely that they will come in again if what has been left unresolved becomes more of a problem.
I’ve heard many people say that they aren’t interested in having sex because their spouse doesn’t shower often enough, or has bad breath, or goes to sleep in a dirty, ripped t-shirt or sweat suit. But even when couples do make some effort to stay physically attractive to one another, they may make little effort to be attractive in other ways. Couples are often surprised by and may initially object to my suggestion that being attractive to one another needs to be a day-in and day-out undertaking for the rest of their life together and entails more than one’s physical appearance.