Couples therapy (or "marriage counseling") is one of my areas of specialization. At any given time, about 70% of my clients are couples experiencing a wide range of concerns and issues. The sections below describe the most common types of therapy I do with couples, but if you don't feel like you fit into these categories, don't let it stop you from calling or emailing to discuss further and see if we may be a fit. Chances are, I can either help you myself or I know someone with the expertise you need. I also include in most sections below informaiton about the researchers and writers whose work has informed my own. I encourage you to follow embedded links to samples of their work to get an idea of how it may inform couples therapy.
One of the best predictors for a long, healthy marriage is having both strong relationship skills and realistic expectations of marriage. My approach to premarital therapy is approximately 5 sessions, each lasting approximately 50 minutes. If purchased as a package at $700, I will include four essential books for a successful marriage at no cost (a $60 value). Each individual couple, of course, is free to determine the number of sessions that meets their needs. Generally the range is 3-8 sessions. Issues and topics addressed in premarital therapy include healthy communication and conflict resolution, management of changes in family of origin after marriage, sexual intimacy in a healthy marriage, and communication about money and finances. The Premarital Therapy Package also makes a wonderful wedding gift! My approach to premarital therapy is primarily informed by the work of John Gottman.
Early Intervention and Preventative Couples Therapy
Many couples meet, fall in love, and get married- only to discover that day to day married life can be challenging! Even if your parents' marriage was a near perfect model of marriage, talking together with your spouse about your intentional strategies for handling big and small challenges can set your marriage up for much success in the future. Many clients who seek early intervention therapy, though, express a similar theme: one or both spouses experienced their parents' divorce as a child and recognize that they want to do all they can to prevent a similar outcome in their own marriage. When you were not raised in a home with a healthy marriage as an example, very often the strategies you observed around you are not the ones you want to use in your own marriage. My approach to this type of couples therapy is primarily informed by Sue Johnson and John Gottman.
Life Transition Couples Therapy
Big changes in our lives, even if they are good changes, can bring about stress and anxiety. Relationships must adjust to these changes, and sometimes these adjustment processes can be difficult to navigate. Whether you have relocated, changed jobs, welcomed home a new child, or experienced a significant loss in life, couple therapy will focus on communication, emotional support, and maintaining a strong connection.
Couples Therapy Focused on Communication and Connection
This is by no means a distinct category of couples therapy, as almost all of the couples work I do really comes back to these two essential elements. Unlike some couples therapists, though, I will rarely attempt to teach you 'communication skills'. I find that most of my clients possess the basic communication skills needed to navigate life- they use these skills daily in work and other aspects of life. The challenges in couple communication are much more often due to other challenges: the inability of one or both partners to access and utilize those communication skills in intense emotional situations, unresolved individual issues (family of origin, past relationships, trauma and loss in history), unrealistic expectations of oneself or spouse, and other issues that result in a negative pattern of communication and interaction developing, evolving and deteriorating over time. The result, then, is an intense feeling of disconnection. The models of couples therapy I use are empirically supported as effective at changing these negative patterns, with long-lasting results when both partners are engaged and committed to understanding these patterns and their own roles in creating new, more healthy and positive patterns of communication and interaction. We are wired for connection- it is an essential element of the human experience. Your marriage can be the place where you experience the most meaningful, secure connections. My approach to couples therapy is guided by largely by my own clinical experience and informed by the work of Sue Johnson, John Gottman, and Brene Brown.
Couples Therapy after Infidelity
Affairs or infidelity come in a variety of forms- emotional, sexual, long-term, one-night stands, relationships with coworkers or other inner circle lovers, online connections, etc. Regardless of how the affair occurred, rebuilding afterwards is possible with commitment and a process appropriate for your specific circumstances. While there is no "one size fits all" approach for healing from infidelity, a therapeutic process guided by knowledge of the common stages experienced by couples in this process can be an incredibly powerful part of the healing process. Couples therapy will include both couple sessions and individual sessions with each spouse due to the vastly different needs and emotions often experienced by partners in this situation.
My approach to couples therapy after infidelity is informed by my own clinical experiences with this population (about 50% of couples I am seeing at any given time are at some stage of recovery from infidelity), as well as the work of Sue Johnson, Janis Abrahms Spring, and Esther Perel.
It is not uncommon for me to receive a phone call or email from someone inquiring about couples therapy, and quickly learn that at least one of the spouses is either threatening divorce or ambivalent about the future of the relationship. These 'couples on the brink' often do not find traditional marital therapy to be helpful, for a number of reasons, for example one or both partners may be holding back from leaning into the relationship enough to do the work required to produce meaningful changes or the therapist they are seeing may not be experienced or trained to work with couples in their situation. In response to the recognition that these couples needed a different model of intervention, Dr. Bill Doherty of the University of Minnesota's Marriage and Family Therapy program developed Discernment Counseling- a brief intervention (typically ranging from 1-5 sessions, with each session lasting 120-90 minutes) intended to help both spouses discern the future direction of their relationship: Path 1 is to remain in the status quo, Path 2 is to begin a divorce process (litigation or collaborative options explored), and Path 3 is to commit to a couples therapy process for a designated period of time before putting divorce on the table. The ultimate goals for both partners in this process are clarity about both what is really going on in their marriage and the roles they each play in the problems (and potential positive changes) and confidence in the ultimate decisions made about the relationship.
When a couple has made the decision to divorce, they often have many questions about how to proceed in the least traumatic way possible for their children and themselves. In what I call Divorce Therapy, I help divorcing couples with the immediate questions of how to proceed with a separation, how to tell their children about the divorce and support them through the process, and how to avoid the common mistakes that make divorce more difficult and traumatic for children. We also often focus on navigating the changes in the relationship between parents from spouses and partners to co-parents living separate lives. Divorce is the end of your marriage, but if you have children it is not the end of your relationship with your spouse.
Coparenting After Divorce
Immediately after a divorce is finalized, most often divorced parties have clarity about the 'big' questions of where the children will live, when each parent will be with the children, and who has rights to make important decisions about children's health and education. However, no divorce decree can include sufficient detail to guide many other decisions that parents must make for and about their children. Questions such as "At what age can my child watch a PG-13 movie?", "When will we stop having naps for our preschool aged child?", "At which friends' houses can our child spend the night and at what age?", "Who is paying for presents from Santa, and where does Santa stop?". These are often the kinds of issues that generate conflict and contempt between parents long after a divorce is finalized. Further, needs and schedules often need to change as children grow and change. Co-Parenting Therapy is often a much less expensive, and generally more helpful, alternative to engaging litigation or mediation to solve many coparenting challenges. In Co-parenting Therapy, I act as both an educator for parents regarding child development, and as a neutral party to guide discussions and resolution between divorced parents. My goal is rarely to just help parents solve a specific issue, though, but rather to be able to generalize the communication process and skills used in therapy to use in many other areas in the future.