In every relationship we cherish, one of the most profound challenges is to truly “see” the other person. It’s like peeling back the layers of an onion, observing how and why they process thoughts, feelings, and actions the way they do.
This journey, while enriching, is no small task. It demands us to let go of our personal biases, our past grievances, and navigate through our emotional upheavals. Even the most adept therapists might not consistently succeed in doing this with their clients, which leads us to the question: how can we hope to succeed in our everyday relationships?
Every relationship is unique, with its own set of rules co-created by the couple for harmony or discord. To this end, I find a Personality-Focused Therapeutic Approach incredibly effective when working with couples.
A large part of traditional couples therapy often hinges on how couples communicate with each other and and attachment styles. We now have pretty good evidence of what helps and hinders relationships, and communication is a big piece of the puzzle. Have a look at the following Communication Strategies proven to be the most useful for couples according to a 2022 piece of Research by Menelaos Apostolou and Maria Argyridou called “I Want Our Relationship to Last: Strategies That People Employ in Order to Improve Their Intimate Relationships”
How many of the strategies studied do you currently use to nourish and maintain your relationship?
- Discussing our problems together
- Trying to understand my partner’s needs
- Showing them my love
- Showing interest in my partner and their concerns/enthusiasms
- Taking on and learning from my partner’s feedback/criticism
- Building trust
- Creating experiences together
- Giving my partner more space
- Exercising self-control
- Making concessions and compromises
- Looking after myself
- Being less withdrawn and grumpy
- Looking at my shadow (self-improvement)
- Working on my physique/looks
The strategies, by the way, are listed in order of usefulness according to the 615 couples who road-tested them. I find it to be a rather magical list. Perhaps a list that might also be called: Do You Want To Make Yourself And Your Partner Happier and Have A Good Relationship? Well, Here’s How To Do It! Scientifically Proven!
Are these strategies simple to put into practice? No. Which is sometimes why it’s good to work on them with a therapist at your side.
These strategies also need to rest on some kind of foundational knowledge of yourself and your partner. Knowing what makes you, and them “tick” at the very deepest level of your psyches.
The good news is: you aren’t currently doing anything wrong. You’re being yourselves, with all the asymmetries that characterize us as individuals. But when another individual, with their own unique traits, is added to this mix, complexities, sometimes painful complexties inevitably emerge.
WHY RELATIONSHIPS STRUGGLE
Every relationship has its highs and lows, influenced by a variety of circumstances. One key underlying factor that often leads to irresolvable conflicts is a lack of understanding about the individual personality styles that propel the relationship.
Without a willingness to delve into what actually makes our partner the person (or person-ality) they are, is it any wonder we sometimes, or even often feel blindsided by them? As if our misalignment is either their fault, or ours. Truly seeing our partner, without projecting our personality style’s view however, might be one of the hardest but most rewarding pieces of work to do in couple’s therapy.
My couples therapy practice shows that understanding and being better able to relate to each other’s personality styles very often provides a roadmap to greater clarity and improved relationships. Remember, neither of you are doing anything wrong in terms of your relationship. You are simply being your selves with all the innate needs, expectations, and desires that you have.
Exploring your two individual personality styles in a balanced and compassionate manner can help us uncover a better understanding of your relational dynamics, both together and apart.
Check out my Zoo of You page for a glimpse into various personality styles. By identifying your and your partner’s ways of thinking, feeling, and doing, you might spot potential sources of conflict.
Add life’s stressors to these internal dynamics and you’d have to be a saint to not find yourselves at odds with each other. All personality combinations have potential conflicts, so working on improving your relationship can certainly be worthwhile.
THE TRAPS OF STANDARD COUPLES THERAPY
In many relationships it’s not unusual for one person to be identified as “the problem”. Commonly, couple’s therapy orbits around helping this person recognize their issues and change their behaviour to steer the relationship back on track. However, I believe this method is not as effective as it could be.
The core of our personality, for all its good and bad, remains pretty constant throughout our lives. Sure, we can make small adjustments here and there, but the real change comes from understanding and working with our inherent selves. That’s why I prefer to focus on how both partners can work as a team, acknowledging their unique and collective needs, and leveraging their individual characteristics to create a beneficial balance.
Let’s start with a tiny unpleasant truth: every person (truly every single one of us) carries their own set of “shadow elements“. By looking at the Nine personality archetypes on my homepage, you can get a glimpse into the unique challenges and benefits of being in a relationship with each personality style. Spoiler alert: none of them are easy. Even the laid-back Chill Pandas bring their own set of quirks.
Imagine now, the unique conflicts and stress points of two different personality styles intertwining. It’s practically a miracle that any two individuals can cohabitate and interact deeply without driving each other bananas. The high divorce rates suggest that successful and lasting relationships are truly remarkable. The hard truth is, a large chunk of couples won’t make it to the finish line.
In the Integrative Personality-Focused Approach that I take, we focus on you as a duo with shared dreams and aspirations. We will look at how each partner contributes positively or negatively to the relationship. A great relationship isn’t one that’s picture-perfect according to societal norms, but one that works towards the mutual objectives of the team.
HERE’S HOW WE MAKE IT HAPPEN
My style is more of a relationship coach than a typical therapist. If your relationship feels like a battlefield, I’m not stepping into the fray unless we’re all on the same page about working towards a harmonious dynamic. It’s not my job to play referee in your disputes or disagreements.
I prefer to meet with each partner individually first. This allows me to understand your personality strengths and challenges, and gain insights into the complex dynamics of your relationship.
It’s also crucial for me to maintain a neutral stance and not play favourites, a common pitfall in couples therapy. Every partner is equally responsible and blameless for the challenges in the relationship. After all, we don’t choose our imperfections or weaknesses.
My goal isn’t to boost your individual happiness (that’s more the focus of individual therapy). Instead, I aim to help you integrate your unique, often challenging personality aspects to create a lifestyle that you both can cherish, together and independently.
This is what a therapy schedule for the first month of couples therapy would look like:
Week One: We’ll meet together for a consultation and a discussion about what you would like to get for your partnership out of couple’s therapy.
Week Two: The partner who feels more aggrieved (“Player A”) starts with a 50-minute session. We’ll talk about your struggles within the relationship and with yourself. Post-session, we will set up some Relationship-Saving Conversations or Practices as homework, to be discussed and reported back to me.
Week Three: I’ll have a similar conversation with the second partner (“Player B”), taking into account feedback and discussions from the first week. Again, some Relationship-Saving conversations will be given as homework, laying the groundwork for our couple’s session in week three.
Week Four: We’ll get together and continue addressing some of the fundamental misunderstandings hampering your teamwork. By applying empathy and understanding of each partner’s unique motivations, we can bridge the gap in your perspectives. The result will hopefully start moving you towards a more harmonious partnership where each of you understands and respects the other’s unique struggles and strengths.
At this point in the process, we will assess the kind of rhythm and schedule we would like to follow moving forwards, or take a break for you to work on aspects of your relationship before recommencing for another four-week schedule.
If this sounds like something you would like to embark on, or if you have any further questions about this process, please feel free to get in touch on WhatsApp (07804197605), or via email if you prefer.