You want to stay stuck in couples therapy but you don’t know how? Let’s face it. Couples Therapy is just a giant irritation. Your partner, the therapist, they flat out expect way too much from you and refuse to accept the fact that you are already doing the best you can. You can never make them happy anyway so what’s the use?
The real danger is that if you really start getting curious about why you’re both so unhappy, you might suffer a spasm of painful personal and relational growth. Who needs more pain? How can you avoid painful growth and plant your feet in comfortable ambivalence?
Here are 11 great ways to make sure you stay stuck in emotional gridlock resist couples therapy, and defy any efforts by your partner… or even your couples therapist to make you change.
At the first sign of any discomfort, however slight, insist that it’s all too much. You can’t do it. Tell them you can’t handle it, and it’s just too much to ask.
This is an especially important strategy to use with your couples therapist, who you can probably train to be way more sympathetic to your helplessness than your spouse who knows you far too well.
Don’t let your spouse or your couples therapist deceive you by talking about your strengths. This is just a ploy to get you to accept the idea that you can change. Remember that change is painful, and only an idiot would pursue pain over comfort. There is no comfort in increasing your coping skills. It’s just too stressful.
Always show how earnest you are about pursuing perfectionism. Major in minor things. Elevate even the most minor tasks into life or death struggles. If you can’t do it perfectly…why bother trying at all? Resist any attempts to encourage you to become more resilient and risk-tolerant. If they can’t see how important it is to be perfect…well that’s their problem.
When unreasonable demands get made on you by your couples therapist push back hard. Try this on them:
“You don’t understand…which surprises me because I expected that you would be a lot more empathetic. Remember I have …(fill in the blank. Developmental Trauma is good if you can pull it off. But a lousy childhood, Anxiety, Depression, or anger issues will work in a pinch too.).
Watch your couples therapist squirm as you self-diagnose and challenge their empathy. “You’re asking way too much of me” is a great opener here. Make sure you have sad limpid eyes and bite your lip as you ask them to feel your pain.
Whenever you feel pressure, tell your couples therapist that their (fill in the blank. Tone of voice, facial expression, Words, etc.) are painfully critical to you. Make sure that you express how sure you are that your partner feels this way or that way… regardless of what they actually tell you or the therapist. Remember that the partner that you suffer in your head is the only partner that matters.
It’s possible that your couples therapist might be slick enough to put you in a bind. Ambiguous situations and therapeutic dilemmas are their specialties. Don’t fall for this trap. If there is even a remote chance that doing something different might not work, focus on your fear and anxiety over a potentially devastating negative outcome.
Always remember that therapists are supposed to be empathetic. If you do this well, you can bamboozle them and they won’t fight you.
You could also expand ambiguity by attacking the couples therapist for either being too hopeless or too hopeful. Recruit your partner into a feeling of ambivalence and anxiety about the course of couples therapy. Complaining aggressively about the therapist to your partner is a great dodge. Better yet…get your partner to complain to the therapist!
You can’t stay stuck in couples therapy without bestowing a little false hope now and then. Avoid any real experimentation or risk-taking. But if there is something easy that you can do that suggests you are really trying, make a big deal out of it, and make sure that you do it perfectly.
This may seem to contradict number 7 but not really. Always lower expectations. Talk about the disaster that will happen if you try and fail. Ask lots of “What if” questions.
Therapists hate that. “What if I really try my best and it’s not good enough? I will feel like a failure even more than I do now.” If the therapist is smart enough to challenge you, bite your lip again and look away in anguish. “I will never please him/her, why can’t I be accepted for who I am?” is an excellent start.
Remember you only agreed to couples therapy to get your partner off your back. You’re the real victim here. Talk about how vulnerable and exposed you feel. Demand gentleness and understanding.
If you’re any good at selling this you can slo-mo your couples therapist down to a snail’s pace. Train your spouse and your couples therapist to accept the idea that your earnest “best efforts” are legitimately sufficient.
Who can argue with wanting to be happy? Make sure you underestimate your ability to cope. Ok, so maybe things are not so great right now, but you’re gonna be a lot more unhappy if you let your spouse and couples therapist push you around.
Make the problem about not being loved, appreciated and accepted for the marvelously flawed human being that you are. “Please let me be happy and lower your expectations” is a winning way to stay stuck in couples therapy.
Remember it’s your partner’s ( fill in the blank. Unreasonable expectations, failed earlier relationships, co-dependency because of their alcoholic parent, problematic childhood, etc.) that is the real source of your marital issues.
Remind the therapist that they promised not to take sides. Push the idea that the blame lies with your partner’s unreasonable demands and chronic mood swings. A great way to stay stuck in couples therapy is to present yourself as earnest, hard-working, chronically misunderstood and prevailed upon.
At the first mention of responsibility…sigh loudly and often.
But always admit that there are some things you could do better. “If you could help me be more patient and understanding of why she/he is so demanding, that would be a great help.” is a useful dodge.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts, three seasons in Cummington (at the foothills of the Berkshires...) and in Miami during joint retreats with his wife, Dr. Kathy McMahon. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.
We schedule three double sessions with you in total. You complete an extensive online relationship questionnaire. In that final meeting, we spend almost two hours with you explaining, from a science perspective what's working in your relationship, what's not, and how to fix it.
It's all done online, either week-by-week or over a weekend.