How CBT can help overcome your relationship problems

Lack of intimacy named the number one cause of couples seeking therapy

Most of us have our own idea of what an ideal relationship is. Some look at their parents’ or grandparents’ relationships, while others form their relationship ideals based on what they’ve seen in a movie, book or even what the media tells them about their favourite celebrity couple.

However, it is often these unrealistic ideas of the perfect relationship that cause conflict in modern-day relationships. Couples often find it hard to communicate their needs or openly discuss their issues of contention.

The most common problems couples face include:

–    Communication problems

–    Feeling or being controlled

–    Inability to solve problems together –often money, sex or family issues

–    One or both partners suffer from anxiety or depression

–    Growing apart over time

CBT can help resolve these issues as it allows couples to understand and identify how their thoughts or behaviours are impacting their relationship, and also evaluate the sometimes unachievable standards that people judge their relationships by.

Here are some of the five steps CBT takes couples through.

Identifying and acknowledging each person’s perceptions and expectations

Typically, the source of conflicts within relationships stems from two things. Distress from one partner’s unmet needs and the difficulty that emerges when that partner uses unhelpful methods to address or acknowledge the conflict coming from that unmet need.

In CBT, the therapist will work together with the couple to define clear treatment goals and also help both parties communicate each other’s perceptions in moments of conflict and set their expectations. A large part of the work is often about supporting couples to develop much more constructive communications generally and in their areas of conflict.

Exploring counter-productive triggers, beliefs and behaviours

Couples who are in distressing or high-conflict relationships are more likely to be selective when it comes to tracking their partner’s negative behaviour or events. This, in turn, will result in them reciprocating with their own negative behaviour. This ‘tit for tat’ behavioural pattern then becomes a perpetual negative cycle, which will only lead to further discourse in the relationship.

Using the cognitive behavioural couples therapy model, the therapist will work with the couple to investigate the logic behind their certain beliefs and behaviours and help them to identify the unhelpful triggers that regularly lead to conflict. The therapist will help the couple refocus so that they can work together to build positive behaviours.

Agreeing on different and acceptable tolerance ranges

One of the key things CBT will help couples do is overcome their conflicts in a respectful and understanding manner. Couples will be encouraged to work together to create new boundaries when it comes to what they are willing to tolerate. The idea behind this is to remind couples that disagreements in relationships are inevitable but finding healthy and respectful ways to address these conflicts and ensure that each person feels heard and valued. This includes learning new ways to problem solve together as a couple.

Identifying and practising new behaviours based on shared values, mutual respect, empathy, trust and tolerance

A CBT couple therapist will collaborate with a couple and help them translate their relationship issues into statements of positive goals. The therapist will then team these goals with specific intervention techniques that will help the couple replace their current negative behavioural patterns with positive ones.

CBT helps couples lay positive foundations by building the relationship’s resilience by shifting the focus and neutralising conflict with the mutual willingness to respect and tolerate each other’s differences.

Agreeing a new “emotional contract”. This expresses the changes that each partner commits to and forms the basis of the future relationship.

The final step in couples CBT is helping couples lay out the new terms of their relationship. Having previously discussed their high conflict issues and negative behaviours, this final stage is designed to help the couple move forward and build their mutual terms on what a healthy relationship looks like for them. By holding each other accountable respectfully and constructively, CBT enables couples to build a new relationship that supports growth, development, wellbeing and fulfils the needs of both partners.

If you would like us to help you with your relationship we have couples therapists services across London and the UK.

Which condition do you require support with?

Learn which conditions are treatable with CBT therapy.
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