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  • Writer's pictureEleni Paris

CAREER'S GOING GREAT - NOW WHAT ABOUT THAT MARRIAGE?

Working with high-powered couples is one of my favorite things to do. These couples are naturally curious and love to learn. They are respected professionals in their industry, known for their strategic thinking, leadership, and problem-solving skills.


Yet sometimes, even the most accomplished professionals feel powerless to solve communication problems in their own marriages. They may be so depleted of energy from their career pursuits that they feel rudderless or uninspired when it comes to keeping their emotional connection fresh.


So many individuals are highly skilled communicators at work - and still wonder why things feel so difficult at home with the one they love the most.


The good news is that couples therapy can provide just the framework they need to reconnect.


  1. We start with a little bit of homework.


The first session will entail some individual time to give each person the space to share more about their relationship history, concerns, and hopes for therapy. Depending on what’s transpired from my individual time, I may use the last portion of our time together, or I may reserve it for the following session for a full 50-minute couples session, to explore how conflict and anger are currently expressed by each individual and within the marriage.


Here’s where I then give them a little assignment.


I ask them to explore their underlying feelings further and expand their compassion for themselves and their partner/spouse by looking up more information or diagrams regarding anger.


One example might be the “anger iceberg diagram,” as it’s a wonderful illustration of how our outwardly expressed emotions (such as anger) are really hiding a complex web of vulnerable emotions underneath. There are many versions of this on the Internet, so I want them to pick one that speaks to them, and I add, “And you can’t argue about this one.” 


Using this, along with other kinds of questionnaires and visual maps, can help individuals identify feelings that they didn’t even know were living under the surface, but are at the root of what needs to be addressed.


2. We check in on two of the biggest factors of success.


In all of my years of couples therapy, I’ve found the two biggest factors for a successful outcome are hope and commitment. It’s okay to be worried about your marriage, and it’s natural to secretly hold doubts if conflicts are escalating in frequency or intensity.


Couples at the height of their career (or in the thick of caregiving) are especially susceptible to drifting apart or losing their ability to communicate. The number of obstacles, challenges, or dilemmas increases as their free time to enjoy each other’s companionship decreases


When this persists over the years, couples can find themselves unintentionally leading parallel lives. They may even be seeking comfort elsewhere, through hobbies and friendships outside of the marriage. 


My first message is that you are not alone. This is truly a common phenomenon. I understand that it’s disheartening and even frightening…especially when you’ve experienced a big conflict or “blowout.” But with a commitment to the therapy process and each other, it is possible to rebuild a strong and loving relationship again. 


3. We’re going to fine-tune relationship communication skills.


Many of my professional individuals (such as doctors, professors, researchers, managers, and executives) already know how to communicate effectively with team members, investors, clients, or patients. It’s a necessary requirement to be successful at their job.


They may think that these skills translate into intimate relationships, but it’s not an exact match. Communicating with your partner requires a deep level of vulnerability that simply doesn’t exist in the professional world. 


Fortunately, we can reframe what we already know about good communication and make some simple shifts to open an intimate dialog with our life partner. We’ll use our time to understand your patterns and begin a healthier way to interact.


In our sessions, we use a specific speaker-listener communication approach that has worked really well for most committed couples. I expand upon this using my own therapist artistry and skillset to enrich this practice. We do this together in the session so that I can gently guide them in real time as they practice a powerful and compassionate way to connect on important and emotional issues.


This is where it becomes imperative that you hire a couples therapist highly trained and skilled in relationship, marriage, and family therapy. This kind of real-time coaching and relationship therapy involves artistry and expertise that encompasses much more than implementing tools. It is a dance that needs careful attention to timing appropriate guidance, awareness of pertinent content, deep understanding of a couple’s process, respect for your unique personalities and relationship story, and years of training. 


4. We’ll learn to navigate the messier aspect of emotions.


There’s no doubt that problems are easier to solve when we have a bank of data or research to drive a decision. Statistics, protocols, and algorithms can inform successful strategies at work. But when it comes to feelings of fulfillment and feeling appreciated, there are no hard numbers to lean on. 


Emotional work can feel murky - that’s because it is!


Part of couples therapy is learning to navigate the emotional aspects of a relationship. This means addressing your partner’s needs and your own. Believe it or not, getting a clear understanding of your own underlying emotional needs is half that battle! Most of us aren’t truly aware of what’s going on under the surface.  


I love using the ”feelings wheel” and other diagrams illustrating the role of our emotions with couples who struggle with expressing their feelings and needs with descriptive words. For most people, it’s so satisfying to finally be able to identify specifics instead of floundering in muddy waters. From here, we can work on creating emotional safety again in the relationship so that the couple can flourish.


5. We may tie in parenting and family-of-origin work to learn, grow, and weave in other important components of your interactional patterns. 


It is possible that our couples work will include entire sessions reviewing parenting concerns, perhaps even dedicating a lot of time to areas they did not expect to address. I’ve had couples eager to explore their family-of-origin dynamics and want to create a family genogram as we discuss family relationships, patterns, and important pieces of their family history. 


The beauty of our couples therapy work together is in learning a new process together. 


High-intensity careers and inevitable life challenges tend to take up our time and attention. Together, we practice slowing down the conversation so that each partner can truly be seen and heard. And yes, this work can be done while still succeeding in a demanding profession. It’s all about compassion, reconnecting, and investing in that emotional security again.
















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