Relationships aren’t easy, but they don’t have to be that difficult if we develop our communication skills and seek outside advice for the tougher problems. We don’t hesitate to call in a professional if the refrigerator breaks, if the sink is leaking, or if an earthquake cracks a wall in our house. However, when it comes to marriage and relationships, most of us are oddly reluctant to call in a professional if we don’t have the skills to know how to fix or manage some of the difficulties in our relationships.
Actually, it isn’t even necessary to be in a “rough patch” to benefit from couples counseling. In fact, going to counseling while your relationship is on the upswing can be even better because it acts as a preventative for many conflicts and miscommunications which might otherwise come up later. Innumerable couples have made their relationships more fulfilling and harmonious while becoming more self-aware through relationship counseling.
Unprecedented advances in our understanding of human psychology have occurred in recent years, and with them have come cutting-edge developments in relationship skills training methods which can be utilized during therapy. In this article, we’ll take you through some of the most current, popular styles of couples counseling + offer our insights for how counseling might be an excellent supplement to the prenup process.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy in Relationship Counseling:
DBT with couples involves practicing four particular skills and using them to gain more wisdom and control over one’s everyday emotional experiences (Couple’s Training Institute, N.D.). These four skills are:
Mindfulness: Cultivating and maintaining awareness of what is happening for you physically, mentally, and emotionally in any given moment (CTI, N.D.).
Example: Claire comes home from a long day of back-to-back meetings and sees her husband Jeremy playing video games in a messy living room…that she has asked him to keep clean 1000 times. Instead of lashing out at him, Claire uses mindfulness to slow down and notice what happens in her body (her stomach tightens and her brow furrows) as well as the emotions that come up (she experiences that combination of physical sensations as ‘upset’) along with the story she tells herself (Jeremy is lazy and doesn’t pull his weight) which compounds her emotional and physical experiences. She also takes note of the fact that she was already in an irritated emotional state when she walked in the door.
Distress Tolerance: This is your ability to experience uncomfortable emotions and sensations without becoming overwhelmed or making a difficult situation worse (Tull, 2020).
Example: Claire pauses, allows herself to feel the cortisol coursing through her blood without reacting, takes a few deep breaths, and decides to sit down and relax before initiating a calm discussion about household chores.
Emotional Regulation: Regulating emotions means exerting control over one’s emotions by using any of a myriad of techniques, such as mentally reframing a difficult situation in order to decrease negative emotions associated with it, or searching for reasons to feel calm or happy instead (Psychology Today, 2021).
Example: Claire reminds herself that although he can be a slob, Jeremy means well and puts a lot of effort into their marriage by holding space for her when she needs it, cooking thoughtful dinners, and arranging surprise weekend getaways.
Interpersonal Effectiveness: This means communicating in a thoughtful and deliberate manner, especially in situations which might tempt one to behave reactively or impulsively (Bray, 2013).
Example: After taking a few minutes to calm down, Claire approaches Jeremy and says “Jeremy, I’d like to talk with you about how we divide household tasks, such as keeping our shared living spaces clean.”
When used in combination, these four skills help individuals and couples manage their emotions, reframe difficult situations in more constructive and realistic ways, and communicate more effectively.
Applied to relationships, DBT focuses on helping both partners cultivate a non-judgmental attitude coupled with validation and acceptance of both oneself and one another. It also teaches couples skills to help them express themselves more accurately and effectively while honing their conflict resolution skills.
Psychodrama for Couples
For those with a dramatic flair, psychodrama is a fascinating way for couples to process emotions and gain greater insight into their relationship and the dynamics at play. It is done in groups and involves acting out scenes from one’s own life as well as from the lives of the other group members present. One person, known as the ‘protagonist’, presents a difficult situation in their life or relationship, sharing their inner thoughts and feelings with the audience. After the group has become familiar with the protagonist’s experience, a range of techniques are utilized to help the protagonist process, reframe, and learn from their situation (Cherry, 2021):
Role-playing: The protagonist role-plays a person or situation that causes them stress or conflict (Cherry, 2021).
Doubling: Group members role-play the protagonists actions and emotions, as well as share anything they believe the protagonist thinks or is withholding (Cherry, 2021).
Mirroring: The protagonist watches other group members act out scenes from their life, which helps them to gain perspective and emotional distance (Cherry, 2021).
Role reversal: The protagonist acts out a different role involved in the situation in question, while one of the group members acts out the protagonist’s role. This can help the protagonist to cultivate empathy (Cherry, 2021).
Psychodrama can be an extremely potent tool which couples can use to gain outside insight on their relationship dynamics as well as a forum through which they can discharge pent-up emotional energy in a healthy way.
PACT, or Psychobiological Approach to Couples Therapy, is a promising new approach developed by renowned clinical psychologist and researcher Stan Tatkin. It is a very efficient form of couple’s therapy because it often requires fewer sessions than more traditional methods in order to achieve lasting results. PACT works by taking an inside look at what is really going on in one’s brain and emotions during a fight. The goal of PACT is to help both partners see one another on a deep level during a fight, including one another’s hurt, longing, sadness, hopes, dreams, and whatever else comes up and is expressed through the usual eye rolls, slammed doors, and raised voices. When both partners see and understand each other on a deep level, a lot of the tension melts away and it becomes much easier to brainstorm solutions (Szekely, 2020).
PACT involves 3 main underlying principles:Attachment: The therapist will help you both discover what your attachment style is and create a securely-attached relationship (Szekely, 2020).
Emotional Regulation: Similar to DBT, you will learn how to manage your own emotions such that they stay within a range that allows you to continue listening to and being empathic towards the experience of your partner (Szekely, 2020).
Recognizing Automatic Responses: Very frequently in relationships, we exhibit automatic knee-jerk reactions in response to cues from our partners. These reactions affect our partners consciously and unconsciously, and learning to recognize them and their effects is an essential stepping stone on the way to building an even more fulfilling and connected relationship (Szekely, 2020).
In a typical PACT session, the therapist will guide you to notice and pay close attention to subtle moment-to-moment shifts in your facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice. These shifts are a vehicle to understanding what is going on internally for yourself and your partner at any given moment. They will also create experiences similar to your real-life difficulties in order to help you work through them during the session. A new approach with excellent results, PACT helps couples to make meaningful shifts in how they relate to one another—at record speed (Szekely, 2020).
Couples Counseling and Your Prenup
The process of arranging their prenups brings many couples face-to-face with important aspects of one anothers’ personalities, hopes, and dreams that they may not have experienced before. Understandably, this can sometimes bring up some tension, as couples need to accommodate these new parts of one another while navigating an extremely high-stakes negotiation. This experience provides an ideal opportunity for couples to try out counseling. (And as a bonus, they can use the money they save on a prenup by using HelloPrenup’s interactive software to finance counseling!)
Although HelloPrenup’s software or a lawyer can help couples to devise a fair agreement, sometimes couples can also benefit from diving into the nitty-gritty of the needs, dreams, traumas, and narratives behind specific prenup clauses put forward by each partner. DBT or PACT, for example, will both help a couple learn how to regulate their emotions so that they don’t become overwhelmed while trying to devise one of the most important agreements of their lives, while psychodrama can help couples to unpack and learn from any difficult moments they experience during this process. Beyond the three presented here, there is a large range of other styles, as well. Whatever the method, the prenup process can be utilized as a tool for enhancing one’s relationship through counseling and preparing for a strong, stable, happy marriage.
Bray, S. 2013. Interpersonal Effectiveness in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. Retrieved from: https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/interpersonal-effectiveness-dialectical-behavior-therapy-dbt-0416134#:~:text=In%20order%20to%20communicate%20more,to%20stress%20or%20intense%20emotions.
Cherry, K. 2021. What is Psychodrama? Retrieved from: https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-psychodrama-5193006
Couples Training Institute. N.D. DBT in Couples and Marriage Therapy. Retrieved from: http://couplestraininginstitute.com/dbt/dbt-in-couples-and-marriage-therapy/
Psychology Today. 2021. Emotional Regulation. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/emotion-regulation
Szekely, G. 2020. PACT: Psychobiological Approach to Couple’s Therapy. Retrieved from: https://www.thecouplescenter.org/pact-psychobiological-approach-to-couples-therapy/
Tull, M. 2020. What is Distress Tolerance? Retrieved from: https://www.verywellmind.com/distress-tolerance-2797294
Julia Rodgers is HelloPrenup’s CEO and Co-Founder. She is a Massachusetts family law attorney and true believer in the value of prenuptial agreements. HelloPrenup was created with the goal of automating the prenup process, making it more collaborative, time efficient and cost effective. Julia believes that a healthy marriage is one in which couples can openly communicate about finances and life goals. You can read more about us here Questions? Reach out to Julia directly at [email protected]