Elizabeth Sloan - Marriage & Family Therapist
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Couples Counseling (Marriage Counseling)

Couples today expect their relationship to meet all of their emotional, sexual, financial, social, and spiritual needs. It's no wonder that many people are unhappy in their relationship -- with expectations like these, people are bound to be disappointed. Couples and marriage counseling can help partners engage in a process of examination that, together with a commitment to work on problems until they are solved, improves communication, brings intimacy back, and rekindles a sense of fun and pleasure. Relationships like these are among the most deeply satisfying of all human relationships, and provide an important buffer from the stresses and strains of the outside world. We have extensive training and experience in many approaches to couples and marriage counseling and draw from solid research on the most effective counseling strategies.

When first meeting with a couple, we ask each partner to outline the most important irritations and disappointments that are getting in the way of intimacy and enjoyment of the other. We also ask each to give a picture of the positive aspects of the relationship -- those things that seem to work without much effort on either partner's part. Couples frequently are surprised by how many parts of their relationship are working well. With this information in mind, we present the partners with an outline of the approaches we believe could be of benefit, and together we choose a course of action.  
Feel free to contact us by E-Mail or phone toll free (866-588-0477) to learn more about our practice, and schedule a free half-hour phone consultation with one of our clinicians. Our offices are conveniently located in McLean, Virginia & Glenn Dale, Maryland.

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We use a variety of marriage counseling methods. Here are a few of the techniques we use most frequently with couples:

  • Improving Communication

      This approach, the foundation for all other couples work, involves teaching partners the important skills of listening with awareness and speaking from feelings and experience. Many people live their lives feeling unheard -- even by those closest to them. Countless attempts at getting their message across go unheeded, and frustration and loneliness build. Many couples engage in a cycle of blowing up at each other, expressing any and all frustrations in destructive language, followed by a cool down and avoidance period during which partners retreat into separate lives of hurt, frustration, and eventually, despair. The problem never gets resolved because the next time it is mentioned, another blow up happens. Not only is such a pattern frustrating, it can lead to deterioration, and even dissolution, of the relationship itself.

      Good listening, on the other hand, is a gift given from a listener to a speaker, and when it occurs, the speaker can let go of emotional pain, confusion, and frustration. Part of the listener's job -- not easy at first -- is to resist the impulse to think of counter arguments, and instead, listen carefully to what is being said. Listening to someone, and letting him or her know you understand their message, does not imply that you agree!

      Good speaking involves the use of non-threatening, non-blaming language to describe the problem and to ask for specific changes that are explained in enough detail so that the partner can understand them. Many well-intended messages start arguments because the message was framed in language that, perhaps inadvertently, offended the other partner or put him or her on the defensive. Even strong anger at a partner can be conveyed in a respectful manner so that the partner is not "tongue-lashed" in the process.

      The communication skills aspects of our couples and marriage counseling take place within the context of working on the difficult, unresolved issues in the marriage. With our support and coaching, partners learn how to communicate with each other and practice new skills, while discussing the problems that are getting in the way of a satisfying relationship.

  • Emphasizing the Positives

      One of the most exciting developments in the field of couples and marriage counseling is research-based counseling based on positive psychology. Championed by Martin Seligman, Ph.D., at the University of Pennsylvania, and John Gottman, Ph.D., at the University of Washington, these approaches offer techniques -- many of which have been tested with thousands of couples using scientifically valid methods -- for breaking out of negative interaction patterns and making positive, relationship-enhancing actions a part of a couple's daily routine. Many studies of relationship satisfaction and stability have now demonstrated that these techniques can help couples achieve long-lasting, satisfying relationships, despite the ups and downs that are a natural part of life.

      Our couples and marriage counselors use the tools and concepts of positive psychology to help couples learn effective methods to correct the specific negative traps the relationship has been falling into.

  • Understanding How the Past Affects the Present

      This approach, based on the work of Harville Hendrix, Ph.D. (Getting the Love You Want), looks for ways that your current difficulties relate to what you learned about relationships during your childhood and early adulthood. According to Dr. Hendrix, the "unfinished business" of prior relationships can spill over into your current one, making it difficult to perceive or react to your partner with clarity. In couples and marriage counseling, partners identify patterns of relating based on childhood experiences, and learn how this may be affecting the relationship. Partners learn to ask for what they need from each other n order to begin healing from "unfinished business" childhood. At the same time, each partner becomes aware of what the other partner is yearning for from the relationship, and learns how to give it.

  • Learning How Your Personal Styles Interact

      Used in workplaces around the world, the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator is a scientifically validated method of identifying a person's characteristic preferences for getting along in the world. Each partner learns about these preferences, such as whether they are extroverted or introverted, use thoughts or feelings when deciding on a course of action, and make decisions quickly or slowly. When partners know what makes the other person tick, they can look at how any two people with these styles would interact -- where are the strengths, and where are the trouble spots. For example, an introvert likes to run for cover when stress hits. His extroverted partner craves closeness under the same circumstances. Counseling can help couples change how they view the other person and help them find solutions.

      An additional approach that can shed light on how personal styles and preferences affect couples relationships is based on the work of Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D., who wrote the book The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You. Dr. Aron estimates that between 15 and 20 percent of Americans are "highly sensitive," which makes them more easily overwhelmed by the demands of intimate relationships. When the special needs and preferences of a highly sensitive partner are accommodated, the benefits of his or her sensitivity can help the couple enjoy a deeply rewarding relationship.

  • Honoring How Men and Women Are Different

      In the 1990s, the best-selling book Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus by John Gray, Ph.D., brought to the forefront the often dramatic differences in how men and women view the world. While we don't believe this book is the final word on men and women, it does provide important insight into the traps couples frequently fall into by simply responding as any member of their own sex would. It turns out that "that thing" your partner does that drives you crazy is just a man being a man, or a woman being a woman. Armed with this information, partners can stop expecting each other to be more like the opposite sex. Our couples and marriage counselors do that too - we donít expect men to experience counseling the same way as women do, and we honor the strengths that each partner brings to the relationship. Our aim is to help partners make their differences enjoyable, and not destructive to the relationship.

  • Finding Spiritual Growth through Partnership

      For many people, the relationship with their partner presents opportunities to grow and develop into a more spiritually centered person. We draw from the work of many religious and spiritual traditions to assist couples in looking at their relationship from a spiritual perspective and to draw the strength from their religion to forge ahead in their relationship with unconditional love, forgiveness, and healing. All faiths are welcome in this process and we frequently work with a couple's pastor, rabbi, priest, or spiritual teacher to help the couple achieve spiritual union and union with God within their relationship.

These are just samples of the theories and techniques that we use to help couples achieve their goals in marriage counseling. We also are open to discussing books or approaches that the couple would like to explore.

If you would like more information on whether couples and marriage counseling can help you with difficulties in your relationship, feel free to contact us by E-Mail or phone toll free (866-588-0477) to learn more about our practice and schedule a free half-hour phone consultation with one of our clinicians.

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