Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be used in couples counselling as a method of creating change in thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Here's how I use CBT techniques to help partners change their relationship patterns:
1. Challenging thoughts
Sometimes partners have thoughts that are detrimental to their relationship. For example, they could tend to believe certain things about themselves, their partner or about their relationship, only because they have been thinking these things over and over again - until these thoughts eventually turn into a strong, firm belief. Such beliefs (which are actually just habitual thoughts) can be changed by challenging and questioning the underlying individual thought patterns. Your couples counsellor will help you identify negative thought patterns within your relationship, so that harmful behaviour and negative feelings can change.
2. Identifying triggers
CBT can be used effectively to identify and cope with triggers in a relationship, which can contribute to unwanted emotional or behavioural response. Sometimes specific emotions can act as a trigger for one partner, such as the feeling of not being heard or of being exposed to strong anger. Partners need to create a strategy to deal with their individual triggers. Your couples counsellor will help you identify your individual triggers and develop coping skills, communication techniques and rehearsed phrases, which will facilitate a greater sense of control and better interpersonal functioning within the relationship.
3. Setting a healthier course for the relationship
Alongside communication and assertiveness training, I use CBT in couples counselling in order to enable partners to change the way they generally feel about the relationship. You can always change the way you feel by changing the thoughts you have about the situation. Once you decide to change your thoughts, new feelings will follow and healthier behaviours can be more easily implemented. The CBT techniques I use will help you create these changes in your relationship.
4. Identifying what you appreciate about your partner
What do you like about each other? Remember how you met, how you fell in love and what you appreciated about each other. Think about things in the relationship that you love, memories that make you smile and make you feel good. It's so much easier to focus on the negative aspects in a relationship, but if you learn to reframe your thinking, you will automatically feel better and more loved in your relationship.
5. Identifying core beliefs
Partners can have either shared or different core beliefs about how a happy relationship should look like. Such core beliefs can be very strong or even rigid and inflexible. If your beliefs are unhelpful for the relationship, you can decide to change them by investigating and questioning the thought patterns that influence how you think, feel and behave. Your couples counsellor will help you become aware of your own and your partner's core beliefs, so that you can address them together and reduce discord.
In order to create the changes you want for your relationship, it will be necessary to practice new behaviours, new thought patterns and new perspectives between sessions. In general, the homework will help you to learn how to change your emotional and cognitive routines. In addition, it will help you to communicate better, to be more affectionate and to be more supportive of each other. The changes in behaviour and interactions that you have made on your own at home will increase your self-esteem and your sense of competence. Your couples counsellor will help you to choose homework that you can and want to do.
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I'm Natalie Marby, an English speaking therapist in Hamburg, Germany. I am half German and half British and I offer couples therapy in English, especially for expats living in Hamburg. I offer all my counselling sessions also over the phone as well as online. To contact me, you can send me an email or call me: +49040 46090233. (Please don't forget to send me your phone number and the times I can reach you). I look forward to hearing from you!