Couples Counseling

Psycho-therapist Donna Burstyn blogs:

How does a couple know when they need counseling?

Many times one person believes counseling will help and the other does not. When we’re lucky, both will come in and one will blame the other.

I notice how they will sit. How they will choose to be in proximity to me. How do they align themselves? Do they cross their legs toward each other or far away from each other or do they sit at opposite ends of the couch?

For most people today, coming in for marital counseling is the last chance before someone files for divorce.

Marriage counseling can be used more effectively when things are fine and we then work on how to get things even greater.

Most of us don’t rock the boat when things are going well and go only when we are in danger of losing the marriage.

I see couples of all ages, gay and straight, multi-racial, different religions. Much of the conversation is the same. We seem to all struggle with intimacy, trust, commitment, sex and money.

Before we got married, how much did we know about the other person’s feelings and thoughts on these topics? How much did we know about the debt and dreams they carried? The family history?

The majority of the clients that I see that come in as a couple are from about 35 years old until mid-50s. Most are married.

They come in and say, “Donna, how can we improve our communication? He doesn’t hear me. She doesn’t hear me. I’m being blamed a lot. There’s the occasional domestic violence. I step into that in a much different way. If need be, police are called. Shelters are provided for. I take that extremely seriously.

If it has to do with learning new techniques to communicate with one another, then we work hard on changing the pattern we all get stuck in.

When children are involved, it’s a whole new layer. You have young lives that are waiting on mom and dad to get well as a couple. I am extremely tender and sensitive to the children involved.

I am the child of a divorce. It definitely made an impact.

My practice works cyclically. Suddenly I’ll get the phone ringing off the hook from people who want couples counseling. Then two weeks later it will be about individual counseling for adult singles who are older and have never felt successful in a relationship. The next one will be a group of people who are domestic partners and in gay relationships. By the fourth week, I’m seeing teens at risk.

Things go in waves.

The hours fly by. It’s often best to book two hours at a time, especially in the beginning. And then I like to take one partner and see them for one session alone so I can get to know more about them and their background.

Then I bring couples back together so I can look at patterns and the infrastructure they’re working with in their heads and then I overlay it with this couple’s relationship and so I have a better understanding of this couple’s relationship because it’s not just the couple in the room, it’s their parents and grandparents in the room too.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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