Blog: insights from Dr. Keren Sofer

“Why Is This So Hard?” A closer look at couples therapy

Couple therapy is really really hard. Some couples might even call it excruciating at times. Why? Because it means taking the riskiest of risks, opening yourself up to find out the answers to some of these difficult questions:

Am I truly loveable?

Do I really count and matter to you?

Will you ever be able to forgive me fully and trust me again?

Can I forgive you and open my heart again to trust you?

Some partners have never learned how to accept, convey or give love in honest and vulnerable ways. For those who have not been lucky enough to learn by experiencing love, answering these questions becomes tangled with pain and confusion. Getting it wrong might mean an hours-long argument, or maybe days of disconnection and silence.

The capacity to love is part intuition and part learned. We are all born knowing that we need connection, love and comfort. Built into our very cells are the instinctual behaviors that help us reach for our caregivers, before we even have the language to ask or describe what we are longing for.

When those needs for comfort and connection are not met by a loving other, we begin to compensate in all sorts of ways – by withdrawing, by protesting, by filling the void with material objects, or even food, drugs and technology. We learn that the ways we reached were not effective, and we overwrite those instinctual reaches with our compensatory behaviors.

This is where couple therapy comes in to help. One of the goals of couple therapy is to help partners unlearn those compensatory behaviors and relearn the intuitive. For some, it might also mean experiencing for the very first time what it means to truly love another human and to truly let love in. How can we know what that is like if we have never experienced it? Couple therapy, to be genuinely impactful, needs to be experienced, on the visceral and emotional level, to reawaken a couple’s core capacity to love. It’s worth it, but it is not easy.