We also had to work on the fact that our interpretations of and reactions to each other's comments or actions were often based on events that preceded our relationship. In therapy we discovered that my husband was always worried about being "deceived" by people. I, on the other hand, worried that I was to blame for everything and always felt like the "bad child." As we started to understand each other's perspective, we were able to avoid pushing buttons that would cause bad feelings. Throughout this process, Dr. Archambault never took sides. He would ask each of us how we felt about what the other person was saying. And he would make sure we were addressing one another, not directing our comments to him.
Dr. Archambault: It's important for the couple to decide what changes they're going to make in their relationship, and how they're going to make them. If suggestions come from the therapist, the couple does not feel like the plan is theirs.
So I always end each session with, "What did you learn? What can you take home with you? What can you specifically do about the problem? What steps can you take to bring about change?"
The next time I meet with them, I might begin by checking back: "Did you follow through with what you agreed to do? How did it work? What didn't work? How would you want to change things?"
Nicki: It can be very challenging to change the habits in a relationship. For example, we were not used to really thinking together as a couple. So Dr. Archambault had us work on a five-year plan for our lives. This turned out to be an excellent exercise. We not only learned more about each other's hopes and dreams—and how we each envisioned the present and future of our relationship—but we also started to grasp the importance of seeing ourselves as a unit.
Dr. Archambault: The relationship is what they created. And it's the thing that's going to soothe and heal them—and be their therapist—in the long run. They created it and they can change it.
Nicki: When we first started therapy, there were a lot of tears and accusations. We sat far away from each other and barely made eye contact. As we proceeded, we started to "visit" with each other during the sessions. Most important, we smiled and laughed more often. Dr. Archambault helped us see the qualities that brought us together in the first place. We started to realize that we did still genuinely like—and love—each other.
We ultimately came to see our relationship as a sanctuary. It was us against the world. And the importance of keeping us strong and safe was the lesson we took away.