Will this posting, with its weighty and abstract title, break the blog’s rule by being long-winded? No.
How Long Is Therapy?
At the point that a couple begins couples therapy, I am often asked about the duration of treatment. It is certainly a reasonable question; treatment itself is perceived by many to be arduous, and unpredictable as to outcome, while costing money that does not grow on trees. Every day, patients ask doctors, “When will I get better?”
It’s a question related to the word ‘success’. Most couples clients presume that treatment will end (for the foreseeable future) when the partners are durably doing better together, and there’s a foundation for continuing success and security. Some partners consider therapy as successful if it confirms pre-existing beliefs that the partners should end the relationship: instead of ‘better’, they will cease doing badly or ‘worse’. Either way, it is a difficult prediction to make at the outset. It directly touches an important issue that links therapy and life (yes friends, I believe they’re directly related.)
I will continue in blog posts to develop the theme of time in psychotherapy. Beyond any particular outcome or how much time that goal will require, I recommend that a couple view therapy as part of a larger, constant process requiring a general stance of patience with yourself, and with your partner.
Whatever the length of time that a series of couples therapy appointments might span, marital discord has similarity to an ‘achy back’; those of us that know back pain also know that quick or miracle cures are elusive at best, dangerous at worst. We know that relief comes partly in the form of a patient, if not always hopeful attitude, hard work and the ability to relax and rest.
Patience is the everyday, visible practice of the adult attitude toward time. Insistence on a satisfactory result within a predicted period of time or effort is closer to how children view the world, often with an absence of frustration tolerance and mental skills that help delay or modify gratification. Therapy and marriage develop maturity – and a mature view of time.
But I want to draw an important last distinction: That mature view does not pre-determine that a committed relationship, or therapy, will continue on constantly harmful terms. Continuing a relationship for its own sake does not necessarily outweigh whether stress will negatively affect the health of one partner. There are other factors that people must and will consider, including age and health. A fundamentally patient stance, grounded in the maturing process and an adult awareness of time, stands on its own, visible, and separate from any particular outcome.