Anne Guilbeau: "The more recent the problem, the less entrenched it is".
Psychologist Anne Guilbeau talks to us about relationship problems and how they are addressed in therapy.
Couple problems can lead to a spiral of hostility and confrontations that damage the love relationship until it becomes unviable. Fortunately, couples therapy helps to prevent this from happening and helps to make a marriage or a courtship a place where both can express their feelings in a functional way.
This is what we will talk about in this interview with psychologist Anne Guilbeau, an expert in the field. Anne Guilbeau, expert in couple therapy..
Interview with Anne Guilbeau: what is couples therapy like?
Anne Guilbeau is a General Health Psychologist with a practice in Logroño, and works in individualized psychotherapy as well as in couple therapy. In this interview you talk to us about this last modality of intervention, the attention to couples whose relationship is going through a crisis or difficult moments.
What, for you, is the aim of couple therapy?
Almost inevitably, couples usually present a dysfunction at the level of communication and a circular functioning of reinforcement of behaviors.
That is to say, I often observe that the behavior of one partner will cause a reaction in the other partner, which in turn will cause a reaction in the first partner, thus reinforcing his or her first behavior.
Although it may seem complex in reality, it is not. Let's take the example of a woman who has a tendency to criticize everything her husband does in the housework and to get angry at the frustration that this situation generates in her.
In response to these criticisms, the husband thinks "whatever he does, she will not be happy" and starts to do less at home and with little care.
The wife, seeing that he puts little will to do things well, gets even angrier and criticizes even more how badly things are done, generating a feeling of frustration and low self-esteem in the husband and even less willingness to participate in household chores.
A behavioral loop is then activated, a spiral of frustration, disappointment, resentment and anger.
With therapy, the aim is to identify the behaviors that cause this type of loop and to work on the associated emotions.
The way of communicating within the couple is also very important and I put a lot of emphasis on achieving assertive communication within the couple.
What would you say are the problems for which couples therapy is most effective?
For me there are no unsolvable problems because whatever the problem is, what really matters is the degree of motivation of the couple to change and to save their marriage.
Infidelity, lies, addiction (drug, gambling, alcohol...), debts, jealousy, etc. are elements that put the couple to the test but not necessarily a synonym of failure.
Obviously, the more recent the problem is, the less entrenched it is and the easier it will be to make the necessary changes.
The more superficial the problem (such as communication difficulties) the faster the couple will be able to improve (unlike an addiction problem for example).
Couples therapy is effective if the level of motivation, love and commitment is high.
Is there a tendency to consider dating or marriage problems as impossible to solve, even without going to couples therapy?
In today's society we know that there is an exit door that we did not have 50 years ago: divorce.
This door has changed our way of living within the couple since we know that we can end a situation of suffering, lack of love, shouting, etc.
That said, it is important to emphasize that, in general, when couples still feel love, they do not give up and look for solutions. The solution of separation is not contemplated lightly.
People who give up on their relationship are people who do not see a solution (or the solution they want) to their problems. They are usually those who blame the other person for causing the problem: "he doesn't listen to me", "he always does what he wants", "he won't change", "I will never forgive him".
They become entrenched in these thoughts, the partner does not get out of this loop of thinking. It is filled with resentment, suffering and sadness. If no solution is found at this point, then comes the famous and irrevocable: "I've tried everything, I can't take it anymore". Even so, I have to say that this moment, the turning point and point of no return, usually comes after years of struggle.
As a psychologist, have you detected any changes over the years in the way couple therapy is perceived socially?
Yes, there is an increasingly positive perception of the role of the psychologist in general, but also in couple therapy. At the beginning, therapies were focused on the individual person, then therapy for children started and finally therapy to help couples with difficulties became more and more important.
The role of the psychologist is becoming more and more important in society, no longer perceived as "a doctor for the insane", or an intruder in a family "affair".
This vision has become history. For couples, having a professional, expert and neutral person to guide and orient them in times of difficulty is perceived as a social advance.
What are the couple therapy techniques that you find most useful or effective?
It is not easy to summarize the therapy techniques because it depends a lot on the origin of the problem. It is not going to work with the couple in the same way if the problem is linked to a gambling problem as if it is related to the management of emotions such as anger or impulsivity.
In any case, it will be necessary to become aware of the behavior of each one, the emotions involved, the way in which conflicts are resolved, the way of communicating, the loop in which they have been installed, etc...
What would you say to those who are considering going to couples therapy but are not ready to take that step?
I would tell them not to be afraid, that they are not risking anything by trying to solve problems that, in the medium or long term, are endangering their relationship. When the loop is established, it is very difficult to get out of it alone. A psychologist is not an intruder but an external person who will be able to look at the couple's problems with new eyes, without judging, and guide them in solving them.
If you are motivated to keep your relationship moving forward, if you feel love towards your partner, with the help of a good professional there is no problem that cannot be solved.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)