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Dear Us

As Valentine's Day approaches, Mindy Howard, LeadTherapist and Owner of Converge Couple Therapy, Offers Some Relationship Advice

As Valentine’s Day approaches, couples prepare to celebrate their relationships. For many, it also is a time of reflection and reconnection. Mindy Howard, owner and lead therapist at Converge Couple Therapy, offers some advice this month on how to strengthen the bonds that may have been shaken during recent tough times.

The past couple of years have been hard and seem to have weighed heavily on couples. Do you find this to be true?

Yes, I've seen a variety of responses to the changes we've experienced. Heightened health anxiety, limited social contact, polarizing social and political issues, job transitions, grief, ambiguous loss and burnout are impacting couples and families more than ever. During periods of confinement, I saw couples recognizing their need for relationship repair when they were at home together and became responsible for meeting one another's need for connection like never before. Every couple therapist I know became busier; however, with more couples seeking help, we saw more couples getting to a healthy place in their relationship. 

What are some ways in which couples can begin to reconnect? 

It really depends on what it's like in the marriage. If they have lost a sense of secure connection, then we go back to the place where they got hurt and began to pull away so we can begin the process of reconciliation, healing and restoring their bond. If a couple finds they are drifting apart or living parallel lives, we look at the patterns of distancing and create new ways of reaching for one another where they can feel confident that their partner will be accessible and responsive. It's painful to reach out and find no one reaches back. There are loads of books and articles about changing behavior in relationships, but simply performing tasks I know my partner likes won't work if there is deep pain in the relationship.

What are some practices couples can put into place to make sure they keep their relationship a priority? 

In late stages of therapy, we talk about how to maintain our bond. I like to think of the daily, weekly, monthly and yearly rhythms of our lives. Something like coffee together in the mornings or unwinding at the end of each day, or moments of connection that say, "I'm thinking of you," or "How are you doing?" can be ways we regularly make time for each other. We're starving for fun! Make ways to play, laugh, and do more than just survive the work week.

Is it a misconception that couple therapy is only for those whose relationships are not strong? 

Yes. You don't need to wait until your marriage is in trouble to come to therapy. The latest research shows that the average couple presenting for therapy has been in distress for six years! That's a long time to suffer. It's an indicator of how much these bonds matter, that they are willing to endure discord for so long in order to hold onto one another, even when the marriage feels like such a source of pain. I see couples across the whole lifespan of the relationship, from dating and premarital couples to couples in need of repair after 20, 30, or 50 years. Some couples come to strengthen their bond.

Who can benefit from couple therapy? 

Anyone who is longing for a deeper connection with their partner. Couple therapy is for those who want to protect and strengthen their bond, or who need to heal old wounds that threaten their sense of trust; those with painful ruptures like infidelity, or partners with a competing attachment to something outside the relationship. Also, it's for couples who are struggling with big changes like moving, job loss, chronic or terminal illness, becoming parents, empty nesters, or retirement. Transitions can introduce uncertainty and vulnerability, and we help couples turn toward each other for support and reassurance as they weather the changes life brings.

What are some practices couples can take daily to make sure their bond remains strong? 

I'm a big believer in building habits of connection. How are you reaching for each other every morning or evening? Asking your spouse, "What do you need to get through today?" "How can I pray for you?" or "What's hard right now?" has a way of opening up more meaningful conversation that goes deeper than the surface-level "What was your day like?" 

Tell me about Converge Couple Therapy. What services do you provide? 

Converge was founded to establish, strengthen, preserve and renew connection. We provide Premarital Counseling, Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy for couples in need of strengthening or repairing their relationship, and I'm a certified Discernment Counselor for couples on the brink of divorce who need help slowing down to consider the direction of their relationship. Discernment is perfect for couples where one partner feels a longing to repair, and one is leaning out of the relationship or thinking of leaving. It's a necessary precursor to couple therapy for those who are ambivalent about the repair work. We also offer Emotionally Focused Individual Therapy, which can help individuals suffering from anxiety, depression, or need help healing relational wounds. 

How meaningful is it to help couples mend relationships? 

It is a profound honor to step into the vulnerable conversations I have with couples. I say all the time, "There are no bad guys in my office." Couples come in hurting and wounded by their partners, and we get to help unpack how that harmful event happened and help redeem the friend that turned into an adversary. When a couple says, "You saved our marriage," I am quick to point out that they are the ones who had the courage to come and step into the difficult work of restructuring their bond. It is beautiful to see a couple reach their goals in our office and send them back into the world stronger and sure of one another.