Are you in Calgary and seeking marriage counselling or couples counselling services?
Do you want to feel more connected to each other?
Are you seeking ways to resolve conflicts more effectively?
Do you want to heal from a recent or past infidelity and rebuilt trust?
At Cobb & Associates Inc. we can help. We are specialists in the area of couples counselling and, collectively, have over thirty-eight years of experience helping couples become more connected, closer and better able to handle disagreements, anger and conflict.
On this page you'll find further information about the marriage counselling services we provide and answers to some of your questions. Please feel free to use the contact information at the bottom of this page to reach us with further questions or to book an appointment.
The first session is an assessment visit where we explore each person's perspective and how you've tried to address your concerns.
We review your relationship history and family background. A lot of couples enjoy the process of reviewing how they met, their initial attractions and other positive memories.
We identify your goals and what each of you would like to accomplish and how you'll know when marriage counselling has been successful.
Finally, we take a closer look at your respective communication styles and clarify your strengths and work areas in terms of we-ness, support, trust, intimacy, time together, affection and mutual respect in the relationship.
The purpose of this assessment phase is to gather information, look for general patterns and themes, and clarify goals and plans that will help you build a stable and satisfying relationship.
The assessment phase typically extends into more than just the first session, but couples can expect to begin the work of repairing and rebuilding their relationship starting with their first visit.
There are two main goals of the middle phase: a) strengthening or restoring connections, and b) changing conflict patterns.
I believe that the main goal of marriage counselling is to help couples re-connect with each other in a meaningful way. As a result of focusing too much on annoying differences, or of creating too much negativity in the relationship, or of neglecting each other's important needs, couples can grow further and further apart and become less connected in love and friendship.
A central concept I use in the early stages of marriage counselling is that of an emotional bank account. Imagine for a moment that your heart—the seat of your deepest sentiments and emotions—is like an "emotional bank," Further, lets say that your partner has "opened an account" in your "bank." Of course, you have opened a similar account in your partner's emotional bank.
Your emotional bank represents the extent to which you feel loved, connected and secure in the relationship. Feeling loved, cherished and respected is a central need in marriage. It helps us feel whole, happy, and secure. It makes us want to be our best. It buffers against illness, stress, and hardship and allows us to work through disappointments, upsets, and conflict more effectively.
Regularly meeting your spouse's needs for love, security, and belonging is like consistently making deposits into your "account" in your spouse's emotional bank. The higher the "balance" in your spouse's emotional bank, the more he or she will associate you with good feelings. The higher the balance in your emotional bank, the more you will associate your spouse with good feelings.
On the other hand, when you do or say something that is unpleasant for your partner, or that ignores your partner's emotional needs, it's like making a withdrawal from your partner's emotional bank. Some withdrawals may be necessary from time to time, like needing to talk about something that bothers you. Some withdrawals are harmful and costly, however.
Like any account, when there are more withdrawals than deposits your "balance" will soon approach zero. When this happens the relationship becomes a source of pain instead of love. Everything about the relationship seems negative when your emotional bank is devoid of "funds".
Couples typically find themselves getting angry and critical more quickly when they feel disconnected and overdrawn. They take things personally more easily, things that were not meant as personal, or even things that were meant as positive. They become withdrawn and unforgiving. They hoard resentment.
I often ask couples in the early stages of marriage counselling to temporarily set aside some of the hot issues they fight about. I suggest that we deal with them more fully in later sessions and that we focus first on changing the emotional climate in the relationship. This involves learning about each other's emotional needs and making daily "emotional deposits" for each other in "love currencies" that you both recognize.
As the emotional climate in the relationship begins to improve, it becomes easier to work through difficult issues. I like the analogy Dr. Lee Baucom uses in his e-book, Save the Marriage. He compares communication skills in a relationship to the plumbing in a house. Everyone who lives in the home benefits from a well-plumbed house. But good plumbing is just a delivery system. If the water supply itself is tainted or toxic, you can't change the quality of the water by changing how it's delivered. Instead, you need to locate and treat the source.
While the first goal is about actively nurturing and restoring love, the second is about identifying and changing behaviors that erode love. This means identifying and altering destructive conflict patterns and learning how to handle conflict constructively. When couples already have a strong reservoir of goodwill, we often move to this stage fairly quickly.
It's important for both spouses to see how they each contribute to "the problem" in an interconnected way. This means exploring and uncovering the negative patterns that spouses co-create together and understanding how each person's perceptions and reactions perpetuate these patterns. Typically, vicious cycles take on a life of their own until each person begins to take responsibility for their part in breaking the pattern and creating a virtuous cycle instead.
Sometimes the solution is learning to accept each other. Even in happy marriages, there are some issues that come up repeatedly over a couple's lifespan. Such issues are generally unsolvable—meaning they keep coming back in some form or another—because they are grounded in each other's personality and life experiences.
Acceptance, focusing on strengths and positives, and taking ownership of perceptions and personal vulnerabilities are the antidotes to these unsolvable issues.
Other issues are solvable through negotiation, listening, understanding and creative problem solving. An issue that is solvable for one couple might not be solvable for another.
To create connections in conflict and to prevent conflict from causing lasting damage to the relationship, it is important for spouses who are harsh or critical to learn to soften their communication and for withdrawn spouses to engage more openly, directly and less defensively. This is typically done by bringing underlying soft emotions, important needs and life dreams surrounding the difficult issues to the surface.
Often, this style of communication is very different from how couples normally talk to each other about what bothers them. This softened approach helps spouses see each other in a new light. It promotes positive communication patterns and a better understanding of how to meet each other's important needs.
In the later stages of marriage counselling we focus on solidifying and exploring positive changes in the areas of we-ness, trust, support, time together, intimacy, warmth and respect. The more couples focus on their positive changes, solutions, and strengths, the more real and lasting those changes become.
This is also a time for trouble-shooting any difficulties that arise and for reviewing plans for preventing relapse. Change is not always a steady progression.
I suggest spacing out the marriage counselling sessions when both spouses feel they have made significant progress <i>and</i> maintained positive changes over time. Instead of meeting weekly, we meet every few weeks, and then perhaps every few months, until you have successfully accomplished your goals as a couple.
Much of my work with couples is informed by Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) and John Gottman's research on what predicts stable marriages. Both of these approaches have strong research support for their usefulness.
Emotionally Focused Therapy helps couples create a climate of emotional safety by expressing their underlying needs and emotions in a way that invites compassionate dialogue about solutions. Changing the negative patterns that partners co-create together and creating positive interaction patterns that invite new feelings of closeness and attachment is an important part of this work.
John Gottman is a pioneering and world-renowned researcher on marital stability and satisfaction. His findings, spanning several decades, lead to practical, down-to-earth principles for strengthening marriage. Specifically, his approach helps couples develop strong, healthy marriages by:
Gottman's research shows that it is not the presence or absence of conflict that makes a difference. Rather, its how couples deal with their conflict.
Ideally, yes. Since you and your partner form a connected system, each of you plays a part in how your relationship works. There are always two-sides to a story. Attending marriage counselling together allows for the "big picture" to include both perspectives. It also helps you work more efficiently together to resolve your concerns.
It is common for one spouse to be reluctant or unwilling to attend marriage counselling. If this is true for your spouse, there are several options to consider:
In the end, if your spouse still refuses to attend marriage counselling or to try any other relationship building tools with you, consider going to counselling on your own. As I said before, a marriage is a system. In any system, all of the parts work together in a connected way. When one part of a system changes (i.e. you) the whole system changes and adapts to find a new balance.
If you are making positive changes in how you relate to your spouse, this can be very encouraging to your partner. He or she may want to learn more about what you are doing and may even want to begin attending the sessions with you. I have seen reluctant spouses become more curious and willing to see therapy as helpful when the other spouse stops the pattern of blame, fingerpointing or distancing and focuses instead on making personal changes for the better.
These are different for every couple but some of the potential benefits include the following:
The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country's Foremost Relationship Expert
by Dr. John Gottman
book is the culmination of decades of research. It's about building
friendship, enhancing love, cultivating warmth and mutual respect, and
learning to handle conflict without damaging the relationship.
Well-written and relevant with lots of very practical exercises and
quizzes. Watch for a new edition coming out this May.
In Canada? Click here to order from Amazon.ca instead
Save The Marriage
For over 15 years Dr. Lee Baucom has offered this well-written and helpful e-book for couples seeking to transform their marriage, even when only one person wants to work on it. Downloadable to your computer in ten minutes this is an excellent resource to help you shift the momentum in your relationship.
Just call us (403) 255-8577 or use our easy online scheduler here.
If you have any questions or would like to contact us by email, you can complete a brief confidential contact form here. Once you submit the contact form, a Cobb & Associates intake staff member will respond as soon as possible.
Cobb & Associates Inc. is located in southwest Calgary (near Macleod Trail and Heritage Dr. SE). Please click here for our full address and a map to our location. We are currently accepting new clients and warmly welcome self-referrals and referrals from physicians and other professionals.
We appreciate your interest in our services and hope this information has been helpful to you. Please do not hesitate to call if you have any questions.
Russ Millington, M.A., R.Psych
Erla Christens, M.A., Registered Provisional Psychologist