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Is couples therapy a waste of time?
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Is couples therapy a waste of time?

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The beginning of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s latest memoir and self-help guide, Be Useful: Seven Tools for Life, presents a captivating event. It starts with a vulnerable moment as he shares his lowest point: the day he confessed to his wife that he had a child with their housekeeper. He expresses that this was the most devastating failure he has ever experienced.

However, that is not the most intriguing aspect. The author declares that he will not repeat that narrative here and directs readers to search for it on Google if they are interested in that type of gossip. The rest of the book maintains a similar pace, as Schwarzenegger avoids any potential introspection and instead focuses on sharing more anecdotes, such as the time he cut the legs off his trousers as a reminder to work on his calves.

After reading Be Useful, I found myself delving into all sorts of interviews with Arnold Schwarzenegger, hoping to uncover any instances of vulnerability. The closest I came was an interview with Howard Stern, where Schwarzenegger briefly mentioned attending couples therapy with his ex-wife. However, he refused to discuss whether or not he found it beneficial, stating that it was a mistake because the therapist was “full of shit.” He claimed that the sessions were unproductive and a waste of time, but he only went because his wife convinced him to do so.

This statement has the potential to spawn countless memes: “Rather than seeking therapy, men would prefer to transform into an invincible robot and destroy all of humanity.” However, the author’s book and personal experiences make a compelling case for avoiding self-reflection – although his ex-wife may have a different perspective.

According to Schwarzenegger, taking the time to delve into his own motivations means he is unable to focus on achieving his external goals, such as becoming the top-earning actor, succeeding in politics, or sharing Instagram videos of his pet donkey in his kitchen. This lifestyle appears to be fulfilling.

However, it does not appear to be fair on his part. A significant aspect of couples therapy, possibly the most important, is creating a safe environment where you can relearn proper communication. This can be challenging when one person in the couple a) is not interested in participating and b) is determined to not benefit from it.

Therapist Priya Tourkow has various explanations for why individuals may be hesitant to seek help. Some may believe that the therapist will remain silent during sessions, while others may fear that the therapist will be biased towards their significant other. There may also be concerns about uncovering difficult and uncomfortable emotions.

Watching Showtime’s Couples Therapy on iPlayer may worsen any fears you have about couples therapy. The series serves as a warning for those not currently in therapy to avoid it altogether. However, it may not be the best example to base your opinions on since the couples featured actively chose to have their sessions broadcast on television, which could ultimately harm their relationship. Despite this fact, Couples Therapy is not a convincing advertisement for the effectiveness of therapy. It’s more like a show that forces viewers to pick sides, similar to Jeremy Kyle but with better dental hygiene.

Fortunately, this is not the typical dynamic of couples therapy. It does not involve a contest where you hire someone to determine a winner, with a hero to support and a villain to detest. This could be the reason why Schwarzenegger did not find his session enjoyable.

According to Tourkow, the foundation of couples therapy is the belief that striving for the highest quality relationship is beneficial. If this perspective is not shared, the therapy may be ineffective. Despite good intentions, the process can be difficult due to ingrained habits and potential triggers. A key aspect of couples therapy is improving communication skills. Is there a more fundamental aspect of a relationship than effective communication?

I must confess that I am familiar with Priya. My spouse and I initially began attending sessions with her as a form of amusement – a newspaper requested us to participate in couples therapy and document our experience – but we quickly realized that we may actually require it.

The experience was not enjoyable, as one would expect. It is difficult to hear all the criticisms and flaws pointed out, and the sessions do not truly end when the session ends, as we still have to travel home together and face the aftermath of harsh truths. However, it did have a positive impact. We acquired strategies to calm tense situations that would have otherwise escalated. We even apologize to each other at times now. Just imagine.

This isn’t a blanket endorsement. For some, perhaps especially the overthinkers among us, certain forms of therapy might get you more bogged down, rather than freeing you up. Ester Perel, the closest the therapy world has to a superstar thanks to her wildly popular podcast, warns: “Ironically, we often are inclined to seek the form of therapy that matches our defences rather than help us change it.” Not only that, but “for many people, therapy is still filled with stigma and talking to a stranger is a bizarre practice”.

Strange as it may seem, based on his book and social media presence, things seem to be going well for Schwarzenegger. However, it is rather curious that someone who has built their career on hard work and overcoming challenges would struggle with the idea of discussing his issues with his wife in a room. That being said, it is not uncommon for couples who initially resist therapy to return after exhausting other options. Hopefully, he will come back.

Further reading

“Seven Tools for Life” by Arnold Schwarzenegger provides practical advice for living a purposeful life. Published by Ebury Edge, this book is priced at £20.

Esther Perel’s book, “The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity” published by Hodder & Stoughton, is priced at £10.99.

Rediscover your connection with your significant other and create a strong and enduring bond, as outlined in Terrence Real’s book “Us: Reconnect with Your Partner and Build a Loving and Lasting Relationship” (published by Cornerstone, priced at £18.99).

Source: theguardian.com