Therapy for couples in the Belgian capital
As a psychologist in Brussels, specifically located in Auderghem, I offer psychotherapy tailored to all sorts of couples’ issues.
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What issues is your couple facing?
Life isn’t always easy, and living together can present even more challenges.
Usually, each person’s well-being is reflected in the couple. Conversely, life as a couple can lead to conflicts and disharmony in the hearts and minds of both partners.
The list of possible problems is long, very long. Here are a few:
Problems of physical or emotional intimacy
It was great at the beginning: it faded over the years. Or, in the bedroom, discord always prevailed. Or again, emotionally, “we’re never on the same wavelength: if I’m in a good mood, she’s sad, if she wants to party, I’m angry.”
Whether it’s emotional connection, erotic and sexual sharing, or tenderness, a decrease or absence of desire or emotional pleasure leaves traces within the couple.
A decrease or absence of intimacy, whether on an emotional (sharing, connection) or physical (sexual relations, affection) level.
Often rooted in childhood experiences, differences in attachment styles, i.e., how each partner expresses and receives love, create challenging disharmony.
We also come back to curiosity: sometimes, during a couples therapy session, it can be relevant to ask the following questions: how do you perceive love in general? And how do you perceive it within your relationship? This allows for a more detailed exploration of each partner’s perception of love, both in a general context and specific to their relationship.
No time, always in a rush, living in urgency, eating too quickly, sleeping too little, overbooked, overwhelmed, in the midst of a burnout.
Or too slow, stuck in a rut, doing nothing, paralyzed in place, unable to live in the present.
Or, not enough time for oneself, overwhelmed by family life, by the other, by children. And too much or not enough time spent together.
The question of time keeps coming back, nagging, in many couples. How will we find the time for everything, the couple, family, work, hobbies, rest? How much time will we spend with and without each other?
Caught up in the pressure of time and stress, we stop communicating with each other, and it might seem difficult to find the time to see what’s happening. We are constantly under pressure. As a couples therapist, I already find that the fact that both individuals have come to therapy to make time and space for both shows that the issue of time is not at the heart of the problem, but often it’s the expectations we have of each other and the unspoken that suffocate the relationship.
Harassed as a secretary, challenged as a researcher, or desperate from recurrent urinary tract infections; in conflict with their boss, mocked by their child, anxious about their mother’s illness… The stress that overwhelms one also engulfs the other and takes over the entire region, reigning as a conqueror in the middle of the living room and bedroom.
If it overwhelms one of the two, anxiety threatens the duo. Therefore, it must be managed!
We all go through tough times in life, and that’s part of life. Sometimes, we overflow and blame the other person because we feel stuck, trapped in our emotional state, with the conviction that I won’t be able to solve the problem. Life is tough, and we close ourselves off more and more, even within the couple. Sometimes, when I sense in couples therapy that one person needs individual therapy more, I recommend it. Either we allocate individual time to each person to try to achieve a better balance in this therapeutic process, so that both partners have equal space. It’s in this perspective that I really like this phrase: ‘I can’t do anything for you except work on myself… you can’t do anything for me except work on yourself!’ It reflects the idea that each individual has the power to contribute to their own personal growth, and this personal growth will lead to the growth of the relationship.
Routine, monotony, boredom
At the beginning, it’s an idyll. A mole appears like a comet on the curve of a shoulder. Discovering the mind and body of the other creates a sense of wonder. We don’t know much, but we fill in with dreams and fantasies.
Then comes fulfillment, their happiness, their serenity.
Then, we start to get bored. You’ve already said that. This funny or super sad thing, this tragedy and this anecdote, you’ve already told everything.
Monotony, routine, and stagnation set in.
What are you drinking?
Same as usual.
No. Just the same as usual.
The absence of novelty, surprise, and excitement eventually kills the relationship. However, on the flip side, the presence of routine is also important. It’s a repetition through which we create a predictable structure, a sense of anticipation and predictability, a reassuring rhythm that has a stabilizing effect we need.
But what sets them apart from rituals is that rituals create excitement, while routine creates familiarity. Rituals elevate us; they create a special feeling, whereas routine anchors us. Brushing our teeth together every night with our partner is a routine, but leaving toothpaste on our partner’s toothbrush could be a ritual.
In this case, it may be an opportunity to open the space for couples to discuss the rituals they can start incorporating into their week, and from there, we open space for each partner to talk about what makes them excited, feel special… It’s also a way to get to know your partner better and connect with each other.
They must go to this school. No.
We have to raise them tough. No.
Let them have fun. No.
Let’s keep a close eye on her, or else she’ll make a mistake. No.
Give them more money. No.
Let’s go back to the campsite she enjoyed so much. No.
Disagreements about child-rearing methods or differences in parenting roles and practices can fracture a family and lead to a lack of love between parents. Family dynamics can be complex, woven from a tangled web of emotions, between parents, from each parent to each child, and even within each thread of this web, there may be knots and breaks that weaken the fabric of the family.
The way a couple handles decisions and discussions about choices for their children or any other decision that concerns the entire family can be an indicator of the couple’s dynamics. Being firm and distant regarding the partner’s opinion is a sign that deserves further exploration during couples therapy, to address how each person perceives the situation and the perceived or hidden dangers for them. Being resolutely distant by cutting off all forms of communication indicates that the person is stuck in a communication deadlock within the couple.
What makes communication difficult is that we have internal conflicts, and what we end up doing is that some of this internal conflict will be expressed in our communication in an awkward way, which can destabilize our partner. Articulating the difficulties we are experiencing is one of the aspects we work on in couples therapy.
The goal of couples therapy is to identify these communication blockages. The objective is to create a space where each partner can share their experiences and perceptions, while the therapist’s role is to facilitate communication between partners with curiosity and empathy.
Mental Health Issues
I’m going crazy, and it’s driving you crazy. Your mental fatigue depresses me. Your excitement exhausts me. These two years of hospitalization, it has killed me, it has killed us.
Mental or physical health issues in one or both partners can exert significant pressure on the relationship. Depressive or manic states, frequent minor ailments, or prolonged and tragic medical trials sometimes leave a couple in tatters, challenging to mend and delicate to heal.
My partner is constantly depressed, what should I do?
Asking this question may imply that you have probably tried to lift your partner’s spirits, provide them with ideas on what they should do to feel better, how to look for a job, how to take care of themselves. And every time you attempt to support them, and nothing changes, you may start to feel powerless, experiencing a similar form of helplessness that your partner feels. Then, you might begin to feel anger because you are making so much effort, and they are not doing anything, and then you might feel guilty for being angry at someone who is feeling unwell. These back-and-forths between feelings of helplessness and resentment or anger are very common in people surrounding someone in a state of depression.
The simple thing to do, which is not simple at all, is to be present without taking the responsibility upon ourselves to change the person. This non-judgmental and anxiety-free presence in the face of sadness becomes the gateway to transformation. But how to be present? It is simply to be ourselves, share a part of our own story with the other person, take the risk of being vulnerable without fearing our difficult emotions. Sometimes, therapy can create this space for both individuals to connect with themselves.
A beautiful fable titled “The Shadow Elephant” by Nadine Robert and Valerio Vidali illustrates the healing power of simply allowing difficult emotions to be.
Here’s the summary of the fable:
The book opens with a beautiful quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “And when you’re comforted (everyone is comforted), you’ll be glad you’ve known me. You’ll always be my friend.”
Then, the story unfolds by introducing the melancholic protagonist, a majestic blue elephant, weighed down by a deep sense of sadness in a vast spectrum of blue. Some said the elephant was melancholic. Others claimed he was trying to hide his sadness. Some said he preferred the shadows. The other animals in the savannah, joyful and radiant in the sun, try to chase away the elephant’s sadness by telling him silly stories, dancing extravagant dances, and bringing him their favorite dishes.
Not a smile. Not a sound. The elephant listened attentively but remained in the shadows. And then, one day, a tiny mouse, out of breath from another scale of existence, simply asks if she can sit next to the elephant and rest for a while. This small request, this non-judgmental and anxiety-free presence in the face of the elephant’s sadness, becomes the gateway to his transformation.
The elephant is initially incredulous that the mouse is not there to distract him from his grief with any artifice. But then she begins to tell him her own story – how she ventured out into the savannah to find her sister’s most precious possession, a golden key; how she had walked all day, only to become as lost as the key; how she now fears finding neither what she was looking for nor the way back. Something in the mouse’s situation, in the ease with which she shares her sadness with him, unlocks something in the elephant. He begins to cry – big, silent tears. Then she begins to cry, through that natural and exquisite bond of sympathy that unites us when we stop feeling separated and alone in our grief.
Slowly, “emptied of his tears,” the elephant rises, tall and light, and lifts the mouse onto his back, offering to take her home. Gently, without discomfort or demands, she invites him to tell his own story.
“I can try,” he whispers as they disappear together behind the horizon of solitude.
To forget or relax, to get excited or calm down, we consume our favorite mood-altering substances: whiskey, tequila, cigarettes, a joint, a line of something, a shot of this; we take what we can.
It can also involve getting passionate about explicit documentaries on human sexuality in close-up, spending the night risking one’s life, or spending the day battling zombies.
Alcohol, tobacco, sex, video games: no matter the addiction, it will have an impact on a couple’s harmony, each one’s availability, and the way they view each other.
As in the example from the fable about depression, struggling and feeling very bad within ourselves are some of the most difficult emotions that we consider should not exist, and we try to escape them at all costs. This behavior is socially reinforced. You must not cry, you must not show weakness, you must not be angry…
There’s a book I’m currently reading that addresses the issue of normality in society in a very nuanced way: “The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness, and Healing in a Toxic Culture” by Gabor Maté, a Canadian physician specializing in addiction and mental disorders. This book delves deep into the author’s ideas about mental health, addiction, and modern society. It challenges our traditional understanding of normality and suggests that many mental health issues and addictions can be better understood by examining individuals’ life experiences and traumas. It explores how the pressure to conform to strict social norms can create stress, suffering, and unhealthy coping behaviors, including substance abuse.
Furthermore, Maté suggests that the relentless pursuit of normality can mask the experiences of trauma and suffering that underlie many mental health and addiction problems. Individuals may use unhealthy coping behaviors like addiction to deal with these traumas, rather than receiving the support and understanding they need.
A more nuanced view of normality, one that recognizes the diversity of human experiences while emphasizing understanding over judgment, can be helpful in couples therapy. It allows for addressing how each person has their own perceptions of normality and how to challenge rigid thoughts while exploring each person’s lived experience within the relationship with addiction.
Therapists guide couples in resolving conflicts in a calm and respectful manner, emphasizing mutual understanding rather than winning arguments.
Psychoanalysis, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and Couples Therapy
Psychoanalysis, pioneered by Sigmund Freud, focuses on exploring unconscious processes and past experiences to decipher emotional and relational issues. In contrast, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) delves more into observable behavioral symptoms and the thought patterns underlying them. CBT operates on the idea that our thoughts, emotions, and actions are closely interconnected, and negative thought patterns or maladaptive behaviors can contribute to emotional and behavioral problems. In this approach, the therapist works alongside the individual to identify these negative thoughts, challenge them, and replace them with more positive and realistic thoughts.
On the other hand, psychoanalysis tends to analyze the individual’s situation without necessarily giving them an active role in their own therapeutic process. The theoretical foundations of CBT encourage change by questioning irrational thoughts rather than seeking to deeply understand them or exploring beyond these thoughts to understand what is actually happening within the individual.
In the Person-Centered approach developed by Carl Rogers, the focus is on the therapeutic relationship and empathic understanding. This approach creates a safe space where individuals and couples can freely express themselves without fear of judgment. It promotes self-exploration and personal growth, allowing for a better understanding of oneself and the other within the relationship. While each of these approaches has its merits, the Person-Centered approach stands out for its humanistic orientation and its ability to encourage open and empathetic dialogue. This makes it a valuable choice in couples therapy to promote mutual understanding and relational growth.
Marie Joe Kfoury, Couples Therapist
If you are seeking professional support, I, Marie Joe, offer tailored solutions to meet your needs. In a multicultural city like Brussels, it can sometimes be challenging to find a therapist who speaks your language, whether it’s English, French, or Arabic. That’s why I provide couples psychotherapy in Brussels in three languages: English, French, and Arabic. You can choose between online therapy or in-person sessions in Auderghem, Brussels, making it easier for you to access the help you need.
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