Lisa Brookes Kift is a Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) in private practice who works with individuals and couples in Marin County, California. She is the creator of http://LoveAndLifeToolbox.com with articles and tools related to emotional and relationship health. Lisa is also the author of The Premarital Counseling Workbook for Couples, a counseling alternative and downloadable tool for premarital couples. She is a frequent consultant for the media having appeared in CNN.com, HuffingtonPost.com, MensHealth.com and others.
1. Lisa, tell us a little about your profession and career.
Lisa: I’m a Marriage and Family Therapist in Marin County, north of San Francisco. I do individual and couples therapy with adults and enjoy both a lot. There is a strong connection between emotional and relationship health.
2. What are some common issues in today’s relationships?
Lisa: One common relationship issue that often come up are disconnection from lack of communication, a build up of resentment and often the overwhelm of busy families, jobs and life. People struggle with busy life and being “ships in the night,” especially when kids enter the scene.
3. Does couple therapy work? And how?
Lisa: Couples therapy can work especially if both parties are in alignment with their goals. For example, a couples who states to love each other but feel disconnected and are invested in saving the relationship, hopefully are open to doing the work to create positive change. The ideal scenario to allow couples therapy to work is one where both parties have aligned goals, are able to take responsibility for their own role in the problems and are willing to do something different together. Even if a couple comes to therapy with goals out of alignment - or one party unsure if they want to stay - couples therapy can work over time. Sometimes the couple needs a space to be heard and assisted in getting to the root of their issues.
4. How can communication in a relationship be improved?
Lisa: The skill of listening is the most important element of communication. But it’s only one piece; if you don’t hear correctly or misunderstand what the person has said, problems can occur quickly. This is why it can help to clarify what the other has said. These are all surface area issues with communication; it’s also critical to get deeper into how people function in the belief systems they are carrying. For example, if different types of betrayal have occured, one partner might carry a belief that their partner can’t be trusted and might hear much of their partner’s communication with suspicion and may react accordingly. These beliefs might be stem from family of origin issues depending on quality of parent relationships and other experiences so important to be clear on all vulnerabilities that might impact communication.
5. Do you think people expect too much from marriage?
Lisa: I think some people expect that their marriage will “make” them happy. This is a mistake because though marriage can bring happiness it should not be relied upon in this way. Ideally, happiness is generated from within first. Marriage is a wonderful thing but it does sometimes require work in the form of getting through hard times. The most successful couples navigate ups and downs well. They know that this is part of life and don’t as quickly assume their marriage is a failure because they encounter difficult times.
6. Why does infidelity occur?
Lisa: Infidelity often occurs because the couple suffers from a disconnection of some kind. This doesn’t take responsibility away from the partner who has chosen to step outside the marriage one bit but at some point this needs to be addressed. And it doesn’t alway explain infidelity either. For example, if one partner experienced a parent being unfaithful when growing up, they may have this as an unhelpful model.
7. Once a cheater, always a cheater?
Lisa: No. This statement indicates if a person is ever unfaithful, he or she is an “unfaithful” person (a label). You have to look at each case individually and understand what led to the behavior. Many people truly enjoy and prefer monogamous relationships but feel alone in their relationship for whatever reason. Cheating is clearly an incredibly damaging and sometimes irreversably. Ideally, a couple can get help to repair their relationship before this choice is made. And of course, there are some people who prefer to be in many relationships but hopefully they aren’t being dishonest as they do that…but unfortunately dishonesty happens too.
8. In your experience, who tend to cheat more: women or men? Or is it about the same?
Lisa: I don’t know that one cheats more than other. I’ve seen both.
9. Some couples decide to take a break before deciding whether to break up or continue in the relationship. Is this a good thing to do?
Lisa: Sometimes a break can help bring clarity to the relationship. There is something in the notion, “you don’t know what you have until you don’t have it,” so it can help. But often the “break” is used as an excuse to delay the inevitable. Sometimes it’s easier for people to call it a break when they are afraid to hurt their partner but delaying the inevitable can actually be more painful. It’s important to be clear as to whether it’s truly or a break vs whether one partner has made their decision to end it but are putting it off.
10. Can two people with completely different interests be in a relationship?
Lisa: Yes! A couple doesn’t need to be in lock step in their hobbies, likes and dislikes. It’s nice when there is some overlap but not imperative. If there are completely different interests, it’s important that both partners feel they can enjoy those interests though it might be alone or with other friends. Both should be allowed to “be” who they are (as long as not damaging to self or relationship, of course).