With an increasingly multicultural society, it is becoming more important than ever for therapists to consider the impacts of these different cultural aspects on their clients4. Today’s couples are becoming more diverse in terms of culture, socioeconomic status, ability, ethnicity, and religion, just to name a few. This means that we as therapists to adjust our practice appropriately. In this blog, we’ll look at how therapists can support diverse couples in relationships from different religious or faith backgrounds in a therapeutic setting.
Interaction among different religious, cultural, and ethnic groups has been shown to be beneficial in platonic relationships when the interactions are “amicable, positive, and voluntary”, but romantic relationships may present a greater challenge. Separately, marriage has been shown to positively correlate with physical and psychological health and religion has proven to be a protective factor for many; together, marriage and religion can spur additional external stressors. Differences in religion can often mean differences in culture, tradition, and ethnicity, which has the potential to create additional stress on the relationship. These external stressors often come in the form of extended family, or society as a whole, when traditions appear altered or compromised. Research has shown that these factors can have a detrimental impact on the psychological well-being of couples with different religious backgrounds.
There are particular factors within religiously diverse couples that can tip the scales in either a more positive, or more challenging direction. First, couples vary on how strongly they use religion to define a relationship. Religion may enforce particular “rules” to determine how interpersonal or family challenges are addressed, such as sexuality, parenting, or power. Second, religiosity exists on a spectrum, so factors such as religious practice, involvement, activity, and belief intensity all contribute to potential stress in a relationship; both individuals in a relationship can even be of the same religion and differ in the strength of religious faith or religious motivation. Third, underlying values may overlap in different religions allowing couples to find common ground; for example, many religions view extramarital sex as unacceptable. Couples from different religious or faith backgrounds can be successful if differences are addressed, understood, and respected; if left unaddressed these differences can become conflictual and threaten the relationship.
How Can We Help?
From a therapeutic perspective Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), a form of couples counselling has shown to be effective for addressing distress in relationships. EFT believes that relationship distress stems from perpetuating negative interaction cycles, which often result from unmet needs. For example, this could be shown in how a couple manages conflict; is the conflict discussed and resolved or does an argument ensue that leaves both parties angry and resentful? The goal of EFT is to develop secure attachment through identification, experience, and expression of emotional and attachment needs. The basis of EFT in the attachment is a leading reason why it is thought to be so successful as a couple’s therapy. From a diversity perspective, the ability to adopt EFT to accommodate different religious or faith backgrounds is why this form of therapy can be successful for a multitude of different couples.
There are three main stages to the EFT model of couples therapy: de-escalation, restructuring attachment interactions, and consolidation and integration. De-escalation involves learning about and understanding negative interaction cycles that are perpetuating distress in the relationship. This can relate back to the previous example; when conflict occurs in the relationship is there one party who actively wants to resolve the situation and one party who chooses to remove him or herself? Restructuring attachment interactions are all about shaping new core emotional experiences and interactions to lead to a more secure attachment. Change in EFT is not achieved through insight, catharsis, or improved skills, but rather from formulation and expression of new emotional experiences as it pertains to attachment needs and emotions. What does each partner need to feel heard and understood? Consolidation and integration are the final of the three stages in EFT and can also be referred to as withdrawer re-engagement. During this stage, the partner whom previously avoided conflict and engagement with their partner openly expresses attachment needs and is more open and responsive to their partner.
The rooting of EFT in emotion and attachment makes it very flexible and therefore adaptable to couples of many diverse backgrounds. At Alongside You we love working with couples from diverse backgrounds and we have specific training in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy. If this article resonates with you and we can be of help, please let us know, contact us, and give us a shout