The Scoop: Whether you’re dating or in a decades-long relationship, counseling can help singles and couples overcome common personal challenges. Licensed Psychologist Dr. Susan Orenstein works with clients interested in improving their communication skills and finding more happiness in their relationships. Many of the people she sees are at a breaking point and looking for one last solution. However, Dr. Orenstein says there’s no reason to wait until the situation gets that bad. She teaches her clients how to handle problems at every stage, so they can be ready to give and receive more love.

Frequent fights aren’t the only sign that a couple can benefit from therapy. Dr. Susan Orenstein, a Licensed Psychologist, recalled one couple who came to her with seemingly the opposite problem — they were both too nice.

After years of marriage, the couple separated, Dr. Orenstein said. The husband was a problem drinker, and it impacted their relationship dramatically. Divorce was imminent, but they thought they’d give it one last try with couples therapy.

Dr. Orenstein concluded that the problem wasn’t just the drinking. It was that both of them were such kind people that neither wanted to rock the boat and start an argument, so a lot of things went unsaid.

“The couple had a huge wedge between them. Our counseling was me encouraging them to speak their truths and talk about what they needed — including the loneliness and frustration they felt,” she told us. “They were afraid to do that. They were both taught that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything. Many of those misconceptions stop people from expressing themselves.”

The couple started to get to know each other again through therapy sessions at Orenstein Solutions, Dr. Orenstein’s practice in Cary, North Carolina. With Dr. Orenstein’s suggestions and guidance, the couple went out on dates again and brought physical intimacy back into their lives. Then they moved back in together.

“I helped them become more explicit about what they expected and tell each other what they liked and didn’t like in real time,” Dr. Orenstein said. “From what I could tell, they were laughing more, and they were friends again. They were planning a future together, and the man had stopped drinking.”

Whether someone is on the brink of divorce, sorting out the dynamics of a blended family, or even returning to the dating scene after a long-term relationship, working with a relationship therapist can help them improve their lives, Dr. Orenstein said. Her goal is to teach clients how to find partners who have the same goals in a relationship and who want to work together as a team.

Helping Clients Feel Connected in Intimate Relationships

As a licensed psychologist since 1998, Dr. Orenstein has focused her private practice on couples, sexuality, and relationship issues. Whether working with individuals, groups, or couples, she said she’s most interested in hearing how connected people feel in their intimate relationships.

Some of her clients have just started dating and want to understand what they should be looking for in a partner. Others have been married for years and are searching for ways to strengthen their life together. Many are at a crossroads and choosing between divorce and recommitting to their current relationship.

“Whatever both people want to do, I can help with that. Sometimes it’s burying the past and getting a new start — either together or not,” Dr. Orenstein said. “For example, when people have an affair, that is a time to bury the old relationship. Then, they get to decide if they want a relationship together, to start anew and learn from what happened, or if it is the breaking point and it’s time to move on.”

Collage of photos of Orenstein Solutions offices

Dr. Orenstein helps people deal with significant relationship issues.

Frequently, she works with couples who are expecting a new baby or who just had a new baby. It’s a challenging time to keep a relationship healthy because there’s so much going on and everyone is exhausted. On the flip side, it’s also common for new empty-nesters to realize that their relationship hasn’t suddenly improved just because their children leave home.

“They say ‘We’ll fix it when the kids grow up.’ They’ll think it will get better when they’re out of diapers or it’ll get better when fill in the blank. It doesn’t happen,” Dr. Orenstein said said. “And they’re disappointed and disillusioned.”

The PACT Approach is a Successful Therapy Model

Dr. Orenstein uses what is known as the PACT approach. PACT stands for Psycho-Behavioral Approach to Couples Therapy, and, at its heart, it requires that both individuals in the relationship sit in the room with a therapist.

“I always work with couples in the office because a lot of the focus is on their body language and how they interact with each other,” she said. “They need to be in the same room. People ask for Skype sessions when they are long distance, but that’s part of the problem. They need to be in the same room, and I need to be in the same room.”

In the PACT approach, Dr. Orenstein said she often acts like a “troublemaker,” so she gives each couple a warning beforehand.

Collage of photos of Dr. Orenstein's offices

The PACT approach requires a couple to interact with each other in Dr. Orenstein’s office while she observes.

“We set little fires, and then tell the couple to put them out in front of us. We help people bring out their differences, disagreements, and conflicts,” Dr. Orenstein said. “I’m here to support them as they work to manage those conflicts in the session. But we don’t avoid them, and we don’t talk around them or dress them up. I help them build a tolerance for handling differences, and teach them to offer relief to their partner as quickly as possible.”

As a result, the couple learns to work together as a team, rather than against each other. Dr. Orenstein helps them acquire the skills and tools to collaborate and work from a safe, secure, and loving place. According to Dr. Orenstein, the goal is to foster creativity for solutions.

Dr. Susan Orenstein: Providing Guidance on Blended Families, Online Dating, and Troubled Marriages

Therapy can help many relationships, whether a couple is constantly fighting or they’re too nice to each other — like the married couple Dr. Orenstein helped bring back from the brink of divorce. She said therapy can also have a significant impact on a surprising demographic: online daters.

The modern dating world is much different than it was just a few years ago and may be confusing and upsetting to those who are unsure about the steps they need to take to find success in love, Dr. Orenstein told us.

“Online dating is the most common way people find each other today. I talk to many clients about that and speed dating,” she said. “I encourage people to have shared experiences and get to know a person over time. It doesn’t matter how great it feels at the beginning. It takes a while to get to know somebody and see how you work together once the infatuation fades.”

Additionally, when some people find the right partner, they may encounter a situation where they’re blending families. That presents a whole new round of potential hazards that can be worth addressing in therapy.

“It can be complicated and very emotional for people. Often, it isn’t only blending two adult partners and their kids — there’s an ex-wife or ex-husband in the picture,” Dr. Orenstein said. “It’s rife with difficulties, knowing what boundaries to set and jealousy and tension. It is important for couples planning to remarry to get some support.”