No matter how strong our relationship may be, disagreements are inevitable. What makes the difference is how we handle discord. What tools do you have in your communication toolbox? In my featured guest article for Our Mom Spot, "Marriage: Fighting Fair," you'll find concrete examples and tips for improving the communication in your marriage or intimate partnership. Click here to take a look!
Have you been wanting to come to couples counseling for months, even years, but haven’t yet made the appointment? If so, you are not alone. Many couples try to work out their problems on their own, often resulting in painful arguments and frustrating stalemates. Other couples take what seems like the path of least resistance: ignoring their problems and living like strangers under the same roof. This “blinders on” approach may reduce conflict initially, but underneath the surface, tensions are mounting. So, what is stopping some of these once-happy couples from seeking help with their relationship? Worrying about being labeled “the bad partner” can be a barrier.
No one wants to feel shamed. And why should they? If a member of a couple is afraid of being singled out as solely responsible for the conflict, of course they would be resistant to counseling. Let’s acknowledge that couples are a system. Even if the presenting issue is infidelity, for example, it did not occur in a vacuum. This does not mean that breaking the agreed-to relationship rules is okay, or that the non-adulterous partner is to blame. What it does mean, however, is that the couples session is a blame-free zone, and a place to focus on how to strengthen the relationship. Ideally, the therapist creates a safe space for the couple to share their feelings with each other, exploring together what went awry, how and if trust can be re-established, and ways to eventually move forward. Judgment (on the part of the therapist) has no place in couples counseling. No sides are taken. The spotlight shines on how to improve communication and the dynamics of the relationship.
If worry over being labeled “the problem one” in a relationship has been keeping you from seeking help, don’t allow it to be a barrier any longer. Asking for support in improving your relationship skills takes courage and shows your commitment to making things between the two of you even better. Call me at 949-648-7991 to schedule an appointment now and get started on getting back that strong connection with your partner.
The number one complaint I hear from couples coming for counseling is this: “We are having problems communicating.” We need to remember that we all come from different backgrounds, cultures, and families and that these differences shape our communication styles and the way we take in information from others. Unless we’re conscious of this fact, our ability to understand and be understood by our partner could be compromised. Here is a technique for you and your partner to practice to improve your communication.
1. Listen actively and patiently. Listening is a lost art. Often, when we’re in a conversation, we’re planning ahead to our next comment rather than truly hearing the other person. If you find your mind jumping ahead to craft a response, hold that thought. Truly allow yourself to focus on what your partner is trying to convey.
2. Ask clarifying questions. Sometimes we can make assumptions about what our partner means, filtered through the lens of our own feelings, thoughts and emotions. We all know what trouble we can get into by assuming. If you’re not 100% clear on what your partner is saying, ask. You’ll not only learn something new about your partner’s way of thinking, but you’ll also show that you’re interested, present, and listening.
3. Confirm your understanding of what your partner has relayed. Once you think that you have a handle on your partner’s message, repeat it back to them in your words to double check that you have it right. You’d be surprised at how often there’s something that needs to be clarified to get your partner’s meaning crystal clear.
4. Decrease your defensiveness. This is the toughest part. When our partner is expressing something that we don’t agree with, it can raise up our defenses, and fast. Recognize this tendency and work to put down that shield. Then, go back to active listening, asking clarifying questions, and confirming your understanding of your partner’s point of view. Validating your partner’s reality does not mean that you are agreeing with them, but it can go a long way to bridging the communication gap.
While this technique is essential for building strong communication skills with an intimate partner, it is also highly effective in relationships with family members, friends and co-workers. Give it a try this week and see the positive effect it has on your relationships.
A month ago I posted a short blog entry entitled "Couples: Five Ways to Enhance Your Relationship TODAY." Continuing on that theme, here are five more ways to strengthen the bond with your partner and bring even more closeness into your relationship.
1. Share Your Gratitude List. Take a few moments, perhaps cuddled on the couch together, to take turns sharing five things for which you're each grateful. Go even further by making this a regular ritual.
2. Get Out of A Rut. Does the television come on every night after dinner? Try shaking up your routine by taking a walk around the block with your partner instead, or playing a board game. Activities like these spark conversation and encourage connection.
3. Exhibit Curiosity About Each Other. What's something new you could learn about your partner today? Maybe it's something from the past such as a stand-out childhood memory. Perhaps it's something in the future like a five-year goal or fantasy career path. There's always something new to explore about your partner's inner world.
4. Share Meals Together. While this might be difficult due to conflicting schedules, make a commitment to eating together as often as possible. Sitting down to dinner together is an opportunity to hear about your partner's day and to share yours as well. No time this week? Set the alarm for a half an hour earlier in the morning to connect over a cup of coffee.
5. Have a New Experience As a Team. Doing something new can be energizing and invigorating on an individual level, and the same is true in a relationship. Imagine what would it feel like to take a rafting trip with your partner and conquer the rapids as a team. Closer to home, you and your partner could volunteer a few hours at a soup kitchen. Result? A shared positive experience of giving to others.
What other ideas can you think of to enhance the feelings of closeness with your partner?
I just tweeted @YourOCTherapist these five things that you can do today to enhance your relationship and form stronger, healthier attachments with your partner or spouse.
1. Say thank you to your partner. We can tend to take others for granted. Fight that by expressing appreciation for the little things.
2. Give your partner a hug. Just when it's feeling like the natural time to pull away, stay in the embrace a few extra moments.
3. Pick something specific that your partner did or said and compliment it.
Positive reinforcement is powerful and builds bonds.
4. Control your urge to ask for a compliment right away from your partner. There's time. Your relationship is a marathon, not a sprint.
5. Take a moment for some self-care. We can't give to our partner if we have nothing left to give. Even some deep breathing counts.
What is something that you did today to improve your connection with your partner?