Is your relationship stuck in cycles of disappointment, blame and resentment? Do your conflicts turn into arguments that go nowhere? Relationships can bring us great joy and connection, but they can also lead to hopelessness, disconnection, resignation and despair. Couples counseling can help you untangle your repetitive misunderstandings and arguments as you discover the deeper issues that fuel your difficulties. The pressure on a relationship can be relieved as each person understands their own patterns and how they get triggered and played out in their relationships. Working with an experienced and trusted therapist can support a couple to re-create the connection, communication and intimacy they have longed for in their relationship.
To get you started, here are some of the principles I use in working with couples:
1. Agree to disagree. Acknowledge that you are two different people with your own good reasons for your beliefs and behavior.
2. Difference does not equal distance. Find ways to stay connected even if a conflict is occurring.
3. Discuss problems before they become unmanageable.
4. Agree to discuss the conflict at a time you can both be present and productive. This usually means in person, in private, and not before going to sleep.
5. Prepare your partner for the discussion. This could mean asking to be listened to, acknowledging that what you say may be difficult to hear, etc.
6. Talk directly and succinctly about your thoughts, feelings, and needs. Don’t get trapped in building your case.
7. Use “I” statements to express your thoughts, feelings, and needs about your own experience. Don’t analyze and attribute meaning to your partner’s behavior.
8. Learn to listen empathically. Offer your understanding of your partner’s experience.
9. Take turns speaking and listening. Using a timer may help.
10. Take time-outs when needed. If you can no longer listen, or if the conflict is escalating, you may need a time-out. Tell your partner of your intention, and set a time to continue talking.
11. Don’t throw fuel on the fire; don’t throw in the kitchen sink. This means no cursing, name-calling, threatening to end the relationship, and bringing up issues from the past. Be specific to the situation you are addressing.
12. Make new agreements you can both live with. Focus on what’s good for the relationship (us), and changes you can make in your own behavior.