In my 25 years as a therapist, I’ve worked with countless couples facing a broad spectrum of challenges. Yet, despite the diversity between them in age, occupation, or origin, I’m amazed at the similarities in the patterns and pitfalls that couples fall into. When two people walk into my office and start discussing their relationship, the first thing I tell them is to focus on empowering yourself. The only person you can change is you. If both parties accept this, real change is possible in the relationship. With this theme of self-empowerment in mind, I offer you six suggestions on how you can be your own couple’s therapist.
Unilaterally disarm - As human beings, we are full of imperfections. We have all been damaged and hurt in unique ways that impact how we relate in our interpersonal relationships. It is easy to identify undesirable traits in our partners. Ironically, the longer we are together and the closer we get to someone, the more we tend pick them apart for negative characteristics. When a couple enters therapy, they are often brimming with complaints about their partners. The difficulties and dynamics have become so complex that it is hard to sort through the many offenses of which they’ve accused each other. Chances are, in most cases, both parties are right, and both are wrong. Thus, my first piece of advice to couples is simple, drop it. Stop the blame game and start taking responsibility for your own actions. In order to resolve real issues, it’s helpful to abandon the case you’ve long been building, address your part of the problem, and start fresh with a clean slate. When you are vulnerable you are more likely to achieve what you want.
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Observe before reacting – Naturally, letting go of past grudges and grievances won’t prevent you from getting into trouble in the future. When a conflict does arise, it’s an important exercisenot to always react automatically in the moment. At a recent presentation I attended on mindfulness, someone described that like a train, negative thoughts will come rushing by, but we can choose whether or not we get on. Take some time to step away and focus on something besides the conflict for a while. Since it takes two to tango, stopping yourself from being reactive in the moment prevents the argument from escalating into seriously destructive territory.
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