Couples Counselor: Don't Grin & Bear Major Issues


Take precautions rather than trying to find solutions down the road.

There are few if any couples who have been together any amount of time who have managed to successfully avoid any of the many pitfalls that that are inherent in committed partnerships. I know (personally and professionally) many couples who were convinced that theirs was a relationship that was the exception to this rule only to find after the first major disappointment, or the first child, or the first serious disagreement, or the last straw, that they were wrong.

And while there are some couples who do experience deep marital fulfillment with little if any serious conflict along the way, for the vast majority of couples—not just those who are mismatched or emotionally unbalanced—stuff happens. Sometimes it's bad stuff that doesn't just go away over time, or when you ignore it, or when one partner intimidates the other into backing down or shutting up.

The noted marriage researcher, John Gottman, claims that the average couple that enters marriage counselling has been in a troubled relationship for over six years. That could be one of the reasons that marriage counseling has gotten a lot of bad press and has the lowest rating of satisfaction of all the different types of psychotherapy. As in cancer diagnosis, early detection is a big plus.

Grin & bear it?

While past generations of couples have taken the attitude of "grin and bear it" when difficulties have arisen in their relationship, these days most couples are less willing to tolerate an unhappy relationship for very long without trying something, such as books, DVDs, workshops, or couples retreats. If none of these resources prove sufficiently helpful, there is finally the option of marriage counseling. If you are ever in a position in which you are considering that possibility, here are a few things that you might want to think about before (and after) you make that decision.

It's not a good idea to wait until both partners are completely on board with the idea of getting professional help. If one person is clear that they feel the need for another set of eyes and ears, it's probably time. One way to minimize any potential conflict around this decision is to make an agreement that either partner has the authority to unilaterally exercise the couples therapy option if she or he feels it's necessary. The best time to create this agreement is before, rather that after the relationship has begun to deteriorate.

Timing is everything. The question of when you choose to go is, as we suggested earlier, an important one. Waiting too long can be very costly, in more ways than one. The more entrenched the problems, the longer it takes to resole them, and in some cases irreparable damage can occur if the situation undergoes extreme deterioration. By all means, make your best effort to improve your relationship and repair what is broken on your own. But also, be mindful of recurring negative patterns that don't respond to your best efforts. That could mean that you might need to call in the cavalry.

Choose a person that you both feel that you can work with. There is no generic answer to the question of how you know whether you have the right coach/counsellor, but it is important that you are both in agreement that this is someone that you can at least begin the process with. It's unrealistic for a counselor to expect that you can commit to doing extensive work before having even had any experience working with him or her.

Beware of therapists who try to extract a commitment from you to a specific time period or number of sessions before you have had any experience getting to know their work. And on a related note, be willing to ask your counsellor any questions that you feel might be relevant to your ability to accurately assess their competence and fit for you, such as their experience, degrees, success rate, education, or even marital status and history. If the counsellor refuses to answer or turns your request into a question about your trust issues, you might want to think about seeking help elsewhere.

What are you looking for out of couples counseling? Get clear about what you really want to get out of this process. Couples come into coaching/counseling with a wide range of intentions, some conscious and some unconscious, some shared and some unshared. Some are content to simply deal with the situation that brought them there and get back to their ‘normal’ level of relatedness. Others may be looking for a transcendent experience, one that will transform their relationship into a source of spiritual realization. It's likely that very early on your counsellor will ask you about your goals.

Giving some thought to this question beforehand will expedite the process considerably. And try to keep in mind that it’s normal for even the clearest intentions to shift, change, or (hopefully) be fulfilled in the process. If that happens you can extend or adjust the goals that you have for counselling. You are not permanently locked into anything that you say in response to the "purpose question". But it's a very good place to begin.

Your counsellor is a consultant, not a fixer. Although couples may strongly disagree on many points, one thing that they usually do agree on is that it is the therapist's responsibility to fix the marriage. After all, why else would we be paying him all that money?

Going to the dentist may not be a particularly pleasant experience for most of us, but one thing that we can count on from the dentist is that he will take responsibility for handling our dental concerns without expecting any more from us than to follow a few pretty simple instructions, like open, close, rinse, spit, grind.

Not so in couples coaching/counseling, which is a more dynamic process that involves interactions between three people and requires each partner to take an active role in the process and to be willing to be an involved agent in influencing its outcome.

The relationship coach/counselor is there to assist and guide you to consider new ways of looking at things, to redirect the focus of your attention from your partner's behavior and more towards yourself and the relationship. You can't control other people but you can influence your own behavior and doing so will change the dynamics of the relationship.

More couples counselor advice from YourTango:

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Your coach/counselor might offer you tools or behavioral suggestions for you to try on or suggest possibilities that you may not have previously considered. Your job is to be as honest and engaged as you can be and to explore new possibilities. Vulnerability and risk are two things that many of us try to minimize in our lives, particularly when we have been scarred (and scared) by emotional wounding. They are usually, however key factors in the healing process.

The real "work" of relationship coaching - counselling occurs between sessions. The marriage coach/counselor's office isn't the only place where the work gets done, but it is the place where many of the lessons are learned. As most of us know from experience, knowing what you need to do generally is not enough to bring about real change. What’s required is to engage the practices that will promote the development of the qualities that we need to embody, in order to bring about the changes in our relationship that we desire. These qualities include (but are not limited to) responsibility, compassion, integrity, authenticity, commitment, courage, and emotional honesty.

Your life outside of the the therapy sessions is the place where you get to practice and ultimately integrate new styles of relating and communicating that invite openness and trust and discourage avoidance and defensiveness. If you feel that it’s much easier to implement those changes in the therapy sessions than it is at home, that's probably because your coach/counselor's added support has created a safety net that has enabled you to risk more emotional vulnerability. Your coach/counselor's job is to help you to internalize that support so that you will be able to do outside of the therapy sessions what you learn to do inside of it.

Although there's no generic answer to the question: "How long will that take?", I can assure you that with time, practice, and good help, it will happen. The art of co-creating mutually fulfilling relationships requires more of you than you may have originally bargained for. Fortunately, you are not alone. Help is available, not just in the form of relationship coaching/counseling, but through the wisdom, support, and shared life experiences of others who have walked this path before you and learned valuable lessons. Given what's at stake, you can all use all the help you can get! 

Communication can be a really tough thing, especially if it is with someone that you have been in a relationship with for a long time. People tend to get comfortable with each other and when that happens the levels of communication may start to decrease because you "know each other so well".

So, don't let comfortableness fool you; there is still communication issues that will come up if you don't keep yourself open and honest and make an effort to communicate with your partner. Follow these simple tips to make sure that your communication in relationships is top notch.

1. Assuming. You have heard the old saying, "Assuming makes an 'ass' out of 'u' and 'me'" Yes, it's cheeky and kind of stupid, but it's very true. It's important in your relationship to not assume something unless it has been clearly laid out in some form of communication.

For example, it's assumed that you will take out the garbage every Tuesday night, but only because your wife and yourself have a verbal contract that says so. If you don't take out the garbage, then it is your fault. If there were no contract, the blame couldn't really be passed to anyone. Sounds technical, but it happens all the time.

So, don't assume, unless it has been laid out in a concrete way with your partner.

2. Say what you mean. If you have something to say in your relationship, then say it clearly and concisely. It’s important to tell the other person exactly what you mean, because if you don't, they will create in their heads what they think you mean. And that is never a good situation to be in. Just take some time to say what you mean, don’t rush your thoughts, and clarify your point if necessary.

3. Don't shut up. If you have something to say, then say it. Don't keep things bottled up inside, especially when something in the relationship is bothering you. Also, if you have something good to say about your partner, say it loud and often. People may not necessarily like to hear the truth all the time, but it's an important communication skill to let the other person in the relationship know where you are at.

4. Think about her before yourself. Thinking it's all about you doesn't work so well in a relationship. While you shouldn't let one side of the relationship have all the attention, it's important to to let your other half have some attention before you get some. This shows that you actually care what they are doing in their lives and that you are interested in them. Plus, practicing a little selflessness every day can only make you a more sincere and empathetic person.

5. Don't discourage conversation about feelings. Guys may be apprehensive about sharing what they feel at any given time (O.K., anyone may be apprehensive), but if you really want to kick your communication into high gear share what your feelings are about the situtations that are going on in your life. When I have shared what I truly felt, people are amazed and felt much more connected to me (and I with them). Talking about feelings sounds cliche, but don't disregard it; it is important and it works.

6. Make communication time. At least once a day set aside some time to open the lines of communication with your partner. Basically shut down all the gizmos and just have a conversation. It may feel weird and somewhat uncomfortable at first, but the quality of the conversation will get better and better as time goes on.

Also, you will end up learning a bunch of things you never knew about your partner (yes, even after many years of being with them).

7. Make non-communication time. On the opposite side of this, make sure that you have scheduled time for not communicating. In other words, schedule a little "me time" every single day. This is great for introspection and reflection on your life and current situation. You can process feelings, worries, thoughts, etc. by yourself and then bring them to your partner during your own communication times.

Sometimes we need a little quiet to understand what is going on with us on the inside. Communication is the most important thing in my relationships and many others. Don’t take it for granted and make sure to spend some serious time working on communication by following the tips above. Your relationships will only benefit from them.

Want to build positive relationships? Then make sure not to commit the following 10 points that disrupt relationships:

Giving hurtful comments. Are you hurting others by your lack of tact? You might think that you're being helpful, but your intentions might have hurt the other party instead. Put yourself in others’ shoes first. If it's not a comment you appreciate hearing yourself, then perhaps it's not something others will appreciate either.

Giving solutions when the person is really looking for a listening ear. Probably an understatement: A lot of times what people want is a listening ear. Deep down, people have solutions to the problems they are facing—they are just looking for someone to share their frustrations with because they have had a long and hard day. I had a friend who would always butt in with suggestions whenever I shared my frustrations. Our conversations became stifling—in the end I stopped talking about them altogether because I wasn't getting the refuge I wanted. Be more conscious of what the other party is looking for, and adjust accordingly to fit that.

Being judgemental. Thinking you are above others. No one likes to be judged or labeled. If you are constantly judging others for what they do/say, it might be good to reflect that upon yourself.  Putting someone off doesn’t make someone a better person; it just makes him/her appear insecure. Humility is a timeless virtue that’s appreciated by everyone.

Being defensive to criticism. How well do you respond to criticism? Do you become defensive and wall yourself up? Or do you graciously take it into stride and use the criticism constructively for growth? Learn to deal with critical people—it might be the most important skill you can ever acquire.

Telling people what to do. Most of us don’t like it when people try to boss us around. Learning to energize people and get them on board a common vision is more empowering than trying to order people around. I have experienced situations where acquaintances do not respond to correspondences, possibly because they do not see them as important. Subsequently I form a very bad impression of them, and deprioritize their requests when they seek my help later on.

Thinking you know it all. The more I learn, the more I realize what I don't know. There is a wealth of knowledge out there for us to learn. Thinking you know everything, rejecting new methods and vehemently insisting on your ways prevents you from connecting with others. Be open to trying new things.

Being a complainer. It's okay to complain every once in a while, but doing it all too often puts off people. Complaining too much makes you an energy vortex—it becomes draining to be around you. People like to be around positive people, not energy vampires. If you are one, it's not too late to change—start by focusing on positive things around you and work from there.

Not following up on things you agreed on. One of my pet peeves is when people don't follow up on things they agree on (be it appointments, favors, etc). I think it makes them unreliable and leaves a very bad taste in my mouth. These are the same people that I make a note not to work with in the future.

When conversing with someone, learn to not only listen, but listen actively. Seek out the underlying message behind what someone is saying. These guides will help you improve your "communication" skills. However, if you really want to know how to become a highly effective communicator with confidence and ease, contact me.

As always, leave a man or woman all the better for knowing you.

Average men and women know only the rules.

Masculine Men and Feminine Women know and are the EXCEPTIONS!

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This article was originally published at . Reprinted with permission from the author.