There are two things I liked to ask my “successful” couples at the end of our journey together. One, “what is one thing you walk away from the couple’s therapy that you can continue to do with each other no matter I am around or not?” Two, “what advice you would give to the couples who are currently in your place that led you to start counseling?”
When I was finishing up the “cost of the marital counseling vs. divorce,” I thought about a lot of things my so-called “successful couple shared with me. I thought it might be a good idea to share with my readers here to learn from the other couples.
Wisdom # 1: “Couple Therapy has helped us to find the time and space to talk about the difficult topics that we avoid talking about.”
This is the number 1 answer I always got from the couples. So, what are your take away point?
Take away point #1: Spending time together.
Earlier in my practice, the answer to this question often involved something like this:
“We can really talk, no TV, no radio, no children screaming in the background.”
Earlier in my practice, there were no cell phone or tablets to add more distraction in the couple’s life.
So, here is the wisdom to take away from these couples. Spending time together but really be with each other, not with children, with TV, with a smartphone, or anything in the background.
Remember those days when you first met each other? You wanted to spend every minute with each other and your partner had your full attention. You heard everything he/she said and you even rehash everything he/she said after you said goodbye.
You wonder why your relationship “changed.” It changed because you haven’t given each other enough attention.
Yes, I know, life gets in the way and you become busier. The good news is that you do know each other better than the way you used to be and you don’t need a lot of time to know each other’s background. You still need to spend time with each other on the regular basis to know each other’s world currently.
Here is what I “steal” from my veterans, called AAR (After Action Review) and all you need is 5 to 10 minutes.
Find a quiet time when it is just you and your partner. One of you as a listener and the other one as the speaker. Once you are done, rotate the roles. There are three topics to talk about:
What is one thing that made me happy, excited, or feeling positive today?
What is one thing that made me angry, frustrated, upset, or feeling negative today?
What is one thing that made me looking forward to engage tomorrow?
When you are the listener, please remember your role is not to solve your partner’s problem or tell him/her “don’t think like this.” Your role is to “listen” and to understand where your partner coming from. The rule of thumb from Dr. Gotten is “don’t side with the enemy,” which is anyone or anything that made your partner feels that way he/she feels.
When you are the speaker, your role is not to blame anyone or anything that makes you feel that way but to share your feelings. The rule of thumb is the so called “I statement.” However, it is very important to remember, I statement doesn’t just start with “I feel.” Here are examples:
👍“I feel upset when I dropped the coffee pot on the floor and I was already running late.”
x “ I feel you are being an idiot to leave the coffee on the counter without putting it away. I dropped the coffee pot because of that!”
Takeaway #2: Talking about difficult topics
Yes, this is a very difficult one. However, life is not peachy and a relationship does go through up and down. You might have heard of similar jokes on the internet that a wife didn’t know his husband never like certain food until they got the divorce. He never said it to her because he didn’t want to upset her. In the end, those little things that you never knew bothered your partner were the reasons break your relationship.
So, it is certainly very important to talk about difficult topics, as small as the food you don’t like, or as big as you disagree with the financial decisions.
When it involves the difficult topic, it is even more important to use the “I statement” without blaming or judgment to express your position. For example:
“I am really upset ant bothered by the dirty kitchen in the morning. I feel aggravated when I see a messy kitchen when I wake up in the morning. I feel even more aggravated when I come back home at the end of the day to a messy kitchen. I love to start the day fresh and come home to cook right away. What I really need you to help me is to put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher and run it if you see the dishwasher full. I really need your help on this because I do not want to be made at you.”
There are also issues that you or your partner may not be consciously aware of why this is a difficult topic. I really would strongly encourage you to seek the professional help to figure it out before this topic eats your relationship away.