As a therapist, I don’t often know the “outcome” of the clients after the termination of the therapy. I only have the information as to how the clients were doing when the session ended but how my clients afterward, I don’t often know.
This past weekend, I have a privilege to spend the weekend with a couple whom I worked with a few years ago. This meeting was the third time we spent the weekend together. It was such a humbling experience to me that I have to write this down to share with you. I see this as my “lesson learned from my successful couple.” This is the 2nd lesson I learned from them. (Click to read Journey 1.)
Lesson # 2: Time
If you have been in the couple’s counseling or read “relationship books,” you will know that “I Statement” is one of the most discussed techniques in the conflict resolution and communication.
If you are familiar with Dr. John Gottman’s work, you will have heard of this term called “ Four Horseman.” Specifically, from Dr. Gottman’s research, “criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling” are the four most commonly seen issues that causing communication issues in the couple’s relationship.
As I sat through this weekend with this couple, I was shocked as to how they used “I statement” so naturally. More importantly, I didn’t see any Four Horseman in their communication.
That is certainly not the case when we first met a few years ago. I remembered this:
“Let me clarify what he/she said, this is what happened……”
“I did try to do….. but he/she…….”
Those commonly seen/heard conversation happened during the first weekend when we met. So, what happened?
Here is what I learned from them:
“We spent almost every night just talking after we went back.” I was shocked to hear that, seriously, shocked. From what they told me, they spent almost every night talking to each other with the techniques they learned from their couple’s retreat. And, more shockingly, it went on for almost SIX MONTHS! No wonder they used “I statement” and the “antidote of the Four Horsemen” so naturally! It is not because these techniques were simple, but their efforts made them looked easy!
So, ask yourself, when was the last time you sat there and simply talked to your partner without any interruption?
1) “We check in with each other almost every day.”
I always give my couples this simple assignment to practice listening: “at the end of the day, share with your partner about something positive, something negative, and something you are looking forward tomorrow.”
This check-in technique, based on Dr. Gottman, is found to be the reasons couples maintain the therapy effectiveness 6-months after the ending of the couple’s therapy. I usually give a very clear instruction: “something positive, something negative, and something you are looking forward to.” By doing so, I try to guide my couple to avoid all negativity, especially when one or both of them have the issues to stonewall or to emotionally flooded.
To be honest, this is the first time I heard about a couple who was consistently doing this, years after the ending of the therapy.
More impressively, guess what, they told me that, they write emails to check in if one or both of them were on the business trip and cannot do so at the end of the day.
Do you want to know another shocking thing they did? The wife told me that the husband actually keeps a diary with all the thoughts he had when he was on the trip for her to read. “That is so romantic,” she said.
Yeah, I agree. It is very romantic.
In this article about trust and betrayal, Dr. Gottman talked about how you build trust:
“But how do you build trust? What I’ve found through research is that trust is built in very small moments, which I call “sliding door” moments, after the movie Sliding Doors. In any interaction, there is a possibility of connecting with your partner or turning away from your partner.”
When was the last time you made your partner feel that you are thinking about him/her even when you are not around? Remember that was how you felt when you were dating. What happened?
Take Away Points:
“ Share with me about your day. Anything that makes you feel positive? Anything that makes you feel negative? What do you anticipate about your tomorrow? Anything significant tomorrow that I should know?”
Please don’t make it as if it is a mundane business. Be curious about your partner’s emotions and experiences.
Please don’t try to solve the problem for your partner. Try to understand his/her narratives when the incidents happened and his/her emotions about those narratives.
For example: “Help me understand why this makes you frustrated!”
2) “You are always on my mind.”
Show your partner that he/she is on your mind. Make sure that he/she knows when you do so. For example, if you buy the ice cream that your partner loves for him, make sure he/she knows. “I get your favorite ice cream in the refrigerator. I hope you want it.” Make sure that you notice your partner’s nice gestures to please you. “I notice you get me my favorite ice cream. Thank you so much! I feel so loved/special!”
It is these little moments that you can create the feeling of “being in love.”
(To Be Continued, Click here for the final lesson for me as a therapist. )