Keys to a Happy Relationship: Effective Repairs During Conflict

Keys-to-A-Happy-Relationship-Effective-Repairs-During-Conflict

Married At First Sight, Australia’s most recent reality show, has been declared a ratings success in spite of the controversy that the show attracted prior to being aired. It is little wonder, given that human beings are ‘wired’ for relationship and as such, long for and pursue the relationship that will meet their need for a life time of love and happiness. So it is with fascination that we watch the relational dynamics between each of the four couples, no doubt overlaying our own commentary and judgement about what we witness on our screens.

My attention has been particularly drawn to the unpredictable and frequently volatile relationship that is the ‘beautiful and feisty’ Clare and the ‘grounded and more laid back’ Lachlan. I am intrigued to observe how readily conflict erupts and what repair attempts, if any, are made to de-escalate and resolve their issues. Try as they might, Lachlan spends the night alone on the couch with his dog for company- which is not what he signed up for when he put up his hand for the arranged marriage.

A repair attempt can be any gesture that attempts to calm, diffuse, or end the fight peacefully. Dr Gottman says that even if someone says, “Uggh, I need a break,” it can be an attempt by that person to calm themselves rather than further escalate the fight. When we don’t know how to calm ourselves, conflicts can easily escalate out of control, and result in an emotional state that Gottman calls ‘flooding.’ As the word suggests, conflict has the potential of overwhelming or flooding the ‘river banks’ that normally contain your emotion, so that feelings of anger, fear or sadness take centre stage. Your threat system is activated, your breathing becomes constricted, your muscles tense, your heart beats rapidly, and when upon reaching 95-l00 beats per minute, your adrenal glands are activated delivering a rush of increased excitement, so listening and the understanding needed to re-establish trust and intimacy is near impossible until the flood has receded. With so much going on internally, is it any wonder that couples find themselves locked into perpetual conflict? Given that Clare and Lachlan do not know each other well, it is a difficult ask for them to navigate their conflict without some guidance.

So what, I wonder, would I be suggesting to Clare and Lachlan that might assist to effectively repair a conflict and avoid another night on the couch for Lachlan?

One of my favourite repair attempts is the use of humour. My husband, Duncan, used to be easily angered whenever he felt frustrated or irritated or tired, which often became a precursor to our conflicts. Holidaying in New Zealand, we were driving a long, narrow, windy road somewhere on the Coromandel Peninsula. Uncertain as to whether it was the correct road to our destination, night had long since fallen and we were both tired, making the odds for conflict fairly high. As I was the map reader, it was easy enough for my husband to take his frustration about the situation out on me. Aware that our conversation was escalating I took inspiration from Duncan’s best mate Rob (who shared their own invented language from their early childhood years together) and said, “In the words of Rob, ‘Get moogied’ Duncan.” I can’t really give you a definition for the word ‘moogied’ but it worked; Duncan broke out in laughter and we were okay once more.

In John Gottman’s Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work he describes a number of repair attempts that couples can try. He acknowledges that these can feel forced at first, but as you and your partner learn some ‘damage control language,’ you’ll come up with your own versions of what he’s given. Here are some of them:

  1. “Please say that more gently.”
  2. “That felt like an insult.”
  3. Open your arms to invite your spouse in to be held.
  4. “Just listen to me right now and try to understand.”
  5. “Can you kiss me?”
  6. “Can we take a break?”
  7. “Let me try again.”
  8. “How can I make things better?”
  9. “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”
  10. “I agree with part of what you are saying.”
  11. Reach your hand out gently to touch theirs.
  12. “One thing I admire about you is…”
  13. “We are getting off track.”
  14. “That’s a good point.”
  15. “I love you.”

Of course, when one person makes a repair attempt, the responsibility is upon the other to respond by graciously accepting their attempt to repair the conflict.

As for Clare and Lachlan, Lachlan most certainly has been putting some of these repair attempts into practice but will Clare respond? We can only stay tuned to find out.

Do you want to take your relationship to a new level? Would you like to discuss how cultivate a healthy connection?  Here’s what you need to do: contact WatersedgeCounselling on 0434 337 245 for a FREE 10-minute phone consultation on how we can best help you, or press book now to book in our online diary.

6 Tips to Make Couple Counselling Work For You

Woman-Mad-At-Her-Husband-Against-A-White-A-Background-by-David-Castillo-DominiciOne of the most frequently asked questions I hear from couples when enquiring about Couple Counselling is ‘will couple counselling work us?’ As much as I want to say ‘absolutely’, the answer is rarely that black and white because as human beings, each of us is ultimately responsible for our own action and behaviour and has a direct impact on the outcome. It is possible however, to identify some of the factors that are likely to guarantee a better outcome for a couple engaging in counselling together.

Here are 6 tips to make Couple Counselling work for you:

1. Make couple counselling your first option for relationship repair

It is in the nature of human beings to put off the things that feel difficult and/or frightening and require effort. How do you deal with issues in your relationship? Do you have a conversation and find a way to resolve the issue or do you resort to a different way of coping; denial, distraction and delay are well worn strategies that couples often use to avoid confrontation and discomfit. You tell yourself that you can live with it if you ignore it or that it will go away if you don’t talk about it, but you are deceiving yourself. Over time, unresolved issues in your relationship cause more conflict, distrust and pain leading to disconnection.

The earlier you go to couple counselling, the more likely your couple relationship can be successful repaired.

 2. Choose a Couple Counsellor that you both feel comfortable with

For a successful outcome to your couple counselling, it is important that both partners feel comfortable with the Counsellor, heard and understood. A Couple Counsellor’s priority is your relationship, making every effort to direct interventions towards promoting and building your couple connection. Unlike individual counselling, a skilled Couples Counsellor will be careful not to align more strongly with one partner rather than the other. This can be tricky and it can be a partner’s experience that they feel they are being ‘ganged up on’. In my experience, where you feel comfortable enough to talk to the Couple Counsellor about any negative perception without feeling judged or misunderstood, the therapeutic connection can grow stronger.

Feeling comfortable with your Couples Counsellor is about being able to trust their judgement and having belief and respect for their skill as a Couple Counsellor.

 3. Have an agreed couple agenda

What do you want the outcome of couples counselling to be?

What would a ‘successful outcome’ look like?

These are the initial questions your Couple Counsellor will ask you both. Where a couple are in disagreement about the aims and goals of your relationship counselling, the process will lack direction because you are pulling in different directions. A Couples Counsellor will ensure that there is an agreed agenda for the counselling process, even if the initial agenda is to come to a shared agreement about what you want to achieve. It could be the case that as your couple counselling continues you choose to revisit this conversation to further clarify or even reset you agenda.

Talk about where you want your couple counselling to take you both.

 4. Have a Mutual Commitment to Couple Counselling

It is not uncommon for one partner to be the initiator of couple counselling and the other partner coming out of a need to appease. Where this is the case, a Couples Counsellor will have a conversation with you about the underlying motivation for coming, seeking to clarify and understand each position before encouraging both partners to give their full commitment. For a successful outcome, Couples Counselling is more likely to be a lengthy process, ensuring that couples have integrated their new skills and behaviour into their relationship. Unfortunately, many couples choose to disengage before this happens, consequently falling back into old patterns of behaviour over time.

Successful Couple Counselling demands that both partners are prepared to be open and vulnerable, honest about themselves and each other and tolerant of the process.

 5. Be deliberate about working on your couple relationship between each session

Couple work does not stop at the end of a couple’s session. In fact, the best work occurs between sessions as you carry out the ‘homework’ tasks your Counsellor may set, personally reflect upon the content of the previous session and your learnings from it, talk as a couple about the previous session with your observations and insights and generally keep practicing the skills you are learning.

Where a couple is both deliberately working on their relationship between sessions, you are more likely to have a successful outcome.

6. Be prepared to do your own individual work

Relationship repair involves two people being prepared to reflect upon their own beliefs, attitudes and behaviours. Where you both have a degree of self-awareness, the Couple Counsellor will often choose to address your personal issues within the couple session. On occasion, it is necessary for one or both partners to do individual sessions where there are unresolved personal issues that are hampering the couple process. It is a Couple Counsellors personal preference as to whether they will see you individually between couple sessions or refer you elsewhere to do the individual counselling.

Doing your own individual work is more likely to contribute towards a more successful outcome to your couple counselling.

If you are experiencing difficulties in your couple relationship and need direction and support to repair your relationship and have a strong, happy and enduring couple relationship then here’s what you need to do contact me on 0434 337 245 for a FREE 10-minute phone consultation on how I can best help you or press book now to book on my online diary.

How To Build a Happier Relationship

How To Build A Happier RelationshipWhen was the last time you told your partner that you appreciate them?

It is a pertinent question for anyone in a couple relationship because one of the most frequent complaints I hear from couples coming for counselling is, ‘He doesn’t appreciate all I do for him’ or ‘She doesn’t appreciate all I do for us’.

If you do so and on a regular basis, your relationship is likely to be in good health. If you cannot remember let me ask you another question: when did you start forgetting to tell your partner how grateful you all for all the 101 things and more that they do on a daily basis? You see, it is easy to notice the big things, the things that call attention to, but it is in the small every day acts that a relationship is nurtured and grown, or congruently, is slowly eroded and destroyed. Which direction is your relationship heading?

We all have a need to feel valued and appreciated in our relationships. When you receive a compliment, a ‘heart felt’ thanks or a warm embrace it makes you feel good about yourself. When your partner notices the things you do and expresses gratitude you feel happier and more content. In fact, research conducted by Benjamin Karney, co-director of the Relationship Institute at the University of California, has shown that couples who focus on the positive aspects of their relationship are the ones who are happiest in their relationship(1).

The 3 Things Exercise (2)

Sitting with a couple recently, I invited them to tell each other three things that they had noticed their partner do in the past week that they appreciated. That they were ‘out of practice’ was obvious by the lengthy silence until he mused that his partner had cooked dinner but that was her role in the household and therefore did not need to be acknowledged. At once, she let out an irritated sigh and her resentment was apparent. You see, he missed the point that it is in these very mundane and daily tasks that we each need to know we are appreciated and not taken for granted. In that moment he had the opportunity to create a closer connection however his failure to understand her need to be appreciated in the small insignificant things, reinforced the distance between them.

Research also tells us that being grateful can improve our own health and wellbeing. When you make a habit of noticing and expressing gratitude for the things your partner does, your relationship will improve. Gratitude and appreciation will always invite a closer connection.

Why not start practicing telling your partner what it is you are grateful for right now? To get you started, write down 3 things that you appreciate about them and then find a time when you are both able to sit down, have a cuppa together and talk. Perhaps you could make it your intention as a couple, to do this exercise every day or on a regular basis. I would love to hear how you progress on the comments below.

 

  1. J.K.McNulty & B.RKarney  2001 Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, vol 27, no 8
  2. J.Aitken & A.Leigh Making Couples Happy 2013

 

If you are experiencing difficulties in your couple relationship and need direction and support to repair your relationship and reach toward your full relational potential then here’s what you need to do contact me on 0434 337 245  for a FREE 10-minute phone consultation on how I can best help you or press book now to book on my online diary.