I’ve worked with couples for almost a decade and over that time I’ve seen a pattern of couples coming in to work on their relationship about 7 years too late. By the time they come into my office there has been so much damage done that the relationships are often not salvageable and that is devastating.
Why is this?
It’s understandable that when we are first in love we want to just enjoy those good feelings! And there is nothing wrong with that! Love is a wonderful thing!!
The problem is that very few of us want to engage in discussing topics that aren’t currently problems, especially when these discussions may involve some conflict. Unfortunately that means that many couples move in together or get married without ever thoroughly discussing essential topics, like:
- money and financial management
- communication styles
- conflict management
- sex and intimacy
- beliefs, values and unspoken expectations
Many couples hope or assume these things will just work themselves out in the long run. But when these topics are left unaddressed they often lead to relationship break-down.
Right now in Canada there is a 48% divorce rate. Another statistic I learned more recently is that people are spending on average $20,000 on a wedding. Those are terrible odds – investing $20,000 with only a 50/50 chance of a positive outcome.
So why do we do that?
I think we’re working on a very outdated model of relationships. There used to be a time when people would come together with very specific roles and societal pressure to stay together. But it’s so different now. We expect so much. We want our best friend, an activity buddy, somebody we think is funny and interesting and the list goes on.
So if you knew there was a way of increasing the odds of having a successful long-term relationship would you do it?
Most of us would say a strong YES!
And yet only a very small percentage of couples will engage in any sort of marriage or cohabitation preparation. That preparation could be counselling, working with mentors, it could be a lot of different things.
Yet very few couples do any of these things. At the same time there is so much research out there to show the behaviors, skills and types of conversations couples engage in who are in strong healthy relationships.
I want to help couples develop these strong foundations so that the investment they are making in their relationship is one that pays off. And one that pays off in having a secure, solid and thriving relationship.
If you are interested, please join us for a two day marriage/cohabitation preparation workshop.
- Where: Squamish BC
- When: Saturday March 2 and Saturday March 9, 2019
- What: This is an educational workshop and not intended as therapy so while there will be general discussions, but you do not need to share personal information.
- Cost: $275/couple
Click here to register or learn more about this workshop.
Please feel free to share this with anyone you know who might be interested!
Sadly no wine is involved in this post, but it is an interesting question posed by a relationship psychologist I listened to in a recent podcast: ‘You 2.0: When did marriage become so hard?’ (from NPR’s Hidden Brain podcast).
Let me explain.
In this podcast the psychologist shared a quote from the movie ‘Sideways.’’ In this quote the actor is talking about why he loves Pinot Noir – because the grape used in Pinot Noir requires very special conditions and a lot of care and attention to grow versus a Merlot grape which is much more resilient and needs less TLC, but is more common. The psychologist then suggested that many of us are aiming for ‘Pinot’ relationships with ‘Merlot’ skills and efforts.
In other words, we want to have a relationship where we are best friends with our partners, lovers, intellectual equals, adventure buddies, etc. But, we spend very little time identifying and developing the skills and behaviors necessary to support these expectations.
A ‘Pinot’ relationship is not better than a ‘Merlot’ relationship, but if you have ‘Pinot’ expectations, it’s important to have a clear understanding of the skills and behaviors that are needed to support this type of relationship.
I see this mismatch between relationship expectations and partner skill sets time and time again in my private practice. I have such deep respect for individuals and couples who become aware of and address the missing skills required to support and nurture their relationships.
But let’s face it, it’s scary taking an honest look at ourselves, it’s vulnerable and easy to feel ashamed and embarrassed rather than curious. And society seems to give us the message that we should just somehow…magically… have all the necessary skills to be a great partner and to build a healthy relationship. Talk about pressure!
Very few people would put on a pair of skis and just expect, because they have legs, they should know how to ski well! Just because we are, by nature, relational beings, does not mean we automatically have all the skills and knowledge to create sustainable, healthy relationships.
So whether you want a ‘Pinot’ or ‘Merlot’ relationship, committing to learning the skills and behaviours associated with thriving relationships is essential.
So what are these skills and behaviors?
There are many, many great books and articles covering these topics. Here are just a few titles:
- The Relationship Cure – John Gottman
- Hold Me Tight – Sue Johnson
- The 10 Conversations You Must Have Before You Get Married – Guy Grenier
As a starting point though, the single most impactful skill you can focus on is communication. Having the courage to take a good look at your communication strengths and growth areas is the biggest gift you can give to yourself and any current or future relationships and partners.
Interested in learning more?
Reading about something is one thing, but putting it into action is where change and growth happen.
To that end I’ve created a free workbook to help you put one powerful communication skill into practice.
Sign up here to get your workbook and get started today!
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Today I was thinking about the amount of time most of us invest in improving ourselves professionally, yet, how little time many of us invests in improving ourselves as relationship partners. It’s as if somehow we think this should just come naturally, but building healthy relationships can be quite a journey. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start, so I decided to review a few different relationship blogs that I think offer particularly good information, tools and resources.
The Gottman Institute was started by John and Julie Gottman, both couples’ psychologists. This blog offers couples and clinicians practical, research-based tools and skills to strengthen and repair marriages and relationships.
The Couples Institute was started by Ellyn Bader and Pete Pearson, both couples’ psychologists. This blog offers couples articles and practical exercises for improving their marriage or relationship.
Sue Johnson is a psychologist and primary developer of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT). Her blog posts include lots of great information and research about topics ranging from love to neuroscience to attachment
One of the biggest communication myths that leads to a lot of unnecessary pain is the belief that if somebody really cares about you or values you then you shouldn’t have to tell them what you want or need. This can apply in personal relationships as well as in our professional ones.
- If you loved me I wouldn’t have to ask you_______________ (to say I love you, for your help, to plan a date, etc).
- If you really valued me as an employee, you would give me the raise I would like (but have never asked for).
Some people hold the belief that if they have to ask for what they need or want then somehow it doesn’t count. Not only does it not count, the other person’s inability to anticipate and respond to the unvoiced needs is interpreted as a sign that they are not cared about or valued.
This belief can lead to a lot of suffering for all involved.
Part of healthy communication is the ability to both recognize and voice our own needs and wants. This isn’t always an easy thing. Sometimes we aren’t even sure what we want or need and try to outsource it, hoping the other person can figure out these things for us. Making requests for what we want can also lead to feeling vulnerable, not feeling like we have a right to ask for what we want, or being scared of hearing a negative response.
A great resource for exploring request-making for wants and needs is Non-Violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg
Experiment: take a moment to think about a current personal or professional relationship. Can you see any areas where it may be hard to identify or ask for what you need/want from the other person? What are some of the thoughts or beliefs that might be acting as barriers?
Any questions? Contact me today!
Please feel free to share!
You know that feeling when you are talking to somebody who seems genuinely interested in you and what you have to say?
Think about the last time you had an experience like this.
It generally feels pretty good when others feel curious about us. It can be a real luxury to have space to explore our thoughts, feelings, and ideas without feeling judged or needing to defend ourselves.
How often do you think you give people the feeling that you are curious about their thoughts, feelings, and ideas? Do you ever notice, if they talk about things you don’t understand or express beliefs that are different from your own, that you start to analyze or judge them? Maybe you start to come up with your own arguments about the flaws in their logic, or thinking about how much you disagree with them…
Being curious about how others see the world without becoming defensive about our own views is no easy task.
As e. e. cummings says, curiosity comes when we believe in ourselves. When we are comfortable with our own boundaries and don’t feel threatened by the differing views of others, we can spend our energy learning more about them without wasting it on defending ourselves or our views.
Certainly there is a time for debating and discussing differing viewpoints. But if we move right to judging or defending our own perspectives, not only are we likely to trigger defensiveness in others, but we might also miss the opportunity to understand why they think the way they do and what is important about it to them.
While easier said than done, genuine curiosity often paves the way to fruitful debate or discussion.
Experiment: Observe yourself over the next few days. Don’t try to change anything; just notice how often you feel curious about others’ perspectives, and how often you find yourself judging what they are saying or wanting to defend your own perspective.
Notice what you do differently in each situation. Notice how you react when other’s approach you with curiosity vs. judgement
Questions and requests that can promote curiosity:
- What is most important to you about __________?
- I’m interested to hear more about_____________
- What led you to see things this way?
- Hmmm that’s really different from how I see_________. I’d love to hear more about how you see _______.
Remember that asking questions and being curious about somebody’s perspective does not have to mean you agree with them!
When asked most people say they don’t want to be lied to by their partner, yet consciously or unconsciously there are a lot of cues we can give to our partner that lets them know we are not prepared to hear the truth about what he/she is thinking or feeling.
Here is a quiz developed by Ellyn Bader and Pete Pearson of the Couples Institute that can help you to evaluate your typical responses to your partner:
When my partner begins to reveal a truth, emotion, or a disturbing aspect of himself or herself, I….
|Almost Never||Occasionally||Very Frequently|
|Look forward to the conversation|
|Listen very carefully and non- defensively|
|Ask for more information|
|Coordinate with my partner and if necessary, negotiate a better time to talk|
|Try to draw out a more complete understanding of his/her perspective|
|Tell myself to stay calm and attentive|
|Tell myself not to take personally what is being said|
|Recognize and appreciate the risk taken to self- disclosure|
|Compliment myself for encouraging the truth|
When I hear my partner saying something I really don’t want to hear, I….
|Quite Often||Occasionally||Almost Never|
|Believe it’s mostly my fault|
|Withdraw and pout|
|Counterattack and blame|
|Don’t’ say much now but will dump on him/her later|
|Use the silent treatment or cold shoulder|
|Interrupt and change the topic|
|Tell him/her why he/she is wrong|
|Pretend to listen but tune out and don’t remember a word that was said|
Add up your totals for each column
- Column 1 = 1 point,
- Column 2 = 3 points,
- Column 3 = 5 points
9-18 Congratulations for your honesty
18-27 Watch out for your tendencies to discourage truth telling
27-45 You’re on a great track. You really know that eliciting the truth builds a stronger foundation
This quiz can be a helpful tool for increasing your awareness of the ways you may be encouraging and discouraging your partner’s truthfulness.
relationship communication cartoon from poorlydrawnlines.com
Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable.
When conflict arises and couples are feeling stressed, one of the first things that can disappear is the ability to listen to and hear each other. Part of the reason listening becomes more difficult is that, as our nervous systems start to escalate, we tend to move into fight/flight/freeze mode, filtering out most of what our partners are saying in favour of our worst assumptions and interpretations. No wonder it’s so easy to skip listening and go straight to defending, attacking, and blaming. It can also be tempting to move straight to problem-solving, in hopes that a quick solution will make the discomfort of conflict go away. Problem-solving is certainly an important step in conflict resolution, but it is difficult to do effectively without both partners feeling listened to and heard. Learning to tolerate discomfort, while listening to each other’s points of view, is an essential, though often difficult step, toward de-escalating and resolving conflict.
Because listening can be tough, especially during conflict, it’s a great skill to practice with your partner on a regular basis when things aren’t so stressful. As the listener, you can increase your ability to remain curious, without becoming defensive or judgmental. And by listening to your partner you are giving them a pretty rare gift. As the one being listened to, you can practice sharing how you feel or how your are perceiving a situation, without moving into accusations or blame.
If you are curious, give this 5 Minute Listening Experiment a try. Set a time aside and decide who will talk and who will listen. Set an alarm for 5 minutes, and then switch roles. Initially it’s best to stick to topics that are not too sensitive.
- Pay attention to when you are truly feeling curious and when you are feeling defensive or judgmental. Notice any differences between these experiences.
- Notice how strange it can feel to simply listen and not respond or try to problem-solve.
- Remember that your partner is only sharing how he or she sees or feels about something. It’s only one perspective.
- Listening does not mean you have to agree with what your partner is saying. It does show that you are curious to know more about why your partner feels the way he or she does.
- Try imagining that your partner is a stranger on a plane telling you about his or her experience.
- Its a real gift to talk about your experience without interruption, so take advantage of the opportunity to openly and honestly express how you are feeling or perceiving a situation. Be careful not to move into blaming or accusing.
- Once the 5 minutes is up, thank your partner for listening.
Life is busy and it would be unrealistic to expect couples to devote endless hours to just talking and listening. The good news is that this skill can be practiced in a very short period of time. Why not give it a try and see?