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Lynn Louise Wonders, LPC, RPT-S, CPCS is a professional business mentor of mine and owns Wonders Counseling Services, LLC and Wonders Wellness, LLC. She is in private practice in the metro Atlanta area in Georgia and she provides distance training, coaching, consultation and mentoring services to people nation-wide and internationally.
Calls come into my office every day from people needing help with their relationship.
It requires courage to make that call and ask for help from a therapist when your relationship has reached rough waters.
When you are able to connect with a trained and skilled therapist you and your partner can learn together effective ways to get to smoother sailing in your relationship.
I have been fortunate enough to study with Drs. John and Julie Gottman of the Gottman Institute. They have the most in-depth relationship research based approach to helping couples available. In my training, they taught me that it is not WHETHER a couple fights that determines whether a marriage can happily succeed but HOW the couple fights.
That may come as a surprise to you. The fact is, couples will have disagreements and conflict. Armed with particular skills and tools, those rough waters can be an opportunity to grow closer.
My work with couples brings what I learned with the Gottman Institute along with my training in Adlerian Couples Therapy and Imago Relationship Therapy. I have seen couples were on the brink of divorce rebound with powerful new skills and a new perspective on life and love.
The truth of the matter is that when a couple truly wants to improve the quality of their relationship there are tried and true methods for learning how to navigate those rough waters.
In this article I want to provide some powerful tips that I introduce to couples in my office for you and your partner to try.
Keep in mind, this should not replace seeing a qualified therapist to assist and facilitate the process of reprogramming your relationships destructive patterns; but it may help you create a positive shift in your relationship.
- Focus on your goal.
You need to ask yourself, “What is my goal here?” If your goal is get your partner to pick up his wet towels and hang them on the rack, criticizing his sloppiness might work against your goal. Research tells us that criticism does not typically motivate people to change their behavior and actually can damage the relationship.
Before you speak up about your disgust or unhappiness with your partner’s behavior, go back to your goal. Instead of crticizing, try asking lovingly for what you want. “Hey sweetie, I’d really like it if you would pick up your towels and hang them on the rack.” When he complies, use some positive reinforcement, “Thank you babe! I really do appreciate it.”
When he picks them up next time without you saying a word, hug him give him an even bigger thank you to really reinforce that desired behavior. Trust me. As the old saying goes, you will attract far more flies with honey than with vinegar.
This applies in more serious situations as well. The rule to follow is to pause from speaking until you’ve clarified in your own mind what the goal is and censor what you’re about to say by considering if this is going to work toward your goal or against it.
- Be curious and patient.
I teach my couples clients to build a habit of loving curiosity rather than reactivity. If your partner speaks sharply to you when she normally doesn’t, instead of automatically reacting and getting into an angry exchange, get curious.
Ask yourself, I wonder what is happening for her?” and then gently and softly inquire. “Hon, everything okay? You seem irritated. Can I help?” If she snaps back at you, be patient. Give her some space but stay curious rather than being offended.
When you notice that your partner is experiencing emotional “flooding” stay curious but give her time and space. There is no need to feel victimized. You’ll have a chance later to talk about the way you felt when she snapped at you. Give her a chance to cool off and calm down first.
- Recognize when you are “flooded” and take a break to self-soothe.
When the emotion center of the brain lights up the logical, rational part of the brain shuts down temporarily. Once “flooded” it is key to take a break (with reassurance you will return to the conversation after you’ve calmed down) This break will let you and your emotional brain to have a chance to soothe so you can return to being able to access an utilize the part of your brain that can access what is reasonable and logical.
This may be the most important suggestion I can give any individual in any relationship.
You simply can’t address important matters in productive way when flooded with emotion. When you take a break, try not to allow the flood of frustration and hurt develop into a dramatic departure with slamming doors and alarming displays. Own the flood of emotional energy you are having and take it outside. Move your body, breathe, give space and time to allow the emotion center of your brain to cool off. Once calmer, return to you partner in order to finish the discussion.
- Be soft.
My last very important tip is for you to practice being soft. Intentionally soften your tone. Choose softer words. Be gentle with your touch.
If your partner rises up with harsh or angry manner and words, your job is to go soft.
There is tremendous strength in softness despite what you initially may believe. Consider that a soft blade of grass will bend with the wind of a big storm whereas a rigid tree branch will break.
Often people think being soft is a bad thing or a sign of weakness. On the contrary, I teach couples that in a relationship, when you purposefully use the super-power of being soft you build a culture in which the hard edges of one will easily soften when the other remains soft.
Using harsh voice, harsh words only begets more harshness in the relationship. Nothing sweet and lovely ever came out of harshness.
All of this said, no one should ever allow for verbal or physical abuse. You can be set firm boundaries and seek immediate professional help if there is abuse in the relationship.
I work with couples in Georgia for relationship therapy but I also provide relationship coaching for couples all over the country and even internationally. If you’d like to talk with me about relationship counseling, coaching or training please visit my website www.wonderscounseling.com
Lynn Louise Wonders, LPC, RPT-S, CPCS owns Wonders Counseling Services, LLC and Wonders Wellness, LLC. She is in private practice in the metro Atlanta area in Georgia and she provides distance training, coaching, consultation and mentoring services to people nation-wide and internationally.