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Relationship Help Blog

 
Relationship Help Bulletin, Part 8

Posted on October 14, 2015

How Do You Respond to Your Partner’s Irksome Behavior?

When someone says or does something that rubs you the wrong way, what do you do? I’ve discovered in my work as an individual and couples counselor that some people avoid giving their mate feedback because they fear the reaction they might get. However, one problem with not providing constructive feedback when your partner does something irksome is that you may harbor resentment towards him or her going forward, which can seriously undermine your relationship. Worse yet, you may have to continue putting up with that undesirable behavior because you never let your mate know that it concerns you.


Within the context of relationship therapy sessions, I’ve noticed that another common way people deal with their partner’s questionable behavior is by reacting negatively. For example, they might address their mate with unkind words, a harsh tone, or a raised voice. The problem with this type of knee-jerk reaction is that an argument usually erupts. And often the people who blow up at their mate’s behavior are the ones who have been stuffing their feelings about that behavior for so long that a lot of resentment has built up. So, as you can see, going along to get along tends to backfire.

“I Statements” to the Rescue

There must be a better approach than suppressing your feelings about your partner’s behavior or reacting in an unpleasant way. But what is it? Enter the “I statement,” which allows you to express your feelings in a respectful way.  Based on my observation in individual and couples therapy, most people are good at making “you statements,” in other words, statements in which they blame the other person. But a lot of people are less familiar with “I statements.”

An “I statement” has nothing to do with blame. Instead, an “I statement” expresses how the other person’s behavior makes you feel. A common error I’ve noticed in marriage counseling is that people often tell the other person what they think about their behavior rather than how it makes them feel. However, when someone cares about us, they may be willing to adjust their behavior when they learn how it makes us feel, since that could stir some feelings in them that make them want to change. In contrast, when we tell them our opinion of the behavior we don’t like, they’ll probably rebut with their opinion. Try it for yourself and see what happens.

“I Statements” 101

Here are some examples of the kinds of statements we want to avoid: “You’re late, as usual. Can’t you ever arrive somewhere on time?” Or, “You were the only one who had too much to drink at that event, and you stood out like a sore thumb.”  Notice that these statements don’t mention how the speaker is feeling, but instead make the other person feel judged, which is likely to put them on the defensive. Clients in marital counseling tend to quickly recognize that the approach they’ve been using hasn’t been worked well, but usually don’t know what to do instead.

Occasionally, clients in relationship counseling have difficulty putting their feelings into words, so here are some examples of how your mate’s irksome behavior might make you feel: stressed, angry, upset, frustrated, disappointed, sad, hurt, annoyed, bothered, uncomfortable, etc. And here are examples of two “I statements:” “I get stressed out when you come home a lot later than usual without giving me a call” and “When you don’t say anything about the meals I make, it makes me feel unappreciated.”

Common Missteps in Making “I Statements”

Make sure you’re really expressing a feeling and not a judgment disguised as a feeling. I mention this because clients who are attempting to put “I statements” into practice in relationship therapy will often say something like, “I feel it was really rude when you interrupted me.” Notice that the speaker hasn’t actually expressed how the behavior makes them feel (e.g., angry, hurt, sad, etc.). Rather, the speaker sneaks in the word “feel” to create the illusion of sharing their feelings, when in fact, they’re actually passing a judgment that other person’s behavior was rude. And by making a judgement, they’ve instantly lost their audience and have little chance of motivating their partner to make a behavioral change.  

Instead, the “I statement” in the above scenario could be something like, “It hurts my feelings when you interrupt me,” or, “It makes me angry when you interrupt me,” or some other statement in which the speaker expresses how they feel when their partner interrupts them. I encourage clients in individual and couples therapy to choose the words that best describe how they feel in a given situation, and to mention more than one feeling in their “I statement” if relevant, for instance, “When you roll your eyes while I’m speaking it makes me feel really upset and hurt.”

Also, I notice that clients in individual and couples counseling often tend to make long-winded “I statements” when they’re just learning this new skill. The problem is that if you go on and on, your partner is likely to get defensive because it’ll sound like you’re building a case against them. Keeping it short takes discipline, but your mate is more likely to be receptive if you do.  

Putting It All Together

Now, I invite you to take a moment and write down an “I statement” that you could use or could have used with your partner. During individual and couples therapy sessions, clients sometimes have trouble coming up with an “I statement” because they’re concerned that they’ll lose the battle if they use this approach. But if you think back on conflicts with your mate, trying to “win” the battle ultimately leads to everyone losing, so the “I statement” is aimed at moving towards resolution instead.

In summary, an “I statement” is not a blaming statement and is not an opportunity to vent your negative thoughts about the other person’s behavior. Instead, an “I statement” respectfully conveys how that person’s behavior makes you feel. Some people aren’t accustomed to distinguishing their thoughts from their feelings, but I find that, with a little practice, clients are able to develop this muscle in relationship counseling

Your Delivery and Timing are Essential

Bear in mind that your delivery and timing are essential in order for this communication tool to work. If you just keep reminding yourself that respect begets respect, your timing, choice of words, tone, facial expression, and body language are more likely to be respectful.  I tell clients in individual and couples therapy that they’re not ready to make an “I statement” if they’re not ready to come across with respect. Approaching the other person with respect doesn’t mean that you’re not angry, frustrated, hurt, or whatever. You have those feelings and you realize that venting isn’t going to produce the results you want, whereas using an “I statement” in a way that doesn’t sound like an attack could help your partner consider changing the behavior that bothers you. 

“I Statements” Don’t Work With Everyone

Lastly, I only suggest using “I statements” with people who care about you and whom you consider fairly reasonable. Why? Because you can’t reason with an unreasonable person, and, if someone doesn’t care about you that much, why would they be willing to modify their behavior on your behalf? The answer is that they probably won’t be. But, the good news is that “I statements” can have an amazing effect with the right people. I’ve seen this again and again when clients in relationship therapy start applying this simple communication tool in their lives. 

By Cynthia Mansur, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

Cynthia Mansur, M.A., MFT is a relationship expert with a private practice in Lafayette, California. She provides individual and couples therapy to clients from Contra Costa County, Alameda County, Solano County, and the greater East Bay. She also provides phone counseling to clients who are unable to meet in person.

THE CONTENT PROVIDED IN THIS BLOG IS NOT MEDICAL or THERAPEUTIC ADVICE: This blog is not provided for purposes of consulting, evaluation, treatment, instruction, diagnosis, prognosis or professional services of any kind. The content of this blog does not incorporate discussion of all known therapeutic techniques, and is not intended to apply to any specific individual, specific condition or specific clinical situation. The content of this blog is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified, state-licensed and practicing professional who is providing you with professional services based on a written agreement between you and that professional. All  content in this blog is intended as general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice, including but not limited to medical advice, nor is the content of this blog to be relied upon as such.

Relationship Help Bulletin: How to Improve the Quality of Your Relationship, Part 7

Doing the Same Thing Over and Over, Expecting Different Results

Many people have heard the saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.” Yet, I’ve noticed that many clients in couples therapy keep getting ensnared in the same disagreement over and over in slightly different guises, and don’t know how to stop the madness.

As a couples counselor, I frequently hear about scenarios that occur on a regular basis and repeatedly cause friction in a relationship. For example, one partner may call or text the other one at work more than he or she would prefer. Or one person may buy things for the home that the other one doesn’t like. Or a couple may be in the habit of conversing with each other from different rooms, even though they have to speak in raised voices and often end up getting into a tiff as a result. Or, one partner will fail to notify the other one when he or she will get home from work later than usual.

Simple Solutions Aren’t Always Obvious

One reason why individual and couples therapy is generally helpful is because the therapist has a more objective view of the client’s life than the client does, since the client is in the thick of his or her own life. So, when I ask couples if they have ever made a verbal agreement about the particular issue that keeps causing conflicts between them, I usually learn that this idea never occurred to them. In other words, the solution was very simple, but was outside their field of vision.

A Recipe for Success

During couples counseling sessions, sometimes one person will say that the couple already has an agreement in place about something, and that his or her mate hasn’t been sticking to that agreement. But, in most cases, I discover that the agreement was quite vague, or that one partner told the other one what their preference was regarding some matter, but never actually gained agreement that their mate would honor that preference.

For an agreement between a couple to be effective, it should be considered a verbal contract. It needs to be absolutely clear to both people, and both parties need to commit to it wholeheartedly. For instance, during the course of relationship therapy, one couple I see decided to stop talking to each other from separate rooms. In another situation, the partner who worked outside the home agreed to notify his spouse by a certain time if he was going to get home from work later than expected. Forming verbal contracts with your mate about issues that typically cause disagreements is a simple solution that can do wonders for a relationship.

By Cynthia Mansur, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

Cynthia Mansur, M.A., MFT is a relationship expert with a private practice in Lafayette, California. She provides individual and couples therapy to clients from Contra Costa County, Alameda County, Solano County, and the greater East Bay. She also provides phone counseling to clients who are unable to meet in person.

THE CONTENT PROVIDED IN THIS BLOG IS NOT MEDICAL or THERAPEUTIC ADVICE: This blog is not provided for purposes of consulting, evaluation, treatment, instruction, diagnosis, prognosis or professional services of any kind. The content of this blog does not incorporate discussion of all known therapeutic techniques, and is not intended to apply to any specific individual, specific condition or specific clinical situation. The content of this blog is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified, state-licensed and practicing professional who is providing you with professional services based on a written agreement between you and that professional. All  content in this blog is intended as general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice, including but not limited to medical advice, nor is the content of this blog to be relied upon as such.

Relationship Help Bulletin: How to Improve the Quality of Your Relationship, Part 6

Do you brush aside your partner’s attempts to make peace with you during or after a conflict? Or, do you feel your mate disregards your efforts at fence-mending when the two of you aren’t getting along? Based on my experience as a couples counselor, it may be time to try another approach if this sounds familiar.

The High Cost of Rejecting the Olive Branch

Sadly, people often push away the olive branch their mate offers them when there’s tension in the relationship. But this only makes things worse. Why? In my work as a relationship therapist, I’ve noticed that it causes the other person to feel hurt and angry, which can prompt them to lash out or become distant. This just adds momentum to the downward spiral, which further delays resolution and creates another incident for the couple to work out later.

Do What Will Be Beneficial in the Long Run

I ask my couples therapy clients to consider the following: If your loved one reaches out to you with resolution in mind and you rebuff them, you’ve just achieved immediate gratification. Think about it. You’re probably upset with him or her, so it’s tempting to get back at your mate by rejecting the olive branch that he or she just offered.

But here’s the rub: short-term gratification results in long-term pain. In other words, your mate is going to react poorly when you ignore his or her peace offering, and then the disagreement will gain more steam and you’ll probably be even more upset than before. Was the short-term gratification of rejecting your loved one’s baby step towards resolution really worth it? Instead, why not do what will be beneficial in the long run? In other words, I recommend in couples counseling that each person accept and extend the olive branch so they can start to repair their relationship. This, in turn, will allow them both to feel a lot better.

Put on Your Maturity Hat

I’m not saying it’s easy to offer or take the olive branch when your relationship is on the rocks. On the contrary, it’s very difficult to put on your maturity hat and soften your stance enough to do this despite the misgivings you have about your partner. I’ve observed in relationship therapy that people tend to be unwilling to receive or extend a gesture of reconciliation because they have misgivings about their partner. Does this really make sense? Resolution cannot be achieved unless both people are willing to take a first step.

If one country was to suggest peace talks and the other declined the offer, obviously, they’ll never work out their differences. So, based on my experience in relationship counseling, I encourage you to extend and accept gestures aimed at resolution. That way, you and your partner can start ironing things out sooner rather than later. Even the smallest gesture can open the door to “peace talks,” whether it’s words, touch, or an act of kindness.

By Cynthia Mansur, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

Cynthia Mansur, M.A., MFT is a relationship expert with a private practice in Lafayette, California. She provides individual and couples therapy to clients from Contra Costa County, Alameda County, Solano County, and the greater East Bay. She also provides phone counseling to clients who are unable to meet in person.

THE CONTENT PROVIDED IN THIS BLOG IS NOT MEDICAL or THERAPEUTIC ADVICE: This blog is not provided for purposes of consulting, evaluation, treatment, instruction, diagnosis, prognosis or professional services of any kind. The content of this blog does not incorporate discussion of all known therapeutic techniques, and is not intended to apply to any specific individual, specific condition or specific clinical situation. The content of this blog is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified, state-licensed and practicing professional who is providing you with professional services based on a written agreement between you and that professional. All  content in this blog is intended as general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice, including but not limited to medical advice, nor is the content of this blog to be relied upon as such.

Relationship Help Bulletin: How to Improve the Quality of Your Relationship, Part 5

Couples Learn the Art of Appreciation in Couples Counseling

Couples Learn the Art of Appreciation in Couples Counseling

Do you thank your loved one enough for his or her contributions to your life together? If not, try to figure out what stops you because developing this one habit can make a big difference in your relationship. Some people don’t express appreciation to their mate very often because it’s simply not on their radar. Others avoid thanking their partner because there’s tension in the relationship that may need to be worked out in couples therapy. And some people don’t acknowledge their mate regularly because he or she doesn’t thank them much. But what goes around comes around, so I invite you to take the first step in breaking this vicious cycle.

Don’t Miss Your Cue

In my work as a couples counselor, I often learn that one person did something for the “team” that they don’t do on a routine basis, and never received a thank you in return. This caused the “team mate” who invested that time and energy to feel resentful. So, a good rule of thumb is to make SURE you express appreciation whenever your loved one does something for the “team” that they don’t do regularly, since they made this contribution in addition to all the on-going efforts they make. For example, maybe they cleaned out a closet, found the right summer camp for Suzie, got a well-deserved raise, or whatever. When your partner makes a non-routine contribution to your life together, it’s really important to acknowledge that.

On-Going Efforts Warrant On-Going Recognition

At the same time, it’s also crucial to regularly thank your mate for the routine contributions he or she makes, such as earning money, cooking dinner, and paying the bills. Although it would seem unnatural to thank your loved one for these tasks every time, it’s best to express appreciation often enough that he or she doesn’t feel taken for granted. I’ve noticed in couples therapy that when two people acknowledge each other sincerely on a regular basis, this creates a “culture of appreciation” which helps to keep them both motivated. Similarly, when very little appreciation is expressed, both people don’t feel as motivated as they would otherwise regarding their various responsibilities.

Think Out of the Box about When to Say ‘Thank You’

I’ve observed in my role as a couples counselor that some people already do an excellent job of expressing appreciation to their partner for various contributions they make. However, it doesn’t occur to them to thank their loved one when he or she makes a behavioral change on their behalf. For instance, if you asked your mate to stop interrupting you and he or she interrupts you less going forward, make a point of acknowledging your partner for this improvement as soon as you notice it – even if the new behavior isn’t consistent. If you acknowledge the shift in behavior, your partner is far more likely to keep doing more of the same, but if the shift goes unrecognized, it may not be very long-lasting.

By Cynthia Mansur, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

Cynthia Mansur, M.A., MFT is a relationship expert with a private practice in Lafayette, California. She provides individual and couples therapy to clients from Contra Costa County, Alameda County, Solano County, and the greater East Bay. She also provides phone counseling to clients who are unable to meet in person.

THE CONTENT PROVIDED IN THIS BLOG IS NOT MEDICAL or THERAPEUTIC ADVICE: This blog is not provided for purposes of consulting, evaluation, treatment, instruction, diagnosis, prognosis or professional services of any kind. The content of this blog does not incorporate discussion of all known therapeutic techniques, and is not intended to apply to any specific individual, specific condition or specific clinical situation. The content of this blog is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified, state-licensed and practicing professional who is providing you with professional services based on a written agreement between you and that professional. All  content in this blog is intended as general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice, including but not limited to medical advice, nor is the content of this blog to be relied upon as such.

Relationship Help Bulletin: How to Improve the Quality of Your Relationship, Part 4

Couples Therapy Helps People Acknowledge Each Other More

Couples Therapy Helps People Acknowledge Each Other More

Looking for a Quick and Easy Way to Improve Your Relationship?

If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to improve your relationship, here it is…Try acknowledging your partner more often for small and large things they do.This could go a long way in improving your relationship since research shows that, in the work world, frequently recognizing employees for their contributions motivates them more than anything else, including money.  And this finding applies to people in any context since it’s human nature to want to be appreciated for our efforts. Yet, in my role as a couples therapist, I often discover that people don’t acknowledge their mate often enough for their contributions to the “team.”

The Secret Sauce is Sincerity and Timing

Maybe you already realize that you need to express more appreciation to your loved one, but are wondering, “But how do I do that?” First and foremost, make sure that whenever you thank your partner (or anyone else), you do so in a sincere manner. Otherwise, it’s not going to go over too well for obvious reasons. If you like, you can first practice with a trusted friend or relationship counselor in order to get their candid feedback.

Also, bear in mind that the sooner you thank your mate for something they did, the better-received your appreciation will be. And, conversely, the longer you take to thank your loved one for something, the more likely your partner is to feel unappreciated. Saying thank you as soon as possible doesn’t require much effort. In contrast, it often takes hard work in couples therapy for someone to forgive their mate for not showing appreciation in a timely manner (or at all) regarding a significant contribution they made to the “team.”  So try to thank your partner in a timely manner.

Strive for a Thank You a Day

It’s a good idea to get in the habit of acknowledging your loved one at least once a day. I often suggest in couples counseling that clients put a button, stone, or other small object in one pocket at the beginning of the day with the goal of transferring it to the other pocket by the end of the day, after they have expressed appreciation to their mate for something .

If you prefer, you could use a small notebook and simply record each date that you thanked your partner for something.  Both of these suggestions are “training wheels” that you can eventually take off once you develop a habit of regularly acknowledging your mate. If you think you’ll succeed without “training wheels,” that’s fine, too.  However, I encourage my couples therapy clients to be honest with themselves about whether they’ll remember to thank each other more often without a tangible reminder.

By Cynthia Mansur, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

Cynthia Mansur, M.A., MFT is a relationship expert with a private practice in Lafayette, California. She provides individual and couples therapy to clients from Contra Costa County, Alameda County, Solano County, and the greater East Bay. She also provides phone counseling to clients who are unable to meet in person.

 

THE CONTENT PROVIDED IN THIS BLOG IS NOT MEDICAL or THERAPEUTIC ADVICE: This blog is not provided for purposes of consulting, evaluation, treatment, instruction, diagnosis, prognosis or professional services of any kind. The content of this blog does not incorporate discussion of all known therapeutic techniques, and is not intended to apply to any specific individual, specific condition or specific clinical situation. The content of this blog is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified, state-licensed and practicing professional who is providing you with professional services based on a written agreement between you and that professional. All  content in this blog is intended as general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice, including but not limited to medical advice, nor is the content of this blog to be relied upon as such.

Relationship Help Bulletin: How to Improve the Quality of Your Relationship, Part 3

Relationship Help

Couples Counseling Improves a Couple’s Communication Skills

Is It Time to Rejuvenate Your Relationship?

If you and your mate keep re-hashing the same argument over and over, or if your romantic bond feels rather stale, maybeit’s time to rejuvenate your relationship. In my experience as a relationship counselor, validating and empathizing with your partner more might be a good place to start. And if you take the lead in doing this more often, chances are that your mate will reciprocate.  This can make more of a difference in a relationship than you might suspect.  Let’s take a look at the impact that empathy and validation could have had in a real life scenario.

What’s Wrong with This Picture?

I provide relationship therapy to a couple who recently went cross country skiing. They told me about some friction that arose between them when he was leading the way and she found the terrain very difficult. She kept telling him how frustrated she was with the route they had taken, and what a hard time she was having. At times he didn’t respond and kept pressing forward. At other times, he got exasperated with her for expressing her frustration.  No empathy, no validation. Nothing. He couldn’t relate to her experience, which was vastly different from his.  Not surprisingly, an argument ensued.

Enter Empathy and Validation

Once they returned to metropolitan life, we discussed this incident in couples counseling. After re-visiting the incident in a supportive, non-judgmental way, I suggested that validating and empathizing with his mate’s frustrations on the slopes might have helped her feel better. This hadn’t occurred to him, so with his permission, I modeled empathizing and validating statements he could have made in that situation, and gave him a chance to practice these new skills with his partner.

I then asked how she would have felt while navigating that challenging terrain had her mate responded to her frustrations with empathy and validation. She said that this would have GREATLY reduced her aggravation, and that there probably would not have been any tension between them had he acknowledged her feelings like this. By the end of the couples therapy session, they had both strengthened their empathy and validation muscles considerably, and were relieved to have learned how to diffuse such situations in the future, so we all felt successful.

By Cynthia Mansur, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

THE CONTENT PROVIDED IN THIS BLOG IS NOT MEDICAL or THERAPEUTIC ADVICE: This blog is not provided for purposes of consulting, evaluation, treatment, instruction, diagnosis, prognosis or professional services of any kind. The content of this blog does not incorporate discussion of all known therapeutic techniques, and is not intended to apply to any specific individual, specific condition or specific clinical situation. The content of this blog is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified, state-licensed and practicing professional who is providing you with professional services based on a written agreement between you and that professional. All  content in this blog is intended as general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice, including but not limited to medical advice, nor is the content of this blog to be relied upon as such.

Relationship Help Bulletin: How to Improve the Quality of Your Relationship, Part 2

Therapy, Couples Counseling, Relationship Counseling, Lafayette, Danville, Walnut Creek, Concord, Martinez, San Ramon

Relationship Therapy Helps People Empathize and Validate More

Have you ever told your partner about a difficult experience you had that day, and felt like he or she didn’t care that much about what you went through? Or, have you ever let your mate know how something made you feel, only to be told in so many words that you shouldn’t feel that way? I frequently hear about scenarios such as these in my work as a relationship counselor. If you’ve had either of these experiences, you know how painful they can be.

Relationship Therapy Helps People Empathize and Validate More

When someone we love doesn’t seem to care that much about our challenges in life, that’s because they don’t feel enough empathy for others or they don’t realize how important it is to adequately show their empathy. Either way, empathy is like a muscle that can be strengthened.  In the course of individual or couples therapy, people learn how essential it is to convey more empathy to their mate. They also learn specific ways to empathize and have opportunities to practice this skill.

When we tell someone we love that we feel tired, sad, rejected, worried, etc. and they suggest that we shouldn’t feel that way, that person has just invalidated us. In other words, they have been presumptuous enough to tell us how we should and shouldn’t feel, as if our experience of life should be exactly the same as theirs. But, obviously, we’re all different and we feel worse than before when our partner dismisses our feelings.  This is why individual and couples counseling helps people better accept that their mate is different from them in many ways. Within the context of relationship therapy, clients also learn how to validate their partner’s feelings with sincerity.

What Do Empathy and Validation Look Like?

These skills aren’t difficult to learn, but in my role as a relationship therapist I’ve observed that they can go a long way in improving a relationship. They’re like muscles that we already have, but may not be using much. Empathizing and validating often go hand-in-hand since you have to care about the fact that your partner is having a hard time with something in order to let them know that their experience is perfectly normal.

Here are some simple statements that are both empathizing and validating: “I would probably feel the same way if I was you.” “It makes total sense that you feel that way given the circumstances.” “I don’t blame you.” “Sounds like you’re having a really hard time at work.” “That must have been really hurtful.”

In relationship therapy, I help clients identify empathizing and validating responses that are tailored to specific situations, and practice these skills in a supportive environment. We also explore what has gotten in the way of being more empathizing and validating with their mate. Over time, clients get really good at empathizing and validating, and their relationship begins to thrive as a result! Such is the power of empathy and validation.

By Cynthia Mansur, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

THE CONTENT PROVIDED IN THIS BLOG IS NOT MEDICAL or THERAPEUTIC ADVICE: This blog is not provided for purposes of consulting, evaluation, treatment, instruction, diagnosis, prognosis or professional services of any kind. The content of this blog does not incorporate discussion of all known therapeutic techniques, and is not intended to apply to any specific individual, specific condition or specific clinical situation. The content of this blog is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified, state-licensed and practicing professional who is providing you with professional services based on a written agreement between you and that professional. All  content in this blog is intended as general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice, including but not limited to medical advice, nor is the content of this blog to be relied upon as such.

Relationship Help Bulletin: How to Improve the Quality of Your Relationship, Part I

Relationship Therapy Helps Couples to Be More Flexible

Relationship Therapy Helps Couples to Be More Flexible

When a new year begins, people often feel inspired to improve various aspects of their lives, including their relationships. As a relationship therapist, I’ve noticed one thing that makes or breaks relationships and that’s how flexible or inflexible each partner is in accommodating the other’s needs.

 

 

Your Partner is More Likely to Make Changes When You Make Changes

Based on my observation in relationship therapy, when one person adjusts their behavior for the sake of their mate, the other person is more likely to reciprocate. In contrast, when one person generally demonstrates inflexibility, the person on the receiving end usually becomes less and less willing to accommodate that person’s preferences. This is true even if the person on the receiving end is very flexible at heart. It just gets old to keep turning themselves into a pretzel to meet their mate’s needs when their mate does very little to meet their needs in return.

Flexible Thinking Allows Couples to Find Solutions

Another reason why flexibility is so important in a relationship is because two people often become polarized regarding their opinion about something, such as whether to throw a Christmas party this year or not. In individual and couples therapy, it frequently becomes apparent that two people have opposing viewpoints about something. As long as each of them clings to their perspective, nothing can get resolved since their opinions are as different as night and day. However, if each person demonstrates some flexibility in their thinking, they find that there are endless solutions to the problem, not just the two solutions they adhered to due to rigid thinking.

What Does Flexibility and Inflexibility Look Like in a Relationship?

I’ve seen the whole gamut of flexibility and inflexibility in couples counseling, and how this affects relationships. For instance, I sometimes work with couples who are both very receptive to their mate’s feedback regarding certain aspects of their behavior. And they don’t just pay lip service to making some changes – they commit to making adjustments and follow through quickly. In these situations, their relationship rapidly improves and they find they only need a few couples therapy sessions.

The most common scenario in couples counseling is for both people to be somewhat open to their partner’s feedback and make changes gradually. This still results in vast improvements in the quality of their relationship and a feeling of success.

In other situations, one partner is very accommodating, often to a fault, whereas the other one demonstrates little or no flexibility. When this is the case, the partner who is too accommodating may become increasingly unhappy and distant from their mate, and sometimes leaves the relationship. Couples counseling helps the inflexible partner consider being more flexible and recognize the cost of being rigid. In turn, it helps the other partner recognize that they’ve been disrespecting themselves by being overly accommodating and receiving little in return, so they can decide how they’d like to proceed.

By Cynthia Mansur, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

THE CONTENT PROVIDED IN THIS BLOG IS NOT MEDICAL or THERAPEUTIC ADVICE: This blog is not provided for purposes of consulting, evaluation, treatment, instruction, diagnosis, prognosis or professional services of any kind. The content of this blog does not incorporate discussion of all known therapeutic techniques, and is not intended to apply to any specific individual, specific condition or specific clinical situation. The content of this blog is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified, state-licensed and practicing professional who is providing you with professional services based on a written agreement between you and that professional. All  content in this blog is intended as general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice, including but not limited to medical advice, nor is the content of this blog to be relied upon as such.

Relationship Help for Couples in Conflict – Part 16

Therapy, Couples Counseling, Relationship Counseling, Lafayette, Danville, Walnut Creek, Concord, Martinez, San Ramon

Relationship therapy reduces tension between couples during the holidays

Do you and your partner dread spending time with certain family members around the holidays? If so, you’re not alone. This subject often comes up in couples therapy because some family members have an amazing ability to cast a shadow over holiday gatherings. While couples dread spending time with such individuals, what they dread most is possible tension with their mate due to being around difficult family members. And if a couple has experienced conflicts because of previous holiday family gatherings, they tend to be very wary of future holiday events.

Time to Strategize as a Team

One solution to this predicament is for the couple to discuss uncomfortable situations that may arise around certain family members. This can either be done in couples counseling or on your own if you and your mate can effectively manage such a conversation.

Within the context of relationship therapy, clients have expressed numerous concerns about the anticipated behavior of some family members at holiday gatherings. For example, they wonder, “Is Uncle Edward likely to discuss his rigid political views ad nauseam? Will cousin Sue have too much to drink and behave poorly? Will my partner’s adult children give me the cold shoulder?”  By anticipating scenarios such as this, you and your partner can strategize how you’ll handle these situations. If you make agreements in advance about potentially challenging circumstances at holiday family events, you’re less likely to get upset with each other because you’ll both be on the same page.

In my experience as a relationship therapist, the key is to make agreements that work for both of you and that you’re both willing to stick to. For instance, you may agree that neither of you will share your political views with Uncle Edward since things always go downhill when you do.  You may decide not to invite cousin Sue, or to leave if she gets drunk and her behavior gets out-of-hand, or not to serve alcoholic beverages if you’re hosting the event. And, you may decide to celebrate the holidays separately with your adult children if you’re concerned that they may ignore your mate again.

Make Space for What Your Partner Needs to Do

Another way to avoid stress related to holiday family gatherings is to make space for what your mate needs to do. For example, if your partner feels really uncomfortable inviting a particular person over or going to an event because of some people who will be there, it’s best to give your partner the space to do what’s right for him or her. In contrast, I often find in couples therapy that one partner will criticize the other for what they feel they need to do to survive holiday family events, or pressure them to change their mind. Unfortunately, this generally results in conflict. Even if one partner changes their mind in order to avoid further criticism and pressure, they may feel unhappy and resentful about this, which will negatively impact the relationship.

By Cynthia Mansur, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

THE CONTENT PROVIDED IN THIS BLOG IS NOT MEDICAL or THERAPEUTIC ADVICE: This blog is not provided for purposes of consulting, evaluation, treatment, instruction, diagnosis, prognosis or professional services of any kind. The content of this blog does not incorporate discussion of all known therapeutic techniques, and is not intended to apply to any specific individual, specific condition or specific clinical situation. The content of this blog is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified, state-licensed and practicing professional who is providing you with professional services based on a written agreement between you and that professional. All  content in this blog is intended as general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice, including but not limited to medical advice, nor is the content of this blog to be relied upon as such.

Relationship Help for Couples in Conflict – Part 15

Relationship therapy helps people avoid jumping to conclusions

Relationship therapy helps people avoid jumping to conclusions

In my work as a couples therapist, I often notice people jumping to conclusions about what their partner was thinking.  In psychology, “jumping to conclusions” is considered a thinking error because, in truth, we don’t really know what our partner is thinking at any given time.

An Example of How Jumping to Conclusions Can Harm a Relationship

Let’s say that someone calls his wife at the end of his work day to let her know that he’ll get home later than usual because he agreed to join some co-workers for a drink. Before calling, he was unaware that his wife was starting to come down with something and is feeling rather sorry for herself as a result. When he calls to tell her when to expect him home, she reacts with anger because she jumps to the conclusion that he doesn’t care that much about her since he’s going out for a drink rather than coming straight home. This tips off an argument between them. Now let’s take a look at how relationship counseling can break a vicious cycle such as this.

How Relationship Therapy Helps People Avoid Jumping to Conclusions

In the example above, relationship counseling could help the couple examine this incident in slow motion so that each person could determine where they went awry.

By increasing her self-awareness with the help of couples therapy, the wife might realize that she was feeling sorry for herself because she was under the weather. Thus, when she jumped to the conclusion that her husband doesn’t care that much about her because he was coming home late, she might recognize that this thought was highly suspect for two reasons. First, she really had no way of knowing what he was actually thinking. Second, her conclusion that he doesn’t care about her that much may have arisen because she was feeling sorry for herself.

Armed with new insights from relationship therapy, she could have brushed her conclusion aside. Or, she could have asked in a non-accusatory way what made him decide to go out for a drink with co-workers. In other words, she could have asked what his actual thought process was rather than pretending to read his mind. She might have learned that he preferred to come straight home, but felt compelled to accept this invitation in order to maintain good relations at work since he had already declined several other invitations like this.

What If Your Partner Jumps to Conclusions about What You Were Thinking?

Alternatively, if you notice that your partner jumped to conclusions about what you were thinking, try to avoid “taking the bait” and being pulled into an argument. I often notice in couples therapy that people get pulled unnecessarily into arguments when their mate jumps to conclusions and gets angry at them. Instead, recognize the hurt behind your partner’s anger, and try sharing your actual thought processes. This can help your mate let go of inaccurate conclusions about what you were thinking.

By Cynthia Mansur, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

THE CONTENT PROVIDED IN THIS BLOG IS NOT MEDICAL or THERAPEUTIC ADVICE: This blog is not provided for purposes of consulting, evaluation, treatment, instruction, diagnosis, prognosis or professional services of any kind. The content of this blog does not incorporate discussion of all known therapeutic techniques, and is not intended to apply to any specific individual, specific condition or specific clinical situation. The content of this blog is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified, state-licensed and practicing professional who is providing you with professional services based on a written agreement between you and that professional. All  content in this blog is intended as general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice, including but not limited to medical advice, nor is the content of this blog to be relied upon as such.

Relationship Help for Couples in Conflict – Part 14

Therapy, Couples Counseling, Relationship Counseling, Lafayette, Danville, Walnut Creek, Concord, Martinez, San Ramon

Couples therapy helps people recognize projection in their relationship

In my work as a relationship therapist, I often notice that one person will project something onto their partner that has no basis in reality. When we have an issue of our own, and then attribute that issue to people or situations around us, that’s considered projection. This can manifest in myriad ways, but the following is one example.

An Example of How Projection Can Harm a Relationship

Let’s say someone grew up with parents who took very little interest in him. This caused him to feel rejected by his parents, and, as a result, this individual feels easily rejected by others in adulthood. But, prior to starting individual or couples therapy, he may not be consciously aware of any of this. He feels rejected by his partner at the drop of a hat, and this wreaks havoc on his relationship. In other words, he frequently projects onto his partner that she’s rejecting him because he felt rejected by his parents as a child.

Thus he often imagines that his partner is rejecting him even when that’s not her intent. For instance, if she doesn’t answer her phone in person when he calls, he may interpret that as rejection, and may react with anger. Of course, his anger has nothing to do with his partner and everything to do with being let down by his parents as a child. Not reaching his partner by phone reminds him of being ignored by his parents. Relationship counseling can help him to stop projecting his feelings about his parents onto his partner.

What If You’re On the Receiving End of Projection?

I’ve observed in couples counseling that when someone is on the receiving end of projection, they generally don’t recognize this. As a result, things go from bad to worse. Using the example above, let’s say someone got angry at his partner for not answering the phone in person. He incorrectly assumed that he’s being rejected by his partner since he’s projecting feelings of being rejected by his parents onto his romantic relationship. If his partner “takes the bait,” she may react to his anger with anger, hurt, or aloofness.

He’s angry at his projection, not his partner.  His projection is a fictional belief that his partner was rejecting him in that moment. He’s angry at something imaginary. She failed to realize this, so things continued to go downhill.

The trick I teach in relationship therapy is to recognize when your partner is projecting onto you even if your partner doesn’t realize that yet.  For instance, projection could be at work is when your partner suddenly interacts with you in a way that seems irrational or uncharacteristic, especially if you notice this happening repeatedly in certain circumstances (e.g., every time you’re unable to answer your partner’s call in person). If you recognize that your partner may be projecting something onto you, it’ll be easier not to take it personally and respond in a level-headed manner in order to stop things from spiraling downward.

By Cynthia Mansur, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

THE CONTENT PROVIDED IN THIS BLOG IS NOT MEDICAL or THERAPEUTIC ADVICE: This blog is not provided for purposes of consulting, evaluation, treatment, instruction, diagnosis, prognosis or professional services of any kind. The content of this blog does not incorporate discussion of all known therapeutic techniques, and is not intended to apply to any specific individual, specific condition or specific clinical situation. The content of this blog is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified, state-licensed and practicing professional who is providing you with professional services based on a written agreement between you and that professional. All  content in this blog is intended as general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice, including but not limited to medical advice, nor is the content of this blog to be relied upon as such.


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