Times of feeling disconnected from each other are common. Conflict in relationships is normal and inevitable. How partners deal with that conflict can either create growth and intimacy or make them stuck in negative fight patterns of gridlock and alienation.
The goals of the couples' counseling I provide are:
To support both partner's self-esteem, security, and confidence by guiding them into new and successful experiences.
To build a solid base of love and respect. To teach the necessary tools and relationship principles that help couples work together in hard times and good.
To assist each partner to take ownership of, and to give words and clarity to feelings, needs and purposes.
To assist couples to examine and explain their perceptions of each other.
To identify the positive intentions behind behavior.
To draw out and clarify the dreams and wishes of each partner.
To work together to define and address underlying similarities or differences of values, needs, vulnerabilities and strengths.
To teach communication principles and skills for everyday interaction and conflict management.
To illuminate the four basic ways couples fight; to explain the reasons couples fight, and to develop effective positive alternatives to fighting.
To help couples form a relationship that is secure, honest, and flexible
To develop and maintain a secure loving and endearing base that supports each person to be who they are in and outside the couple.
Survivors of abuse and couples counseling:
A relationship in which one or both partners are a survivor of abuse can be especially challenging. Sometimes the effects of abuse can be lasting. Current situations can trigger trauma-related memories that produce intense feelings in a survivor. Often abuse survivors struggle with wounds to their sense of safety, self-worth, and sense of control. I work slowly to bring clear words to feelings, beliefs that accompany those feelings, and the needs the person is seeking to fulfill with the relationship. I help in the communication those feelings to the partner while also listening to the partner's experiences. It is normal for the partner of a survivor of abuse to feel overwhelmed, frightened, frustrated, alone, and helpless. Partners also have feeling and needs that must be clarified and spoken. With my counsel, partners learn to better identify and predict triggering situations, as well as, self-calming skills to manage their own reactive feelings. They learn skills to more effectively connect to their partner who may be in a reactive state. Partners learn how to effectively assert their needs and to take space as a means to manage arguments.
More on couples:
Unlike marriages of the past, the modern marriage structure emphasizes equality in most areas of the marriage--like decision-making, the importance of values, needs, and the direction the marriage takes in the future. Neither partner in the modern marriage is "the boss." No one is subservient. This development in the evolution of marriage brings with it difficulties people are often not fully ready to face or able to skillfully deal with.
Conflict is normal and inevitable. Gridlock or repeated negative interactions over differences means the couple is expressing themselves in ways that make the disconnection and suffering worse. For this reason it is necessary to identify ineffective fight styles, the purpose of fights, and why they are usually not helpful in resolving issues. I help couples develop an understanding of fundamental relationship principles that can be effective road maps for positive connection and reconnection after a conflict. Couples develop skills for effectively expressing themselves and for effectively listening to their partner. I help couples form a relationship that holds both partner's dreams with respect and flexibility, in other words--the "us."
When working with couples I am opinionated, but not judgmental. I don't take sides. I know everyone has understandable reasons and motivations for their behavior. I believe couple's intentions stem from the deepest emotional human needs including love, companionship, and trust. However, distressing conflict can result even when both partners are well-intentioned.
I help couples bring a clearer voice to what they perceive and believe; to their values, communication intentions and fight styles. I help them define why they feel the way they do and what they seek. I look for and help establish resources couples can rely on within and outside their primary relationship.
With my counsel, couples learn to collaborate about their differences. Collaborative dialogues bring couples closer together. Even after a conflict partners in mindful relationships find acceptance, respect, and flexibility. In skillful relationships anger is respectful--not attacking. Fear and grief can bring people closer together rather than tear them apart. Reaching out to one's companion is a form of assertion of love and trust. Criticizing and bossing are ineffective at bringing true and lasting outcomes to discord. Effective listening helps people see and respect each other's needs, dreams, and vulnerabilities.
Everyone has relationship dreams--ideals for what would feel best, most comfortable,life-fulfilling, loving, and stable. When couple's needs or dreams aren't in sync they feel disconnected, alone, and distressed. How distress and disconnection are handled is important because people can make mismatches worse by fighting about them.
Most chronic problems couples experience stem from viewing differences from a right-wrong lens. Although it is normal to feel deeply and intensely about many matters, when two people face off to disprove the other, the only result is a fight and an impasse. Couples who chronically fight are not talking or listening well. Fighting is symptomatic of people who are trying to reconnect--to be heard, understood, and validated. It's normal for couples to fight from time to time. But often couples turn the opportunity to express themselves and hear each other into exchanges of blame and accusation. Chronic fighting is a sign of many incomplete conversation. Dialogues cannot be completed effectively when couples are using techniques that destroy or undermine connection and resolution.
Common fight styles are:
Criticize--comply / avoid
Under my counsel, people will learn skills for effective communication during times of conflict or when breaks in positive connection cause distress. These skills are based on principles that, once understood, can help avoid many fights and lead to swifter recovery from conflict. Fighting couples often feel torn down, discouraged, misunderstood, hurt, frustrated, and angry. Couples who use these communication principles and skills increase their feelings of intimacy because of the respect and validation given and received during the "recovery conversation" (D. Wile Ph.D.), even if the differences are not resolved.
Effective communication is the beginning, not the end. It provides the starting point for talking effectively about differences that create disconnections. It isn't enough to be good communicators about issues if the real causes are fundamentally reoccurring differences in personality, values, dreams, and definitions of what love, care, respect, and safety mean. With effective communication to bolster intentions, couples can connect more meaningfully and create deeper respect and intimacy.
Couples must feed and nurture their love and affection so that the baseline rewards of being a couple are high enough to sustain them through difficulties and conflicts. By building on shared interests, pleasures, fun and cooperation, couples are better prepared when the inevitable conflicts arise. Without the positive reservoir they have little or no reserve of positive memory to counterbalance the negativity. This can further erode the possibility of facing the difficult issues successfully.