A couple recently came to their first session of the New Year and proudly declared that they didn’t have any fights in 2019. This was quite a victory. They had initially started couples therapy because of extremely damaging and volatile arguments. When I asked what they thought they were doing differently, they quickly answered that they no longer felt the need to be “right.” Once that need was taken out of the equation they had many more options for resolving differences.
This shift of perspective makes a tremendous difference in a couples’ interaction. In my work, the focus is on helping couples redesign their relationship, not redesign each other. It’s hard to resist pointing out what your partner is doing wrong rather than focusing on how you personally may be contributing to the problems. But if you join together to change the dynamic not each other, new possibilities become available.
Once a couple decides to come to therapy, they have already begun to redesign their relationship. Wanting to make the relationship better and taking concrete action is the first step. Together, we move through four phases of a relationship reboot.
Phase 1—Peeling back the layers
First, we peel back the layers and look at the patterns that repeat. How do you approach differences and how do you ask for what you need? Where do these habits come from: poor communication, past trauma, a repetition of something familiar from your family of origin?
Phase 2—Taking a look at interactions that only lead couples down a rabbit hole.
We look at the triggers and we try to understand what is going on beneath the surface. What are you really asking of each other and what makes it so hard to let each other know what that is? Are you making each other a priority, listening, and considering your impact on one another? These can be hard questions to answer but also open the door to new ways of relating.
Phase 3—Providing tools for successful communication and healing from these negative interactions.
If we could all just treat our significant others as if they were the most cherished important people in our lives and take their needs into consideration with every move we make, then relationships would operate at a different frequency. If we could prioritize expressing our love over being right, there would be so much less conflict. But alas, that’s not how human beings interact the vast majority of the time. And yet…if you can learn to do this some of the time, you can actually redesign your relationship. New habits can be created that will yield different results. A big part of achieving a relationship redesign is trying out and incorporating new ways of relating; listening differently, being curious about each other, ensuring you have enough positive interactions, to name a few.
Phase 4—New ways of relating to each other
The last phase occurs when new behaviors, understanding, and habits have created a shift in how you relate to each other and how you experience your relationship. Here are some of the ways couples describe what it’s like after they have redesigned their relationship –
- We have learned to honor our differences.
- We can be vulnerable with each other without it being used as a weapon.
- We understand that an emotion that is felt in the moment is not a referendum on the whole relationship.
- We can disagree without denigrating one another.
- We don’t have to counter or correct every misstatement made by our partner.
- We don’t need to fight in order to get each other’s attention—we can actually ask for what we need whether it’s more time, more affection, or better listening.
What you can do to begin redesigning your relationship:
- Practice active listening—when you really listen and the other person feels heard, negative patterns are interrupted.
- Be genuinely curious about what your partner has to say or what they are feeling without assuming you know—giving them space to express themselves will create a new dynamic.
- Use “I” statements instead of “You” statements.
- Avoid “Always” and “Never” statements.
- Don’t try to solve each other’s problems, just listen and try to empathize.
- Care about how you interact as opposed to the outcome.
- Prioritize your relationship in your busy life; make sure you find time to connect, emotionally, physically, and just relaxing or having fun together.
Many couples resist the idea of redesigning their relationships out of fear that it will be an insurmountable amount of work. The reality is, small shifts and changes can go a very long way in creating positive momentum and emotional currency. And it’s contagious, once you begin new ways of relating your partner will do the same, the positive cycle gets energy and feeds on itself!
Are you interested in taking action to redesign your relationship? Contact Tracy Ross today to request an appointment.