I want to share what I have learned about men, women, and relationships in my time as a couples therapist. The way I look at my own relationship (with my now wife) after having trained at an accredited couple and family therapy program, is worlds different from how I understood my past relationships with previous girlfriends. As a relationship expert, I am excited to share some tips with you that you can start doing right now in your relationship.
Tip #1: Take responsibility
Actively look at yourself, and what you are (or are not) doing in the relationship. How are you nurturing your relationship? Do you take it for granted and assume it will be fine without putting any effort into it? When couples get into arguments both partners are actively playing a role in the conflict. Both partners are fighting to be understood and listened to.
Tip #2: Listen and reflect back your partner's message before giving "air-time" to your own
This is one of the most common errors men make in all relationships, not just romantic ones. In patriarchal societies like the U.S., men are socialized that we have the power, we can be louder, stronger, and we're not used to waiting - just look at the lines for the bathroom.
Tip #3: Pay attention to the language being used
Taking responsibility for your role in the conflict, listening to understand and then reflecting back your partner's feelings are important steps for any healthy relationship. This tip might be the hardest one to implement, because often in couple conflicts, our partner says something that we perceive to be an attack on our character and we go right into "defend-mode". Things don't work out too well when we are defensive.
"Why can't you remember anything I say?"
"You are incapable of trusting me, no matter what I do!"
Let's look at how a therapist would guide you through reframing your message. A therapist would ask you what emotions or feelings are behind those statements. Let's take a look.
1) "Why are you always so demanding?"
2) "Why can't you remember anything I say?"
3) "You are incapable of trusting me, no matter what I do!"
EMOTION(S) BEHIND IT
1) Frustration; Fear
2) Disappointment; Sadness; Fear
3) Anger; Sadness; Fear
1) "I get upset when I hear you say ______ because I feel like I'm not enough; And then after the fight is over, I start to worry that I'm not able to give you what you need."
2) "I don't feel important to you. I get nervous and even scared, because I jump to the conclusion that if you don't remember, it must mean I don't matter to you. And I know that's not true, but it's where my mind goes when we're in the middle of fighting."
3) "I get sad and scared all at once when I feel blamed for something. I'm afraid I'll lose you because I don't know how to earn back your trust."
Tip #4: Pay attention to your tone of voice
There is a lot of misinformation out on the web about tone of voice, so be skeptical about what you read. Even internationally acclaimed relationship expert John Gottman cites one study on tone of voice that purports people only rely on about 7% verbal language, 38% tone of voice and speech patterns, and 55% facial expressions and body language when perceiving another person's communication. What we can agree on is that tone of voice matters. You can say the same sentence over and over again, altering your tone of voice, and communicate a different message each time while using the same exact words.
Robin S. Smith, MS, LCMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in clinical practice in Bethesda MD, and specializes in relationship issues for couples, families, and individuals, for improved quality of life. His clinical specialties include: transition to parenthood for new and expecting parents, infidelity, sex and intimacy issues, premarital counseling, and trauma. Robin has given talks to various groups including hospital administrators, graduate students, therapists, and child birth educators. He is the primary contributor to Your Couples Therapist Blog
Robin S. Smith is a psychotherapist practicing in Bethesda, MD. Robin created The Couple and Family Clinic Blog to provide useful articles on issues related to mental health as well as articles on local, national, and international news stories. Learn more about Robin on the About Page.