Summer Hough

A Strong Relationship: How Couples Counseling Helps You Build It

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By Summer Hough, MA

Even the best relationships have room for improvement.

Strengthening the foundation of your relationship with your partner during the good times will help you get through the rough times with love, kindness, and compassion.

One key way to build a strong relationship is through couples counseling.

Couples Counseling Isn’t Just for Bad Times

Most couples only make an appointment for couples counseling when things are at their worst. Therapy is certainly critical at such times. What many people don’t realize, however, is how helpful it can be to see a counselor when there aren’t major problems that are surfacing in their relationship.

Couples counseling during the good times includes these benefits:

  • Building your communication skills with one another

  • Recalling all the positive, common memories of your relationship and what brought you together in the first place

  • Building rapport and a supportive relationship with your therapist, so you can seek them out when you have challenging times

  • Addressing common relationship “hot spots” before they become bigger problems, so you will know how to address them if and when they come up for you and your partner

3 Key Ways to Build a Strong Relationship

While you are in couples counseling, you and your partner will learn many strategies to build a strong relationship. Three key therapy tools include:

1. Avoiding the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Relationship expert and author, Dr. John Gottman, found through his research and work with couples that he can almost always predict whether a couple is going to “make it.” Couples who have a communication style exhibiting what he calls the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, and contempt) are unlikely to recover from the negative impact on their relationship. If you want to build a strong relationship, you must be vigilant against these communication problems. Working with a trained therapist in couples counseling you can learn how to eliminate these four from your interactions, establishing a better way to express your needs and communicate without hurting your relationship.

2. Learning Love Languages

Author Gary Chapman teaches that there are five basic ways that we express love.

One key path to a good relationship is to learn to express love in your partner’s preferred language. Some people like receiving gifts, while others would favor words of affirmation. There are some who want quality time. Others need physical touch. Still, others express love through acts of service. Through therapy, you and your partner can learn your own love languages and how to speak each other’s language.

3. Crossing the Bridge

This is a technique developed by relationship experts Hedy and Yumi Schleifer.

Partners sit close together, facing one another. One partner is the host, inviting the other partner (the “visitor”) to cross the bridge and visit his / her land. The visitor is encouraged to leave all baggage on their side of the bridge and to come to visit with love and kindness. The host shows the visitor around the world, explaining their point of view from an “I statement” place. The partner serves as a loving witness to the host’s experience, stating through body language and presence, “I see you and accept you.”

Building a Strong Relationship in Small Steps

What have we learned so far? The best thing you can do for your relationship is to give couples counseling a try. You don’t need to wait until there is “trouble in paradise” before you make that first appointment. Therapists can offer you a diverse range of tools for building a strong relationship foundation. Learning and practicing important communication techniques like avoiding the four horsemen, speaking in love languages, and crossing the bridge go a long way toward making each conversation you have with your partner better than the last.
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Summer Hough, MA, LPC Intern, works with couples at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin to help rebuild connections and strengthen relationships. To book an appointment with Summer, give her a call at (512) 270-4883, ext. 110, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

When You Both Feel Misunderstood - 5 Tips For Clear Communication

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By Summer Hough, MA

A conversation with your partner begins innocently enough, but clear communication can get muddy in hurry.

Sound familiar?

You know how it goes: you are having a perfectly nice discussion, but a facial expression suddenly sours, open body language shifts to being closed off, or a phrase or tone of voice doesn’t sit right. Your sunny dispositions may cloud over as a simple discussion turns into a disagreement.

Poor communication can ruin a good conversation about anything—parenting styles, what to do for vacation, finances, household tasks – just to name a few. When clarity gives way to an offense, you both feel unheard or misunderstood.

It can be so frustrating!

You just want to explain yourself to your partner so they will get it and then agree with you. Right?

However, many times that doesn’t happen. Instead, the situation only goes from bad to worse.

To avoid such misunderstandings, consider five tips to help you to achieve clear communication.

1. Put Yourself in Your Partner’s Shoes

Often, one of the reasons why we feel misunderstood is because we believe our position or opinion is the right one. You may think, “If only I could convince my partner of the true facts, as I see it, they would get it!” Problem solved.

This approach doesn’t often work, as your partner most likely only digs in deeper with their own “true facts.”

Take a breath to give yourself a short pause before responding to your partner. Take a moment to step back and see things from your partner’s perspective. Consider how they might view the situation from their side. Can you consider that perspective and find common ground?

Putting effort into seeing things from the other person’s viewpoint really helps when it comes to effective communication.

2. Know How to Interrupt

A general rule of thumb is that interrupting your partner is not helpful and only leads to conflict escalation.

However, if there is a time when you must pause the conversation to focus on a particular point, don’t default to rudeness or start talking over your partner. Rather, say, “Excuse me, you’re bringing up a really good point here. Could we explore that further?”

Frame the interruption as a question with the intent of furthering your understanding. This is productive and respectful, as opposed to interrupting with the goal of shutting your partner down by disagreeing or saying they’re wrong in their point of view.

3. “I” vs. “You” Statements

When it comes to misunderstandings with our partner, it’s easy to use language focused outward instead of inward. It can be easy to generalize, catastrophize, and minimize someone else’s behavior, too. Do you say things like:

  • You always do that!
  • You never listen to me!
  • Can’t you just stop for a moment?

Instead, use “I” statements to express what you are feeling. For example, “I feel disregarded when it seems what I have to say is not important. I need to feel that I’m heard, even if we disagree on this issue.”

Hear the difference?

Criticism of your partner is gone when “I” statements are present. You are speaking from your point of view and the emotions you are feeling. Be aware of the use of the word “you” during conflict, which can feel like criticism to your partner, and often results in the back-and-forth volley of defensiveness between the two of you.

This kind of approach helps your partner stay more open to what you have to say instead of feeling backed into a corner or accused by you.

4. Avoid the “Here We Go Again” Mentality

Have you ever caught yourself thinking, “Here we go again,” when talking with your partner? This refers to the repeated actions or speech your partner uses. Even just the fact that you are having another argument about the same old thing can bring this thought to mind.

“Here we go again” thinking causes you to mentally write your partner off before they have even had a chance to express themselves.

Think about it. If there is a theme that repeatedly comes up, perhaps it’s time you both really addressed it. To do this well, be willing to have an open mind when your partner brings up the perpetual issue. Ask questions. Be curious. Try to understand, even if you don’t agree.

5. Listen, Don’t Speak

The key to clear communication with your partner has less to do with speaking and more to do with listening. That means avoiding the temptation to jump in and “correct” your partner or talk over them.

Truly listening involves more than just opening your ears. It also means having an open heart.

When each of you opens up, real sharing and dialogue can occur. Otherwise, you are just fending each other off with your emotional walls and defenses. When that happens, emotional vulnerability is off the table, and little or no progress can be made

No one likes to feel misunderstood. However, there is a right and wrong way to go about creating clear communication and understanding. The wrong way means shutting yourself off, not listening to your partner, and being dismissive.
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Summer Hough, MA, LPC Intern works with couples and individuals, helping them to improve their relationships through improved communication skills. She sees clients at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin, a specialty practice helping couples, families, and individuals building and maintain positive and happy relationships. Contact Summer at 512-270-4883, ext. 110, or complete the form on the RCC Austin Scheduling page and request an appointment with her.

Healthy Relationships: When Is It Time to See a Couples Therapist?

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By Summer Hough, MA

Every couple can benefit from the nonjudgmental assistance of a couples therapist.

Transition periods in a relationship may be especially difficult for couples to manage on their own.

Changes are exciting. Moving in together, getting married, and starting a family are fun experiences. Changes like this are also very stressful.

Transitions trigger our fears. They show us our differences. Things that neither of you knew were an issue can arise and provoke problems.

A couples therapist can help you navigate the transitions with ease.

Counseling is beneficial before big changes occur. Continuing through transitions will help to navigate difficult times. Do you have any of the following big transitions coming up?

1. Moving in Together Has Unexpected Surprises

Living together offers many wonderful moments of domestic bliss. Cooking together, sharing a shower, and sleeping next to one another are cozy. A lot of intimacy opens up when you agree to share space with one another.

However, many issues also arise with moving in together. Couples may think they have a lot in common only to discover a big gap in the way each does everyday things. Things that can challenge your patience include:

  • Dividing chores
  • Balancing “together” and “alone” time
  • Adjusting to your partner’s sleep-wake cycle
  • Choosing when and how to communicate about issues

Counseling can help you set expectations before you move in together. Your couples therapist can point out common issues and help you discuss them. After the move, as new challenges arise, therapy can continue to support your growth as a couple.

2. Getting Married Creates New Challenges

Whether or not you live together first, marriage presents a new set of challenges for couples. Many people have underlying expectations of what a marriage is, and they mistakenly assume that their partners feel the same way.

Sometimes we, as individuals, haven’t even unearthed those issues for ourselves, so we can’t communicate them adequately. Our partners don’t live up to what we expect, and we feel disappointed. Individual and couples counseling help you define and discuss those expectations.

Pre-marital counseling is also important for sifting through major marriage issues. Many couples feel stress about combining finances. Other common stressors include where you will live, how you will deal with job changes, and what role your in-laws will play in your lives.

You can anticipate and cope with many of your marriage problems in advance. When new challenges arise, you’ll have the foundation that you need to discuss issues and deal with them productively.

3. Starting a Family Triggers New Fears

Having child brings up concerns for many people. You may experience triggers from your own childhood that you thought had been resolved long ago. These unprocessed events from an earlier time can put a big strain on a relationship.

Problems can arise long before the children are even in the picture. People have different ideas about when to have children, how many to have, and even how to have them (through adoption, for example).

It’s never too early to get help from a couples therapist in this area. Bring your fears and doubts into the therapy room. Work together to find ways to create a family that feels right to everyone involved.

Once you have children, they will provide you with many learning opportunities that further challenge your relationship. However, having done the work ahead of time, you and your partner will be better prepared to work through those issues. You won’t always be on the same page, but you’ll know how to get there together.

Sometimes problems in a relationship make it is obvious that you need to see a couples therapist. It is less obvious that you should go when things are going well for you and your partner. Still, notice the transitions in your lives, and don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help early on. You can get through challenging times with love and the tools to grow together.
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Summer Hough, MA, LPC Intern is a counselor at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. She helps couples, married and premarital, successfully navigate transitions in their relationships. To schedule an appointment with her, call 512-270-4883, ext. 110, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.