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Is Relationship Counselling for You? Find Your Answer Here

Is Relationship Counselling for You? Find Your Answer Here

Most people have heard of relationship counseling, but very few believe it is for them.

We all want to believe our relationship is perfect, unique, and meant to last. Even if we acknowledge there is room for improvement, we often want to be able to resolve it ourselves. And it doesn’t help, either, that relationship counseling suffers from the same stigma as every form of counseling: that if you go, there must be something wrong.

For these reasons and others, Brian Doss, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at the University of Miami, says the average couple endures six years of unhappiness before seeking couples counseling.

But in my opinion, you don’t need to wait that long. You don’t even need to be unhappy. You just have to know what relationship counseling is, how it can help, and whether it’s for you.

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When you should consider couples counseling

“Same issues, different tactics, same results”

— that’s what I tell anyone who asks me whether they should seek couples counseling. Here is the three-step consideration:

  1. Same issues. Fighting is only natural. Along with strong positive feelings toward a person naturally come negative ones. But the first consideration is whether these fights are over the same issues. If so, it demonstrates that you and your partner are not communicating past them. Some type of blockage is taking place.
  2. Different tactics. If the above is true, I recommend trying a different tactic. Example: every time you and your partner get in a fight, you end up talking over one another. Next time, try remaining silent while your partner speaks. See if this makes any difference.
  3. Same results. Have you tried a few different things and ended up with the same result? If so, couples counseling can help.

Couples who fight about the same issues, try different tactics, and end up with the same results, are having a difficult time communicating past their issues.

What does communicating past an issue mean? It means working through it within the relationship. It means reaching a point where it no longer remains such a trigger.

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Since couples will inevitably experience hardship together, it’s essential that they have this ability to eventually move beyond issues; otherwise they will continue to pile up.

What exactly is relationship counseling (and how does it work)?

Relationship counseling is an opportunity for a couple to examine why their communication is blocked. Now, sometimes the content, or what the couple is fighting about, is the problem.

For example, a couple might disagree about whether to have a child. In this case, couples therapy can be helpful for the basic reason that it represents a space where the conversation can take place.

More often than not, however, the process — or how the couple is fighting — is the important consideration. It does not matter what the issue is if the pattern of discussing it is one person yelling and the other person crying.

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Couples therapy, then, is where these patterns can be noticed by the therapist and presented to the couple as something that needs changing. Of course, this is hopefully done in a space that is comfortable, safe, and neutral.

Here’s a basic four-step process:

  1. Couple is introduced to the therapist. Each person is given an opportunity to tell their story. Therapist explains the rules of the therapy, emphasizing that this is a safe place for exploration and healing.
  2. As couple begins to discuss some of the issues they have been experiencing, therapist takes note of how they communicate. He/she eventually brings their communication patterns into the work, asking whether these patterns are bringing about the results the couple wants.
  3. Assuming the patterns are not ideal, therapist begins to explore each person’s motivation or willingness, to change their pattern. Any resistances to changing are explored.
  4. The therapist helps the couple brainstorm new ways of communicating with each other. It is important that the couple have an active hand in this, otherwise it will seem forced from the outside. Therapy now becomes a place where this new style of communicating can be practiced.

Benefits to you and your partner

On a relationship level, couples counseling provides, in many cases, the best chance you and your partner have for reversing destructive communication patterns or making big, life-altering decisions.

On an individual level, couples counseling can help each of you become a better communicator. What does this mean, exactly? In session, you will learn that healthy communication takes practice. It is not easy to place ourselves in the shoes of another person and feel what they are feeling.

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Good communication also takes awareness. Your therapist will work with each of you to uncover your attachment modes — in other words, the way you communicate based on early life experiences.

How to make relationship counselling work for you (step-by-step)

Now that you understand the benefits of relationship counselling, what should you do to make it work for you and your partner? Here’re the steps:

  1. Be honest about your motivation. You may be going to find a way to break up. You might be going to receive confirmation that you are right and your partner is wrong.
  2. Discuss what you want to accomplish beforehand.
  3. Try to procure a referral; otherwise, choose a profile together. I have seen too many couples choose separately and then fight. If you cannot come to a decision together, that is a data point. It may be worthwhile to try individual therapy first, in that case.
  4. Be honest. There’s no point in going to couples counselling and not being honest. This does not mean you spill everything all at once. But it does mean that being untruthful is not going to help your therapist help you. If there are certain things that are important, but you are not sure if you are comfortable sharing with your partner, most couples therapists will have individual sessions within the first five sessions: try bringing it up then.
  5. Discuss what is said in your sessions outside of your sessions. Not at first, necessarily, and not always, but if things get better, recognize that couples counselling (unlike individual therapy) is supposed to be temporary: you want to move it outside the room.

Final thoughts

Though many people have heard about relationship counselling, not so many couples are willing to try it even if they have relationship problems.

Many couples have the question “Is relationship counselling for me/us?” Hopefully, this article has answered all the common questions people have about relationship counselling – When should they consider it? How does it work? Does it really work? How to utilize it for their best benefits?

You don’t need to reach the saddest point in your relationship to reach out for relationship counselling. Just take relationship counselling as an opportunity to help your relationship grow and better you and your partner’s communication patterns!

Featured photo credit: Rainier Ridao via unsplash.com

More by this author

Josh Zlatkus

Mental Health Therapist in Private Practice

Is Relationship Counselling for You? Find Your Answer Here 11 Characteristics of a Happy and Healthy Relationship

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Last Updated on October 22, 2020

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

What Makes People Poor Listeners?

Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

How To Be a Better Listener

For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

1. Pay Attention

A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

2. Use Positive Body Language

You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

According to Alan Gurney,[2]

“An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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Be polite and wait your turn!

4. Ask Questions

Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

5. Just Listen

This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

6. Remember and Follow Up

Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

  1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
  2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

8. Maintain Eye Contact

When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

Final Thoughts

Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
[2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
[3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
[4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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