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Published on October 31, 2018

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

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Josh Zlatkus

Mental Health Therapist in Private Practice

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Last Updated on May 21, 2019

How to Communicate Effectively in Any Relationship

How to Communicate Effectively in Any Relationship

For all our social media bravado, we live in a society where communication is seen less as an art, and more as a perfunctory exercise. We spend so much time with people, yet we struggle with how to meaningfully communicate.

If you believe you have mastered effective communication, scan the list below and see whether you can see yourself in any of the examples:

Example 1

You are uncomfortable with a person’s actions or comments, and rather than telling the individual immediately, you sidestep the issue and attempt to move on as though the offending behavior or comment never happened.

You move on with the relationship and develop a pattern of not addressing challenging situations. Before long, the person with whom you are in relationship will say or do something that pushes you over the top and predictably, you explode or withdraw completely from the relationship.

In this example, hard-to-speak truths become never- expressed truths that turn into resentment and anger.

Example 2

You communicate from the head and without emotion. While what you communicate makes perfect sense to you, it comes across as cold because it lacks emotion.

People do not understand what motivates you to say what you say, and without sharing your feelings and emotions, others experience you as rude, cold or aggressive.

You will know this is a problem if people shy away from you, ignore your contributions in meetings or tell you your words hurt. You can also know you struggle in this area if you find yourself constantly apologizing for things you have said.

Example 3

You have an issue with one person, but you communicate your problem to an entirely different person.

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The person in whom you confide lacks the authority to resolve the matter troubling you, and while you have vented and expressed frustration, the underlying challenge is unresolved.

Example 4

You grew up in a family with destructive communication habits and those habits play out in your current relationships.

Because you have never stopped to ask why you communicate the way you do and whether your communication style still works, you may lack understanding of how your words impact others and how to implement positive change.

If you find yourself in any of the situations described above, this article is for you.

Communication can build or decimate worlds and it is important we get it right. Regardless of your professional aspirations or personal goals, you can improve your communication skills if you:

  • Understand your own communication style
  • Tailor your style depending on the needs of the audience
  • Communicate with precision and care
  • Be mindful of your delivery, timing and messenger

1. Understand Your Communication Style

To communicate effectively, you must understand the communication legacy passed down from our parents, grandparents or caregivers. Each of us grew up with spoken and unspoken rules about communication.

In some families, direct communication is practiced and honored. In other families, family members are encouraged to shy away from difficult conversations. Some families appreciate open and frank dialogue and others do not. Other families practice silence about substantive matters, that is, they seldom or rarely broach difficult conversations at all.

Before you can appreciate the nuance required in communication, it helps to know the familial patterns you grew up with.

2. Learn Others Communication Styles

Communicating effectively requires you to take a step back, assess the intended recipient of your communication and think through how the individual prefers to be communicated with. Once you know this, you can tailor your message in a way that increases the likelihood of being heard. This also prevents you from assuming the way you communicate with one group is appropriate or right for all groups or people.

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If you are unsure how to determine the styles of the groups or persons with whom you are interacting, you can always ask them:

“How do you prefer to receive information?”

This approach requires listening, both to what the individuals say as well as what is unspoken. Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson noted that the best communicators are also great listeners.

To communicate effectively from relationship to relationship and situation to situation, you must understand the communication needs of others.

3. Exercise Precision and Care

A recent engagement underscored for me the importance of exercising care when communicating.

On a recent trip to Ohio, I decided to meet up with an old friend to go for a walk. As we strolled through the soccer park, my friend gently announced that he had something to talk about, he was upset with me. His introduction to the problem allowed me to mentally shift gears and prepare for the conversation.

Shortly after introducing the shift in conversation, my friend asked me why I didn’t invite him to the launch party for my business. He lives in Ohio and I live in the D.C. area.

I explained that the event snuck up on me, and I only started planning the invite list three weeks before the event. Due to the last-minute nature of the gathering, I opted to invite people in the DMV area versus my friends from outside the area – I didn’t want to be disrespectful by asking them to travel on such short notice.

I also noted that I didn’t want to be disappointed if he and others declined to come to the event. So I played it safe in terms of inviting people who were local.

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In the moment, I felt the conversation went very well. I also checked in with my friend a few days after our walk, affirmed my appreciation for his willingness to communicate his upset and our ability to work through it.

The way this conversation unfolded exemplified effective communication. My friend approached me with grace and vulnerability. He approached me with a level of curiosity that didn’t put me on my heels — I was able to really listen to what he was saying, apologize for how my decision impacted him and vow that going forward, I would always ask rather than making decisions for him and others.

Our relationship is intact, and I now have information that will help me become a better friend to him and others.

4. Be Mindful of Delivery, Timing and Messenger

Communicating effectively also requires thinking through the delivery of the message one intends to communicate as well as the appropriate time for the discussion.

In an Entrepreneur.com column, VIP Contributor Deep Patel, noted that persons interested in communicating well need to master the art of timing. Patel noted,[1]

“Great comedians, like all great communicators, are able to feel out their audience to determine when to move on to a new topic or when to reiterate an idea.”

Communicating effectively also requires thoughtfulness about the messenger. A person prone to dramatic, angry outbursts should never be called upon to deliver constructive feedback, especially to people whom they do not know. The immediate aftermath of a mass shooting is not the ideal time to talk about the importance of the Second Amendment rights.

Like everyone else, I must work to ensure my communication is layered with precision and care.

It requires precision because words must be carefully tailored to the person with whom you are speaking.

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It requires intentionality because before one communicates, one should think about the audience and what the audience needs in order to hear your message the way you intended it to be communicated.

It requires active listening which is about hearing verbal and nonverbal messages.

Even though we may be right in what we say, how we say it could derail the impact of the message and the other parties’ ability to hear the message.

Communicating with care is also about saying things that the people in our life need to hear and doing so with love.

The Bottom Line

When I left the meeting with my dear friend, I wondered if I was replicating or modeling this level of openness and transparency in the rest of my relationships.

I was intrigued and appreciative. He’d clearly thought about what he wanted to say to me, picked the appropriate time to share his feedback and then delivered it with care. He hit the ball out of the park and I’m hopeful we all do the same.

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Featured photo credit: Kenan Buhic via unsplash.com

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