make it tough to remember what brought them together. Counseling is a place where couples can safely explore feelings, process reactions, and have a mediated forum to identify patterns and learn productive, healthy ways of relating. We often find that little tweaks and adjustments to a couple’s habits have a profound effect on improving their relationship satisfaction.
Some people think the idea of couples counseling sounds about as enjoyable as getting a root canal at the dentist. However, many find that the process of working with their partners and a trained therapist can be meaningful, rewarding, and even…fun! Yes! There’s been so much great research about couples’ interactions and helpful tools that couples counseling is more exciting than ever!
For example, Dr. John Gottman is a psychologist whose research helps couples create healthy, happy relationships that last. After years of research on marital behavior and communication dynamics, Dr. Gottman says that he can reliably predict if a couple will divorce with 91% accuracy by watching and listening to them for just five minutes. Wow.
Dr. Gottman has a great book called, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (1999). He says, “What can make a marriage work is surprisingly simple. Happily married couples aren’t smarter, richer, or more psychologically astute than others. But in their day-to-day lives, they have hit upon a dynamic that keeps their negative thoughts and feelings about the other (which all couples have) from overwhelming their positive ones.”
1) Complaint vs. Criticism
Complaint: points out specific actions of partner's failure to do something
"I'm angry you didn't sweep the kitchen floor last night. We agreed to take turns."
Criticism: more global negative comment about your partner's character or personality
"Why are you so forgetful? I hate sweeping when it's your turn. You just don't care."
(Turn any complaint into criticism by adding "What's wrong with you!?")
Problem: Can be very common, but paves the way for harsher, more destructive
Sarcasm, cynicism, name calling, eye-rolling, mockery
Problem: Dangerous because it often conveys disgust and may lead to more
conflict rather than resolution.
Although this reaction is often understandable when one or both partners are hurt by some
of the harmful ways of interacting above, being defensive rarely has the desired effect; for
example, your partner does not back down or apologize.
This can in fact escalate conflict and is really a way of blaming your partner.
"The problem isn't me, it's you!"
Problem: Discussions that begin harshly, where criticism and contempt lead to
defensiveness, which then leads to more contempt and more defensiveness, eventually one
partner may tune out completely.
Coming home from work and beginning conflict at home, one partner may turn away and
become unresponsive, leave the room. The less responsive one is, the more the other may
yell. By turning away, this interaction is as though one is sitting like a passive stone wall. The
partner acts like he or she couldn't care less about what you're saying, even if he or she