Some of the most rewarding work I do is working with distressed couples to help them become more secure. While the ending is usually worth it, the process can be rocky. I often feel as I imagine a boxing referee does; somewhat stressed when partners throw knockout punches, only in therapy there are no gloves. Angry comments are emotional punches which come from years of pent-up resentment. While I’m frantically looking for my whistle, I often wonder whether relationship problems are better prevented or fixed? Can two people learn to speak up earlier so they save themselves time later in couples therapy?
The answer is Yes! Good communication skills, being able to ask for what you want and also being able to respond to your partner is similar to having a short and long game when playing golf. If you are a golfer you know what I mean. In the long game, confidence and chemistry are important. In the short game, you need precision and accuracy. In order to have more success in golf or love, you must master both aspects. In your relationship, ask yourself; “Does my partner know what is important to me? Do I know what is important to them? Am I happy with the level of communication? Am I suppressing things because I don’t know how to address issues?” The literature shows that couples can reduce conflict by discussing things instead of suppressing them. For more info read here. Make a pact not to go to bed angry. Bring things up with your partner when they are small.
In romantic relationships people often mind read- if my partner loved me, they would know what I need. But is this possible? Your partner cannot read your mind so you have to assert what is meaningful to you. Learn to speak up about things that are important. You and your partner are responsible for training each other how you want to be treated and how you will respond.
Think of training your partner in positive ways rather than negative. Who else knows how to make you happy? By using positive reinforcers we can influence our partners to do things that please us. Imagine that your husband makes you dinner, you say, “Wow Honey, you are so wonderful to take care of me.” You are influencing your husband to cook for you again. Don’t you train and influence people in all your relationships? At work, you train people that you work best after a cup of joe. If you want something from me, coffee first, please!
In addition to giving positive reinforcers, be careful to not give things away that will matter later. For example, I had a couple named Mary and Bob (not their real names) who were contemplating divorce. When Bob and Mary met in college Bob immediately liked Mary because she was different from his past girlfriends. Bob thought Mary was low maintenance and “cool.” When Bob forgot Mary’s birthday the first time Mary said, “Bob, no big deal. I don’t care about these things.” Thirty years later with tears rolling down her face Mary confronts Bob about how hurt she has been because he never remembers her birthday. Who changed over the years, Bob or Mary?
When it comes to our relationships, remember “We teach people how to treat us.” Think about teaching your partner how to treat you.
SECURE note: Benjamin Franklin said it well: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!” In your relationships, think about preventing problems by bringing issues up when they are small. Learn to throw compliments, not punches.
Tell me a story about your best and worst training experience, I’d love to hear….