7 more therapists’ #1 tip for couples-River City Counseling

In my last blog, Five Therapists’ #1 Tip for Couples, I shared the secret weapon of some of my favorite couples’ counselors. This is my follow-up, which includes the #1 tip from five more therapists, and for fun, a sixth asked his wife. I’ve also included a few tips.

As before, should you want to know more about any of these therapists, I’ve included their website addresses.

Also, I’d love it if you shared your “secret weapon.”
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Guillermo Alvarez, LMFT www.alvarez-mft.com

Differentiate “needs” versus “wants” in your relationships and be able to share these with your partner.
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Tom Badzey, LMFT www.tombadzey.com

Don’t know if it would be #1, but one thing that I often explore at the beginning stages is to schedule check in time about once a week away from kids, TV and other distractions like a mini “state of the union” to open the lines of communication.
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Todd Palombo, LMFT www.toddpalumbomft.com

Hope this isn’t cheating, but my relationship tips are based entirely on the recently departed Dr. William Glasser’s 7 Deadly, 7 Caring relationship habits: Avoid criticizing, complaining, blaming, nagging, threatening, punishing and bribing/rewarding to control. Increase supporting, encouraging, listening, accepting, trusting, respecting and negotiating differences.
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Stuart Kaplowitz, LMFT www.encouragingyourlife.com

I think for me the most important thing with couples is to find / make time to connect. I don’t care if you are busy that day; find even 5 mins. And I mean physically connect. Take a few minutes to reflect on the day, while holding hands, stroking the other’s face or arms (or connecting in a meaningful way they are comfortable). Then the other person shares. Of course, it is nice when each is able to truly listen and even reflect what their partner shared, and I like to take it a step further by asking questions like: what was your favorite part of the day or what may have been uncomfortable, unexpected, and so forth.
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Stephen Walker, LMFT www.middlewayhealth.com

What makes marriage work?

I asked my wife and she replied:

“Letting your spouse know what makes you happy. Don’t just assume! Speak up! Take time to do enjoyable things together. Touch each other. Hold hands. Surprise each other with gifts. Make love often. Check in with each other during the day. Sit in front of the fire together. Say ‘I love you.’ Don’t forget to introduce your spouse at a party.”
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Jennifer Olden, LMFT www.jenniferolden.com

Disclaimer: My point of reference is that of a wife in a heterosexual marriage that generally fits the stereotypes. However, as a therapist I have seen the roles switch and the husband act more emotional and the wife go up to her head. I’ve worked with gay and lesbian couples where gender isn’t the defining label. So, take this article with a grain of salt and look for the parts that fit.

My husband has the annoying habit of saying to me right after I bump my head, “Be Careful.” It’s reflexive on his end and harmless but also NOT HELPFUL. Advice, even with a positive intention, can end up escalating the disconnection.
Take the directive, “Chill out.” Never in the history of humankind has a person relaxed in response to the phrase “chill out.” It has the opposite effect nearly every time. If I’m upset and someone, namely my husband, says, “Chill out” I will probably want to claw out his face. This is not chilling out. Here is a short list of similar phrases that when uttered will make your wife freak out.

1) Chillax
2) You are being irrational
3) Stop stressing out. It’s no big deal
4) Have you taken your medication?
5) Is it that time of the month?
6) You are overreacting
7) You are always upset about something

When a woman hears these phrases she will NOT suddenly get access to her prefrontal lobes and become a beacon of logic and reason. She will more likely get more irrational, more reactive, and more upset. These phrases are gasoline, my friends. Avoid them at all costs.

So what do you say instead when your partner is freaking out over something seemingly small that doesn’t make sense to you and really appears to be some sort of chemical imbalance? How do you address it in a way that re-connects the two of you? Try these phrases:

1) I want to get close to you but right now you seem so made at me it’s hard to connect, but I really want to. What can I do?
2) I want to be the antidote to your problem, but it seems like I’m the cause. That makes me go away. I need you to talk to me about what is bothering you without blaming me for everything.
3) Look, I’m imperfect and I make mistakes, but I love you and I am here.
4) I’m on your team and we are in this together. You are the most important person to me.

The point is that if you couch your response in caring and validation you will get a lot more traction in your ultimate desire to connect than using the phrase, “Chill out.”
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Finally, a couple of thoughts from me:

When you are having an important conversation/disagreement with your spouse/partner, try to listen just to listen. Don’t listen looking for ammunition to use in your response. It’s a set-up for things to escalate further.

It takes two people for an argument. If one person says something like, “I need to stop talking,” that means the other needs to respect this, and the conversation needs to stop. This doesn’t mean the conversation is over, never to be talked about again. It simply means that feelings are getting too heated for a productive conversation to happen, and it’s important to pause. When both people are calm, the conversation can continue.

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