It’s been well-documented—both in pop culture and in the empirical community—the incidence of partnerships turning to relationship counseling as a last resort to save the relationship. Time and again, couples hold out until one or both sees no other option than to (gulp) ask for help from (wince) a professional!
Given this trend, we helping professionals can continue the Herculean quest of influencing the willingness of couples to do their work earlier in the scope of a relationship, and/or we can offer support for those playing out the traditional trajectory. This article playfully addresses the former.
What follows are three not-so-common strategies for people in relationships to employ before seeking counseling support.
- Bring your idol to the fight: Try imagining a person in your life (alive or otherwise) whom you respect greatly for his/her relationship maturity. The next time you feel conflict coming on with your partner, imagine this respected person being present for everything you are about to do and say. How do you want to be seen? What feedback/coaching might this person give you in the moment?
- Vow of silence: This one involves teamwork, so trust yourself to know if you and your partner are in a place to get on board together. This exercise asks you both to commit to a certain time period of intentional silence. Could be an hour, could be a day or longer—it’s up to you to decide together. During this time, you each commit to your own attunement to yourselves and to each other. What do I mean by attunement? Attunement is the ability to feel into our own present experience while also contacting that of another. Parents naturally attune a little better to their kids, for instance, as can coaches to their athletes, teachers to their students, and, hopefully, partners to each other! Often, in relationships I work with, resentment and disconnect happen as a result of diminished attunement between partners. Attunement can happen in the same room or in two different time zones, depending on the people and the relationship, so you don’t need to be physically proximal as much as really just focusing on being present with yourself and curious about your partner. When your agreed-upon silent time has ended, allow for some time to share your experiences, ask questions, and explore intuitions you may have had. If you’ve taken it that far, maybe discuss what you can apply to your relationship moving forward from this learning.
- Relationship goal-setting: When was the last time you reconnected with your truest intentions for being in a relationship? What did you learn? Take some time to evaluate—at this point—what you are hoping to gain from being in your current relationship. Ideally, this exercise would involve identifying some universal needs/values, like intimacy, connection, transformation, companionship, etc., and could also include goals such as, “I want to share my life,” “I want to build a family,” or “I want to be happy.” Reflect on how true these goals/values feel for you today. If they are still spot-on in your life, how are you progressing toward them in this relationship? Hopefully, you and your partner can do this together, to collaborate and consider what this means moving forward for you both. As an alternative, each of you could write down what you think are the other’s relationship goals, then compare with each other and see what comes of that!
So, before you scroll the GoodTherapy.org directory or ask your friend for a referral, try one or more of these out and see what happens. Maybe you both have some juice for the relationship and you just need some guidance (who doesn’t?), or maybe you will discover some clarity for decisions ahead. Whether it’s with a counselor or not, engaging in proactive relationship work is there for the taking, so go for it!
© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Jesse Johnson, MA, LPC, therapist in Portland, Oregon
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