March 24, 2020

The 3 Things your Couples Therapist Wishes you’d Stop Doing.

Here’s a bold claim: most of the dissatisfaction and disconnection we experience as couples are directly related to an inability to communicate well.

By cultivating your communication skills you can avoid a ton of heartache and misunderstandings later on in your relationship. 

As a couple’s coach, here are the 3 most common communication tangles I see:

Mistake #1: Couples spending hours processing fights. 

A fight is an emotional experience. Someone gets upset, or their feelings are hurt.  The reaction is emotional and therefore triggers an emotional response from the partner.

Often, when couples try to work through fights, they make it into an intellectual battle. They try to talk rationally, negotiate, and be an adult. This can result in long, draining discussions. Often, both people are still left feeling unseen and unheard. 

The antidote?  Come back to the emotions involved, rather than the intellectual story. 

Cool down. Mutually agree to take some space apart. Take time to figure out what your own emotions are. Then, come back together and, as vulnerably as possible, share your emotional reality. Do this one at a time, and be mindful to avoid blaming or shaming

Example: “When you arrived late, I felt hurt and unimportant” (sharing your emotions vulnerably) vs. “you’re always late! You need to be on time,” (blaming someone else). 

The person listening shares back what they heard, and validates the person’s experience. 

Example: “I hear that you felt hurt, and unimportant. I get that—those feelings make sense. What else?” 

If you find yourself getting defensive, cool down again. Wait until you’re ready to listen before you come back together. Remember that fights are emotional experiences. Our adult self has powerful intellect, but that intellect can be distracting in a fight.  

Talk to and listen to each other like little kids—how would a five year old express hurt feelings? What would a five year old need to hear?

Start there. 

Mistake #2: Couples shut down each other’s desires.

We never intentionally shut down our lover’s desire, but it tends to happen without people being aware of it. I usually frame this stuff as the masculine-feminine dynamic, but it helps to approach this in terms of the yin-yang energy rather than gender. 

Example: “Let’s go on a trip around the world,” she says!

“You know I can’t take that time off work,” he says.

Typically, the feminine partner is full of desires—big dreams—while the masculine partner lives in the world of reason and logistics. When the masculine partner hears a desire, his mind orients to “how can I make this happen?”

If he can’t immediately see a way, he often will give a resounding no—the feminine’s feelings get hurt, and she reacts passive-aggressively, or stops sharing her desires. 

The antidote? Try framing desires differently:

“I have this idea. We don’t need to make it happen, and I’m not looking for a yes or no answer right now—are you open to just dreaming with me for a minute?” 

This allows the partner to get into a receptive state of mind. When she shares, he can practice breathing and get into the excitement of what is possible—without promising or committing to what will happen next.

“Ah, I love your enthusiasm! That is a great idea. Will you tell me more?”

This simple communication tip can revolutionize relationships, and the willingness to share desires with each other. 

Mistake #3: Couples initiate sex at the wrong times

This one can be extremely painful! One person will initiate sex—say with putting on sexy lingerie, or inviting her into bed—but the other person isn’t ready or available for sex. The other person says no, and the initiator feels rejected or dismissed. Ouch!

We expect sex to be something that “just happens” spontaneously. We hope our partners are always willing and ready.  The truth is, both people are rarely well-rested, turned on, and have tons of free time, simultaneously. Without planning, sex often doesn’t happen. 

The antidote? Sex dates!

I’m a big, big fan of scheduling intimacy into the calendar. At first, this can feel unsexy if you’re conditioned to believe sex should be spontaneous, but it can be incredibly helpful, especially for busy couples. 

Having time on their our calendar specifically dedicated to intimacy helps both people prepare for it. They get in the mood, get dressed up, turn themselves on, and set aside distractions. Then when they come together, the sparks can fly. Try it! It’s a powerful experience. 

So, there you have it! Three of the most common mistakes I see when I coach couples on their love and sex life. 

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