The Short Course in Couples Counseling
By Lynn Seiser, Ph.D., MFT
Jack and Jill, my infamous fictitious composite couple, come in on a regular basis. They have been working on their relationship for some time. They have made some progress and still have a way to go. They, like most of us, would appreciate the short course. Sometimes it just takes too long to learn it. Sometimes it seems like we never will. Besides, many of the patterns of successful relationships are not necessarily the ones we grew up with or the ones we imitate or identify with in our society. Jack and Jill are tired. They want me to do the work today. They simply asked what the short course in couples counseling was.
Listen to each other. It always amazes me how very little we listen to each other. As a coupleís counselor, I try to understand each personís perception of the relationship. We each have our own idea of what the relationship should be. We are so caught up in trying to get the other person to see and agree with our perception that we spend very little time, if any, listening to them. I often just listen and repeat what is said. Itís amazing how people will hear the same thing from me that they refuse to hear or accept from their mate. Love is not only blind; itís deaf too.
Two things would put couple counselors out of business. First, couples should listen to each other and accept that some of what the other person is saying is probably true. Secondly, they should listen to what the other person is telling them they want, and then try to help them get it. We donít have to figure it all out, we just have to listen. People tend to be honest and ask for what they want. Everyone wins or everyone loses. Make sure the other person wins, so you can too.
Appreciate the balance of differences. Opposites do tend to attract. We pick others who balance us. If we are more logical, we pick someone one who is more emotional. If we only think of the future, we pick some one who thinks of the present. If we are savers, we pick spenders. Their difference provides a balance for us. The more out of balance we are with ourselves, the more extreme will be the balance we require from others.
An old adage says those things that attracted us to each other will later be the things that drive us crazy. We forget to appreciate the difference. After we join, we try to talk the other person into being like us. If we are successful, we have destroyed that balance that made the relationship to begin with. The other person has to stop being who they are. What we all want is to be loved, accepted, and appreciated for who we are as ďenoughĒ without having to change.
Respond, do not just react. Along with appreciating the balance of difference, also try not to be caught up in its reactionary dance. Too often, what happens to couples is they start reacting and getting further and further apart. The more logical you try to be, the more illogical and emotional your mate will be. The more you worry about the future, the more your mate will have to balance you by keeping you grounded in the present and bringing up the past. The stricter you are as a parent, the more lenient your mate may need to be to balance you. After a while, you may become abusive and your mate neglectful. If your reactions have danced too far away from your mate, begin to dance back toward them.
Tend the garden. There are several metaphors I often use to teach couples. Realize that the grass isnít greener on the other side of the fence, it is greenest where it is watered. You can neglect a plant for a period of time and still be able to nurse it back to health. It may bloom better than ever. If you wait too long, the root system dies and the plant cannot be revived. In these days of being hunters looking for prey, we may want to remember that we were farmers first and should grow our own food at home.
I often ask couples how they got together. I remind them that if they continue to do the things that got them their relationships, they just might be able to keep it. I ask if they met each other today would they want to go out. Do they like the way they love each other and is it different from they way they loved each other in the beginning? Most couples start out as friends and lovers and forget to maintain that relationship.
I ask, how do they want their relationship to end? Do they want to end it now or do they want to be that older couple watching a sunset and holding hands? Instead of trying to get the other person to change, perhaps if we each took care of our own part of the dance and walked towards that end, we just might get there together. Take care of the other person, but look first to what you are doing to stop yourself from letting love in and letting love out.
Jack and Jill said that the short course was way too much information and that it would take them a long time to begin practicing it in their lives. I suggested they had already started by asking and listening to me. Now if they could just do the same with each other.
Thanks for listening, for the opportunity to be of service, and for sharing the journey.
Lynn Seiser, Ph.D., is an internationally respected psycho-therapist and author with offices in Long Beach and Tustin.
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