As many of you know I enjoy working with couples. It’s always a delight to me when two people leave feeling much happier in their relationship than when they came into treatment. As with individuals I take some time to assess the areas of difficulty. When it’s a couple this takes approximately two hours for the first session. I find that with couples a one and one-half hour regular session is most useful. Usually we have one session per week for three to four weeks then move to every other week. The average for couples to feel ‘success’ is eight to ten sessions.
I have been trained in the Gottman marital approach. Along with this I also utilize communication improvement techniques. A common problem is a lack of listening skills. Given that, I’m posting a few suggestions from my materials.
LISTENING & UNDERSTANDING: If you are the speaker please stay on the main focus of the experience you want the listener to understand. Additionally do not start any sentence with you (as this often causes the listener to put up a wall). Leave out any judgments. Stay on one item (don’t add ‘and, and, and’ as it overwhelms the listener). Don’t add past behaviors to set examples with the thought that you will “win”. State a feeling that was triggered by the experience.Leave out the words “Always” and “Never.” Lastly, if possible end with the most important element you want the listener to understand.
If you are the listener please empty your mind! Listen as though this is the first time you have heard this. Do NOT figure out how to respond yet. Respond with what you understand (not with simply saying ‘I understand’). How does the speaker know for certain that you do understand? So tell them what you heard said. Don’t say the word “But,” (I love you but,.. ” or “I understand, but…”)
If you have questions, keep them honest. A dishonest question is “Don’t you think it would be better if you had…..?” or “Why don’t you try….” This is advice giving in the form of a question.
Ask “when, how”, (such as “How did you decide that was the most appropriate action?), NOT “Why did you do that?”
Don’t expect someone to go back in time and fix it. It can’t be done. What do you want now? Be specific. See if it is possible and agreeable for the other person
When couples set up a situation in which to communicate and take the time to follow these guidelines the relationship improves. Yes, it takes a lot of time. The best part though is that, in the long run, it actually takes less time because the conversation isn’t repeated over and over.