Going to good couples counseling is something like repairing an injury. We’ve hurt each other with our words over time and have learned ways to limp along in our relationship, not quite as strong as it once was. So going to marriage therapy for me is like digging in a wound, trying to line it up straight and strengthening what has been there all along. This is work, people. I’m not sitting on the sidelines anymore crying about my emotional boo-boos. I’m in rehab.
A part of our regular practice these days is to talk more (so obvious, right?). I don’t just mean talking about the family schedule or finances, but the things that have injured our relationship. The hard stuff. And because we can’t spend $200 an hour on all of our little stuff, it’s gotta start with us. So our wonderful therapists, gave us this common Couples Dialogue to structure our conversations (or at least get us started).
I know, the name even sounds mamby-pamby, but if a couple can agree to the process then I tell you, this helps to reset the injury so that you can be strong again.
1. Start with a topic that may be ‘sticky’ (or in therapy-speak “has an emotional charge”). Let’s say you have something, so you share your feelings and experience on the topic, but do it in a few sentence chunks.
2. Your partner just needs to listen. To show how well they are listening they repeat back the small chunk they just heard. They say, “What I heard you say was…” No interpretation allowed. No guessing at feelings or their memory of the occurrence, just repeat (mostly) your words back. You know, like really listening.
3. Once your partner repeats back your words, the next step is for them to ask, “Did I get it right?” You have the opportunity to inform them if anything important was left out. Then your partner says, “Is there more?” If there is more, then you proceed in small little chunks and repeat the cycle.
4. Then after you get your side out, your partner summarizes at a high level what they heard of your experience and feelings, making sure that all the main points are covered. To make sure your partner got it, they say, “Did I miss anything?”
5. Here’s the clencher – to validate your experience of events they say, “I heard what you said and it makes sense.” Not that they would make the same choices or feel the way that you do, but from your point of view knowing who you are, your story lines up. And for the field goal, they conclude with, “I imagine you are feeling…” and they say feeling words about how that must feel. It’s called empathy.
6. Once that part concludes then it’s their turn. You know, the two sides to every story thing…but your partner needs to stay on the topic that you brought up. If the topic was your sex life, then no moving over to and complaining about finances unless you’re paid for sex, but that may be a bit weird in a marriage. Whatever. That’s your business. Reverse the roles and go down the list. You need to be patient and kind and keep your mouth shut. Note to self: No rolling your eyes. Listen. Be empathetic. This is actually the hard part. Do a good job. Remember you’re in it to win it.
In a perfect world, both of you would have two chances to go around and really air the topic out. Heal it up. I say whenever the bottle of wine is finished then you’re done. Whatever works for you.
We’re in OUR process, rehabbing our relationship. How do you go back and heal about the things that hurt YOU?
by Expert Mommy, Jen Hibbits