Whether it’s family, friends, or your partner, relationships are difficult to manage. Partners usually have conflicting communication styles, habits, preferences, and habits. When you add in the challenges of daily life, relationships can become even more complicated to manage. Our hope is that this blog will help you understand when partners should consider counseling.
Why Consider Counseling?
At the beginning of a relationship, many couples experience high levels of connection and love. Over time, “real life” can cause couples to experience more conflict and less connection. This is very common for couples, and something that is fixable. We know it can be very scary for you and your partner to take the step to see a counselor: there can be a stigma attached to seeking counseling, and it can be scary to think that something is “wrong” in your relationship. A way to reframe these thoughts is to focus on growth and healing and remember that there is usually a way to improve any situation. VeryWellHealth also says that couples counseling is a great option for couples “who don’t have any specific problems to address but want to strengthen their relationship.”
Is Counseling Right For Me And My Partner?
John Gottman, an American psychologist who has dedicated most of his work to couples therapy, developed the “Four Horsemen” metaphor. This metaphor describes four communication styles that strongly predict trouble in a relationship. If you and your partner are trying to decide if you need to pursue counseling, try evaluating these communication styles. If you find yourself using one of them, reaching out to a counselor could help you and your partner get on the path to healing.
- Criticism: Criticism is different from a helpful critique or verbalizing a complaint that is important to you. Criticism is an attack on character, which is hurtful and dehumanizing. An example of a complaint would be, “We agreed to clean the house today, it was really important to me, and I feel disappointed it did not get done.” In contrast, a criticism would look like, “You never help me with chores. You are lazy, and you don’t care about me or my feelings.”
- Contempt: Contempt is the “second horseman”, and according to Dr. Gottman, it is the most damaging. Contempt rises above criticism to the point where one or both partners displays superiority over the other. Communicating contempt usually happens because one partner believes that due to another’s partner’s mistake, they are unworthy, less than, or despised. Contempt can happen when feelings are held in for a long time, and when they are finally let out, it is damaging to the relationship. An example of contempt communication could be, “YOU feel tired? How do you think I feel? I am the only one that does anything for this family. You act like a child. It’s pathetic.”
- Defensiveness: Defensiveness usually happens when we feel wrongly accused, and we attempt to make excuses or play the victim. Most of the time, being defensive does not give the results we hope for. It causes us to be unable to hear what our partner is trying to communicate, and often, it will prolong a disagreement. An example of defensiveness, would be answering the question “Did you take the trash out yet?” with “Can’t you see that I’m busy right now? I obviously haven’t had time. Why can’t you do it?”
- Stonewalling: Stonewalling is when a partner shuts down or withdraws from an interaction due to exhaustion, lack of interest, or hopelessness. When confronted with a problem or conflict, the effective thing to do is listen and respond calmly. Those that stonewall as their way of dealing with conflict rarely actually resolve anything. Stonewalling is putting a bandaid on a bigger issue.
These are just a few of the warning signs to look for when considering if counseling is a good option for you and your partner. In reality, there could be any number of things in a relationship that counseling could assist with. The Gottman Institute says, “A well-trained couples therapist who seeks to deeply understand you and your partner can support you in implementing strategies and tools to change the way you communicate, as well as shift unhealthy dynamics in your relationship. They can help you bring forth difficult feelings in a vulnerable way that helps your partner see you better and helps create a recipe to win your heart.” There is also never a wrong time to seek counseling. Garrett Counseling offers couples counseling at all of our locations. To get started today, contact us at (256) 239-5662 or online.