Many people think couples therapy is for people who have a failing relationship. But those people are shooting themselves in the foot.
No matter how great of a match you are with someone, there will always be issues. And a therapist has years of training under their belt to help you strengthen your relationship before it becomes a shit show.
My boyfriend, Nish, and I decided to start seeing a couples therapist to learn how to be better partners for each other. Nish described to our therapist that “we want to go from 90% to as close to 100% as we can.”
We’ve been seeing our therapist for a few months now, and we already see the benefits. We have zero lingering arguments. We communicate better. We feel more loved and cared for by each other.
And that all came down to one thing: communication.
It’s said that poor communication is one of the leading causes of divorce. But the truth is it’s probably THE leading cause, since many issues like financial problems, or unmet needs, boil down to not communicating correctly.
Our therapist educated Nish and me on effective communication that helped us navigate inevitable ups and downs. We’ve learned to support each other and have a relationship that’s even closer to 100% as a result.
So let’s talk about some of those communication lessons I learned:
If you and your partner aren’t understanding each other, re-word what you’re saying.
Several weeks ago, Nish and I got into an argument because he didn’t keep me in the loop about a plan to go to New York. I don’t mind Nish traveling without me, but he mentioned the trip twice to other people without talking to me about it.
In my boyfriend’s mind, he didn’t see the point in telling me yet because it was merely a thought, not a full-fledged plan. We went back and forth, trying to make each other understand our sides.
The next time we saw our therapist, we talked to him about it.
“I think you’re both too hung up on the word ‘important’ here,” he explained. “Kirstie, it sounds like you wanted Nish to know that if it was important enough to talk to other people about, it was important enough to keep you in the loop.”
And just like that, we realized how significant it is to try re-wording things if you and your partner don’t understand each other. Repeating the same words over and over won’t magically make them understand.
Sometimes, the delivery needs to be adjusted. In this case, I needed to focus more on my feelings in the situation and why it upset me.
Expectations can be the silent killer of your relationship.
My favorite exercise our therapist had Nish and I do was go through a long list of life topics and talk about our expectations of both. We also detailed how we saw each other playing into those expectations.
After we finished that session, I looked at Nish and said, “Wow, if more couples did that, I feel like there would be fewer divorces. So many people aren’t on the same page and find out too late.”
Many philosophers see expectations as the root of pain. Even William Shakespeare said, “Expectation is the root of all heartache.” While an expectation-less life would be ideal, we’re only human.
So the next best thing is communicating our expectations.
If you love when your partner brings you flowers but never say that aloud, you’ll constantly feel disappointed. Meanwhile, your partner is probably showing you love in an entirely different way.
The solution is to state your expectations. Sure, your partner may still have trouble meeting them, but at least they know they exist.
You’d be surprised how much you act based on expectations that live in your head. It’s best to become aware of those because they could be the silent killer of your relationship.
The difference between an analytical thinker and an emotional thinker.
I’m very emotion-driven. When I feel uncertain about work, I become consumed by “what ifs” and the lingering sense of doubt. My first priority is managing my feelings.
For my boyfriend, he’s very analytical. Nish sees a problem and automatically comes up with a solution. Or, in my opinion, worse, he starts to play devil's advocate.
These different ways of thinking have caused more than one argument between us. It wasn’t until our therapist labeled it as “analytical” and “emotional” thinking that it all started to make sense.
When you function differently, it’s essential to meet the other person where things make sense.
Take the New York trip as an example: I kept telling Nish that if it was important, he should tell me. But his mind took that meaning of “important” literally. It wasn’t a set plan, so why would it be important?
Explaining things from a more straightforward angle helped him realize that I wanted to feel cared for. And, explaining things that way helped Nish understand how to best show up for me as an emotional thinker.
Sometimes, you want your partner to listen.
When you love someone, it’s natural to want to fix things. You’d climb mountains to make any pain or discomfort they’re feeling go away.
So it’s not easy to understand that sometimes, your partner doesn’t want a solution. They just want a pair of ears.
And the reverse rings true; it’s OK to just want to vent to your partner. If you’ve had a stressful day and your partner trying to make things right only frustrates you, then that might be the exact issue that’s going on.
Circling back to my work frustrations that I sometimes grapple with, I rarely want Nish to problem-solve. He’s not a writer and doesn’t know the business. But I still want to talk about things when I’m overwhelmed.
Our therapist explained that this is another example of expectations at play. It’s perfectly fine to let your partner know you want them to listen. Or actively listen by asking questions about how you feel and what happened.
I genuinely hope that one day the stigma around couples therapy is gone. It’s such a vital tool that can help you learn how to withstand life with the person you love, leaving minimal scars behind.
Until then, hopefully, articles like this will help people. Communication is crucial for a healthy relationship, and it’s something all of us can learn more about.