I recently asked 7 couples therapists to weigh-in with their answers to some important relationship questions. If you are married or in a long-term-monogamous (LTM) relationship, take a couple minutes to read what the experts have to say. Better yet, read it with your significant other tonight!
First question: What’s your best advice for married/LTM couples?
A.C.: Give your partner daily attention. Compliment each other, let your partner know that you need them, that you desire them and how much they mean to you. Do it often!
J.H.: Marriage isn’t about happiness and feeling good. It’s about you growing and learning in a healthy supportive relationship. When partners allow for personal growth and support each other, they’re going to be happier and feel good.
M.S.: Go slow and remember that the toughest times are what bring many couples closer.
D.K.: Look for what your spouse is doing right and let them know that you recognize their efforts. It can be as simple as thanking them for setting the dinner table.
R.W.: Find your playful sparky place. All couples have one. Play is what keeps your relationship fresh and engaging and keeps trying new things safe.
A.R.: Regularly and calmly discuss your relationship.
J.F: It is important to understand that your values may not be the same as your partner’s. Be open to each other’s and decide together what is most important.
Me: Know what makes you and your spouse feel loved AND unloved, and empathize with why they are sensitive to certain behaviors. Do the loving stuff more, and humbly apologize when you accidentally do the unloving stuff.
Next question: What’s your favorite couples therapy exercise or homework to assign couples?
A.C.: I love helping couples eliminate harmful assumptions that create unnecessary negativity and communication breakdowns. Checking your assumptions with your partner is key.
J.H.: I frequently have couples perform a simple reflective listening exercise that allows each partner to observe just how they are listening. Most partners will observe that they do little intent listening and more thinking about “what am I going to reply with?” Listening skills take practice and mindful attention and awareness of partner and self. How can I be attentive to my partner allowing them to be heard? What happens in me when I actually feel understood by my partner?
M.S.: I enjoy the “Dreams within Conflict Exercise” from Gottman therapy. It reminds couples to hear each person’s individual stories.
D.K.: Gottman’s 7 Week Guide for Creating Fondness and Admiration. Each person practices relationship-enhancing thoughts throughout the weeks.
R.W.: Often I send them home with the assignment to simply share sustained eye contact for 60-seconds, breathe together or try a 6-second kiss.
A.R.: Read “Hold Me Tight” together.
J.F.: One homework assignment I give couples is to reassess their values and compare them. When couples get married or start a family we all have expectations that may or may not be met. It is normal for your values to change as you grow as a couple and start a family.
Me: Practice the Imago Intentional Dialogue. Extend high-fives and gold stars liberally any time someone intentionally stops themselves from interrupting or yah-buting. Abruptly press a taboo buzzer and redirect when I hear one of the four-horsemen or invalidating. (Just kidding about the actual buzzer. 🙂 )
Last question: Sometimes it is necessary to practice certain ways of thinking and behaving in order to achieve contentment as a couple. In your opinion, what psychological skills are most important to relationship success?
A.C.: The skills I most often teach my clients include avoiding the flight-or-fight zone as much as they can. Relationship breakdown happens in this zone.
J.H.: Partners who can increase their tolerance for the stresses and strains of long term relationships can also have the capacity to enjoy the good stuff! Work, kids, money, couples can’t get away from the stresses that can undermine relationship intimacy and satisfaction. Build your tolerance to the inevitable downturns in your relationship. It’s temporary and with time, awareness, patience, love, and understanding you can actually have the relationship you’ve always wanted. Even though it may not look like what you thought it would.
M.S.: Mindfulness and grounding. People can become detached and out of mind and body when emotions are intense. Practicing this can make difficult discussions more tolerable.
D.K.: Being able to recognize when you are emotionally flooded when in an argument, how to signal you need a break, and how to self-soothe/calm yourself down so that you can come back have a productive argument.
R.W.: Resiliency, vulnerability, curiosity and repair are important skills couples can hone.
A.R.: Ability to slow down, identify feelings, and share them vulnerably
J.F.: Openness and creativity when it comes to meeting your values as a family.
Me: Self-awareness/mindfulness, vulnerability/courage/humility, self-soothing, empathy, and the ability to accept some undesirable stuff without raging or making someone feel like an idiot for it.
Did you like what these guys had to say? Meet the clinicians, and check our their practices and blogs:
A.C.: Anita Chlipala is a dating & relationship expert. Her practice, Relationship Reality 312, Inc., is based in Chicago, but she works with clients internationally. Her blog can be found here.
J.H.: John Harrison, MA, LPCC Johnharrisoncounseling.com
John is a licensed mental health counselor working with couples, people pleasers, and men in transition. He maintains a private practice at the Healing Collaborative located in Cincinnati, Ohio.
M.S.: Michael J. Salas, MA, LPC-S. Michael is the owner and founder of Vantage Point Counseling Services in Dallas, TX. He works with individuals and couples relating to problems with infidelity, addictions, and sexual dysfunctions.
D.K.: Danielle Kepler, MA, LCPC. Danielle is a Gottman Method trained couples therapist who works with couples in all stages of their relationship. Her practice is located in downtown Chicago. Find Danielle’s website here.
R.W.: Rebecca Wong is a relationship therapist, consultant, speaker and creator of connectfulness.com. She guides parenting couples to slow down and playfully reconnect with the most important people in their lives.
A.R.: Allison Rimland, LPC, www.thrivefamilyservices.com
J.F.: Jessica Fowler, LCSW, jlfcounselingservices.com
Me: I’m Angelica Shiels, AKA “that yellow couch lady,” licensed clinical psychologist, mother of three, and wife of a husband who likes when I’m glued to my computer only when I’m also glued to him, cuddling on the not-actually-yellow-irl-couch.
As usual, I hope this post gave you something to think about. For more on couples, kids, and psychology, find OTYC on Facebook.