Location: Dorchester, MA
My marriage of 12 years has hit a real rocky patch. I know my husband loves me and I certainly love him and we both love our 3 kids dearly. It’s just that we (he and I) have been fighting like cats and dogs lately. Every discussion, not just about sex, turns into a huge dust-up. It’s getting us both down. I don’t know where to turn. I was reading about your counseling practice and wanted to ask if you thought couple’s counseling was worth our while. Unfortunately we live on the other side of the country, so we can’t see you. But I’d look around here for help it you thought it would help. Thanks.
Yeah, I think couple’s counseling might very well help, and it might even help a lot. It sounds like you have a bank of good will goin with your hubby. You guys still love each other. Maybe that’s a good enough and strong enough foundation to get you through this rough patch. But you’ll never know unless you invest some time and energy into getting to the bottom of what’s eating at you guys. A good counselor will be able to assist you with that.
It’s true; you are on the other side of the country from me, but we could still work together. The thing is, I kept hearing from folks like you, far-flung from my home base here in Seattle, so I decided to introduce a remote therapy option for those who can’t see me at my office. I now offer counseling and coaching sessions by phone or through Skype. For more information about this see the Therapy Available page in the header (under the heading About Dr Dick).
Regardless of where you find the help you are looking for, let me say from the outset; this intervention won’t be inexpensive, but no worthy endeavor ever is. Besides a good marriage is worth the investment, don’t you think? As you guys consider taking your problems to a professional, allow me to direct your attention to the CATEGORIES section in the sidebar. Search for the main category — Sex Therapy. Under that heading you will find the subcategory — “Fair Fight Training.” These postings and podcasts will help you begin working on your communication skills. In fact, if you guys can learn to fight fair, you will have gone a long distance to healing whatever ails you.
Basically, this is what any good therapist will help you do. He/she ain’t gonna solve your problems for you, but she/he will teach you how to effectively communicate with each other, find solutions to your problems, and do so without battering one another to death in the process.
Most of us have really poor communication skills, if we have any skills at all. We generally fight first and ask questions later. We immediately get into a defensive posture, even before being attacked. We know how to manipulate, whine, or blame and “cover our own ass,” but that’s not communicating.
Effective communication begins with “EFFECTIVE LISTENING. ”
Here’s how I see it; even if we were to express our feelings, thoughts and opinions clearly and effectively that’s only half the task. Equally important is listening to and understanding what our partner communicates. If I’m too busy formulating my response to what my partner is saying, I’m not really listening to what’s being communicated. In fact, if I’m all balled up in preparing my defense, I may be missing the most important part of the message — the nonverbal cues coming from my partner. If I’m inside my own head, I have no resources available to decode or interpret the message coming from my partner, like through body language.
In other words, effective communication only happens when both partners are able to receive, decipher, interpret and understand the full message coming from the other in precisely the way he/she intends it. This is a difficult skill to master, mostly because it means I have to put the interests of my partner before my own interests. And who among us can say we do that with ease?
Effective listening is dependent on being an active listener. Active listening is being genuinely interested in understanding what our partner thinks, feels and wants. An active listener is concerned with the full message coming from our partner — the verbal part as well as the nonverbal. I mean, think about it; sometimes we say one thing, but our body language says something quite different. So if I’m only attentive to the words I will surely miss the other, and possibly more important, non-verbal message coming from my partner.
When I listen actively I am more concerned with grasping what is being communicated than formulating my response. If I can accurately paraphrase my partner’s message as I receive it, as well as ask my partner for verification; then I’m on the right track. This verification or feedback process is what distinguishes active listening and makes it so effective.
When you practice this feedback method, try to:
- Grasp the feelings or intent beyond the words.
- Resist the impulse to immediately answer questions that come from your partner. Because questions are often not always questions; sometimes they’re rhetorical statements.
- If you’re confused by what you hear, or you don’t understand what is being said, say so.
- Acknowledge your partner’s feelings. If you hear anger, hurt, or fear let your partner know that’s what you hear.
- Use eye contact and be conscious of his body language.
- Be empathic and nonjudgmental.
- Finally, thank your partner for entrusting his thoughts, feeling or whatever to you.