Couples often seek relationship counselling because they are having lots of arguments.
They love each other and hate feeling like this but are stuck in bad habits. Counselling can be a great support to unpack certain themes and stuck points. I hear all the time “This sounds so petty, I don’t know why we have so many arguments over silly things.”
Usually, arguments are not really about the content, they are about the message underneath, often something to the effect of ‘I feel like you don’t care’, or “I don’t feel important to you”, or “I’m not feeling loved”.
Counselling can support couples to get out of negative loops where arguments never get resolved, by working on the underlying causes.
Power struggles are another common reason that couples get stuck in arguments they wish they were not having. Common struggles include tensions such as messy vs tidy, spender vs saver, ‘touchy-feely’ vs reserved and different styles of parenting.
Learning to communicate calmly, without triggering each other into a cycle of ‘attack and defend’ is an art, and even if you know what you should be doing, it is very hard to enact when the person you love is looking at you ‘with that look’ or tone of voice. Practicing this in counselling can help you to gain new skills, so that you don’t get into arguments that are destructive to the wellbeing of your relationship.
Almost every couple that comes to see me gets the following homework to practice while we work on improving the above.
Have a weekly ‘couple check-in’
This is a time when kids or housemates are not in earshot. You are both as relaxed as possible. Sit down together and ask each other the following questions.
1. What have I done that has made you feel loved this week?
2. Is there anything person one wants to share about the relationship?
Keep it as a complaint or request rather than a criticism or attack, by using non-blaming language. Person 2 just listens to understand and doesn’t add anything of their own. Once person 1 feels totally understood, person 2 can respond, while person 1 just listens to understand, and doesn’t add anything.
3. Is there anything person 2 wants to share about the relationship. Follow the same process as question above.
4. Only once both have had a turn to share, decide what you will try differently in the coming week. Commit to some small steps.
5. Now touch base on any life admin stuff.
Are there events coming up, stressors, hopes, expectations that it could be useful to share?
If you need more ideas have a look at the Gottman Institute;
This simple process can have an enormous benefit to couples and really reduce arguments.
You are not letting things build to a point where it bubbles out in anger, or seeps out in resentment. You are practicing speaking your needs calmly. You are giving your partner the message that their concerns are important.
It’s a good idea to do this just once per week, for 20-30 minutes max, because this will only help you to reduce arguments if you do it regularly.
Any more than 20-30 minutes, you might not be willing to do it every week, invest in your relationship and see if you can commit to this.
Once you have had this talk, do your best to take on board any requests or hopes that your partner shared. It’s like a team meeting at work, you set yourselves up for the week, then you get on with it. Try not to keep bringing things up unless they really are urgent. Use the weekly meetings for complaints as well as appreciations, then during the week, try to just enjoy each other more by focusing on what your partner is doing right.