“Relationships Work…®” for Couples
By Lori W. Hollander, LCSW-C, BCD
Robert J. Hollander, JD, LCSW-C
Couple-to-Couple® Coaching

www.relationshipswork.com

A satisfying and loving relationship between a man and a woman takes work.
Work??!! Yes, work. For those couples willing to spend the time focusing on building a truly close bond with their spouse or significant other, the payoff in tremendous! The keys to having a loving relationship are:

1. Making the Time
Make your relationship a priority. After going to work, taking care of the kids, sports, homework, laundry, cooking dinner, and taking the dog out, there is little time left for most of us to even take a breath, let alone do something for ourselves or spend time focusing on genuinely communicating with our partner. We tend to put ourselves and our relationships last. And for that reason, our health, emotionally and physically, and the health of our relationships suffer.

Most people seem to have awareness that if we don’t devote enough attention to work and to raising our kids that we will not be successful. Yet when it comes to our relationships we expect them to succeed on their own, without devoting the same effort. When I see couples in my practice who are having relationship problems and I ask how much time they spend with each other, outside of work, time with kids, chores and friends, they often tell me they are too tired at night to talk and that they haven’t gone on a “date” in weeks, months or years! You need to devote the time and energy it takes to “feed” the relationship, to invest in loving your partner. It won’t just happen by itself.

TASK #1 – CARVE OUT THE TIME
Sit down with your partner and look at your day to day schedule and figure out where you are going to build in time each day and each week to devote to communicating, having dates, enjoying each other’s company, and being intimate. Schedule it or it won’t happen.

2. Genuinely Communicating
A. Communicate by actively listening and trying to understand each other’s points of view. It is hard to understand what the big deal is about listening. But listening is the most important skill to be successful in a relationship with your kids, your friends, your boss, your co-workers and most importantly, with your partner.

With our busy lives, most couples communicate “off the cuff.” Active listening takes time, energy and focused attention. Did you know that we can listen at a rate of 135-175 words per minute, but we can speak at a rate of 400-500 words per minute. This means that while the speaker is talking the listener has the ability to listen with half his brain and at the same time be forming a response, defense or comeback. This is NOT actively listening.

True listening happens when the listener puts aside his need to respond and uses the extra space to focus fully on the listener to understand and empathize with the speaker’s point of view. When you do this you are showing your partner that you respect their point of view, even if you don’t agree with it. By putting yourself “in your partners shoes”, and truly understanding what he/she is experiencing and feeling, you can communicate a deep sense of caring and concern for what they think and feel. This builds intimacy.

TASK #2 – LISTEN ACTIVELY WITH EMPATHY

  1. Make time to communicate – whether it’s about the big things or the little things.
  2. Stop what you are doing, focus your full attention on your partner and listen. If you do this right you should be able to “Make his/her case,” even if you don’t agree with it.
  3. Let the speaker know you understand by paraphrasing. “So you were thinking/feeling…”
  4. Then you can respond with your point of view. If you listen first, your partner will be more receptive to what you have to say.

B. Express yourself by “owning” your feelings, instead of blaming your partner for your feelings. Why is it so easy to speak to our loved ones in ways we would never speak to a stranger? Strange, but true… Sometimes we disrespect the ones we love the most. When couples come in to see me, I often hear a lot of blaming about how my partner did this or that. Most sentences begin with the word “You…”

Another communication skill is to learn to start sentences with the word “I…” It could be “I feel this way when you behave this way,” or “I wish you would…” Own your feelings and ask your partner for what you need. Women, generally will feel, “If he really loved me, he would know what I need and how I feel.” This is not true. Women generally have the intuitive antenna, not men. Men generally feel nothing they do is good enough. How often I hear from the guys, “I can’t please her no matter what I do.”

TASK #3 – OWN YOUR FEELINGS AND ASK FOR WHAT YOU NEED

  1. State what you want and need using “I” statements, instead of “You” statements. This takes the blaming out of the communication and sets a tone of being
    responsible for your feelings.
  2. Two assertiveness statements I learned along the way are:
    “I need/want because…” and “When you… I feel… because…” If it is difficult to do this, write down what you want to say and read it to your partner.

3. Dealing with Conflict
Face conflict squarely and respectfully. It is human nature to deal with conflict in one of two ways: fight or flight. When couples have conflict I often see them either avoid the conflict and emotionally distance themselves from each other, or escalate the conflict to the point where they attack and defend and may emotionally or physically hurt each other.

Managing conflict is a crucial communication skill that couples need to succeed in a relationship. The goal isn’t to have the absence of conflict. Conflict is inevitable! The goal is to resolve conflicts in a way that is healthy for both partners. How, you ask? Read on...

TASK #4 – CREATE YOUR OWN GROUND RULES FOR FAIR FIGHTING

  1. One person speaks at a time (no interruptions) using “I” statements.
  2. The other person listens actively.
  3. Respect the other person’s point of view, even if you don’t agree with it.
  4. If the discussion gets heated, stop talking, take a time out, but then come back to it.
  5. Find creative solutions – compromise, negotiate, agree to disagree.
  6. Remember, it’s not about who’s right or wrong.  You are on the same team. 
  7. If it turns into win-lose, the relationship loses.  So, ask yourselves, how can we make this a win-win?

4. Actively Loving Your Partner
Remember, love is a verb. There is a common misconception that couples are either “in love” or not. That love is a passive occurrence that just happens sometimes. It’s actually not true at all. Love is a feeling, but love is also an action. We experience loving feelings towards our partner when we do loving things for them. Feelings follow action. Act in ways that energize your love. For example, cook his/her favorite meal. Go to the movie he/she wants to see. Stop on the way home from work and pick up his/her favorite ice cream. Sometimes people fall out of love when they stop doing loving things for each other because of past hurts and resentments.

TASK #5 – LOVE YOUR PARTNER ACTIVELY

  1. Do the little things that your partner loves.
  2. Remember back to when you met... What did your partner do that made you fall in love with them? Do those things.
  3. Ask your partner what would make him/her feel loved.
  4. Ask yourself every day, what have I done today to show my partner that I love
    him/her?

Remember, relationships are precious. Handle them with care and the rewards are amazing!

For more information on Couple-to-Couple® Coaching and upcoming Tele-Classes, visit Lori and Bob at www.relationshipswork.com.

Lori W. Hollander, LCSW-C, BCD is a psychotherapist and marriage counselor in practice since 1981, and is the Executive Director of Hollander Counseling Associates, LLC. She received her Masters in Social Work at Rutgers University. Robert J. Hollander, JD, LCSW-C is a psychotherapist, marriage counselor, mediator and lawyer in practice since 1984, and is the Clinical Director of Hollander Counseling Associates, LLC. He received his Masters in Social Work from San Diego State University and his law degree from Rutgers University Law School. He was also a lecturer at The Rutgers Graduate School of Social Work. Lori and Bob are certified “Mars & Venus Counselors”, personally trained by John Gray, Ph.D., author of “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”.

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