Couples come into my office fighting, shutting down, or giving up. They fear rejection, walk on eggshells, live with longing, frustration, crabbiness, compromise or stonewalling, arguing about who’s right or wrong while yearning for harmony.
I’m both honored and humbled to witness moments of repair and relief. I stare at stressed faces glaring at each other at an impasse – at their wall. Watching what I call “war at home,” I crook my neck, wondering how to help shift the home base to a safe place, wanting this work to ripple outwards, towards next generations, finally creating change in this wobbling world.
Sometimes I imagine couples holding a water balloon between them, ready to burst. I am often renewed with hope for humanity — seeing new learning and curiosity replace contempt. All our lungs fill with air again!
Listening well and speaking respectfully brings relationship repair. Most of us human beings are imperfect with an inner child who’s hurt and wanting safety. So, couples come in with a presenting problem, like money, sex, addictions, and the division of chores. Often, I tell them that the issue doesn’t matter so much, unless it does harm. The solution is always the same — learn to connect and communicate non-judgmentally.
What I am humbled to see is that with a dab of discovery instead of debate, and a few simple tools, relationships find revived vitality. We dread talking about “the relationship,” another battleground, but we are courageous when we do. (Ironically, avoiding delicate dialogues can end up in some form of separation anyway.)
Just think about how often we’re huddled in our homes, sparring or shut down. Imagine instead how much happier the world would be if we could all work through our differences, especially in our own houses, which I call “the hub of the wheel.”
I’m not trying to sell couples counseling here. I am writing about what is in front of me weekly. I am blown away by what I see. Living in a world so full of strife and suffering, to glimpse at repair and renewal is amazing. Like, recently I worked with a couple deep into the blame cycle: “You didn’t put away the laundry and you never do the dishes. I’ve had it with this. I’m done. I do everything around here.” My frequent comment and question for the couple: You will always have issues, but how do you talk about it – how do you resolve these disputes.
What renews relationships? Couples connect again when they learn effective dialogue techniques. It sounds simple, but it got lost in the shuffle somehow. Relationship 101 wasn’t taught in school. Go figure, we learned algebra instead.
One of my clients calls it rules for war: listening well, removing criticisms, using “I” statements and asking for our wishes. These habits can be miraculous.
There isn’t always a quick fix, but with a little curiosity and some skill, gutsy conversations can create ongoing healing. People might keep exploring the same issues for years, but when good communication is valued, it’s a sand box for discovery. Fear and anger are replaced by insight and compassion.
We all get threadbare, discouraged, but keep at it. Do you yell at weeds when they pop back every spring? Just persist, with patience and compassion.