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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Has Love Disappointed You?

If you are one of the many relationship seekers who have been repeatedly disillusioned in the past, you may be understandably wary of future relationships. It is difficult for most people to keep believing in lasting love when they have experienced too many failures.

With so much media advice available today, it would seem that most in the dating market would have found the relationship they want. Yet, most of the people I’ve seen have enthusiastically studied many resources on how to find a quality, long-lasting relationship, and still have not been successful. They valiantly struggle to keep their negative pasts from influencing their hopes for the future.
Though it may be totally understandable for discouraged daters to become bitter or cynical, they realize that those attitudes can put off a potential new partner. They want to stay positive and open, but often can’t help facing the next relationship more cautiously. A negative expectation can feel more self-protective, like emotional armor to insulate against the next feared heartbreak. Sadly, that same protection can become a prison.
When I work with people who have unsuccessfully participated in the dating search for some period of time, I can discern where they lie on the continuum between hardening and hope. Through those observations, I’ve seen how those attitudes and the behaviors that accompany them influence their relationship success.
To keep hope up and cynicism down, the goal for each “wounded dating warrior” is to find the right balance between self-preservation and continued openness as they enter a new relationship. Learning from the past and practicing more successful techniques for the future can help even the most legitimately wary relationship seeker hope again.
How to Leave Relationship Failure Behind
To let go of past failures and succeed in future partnerships, you’ll need to courageously explore and examine why you haven’t yet found lasting love. This deep searching can be uncomfortable, but it is the most promising way to make your next relationship really work.
Following are seven lists for you to fill out. The more you write on each list, the more the exercise will benefit you. When you are done, you will have a much more realistic view of what you need to do to find the relationship you desire.
1)    Similarities List
No matter how each of your past relationships may have seemed different from one another, there are always similarities. There are four categories under your “how-my-partners-have-been-similar” list. Write as many thoughts or memories as you can under each one.
What physical characteristics you have traditionally looked for in a partner.
What personality characteristics or behaviors you’ve consistently sought.
What you are looking for in terms of who that person is in the world (friends, ocation, family, etc.).
What kinds of interests that person has (spiritual, intellectual, physical, sexual, and emotional).
2)    Hope List
On this list, write down what you have always hoped would happen in your ideal relationship. How would your partner treat you? In what time frame would the stages of the relationship materialize? How would your partner feel about your family, beliefs, friends, past relationships, the work you do, and the things that are important to you?
Remember. The more you put on each list, the more you will understand how your thoughts and feelings have defined your search for a partner.
3)    Disappointment List
What has disappointed or disillusioned you in your past relationships? Has it been about the person’s disappointing behavior, misleading information, or negative surprises? Has he or she not responded the way you expected when you shared your own thoughts and feelings? What were you led to expect that didn’t happen the way it was promised? What did you find out about these past partners that you could not have predicted?
4)    Ideal Relationship List
How would you describe a perfect relationship?. What would you look like as a couple to others? How would you handle conflicts, crises, or disappointments together? What would love-making be like? How would you and your partner parent together someday? What about spiritual beliefs and financial commitments? How would the household chores be prioritized? If one of you were in need, how would the other respond?
5)    Personal Failure List
This list is very hard for many people, but critical for your future relationship success.
Write down how you believed you may have contributed to past relationship failures, (even if you thought your partners were more at fault). Be as honest as you can about any of your personal liabilities as a relationship partner. If you were somehow able to have every person you’ve ever loved or been loved by in the same room, and they were to be absolutely authentic, what would they say in common about you that ultimately caused them to leave the relationship? 
6)    What I Need to Leave Behind List
From the five lists you’ve comprised so far, look carefully at the way you’ve repeated behaviors that haven’t worked in the past, and where your expectations have not been realistic. Let go of any attitudes or beliefs that may have sabotaged your past relationships. Write down how you can more successfully change the things you can and to accept the things you can’t.
The most important attitude to leave behind is stereotyping future partners that might stop you from seeing beyond your past biases. Even though it is normal to use past experiences to help predict future ones, rigid expectations can keep you closed to possible adventures you have not experienced before. Use your past for lessons, but don’t allow it to determine your future.
7)    What I Need to Take with me Into the Future List
Go back to that hypothetical room full of your old flames. With the same truth serum, each will now tell you what they truly loved and treasured about you, even if it didn’t turn into a long-term relationship. Also gather feedback from other social sources like honest friends or family members, mentors who have guided you, and your own sense of who, and what, you believe a wonderful person truly is like.
On this list, write down any attributes, attitudes, behaviors, values, or accomplishments that you are proud of. Though it may be hard to believe, many people are more comfortable listing what is wrong with them than what they feel good about. Don’t hold back here. This list should contain those qualities that make you feel valuable, desirable, and worthy to anyone.
* * * * * * * *
The last part of this exercise will help you in what you look for in a partner and how you present yourself to that person.
1)    Sum up each list. Try to get to the essence of what it tells you about yourself.
 
2)    Decide what attitudes, ideas, and behaviors you are going to leave behind and what you want to take through your window to your new relationship process.

3)    Make a plan as to how you are going to practice your new behaviors.

4)    Now, put yourself aside for a moment, and pretend instead that you are going to look for a perfect partner for your dearest friend. This will help you maintain a useful perspective.

5)    Present who your “friend” is to that new partner with authenticity and pride.

6)    Tell that person everything that is important about your “friend” and what kind of partner he or she is looking for.

7)    Now imagine the most perfect responses that potential partner would have to what you’ve shared with him or her.

8)    Make the decision as to whether you should pursue the relationship.

Hopefully, you are now much better prepared to begin your next relationship with a greater chance of success than you’ve had in the past. You’re clear about who you have been, who you are now, what you have to offer, and what you need in return. Your clear and honest awareness of self will help you determine whether a new partner is right for you from the beginning of the relationship.

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Ten Qualities of a Great Communicator

There are many books and articles that teach intimate partners the art of effective communication. Some couples do improve their ability to trust each other more deeply by practicing the exercises within them. But, in most cases, their efforts have only been minimally effective. Despite sincere efforts to master these techniques, intimate partners still too often continue misunderstanding and misconstruing what they say and hear.  

In the four decades I’ve been treating couples, I’ve continually searched for the answers as to why so many people continue to have such difficulty when so much excellent guidance is available. What could possibly have been overlooked? What techniques or advice might be missing that could help intimate partners be more successful in communicating more effectively?
I decided to focus on the few fortunate couples I’ve worked with who, no matter what the problems they were working on in therapy, seemed to have no trouble deeply connecting with each other. These intimate partners had clearly mastered a way of communicating that made both feel supported and understood regardless of the difficulty of the subject matter.
I compared their attitudes and behaviors with those who were less successful and, from those experiences, have come to understand the ten crucial qualities that these successful communicators continually demonstrate.
The Ten Qualities of Great Communicators
1)    No Conversation Stoppers
There are eight conversational responses that are highly likely to stop your partner from continuing to share his or her more vulnerable thoughts and feelings. All of us have used these phrases and behaviors at times, often without realizing how badly they can make our partners feel.
Once you recognize them, you will hopefully not use them again. You can express these responses in effective ways at other times if your partner is interested, but never when your partner needs to be heard.
­Minimizing – Making the problem seem trivial.
Taking the Other Person’s Side – Not supporting your partner’s experience.
Blaming – Criticizing your partner for feeling or acting the way he or she does.
Fixing – Offering to solve the situation without being asked.
Giving unsolicited advice – Telling your partner how to act or feel.
Shock – Expressing upset or outrage at what your partner is saying.
Holier than Thou - Don’t say how you could have handled the situation better.
Negativity - Keep impatience, irritation, sarcasm, or sounding burdened out of your response.
2)    Full Support Independent of Agreement
Many people believe that if they support the way their partners think or feel that they will automatically have to agree with them. Support and agreement do not have to be the same response. Even if you don’t see things the same way, you can still be empathic and understanding of how your speaker thinks and feels.
Too often listeners are so concerned that if they don’t immediately argue for a different point of view, that there will be no way for them to disagree later, so they preempt their partner’s conclusions to share how they may see the situation differently.
If you and your partner have agreed that emotional and psychological support do not automatically mean agreement, you are free to totally validate the thoughts and feelings of the other. Once your partner feels heard and understood, you can ask him or her if feedback is wanted.
3)    Tracking
Your speaker will be far more likely to continue sharing if he or she feels that you are paying attention to all that’s been said. That not only includes the present, but anything that might also reference the past. Take notes, if it helps you to do that as you are listening.
Many times when speakers are emotionally distressed, they repeat themselves or skip logical sequencing. It is very helpful to them if you can help them stay on track. Caringly ask the kind of questions or make comments that help them put their ideas together. It’s like holding each important statement as an emotional puzzle piece, ever-ready to help your partner eventually see better how they can go together.
4)    Presence
Anyone trying to share something painful or scary knows instantly if you are preoccupied or not really present. You’ll know if you are “drifting” because your answers will sound patronizing, impatient, or matter-of-fact. Your speaker will soon feel he or she is boring you and will automatically shorten the conversation or push harder to be heard.
It’s sometimes hard to stay focused listening to your partner, especially when he or she is angry, upset, or too repetitive. That’s even truer if the object of the distress is you. If you feel defensive at any point and you can’t be present anymore because of your own reactivity, ask for some time out to re-stabilize before you go on.
5)    Rhythm
Good listeners get the cadence and urgency of their speaker’s communication style and present need. They don’t try to suppress emotions or change their rhythm or the way the words are being expressed. Some people get worked up as they get deeper into their emotions or change from one rhythm to another according to the subject they are unearthing.
If you can be flexible enough to flow with them at the same time as holding on to your own internal rhythm, you may be able to help them find a more comfortable pace that better enables both of you as close to the core truths as possible.
6)    Emotional Anthropology
It is very tempting to impose one’s own thoughts and feelings on another person, especially when he or she is vulnerable or needy. When your partner is trying to explore a deeper thought or feeling, he or she may seem unsteady or in need of direction, and that can feel like an invitation to redirect.
At those times, it is particularly important to just stay authentically interested, curious about those reflections and conclusions, and wanting to truly understand how that person came to feel the way he or she does in that moment.
Anthropologists know how important it is to respect and support another culture, even if they don’t see the world in the same way. Every human being is a culture unto themselves and intimate partners need to remember that their partner’s view of reality must be viewed with the same sacredness.
7)    Timing
Even good listeners can make the mistake of answering too quickly, saying too much, interrupting, or pulling away and shutting down too quickly. It can be very hard to stay on track and not push your own timing agenda when you are on the other end of an emotionally upset person or have your own priorities.
In any conversation, you are absolutely allowed to tell your partner that you are overwhelmed or beginning to feel defensive, especially if your own emotions do not allow you to stay in the moment. You cannot continue to be a good listener when you’re impatient, and it’s always better to reconnect when you can be authentically present. If you do have to disconnect, make a time soon when you can continue so your partner doesn’t feel abandoned.
8)    Non-judgmental Feedback
When your partner feels safe, heard, and ready, you can offer non-judgmental feedback after asking if he or she is ready to listen to it. Using any notes you have taken, share your summarization of what you thought was said, what your partner seemed to have needed, and where you agree or see things differently. Even if your experience is not positive, you can still deliver your feelings in a caring way.
Tell your partner how you feel about what you heard and what your responses are. Ask for feedback as to how you were as a listener and any differences he or she might have wished for. Where were you accurate and where might you have misunderstood? Did your partner feel cared for, understood, and supported, and in what ways? Does he or she have any good feedback for you?
9)    Patience
Patience is not just “waiting.” Patience is being so involved that you don’t notice the passage of time. When you are listening deeply to another, with no other thought than to be there doing what you are doing, you feel emotionally weightless and unconnected to the past or future. Your only desire is to be there fully for the one you love.
Emotional patience feels to the other like chivalry. There is no resentment, impatience, martyrdom, or boredom in the gift of listening as long and to whatever your partner needs from you at the time. You feel absolutely willing to put your own needs aside, and feeling honored to do so at the time.
This may seem idealistic, but most people sharing something vulnerable or painful know exactly what it feels like to be on the other end of someone who truly wants to listen. You may not be able to do it for long periods of time, but the rewards for the listener are as great as for the speaker.
10)Weaving
This capability is the true art of a great communicator. People in pain or trying to express negative or hurt feelings often cannot keep track of what they’ve said or make sense of their presentation while they are in that emotional state.
A great listener weaves statements of the past, relates them to the present, and takes them forward into the future. To do that, he or she must take cues from the past and combine them with what listener already knows about that person. Using a combination of emotional support, accurate listening, tracking, rhythm, presence, and care, an effective listener helps his or her partner to continue getting closer to the true message offered.
Weaving helps a person remember his or her past and how it is affecting the present. It also helps point out repetitive patterns that have not yielded good results, and makes them less likely to continue into the future. It is crucial that weaving is not done in a way that makes the sharing partner feel trapped or labeled, just known more deeply as to whom he or she behaves in the relationship.
How Good Are You As A Communicator?
Following is a simple test you can take to help you evaluate how you are at communicating love and support to your partner. Don’t be disturbed if your current test results aren’t where you want them to be. You can practice and take the test again whenever you want to compare scores. And, of course, because you deserve the same treatment, you can share this article with your partner and have him or her take the test as well.
Score the test according to the following legend:
1 = Never
2 = Occasionally
3 = More often than not
4 = Frequently
5 = Most of the time
1)    I respond to my partner’s request to be heard with conversation stoppers. ____
2)    I can be supportive even when I don’t fully agree with the presentation. ____
3)    I keep track of the thoughts and feelings my partner shares. ____
4)    I am present when my partner is talking about something important. ____
5)    I can flow with my partner’s rhythm and still hold on to my own. ____
6)    I listen without trying to insert my opinion or direction. ____
7)    I respect and support my partner’s timing.
8)    I give accurate and helpful feedback. ____
9)    I give emotional patience without resentment. ____
10)I weave my partner’s past, present, and future for him or her.____
Now add up your scores and use the following legend to find out where you currently stand.
1 – 19 You need to work on being a better communicator so that your partner will want to talk to you about important things.
20 – 39 You’re struggling to hold on to yourself while trying to be there for your partner, and you haven’t given up learning how to do that.
40 – 59 You’re getting better on letting go of your own needs while being there for your partner.
60 – 79 You’re giving your partner the room he or she needs to be more open and vulnerable with you.
80 – 100 We need to clone you for the world. J
Communication between intimate lovers is always a fragile process, but if you can learn and master these ten attitudes and behaviors when your partner needs to share something painful, vulnerable, or may be just frightened, you will find your relationship immediately become increasingly closer and more rewarding.

 

 

 

 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Will you Help me Learn How to Better Love you?

In working with couples for over four decades, I have rarely heard intimate partners ask each other what they could do or say that would make the other feel more loved. I’m much more likely to hear self-serving statements like: “Why don’t you just remember what makes me happy?” “No matter what I do for you, it’s just never enough.” “You just never get me, do you?” “Why is it always about you? Don’t you ever want to know what I want?” “Why do you keep hurting me this way? Don’t you even care?”

Why is it that people, who once cared deeply for one another, seem so intent on getting their own needs met, and no longer interested in how they can love their partners more successfully? Why do long-term committed couples, who once seemed to care about the other’s deeper feelings and thoughts, become partners who are content to know each other by old assumptions and observations?
If you are an intimate partner who hasn’t kept up to date on your significant other’s internal feelings and thoughts, you are not alone. Many people become lazy in long-term relationships and just adjust and adapt to things as they are, forgetting that successful relationships depend and thrive upon continual regeneration. People get too easily caught up in other life priorities, assuming that if something is important, it will somehow find its way to the surface.
If they have made a practice of avoiding searching for each other’s more vulnerable inner worlds, many intimate partners, instead, engage in repetitive, negative interactions that they seem unable to adequately resolve. In my working with them, it quickly becomes apparent that they are unable to do so because they have either never shared some of their deeper thoughts and feelings with their partners, or buried them because they created a threat to the relationship.
When I observe those kinds of limited or superficial interactions in their therapy sessions, Im reasonable certain they have done exactly that. Without either never have known each other’s deeper fears, traumas, and vulnerabilities, never have known them, or forgotten them, they are unable to go beyond what they have practiced. 
If they are willing to re-open a genuine exploration of what they may have missed in the past, suppressed, or are currently ignorant of, I can take them to a place of a more genuine connection and re-open their hearts to a deeper and more alive connection.
I’ve designed an exercise that will get them there. It’s called “How Can I Make You Feel Better Loved by Me?” It is in two parts. The first has each partner asking a series of two sets of unique questions designed to identify his or her past or current hidden fallibilities, wishes, vulnerabilities and genuine wishes. It gives the listening partner needed information he or she needs to restart, rehabilitate, and regenerate their love for the other.
The second part is when the partner who has written down the answers to those questions, shares them with his or her partner. The partner listening does not comment, but simply listens with compassion and interest, even if they are surprised, defensive, or emotionally moved.
If you are ready and willing to challenge your own relationship limitations, I invite you to try this exercise together.
How Can I Make You Feel Better Loved by Me?
One partner will ask the two sets of questions in order. The first set of questions uncovers words and actions that can help that partner feel more deeply known, safe, and cherished. The second set of questions brings forth any words or actions that may hurt, offend, or distance that partner. The partner being asked silently writes down the answers to both sets of questions, one at a time, but does not share those answers during this part of the exercise.
The listening partner does not comment or interrupt. He or she is there just to take the information, to listen with compassion, and to more deeply understand who that other person feels and thinks.
At the end of the first set of questions, the partner answering them then reads the answers aloud and the inquirer listens but does not comment.
The couple then sits quietly for a short while to let the new information sink in while keeping their hearts open to each other. Without any more exchange, the second set of questions is asked and the same procedure follows.
The couple decides who should go first and they then alternate the exercise.
Section One Questions – Words and phrases that soften and heal
Whether from childhood, media experiences, fantasies, or past relationships, every man and woman know some of the words, phrases, or behaviors that would melt their hearts. Though many of them may be easy to know and share, others may be harder to access, especially if they’ve been hidden by traumas from the past. Some may even be embarrassing to share, especially out loud or expressed for the first time. They answers will also be strongly influenced by voice intonation, body language, facial expressions, rhythm, timing, and touch.
If you are the first person to start answering the questions, you will respond by writing the answers down on paper after your partner asks you each of them. If there are specific past experiences that come up when you think of them, jot them down as well. When you share these with your partner later, they will help him or her understand you better.
If you are the listener, you will be simultaneously listening to what your partner is telling you from the past while imagining whether or not what he or she is sharing is taking place in your current relationship as well.
1)    Think of someone from your childhood with whom you felt safe and cherished. Can you remember the sound of that person’s voice, and the words he or she used that gave you those wonderful feelings?
2)    What kinds of words or touch help you the most when you are already feeling badly about something you’ve done?
3)    When you are feeling insecure or shaky about your own value, what phrases could I utter that helps you feel better about yourself?
4)     What is the best way I can respond when you are irritated or upset that would help quiet your distress?
5)    When you feel depressed or pulled in, what is the best way I could respond that would help you to feel better?
6)    When you are distressed but can’t understand why, what would be the best way for ne to respond?
7)    When you need something but are afraid to ask, how can I make that easier for you?
8)    What are the words, phrases, or behaviors that you see in others that would melt your heart were they to come from me instead? In what kinds of circumstances do they occur?
9)    If you are angry or hurt at me, what is the best way for me to help you to sort through your feelings and thoughts?
Section Two Questions – Words, Phrases, or Behaviors that hurt or distance
All of us have been hurt or betrayed in some way in our lives. Sometimes those experiences leave traumatic scars or trigger-quick negative responses that we may not even see coming. If we haven’t shared those with our partner, he or she can misunderstand the severity of a past experience, and may inadvertently respond incorrectly. Even though it might not, in any way, be appropriate to your current relationship, the person re-experiencing the trauma may feel as if it is again happening in the present.
Past traumas are not always easy to share, but if they are tap roots that could damage or destroy your current relationship, your partner can only help you if he or she knows what they are. Also, certain words, phrases, or actions are easy to misinterpret if the partners come from different backgrounds. When a partner is sharing a painful or embarrassing thought or feeling, he or she is often overly sensitive or vulnerable. If they are not interpreted correctly, they can be hurtful when not meant to be. That is why silent and compassionate responses are important.
Following are the questions that tap those potentially painful places. Again, if you are the speaker, write the answers down. Try to include any memories you have of when those experiences occurred and how they caused you distress.
Again, as the listener, you may become aware that you have inadvertently or unknowingly said or done some of the things your partner will share with you. Though that may be painful to hear and realize, do not tell your partner at this time.
1)    What are any traumatic experiences that have happened in your life that have left heartbreak scars, and the words and actions that accompanied them?
2)    What are some of the words or actions that I might say that can make you feel defensive or badly about yourself? 
3)    Were there any words or phrases that people called you in your childhood that labeled you in ways you felt misunderstood, mocked, or invalidated.
4)    What words or actions have undermined your self-love and self-confidence?
5)    Are there any words or actions that have been particularly offensive or painful to you?
6)    Where have you felt the most misunderstood and unfairly defined in our relationship and what would you have preferred?
7)    If there was anything I could change to make you feel more comfortable and more beloved in our relationship, what would that be?
8)    When I am angry, upset, or don’t like what you’re doing, what is the best way I can express my feelings to you without setting off your need to defend or counter-punch?
9)    What are the words and actions of mine that are the most consistently hurtful or dismissive of you?
* * * *
This exercise is not easy, but deeply moving for most people. In the process of sharing these experiences, vulnerabilities, and open desires, intimate partners become accountable to each other in a whole new way. They now have information that honestly tells them when their partners feel loved and when they feel damaged. Any future words or actions must then take those new learnings into account. In other words, neither partner can feign ignorance once they know what is true.
That new knowledge, of course, cannot guarantee that both partners will always be able to remember or act on it. But it helps them to take responsibility when they cannot, and to keep from blaming the other when they slip. “I didn’t mean to hurt you,” becomes “I knew that might hurt, but I wasn’t yet able to keep from saying or doing it, and I’m so sorry.” Or, “I knew that saying something different would really help, but I was too upset myself to give that to you in that moment.” The answers might not feel good, but the interaction does not blame either partner.
It is so much easier for a couple to be on the same team when both are willing to work on these changes together. When they are successful in coming together, they become more confident in knowing how to accurately love each other in a whole new way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Five-Minute Couple's Emotional Conflict-Neutralizer


Anyone who has been in love knows that all intimate partners argue. No matter how lustful, exciting, and compatible a relationship is, its partners will eventually disagree about something.
If couples can resolve these conflicts successfully, they enhance their trust and faith in each other and in their relationship. Successful conflict resolution also maintains continuous discovery, one of the most crucial aspects of good relationships. When arguments recur and are not resolved, committed partners can be left with damaging scars that can ultimately threaten their love.
In the early weeks of love and lust, most partners often consciously or unconsciously avoid potential disagreements. Understandably, they prefer to bask in the deliciousness of assumed agreement in every area. When they do disagree, they try to make-up within the shortest possible time, keeping their separation to a minimum.
As most of us have experienced, those early super-compatible experiences must ultimately fall prey to life’s challenges. As new lovers realize that must eventually pay attention to other obligations besides absolute devotion to each other, their other needs will predictably emerge.
Some of them are obvious to anyone who has ever participated in a new love, like remembering to eat and getting enough sleep. But others are often not as clear up front. Issues like family obligations, financial commitments, vocational requirements, and social connections are often put aside in the throes of new love, but eventually must become integrated into the new relationship.
As new lover’s struggle to rebalance their priorities, they may both view them differently in what and how their resources should be distributed. After all, they have been automatically deferring to each other’s needs, most often giving them instant priority. When those commitments change over time, either partner may feel less important, and maybe become possessive or jealous. Where both lovers once felt content and confident in their right to the other’s time and attention, they may wonder now if that still exists.
These emerging conflicts can quickly take their toll. The frequency, duration, and intensity of the disputes can mount and making up can be more difficult or take longer. The couple’s once easy capacity to make up and go forward diminishes and they may find it harder to repair and heal their relationship. That cumulative damage can seriously mar their future together.
New lovers need to find ways to diffuse and resolve conflicts early in the relationship when their love is resilient. They need to practice the tools of successful conflict resolution so that it becomes second nature when more difficult disputes occur.
There are two steps that are crucial for positive outcomes after conflicts. The first is how the couple gets themselves to emotionally support each other before they attempt to resolve what is between them. They must both feel listened to and respected in order of any future negotiation to be effective.  
In my four decades of working with couples, I absolutely believe that the first step is by far the most important. If intimate partners approach a disagreement from a place of mutual validation and support, they are far more likely to stay friends through the process and find ways to resolve their differences such that both feel better about each other and the relationship.
To address the way couples help one another emotionally prepare for a conflict, I’ve created an exercise to help them. It’s called “The Five Minute Couple’s Emotional Conflict Neutralizer,” a simple and easy guide that can help new lovers get on the same team before they negotiate their disagreements.
Before you begin doing the actual exercise, each of you separately follow these three simple instructions:
One:
Separately, take some time to recall a few repeated conflicts from your past significant relationships. List those that have repeatedly occurred, independent of which partner you were with. Focus on those that have caused the relationship to fail over time. It will be most effective if you can be honest about your own contribution. You can choose a general area like jealousy, personal availability, feeling taken advantage of or controlled, or something more specific, like not getting enough sex.
Two:
Share those memories with your partner. Help him or her to explore them, including how you remember how you behaved when you were participating in them. Explore whether either of you are acting similarly in your current relationship.
Three:
Read the steps of the exercise together. You may want to put them on a card for reference as you practice. Though they might seem easy to understand, they take practice to become intuitive and automatic. When you have completed that preparation, you’ll move to the last part of the process, which is continuing to practice the exercise you’re your unique disagreements.
The Five-Minute Relationship Conflict-Neutralizer
Step One
Pick one of your repeated past relationship conflicts that has started to show up in your present relationship. If it was present in both yours and your partner’s past relationships, it may be even more useful.
Though you know you know that this is just an exercise, don’t be discouraged if you feel a building tension or fear of hurting or being hurt.  Even when both partners know they are just feigning an argument, they may still react as if it were actually happening.
If you feel that either of you are becoming more distressed, stop for a little while and help each other to center and breathe deeply. Remind yourselves that this is just an exercise and is going to eventually help you to stay more connected during any real future conflicts.
Step Two
Decide which of you needs to go first. Generally it works best if the partner with the most anxiety goes first. Whichever one chooses to start, keep your next five expressions to simple statements that you can express within a minute or so. Do not elaborate at this time:
The problem: “What is bothering me is _________.”
The fear: “What I’m afraid of is _______.”
The request: “What I need so much from you right now is _____.”
The emotional experience: “Why I am feeling this way is ______.”
The hopeful response: “What I hope will happen when I share this with you is _____.”
The listening partner must not invalidate, interrupt, deny, or try to convince you to feel anything other than what you feel or say. Instead, he or she, within the next couple of minutes, repeats to the best of memory, exactly what you have said. Acknowledgement does not require that the listener sees or feels the same, only that the statements are responded to with silent emotional support.
Then, reverse your roles. Let the other partner express his or her five statements to you, and offer the same support.
Step Three
Without any verbal response or reaction to what either of you has expressed, spend the next minute in quiet reflection, looking into each other’s eyes. Ask yourself, inside, if you understand better where the other is coming from. Try not to be defensive or to take things personally. This is simply the reality of your partner and must be validated as such even if you do not see things the same way.
After both of you have completed the exercise, calmly and willingly offer whatever thoughts or behaviors you can that might ease your partner’s distress. It may be only words of comfort or a partial solution to what has been expressed and needed, but it must be authentically offered. Your partner should then do the same for you. Receive those responses without finding fault or argument. That may not be easy, but it will give the exercise more meaning.
When you are finished, do not attempt to negotiate or resolve the dispute. Let it drop for the time being and, instead, do something together that reminds you of why you still love each other. Let the good connection take precedence over the disagreement for a while so you can come back to it when you are feeling connected and safe with each other.
The exercise itself is intended to increase bonding and understanding before you attempt to actually resolve the conflict itself. That intimate mutual support will do wonders when you begin actual negotiating.
Practicing
You’re now going to practice your own potential disputes before they actually happen. Using the exercise you’ve memorized, continue to work with the repeated conflicts each of you have identified from your past relationships that come to mind now, as well as those that may now be unique to your relationship. Repeat the exercise until you know you can do it, even under stress.
If you feel stuck or begin to be actually distressed during any of these new practice sessions, stop the exercise, tell each other how you are feeling, what memories you are evoking, and what triggers seemed to bring them about. You may need to support and comfort each other before continuing.
Many people find that practicing potentially negative disagreements ahead of time can identify issues they may have been unconsciously avoiding in their mutual desire to seem totally compatible. Those honest, early challenges are so much easier to deal with. The relationship is on solid ground and will give it the best chance of being more joyful than problematic.
Many of my patients have told me that mastering this exercise has affected every other relationship in their lives. They become more adept at recognizing and neutralizing potentially damaging conflicts before they can cause significant damage. My hope is that you will find the same confidence and comfort.