Page 16 - Scene Magazine 42-02 February 2017
P. 16

For Our Health
Three Exercises for (re)Building a Healthy Relationship
As a marriage and family therapist, many couples ask me what they can do to improve their relationship. Here are three exercises that healthy couples do regularly:
1. Date (without “shop talk”) – One
of the most useful tools for building your relationship and staying connected is to go on dates. Life
gets busy, but that shouldn’t keep you from setting aside time to be together. But no shop talk! Avoid the trap of talking about work, finances, problems with your in-laws, etc. This can turn your fun time with your partner into a less than enjoyable date. There’s a time and a place for shop talk, but when you’re on a date with your partner, just enjoy each other.
2.
Respond (to each other’s needs) – Successful couples turn toward one another and fill their “emotional bank account” with positive deposits. Each interaction we have with our partner can yield one of three results. We
can TURN TOWARD one another by giving kindness, love and positive attention. We can TURN AWAY from each other by ignoring our partner. We can TURN AGAINST one another by responding with harshness or contempt. In their
book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, couples researchers Drs. John and Julie Gottman call this the “couple’s emotional bank account.” When we TURN TOWARD each other, say the Gottmans, we make a deposit into our account.
Fight (in a healthy way) – Every couple will have disagreements and arguments from time to time. One of
the most common goals I hear from couples is that they want to fight less. While it’s a nice idea to have less fighting, a better goal is to disagree and fight in a healthy way.
The Gottmans have identified four unhealthy behaviors that are toxic to relationships and that often emerge during times of disagreement and tension. These are: criticism (attacking your partner’s character), defensiveness (defending self when feeling attacked and, in turn, blaming your partner), contempt (showing disgust toward your partner with sneering, eye-rolling, name calling, mockery or hostility), and stonewalling (shutting down or tuning out).
Toxic practices can become bad habits for couples. Breaking these habits and learning to function in healthier ways takes intentionality and practice. Rather than issue a blanket criticism (“You are so lazy.”), make a specific complaint about your partner’s behavior (“It bothers me that you didn’t take out the trash.”). Instead of being defensive (“It’s not my fault we’re late! You should have woken me up sooner!”), take responsibility (“I’m sorry I wasn’t ready on time.) and then state you are feeling attacked (I know you’re upset because we’re leaving late, but I feel like you’re criticizing and attacking me.”). Instead of showing contempt, approach one another with love and understanding, even if you’re upset. And instead of stonewalling, stay engaged if you can. If you need a break, tell your partner you need a break, and then reconnect so you can solve the problem together calmly and kindly.
Erin Praedel, LPC, LMFT, is a couple and family therapist for the Counseling Center at Family & Children Services. She’s also a certified Gottman Educator who leads workshops where couples learn how to build healthy relationships using the tools that happy, long-lasting couples have mastered. Learn more about these informative – and fun – workshops at www.fcsource. org/counseling/workshops.
BY ERIN PRAEDEL, Couple and Family Therapist
3.
You need someone to lean on.
Whether you’re struggling with a relationship, raising a child, or something you simply can’t explain, the counseling you need is always right here.
So lean on the experienced, gifted counselors who offer the critical skills, treatment, and compassion you need. You’ll find them at The Counseling Center at Family & Children Services. We’re always there. For you.
A century of expertise is there.
269.344.0202 fcsource.org/counseling
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