Seasons Greetings! - So where did that year go?? I'm not quite ready for December. But I wasn't ready for November or October either...
Thinking about the rapidly declining year got me also thinking about the many couples and families I've worked with this year. And there has been quite a number of them, that's for sure. The good thing is that most of them had some success in therapy (or outside of therapy, which is where the real work happens), one way or another - enough anyway that they could pick things up and get on with their lives. Mostly they did not require a huge number of meetings with me to get some positive changes happening.
Looking back now at the couples I've been priviledged to work, it's important to remember that they clearly had issues and challenges that were unique to them and for some, there were real crises. So that meant working with them to find ways forward that would work especially for their situation. But there were also some things that many of these couples attempted in common. Sure, maybe they were not all useful for all couples - but certainly most people found at least a few of these to be useful.
So what did work? As mentioned, many of them needed to address Bigger Picture stuff regarding aspects of their relationship like connectedness, communication, and the role of conflict, to name three. But in amongst all of that, there was the discovery from many of these couples, that although the following strategies did not resolve their issues as such, they never the less contributed to increased positivity and enhanced feelings of well being between them as partners - important stuff, for sure. And a better 'relationship climate' somehow made those bigger crises and challenges a bit more manageable, and a bit less overwhelming. But before we get to them - apologies if you have read some of these here (and elsewhere) before. Well - actually, there's no apology...the reason that I'm banging on about these strategies yet again, is because they work (people who make a living research couple functioning can verify they work), and it's not just me that is saying this.
So if you are likely to be having some extended time together as a couple over the summer holidays, (or even if you just want to be a bit more focused on your relationship) please feel free to give these a test drive, if you haven't already. You might be surprised: simple yet useful.
1) Checking the 'temperature' of your relationship.... Simply put, this is just checking in with your partner, along the lines of one asking the other "how are we doing today?" It puts the relation under focus - and invites each partner, however briefly, to think about how things are between them. Couples who did this noticed that it often led to a bigger conversation, though this wasn't always a necessity.
2) Watch your delivery. Couples noticed that there was more scope for a useful conversation regarding issues that were bugging them, if they raised these in measured, non-confrontational ways, rather than going in with guns blazing, and their partner then getting defensive and angry in return, and the issue then not being addressed, or turning instead into a bigger conflict.
3) Compliment your partner when they do something that helps the relationship. Couples who got in to the habit of doing this regularly noticed that it helped them feel closer overall. Also it seemed to help the relationship become a bit more resilient, in that the relationship could stand a bit of negativity, if this was balanced with praise and compliments, remembering it's people of all ages that need praise, compliments and encouragement, not just kids.
4) See your couple relationship as a priority. In amongst the busy-ness of lives, and the need to attend to kids/careers/running a home/supporting wider family/studying, those couples who prioritised their couple relationship (which, afterall, is a foundation to so many of those other parts of their lives, in that those parts would probably would not otherwise be there) noticed they felt more connected overall. Couples who were in strife when they first attended therapy, often noticed that their own couple relationship has slipped down the list - sometimes to the point that it was at the bottom. All those other demands are more manageable when the couple relationship is looked after - almost like it was an entity in its own right. Plus it's important role-modeling for kids, when they see their parents giving their own relationship the time and energy that it deserves, as parents are always the biggest teachers in this regard.
There we have it - four simple things that began to turn many relationships around. Sure, there were more specific areas that couples needed to address, and many of them also did well with those - but those who started using all, or even a couple of the above strategies started to notice a difference.
I'm looking forward to the opportunity of working with more couples and families in 2017. Seeing the changes that are possible is always rewarding, both for them and for me - so please try to enjoy the holiday season over the coming weeks, but also feel free to contact me after January 9th if you are needing some assistance.
Talk soon - and feel free to visit me over at Facebook!
"Some occasional thoughts about families, relationships, and other things that distract us...."