“We’ve always had a bit of bickering over the years but we seem to set each other off all the time at the moment. He doesn’t seem to get it that I’ve got things on my mind and need us to be together without fighting. He wants things to be normal, and he wants to have sex but I rarely feel like it. I’m feeling cooped up and really unhappy”.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with us, whether it’s the current situation or whether it’s our relationship. We fight about everything and anything, and I’m feeling so miserable. Every day just brings more things to argue about and I don’t know what I feel anymore. Do I still love her enough to stay together?”
Many couples are arguing more often given the lockdown measures, with little opportunity to have time away from each other, whether with friends, going to work or spending time in the gym, for example. It’s no surprise that many couples are seriously reflecting on whether their relationship is failing and if the endless conflict is a sign of it being time to move on. Many couples are holding back from approaching a therapist for support because they are unsure about online therapy and how it could work for couples. They feel trapped within their own home and feel anxious about the thought of talking to a counsellor online.
Online Couples Therapy
The reality, however, is that online therapy is not really that different to face-to-face therapy. Once you have experienced the first online session, you may find that this is generally all it takes to see the potential benefit of being able to talk about your difficulties.
Not Talking creates tension
It is the “not talking” that can lead to a build-up of tension and the increasing likelihood of saying things that you later regret. And this unhealthy pattern could ultimately lead to a feeling of desperation that drives you into making decisions about your relationship when you are disconnected from the clear thinking, rational part of you.
Couples therapy helps you find balance
One of the most important things about couples therapy, is that it helps you to find balance in your relationship. It is very likely that two partners are unable to step into each others’ shoes and understand how their partner is feeling and what they are thinking. Online couples therapy can support you in learning how to do this.
Accept the tendency to make interpretations ; learn to listen
People jump to conclusions all too easily and make hasty interpretations, especially during times of stress such as the current pandemic. During couples therapy, partners learn to really listen to each other without judging or jumping quickly to misinterpretation. This is because the therapist can encourage them to be more objective about what is being said and to appreciate how they may unintentionally misread their partner’s meaning.
Practice talking listening at home with a simple exercise
A simple exercise that can be used at home is simply to take turns to speak and then for the listening partner to repeat back what they heard or what they understood. In this way, the partner who was expressing him or herself has the chance to correct the other if they have misinterpreted something. You can use an object to signify a person’s turn to speak and partners agree NOT to interrupt each other when they are speaking. This seems like a very simple skill but it is actually very difficult to focus on what someone is saying, to the extent that you can then repeat this back to them.
Improve the way you pay attention to your partner
Learning to improve the way you pay attention to each other could be an opportunity to really enhance your relationship. The experience of “not being listened to” can lead another person to feel unimportant and isolated and can then lead to them becoming more argumentative and generally less inclined to want to manage relational conflict reasonably. Most people probably assume that they “pay attention” to others but given the busyness of our minds, it is likely that while listening there might be other things competing for attention.
Here are a few guidelines for what to do if you want to pay better attention to your partner when they are speaking to you:
Maintain eye contact with your partner while they are talking to you. Don’t look at your phone, watch, tv or anything else, as this can signal your lack of interest.
Check things out with your partner
Try to show your partner that you are trying to follow what they are saying by checking out what you think they have said, for example, “do you mean that you’re finding X a bit annoying?”
Ask questions about what you haven’t understood
Don’t allow yourself to become lost in the conversation – ask for clarification if you don’t understand something.
Learn to take criticism fairly
If your partner is challenging you about something that is true, such as not doing something you said you would do, then just apologise and attend to whatever it is that you haven’t done, in the best way possible. For example, if you said you would hoover and you haven’t, go and hoover now! If you said you would take care of something within your home such as fixing a window, take some proactive action now! Or if you offered to cook sometimes and haven’t yet done this, arrange to cook the next time you can!
Use boundaries to manage different types of communication
It is a good idea to let someone know beforehand if you want to speak about something that is important to you, rather than expecting them to pay attention to you whenever you choose to speak. To increase the chances of your partner being able to listen to you well, arrange a time to speak ahead of time and don’t be persuaded to talk outside of this. Use this space to be assertive in communicating with your partner.
Here are 3 simple steps that you might want to consider before approaching a difficult subject:
(i) Be specific about whatever it is that you want to speak about. Don’t launch into a diatribe about lots of things, using different ways of explaining the same situation. Just be objective, clear and to the point, eg “I notice you are raising your voice and shouting at me more often.”
(ii) Honestly express how (i) is making you feel by owning your feelings and telling your partner.” about them, eg, I feel scared and uncomfortable when you shout.”
(iii) Say what you would like to have happen instead, eg, “I’d really like it if you could stop shouting or speaking so loudly.”
If your partner responds to you reasonably, then it is likely that you might then talk about some of the reasons why your partner is shouting more etc. If your partner becomes defensive, then it is important for you to hold your ground, perhaps repeat what you have said and then if you don’t feel you are getting through effectively, withdraw neutrally from the situation. You might say, “I can see we’re not getting very far with this, I’m going to make a cup of tea, would you like one?”
Working with a therapist online can support you in learning how to use skills effectively within your relationship, so that you enjoy increasing moments of connection with your partner and learn how to better manage situations of conflict and upset. Contact The Hove Counselling Practice to find out more and to arrange an initial online assessment.