How Asking Two Questions Can Keep You From Getting A Divorce

 

I co-hosted a show on A&E called "Surviving Marriage(link is external)," which tends to air on Tuesday nights- but most recently aired on Sunday. My job on the show was to provide expert commentary on where the couple is functioning and what their treatment goals are if they are to have any hope of "surviving."

The show is sort of a survivor meets couples therapy type scenario. The couples are plunked into an isolated island in the South Pacific and asked to work together to survive on the island, as they work through their unique issues.

As a couples therapist or psychologist- I am often asked for relationship advice. If everyone in a relationship could ask themselves two questions- they could immediately change their own chances of survival; "what do I need to give myself?" and "what do I need to start giving my partner?"

Although a bit simplistic- if the couples on this show were only able to ask and answer these questions- they might not find themselves on this island in the first place.

In week one, we saw April and Cleburn struggling with passivity and anger issues. If Cleburn were only able to ask "what do I need to start giving my partner?" He might have been able to realize that he needs to be able to let go of his anger regarding his unfulfilled dreams as a UFC fighter and stop lashing out so much at his partner.

In week two, Josh and Alethea again demonstrated how powerfully damaging it can be to a relationship to hold on to old hurts. If Josh could only ask himself "what do I need to give," and realize that he needs to let go of his anger around the idea his wife "trapped" him so long ago, he would stop being so passive aggressive in his attempts at control in the present. If Alethea could only ask "what do I need to give myself," she might be able to finally give herself permission to become a whole and learn to stand on her own two feet.

In week three, Dennis and Tamar showed us how incredibly toxic it can be to not let go of the past either. While Tamar did commit a serious breach of trust by calling her partner's command and having him removed from his job- Dennis held on to this resentment and allowed it to paralyze him to the point he was able to sit at home for years and passively watch as his wife worked twelve hour shifts to support their entire family inside and outside of the home.

Week four focused on Ty and Mahogany's relationship. If Mahogany were only able to ask herself "what do I need to give myself," she would have realized it was the validation she originally sought outside her own marriage. She needed to feel desired and attractive. So too, did her partner- and thus the reason for multiple affairs. If they had only realized that only they, themselves can give their own validation- all of this unneccessary hurt could have been avoided.

 

Can Parents Have Passion Too?

What is the School of Marital Arts for Couples with Kids?

The School of Marital Arts is a six week program designed to bring your relationship from just surviving to thriving. This is not your typical "I hear you saying _____," reflective listening bs, or simply teaching you to use I statements. This six week program is based on Dr. Colleen's cutting edge approach to couples therapy based on the idea that our deepest relationships push us to grow in ways most of us are resistant to. Through this program, you will be challenged to grow and connect in ways you never thought possible.

Over the course of this program you will learn:

  • The reasons why parents often disconnect with each other and how to reconnect once and for all
  • How to create better boundaries within the home so that you are both no longer just defined as "mom" or "dad"
  • How to identify past parenting trauma from your childhood and create corrective emotional experiences towards healing
  • The principles of well-being that go into making us more balanced individuals capable of maintaining more balanced relationships
  • The main causes of divorce/breakups and how we can avoid them.
  • How to look at family patterns and how they affect you and your partner(s) in relationships.
  • How to identify your primary growth points that are being challenged and how to overcome emotional gridlock in your relationships.
  • How to identify and transform long term behavioral patterns that cause disconnection.
  • The principles that transform relationships and allow couples to continuously rebuild throughout a lifetime.
  • How to re-vamp a stale or non-existent sex life.
  • How to cultivate one's own sexual desire or get it back.
  • Having the hard talks: How to navigate difficult but necessary conversations.
  • Knowing when to fold them- identifying key deal breakers in a relationship.

S.o.M.A Average Self Help Course Cost = $299 for 6 weeks = $50/week                      

Traditional Couples Therapy = $250/session (per week)

Does Your Relationship Still Have That New Car Feeling?

One of the most salient themes I notice doing therapy , is that couples stop being nice to each other at some point along the way. They toxify their relationship by using stonewalling, defensiveness, criticism, and/or contempt- and then wonder why their partner is “no longer the person they married.” They do and say things to their partner that they wouldn’t dream of doing to anyone else. They are nicer to their dry cleaner than they are to their own partner.

The very first task I usually ask couples to do is to put consciousness back into their relationship and practice being kind to each other. Instead of reactively, lazily, unconsciously slipping into their knee-jerk dynamics- I ask couples to take a few moments pause before responding to their partner.

To illustrate how we beat down our relationships over time- I’ll often use the new car analogy. Think back when you first got your car. It probably smelled really nice, and you washed it every week. You wouldn’t dare let fast food, pets, trash, or even a bottle cap hit your floorboard. 

However, as time passed- maybe you dropped a french fry, or spilled coffee that you didn’t clean up right away. Maybe you let your sweaty gym bag stay in the back a little too long. Over time, you begin to hold less and less value for your vehicle and allow it to wear and tear. 

This is unfortunately how many of us operate in our relationships. We let a biting quip, a venomous tongue, or a biting insult fly out of our mouths. We make our loved one feel small so we can feel tall. We push our partners buttons better than anyone else, and then over time we wonder why they’ve “changed?” 

An important question to ask yourself in cultivating relationship health is “would I rather be right or would I rather be happy?” We can choose to be the scorekeepers, fostering a tit for tat culture where no good deed of ours goes unpunished- or we can begin to be the change we want to see in our relationships by doing good first. Instead of letting the dishes just sit in the sink so he really gets that he should have taken out the trash- maybe you do both this time? Spiritually, and relationally- you will get way more back than you ever bargained for before.

Tit for Tat

I see a lot of "tit for tat," come into play in my office. Many couples come in and start off the therapy session by naming a laundry list of things their significant other has done or has failed to do. They sound "armed" with evidence supporting their sometimes selfish, withholding, and toxic nature. I watch as the other partner squirms in their seat, getting noticeably more and more angry and frigid.

One of the best parts of my couples therapy is asking each of the partners to identify what it was that initially made them fall in love and what it is that is keeping them still holding on. The climate immediately begins to change. The twinkle and spark goes back in each others' eyes, and their postures begin to melt. The smiles come back and so does the laughter. It is from this place, that I am able to effect the most change and the most motivation to change with the couple.

I ask couples to go back to the beginning. When every text, every phone call, every mention of the other person's name would send a little electricity through their veins. Back when they didn't keep score and they just gave unconditionally. We learn that we get so much more back by no longer keeping score of what we've gotten back. When we give unconditionally and our only goal is to make our partner feel completely loved and valued- an extraordinary thing begins to happen- we begin to feel valued ourselves.