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Don't Be Like Abby and Allen

I don’t know about you, but 2016 was an eventful year for me and my business! I got so busy that I didn’t plan ahead well and update my blog as often as I would have liked. So I’m starting off this year with a better plan and you’ll be getting new blog posts twice a month from me. I’ll have a few guest bloggers as well who will share their insight and expertise about topics I know you’ll love. I’m so excited to see what 2017 will bring and sharing it with you!

That being said, I want to start off strong with a topic that is so near and dear to me not only because I want to see my clients succeed with it, but I strive to do it in my relationship as well. It’s knowing the differences of what makes a couple a “master” or “disaster” couple. This idea comes from decades of studies with The Gottman Institute, expert leaders in the field of relationship success. What the Gottman team has discovered is there are a few key things that “master” couples do differently than “disaster” couples that help them manage conflict, improve their communication, and create healthy family systems.

Now imagine this: Over the course of the last five years, Abby and Allen (fictitious characters, of course) got married, bought a house, adopted a dog, and are now thinking about having their first child. Though they love each other deeply, they also have heated arguments. Sometimes they disagree over the littlest things and it blows way out of proportion. Abby often pursues Allen and tries to get him to talk about their fights, but he avoids it for fear of getting back into a fight. They end up ignoring the problem until it circles back around at some point and they fight even worse than before. They call each other names, say things they don’t mean, there’s usually screaming, crying, and they feel like they are growing further and further apart from each other with each fight. Allen spends more time at work recently and Abby feels left alone. Neither of them can remember the last date they went on and though they have sex, it’s purely around Abby’s cycle so they can get pregnant.

Not everything is terrible though. They enjoy watching some of the same TV shows, have dinner together (most nights), and both enjoy their work. They are both well-educated, feel financially stable, and ready to have kids and grow their family. Each of them have friends and family they love and rely on and feel supported by them.

Abby is worried she and Allen are on track to divorce and calls a couples counselor in her area to discuss how they can fix their relationship before they add a baby into the mix. In their first appointment, the counselor asks about their last fight. Abby talks about how they were trying to decide who would pick up her sister from the airport. With both of their busy schedules, the timing wasn’t working out for either of them. This discussion quickly spiraled into blaming Allen for spending more time at work than he needed to and Allen firing back defensively that the most recent project took him by surprise how much work it’s been and he needs to be there until at least 7 or 8 at night sometimes. They fall into their typical pattern of fighting from here and the therapist intervenes to keep them from spiraling out of control.

I can say as a therapist that even though these characters are fictitious, their story is similar to ones I’ve heard over the years from couples in a rut who don’t know how to get out of the destructive patterns they’ve created over the course of their relationship. If their story reminds you of your own relationship, then I beg you to keep reading.

Abby and Allen may end up divorcing if they don’t begin to learn how to break the destructive patterns they continue pursuing and replace them with more functional ones. They may even be considered a “disaster” couple because of their actions and behaviors. Let me give you a simple breakdown of some things “disaster” couples do that destroy their relationships:

“Disaster” couples:

  1. Fight using the “4 Horsemen” of Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling (more on this to come in future blog posts!)

  2. Make very few or no repair attempts after conflict

  3. Turn away from or against their partner

  4. Joke with only sarcasm and very rarely use good-hearted humor

  5. Feel disconnected and don’t have fun anymore

“Master” couples, on the other hand, tend to do things differently. They are by no means perfect and still disagree, but they know how to have a conversation rather than an argument. Here are some of the things they do that help maintain their relationships:

  1. Have discussions using the antidotes to the “4 Horsemen”: Use a Gentle Startup, Take Responsibility, Build a Culture of Appreciation, and Do Physiological Self-Soothing (again, more on this later)

  2. Make at least some repair attempt after conflict by genuinely apologizing, taking responsibility for their part in it, and making real change to not let it happen again

  3. Turn towards their partner and engage with them

  4. Skillfully utilize humor to diffuse conflict and build connection and trust

  5. Feel connected, loved, respected, and truly enjoying being with each other having fun

This is not an exhaustive list, but if you find that you and your partner are engaging in any of the above “disaster” behaviors, it may be time to evaluate what you might want to start working on to create healthier, happier patterns. Please don’t be like Abby and Allen. Don’t let things get too far down “disaster road” for you to turn back. I’d be happy to make an appointment with you and get you headed down the path to becoming a “master” couple. Give me a call at 720-381-2755 or email me at tradewindstherapy at gmail dot com to set up our first appointment today.

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