Couples Therapy, Relationships

Five Keys to a Happy Relationship


I was published in a magazine this month! Style magazine invited me to write about some tips for couples. The article was edited for publishing and reworded a little bit. the following is the pre-published version accompanied by my usual supporting videos :-p

you can find the published article here: Style Magazine or in a printed copy of the Roseville-Rocklin-Granite Bay Style Magazine

Five Keys to a Happy Relationship

By Joe Borders, MFT

As a couples therapist I have seen relationships troubled in many different ways, but there are several key elements that I wish for my couples to work on:

1. Become familiar with your cycle
All couples have a central negative cycle they repetitively get stuck in. Negative cycles are all about the ways we cope with feeling insecure/unsafe in our relationships. In the most common cycle, pursuer/distancer, one person tends to pull back/distance when feeling insecure while the other person tends to cope by pursuing connection/reassurance from his/her partner. In this way couples trigger each other and escalate. The distancer feels more pull to distance, which makes the pursuer feel the need to pursue even more. Through recognizing and understanding their cycle, couples can feel more secure with each other and avoid many painful arguments.

2. Try to assume the best about your partner
Often times when we are upset with our partners we assume malicious intent or stupidity. It can help to take a moment to think “If I were to assume the best about you then____”. Maybe your partner was late picking you up because he was worried about meeting a deadline at work, or he was short with you because he didn’t sleep well the night before. Knowing these things doesn’t forgive bad behavior, but makes it seem less personally, intentionally, offensive and helps you to empathize with your partner.

The School of Life has a good video on Youtube that I occasionally refer people to for this one. Their video suggests the idea that we should treat our partners like children. Not in the sense that we should look down on them as incompetent and helpless, but in the sense that, like children, our partners can sometimes act in ways that hurt or annoy us as a result of unseen struggles within them. We tend to forgive children when they are difficult because we can tell ourselves “he’s tired” or “he must be frustrated or hungry”. The same can be said about many transgressions by our partners if we only take the time and care to consider these alternatives as opposed to thinking that they are stupid, mean, or are personally intending us harm.

Seeing our partners in this way takes a good degree of generosity. The School of Life just recently published this video which pairs well with the one above.

3. Avoid punching first or running
When we’ve been in a relationship with someone for a while we collect memories of all the times our partners have slighted us. Human beings are naturally made to look out for danger and things that could harm us, so it’s no wonder we pay such close attention to negative interactions in relationships, where we are our most vulnerable. After repetitive negative interactions we can come to assume or predict that our partners intend us harm or are going to do something to upset us. In cases like this many people will either punch first, throwing out a quick insult, or run away before anything has actually happened. This can trigger the negative cycle.

4. Open communication
This one is probably cliché at this point, but open communication is very important in a healthy relationship. You need to be able to communicate your feelings to your partner, feel heard and understood, and do the same for your partner. This helps with all the other items listed here.

5. Don’t make your partner pay for someone else’s mistakes
Break ups, abuse, and neglect in relationships can be traumatic. Much like in PTSD, bad experiences in previous relationships can affect our sense of safety in our current relationships. It is important to explore underlying emotions and assumptions that trigger you in your relationship. It’s possible you are carrying trauma from a past relationship and at times treating your partner as if he/she were your abusive step dad or your ex who had an affair. Therapy can really help with this.

Joe Borders, MFT is a therapist with offices in Roseville and Sacramento. He can be reached at 530-448-6602 or www.joeborders.com

Five Keys to a Happy Relationship

 

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