The couple came in and sat at far ends of the couch and I wondered what would come next. Andrea was the first to speak and it was with angry and dismissive tones. They had found me through her therapist and she wanted to know already if I would reduce their fee. I knew the angry and dismissive tones were meant for me as well as her husband. She continued on with why they were there. She felt she was there because he refused to go to therapy and he was a deceitful loser. He had created business after business and they had failed. He had also invested more money than he had told her about. Peter remained quiet as she continued and he seemed a bit afraid to speak up. She kept telling me how better educated she was and she should be the one working but they had a child who needed her at home and she was suppose to be the stay at home mom. Yet she couldn’t relax her vigilant stance, she had caught him in lies about the business and where he was. She wanted him to come clean and start to act in a responsible manner.
Does this sound familiar? In my years of working with couples in private practice as well as in addiction treatment programs I found this similar theme of “They need to change”. I think the hardest part of couples work is often the discrepancy in the emotional growth or availability of each person in the relationship. I will often use the word compassion, how do you find it for yourself and for your mate. With compassion we can find the tolerance and understanding we need to form a collaborative working relationship. Though its not always easy to find. We have to wade through resentments, hurt, disappointments, expectations and lost dreams. I believe it is an ongoing process we need to adapt since our relationships are always growing and changing. In my own relationships and working with couples I know that communication is a big part of finding that working team. Not just what we say but how we hear it. I have found success with letting people know how I need to be heard this moment.
Some suggestions of how to let the listener know how to listen:
- I need you to help me problem solve.
- I need you to let me vent and just be here.
- I need you to comfort me as I tell you this story.
- I need you to tell me it will all be ok.
- I need you to understand my anger and support me.
I used to believe that if we could communicate all would be ok. I have learned through the years its a great place to start but is not always effective. I may need to find another friend or support to talk with because my partner is not able to listen. We all have times when we can’t hear or are frustrated by the topic. It’s important to let the other person know whether now is a good time or they can’t hear the topic. Is this about something of major importance or is this about an argument with a friend, if its about something that is dramatically altering your life I would hope that your partner can listen to you. If not then the problem needs more attention, like couples therapy then this simple exercise. The couple I describe above could not listen or find compassion and their relationship ended in divorce. Many couples that I have treated have been able to learn to listen, communicate and find compassion and rebuild their relationships.
Like any life change it takes work and curiosity.
Licia Ginne, MFT