The first appointment for a couple can be a triggering experience. It takes courage, vulnerability, and a belief. A belief that we can…
While a first appointment can involve dialogue around disclosure, mandated reporting, privacy, process, and secrets. It also begins the process of sharing what brought you in that day and what you want from the experience. At times, the choice to initiate couples counseling can be a mutual decision.
At other times, it is one partner influencing the other partner to “give it a try”, or it’s a “hail mary” last attempt to save the relationship.
Frequently, one or both partners, during the initial appointment will ask, “In your opinion are we good?”, “Will we make it?”, “Do we have a chance?”
The outcome for each couple is always unique and different. The path does not necessarily lead in a linear direction to Yes or No.
Experiences and perceptions for each partner are always different. The life experiences that each partner brings into the relationship are always different. The way each partner communicates is different. Each partner’s tone and body language is different. How one partner responds to the other is different. How each partner dreams is different. Each partners belief system is different. How they load the dishwasher is different!
What each partner brings into the relationship will always be different…
As humans, our brains and behavior are on the look out to identify and respond to “differences” in contrasting ways than how we identify and respond to similarities.
Partners follow that tendency and view one another through a lens of differences rather than similarities or compliments to one another. That approach can commonly infiltrate the relationship and cultivate an unhealthy and disconnected environment.
Why? Because “different” usually triggers our nervous system into action and that initiates a series of events that internally prepare us for a defensive response. When partners consistently identify the difference in their relationship or point out the inconsistencies in one another the nervous system responds accordingly.
Each partner’s guard goes up and their internal systems prepare for fight, flight, or freeze. This can lead to one or both becoming hyper vigilant, quick to withdrawal, short tempered, and primed to call-out, defend, or recall on-going “differences” in the relationship and subsequently prolong unhealthy feedback loops.
In an effort to influence the “different” default setting and impact the long-term health and viability of the relationship there are a number of strategies each partner and relationship can develop.
A few to consider:
- Self-Awareness is critical. Understand yourself first. Develop the ability to speak about you and take responsibility for who you are and how you interact with the world around you. Build an understanding of what enables you to feel safe in relationships and what triggers you. Then, share that with your partner or loved one to empower them with the knowledge to understand how they can support you.
- Be humble. Take responsibility to learn and understand how you individually contribute to both healthy & unhealthy patterns in your relationship(s).
- Be willing to adapt. Develop the belief that “old dogs CAN learn new tricks.”
- Lead by example and initiate the rule of reciprocity. Empower yourself to have the courage to be vulnerable and speak your truth which may open the door for your partner to model that behavior.
- Cultivate an environment of compassion and kindness through implementing an assumption of similarity that enables each partner the ability to be seen and feel validated. Before you criticize, ask yourself, “have I done something like that before?” If so, then treat your partner in the same way you’d like to have been treated…
- Language matters and it has a lasting impact. Challenge yourself to see your relationship through a lens of similarities and compliments.
Big change doesn’t always translate into big results or long-term victory. Healthy change develops over time in consistent small ways that have a more lasting and influential impact on the overall relationship.