In working with couples on improving their relationship, I often find a lot of power dynamics going on - one person is in control and the other is submissive. It is critical to the success of the relationship that equalization occur. The power struggle must disappear. Couples must focus on overcoming their obstacles, not trying to win. They must find a way to let go, to forgive and move forward so they can build the relationship they want.
So, how do you rebalance a power imbalance in a relationship? Empathy, validation and active listening are key.
I suggest homework. Date night is one "assignment." Imagine when you were first dating and the feelings you had then. Try to recapture those on your date. Remember how you listened to every single word your partner said when you first met. Start practicing that active listening again.
I also ask couples to say to each other "I love you and I trust you," and say it looking straight into each other's eyes. At first, it may seem awkward, but, these are very important words that we may have forgotten to say, and with meaning. Remember, it may take time to get trust back in a relationship. Assumed trust will become earned trust.
In some cases, therapy is the answer. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) often is effective in improving a couple's relationship.
Some benefits of CBT include:
Greater presence: I cannot overstate the importance of our presence in a relationship. One of the biggest complaints I hear from couples is "he/she isn't there for me." Try mindfulness. The next time your partner talks with you about something, give your full attention to what he or she is saying. Really listen and focus on their words.
Improved mood: Anxiety, depression and stress can wear on a couple's relationship. One person may have no energy, no enthusiasm, no sex drive. With the use of CBT, this individual will begin to overcome those feelings and become a happier person, which will lead to a happier relationship.
Healthier thought patterns: CBT is based on an understanding of the connections among thoughts, feelings and behaviors. When our thought patterns are aligned with reality, they generally lead to positive feelings and behaviors.
The cognitive part of CBT encourages us to notice the thoughts we're telling ourselves; oftentimes, they happen so quickly and automatically that we don't even recognize the story our mind is creating. Once we've identified these thoughts, we can begin to test them out to see if they're accurate. With practice, we can replace distorted and destructive thoughts with more accurate and constructive ones.
Greater enactment of our intentions: All of us want to be the best partner we can be. We want to be attentive, supportive, loving and patient. We have the best intentions, but often they fall by the wayside in the midst of our daily responsibilities.
The tools of CBT can help us find those best intentions again. Begin by setting clearly defined goals and identifying specific behaviors we want to practice that will help us reach those goals. For example, turn off the phone during dinner and focus on the conversation that is happening at that exact moment ... and nothing else.
Wherever you are in your relationship, CBT can help couples find that balance and harmony again in their relationship, so they can rediscover the life they once had with each other.
Chris Hanson is a licensed master level clinical social worker specializing in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Family Systems Therapy. He has worked for more than 20 years with individuals suffering from anxiety and depression as well as those diagnosed with severe mental illness. He also works with individuals who have self-esteem and self-value concerns. He also works with many couples who need help to improve their relationship. His therapy is positive, affirming and nonjudgmental, as he helps clients feel and recognize their own value. Chris completed his undergraduate studies at Central Michigan University and his graduate studies at Wayne State University. He is a member of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW).
If you would like to schedule an appointment with Chris, call The Center for Relationship and Sexual Health at 248.399.7447.
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