Do we make enough time for the two of us?
Often times, couples come to therapy and that’s the only conversation they have all week.
With so many obligations like work, taking care of the children, paying bills, maintaining the home, and social events, couples often don’t have time for each other or themselves. Stress becomes a very dominant theme in people’s lives and they feel like they don’t have enough quality connections with family or in their relationship.
It’s common for people in a relationship to expect a lot from each other. But if they don’t spend enough time building the foundation of the relationship, it’s like a house with very little “equity” built up. So when there is conflict and misunderstanding, there’s not enough “equity” to be flexible, kind and loving and let things go, and thus the discord multiplies.
When I’m working with a couple, I usually ask them to make a Life Pie Chart and list seven values that are important to them. Common examples are family, work, relationship, friends, hobbies, exercise, spirituality, and creativity. Then I ask them to section out in percentages how much focus they give to each of these areas in their regular daily and weekly life. We then look closely at the chart, and I ask them to identify areas where they feel they are not spending enough time and focus, and brainstorm ideas on how they could find more time for each of those areas.
Let’s say they want to focus more on their relationship; then they would work on finding ways to plan for some quality time together throughout the days and weeks. Spending a whole day with just each other may not be realistic, for example if they have young children that require a lot of time and attention. So maybe they look not for huge chunks of time, but smaller periods of time when they can connect with their relationship. Like having a cup of coffee together, or taking a short walk. Maybe reading an article to each other and discussing it, or finding a time to share some common interest like music, a film or a book. There are other ways to spend small moments of time together. When planning to go out with friends for the evening, perhaps they leave a little earlier and take some time so spend with each other before joining their friends.
Relationships need attention and nurturing. Look for ways to squeeze in some times throughout the week when you can have a conversation with your spouse that isn’t about the day-to-day duties and obligations. You deserve some quality time together, and you can have it – just be creative!
How do I feel when I nag you?
Nagging is continually finding fault with someone and complaining about his or her behavior. It’s not pleasant to hear, and it doesn’t bring good feelings to the one doing it. When I am working with couples who want to have better communication with each other, the problem of nagging comes up from both sides of the issue. One person accuses the other of nagging, and the other claims the nagging is necessary due to the behavior of the first person.
This often stems from couples falling into dysfunctional patterns of communication. When people are in a relationship for a long time, they often stop really listening to and hearing each other. They speak in a tone of voice that demonstrates that they are not really trying to understand what the other person wants. In other words, true communication is ignored and they stop paying enough attention to each other.
When this happens, people often give up and stop trying to talk to each other. The only time they do communicate is when one or both of them is really frustrated or angry about something. The problem is that when people are upset, angry, or frustrated, the other partner really can’t hear what they have to say. One of my favorite theorists, John Gotman, says that when he sees a couple in therapy he actually has each of them wear a blood pressure cuff so that any time their heart rates become accelerated, he can ask them to stop and go into the waiting room to calm down. He believes, and it is widely believed, that it is only when people are truly calm that they can really hear each other.
I encourage the couples I work with to practice some basic communication exercises to help them break out of the pattern of not really paying attention to each other and only attempting communication when they are frustrated or upset. One such exercise is called direct listening, where you really hear what the other person is saying without interpreting it. I also suggest they make a conscious effort to sit down with each other a few times a week in a logistical type of meeting where they can share some aspects of the relationship that aren’t working, and strategize, negotiate, and compromise how to do things differently to reduce frustration and discontent. When people make a sincere effort to do this, they feel heard, important, and respected. And the “need” for nagging is removed.