We know what it’s like– you and your partner have brushed over the idea of reaching out to a couples counselor post-argument quite a few times. One of you mentions it, the other says it might be a good idea, but then… nothing happens.
Don’t worry! This is normal. After noticing a problem, it takes couples an average of six years to begin attending therapy. While we don’t recommend waiting this long, there are some tips and tricks we can recommend to help you figure out how to navigate disagreements at home in the healthiest way possible.
Notice and shift your mindset
Pay attention to your internal dialogue. How often does your partner do something totally benign, like forget to empty the dishwasher, and you skyrocket into remembering all the annoying things they do on a regular basis?
Humans are wired to notice and remember the negative rather than the positive. While this makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint, it means you are going to have to be intentional about noticing all the tiny positive things your partner does on a regular basis.
But listen– if our bodies are wired towards negativity, it is not realistic to entirely wipe out noticing all the things that frustrate you. Instead, just try to add in noticing two or three positive, helpful, or adorable things your partner does each day. This is a small and effective way to begin to rewire your brain to look for positives in your partner instead of the negatives.
Take note of what happens before, during, and after an argument
This is really about trigger recognition. The word “trigger” typically means something that reminds someone of a trauma. This being said, I am using the word “trigger” here as something that starts an argument or escalates an argument.
This is crucial for a ton of reasons, the first and foremost being accountability. The ability to identify your triggers gives you power over your feelings and allows your partner to know what things really set you off. This makes it easier to avoid walking on eggshells and can even shift you towards feeling more comfortable with each other.
While noting what happens before and during an argument is a great way to increase awareness of triggers, noting what happens after an argument gives you agency in identifying what makes you feel better, and what continues to escalate you.
Avoiding thought patterns like rumination will make it easier for you to gain control of your emotions and will help you and your partner move towards repair rather than remaining in a cycle of anger and frustration.
If you and your partner are inching towards disconnect due to chaotic lives, find a moment or two for a nightly ritual. Daily rituals create a sense of identity for the couple, and can even lead to an overall increase in relationship satisfaction (and can be helpful for business relationships, too!).
Rituals do not have to be anything groundbreaking and can be as simple as sharing a cup of coffee in the morning, or as deep as spending some time each evening reflecting on your favorite moments of the day. The goals are really to 1. Create security and warmth in a pattern, and 2. Increase both symbolic and actual connections.
If you two are packed with careers, children, family commitments, and other parts of life that make this feel impossible remember that rituals do not have to be an addition to your daily routine. Instead, you can focus on just completing some of your tasks together (i.e. coffee in the morning, or cooking dinner together).
Talk about your future
The goal with this tip is to really help you and your partner gain some clarity about how to move forward. It is really common to get into the weeds during arguments and to focus on minutiae detail and historical accuracy. This can make it feel impossible to get to the root cause of what is going on.
So, instead, try thinking about the future. What do you want it to look like? Do you have common goals? Do you picture your future together? Spend a couple of minutes writing down what you want the next five years to like, and share it with one another. This can be a scary activity but is a really effective first step towards figuring out where to go next.
All in all, be patient. The topic of couples therapy can feel daunting, especially when there are years of built-up emotion to address. Take it one step at a time, and start with these small tips.
If you feel like you are ready to consult with a couples counselor, or want to sort through your options, give us a call– we are here to help!
Alyssa Ashenfarb, LCSW