When we argue, feel hurt, not understood, not being heard, and feel like we don’t matter, this drives us away from the person that we may care a lot about. It seems that no matter how hard we try, every interaction leads into a disagreement and then it escalates from there. We no longer feel like we can talk about anything, or trust that they will not misunderstand our intentions, and then it ends up with both of us moving apart from each other, both physically and emotionally. This happens between two or more people, who’s lives are intertwined with each other.
Our therapists work with the entire system while giving the space and time to really allow each person’s story and narrative be told. We understand that when our feelings are hurt, there is a lot of repairing and healing that needs to happen. We aim to help our clients explore their patterns of interaction in the relationship, start healing their wounds in the relationship, and learn how to communicate so that they may have a healthier way of relating to each other.
When we start to feel better and secure about the relationship, the way we approach a conversation or event starts to shift. We can attune to each other and recognize how the other person is taking in the communication, and then adjust in the moment if necessary. We also learn how to make repairs when we miss those communication cues in a heartfelt way. Clients may also feel safe (enough) to ask for their needs to be met by the other person(s).
Relationships are an important part of a healthy life. Research has consistently shown that social connections are critical for both mental and physical health. People who have healthy relationships have better health outcomes, are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors, and have a decreased risk of mortality.1
This article discusses some of the characteristics of a healthy relationship and how to spot the signs of potential problems. It also explores some of the steps you can take to improve the health of your relationship.
Questions to Ask Yourself
It is important to remember that there is no such thing as a perfect relationship. Every relationship has a mix of both healthy and unhealthy characteristics. What makes a bond positive is that each person recognizes that relationships take work. Each person must strive to maintain the connection and remedy problems.
People often spend a lot of time talking about how to spot a bad relationship, but not about what constitutes a healthy relationship. Consider the following:
- Do you have trust in one another?
- Do you respect each other?
- Do you support each other’s interests and efforts?
- Are you honest and open with each other?
- Are you able to maintain your individual identity?
- Do you talk about your feelings, hopes, fears, and dreams?
- Do you feel and express fondness and affection?
- Is there equality and fairness in your relationship?
Every person’s needs are different. For example, some people have higher needs for openness and affection than others do. In a healthy relationship, each person is able to get what they need.
Premarital counseling is a form of couples therapy that can help you and your partner prepare for marriage.
It is intended to help you and your partner discuss several important issues, ranging from finances to children so that you are both on the same page. It can also help identify potential conflict areas and equip you and your partner with tools to navigate them successfully. Premarital counseling aims to help you build a strong foundation for marriage.
“Premarital counseling helps couples create a blueprint for their lives together,” says Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, a licensed psychologist who specializes in relationships.
Types of Premarital Counseling
According to Romanoff, there are different types of couples therapy, and many of them can be universally applied to couples at any stage of their relationship, including premarital counseling.
“Many clinicians will be integrative in their approach to couples therapy and will draw from several therapies, depending on the unique needs of their patients,” says Romanoff.
These are some of the types of therapy a premarital counselor may use.
The Gottman Method, developed by Drs. John and Julie Gottman, involves conducting a detailed assessment of you and your partner and then using a therapeutic framework to address areas of conflict.
This form of therapy aims to improve the quality of friendship between you and your partner, increase intimacy, and equip you with problem-solving skills that can help you build a stronger relationship.1
Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)
Emotionally focused therapy, developed by Drs. Sue Johnson and Les Greenberg, is a form of short-term therapy. It aims to improve the attachment and bond between you and your partner, leading to better communication and a stronger relationship.
Psychodynamic Couples Therapy
Psychodynamic couples therapy examines the underlying issues that motivate interaction cycles. Identifying and addressing factors like your hopes for closeness, love, and appreciation and fears of abandonment and disapproval can help you and your partner better understand and accept each other.
In the initial stages of premarital counseling, you and your partner may be assessed, both individually and together. During the course of the counseling, both of you will be encouraged to share life experiences and events, which can help shed light on your expectations and motivations in a relationship.
Premarital counseling also involves discussing important aspects of a marriage, including “financial planning, roles in the marriage, decision-making processes, family relationships, if children will be in your future, and how you wish to raise them,” says Romanoff.
Assessing You and Your Partner
Premarital counseling often requires you and your partner to fill out a questionnaire separately to determine how you feel about one another and what you expect from your relationship. These questionnaires can help your counselor identify your strengths, weaknesses, areas of compatibility, and potential problem areas.
Your counselor will also assess the dynamic between you and your partner during counseling sessions and use those insights to guide the course of the therapy.
Sharing Life Events and Experiences
Premarital counseling can also involve “identifying and exploring significant life events and early childhood experiences, which impact the relationship and how each partner relates to the other,” says Romanoff.
For instance, Romanoff explains that partners often choose each other for reasons that are not fully conscious; it is only with further processing that they may understand how familiar aspects of their partner relate to unresolved conflicts in the past.
Discussing Important Issues
Premarital counseling offers an opportunity to discuss several important aspects of a marriage, including:
- Finances: Money can be a stressful and contentious issue for married couples, so deciding how to manage your finances in advance can help prevent problems down the road.
- Beliefs, values, and religion: Sharing your beliefs, values, and religious sentiments with your partner can help foster better understanding and respect. You can also discuss the implications of these aspects on your daily life.
- Roles in the marriage: It’s important to discuss the roles you expect yourself and your partner to play in your marriage to prevent conflicts later on.
- Activities and time spent together: You and your partner can discuss how you plan to spend time together and what activities you enjoy doing together.
- Children: Couples sometimes realize after getting married that they are not on the same page about whether or not they want to have children. Deciding in advance whether or not you want to have kids and how you want to raise them is important.
- Family relationships: Premarital counseling can offer you a chance to be honest about your relationships with your own family as well as any concerns you have about your partner’s family.
When families get together, we hope for fun times characterized by love and bonding, but we often find that family conflicts occur during these times as well. In fact, in most families, there are longstanding patterns of interaction and roles that people traditionally play within these interactions. When adult children get together with family, they often find themselves slipping back into these patterns, something laughingly referred to as “revertigo.”
These interactions can be positive, but when they’re negative, they can bring high amounts of stress to a family gathering.
Defining What You Can Control and What You Can’t
How often have you had an experience where you knew you were going to see your family and could predict in advance what annoying or frustrating interactions you might have with certain family members, and things went exactly as you’d hoped they wouldn’t? Have you ever wished you had a remote control for humans, complete with pause, rewind and mute buttons? While you can’t control the actions of others, you can control your response to their actions, which can alter the whole dynamic and create more positive interactions.
In fact, Dr. Kathleen Kelley Reardon, USC Marshall School professor and author of Comebacks at Work: Using Conversation to Master Confrontation, estimates that 75% of how people treat us is under our control because of this. She advocates taking a different approach if you want to experience new, more positive results with these types of conflicts in the future.
“Communication is like chess where every move one person makes influences the choices of the other,” says Reardon. “A good rule of thumb is to not say what you would normally say in response to any provocation. If you usually meet a challenge with a challenge, try asking a question instead. If you let someone go on and on and that leads to anger, link something you have to say to his or her topic and then change to another one.
If you think you’re being blamed for something, instead of getting your back up, try saying, “There’s some truth to that” or “I hadn’t thought of it that way but I see your point.” In other words, tweak what you normally do. Then you won’t just slip into conflict. Above all, don’t be predictable. When we’re predictable, those who want to argue can maneuver us into doing just that.”
No matter how healthy a couple’s relationship is, there’s bound to be a few squabbles here and there. And a few occasional disagreements usually aren’t a big deal. Mature conversations, keeping it generally out of the kids’ view, and refusing to name-call all show a child how to deal with disagreements in a healthy manner. But more serious conflict definitely takes a toll on kids.
Physical altercations, insults, and tactics such as “the silent treatment,” are just a few of the toxic interactions parents can have that are likely to create some emotional damage to a child in the long run.
Why Parents Fighting Is a Problem
There’s research to suggest that a child as young as 6 months old can be negatively affected by harsh parental arguments.1 But it’s not just young kids who are affected by parents fighting. Other studies show that young adults up to age 19 can be sensitive to conflicts in their parents’ marriage.
It goes to show that children of all ages, from near-infancy through early adulthood, are impacted by how their parents choose to handle their differences. Researchers believe high-conflict marriages take a toll on a child’s mental health. Here are some of the ways kids are impacted.
- It can cause insecurity. Fighting undermines kids’ sense of security about the stability of the family. Children exposed to a lot of fighting may worry about divorce or wonder when one parent’s silent treatment is going to end. It can make it difficult for them to have a sense of normalcy in the family since fights may be unpredictable.
- It can affect the parent-child relationship. High-conflict situations are stressful for parents too. And a stressed-out parent might not spend a lot of time with kids. In addition, the quality of the relationship may be affected as it may be difficult for parents to show warmth and affection when they’re angry and upset with the other parent.
- It can create a stressful environment. Overhearing frequent or intense fighting is stressful for kids. Stress can take a toll on their physical and psychological well-being and interfere with normal, healthy development.