July 21, 2024
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July 21, 2024
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What Are You Actually Saying?

A closer look into a couple’s therapy session.

“Why aren’t the kids ready to go? I left the clothes for you to get them dressed!”

“Because I had to answer an email and then Adam spilled juice all over himself!”

“Why did you leave the cup there? I’m tired of you being on your phone and assuming I’ll just take care of the kids. If you would stop looking at your phone for a minute, maybe you can actually see what needs to be done and be helpful!”

“I am not playing, you know! I’m working! And sometimes I do just want to be on my phone!”

“You always have some kind of excuse! I’m so tired of doing everything myself and putting up with you on top of it.”

Sarah (37) and Ben (40) are not unusual in having these kinds of interactions when they get ready to leave the house with their two children.

At first glance, the interaction reveals anger, criticism, contempt and defensiveness (all killers of long-term enjoyment and mutual interest), but deeper examination reveals much more than that.

Throughout several therapy sessions, Sarah starts revealing more of her sadness, loneliness and disappointment. Having 20 (quiet) minutes to get ready without needing to troubleshoot issues with the kids will mean that her partner “has her back.” It will mean she can be more trusting, “lighter,” less stressed, because she is not alone in taking care of the family. Over time Ben starts giving voice to his feelings of shame, rejection and insignificance.

When Sarah asks “Why aren’t the kids ready to go,” Ben hears “You are a failure.” When Ben says “I was working,” Sarah hears, “Work is more important than you and the kids.”

More often than not, Ben wants to make his wife happy, trusting and proud, but that desire is overwritten by what he perceives as disrespect, being belittled and micro-managed.

More often than not, Sarah wants to state her needs and emotions clearly and respectfully but that inclination is being drowned out by what she perceives as being taken for granted, “doing everything” and being the “default parent.”

Couples work involves more than striving for improvement at identifying and communicating the feelings that cause tossing of blame. It is also about getting better at recognizing the intent of communication.

Do you see your partner as having something legitimate and important to contribute that you might have not thought about yourself? Or did you already make a plan and just want to delegate some of the tasks? Are you thinking out loud and want your partner to listen and assure you that it makes sense or are you looking for some critical thinking to know if you’re on the right track? What you want will vary from situation to situation but whether it is brainstorming, delegating or reassurance, knowing and stating it ahead of time will set you up for more clarity, flow and ease of communication and connection.

A good couples therapist will zoom in and slow down the interaction in the room, elicit the feelings that are buried deep under the anger and resentment, and facilitate the conversations partners are too scared of having. Underneath that fear is the hope, care, affection and love that brought the couple together. It’s just waiting for the right help.

Kate Winkler is a Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist (LAMFT) at Group Therapy NJ. She is passionate about learning how individuals establish and maintain connections. She works with individuals, couples and families. In addition to English, Kate speaks Hebrew, Russian and is studying Spanish. If you are new to therapy, not sure you need therapy or have been frustrated with therapy in the past, feel free to reach out at [email protected] or call 732.320.3651 and book a free consultation.

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