What influences my work as a relationship counselor
Are you curious to take a look behind the scenes and learn what principles guide my work as a relationship counselor? Have you ever wondered what insights you can use in your relationship from the work of a relationship counselor? Then you'll find an overview of some of the basic principles of my work here.
1. Objective realities are less important than subjective ones
Everyone perceives their own reality, and also their relationship, through the lens of their own experiences, beliefs about relationships, and past relationship experiences. Both the Gottmans and Terrace Real support my view that there are always two subjective realities in couples. This means that in conflict, it is not so much a matter of agreeing on one version of a situation. But to respect each other's perceptions and to understand what is happening for the other.
2. From being right to compromising
Conflict is not about who is right or wrong, but about how you can resolve the issue in a way that works for both of you. Terrace Real often talks about the "you and me" consciousness versus the "we" consciousness. He explains that being right or wrong is about an individualistic you versus me perspective, where everyone wants to "win" an argument. But that won't get you anywhere as a couple. Instead, it's much more important to focus on the two of you as a team and see how you can find a compromise that works for both of you.
3. Interdependence in relationships
In a relationship, you and your partner are dependent on each other in some way. This is because your relationship involves an emotional attachment with you as the attachment figures for each other, says Sue Johnson and the attachment theory she uses. It follows that you should both strive to make your relationship feel good. As Terrace Real says, we breathe in the "air of the relationship," and if it's "polluted" by a hurt your partner experiences or by your partner being angry with you, that's the air you breathe in, too! Therefore, it is even more important to communicate when your needs are not met or you are unhappy.
4. See conflicts as an opportunity
Conflict is an opportunity to learn and grow together and is inevitable. Couples who don't discuss often don't share what's going on for them. Real closeness in a relationship can only happen when you allow yourself to be vulnerable with your partner. This includes sharing your needs, feelings, and thoughts with your partner. In this way, you can get to know each other better and understand what is of central importance to the other. Learn more about couple communication and conflict in this article.
5. Listening and taking distance from your own perspective as a key skill
Empathic listening, acknowledging your partner's perspective and taking distance from your own perspective is an important relationship skill. Understanding and adjusting to your partner's needs, feelings, and thoughts is essential to communicating with your partner. After all, when you offer understanding of his point of view, such as "I can understand why you..." your partner feels heard and understood. When couples feel stuck in their communication, it's often because they can't listen empathically and are already preparing their own response. If you want to practice active listening, here's a practical exercise.
6. Take a break when emotions are intense
Taking a break when emotions are running high is very helpful for both of you. It's perfectly normal to feel angry, frustrated, or sad from time to time in a relationship. The most important thing is that you don't try to resolve a conflict while you're still in the midst of a surge of emotion. Rather, that you both take your time so that the emotions can calm down. With a more relaxed mood, it will be much easier for you to listen to each other and find a compromise. Research couple Gottmans and Terrace Real recommend taking at least a 20-minute walk, listening to music, or doing something else that feels good to you. Tell your partner when, approximately, you're ready to have a quiet conversation again before you take that break.
7. The Connection to your own needs is important
If you don't know what you want and need, it's hard to have an open, vulnerable conversation with your partner about your needs. To do this, you may need to take some time for yourself and think about what is really important to you and why you feel a certain way.
8. Acknowledge and understand the influence of the past
Your past relationship experiences shape the way you respond to certain issues. We all have triggers that influence the way we respond to certain sensitive issues. Therefore, it is useful to look at your biography as well as your partner's biography to understand how you have been shaped by them. If you want to learn more about triggers, you can find my article on this here.
9. There is no such thing as a perfect relationship or a perfect partner.
You have to accept that there will always be some things you don't like about your partner. But these differences are also an opportunity to learn more about you and your partner. If you're both determined to grow and work on your relationship together, that's a great foundation on which to grow. (But beware. That said, there are many partners who are not a good fit for your needs and lifestyle, or who don't make you happy for other reasons. Separating yourself from these partners is good and right at your own discretion).
10. The ability to repair after a conflict is of crucial importance.
Have you ever thought about how to make up with your partner after a fight? I agree with psychotherapists Gottmans and Real who say that these moments of reparation are important in any relationship. In doing so, it is crucial to acknowledge your own contribution to the problem, that is, to become responsible, to apologize when your partner is hurt, and to try to do what the other person wants you to do to make things right. (This, of course, does not apply if your partner is narcissistically inclined and wants to hold you accountable for things where you really did nothing wrong, or your partner is otherwise abusive toward you).
11. Setting boundaries is important
Boundaries are important to any relationship because they help you clearly communicate what works for you and what doesn't. These boundaries include how you handle time together and time apart, if/how flirting is okay for you, etc. If you want to learn more about boundaries in relationships, you can find my article on the topic here.
Conclusion on principles that influence my work as a relationship counselor
In the article, you learned what is important to me as a relationship counselor. In summary, I work with a number of personal skills such as identifying your own needs, as well as relationship skills such as empathic listening. It's also important to me to teach my clients relationship education, such as that perfect relationships don't exist. I hope you were able to take something away for yourself!
Are you looking for support to make your relationship fulfilling and a place of growth for you?
- Gottman Institute, different articles
- Real, T. (2022). Us: Getting Past You and Me to Build a More Loving Relationship. Rodale Books.
- Johnson, S. (2008). Hold me tight: Seven conversations for a lifetime of love. Little, Brown Spark.