couples counseling exercises

Back to School Basics: Timeouts

In most relationships, emotions can get real hot real quick. We say something hurtful. Our partner hurls a hurtful attack back. And on it goes. Not only feelings get hurt, but relationships are hurt and foundational trust is ruptured.

A quick, basic strategy to stop hemorrhaging, buy time, and not make things worse, is to establish a safe word. This is a word you say to signifying that you are hitting pause, taking space, and interrupting the hurt spiral. The word can be anything. I had one couple who said "muskrat." It’s hilarious, and because it’s hilarious, it helped diffuse hot conflicts. Hard to yell and laugh at the same time.But lately, I have been a fan of using "ouch" as the diffusing word. It’s a little more accurate, a little more vulnerable and true (often anger is a secondary emotion to hurt), and it can soften the interaction.

From that point, take an hour and reassess. If you're still too heated to talk, say so. "Hey, im not ready. This is important, but I’m still to heated to communicate effectively. Lets check back in in an hour." That second part is important because often one person can feel anxious or abandoned by the space. Or couples can hit pause and not return to the conflict which only leads to festering, undealt-with, emotions. This strategy should be agreed upon ahead of time so that both parties can agree upon the words and the terms and what the intention is behind hitting pause. This may need some experimentation and tweaking as you go, but is worth a try to start to help you get unstuck from ineffective and hurtful communication patterns.

Need help getting started with this practice? Need help in other areas of your relationship? We can help. Call us today and start rebuilding your relationship.



Back to School Basics: Praise your Partner

People respond to praise. People thrive on appreciation and attention. We know this. We practice it freely with pets and kids. We lavish praise when we're smitten with a new love interest. And although we know that it works and makes others feel good,  we often neglect this behavior when in a long term relationship

"If I praise them all the time, it won’t mean much"

"I shouldn't have to praise them, they should just do it because it needs to be done"

"I shouldn't have to praise them, they know I love them."

"I shouldn’t ask for praise, I should be an adult with no needs"

On a behavioral level, praise reinforces behaviors. Want your partner to take out the trash? Ask and then say "thank you". Bonus points for expanding on a "thank you" with feedback on what the behavior shows you about the person's character, how it helps you, or how it makes you happy (thank you. That was so thoughtful of you/ it saved me some time so I could get other things done/ it makes me feel special").

On an attachment level, praise demonstrates appreciation and respect and reassures the other person that they matter. Attachment takes work and maintenance and consistent praise and gratitude helps build that bond and create a sense of safety and connection. This is vital for the health of the relationship. And all it takes is a moment.

You're welcome!



Remember, You're a Team! - A Relationship Metaphor

Some parts of being in a relationship should be like being teammates. Let's examine some team dynamics that are worth considering:

  • Teams practice. You may come in with skills but you spend time practicing and honing skills. If a teammate isn't improving or is getting worse, there is an attempt to help them improve. Feedback is given. Teammates don't just write off feedback, even if it is negative.
  • Teams acknowledge complementary skills. Not everyone is the pitcher. Not everyone is the catcher. It's not necessarily that the requirements of different positions are always fair or even, but they acknowledge that they help each other and need each other's strengths to play well.
  • Teams cheer each other on in success, share wins, console each other in loses.
  • If your team mate has an off day, gets hurt, or plays poorly, you don't assume it's an attempt to hurt you or that it's your fault or that they are a bad human for being an imperfect player.
  • Teams do bonding activities. Don't know how to bond with your partner? We can help with that. 

Play ball!!

Still struggling with creating a happy, healthy relationship? Contact us today and start improving your relationship tomorrow. 


3 Reasons Why Fighting Matters

We ALL fall short.  We know we are doing it, and sometimes we just don’t care.  So when one of you has one of those days, it’s up to the other person to bring their A game.  It’s also important to realize why fighting matters.  We will worry about the repair part later when you can apologize and really mean it.

People who think that they will never fight in a relationship are, quite frankly, delusional.  In my opinion, if you are in one of those relationships, then you either aren’t being honest about things that bother you or you are sweeping things under the rug and pushing problems aside.

In my many years of couples and marriage counseling, and being in my own 17 year relationship, I KNOW fighting is healthy.  In some of my best fights with my husband, we have had our best conversations and realizations.  

Here are some reasons fighting with your spouse or significant other is important:

  1. Anger sets a line in the sand, a boundary, telling the other person they have just crossed over. Anger as an emotion isn’t bad.  Your boundaries show the other person what you are willing to put up with to a point and then it’s a game changer.  If you don’t set up boundaries, people will walk right over your line without knowing or respecting it.
  2. Fighting appropriately let’s you stand up for yourself and get your point across when the other person may not have realized your goals or intentions.  Don’t rob the other person of the chance to understanding your position.
  3. People exist differently in the world.  Do not make the other person wrong just because you disagree.  We all need to learn that difference does not = wrong, it equals different!  It’s not OK to pout or be hurt because your partner has a different view.

Obviously, these are just a few examples.  There are many more how and why to fight fair.  If you want to know how to fight without making the other person wrong, without attacking their character, without being defensive or critical, then call me so I can give you the exact tools you need.

My couples therapy practice is based on over 40 years of scientifically validated research from the top minds in the field.  If you want to know what works, I have it and want to share it all. Let’s get started today!


Equanimity, Accepting The “Good” With The “Bad”

“Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness. And the word happy would lose it’s meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better take things as they come with patience and equanimity.” –Carl Jung on Equanimity

Equanimity, or achieving mental or emotional stability or composure, especially under tension or strain; similar to the idea of acceptance, equanimity is accepting the “good” with the “bad” without judgement.

“But Erika, I don’t like the “bad””

Totally get it. And…like it or not, “bad” happens. Bad days, bad moods, bad fights, bad bosses, bad drivers, bad sleep… “Bad” will always happen to everyone.

Since “bad” is unavoidable, you’re left with having to choose how you handle the inevitable.

You can fight it or judge it or deny it. You can numb it with addiction to sex, food, work or drugs. You can ignore it and wonder why your sleep sucks, you’re irritable, your sex life is suffering, or you can’t concentrate. You can blame it for your lack of fulfillment, peace, or happiness. You can hide out, micromanage your life, spin your wheels trying to perfect yourself to avoid it. All of these have an impact on you, your relationships, and sometimes your community.

Or you can learn to tolerate it with equanimity (notice I didn’t say “like”, “agree with”, or “allow to continue”).

“Ugh…ok. Maybe I could try this equanimity, but how?”

Glad you asked.

Here are 8 steps to equanimity:

  1. Set your intention to practice. Life will provide opportunities to practice and setting an intention keeps your eyes open to those opportunities.

  2. Notice attempts to avoid or fight or judge the “bad”

  3. Breathe deeply…it will calm you down and create space to try new skills

  4. Acknowledge the “bad” and that you don’t like it

  5. Breathe again. This is hard stuff

  6. Remind yourself that you’re practicing equanimity and it’s possible that you can accept this “bad”

  7. If you’re feeling bold and sassy, try to assign meaning to the “bad” (some suggestions: “I can learn from this”, “I can find gratitude in this”, “I can connect during this”, “I can relate to others better by experiencing this”, “I can be more present in my life by acknowledging this”)

  8. Rinse and repeat steps 1-7 as needed.

When you are having a tough time, take a seat and try these steps.  Set aside some time right now or later today and see how much better you feel.  Then do it again the next time you need it.  Try it daily – you might just love it!

Need more? We are here to help, we want to help!  You deserve it.  Call or email Erika today.

How Homework in Couples Counseling Helps Clients Connect

“Your scars are beautiful”

I have couples do weekly homework assignments.  They don’t take long and they are fun.  I explain to couples that just like going to the gym to build up biceps, reconnection doesn’t happen after one visit.  To build the emotional muscles in your brain, you need to exercise them consistently.  Here’s one of the coolest / loveliest / most darling responses to one of the questions asked that I have ever heard.

The statement to reply to is… “I am physically attracted to my partner.  Name one physical attribute you are attracted to.”

He said “I am attracted to so many things about you.  But the things I am most attracted to are your scars.  Your scars are beautiful.  I know what each of them means, I know what how each of them happened.”  These scars – some are small, some are pretty visible – like the one where the tracheotomy was in her neck – have a very intense story behind them.  What could be painful and awkward for her became powerful and intensely meaningful for each of them.  It’s a connection that only they have.

The smallest questions lead to profound answers neither one could ever guess would actually be spoken or written.  Couples therapy isn’t just about clearing the current crisis, it’s about reaching down deep to those astonishing and lovely insights.

I haven’t met a couple yet where AWESOME answers weren’t a part of the process.  If you or your spouse / partner want to uncover some of these touching insights, please get in touch with me and let’s get to work.  And yes, even my really angry couples have those moments where the walls begin to come down after going through these exercises.  EVERYBODY has hope and potential.

At Colorado Couples and Family Therapy, we have use many different resources and couples counseling techniques to aid you in your therapy journey. We are looking forward to working with you! Contact us today.