marriage counseling

The Anatomy of an Argument: Step 6 - Give and Ask for Equal Regard

Brent Atkinson describes this step in the following terms.  “Let your partner know that you’re willing to keep an open mind to the potential merit of their viewpoint.  If a decision needs to be made, be willing to be flexible and attempt to find a middle ground.”  He goes on to say that successful relationships operate like a democracy - every person gets one vote and every vote counts equally without having to prove why their reasoning is valid.

Researchers can’t always tell in an argument what success looks like while couples are going at it.  Success sometimes shows up at the end of the argument.  When 2 people are willing to give equal regard to their partner’s point of view, even if they staunchly disagree, that’s where the success lies.

When one person tries to diminish another’s feeling, priorities or opinions, they are standing on shakey ground.  These aren’t facts, they are belief systems.  Stop thinking that your beliefs are the best.  The obviously perfect example is all over the news right now. Trump vs Hillary.  Thank goodness when you go to the polls you won’t have to defend your pick!  So stop putting your partner / spouse / best friend on the defensive, you won’t win.  You are only building up resentment.  Be a superstar and argue like a champ.  THAT’S how you actually win.

If you are looking for couples counseling for you and your spouse, or couples counseling for one, we would love to help. Make an appointment today.

Be sure to check out steps 1-5 of Anatomy of an Argument.

The Anatomy of an Argument: Step 5 - Offer Assurance with Flexibility

In Step 2 of Anatomy of an Argument, we look at avoiding a judgmental attitude when fighting with your partner. Step 2 is integral to Step 5 - offering assurance.

When you offer up assurance, the goal is to communicate to your partner that you are doing your best to keep an open mind.  For lots of folks out there, this is insanely difficult because they think their way is just fine, no problem.  The other person feels strongly about their position.  You each have to figure out how to come to terms with the other’s place when neither of you are wrong but you still have a hard time tolerating the other’s perspective.

For example, my husband and I are polar opposites when it comes to privacy vs sharing on certain issues.   I like to get counsel from friends and colleagues, he’s not into me doing this.  He actually has a brilliant mind.  But to my dissatisfaction, his mind instantly jumps to all the potential risks involved.   I don’t mind risk, he craves certainty.  This is an ongoing struggle.  We typically come out of these arguments ok and with a better understanding of the other person and usually with a lot of sympathy going back and forth between us.  But man it’s like clawing my way out of a hole sometimes.  

When all's said and done and I have regained my emotional balance, I actually do see his point of view.  I don’t like it, I don’t think like he does, but I accept that this is the way he is / has always been / most likely won’t ever change.  Neither will I.  Our task is to continually strive to let the other person just be and to learn to cope with our differences in more meaningful ways.  It’s a never ending journey.  Make it count.

The Anatomy of an Argument: Step 4 - Finding the Underlying Needs, Values and Worries

When we are arguing with a spouse, in the heat of the moment it’s so hard to do anything but concentrate on OUR needs and the outcome WE want.  That needs to change ASAP.  In step three of the Anatomy of an Argument series, we learn to identify the underlying needs, values and worries of our mate.

When we assume that our partner’s reasons for wanting something a certain way are stupid or make no sense, we aren’t making room in the argument for the possibility that they actually have valid concerns or worries.  If your partner’s reasons aren’t making any logical sense to you, take a step back and get curious, ask questions.  Ask if there is a fear that they haven’t disclosed.  Ask if there is an influence behind their argument that is steering them in one direction. 

You also need to get clear on your underlying needs, values and worries.   Don’t just put up a fight because you think you are more right or that your way is best.  Remember that most often you two just have a difference in opinion.  If you two can come together to discover each other’s needs, you will be solidly more empathic towards one another.  

A few years ago my husband and I got into an argument because I said something to his mother that he asked me not to.  It was a complete accident, I forgot that he had made that request (which at the time I thought was so stupid!!!)  So by the end of the argument, he was finally able to explain to me that I had actually shamed him.  EWWWW, that felt terrible to me.  The clearer you can be from the get-go, the better.  

When you find yourself in a fight with your partner, put on your Sherlock Holmes hat and start digging around.  You will be far more productive if you can help each other figure out the underlying needs, values and worries.  I would love to hear if any of you can conjure up some stories from your own life where you didn’t do this.  What happened and what do you wish you had done differently?  Please share!

Something THIS bad?

Today a client asked me if I have ever dealt with “something this bad” in my practice.  Her marriage is in a shambles in ways that frankly are hard to imagine.  To her, it’s worse than any horror movie.  I told her that I’ve never seen her exact situation, but I’ve had all the pain in the world in my practice from different clients in too many situations to count.  So the question is not about judging the extent of the “badness”.  The question is have I ever seen this much pain.  The answer will always be “yes”. 

Part of her question asks about a “degree of pain marker” to be put on situations.  The first time I realized I couldn’t put a measurement on the degree of emotional pain was when my son was in the NICU for three and a half months.  He was born three and a half months early.  I would get comments that people could relate because their child was born 4 weeks early.  I came to the conclusion that if your worst event in your whole life was your child being 4 weeks early and it scared the living shit out of you, then who am I to say mine was worse?  We were equally scared shitless.

Don’t compare your pain or life situation to anything else.  You pain is your pain no matter what anybody else thinks.  If your partner does or says things that are belittling and mean according to you, then they are belittling and mean.  I have clients from the east coast who can talk to each other in ways that would make my mid-west clients lose their mind.  The point is that if you have a feeling or an emotion or a pain, it’s real and it’s ok.

The other point is that yes, you can move beyond it if you want, but you don’t have to.  If what happened is the straw that broke the camel’s back, then it’s broken.  If you want to try everything and anything to repair it, then let’s go for it.  Just don’t feel like you have to do what all your friends say because they don’t think your pain or your situation is that bad.  Your wound might not be big to them, but to you, your heart has been ripped out.  Pay attention to your feelings, to your grief and to your needs.

I have seen pain, I have felt sad and hurt. I am here to help you get through what ever level of “bad” you are experiencing. Call and make an appointment today.

Can you handle this crazy??

I wanted to share a recent interview I heard regarding relationships.  I heard it on the podcast This American Life.  This episode is about people making bad choices so I was surprised when the epilogue started talking about marriage.   The host, Ira Glass, is speaking with author Alain De Button.  Button’s argues that many of us enter into marriage in all the wrong ways.  He reflects to us that we expect one person to be our best friend, lover, cohabitant, emotional support system and financial partner.  When you look at it that way, it seems so silly that we expect one person to be all those things and to do so without ever upsetting the other.  After all, you’re supposed to marry the love of your life, the most perfect person ever and live happily ever after.  When you go into marriage with those expectations, how can ever expect to succeed?  Button’s viewpoint is a very pragmatic, arguably very dark stance on love and marriage.  But I have to admit, I think he’s really on to something here….. My husband and I were in the car together listening to the podcast.  When we heard Mr Button’s ideas and examples, we both laughed…. A lot! Button suggests that when you marry someone, you have to be aware of and willing to put up with their ‘crazy’.  Everyone has some crazy and when you live with a person, you learn about their crazy pretty quickly.  Raise your hand if you know you’re crazy.  Put it another way, raise your hand if you know that something you do would drive another person you live with crazy. The question is, can you handle their specific brand of crazy, and what’s more, can you still love them through it?  The entire podcast is an hour long, but Alain De Button’s portion is only the first 5 minutes.  Give it a listen here. Do you agree with him?

If you need to talk through your crazy, or your spouse's crazy, give us a call! We can't wait to hear what kind of crazy you are going through.

Anatomy of an Argument: Step 3 - Find the Understandable Part

In our series about the anatomy of an argument, we have discussed focusing on your own reactions and avoiding a judgmental attitude. Here is step three:

Finding the understandable part of your partner’s argument can be difficult, especially when you are entrenched in your position.  ‘Find the understandable part’ does not mean agreeing with their view or accepting it as the right one.  It simply means that each of you have legitimate reason for your beliefs.  

Here’s a little example.  My husband and I were having a discussion over a new car I was about to lease.  I can’t even remember the whole fight, and it was a doozy, but the part that I will never forget it this:  at the end of the argument he revealed that he had felt shamed over a certain action I had taken.  The action was telling his mom something I had promised not to but I thought it was so insignificant that I totally forgot, it was an accident.  The argument ended as soon as I understood what had happened for him.  

Don’t let yourself dig your heels in so deep that you refuse to acknowledge the other’s experience.  This will get you nowhere.  You need to find reasons for their actions and beliefs and they need to do the same for you.  This is a 50/50 deal on both sides.  

Consider these scenarios:

  • A terrible day at work, so she comes home already upset
  • Not all pertinent information was given so details are left out
  • One person thinks a word has one meaning and the other thinks something completely different
  • His mind went to the worst case scenario inventing things you never meant or said
  • The issue is likely to be more important to one of you - sometimes it’s nice to give in if you don’t      care that much
  • Our priorities often differ, so try to keep in mind what is important to one won’t be so important to the other
  • Perhaps one of you had felt belittled or dismissed recently

Next time an argument with your partner arises, do your very best to find the understandable part.  Get out of your own way and really look at their point of view and ask yourself if they are truly wrong.  If you loosen up on these issues, your partner is likely to do the same!  Feel free to respond with situations of your own and what you did to work through them with Step 3 in mind!

Please call and make an appointment for couples counseling or couples counseling for one. We look forward to teaching you how to fight fair!

Anatomy of an Argument: Step 2 - Avoid a Judgemental Attitude

We first looked into fighting with your spouse or partner effectively and focusing on your own reactions. Here is step two of the anatomy of an argument:

Do you try to be open minded and flexible when you are at odds with your partner?  Research has shown that those people who are able to remain flexible are more successful at getting their partners to treat them the way they feel they deserve to be treated.  

Most often when we find ourselves in an argument we have competing agendas.  When we find ourselves in this position, we typically end up making the other person “wrong” in one way or another.  A silly example is driving… which lane do you prefer, what speed, what route?  How many of you have been driving and get criticized one way or the other?  Odds are you aren’t doing anything wrong, it is just different from your mate.

Do your best not to jump to negative conclusions regarding your partner.  Instead, it is best to get curious about why they acted they way they did or said what they did.  Automatically assuming the worst is an invitation for your partner to become instantly defensive and angry.  If you want your mate to meet you in the middle, this is a skill you need to master.

Happy couples will get curious before they get defensive.  Next time you find yourself in grid-lock, ask yourself if the other’s actions / beliefs / opinions are really wrong, or just legitimately different than yours.  This is where constructive compromise happens so both parties feel heard and understood.  

Please call me and I will give you all the knowledge I have on fighting fair.  I help couples navigate arguments daily, let me help you, too.

ARE WE FIXABLE or ARE WE F#%&ED???? – 4 things to remember!

In couples counseling, I hear these phrase frequently.

“Can you fix us?”

“Have you seen worse than us?”

“How F#%&ED are we?!?”

Here are 4 things to remember!

  • Nothing is broken.  Ok, yes you have lost trust, you have been unreasonable, etc…  But nobody is broken.  You have reached a new level in your relationship and we need to adjust the sails. This is about compromise, being honest with yourself and your partner, and making your wants and needs overt.  Expecting your partner to be psychic and figure out your needs isn’t going to happen.

  • Do you want to improve things or do you want to stay in power in your relationship? Often, when one partner has been in control and then they relinquish that stance by trying to be more compassionate/understanding/friendly, the other flies in for the coup.  We think this is a great position to occupy, but really it’s the opposite.  When you decide to take over as Captain instead of Teammate, you are making a decision to stay in turmoil.  I totally understand when you have felt so beneath somebody for so long why you would take on the power position, however, the truth is that it just doesn’t serve you.

  • You are only as F#%&ED as you think and act. Couples in my practice who jump in with both feet, who do the work and follow the path set in front of them make huge strides.  Remember that it took you a long time to get to where you are, you need time to back out of that space and make room for a new and improved relationship.  You need very specific tools to rebuild what has been shaken.

  • Are you committed to doing YOUR part to change the way YOU react and engage? If you are able to focus on how you react and engage, you will be far more successful in your relationship compared to others who wait for their partners to change.  You know the saying “be the change you want to see in the world”?  The same holds true in your relationship.

If any of this rings a bell and you would like to make changes or improvements in your relationship, please get in touch.  Rebuilding your relationship – believe it or not – doesn’t have to be a nightmare.  I make a point of bringing levity into sessions, you don’t have to cry your way into happiness. Call today to set up a couples counseling appointment in Denver!

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!


20 Reasons to Consider Couples Counseling

Are you considering couples counseling for yourself and your partner? Looking for help is the first step. Here are 20 reasons to consider couples counseling:

  • You keep thinking to yourself that you and your spouse / partner aren’t communicating well. I give you the EXACT couples counseling exercises and techniques you need in order to express yourself effectively.

  • You keep having the same arguments over and over. In couples counseling, we will figure out what habits are sabotaging your efforts and why you aren’t getting your needs met.

  • You can’t remember what the arguing was about in the first place. It started as a complaint about a dirty table and ended up about how you feel totally disrespected!  In this part of couples therapy, we will uncover what your underlying needs are and how you are contributing to the cycle of fighting.

  • You can’t figure out how to phrase something so that the other person can actually hear it, you don’t feel heard. If this is during an argument, it is likely that you are trying to persuade your partner that you are right.  In couples therapy we will explore why this hardly ever works and tell you what you need to do instead.

  • You feel like you walk on egg shells all the time. Couples therapy will help you stand up for yourself effectively while not putting the other person down so they can have an open mind about your point of view.

  • You are constantly wondering if you are living up to their expectations. You don’t have to live up to their expectations!  Those expectations belong to them, not you.

  • You feel like a crappy mom / wife / husband – so much guilt around not being good enough. We will explore why you are good enough right now and how you can feel even better.  You ARE enough.

  • You are wondering where the passion went! This is retrievable, you have to make the time and commitment!  You need to plan, to pay attention and to be active in your relationship.  I will also give you homework assignments to help with the awkwardness!

  • You are having better conversations with friends and coworkers than your spouse / partner. Couples counseling shows you how to reignite that spark and to avoid the temptation of doing it with somebody else.

  • You are avoiding going home because home is actually lonely even though somebody else is in the house. I will show you how to gently reintroduce conversation into the relationship that is completely gentle and reengaging – oh and it’s fun.

  • You need to figure out how to have boundaries in your relationship. Don’t be a doormat and let people walk all over you!

  • You feel bad about getting angry. Anger sets a boundary – couples counseling will show you why this emotion is KEY!

  • Baggage! We all have it.  Couples therapy will show you how to unpack that baggage and leave it in the dust.

  • Only 25% of couples know how to fight fair. Most of us, 75%, are royally screwing this up and were never given the tools we need.  Couples therapy with me will show you the 12 skills you need to join the ranks of the successful couples.

  • There are 4 nails in the coffin for relationships. Defensiveness, contempt, criticism and stonewalling…but one is the deadliest.  Couples counseling will show you how to avoid these relationship killers and give you the antidotes.

  • Most couples don’t realize that their nervous systems are soothed in often opposite ways. What makes one person feel good brings out anxiety in the other.  Couples counseling gives you ways to maintain emotional stability when those anxiety producing moments pop up.

  • We often feel we’re made to be wrong in situations when our partners don’t agree with us. We aren’t wrong, we just have a different viewpoint.  Couples counseling shows you how to react effectively when you feel blamed or when your partner believes you are more to blame.

  • Affairs – this is a biggie. Yes – you can move beyond it.   Yes – you can heal from it.

  • There are 9 emotional habits that will never serve you in a relationship. With over 40 years of research from the top minds in the field, I will show you the 9 habits that you need to say bye-bye to and which habits you want to embrace.

  • Couples therapy can be FUN! Sure there are tough times, but let’s get you back to the place you want to be and to bring the joy back into your relationship.  I give homework and readings to every couple I work with.  These are fun, ego-boosting assignments meant to exercise and build your emotional muscle.

If any of these reasons sound like a good idea to you to consider couple counseling, please call me to set up a first appointment.  Couples counseling and relationship therapy should never be a scary or blaming place.  With me, it is a place to gather all the tools and skills you need to be a member of that 25% that does it right.  Anybody can join that group! Let’s talk 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.


Anatomy of an Argument: Step 1 - When Arguing, First Focus on *Your Own* Reactions

Couples naturally argue and disagree over almost anything you can imagine.

Fighting with your spouse or significant other can be healthy in that you are standing up for yourself and letting your feelings and intentions be known. You are telling your views and opinions. That’s great!  But are you doing this effectively?  In a series of posts I am writing, we will look at the anatomy of an effective and appropriate fight.  In this first post, we dissect why the first step in arguing effectively is focusing on your own reactions.

When we get into an argument, we are presenting our case for why the other person should come over to our side and our way of thinking…because we are more right, right?  WRONG.  In all likelihood, the other person’s opinions and beliefs are just as valid as yours.  HUH?  Yep, if you take a step back and really think about it, they just have a different viewpoint than yours.  You might not like or agree with that viewpoint, but it isn’t necessarily wrong.  Right?  People show up in the world in all sorts of different ways and you can’t make somebody wrong because they disagree with you.  The only thing you accomplish is that both of you will end up digging your heels in deeper. You each get more and more defensive.  When we get defensive, we slip into our bad habits and then we are off and running.

The first step in a successful disagreement is to focus on your own reactions.  If you can do this, you will automatically help manage the other person.  If you come out with guns blazing, you are instantly pushing all the buttons of the other person.  Their defenses will naturally go up and you have now created the perfect storm.  Want to know a better way?

In order to get somebody to listen to your opinion, you need to make sure you are acting in ways that are optimal for this to happen.  You want to get your way, right?  You must make sure you are coming to the table as calm as you can be with a tone and facial expression that isn’t off-putting. If you don’t, good luck.  Take a few minutes prior to engaging and take a few deep breaths.  Tell yourself that you are going to engage in this process in a calm and collected way.  You have valid points and the other person probably has some, too.  If you head into the conversation with an all-or-nothing-your-way-only attitude, they will sense this immediately and nobody will get their needs met.  Make it easy for your spouse or partner to give you exactly what you want!

Always remember that if you manage yourself, you manage the other.  In the next post we will explore how to avoid a judgmental attitude, the second habit that all successful couples have in their back pocket.

Here’s to fighting effectively!  Please call me and I will give you all the knowledge I have on fighting fair.  I help couples navigate arguments daily, let me help you, too.

Men and Machismo and Therapy, Men LOVE Therapy

Calling all Machismo...Listen up

I have this fantastic pair I am working with in couples therapy.  These two – in the beginning – and I am NOT exaggerating, could hardly say one sentence without the other one jumping all over them.  True story.

Today they are in session and he is telling me how mortified he was coming into my office for the first session.  To him, it meant failure and he (and I quote) “doesn’t fail”.  This is a guy who wakes up every morning and declares himself a winner in the mirror ( I LOVE THIS!!!).  He’s a very successful businessman who I imagine is definitely in charge at work and his tone is BIG.  She is soft spoken and had trouble standing up for herself because she put everybody else first.  She is certainly not a pushover, rather a care-taker who put herself and her spouse second or third on the list of importance.  They each had their faults.  While I was definitely concerned about these two, I also saw the passion that they have for each other, their careers and those they love.  Even when they were seriously pissed off at each other, they were holding hands.  It was sort of like, I am so pissed off at you and terrified of losing you at the same time… so don’t let go.

As for the “failure”, now he “loves” coming in and talking and these two are doing fantastic.  I felt like I really pushed both of them during one of our sessions and I seriously wondered if they would be back.  I wondered about these two all week long.

Hooray!  Each one stepped up in a way they had never done before.  Both gave something that they were terrified of giving.  Once they gave, the other softened.  They each now had some really good faith that the other was all-in, no going back.  That’s all they needed was to know that 100% the other wasn’t taking off and that they were secure with each other.

They have civil arguments now, they each know their growing edges and where they still need to do the work.  She brings in the couples manual every week and shows where she has fallen short and where her work is still in progress.  I love this story because I have only seen them XX times.  Therapy doesn’t have to be some year-long process.  When you commit and dig in you are in control.  I want you to be in control and I want you to get your power back.

Let me help you get the control back in your relationship, for each of you, asap.  You can come in by yourself or with a partner.   Why won’t many men come in for therapy? Because they feel like they have failed. Failure is NOT coming in, so be a winner 😉 Call me asap

Couples therapy is a winner’s game.