Couples Therapy – Three Tips to Help Your Relationship Thrive

Like it or not, relationships experience conflicts and these conflicts generally fall into patterns. The goal of couples therapy is to change the negative patterns of relating you might have and help create the love you want. Couples therapy is a way to help you get there and has been found to be 75 percent effective in improving relationships.

We’ve put together some tips below that you can apply to your relationship right now to help your relationship thrive.

Motive Makes All The Difference in Daily Sacrifices

Candace and her husband John were discussing plans for Thanksgiving. Candace assumed they would be spending Thanksgiving with her family, as they usually do. But now, John suggests spending it with his side of the family for a change. Candace is not looking forward to the long hours of travel, but she understands that they do not get to see his parents often, who would really like to spend time with the grandchildren. So, to make her partner happy, Candace sacrifices her own preference and does what he wants instead.

Their neighbors Brianna and Jeff are discussing their plans for Thanksgiving, too. They usually celebrate it at her mother’s house. Jeff is not keen on seeing Brianna’s mother and casually suggests visiting his family for a change. He already starts to feel guilty because Jeff knows that Brianna is not happy about the idea, so he tells her he wasn’t really serious and they will, of course, go to her mother’s house as usual.

Relationships invariably lead to conflicts, which leads to partners having to make sacrifices. Both parties simply cannot get their way each time and one will have to yield to the wishes of the other on each occasion.

But how do these daily sacrifices affect each partner’s satisfaction with the relationship?

Turkish psychologist Nazli Kayabol and colleagues wanted to answer just that question. They recruited 110 heterosexual couples who were either married or in a long-term committed relationship. The couples were asked to log answers daily in a diary to a series of questions for a period of two weeks.

The researchers suggested that there were two types of motives for making a sacrifice that influenced each partner’s satisfaction with the relationship:

  • Approach Motive – choosing to sacrifice in ways that benefit the relationship. For example, giving in to make your partner happy or to balance out exchanges of sacrifices.
  • Avoidance Motive – choosing to act in ways that manage threats to the relationship. For example, giving in to your partner to avoid hurting their feelings or feeling guilty.

What Kayabol and colleagues found is that when a partner’s decision to sacrifice was based on the approach motive, both partners would experience an uptick in relationship satisfaction. In contrast, when a sacrifice was based on the avoidance motive, both partners felt less satisfied with their relationship.

From the person making the sacrifice’s point of view, if you give in to make your partner happy, you’re likely to feel good about yourself — you did something nice to improve the relationship. Conversely, if you gave in to avoid feeling guilty, you’re probably going to focus on what the sacrifice cost you — and this will likely make you feel bad. Your partner will sense your mood and respond accordingly. A positive boost in mood from an approach motive sacrifice will affect your partner in a positive way, while a negative impact on your mood from an avoidance motivated sacrifice will affect your partner in a negative way.

When you are making a sacrifice, be aware of what your motives are, so that your relationship will thrive, not languish.

Small Gestures of Affection Can Make a Big Impact

The emotional needs of each partner in a relationship can be vastly different. Sometimes, we take our partner’s love for granted, failing to exhibit those little signs of affection that used to be a common occurrence when you were first dating.

In 2001, psychologist Willard Harley identified the 10 most common emotional needs for those in a committed relationship. One of those common, yet critical, needs was the need for affection – receiving a hug, a “love you” note, a text greeting, a loving smile, holding hands.

According to a recent study by Sabrina Bierstetel of Wayne State University and Richard Slachter of the University of Georgia, even the slightest touch or smile could be enough to make positive impact on your partner.

Bierstetel’s and Slachter’s study examined the effects of small expressions of affection on levels of cortisol within the body. Cortisol is a hormone released in the bloodstream when you become stressed.

Over time, high levels of cortisol in the bloodstream have been linked to blood sugar imbalances, decreased bone density, decreases in muscle tissue, and memory issues. Expressions of frustration or anger can provoke spikes in this key indicator of the body’s level of stress.

Earlier research on couples has shown that when partners express warmth and affection toward each other, their cortisol levels subside. Taking a closer look at the effects of small expressions of affection on the levels of cortisol, Bierstetel’s and Slatcher’s work suggests that even behaviors like holding your partner’s hand may be enough to produce measurable health benefits. Big romantic gestures are not necessary to help ease your partner’s stress or to reduce the stress of a potential difference of opinion.

Showing that you care in small but important ways could help your relationship flourish.

When Silence Rules, Write a Letter

Sometimes a relationship deteriorates to a place where you withdraw into silence in an attempt to get out of harm’s way. Strong feelings of hurt are withheld and build up, causing an emotional constipation of sorts. When a relationship has broken down to this point, it might be best to write a letter to your partner.

The main purpose of writing a letter is to release the pent-up feelings and gain some relief from the intensity of the emotions. This letter may be one that you deliver to your significant other, or one that you keep for yourself. When you have had a chance to release the emotions by putting words down on paper, you will think more clearly and be able to determine if it is best to keep the letter or hand it off to your partner. If you chose to hand it off, you will want to write a revised, respectful version first – one that will bring the tension level down and bring the level of trust up.

The first version of the letter is for you. To truly be of benefit to you, you need to commit to being as honest with your emotions as you can be and tell yourself the truth. Write all of your feelings down: anger, hurt, victimization, disappointment, rage, betrayal, etc. Be specific about exactly why you are feeling so strongly in each emotion. Always start with anger in order to process it and get to the deeper emotions.

Don’t forget to examine the part you played in the breakdown as well. Seeing your complicity is an important part of the healing process. Seeing the part that you played will help the profound love you have for your partner surface, as well as your loving commitment to each other. This love will allow you to forgive yourself for the part you played and your partner for the part they played.

If you do decide to give your partner the letter, be sure to remove the sections filled with anger and blame, which will only inflame the situation. Sharing your vulnerable feelings expressed in love with your significant other will invite them to open up to you again and work towards speaking terms.

Many tips, like these listed above, can be learned and implemented in couples therapy. If you feel your relationship is not where you want it to be – either you have a relationship that is in crisis and needs immediate help, or you have a happy relationship that can be improved upon – seek out therapy and start the journey today.

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