It’s amazing how much couples’ counselling can be done when only one member of the couple shows up. Men and women come in feeling helpless because their partner won’t agree to counselling. Never fear, I tell them, because although it takes two to create an unhealthy dynamic, it can take only one to trigger change.
Think about the recurring arguments that occur in your house – over chores, parenting, money or sex. You can probably predict how the conversation will proceed before it even starts. That’s because we tend to keep dancing the same dance steps when it comes to arguments. If you were dancing the tango, and one of you were to change the steps, your partner would be confused at first, but they would quickly try to follow your lead. If you change the way you confront issues, your partner will be confused at first, but then they will probably try to follow your lead.
Here are some specific ways to break the unhealthy patterns:
- Be a sounding board, not an adviser – What do you think you should do?
- Give empathy before you launch into your defence – I know you hate it when I don’t come home on time, I’m so sorry.
- Try to see what’s behind the tone – You’re obviously very upset/angry. What’s going on?
- Express the confusion, hurt or fear underneath the anger – I’m sorry I snapped, I was feeling so hurt.
- Take time out if it’s getting heated and come back to it when you are ready to change the steps.