Relationship work: problem of the assumptions of the couple

According to no less than an authority on romance than Walt Disney, one only needs to invoke the powers of a fairy godmother and search for a beautiful prince or princess to find the ideal relationship and live happily ever after. Unfortunately, this idea that one does not need to do anything to prepare for love except look for the pretty face of the ideal soulmate is not a very effective strategy for finding true love in the real world.

Regardless of the millions of singles who are pursuing this strategy through singles groups, bars, and the latest high-tech singles websites, the percentage of singles and those whose relationships are deeply unsatisfactory remains high. However, most of the people I have spoken to in the singles community are sure that simply persisting in their search will eventually bring them their perfect and beautiful soulmate. In my opinion, this is equivalent to stating that: “Why should I learn to operate a computer to be successful in the computer business? I don’t need it. Soon I will find the perfect computer for me and then … Move! above Bill Gates !! “

In stark contrast, those seekers I have worked with as clients and students who have dedicated their lives to preparing for true love have found this love very often and have maintained it for years. In the first two articles of this series we discussed the importance of partner selection and how to be effective partner selection in your search for love. In this article I will give some ideas on how you can become the loving partner who can keep the love you want. So when your search for a special partner brings you a partner, you can experience years of marital bliss.

Much of my work with couples and families is based on my own experiences, but among the many relationship experts I have studied, I believe that the work of John Gottman, based on more than ten years of observation and scientific research in his clinic of Seattle offers the richest resources in my experience to make relationships work. If you want your relationship to work, read her book, 7 Keys to an Effective Marriage. All I have to add about relationship skills is, in my opinion, a postscript to this work. Dr. Phil’s recent book on the subject is also solid gold.

In my work with couples, I have found that daily recognition of one another is a fundamental part of the glue that holds relationships together. This recognition may be purely verbal, but it is much more effective when combined with physical affection. Here are some examples of the type of recognition I am referring to.

“Thank you so much for doing the dishes again tonight. You are so sensitive to my needs.” (She hugs him from behind at the kitchen sink)

“It feels so good to know that I have someone in my life who really cares.” (Delivered with a warm hug)

“I heard that you are really angry about that. Thank you so much for sharing your feelings so clearly.” (Delivered with a warm smile)

“I love the way you hold me.”

Most of the couples I see in therapy are very busy doing the opposite of recognition, finding every opportunity to criticize each other, perhaps in the hope that enough criticism and shame can force the other person to become prince charming of their own. fantasies. Do these statements sound similar to the ones you have used? And have they been really effective in changing your partner’s habits … or your own?

“You have to stop leaving your clothes everywhere. Did they raise you in a barn?”

“I can’t believe you went back to work late … and on our anniversary. Obviously, you don’t care about me at all.”

“You’re spending too much again. Who do you think I am, Donald Trump?”

John Gottman describes criticism as one of the four horsemen who destroy marriages with brutal efficiency. I find this to be especially true when there is a dearth of recognition in the relationship. If recognition is used frequently in the relationship, it seems that criticism when it arises is much less harmful. Gottman suggests that instead of criticizing our partner, smearing his character with derogatory remarks like “lazy bum,” Gottman suggests that we complain. Just say what’s going on that I don’t like and need to see changed.

I think we can do even better if we present our complaint as a problem that we both have to solve and that we can solve by working together. I call this approach not complaining, but problem solving. It is unnecessary and indeed inflammatory to blame or insult someone when we want them to help us solve a problem. To get a flavor of this important distinction, look at the following statements, one a criticism and the second a problem to be solved.

Review: “Where did you learn to be so careless? Can’t you learn to get your things back?”

Trouble: “When I come home after a long and difficult day, I find it very difficult to deal with the clutter in the living room. My head hurts. How can we make the house a little tidier when I get home?”

Review: “I saw you looking at that waitress in the tight dress tonight. What the hell were you thinking? Are you plotting to cheat on me again? How could you be so insensitive to my feelings? You’re just an animal!”

Trouble: “I was very upset by the way you looked at that waitress. It made me very jealous and insecure, especially after that affair last year. Should I worry about you doing something with her? … What can we do about it? my feelings? “

Review: “So I guess you don’t believe in discipline. You let your daughter get away with this behavior now, she’ll be addicted to heroin when she’s 16!

Trouble: “I’m worried that if we don’t send a stronger message to her daughter, she might continue to use drugs. I’m worried that she might even become addicted to heroin. What do you think? … Here are some ideas. I have about this. .. “

Review: “You can’t keep spending on this frivolous garbage. We don’t have the money for every little trinket you want. You are not Paris Hilton.”

Trouble: “I’m concerned about all these charges on our credit card. We just don’t have the money to support this kind of expense. What should we do?”

Keep in mind that each of these two approaches to problems is based on a series of critical, but often unspoken, assumptions about the other person and the relationship. In the first case, these toxic assumptions, very common in dysfunctional relationships, include the following:

  • My partner is deliberately trying to hurt my feelings.
  • I will not be heard unless I embarrass my partner to listen and make it very ugly or very loud.
  • My partner is too stupid to solve these problems. I have to tell them how to do everything.
  • My partner doesn’t care about my feelings or needs
  • All men, or all women are like that, unfaithful, they don’t listen, they don’t care, etc. so I have to be on my guard at all times.

Of course, some of us have been in a relationship at one time or another when one or more of these assumptions (except the last one) can be proven to be quite accurate. When I found out that I was married to someone who actually didn’t care about my feelings and said it so often, I finally got the message and got out of there. If any of the above assumptions are proven to be correct, you shouldn’t waste time walking away from what is essentially an abusive relationship.

In most cases, however, I have found that these assumptions are not accurate at all, but are simply leftover subconscious programs about relationships that descend from the hell on earth that was our family of origin. If your father was carelessly unfaithful to your mother before running off with the secretary, your fears of your husband’s infidelity could easily become a major problem in your marriage, even if your husband is totally faithful. That is why my work with emotional cleansing, which is described on our website at, is critical. Sometimes just by providing such a client with the inner experience of yelling at her cheating parent with all her rage, then firing him and replacing him in her inner world with a new, faithful and loving parent, can she be psychologically prepared to trust a parent. man’s fidelity to her.

Take a few minutes to reexamine the hidden assumptions listed above. Listen deeply in your inner mind for any similar assumptions you have been carrying about your partner or love partners in general. Check them out with your partner, mutual friends, and perhaps a wise counselor who knows you both. Are these assumptions governing your relationship problems? If so, are they accurate? If they are accurate, demand that your partner change and be prepared to leave the relationship, because they probably won’t. If not, if in fact these assumptions fit your childhood or perhaps a previous marriage and are not true for your current partner, start making an effort to change these assumptions.

Here, a qualified hypnotherapist can be an essential part of your recovery. Also, in a relationship moving toward health, I find it valuable for both partners to make the following new assumptions, which I call “agreements” because they are beliefs that we consciously choose to accept. I encourage my clients to repeat them before confronting their partner with any serious complaints. This will make communication and problem solving much easier.

  • My partner loves me and wants my happiness. He’s not trying to hurt me.
  • My partner will listen and appreciate my feelings. I don’t need to yell or criticize to be heard.
  • My partner is smart, competent, and dedicated enough to help us solve this problem together.
  • My partner is not like other men (or women) who have hurt me before.
  • My partner is honest.
  • If my partner is distracted or unavailable now, it’s not about me.
  • Together we will find the time when we are both free to discuss this.

As we accept these new agreements, we will go from being a critic to being a problem solver and our relationship will be much more functional. Now reread the critique vs. troubleshooting above. Can you spot the underlying assumptions behind each communication? Are you ready to examine your own assumptions about your partner and accept some new agreements?

By the way, this process works for all family crises, including parent-child relationships. One customer informed me that his “scandalously rude daughter” had entered his room demanding a new high school computer. Her first reaction was to yell at her daughter that we couldn’t afford it and how could you be so selfish and demanding. In family therapy I pointed out to both of them that their daughter’s need for a new computer was probably legitimate. After all, he wasn’t demanding more money for crack cocaine. She was soon able to see her daughter’s need for a computer as a problem to be solved, rather than a personal attack on the family’s finances (note those hidden assumptions). Then he was able to reach an effective compromise with the help of his daughter.

One of the best ways to encourage this new way of relating is through frequent daily recognition outside of times of conflict. The more I reassure my partner and family in daily conversation (DO NOT wait until I am in crisis mode, or the recognition may seem like a trap for criticism) that I love her for all these wonderful reasons, the easier it will be for me. . Remember that I am not your father or your abusive ex-husband when I mention the difficult issues between us.

Good luck making your relationship more successful with these tools.