27 Mar Time, Talk, & Problem-Solving by Elana Clark-Faler, LCSW
Spending time with your partner is essential. The quality and quantity does matter. Your needs are different than any other person on this planet, including your partner. What your partner may need will be different than what you need. Each couple is unique and has different needs and requirements. So do your best not to compare yourself to other couples. Be clear about your personal needs, and have the ability to articulate these needs to your partner. Don’t assume your partner should know what you need or what’s important to you. Also, it’s important for your partner to inform you of their needs. Here are some general questions to assess your needs when it comes to time with your partner:
- When do I feel most connected to my partner
- What are the activities that cause me to feel close?
- What type of state or mood do I need to have my partner in order to feel connected?
- How many hours would I like to spend time with my partner during the week or a typical day?
- What most annoys me when we spend time together?
- Do I have rituals and routines with my partner? Do I enjoy these activities?
- Do we go on dates? Are these dates fun and adventurous?
- Do I know when I’ve spent too much time with my partner? Do we know how to take breaks to be independent without hurt feelings?
- Am I able to voice my need for individual time or couple time?
- Am I getting adequate time with my partner? If not, what is getting in the way?
- Do we spend too much time together? Why? Does this need to change?
- Do we get enough time for sex? What gets in the way?
- Do we have individual and mutual schedules? Do you communicate about your schedules and work together to have a well balanced life schedule? If not, what gets in the way? What are the problems?
- Am I efficient with time and use it wisely?
Communication skills are key for a couple. Communication skills are probably the number one reason couples seek counseling. A common complaint for couples is not being heard or validated. These individuals find themselves constantly getting into arguments about who is “right” or “wrong” in the situation. This means someone has to be the winner and the other, the loser. This is a disempowering conversation that leaves each person justified in their stance. However, each person is not getting their needs met. No one is getting validation or receiving empathy. This is what we are all looking for, to be understood. Someone that gets you. You often feel this in a new relationship, because you are in love. When you are in a state of limerence, you hang on every word of your lover. When you grow closer to someone and become domestic with them, you find they remind you of family. There is such familiarity that one feels they can say anything, including words that can be reckless and hurtful. I find it interesting that we can be very careful with the words we share with strangers, being careful not to offend. However with our partner, we feel we can say anything. This permission of carelessness can cause such pain in a relationship.
Not only is it important to be mindful of the words you use when speaking to your partner, it’s important to increase your emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of your emotions and effectively communicate them in a way that others can hear and understand. Emotional intelligence gives you the ability to recognize emotions in others and have the ability to validate and empathize with them. People who demonstrate emotional intelligence can be incredibly validating and supportive. They also use language that is thoughtful and respectful to others. I think it’s incredible to take emotions (which is energy surging through the body like a flood) and craft it into language that can be heard (like a flood through a straw). This art can be taught, and you can learn. Anyone can do it. The art of communication takes mindfulness (being aware), understanding the name and location of each feeling, the ability to regulate the emotion and use words that assist in being heard and understood by others. Selecting words that don’t have charge, words that are neutral and demonstrate personal responsibility. It’s important to take personal responsibility for your own thoughts, perceptions, emotions and behaviors. When you demonstrate personal responsibility in your language, your audience (partner) is less likely to become defensive or reactive. Your partner has the ability to hear you more effectively and this way your message doesn’t get lost.
After validating emotions, couples can easily problem-solve. Problem-solving has some key ingredients. The first is identifying the problem in a specific manner. You narrow down the problem by using behavior specific words. For example:
Problem 1: We need to select a vacation destination.
Problem 2: We need to purchase another vehicle.
Problem 3: We are struggling with communicating effectively and have difficulty solving problems.
After identifying the problem in a specific manner, you will brainstorm every option, including the “bad” idea options. After listing all your brainstorm options, go through the pros and cons of each item. Then ask yourself which options solve the problem. Ask yourself if you have the resources for each option. Doing this evaluation will narrow down your options. Select the best option, and carry out a plan to achieve your goal by breaking the goal into bitesize objectives. Problem-solving is quite easy. Emotions make problem-solving more challenging. I suggest regulating your emotions first by breathing. Once the emotion is regulated, then jump into problem-solving skills.