19 Jan How’s Your Couple Hygiene? By Elana Clark-Faler, LCSW
According to the American Psychological Association (https://www.apa.org/topics/divorce/) 40 to 50 percent of United States married couples divorce. Many couples enter marriage with the greatest intentions, but fail to obtain knowledge and skills to maintain and improve their relationship over time. In fact, according to Nicole Weaver, who conducted a 2000 person survey from YourTango.com, found 50 percent of divorcees regret ending their marriage. 54 percent had second thoughts and 42 percent considered giving their relationship another try (https://psychcentral.com/blog/5-divorce-facts-that-might-change-your-idea-of-splitting-up/).
Many couples enter therapy as a last resort, versus coming to therapy as a way to tune-up. I hope you visit your dentist on a regular basis. You brush your teeth after every meal. You go to sleep and floss regularly, right? You see your dentist every 6 months for a cleaning and receive an examination. This is a good oral hygiene regime. The likelihood of cavities and destruction to the teeth will be quite minimal. This is an opportunity for you and your dentist to discuss changes you can make to your daily habits and behaviors. It’s clear, if you don’t take care of your teeth (good oral hygiene), you will suffer the consequences. It’s similar to couples hygiene.
It’s important to look at the relationship as a system. If one part is struggling with problems, it affects the rest of the system. It can manifest as a decay or even a poison that is flooding the system. You don’t want it to get that far. And if you are experiencing decay, it’s time to see therapist and get back on track. Then it will be up to you to get into a regular daily discipline to care for your relationship and ward against decay. An example of good couple hygiene can look like the following:
Both individuals are caring for themselves. They both have routines and rituals to support health. This means a daily practice that increases self-awareness, responsibility, physical exercise, discipline and doing things you enjoy that bring joy to your life. I give specific examples and practices to assist you with your individual disciplines that support you, and your relationship. The couple is participating in activities together also. These activities can include conscious communication, exercises together, disciplines, taking personal responsibility, and activities that bring joy and closeness, and (of course) a rich sex life.
A relationship system goes through different waves of evolution over a period of time, just like an individual. You can evaluate how it’s growing periodically, just like that 6 month check-up with your dentist. The system has three parts: you, me and we. How are you (both) doing with the I? And how are we doing with the “we”? We start by assessing each part of the system. It’s important to take care of yourself first. You may have been told taking care of the self is selfish, it’s quite the contrary. It’s important to have our routines of self-care. These are moments of self-love. And it’s important to also attend to the relationship in a similar way, by caring for it.
The “I” must get time, exercise, connection (physical and emotional), sleep, healthy food, water, and safety. The relationship has needs too. This is how I came up with the Four T’s: Time, Talk, Touch and Trust. I use this rubric to evaluate a couples hygiene. I believe you can use these same T’s to measure your relationship and evaluate your couple hygiene. I offer clients tangible skills to address and improve each “T”. Then it’s up to you to practice, and keep up with your hygiene.
I do think it’s important to see a skilled couples therapist periodically throughout your relationship to aid in tune-ups, just like a cleaning if you were to see a dentist. Unfortunately, most couples that come to see me aren’t coming in for a tune-up, they are often experiencing a decay or a poison that has infected their relationship for quite awhile. It’s like coming in for a root canal. You don’t enjoy the process and it’s painful. We will get to the heart of the decay and repair the damage. It’s up to the individuals in the coupleship to keep-up the overall health of the relationship through various practices and disciplines. When you get into good daily habits and get regular tune-ups it’s easier to get back on track, avoiding any possible decay or infection. It’s like cleaning off the plaque and polishing things up.
I believe you have the capability to heal yourself through conscious connections with your closest relationships. Your primary relationship is where you can receive an emotional corrective experience. It’s powerful (for me) to see a couple agree to be a safe and secure place for each other, and continue to find adventure and romance together. Yes, it’s totally possible. I want to instill hope to couples everywhere struggling.
By Elana Clark-Faler, LCSW, CST, CSAT, CGP