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Step 1: Change the Focus

Reframe the conversation away from being about what your spouse is or isn’t doing to thinking about your relationship together. Marriage is about the bond. Focus on your connection and NOT on what each of you are getting or not getting from the relationship. What do you want your relationship to look like in five years? This will allow you to focus on the future and a solution that you both can work towards together.

Create Positive Interactions. It’s much easier to focus on the positive than to work through all the negative. Sometimes, though, focusing on positive interactions is very difficult for some couples. They are so lost in their hurt that they have a hard time thinking about anything else.

Questions to ask:

What will build your bond vs. what will tear it down?

What do you do that improves your bond?

What do you do that tears down your bond?

What will be the impact to your bond if you continue in these behaviors?

What are you willing to do to improve? (Focus on the “I” statements)

Step 2: Increase Validation

Couples often struggle because they don’t communicate well. They revert to poor communication skills. Increase your validation. Once you are able to better validate one another, you will be able to decrease poor communication skills.

Validation decreases poor communication. To really understand each other, you need to uncover emotional needs. Listen for thoughts and feelings. As a couple focuses on emotional needs, it reduces poor communication behaviors such as, criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. Validating each other helps to connect at a deeper level.

Questions to ask:

What has happened in the past when you share your feelings?

What prevents you from sharing your feelings?

What behaviors tear down your understanding?

How does feeling validated and understood impact your relationship?

What do you need from your spouse to validate you?

Step 3: Recognize Emotional Triggers.

Emotional Triggers are what frequently fuels many of our conflicts. Our spouse may say something and it triggers an insecurity inside that causes us to react. That in turn causes our spouse to get triggered by something else and things continue to escalate. Communication skills are important, but you’ll never get to some of the true issues until you get to the emotional triggers. Understanding those filters make it easier to be compassionate and to have empathy for your partner.

Messages from your childhood. Messages from our childhood influence how we think and feel. For example; If your father left when you were young, you might be afraid of rejection. If you feel rejected by your spouse, it would trigger all the feelings from your childhood.

Questions to ask:

What filters do you have that are causing emotional triggers?

What would help you to feel safer with your spouse?

How do you react when your spouse expresses emotions?

Do you resort to logic to calm emotional encounters?

What’s the impact on your spouse?

Step 4: Identify Conflict Patterns.

It’s tempting to think of managing conflict is just a need for better negotiation. Conflict is not usually about solving the problem, it’s about how you treat one another. Couples often fall into conflict patterns. It can look like this: He: criticizes, She: Defends. He: Criticizes again, She: Counter-criticizes. He: Defends, She: Stonewalls.

Choose Different Patterns When couples recognize their patterns, they can choose different patterns and different reactions. Once they can recognize their pattern that is causing them to escalate or to disconnect, they can make different choices. Pick out a conflict that is not emotionally charged.

Questions to Reflect On:

What were you feeling when it happened?

Were you feeling rejected, attacked, or abandoned?

Did it trigger a deeper emotion or filter?

How could you change the pattern to address each person’s emotional needs?

What does conflict look like in your relationship?

Do you have behaviors that aren’t healthy?

What is the impact of those behaviors?

Are there other behaviors that you like and dislike?

How do you think that you contribute to this pattern?

How does your pattern affect your marriage relationship?

What’s the consequence of that?

What do you need from your spouse to stay engaged?

Step 5: Process Resentment.

At the core of resentment is not being to forgive. We hold the hurts and pains internally and then they suddenly pop up again and impact our current relationship. Sometimes, resentment and unforgiveness build up over time. Address your anger and grieve. Forgiveness is a process. If people don’t deal with their pain, they risk being stuck either in bitterness and resentment or shutting down emotionally which leads to depression. Learn to express anger in a constructive way that enables you to process emotions and be able to heal from past hurts.

Questions to Reflect On:

How do you react when someone harms you?

How are you processing the hurt, anger, or resentment?

How is it impacting your life or relationship?

What would be the impact to your life if you could let go of the hurt?

In what ways do you see past offenses impacting over interpretations of events with your partner?

Step 6: Build Intimacy

Determine areas of interest. Three topics. Communication. Conflict management. Physical intimacy. The sex topic can be difficult for many couple to talk about.

Provide a safe environment. Areas of challenge include: Inviting God into the bedroom. Differing ways to be “in the mood”. Using sex to feel close vs. feeling close to have sex. Comfort in talking about sex. Frequency of sex.

Questions to ask:

Is there anything that you would change in your ability to talk to each other about physical intimacy?

What prevents you from sharing your likes and dislikes with your spouse?

What would make it easier to talk about what you like and dislike?

Is there anything you wish to change in the frequency of your love making?

How often do you feel under pressure to perform?