No relationship can work if partners are disrespecting each other. This shows in body language when a couple comes in with their arms crossed – forming a barrier against their partner, and a refusal to make eye-contact.
In a good relationship, when I talk to one partner, the other one listens respectfully, and may even join the conversation with positive comments. While in a bad relationship, when one person talks to me, the other one withdraws, looks away, and often makes faces or rolls their eyes to show disagreement. If they participate at all, it’s to contradict what their partner just said. They wouldn’t treat a stranger with the disrespect that they have for their partner.
When a couple first comes in for therapy, I sit back and watch how they interact with each other. While they are focused on telling me their story and the details of their fights, I’m much more interested in seeing the body language they use, the tone of voice, eye-contact or lack thereof, and the words they use to pick a fight. I usually only need one or two minutes to get the picture, but if I tell them that so soon, they don’t feel that I have listened or understand them, so I allow the conversation to continue for 15-20 minutes, or until they begin raising their voices and going into full fight mode. I don’t allow fighting in my therapy sessions. There is nothing productive or therapeutic in allowing a fight to take up valuable therapy time.
The first intervention I use is to change their body language. It’s much easier to change behavior than it is to change thoughts, but behavior and thoughts are connected to each other, so changing either one works to change both. That’s just how our brains work. Sometimes all it takes to begin a change is to get partners looking at each other. Couples newly in love spend a long time gazing into each other’s eyes at a distance of about a foot. When I ask couples to get close, uncross their arms and legs, remove the purse, suitcase or pillow that they have placed between themselves, and to look into each other’s eyes for four minutes (yes, I time it) positive changes begin to happen. I will tell you more about making positive changes in your relationship next week

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