Becoming the Change You Want to See in Your Marriage

“When you make another suffer, he will try to find relief by making you suffer more.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

Do you see that handsome devil over there to left? Yeah, I know, he looks a little like he might be able to kill you with his Jedi mind tricks. Shoot, if I was going to put my money on someone who actually does have Jedi mind tricks, it would be that guy. Let’s all be really still and       back away slowly…

Just kidding. This is Thich Nhat Hanh. He is a Vietnamese buddhist monk who among other things, was nominated by Martin Luther King Jr. for a Nobel Peace prize for his work in non-violent civil disobedience. So, I think if anyone was going to know a few things about feeling justifiably upset and finding a constructive way to channel it, Thich Nhat Hanh wins.

I think often of my buddhist friend as I go into session with couples who are staging bloody rebellions within their own relationships. When the stakes are so high, the bitterness can grow exponentially. But, it doesn’t have to do that. You can relate to those with whom you disagree with kindness. Yes, even that fool you’re married to who left his or her socks on the floor for the 45th time this week. Thich Nhat Hanh says that the real antidote for anger is compassion. And I for one, think he’s right.

In my work as a couples therapist I always have the distinct pleasure of being obliged to see both sides of a story. Rather than viewing arguments as cause and effect, I see the troubles couples endure as circular. Each reaction begs the other, and when there are no changes in the cycle it begins to escalate out of control. So, it’s more important than nearly anything else to inject a difference into the loop somewhere. It sounds good, sure, but you must be wondering how to do something that lofty. What if you’re not feeling particularly compassionate? Where should you start?

1) Getting clear: When couples come to see me, they are usually fighting about fighting. That’s right, I said it. They have lost all sight of the original issues in a more meaningful way, and become fixated on the deficits in the communication. This back biting about one’s partner’s sparring technique leaves very little room for working on the underlying issues. Actually, it’s the easy way out. Most couples fight about fighting so that they can back away from more important things like feeling afraid, vulnerable, betrayed or unloved. Next time you start to have a rock-’em-sock-’em moment with your partner, take a step back and try to imagine why your partner might be feeling defensive. What more fragile emotion might this be covering? Does thinking about that more vulnerable emotion help you slow down and ask better questions?

2) You’re Always ____: If you want a really quick way to tick off just about every person I can think of, it’s to totalize their entire existence into a few catch words. Couples that live together get a good feel for the other person. The other thing we get crafty at quickly is developing a sort of relationship short-hand about one another. This sounds something like, “You always ____” or “You never___.” In all honesty, you probably know what you’re talking about when you note that your partner mostly does things in a certain way. But it isn’t helpful to lead your partner to believe that he or she is the sum total of a behavior or attitude you don’t like. Can you find evidence to the contrary? Can you present those differences in a way that inspire collaboration rather than defensiveness? Thich Nhat Hanh would be proud!

3) Can’t sit here: (Please say that in the Forrest Gump movie voice.) Many couples want to avoid issues that are disturbing. However, if this is the sort of on-going trouble that is getting you back up to fighting about fighting because you don’t want to touch it with a 10-foot pole, you need to address it. Some issues continue to surface because they speak volumes about how the couple supports one another and negotiates conflict with kindness. What is the worst thing that could happen if you bring out the issues that petrify you the most? What is the best thing that could happen?

Do you need a consultation about how to get your relationship back on track? Why don’t you give me a call so that we can build a plan for you today.

Your Partner in Healing,

Are you looking for individual, couples or group therapy in Raleigh? Call me today to schedule a FREE 30-minute consultation to learn how counseling can help you. Please contact me at (919) 714-7455 or email me at Visit me on the web at or:

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