Couples Counseling Secrets - 10 Ways to Improve Your Relationship

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    Don't do this, don't do that -- don't, don't, don't can be a common theme when getting relationship advice. This can be one of the reasons people, especially men, are resistant to couples counseling.

    “Don't nag. Don't stonewall. Don't blame. Don't leave the toilet seat up, don't squeeze the toothpaste tube from the middle, and definitely don't assume he's that into you when he's just not. Well, don't listen," says an article in Psychology Today magazine.

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    "The happiest couples focus on do's, not don'ts." Rather than just steering clear of negative interactions, they actively work to build positivity into their relationships. They show what psychologists call an 'approach orientation,' moving toward what's good, rather than moving away from what's bad," reports Darby Saxbe, a researcher at the University of Southern California.

    More “Dos” Can Improve Your Relationship

    It’s natural when feeling frustrated with your partner to focus on their behavior that’s upsetting you. You may instinctively blame them for the problems that you’re experiencing as a couple and want, even expect, that they change. As a result, many people often become critical of their partner and resort to negative language to initiate a change. This usually doesn’t work well, however.

    The truth is that any problems you’re having are a result of behavior on the part of each of you, and you both will need to make changes. Accepting that and working together can be difficult for some couples though. So how do you change that? By building an environment of positive connection between the two of you.

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    In her article 10 Ways to Perk Up a Relationship, Darby Saxbe makes the following suggestions of things to do, many of which I recommend to partners in couples counseling. These tips can make a big difference in the level of positive communication in a relationship and feelings of connection between partners.

    • Be Grateful. Remembering to thank your partner seems simple, but gratitude may provide the everyday dose of spackle that keeps you glued together over the long haul.
    • Poke Fun at Each Other. Playfulness is one of the first casualties of a busy life says Dacher Keltner, author of "Born to Be Good." "You have to keep it alive by having fun, joking around, using silly nicknames."
    • Capitalize on Good News. Partners who respond enthusiastically to each other's successes - asking questions, paying compliments, and cheering each other on - report greater relationship satisfaction over time, says researcher Shelly Gable.
    • Use Your Illusions. Partners who idealize each other wind up happier (read why).
    • Find Your Ideal Self - In Your Partner.
    • Notice What's New About Your Partner. Letting your partner surprise you is vital to sustaining excitement in your relationship. But in order to be surprised, you first have to pay attention.
    • Put It In Writing.
    • Provide Support in Secret. Find subtle ways to make your partner's life easier: Stock the fridge with a favorite drink or straighten up a cluttered work space.
    • Get Back In Touch.
    • Look After Yourself.

    The Difference Positive Communication Can Make

    We’re all familiar with the golden rule – “do unto others as you would have done to you.” We also need to understand that the only behavior we can actually control is our own. So when your partner is behaving poorly, controlling how you react is the only thing you can do. Your reaction to their behavior can be the pivotal point in their openness to hearing your message.

    It’s amazing what an impact the smallest gestures can have. Especially if they’re done with a positive approach. So what’s the biggest secret in couples counseling? Well, it’s not much of a secret at all. Positive communication works a lot better than negative. It may not fix all of the problems you’re facing, but it’ll make working through them much easier and more productive.

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    Give yourself a challenge to test out a couple of these suggestions for a week or two. See how the atmosphere between you and your partner changes, especially regarding things that bother each of you. The way to improve your relationship is with effort like this, and setting small, achievable goals like this one is what we do in couples counseling.

    Editor's Note: This post was originally published Nov 7, 2009. It has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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