Relationships in Balance

At the risk of repeating myself, I believe that before you put a lot of time and energy into working on your relationships with others, it’s crucial to heal and balance Your Relationship With You. In my experience, it’s far more effective (and faster, more satisfying, and more encouraging) to find your own internal balance first. If we work together as coach and client, and you want to address frustrations and struggles you're having with another person, finding that internal balance is where we’ll start!

Having said that, once you have that information in place, and once you’ve learned how to recognize the gold mine of valuable “mirroring” information that people in your life can provide for you, there are certainly some additional relationship skills and concepts worth learning.

When I work with couples – or with anyone who wants to improve relationships with others – I think it’s important to look at two different sets of skills, one for addressing the challenges in relationships (communication skills, conflict resolution, etc.), and the other about how to focus on and build on the positives. I think both skill sets are crucial in happy, effective relationships.

Of all the tools I offer clients on the Basic Life Skills &Tools page, the ones I think are the most necessary and helpful in relationships are I statements, boundary setting, the drama triangle, and identifying what’s under anger. These tools offer a big picture view of how we understand ourselves and our emotions, and how we find and keep our personal power in relationships, along with the specific, step-by-step methods we can learn to use to get there.

I statements allow you to speak your truth in a non-judgmental way that’s respectful to everyone involved, including you. Boundary setting allows you to ask for what you need, and stay true to yourself no matter what the other person does. The drama triangle allows you to see the underlying patterns of power struggle in relationships, and identifying what’s under anger allows you to get unstuck emotionally and move forward.

Conflict Resolution

Another very helpful tool I teach clients for resolving conflict in any situation involves the concept of position vs. interest. Taking a position means adopting a stubborn, judgmental, black and white stance that says one person is right and the other is wrong, or focuses on what someone “should” think, feel, believe, or do. This is highly unproductive! Looking underneath position and focusing on the deeper interests of both parties is much more effective.

To give a very basic example, “We should go to my parents’ house for Christmas, because spending time with family at the holidays is the right thing to do,” and, “No, we should go on a Caribbean cruise for Christmas because we need to relax and get away from everything,” are position statements. It’s difficult to get beyond the deadlock of “should” and “right.”

On the other hand, “It’s important to me to feel connected with family during the holidays,” and “It’s important for me to have a chance to really relax and unwind during the holidays” are interest statements. A conversation focusing on those interests is much more likely to lead to a more loving, compassionate resolution that feels fair to both people. It may sound simplistic, but it works extremely well.

The Five Love Languages

For building on the positives in a relationship, which I believe is crucial and often overlooked, one of my favorite things to teach couples (or family members, co-workers, etc.) is the five love languages. A marriage counselor, Dr. Gary Chapman, identified five “love languages,” or five categories of things we say and do to show love to our spouse or partner, and that they do to show us love. He believes that most people have a “primary love language,” meaning that they feel the most loved when their partner says or does things from that category.

In improving a relationship, it’s valuable to identify your primary love language(s), and those of your partner. This can help clear up misunderstandings and resolve some arguments, and it saves a lot of time, energy, and hurt feelings. Most importantly, it helps fill up what Dr. Chapman calls your “love tank.” When your tank is full and you feel loved, you’re better equipped to deal with the everyday challenges of partnership, as well as the stresses of everyday life. The five love languages are:

Words of Affirmation: “I love you,” “You look great tonight,” “Thank you,” “I support you in this,” or anything else verbally expressing appreciation, love, support, or encouragement.

Quality Time: Time spent together without distractions, time spent being present with each other. It can include activities like walking, a quiet dinner, etc., as long as the focus is on each other and not on the activity.

Receiving Gifts: This is not necessarily about the amount of money spent. It could be a thoughtful card, your favorite juice from the grocery store, or a surprise weekend at your favorite inn. What’s important is that the person chose it specifically with you in mind.

Acts of Service: Dr. Chapman defines this language as “doing things you know your partner would like you to do.” This category includes mundane household chores, as well as things like being on time and following through. He says, “These things require thought, planning, time, effort, and energy. If done with a positive spirit, they are indeed expressions of love.”

Physical Touch: Hugs, holding hands, and other forms of affection. Physical touch can also include sexuality in the relationship, but it’s not only about sex. It’s about feeling emotionally connected or loved as part of the sexual relationship.

Learning the five love languages allows partners (or parents, siblings, etc.) to offer and receive love in specific ways that build on the positives. This keeps relationship coaching from being primarily focused on the challenges, problems, and other negatives – it helps balance things out in the bigger picture.

EFT for Relationships

Because relationships are often highly emotionally charged, EFT is a great tool for reducing that charge, preventing or diffusing arguments, helping people let go of “position” and focus on interests, and work out underlying fears, shame, frustration, and whatever else may be in the way of happy, effective relationships.

My favorite relationship work to do is with couples or any two people in a relationship who are both willing to learn and use EFT, at least during our sessions. The progress is swift, significant, and lasting, and cuts down the time and the number of sessions needed to work through difficulties and turn things around. Even if only one person is willing to learn EFT, the old cycle of arguments, patterns, and disagreements shifts and the dynamics between partners shifts more easily toward the positive.

How Can Coaching Help Me With This?

If you have relationship concerns, but haven’t taken steps yet to clean up your relationship with yourself, I can walk you through that process. Once you have a clear understanding of how that works, and you know what to do when your buttons get pushed in response to someone else’s behavior, I’d be happy to walk you through the next phase of learning, using, and fine tuning relationship skills.

Whether you come in on your own or with your partner, family member(s), or another significant person in your life, I can walk you through the process of learning and practicing skills that can bring out the best in you, in your relationships, and in everyone involved.

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