I have seen many couples who are in pain in their relationship. Many of them come for relationship coaching when they can no longer stand the pain. I have been in a relationship with my boyfriend/partner/father-of-my-children for 35 years and I have learned over time that couples can love each other very much but still be in this pain.
It is easy to take each other or the relationship for granted. The investment of energy we put into the beginning of this relationship (the chase) cannot continue with the same passion and effort forever, so we all ease the pressure of the hunt, which is natural and more sustainable, and sometimes we ease it too much.
The good news is that getting help is much better than not. Every year, I have more couples coming for relationship coaching. Every year, we hear about another couple we knew from our travels around the world who separated or divorced. Every year, our kids tell us about more friends whose parents divorced, and every year, another couple from our community is in some crisis and considering divorce.
Those people didn’t get help. At least not on time to sale their marriage. Do you know the phrase “seek and you shall find”? If they asked for help, they would have found it.
Those who did come for relationship coaching look for help because they still love each other and want their marriage to work. When both of them come with the desire to make their marriage work, it will work. Why? Because whether you think you can or think you can’t, you are always right, and they think they can.
Many of them search for quick fix and want to leave the session feeling fully in-love and without hurts and hard feelings, which never happens in the first session, though they leave with big hope because I give them emergency tools to manage the communication while allowing the pain to dissolve.
Understanding the primitive brain
When there are conflicts and hurt, it is usually because communication channels are not totally open. Think about it this way: when we are under threat, our primitive brain/reptile brain activates and we go into “fight or flight” mode. In any conflict between partners, you can see that one of them is in fight mode (or both), one is in flight mode (or both), or they alternate between them. Here is what every married couple must understand about the primitive brain:
- In the distant past, we had to use this part the brain when we saw a lion or a snake. Nowadays, we perceive many lions and snakes in words, gestures and facial expressions around us. We react to a real lion or snake in the same way we react to a perceived threat.
- When our primitive brain is activated for too long, we become more and more sensitive to perceived threats. Even a rope seems as dangerous as a lion.
- Fight or flight is the defense mechanism of the primitive brain. We can’t really control the reaction. Our brain reacts to threats so quickly that we have no time for reason. When you are in that state, you talk nonsense.
- When our primitive brain is engaged, it considers love, affection, creativity, caring, thinking, analyzing, partnership, friendship and kindness as weaknesses, so we never show these feelings and behaviors when we feel under threat.
My work focuses on helping married couples disengage their primitive brain and let other parts of their brain, those in charge of connection and communication, take over.
Relationship coaching “cheat sheet”
Here are my emergency relationship coaching tools. I promise you that they can help every couple (yes, every couple) fall in love again and that if you follow this emergency procedure, you will feel that this marriage is worth the energy and investment.
- Notice when you are in “fight or flight” and cut all communication. It is better not to communicate than to do it while in “fight or flight” mode. Every second you insist on communicating from your primitive brain, you reinforce the pain of the relationship. It sends a message to your brain that the connection with your partner is a threat. I call it “clean days”. You have to go through 21 clean days for this to work. If you have a conflict, start counting 21 clean days again.
- Count your blessings. Every day, write down 3 good things that happened to you in your relationship. This activity helps change your focus from what isn’t working in your marriage to what is working. Within 3 weeks, you will feel the difference. Here are some tips to make this activity extremely successful:
- Don’t just think it. Write it down!
- Make sure both of you are making an effort to do the activity, because the impact will be greater.
- Stick to it for at least 21 days in a row. If you’ve missed a day, start counting another 21 days. Once you complete 21 gratitude days, your marriage will be saved. You can start competition, to see who gets to 21.
- Share your happy list. Write down 100 things that make you happy and share your lists with each other. It is so easy to make each other happy by choosing ideas from their own list. Remember that it’s your own responsibility to be happy and your partner can only help you. Copy the list and put it in a visible place so both you and your partner can see it. Keep a record of the things you have done to make your partner happy and how well they have worked. This will gradually help you make up a list of things that work and things that work less.
- Watch your but! When in conflict, never use the word “but”. “But” is the conflict word and only throws people into “fight or flight”. In any relationship, especially in a marriage, this word is trouble. Count 21 days of “but-free” relationship. Again, you can use any technique that you can think of (penalty jar, rubber band) to pay attention to the times you do use “but” in your communication with your partner, and try to reach 21 but-free days in a row. By the way, the word to replace “but” with is “and.” Try it!
- Have a “date night” once a week. Just like you’ve made an effort to “chase” your partner before you got married, you need to start the chase again. Both partners need to make the commitment to a date night once a week, away from home, doing something fun or romantic and flirting. You have to do it for at least 6 weeks and alternate who is in charge of the date night. It is not healthy if one person is always initiating the date (babysitter and ideas and booking), so take turns. If it is not possible to go out one week, start counting again. 6 weeks in a row will bring you back up to speed on impressing each other and showing your love and respect to each other.
Here is my promise: if you follow this emergency procedure, you save your marriage, guarantee!
This post is part of the series Save Your Marriage:
- Self-Regulation in Your Marriage
- How to Save Yourself from Divorce
- Marriage and Divorce Statistics
- The Marriage Institution
- Marriage is the Foundation of Families
- The Unpleasant Side of Divorce
- How to Get Things Wrong in a Marriage
- Marriage and Self Talk
- More About Self Talk
- Facts vs. Meaning in Marriage
- All Men Are… All Women Are…
- When Two Do Not Become One
- Marriage and Money
- Be Your Partner’s Best Friend
- Relationship Between Two Onions
- The Greatest Gift: Staying Married
- Marriage of Singles
- The "Right" Trap
- The Intention Trap
- Best Marriage Quotes
- 10 Rules for Civilized Dialogue
- 10 Tips for Re-Building Trust
- The King and His Servants
- The Nitpicker
- Expressing Feelings in a Marriage
- Don’t Be On Guard
- Don’t Clam Up
- Have Good Sex to Save Your Marriage
- Trust (or The Boy Who Cried Wolf)
- Emergency Relationship Coaching Essentials
- Save Your Marriage with Better Time Management
- Choice Theory Can Save Your Marriage