Interviewer: Unhappy marriages seem to be the norm now. Are they any suggestions for couples that you feel would be helpful? I know you have spent 30 years counseling couples.
Greg: If they can get more aware of when they’re giving meaning to what their partner is doing or not doing.
Interviewer: What would be an example of that?
Greg: One partner says, “They’re disrespecting me.” That’s the meaning you are giving what your partner did. Then you get the matching feeling of anger and then you get a drama and an unhappy marriage.
Interviewer: How can they catch themselves when they are doing that?
Greg: Using your feelings as a resource. If you get angry, that’s an alert you gave meaning to what they did. Then you want to question your perceptive: “Is there any other way I can look at what they did?” Or you can step back from those angry thoughts and create some space for wisdom to flow in and create some understanding.
Interviewer: We are essentially making the meaning up?
Greg: More than you can imagine. When you’re in a marriage you are not really in a relationship with that person – you are in a relationship with your thoughts about that person. Another way of saying that is, whatever “meaning” you give that person’s actions or non-actions is in fact the relationship. Literally!
Interviewer: That’ wild but I get it!
Greg: If you can get more aware of when you are making that “meaning” up you will avoid an unhappy marriage. It’s totally innocent. People feel they’re right when they think, “they’re trying to piss me off!” They are convinced that’s true. But we are making it all up in our head!
Interviewer: When you work with couples in an unhappy marriage, do they hear this and change?
Greg: A majority do because its just make sense to them. Teaching them this truth is so much more productive and impactful than diving into all the details of a 20 year marriage. At least that’s been my experience on the ground for all these years.
Interviewer: It almost sounds like your a relationship coach.
Greg: Sure, why not!
Interviewer: Is there a specific way you help them with getting of aware of this?
Greg: I encourage them to use their negative feelings to alert them that they are probably “giving meaning” to what their partner just did. For example if you feel “anger” and then say: “Well, it’s obvious you don’t care about me!” Question that perspective because you’re “angry.” Stop speaking from it or throwing up over your partner with it!
Interviewer: Then how do they get settled down?
Greg: Take a breath, step back, create some space. Allow your innate wisdom to flow up some helpful thinking. Your wisdom is always there to help. Wisdom loves space.
Interviewer: Your saying to use anger as way to know you’re not seeing clearly?
Greg: That is exactly right. When you’re angry, you’re dumb! Time to take a nap!
Interviewer: What would be immediately helpful in any marriage? Even if they don’t have major relationship problems?
Greg: To understand that you and your partner are going to be in separate realities sometimes and it’s okay. If folks do that, you will see more healthy marriages in the long term.
Interviewer: Meaning you are going to see things differently?
Greg: Yes. And you don’t want to give this meaning. It doesn’t mean you aren’t suppose to be together or their problems in your marriage. Being in separate realities is going to be part of any relationship and accepting that can be powerful and create a happy marriage.
Interviewer: How does a couple navigate through those moments, when they have a rough patch?
Greg: Instead of being in what I call, “disagreement-listening” or “defensive-listening” you want to get curious about why your partner’s perception makes sense to them. Can you see the thread of truth or agreement in what they are saying, can you find more information about their perspective. In short, letting go of ego in your listening. Here is an example:
Wife: Sweetie, I don’t feel you are acknowledging me.
Husband: But I don’t feel I am acknowledging you.
Me: Brother, you just didn’t acknowledge that she doesn’t feel acknowledged!
Greg: This couple is in separate realities. She doesn’t feel acknowledged but he feels he is acknowledging her.
Interviewer: What’s the best move for him when his wife says that?
Greg: To get curious why she feels that way. No one is right or wrong. We experience our partner through our thinking. And for her to get curious why he feels that he is acknowledging her. We all have different thinking and thus different realities – it’s NOT personal!
Interviewer: I’m getting this for my own marriage!
Greg: Cool! Blaming your partner for your feelings is a strategy for an unhappy marriage. Here is what’s possible when we can respect our partner’s point of view even though it’s the opposite of ours – a deep rich feeling of generosity of spirit and understanding – we could say this represents maturity.
Interviewer: What about the classic things that traditional couple counselors talk about like, date night, holding hands, spending time together, increasing physical affection not just sex?
Greg: I think they are all good ideas but the counselors that teach those things have a very low success rate from what I understand. So of course you have to ask why those suggestions aren’t working.
Interviewer: Why do you think?
Greg: I think a lot of couples are looking for something tangible “to do” to fix the problem and all those suggestions are concrete — if you know what I mean.
Interviewer: Yes, it gives them something to do.
Greg: I think its more impactful to teach them “how” they experience each other which is through their own thinking. They are one hundred percent responsible for how they experience their partner. If a couple gets even a small insight about that, they are going to have a beautiful marriage.
Gregory Drambour is the owner of Sedona Sacred Journeys and considered one of the top Couples Counselors in North America. He is the author of three books on practical spirituality.
Check out my blog post: Online Marriage Counseling
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