Probably the most useful experience that we can share with other couples is the tools and processes that we have found work best for us. Whilst every relationship has its individual needs and quirks there are some general processes that seem to help pretty well everyone. The trick is to start using whatever tools you choose as a couple before things get so bad that you argue even about how to approach the issues between you.
There are two broad categories of tools that we have found useful.
The first is a number of communication structures that we use in two ways. We use structured communication on a regular basis because we find that we understand each other better as a result – and have much better contact. As a result we avoid many misunderstandings and arguments. The other time that we use the communication tools is when we are in an argument that is getting worse as we talk. Under these conditions the tools enable us to hear each other better. Arguments that become worse generally do so because we are hearing less and less of what the other is saying. Tools in the communication category include Dyads, Relating Dyad, Joint Reality and Active Listening.
When we facilitated couples groups we always ended up helping participants to communicate clearly. Most importantly we taught people to make ‘I’ statements rather than ‘you’ statements. Saying to your partner ‘You aren’t considering me” will be resisted because it is blaming them for something that they may not be intending. In contrast the statement “I do not feel considered” is more likely to be heard, and may even modify the other person’s behaviour (especially if they were not intending to ignore). Making ‘I’ statements always improves communication and mutual understanding; making ‘you’ statements usually increases the misunderstanding and what is being argued about. So whenever you are using a communication exercise, always aim to make ‘I’ statements.
The second set of tools are the personal processes we use to uncover what we have contributed to the disagreement – and what we can do to rectify this. The main tools in this category are Criticalness Exercise, Wise Man fantasy, Negotiations, Immunity to Change and Joint Reality. Of these the criticalness exercise is the most powerful – mainly because it directly illuminates the aspect of your unconscious that you are unwilling to look at! In the past we have used cathartic processes, but have not needed these for some time, but if a person has a historical burden of unexpressed feelings they are essential.
In addition to the tools we both have regular meditation practices. The golden rule for meditation is that the more stressed you feel the longer you need to meditate.