The following is an interview I recently gave with Esther Wachs Book who has created the App Splitscoop for people who are contemplating or undergoing the process of divorce.
If you are contemplating divorce, what should you consider in making your decision?
Consider if you’ve expressed your biggest frustrations with your partner in a way that they can really hear you? Consider if you’ve been open and curious about understanding your partner’s biggest frustrations with you? If not, then positive change is clearly not possible. Couples who divorce tend to handle conflict by either going into attack mode or avoiding conflict altogether by fleeing or shutting down. These ancient survival mechanisms are built into us and override our ability to think clearly, stay grounded or feel compassion. Don’t assume that your partner isn’t capable of hearing you until you’ve successfully heard them with an open heart and mind. Building skill and effectiveness in how you exchange your feelings and thoughts can change the climate in a relationship from cold and emotionally unsafe and to warm and emotionally comfortable.
How do you know you have a relationship that is worth saving?
An important way of knowing this is if you share future dreams. A powerful exercise that I do is called, “Wildest Dreams.” Couples arrive feeling stuck, negative, angry and hopeless. Asking them to share their wildest relationship dreams shifts them out of the “problem mindset” into the “possible mindset.” It’s like a relational re-boot. Often, couples are aligned in their dreams -even when their current reality seems very out of sync. If your big picture life dreams align, than the relationship needs support in realizing those dreams. If your big picture visions are out of sync, then all the work in the world might not help you save your relationship.
What are the qualities that make relationships successful?
Respect, trust and vitality.
Respect speaks to openness to our partner’s opinions, especially when they are different from our own. We are wired to feel threatened by difference. Successful couples have skill in staying open and curious to their partner’s differences. Anyone can develop this skill with enough practice-we are not born with it. Respect also speaks to honoring our partner for who they are-not who we want them to be.
Trust: The three most important questions that all mammals have in relationship are: Do you have my back? Am I your priority? Are you there for me? The family dog requires the same confirmation of our devotion every time we walk through the door. Why would we have less expectations about each other's devotion than what is expected of us by our four legged pals?
Vitality: Successful couples are like successful people. They are resilient and align with habits, experiences and activities which foster growth, wellness and aliveness.
Why do some couples not make it while others do?
Couples who view relationship issues as signs and signals that they need to stretch and grow rather than run, fight or hide. This requires courage, grit and determination to go into uncomfortable places. It also requires the qualities which I have already mentioned-respect, trust and a commitment to helping each other grow.
What can couples gain from therapy?
There are two levels of gain in couples therapy. The first level is giving the couple an opportunity to express deep needs, fears and longings in a way that both partners feel profoundly heard and respected. This sharing creates coherence in the couple's system which can propel a stuck couple into taking positve actions and making healthy decisions that are in the service of both individuals. The second level is teaching the couple how to create a safe space between them. This includes teaching skills on how to be fully present to each other; a skill that is greatly challenged by all of the distractions of today.
The work of becoming conscious and claiming the driver’s seat our lives and relationships can be very tricky to acheive without a skilled therapist to help navigate through this process. I highly recommend seeing a therapist who specializes in a couples therapy model such as: Imago Relationship Therapy, Emotionally Focused Therapy( EFT) or Encounter-centered Couples Therapy (EcCT).
What are your goals in working with couples?
My main goal is helping couples build the skill of creating a safe space between them in which they learn to be fully present to each other. Within that space of safety, they are able to do the deep work removing core blockages which have kept them stuck and disconnected. They develop effectiveness in syncing up to each other and as a result, they are able to make good decisions about the well being of each person and their relationship. That doesn't always mean staying together; getting clarity about this is key.