By: Rubin Khoddam Ph.D. | January 23, 2022
"Are you looking for some new techniques to strengthen your relationship? If you’re interested in integrative behavioral couples therapy (IBCT) but don’t seem to be able to fit it into your busy schedule, many couples are utilizing teletherapy as a simpler way to make time for their relationship. Scheduling a teletherapy session with an experienced therapist is convenient and can help you work through relationship issues, but why wait? Here are five tips to get started today.
1. Express Appreciation
Understanding what makes your partner feel the most appreciated is a step in the right direction. Over time, we may stop expressing appreciation in our relationships because what was once novel has become routine. Maybe resentments have built up over the years, or we assume our significant other already knows how we feel about them. But when we notice and appreciate the little things, people often go out of their way to be even more thoughtful. This doesn’t require big gestures, although it can. Often, simply acknowledging what other people do for us is enough to make any relationship warmer. In fact, I often encourage couples to end the day by listing at least three things they are grateful for from that day about their partner or even about the day itself. Knowing that you will have to express your appreciation for things at the end of the night will make you more mindful of things to appreciate during the day.
2. Practice Reflective Listening
Practice might not ever make perfect, but it sure helps. It’s common for people to mistakenly believe that if they withhold approval or affection, their partner will change in the ways they want them to. While this might cause your partner to change, it probably won’t be in ways you like. Practicing reflective listening is one of the best techniques to improve communication in your relationship. So what does it mean?
This is something that a skilled couples therapist can walk you through during your session, but essentially it means that you listen to what your partner says and then repeat it back to them in your own words. You can try a simple reflection where you basically repeat back what’s been said, perhaps paraphrasing a little or you can try a complex reflection where you might infer a feeling or an experience based on what was said. This accomplishes two things. It validates what they’ve said because they know they’ve really been heard and it also clarifies any confusion. Instead of waiting for our turn to speak, we’re actively listening to what is being said and trying to understand what they’re telling us.
3. Schedule Important Conversations
On a related topic, there are some conversations that are tough to have no matter how skilled we are at communicating. So, when it comes to sensitive issues, it can be helpful to set aside time to discuss them. I call these “relationship business meetings.” For example, maybe your partner wants to have a baby but you’re not sure if it’s a good time for you to start a family, or if you even want children. This is a situation that could quickly escalate into an argument, particularly if the topic comes up in a moment when you already feel stressed out about work or money or any number of other things.
Instead, consider setting aside a weekly meeting for an hour to explore the idea or any other hot-topic relationship issues. Choose a time when you both have the mental and emotional bandwidth to be fully present, and keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need to find an answer at this time. The intent is to simply get the conversation started when you’re both in a calm and receptive state of mind—maybe even over brunch. You can always schedule a follow-up for later on, which will give you time to consider things in more depth.
By setting aside a weekly time to meet, you consolidate arguments into a single episode rather than have them bleed into the relationship throughout the week. It also allows time and space for each partner to reflect on their experience and opinions, and to come to the conversation more thoughtful and respectful of their needs and their partner's.
If you’re still finding it difficult to find your way through an issue, bring it to your teletherapy session. Your couples therapist will be able to offer you a fresh perspective and some useful insights into your current dynamic."