Charlotte Howard, a therapist at Deep Eddy Psychotherapy in Austin, TX, talks about ways that we can look for subtle language and bids for attention from our partner, then respond to them to deepen and improve our relationships and marriage.
Secrets to a Happy Marriage and Relationship
Deepening a marriage through therapy or counseling has a lot to do with inviting closeness and going to new territory together. It’s about being more receptive to the other person and more open to exploring who you are together. Deepening happens by talking about things that are more vulnerable and letting the other person see you more deeply, while being willing to see them and not judge them.
Avoiding Marriage Problems: Key Moments in a Relationship
There are also key moments to deepen a marriage or a relationship. If someone makes a mistake, it’s already made, so that’s not the moment to criticize them about it or to teach them a lesson. It’s so powerful to utilize those moments because they’ll always remember that you were generous to them.
A Story About Courage and Acceptance
I remember my parents telling a story from when they were dating and they were poor hippies on a hiking trip in Colorado. My mom left her retainer—which was a super big expense to them at the time—at the last place they stopped for lunch. So, they hiked for hours and a storm was coming and it was starting to rain, and they were trying to put up the tent when she realized that she had left the retainer at their lunch spot. She had just started dating my dad and she was so scared to tell him—it’s the last thing you want to say. But the retainer meant a lot to her in that moment.
So, she finally got up the courage to say, “Oh my gosh, I left my retainer down at where we stopped for lunch,” and she didn’t see my dad bat an eye—that was powerful. His face just looked open and accepting, as if to say, “Okay, no problem. You keep setting up the tent and I’m on it.” Then, he ran down the mountain to get it.
When Your Partner Could Shame You and They Don’t
Those moments where someone could shame us and they don’t are so incredible for building trust and closeness. Keeping your eyes out for those key moments in your relationship can really catapult the relationship to the next level—to just be over the top loving in a moment where you see your partner is vulnerable or needs something. That’s something that we work on in marriage therapy or couples counseling.
If your partner makes a mistake, that’s the moment to resist your impulse to point it out and instead to cover it over. They’ll see that you’re doing that. You just smooth it over. Just like if you were protecting them in public and covered over their mistake, if you’re doing that at home too, they can really feel that someone supports them and has their back and isn’t going to point out their flaws when they take a wrong step.
Marriages Often Fail Because of Stone-Walling
Lack of responsiveness is the number one most dysregulating thing to people’s nervous system. Marriages often fail because of stone-walling, when couples start ignoring each other or don’t respond to little bids for attention.
I have so many clients that are hurt so badly when they start to date someone and then they just disappear without saying, “Hey, I didn’t really like you.” That’s nothing compared to the pain of just disappearing.
Noticing Bids for Attention in Your Relationship
People and couples make bids for attention. They might be reading the newspaper and let out a little chuckle. We want to be looking for those moments. They’re not just over there chuckling, they’re saying, “I just read something interesting,” and it matters so much if you say, “What was so funny? What did you read?” Then you just feel like, “Ahh,” you’re not just echoing around, there’s a bid for attention and it’s responded to.
Noticing little things like that in your partner and your marriage, then following up so that it feels like someone is responding to them is so powerful.
Starting Marriage Counseling & Therapy in Austin, TX
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