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Couples Counseling

A good partnership is not defined by the absence of problems but by the way partners handle the problems they have.

We each have a tremendous spiritual responsibility with those we love. By focusing on the beauty and greatness in one another, we can actually bring those qualities to the surface.” ~Barry and Joyce Vissell


It is not a mistake to argue, but it’s a tragic mistake to have repeated arguments that do nothing but weaken a relationship. I have worked out a procedure that reversed this dynamic. I call it, “Peaceful Argument.” Below are the basic steps. I must first add that if you have a partner who is unwilling to try this it becomes much more difficult but not impossible. All you can control or change in any relationship is your part. So, you can follow these steps by yourself by setting up two chairs and picturing him or her in the other chair. Just be certain to get up and become your partner before answering yourself back.

Step One: Decide on an issue. The first few times you do this, you might want to tackle only what you can already both agree is a minor issue. In truth, anything that divides you is never minor, but when you are first learning these steps, you might stay away from things that are highly emotionally charged. What you want is the experience of success. It is surprising how many couples have never had a successful argument.

Step Two: We love to combine so many things into one problem that it can’t be solved, so take the issue and divide it into its component parts. For example, say the issue is that one of you tends to run later than the other when you are going out. Actually, that has several parts. One may be a sense of when it is best to arrive. Another may be that one person feels compelled to check that doors are locked and lights are out and the other person seldom helps with this. Another may be that there is a running disagreement on how long it takes to travel certain distances. Another, could be how much leeway should be given for unforeseen traffic conditions. Still another, what social obligations should be honored. And so forth. So take just one of the components and work on that alone.

Step Three: Set up two chairs facing each other. Sit for a moment with your eyes closed and see clearly that you do not want this or anything else to divide you.

Step Four: In turn, each of you states your ego position on the issue while the other simply breathes and receives. Give only your side of it. Do not throw in spiritual sounding ideas of how you understand your partner’s position, gratuitous compliments, and acknowledgments of your own mistakes or defensive projections. Also, do not bring up any other issue, past mistakes, or any criticisms. It is important to stick to this one issue only. Therefore, state your ego position without embellishment. Be as clear, simple and direct as possible. This step is difficult for those who have highly evolved “inner lawyers” of “inner codependents” that add unnecessary and distorted emotional tone to the simple ego position on the issue.

Step Five: Do not interrupt. Focus on your own breath as you listen attentively. Receive without judgment. Your turn will come.

Step Six: While your partner is talking, silently repeat to yourself, “(Their Name) really means this.” Our ego does not believe that our partner means what to us is so obviously wrong or unfair or distorted. We think they have an ulterior motive. But they do mean it, and if we will listen carefully, we will understand what they mean.

Step Seven: Restate your ego positions. But this time only in terms of what you personally are afraid of. Fear is on a deeper level, so it is good to take a moment to quietly think of what your fears are around this issue. If some irrelevant fears come to mind, these are also an important part of your fear list. When you are ready, state these fears to each other. Listen carefully and believe each other. Step seven is so powerful that it alone can sometimes resolve the issue.

Here is an example: One of the issues presented by a couple who came for counseling was that she was a gourmet cook who loved to give elaborate parties, yet he would attend dressed in blue jeans and a t-shirt. In getting in touch with their fears, he saw that he was afraid that if he gave into her pressure to dress more formally, this would eventually lead to his losing his independence and individuality. She, on the other hand was afraid that the way he dressed showed a lack of respect for her. If he really loved her, he would dress the way she asked. In discussing their fears, he realized that for her these parties were an important creative outlet that she was very good at. She, on the other hand, saw that his fear of losing his identity was deeply felt and was not a lack of respect for her. The result was that eventually in step nine, when they exchanged their gifts, hers was to let him wear whatever he wanted, and his was to wear what was appropriate. They had both realized that they wanted to help each other with their fears. The key is that they ultimately did not want their partner to be afraid.

Step Eight: Close your eyes and think of ten things about your partner that you like. As much as possible link these to specific incidences in which your partner was kind, funny, patient, thoughtful or just things you like about them: how they laugh, some physical feature you like, or any cute or endearing things they have done, their creativity or dedication to a cause or spiritual development. Open your eyes and take turns trading these compliments back and forth. Pay no attention to who takes the longest to think of things. It does not mean that the slower person is thinking more deeply about their answers or that the faster person loves more. It doesn’t mean anything except that we each have a different process.

Step Nine: Close your eyes and think of three gifts that you want to give to this relationship. Perhaps you might think of these as three building blocks. You are building a stronger, more beautiful relationship. It is essential that each of the gifts relates specifically to the one issue under consideration. This is not a competition. Do not make broad professions of love or unrealistic offers of generosity. Be specific. This is very important. What three things would your partner think of as a real gift regarding this issue? Open your eyes and share your gifts.

Lastly, do not monitor your partner to see if she or he is following through. Just do your part. For those couples who complete all nine steps, I have yet to see them fail to make substantial progress. And most couples who have done it on their own report resolving their issue on the spot. The reason for the success is quite simple. The issue is held within the ego mind, but the ego, believing absolutely in separation, does not have the tools to argue in a way that increases oneness. But when the couple switches to their joined mind, they have all the insight they could possibly need. Sometimes during step seven, but always during step eight, the switch takes place. They are beginning to feel their oneness and this makes them happy. Following this up with gifts to the one they now see that they love rather than oppose comes easily. They have made their relationship more important than the issue.

Bill Kohlmeyer MSW, LMHC



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