“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”
I don’t “fix” relationships.
I used to try when I first began working as a couples only counsellor.
But quickly learned that’s not my job.
My job is to teach you and your partner how to have HOK conversations built upon safety and trust.
And then you fix your relationship.
If that’s what you both want.
…It all sounds very simple doesn’t it?
And in theory it is.
But it’s a lot more complicated in practice.
Over the years I’ve accumulated a lot of tools to best help my couples have HOK Conversations.
…I’m a professional.
And I take care of my tools. I keep them ordered in separate Toolboxes, so they’re quick and easy to find.
In this blog post, I’ll give you a quick over view of what each toolbox is for and where appropriate I’ll introduce you to a few of the tools I use most frequently from it.
Okay then, let’s go.
You wouldn’t want to walk through a minefield without a map. And all of my couples counselling work starts with assessment. If I don’t know where you’re getting stuck…
…I can’t prescribe the right tools to get you unstuck.
Here are some of the most common assessment tools I use:
Screening – In my experience there are 4 situations couples can be dealing with that may require a different intervention first, before they can benefit from couples counselling. Screening is essential because it means you’re in the right place.
Mission – Most couples I work with are very clear on what they don’t want. But few of them are as clear on what they DO want. At the start of our work together, it’s essential we all agree on what the goal is for our work together.
Origin story – It’s vital I know how you became a couple. I gain essential relationship information from leading you – systematically – through your unique origin story.
Argument – I don’t use this tool as often as I once did. But it can give good insights into how you handle conflict.
Attachment History – Because we aren’t taught how to be relational. Most of us learn how to do relationships by observing the relationships around us. Truth is, most couples I work with have no experience of what a healthy relationship looks like, so how can they expect to have one? This tool focuses on 4 key areas and allows me to build an accurate picture of any essential relational skills that might be missing.
There are more, but these are the tools I use most frequently in the assessment stage of couples therapy. These tools help me to understand your relationship’s strengths and weaknesses. With this information, I know which tools to use to help you:
Use your strengths.
Build up your weaknesses.
So you can have HOK conversations.
Once the Assessment stage is completed, I’ll share my findings with you and present a plan.
If you’re happy with it…
…The work begins.
That’s when I usually reach for…
These are my bread and butter tools they’re useful no matter what the main goal of therapy is.
4 Horsemen – The Gottman Institute has some of the best tools available when it comes to building happy, healthy and loving relationships that last. And this is possibly may favourite. I think of it as the Swiss Army Knife of couples counselling. How come? Because it has many other valuable tools branching out from it and it’s a powerful way to help couples lay down a strong foundation they can build a loving relationship upon.
Expressing Needs – How a couples does the first three minutes of a conflict conversation predicts with over 90% accuracy what will happen to their marriage five years down the road. Mastering this tool helps you to avoid negative outcomes whilst improving your chances of getting your needs met.
Needs and Wants – Imagine knowing, with absolute certainty, what your partners top 4 four needs and wants are in order to feel safe and loved by you. Now imagine your partner knows what your top 4 needs and wants are. Now imagine how different your relationship could be if you were both committed to meeting each others needs and wants. I got this amazing tool from relationship expert Michael Myerscough and couples love it.
Doom Loop Diagnostic – The origins of this tool are from Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT). Many couples get stuck in a negative cycle. This tool helps them to understand the roles they play in this dance and to discover the vulnerable emotions that drive it. Equipped with these insights they know how to interrupt it and break free from its negativity. It’s good stuff.
Appreciation – Appreciation is the lube that makes relationships rub along without too much friction. And it’s the antidote to walking on egg shells. But you’ve got to do it right. I use Dr Chapman’s 5 love languages diagnostic tool so you know what type of appreciations your partner likes the best.
All couples argue. All couples fall out and disagree at some point. The difference is in how quickly they repair the relationship after a conflict. Because conflict is such a common part of being in a relationship, I have a specialised toolkit specifically for helping couples deal with conflict conversations constructively.
Here are my top 4 tools:
Understanding – I got this one from my favourite psychologist Jordan Peterson. Most conflict conversations look something like this:
“Okay, I’m gonna tell you why I’m right and I win if you agree.”
This inevitably leads to escalating conflict. But when you use the ‘Understanding’ tool, you get to have a very different and much more beneficial conversation. The best way to solve a conflict is if you know what’s going on. And you only know what’s going on if you and your partner feel heard and understood. Used correctly… This tool guarantees you do.
Dreams Within Conflict – Recognising that not all conflicts are the same, this tool helps you to gain clarity as to what’s actually going on underneath the surface. These conflicts usually arise from feelings of discomfort and confusion about life, especially when it feels like your beliefs, values and desires are in conflict with your partners.
Aftermath of a Fight – Conflict usually results in injuries. This tool is valuable for fixing up attachment injuries and preventing them from getting infected and turning into full grown relationship killing wounds.
Effective Time Out (ETO) – Sometimes an argument is unavoidable. But with practice, it is possible to notice when one or both of you is starting to get flooded with stress hormones. Then, instead of continuing into a conflict, you can take an ETO instead. And when you come back and start again you’ll find you’re better able to listen, empathise, deescalate the situation and turn attack/defend into self-disclosure. This is one of those tools you’ve got to experience in order to appreciate it’s awesomeness. Because on first glance, it’s easy to miss how powerful it really is.
A mixed agenda is where one partner is ‘leaning out’ of the relationship, they’re not sure if they want to be in it any more and are seriously considering divorce. And the other partner is ‘leaning in’, they’re eager to save the marriage.
…Mixed Agenda Couple (MAC).
In the past I’ve found working with MAC’s difficult. How come? Because couples therapy tools are a poor fit for the problem. Why? Because couples therapy works on the assumption of there being a Joint Agenda. Where both partners agree they want to at least make the marriage better.
Discernment Counselling – This is a whole toolbox of tools in it’s own right and it’s my go to kit for couples on the brink of divorce. It’s so good in fact I’ll be offering it as an additional service in the very near future.
The discovery or disclosure of an affair is a relationship trauma. And I’m using the word ‘trauma’ here to mean ‘Shattered Assumptions’. It casts a dark shadow over the past, makes the present a nightmare and eviscerates the future.
Now I’m an eclectic kinda guy.
But the solid ground I stand upon when working with affairs is Terry Real’s Relational Life Therapy (RLT) tools. They help the Hurt Partner to stitch back together the torn fabric of their life and rebuild trust in the Involved Partner.
And they help the Involved Partner to develop compassionate empathy and accountability for the hurt and damage they’ve done. The tools I use focus on promoting truth and transparency.
This is hard work.
In my experience the Involved Partner is keen to move on and out of this situation, they want done with it.
But the Hurt Partner…
…This nuclear device has vaporised their world. They’re in shock, they need to get into it. They need to understand what happened, they need to ask questions…
…So many questions the Involved Partner will need to develop the patience of a saint.
The tools in this box are used to achieve the following outcomes as efficiently as possible:
- Through understanding of what happened and where it came from
- Fix whatever was weak in your marriage
- Discover what was missing in your marriage and bring it back into your home
If there’s one subject shrouded in cultural awkwardness, it’s got to be sex and intimacy in a relationship. So many couples struggle with this aspect of their lives. It’s a massive subject. And to bring this huge post to a happy ending, if you’d like to know more about this subject I’m going to recommend you visit this post: Sex in Middle Age and Beyond
I think it’s time to wrap this post up.
Because I can see you’re eyes glazing over from too much information.
This has been a small sample of the tools I have access to as a counsellor who only works with couples.
And I gotta tell ya…
…I find it takes all of my time working towards mastery of these tools, so I can use them more skilfully with my couples.
Which is why I’m left scratching my head at how those ‘Jack of All Trades’ counsellors do it.
And I hope this blog post helps you to see why a professional, couples only counsellor is the best choice for you if your relationship is currently in crisis.
Yes, the service I offer may seem expensive at first glance.
But you should know my goal is to make myself redundant in your life as quickly as possible.
I don’t do that kind of counselling that goes on, unstructured forever.
The tools I’ve become skilled with, and am committed to becoming even more skilled with mean I can:
- Quickly assess where your relationship is getting stuck
- Use the right tools to get you unstuck
- Teach you how to use these tools skilfully so you can continue to work on your relationship without me.
The way I work means that – on average – you’re looking at:
5 two hour face to face sessions
1 two day intensive
To Wrap Up…
If your relationship has broken down.
If your relationship isn’t working well.
If your relationship is in need of a tune up.
I’m confident I have the right tools for the job.