2020 was, well, 2020. And now it is 2021! It is a new year, and a fresh start in many ways.
But a fresh start doesn’t always mean positive change. (Again, look at 2020). Having a plan goes a long way to making 2021 an excellent year!
Think back to a really important or a really difficult conversation you had to have with someone. The conversations can really quickly go from calm to a train wreck. Out of nowhere, what sounds like criticisms some accusations start to fly and everyone starts to get angry, and defensive.
But difficult conversations don’t have to go this way. The Warm Start Up is a concept by the Gottman Institute for having difficult conversations well.
What is a Warm Start Up?
A warm startup is a way to begin difficult conversations in a way that the other is more likely to be receptive to what you have to say. It follows a very simple pattern:
- I Feel…
- I Need…
“When” is the big picture. Simply, it is the 10,000 foot view of what happened. It answers “Why is this conversation even happening?” When discussing the “When”, it’s really important to use a lot of “I” statements.
- “You did ABC”
- “You didn’t do ABC”
- “How could you have…”
- “When I saw ABC happened”
- “When I didn’t see ABC”
- “When ABC happens…”
This is the big picture values. How did what happened (the context) impact you emotionally? How did it impact your values and boundaries? Some helpful questions to ask yourself to find the “WHY” include:
- How did the “When” impact you personally?
- Why is that important to you?
- What is the big picture of how it impacted you?
- Or what need do you have that wasn’t met?
What sort of resolution are you looking for that will address that big picture value? It’s not things like “take out the trash all the time”, or “don’t yell at me”. Instead, think of things like these “I need” statements:
- “I need to feel secure”
- “I need to feel safe”
- “I need to know that you care about me”
- “I need to know I have value”
- “I need to know that have worth to you”
- “I need to know that you care about me”
Putting It All Together
The next time there is a difficult conversation you need to have, try saying something like:
When you talk over me, I feel disrespected and that my opinion doesn’t matter. When we disagree, I need to know you care about me, you value my opinions, and for us to work together to find a solution we both are ok with.
Jack was frustrated. He wasn’t satisfied in his relationship. He felt boxed in by Jill, and that she kept wanting to change him. Jill said she felt the same way about him. He didn’t want to change Jill, but he couldn’t stand the relationship how it was. And he couldn’t remember the last time he did any of his hobbies, or spent time with his guy friends. Something needed to change. But it wasn’t the first thing Jack thought. In fact, he laughed when is counselor told him he needed to fix himself to fix his relationship. So, why was Jack told this?
We Can Only Change Ourselves
If you were ever in a relationship where your partner gave you feedback on what they wanted to see different, your first reaction was probably to defend yourself or argue about why you needed to keep doing… well… whatever the were trying to talk to you about. And that is a normal reaction.
If it didn’t work for your partner to talk to you, why would it work in reverse? It probably won’t. We cannot make anyone do anything they don’t want to do. Like the Serenity Prayer, we need to accept what we cannot control (our partner) and courageously change what we can (us).
So Why Does This Work?
This can sound a little bit backwards: when we focus on improving ourselves – and this that might sound a little bit selfish – you can have a very significant impact on improving the relationship.
We need to take the time to do what we need to, to be the best men and women that we can be. We cannot live at the beck and call of our partner. Otherwise, we cannot maintain boundaries we need to live the life we are designed to live. Hobbies and friends will fall away. We become miserable, and resentful of our partner. And that will show up in how we interact with them.
Instead, when we keep doing what we need to do for us, that can have a very positive impact on the relationship. Our health can improve, our communication can improve, our attentiveness to our partner can improve. Across the board, the better we are as individuals, the better we can be as a partner. This only happens when we focus on ourselves.
How Do I Focus on Myself
Making SMART Goals with a great vision and daily to-do lists is a powerful way to focus on ourselves and see massive progress in a short amount of time. I won’t repeat myself here, but I do suggest you read this post about making smart goals.
Back to Jack
Jack decided to listen to his counselor. He spent some time seriously looking at the life he wanted. He worked out a series of SMART goals, and daily steps he can take to get there. It was a challenging process. And Jill didn’t seem to notice right away. But after about a month, month and a half, Jill’s mood started to improve toward Jack. Conversations and arguments went better. Jack was enjoying life more. All from focusing on improving himself and not change his partner.
Think back to the last conversation you had that didn’t go well. You probably didn’t start the conversation wanting it to turn into an argument, but it happened.
There’s four things that will very quickly, absolutely destroy a conversation you’re trying to have. Probably at least one, if not three or four of these, were present in that conversation. These are the Four Horsemen of the Argument Apocalypse, as researched by the Gottman Institute.
The first one is a criticism.. Criticisms personally attack a person or what they do. They include statements like:
- You never
- You always (something they do, like “ignore me”)
- Why can’t you just
- You can’t
A Gentle or Warm Startup can help to prevent criticism. This follows the When – I Feel – I Need pattern.See the post next week for more information about this.
Contempt has more of a focus on attacking someone’s sense of worth, tear someone down, etc. Contempt is looking down on someone that they can absolutely never, under any circumstances do something, right. They include statements like:
- You are worthless
- You are horrible
- You always (something about their character, like “lie”)
A counter to contempt is to build on viewing them in a positive way, and to share how you do appreciate them. The Sandwich Method can work well for this: Complement them, give constructive feedback, compliment them again.
The next one is defensiveness. And that’s just like it sounds, when we feel like we have to justify or defend what we do. This includes statements like:
- I just
- I did that because
- I only
- That’s not true
And the counter to defensiveness is to take extreme ownership for that. When a conversation deteriorates,most of the time both sides in some way contribute to the breakdown. Take ownership for whatever the other person’s mentioning, You probably had some role in it. Look for your role, what you can agree with, and let the other person know. Taking ownership can move the conversation forward quickly and powerfully. Even if there is nothing they are saying that you can take ownership for, you can take ownership for your response to them.
Stonewalling is ending the conversation or changing topics as a way to avoid what’s being talked about. This includes statements like:
- I’m done talking about this (out of anger, not a boundary)
- Maybe, but (and the topic changes, often a criticism)
- Just leaving
One of the pretty effective counters for is to take an intentional break, Take a 15-20 minute walk or run. It doesn’t really matter how, but find a way to calm down, reset a little bit, and then intentionally get back to having that conversation. This is different from stonewalling because there is a plan to resume the conversation, while giving everyone some time to calm down and reset.
We are never really taught how to communicate. Sure, we have to take English classes, writing classes, maybe public speaking at some point. But when is the last time “How to Talk to Someone 101” was offered? I don’t think I ever saw that course offered. Anywhere.
But communication breakdowns are a significant problem in post relationships. Here is an outline you can use to really help communicate well!
Two Parts For the Speaker
Identify Your Why
For the person that is talking, the two parts is first to understand what needs to be said. On the surface that can seem pretty simple, but you need to look at the big picture “WHY”:
- Why is this conversation important?
- Why even have it?
- What is the end goal that you’re even looking for in the conversation?
- What personal values are affected for you, that makes the conversation necessary to have
The answer to these questions can help you identify your “WHY” for the conversation. This isn’t just a nice thing to do. The WHY becomes your message. The entire rest of the conversation is built off of the “WHY”. So take your time. Make sure you know your WHY, why it is important, and how you want the WHY to be addressed.
Package Your Why
The second part is to identify how to package that why in a way the other person’s going to hear it, We may think it makes perfect sense to us. And we can say it in a way that is going to make sense for us. But we’re also talking to another person. What makes perfect sense to us may thoroughly confuse or upset someone else. Ask:
- How is that person going to hear or receive what I need to say?
- How can I convey that?
- How can I tell them that in a way that’s really going to resonate with them?
- How would they react? Is that a reaction I want?
If the answers to these questions don’t work for you, try changing how you say your WHY until you will probably have a productive conversation with the other person.
Two Parts for the Listener
Set Aside Your Emotional Reaction
The first step is to set aside your emotional reaction. This doesn’t mean that you can’t talk about the emotions the other person is bringing up in you. That can come a little bit later in the conversation, or maybe in a future conversation. Just like should happen if you are the person talking.
When someone’s talking with you, and they’re presenting their WHY. it’s very important to not immediately react or defend yourself or come up with a response. When we do, we often miss important details and can easily loose sight of their WHY. it also becomes very easy to jump to conclusions. Think back on previous arguments? Can you remember a time you got into an argument just to later realize you agree with them? You just emotionally jumped to conclusions and reacted?
Set that part aside and come back to it later. And that opens the door for the second part.
Listen For Their WHY
The person speaking has something important they are trying to tell you. Listen for their big-picture WHY. Reflective listening can help a lot with this. Reflective listening:
- Doesn’t interrupt
- Asks clarifying questions
- Says what they are hearing in their own words
- Is open to correction, feedback, clarification, etc.
- Helps the speaker feel heard and valued
Once the other person said what they need to, and confirmed you understand what they said, you can work together to find a solution that will meet what they need from the conversation.
So to very briefly recap, if you’re the person speaking, identify your why – the big picture values for the conversation – and package that in a way the other person’s likely to hear you. If you are the person listening, set aside your initial reaction, your emotional response, so that you can listen for the other person’s why their big picture value. Reflect that back to them so that they know that you did hear what they said. Now you can both problem solve to find a solution that works for you both.
Jack and Jill were at it again. Yet another pointless argument over absolutely nothing. And they were both furious with each other. They both missed the early days of their relationship and wanted their relationship to work. But it was so difficult to trust each other, let alone have a meaningful conversation. At least not without arguing. They needed help to get their relationship back on track. These 8 tips can help Jack and Jill:
Understand Basic Principles of Communication
We are never really taught how to have an effective conversation. Sure, we learn how to speak, how to read. We might even have a public speaking class. But there isn’t a “How to talk to your partner about difficult things 101” class.
Learning how to identify what is important in a conversation, and how to tell that to someone else, is something that is critical to a good relationship. So is learning how to listen for what our partner is trying to tell us, and not simply what we think we hear.
The Warm Start Up
No one really likes confrontation. At least not the loud, shouting, argumentative confrontation. But having difficult conversations don’t always have to go this route.
Using the pattern of When… I feel… I need can have a profound impact on the direction the conversation goes, keep the conversation focused on what is important, and helps to prevent the four horsemen from showing up.
Avoid the Four Horsemen
The Four Horsemen are four things people tend to do in an argument that make things quickly blow up. They are called the Four Horsemen because, when they are used often, the relationship is quickly approaching an Apocalyptic end – but there is hope!
For Four Horsemen are: Contempt, Criticism, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling
It can be easy to see the faults of your partner. Especially in an argument. When is the last time pointing out their faults helped? Yeah, probably never. Instead, taking ownership of yourself, your responses, and your relationship can be a powerful way to avoid the Four Horsemen and make significant progress in your relationship.
Focus on Improving Yourself
Similar to taking ownership, don’t focus on your partner’s faults. Instead, focus on being the best person, and the best partner you can be. This will set an example for your partner and keep a high standard for what is expected. When you focus on yourself, it starts to matter less and less what your partner thinks of you because you know you are doing better, and are a better person.
It is difficult to have a close relationship when the trust is gone. And rebuilding trust can be one of the most difficult things to do in a relationship. It is also one of the most important.
Develop Family Goals
Date Each Other
Relationships – even romantic ones – are often based on friendships. And dating is a great way for a couple to rekindle the friendship they had. Get creative in finding ways to date each other again!
Stay tuned as we talk about each of these in more detail!
Michael Carr is a Licensed Professional Counselor and has helped people in a variety of settings. Some of these include: 12 years in parish ministry, 22 years in private counseling practice, and over three years with a large health care organization. Michael is passionate about helping people be free to be who God made them, regardless of their setting and struggles. He brings with him the unique skills needed to effectively help those in need for each setting he has worked in.
Why am I a therapist?
Michael has seen the struggles and difficulties people go through when they have experienced trauma or relationship difficulties. He is called to help people connect their faith and beliefs to their pain in practical and meaningful ways. He finds that his role of a therapist allows him to connect with people of all walks of life and help them be free to live the life they want, regardless of their beliefs, background, etc.
Can you help me?
Michael specializes in passionate about helping couples improve their relationship, and individuals to be free from the impacts of trauma. He finds clients often excel working with him through journal and expressive writing therapy. As a pastoral counselor, Michael makes room for individuals and families to embrace their own spiritually-based values throughout the counseling process. Michael sees himself as a temporary assistant of the Holy Spirit whose goal is to assist every person in becoming his/her/their own counselor and coach.
We all make mistakes in life. We are human, it is going to happen. Some mistakes are easy to move past. Others stick with us for a while. Here are some things you can do to help move past mistakes:
1) Accept we are human and make mistakes
No one is perfect. Even very successful CEOs fail, have bad ideas, or poor implementations from time to time. So you did something you regret? So does everyone. You are in good company. But successful people don’t stay stuck there. Viewing these failures as an opportunity to learn and grow can be very helpful in forging yourself as well as learning and moving forward.
2) Accept the mistake happened and your role in it
This is not an easy step, but it is necessary. Mistakes happen, but an honest look at why can become very productive. If someone doesn’t take an honest look, they may miss opportunities to improve (more on that below) or to avoid making the same mistake again.
It is also helpful to carefully look for any way that we contribute to the problem. It may be a small way, or a big way. Size of the contribution doesn’t matter, just acknowledge that it is there.
3) Develop a plan to do better
Look at what you learned from #2. If you are in a similar situation again, how can you avoid the mistakes or get a better outcome? If needed, talk to others to have a rock-solid plan.
4) Reassess and, as needed, remind yourself thoughts and feelings can lie to us
If that little voice keeps telling you to beat yourself up, repeat this process. Did you miss anything? Do you honestly owe someone something to make amends? Or are you lying to yourself?
See, not every thought or emotion is an accurate reflection of our situation. We can essentially lie to ourselves. Did you do everything you can to correct the situation and prevent a recurrence? So those thoughts and feelings of guilt are not productive. They are false guilt. Find ways to remind yourself that you don’t have anything to be guilty about and to move forward. Those thoughts and feelings should decrease over time. If they don’t, seeking professional help may be beneficial to help with moving forward.
Jill was having a rough day. Her children weren’t listening, Jack was misinterpreting everything, and today had to be a good day. She was planning to meet with a friend that she hadn’t seen in a while. And then her car didn’t start. No matter how long she tried to turn the key in the ignition, nothing! As if she needed that. In frustration, she called her friend to cancel.
If Jill slowed down and accepted the car wasn’t starting, her children were being obnoxious, and her husband and she were not communicating well today, how would things have been different?
What is Acceptance?
First, I want to explain what acceptance isn’t. Acceptance isn’t resignation. It isn’t being defeated when things don’t go well. In fact, acceptance is the opposite of that. According to dictionary.com‘s third definition of acceptance, it is: “the act of assenting or believing”.
Acceptance isn’t about being stuck with something, it is about assenting – or acknowledging – reality for what it is. This is often a necessary first step in making big changes in our lives, or even fixing a small problem.
Acceptance is not resignation. It is the opposite. It is recognizing life on life’s terms so we can find what we do have control over.
What Does This Look Like, Practically?
When we accept something, we acknowledge it is real. If Jack is trying to loose weight but really likes to eat doughnuts, he needs to accept his food choice goes against his goals. Then, he needs to choose if he wants to continue his weight loss goals or keep eating doughnuts. It is his choice, and he is free to make either choice. But he can’t choose if he doesn’t recognize reality for what it is, and “assent” to his like of doughnuts.
Let me use another example. If someone isn’t feeling well but refuses to accept it, they will never to go the doctor. If they are sick, go to the doctor, and accept their diagnosis, then – and only then – they can begin effective treatments.
Back To Jill
Jill was struggling to accept that Jack and her children were having “one of those days”. And that she was, too. Accepting “one of those days” would have allowed Jill to pause just long enough to expect more problems throughout the day. Acceptance might have even let her slow down and realize she grabbed the wrong set of car keys.
Acceptance can be much easier said than done. If acceptance is something you struggle with, individual counseling can help! Feel free to call us at 717-219-5711, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or use the chat widget below to see how we can help you.
Jack and Jill were having a rough year. I mean, it was 2020, right? All of the stress from the lockdowns aside, they were struggling. Sure, financially. But also personally. And in their relationship. Jack was being short with Jill, he was very irritable, and wouldn’t stop worry about, well, everything! Jill started to feel overwhelmed, isolated, and down. She didn’t want to do anything anymore, and she rarely had a meaningful conversation with Jack. They were both struggling with their mental health, and that was impacting their relationship. They needed mental health counseling for couples.
How Does Mental Health Impact Couples?
Every relationship is made up of two people. The healthier each person is, the healthier the relationship can be. When someone in a relationship is struggling, the relationship can struggle.
Look at Jack and Jill. Jack’s anxiety was increasing the stress on Jill. This made the relationship less enjoyable and supportive for her. She felt disconnected from Jack. Add to that, Jill’s depression made Jill not want to go on any fun outings she and Jack used to love doing! It’s not really either of their faults. She was feeling especially disconnected from Jack. They are both struggling. And that struggle negatively impacted the relationship.
Like Jack and Jill, a relationship can get stuck until the mental health concerns are addressed.
What Can Help Jack and Jill?
It is important to maintain coping skills – things we like to do that help us deal with stress, feeling down, etc. – and keep in contact with supports – even if it is someone we can chat with about absolutely nothing at all!
Additionally, working through what is causing the anxiety, depression, or other mental health concerns can be personally beneficial and it helps to remove another point of stress in the relationship. Sometimes friends can be enough, but sometimes a professional may be needed.
Also, couples counseling can be a great way to resolve any hiccups in a relationship, improve communication, and talk about the impact mental health is having on the relationship in a non-judgemental and supportive environment.
What Does Mental Health Counseling for Couples Look Like?
Mental health counseling for couples varies from couple to couple. Usually, there will be couples counseling that focuses on improving the relationship, and each person would have a counselor to help each person improve their mental health and / or work through the challenges they are facing due to their partner’s mental health concerns. This is a comprehensive approach that can show significant progress in a shorter amount of time than if only the couple or only one person was in counseling.
Back to Jack and Jill
Jack and Jill sought mental health counseling for their relationship. Jack learned how to let go of what he can’t control, how to focus on what he can control, and how to better communicate with his wife. Jill learned how to prioritize herself in healthy ways, better manage stress, stay connected with others, and better communicate with her husband. They went through a stressful time, but because they faced their struggles, they had a better relationship than they thought possible and were both happier than they had been in a long time.
Interested in mental health counseling for couples? Email us at email@example.com or use the chat below for more information. Same week appointments available!
Jamie is struggling to focus on her work, has experienced some trouble with planning, and trouble coping with the stresses of work, which has affected her ability to maintain her employment. She feels like herself is to blame, feels bad about her ability to focus, and just wishes she could do better. She wants to make that change, but she just doesn’t seem to know how. Jamie also seems to have difficulty in getting the jobs she really wants and she has been experiencing pressure from her family to maintain a job. Jamie also has diabetes and has some difficulty in figuring out how to address that on the job. She wants to be able to tell her employers about her condition in case she experiences low blood sugar so others know how to respond.
Hi, I’m Cassandra, and I am passionate about helping people like Jamie take ownership over her life
including providing her the skills to disclose her disability to employers. Additionally, I want to help
empower people like Jamie believe that she can make the changes she wants, and tailor the steps to
get there based on what suits her needs. From the first appointment, I work to create a trusting
relationship with my clients and create goals by breaking them down into small and manageable
steps. Together, I believe we can reach your potential, and you can reach further heights than you
might be able to imagine.
Currently, I provide individual and couples counseling. I also offer several groups
for vocational counseling for people with disabilities to learn skills and have conversations
surrounding disability disclosure, how the current pandemic has affected the field of gaining
employment, and the process in obtaining a meaningful job.
Last week we discussed a big-picture vision as a huge help to removing roadblocks. This week we take a look at 3 tips for planning out the daily activities that can help you find the success you are looking for.Read More