Relationship Counselling. It was the last thing she wanted to think about. The lake view out of Manda’s kitchen nook was breathtaking. The silver sunset cast a sail boat’s shadow across the lake in way that took her breath away even after all these years. The beauty of it soothed her in way that she could gaze at it endlessly.

Soothing. Lately there sure hadn’t been enough of that to go around. She simply didn’t know how she could bear one more minute of the loneliness. It’s not that Rick was a bad guy. He had countless admiral qualities, and she knew that he loved her. But could it be that hard to take a few minutes to just talk with her about her day and give a little bit of empathy? But no. Every evening was the same: He was tired after a long day and needed to unwind. Next, he would watch some sports, maybe a movie, and then go to bed. He wasn’t the only one who had a hard day. He should try to watch over these three little terrors all day and see how he would fare!

That was it, she couldn’t handle it anymore. She couldn’t wait for relationship counselling. He simply had to know how she felt. But what if he got mad, or worse, if he just shut her out? She hated that even more. But they used to be able to talk. Why couldn’t that happen again? Trying to connect had to better than what she going through now. Yes. Her mind was made up. With that she wheeled around, leaving behind her view of solace and marched with a sense of purpose to the den.

“We have to talk” she said with a tone that her kids knew meant they had better listen. “I am sick and tired of being a single mom. You just come home and sit around every evening while I am left alone. Who made you the centre of the universe anyway!” “Hold on there!” Rick retorted with his hands in the air as if to make a stop sign.

What happened next was a bit of a haze. They both fired a few comments and the next thing Manda knew, the front door was slamming and Rick was gone. She returned to her nook window view, this time with tears streaming down her face. The sunset had passed.

What went wrong here? Did Manda have an unreasonable demand? Should Rick have stayed & listened while he felt ambushed? They both want the same thing: a marriage that works, but they both seem to feel helpless in knowing how to get there.Relationship counselling Research at the Gottman Relationship Institute points out that Rick & Manda have entered what is called “Attack-Defend mode”. One person expresses concern in a way that leaves the listener feeling attacked, to which he sadly responds with defensiveness instead of validation. The results are feelings of isolation and, unless a change happens, divorce.

If you find yourself in the dreaded “attack-defend mode” with your partner, there is one tool you may find helpful: Softened Start. Do you have a bone to pick? The research shows that if you can present softly for the first 3 minutes, you have a 95% chance of a better outcome. A Softened Start includes both tone and content. Manda has some legitimate concerns, but she dramatically improves her chances of having them heard if she takes a deep breath and approaches Rick by talking about her feelings and needs as apposed to his shortcomings.

It might sound something like this: “Rick, can I talk to you for one minute? I have been feeling desperately lonely of late and miss the talks we used to have. I miss you. Can we set aside an hour later today or sometime tomorrow to talk about what I need?” The chances that Rick will offer a favourable response are significantly better and he is quite likely to forgo the door slamming exit.

Now you may be thinking “hold on just a minutes here. Is this really all on Manda? Doesn’t Rick have any responsibility”? I’m glad you asked. The Gottman research is very clear in pointing out that Rick’s defensiveness is profoundly counter productive to achieving his goals of peace and rest. If you’ve ever been in Manda’s shoes, you will know that his “stop sign hands” will send her through the roof in about one second. Stay tuned next month for a closer look at Rick’s defensiveness and what he might have done differently to diffuse the situation.

Continue to part 2 ->

Couples Workshop