Never Ignore Red Flags

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I never ignore the red flags. Instead, I shine a light on them. We talk about what’s really going on. Then we explore ways they could do things differently. All along the way, they are learning about one another.

I never ignore the red flags.

Instead, I shine a light on them. We talk about what’s really going on. Then we explore ways they could do things differently. All along the way, they are learning about one another.

Research in emotionally-focused therapy for couples has revealed a predictable pattern. Before there’s any conflict, the couple disconnects. Therefore, repairing the disconnect is essential to relationship growth. Before anything can change, the person who withdrew must re-engage in the relationship.

In about 95% of the couples I’ve worked with, the husband is the one who has disengaged. I quickly discovered a crucial step that must occur before the withdrawn person can re-engage. Simply put, he must be given space. The coach or counselor is responsible to make sure there is a safe space for him to talk.

Mark and Maria described their one session with a counselor before consulting with me. The counselor asked Mark a question, and Maria started talking before he’d said a word. So the counselor turned her focus to Maria instead. Leaving Mark without a chance to use his voice in what was supposed to have been a safe space for both of them. Not at all what would have done.

My approach has always been to calm the fears of the most obviously anxious person in the room. To create space for the other person, who is so anxious he’s afraid to speak. Remember, his past experience has taught him not to say anything. To take it as long as he can until he can take no more, then lashes out or walks out.

How did I do it?

At the beginning of each session, I checked in with the husband first to see how the week had gone and to take a reading on his current emotional state. I validated his experience and thanked him for whatever he shared. Then I told him I was going to talk with his wife for a few minutes. He was not only allowed to remain silent, he was required to remain silent. His anxiety immediately abated.

Then I turned to his wife.

She was free to talk about whatever was on her mind. However, she was not allowed to attack, blame, or criticize her husband in the process. How did I stop her? I rephrased her words for her. With example after example, I was teaching her how to talk about her pain without putting her husband down.

The whole time, I was monitoring her husband’s non-verbal responses.

Watching for and sensing the slightest changes in his demeanor, and using my knowledge of the psychology of men to formulate a hypothesis that I could offer to his wife. I said, “I imagine your husband felt powerless in that moment. Like there was nothing he could do to make things better. That’s probably why he shut down.”

Many times, I elaborated as she listened.

I was translating what he was feeling into words that she could understand. Each time, I was validating her husband’s experience and teaching him how to use words that she could understand. I’d watch his body language to see if I was on track. Adding more information or clarifying what I’d already said. When his tension eased, I asked him if I got it right. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I did get it right. He was relieved, and she had a new possibility to consider.

I wish I could say this process only took one session.

But if that were the case, I’d have a line of cars around my block day and night with couples wanting that one magic session with me.

However, mindsets are not easy to change.

When you’ve heard derogatory comments about the opposite sex your whole life, you tend to hold onto them as through they were the gospel truth. You believe they are your shield against hurt. You don’t realize that believing those lies are actually causing your hurt.

It ain’t what you don’t know that causes the most problems.

It’s what you do know that just ain’t so. About 95% of my time with couples was spent on unlearning what they believed to be true. In the last 5%, they began to embrace the truth about one another’s hope and fears, dreams and disappointments, vulnerabilities and possibilities.

Every successful outcome required each person’s willingness to let go of their desire for self-protection. To let go of their desire to get even. In order to embrace the possibilities. The capacity that each had, both for understanding and for being understood. In that order.

It was simple. Most solutions are.

But they’re not often obvious. And they’re rarely easy. But they’re always worth it. I most loved saying goodbye to the successful couples. You’d think I’d want them to keep coming once they became easy to work with. But that’s not why I’m here. I rejoiced in their graduation. Romance was alive and well again. And that was amazing. They’d done amazing work. They took the risk and now it was time to reap all the rewards. I was and still am beyond happy for them!

The truth is, you will never have a better relationship unless you are willing to learn the truth, to unlearn the lies, and to practice what you learn. Learn. Experiment. Observe. Repeat what works. If you’re ready for that, you’re in the right place.

It’s time to check out my free classes and my advanced training courses.

You can work at your own pace.
You can work together.

Or you can learn on your own. Because this is all about your personal development. Even if you’re hoping your husband will change. Remember, an upgraded husband will need an upgraded wife.