How couples can fight fair

by Nathan Chua

If there is one thing that can be named as something that is certain to happen among couples, it is conflict.  There is a familiar quip among those in the helping business, that people will not hesitate to spend millions for a wedding, but can’t seem to fork out a few thousands for therapy.  Couples are mostly unaware of this absurdity.  They prepare for an elaborate wedding ceremony, that has little to no consequence on the long-term health of their relationship.

Anyway, since it is no longer a question of whether conflicts will arise or not, it is a matter of how such disagreements can draw two people together, rather than drive them apart.

Here are what come to mind:

Be factual, not historical

Yes, it is unfair for anyone in a relationship to keep bringing past hurts to spite the other.  Remember, I added the qualifier, “To spite the other.”  Please note though that it is not always wrong to raise past hurts.  However, airing those concerns at the outset, will mean you don’t have to bring them up in the future.

Mind reading vs. expressing desires

I have seen this play out in the counseling room countless times.  Couples feel uncomfortable asking for what they want.  In their minds, their partners should already know without being told.  On top of this, they are just as uncomfortable when their partners do the very thing they ask for, thinking it is contrived and insincere.

Don’t be afraid to say what you want and what you need.  You will have differences in the ways you express and receive love.  Try to be open, honest and assertive.

Demanding instead of wishing

When you voice out what you want, make sure to express it as a wish, rather than a demand.  Unfortunately, this does not always work when there is so much contempt built up.  I recommend doing this with a counselor, who can help you express your wishes and be heard.

Overgeneralizations vs. specificity

Words like, “always” and “never,” normally arouse anger or defensiveness in your partner.  Be specific.  Try to focus on the act that you wish did not happen, for these acts don’t usually happen, “always.”

Denial vs. ownership

This is one of the most critical skills that couples need to learn.  Without this, couples will be locked in an unending blame game, trying to win a battle to determine who started it all.

Ownership gives your partner a sign that you are mature enough to acknowledge your imperfections.  Denial will drive you further into fierce arguments.  Accept your humanity by knowing you both have a role in your struggles.

For a last word, understand that conflicts are not to be avoided.  In fact, they should be welcomed.  To use a rather crude analogy, boxers are in the end expected to go up the ring and fight.  However, they are also expected to do so under rules that would make it fair.

In relationships, fighting can be healthy, only if it is done fairly.

What are the goals of psychotherapy? Video Version

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What are the goals of psychotherapy?

by Nathan Chua

If you were a businessperson, you would probably want to go to what is referred to as the bottom line every time you look for results.  In my years of seeing people struggle through life’s intricate problems and difficult puzzles, and all the insights I get from the authors and experts whose works I read, I can say that there are three main goals to therapy.  Here form what I call the bottom lines of counseling based on my experience:

Self-Awareness

“We have met the enemy and he is us,” so goes the popular saying.  This is probably the most basic of all the bottom lines of counseling.  Without this, it will be hard to make any changes as there is no explanation for our actions.  When we unravel all the unconscious motivations, then we have a chance to fight our demons.  Just like any physical ailment, we need to have a correct diagnosis to treat it.

Authenticity/Courageous Living

This is probably the most difficult to explain when words can limit the truth behind this.  There is unspeakable joy in the counseling room, each time authenticity unfolds right before our eyes.  The tears are there that speak of indescribable joy.

You have probably heard it said that it’s harder to make changes with age.  This is because the hurts that we experience in our dealings with people who mean much (or sometimes even the world) to us, put layers of defenses upon our psyches, that keep us sane at such moments.  However, problems arise when these threats disappear but our defenses remain.

Authentic living means letting go of our outdated and inappropriate defenses.  Through the process of therapy, we become reacquainted with our vulnerabilities, not hiding what we truly feel inside.  The true us cries when we are sad, smiles when we are happy, gets mad when we are offended, and trembles when we are fearful.

Many of us have learned that being courageous is about touting guns, and doggedly following what society dictates.  You are courageous if you have bullied more people than others, or if you have conformed to society’s rules better than others.  In Rollo May’s words, “The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice, it’s conformity.”

Sadly, our timidity in showing the world who we truly are, often ends with what Henry David Thoreau described in these words, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and die with their song still inside them.”

Forgiving One’s Self

Finally, but maybe more importantly, counseling or psychotherapy wants us to forgive ourselves.  Given that all our attempts at the above may fail occasionally, or they may even stay with us for as long as we live, we must learn to say, “Hey, that’s how I am, and have been built.  I am working hard to be more self-aware and authentic, and live courageously, but I still fall back to who I had been for so long.  And guess what?  I still love myself and won’t ever get tired of saying, ‘I forgive myself, and I won’t quit from changing.  For like a butterfly, it takes time for something truly beautiful to emerge.’”