My belief is that when a relationship is seeking their version of recovery after months or years of damaging behaviors the hardest part is regaining trust again.
The process of opening yourself back up to the 'hope' that maybe this time things will be different is difficult dynamic to break through.
Now this sounds counter intuitive because most folks who come to see me have some form of hope or else they wouldn't be there. I am talking about deeply rooted belief systems that have been activated from the harmful pattern of communication.
The question is "How can you truly open yourself back up to love, to intimacy and connection? When you often feel betrayed, disrespected and hurt".
The goal of relationship recovery is progress and I always like to paint that picture for couples to know what they should be looking for in the beginning stages of recovery.
So what are the signs of progress that I am looking for?
Humility is one the first characteristics to go in conflict and damaging conversations. When partners can let their shoulders drop about an inch in a difficult conversation and acknowledge that their main goal is to stay connected and let go of any agenda. When we see humility from both partners we are in business.I teach couples that we all get immature in conflict and that the way out is understanding how universal these bad behaviors can be.
The second sign of progress I look for is partners that both actively and attentively listen to another. I tech couples to slow their conversations down and really acknowledge each other.When we are in conflict our stances are defensive and designed to protect us. The difficult issue is when we are defensive we will always have difficulty listening and the goal is listening that is built on empathy.
Asking for what you want effectively
This is a big one for most couples I see. How do we ask for our needs to be met in the best way to get what were asking for?People complain, or they will make comments that are blaming all in attempts to teach their partners what they would like to change.I believe a big role that I have with couples is to teach them how to ask for what they want in the most skillful and productive way possible so that we can get what we want.
Relationship integrity is the highest value
If you are either in a communication break down or a crisis the way out is often through aligning your highest value as the relationship integrity.I teach couples that each and every time they move into a difficult conversation that they must keep in their minds eye the image of a list of relationship values. The goal must change from being right or defending yourself to connection and staying on course with one another. That means you are leading with your highest value being the relationship.
When couples can move into a dialogue of greater understanding and see that their partners are able to own their bad behaviors it gives a certain kind of healing to each other. I think that having each partner move into taking responsibility is critical to re-building the trust.
Choosing a new possibility
This might be the most important of all indicators of success.We are some ways fairly predictable in conflict, there is a reason most folks I see have a certain set of expectations each and every time they enter into conflict with each other. My main move is to throw this dynamic on its head and invite partners to catch themselves when they threatened, angry or sad and choose a different way of responding. I call this choosing a new possibility. It is the only way to rebuild trust through seeing results.
Once we start to see progress and change I focus partners attention on reassuring each other over these small and large successes. I believe we are deficient society in giving positive reassurance and that most of us want and need to hear more positive feedback. Reassurance is the fertilizer for a high trust relationship.
It is not always missing from couples I see but when couples moving towards more humor and laughing the relationship is usually on its way back to recovery.
This is fairly rudimentary and simplistic statement but effort is absolutely an indicator I look for in recovery work.If only one partner is putting in the time and consideration for change then we have a recipe for separation.
We can have very effective and powerful conversations in the best couples therapy and unless change enters into the relationship we will go now where.Above everything I look for is seeing change in the patterns and responses each partner has with one another especially around the difficult conversations at home .About the time you would have seen that conversation head south and it doesn't means were are seeing the right kind of change in our work.