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STAGE 1 – Understanding Your Relationship and the Negative Cycle that Keeps You Apart

Step 1:  We will talk about your goals for counseling and your relationship history and how it affects your relationship now.

Step 2:  Most people get stuck in negative patterns of communication that bring hurt to one or both parties.  We will discuss these patterns to learn where your interactions tend to break down. We will begin to try to understand what drives these negative patterns, which I call your ‘negative dance,’ and explore what positive patterns would look like for you.

Step 3:  Strong emotions are at the forefront whenever you get into these negative cycles.  When we first begin talking, you may be aware of anger, frustration, anxiety, and even a feeling of wanting to leave.  As we begin to talk, you may begin to notice other emotions that are “underneath” the anger, etc., such as hurt, loneliness, sadness, and even fear.  It may feel a little rocky, but that’s okay – we’ll work through it.  We will be seeking to identify all these feelings so that you will better understand what happens to you and your partner when you enter a ‘negative dance.’

Step 4:  You will be able to understand and talk about some of your feelings, wants and needs together, and understand more about what starts your negative cycles, as well as what to do to get out of that cycle.  You will both start to understand how what you feel (hurt, afraid, etc.) impacts what you do (yell, walk away, criticize) and the impacts your partner as well.  You will begin to understand how your actions impact your partner, what they feel, and then what they do because of how they feel.  You may notice that you can maintain calm longer now and feel you have more control over how you feel, but you may also be afraid that this is just a short hiatus, and things will go back to the way they used to be.  Take heart - we aren’t finished yet!  You will now probably be starting to see that this negative cycle is the source of the problems in this relationship, and it isn’t your partner who is the enemy!   

STAGE 2:  Determining Together What You Want Your Relationship to Look Like

Step 5:  You and your partner are now able to talk about your feelings that get triggered when you are in the negative cycle, and maybe for the first time are able to share with your partner feelings and thoughts you have never been able to share before.  With more care and concern being expressed by your partner, it is safer to talk about your relationship needs and desires. Life experiences may have made it hard to depend on others or you may even thought that it is not healthy to depend on someone, but truly a healthy relationship is about being able to depend on and trust each other.  In the safety of the therapy office, you can begin sharing how hard this is and what you need to fully trust your partner. As you take these risks, your partner begins to truly understand you, which leads to a deeper bond of compassion and concern.

Step 6:  This step involves the therapist helping your partner to express to you their view of the relationship, and their feelings that trigger their reactions.  This can be difficult and is often a surprise to hear how your partner may have felt in the negative cycle and how these feelings prompted the reaction that you saw and experienced, and you may feel several emotions, all which will be processed during your time in the office.  I will be asking you to be open to truly hearing and believing what your partner tells you they have felt and/or are feeling. We will work at making this experience safe for both of you, so that you are able to hear what your partner felt so to better understand why they reacted the way they did.  We are seeking a greater understanding of what each of you feel.  I will be asking you to take a risk into this new territory, and because of the trust already built in previous sessions, my hope is that we can go into this new territory with confidence that you and your partner will both experience a new place of understanding about the other.

 Step 7:  At this point, you will explore new aspects of your relationship, and feel more deeply connected with your partner.  This will be a time of learning how to successfully ask for your needs in the relationship, and having your partner be able to do that as well.  Being able to ask for these needs will empower you in the relationship, giving both of you a feeling of being accepted and a willingness to be there more fully for your partner and feeling able to except them.  You are learning new ways to reach for your partner, and seeing that your partner is reaching out for you as well!

STAGE 3:  Create New Solutions for Old and New Problems Together and Feel Deeply Connected

Step 8:  You will be revisiting old concerns and sticking points in your relationship that have been difficult to resolve, and in the safety of counseling, explore and discuss these issues and the feelings behind the issues, and then create a new solution based on where you are now in your relationship - with healthy interactions, validation and compassionate discussions instead of barbs.  Together, you will determine your future!

Step 9:  Congratulate yourselves - you have created a new dance!  Where the old dance was a negative cycle of hurt and pain, you will learn how to protect this new dance and all its new steps.  You will learn how to differentiate how you used to act with how you act now, and understand the emotions underlying each partner’s actions.  The last step is putting into place ways to exit any negative cycle you find yourself in, and accepting the help of your partner in that exit.  We will talk about your concerns in going forward on your own, so that when you walk out my door you feel confident that you and your partner can stay in this place of close, emotional connection!

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