We can hold on to what’s most important by letting go of the little stuff. We can improve our relationships by learning to let go of the minor details. So often it boils down to the little pieces – how things get done, when things get done. We forget we can save energy and spare anger by trusting our partner.
This is particularly important when relationships start to falter: we’re on guard, defensive, and digging in to keep control. This is, however, when we gain the most from letting go, showing our partner we trust them and believe they are capable. This opens the door for the partner to achieve and excel. A win-win. By letting go of the little pieces, we can hold on to the big ones.
A while back, I was cooking with a friend to create some dishes for a potluck. In the flurry of activity, I was feeling out of control. I tried to snatch it back by micromanaging him toasting the slivered almonds. A brilliant physician, he can handle toasting almonds – and if he failed, I forgot, it wouldn’t really matter. Eventually, he looked at me, paused, and said, “I can toast almonds, I won’t burn them. Go take care of yourself.” Not only did I lose time I should have put to my own culinary tasks, I undermined the trust we had and revealed my doubt in his ability.
Control is the goal in micromanaging: with control, we feel relaxed because our world is predictable for the moment. When we lose it, our anxiety spikes. With our world in flux, exerting control when and where we can soothes us. Unfortunately, it is self-defeating because control inherently constrains others, which inevitably leads to conflict.
Trust is an antidote to our need for control. The more we trust, the less we depend on control. Trust takes practice, like letting go of control takes practice. And that practice is difficult. When we show trust, and reap the rewards, it becomes easier the next time. Less energy is lost trying to control and suffering the imagined consequences. As trust becomes stronger, the need to control is diminished, and the mutuality of a partnership is fortified.
Just as trust must be earned, it must be given – like so much in relationships, it is a reciprocal process. The trust one shows by letting go and allowing your partner to do on his own isn’t obvious, but it is essential. We see its importance most vividly in its absence, as our partners’ confidence fades. We undermine trust by giving unsolicited directions, and ‘suggesting’ our method — by controlling. The absence of trust is powerful and pervasive. Its toll is much greater than the cost of having something done well, if not ‘perfectly.’
This is one of those ‘wrongs’ that seems too minor to justify a ‘real’ grievance, so it often flies under the radar. It often seems ‘petty’ when we practice verbalizing it, so we let it slide. But, they fester and erode the trust and respect that form the foundation of a strong relationship. When we can let go of control and trust our partners, our partners feel empowered and reciprocally invested. We can hold on to what’s important by letting go.
You can learn to let go of control and re-build trust by calling me at 720-468-0676 to set up a free thirty-minute consultation. Read more about my practice at www.LeBauerCounseling.com
You can rely on two easy words to “Whow” your way to a better relationship. It just takes some effort to pick up on the way you currently ask questions, and then replace them with more effective questions. You can just shift to questions that elicit honest, open responses from your partner.
Common mistakes in questions are easy to spot and easy to discard. It’s certainly easy to know when we’ve done it, because they elicit negative responses from our partners. These mistakes are usually as simple as combining you and not. Or, you and why. (Or their partners in crime like how come, don’t, and can’t.)
These can be deadly combinations: “Why can’t you be on time?” “How come you don’t ask me for help?” “Are you going to let him talk to you like that?” You can also work to avoid qualifiers (ever, always), judgmental words (mean, rude), or hinting at the desired response (‘don’t you…?’).
These questions are heard as accusatory, provocative and attacking.
Instead of persisting with these questions that get you nowhere, try to make your questions open-ended. The two-words that make open-ended questions and invite open, thoughtful responses form the mnemonic “Whow”: What, and How. When your questions start with What and How, they show you are interested in learning and willing to listen. They show you are present to share in your partner’s experience.
“That sounded like a tense chat with your boss. How are things at work?”
“Looks like it was a rough afternoon with the kids. What was going on?”
“I feel frustrated when we’re late. What can I do to help us leave on time?”
These questions are simple and straightforward. The first sentence shows you observed your partner’s experience or offers a clear statement about your feelings. The second sentence is an invitation to your partner to share. It avoids an unanswerable question, imposing a judgment, and an angry retort. Rather than putting your partner on the defensive, questions that start with What and How provide an open, safe start to explore what’s wrong and then make things better.
You can practice these skills and learn about other small tweaks that reap big rewards by visiting Power of Two. Call Matthew LeBauer, LCSW at 720-468-0676 and visit www.LeBauerCounseling.com for help to “Whow” your way to a better relationship and lead a happier, more fulfilling life.
The New York Times’ Well Blog is one of my regular reads because it gives accessible, digestible ways to live life well. This particular entry speaks to me as it briefly explains the benefits of preventive marital counseling, for the same reasons we get dental check-ups and annual physicals. A little investment now protects our health and happiness in the future. It also mentions the benefits of acceptance therapy as an effective tool to build on communication skills. Counseling helps us develop partnership awareness and acceptance of difficult aspects of relationships.
In my practice, it is typically most pressing to get couples ‘speaking the same language.’ Often, couples wait until their toxic communication has deeply eroded their relationship. Getting them back on the same page, or even reading the same book, can be daunting as it requires recognizing and breaking old habits, then forming new ones in partnership. When the couple can speak with each other, not about each other, from their own perspective while digesting what their partner says, they can strengthen their relationship.
When couples recognize triggers that typically lead to a shouting match, they become more aware of the path. It’s a familiar one, one they habitually follow. Acceptance therapy used for couples raises awareness of these patterns and leads to new ways past conflict. They can work together to recognize and accept their feelings, their resentment and rage, rather than continuing to push them down to fester. The purpose is not to succumb to the partner’s behaviors; it’s more about letting go of the fight to change them. Couples learn what they can change and what they cannot. They learn how to improve their relationship moving forward and what they can accept – not dismissing past hurts, and not letting them erode the relationship from the recesses.
By combining communication skills training and elements of acceptance therapy, couples make great progress avoiding, or shedding, the habits that stifle. They develop new habits together to fortify their fun, exciting relationship. Couples with the foresight to start counseling before troublesome habits form and the seeds of resentment are planted can improve the quality of their current lives. They avoid mistakes in the future that may deteriorate their relationships. Those couples that wait until their relationship is unraveling have a tougher road ahead; at the same time, with some hope and optimism, they often end up saying ‘I wish I knew how to say that years ago.’
Be sure to check out some of the resources and links on the Well Blog linked here. Call me if you’re interested in learning more about pre-marital counseling, couples counseling, communication skills training and conflict resolution in Denver. You can find me at LeBauerCounseling.com or 720-468-0676.
“Oh, I don’t care what we do for vacation. But, I don’t want to go too far… I don’t
want to just sit on the beach for a week… I don’t feel like Chinese tonight…”
“You always leave just the crumbs in the box… You never take out the garbage
before I ask.”
“I can’t find a way to make it happen… It just doesn’t get done… I’m worried he
won’t feel the same way… I’m going to look stupid if it doesn’t work out… What
will I do if they say no? I can’t afford to leave my job, and I can’t tolerate staying.”
If these statements sound familiar, you can benefit from therapy. Just learning why these statements lead to conflict and distress can help you lead a better life with happier relationships. You can learn to communicate more effectively and how to express your own opinion while respecting your partner’s opinion.
People use therapy for many reasons: growth, clarity, happiness, relief, direction, identity, communication skills, insight and understanding. If you feel tension bringing up sensitive topics with your spouse or partner, or you avoid them altogether, therapy can be helpful. If anger and fighting feel inevitable in decision-making, therapy can help you develop skills to come to mutually beneficial decisions. When people feel stuck, without options, controlled and criticized, they can use therapy to resolve the conflicts keeping them frozen.
In therapy, you can build skills alone or with your partner to resolve conflicts smoothly, enhance mutual decision-making and increase the intimacy and the support you hope for in your partnership.
Many individuals seek therapy to address symptoms of depression or anxiety, or to build confidence and develop one’s identity. Some seek therapy to resolve conflict with others or conflict they feel inside. Others seek therapy to stay on track and fine-tune the well-being they have achieved. For all of these concerns and more, I am available to work with you. If you or I feel that you would be served better by another professional, I will work with you to find the right person.
Many couples seek therapy to build communication skills early in the relationship, or when they are in or nearing crisis. With couples, my main goal is to restore a comfortable space for open communication and to build the skills needed to live well together. When couples can safely, comfortably express themselves and effectively listen to each other, they can get back to being in love and in partnership. The relationship can thrive and the partners can feel fulfilled as individuals and as a couple.
To read more, or shoot me a question, visit www.LeBauerCounseling.com
I enjoy working with people of all sexual and gender identities and self-expressions. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I am acutely aware of the needs and challenges we face, e.g., identity issues, oppression, safety concerns, etc. In our sessions, we’ll discuss the privilege and power imbalances that affect you, and address the uncertainties and exclusions we encounter in a heteronormative society.