Couples Therapy | Los Angeles Psychotherapist Dr. Bill Cloke

Couples Therapy – Improve your communication skills

From my experience, working with couples, some consistent themes seem to run through the work. This outline includes touch points that continually ring true. This simple guide will hopefully stimulate better communication and be used to direct you toward more positive discussions. Please also take a moment to read The 5 Steps to Conflict Resolution (Guide for Couples), featured in my new book.

Conflict Styles to avoid:

Use Instead
Constructive complaints
Listening and understanding
Compassion and respect
Willing to talk

(From: John Gottman, “The Seven Principles for A Happy Marriage").

Some Basics

  • Listen to your partner, try to understand the way they see the situation before you make any assumptions or take anything personally.
  • There are no good guys or bad guys in relationships. There are good reasons why we behave as we do. The key to a better relationship is to find and understand those reasons.
  • Empathy, compassion, understanding and respect are the cornerstones of all positive interactions.
  • The goal is to create a secure connection so that your relationship is a safe haven, where both of you feel accepted, understood and comforted by one another.
  • When in doubt be sure to check out what you think is being said. Be willing to repeat it back if necessary.
  • Learn to process conflicts by softening negative feelings through affirmations. “I really want to make this work, and I love you, let’s find a way to come together here.” Soothing words are a good way to end a conflict.
  • Remember the 50/50 rule: You are equally responsible for the difficulties or conflicts you are currently experiencing.

The Process for Developing a Healthy Relationship

  • Process your relationship……From alienation to emotional support.
  • From defensiveness and self protection to openness and risk taking.
  • From passivity and helplessness to an ability to actively create your unique relationship dance.
  • From blaming to a sense of how each person is making it difficult to be responsive and caring.
  • From focusing on the other’s flaws to the discovery of one’s own fears and longings.
  • Most importantly from isolation to connectedness.

(From: Susan M. Johnson, Creating Connection).

Things to Consider in Every Discussion

  • Stay in the present, avoid bringing up the past.
  • When discussions bog down it is usually because couples try to talk about what happened instead of what made it happen. Stick to the principle and leave the particulars out. Talk about the issue not the incident.
  • Do not yell, insult, swear, name call, bring others into the argument or hit below the belt.
  • There are no winners in an argument, so don’t try to win.
  • The more able you are to recognize your part in a problem, the sooner the problem will be over.
  • Your willingness to be open about your concerns, fears and insecurities the more you will improve the potential for intimacy.
  • Recognize what family patterns are being stimulated in conflicts. How your present conflicts are like past conflicts?
  • Be willing to talk about what you want, need, and feel from and for your partner.
  • Discussing your values and what you want your relationship to be.
  • Be willing to ask for help when you need it.
  • Remember that you may not always see yourself clearly. Learn to trust what your partner is trying to tell you about yourself and listen to what they are saying about who they are.
  • Remember the Four Agreements, Be impeccable in your word, never assume, never take anything personally, and do your best.
  • If you are fighting about who put the cap on the toothpaste, go deeper to find the origin of your conflict.
  • Look for issues concerning shame about being unlovable, or being unacceptable.
  • Look for issues concerning trust, sadness, loss, fear, and insecurity as the source of conflict.

In a Conflict, You Should Remember To:

  • Take some time to COOL OFF when you get angry. 15 minutes is a good yardstick.
  • Ask and agree on a time that is convenient to talk.
  • Talk about how the incident affected you. Your experience.
  • Ask yourself, how can I see the issues from the other person’s point of view?
  • Try to see and understand your unique conflict pattern, your dance as a couple.
  • In conflicts, talk about what both of you can do in the future to improve your communication.
  • Work to reprocess your conflict once you have calmed down. Find out more about how to prevent the same thing from happening again.
  • Focus on points of agreement as a component for finding effective solutions.
  • Be willing to discuss your inadequate, hopeless, and worthless feelings.
  • Take a risk and show your tender and loving feelings.
  • Share your hopes and dreams.
  • Talk about positive aspects of the relationship and each other.
  • Discuss your strengths as a couple.
  • Try to not use absolutes like always and never.

Love Frames

When you want to be loved what would you want your partner to do for you? For example: Bring me soup when I am sick, make me a special meal, write me a love note.

When you love your mate how do you like to show it? For example: When I love you I will wash your car, make a special meal, and send you flowers.

What Love Means

  • Love means summoning up the courage to say difficult things with tenderness.
  • Love means that you have developed patience and tolerance toward differences and difficulty.
  • Love means bearing ambivalence during times of difficulty and conflict.
  • Love means being able to say you’re sorry and mean it.
  • Love means that you will stop and think about your behavior when it is pointed out to you.
  • Love means the willingness to compromise.
  • Love means opening your heart knowing it is possible that you may be hurt.
  • Love means looking into and between each of you during every conflict.

Please feel free contact Dr Bill Cloke today with any questions

What it Takes


William Cloke, Ph.D.

If you can hold in mind your love for each other and keep that before you at times of great difficulty and in all situations

If you can make being right less important than being connected and instead work toward harmony and grace

If you can keep your head while everything in you screams for revenge and come back to the table with compassion and compromise

If your relationship can be your first priority and not last place in your day

If you can use empathy like a mighty sword to cut through your pain instead of being like a rock or an island

If you can surrender to your mate when all that is in you wants to leave yet continue on with consideration and kindness

If you can hear complaints and respond with understanding and not give way to contempt and rage

If you can recognize that conflict is normal and trust is earned and still be reliable and loving

If you can appreciate that love is not a given but is created from being a loving person

If you can become the person that you most admire and treat the ones you love with kindness and consideration

You will create a loving relationship

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