Rules of engagement for couples

James E. DelGenio MS, LCPC

Rules for conflict

It will take time and effort to reach the goal of civility and respect once you have lost it. This, however, is the foundation of your relationship. When you lose it your relationship is in trouble. When in conflict in a relationship, you must be willing to work at it maintaining these rules. It will take time; don’t quit. Call “time out” when needed and come back 24 hours later to see if you can continue the discussion civilly. Use the words time out as a signal that if we continue, it is not going to go well. So time out means stop this discussion is over for now. If you leave the house tell your significant other where you are going and when you will be back. It’s not civil or respectful to do otherwise. Work at being consistent. If you can’t do this, you will need couples counseling with a licensed therapist.

Rules for Conflict
1. No hitting; no throwing. No Physical violence ever! Never allow anyone to threaten violence or strike you in anger. If this happens, it’s time to call the police and/or get out. This is never acceptable. No excuses are acceptable. Leave; go to a domestic violence shelter if you need. Don’t leave yourself or others in harms way. End of discussion.
2. No screaming, swearing, no cursing, no name calling, no sarcasm. Long after you have forgotten what the fight was about you will remember the ugly name you were called.
3. Keep your voice down; talking louder doesn’t help the person hear you better.
4. One argument at a time. No skidding; stick to the topic at hand. You don’t pick up your shoes…. well you don’t shovel snow. No history lessons— a review of the past is not helpful; stick to the issue at hand.
5. Don’t start sentences with “you”. This immediately puts the other person on the defensive. Start with “I feel….because…” This has a much better impact. It may still be confrontational but it doesn’t create as much defensiveness.
6. Listening and understanding what the person is feeling and being able to listen and reflect back or mirror what you have heard is very important to good communication.
7. Don’t talk over one another. If you are both talking, that means no one is listening.
8. Don’t argue from different rooms or behind a closed door. When she goes in the bathroom to get away, give her some space. Don’t stand outside the door and try to talk. Don’t just walk out either; your partner doesn’t know how to interpret that. At least say, “I need a time out. I’m going for a walk; I’ll be back in an hour.”
9. Don’t allow yourself to lose control…ever. Call time out if the conflict is getting out of control. Agree to discuss it further within 24 hours or when you have cooled off.
10. Never threaten divorce or separation. This is very destructive and it can create its own resentment and trust issues.
11. Seek help from a therapist. Reading these tips and being held accountable by a therapist are obviously very different. I hear far to often, “we should have been here two years ago”. Get the help you need, now, before it is too late.

Not in the Chicago Area! Now I can work via face time with anyone, anywhere in the country and it may still be covered by BCBS Insurance. Check with your BCBS representative for more information.

For those in the metropolitan Chicago area, I have offices in Millennium Park on Michigan Avenue, and near 22nd St and Wolf Road in Westchester. Call James E. DelGenio MS, LCPC, Senior Staff Therapist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University, 847-733-4300 Ext 638.

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Disclaimer: This material is meant to be used in conjunction with psychiatric treatment, medication, if necessary, and supportive therapy. Always share this material and your questions about this material with your doctor and therapist.

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