Couple’s Exercise: Working Through The Frustrations

Note: This is the first of a two-part series.

Would you like to increase the closeness and intimacy between the two of you as a couple?  Resolve conflicts more amicably?  Get your deep-seated needs met consistently?  Increase passion?  Have a more intentional and conscious relationship?  Try this couple’s exercise, courtesy of Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt in Getting The Love You Want Workbook (Atria Books).

Step 1. Make a comprehensive list of your chronic frustrations with your partner.  Phrase your frustrations as if you were completing the sentence “I don’t like it when …”  For example: “You drive too fast.”  “You are always late.”  Note:  All examples must describe behaviors, not feelings, thoughts or traits.

Step 2. Identify the desire (the deep, unmet need) that lies hidden behind each frustration, and write these desires down.  For example:  Frustration: “I don’t like it when you drive too fast.”  Desire: “I would like to feel safe and relaxed when you are driving.” Frustration: “I don’t like it when you’re always late.”  Desire: “I want you to be more reliable about time.”  Frustration:  “I don’t like it when I always have to initiate making love.”  Desire: “I want to feel as though you desire me.”   Phrase each of your desires positively.  Write what you do want, rather than what you don’t want.  Write: “I would like to feel safe and relaxed when you are driving.”  Rather than: “I don’t want to feel scared when you drive.

Step 3.
Describe positively expressed, very specific behavior change requests—ways your partner can help satisfy that desire.  Whenever possible, quantify your request.  How much?  For how long?  How many?  Exactly when?  You many think of several specific behavior change requests for one desire.  Record them all.  Again, write what you do want, rather than what you don’t want.  For example:  Desire: “I want you to be more reliable about time.”  Behavior change request: “When you are going to be more than 15 minutes late, I would like you to call me as soon as you know.”  Repeat until you have translated all your desires into specific behavior change requests.

Step 4. Share what you have written with your partner.

Step 5. Rewrite any requests, if necessary, until each behavior is so clearly described that your partner knows exactly what you want.

Step 6. Indicate how important each behavior change request is to you on a scale of 1-5.  Five indicates “very important,” and one indicates “not so important.”

Step 7.
Of your partner’s requests, use the numbers 1 to 5 to indicate how difficult each behavior change would be for you to make.

Step 8. Pick the request that is easiest for you and grant it this week.  Grant it regardless of how you feel about your partner and regardless of how many changes your partner agrees to make.  Continue, over time, to grant your partner at least one behavior change per week until you have granted them all.

Step 9. When your partner grants one of your behavior change requests, acknowledge him or her appreciatively.  When s/he does the behavior change, warmly acknowledge and thank him/her each time.

This exercise is designed to help you to finally meet the deep-seated needs of your intimate partner—and to get your life long deep seated needs met as well.  Think that isn’t related to the degree of closeness, intimacy and passion in your relationship?  Think again.  It’s the very thing that may well dissolve the power struggle or the animosity between the two of you, and bring you back to feeling close, connected, warm and intimate again.

I will talk about this exercise in next week’s column.

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