Marriage Counseling Tips

Need some Tools for Change? Here are some helpful marriage counseling tips I use myself in order to reduce any tension that might lead to migraine. 

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We know from experience that the circular dance of fighting in couples often gets us nowhere. But having regular migraines puts the pressure on - in every area.

It's hard not to get angry sometimes with yet another migraine approaching and when others just don't understand.

And repeatedly don't understand.

According to Steve and Shaaron Biddulph, authors of The Making of Love conflict is essential for intimacy. They explain that healthy fighting, not name calling, threatening, hitting or hurting, but healthy fighting looks like "the rapid, often noisy, expulsion of feelings and information about a difference of opinion. It is the opposite of calm."

Marriage Counseling Tip #1 - Fighting is found in most marriages. 90% in fact. There is such a thing as healthy fighting.

"It is an essential step in rebuilding closeness that has been drowned by apathy."

[ap-uh-thee] is the absence, restraint, repression or suppression of passion, emotion, or excitement; the lack of interest in or concern for things that others find moving or exciting; coolness, indifference, ardor, fervor, unfeeling.

There are fair "rules to fight by."

Marriage Counseling Tip #2 - Angry patterns are inherited from our parents and grandparents.

How do couples get stuck in their angry patterns? Yes, your parents and grandparents are actually responsible for some of this “emotionality” as Murray Bowen calls it, or patterns of dealing with issues.

The Dance of Anger Marriage Counseling Tips from Migraine Savvy

According to Harriet Goldhor Lerner, Ph.D. in her book The Dance of Anger, “the inability to express anger is not always at the heart of the problem."

Instead the problems arise from reacting the same way to the same emotional response and making the problem worse.

You can learn to change how you respond to the same old stimuli.

When we disagree on something it causes a disconnect. We also often see the problem as the person, and not as a separate problem. So we blame our spouse for spending too much money impulsively, or being over emotional, or not seeing what is happening to our child.

Anger often deflects you away from the actual problem. Many couples seek marriage counseling tips when its already too late and too much damage has been done.

Marriage Counseling Tip #3 - Men and women really do think, act and react differently.

Men see women as exaggerating or worrying excessively, while women see men as trying to silence them or ignore them. Men appear to deny, ignore, and minimize female problems. Their shut down, or silence, presses us females to prove our point even further, resulting in a cycle of anger and possibly abuse.

The same fights get repeated over and over again!

The same fights get repeated over and over again, especially when children are involved and you both have different views of parenting and of the whole causal situation. “It was clear enough that what each of us was doing only provoked a more vehement stance in the other. Yet somehow, neither Steve nor I was able to do something different ourselves."

Just so you know – this is a common pattern in couples. Statistics show that almost all of us have repetitive fights over the length of a marriage – it is how we deal with them that counts. We can choose to do things differently – and here are some more handy marriage counseling tips.

Tip #4 - Pause – Breathe – Retreat – Validate

When my angry feelings start to niggle I pause and breathe. I physically take a step back and use my breath to tune into myself, and then validate that I have heard my husband. “I am sorry you think that”, “I hear you have forgotten that”, “I see you are angry” something like that, and I retreat to “speak to” my own anger. You might like to print out our anger management meditation or just tune in.

Now lets be clear, this is all a work in process. It takes a lot to change a life long pattern, so when I slip I also try to stop myself and choose a different way to deal with things.

“Later, we were able to recognize the unconscious benefits we got by maintain these fights. Fighting with each other helped both of us to worry a little less about our son, and deflected our attention from other concerns we had about becoming new parents. But what was most impressive at the time was how irrevocably stuck we were. We both behaved as if there was only one ‘right’ way to respond to a stressful situation in the family, and we engaged in a dance in which we were trying to get the other person to change steps while we would not change our own. The outcome was that nothing changed at all” (p43).

So when we become too emotionally charged “we lose our ability to observe our own part in the interaction" let alone remember our marriage counseling tips. Couples often see the problem in their marriage quite differently, and very few seek marriage counseling tips to help change things.

I just completed a Masters in Counseling and Psychotherapy and feel I have a lot of marriage counseling tips and tools to practise with now. It’s a shame we don’t all learn conflict resolution, communication, or non-violent communication in school. I feel our emotional health is important. Please read migraines and emotions if you'd like to read more.

Tip #5 - It is a common pattern for the man to shut down and not respond and for the woman to be overemotional.

Ok, so how does this relate to migraine? The spurt of adrenaline before a migraine can feel like additional energy, tension or anger. I used to get so angry before a migraine and I just thought that was me. A short fuse kind of person. I took lots of anger management courses as a result of these thoughts!

Until one day my boyfriend, now husband, told me that I seem to get more angry than usual before a migraine. Like a few hours ahead of time. I did start to see the pattern after he pointed it out. Luckily I married a man strong enough to deal with this horrific part of my life.

Anyway, it was then I decided, that if I was going to make this relationship work, I would need to learn some new skills to deal with my own anger and not inflict it on those I love around me. The right pain abortives, found years later, help immensely at reducing any anger I experience before a migraine now. Lucky me! Or lucky hubby!

You Must Be Willing To Develop And Sharpen New Skills

Marriage Counseling Tips Tools for Change

Again Harriet Goldhor Lerner, Ph.D. in her book The Dance of Anger says it clearly and simply:

“In order to use our anger as a tool for change in relationships”, we must be willing to learn to develop and sharpen our skills and use these strategies in these four areas:

1. Tune into "the true sources of our anger and clarify" our own position, values and where we stand. Instead ask yourself questions like:

"What about this situation makes me angry?
What is the real issue here?
What do I think and feel?
What do I want to accomplish?
Who is responsible for what?
What specifically do I want to change?"
What are the things I will and will not do, or am willing to compromise on or negotiate?

These may sound like very simple questions, "but we will see later just how complex they can be."

"It is amazing how frequently we march off to battle without knowing what the war is all about. We may be putting our anger energy into trying to change or control a person who does not want to change, rather than putting that same energy into getting clear about our own position and choices. This is especially true in our closest relationships, where if we do not learn to use our anger first to clarify our own thoughts, feelings, priorities, and choices, we can easily get trapped in endless cycles of fighting and blaming that go nowhere.”

2. Learn better and different communication skills. In my experience, often yelling (venting) and expressing oneself leads to verbal abuse, and after the ‘storm’ has passed nothing changes. You blow off steam, but it is not productive. It is particularly destructive for your partner if this is not their familiar family patterning.

3. Learn to step back, "observe and interrupt non-productive patterns of interaction.” Anthony Robbins calls this pattern interrupt and I love it. We can choose to respond differently, in a new way, to a familiar situation. “We cannot make another person change his or her steps to an old dance, but if we change our own steps, the dance no longer can continue in the same predictable pattern.”

4. “We can learn to anticipate and deal with counter moves or ‘change back’ reaction from others.” Our family systems are invested in us staying the same. I know, it sounds ludicrous, but it is true. Change is hard. Old patterns come from generations of programming, so just know that this part may take some time.

I bring all of this up because, as migraineurs, we might experience more angry episodes, more often, than the average human who does not have adrenaline shooting up their backs in time of stress, that we can’t even see yet.

Knowing some of these things helped me tremendously in that – I no longer see myself as an angry person. I started to realize that biology played a larger part in what was happening to me. Yet another backlash from doctors telling me migraines were all in my head.

Also, learning that I had a choice to react or to respond helped a lot. It has been, as I have already said, a real work in progress. My instinctual pattern of just yelling held its course for many years. Not only did my studies show me other options to getting angry – my husband shared his intention to stay together during each argument. What intention do you hold when you fight?

Good Books and Great Books

There are a number of good books on marriage counseling tips. I think one of the best that I have had the opportunity to learn about is Harville Hendrix Ph.D. and Helen Hunt’s, M.A. (his wife) Imago Therapy.

Hendrix and Hunt have devised a very simple dialogue to follow that I feel frees us up to really hear our spouse instead of reacting automatically in those old fighting patterns. And over time, this new way to be with each other emerges and overflows into our everyday lives.

Two of their books Getting the Love You Want and The Couples Companion: Meditation and Exercises for Getting the Love You Want provide some amazing insights.

The exercise book has 365 days for forming an ongoing practise with your spouse. We would all like a quick fix, but the truth is that a good relationship takes time.

“Meaningful change takes time."

I have attached a very simplified version that I start a lot of my clients off with – Couples Imago Dialogue – that you can print off and then rip in half so you each have a piece of paper with instructions on it. The ‘sender’ just talks and the ‘receiver’ starts at number 2 – with repeating exactly what they heard and then saying “did I get that right?” and so it goes.

There are a few rules: the receiver is not allowed to react – only to follow the card exactly and listen. Follow the instructions on the paper as closely as you can, trust the process. Spend 10 or 15 minutes on ONE topic only, use a timer, and stop when time is up. You can take turns – so set aside half an hour once a week or so to have a dialogue.

It is best to have separate topics, one each, so that it leaves each person feeling validated and understood. If you end up in a rebuttal – their feelings may get minimized or dismissed. The whole thing is to learn to hear each other in a new way.

Although it sounds easy, it might be best to find a local Imago therapist for professional guidance until you can do it all on your own. You could also try getting some extra migraine support.

Fighting Together

I could do a whole website on the marriage counseling tips I'd like to share with you. But for now this is probably enough to get you started. Many couples do not seek marriage counseling tips, or parenting tips and just split up.

It is important to remember that we are "fighting our way to closeness" as the Biddulph's say. Fighting the right way will lead to greater clarity, a free flow of your communication, and an openness to new possibilities and opportunities to move and grow within the relationship.

If you or your partner has chronic migraines, marriage counseling tips might be beneficial just to balance things out - before they get out of hand. Learn some strategies while you are still in love and wanting to grow together.

It's never too late for marriage counseling tips. You can save your relationship if you both want to. I can recommend:

Marriage Counseling Tips for Migraineurs

My Final Marriage Counseling Tips for You

Be proactive and plan ahead to take new steps together and towards each other.

Since fighting is inevitable, learn how to fight productively.

Solving problems brings you closer together.

And always try to remember why you love them in the first place, and why you married them.

Share Your Tips

Share your tips with me here. Sharing helps all our readers, so thank you in advance.

Until next time, be well and be pain free,


Marriage Counseling Tips References:

1. Biddulph, S. and S. (1999) The Making of Love. Doubleday Publishing: Sydney, Australia.
2. Goldhor-Lerner, H., Ph.D. (1985) The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships Harper & Row Publishers, Inc: NY.
3. Hendrix, H Ph.D. and Hunt, H M.A. (1994) The Couples Companion: Meditation and Exercises for Getting the Love You Want. Simon & Schuster Inc.: NY.

› Marriage Counseling Tips: Tools for Change

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