November 2, 2008 5:28 AM   Subscribe

Couples counseling without the counselor: My SO and I have some conflicts that keep reoccurring. We really need some counseling, but we're in a long-distance relationship and we only see each other on the weekends, so meeting face to face with a counselor would be very difficult right now. Do you have any suggestions for REALLY GOOD books or websites to help people navigate through relationship issues and settle conflicts?

Our main issue is connection/communication. If he feels I'm being distant or disconnected, instead of telling me, he retaliates by shutting down emotionally, then when I try to figure out what's wrong and how to fix it, he blows me off. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. We want to end this cycle, TODAY.

So, any suggestions about books, websites, or just general advice that you may have?
posted by chara to Human Relations (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: How about the Getting the Love You Want series by Harville Hendrix? If you scroll down a few items on the list, you'll see there is a workbook, too. Hendrix comes highly recommended from a friend, though I haven't used him myself. Good luck!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:19 AM on November 2, 2008

I would suggest it's the distance that's the problem.
posted by dunkadunc at 6:26 AM on November 2, 2008

I know you are looking for books and resources, but have you both thought about going to counseling individually? It sounds like there may be some issues that can be dealt with individually.
posted by hazyspring at 6:56 AM on November 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

++ Admiral Haddock's recommendation. My wife and I found it very helpful.
posted by jon1270 at 7:13 AM on November 2, 2008

It's a somewhat cheesy book, with an even cheesier title, but I learned a LOT about relationship dynamics and it really helped me out. Conscious Loving.
posted by iamkimiam at 7:34 AM on November 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

In The Mastery of Love don Miguel Ruiz illuminates the fear-based beliefs and assumptions that undermine love and lead to suffering and drama in relationships. For example, he talks about truth and forgiveness:

Let's imagine we have a skin disease with wounds that are infected. When we want to heal the skin, we go to a doctor who will clean the wounds, apply medicine, and watch after them until healed.

To heal the emotional body, it takes the same thing. We need to open the wounds and clean them, use medicine, and keep them clean until healed. To do that, we use truth as a scalpel to open the wounds. A scalpel is painful, so too the truth. The wounds in our emotional body are covered by the denial system, the system of lies we have created to protect those wounds.

You begin by practicing the truth with yourself. When you are truthful with yourself, you begin to see everything as it is, rather than the way you want to see it. You find that perceived injustices that created wounds are no longer true, right now, at this moment. You discover that perhaps what you believe hurt you so badly was never true. Even if it was, that doesn't mean that now it is true. When we are willing to see with eyes of truth, we uncover some of the lies and open the wounds. Still, there is poison inside the wounds.

Once we open the wounds, we need to clean them of all the poison. The solution is forgiveness. There is no other way to clean all the poison than forgiveness. You must forgive those who hurt you, even if whatever they did is unforgivable in your mind. You will forgive them not because they deserve to be forgiven, but because you don't want to suffer and hurt yourself every time you remember what they did to you. Forgiveness is for your own mental healing. Forgiveness is an act of self-love and compassion for yourself.

Once we have cleaned the wounds of poison with forgiveness, we are going to use the powerful medicine of love to accelerate the healing. There is no other medicine but unconditional love. Not I love you if, or I love myself if. There is no if. There is no justification. There is no explanation. It is just to love. And it begins with self-love. We can't love others until we love ourselves. There are millions of ways to express your happiness, but there is one way to be truly happy, and that is to love.

That is the healing. Three steps: the truth, forgiveness, and self-love. If we can see our state of mind as a disease or wound, we find that there is a cure.
posted by netbros at 7:46 AM on November 2, 2008 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My recommendation is a book called Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Sue Johnson. It looks at those moments where you're fighting about something small and irrational, but the emotions in the fight are SO BIG. What's triggering them?

She talks a lot about the pattern where one partner shuts down to try to minimize the damage, and the other becomes increasingly frantic and aggressive to try to get all the issues on the table. This makes the first partner nervous, so they shut down more, which makes the second partner nervous, so they get more frantic, and on and on it goes. She's got a bunch of exercises focused on how to recognize this pattern, stop it while it's happening, and prevent it from happening in the future.

If he feels I'm being distant or disconnected, instead of telling me, he retaliates by shutting down emotionally, then when I try to figure out what's wrong and how to fix it, he blows me off. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Oh hells yeah. My partner and I do this all the time. I react like you do. Here's what I've learned from this book:

He's upset by your (perceived) disconnection and he shuts down to protect himself, but you see that and fear that he's distancing himself from you. This upsets you, so you react aggressively (probing questions, trying to fix) to try to force him to talk to you. He hears this as anger and dissatisfaction, so he shuts down more to avoid further damaging your relationship, to avoid saying or doing something that will piss you off. You read this as him blowing you off (he's actually trying to calm you down), which makes you panic even more. You're both fearing the loss of your connection, but your reactions feed each other's anxiety, so the fight escalates. Again.

This book helps each partner learn to recognize these fights when they are on the horizon, and react in ways that reassure the other partner rather than threatening them. She has exercises designed to establish a firm base of security and love in the relationship so that each small slip is not so scary and fights don't escalate, if they start at all.
posted by heatherann at 8:16 AM on November 2, 2008 [9 favorites]

Anything by Gottman, although they're marriage focused. They're actually reseach-based, instead of metaphor-based.
posted by sondrialiac at 9:15 AM on November 2, 2008

Passionate Marriage by David Schnarch. I'd listen to the CDs first though.
posted by No New Diamonds Please at 9:20 AM on November 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

ditto what hazyspring said. there is not much that can replace time spent, and when seeing eachother more is not an option I don't know that an intensified "we are going to fix this" is necessarily the right approach. i would advise against trying to have meaningful conversations via phone or internet. spend your week working on the issues you are bringing into the relationship.

The dance of intimacy by Harriet Lerner
How to be an adult in relationships by David Richo (I haven't read this one, but I have read his other, similarly named, title; a friend is reading this one).

call dan savage (206-201-2720)
posted by tamarack at 10:38 AM on November 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The answers here have already almost covered the AskMe Relationship Canon:
Getting the Love You Want
How To Be An Adult In Relationships
Gottman: The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail
Conscious Loving (less mentioned, but since I give it +1, I'll include it)
Harriet Lerner (ditto)
The only one I immediately see missing is The Five Love Languages.

But it sounds like you know at least some of the problems, so if you're both committed to changing those, then individual counseling would help.
posted by salvia at 11:42 AM on November 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah,
and you could possibly check out phone counselling?
I'd figure that'd be a rarer combination of services when it comes couples counselling, but you could take a look...
posted by Elysum at 12:04 PM on November 2, 2008

Is there any way you can take some longer time out together? A few days vacation, even somewhere simple, can give you space to reconnect - as long as you treat it like 'yay, time out together!' rather than 'we're going away to work on what's broken, dammit!'.
posted by freya_lamb at 1:35 PM on November 2, 2008

I was in an interstate relationship where we saw each other for about four or five days at a time once a month, and at my individual therapist's suggestion, we found a counselor who agreed to do monthly sessions with us. Two in succession, actually, and the second one helped. I recommend calling around and giving it a shot.
posted by clavicle at 2:08 PM on November 2, 2008

This is probably going to sound like a strange suggestion, but I am going to suggest a Marriage Encounter weekend.

Before we were married (in the Catholic church) we were required to do an "engaged encounter" weekend. Neither of us wanted anything to do with it, really, but it was the most amazing weekend.

It's sort of difficult to explain in a way that doesn't sound weird, especially because it's connected with the catholic church (actually, now that I look at the website, it's been adopted by a whole slew of faiths, but it really does not make any difference, I promise). But it is not at all about the Catholic church, or religion. Instead, it's about your relationship, and most especially about communicating. The way it works is a couple presents a topic by sharing a story from their marriage. You and your spouse then go to separate parts of the place and spend 15 minutes writing about the topic or answering questions, then you get together, exchange books, and talk about it.

It's pretty amazing what happens. Even though we'd been together for a really long time, and I thought we had good communications skills, we learned a lot about each other, and, most especially, about how to talk about things and how to listen and understand -- and how to fight/discuss things effectively.

I've sent three of my nieces and their husbands to these weekends and they were all similarly awed and amazed by them.

I'm not sure this is making sense, but if you have questions or want more details,
posted by dpx.mfx at 4:36 PM on November 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

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