Julia has put together a relationship worksheet as a first step for your couples work. This homework is a work sheet for your use only. Please prepare it on your own, without consulting each other. It is important that each person come to the meeting with his or her own independent thoughts so that clear agreements between different points of view can be negotiated. Please feel free to call with any questions. The first session is usually 3-4 hours, and the following sessions are typically 2 hours long.
Make a list of what you would like to accomplish during this session. Common examples are:
“I want to say everything I’m feeling and be heard.”
“I want to figure out where we get stuck when we fight, and what to do about it.”
“I want to negotiate new agreements about money and chores.”
Write down the things your partner has done that have evoked a negative response from you: angered you, hurt your feelings, scared you, caused upset for you, and so on. Be as specific as you can. The more details, such as time, place, exact words and actions, the better. Use the following form for all the incidents:
When you ___________, I felt ___________.
Some examples are:
“Last week while we were fighting, when you slammed your hand down on the kitchen table, I felt scared and later angry.”
“When you said you’d renew the car insurance and then didn’t, I felt irritated.”
“When you honk your horn in the car while I’m still getting ready to leave the house, the way you did this morning coming here, I feel really mad and hurt.”
Please be careful that the words use to describe feelings are simple and nonjudgmental. Interestingly, words in English for feelings, devoid of judgments, are scarce. To be safe try to stick with the following list of words:angry, irritated, anxious, scared, terrified, sad, hurt, hopeless, powerless, confused. Qualify them if needed with “very” or “a little,” or in time, “immediately”, and “later,” or “a lot later, when I had thought about it more.” When we use judgmental words our partners tend to stop listening and get defensive. The following is an example of a communication full of judgment, without emotional information, and what I refer to as a story, or interpretation.
“When you said you’d renew the car insurance and then didn’t, I felt you were incompetent and irresponsible, and it felt like a betrayal and I couldn’t trust you any more.”
Instead of the above, I would like you to frame the communication in the following way:
“When you said you’d renew the car insurance and then didn’t, I felt very angry, and later really hurt. I formulated the following story in my mind about it: that you were not as responsible about money as you had told me you were, and that you didn’t care about how your actions were going to affect me.”
Write down all the held feelings and accompanying stories you can remember without concern for which event is more important than another. Write down things you have already said only if you still have strong feelings about them, and/or don’t really feel understood.
Look at this part of the homework as an opportunity to get whatever is upsetting, challenging, or confusing you down on paper and to begin the sorting process. It may be helpful to prioritize your list so that you make sure to get the most important issues out on the table during our session.
Make a list of things you ideally need to make you happy in this relationship. Be as specific as you can. If you have any non-negotiable demands, be sure to note them.
Think about positive things you feel for your partner, what you like and appreciate about them, what you are grateful for or respect about them. It’s helpful to think of the reasons why you want to resolve your conflicts with respect and care.