DIY Marriage Counseling

Expert Laurie Puhn insists you don’t need couples therapy, you need to roll up your sleeves and fix it yourself.

ImageDivorce lawyer and mediator Laurie Puhn sees a lot of fighting couples–and she wouldn’t have it any other way. “Not only are fights inevitable, they’re good,” says Laurie. In her new book, Fight Less, Love More: 5-Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship without Blowing Up or Giving In, Laurie teaches couples how to fight effectively. “You and your partner don’t need to talk more, you need to talk better,” she says. She sat down with FOF to discuss this revolutionary concept and shared 5 quick-fixes for common communication blunders.

  • FOF: In your book, you say couples usually don’t need therapy. This is pretty radical…Are you saying people can and should take marriage counseling into their own hands?
    • That’s right. I’d say therapy is helpful if there’s a mental health issue or if you’re the type of couple that wants to sit down in a room and talk and talk and talk. The couples I see don’t want to talk; they are sick of talking about their problems. They don’t want to spend ten years in therapy; they want solutions that will work in a week.
  • FOF: We all want instant gratification. Your book promises changes in 5 minutes but doesn’t it take more time than that to unlearn bad habits and alter expectations?
    • You can have an awakening in the course of one conversation. For instance, you might be having an argument about a decision that doesn’t need to be made for a few months. Instead of fighting you might realize ‘Hey I don’t need to argue this,’ and say to your partner ‘We are going to have more information before we really need to make a decision. Let’s hold off.” In that instant you went from having a fight to having an awakening. It takes is a little bit of wisdom to have a happier life.
  • FOF: Is it possible after being in a relationship for many years to get the butterflies and new romance feelings back?
    • ImageYour knees aren’t going to buckle like they might have on the fifth date, but doing something new and exciting together — going for a weekend getaway or trying a new restaurant or hobby – can stimulate you as if you were with a new person. You have to be honest with each other and say, “Our life got boring. What can we do together that would be exciting for both of us?” You can’t ignore the issue or it’s going to blow up in your face. You need to check for intimacy, for passion, for praise. Most people are good people, they just get into a routine.
  • FOF: How do you break out of these routines?
    • You need to date each other again. You need to go back to the praise and the kindness and the ‘Good morning’ and the ‘How are you doing today?’ You need to listen to each other and ask ‘How did your doctor appointment go?’ and ‘How’s your mother doing?’ You need to care about what’s going on in your partners life.
  • FOF: In your book you mention ineffective or conflict-provoking phrases you hear over again in relationships and offer quick-fix alternatives. Let’s discuss a few.
  • Instead of: “Can we talk?”
    You suggest: “Honey, can we have a 5-minute conversation?”

    • When people know the conversation is going to be short, they are willing to fully engage. If you say, ‘Can we talk?,’ your partner may fear that he won’t be dismissed for a few hours. He won’t want to contribute because it only makes the conversation go longer. If you say and promise five minutes, you’ll get full attention for five minutes.
  • Instead of: “I love you”
    You suggest: “I love you for…”

    • ImageThe “for” reminds you to look for something to love. It reminds you that every day he’s doing things that benefit you. Even if it’s something that doesn’t benefit you, it can be worthy of praise. Maybe your brother-in-law had issues and your husband is helping him. That’s your spot to say, “I love you for being a great brother.” Who else is going to say that besides you?
  • Instead of waking up and saying: “This is what we have to do today…”
    You suggest waking up and saying: “Good morning.”

    • What does good morning mean? It means, ‘it’s a good morning because you’re here, I’m here and we’re healthy and together.’ Or if we are not healthy, we are here to help each other. Sometimes we stop saying it to each other because we get stuck in a ‘roommate routine.’
  • Instead of: “Whatever.” (When your partner asks your opinion)
    You suggest saying: “Honey, can you give me a minute to think about that.”

    • When someone says “whatever,” it sends the message that they are a spectator in the relationship. If you don’t have an answer, just say, “Let me have a minute to think about it.” Then come up with an answer and be flexible. When you contribute ideas, you’ll have a more open and exciting relationship.
  • Instead of: “I told you so.”
    You suggest saying: “I’m sorry that happened.”

    • This is what I call moving from a fight line to a love line. For example, your husband gets sunburned. You want to say “I told you to wear sunscreen,” but it doesn’t affect you and it already happened. It’s the perfect opportunity to offer compassion instead of criticism.
  • FOF: What if your partner isn’t on board, continues to fight, is negative, places blame and engages in other ineffective forms of communication?
    • It takes two people to start an argument and one person to end it. You can make changes with our without your partners help. If you want to see your relationship improve, change yourself first. You have complete control of that. Then let the cards fall. I guarantee that if you start speaking differently, you are going to get a different reaction. He won’t even know what happened to him and you’ll both be much happier.
Author
Laurie Puhn, JD
Divorce lawyer/mediatorLaurie Puhn, JD, is a Harvard-educated family and divorce lawyer/mediator with a private practice in Manhattan. She is the author of “Fight Less, Love More: 5 Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship without Blowing Up or Giving In.” She has appeared on local and national media, including Fox & Friends, Weekend Today, 20/20, Good Day New York, and CNN, and her communication and relationship advice has appeared in Good Housekeeping, Real Simple, Redbook, and the New York Times. She also conducts empowering relationship communication seminars and workshops nationwide. Her website is: http://www.lauriepuhn.com/
  • corigarrett@comcast.net

    These are some good suggestions. I have thought at times when he is being unreasonable that I would NEVER have married him if he was like this when we were dating. It’s a matter of looking at it from a different perspective; like you are dating instead of married for 15 years….

  • islegirl74

    Just a few simple changes in how we speak to each other instead of at each other. Have to say it does really work! Thank you!

  • spcale

    We have been happily married for almost 35 years and I see how we learn all the time. It is great to get more ideas about how to make your marriage even better.
    Great article!