Updated: Jun 29
Tom Philp (LPC) answers the 3 main questions couples ask him:
• Should we go to bed angry?
• When do we compromise?
• How long does couples therapy take?
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One of the most common questions I get is, should we go to bed angry?
Hi, I'm Tom Philp from Stonebridge Couples Therapy. In our last video, we did some myth-busting, where we looked at some common myths around couples therapy and we busted them. We gave some truth, some factual information, and not just relied on the myths themselves.
I thought it would be interesting this time around, to answer some of the most common questions I get as a couple's therapist, so let's dive in. One of the most common questions I get is, should we go to bed angry?
Now, there's a couple of different camps on this, couple different lines of thought. One is that, yes, you should go to bed angry. The other is, no, you should not go to bed angry. I clearly fall in the former of the two, you should absolutely go to bed angry. Cool off, calm down, sometimes you can wake up in the morning and have a much better perspective about what your partner was trying to tell you or what you were trying to communicate to them.
Now, there's a couple of caveats here, exceptions. Yes, I think you should go to bed early, but the exception to that, is that you should decide when you're going to come back together and talk about the issue again.
When you're worked up, when both partners are in a defensive posture, nothing good is going to happen from staying up all night long and trying to resolve it, that's why you need to go to bed. Physiologically speaking, when you go to sleep your body moves out of the fight or flight posture or stance that you were in and it reengages, it kind of resets.
Now, you still may be angry about some of the things that happen, but from a physiological perspective, you're feeling much better and you're able to use the full wholeness of your brain in a sense and especially the part upfront, the prefrontal cortex, where you're able to then engage in more calm logical thought.
You're gonna be able to hear your partner better and you're probably gonna be able to communicate what you were trying to say better too.
So, I definitely think that couples need to go to bed and sleep off their frustration. Now, the other caveat to this, the first one is that you need to make a time to come back together and talk to it. It's not okay to say, “let's go to bed to sleep it off” and then never address it again, because that way, as a couple, it doesn't feel like we are resolving issues and actually moving the relationship forward, it feels like we get stuck and we sweep all these things under the rug and that keeps us stuck in our growth as a couple.
So, definitely plan a time to come back together. The other thing that's important to remember is that, there's different coping styles that each partner have and so, one, and if you go to our video “how to break negative patterns in your relationship”, we talk about this in that video. There's usually a pursuer and a withdrawer in a relationship, a pursuer wants to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. The drawer is very happy to take some time, mull it over, think about it, calm things down, lessen, de-escalate the tension around the argument.
So, the other caveat I’m talking about is that, it's going to be difficult for the pursuer to be able to go to sleep, to be able to calm down, to be able to have that time to de-escalate. So, they're going to need to engage in some self-soothing actions, maybe they want to read a little something or maybe they want to go meditate or pray a little bit or something that's going to be soothing to them so that they can calm their own physiology, because they're feeling the most anxious to be able to resolve it. The withdrawer is not going to have as much of a problem.
So, there is a challenge for pursuers in this sense, if we don't go to bed right away, we can stay up, we can hopefully resolve that and that is the hope of the pursuer. We can work through this, we can resolve this together and when we do, then I can relax, then I can go to sleep. The problem is if we keep pushing, pushing, pushing, that escalates the tension and not de-escalates it, so a bit of a challenge for pursuers there.
What's another one of the most common questions I get? Another one of the most common questions I get is, when should we compromise when we're in an argument? How do we know when to compromise? One of the things I tell couples is, a good rule of thumb for compromise is “who is going to be responsible for the outcome or implementing or executing, however you want to say it, the results of the discussion.?”
So, for example, if we're talking about something around the house and I’m gone all day at work, it doesn't do me any good to force my perspective or opinion on my partner if in fact, she or he is the one that's going to be at home actually implementing that and I’m thinking this in part, because sometimes when we get stuck as a couple, is around childrearing issues.
So, we're having a conversation about what to do, but I’m gone to work all day, so really it needs to be “how can I support you in that decision?” So, that's a good rule of thumb that I like to use, “who is responsible for the execution or the outcome of that decision?”, because ultimately, if I’m not responsible for it, if I don't have to be the one implementing that day in and day out, then it's really best for me to be able to be a support to my partner for whatever decision that is.
Finally, the third most common question I get is, how long does couples therapy take? And that is a great question, it's an honest question and it deserves a good answer and the answer is, it depends. Now, let me narrow that down.
What I mean by that is that, it really largely depends on what the issue is that's going on in the life of the couple. Some issues have been in the relationship for the whole of the relationship and if you've been married 20 years, you've been dealing with this issue for 20 years; that's not going to be an easy fix. Some people come to us in crisis, maybe there's been an affair or a death in the family, those things don't resolve in just a few sessions, but what I can tell you this is, couples therapy shouldn't last one session longer than is necessary to be able to help the couple, not only resolve the issue, but be able to have some longevity with the resolution.
What I mean is, one of the things we do is, when couples come to us, we really help them be able to de-escalate their cycles, so they understand what keeps them stuck, those negative patterns and cycles they get into, regardless of the subject matter. We help them be able to communicate the core of the issues and be able to communicate in a way that they feel heard and understood and we help them be able to resolve the issues without falling back into those cycles, so that they feel like they're growing the relationship and moving forward.
Most the time with us at Stonebridge, that takes somewhere between 12 and 16 sessions, but again, I think there's an exception to that rule, which is it depends on what's going on in the life of the relationship, so somewhere between 12 and 16 for us, to be able to help couples de-escalate their cycles, communicate for connection and learn to be able to resolve conflict and repair conflict without falling back into cycles. For us that's somewhere between 12 and 16 sessions.
Obviously, some couples take longer because the issues have been there longer or because they're more in crisis. Some couples even take shorter than that, they don't take as long because it's maybe more of an acute situation that's going on.
These are three of the most common questions I get. If you have more questions for me, if there's some burning questions you have about couples therapy, reply at the bottom of this video and let me know and we'll get back to you. Hey, thanks for watching, we'll see you next time.
- Tim Philp, LPC & CEO
Stonebridge Couples Therapy