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Stepping Stones Counseling Center Past Articles

Counseling Stepfamilies: Some Rules to Enhance Sticky Couple Communications Problems
by Robert Klopfer, LCSW, Co-Director, Stepping Stones

Many couples find they get bogged down in certain painful, frequently repetitive disagreements that do not go away over a long time. The issues discussed become highly charged with emotion and both adults are easily bruised when they go into this battle. The couple is stuck in a communication quagmire and needs help to get a new view of their differences and the ability to move on past these disagreements.

James Bray, author of the excellent book, Stepfamilies: Love, Marriage, and Parenting in the First Decade, has come up with a list of helpful suggestions for the couple to use to move ahead in their ability to resolve these issues. . We believe they are well worth trying to help couples deepen their understanding and trust in each other. Here are Dr. Bray's suggestions:

  1. Make an appointment to talk things over. These issues are too important to be left to a spontaneous dialog and an appointment honors their importance.
  2. Bring a list of what you want to talk about to the appointment. The list keeps you focused so you do not waste the opportunity to get to the key issues.
  3. Bring a notepad and pen, have a clock clearly visible, and employ standard debate rules. The goal is to "listen", rather than thinking about how you are going to defend yourself or what you are going to say. Try not to interrupt your partner.
  4. Speak in "I" sentences. Avoid "you" directives and generalizations. Establish an accusation-free zone. The point is to have your mate hear your version, your experience-not to feel belittled, attacked , or criticized.
  5. Determine that it is more important to understand what the other is feeling than it is to win the argument.
  6. Reward yourselves afterward with a-nonverbal-Date Night. Do something fun that does not involve much talking. You did that already.
  7. If you are still having trouble, join a stepfamily group. Call us for help in finding one.
  8. If you are still having trouble, find a good stepfamily counselor. Stepping Stones therapists are available to help you work out these difficult issues.


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