Good Relationships Require Effort

All relationships require effort to start, to maintain, to be responsible to each other, to resolve conflict, to be supportive and to end the relationship if need be. Its realistic to expect relationships to take work at times.

The start of a relationship is often very exciting as the initial love is easy and beautiful. This period of time usually lasts between 3-6 months and each person sees the other thru rose colored glasses either ignoring their faults or not seeing them. All things are wonderful. After this time period, reality sets in and the couple have to get to know the real person and accept all the things that were initially ignored. This may take some effort and communication skills may be needed to be calm and respectful thru this process. Gottman’s 4 horsemen often show up at this time.

The 4 horsemen of communications are criticism, contempt, stonewalling and defensiveness. The Gottmans’ have research showing if this form of communication habit continues, the couple will be separated before 7 years together. How does a couple break out of the “4 Horsemen” habit of communication? It takes conscious effort on both sides to stop. When I work with couples I ask them to pick a word that signals them that the 4 Horsemen have appeared and this often helps them with awareness, as awareness is the first step to change. With criticism Gottman suggests to complain instead of criticizing because criticism is really blaming. Horseman number 2 is contempt which includes many disrespectful words (sarcasm, hostile humor) and body languages messages (eye rolling, sneering) and replace all these with respect and you’re back on track. Defensiveness often shows up with criticism but can also be a victim stance. Gottman says take responsibility for your half of the problem, be respectful and again you are back on track. Stonewalling is the final horseman that is hard on relationships. Gottman says when people get really angry the tendency is to stonewall as anger is a fight and flight response.  Take a break from each other and calm down (about ½ an hour) and resume discussions. Make sure you let your partner know you are taking a break for ½ hour to calm down and want to continue talking after that. Avoid the 4 horsemen and you’re half way there.

Responsibility to each other can take some work too and Gottman has many strategies to connect couples and to turn towards to help couples feel they want to support each other. Usually the better communication helps as this brings couples closer when they are respectful.

Resolving conflict can be another area that is tricky and can take some skills and practice. A helpful strategy is to follow “fair fighting rules”. Some of those rules are becoming aware of what the problem is that is bothering you before you have that talk, focusing on one problem at a time, be respectful, watch your language and own your own feelings with “I statements”, no yelling, no stonewalling, take turns talking, and compromise. These rules help couples or any relationship stay on track.

Ending a relationship can be very painful and if you don’t do the work before a breakup you will probably repeat the same pattern all over again so I always recommend counselling if the problems can’t be resolved.

Irene Haire, MC, RCAT, Registered Provisional Psychologist/Registered Art Therapist is in private practice in Edmonton at The GB Building Downstairs-9562- 82 Avenue, 780-232-1055 www.cloverdalecounselling.com

Healthy Relationships: Talk About Everything


Honesty and communication are the core of a healthy relationship. While it is important to share happy moments, it is also positive to recognize that conflicts are a normal part of a relationship. Learning to navigate conflicts can help you to resolve them. First recognize that being open is a goal to have with safe people. Sometimes simply being able to express one’s feelings to a concerned and understanding listener is enough to relieve frustration and make it possible for an individual to advance to a problem-solving frame of mind.

In order to communicate in a healthy way, there are five strategies that can help.

  1. Focus on the problem, not the person. When a disagreement leads to insults, raised voices or sarcasm the conversation will not be productive. Focus on the problem without placing blame. If the disagreement becomes personal take a break.


  1. Use reflective listening. When both parties focus only on getting their own point across neither will be understood. Try restating in you own words what your partner said and check with your partner that you understand. Next share your side. Your partner should reflect back what you say until they also understand. In this way both will feel understood even if they still disagree.


  1. Use “I” statements. Begin your sentence with I. For instance I feel…. Or I think…. In this way we show we take responsibility for our thoughts and feelings instead of blaming the partner. Using “you” statements will cause the other to become defensive. For instance you always… you never….


  1. Know when to take a time out. When things are becoming argumentative, insulting or aggressive take a break. Have a plan in place to have a time out that is agreed upon that either person can call time out. One acronym to keep in mind is HALT. If you are Hungry Angry Lonely or Tired take a time out. Make sure that you return to the issue, it is important not to leave them unresolved.


  1. Work towards a resolution. Disagreement is normal. If it becomes clear that you cannot agree focus on a resolution instead, find a compromise that is acceptable to both. Ideally a compromise would benefit both people. Ask yourself if this disagreement matters to the relationship and if not move on.


Anne McMaster & Irene Haire MC, RCAT, Registered Provisional Psychologist/Registered Art Therapist is in private practice at 9562 82 Ave Downstairs Edmonton, Ab 780-232-1055 https://cloverdalecounselling.com

Healthy Relationships: Alone Versus Unhealthy Relationship


It is better to be alone than in a unhealthy relationship. Destructive relationships damage your emotional health and your self esteem.  It may not be easy to find someone to be in a healthy relationship with but its worth the search. The longer you are in a destructive relationship the less time you have to look for a healthy relationship. Sometimes you may only be in a healthy relationship with people who you see for therapy and that’s ok as this starts to give you good guidelines.

What are some of the benefits to being alone? Melody Beattie in Co-Dependent No More says you can learn to like and love yourself and have” a love affair with yourself”. Learn to value yourself and even love yourself and be more compassionate to yourself. If you don’t like or love yourself then you don’t recognize your self worth. All humans have the same self worth though some may not recognize or honor it. Recognize your self worth. Learn to accept your thoughts, feelings and your body as they are all amazing.

How does this love affair with yourself start? Start by telling yourself you are good enough. Realize that everyone has similar negative feelings and thoughts but they push thru them. Then they set goals for a better life and proceed to have a better life.  Value yourself and make choices and decisions that enhance your self esteem and improve your life.

Be gentle, loving, attentive and kind to yourself. Value your feelings, needs, wants, desires and all that you are made of. If you have a hard time with this act as if and change the destructive pattern. Accept yourself and start where you are at and then work to become more. Develop your gifts and talents, trust yourself, respect yourself and be true to yourself. Last of all, honor yourself as this is how you will find yourself.

Nathaniel Branden says for a better life and improved self esteem, honor the self by being; willing to think independently, to feel what you feel, want what you want, and need what you need. He adds that you need to desire and suffer over what you are vulnerable about. He further says preserve an attitude of self acceptance, live authentically, refuse to accept unearned guilt, be committed to your right to exist, and be in love with your own life.

You may find that as you develop your relationship with yourself to be healthy and loving then people who come into your life will be loving and kind too.

In my counselling work with clients either individually and with couples I often see evidence of people making changes in themselves and then finding healthier relationships after. This really makes sense logically as we become more comfortable around people we can relate to whether they are unhealthy or healthy like we are. We can change the pattern and have a healthy relationship or at least a healthier one. Other ways to change to healthy relationship patterns are through reading books, viewing information videos, taking courses or workshops and looking around you for role models that show you what a healthy relationship is.

Irene Haire, MC, RCAT, Registered Provisional Psychologist/Registered Art Therapist is in private practice in Edmonton at The GB Building Downstairs-9562- 82 Avenue, 780-232-1055 www.cloverdalecounselling.com