Free Relationship Advice Straight From Couples Therapy Lesson #1

How to Have a Stress Reducing Conversation with Your Partner

As a couples therapist, a common presenting problem is how to talk about a stressful experience with your significant other.  Seems simple enough, right?  But it can really turn into a problem if the person who is listening starts to give advice or says the wrong thing….

Admittedly, this has happened in my own life when I am very stressed.  My husband walks in the house from business travel, and I will start to tell him everything!  I just want to get it off my chest!  However, if I do not clue him in that I want to have a stress reducing conversation, then he is more likely to say the wrong thing and before you know it we are having a disagreement!  Sound familiar?

I am working towards becoming a Gottman Certified Couples Therapist and Dr. Gottman has a protocol for having a stress reducing conversation.  After giving this exercise to my clients, I thought I would try it out in my own life!  I have found that it only works well if I ask my husband, “Can we have a stress reducing conversation?”  Usually he says yes, and we proceed forward with the stress-reducing conversation steps.  I often remind people how important it is to make sure that your significant other knows the purpose of the conversation before you get started.  For example, is it a stress-reducing conversation? Is the conversation to repair a problem at the Relationship Repair Counter? Do you want to discuss a decision that you need to make together?  Or maybe you just want to connect and laugh?  People are surprised how well it works when they remember to tell their partner what the purpose is for a conversation before they start talking!

So, these are the guidelines for a stress reducing conversation.  You can print out a free couples therapy worksheet with this same information to give to your significant other.  Try this out and let me know how it goes…


1. Take Turns. Each partner gets to be the complainer for fifteen minutes.

2. Don’t give unsolicited advice. The major rule when helping your partner de-stress is that understanding must precede advice.

3. Show genuine interest. Don’t let your mind or eyes wander. Try to stay intently focused on your partner.  No peeking at the Iphone!

4. Communicate your understanding. Let your partner know that you can and are empathizing with what they are saying.  Say, “What I am hearing you say is…” and reflect back what you heard your partner say.

5. Take your partner’s side. This means being supportive, even if you think that part of his or her perspective is unreasonable. It’s all about perspective! Don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees – if your relationship is important to you, it is likely more important than your opinion about the intricacies of your mate’s conversation with their boss. Again, understanding must precede advice.

6. Express a “we against others” attitude. Let him or her know that the two of you are in this together. That you are a team.

7. Express affection. Hold your partner, put an arm on his or her shoulder, and say, “I love you.”

8. Validate emotions. Let your partner know that his or her feelings make sense to you by telling them, “I can understand why you would feel that way.”




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