Monday, May 14, 2018


Even though I have been learning and practicing psychology for over 20 years, there continue to be opportunities to learn that present themselves to me. It often comes out through interactions, particularly with my students and clients. Today I experienced one of those opportunities that I would like to share with you

Today I saw a lovely couple and they are good people. Both of them are loving and care for each other, but like all couples, they experience conflicts from time to time. Why is that? Well, while exploring and understanding the patterns, I came up with a helpful formula that most (fundamentally healthy) couples can utilize. This couple named it “ECU.”

E: First, as a couple, you want to “Express” your desires, needs, and wants to your partner directly. Many couples don’t express it directly, as a result, they  end up feeling disappointed, sad, angry, and so on. Yes, it is sometimes challenging to express your needs and wants out of fear of rejection, your desire for your partner’s spontaneous behavior, or because you just are not used to expressing your needs and wants. However, a lot of issues are preventable only if you express what you want to your partner in a straight forward manner. If both of you and your partner are decent individuals who are caring for each other, you need to express your wants and needs to your partner, so as to give your loving partner the opportunity to give you what you are looking for.

C: If you fail the first step of “Expression,” what tends to happen is that you experience some negative emotions. The negative feelings arising out of your feelings of not having your needs and wants fulfilled may lead you to distancing, avoiding, and/or shutting down from your partner. It may even create some fights and conflicts. Now we are stepping into discord. This is the time we need to get “Close.” Instead of pushing toward or pulling away, you get closer. You may have this second chance to express your wants and needs. You may be able to express your needs or wants while cuddling. You don’t go away or fight, but come closer. No matter how you are feeling or what you tend to do, just go forward to be closer.

U: Okay, we are not perfect and shit happens, therefore, you may fail to express what you what or get closer to your partner. You missed the first and second phase… Now it gets ugly. Both of you become frustrated, distant, angry, combative, cold, and so on. But because you are a healthy enough couple, you decide to talk. However, unfortunately at this point, your talk often results in further disappointment, because what we often do at this point is to try to express ourselves to our partner with the intention of being understood. For example, we try to explain what we meant to do, or explain how hurt we are feeling, or what we wanted our partner to do, etc. Too late. Once both sides are emotionally worked up, it won’t be received well. Then we try to explain ourselves even more, and end up feeling totally misunderstood, dismissed, and miserable.

Then what can you do? In this final stage, the focus needs to be “Understanding” your partner. At this point, you don’t try to express yourself. You just try to understand your partner’s experience as much as you can. How such loving couples end up in such a situation of conflict can be surprising, but starting out with your fundamental belief that your partner is a decent and loving person, you just try to figure it out. Therefore, you just want to understand what your partner’s experience was from the beginning. You do not impose your experience or feelings to justify your standpoint, but just try to fully understand your partner’s experience as if you are in your partner’s shoes.

If you do it well, you cannot help but ending up saying to your partner, “Ah, that was your experience then,” “I see, no wonder you said (or behaved) that way,” “Now I understand how and why you felt [angry/sad/frustrated/hurt…] at that time,” and so on. This will give you more clarity, empathetic understanding, and calmness. Also, this will help your partner feel understood and relaxed. Then your partner is now willing to understand you in return. As a result, you both will feel much better, understood, and ready to resume being a loving couple!

Doesn’t this make sense to you? In summary, first, do not hesitate to express your desire to your partner; doing so will help you avoid in the first place many situations ending up in conflict and hurt. However, if you or your partner neglect to express your needs or wants and start feeling negative, come closer to your partner. If you still fail at this point, then both of you now will have become quite negative and combative, and must just try to understand your partner’s experience and feelings selflessly. If you are both loving and emotionally mature, you will be able to resolve your conflict and move on and actually be closer and more loving for the experience. Once we can understand this dynamic, we can all avoid useless and meaningless fights in the future by “Starting at E”!

Well there’s one last letter in parenthesis: (A). Even if you utilize this formula and follow it well, you may still have some remaining discomfort, which can be impossible to fully resolve. Then what can you do? The answer is “Act.” This is your last chance to channel your inner actor/actress, and just behave as lovingly and sweetly to your partner. It may not be genuine, but who cares when it will resolve minor conflict in your relationship!?!? When you act this way, your partner will appreciate it, and become sweet and loving in return, and you will end up forgetting any small resentments. Because you and your partner are different human beings from different backgrounds, it is sometimes impossible to fully understand and accept each other perfectly. Then instead of focusing on small things, just act and appreciate what you can have as a result. It really works and will be one of the greatest relationship skills you will ever learn and have at your disposal to ensure a loving and life-long relationship.

By the way, why do you think this “A” is in parenthesis? Because “A” can be utilized at any time. Each phase could be challenging to some extent for anyone, particularly the later you leave it, the harder it gets. But no matter how you are “feeling,” it is an essential relationship skill and you “act” to make it work. I like to call it “channeling your inner actor/actress.” For example, even if you don’t feel like getting closer because of your “hurt” feelings, “just do it” like any good actor or actress would do. The first priority is your happy relationship and once it works, the relationship gets better, and you will feel better. SO WHY NOT??