June 08, 2021
Welcome to our newest blog series, 'Relationships Matter.' Over the course of the next few weeks, we will be sharing our interviews with a number of relationship health experts in the industry. Get ready to hear about the good, the bad, and why each of these individuals are passionate about relationship health!
My name is Jelisha Gatling, and my pronouns are she/her. I am the founder of Let's Unpack Therapy!
I've always been fascinated with relationships since I was a kid. I remember always searching for an opening to make a project or paper about relationships in school. I was curious and always questioning why my friends parents did things differently than mine from dinner rituals, to curfews, to chores, to allowance. I was constantly comparing different traditions and "rules" when visiting friends' houses. I would ask neighbors, aunts and uncles about their marriages and wanted to know why the "rules" were different from relationship to relationship. This curiosity led to my interest in psychology and couples work. It's an ever-evolving field and feeds the learner in me. There's constant novelty because no two couples are alike and I love the constant element of exploration.
I love working with couples because it's like being a foreign translator. I get to witness and enable "A-Ha!" moments as couples truly understand something (that's been said a million times) for the very first time. Two people enter a relationship with their own set of "norms" and "shoulds" that they may expect their partner to also have. I get to help couples to not only "hear" each other when they have different "rules" to relationships, but encouraging them to be curious about the rules of relationships that they have been living by. It is exciting helping them to examine, get rid of, reshape, or create new rules together. I love helping couples go from being on opposite sides of the couch with their own scripts to writing a new script together.
The most rewarding element of my work is working with new clients who have ambivalence or stigmas about couples therapy and have a change of heart through the experience of working with me. After a first session, I'm often met with "Wow, that wasn't bad!" with surprise and it's rewarding every single time. I really am honored when couples who have no experience with therapy (or have had a bad experience) trust me and let me be a part of their relationship journey. It's always heartwarming to witness the transformation from nervous & guarded to ease & open.
These experiences are meaningful and my hope is that there's a domino effect where they share their experiences with loved ones and friends who also may have ambivalence giving them a positive perspective.
A common misconception is that only couples in crisis need relationship therapy. I constantly talk to couples on consultations where one or both are hesitant if they need therapy because things aren't "that" bad or they aren't fighting that much. I usually explain that couples counseling is not synonymous with crisis counseling. In fact, couples that seek therapy when they are in a good place and feeling connected often fare better and get ahead of issues that might be swept under the rug or escalate over time. The biggest misconception is that therapy is solely problem-focused, but it is a moreover a space to highlight the relationship strengths, which usually are an asset to solving relationship concerns.
Healthy individual self-care practices are paramount and have much greater impact on relationship satisfaction than I believe most people realize. This includes healthy diet, exercise, good sleep habits, etc. When any of those is lacking, we are prone to more misunderstandings and less ability to be present. If you are actively hungry, fatigued, and stressed, you will struggle to be an active listener in a conversation, much less to resolve conflict. Attending to your basic well-being is crucial to relationship health because it impacts the capacity that you have to show up.
This goes hand in hand with healthy coping mechanisms for day-to-day stress. It's important that each partner takes responsibility for managing their emotions and stress. This is about HOW you manage stress (not preventing stress which is inevitable). It should never be justified to take your stress out on your partner because you had a bad work day. A healthier response would be to tell your partner, "Hey I need a little extra time to decompress today and I'm not up for talking just yet. Tough day." Then go take a walk or do something to take care of yourself.
Being transparent about what you need (i.e. space, a hug, to vent, etc.) in times of stress allows your partner to be supportive to you without the stress bleeding into the relationship.
"Never go to bed upset!" This is my least favorite piece of advice because it insinuates that you MUST resolve the issue right now and sometimes that isn't healthy or productive. Sometimes it is necessary to pause trying to resolve a conflict so that one or both partners can cool off and process what they are feeling and needing with a clear head. It's very difficult to resolve a conflict if either partner is very emotionally charged. When you are physiologically and emotionally activated, you are less likely to actively listen, and more likely to be defensive. Forcing yourself to "talk it out" in those circumstances often just leads to more fractures that need to be repaired later. It's much better to pause, sleep it off, and revisit when you are both feeling calmer and able to communicate more effectively.
Thanks to Jelisha for her insight + expertise! You can find her on her website here. Looking for more help + advice regarding relationships, money, finances, and so much more? Sign up for our brand new premarital workshop and look out for more ways to connect with pros like Jelisha, when we launch our marketplace later this year.
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