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How to stay married the A-List way: Gwyneth Paltrow’s marriage counsellor reveals his 15 tricks to save your relationship

Terry Real is a big deal.

The veteran marriage counsellor, who boasts A-list disciples from Bruce Springsteen to Gwyneth Paltrow, has spent 25 years pulling Hollywood marriages back from the brink.

In the UK, where a dispiriting 42 per cent of nuptials end up in the bin, we could take a leaf out of his book.

Happily, he’s got one: Us, a practical how-to guide to stepping back from the bickering and getting real about your relationship. Can he fix us? If it’s good enough for Gwynnie…

The veteran marriage counsellor, who boasts A-list disciples from Bruce Springsteen to Gwyneth Paltrow (pictured with Brad Falchuk last month), has spent 25 years pulling Hollywood marriages back from the brink The veteran marriage counsellor, who boasts A-list disciples from Bruce Springsteen to Gwyneth Paltrow (pictured with Brad Falchuk last month), has spent 25 years pulling Hollywood marriages back from the brink

The veteran marriage counsellor, who boasts A-list disciples from Bruce Springsteen to Gwyneth Paltrow (pictured with Brad Falchuk last month), has spent 25 years pulling Hollywood marriages back from the brink

HOW TO ARGUE LESS 

People have two faces they show to their partners, says Real: ‘adult mode’ and ‘child mode’. Everything is sunshine and rainbows in ‘wise adult mode’ – we are rational, reasonable and can express ourselves confidently. It’s when we argue that ‘adaptive child’ mode kicks in, and the strategies we learned to defend ourselves under stress as nippers come screaming back. The first step? Recognise your go-to argument style…

Always right You believe ‘we will solve this when we determine which of us is right and which of us is wrong’. You’re the sort of person who makes a virtue of being ‘the logical one’, hammering home hard facts, often ignoring your partner’s feelings and winding them up further.Assuming control This behaviour can be either overt (‘shut up and do what I tell you’) or covert, in the form of manipulation designed to make your partner feel weak and uncertain.Unbridled self-expression Or, essentially, a tirade. Instead of focusing on the matter in hand, you escalate and pursue a demolition of your partner’s character, using phrases such as ‘you never’, ‘you always’ and ‘you are’. Ironically this disempowers your partner’s ability to change, because it suggests that they have a fixed, failed personality rather than behaviours that they can work on.Retaliation You hit back, tit for tat. Hurting your partner the same way they hurt you is an ‘understandable human impulse’, says Real. However, ‘it’s flawed, because you’re never going to get someone to be more accountable or empathetic this way’.Withdrawal This is ‘huge for men’, says Real. It’s saying: ‘I’m not interested, we’re shutting this down’ and retreating from the conversation (this can happen emotionally, as well as physically). This is very different from ‘responsible distance taking’, which involves saying, ‘I’m taking a break, here’s where I’ll be and when I’ll be back’. These are all ‘losing strategies’. Discussing what yours is (or indeed are) when calm may help you spring back into adult mode during disagreements. Try asking for a short time out (different from coldly withdrawing) when you feel yourself starting to lose control. ‘Tell your partner how long you’ll be, then go and splash your face with cold water, meditate or have a short walk,’ Real advises. ‘Talk to that little child inside yourself and try to work out what they want out of this situation.’ Terry Real has lent a hand to the likes of Bruce Springsteen - pictured with Patti Scialfa in New York City, 2017 Terry Real has lent a hand to the likes of Bruce Springsteen - pictured with Patti Scialfa in New York City, 2017

Terry Real has lent a hand to the likes of Bruce Springsteen – pictured with Patti Scialfa in New York City, 2017

Meanwhile, if your partner is the one in child mode while you’re not, it’s time to ‘stand up for yourself, with love’. This involves saying something like: ‘Please don’t snap at me, it pushes me away. Could you say sorry so I can feel close to you again?’ If your partner is extremely reactive – yelling or screaming at you – a more formal time out is needed.

THE BEST WAY TO PICK UP THE PIECES AFTER AN ARGUMENT 

If one partner is left distressed, the onus is on the other to ‘initiate repair’. It’s like working at a customer service window – you’re there to serve the other person’s needs, not disparage them.

Can’t imagine how that goes down? Try the following Real special: ‘I’m sorry you feel bad. I love you and I don’t want you to feel that. Is there something I could say or do to make you feel better?’ In short: be the bigger person.

The ‘feedback wheel’ is another method Real recommends post-argument, when you’re both feeling calmer. First, make sure your partner is open to having the discussion (‘tell them it will only be ten minutes’), then talk through the following:

Terry Real and Gwyneth Paltrow pictured speaking on stage at the in goop Health Summit on January 27, 2018 Terry Real and Gwyneth Paltrow pictured speaking on stage at the in goop Health Summit on January 27, 2018

Terry Real and Gwyneth Paltrow pictured speaking on stage at the in goop Health Summit on January 27, 2018

‘What I experienced’ Tell your partner your subjective experience of the situation that caused the argument. For example, ‘I came home from work and the groceries hadn’t been put away.’

‘What I made up about it’ Explain your assumptions. ‘I made up that you don’t care about doing any household chores and think I should do them all instead.’

‘This is how it made me feel’ Outline the emotions this brought up for you. ‘I felt angry, frustrated and unappreciated.’

YOU CAN SHAPE YOUR RELATIONSHIP, BUT YOU HAVE TO WORK FOR IT 

‘What I would like’ Be clear about how your partner could behave differently in the future. ‘If there is shopping to be put away, I would really appreciate it if you could prioritise that.’

As the other partner in the conversation, Real recommends you…

Listen, then repeat back what you have heard.Ask if you got it right.Acknowledge and agree to what you can. 

GET MORE OF WHAT YOU WANT 

‘Almost all couples have ADD: appreciation deficit disorder,’ says Real. ‘If you want more of something, pay attention to it – you will get more of what you want by appreciating it. This is far more effective than complaining about what you don’t get.’ His three-step plan for getting more of what you want involves the following…

Help your partner succeed Be specific and teach them what you’d like. ‘Remember, you do not have the right to be angry about not getting what you haven’t asked for,’ he says.

Make it worth their while Reward and encourage the efforts made by your partner – ‘appreciation is more powerful than all other strategies combined’, says Real.

Avoid saying ‘You only did that because I told you to.’ According to Real, ‘You can shape your relationship – you don’t have to be a passive passenger. But you’re going to have to roll up your sleeves and work for it. If you don’t want to help your partner learn, then settle for whatever they give you. But if what they give you isn’t working, it’s time to teach them to do better.’

Us is published by Cornerstone Press, £18.99

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