J and I recently had our second couples counseling sessions. We decided to talk mostly about communication issues, especially surrounding how we communicate with one another when one or both of us is upset.
It's an interesting topic for us, and an issue that we have both come a long way with. We are sort of like polar opposites when it comes to communicating when, and why, we are upset. I like touch and emotions and hugs and to be soothed, and that is my natural instinct for how to act when someone else is upset. J likes his own space and to process things on his own first, before having a more rational and logical conversation; this is also his natural reaction to someone else who is upset.
It took us a couple of years before we really figured out how we naturally operate, and how that was causing us more issues. If he would get upset, he would want his own space, and I wanted to hug him and soothe him, but he wouldn't want that, which would hurt my feelings and I would get upset, which would make him more upset. Or if I would get upset, he would give me space (too much space by my standards), which would make me more upset, and so he would give me even more space.
In the past year or two we have both come a long way in bridging that divide. I am better about giving him space when he needs it, and trying to not prod him too much with questions. He is better about touching me and letting me be emotional when I am upset.
When we are both upset is a different situation. It's as J described it to our counselor- like trying to push two opposite magnets together. We came up with a possible solution to try next time we are both upset. J can have his space, and let me know that in about 10 or 20 minutes (or however long) he will come back, give me a hug, and talk with me about whatever the issue is.
We realized that we may actually need a counselor who works primarily with clients in open relationships, since often (especially in the past seven months or so) the issues that make one or both of us upset is related to something that is part of our open relationship. I can safely say that they are often my issues- jealousy or insecurity issues related to dating or playing separately or minor tweaks resulting from group situations. It can be difficult, we realized, to know how much of those situations to bring up with a counselor, who says that she believes open relationships are valid and viable, but from what we can tell, is very much monogamously married. If we said, "I felt hurt when you did X when the four of us were having sex" we think she might just drop her jaw and not know what to say. I guess we are just not sure how explicit we can be during our sessions with her, and that it might be more beneficial for us to engage with a counselor who can offer specific solutions and proactive ways of dealing with the issues arising from being in an open relationship.
It was helpful to actively reflect on the work we have already done with how we communicate. I have gotten better at actively communicating my feelings, being assertive, and understanding J's boundaries when he is upset. He has definitely gotten better at empathizing and touching, and learning that when I am having irrational moments, that all I need him to do is listen. We both believe that continuing to build our communication skills is invaluable, and continue to work on strengthening that part of our relationship.