EducationPremarital Counseling Tip #4, The Up’s and the Down’s

Craig Toonder, MFT. Oakland Couples Counseling

Premarital Counseling Tip #4, The Up’s and the Down’s


It seems something went wrong with this never being published. SO here is number 4.



One important piece of information I want all couples entering premarital counseling to embrace is the understanding how to “operate” your partner. I often joke about how toasters come with owner’s manuals, but our partners certainly don’t. Instead we have to learn through sink or swim.

Part of building an owner’s manual, is really understanding and appreciating the often significant difference between how individuals are wired to behave. One common area that can often cause problems in relationships has to do with arousal regulation. There is a continuum in which we all fall around how energetic or calm we feel. Our level of energy can be determined by our diet and exercise. It can also fluctuate depending on what time of day it is. However, it is important to understand that it is also determined through our neurological wiring, genetic structure and absorption of immediate family experiences.


What goes wrong:

When a couple interacts while they are in different arousal states, it can be annoying, grating or disappointing. Additionally, how one person regulates their own arousal level may or may not be affective in influencing their partner’s.

How do you get your partner to come play? How do you get them to relax? How do you manage differences in agendas on a day-to-day basis?

I find that in both my experience gained through premarital counseling and in conversations with couples who have been successfully married for years, people often struggle mightily with this very issue. This is especially true after being apart for work or other reasons. If one person wants to unwind alone and the other wants to play or debrief his or her day, being annoyed with each other is distinct possibility.

Start paying attention to this idea of individual peak personal arousal. Where do you tend to gravitate? What about your partner? When are your arousal levels different? How do you treat each other? How does that affect your relationship?


Helpful Hints:

  • Learn to take things slowly. Don’t push each other in either direction. Learn to shift your partner’s arousal level in small steps and adjust your own actions in response to your partner’s needs and expectations.
  • Pay attention to how easy it is for you or your partner to transition between activities and energy levels. Some people shift quickly. Others find transitions jarring and intrusive. Figure out if your partner needs more time to change activities.
  • Learn to negotiate. Remember from the last Premarital Counseling blog that negotiation is a key element to a relationship based on fairness and mutuality.
  • Develop mutually agreed upon rituals around “reunions”. Often when couples reunite their arousal is at different levels. But remember from the Premarital Counseling Gift #1, hearts and brains attune to each other. Meaning, so will arousal. For a great video on how to attune to each other during reunions watch the “welcome Home Exercise” in the favorites section of my You Tube Channel.
  • Finally, be kind to each other. Remember the concept of Differentiation from Premarital Counseling Gift #3? You and your partner will never be in synch with each other 24/7. You can deal with that through contempt or kindness. The choice is yours.


“Many a war has been avoided with a friendly smile, a well-placed touch, and a reassuring voice.”

– Stan Tatkin