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A group of independent counselors serving Kingwood and Houston
Specializing in Gottman MethodTM Couples and Marriage Counseling

Archive for 2015

Domestic Violence: Can Couples Therapy Help?

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, so I thought I would shed some light on this grim topic.

John Gottman and his colleague, Neil Jacobson, studied domestic violence in couples at The University of Washngton.   They found that there are two distinct types of batterers in violent relationships: Cobras and Pit Bulls.

“Cobras”, like the venomous snake, attack their partner without warning. They have sociopathic, antisocial traits and a pathological need for power and control. Their behavior is calculating and sadistic. Cobras do not tolerate their authority being challenged, with anyone, not just their partners.   They tend to be more violent than pit bulls, yet abused women have a hard time leaving Cobras because of the power and control exerted on them. One unsettling finding that Gottman and Jacobson found in their research is that cobras get more physiologically calm as they get more aggressive, whereas pit bulls experience physiological arousal.

“Pit Bulls”, have stereotypical traits of a vicious dog latching on and not letting go. These men are emotionally dependent on their partners. They fear abandonment and are controlling, jealous and react violently to perceived betrayal. Pit bulls are generally viewed as charming men because their behavior is only directed at one person. Cobras, on the other hand, are aggressive towards everyone in their life, including pets. Abused women can be more successful getting away from Pit Bulls, but Pit Bulls are the ones that can be homicidal when they feel abandoned. When a woman leaves a Cobra, there is still risk, but the Cobra moves on to a new victim more quickly.

These two types are classified under the heading of “Characterological Domestic Violence” because there is clear control and dominance in the abuser and fear in the victim.   Couples therapy is contraindicated in these situations and the abused partner should be referred to a therapist for individual counseling, a women’s shelter and/or law enforcement.

But what about the couples that drinks too much on a Saturday night and end up in a brawl with one another? “Situational Domestic Violence” erupts when couples lack conflict management skills and as their fights escalate, they can turn physical. These couples do not share the traits of Pit Bulls or Cobras and often feel remorse for their actions.

When couples seek help for their relationship, we conduct a thorough assessment, including an assessment of domestic violence. If the therapist deems couples therapy is appropriate for situational domestic violence (not characterological domestic violence), we can work with the couple to learn how to de-escalate arguments. We can also work with couples to recognize and manage physiological arousal and practice self-soothing before arguments turn physical.

To learn more about domestic violence, read Gottman and Jacobson’s book When Men Batter Women.

Mary Beth George, MEd, LPC

Certified Gottman Therapist

 

Defensiveness: One of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Monday, April 27th, 2015


The NFL draft is in a few days and some of the best prospects are defensive players.  Being a defensive player may be sought after in the world of football, but not so much in the world of intimate relationships.

Defensiveness is the way we protect ourself from a perceived attack.   We typically think of defensiveness as righteous indignation, which makes you feel very justified in your stance.  It is a way of blaming your partner by saying “I am not the problem, you are”.  We can also shoot out defensiveness to our partner by means of a venomous counterattack.  We keep score and make sure we stay ahead.   A less obvious way of being defensive is to to act like an innocent victim.  This is done by whining and making self-sacrificing statements, like “I guess I am just a terrible husband who can never get it right.”.  You don’t want to be blamed for anything so you assume all of the blame, not giving your partner any room to criticize or shame you further.

When you are defensive you have a hard time seeing your role in the conflict.  You can’t focus on your partner’s complaint or expression of painful emotions because you are too busy formulating your defensive strategy.  You become closed minded, squelching any chance of having a conversation that will help you work through a conflict or feel more emotionally connected to your partner.  Your partner is left feeling unheard, angry, and frustrated . . . very, very frustrated.

John Gottman has identified defensiveness as on the of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, meaning one of the patterns present in relationships that has the power to lead to divorce.  Defensiveness is destructive because we become more focused on ourself than our partner.  We find it impossible to admit any responsibility.  We see every flaw in our partner, but none in ourself.  When you can’t admit that you are not perfect and have room to grow, the relationship suffers greatly.

In relationships that work, couples down-regulate their defensiveness by being aware of their partners pain and remembering their love for that person.  They try very hard to listen to their partner and look for the grain of truth in their complaints.  They take responsibility for how they contributed to the problem.

The first step towards working on defensiveness is to realize that you are doing it.  You begin to recognize how your sensitivity, fears or feelings of inadequacy are interfering.  Then you must work on being able to listen to your partners complaints or pain.  While not always easy to do, you look for opportunities to truly understand what your partner is saying and get to a point where you can say, “I can see why you feel that way.”  When you can accept that your partner’s feelings are valid, even if they are different from your own, your partner will feel validated and understood.

When we are defensive we work on winning the battle, but unfortunately we may lose the war in the process.  When we work on our defensiveness we grow as a person, and our relationship has a chance to deepen and flourish.

 

Mary Beth George, MEd, LPC

Certified Gottman Therapist

The Conversation Every Couple Should Have on Valentine’s Day

Friday, February 13th, 2015

Loving Couple Holding Arrow And HeartNo matter how you celebrate Valentine’s Day, be it at a trendy new restaurant or a home cooked meal, make Love Maps part of the evening.  Love mapping is a phrase used in Gottman Method Couples Therapy that means asking open-ended questions to better know the internal world of your partner.  Asking these types of questions can deepen intimacy in a relationship.

In the beginning phase of relationships, Love Maps are generally strong because we are curious about the person we are falling in love with . . . we want to know everything.  We ask questions about their favorite music, foods and travel destinations, career aspirations and so on.  But Love Maps are also about hopes, goals, values and convictions.  Human beings are complex and there are an endless supply of questions we can ask.

But as love relationships progress past the honeymoon phase we often fail to continue asking these types of questions.  We think we know everything there is to know about our partner and we lose our curiosity.  This is unfortunate because as we evolve what was once true may no longer be.  Love Maps are important all all stages of relationships.

So this Valentine’s Day we suggest that you have more intimate conversation by asking Love Map questions.  Ask questions about their past, present and future . . . and don’t forget to throw in a few sex Love Maps questions.  Here’s a sample of the types of questions you can ask.

1.  What is your favorite childhood memory?

2.  What is your sexual fantasy?

3.  If you won the lottery, how would you spend the money?

4.  How do you envision your life after you retire?

5.  What are your top 5 travel destinations?

6.  What is the biggest challenge you are currently facing?

7.  Who do you most admire?

8.  What does romance mean to you?

9.  What is your biggest regret?

10.  What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?

11.  What is the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you?

12.  What are your most treasured possessions?

13.  What do you like most about yourself?

14.  What do you like least about yourself?

15.  What do you most fear about getting older?

16.  What are your religious/spiritual beliefs?

17.  What is your biggest unrealized dream?

18.  When we met, what was your first impression of me?

19.  What is your favorite lovemaking position?

20.  What makes you feel most competent?

 

Questions such as these build a deep friendship and intimate bonds that surpass all other relationships.  Now isn’t that what Valentine’s Day is all about?

Mary Beth George, MEd, LPC

Certified Gottman Therapist

 

 

 


Couples Counseling and Psychotherapy Associates provides service to Kingwood, Humble, Atascocita, Porter, Fall Creek, Summerwood, North Houston and surrounding areas.

Couples Counseling & Psychotherapy Associates

2330 Timber Shadows Drive
Suite 106
Kingwood, Texas 77339
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