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Archive for the ‘Couples Counseling and Psychotherapy Associates’ Category

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

 

5 Things We Love About our Couples Weekend Workshop

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

IMG_1669In October we put on another Art and Science of LoveWeekend Workshop.  It was our biggest workshop to date.  As we reflected on the success of the workshop we realized there are many reasons we love this work.

1.  We love seeing couples committed to working on their relationships.  At this workshop we had couples travel far and wide to deep their connection, IMG_3654including Virginia, Illinois, Mexico and even South Africa.  Good things happen when couples commit to building friendship and intimacy.

2.  The fact that we had couples from such diverse locations speaks volumes to how Gottman Method Couples Counseling is spreading.  Therapists trained in this method are now in Australia, Canada, Korea, Norway, Sweden and Turkey.  A therapist from Mexico attended our workshop and she now is seeking Level 1 training.  It is exhilarating to be involved in this global movement.

3.  We love and appreciate the support of our partners in putting on our workshops.  Both of our husbands help us role play techniques taught over IMG_3651the course of the weekend.  We demonstrate how to deal with actual issues from our personal lives.  Invariably evaluations show this to be a favorite part of our workshop.  Seeing the vulnerability of our partners and learning that all couples have conflict make this approach very accessible to participants.

4.  We love that this is a comfortable process for couples.  Couples appreciate that we make the workshop fun and interactive, yet a private, intimate experience.  It is not therapy yet yields the same results as 6 month of marital therapy.

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5.  This material works!  Time and again we have seen couples re-ignite the flames of passion, smooth out rough spots or make a complete transformation in their relationship over the course of the weekend.  Gottman Method Couples Therapy is based on 40+ years of research and the techniques used are powerful.

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Mary Beth George, LPC

Certified Gottman Therapist

Turning Towards Your Partner Every Day

Sunday, June 29th, 2014

Much to my dismay, football, it seems, can be viewed any time of day or night, any season of the year.  Now I am not a football hater by any means.  In fact, I love watching the Aggies, the Nittany Lions, the Texans and of course my teenage son.  But I have my limits with the ad nauseam verbiage on ESPN . . . and that’s where my husband and I differ . . . a lot.

A while back we were on the couch.  I was reading my latest Nook book while he was engrossed in an ESPN story about a coach and a sex scandal.  I could tell he was excited about the words coming out of their mouths because he was talking back to the TV quite loudly.  And then all of a sudden he shifts in his seat and starts talking to me, telling me the details of the sexual tryst du jour.  Unprepared to shift gears from my book to his excitement, but being the good Gottman Couples Therapist that I am,  I knew I quickly had to make one of four choices:

  1. I could glance up, smile, nod my head and acknowledge he was speaking to me, and return to my book.
  2. I could put the book down and ask a few questions to get the latest dirt, joining in his excitement.
  3. I could keep reading and pretend I didn’t hear him.
  4. I could get angry for the unwanted interruption and say something harsh, like “Shut up, can’t you see I am reading?”.

Of course you all know that Number 2 is the best option for marital happiness, followed by Number 1.  These two options demonstrate what John Gottman calls “turning towards”.  Simply put, that means whenever our partner makes a bid for our attention we turn towards them in some way to let them know they were heard.  The second option outweighs the first because it is enthusiastic and more likely to generate lively conversation, a necessary ingredient in closely connected couples.

If I opted for Number 3 I would be “turning away” from my hubby and he would have had a failed bid for my attention.  This one failed bid would not be disastrous for my relationship, but over time if there were many failed bids, emotional distance would ensue.

Option Number 4 is an example of “turning against”.   Turning against his bid in a harsh manner would have indicated that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalyse were sharing the couch with us that day and we would most likely be headed for relationship disaster.

Turning towards your partners bids for attention is one of the best ways to keep the love alive.  During any given day your partner can make several bids, anything from telling you about their crappy day at work to their desire to have hot sex with you.  You always have a choice in your response . . . what kind of relationship do you want?

Mary Beth George, MEd, LPC

Certified Gottman Therapist

Making Life Dreams Come True for Both You and Your Loved Ones

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

My son will be starting high school next year and he must select an area of emphasis to guide him in course selection, such as Law Enforcement or Science and Technology.   His initial reaction was to choose a path that matched his aptitude, not necessarily his passion.

This has generated plenty of discussion around the dinner table.  My husband and I shared how neither one of us followed our intuition or passion and initially wound up in unfulfilling jobs.

One of my favorite authors, Wayne Dyer, often says “Don’t die with your music still inside you.”.  In his latest book I Can See Clearly Now, he details the twists and turns his life took and how he always followed his intuition and passion to create a life of purpose and fulfillment.

We all have music inside us and we all have dreams.  Careers should be full of passion, not just paychecks.  But passions also arise in many other areas, such as travel, adventures, sports, creative outlets . . . there is no limit when it comes to passion and dreams.  These are not just bucket-list items to be checked off, but things we feel called to do in our lifetime.

As I reflected on how I arrived in a career that I love, I felt a debt of gratitude for my husband.  He has supported me along the way in more ways that I can count.  And I have done the same for him.

In Gottman Method Couples Therapy, making life dreams come true is at the top of the Sound Relationship House because it is one of the necessary ingredients inSound house relationships that work.  In fact, Gottman believes it is the most important thing.

Initially I was surprised by this statement, but as I now reflect on it, I can see from personal experience that when partners support each others dreams it generates many positive feelings.  We feel heard and supported in our relationship, cherished by our partner and happier in our life.  And I believe the same is true for our children too.

My son’s music is just now emerging, literally.  While he may have an aptitude for math, his passion is creating music.  The teen years are full of inspiration and dreams, and how he navigates his adolescence will have a tremendous impact on the rest of his life.  Helping him to feel safe to explore his dreams and to feel the supported is one of the best gifts I can give him.

It’s my way of paying it forward.

Mary Beth George, MEd, LPC

Certified Gottman Therapist

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(281) 812-7529

Houston (Kingwood), TX

 

How Couples Can Deal with Gridlocked Issues

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

“When choosing a long-term partner, you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unsolvable problems that you’ll be grappling with for the next ten, twenty or fifty years.”  Daniel Wile, After the Honeymoon

Truer words have not been spoken.  Most couples have the same arguments over and over and over again. In his research, John Gottman found that these perpetual problems account for 69% of the issues couples face.  In long term studies, the date on the calendar was the only thing that changed.

The reason these hamster wheel arguments occur is because compromise fails to work on some issues.  Take religion for example.  When one partner is Catholic and the other is Jewish they may not have an issue before they marry and have children.  But once the kids come along they may deeply desire their children to practice their faith.  They dig their heels in because they think their views are correct and their partner’s are misguided.

Then the fighting begins.

Over time these hot button issues can become gridlocked.  When this happens both partners refuse to budge on their position and dig their heels in further. The more they defend their position on the issue, the more they feel criticized and disliked by their partner.

Just like deeply held convictions, personalities also don’t change over time.  An extroverted husband will never make his introverted wife morph into a social butterfly, no matter how great a case he makes that extroverts are better.

So what’s the answer?  In a word, dialogue . . . talking with the intent to understand and accept your partner rather than fighting and criticizing in an attempt to make them see how deeply flawed they are.

Recently in our Art & SCIENCE of Love Couples Weekend Workshop we drove this point home by teaching several techniques to better understand one another (see video above).  It’s amazing what a little listening and understanding can do.  Here’s what they said on exit surveys:

1.  Came to epiphany on key area of conflict, which helped us move forward.

2.  It gave me the tools to address major conflict area and confidence to use them.

3.  Gave me hope that my husband will understand that he can have a perception of a situation and mine may be different.

4.  Perpetual issue discussion…we need improvements in this area and I think this helped us take steps in the right direction.

5.  Processing past regrettable incidents was very helpful in talking and being heard on an issue we had felt bad about for 2 years.  It gave us hope that we will be able to gently take out the garbage.

6.  More understanding on both sides of gridlock issue has been established.

What these couples describe is not unusual for Art & SCIENCE of Love workshop participants.   Exit surveys show 86% of couples experience positive results similar to 6 months of marital therapy.

When couples can accept one another’s differences, they tend to mellow over time and can often find amusement in the situation.  It’s like the movie When Harry Met Sally.  Throughout the movie it drove Harry nuts that Sally ordered everything on the side.  But by the end of the movie he came to accept it and said I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. 

Mary Beth George, MEd, LPC

Certified Gottman Therapist

Power, Respect and Influence . . . How Does Your Relationship Rate?

Friday, February 7th, 2014

IMG 8We are just a few years short of the century anniversary of the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote. A lot has changed for women in the last 100 years and that has spilled over into changes in relationship dynamics.

For example, in the early 60s men were not allowed in the delivery room to see their children born. But now 91% not only watch, they actively participate in that special moment. When my son was born by C-section, I was being stitched up and my husband was the first to hold our bundle of joy . . . now I was the one that felt left out. Yes, the times have changed.

It’s no surprise that two income families are becoming the norm. Women outnumber men in higher education enrollment and that means they now vie for higher paying jobs.  While women still lag behind men in equal pay, men are losing their status as sole breadwinners.  A recent Pew Research analysis showed that of all married couples 24% had women as breadwinner, and that number is 30% among newlyweds.  This is up from 6% in 1960.

In his research of couples, John Gottman found that men who accept these changes are way ahead of the game in the world of parenting and relationships. They are sharing power and allowing themselves to be influences by their partner’s point of view.  Women who feel respected in this way are happier in their relationships.  And as many men say, if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

But accepting your partner’s point of view is a two-way street.  Women must allow themselves to be influenced by their husband’s point of view, especially in the area of parenting or other traditionally held female roles.  But the truth is women generally do a far better job of accepting influence from men than men do from women.

Developmental psychologists have found the roots of this  in childhood.  Girls accept influence from boys, but boys almost never accept influence from girls. This is most likely due to the fact that boys and girls are raised to manage emotions differently.  Boys learn to deal with emotion quickly and “to keep the ball in play”.  Girls “play house” and nurture baby dolls in their play, and they love playing with others. This means that when both genders come together at puberty, girls are more experienced about relationships.

Gottman’s work suggests there is a new kind of male partner that is emerging, one that is adapting to these changes.  The new male has reset his priorities and is turning towards relationships.

When men have a hard time accepting influence they say “no” and try to hang onto their power.  They become obstacles in the relationship.  They dismiss their wives needs and emotions and become righteously indignant.  And they also become lonely.

We are living in a world-wide revolution that is trying to correct the imbalance that has been historically there for women.  As women become more psychologically and economically empowered they no longer accept feeling powerless or stuck in unfulfilling relationships.

How are you doing with accepting influence in your relationship? If your relationship needs some overhauling in this area, work with a Certified Gottman Therapist or attend a Gottman Couples Workshop (our next workshop is February 15-16).

Mary Beth George, MEd, LPC, RD/LD

Certified Gottman Therapist

(281) 812-7529

Houston (Kingwood), TX

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This is Your Brain in Love

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

Who doesn’t love the feeling of falling in love?  The newness of love relationships is like no other feeling . . . when we are in love, all is right with the world.  We see things with greater appreciation, we are highly motivated and we never want that feeling to end.

Biologically speaking, many changes occur in our brains when we fall in love.  Hormones (oxytocin, DHEA, testosterone, etc.) are released and make falling  in love very pleasurable, almost addictive.  Oxytocin is sometimes called the cuddle hormone because it is associated with bonding.   It helps mothers bond with their babies but it is also secreted during orgasm.  Having an orgasm with someone changes how you feel.

Oxytocin also creates bad judgment.  It shuts down the amygdala and we are not as afraid to take risks.  If you have a lot of orgasms early in relationship, before knowing someone, it can lead to bad decisions.  There was actually a Swiss study done where they sprayed oxytocin or saline in people’s noses.  Study subjects were given the option to invest money through an anonymous trustee.  Typically investors are cautious with their money, but this study showed that the oxytocin group threw caution to the wind.  In other words, when we are falling in love we think we can trust the other person!

The second phase of love is actual trust building.  All arguments early in relationships are about building trust.  Can I trust you will be monogamous?  Will you be good with money?  Will you put me first?  Trust is all about being able to say my partner has my back and is there for me.

Once trust is developed then we can move on to the third phase, commitment.  This where we stop comparing and thinking we could do better.  We cherish what we have rather than focus on what we don’t have.  Commitment is believing (and acting on the belief) that this relationship is one’s life journey . . . for better or for worse.

In long term, happy relationships what we find is that couples fall in love over and over again.  ALL relationships have rough spots and they traverse through time, but the key is to continually renew the relationship and keep the love alive.

Mary Beth George, MEd, LPC, RD/LD

Certified Gottman Therapist

 

Rituals of Connection Strengthen Relationships

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

Sound houseThanksgiving is upon us and that warms my heart.  Over the past 20 years my husband and I have unwittingly developed  rituals around this day of gratitude.  We honor his family tradition of tamales and football and my love of Brussels sprouts and my friend Mary, who has spent 18 of the last 20 Thanksgivings with us.  When any of these things are missing from our day, it simply doesn’t feel right.

And that is how rituals go.  They are routines that create shared meaning in relationships and strengthen emotional connections.  Notice that Creating Shared Meaning is at the top of the Sound Relationship House, the model we use in Gottman Method Couples Therapy.  Rituals are important in relationships because we look forward to them  . . . they symbolize who we are as a couple or as a family.  They have the power to smooth over rough spots and transitions that we all naturally experience over the course of time.

We tend to think of rituals on holidays, especially ones that honor cultural heritage, faith or family values.  But rituals on a smaller scale are equally important.  How couple and families routinely come together creates a sense of belonging.  Rituals demonstrate that we take time out of our busy schedules to make one another a priority.

Here are some examples of rituals from my own family, as well as ones I have heard from other couples and families:

  • Six second kiss when you wake up, when you say goodnight, and when you come and go
  • Family dinnertime where everyone talks about their day
  • Walking the dog every evening
  • Making a cheesecake for your partner on their birthday because it is their favorite dessert
  • Going for pancakes every Saturday morning
  • Weekly date night
  • Returning to your honeymoon destination every year on your anniversary
  • Leaving love notes by the coffee maker for your partner to find every morning
  • Training for a distance bike ride together
  • Watching a favorite TV show together
  • How you approach your partner for sex
  • Family game night
  • Going to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve
  • Snuggling for 10 minutes every morning after the alarm goes off
  • Parents and kids volunteering once per month at an animal shelter
  • Planting a vegetable garden every year
  • And my son’s favorite . . . serving his “lucky” foods (Starbucks Caramel Frappuccino and shrimp cocktail) before he plays a football game

Rituals create positive memories and are like glue in relationships . . . they keep you connected. What are the rituals in your relationships?

Mary Beth George, MEd, LPC, RD/LD

Certified Gottman Therapist

 

 

 

“We Need Couples Counseling and My Partner Won’t Go” – 5 Strategies to Try

Friday, September 13th, 2013

We are on the brink of divorce and I can’t get my husband (or wife, or life partner) to go to marriage counseling?  What can I do?

Believe it or not, distressed couples wait an average of SIX years before seeking the help of a marriage counselor.  Unaware of the slow erosion that is taking place, they don’t notice the Four Horsemen of the Apocalyse have set up camp in their home.  Oh, they may know they have some degree of unhappiness, but they keep waiting for the other person to change to get the relationship back on track.

When the fog begins to lift and one partner accepts that the relationship simply is not working, they have an AHA moment and begin googling couples counselors.  Finding a few names they are sure their partner will want to dispel their pain with the help of an experienced therapist.  When they are met with There’s no way in hell I am airing our dirty laundry in front of a therapist.  I had a previous bad experience in counseling and I don’t believe in therapy, a sense of panic sets in.

If your partner is resistant to therapy, all hope is not gone yet.  Try the following:

  1. Stop making your partners flaws the main reason you need counseling.  Take ownership over your feelings and say things like I am so sad that we have become so distant.  I miss who we used to be as a couple.  Please go to counseling with me so we can get our happiness back.
  2. Ask your partner to go to ONE session.  Many times resistant partners will relax with an experienced therapist and agree to join in the process.
  3. If your partner is using the cost of counseling as a reason to not go, check with your insurance company.  Many plans cover marriage/family counseling.  It is possible that you have this as a covered benefit and will only have to pay a copay.  Or your employer may offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and you can get a few free sessions.  Check with your Human Resources Department.
  4. Consider a couples workshop or marriage retreat, like The Art & Science of Love.  This Gottman Method workshop is ideal for resistant partners because itimage004 (2013_06_02 20_47_53 UTC) is not therapy, although the effects are like having six months of couples’ therapy.  The workshop is educational, research based and there is no public disclosure.
  5. Go to counseling on your own.  While nothing replaces the dynamic setting of couples counseling where both partners are working on issues, individual counseling may be of some benefit.  You will have a safe environment to explore your feelings.  If you are truly willing to work on the relationship, you will begin to take ownership over how your behavior has contributed to negative patterns.  A word of caution though, individual counseling that is just used for venting or trashing your partner will not be effective, and in fact, can be harmful to the relationship.

If after trying these things and your partner is still unwilling to get help, you might be faced with the fact they are unwilling to work on the relationship.  Not only are they avoiding the therapist’s couch, they are avoiding working on it in any form or fashion.  This can be a painful realization and you may want to seek individual counseling.

Mary Beth George, MEd, LPC, RD/LD

Certified Gottman Therapist

Divorce Can Be Predicted with 94% Accuracy

Friday, September 6th, 2013

No one gets married with the intent of getting divorced, but statistics show that once blissful couples can turn into bitter enemies over the course of time.  Wouldn’t finding an antidote for that bitterness and preventing divorce be potent medicine?  We actually do have information on what prevents divorce thanks to world renowned relationship researcher John Gottman.  He studied numerous couples and the data collected has been useful in predicting the trajectory of relationships with 94% accuracy.

If you do a Google search of what causes divorce you will find many sources that cite infidelity, growing apart/falling out of love, finances or addiction as the reason(s).  But that’s not what Gottman’s research showed.  He found four clear patterns that lead to relationship demise and he aptly named them The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

The first Horseman is criticism.  When our partner criticizes us it feels anything but constructive.  Criticism fuels fights and escalates conflict.  While it might momentarily feel good to give our partner a zinger, it’s hurtful and destructive.

The second Horseman, defensiveness, swiftly gallops in on the heels of criticism.  When we are attacked we naturally defend ourselves.  But defensiveness is really just blaming or criticism in disguise.

Gottman calls the third Horseman contempt, the sulfuric acid of love and the best predictor of divorce.  Contempt is about having an air of superiority over our partner and belittling their character.

Stonewalling, aka the silent treatment, is the fourth Horseman.  When one is angry and ready to fight but their partner is shutting down, it truly is like hitting a stone wall.  Anger gets more inflamed and shutting down turns into running away.

The Four Horsemen are toxic to any relationship and unless couples learn effective antidotes, relationship demise may be on the horizon.  If the Four Horsemen are hanging around your house it may be time to get rid of these unwanted guests.

Mary Beth George, MEd, LPC, RD/LD

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
Ph: 281-812-7529

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