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

Archive for the ‘Houston Couples Weekend Workshop’ Category

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.

ASL Eval Quote

Mary Beth George, LPC

Certified Gottman Therapist

Make Communication a Priority in Your Relationship

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

At the end of every initial couples therapy session I ask the couple to tell me what they hope to achieve by coming to counseling. The number one response is to improve communication. They have become ships passing in the night, no longer talking to one another.

Prior to leaving my office we must coordinate a time for the three of us to meet again.  The simple act of scheduling an appointment becomes telling of the pecking order in their relationship. The order is typically 1) work schedules, 2) children’s activities, 3) activities with friend’s or extended family members, 4) personal obligations like salon appointments or cross-fit, and finally 5) their relationship.

What does putting your relationship last on the list communicate to your partner?

When couples tell me they have a problem communicating, I am quite sure they are referring to conversation.  But the definition of communication according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary is “the act or process of using words, sounds, signs, or behaviors to express or exchange information or to express your ideas, thoughts, feelings, etc., to someone else”.

It is true that happy couples talk more, but they also communicate caring, interest, respect and appreciation in myriad other ways throughout the week. How do they do it?

Drs. John and Julie Gottman followed up with couples who attended their Art & Science of Love Weekend Workshop. They found that successful couples reported devoting, on average, five hours per week to one another. Skills learned in the workshop taught them that little things can make a big difference. 1013774_10151678208280865_196800198_n

We all have competing obligations, but devoting five out of 168 hours is manageable for all couples once they make the health of their relationship a priority.

Here’s what happy couples do in those five hours:

1. Have a daily goodbye/parting ritual. Spend a few minutes talking about what each of you has going on that day. Being curious about what your partner has planned expresses interest in them.

2. Have a daily coming home/reunion ritual. Spend 10 minutes each communicating high and low points of the day.  Be supportive of the stressors your partner experienced and communicate warmth and understanding.

3.  Express fondness and admiration. Call, text, leave notes, or say it face-to-face, but find a few minutes each day to express what you like about your partner or what they are doing right.

4.  Be physically affectionate. Hold hands, snuggle on the couch or give a back rub. Be sure to kiss hello, goodbye, good night and good morning.  Physical affection conveys tenderness and caring.

5.  Have a weekly date.  Find time each week to devote a few hours to each other. Ask open ended questions and explore your partner’s thoughts and feelings on everything from where they want to go on vacation to what their biggest fears are.  Even if you can’t afford a sitter or expensive restaurant, sit out on the patio after the kids are in bed and devote time to one another. Dates are meant to be fun and relaxing and a way to re-connect.

6.  Process a fight or regrettable incident.  Even if it has been a rough week, don’t store up your anger and resentments by shutting down and turning away from your partner.  Process the deeper meaning of conflicts and you will be surprised by how much you learn about your partner and how you can feel more connected in the process.

The bottom line is, if you feel like you and your partner are not communicating well, expand your definition of communication and find five hours in your weekly schedule to devote to one another.

Mary Beth George, MEd, LPC

Certified Gottman Therapist

 

 

 

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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What To Do for Valentine’s Day When Your Relationship Is on the Rocks

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

broken heartbroken heartbroken heartbroken heartThere’s no avoiding it . . . heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, a sea of red and pink greeting cards, ads for diamond jewelry and tents of roses are assaulting us at every turn.

To those newly in love, Valentine’s Day is a day full of sweetness and romance.  For long-term, stable couples it’s usually a pleasant but perfunctory gesture.  But for those in struggling relationships, it is a painful reminder of what is no longer.

For couples not exactly “feeling it” but not ready to throw in the towel, searching for the right Valentine card is overwhelming.  Mushy cards are out.  Humorous cards mock your struggles.   Blank cards to write your own loving sentiment make your stomach tie up in knots.  ”Forgetting” to get a card feels like a slap in the face.

Just this morning I read an article by a so-called marriage expert on how to handle the Valentine’s day-struggling-couples issue.  He suggested finding the right card that doesn’t gush but says I love you, a token of that love (truffles, perhaps) and avoid trying to win over your partner over with your gift.  He said you know your partner well, so get exactly the right thing that will remind them of the love you once shared.  Oh and one more thing, put aside your feelings about how your partner handles cards and gifts . . . after all this is the day to express your love.

The problem with advice like this is that is suggesting that avoidance is the route to coping with loss of romance and passion.  It implies that a token can transmit your deeper thoughts and feelings, that you don’t need to communicate your wants and needs because you and your partner are so connected that you will select the right gift  to tug at their heartstrings.

Ok, maybe if you are from a Vulcan blood line you can do the whole mind meld thing and words are not necessary, but trust me, if friendship, passion and romance are fading, the kids or co-workers will get the truffles and he or she will run over that token of love with the SUV.

Let’s be honest, what struggling couples really want is their friendship back, because it is through friendship that the flames of passion and romance are re-ignited.   They want to be heard, understood, appreciated and emotionally connected to their partner.  They want the fights and negativity to end.  They crave physical affection.

So if you are struggling, what is so wrong with reaching out to your partner and saying “Valentine’s Day is hard for me, it reminds me of how we used to be.  All I really want is to feel connected to you again.  Would you be willing to work on that?”

Sure, it feels risky to make yourself vulnerable and ask your partner to work on things.  But doing nothing means that the relationship will continue to erode . . . and that’s not what you really want.

If you or your partner are resistant to the therapist’s couch, a couples workshop may feel safer.  In our Art & SCIENCE of Love Couples Weekend Workshop, there is artscience-300x223no public disclose of your issues.  It is not therapy, yet you still work on skills to build friendship and manage conflict.  The workshop yields similar results to six months of couples therapy and 86% of couples who have attended the workshop report positive outcomes.

Two days spent communicating and connecting with your partner could change the trajectory of your relationship . . . and end the Valentine’s Day struggle once and for all.

Mary Beth George, MEd, LPC

Certified Gottman Therapist

 

Do All Couples Fight?

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

What’s in a word?  Well, plenty when we are talking about conflict in couples.

According to the dictionary, the definition of conflict is a struggle, strong disagreement or difference that prevents agreement.   Synonyms listed in the same dictionary range from friction to warfare.  That sure leaves a lot of room for interpretation.

While I haven’t done scientific research on how couples describe differences that prevent agreement, my experience shows me that they use words such as fight, argue or disagree to describe their disharmony.   So I am choosing to use the vernacular when I talk about conflict.

Some couples fight a lot and some try to avoid it at all costs.  When we see couples arguing we assume their relationship is in trouble.  Are anger and arguments the path to unhappiness and divorce?

John Gottman’s research on relationships has shown us that conflict is inevitable in ALL couples.  There are two minds, two sets of values, two sets of opinions and the probability they will be in sync at all times is low.   Really, really low.  Ok, not just improbable, but impossible.

That means we should expect miscommunication to be par for the course in love relationships and we should expect regrettable incidents to occur over time.  Instead of trying to avoid fights (which means we are suppressing our feelings) we need to find ways of dealing with those inevitable moments when we hurt our partner’s feelings or they hurt ours.

It also means we need to change our attitude about the  negative emotions that lead up to fights.  Negative emotions (anger, sadness, disappointment etc.) serve a purpose.  They make us take stock of what we want and what we need.  In fact, we learn far  more from negative emotions than we do from positive ones.

Negativity is unavoidable so it’s wise to view  conflict with our partner as an opportunity to learn more about them.

Instead of viewing negative emotions as the bane of relationships, understand that behind every negative emotion is a longing or need.  In other words, we need conflict to grow in our relationship.    For example, when we are angry we are trying to express what we want and need.  Anger tells us and our partners that we want things to be different.  Negative emotions are like a GPS, guiding us to where we need to go.

The first step in conflict management is better understanding our partner’s wants and needs.  When we have an argument we need to be asking What do you need?  What’s bothering you?  What’s behind your negative feelings?  And our partner need to reciprocate and understand our negative emotions.  Understanding is a key ingredient in the recipe for success in conflict management.

Of course there are many other ingredients in that recipe, but when we are able to follow it, disagreements become very functional rather than disastrous.   They serve a purpose in relationships and are not an indication that our relationship is going to hell in a handbasket.

Mary Beth George, MEd, LPC, RD/LD

Certified Gottman Therapist

 

 

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

 

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

Avoiding Relationship Killers (aka Premarital Counseling)

Friday, March 15th, 2013

One of the things I most love about my job is doing pre-marital counseling.  There is no better time to learn the secrets of keeping your friendship, passion and love alive.

While spending time and money on couples counseling when you are blissfully happy doesn’t seem necessary, giving yourself the gift of a personal relationship coach is an investment in a happy future.

You may be busy making final arrangements for the big day.  Even if you are not planning a wedding, you and your partner may be discussing living together.  If this is the case it means that you believe you have found a partner that you want to commit to and look forward to the good feelings continuing and growing stronger.

Sadly, about half of couples that marry end their relationship in divorce.  On the average, couples wait six years before seeking help for marital problems.  It is much easier to PREVENT big relationship problems from occurring rather than trying to repair them after they are in full force.  In other words, counseling is more effective when you are in the honeymoon phase and happy.

For love birds who  want to ensure a happy future, look for pre-marital counseling that covers the following:

  1. In-depth relationship assessment to see if there are any trouble spots or to let you know what areas are strengths in your relationship
  2. Advice you can use today to avoid the pitfalls so many couples make in the first years of marriage, including communication skills
  3. How to process any argument successfully and get closer at the same time.
  4. How to take breaks when you are emotionally overwhelmed and how to make repairs in your relationship.
  5. Avoiding the predictors of divorce 
  6. Learn techniques to maintain the fun, with rituals of connection.
  7. The secrets to increasing romance, intimacy, and passion in the relationship.
  8. The art of compromise and how to honor your partner’s dreams.

Premarital counseling is truly is the best gift a couple can give themselves as they embark on their happy future together.

Mary Beth George, Med, LPC, RD/LD

 

 

 

How We Celebrated Valentines Day

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

Alysha and I treated our spouses to a trip to Seattle for an Art and Science of Love Weekend Workshop taught by Drs. John and Julie Gottman.  We couldn’t think of a better way to express our love for Valentine’s Day than by deepening our relationships.  Well, we considered it a treat . . . they were a little trepidatious, not knowing what would be required of them as actual audience participants.  According to them it’s not easy being married to a therapist to begin with, being “therapized” on a daily basis, let alone an intensive workshop that took the therapizing to a whole new level.

Their fears were quickly allayed by John Gottman’s engaging style.  He captured their attention by discussing how he has studied couples over the last four decades.  Dr. Gottman described in detail how study participants were observed in an apartment, called the Love Lab, being hooked up to sensors that measured their heart rate, the sweat on their palms, and how much they shifted in their seats with the help of a “jiggle-ometer”.   Lab assistants tediously coded verbal responses made by the couples and identified how these linked to the physical data.  For example, when one partner is spewing contempt, the other might be flooding, with heart rate above 100 and unable to think and respond clearly.  By following up with couples who portrayed patterns such as these, we can now predict with >90% accuracy what couples will divorce at some point in the future.  Fascinating, to say the least.

But fascinating as this research was, the early data collection was done purely for research purposes.  It wasn’t until Julie Gottman, a clinical psychologist, urged her husband to find a way to use the research to help troubled couples.  By studying healthy couples (the masters of relationships) in addition to troubled couples (the disasters of relationships), the Gottmans were able to develop effective therapy interventions.  An hour and a half into the weekend workshop and our spouses were chomping at the bit to know more about these interventions, without one bit of therapizing from us.

The weekend is strategically designed to take couples on a tour of the Sound Relationship House, the model the Gottman’s developed based on his research.   We (and 196 other couples) completed exercises independently and privately, meaning even though there were over 400 people in the room, there was no public disclosure.  We worked through processing actual fights we have had and our own gridlocked issues, so we got a taste of what it is like to be a client.  One of the most poignant moments of the entire weekend was when John and Julie Gottman demonstrated The Aftermath of a Fight intervention using a real life example.  Their genuine emotional experience made the process safe for the audience by reassuring us that the masters of relationships have arguments too.

We left Seattle feeling closer and more connected to our partners, and energized beyond belief to bring The Art and Science of Love Weekend Workshop to our area.  Our training in Gottman Method Couples Therapy along with the rich personal experience we had celebrating Valentine’s Day with our partners in Seattle will guide us in bringing The Sound Relationship House tour to you later in 2013.  Stay tuned for details!

Mary Beth George, MEd, LPC, RD/LD


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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