281-812-7529
A group of independent counselors serving Kingwood and Houston
Specializing in Gottman MethodTM Couples and Marriage Counseling

Archive for the ‘Gottman’ 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

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

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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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

 


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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