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

Posts Tagged ‘4 horseman’

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

How Does Weight Gain Affect Couples?

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

“You’ve gained so much weight . . . I am no longer attracted to you”.

More than 34%  of Americans are now obese and it has become a national epidemic.  Co-morbidities related to obesity, like diabetes, often take the spotlight but weight issues have deleterious effects on relationships as well.

Weight gain often accompanies marriage.  Couples can become couch potatoes, watching TV instead of being on the go.  Working out may take a backseat now that one is no longer on the prowl for a mate.  Nurturing your loved one with delicious meals, celebrating with food and frequently enjoying cocktails together can pack on the pounds.  Couples can influence one another with eating patterns, often to their detriment, and this can boost caloric intake.

Much to my chagrin, weight and body shape changes can and do occur over time.   Pregnancy, menopause and the aging process all contribute to changes in size and shape.  Couples who support each other through these transitions tend to be the happiest.  Change is inevitable and it is best to accept that some change in weight and physical attractiveness will happen for both of you over time.

Unfortunately for many couples weight issues take front and center stage in marital unhappiness.  When one partner gains weight, the other often doesn’t know how to handle it.  Sometimes they try unsolicited advice like “Go to the gym with me” or “Maybe you should give Weight Watchers a try”.  Advice giving can morph into nagging or ultimatums, and this constant pressure adds conditionality to the relationship.

Derogatory remarks about weight are devastating to a relationship.  Name calling, telling your partner you are no longer sexually attracted to them or saying oink oink every time your overweight partner reaches for seconds all cut to the core.  Being critical of your partner is toxic and according to John Gottman is one of the predictors of divorce.  We all want to feel loved for reasons beyond the number on the scale or our clothing size.

Attacking the overweight spouse compounds the problem by adding layer upon layer of shame and humiliation.  Making negative comparisons or ogling a sexy stranger makes the overweight partner feel worse, more insecure and vulnerable.  Instead of feeling cherished, one feels disrespected and devalued.  Using shame as a tool to motivate always backfires.

Shame is different from guilt.  According to Brene Brown, shame researcher from University of Houston, shame is very painful and focuses on our self worth and sense of belonging.  Shame says “I am fat and unworthy of love”.  Guilt focuses on behavior and says “I overate and feel miserable”.  Shame interferes with our connection to self, as well as to our partner.

Women who have engaged in lifelong battles with their body are especially prone to shame when they plump up after marriage.  They feel big and unsexy and often dress to hide their curves.  Whereas they once pranced naked in front of their partner, now they dress and undress in private.  They often avoid sex in order to avoid rejection.  They simply feel “not good enough” or unworthy.

We used to think that men were less prone to body image issues, but the truth is their issues were present but off the radar.  They often share the same feelings of shame when they gain weight.

Secrecy is often a component of shame and weight issues.  This wreaks havoc in relationships, especially if the overweight partner has binge eating disorder (BED).  People with BED eat salads in front of their partner and gorge on junk food in private.  Bingers are not only grazers and chocolate cravers, but they feel out of control with eating.  They avoid eating in front of others to avoid judgment and in the process destroy intimacy and emotional connection.  It’s like an affair, only the affair partner is food.  Not only does the couple need marital counseling, but the binger will also need individual therapy to deal with their issues.

Many other dysfunctional patterns arise in couples where eating issues or BED are present.  Chronic dieting to compensate for overeating affects how couples approach food in social situations.  It also affects rituals of connection like family dinnertime and holiday food traditions.  Sometimes we see issues of codependency or enabling by placing the responsibility of the eating issue on the normal weight partner.  Other times we see sabotage through the form of temptation, especially if the binger loses weight and there are underlying power struggles in the couple.  And sometimes couples abuse food together to promote a sense of closeness.

But is the excess weight or the presence of BED to blame for plummeting marital happiness and sexual intimacy? Not so according to Gottman.  In his extensive research of couples he found that 70% of both men and women report satisfaction with sex, romance and passion when the quality of their friendship was good. Additionally he found that couples whose sex lives go well after the birth of a baby stem from the man keeping his mouth shut about the changes in his wife’s body.

Friendship, fondness, admiration and deep emotional bonds are what keep couples connected as they traverse changes over time.  Attraction to your partner has more to do with what’s in the emotional bank account than the number on the scale.  Physical changes are not at the heart of deteriorating marriages.  Happy couples see their partner as worthy of honor and respect.

In couples where weight has become a weighty issue, there are underlying problems that are being overshadowed by the weight gain.  It is easy to point the finger at the obvious, but loss of the friendship system, emotional avoidance or problems with conflict management are more likely the root cause.  Weight loss alone will not change the trajectory of a troubled relationship.

As we say in Gottman Method Couples Counseling, every positive thing you do in your relationship is foreplay.  Never comment adversely about your partners weight or your attraction to them.  Instead be affectionate and appreciative.  Focus on their positive attributes instead of dwelling on their weight.  Kind comments reassure your partner that you love them no matter what their body looks like.

As for dealing with shame, the antidote is empathy.  Replacing shame talk with positive self talk is crucial.  In other words, if you are overweight talk to yourself like you would talk to your child.  When shame is present it grows by leaps and bounds when it is stuffed.  Release shame by talking to your partner . . . their job is to express empathy and understanding.

Couples need to maintain positive regard for one another to cope with the changes that time brings, and that includes changes in weight and physical attractiveness.

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

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

 

 

 


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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