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

Posts Tagged ‘healthy relationships’

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

Romance Novels and Rom Coms vs Real Life

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

I think there is a possibility I might get kicked out of book club.

Or at the very least I will be labeled a killjoy.  Call it a hazard of the job, but I just find it hard to embrace novels or movies with dysfunctional family drama or unhealthy relationships.

Last month I pointed out the sociopathic behavior of one of the characters and how the heroine of the story got revenge in an equally dysfunctional way.  I was disturbed rather than entertained.  In this  month’s selection I was equally disturbed by a two day torrid sexual affair that the character was convinced was her true love.  She carried the pain of the loss of that relationship for her entire lifetime.

I have a dear friend who refuses to see Rom Coms.  He says that the plot always makes it  permissive for the protagonist to have an affair. The character is made so likeable that the audience is cheering on the infidelity.  Humor is craftily woven into the plot making it easy to condone these behaviors, and since it always works out well for the main character, who cares that the relationship started dysfunctionally?

Well, I guess I do.

I embrace the idea of escapism.  We all need a break from our daily lives and these movies and books offer entertainment and talk around the water cooler.  Who wants to read about stable, healthy relationships that depict mutual love and respect.  We want those relationships in theory but we don’t want to read about them because they are well, uh, kind of boring.

The problem I find is that people with relationship difficulties often seek out the drama and intensity that is portrayed in the movies.  They get addicted to intense beginnings.  The problem is that intense beginnings often have intense endings.  Healthy relationships trade that intensity for the slow development of trust and respect.  Both parties know and  respect themselves enough to maintain good boundaries in their relationships.  By being honest with themselves and with each other, they can adequately deal with their  relationship struggles without being an abuser or a victim.

The seemingly boring plot development of healthy relationships lacks drama and intensity, but the trade-off is a true feeling of trust, validation, intimacy,   and love.  Unfortunately, they don’t teach “Healthy Relationships” in high school and many families are poor role models.  So without knowing what a healthy relationship is, people may actually believe that what they see in movies or read in books is the way relationships are supposed to be.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.

If you find that your relationship is mirroring the drama of a romance novel or a rom com, it may be time for a tune up.  You may need to trade some of the drama for a healthy dose of reality and some guidance in healthy relationship behaviors.  Working towards healthy, fulfilling relationships is a key ingredient to life’s peace and happiness.

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.

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