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Archive for the ‘Conflict’ Category

Love on the Rocks? How to Handle Valentine’s Day

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

There’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 will feel like a slap in the face.

I read an article by a so-called marriage expert on how to handle the Valentine’s day-struggling-couples issue.  The author suggested finding the right card that doesn’t gush but says I love you and giving a token of that love, such as chocolate truffles.  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.

Okay, maybe if you are from a Vulcan blood line you can do the whole mind meld thing and words are not necessary.  But most of us are just regular humans, so if friendship, passion and romance are fading, the token gesture will fall flat and the kids or co-workers will get the truffles and your partner will not be moved.

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, try 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.

 

 

 

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.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

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.

The Antidote to Defensiveness

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.

 

 

Is Facebook the Source of Relationship Problems?

Monday, August 18th, 2014

The recently published study of Facebook participants and how emotions can spread across social networks caused a big stir.  The researchers called it “emotional contagion”, meaning that our moods are affected by our friend’s posts.

That study is the tip of the iceberg on how social media affects us.  As a couple’s therapist I can tell you not a week goes by that I don’t hear the myriad ways Facebook impacts relationships.  And yes, that definitely affects your mood.

Here are some common scenarios . . .

1.  Singles often use Facebook as a free, online dating site.  You could meet new people through friends of friends or reignite an old flame. Meeting someone this way feels safer than engaging with total strangers.

The down side is everyone makes themselves look better on Facebook.  You miss body language, facial expressions and tone, three things that help us discern sincerity from deception.  Online communication often turns from platonic to flirty (or sexual) very quickly.  While that may be ego boosting, it can also cause poor decision making early in relationships as we can confuse lust for love.

2.  Facebook can be a source of relationship betrayal, and that includes everything from arousing feelings of jealousy to actual infidelity.

Our egos demand that we collect many Facebook friends, the higher the number, the better.  Problems arise when these friends are not friends of the couple.  Exes, co-workers and old friends are all targets of jealousy by your partner.  Commenting on how great your co-worker looks in her bikini seems innocent enough, but problems with trust almost always ensue.

Since it is easy to meet or re-connect with someone on Facebook, it is the genesis of many extra-relationship affairs.  Facebook is available 24/7, thus increasing the temptation to communicate.  It is easy to hide messages from your partner, and you can even change your password or block your partner from seeing your timeline.

3.  We all have curiosity about our exes when we break up, but Facebook makes it easy for us to keep tabs on them.  Why unfriend your ex when you can see their relationship status, where they are going, who they are with and how much fun they are having?  Facebook stalking is a form of throwing salt on your own wound.

It seems logical to point an accusing finger at Facebook for these relationship issues, but social media is not the the problem.  Poor boundaries, loss of friendship/romance, and lack of trust are the underlying causes of pain.

The internet provides convenience in all aspects of life, and that includes relationship issues.  Before social media we would “go the store to get milk” to create time to see our affair partner.  Now all we have to do is log on and that could be while we are in bed next to our spouse.  We used to have to drive by our exes apartment or workplace to keep tabs on them, but Facebook stalking is much more efficient.

The internet gives the illusion of secrecy so we say and do things we wouldn’t dream of saying in person, especially in the presence of our spouse. Making negative comparisons of your real life partner to a photoshopped Facebook picture makes the fantasy of a perfect partner feel more real.  But these things are major boundary violations in your relationship and help you to jump on the express train to infidelity.

If your relationship is suffering and Facebook is a central theme, it may be wise to dig below the surface.  Facebook is most likely a symptom of bigger problems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Houston, We Have a Problem

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

This is Houston, say again, please. 

Houston, we have a problem . . . our marriage is failing and we need help . . . fast. 

Failure is not an option.

Forgive my embellishment of these famous movie quotes from Tom Hanks and Ed Harris in Apollo 13, one of my all-time favorite movies.  Having seen the flick at least a dozen times I never tire of the suspense, the drama, the teamwork and the fact that it is a true story.  It’s for the same reasons that I love working with couples.  Often they radio in with their crisis and hope that the expert can help them navigate back to safety.

But just like in the real Apollo 13 drama where the crew did not know if they would survive, we can’t always answer the frantic “Can you save my marriage?” call with a resounding yes.  Like the NASA team, we assess the situation and determine how bad the damage is.

In the course of that assessment we look for the predictors of divorce.  We observe the couple in their interaction to see if there is a sense of we-ness (a good sign) or a sense of me-ness (a warning sign).  Are they joining together or leading parallel lives?    We look for expressions fondness and admiration, as well as feelings of negativity.

In addition to keeping our eyes peeled on their patterns of interaction, we interview them extensively about the history of their relationship.  In the early 90s John Gottman conducted research that showed we can predict marriage stability by looking at how fondly or critically couples remember the course of their marriage.  Asking questions about how they met, their early dating phase, decision to commit, good times/bad times and how they traversed the course of their marriage over time gives us clues on how disillusioned they are about their relationship.  Gottman found that disillusionment and disappointment, especially in men, was the single most powerful predictor of divorce.

For example, if a husband was hopeful about marriage recovery he might recall their first date like this:  “I got lost going to the restaurant and I was so worried that she would think negatively of me.  She thought it was funny and we laughed the whole way . . . we figured it out together”. If he is disillusioned in the marriage he will rewrite history and remember it like this:  “I got lost on the way to the restaurant and I felt like she was laughing at me.  She never let me forget it and to this day she criticizes my sense of direction.”

This is valuable assessment data, but we don’t stop at assessment.  Gottman’s work has also given us preventative measures/antidotes to the problems that lead to such disillusionment.  Like the NASA team, we are eternal optimists.  We work with couples so they learn how to do a zillion small things in their relationship to help them “re-enter  the earth’s atmosphere without burning up”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does Your Partner Overwhelm You in Arguments? 5 Strategies to Cope with Emotional Flooding

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014


Ever been chased by a bear?

Me neither, but I know a thing or two about feeling overwhelmed in a dangerous situation.

A few years ago my husband fainted while driving 70 mph on a highway.  Instantly realizing I had to maneuver us to safety, I ripped off my seatbelt, took the wheel and reached my foot over to the brake.  It wasn’t until we were safe that I realized my son  was crying and in a state of panic.  And because my only thought was not dying on that highway, I had not even processed what happened to my husband.  He came to and gained composure, but  I was completely flooded . . . breathless, sweaty and weak.  That’s a classic fight or flight response to a dangerous situation.

John Gottman found in his research that physiology of partners during conflict discussion can be like my fight or flight response, especially in ailing relationships.  When one partner feels attacked and overwhelmed, or chased by an angry bear, there is often heightened diffuse physiological arousal (DPA).  This causes feelings of unmanageable stress, such as inability to think, hear or communicate clearly, sweaty palms, increased heart rate and  increased blood pressure.  All we want in that moment is for the bear to stop chasing us and to get to safety.  Sometimes we fight back to overpower the bear, and sometimes we run away from the bear.

Managing DPA in conflict discussions is necessary, otherwise it gets in the way of productive discussions.  The cascade of physiological stress symptoms interferes with our ability to problem solve.  We cannot  be a good listener when we are flooded.  Go back to my fight or flight experience.  I wasn’t even aware of my son screaming, crying and panicking, so there is no way you will be able to hear an angry spouse when you are flooded.  Empathy and creative thinking fly out the window, along with our humor and understanding .  We need to get calm to take in better information and to engage in an effective discussion.

If you are prone to flooding, knowing how to self soothe and bring your physiology back to normal is important.  Practice the following steps when you get flooded:

1.  Learn to recognize the physiological signs that you are flooding.  A good indication is your heart rate, which can rise to well over 100 beats/minute when you are in DPA.

2.   Tell your partner you need a break from the conflict discussion and take 15-20 minutes to calm down.  Do something that distracts you from the conflict, such as playing Words with Friends or reading a magazine.

3.  Typically when in DPA we take rapid, shallow breaths.  Try taking several slow, deep breaths, breathing slowly, in and out, watching your belly rise and fall.

4  Try progressive muscle relaxation.  Starting with your feet and legs, lift and hold for several seconds, or until the muscles start to feel warm.  Release and feel the heaviness and subsequent relaxation of the muscles.  Move up your body (buttocks, abdomen, arms, shoulders, neck/head), repeating the same procedure.

5.  Try visualization.  Think of a soothing scene, like a beach or relaxing on a hammock under the stars.  Imagine, in detail, what is there . . . the sights, sounds and smells.  Allow yourself to be transported to a “safer”, more soothing environment.

A good break to reverse the physiology of DPA lasts 20-30 minutes.  Once you are relaxed try to return to the conversation with your partner.  Remember, a break is a break and not an opportunity to flee the scene.  You must return to the conversation because if you don’t it will feel like punishment and make matters worse.

 

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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.

Why do couples have perpetual problems?

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.  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.

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. 

 

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

Friday, February 7th, 2014

We are just a few years short of the century anniversary of the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote. Much 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 we say in Texas, 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?

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.

Weight and Marital Unhappiness

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.

The Real Cause of Marital Unhappiness

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“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.

 

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

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 over 3,000 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.

 


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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