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Archive for the ‘Relationships’ Category

Date 6: Play and Adventure

Tuesday, May 7th, 2019

Nothing like a thunderstorm that produces dime size hail, tornados, flash flooding and a power outage to thwart date night plans.  Fast-forward twenty-four hours and we were still without electricity, so we set out to find somewhere to eat and have some fun.

Fun and adventure are like oxygen for relationship happiness.  We feel more vital when it is plentiful.  When oxygen is in short supply, we feel restless, confused and have a sense of impending doom. Something feels off kilter and we are gasping for air.

We are working our way through Eight Dates:  Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love.  Date 6 is Play with Me:  Fun and Adventure. It’s all about breathing new life into your relationship with play, fun, laughter and adventure.  The book’s date suggestions are about going somewhere you have never been before and being open and spontaneous.

We hopped in the car without a plan and started driving down one of the main arteries in our town.  After batting a few ideas around, we decided to go to Saint Arnold’s Brewery in Houston.  Right before we got to the highway my husband made a sharp left and I was confused.  Where was he taking me?

He said he heard about a new brewery in our town that recently opened and he wanted to try it.  Talk about spontaneous.  Megaton Brewery here we come.

After getting a few pale ales and some tacos from the food truck, we sat outside at a picnic table and dug into the open-ended questions.

Why Laughter and Play are Important

This is my second marriage (and his too).  When I divorced I went to counseling so I would not repeat my mistakes.  One of the things my counselor and I talked about was what I wanted in a new partner.

Laughter was at the top of the list.

My first marriage was one of those oxygen deprived relationships and I made a vow that if I ever remarried, my new husband would have a sense of humor.

He’s all that and more.  Our early days were full of fun and adventure. I watched him play rugby and he went with me to see Cats.  We rode bikes and hiked and remodeled our mid-century home.  There was the Halloween party where we dressed up like Marge and Homer Simpson.  And the time he took me for a plane ride when he was learning to fly.  

Being able to laugh has helped us through our most difficult times.  And being adventurous is one of our strongest connections.  

From research we know that experiencing novel things with our romantic partners brings more happiness. It activates the reward center in our brain and keeps the relationship fresh and satisfying.  Researcher Amy Muise even found that on days couples had a novel experience they were 36% more likely to have sex.  

Couples mistakenly believe that they are doomed if they don’t like the same activities.  Not true!  Couples can create shared meaning when they accept influence regarding their differences, know how to compromise (make situations win/win rather than win/lose) and show interest in their partner’s interests.  

It’s All About Creating Shared Meaning

We started our conversation by reviewing the list of things we would like to experience together.  Our top choice was to travel to an exotic country. We agreed on Iceland, hiking Machu Picchu/going to the Galapagos Islands, and New Zealand.  

I can hardly wait to get busy planning our next trip!

For me, planning vacations is part of the enjoyment.  I recently learned that this is backed by research.  Elizabeth Dunn, a happiness researcher from University of British Columbia, found that anticipating a vacation will be fun enhanced happiness.  Planning together allows you to have input and create something you will both enjoy.  

And since reminiscing about good times adds to joy, I will be sure to take plenty of photographs of the aurora borealis in Iceland and the Inca Trail in Peru.

As we worked through the open-ended questions we discussed things like how we played as children and what adventure we want to have before we die.  Like with all the other dates, we learned some new information about each other.

By the time we finished our conversation the band began to play.  We decided to call some friends to see if they wanted to join us.  They also are spontaneous, fun-loving people, so within a half an hour they were there and we were playing cornhole, air hockey and connect four.

As we played and acted silly, the stress of the previous 24 hours melted away.

Laughter truly is the best medicine.

Date # 5: Room to Grow: Family

Monday, April 22nd, 2019

As an empty-nesters, our memories about deciding to have a baby are swayed by how we feel now.

By that I mean we tend to glorify the struggle of rearing our only child.  Now that our son is off at college, we find ourselves reminiscing and it all has a positive spin.

Remember that night when he was a screaming, colicky infant and we drove for hours to calm him down? Boy, do I. Thank goodness you were there to get me through that night.

What about when he had the car accident by fooling around in the parking lot?  He sure learned his lesson and it changed him for the better.  

In other words, we faced many stressors as parents.  I assure you there was not always positivity about these things in the moment.  

We are happily navigating empty nest-hood, and having fun working through “Eight Dates:  Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love”. Date # 5 is Room to Grow:  Family. Since we already have a family, it was fun for s to reflect on the last 20 years of parenting, plus our decision to enter into parenthood.

As with all of the dates, a suggestion is provided for the date location.  In this case the suggested locations were a playground, amusement park or family friendly restaurant to have kids in your field of vision.  

Torchy’s Tacos didn’t disappoint.  There were toddler fraternal twins in eyesight, simultaneously self-feeding and flinging food.  

It brought back those happy memories again.

WHAT RESEARCH SAYS ABOUT TRANSITION TO PARENTHOOD

Before we discussed the open-ended questions, we talked briefly about John Gottman’s research with marital happiness and parenthood.  

He found that 67% of couples have a drop in marital happiness in the first three years of the baby’s life.  For the one third that stayed happy, he found that it was more likely when men were respectful to their wives and accepted their wife’s opinions. 

These men were also different during the pregnancy in that they complimented their partner, and were involved during the pregnancy and birth.  

Check.  And check.  

Whew.

Research aside, we reflected on how we were able to stay in the happy group.  For us, it has always been a deep friendship filled with laughter. Despite all of the normal fears, frustrations and incompetence we felt as new parents, we never forgot how to laugh.  Or how to lean on one another for support.

Even when we didn’t have money to go out on dates, or babysitters to watch our son, we had home dates that were deeply satisfying.  Think Scrabble, wine, The Soprano’s and bike rides.

OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONS

The open-ended questions are intended to guide couples into discussion about:

  • whether or not to have children
  • if so, how many
  • what did parenthood do to our parent’s marriages
  • and things to consider if you do or do not have children

We reflected that for the first four years of our relationship, there was no talk of marriage or children. We both had prior marriages and were in no hurry.  We simply enjoyed one another and built a strong foundation.  

In the fourth year we married and it was I that brought up having a child a year later.

So, I am not getting any younger, you know. My eggs are getting old.  So, uh, I think I want to have a baby before I time out and the factory shuts down.

Are you sure?

Ya, I am sure.

Really?

Okay.

And that was it.  We didn’t have the benefit of the Eight Dates questions to guide us through a more thoughtful conversation. But my influence-accepting husband trusted my instincts that the time was right.  

He was scared but in agreement.  His parents divorced when he was two.  But he was adopted into my big, crazy family and knew that family could look different. 

We didn’t have a plan, but we had a deep bond.  That bond has sustained us over the last 20 years, albeit with some ups and downs. We feel proud of our parenting.  And while we don’t feel regret, we sometimes wonder what it would be like to have more children.

But as our son says, “Why mess with perfection?”.  

Being on the downside of parenting, we find ourselves with a strong desire to have grandchildren someday, but that choice is not ours.

But you can bet that we will give our son and his future partner a copy of Eight Dates to have that essential conversation someday.  

Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love . . . Date #1

Tuesday, February 19th, 2019

With bellies miserably full of Thai Beef and Noodles, he washed and I dried.  Alexa was playing Thinking Out Loud by Ed Sheeran in the background. 

When your legs don’t work like they used to before
And I can’t sweep you off of your feet
Will your mouth still remember the taste of my love
Will your eyes still smile from your cheeks

“We’ll start our low carb diet tomorrow.  This time for real” I said with conviction to my husband, Sean.

He nodded in agreement. 

He’s heard it before. But he knows my weaknesses after 25 years together, noodles being at the top of the list.  I overeat and then complain. Instead of judging me, he grabs a bottle of wine and some dark chocolate (more weaknesses . . . this man really knows me) and sits down at the table to continue our quiet, stay-at-home Valentine’s Day celebration.

“So, who wants to go first?” he asks.

Earlier in the day I told him I wanted to have the First Date from John and Julie Gottman’s new book, Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love

“I do!” I said, not giving him a chance to respond. 

Date “1” is Lean on Me: Trust and Commitment.  After reading that chapter earlier in the day, I had compiled a list of things I cherish about Sean.  While there were many things on my list, there were ten that stood out.  I envisioned sharing in David Letterman Top 10 List fashion.

Cherishing and Commitment

When we cherish our partner, we have a deep feeling that they are irreplaceable.  We simply cannot imagine our lives without them, even when times are rough.  We find ways to tell them that we appreciate them, and do that often.  Cherishing and commitment go together, but they are different.  Commitment is really a verb because it is the actions we take daily to let our partner know we are with them, that we make decisions with them in mind.  

When we choose commitment, we resist temptation to betray our partner. We create trust and safety by turning towards them to work out our differences.  Gratitude is nurtured by knowing what we have rather than focusing on what we don’t have. There is no gossiping or trashing of our partner to others.  

Commitment in Action

Sean and I have had our share of difficult times, that’s for sure. When our son was a colicky infant we leaned on each other for support despite being sleep deprived and cranky with one another.  When my mother and beloved dog both died in the same year, I had a hard time shaking off my depression.  We argued more than ever and found ourselves in couples counseling. Despite these and other challenges, we never gave up on one another.

The incident that sealed the deal for me though was when I had a health crisis 12 years ago.  My mysterious illness had the medical community stumped and I was terrified.  Our lives were turned upside down for months on end with scary symptoms and no treatment. My life and my outlook were forever changed.  It wasn’t until I got a diagnosis and learned to manage my chronic symptoms that I could reflect on how it changed us as a couple.

I had been too absorbed in my own fear to recognize how my husband was scared too.  His life was also forever changed.  But instead of complaining he expressed cherishing and commitment by supporting me through my illness in ways that I took for granted at the time.  He rubbed my back when I was scared.  He drove me to the Emergency Room in the middle of the night on countless occasions. When I had to change my diet, he joined me.  He developed a patience with me that had not been there before.  He was less quick to anger over small stuff and he started leaving love notes for me. 

While he never came out and said it, almost losing me made him realize how much I meant to him.  I felt loved and cared for. We now joke that my near-death experience is the secret to our long marriage.

As I compiled my Top10 List I realized I was describing our everyday life.  Playing and laughing together, and that we get each other’s sense of humor.  Raising a child and dogs together, a connection that is precious to us but was often fraught with stress, cleaning up bodily functions and money we could have spent in far more fun ways. Being comfortable to be myself with Sean and having my faults and bad habits accepted. And that includes bingeing on noodles knowing full well I will complain about it afterwards.  

The song was still playing as I started reading my list.

So honey now
Take me into your loving arms
Kiss me under the light of a thousand stars
Place your head on my beating heart
I’m thinking out loud
Maybe we found love right where we are

Yes, I believe we have found love right where we are. And I could hardly wait to tell him.

Pucker Up . . . It’s Kiss Day

Wednesday, February 13th, 2019

Who knew?  The day before Valentine’s Day is now known as Kiss Day.  That’s the prefect prelude to love and romance.

Kissing, that wonderful, sloppy, sensual act is the gateway to a great love life.  Remember the scene from The Notebook, where Ryan Gosling and Rachel Adams were mugging down in the pouring rain?  Who wouldn’t want to be loved like that.

Kissing has special powers that stimulate our senses.  Our uber-sensitive lips send signals to our brain to create a cocktail of hormones that make us want more.  Dopamine activates the pleasure center.  Oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone” generates feelings of connection and bonding.  

Yes, a little kissing leads to more kissing.  And more kissing can lead to sex. Passionate sex.

In the book The Normal Bar, authors Christiane Northrup, James Witt and Pepper Schwartz describe their relationship research.  They surveyed 100,000 people around the world and found habits related to happiness in relationships.  Of the people who reported being extremely happy, 57% shared a passionate kiss several times per week.

Among the couples that reported enjoying sex with their partners, 85% of them kiss passionately on a regular basis.

So, if you want a bit more happiness and better sex, pucker up and start smooching.  Sex without kissing is focused on orgasm.  Kissing before, during and after sex leads to better connection.

But don’t just think of kissing as foreplay.  Kiss often throughout the day.

Couples often give a quick peck when greeting one another or parting.  John Gottman says instead of just a perfunctory kiss, try making it last for six seconds.

One.  Two.  Three. Four.  Five.  Six.

Now that’s a kiss with possibilities.  

A six-second kiss feels different than a peck.  It gives the brain a chance to feel the sensation on the lips.  You can smell and taste your partner.  You can feel the softness of their skin or their stubbly growth.  It is long enough to say “I can take time out of my busy day to focus on you.”

If the passion is waning in your relationship and you long for a better sex life, start by giving your partner six seconds of your time.  And then six seconds more.  And six seconds more.  Even if you giggle while doing it, do it anyway.

Then move on to the longer, more passionate kisses of your earlier relationship.  The Normal Bar reported that passionate kissing often declines in longer term relationships.  But you don’t have to fall victim to that.  

Start now and give your Valentine a kiss to remember.

You’re not the Grinch: You Don’t Hate the Holidays, You Hate the Work

Wednesday, November 28th, 2018

“I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.”  Charlie Brown and the Grinch have something in common, the lost meaning of Holidays. For the Grinch, being mean transfers his lack of joy on others.  For Charlie Brown, the holidays are things he suffers mostly in silence and endures.

Are you like the Grinch or Charlie Brown? You aren’t alone.  The holiday rush is a time when many people express to me unequivocally that they “hate the holidays.”  When pressed, they tell me that they really love the gathering and the festivities; it’s the work they hate.  They feel obligated to do things they don’t want to do or don’t feel supported in doing those things.

We spend some time considering how they might want to choose what they do and create holiday rituals that create joy instead of drain them.

Sometimes changing things up is part of the answer.  Think about what is really important about the holidays and think about curtailing some activities or tasks if they bring more aggravation than joy.

Even if you do that, you also need to ask for the help in doing all those holiday things.  But there’s a right way and a wrong way to do that.

Don’t be resentful.  Ask for what you need instead.  In my line of work, I help couples raise issues in their relationship that are sometimes conflictual.  That includes the holidays. Dr. John Gottman, well known for his research in relationship stability and divorce prediction and cofounder of the “Gottman Method” of therapy I practice, found that couples who stay together are gentlewhen they bring up a concern or issue in their relationship and they ask for what they need.

How we ask for what we need creates opportunity for connection with those we love.  When we don’t ask for what we need, we can feel disconnected and resentful.

That leads to problems sooner or later.

Broader requests are not as good as specific ones.  Let me give you an example from my own Thanksgiving dinner.  Several people were standing around doing nothing.  I could have yelled “help me!!!,” but that would neither be polite nor asking for what I specifically needed.  Instead, I asked those standing around to please cover the leftovers with aluminum foil.  Seems so minor but even that asking matters because if I hadn’t, I could have felt angry that people weren’t helping and could have felt overburdened.  Instead I felt supported.

With so many things happening over the holiday season, it is vital to ask those you love for what you need. Whether its help with the shopping, wrapping, decorating or cooking, asking for what you need is essential. Being gentle and clear also gives the person hearing the request the greater possibility for success.  So if you start to feel overwhelmed.  Turn to your partner and let them know, “Honey, I am feeling overwhelmed and I would really appreciate your help.  There is a lot of shopping left to do and I need you to help with getting the gifts for your parents.”

Practice this, and maybe you too can rediscover the joy of the holidays like Charlie Brown or the Grinch.

Intimate Partner Violence and the #MeToo Movement

Thursday, November 1st, 2018

Reposting a blog I wrote that appeared on The Gottman Relationship Blog 

Trigger warning: This article discusses sexual assault and violence.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Over the years, the term domestic violence has been broadened to the more accurate term, intimate partner violence, acknowledging that abuse can occur regardless of marital status, gender, or sexual orientation.

When you hear the term domestic or intimate partner violence, you probably imagine a woman with a black eye, fleeing in the middle of the night to escape her batterer. While that image is accurate, it does not capture the depth and breadth of what many women experience. It also does not bring into focus the batterer.

I should mention that while the majority of domestic violence victims are women, abuse of men happens far more often than you might expect. Data from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey indicates that one in six men in the United States have experienced some form of contact sexual violence during their lifetime, and 11% of men have experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner.

Intimate partner violence is about power and control and it can take many forms. John Gottman and Neil Jacobson studied violent relationships and wrote the compelling book When Men Batter Women. From their work, we can better recognize the characteristics of the most dangerous batterers, the “Pit Bulls” and “Cobras.”

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. 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. The book also discusses physical aggression in couples that is not rooted in control and intimidation, but rather is situational in nature, and potentially treatable in couples therapy.

In intimate relationships, partner rape is one of the many ways men can exert power and control over women. It is the most underreported form of rape, and in many states marital rape is still considered a lesser crime than rape by a stranger. In fact, until 1975, every state had a “marital exemption” that allowed a husband to rape his wife without fear of legal consequences. It was only in 1993, 25 years ago, that every state and the District of Columbia passed laws against marital rape. However, it’s still more difficult for a spouse-victim to prove that she didn’t consent to her husband than it would be to prove non-consent with a stranger.

The asymmetrical power dynamics of sexual assault are staggering. In the US alone, nearly 23 million women and 1.7 million men have been victims of completed or attempted rape. According to the CDC, for female rape victims, an estimated 99% had male only perpetrators and for male rape victims, 79.3% had male only perpetrators.

Women worldwide have trudged through vulnerability and shame to share their painful #MeToo stories. Many have finally found the courage to speak out about the unspeakable on social media, in therapy, with their friends and families, and on television. These brave women have endured harassment, ridicule, blame, and death threats. Their courage is inspiring other victims to speak out. Without them, we would never see change.

#MeToo empowered women to tell their stories, but they were often stories about anonymous perpetrators (an ex, a former classmate, a neighbor). With intimate partner violence, it feels riskier because the perpetrator can easily be identified, and it may lead to further violence. Another difference is that in the #MeToo movement, several women may be identifying the same perpetrator, adding to the credibility of the claims.

When women report sexual assault by a stranger, they often gain more sympathy than women in violent intimate relationships. Rape by a stranger is clearly assault, but many fail to view intimate partner violence in the same way. They see women willingly staying in these relationships and this leads to victim blaming.

In When Men Batter Women, Gottman and Jacobson discuss the confusing nature of violent relationships. Battered women can feel emotionally connected to their partner and have great fear of leaving them. Trying to leave a violent relationship can escalate the danger of further battering. For women to leave violent relationships they must be prepared and have carefully planned their escape to safety.

It is often uncomfortable for men to discuss intimate partner violence or sexual assault. It may feel like criticism of their entire gender. At the heart of these discussions are issues relating to power and control, a topic that that must be examined with a broader lens.

The reality is that for millennia, men have wielded far reaching power. When power is challenged, there is always backlash. In 2020 we will celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment which gave women got the right to vote. The movement didn’t start in 1920. Women had been organizing and protesting for decades. Since that time, women have engaged in battles for reproductive rights to manage their own bodies, for equal pay, and the shattering of the glass ceiling in business and politics. Men did not have to fight for these things.

Change is slow and the road is bumpy. We don’t always recognize the nuances in how power and control are turned over to men, but even the language we use is problematic. In his viral TED talk, Jackson Katz reminds us that the words we use put the responsibility of ending sexual assault on women, not on their male perpetrators. We cite statistics of how many women are raped each year, but not how many men rape them. We talk about how many girls get pregnant, but not how many boys impregnate them.

Katz goes on to say:

The use of the passive voice has political effects. It shifts the focus off of men and boys and onto girls and women. Even the term “violence against women” is problematic. It’s a passive construction. There is no active agent in the sentence. It’s a bad thing that happens to women, but when you look at that term “violence against women,” nobody is doing it to them. Men aren’t even a part of it.

This is the language that lends itself to victim blaming and makes domestic violence and sexual assault women’s issues. It leaves men out of the equation completely.

Women cannot and should not bear the responsibility alone for creating change where intimate partner violence or sexual assault are concerned. Many emotionally intelligent men are speaking out as allies. These are the men, the admirable men, who accept influence from women, respect them, honor them, and share power and control. They are demonstrating great courage and vulnerability by standing up against the message to “man up.”

As Domestic Violence Awareness Month comes to an end, let’s not forget the brave survivors of intimate partner violence. Their #MeToo stories matter, too.


Domestic Violence Awareness Month evolved from the “Day of Unity” held in October 1981 by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The intent was to connect advocates across the nation who were working to end violence against women and their children. The “Day of Unity” soon evolved into a week, and in October of 1987, the first National Domestic Violence Awareness Month was observed. In 1989 Congress passed Public Law 101-112, officially designating October as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

To get help, call 800-799-SAFE. You can also get help through email or live chat on the National Domestic Violence Hotline contact page.

Mary Beth George, MEd, LPC, Certified Gottman Therapist

Master Trainer for The Gottman Institute

 

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.

 

 

 

Hurricane Harvey . . . . and stress in your love relationship

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

Yesterday I read about a journalist interested in interviewing couples who had to postpone their wedding due to Harvey. I found this interesting because my counseling specialty is relationships and I know that this natural disaster has the power to impact couples in either a positive or negative way.

John Gottman, renowned relationship researcher, says that how couples look back on earlier difficulties in their relationship is predictive of how it will turn out. Some couples “glorify the struggle”, meaning that they drew strength from the adversity they weathered together. They made it a “we” problem and worked through obstacles together. Other couples get dragged down by the difficult times and fall into disillusionment. They look at it as a “me” problem and build resentment and walls in their relationship.

Ten years ago, my husband and I experienced our own storm when I had a health crisis. My health was initially very compromised and then it turned into a chronic problem that I have to manage daily. While not every day has been unicorns and rainbows in our marriage, we did get stronger over time because of the difficulty we faced together. Through that experience I knew that I could trust my husband to be there for me in big and little ways, and we deepened our commitment to one another.

People notice and ask what the secret to our marriage is and I jokingly say it was my near-death experience. It’s not that the trauma we experienced gave us the tools to improve our marriage, but rather it gave us the desire to work on it. Commitment is a verb and it means working on your relationship daily, and like all couples, we still had to work on how we dealt with emotion and conflict.

If your home flooded, you and your partner are likely to have some emotion and conflict to manage. If you are having trouble leaning into one another so that one day you will be able to “glorify the struggle”, I encourage you to get help sooner rather than later. Sadly, most couples wait an average of six years from the onset of trouble before they seek counseling, and by then some serious damage could occur.

We know that emotions related to the flood are high now due to Acute Stress. Sometimes couples struggle with emotions because one is needing a lot of emotional expression and support and the other doesn’t have a comfort level in dealing with emotion. We call this a meta-emotion mismatch and it is one of the most common problems we see in couples.

Some people may be having trouble coping with the stress of losing everything and they may be turning towards addictive substances or behaviors to numb their feelings, and that surely can negatively impact their relationship.

Couples could also be arguing a lot about flood related things, like money or “what do we do now?”. How people argue matters. Some may not like or understand the way their partner deals with conflict, or they may be letting harsh criticism and defensiveness hijack any meaningful problem-solving discussions.

Again, not every day will be unicorns and rainbows for even the best of marriages, but if the bad days are starting to outnumber the good days, please don’t wait to address it.

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.

 

 

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?

 

 

 

 


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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