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

Archive for the ‘Relationships’ Category

Contempt: The Deadliest of The Four Horsemen

Thursday, June 4th, 2020

Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

According to John Gottman, there are four destructive patterns of communication that can cause serious damage to a relationship. He calls them the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

So far I have covered Criticism, Defensiveness and Stonewalling.  Each of these patterns is capable of causing serious damage to a relationship, but it’s the fourth horsemen, Contempt, that is the most deadly.

Why is Contempt so deadly?

In Gottman’s research he found that when contempt has hijacked a couples communication, it’s the biggest predictor of divorce.

Listen to this short video to learn what contempt sounds like and what can be done to reverse its course.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Accepting Responsibility in Arguments

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2020

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse:  Defensiveness

Continuing on with my series on Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse . . .

Defensiveness is when we feel the need to armor up and shield ourself from someone who is attacking us.  It’s a common response but one that can backfire when in conflict with our partner.

Why is that?

In a word, blame.  Instead of finding the grain of truth on what our partner is complaining about (or even criticizing about), we jump to blame.

It is at this point couples start the attack/defend dance, which usually doesn’t end well.

The Antidote to Defensiveness

As with all of the Four Horsemen, there are antidotes that can get your conflict discussions on the right track.

Watch this short video to learn more about how to manage defensiveness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Criticizing Your Partner Won’t Get You What You Want

Thursday, May 21st, 2020

Let’s face it, we are all on overload in dealing with the stressors associated with the pandemic.

Whether it is economic worries, fear of getting the virus or the the frustration of shelter-in-place, most of us are not at our best right now.

I know I’m not.  My sleep has been disrupted.  Eating and exercise routines have gone by the wayside.  I’m more irritable.

All of the stress and irritability we are feeling can ooze out in negative ways in our relationships.  We can snap at our loved ones when we really need a break.  Judgement and  disgust might be felt when we don’t see eye to eye on wearing a mask or social distancing.

If you find that communication is starting to suffer, a refresher of the antidotes to The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse . . . those toxic communication patterns that Gottman found in his research lead to relationship demise . . . is sorely needed.

In a series of four vlogs, I will review each of the Four Horsemen and their antidotes.

Let’s start with criticism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Date 8: A Lifetime of Love . . . . Dreams

Wednesday, December 11th, 2019

I couldn’t help but belt out Dream On by Aerosmith as we headed out on Date #8 from Eight Dates:  Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of LoveThe topic of conversation for this last date was dreams.

Singing is not my strong suit, but he was very patient as I screeched out the high notes.  I love that he puts up with my silliness.

Why do we need to talk about dreams?

Dreams are important.  Your dreams.  Your partner’s dreams.  And the dreams you have together.  When we allow ourselves to dream together, we share our deepest desires.  It’s love mapping at its best.  

But dreams can get lost along the way in a relationship.  The busyness of work schedule, chores and raising kids can derail us. 

Every time when I look in the mirror
All these lines on my face getting clearer
The past is gone
It went by, like dusk to dawn

It is important that throughout all of that busyness we take time to discuss and keep our dreams alive.  Couples who manage to do this this ask open ended questions about what they want to accomplish in this lifetime. And they follow up with plans to achieve those dreams, even if it is at a snail’s pace.

Honoring our own dreams means we are devoted to self-growth.  Honoring our partners dreams means we are equally invested in our partner’s growth.  It an act of profound love.  Creating dreams together is commitment in action.

The Date

The book suggests that the date location should inspire your dreams, such as a date at dawn or sunset, looking out at the horizon.

Mission accomplished.  The sun is setting quite early this time of year, so we chose a late afternoon date at Eight Row Flint, an upscale Houston icehouse with rare bourbons and food truck tacos. It was the perfect setting to sit outside, feeling both the crisp air and warmth from the tableside heater.

The Conversation

Eight Dates is about exploring open-ended questions with your partner on big topics, such as money, sex, adventure and yes, dreams.  Each chapter has pre-work for partners to complete before the date, so they can start the date conversation on a thoughtful note.

And, as with the other chapters, the questions for Date 8 covered everything from childhood dreams to the more existential “deeper meaning” of one’s dreams.

I learned that my husband had wanted to be a pilot from the time he was a young child, but believed his vision would prevent that.  I knew that he pursued engineering at the urging of a high school teacher, but he never mentioned his childhood dream to me because he believed it was a moot point.

Learning this fact filled in some gaps for me.  He had given up on being a pilot but soon after meeting him that dream reignited.  The stars lined up, the right people showed up and he was finally able to pursue his dream.  

It was the first dream we worked towards as a couple. He subsequently helped me switch careers and create my business.  Taking turns and making sacrifices for one another has strengthened our bond.

Dream on

As we worked through the questions, it was affirming to see how our future dreams aligned.  While we are done with the book, we can hardly wait for the next chapter of our lives to be written.

Dream on

Dream on

Dream on

Dream until your dreams come true

Date 7: Something to Believe In . . . Growth and Spirituality

Tuesday, November 5th, 2019

In every relationship, like in life, the only constant is change.

Truth.

Reading that statement in Eight Dates:  Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love made me stop and reflect on how my husband and I have both changed and also how we have grown together over the years.   

When we met, there were similarities, such as we were both recently divorced, grew up in the same faith, had dogs and loved to cycle.  

The differences, though, were stark.  Different sides of the political spectrum.  Different holiday traditions.  His love of sports.  My quest to grow spiritually.  And that just scratches the surface.

But in the last 25 years we have managed to create shared meaning in our relationship.  Research on married couples shows that when couples hold their relationship sacred, they have better relationships.

Bingo.  

We were able to navigate our differences, sometimes with struggle, but always with a desire to be in the relationship.  

The 7th Date

We planned the 7th date on the fly.  I literally grabbed the book as we were running out the door to drive to College Station to attend a lecture.  The book suggests that you select a place that feels beautiful and sacred to both of you.

Does driving on 290 and stopping at Buc-ees in Waller count as sacred?  I vote YES.  They have the cleanest bathrooms, the best snacks and awesome tee-shirts.  Come to think of it, it is actually a ritual for us.  Whenever we head out of town by car, we stop at Buc-ees.  I guess you can say it is part of our shared meaning.  

When couples work out the roles they take on, the goals they share for the future, and stay connected by ritually coming together, they create shared meaning.

The 7th date conversation topic was “How have we each grown and changed in the relationship?  What does spirituality mean to each of us and how do we express it? 

A heavy topic indeed.https://eddinscounseling.com/career-counseling

The topic relates to the shared meaning couples create. It is basically the Story of US.  It is the way couples weave their lives together. 

When couples work out the roles they take on, the goals they share for the future, and stay connected by ritually coming together, they create shared meaning.

We reflected on how we have changed and also how we have strengthened the story of US.

We are the George’s.  We love Thanksgiving and have combined our traditions (he needs football, I need brussels sprouts).  We still love to cycle, although our knees don’t always cooperate like they used to.  Most nights of the week you can catch us cooking dinner together.  He has become the grill master and I make the veggies.  Our dogs create time for us to talk every night because they demand a walk, but we love it as much as they do.  We go to football games, which I now enjoy and he goes to musicals with me and actually initiates these dates on occasion.  We currently enjoy taste-testing different bourbons, something I never thought I would like.  We still diverge in minor ways on spirituality and politics, but it is inconsequential.  Scattered about our house are symbols of the things we have shared together, such as memorable trips, and of course, memories of our now college-age son.  We don’t always like the other’s work schedule, but we have managed to work around it and share chores. We are empty nesters who have worked hard to save for retirement and have a shared bucket list of things we want to do before we leave the planet.

In a nutshell, that is shared meaning.  

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.


Couples Counseling and Professional Training Associates provides service to Kingwood, Humble, Atascocita, Porter, Fall Creek, Summerwood, North Houston and surrounding areas.

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