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Posts Tagged ‘Gottman’

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 #4: The Cost of Love: Work and Money

Thursday, March 28th, 2019

Eight Dates:  Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, the newest book by Drs. John and Julie Gottman, guides readers to have important conversations while on a date.

For Date #4 the topic is work and money and how each partner brings value to the relationship. It also includes a discussion of money histories as well as what it means to have enough money.  

A rich topic indeed.

The suggested location is something that costs as little as possible and reminds you of something you did as a couple when you had less money.  Go to a fancy hotel and sit in the lobby or get take-out from your favorite restaurant and serve it on china.  Pamper yourself.

In the past we would have been on the patio of a Mexican restaurant, drinking Happy Hour margaritas and eating baskets of free chips.  

Our waistlines were more cooperative back then.

So, with clear blue skies and a perfect 74 degrees, we still chose to be on a patio, but this time it was in our own backyard.  Freshly potted planters and the scent of our blossoming lemon tree added something special to the gorgeous spring day.

I nixed the idea of using china for our take-out from Thai Lao.  To me, pampering means NOT washing dishes. 

As per the directions, we started the date by sharing three things we appreciate about each other’s paid or unpaid contribution to the wealth of the relationship.

Being four months shy of 25 years together, we have no shortage of examples, but we each chose to focus on the present.  His drive to have record-breaking overtime was celebrated, as was my ability to plan amazing vacations with said overtime. I call that teamwork.

We then discussed answers from two questionnaires in the chapter, My Family History with Money and What Money Means to Me.  

Twenty-five years together and we still had untold stories regarding family histories.  As we shared our stories, it was clear that both of our families gave us valuable, albeit sometimes painful, lessons with money without even realizing they were doing so.

The Family History questionnaire made me wonder how our son will answer these questions in 25 years. Without even realizing it I am sure we are passing on both positive and negative messages to him.  Thoughts like this help me to be forgiving of my parent’s flaws. 

My husband and I always knew we had similar philosophies regarding money since it is one topic we rarely argued about.  But it was surprising to see exactly how in sync we truly are when we compared answers on the What Money Means to Me questionnaire.  With the exception of our views on how money relates to stress and responsibility, we answered nearly identically.  

I guess that’s why it has always been easy for us to talk about money, which we do quite often.  The Open-Ended Questions for this date were nothing new for us, but still fun to answer.  We often love map about our fears and goals related to money.

The final open-ended question of the exercise is “What are your hopes and dreams about money?”.  This is the topic we have talked about most consistently for the last 25 years.

My husband has had a recurring dream that he won $18,000,000 with a lottery ticket.  We have fantasized and drooled about how we will spend that bounty, never giving up hope that someday we will match all of the numbers.

But even if we never see a nickel of that $18,000,000, we have shared a lifetime of richness in those conversations.

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.

How to Sail Through Certification in Gottman Method Couples Therapy

Thursday, November 1st, 2018

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

In October 2012, my business partner Alysha Roll and I travelled to Seattle for Level 3 Training in Gottman Method Couples Therapy. We were so excited to learn from the Gottmans in person and the experience did not disappoint. We left feeling energized and inspired, so much so that we spent the four-hour plane ride back to Texas planning our future as Certified Gottman Therapists.

We got off the plane in Houston and hit the ground running. Fast forward six months, and certification was the sweet reward for our “nose to the grindstone” approach. If you’re considering your own journey toward becoming a Certified Gottman Therapist (CGT), here are some tips to sail through the process.

Buddy Up

Since Alysha and I worked closely together, we opted for group consultation. This proved to be a very advantageous strategy as we provided each other with a great deal of support throughout the process. Being each other’s cheerleader, technical consultant, video screener, and honest opinion giver was enormously beneficial.

Choose the Right Consultant

Before leaving Seattle, we made it a point to meet and interact with many of the consultants. While Alysha and I viewed them all as experts, we sought out a consultant that was a good match for our personalities and business style. In addition to receiving clinical consultation, we tacked on some extra sessions to discuss the business side of being a Gottman therapist so we could see a maximum return on our investment. Selecting the right consultant is paramount. We scheduled weekly appointments with our consultant, which created good momentum and put some pressure on ourselves to obtain and produce tapes.

Market Yourself

Our initial to-do list was full of ideas to recruit more couples to our practice, not only to get a wide selection for the certification process but also to establish ourselves as experts in our community. We updated our website, changed our business name, and restructured our work schedules to accommodate more couples. We changed our advertising, sent postcards, informed other therapists of our new specialty, and hosted an Open House. We utilized the power of social media by blogging, Facebooking, Tweeting, and Pinning. If you build it, they will come. We had (and still have) an abundance of couples.

Have a “Can Do” Attitude

As a firm believer in “I will believe it when I see it,” I knew that I had to shed any doubts about my ability to become certified. The importance of a “can do” attitude can’t be stressed enough because anxiety and fear of failure will surely slow the process or make it come to a screeching halt. Our consultant was masterful in using softened startup when he had to give a negative tape review and I worked very hard on not becoming defensive. Trusting his opinions and expertise, while at the same time affirming my ability as a therapist, helped me keep my eye on the prize. I looked at negative feedback as an opportunity for growth rather than a failure on my part.

Immerse Yourself in the Gottman Method

After Level 3 Training, I realized that my knowledge of the Gottman Method was inadequate and I had a great deal to learn to become proficient. Reading most of the books on the required reading list helped me gain confidence and drilled the concepts into my head. Alysha and I began applying Gottman strategies in our own marriages but quickly realized that our husbands were not up to speed. We returned to Seattle with our spouses to attend The Art and Science of Love. Seeing John and Julie Gottman do a live demonstration of Aftermath of a Fight was incredibly poignant and helped our partners embrace the process as much as we did. Being workshop participants showed us how the interventions build on one another, melding the entire process for us. We left the workshop with an additional surge of energy to focus on the certification process.

Channel Your Inner Techie

Making and editing videotapes was not as daunting as I expected. Using a very basic video camera and extra rechargeable batteries allowed me to record and download several sessions per day. At the time I used Microsoft Movie Maker and have since switched to iMovie, but both are easy to use. Gaining consent to videotape was also less challenging than anticipated. My pitch was very brief and included three reasons to tape: video playback, self-critique, and consultant feedback. As I spoke I handed them the consent form on a clipboard, indicating that I expected them to sign. Not one couple refused to sign and they quickly got used to the camera. The most difficult thing about taping was taking the time to watch and edit tapes after coming home from work.

Certification Isn’t the End of the Road

We breathed a sigh of relief once we were certified, but Newton’s second law of motion was in play and we quickly moved forward, planning our own Art and Science of Love workshop in Texas. We have since conducted 16 couples workshops and it is one our favorite things to do as CGTs.

Many doors opened for us after we became certified. We continued our training with The Gottman Institute so we could teach Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 Trainings, as well as work with consultees. Clients began to seek us out specifically for Gottman therapy as well as Marathon Intensive Therapy sessions. Local groups asked us to speak about relationships from a Gottman perspective and we have both been interviewed by the national media.

One of the things I value most about being a CGT is the Gottman community. We ”rove” at The Art and Science of Love workshops in Seattle a few times per year and get to interact with the staff of the The Gottman Institute as well other CGTs. I never get tired of hearing John and Julie present at the workshop and learn something new each time. We also participate in the CGT Facebook group to share information and get support. Having a tribe that speaks the same language has been a tremendous source of encouragement.

Our goal was never just to “get it done,” but instead to embrace the journey of lifelong learning. We can’t wait for what’s next.

 

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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