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

Posts Tagged ‘Gottman’

Rituals of Connection Strengthen Relationships

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

Sound houseThanksgiving is upon us and that warms my heart.  Over the past 20 years my husband and I have unwittingly developed  rituals around this day of gratitude.  We honor his family tradition of tamales and football and my love of Brussels sprouts and my friend Mary, who has spent 18 of the last 20 Thanksgivings with us.  When any of these things are missing from our day, it simply doesn’t feel right.

And that is how rituals go.  They are routines that create shared meaning in relationships and strengthen emotional connections.  Notice that Creating Shared Meaning is at the top of the Sound Relationship House, the model we use in Gottman Method Couples Therapy.  Rituals are important in relationships because we look forward to them  . . . they symbolize who we are as a couple or as a family.  They have the power to smooth over rough spots and transitions that we all naturally experience over the course of time.

We tend to think of rituals on holidays, especially ones that honor cultural heritage, faith or family values.  But rituals on a smaller scale are equally important.  How couple and families routinely come together creates a sense of belonging.  Rituals demonstrate that we take time out of our busy schedules to make one another a priority.

Here are some examples of rituals from my own family, as well as ones I have heard from other couples and families:

  • Six second kiss when you wake up, when you say goodnight, and when you come and go
  • Family dinnertime where everyone talks about their day
  • Walking the dog every evening
  • Making a cheesecake for your partner on their birthday because it is their favorite dessert
  • Going for pancakes every Saturday morning
  • Weekly date night
  • Returning to your honeymoon destination every year on your anniversary
  • Leaving love notes by the coffee maker for your partner to find every morning
  • Training for a distance bike ride together
  • Watching a favorite TV show together
  • How you approach your partner for sex
  • Family game night
  • Going to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve
  • Snuggling for 10 minutes every morning after the alarm goes off
  • Parents and kids volunteering once per month at an animal shelter
  • Planting a vegetable garden every year
  • And my son’s favorite . . . serving his “lucky” foods (Starbucks Caramel Frappuccino and shrimp cocktail) before he plays a football game

Rituals create positive memories and are like glue in relationships . . . they keep you connected. What are the rituals in your relationships?

 

 

 

How Does Weight Gain Affect Couples?

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

“You’ve gained so much weight . . . I am no longer attracted to you”.

More than 34%  of Americans are now obese and it has become a national epidemic.  Co-morbidities related to obesity, like diabetes, often take the spotlight but weight issues have deleterious effects on relationships as well.

Weight Gain Often Accompanies Marriage

Couples can become couch potatoes, watching TV instead of being on the go.  Working out may take a backseat now that one is no longer on the prowl for a mate.  Nurturing your loved one with delicious meals, celebrating with food and frequently enjoying cocktails together can pack on the pounds.  Couples can influence one another with eating patterns, often to their detriment, and this can boost caloric intake.

Much to my chagrin, weight and body shape changes can and do occur over time.   Pregnancy, menopause and the aging process all contribute to changes in size and shape.  Couples who support each other through these transitions tend to be the happiest.  Change is inevitable and it is best to accept that some change in weight and physical attractiveness will happen for both of you over time.

Weight and Marital Unhappiness

Unfortunately for many couples weight issues take front and center stage in marital unhappiness.  When one partner gains weight, the other often doesn’t know how to handle it.  Sometimes they try unsolicited advice like “Go to the gym with me” or “Maybe you should give Weight Watchers a try”.  Advice giving can morph into nagging or ultimatums, and this constant pressure adds conditionality to the relationship.

Derogatory remarks about weight are devastating to a relationship.  Name calling, telling your partner you are no longer sexually attracted to them or saying oink oink every time your overweight partner reaches for seconds all cut to the core.  Being critical of your partner is toxic and according to John Gottman is one of the predictors of divorce.  We all want to feel loved for reasons beyond the number on the scale or our clothing size.

Attacking the overweight spouse compounds the problem by adding layer upon layer of shame and humiliation.  Making negative comparisons or ogling a sexy stranger makes the overweight partner feel worse, more insecure and vulnerable.  Instead of feeling cherished, one feels disrespected and devalued.  Using shame as a tool to motivate always backfires.

Shame is different from guilt.  According to Brene Brown, shame researcher from University of Houston, shame is very painful and focuses on our self worth and sense of belonging.  Shame says “I am fat and unworthy of love”.  Guilt focuses on behavior and says “I overate and feel miserable”.  Shame interferes with our connection to self, as well as to our partner.

Women who have engaged in lifelong battles with their body are especially prone to shame when they plump up after marriage.  They feel big and unsexy and often dress to hide their curves.  Whereas they once pranced naked in front of their partner, now they dress and undress in private.  They often avoid sex in order to avoid rejection.  They simply feel “not good enough” or unworthy.

We used to think that men were less prone to body image issues, but the truth is their issues were present but off the radar.  They often share the same feelings of shame when they gain weight.

Secrecy is often a component of shame and weight issues.  This wreaks havoc in relationships, especially if the overweight partner has binge eating disorder (BED).  People with BED eat salads in front of their partner and gorge on junk food in private.  Bingers are not only grazers and chocolate cravers, but they feel out of control with eating.  They avoid eating in front of others to avoid judgment and in the process destroy intimacy and emotional connection.  It’s like an affair, only the affair partner is food.  Not only does the couple need marital counseling, but the binger will also need individual therapy to deal with their issues.

Many other dysfunctional patterns arise in couples where eating issues or BED are present.  Chronic dieting to compensate for overeating affects how couples approach food in social situations.  It also affects rituals of connection like family dinnertime and holiday food traditions.  Sometimes we see issues of codependency or enabling by placing the responsibility of the eating issue on the normal weight partner.  Other times we see sabotage through the form of temptation, especially if the binger loses weight and there are underlying power struggles in the couple.  And sometimes couples abuse food together to promote a sense of closeness.

The Real Cause of Marital Unhappiness

But is the excess weight or the presence of BED to blame for plummeting marital happiness and sexual intimacy? Not so according to Gottman.  In his extensive research of couples he found that 70% of both men and women report satisfaction with sex, romance and passion when the quality of their friendship was good. Additionally he found that couples whose sex lives go well after the birth of a baby stem from the man keeping his mouth shut about the changes in his wife’s body.

Friendship, fondness, admiration and deep emotional bonds are what keep couples connected as they traverse changes over time.  Attraction to your partner has more to do with what’s in the emotional bank account than the number on the scale.  Physical changes are not at the heart of deteriorating marriages.  Happy couples see their partner as worthy of honor and respect.

In couples where weight has become a weighty issue, there are underlying problems that are being overshadowed by the weight gain.  It is easy to point the finger at the obvious, but loss of the friendship system, emotional avoidance or problems with conflict management are more likely the root cause.  Weight loss alone will not change the trajectory of a troubled relationship.

As we say in Gottman Method Couples Counseling, every positive thing you do in your relationship is foreplay.  Never comment adversely about your partners weight or your attraction to them.  Instead be affectionate and appreciative.  Focus on their positive attributes instead of dwelling on their weight.  Kind comments reassure your partner that you love them no matter what their body looks like.

As for dealing with shame, the antidote is empathy.  Replacing shame talk with positive self talk is crucial.  In other words, if you are overweight talk to yourself like you would talk to your child.  When shame is present it grows by leaps and bounds when it is stuffed.  Release shame by talking to your partner . . . their job is to express empathy and understanding.

Couples need to maintain positive regard for one another to cope with the changes that time brings, and that includes changes in weight and physical attractiveness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“We Need Couples Counseling and My Partner Won’t Go” – 5 Strategies to Try

Friday, September 13th, 2013

We are on the brink of divorce and I can’t get my husband (or wife, or life partner) to go to marriage counseling?  What can I do?

Believe it or not, distressed couples wait an average of SIX years before seeking the help of a marriage counselor.  Unaware of the slow erosion that is taking place, they don’t notice the Four Horsemen of the Apocalyse have set up camp in their home.  Oh, they may know they have some degree of unhappiness, but they keep waiting for the other person to change to get the relationship back on track.

When the fog begins to lift and one partner accepts that the relationship simply is not working, they have an AHA moment and begin googling couples counselors.  Finding a few names they are sure their partner will want to dispel their pain with the help of an experienced therapist.  When they are met with There’s no way in hell I am airing our dirty laundry in front of a therapist.  I had a previous bad experience in counseling and I don’t believe in therapy, a sense of panic sets in.

If your partner is resistant to therapy, all hope is not gone yet.  Try the following:

  1. Stop making your partners flaws the main reason you need counseling.  Take ownership over your feelings and say things like I am so sad that we have become so distant.  I miss who we used to be as a couple.  Please go to counseling with me so we can get our happiness back.
  2. Ask your partner to go to ONE session.  Many times resistant partners will relax with an experienced therapist and agree to join in the process.
  3. If your partner is using the cost of counseling as a reason to not go, check with your insurance company.  Many plans cover marriage/family counseling.  It is possible that you have this as a covered benefit and will only have to pay a copay.  Or your employer may offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and you can get a few free sessions.  Check with your Human Resources Department.
  4. Consider a couples workshop or marriage retreat, like The Art & Science of Love.  This Gottman Method workshop is ideal for resistant partners because itimage004 (2013_06_02 20_47_53 UTC) is not therapy, although the effects are like having six months of couples’ therapy.  The workshop is educational, research based and there is no public disclosure.
  5. Go to counseling on your own.  While nothing replaces the dynamic setting of couples counseling where both partners are working on issues, individual counseling may be of some benefit.  You will have a safe environment to explore your feelings.  If you are truly willing to work on the relationship, you will begin to take ownership over how your behavior has contributed to negative patterns.  A word of caution though, individual counseling that is just used for venting or trashing your partner will not be effective, and in fact, can be harmful to the relationship.

If after trying these things and your partner is still unwilling to get help, you might be faced with the fact they are unwilling to work on the relationship.  Not only are they avoiding the therapist’s couch, they are avoiding working on it in any form or fashion.  This can be a painful realization and you may want to seek individual counseling.

 

Couples Counseling for Affairs – What To Expect

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

If your world has been shattered by the discovery that your partner is having an affair, you may be wondering if your relationship can survive this, or maybe even wondering if you should bother trying.

The word affair conjures up an image of a sexual tryst but that is not the only type of betrayal we are seeing these days.  Emotional affairs, sexting, online or virtual romances can be equally, if not more, destructive to partnerships.

Most think that infidelity stems from availability . . . . a husband on an overnight business trip has opportunity or a wife with a hot personal trainer while her husband is at work.  But that is not generally how the path to a cheating heart is travelled.

Affairs arise from emotional dismissiveness and emotional avoidance in relationships.  These couples avoid expressing their true feelings to their partners in an attempt to avoid conflict. Over time these couples become very emotionally distant and feel very neglected in their relationship.  It is this isolation and loneliness that primes them to make room for an attentive affair partner in their life . . . someone who will listen, give them compliments and laugh at their jokes.  And eventually this leads to make negative comparisons about their partner and permission to stray.

Of course all hell breaks loose when an affair is discovered.  The betrayed partner has a knife jammed in their heart, feeling the deep wounds of broken trust, blindsided by someone they thought they knew.  The traumatic nature of this discovery leads to symptoms of post-traumatic stress (PTSD) that include intrusive thoughts, depression, anxiety, emotional numbing and flashbacks.

Often this is the juncture where couples seek relationship counseling.  They are in such crisis that I liken it to an anaphylactic reaction in need of an Epi-Pen . . . they want immediate relief.  Remember, these are a couples that hate conflict and they are at a loss on what to do or how to heal.

A skilled couples therapist will complete a thorough assessment of the current situation, their history as a couple and their individual backgrounds.  In Gottman Method Couples Therapy we follow the Gottmans’ Trust Revival Method for dealing with affairs.  This three phase approach involves:

The Atonement Phase:  This phase involves full confession, expression of remorse and apology, verification that the affair is over and dealing with the betrayed partner’s PTSD.  The couple begins to explore what went wrong in the relationship and why it culminated in an affair, but the cheating partner must take 100% responsibility for the breach of trust.  The most difficult phase of therapy, this stage will last as long as it needs to last, and the cheating partner must have infinite patience while their partner deals with his their emotions.

The Attunement Phase:   In this phase the couple begins rebuilding their relationship.  They recognize that previous relationship wasn’t meeting their needs and it cannot and should not be resurrected in the same manner.  They need to build skill in developing deeper emotional bonds, better communication, conflict management skills, friendship and romance.

The Attachment Phase:  In the final stage we work on forgiveness having real meaning, deepening their commitment, building a shared meaning for the future and re-establishing a strong foundation.

Some couples can survive affairs and some can’t.  The likelihood of survival increases if they can openly talk about the affair, their pre-existing problems and have infinite patience while they work through the three  phases of recovery.

 

Thanks and Giving

Sunday, November 25th, 2012

A few years ago on a warm Thanksgiving morning (yes, this is Texas) my family and I were walking our dogs before getting down to the serious business of smoking a turkey and watching football.

As we approached our house my husband found a dollar bill at the edge of our lawn.  He stooped to pick it up and my sister called out “I found another one . . . and another . . .  and another!”  Excitedly we combed the cul-de-sac, finding 17 dollar bills sprinkled on the street.

I thought maybe a neighbor went to the grocery store for a last minute item and accidentally dropped the money.  Neighbor after neighbor denied this theory.  This was turning into quite a mystery on our quiet cul-de-sac.  I began to suspect the money was left intentionally.

An Act of Kindness

Black Friday rolled around and my sister, friend and I made our annual pilgrimage to the mall.  After a few hours of battling the crowd we headed to our favorite watering hole for a bite to eat and a cocktail.  Without a reservation we had to sit at the bar.   No problem.  Visiting this establishment had become part of our annual ritual of connection.  After the second bite into our burgers the bartender directed us to slide us down a few seats to make room for another party.   Her abruptness irritated us.

The new party saddled up to the bar while we noshed and sipped, recovering quickly from our game of musical chairs.  When we got the check, the man in the party that displaced us called out that he appreciated what we did and was picking up our tab.  Instantly we felt guilty for our irritation and gave thanks for his generosity.  After chatting for a few minutes he simply asked that we do something nice for someone in return.

Giving Feels Good

Paying it forward is an age old concept where the beneficiary of a good deed pays it back to someone other than the original benefactor. And it feels oh-so-good to give. When we are generous, we are more aware of the good in our lives.   We develop compassion for others. Acts of kindness make us feel more connected to others.

Several years ago Oprah had a Pay It Forward challenge where she gave audience members $1000 and a camcorder to capture their good deeds.  Their acts of generosity were incredibly touching.  The givers talked about how it changed them, not the receiver.

Catherine Ryan Hyde wrote a novel that was turned in to the feel-good movie Pay It Forward, starring Haley Joel Osment and Kevin Spacey.  Spacey, a teacher of 11 year old Osment, instructs the class to come up with an idea that would change the world.  Osment’s character comes up with the idea that for every good deed bestowed upon you, do three good deeds for someone else that they could not accomplish  themselves.

Indeed that sort of generosity would change the world.

Money was serendipitously thrown at me in all directions on the holiday of Thanks and Giving.  I was charged with how to pay it forward.  My son and I decided to give dollar bills away, in the same fashion we found them.  By carefully placing them in locations where people would surely find them (napkin dispensers at restaurants, toilet paper rolls in restrooms), we had great fun imagining the surprise on their faces when they discovered their bounty.

It was a great start to the holiday season.

 

 

Fifty Shades of Foreplay

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Over the last few months I have had more than one person tell me that Fifty Shades of Grey has spiced up their sex life.

So out of curiosity I joined the ranks of people reading what is now being called “mommy porn”.  And that it is . . . erotica that goes to the edge of pornography, but not hardcore.  Women are exploring their sexuality and realizing they want to be more adventurous in the bedroom.

Erotic fiction is a way for women to explore their fantasies and they are getting turned on by the steamy sex scenes.  The use of sex toys, various positions, locations and submission/dominance scenes is offering some variety to dull sex lives.  In my opinion, probably the more important thing that Fifty Shades is providing is stimulating the brain and the vocal cords.  One of the biggest problems with dull sex lives is that couples do not think about, prepare for or get excited about sexual encounters with their partner like they did during the early phase of their relationship.  Typically during that phase sex is exciting.  Couples plan for it by buying sexy outfits, anticipate having sex and making sure that it happens . . . a lot.   Over time these things wane as pregnancy and children enter the picture or as couples stop focusing on their relationship as a priority.

The book series is getting couples talking about sex.  Women are sharing the detailed sex scenes with their partners and talking about their needs and fantasies.  Having intimate conversation with your partner is one of the best ways to rev things up in the bedroom.  Talking to your partner about sex before, during and after the act is the best way to make sure your needs are met.  Sure, erotica can spice things up and be considered normal and healthy, but don’t lose sight of what is important in a relationship, and that involves lots and lots of talking.

Women often wonder what is normal and healthy regarding sex and don’t know where to turn to get answers.  John Gottman, relationship expert and bestselling author, along with his wife Julie, have developed a very good series on sex that guides couples to more intimacy and satisfying sex lives.  Check out www.gottsex.com for more information.  Dr. Laura Berman, psychologist and sexologist, also offers great information on her website and TV/radio programs http://www.drlauraberman.com/homepage

My mission is to help couples have the whole enchilada . . . an emotionally satisfying AND sexually satisfying relationship.

 

 

 

Repair Attempts: One of the Secrets of Marriages That Work

Friday, December 9th, 2011

One of the secrets of marriages that work is using and receiving repair attempts.

According to John Gottman, author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, repair attempts are a way to put the kibosh on escalating tension between a couple.  Think of it as an adult time out, a tool used to bring emotions under control.

Repair attempts can be communicated from one partner to the other in a variety of ways.  Sometimes it’s a request (“let’s not fight, OK?”).  Other times it’s an apology (“sorry I jumped to conclusions”).  And other times they can be a humorous gesture, like sticking your tongue out or making an Elvis face.  When one partner makes a repair attempt it is a signal that they don’t want to feel the pain of yet another argument.

It takes insight and courage for someone to make a repair attempt.

The receiver of the repair attempt needs to accept the gesture and re-focus their emotional energy as well.  They need to understand that their partner doesn’t want to fight.  This is a  critical component of learning to de-escalate a fight.  If the receiver refuses the repair attempt and continues to push for an argument, their partner will either engage in a  full blown knock-down, drag-out fight or they will simply disengage, neither of which will help to improve the partnership.

Once both parties take a breather and calm down, then it’s time for the fair fight.  All couples argue and the point of a repair attempt is not to squelch all communication but to redirect energies into talking and listening, rather than screaming and defensiveness.  Learning to discuss differences with respect and not pushing each other’s buttons is a skill  employed in the healthiest of unions.  Using and receiving repair attempts is a sign of cooperation and ultimately builds stronger relationships.

It’s important to realize that most conflicts are not resolved.  That may seem defeating but  Gottman’s research shows us that 69% of the time conflicts go unresolved.  What is important though is the willingness to let go of another pointless argument that erodes the relationship.

When your partner uses a repair attempt you have a choice to make:  escalate a fight or de-escalate to a conversation.  Arguments in couples are less about being right or wrong and more about respect and understanding your partner.

So the next time you and your partner disagree, think very clearly about how you want the scene to go.  If you are interested in being right you will not use or receive repair attempts.  If you are interested in a healthier relationship you will find a way to de-escalate the tension.

 

The Six Second Kiss

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

The other day we met some friends for lunch. They are a happily married couple who work hard at staying that way.  They recently attended the Art & Science of Love Weekend Workshop, a couples’ retreat taught by Certified Gottman Therapists. My friends said the “six second kiss” was one of the most enlightening things they got out of the weekend.

The six second kiss is a technique used by Gottman trained therapists to help couples feel closer and more connected. Emotional distance is one of the biggest complaints that couples experience over time. Hectic schedules, focus on children and work stress have a tendency to creep into marriages and reduce intimate interactions to just a passing peck on the cheek as one runs out the door.

The six second kiss is a way to communicate caring and your willingness to devote time to the relationship. Kiss when you wake up, when you leave each other, when you return, when you want to express appreciation, when you feel affectionate, when you make up from a disagreement and at bedtime. There are many opportunities throughout the day to work on your intimate connection and a brief kiss is a simple ritual that brings you back to that point very quickly.

My husband and I love the 6 second kiss.  Some kisses are silly. Some are romantic. Some are inconvenient. We agreed to forego a kiss in front of my son’s football team, but decided that we could have a 12 second kiss later in the day. It’s  playful and sweet and it’s a way to feel more connected throughout the day.

We average about six kisses per day. That’s an extra 36 seconds per day, over 4 minutes in a week and 18 minutes per month. That’s an extra 18 minutes we would not have otherwise spent on an intimate connection. It’s a small time investment with a big payoff.

Now go find your partner and pucker up.

 


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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