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

Posts Tagged ‘relationships’

5 Things We Love About Our Couples Weekend Workshop

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

IMG_1669In October we put on another Art and Science of LoveWeekend Workshop.  It was our biggest workshop to date.  As we reflected on the success of the workshop we realized there are many reasons we love this work.

1.  We love seeing couples committed to working on their relationships.  At this workshop we had couples travel far and wide to deep their connection, IMG_3654including Virginia, Illinois, Mexico and even South Africa.  Good things happen when couples commit to building friendship and intimacy.

2.  The fact that we had couples from such diverse locations speaks volumes to how Gottman Method Couples Counseling is spreading.  Therapists trained in this method are now in Australia, Canada, Korea, Norway, Sweden and Turkey.  A therapist from Mexico attended our workshop and she now is seeking Level 1 training.  It is exhilarating to be involved in this global movement.

3.  We love and appreciate the support of our partners in putting on our workshops.  Both of our husbands help us role play techniques taught over IMG_3651the course of the weekend.  We demonstrate how to deal with actual issues from our personal lives.  Invariably evaluations show this to be a favorite part of our workshop.  Seeing the vulnerability of our partners and learning that all couples have conflict make this approach very accessible to participants.

4.  We love that this is a comfortable process for couples.  Couples appreciate that we make the workshop fun and interactive, yet a private, intimate experience.  It is not therapy yet yields the same results as 6 month of marital therapy.

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5.  This material works!  Time and again we have seen couples re-ignite the flames of passion, smooth out rough spots or make a complete transformation in their relationship over the course of the weekend.  Gottman Method Couples Therapy is based on 40+ years of research and the techniques used are powerful.

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Is Facebook the Source of Relationship Problems?

Monday, August 18th, 2014

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

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

Here are some common scenarios . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Houston, We Have a Problem

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

This is Houston, say again, please. 

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

Failure is not an option.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Friday, February 7th, 2014

We are just a few years short of the century anniversary of the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote. Much has changed for women in the last 100 years and that has spilled over into changes in relationship dynamics.

For example, in the early 60s men were not allowed in the delivery room to see their children born. But now 91% not only watch, they actively participate in that special moment. When my son was born by C-section, I was being stitched up and my husband was the first to hold our bundle of joy . . . now I was the one that felt left out. Yes, the times have changed.

It’s no surprise that two income families are becoming the norm. Women outnumber men in higher education enrollment and that means they now vie for higher paying jobs.  While women still lag behind men in equal pay, men are losing their status as sole breadwinners.  A recent Pew Research analysis showed that of all married couples 24% had women as breadwinner, and that number is 30% among newlyweds.  This is up from 6% in 1960.

In his research of couples, John Gottman found that men who accept these changes are way ahead of the game in the world of parenting and relationships. They are sharing power and allowing themselves to be influences by their partner’s point of view.  Women who feel respected in this way are happier in their relationships.  And as we say in Texas, if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

But accepting your partner’s point of view is a two-way street.  Women must allow themselves to be influenced by their husband’s point of view, especially in the area of parenting or other traditionally held female roles.  But the truth is women generally do a far better job of accepting influence from men than men do from women.

Developmental psychologists have found the roots of this  in childhood.  Girls accept influence from boys, but boys almost never accept influence from girls. This is most likely due to the fact that boys and girls are raised to manage emotions differently.  Boys learn to deal with emotion quickly and “to keep the ball in play”.  Girls “play house” and nurture baby dolls in their play, and they love playing with others. This means that when both genders come together at puberty, girls are more experienced about relationships.

Gottman’s work suggests there is a new kind of male partner that is emerging, one that is adapting to these changes.  The new male has reset his priorities and is turning towards relationships.

When men have a hard time accepting influence they say “no” and try to hang onto their power.  They become obstacles in the relationship.  They dismiss their wives needs and emotions and become righteously indignant.  And they also become lonely.

We are living in a world-wide revolution that is trying to correct the imbalance that has been historically there for women.  As women become more psychologically and economically empowered they no longer accept feeling powerless or stuck in unfulfilling relationships.

How are you doing with accepting influence in your relationship?

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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

Couples Counseling & Professional Training Associates

1525 Lakeville Drive
Suite 107 & 108
Kingwood, Texas 77339
Ph: 281-348-0878

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