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

Posts Tagged ‘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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 Ways to Stay Connected to Your Teenager

Monday, October 14th, 2013

IMG_0715My son has always had a good balance of being stuck to us like glue and being fiercely independent.  He was the kid who could easily leave us for a week long camp and also the kid who wanted to climb in bed with us, not because he was afraid but because he wanted to be close.

Now that he’s a teen the same balance still exists, it just looks different.  Staying connected is not as hard as some may think, but it does require a shift in parenting.

To Stay Connected with Your Teen:

1.  Go with the flow and change your parenting style as your teen develops.  It is during this critical time that parents need to shift from managing their child’s every move to being their consultant.  Micromanaging your teen will create emotional distance in the relationship, not to mention some rebellion.  The developmental task of the teen years is to become increasingly more independent and parents need to facilitate this process.  Our job is to be their coach, guiding them through their emotional and social development, without trying to do it for them.

2.  Get to know their friends.  Make your home a welcome environment for your teen and their friends.  Offer to be the chauffeur.  You will learn a lot about your teen by observing how they interact with their friends, and from that you can generate some great conversations.  A word of caution about interacting with their friends online . . . . if you have a presence on their social media sites, simply read and DO NOT comment.  Your teen will think this is a boundary violation and quickly unfriend you.

3.  When your teen comes to you with an issue, be sure to listen to what they are saying and validate their feelings before jumping to advice giving.  They may just need a sympathetic ear.  Trying to solve their problem can send the message that they aren’t capable of solving them on their own.  Try asking “What do you want to do about that?” and then generate discussion from there.

4.  Develop rituals of connection with your teen.  Try to find activities that you and your teen can share, such as walking the dog together, baking cookies, going to Starbucks, watching a favorite show or playing catch.  You may need to be flexible and join in activities your teen likes, but it is important to come together a little bit each day.  Be sure to keep these rituals positive so both you and your teen come to value the time together.

5.  Take advantage of times your teen may be more open to talk.  Circadian rhythms change in the teen years and you will find that your teen is wide awake in the late evening and may be more willing to open up.  Hang out in the kitchen once in a while (even if it is past your bedtime), knowing your teen will wander there for a snack, and share a bowl of popcorn or polish off the rest of the pie together.  Being available to them when they are ready to talk is half the battle.

6.  Be conscientious of how you say Hello and Good-bye.  Setting a positive tone with separations and reunions conveys your desire for connection with your teen.  Be sure to say Good Morning when they wake up.  Before they leave for school find out what is happening in their day and give them a hug before they go.  When they return home greet them with a smile and talk about what happened during their day. Barking out orders as soon as they walk in the door is harsh, so avoid saying things like “Take the trash out” or “Put your bike away” before you’ve had a chance to positively connect.

7.  When your teen is moody, don’t take it personally.  Understand that everything seems like a big deal to them  They are dealing with cheerleading tryouts, chemistry tests, dating and many other pressures.  They are still not adept at managing their confusing feelings so their emotions ooze (or explode) out.  Being in the line of fire is equally confusing for a parent, but don’t match their mood and tone.  When your teen is emotionally flooded, give them some time and space to calm down and then address it with them.  Validate their feelings and tell them it is OK to feel whatever they are feeling but at the same time set a limit on them being disrespectful to you.

While your teen may drive you crazy at times, having a positive connection with them with help them feel more safe and secure as they move towards adulthood.  And best of all it will be filled with mutual respect for one another.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Is My Relationship Real??? Am I Watering a Fake Plant???

Monday, November 7th, 2011

A few months ago I received a lovely orchid as a gift.  Notoriously I kill plants by either overwatering or neglect. My orchid was so beautiful I really wanted to change my losing streak with houseplants, so I carefully followed the instructions provided  . . . . until I was out of town for a few days.

I then fell into my usual pattern of neglect.  I left it in a dark room, dry as a bone.  When I  returned I fully expected to find a wilting plant with falling flowers.  But much to my surprise my orchid looked the same.  I began to wonder, “Is this real  or fake?  How could it possibly look the same?”

I pondered my orchid dilemma and was amused how it is a metaphor that could be used in relationships.

When we enter into a new relationship we put our best foot forward.  If we really want a relationship to work out, we try to change our old bad habits that get us in trouble.  I nurtured my plant like it was a new relationship.

But just like with my plant, true behaviors eventually emerge in relationships.  I am toxic when it comes to my relationship with houseplants.  I was showing my plant my true self and it was accepting my bad behavior.  I didn’t know if I should believe my plants great capacity for tolerating my abuse or dismiss it as a fake.

I leaned towards  the former . . . I really wanted my plant to be alive, even though I seriously  doubted what was happening.  Sometimes we do this in relationships.  We don’t clearly see what’s actually happening, only what we want to see happening.

Sometimes we nurture things that aren’t real.  Sometimes we water fake plants.

But I couldn’t get the thought out of my head that my plant might not be real.  I decided to risk embarrassment and ask a friend what she thought.

Like a good girlfriend would, she listened to my story, examined my plant herself and offered a solution.  She suggested breaking a piece off of one of the leaves to see what would happen.  I was horrified that she wanted to desecrate my beautiful plant.  It was as if she told me to break off my relationship because it wasn’t real.

I knew she was right, but I wasn’t ready for the truth.  I decided it was better to live with not knowing and continued to nurture my plant as if it were real.  Not wanting to know the truth is really denial and my denial was powerful. I kept watering, not knowing, and not particularly caring what others thought.

I have now had my relationship with my new plant for two months.  I have exposed my true self to my plant.  Initially it was accepting and tolerant, some may even say it acted a bit codependent.

But lo and behold, my plant is starting to show signs of being a victim.  Just a few days ago I noticed one of the petals looked a little wilted.  It took two more days for the petal to fall off and for me to believe what was really happening.

But when it did I smiled with amusement for I knew my denial was over.  My plant was finally showing its true nature in our relationship.  I am being forced to deal with the truth and  it’s a little painful.

In counseling we work on accepting and dealing with what is truly in front of us.  No denial, no faking.  Once the truth is revealed to us, it’s up to us to accept what is really happening and take action, even if it is painful.

As for me and my plant, it’s time for me to accept my flaws and get some professional help.  As for you and your relationships, ask yourself if you are watering a fake plant.

 


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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