Thursday, November 14, 2019

Stop Tolerating Pain From Your Partner

Maintaining emotional intimacy means accepting your partner for who he or she is. But some behaviors you should not be tolerated even if it means creating distance. How do you know if you are accepting your partner or simply tolerating behaviors that are harmful?

Acceptance feels like giving a gift while tolerating feels forced. Acceptance comes from your heart and is an expression of love for your partner. When you are tolerating behaviors you are failing to address your discomfort. You are telling yourself that this is a price for being in the relationship. But is it a price you should be paying?

Acceptance is a position of strength. You are mature enough to recognize that you and your partner have different views, reactions and goals. You accept the differences out of respect and caring for your partner. You expect the same in return; acceptance is shared.

Tolerating a behavior is more one-sided. You are being asked to absorb the pain but you are not hurting your partner in exchange. Behavior that is tolerated never loses its ability to cause you pain. The price you pay for tolerating the behavior continues to be the same (or greater) in the weeks, months and years to come.

If you find that you are tolerating behaviors that are harmful, you must address this with your partner in a manner that does not sound like criticism. You want to trigger your partner to hear your pain, not become defensive. This may require you to rehearse what you want to say and to be willing to repeat the message until it is heard.

If your partner remains defensive or uncaring to your message then he or she should get less of you. Distancing physically, emotionally and sexually sends the message that the relationship does not feel safe. This can be done gradually, but must be a consistent message. The surprising result can be that your partner may reassesses your worth and be more than willing to work on improving your connection.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Keeping the Team Together

Most sports teams now spend time examining film from their previous game. The goal is to identify ways the team can improve its play in the next game. The danger is that the team can start to parcel out blame for their poor performance. This then can tear the team apart which can lead to more poor play.

The coach's job is to keep the players focus on the future, how they can play better, not who is responsible for losing the last game. So, what does this have to do with marriage? As a marriage counselor, my job is to keep the couple focused on improving their interaction, not parceling out blame for their relationship problems.

When you dish out blame, you inevitably trigger a defensive response. Your partner doesn't want to be held accountable for your pain and doesn't want to be labeled as a bad person. Yet the defensive stance leaves you feeling unheard and that your partner doesn't care about your views and feelings. So you turn up the heat and become more aggressive in delivering your message. This aggression then triggers distance, the team comes apart.

Successful couples are able to focus on what it will take to have a better relationship in the future. They address their feelings but ask for improvement. They do not shame. Shame triggers a defensive response; a request for improvement asks for accountability. Be accountable for your part in our relationship, while I accept my part.

Just as the sports team must focus on specific ways they can play the game better the next time, you must address specific measures you can take to improve your relationship. The team can't say, "We need to play better the next time." The couple can't say, "We need to communicate better." Both are too general. What specifically needs to change to improve your communication?

Imagine you are seeing your improved relationship played on a television screen. What would you see? How are you behaving toward each other? What is your contribution to this? Notice the details, these are the things you can change which will ultimately lead you to win the relationship game.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

It Really Isn't About The Nail, Connecting Emotionally When A Solution Seems Better

I have become a little obsessed with this video. In fact, I could say that it is one of my favorite films even though it only lasts only a little over a minute and a half. The message is layered and the acting is superb. The filmmaker really hits on a topic that confronts every couple, but uses humor to get the message across. And isn't humor best when you can relate?

The woman begins by addressing her pain, particularly the pain of not knowing when the pain will end. The man responds by pointing out the obvious, she has a nail in her forehead, yes a real nail in her forehead. It seems simple enough, let's get the nail out.

This seems logical enough, yet the woman says "It's not about the nail." How can it not be about the nail, when the solution is right there in front of us (literally). The answer is that it is not about the nail, but the pain she is experiencing. She is searching for empathy, not a solution to the problem.

The man persists in his rebuttal that the pain will go away if the nail is removed, but he misses the mark and is reminded that it is about her pain not the cause of the pain. Then he shifts and sees the problem through her eyes and reassures her that "it must be hard." She immediately shifts into an affectionate tone, touches his hand and lets him know she is feeling soothed.

Men naturally (as in how their brains are programmed) want to remove pain from their partner, particularly if they have caused the pain. Men do not like to listen to pain - in that way, they tend to be more sensitive than women. Men move beyond pain for survival while women respond to pain with a desire to nurture for survival (again, their brains are built to nurture children).

Never the less, the way you respond to your partner is behavior that can be shaped. The film shows that behavior can change. In this case, the woman seeks to be nurtured and finally receives it. The man fails to negotiate her to understand how difficult it is to see that nail sticking out just ready to be pulled out of her forehead.

Couples can have it both ways. Men can be more nurturing to the woman's pain while women can be more understanding of the man's desire to remove pain (and a variety of unpleasant feelings) through problem-solving. Too often men and women insist that the relationship will be better if it is done their way, when the truth is that the relationship will be better if you are sensitive to your partner's way, even if it seems like you only have to get the nail out.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Five Skills For Surviving a Rough Patch

Commitment to a relationship isn't expressed when things are fun and the going is easy. Commitment is expressed when you awaken to a more distant relationship that causes pain. You question whether you will ever regain the connection you once felt and feel helpless to make it happen. 

Here are some suggestions for finding your way through the rough patches in your relationship.

Expect the path to become rough. 

Don't allow yourself you become shocked and emotionally overwhelmed when you see distance forming in the relationship. Couples should expect issues to occur in their relationship that cause distance. You do not share the same experiences, outlooks and expectations. These differences can be difficult to negotiate.

Insecurity can cause one to question whether distance is a sign pointing to the end of the relationship. Insecurity can be expressed vulnerably or can lead to criticism and blame.. Secure couples don't overreact to this distance. Instead, they focus on healing the divide. Emotions are held in check through focusing on the issue rather than the distance that has occurred. 

See the need for change. 

Just as sports teams must make adjustments to their game plans, couples must learn to see tensions as signals for change. Insecure couples see tension as something to be avoided while secure couples accept tension as signalling dissatisfaction in one or both partners. A rough path can lead to higher ground. 

Feelings are expressed for connection, not blame. 

Secure couples open up more when there is tension. They own their emotions and express a desire to be heard. Their partner listens with empathy but also provides encouragement that change is possible. 

Insecure couples express feelings as criticism and this triggers a defensive response. Defensiveness shuts down communication, causing more distance. Secure couples accept tension and pain as a natural byproduct of distance from their partner. They work to address these feelings and often heal the distance simply by connecting emotionally.

Balance tension with recreation. 

Tension can weigh you down. Often rough patches in a relationship develop over time and can only be resolved over time. The tension in the relationship must be balanced with an effort to lighten up through mutually enjoyable activities. Agreeing to enjoy a night out or to find an enjoyable show to watch on TV can help to manage the tension.

Affirm your commitment to the relationship. 

When tensions form, insecurity can be triggered. You may question you partner's commitment; does he/she really care about you? Secure couples can ask for reassurance of their partner's commitment to the relationship and can offer their own commitment to moving forward in the relationship.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Are You Protecting Yourself or the Relationship?

When you feel attacked, it is natural to assume a defensive stance. You want to say, "Hey wait a minute, I'm a good person and you are making me feel as though I have done something really awful." A typical defensive stance is to try to explain your motivation ("I was just trying to ...") or to minimize the impact your behavior should have had ("You are looking at this all wrong").

Take Responsibility 
When you feel attacked you may justify your response based on this as a trigger ("She made me do it"). Yet, when you send your children to school, you expect them to take responsibility for their behavior and not blame other children for getting them into trouble. Take responsibility for your reaction regardless of how aggressive your partner has become in trying to get your attention.

It's Not All About You
When your partner triggers you to be defensive, an effective way to react is by asking the question, "What is he or she saying about him or herself?" Remember, when you feel attacked the message is all about you. Well the message isn't all about you. Your partner is trying to let you know what impact your behavior is having on him or her.

By responding to your partner's views and feelings, you will effectively take the wind out of your partner's sails. His or her emotions will settle down and the possibility of an exchange will be restored. Too often counselors will train couples to use listening without clarifying why listening is so important. Listening gets you out of your own protective barrier and lets you hear your partner's views and feelings...even if you disagree with the portrayal of you.

Your partner will make mistakes as he or she tries to address issues. One mistake is to criticize or attack you. This is a mistake because it does not ask you to care and instead makes you want to defend yourself. Don't take the bait! Instead of defending yourself, take the higher ground and reflect on your partner's message about him or herself.

Jenna is upset because Gene has procrastinated in taking out the garbage and she feels nauseated by the smell. She sees this as a pattern of procrastination and now is the time to let her feelings she has been holding in out. "Can't you take some responsibility around here? You just sit there oblivious to that stinking garbage. Maybe you think if you wait long enough, I'll do it. You can be so lazy and it really pisses me off."

Gene has been sitting enjoying the movie and this message really catches him off guard. Jenna is rarely so mad and certainly not typically aggressive over such small issues. He could simply ignore her message and say, "I'll get it." and finish watching the show. Or he could strike back, "Why do you have to be such a nag? I'll take care of it, just quit nagging me." Both of these responses are likely to create distance and more anger for each.

Instead, Gene can acknowledge her feelings and say, "I'm sorry, nobody likes the smell of garbage. I'll take it out now so you won't have to smell it." He may feel she has disregarded his feelings but he elects to address her feelings, then separately he can address her tone. Later he says, "I want you to be able to let me know when something is bothering you, but I want you to say it in a way that I can hear you. It is difficult to hear you when it feels like an attack." He is more likely to be heard because he showed Jenna that he cared about her message.

Couples that show they care for each other by listening for their partner's message become more satisfied with their relationship. Couples that fail to listen find that their relationships become more shallow and distant. Start today to build a connection based on a willingness to listen for your partner's message.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Rediscovering Passion

Passion is a reward, not a right. Do you complain about the lack of passion in your relationship as though you have nothing to do with its absence? Do you think that the passion you once had in your relationship would continue naturally? Do you let your partner know that you are disappointed in the lack of passion in your relationship by delivering complaints?

It is common for couples to lose passion in their relationship, but passion does not have to be gone from the relationship. Relationships can recover passion, but it takes effort to maintain that connection. Passion becomes the reward for a deeper connection, a connection that must be nurtured.

Passion requires teamwork. Passion is the byproduct of a couple's effort to connect on a deeper level. This means that each is contributing to the emotional, physical and sexual connection. Do you play together, discuss your personal struggles and flirt with each other? If you only connect through one channel, your connection will become less intense. Relationships need to be fed through multiple avenues - sharing feelings, mutually enjoyable activities, and sexual connection - all on a regular basis.

Passion can be a byproduct of conflict. Couples that avoid tension ignore differences to keep tension low. This limits each's voice in the relationship which, in turn, limits intimacy. When couples avoid tension, they invite a superficial connection. Such couples often describe their relationship as "living as roommates." Roommates are not passionate.

By confronting their differing views, feelings and desires, couples give voice to their deeper selves. Resolving these differences leads to feeling equal and accepted. Equality says, "You are valuable to me." Acceptance says, "I love you for yourself." These messages trigger passion.

Passion can be fleeting. Passion is a more uncommon expression than a common one. It is not something you should expect, but is a surprise, particularly when it arises between both of you at once. Typically, passion may be held more in one partner than in the other.

Passion can be actively avoided if it is only associated  with sex. Instead, passion must be expressed to in a flexible manner. Passion can be expressed through play, laughter, competition, as well as sex. 

Find many paths and expressions for passion in your relationship.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Forgiveness Is A Process

The process of forgiveness begins with a sincere apology for causing pain, but an apology is insufficient if the pain is great. Then you must be able to show you understand just how much your partner is hurt. If you fail to show sufficient empathy, then your partner will be tempted to dramatize the pain to get you to see how much hurt you have caused. Even worse, your partner may be tempted to cause you pain so that you can appreciate the pain you have caused.

Forgiveness requires the hurt partner to be willing to share pain in a vulnerable tone and to be willing to accept soothing for the pain. The process can be blocked indefinitely if one holds onto the pain. One reason to hold onto the pain is that it has traumatized you and it is difficult to absorb the reality of the action. But another reason to hold onto the pain is to avoid the risk of regaining the closeness you once had, then risking further pain. In this way, pain is a protection from further pain, but also a barrier for regaining emotional intimacy.

If you have hurt your partner, be strong enough to go down the path of understanding your partner's pain instead of defending your actions. If you have been hurt, be strong enough to share your pain, but allow your partner to be soothing so that you can be forgiving. Forgiveness is a process not a choice. Both of you must be patient enough to wait for the pain to recede and the desire for connection to emerge.