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.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Five Steps to Making Couples Therapy Successful

Deciding to seek couples therapy is only the first step to creating a improved relationship. Now you must think about how you can make couples therapy successful. Here are five steps you can take to get off on the right foot.

1. What would a positive outcome look like? Imagine that therapy has helped transform your relationship. What changed? If someone close to you noticed the change, what would they see that would indicate your relationship is improved? If your relationship was filmed, what would you see on the screen that has changed?

These questions will get you thinking about your relationship in terms of behavior change. You can also think about how your feelings would change with the change in your relationship. 

2. What would be your contribution to the change you would like to see? You probably have a list of changes you partner could make to increase your satisfaction in the relationship. If you enter couples therapy with this agenda, your partner will feel blamed, become defensive and resist change. Instead, you should consider what you could contribute to an improved relationship, assuming your partner is also willing to make a similar contribution. 

3. How do you expect the therapist to conduct the session to be helpful to the relationship? You don't have to know what couples therapy is all about to imagine how a therapist could be helpful. Do you see your therapist as being more in control of the session or turning control over to the couple. Do you expect your therapist to give advice or be more of a listener? 

How will you judge whether your therapist is being effective for your goals? What personality would you prefer for your therapist to have? Do you want a highly structured therapy session or a more relaxed approach?

4. How much of a commitment to therapy are you willing to make before judging whether therapy is helpful? Some couples only give therapy one session to give hope for relationship change, while most realize that couples therapy is a process that must be assessed over several sessions. 

Discuss with your partner what your expectations are for the number of sessions and amount of time you will give couples therapy before deciding it is ineffective. By having this discussion, you will build accountability for a future moment when one of you loses motivation or feels discouraged by a lack of progress.

5. Consider potential stumbling blocks to maintaining your commitment to couples therapy. The dropout rate for couples therapy exceeds that of individual therapy. It is easy to see why. 
  • You have twice the struggle to free up with time for therapy. 
  • Loss of motivation in one partner undermines therapy for both. 
  • Quick improvement in the relationship can lead to ending treatment before long-lasting change has been made. 
  • Therapy can create tension that can lead one or both of you to avoid by simply ending therapy.

Now is the time to address issues that may arise so that you remain motivated to proceed with therapy rather than allowing there to be a premature exit. Assessing your expectations, motivation and potential stumbling blocks can increase the likelihood that couples therapy will help you to regain the connection you desire.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

I Want to be Heard!

Marriage counselors hear one complaint far more than any other. "We don't communicate." While this can have many meanings, the couple typically agree that they have lost a connection they once had. They are not longer comfortable sharing their views, feelings and desires, Where they once shared their inner self, they describe only more superficial sharing. Where they once felt accepted for what they shared, they now fear judgement or sparking an argument. It is simply easier to avoid deeper conversations.

So what changed? Instead of sharing, conversations shift to making a point or asking your partner to change. When this occurs, it triggers the listener to go on the defensive. He or she stops listening and starts to formulate a counter statement. If your partner is defending him or herself, you are not being heard. Raising your voice doesn't help because volume isn't the problem.

The best way to be heard is to listen for your partner's message. If you are getting a message that he or she is becoming defensive, assume a stance of trying to understand what triggered this response. Often men hear criticism when the woman is trying to communicate a desire to be closer. The man only hears that he is falling short. Attempt to clarify that you are not placing blame but looking for improvement in the relationship.

If you assume a listening stance, you will often be amazed at what you can learn about the inaccurate message your partner has received, often over many years. Marriage counseling is often helpful simply by helping couples to clarify their messages through listening in a structured way. That structure is actually quite simple - clarifying what you hear rather than immediately responding to what you hear.

Try this exercise. One partner makes a statement they believe to be true about the relationship. The other partner then is to make statements such as "Do you mean...?" The objective is to receive three "yeses" before you reverse roles. Make this playful; avoid being aggressive. Take turns and notice how you find the conversation turning more intimate and warm.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

As Your Life Becomes Larger, Is Your Marriage Becoming Smaller?

When you first fell in love, your relationship was the centerpiece of your life. It was your primary source of happiness and joy. While you devoted energy to other activities, you stored up energy to spend time with your new love. Finding mutual activities was not a problem, just spending time together was the primary goal.

As time progressed, the relationship solidified into a more secure, committed relationship in which each of you won the heart of your partner. Then your life expanded as your attention became divided  with your careers, hobbies/interests, new electronic devices, friendships, children and a seemingly endless to-do list.

Now the relationship is secure and can weather some neglect because you each remain firmly committed to the marriage. Your partner understands the need for longer work hours and then time to unwind in front of your electronic device. Your partner understands your focus on the children and the need you feel to supply them with an endless list of activities to enrich their lives.

But what happens to your relationship as you focus much of your energy in other directions? Much like a plant that is not watered and fertilized, the relationship does not die immediately but withers over time. What began as a close physical and emotional connection becomes a family factory. The factory produces excellent careers, outside connections and children who receive the best in enriching activities, but the factory lacks the warmth of connection.

Many couples wake up to a marriage in which they have taken their relationship for granted, only to find distance and dissatisfaction. Now is the time to either prevent that from happening to your relationship or to take your relationship back from everything that has kept you from maintaining the connection you once thought would last forever.

Early on it seemed easy to find time to be together, but now it is a challenge. You must make time for your relationship. You must make time on a daily basis for connection. Connection means taking time to talk in a manner that says, "You matter to me." Set up "mini dates" in which you center the activity on your relationship, even as you only have a few minutes and are confined to the home.