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.


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

When Is A Marriage Hopeless?


When in the midst of a marital crisis, it is not unusual to question whether the marriage is hopeless. Can this relationship ever be as satisfying as it once was or is it doomed to be a constant source of tension and displeasure? Do you keep trying or do you throw in the towel?

Marital problems or a sign of what is to come? 
Your relationship hurts and you ask yourself if this pain is what you can expect in the years to come or is it possible to regain the love you once shared? How can you tell? Can you trust your partner's words that promise change, or is this a temporary bandage which will not remain stuck? Are you sure your heart is even available to your partner regardless of how the relationship changes?

These are difficult questions that are common when one begins to question their commitment to their marriage. These are questions that frequently have no definitive answer. They leave you sitting uncomfortably on the fence between ending the marriage and giving it another try.

Assessing your partners commitment.
Sometimes it is easy to tell that your partner is not committed to the relationship, but now your partner promises change and is inviting you to join him or her in creating a new, improved relationship. 

The problem is that you've been down this path before and it has ended in disappointment and pain. What is to make this time different? The more you expect something to change and it doesn't, the more foolish you feel. Are you really ready to quit; do you need reassurance you have done all you can do to show your commitment to the marriage?

Weighing the risk of commitment to the marriage.
If you started a new relationship today, there would be a risk of being disappointed and hurt. If you give your heart to someone new, there is the risk that this is misplaced with someone who will fail to guard your heart and will leave it in pain. But neither of these risks are as high as giving your marriage another try. The failure of your marriage creates far more pain than the failure of a new relationship because you have so much more invested in this relationship. The losses would be so much more devastating.

Is it worth the risk to keep trying? Can you meet your partner halfway to contribute to an improved relationship? Do you need a guarantee that your effort will pay off - a guarantee that is not possible? Can you survive another disappointment knowing that you can once again consider a divorce with further evidence that the relationship is a source of pain?

Weighing the risk of ending the marriage.
If you purchased a car today, this decision would weigh heavily on your mind, but the decision would fade as years passed on. A decision to divorce continues to be important throughout your life. The consequences of that car purchase are only there for a few years, but the consequences of divorce linger throughout your life. 

Fear of committing to the marriage is real but so is the fear of the unknown that divorce brings. It is like peering down a path that is only dimly lit. What dangers lurk down this path? Can you tell yourself that you have the resources to deal with whatever is down that path? Even if you know that you have what it takes to move toward divorce, you cannot be sure how others will react. Are you prepared to deal with friends and family's reaction to your decision?

All in or all out?

It would be nice to be able to tiptoe into this decision, minimizing the risk of pain while further assessing what you want. Unfortunately, you are faced with two paths that are mutually exclusive. Your marriage cannot succeed without your full commitment and divorce must be entered with a commitment to building a new life. Each step takes courage to accept what lays ahead.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Your Brain Wants To Be Safe More Than It Wants To Be Connected To Your Partner


When you become violently ill, your brain says, "Hey, lets keep this from happening again." You ask yourself, "What did I eat that made me sick." You may simply have a virus, but your brain is searching for something that will prevent you from getting sick again. Getting sick must be avoided - it can kill you!

When you have been hurt in your relationship, your brain says, "Hey, lets keep this from happening again." How can you prevent future pain? The immediate desire to prevent further hurt will take over...even at the expense of your relationship. Your brain is designed that way! Pain triggers survival instincts which are sensed non-verbally; it is a feeling that can be difficult to put into words.

Your brain's primary instinct is to survive. When you feel overwhelming pain, your brain processes this as a danger to survival. When overwhelmed, you feel anxious, hyper-alert, and go into high gear to learn as much as possible about the cause of the pain. 

When the hurt comes from your partner, you'll ask your partner to provide the answers to how and why he or she was able to hurt you in the hope that you will find the key to preventing future pain. 

It can be difficult for your partner to respond because he/she is likely to feel blamed and shamed for causing the pain. Not only is your partner likely to be defensive but is also likely to try to take your pain away. Your partner may try to minimize your pain or shift your view in an effort to alter the pain. 

Your brain will have none of that! Your brain wants to hold on to the pain as a reminder of this danger. You are more likely to be careful in the future if you remember the pain of the past, particularly overwhelming pain that the brain interprets as a danger to survival.

It is useful to be able to discuss your pain with your partner because this triggers the upper regions of the brain that are uniquely human and less confined to survival instincts. If your partner can empathize with your pain and respond soothingly, then the sense of danger to survival can wane and the desire for relationship can balance with the risk of being hurt again. 

While your partner cannot alter your view of the pain, you can keep the pain from defining your life. You can reassure yourself that you are a survivor. Use the pain to plan for the future but not to control your future.




Friday, June 9, 2017

Take A Minute For Your Marriage


Relationships are tough. Probably 90% of relationships end if we take into account dating relationships that did not click. This should either tell you to remain single or that relationship success must be intentional, not just a luck of the draw.

One way of staying focused on maintaining a connection with your mate is to seek out training. Just as you would train to do well in your job, successful relationships employ skills that can be learned. But where can you learn these skills without devoting a lot of time, energy and money - all of which can be in short supply.

The easiest, least expensive (it's free!!!) and best source of information can be found through subscribing to the Marriage Minute. Brief descriptions of a single skill will be emailed to you on a weekly basis. You can learn more about this at https://www.gottman.com/the-marriage-minute/.

There is really only one problem. You really have to do more than read the skill; you must practice it over and over until it becomes second nature for you (and hopefully your partner). 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Being Responsive Rather Than Defensive When You Have Hurt Your Partner


When you have hurt your partner, it is important to be responsive to his or her pain. Seems simple enough, but couples often get lost as they respond to this situation. It is difficult to acknowledge you have hurt someone you care for. Also, you want your partner to acknowledge that there were multiple factors involved in your behavior…that you are not such a bad person.

An example is when hurtful insults are hurled in the middle of an argument. Later, your partner lets you know how hurtful those comments were, but you don’t want to be painted as the bad guy (or gal), so you point out how the comment was made in the context of an argument.

The problem is that your partner is asking you to be responsive to their pain, but you are responding by defending your responsibility for causing the pain. Now, you are the focus, instead of your partner’s pain being the focus of discussion. It is far better to empathize with your partner’s pain first, then discuss the context in which the pain occurred.

Jenny: “You hurt my feelings when you called me those names. I felt disrespected. I want you to respect me even if we are having a disagreement.”

Paul: “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings and lost my temper. I care about you and am sorry for speaking that way. I really think we need to examine how we approach these differences about finances.”

It important to note that Paul was able to first listen to Jenny’s pain before he addressed their need to examine their approach to managing finances. He didn’t automatically make her message to be about him. Instead, he heard her message and was able to be responsive to her pain, before addressing the relationship issue.

Action Step:  Try to listen to your partner’s feelings before you move to defend yourself. You will find that you are able to avoid many of the arguments that are characterized by blaming and defending one’s self.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Changing Your Behavior Is Not Enough: Recovering From A Painful Episode


Jim hurt Nancy terribly.  He hated seeing the pain revealed both in her eyes and her tears.  Nancy’s trust had been destroyed.  Jim tried to reassure her that he would never do it again, but that they needed to move on.  She knew Jim generally kept his word, but she never imagined that he would hurt her in this way.

Jim continued to tell her that he would not hurt her like that again but that she needed her to stop being so emotional and to trust him.  He reminded her of the many times he had apologized and that he simply didn’t know what more to say.

Finding the Path to Trust
It is difficult to see your partner in pain. You just want the opportunity to demonstrate your ability to change. You know in your heart you will never make that mistake again. You just want the pain and the reminder of what you did to go away.  You wander if your partner will ever be able to trust yu again? Can you restore that trust?

Change is Not Enough
It is not enough to change your behavior and promise that the change is forever.  You must also connect with your partner through his or her pain.  Your partner must feel you empathize with the intense pain he or she has experienced.  To do this you must be willing to listen to your partner’s feelings.  

Listening means more than being passive; it means showing compassion in your response.
Consider it an opportunity to show compassion when your partner is in pain.  Show him or her that you understand how strongly the pain has affected his or her life.  

Also, you will need to show motivation to examine yourself.  This means looking deeply at your behavior that caused your partner’s pain. What were your vulnerabilities that lead to this downfall in your relationship? Take responsibility for your actions!

Pain Does Not Define the Relationship
Discussion of your partner’s pain should be limited.  Avoid allowing your partner’s pain to become the centerpiece of your relationship.  Instead, take time to enjoy the other aspects of the relationship, without avoiding time to discuss your partner’s pain. 

The goal is to seek forgiveness for inflicting pain. By asking for forgiveness, you are challenging your partner to care enough to take the risk to offer you his or her heart once again. Forgiveness will not come easily and the path is through your partner’s pain, not around it.