Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What You Can Expect From Marriage Counseling

Marriage counseling is a process in which two committed partners meet with a therapist to improve their relationship. Prior to entering marital therapy, consider how you would like your relationship to improve. Answer this question, "If marriage counseling were successful, how would your relationship be different than it is now?"

Look at your answer to this question and ask yourself, "Have I described a change in my relationship or changes I want from my partner?" Do not enter marriage counseling unless your focus is on changing your relationship. A good marriage counselor will not fall into the trap of doing two-for-one psychotherapy. The focus must stay on changing your interaction, not you or your spouse. Granted, changing the way you interact can have a profound effect on each of you, but this is not the focus of marriage counseling.

In the first session, you will be expected to describe how you view your relationship, as will your partner. Often partners use this time to defend themselves or attack their partner. This is counterproductive. Personalize your description of the relationship - tell what you see and what it feels like to be in your marriage.

Be prepared to listen. Marriage counseling is not the Judge Judy Show. Don't expect to present your case and have the counselor pronounce you guilty or innocent. Instead, listen to your partner's description of the relationship and open yourself to a different perspective. Tell yourself, "There is more than one view of our marriage and I need to understand my partner's perspective before I can expect him or her understand my perspective."

Expect your counselor to behave differently than the counselors you have seen on television and in films. In the media, counselors are almost always doing individual therapy and they focus on dramatic expression of feelings. In marriage counseling, feelings of anger, frustration and hurt can be detrimental to the process if delivered too early in the process. Marriage counseling is as much about how you share feelings as it is about what your feelings are. Learning to express feelings in a vulnerable way and learning how to listen to your partner's feelings are important tools of the marriage counseling process.

Marriage counseling is not a dual (or should I say duel) psychological evaluation. The marriage counselor is not trying to determine you and your partner's psychological health - or lack thereof. Instead, the counselor will try to determine each's commitment to working on improving the relationship and whether each is willing to accept personal responsibility for improving the marriage.

Marriage counseling identifies the barriers to a mutually satisfying relationship. Expect to come away with practical ways that you can be a better partner and trust that your partner will also be similarly challenged. Don't expect to see change happen immediately as each partner will offer small changes and wait to see if their partner is also willing to change.

Marriage counseling requires a mutual commitment. When one partner's commitment is uncertain, then counseling focuses on creating an environment for improving decision making before focusing on how the relationship can improve. I term this situation to be a marital crisis and have written a book, Crumbling Commitment: Managing a Marital Crisis for couples in crisis.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Five Myths About a Marital Crisis

A marital crisis occurs when one or both partner's commitment to the marriage becomes uncertain. Here are five myths about a marriage crisis that may help you manage the crisis in your marriage.

Myth 1: A marital crisis is a sign that our marriage is over.

Questioning your commitment to your marriage is not a sign that a divorce is on the horizon. Rather, it is a time to determine whether there is hope for an improved relationship. The decision to divorce comes from hopelessness, the belief that the marriage will never be satisfying.

Myth 2: It is best to hold your feelings inside until you have made a clear decision whether or not to divorce.

Responding passively to a marital crisis is like not having a fire alarm go off when your home is on fire. By sharing your feelings, your partner has the opportunity to respond. His or her response can be the beginning of creating hope for a more satisfying relationship.

Myth 3: If your partner's commitment is uncertain, then you must let your partner know how much you love him or her.

It's natural to try to show your distancing partner how much you love him or her. However, this can backfire as your partner needs your patience, time and distance in the early stage of a marital crisis. The best way to show your love and commitment to the marriage is by appreciating your partner's position. Your partner needs an environment that facilitates good decision-making. Pressuring or manipulating your partner will not create an environment for making a good decision.

Myth 4: Talking about divorce will make the divorce more likely.

Discussing divorce as an option will not make the divorce more likely to happen. It is important to recognize that a good decision includes all options. By denying divorce as an option, you are saying, "You are trapped in this marriage". You want to choose to be married, not trapped in marriage.

Myth 5: Once I have thought about divorce, I'll never regain love for my partner.

There is a path back from a marital crisis to an improved marriage and love. But this path is not a "fake it till you make it" path. Rather, it requires both partner's commitment to change. For the rejected spouse, this path begins by appreciating that your partner is not currently committed to the change process, but can get there in time.

To learn more about managing a marital crisis read my free ebook, Managing a Marital Crisis at http://www.relationshipcrisis.com/Ebook_CC.pdf

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Five Books to Help You Through a Marital Crisis

Here are five books that can help you sail through the rough seas of a marital crisis.

Should I Stay or Should I Go by Lee Raffel M.S.W.

Lee Raffel may not deliver on the answer to the question posed by the title of her book but she does offer a path toward this answer. The path is what she terms "a controlled separation." This is contrasted with an emotional separation by having clear goals and boundaries.

The Passion Trap: Where Is Your Relationship Going? Dean Delis, Ph.D.

Dr. Delis' book gives fine detail to the dynamics of relationships when one partner cares more than the other. He teaches about how to protect yourself from your feelings.

Love Must Be Tough James Dobson, Ph.D.

Dr. Dobson's training is as a child psychologist but he makes it clear that he has had much practical experience dealing with marital crises. The strength of this book is in helping you to understand the importance of setting limits. You will learn how to set limits without being angry and aggressive.

When The One You Love Wants to Leave Donald Harvey Ph.D.

Dr. Harvey offers practical advice on how to manage the manipulations that arise during a marital crisis. This book also helps you to see the pitfalls of premature reconciliation.

Divorce Busting Michele Weiner-Davis

Skip Part One, then find very practical ways to alter your interaction with your partner while sending a message of personal worth.

Of course, I have to add a shameless plug for my book:

Crumbling Commitment: Managing a Marital Crisis Lee Horton, Ph.D.

I build on these authors' wisdome by laying out a clear path toward making sound decisions for your marriage and yourself.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Five Steps to Being a Better Listener

Do you feel distant from your partner. You've done all you know to do to show interest, yet he or she seems distant. The problem may be that you show interest but have not challenged your partner to a more intimate relationship. Do you pursue closeness through asking to be heard rather than listening to your partner. If you become a better listener, then you may find the deeper connection you desire.

Step One: Be an active listener. Listening can be a passive activity. One talks, the other listens. However, if you want a deeper connection you must be an active listener. An active listener clarifies the message they hear. "Are you saying...?" "Do you mean...?" You will find that your partner doesn't just say, "Yes, that what I mean." Rather, he or she will elaborate on his or her viewpoint, feelings, and desires.

Step Two: Listen with openness. If your mind is closed, then it is unlikely that you will be open to unexpected information. Being closed-minded says, "There is one way to see this and it is my way." This communicates that control is more important than connection. Being open suggests that you are interested in your partner's views even if they differ from yours. You are suggesting that you respect your partner's position even when you do not share that position.

Step Three: Be accepting. Turtles retreat into their shells when the environment is dangerous. Humans have an invisible shell that forms when a relationship feels dangerous. Even though we are imperfect human beings, we like to see ourselves as basically good and worthy of others' respect. We distance from those who disrespect our rights. A good listener communicates, "I respect your right to your views, feelings, and desires." When we differ I will maintain a respect for you at all times.

Step Four: Stop trying to be a caretaker or problem-solver. Listening is an active process but stops short of taking responsibility for others' well-being. Men are often interested in turning listening into problem-solving while women often listen with the goal of nurturing or care-taking. While motivated by good intent, they become a hindrance to finding a deeper connection. A good listener says, "I want to understand your struggle and to connect with you as deeply as possible, but you must assume responsibility for your own decisions and behavior.

Step Five: Be encouraging. While you shouldn't be in the role of caretaker or problem-solver, you can be a powerful source of encouragement. By helping your partner focus on his or her personal assets and abilities, you communicate your belief in his or her ability to manage their lives. By communicating a desire to be close and a genuine enthusiasm for your partner, you are saying, "I value you and I believe in your abilities. I just want you to know that I am here to support you."

Good listening does not always lead to a closer relationship. Some lack a basic trust in relationships. Efforts to become close with these individuals fail because they have been taught that closeness brings pain, not safety and security. Such individuals do not want to be distant and do not want to be close, so they do things to draw you in, then set up limits on how close they will allow you to come.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Political Affairs: The Wife's Response

Tennessee Capital Building, Nashville, 1979Image by an0nym0n0us via Flickr

Once again, this time right here in Tennessee, a state representative admits to having an affair. While it is difficult enough to know your partner has been unfaithful, it’s made more difficult when the general public knows your struggle. It must seem as though everyone is peering over your shoulder in judgment as they wait to see what decision you will make.

Women often say they feel foolish upon discovering their husband’s affair. They become self-conscious and imagine that the infidelity was known to everyone but them. It is not uncommon for the betrayed wife to feel others are laughing at her or holding her responsible for the infidelity. As a wife of a politician, the glare of media must make the self-examination even more painfully insecure.

It is important for the betrayed partner to find a position of self-worth that says, “I am a woman of value. My value is not based on my husband’s (mis) behavior, or others’ opinions of me. I am faced with a decision, whether to remain committed to the marriage or divorce. I cannot allow anything to interfere with my ability to make a good decision. I must avoid making a decision too quickly or too emotionally.

Reconciliation requires three elements. First, the betrayed partner must feel that your partner understands the depth of your pain. At the same time, she must accept responsibility for her expression of her pain. The betrayed partner must move from aggressive expression of pain to vulnerable sharing of pain.

Second, she needs her partner to examine the underlying reasons for his affair. It is not good enough to say that the behavior is wrong and won’t be repeated; the gravity of the poor choice calls for self-examination to explore the underlying influences that led to the hurtful behavior. The betrayed partner must be able to move from endless questions about the details of the affair to a more penetrating discussion of what the affair meant to their partner.

Finally, there needs to be a plan for a new, improved relationship. Without such change, a cloud of pain can hang over the marriage for years to come. Instead, the couple needs to be able to say that the crisis was painful but brought about an even stronger, healthier marriage than existed prior to the affair. This path of reconciliation takes months, even years to follow. Outsiders rarely show sensitivity to how difficult this path is (for instance, look at what is said about the Clinton’s marriage) yet as a society we encourage commitment to marriage.

Of course some hurts lead to an emotional detachment that becomes a divorce. One or both partners come to see the marriage as perpetually dissatisfying. The painful process of divorce also becomes a source of public scrutiny.

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Monday, August 3, 2009

Can Marriage Counseling Be Harmful?

A couple struggling for years in their marriage finally agree to enter marriage counseling. They go for a couple of sessions. The counseling helps them to express their displeasure with the relationship, but also brings them together to work on their relationship as they had not done in several years.

Because they were working together and the tension was reduced, they decided to quit counseling - after all, it was expensive and inconvenient. They really believed they had turned a corner on their relationship problems and would be able to continue improving on their own effort.

A year later, they find they have failed to improve their relationship. They discuss seeking marriage counseling, but agree that marriage counseling didn't work in the past. Perhaps their problems are hopeless. Perhaps divorce is the only answer.

Marriage counseling requires a commitment to working over a period of time on improving your relationship. The process does not just alter your feelings toward each other. If the process is successful you will have negotiated a more intimate relationship , but this takes time.

Remember when you were given a bottle of antibiotics and the instructions included the warning to take the whole bottle even if you are feeling better. I suspect that marriage counseling should come with a similar warning: Do not begin this process lightly; be prepared to see it through to the end.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Love or Commitment - Which is More Important?

As a marriage counselor, you would think that I would use the word love frequently in my work. “Do you love him? Is there still love in your heart? Can your love return?” I tend to avoid using this word. A recent blog post (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-the-name-love/200803/loving-two-people-the-same-time) highlights why this is so. This blogger asked the question, can you love two people at the same time. Examples were given where the individuals having an affair found themselves feeling love for their lover and their spouse.

Love is a word that is associated with feelings. While you can have positive feelings toward more than one individual, it is difficult to be fully committed to more than one partner. The deception that is part and parcel of an affair undermines a commitment to a relationship. One cannot be fully committed to their partner while lying to their partner. Openness and honesty are important elements of a committed relationship. Betrayed spouses often express more hurt over the dishonesty than the sexual infidelity.

While love is an important feeling, there are many other factors that attract you to be close to your partner. Respect and admiration for your partner’s role in parenting, business, and the community contribute to your attraction to your mate. In fact, one’s commitment to the marriage continues when feelings of anger temporarily push aside loving feelings.

While it's interesting to speculate whether one can love two or more individuals at once, it is more important to focus on identifying the elements of commitment in marriage. That is why buy my initial blog posting focused on the core elements of commitment in marriage. Go back, read that posting (http://marriagemattersblog.blogspot.com/2008/06/mission-of-this-blog.html) and determine whether you could have such a commitment to more than one person at a time. I think that you will find that you cannot.

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Sunday, July 5, 2009

Defending Yourself or the Relationship

argumentImage by Robert in Toronto via Flickr

One of the biggest barriers to communication is the need to defend one's self to one’s partner. It is important to feel accepted for who you are, but acceptance does not mean that your partner sees you as perfect. It is unrealistic to expect your partner to only see your good qualities and to ignore undesirable qualities.

Instead of defending yourselves, try listening to your partner’s feedback. Listening does not imply agreeing with your partner’s viewpoint, only attending to your partner's viewpoint and feelings. The best you can do by defending yourself is to say, "I'm a good fellow/gal." On the other hand, listening provides you with the opportunity of growing closer to your partner. You can defend yourself or your relationship. I'm sure you know a divorced couple who are each quick to defend themselves despite their marriage's failure.

After you have listened to your partner’s point of view, then he or she will be better able to listen to your point of view. You will determine that being right or wrong is not the issue. Instead, you will find you have different viewpoints that each need to be respected.

You may find this to be more difficult because every criticism feels like an attack on your personal worth. Ask yourself whether your sensitivity indicates low self-esteem. Low self-esteem suggests that you are responding to messages you received in the past, probably from your parents. Children who are frequently criticized can end up being defensive spouses who create distance from their partner by constantly defending themselves. Individual or couples therapy can help you to address these deeper issues.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Why Are You Angry?

anger management enlisteeImage by Mr Malique via Flickr

Most couples to come to my office come with the expectation of having a forum to express their frustration and anger over their partner's behavior. They are initially surprised to find that I do not encourage them to argue during the session.

I find that anger does not help a partner get what they want in their relationship and I want to help couples get what they want. I realized that anger can motivate your partner to give you what you want but more often anger pushes your partner away.

Anger often hides more vulnerable emotions. Hurt and fear are often hidden beneath your anger. You feel stronger when you're angry, but this is a false strength. In fact, you are stronger when you are able to get what you want in a relationship.

The first step in managing anger is to identify your true feelings. When you feel angry, take a moment to reflect on your feelings. Try to get in touch with your underlying feelings. Do you feel defensive? Do you want to fight back or escape? Are you feeling attacked? Do you trust your partner? Do you believe that he or she will respond to your feelings?

By being more transparent with your underlying feelings you will invite intimacy. Anger discourages intimacy. Set a goal to be less angry and more transparent with your underlying feelings.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Responding to Good News

A recent article in USA Today highlights the importance of responding positively to your partner's good news.


In relationships that are the happiest, a partner reacts with excitement and esteem to his mate's positive news the "active-constructive" response. Three other types of responses are linked to less satisfying relationships and more likelihood of a split.

Here are the four responses to news of a promotion at work:

� Active-constructive: "That's great! You'll do very well, and I'm so proud of you."

� Passive-constructive: "That's good news."

� Active-destructive: "That sounds like a lot of responsibility. You will probably have to work even longer hours now."

� Passive-destructive: "Well, wait until you hear what happened to me today."

Source: Shelly Gable, psychologist at the University of California-Santa Barbara

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Marriage and Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol is not necessarily an enemy of marriage. Many couples initially bond over drinks. Now the drinks don't establish the bond, the conversation that accompanies the drinks establishes the bond. Never-the-less, it is common for couples to view alcohol as an enjoyable part of their relationship.

Alcohol can also be an enemy of a relationship. Couples frequently share stories of arguments that become hurtful and even abusive. Interestingly, the couple share the story without acknowledging that alcohol was potentially influencing the outcome of the argument. I often have to ask the couple if they had been drinking before they consider this as a factor.

Notice that I am not talking about alcoholism. Just one or two drinks can influence how a couple interact. Alcohol can lead you to be more carefree and playful or more aggressive. Take a look at your relationship and how alcohol affects your interaction. You may find that a few drinks makes your relationship more enjoyable but more than that creates tension or aggression.

You may be interested in examining your use of alcohol. Drink Too Much? is a good site to help you evaluate whether you...well...drink too much.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Stop Defending Yourself and Start Defending Your Marriage

Review of the Mental Health Act 1990Image by publik15 via Flickr

When your partner accuses you of doing something wrong, it's natural to want to defend yourself, even if you know you are wrong. Why? You want to say that you are a good guy (or gal) and that you had a good reason for what you did. You want to say, "Even if I am wrong, I am a person of worth who does (mostly) good things. Do not condemn me."

The problem with this stance is that the focus is on the wrong issue. Typically your partner is trying to tell you that he or she has been hurt and that he or she feels distanced from you. By defending your self-worth you miss the opportunity to soothe your partner's pain and give a clear message that you want to be close.

I regularly encourage couples to defend the relationship, not themselves. Yet, when they focus on listening to their partner's viewpoint and feelings a funny thing happens - they find they are able to hook their partner's caring. When the discussion centers on caring, then condemnation fades away.
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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Why Men Stop Cheating

Some estimate that over 60% of marriages include sexual infidelity. While this is certainly bad news, the good news is that most men and women only cheat once. An important question is why do men and women cheat, but another important question is why do they cheat just once?

I find that affairs often help both the offending partner and their spouse to gain greater appreciation for their marriage and lead both to value the relationship more. As the relationship gains value, regret for the affair increases which makes a repeated affair less likely.

If your partner has an affair, you want to know that it will not happen again. Unfortunately, there is no way your partner can do more than verbally assure you that it will not happen again. Instead of asking this question, answer these questions:
  1. Does my partner demonstrate appreciation for the pain caused by the affair?
  2. Does my partner try to understand the reason for the affair and make an effort to strengthen his or her future decision making?
  3. Have we been able to emotionally connect in a way that suggests we can have a better connection than in the past?
  4. Have we each identified ways to show our partner that he or she is valued?
  5. Do I feel valued?
If you see these changes, then it is reasonable to believe that your marriage can become a stable, loving relationship that lasts a lifetime.

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Marriage Compatibility

Many partners describe their dissatisfaction with the marriage by describing, "We are not compatible". What does this mean and is it something that can change?

Differences are inevitable between you and your partner. Chances are that you have different biological makeups, family backgrounds, experiences, and these lead to different viewpoints, desires, and reactions. Yet, you have managed to overcome these differences in the past. When you met, you brought all of these differences to the relationship, but you managed to transcend these differences and create a relationship that was mutually satisfying. So what is different now?

When the relationship began, you made an effort to communicate the importance of the relationship by giving your partner the message, "You are important to me and I want a future with you." Now what message are you sending your partner? Many find that they are sending the message, "How much of me must I give up in order to be with you?"

As the relationship becomes more secure, a funny thing happens - you begin to negotiate for what you have to do to maintain the relationship. It is common for couples to almost entirely quit giving a message that the relationship is important and that they want a future. Perhaps the message is only given as part of your anniversary.

Instead, each partner bargains for his or her own selfish desires. The golfer bargains for as much time as possible to play golf. The spender bargains for as much money as possible. The list can become long and the negotiations quite heated and complicated.

Take a look at your relationship. Are you and your partner sending a message that the relationship is important and you want a future with your partner? Couples that consistently share this message find that their personal desires become more flexible. The pleasure of the relationship competes with selfish pleasures (note: selfish pleasures are not wrong and should be present to some degree) and compromise is based on mutual caring.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Five Love Languages: A Review

Cover of Cover via Amazon

I have recently read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. I realize this book has been around for some years. I was motivated to read this book because it seems that more couples seek help through reading this book than any other.

It is a simple truth that it important to give your partner love if you wish to receive love. This book helps couples to realize that what you value as an expression of love may not be valued equally by your partner. Many women would appreciate flowers as an expression of love but my mother saw flowers as a waste of money. If my father brought home flowers, she would feel aggravated, not loved.

This book's value is that it sensitizes you to how you would like to be loved and makes you more sensitive to what your partner would like from you. However, I think this book implies too strongly that most folks have one primary language. Chapman implies that it is rare to be "multilingual" whereas I suspect that most of us can feel love that is expressed in many forms. Men are often seen as wanting love in the form of sexual intercourse. However, men actually want sex packaged in a warm, enthusiastic relationship. Men often complain about cold, "mercy sex."

A woman's ability to empathize allows her to detect love in many expressions. Wives often say that they "know" they are loved by observing indirect statements of caring that come in many forms. This said, I think it is important for partners to carefully consider what expressions of love are most valued by their mate and The Five Love Languages will help you to identify this.

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Giving Yourself Permission to Divorce in Order to Choose to be Married

I'm sure you have heard someone say, "Divorce is not an option for me; divorce is not in my vocabulary." This expression can mean different things to different people. To someone in a satisfying marriage, this expression can mean that he/she is committed to their marriage and willing to tackle whatever roadblocks to intimacy that may arise.

But to someone in a marriage crisis the expression can represent entrapment, suggesting, "I made my bed and I must lie in it." The difficulty with this outlook during a marriage crisis is that one cannot choose to remain married unless one has a choice. Removing yours or your partner's choice can result in a marriage without intimacy or closeness. Such a choice can have lasting consequences.

It is far better to give yourself permission to divorce in order to give yourself permission to be married. A healthy marriage requires much effort, work that cannot be given reluctantly. Your partner's distancing may tempt you to manipulate the situation in order to avoid divorce. Friends and family may be willing accomplices in the manipulation because they do not want the marriage to dissolve.

Resist such desperate behavior. Trust that your partner must make a decision to commit to the relationship. Only a choice freely given will include motivation to draw close to you and willingness to trust giving one's heart away (once again).

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Sunday, March 8, 2009

Listen to Your Anger

Check out the
article by Mona Barbera, Ph.D Relationships: Tips to Help You Get through the Conflict in your Marriage.

The crux of her article is that anger is a signal, neither something to be ignored or impulsively acted on. She says:

"Get to know the good intentions of your anger or coldness.
This is the hardest step and the easiest step. It’s the hardest step because: Your anger or coldness can be fast and powerful. You have to catch it before it takes over. You have to take a chance and consider that your anger is more than it seems. At first it’s hard to imagine that your anger might have good intentions. You’ve been taught that anger or distance is bad. It doesn’t make sense until you try it. You have to be willing to take a chance and do an experiment. This step is easy once you try it!

Once you become curious about your own anger or coldness, you’ll understand that it is trying to protect you. You will see that your anger thinks you need protection, and maybe even thinks you are a small child. You might hear it say: “You’re just a child, you’re in danger, I have to protect you, this is too dangerous.”

Remember the key is: Don’t try to get rid of your anger. Once you do this step, you will be able to say to yourself: I get the good thing my anger is trying to do now. I see how my anger is a friend in strange clothing. I appreciate how my anger is trying to help and protect me. I understand how my anger sees me as the child I used to be, not the adult I am now – it is living in the past, and remembering when I was small and vulnerable."

I agree that anger can feel strong and protective, however it is actually a weak way of expressing yourself. Confront your "child" and determine whether it is really too dangerous or are you responding to messages from the past that made being vulnerable dangerous. Even if you are accurate, anger does not make the situation less dangerous. Stating your fears openly is far more effective in diffusing anger in a relationship.

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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Love is Easy, Relationships are Hard

Lots of research shows that love is more effective at bringing us together than keeping us together. You may have heard the saying, “Love is easy; relationships are hard.” The truth is relationships are hard because love is easy. Strong feelings and sensations of any kind carry an illusion of certainty. With the exception of resentment, no emotional experience has more illusion of certainty than love. -Steven Stosny, Ph.D. via Psychology Today (http://blogs.psychologytoday.com/blog/anger-in-the-age-entitlement)

I like Steven's blog. I do think relationships are hard and that feelings are not necessarily to be trusted. Feelings change easily, whereas commitment is maintained even when feelings change.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Acknowledging Needs in Marriage

Men are said to have difficulty expressing needs because it appears weak, while women expect men to be able to telepathically read their needs. These stereotypes exist because they have some basis in fact. Couples frequently fail to communicate needs, then become emotionally distanced.

However, these stereotypes are also exaggerated. I always remind myself that every couple went through a dating phase in which they communicate their needs, their desires for the future and show a willingness to meet their needs. Certainly, the connection that results in marriage includes sharing needs.

What makes the couple better able to share needs during dating than after marriage?

I believe the difference lies in the couple's goals during the dating phase of the relationship. When dating, the couple are sending a message that they want their partner in their future. This desire for a future together motivates both partners to share their needs and to reassure one another that their needs will be attended to.

After marriage, the couple loses motivation to preserve their future, assuming a future after the marriage vows have been given. This is an assumption that makes little sense given the odds of divorce. Remind yourself and your partner that you want a future together.

Communicate your needs while showing interest in your partner's needs. Initiate conversations that provide an opportunity to share fantasies about your future together. Share what makes needs will need to be met for you to remain satisfied for years to come.
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Saturday, February 14, 2009

How do you Compromise in your Marriage?

argumentImage by Robert in Toronto via Flickr

Everyone agrees that compromise is essential to a successful marriage. The essence of marriage is the ability to achieve closeness through blending two lives. Compromising your desires is essential if you are to be close.

Cold compromise is a form of compromise that many couples use which does not promote intimacy, but actually leads to emotional distance. Cold compromise is compromise that is given reluctantly or begrudgingly.

Here are five questions to ask about how you compromise with your partner:

  1. Is compromise reached in your relationship through caring or is it a byproduct of a power struggle?
  2. Do you find your arguments include concern for your feelings or are they simply a debate from two different viewpoints?
  3. Is it easier for you to give in than to press for a compromise?
  4. Are you able to get your partner to agree to your desires because he or she cares about you? Do you know that you have power because your partner cares?
  5. Are you able to share your desires in a vulnerable manner or do you have to be angry to get your way?
If your relationship has compromise based on passive giving in or aggressive winning, then this compromise is a cold compromise (although the arguments can be heated). A warm compromise takes into account you and your spouse's feelings. Acknowleging the importance of feelings is the path to caring.

Recall when you were dating and you rarely argued because differences seemed so small. They were not actually small; they were just softened by the desire to express caring.

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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Leaving A Toxic Relationship - What Do You Think

wikiHow Main PageImage via Wikipedia

How to End a Controlling or Manipulative Relationship

You've finally recognized your partner as an individual who needs to control and manipulate you. After time and many promises, you realize nothing has really changed, and you realize it isn't likely to. Recognizing you will never be the captain of your own ship until you take your life back can be difficult, but you can do it.
This article mostly assumes there are no children - parental rights must be maintained unless it is dangerous to the children. In that case, you will need professional law enforcement assistance and/or mental health help.


  1. Don't beat yourself up or consider yourself foolish. In recognizing your partner as controlling and manipulative, you must also recognize this: Though they can at first be charming, controlling and manipulative people are the unfortunate product of a high, incisive intellect and low self esteem. They are intelligent, usually charismatic people who, at first blush, seem to be confident, charming and together. It's no wonder you found him or her attractive.
  2. Get to the point and don't try to cushion the blow or beat around the bush. Your first instinct is to do it in person (not always advisable) and try to hurt your soon-to-be ex as little as possible, but this will only result in prolonging his/her agony - and yours. Come right out with your decision frankly, without hostility or cruelty. S/he will likely be stunned and/or shocked, and may question, attempt to bargain, cry, or become enraged - all are possible reactions. Be prepared for anything.
    • Your leaving is often best explained in a note. Be clear about your decision, and then leave at once. Example: "I'm so sorry, but this is not working for me any more, so I'm ending our relationship here. I will always care about you and wish you well, but it's over." Do not say, "I Will Always Love You, XXOO Marty," or "I'll be at my mom's" or "If you need anything let me know." This can become the tiny bit of hope s/he needs to continue the obsession with winning you back.
    • If you must do this face to face, be brief and as dispassionate as possible. (And it's wise to have your things packed and in your car already so that you just need to walk out.) Example: "I just wanted to say this in person. I'm leaving, our relationship has not worked out for me. I wish you well, but I can't continue this," then walk out. Don't look back, despite the fact that s/he is freaking out, shrieking that you can't go, hanging from your pant leg, throwing various objects at you, threatening suicide, and generally having a complete meltdown.
    • The less personal you can bring yourself to be, the better. It seems cold when your inclination is not to want to hurt your former love, but the less emotional you are, the less you will escalate the pain. Believe it. Your ex wants to control you and everything you do, and the more s/he realizes that s/he is no longer able to control you, the more intense and hysterical s/he is likely to become. It's an effort to engage your feelings of guilt for hurting him/her, compassion for his or her pain, etc. S/he will want to get you to respond as any polite or compassionate person wants to, but once you show any sort of mercy or positive response to this, s/he knows his/her rant has worked, and leaving becomes more difficult for you.

  3. Be decisive and don't fall for promises to change. Once you have identified your relationship as toxic to your individuality and future, you must take decisive steps. Wishy-washy, weak attempts to leave will be steamrolled, and you will be overrun by the will of your partner. Talking things over with your partner will not be likely to help: remember the crucial identifier - this is a controlling manipulator.As soon as you start making noises about being unhappy with controlling behaviors and preparing him or her for the fact you are thinking of ending the relationship, s/he will gladly give in to your desires - just long enough to keep you attached. Stringing you along with little bits of what you need or want makes you want to believe that s/he has heard you, understands your needs, and is willing to change. The problem is that s/he is probably not really capable of changing (as evidenced by no change, despite many so-called efforts, over and over again). As soon as you settle back into the relationship, s/he knows you're back on the hook and the bad behaviors resume. It's all just been a kind of ploy to keep you around, continuing a vicious cycle and allowing him or her to re-establish control.
  4. Leave at once. Having made your decision, waste no time. Notice, this is something like the third time the exhortation to leave is made. That's because it's so hard to leave - particularly if you decided a face-to-face farewell was necessary. But you really must go. Please believe that your attempts to leave on good terms will most likely not pan out. The truth is, these efforts will only make it less likely that you will ever be able to have even the most casual of contact with your ex without it turning into a terrible, embarrassing scene. Your caring response instills hope that control can be re-established, and so feeds the obsession with getting you back. - so much so that your partner may abandon all dignity and beg, cry, bargain, scream, etc. If you leave before your ex has completely humiliated him/herself, it really will end better. No matter how hard it is, turn your back on this person, ignore the begging, sobbing, threatening and yelling, and put some steel in your back. Walk out the door. Shut it behind you.
  5. Stay away. Don't accept phone calls, answer emails, IMs or text messages from him/her. Doing so will only create hope. It's likely to end in an unholy debacle, and things will be worse than ever - you won't just have an angry, upset ex, you'll likely end up with a shrieking harpy freaking out and screeching for your blood. Remember again: this is a controlling, manipulative person who will say anything to win, and that is all this contact will be about. Once you have broken away, stay away. Having dinner, "just to talk" or "for the kids' sake" will destroy your resolve, and will also give your controlling ex the power s/he seeks again. Cut it clean, and let it go.
  6. Avoid mutual friends who are still in contact with your ex for some time after the breakup. The last thing you need is the passing, even inadvertently, of fuel into the fire in the weeks and months after the end of the affair. If you can't avoid contact with these friends, keep your remarks to them carefully neutral, and don't share details of the breakup, your feelings, or your insights on your ex with them - you can almost be assured these remarks will find their way back to your ex, and that will not be a good thing.
  7. Remain detached. In order to reassert control, your ex will look for signs that you are receptive to crying, begging, threats of self-harm, etc. If you simply do not react, you will give no fuel to your ex's belief that s/he can win you back, and it will be truly over much sooner. S/he will cry, rage, rant, become hysterical if you allow him/her to. Being compassionate and trying to spare your ex further pain will only make it more difficult to break away. Every minute that you stay, talk, commiserate, apologize, or otherwise play along is a win for your ex, because s/he knows you feel helpless to leave him/her in such an awful state. Key word: helpless. Other key word: YOU. Generally think of your ex as a sleeping dragon. The more time s/he stays asleep (e.g., thinks about things other than you), the more likely s/he will stay asleep.


  • Not every controlling or manipulative person is dangerous, but some are. Most will respond to a show of strength - if you show up with friends or relatives to back you up, or if you refuse all contact, 9 times out of 10, this will be enough to make your point and put an end to things. If not, enlist help, either from police (a restraining order) or from a mental health specialist who may be able to help you identify whether your ex is a danger to you or others, or to him or herself, and will know the appropriate steps to take in that case.
  • Get your support network back. Go to the friends and family you will inevitably have been disconnected from by your controller, fall on your sword, and ask them to take you back. Without trash-talking (or letting others do it, either), you can say, "The bottom line is, you were right, the relationship was toxic, and once I realized it, I got out. I appreciate you taking the risk you did by sharing your misgivings about it with me."


  • Controlling and manipulative people are often produced by external factors that you have no control over. You cannot hope to change or rescue such a person, as much as you may care for him/her; the best help you can give him/her is to (A), refuse to be a victim, and (B), direct him/her to professional help.
  • Often, these people re-live significant events in their lives, re-writing along the way and changing the details to suit themselves. His/her recollection of conversations, impressions of you or others during the event, etc., are terribly skewed, and can make him/her even angrier the more time goes by. If your ex is at all prone to violent outbursts, exercise extreme caution at any chance meeting.
  • Don't assume that a mild, calm encounter with this person will end well for you; it may be weeks or months, but it's virtually guaranteed that you'll hear something horrible about yourself from a mutual acquaintance somewhere. Resist the urge to re-engage with your ex for the sake of "setting the record straight". Just let it go - the people who know you will figure out which of you is the more truthful, more by your responses and actions than anything else. Simply say, "That's just not true, but if it makes him/her feel better to say it... whatever." Just shrug and show them there's nothing you can do to stop your ex from saying such things, and then move on.
  • Watch for stalking or menacing behaviors, and if you notice anything, report them to the police immediately. This person is probably just difficult and not dangerous. But don't take any chances. If necessary, get a restraining or protective order and call the police each and every time it's violated; you will need the paper trail if the stalking escalates. S/he may try to destroy any action that indicates you moving on with your life, such as your career, a new relationship; s/he may deny access to your personal belongings or things that are important to you (which is why it's best to take them all and leave nothing behind when you go). S/he may even ask for a meeting to discuss re-paying you for credit card or other debt you incurred as a couple. This is a tool to maintain contact - DONT GIVE IN! It may be an expensive lesson, but it's actually better to just pay the debt off yourself rather than hook yourself into a payment arrangement that requires monthly contact to enforce.
  • If you live together and s/he will not leave, you have to be the one to move out. This can be very difficult, especially if you have been cut off from your support system (friends and family) and have nowhere to go. But don't ever go back, even if you have to leave everything behind to do it.

Related wikiHows

Article provided by wikiHow, a wiki how-to manual. Please edit this article and find author credits at the original wikiHow article on How to End a Controlling or Manipulative Relationship. All content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons license.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Assertive & Vulnerable Communication

You have certain rights in a relationship:
  1. The right to your viewpoint, although others may not share your viewpoint
  2. The right to your feelings being expressed, although you don't have the right to hold others responsible for your feelings.
  3. The right to your desires for the relationship, although you can't expect to have all of your desires met.
An assertive individual exercises these rights in a relationship. If you are in a caring relationship, you can expect your partner to care about your view, your feelings and your desires.

All to often, one partner will fail to express as assertive message in a vulnerable tone. The vulnerable tone is much more likely to hook your partner's caring. An aggressive or abrasive tone tends to repel caring.
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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Can This Marriage Be Saved: Assessing Hope

This question often centers on questions like:
  • Can I forgive this hurt?
  • Can we learn to communicate?
  • Does he/she really love me?
  • Will my partner quit abusing alcohol/porn/me?
While such questions are important, they can rarely be answered with certainty. Verbal promises sure don't ensure that change will occur. Neither personal counseling, marital counseling, rehab, or religious conversion ensures that change will occur. Finally, even if change occurs, you can't be sure that this will lead to a satisfying marriage.

Since there is no certain answer to this question, you can only ask:
  • Do I have reasonable hope that my marriage can become satisfying?
Hope for a satisfying marriage keeps us from divorce. Belief that the marriage can improve will maintain motivation. Hopelessness is the enemy of the marriage. In the next post, I will discuss how to realistically communicate hope for the future of the marriage and what it means to make a reasonable decision.
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