Monday, November 2, 2015

Six Ways to Fail in Couples Therapy


  1. Don’t go. The surest way to fail in couples therapy is to simply not give it a try. Come up with criticism of the process without actually having tried it. Speak of therapy as though it is a spiritual path that you don’t believe in. Suggest it is a step that should have been taken years ago, but is now too late.
  2. Make it about your partner, not your relationship. Instead of focusing on how you relate to each other, focus strictly on how your partner has been a disappointment to you. Make sure that your partner feels thoroughly criticized by the end of the first (and last) session. Suggest that the therapist is insensitive to your pain if he or she tries to direct you back to how you relate to each other.
  3. Make it about you, not your relationship. Avoid any perspective other than your own. Your views, feelings and desires are all that count. Feel entitled to get all that you want without compromise. Believe that your pain entitles you to be the focus, not how you relate. Excuse your behavior based on your feelings. Suggest that the therapist lacks empathy if he or she directs you away from yourself to the relationship.
  4. Quit if there isn’t immediate improvement. Quickly evaluate whether your relationship has changed. Focus on whether your partner is treating you better, while playing it safe by not contributing yourself to a better relationship. Be dramatic in expressing that the lack of improvement surely is a sign that the relationship cannot improve. Take every opportunity to express hopelessness.
  5. Quit at the first sign of improvement. If you begin treating each other nicely, then take this as a sign that your relationship is solid and you don’t need therapy. Suggest that the issues that remain can be tackled without further visits to the therapist. Point out how easy it is to change and minimize the problems that led to seeking therapy in the first place.
  6. Promise change, but don’t. Appear committed to change. Reassure your partner that his or her satisfaction is your goal. Tell your partner that you understand his or her pain. Explore how you have contributed to your relationship difficulties. Then, don’t change. Don’t allow goals to focus on specific things you and your partner can do to improve the relationship. Exchange platitudes but not improved behavior.

Following any of these guidelines will ensure that couples therapy will not lead to lasting change in your relationship. Problem interaction will not improve or will improve superficially and then the old patterns will return.

To be fair, changing in your relationship is difficult. It requires enough motivation, courage and trust to try to contribute to an improved relationship. It requires patience and enough maturity to realize you will not get everything you want. But the rewards are great if you can find a path toward lasting intimacy.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

What If You Posted a Video of Your Argument?


Imagine for a moment that there is a website where you post videos of your argument so that others could view and comment on the video. What kind of feedback would you receive?

What would be the tone of the argument? By tone I am referring to the nonverbal elements of the argument. What would your tone of voice be? Would you sound angry, cool, defensive? What do you think others would say about your tone?

What posture would you have? By posture, I mean what would your body language look like? Would you appear attentive to one another? Would you look into each other’s faces? Or would you be grimacing or smirking at each other?

Would you and your partner take turns speaking or would you talk over one another? Imagine how difficult it would be to hear what you are saying if you are each talking at the same time!

Would you sound like a lawyer making your case? Would you be trying to make a point based on evidence or logic that you hope would win over your partner to your point of view?

Would your sound blaming? Do you think you would be sharing your views and feelings or would you be commenting on your partner’s behavior, attitude or character? Would the viewers understand you or only understand your view of your partner?

Would you appear to be listening to each other? Do you look like you are processing your partner’s statements or simply reloading your argument to make your case?

Would you share the floor or would one of you do most of the talking? Would there be a back and forth conversation? Would each of you spend time both listening and sharing?

These are just some of the questions to ask yourself. By imagining objective viewers, you can take a more objective view of how you interact when you have an argument. Try to avoid justifying how you behave and take responsibility for your part in what the viewers would see on that video.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Coping With the Death of the Marriage You Wanted

Broken heart

You fantasized about how marriage would be. These fantasies may have begun many years before you married, but certainly accompanied the decision to marry. Just as you would picture yourself in a new job, you can picture yourself as a partner in marriage.

The image you have of your upcoming marriage is based on the experience you’ve had dating your partner. You have each connected in a special way. You have attracted your partner emotionally, physically and sexually. You imagine this connection continuing to build throughout the marriage. Your partner expresses delight in having you in his/her life and you like being so pleasing.

Unfortunately, dating behavior does not predict your marriage relationship. Dating is a process of assessing whether you are attracted and attractive to your partner. It’s an effort to attract your partner’s heart by giving him/her the message that you are safe. Marriage has a different agenda.

After you are married the negotiation begins to determine how much you must give to keep your partner satisfied. While you want a satisfying marriage, you also want other activities in your life. You have a job, individual hobbies and interests, and perhaps you have children. Now you are balancing each of your priorities.

With this new reality comes the eventual death of the marriage you fantasized having. The death can be gradual but is often rapid. Many couples describe their relationship deteriorating almost immediately after they married even though they dated for several years.

Accepting this death is much like accepting the death of a loved one. At first you tend to deny that your relationship has changed. Then you begin to negotiate with your partner for what you are no longer experiencing in the relationship. When this is unsuccessful strong emotions arise. You become frustrated and angry. This may be displayed aggressively or passively, but you are mad!

Eventually, successful couples are able to reach a mutual acceptance. They accept their relationship will not fulfill their fantasy of marriage, but that it can be fulfilling nonetheless. To reach this point of acceptance you must not get stuck in denial, trying to change your partner or in anger.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Preparing For Relationship Counseling


Most couples come to relationship counseling armed with complaints but have done little to prepare for the session. Couples tend to approach couples therapy as they would surgery – they expect the therapist to do something to the relationship to heal their pain.

In fact, couples therapists can only point the way to self-help, much as a workout coach can only point you in the direction of how to make the most of your workouts.

Here are some questions to ask your self prior to going to a relationship counselor:

  1. Are we each committed to taking this step? One partner may be able to profit from seeing a couples counselor but you will achieve much more with a mutual commitment to the change process.
  2. Are we prepared to devote time toward making changes in our relationship? Personal change is difficult but relationship change is more difficult. It takes time to establish trust that you are each willing to make an effort toward an improved relationship. Changing patterns that have been in place for years does not happen overnight!
  3. Can you identify potential stumbling blocks that will prevent you from continuing once you begin the counseling effort? Couples’ lives are filled with many things that can interfere with making regular appointments and following through with change efforts at home. If weeks or months from now you have not followed through, what is the likely reason?
  4. What are your expectations for the first session? Do you expect the focus to be on you, your partner or the relationship? Relationship counseling focuses on how you relate to one another. Fault-finding and blame leads to defensiveness. Are you prepared to look at your contribution to relationship problems?
  5. What outcome would you like to see? If your efforts would pay off, how would you like your relationship to be different? It may help to recall times when you saw your relationship as good.
  6. What are the characteristics of a good therapist? Think about how you expect the therapist to run the session. Most couples therapists are more active and directive in the session than are individual therapists, which are typically portrayed in media. Can you adjust your expectations?
  7. Are you coachable? Some athletes have difficulty taking direction from their coach. They don’t like being told what to do, even though it is in their best interest. Are you willing to accept feedback and to take direction for changing the way you interact with your partner?

Take time to consider each of these points before you plunge into couples therapy. Don’t treat couples therapy like you are taking your relationship to the emergency room for treatment. Instead, treat it as the beginning of a new, improved relationship that will pay off for years to come if you are each willing to make an effort.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Do You Give More Or Less When Hurt?


When your partner hurts your feelings, how do you respond? The logical answer would be to say, “Ouch!” In other words, to let your partner know that he or she hurt your feelings. Yet this is often not how partners respond to pain.

Instead of saying, “Ouch!” you may appear angry. Pain could also motivate you to try to motivate your partner to change. Or you may choose to swallow your pain and say nothing. Let’s look at each of these.

I’m hurt but I look angry. Expressing pain makes you vulnerable. You question how your pain will be received. Will he or she behave in a caring manner or turn away? You feel less vulnerable when you strike out in anger, plus you feel stronger, more prepared to defend yourself.

The problem is that anger drives your partner away when you really want to draw your partner toward you to address the issue. Anger is a repellant whereas sad expression of hurt challenges your partner to care about your pain.

We need to talk! When your partner is hurtful, you see this as an opportunity to connect emotionally. You’ll fee closer if you can receive empathy. So you immediately try to address the issue and expect your partner to participate in the discussion that will mend your wound and reward you both with a better connection.

When hurts are addressed this way, it often leads to parceling out blame rather than an improved emotional connection. This is particularly true when women pursue men to address their pain. Men typically take this as an attempt to criticize them rather than an effort to improve the relationship. The result is that the man defends himself rather than defending the relationship through empathizing with your pain.

I’ll get over it. It’s not worth it to create tension. When you anticipate that expressing your pain will lead to conflict you may tell yourself that avoiding conflict is more important than addressing your feelings. After all, your feelings won’t be addressed anyway and you’ll have to deal with an argument to boot!

So you place this little pain away in the closet. But then you put one after another away and finally you’ve had enough. Your partner is taken aback by the intensity of your response over such a “small” issue. But it isn’t small to you; it represents many hurts that have been stored away in an effort to avoid tension. Finally, your feelings can no longer be ignored so you express them. However, there is no moderation – your feelings come spilling out and overwhelm your partner.

Couples that maintain a connection over many years learn to recover from hurts. It is inevitable that you will be hurt and you will hurt your partner. The question is whether you will learn to present the pain in a fashion that it can be heard and whether you and your partner will choose to respond in a caring manner to the pain instead of defending yourselves.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Listening for the Message Behind the Message


When you feel attacked your brain goes into protective mode. It feels danger and wants to avoid this danger. That is why you should avoid angry messages toward your partner. But let’s face it, you will be angry and your partner will be angry, so how should you respond to this anger.

Your protective brain needs to know that there is a safe message behind the anger. Fortunately, angry messages typically hide their true message behind a wall of protection. “I’m hurt but I’ll only show you anger. Anger leaves me less vulnerable than expressing hurt!” Your task is to find the true message, then respond to this message rather than the outward display of anger.

“You’re an ass!” Such a message sounds like a statement directed toward you, a clear rejection of your character. Your brain wants to avoid this attack by (1) moving away, (2) defending yourself, or (3) attacking back. Each of these options will guarantee greater detachment and a loss of intimacy.

There is a fourth option. This option is to realize that the message behind the message is a statement your partner is making about him or herself. He or she may be stating irritability, hurt, disappointment or a variety of other messages that have been packaged in the message “You’re an ass!”

The goal is to discover what that message means. How? Ask yourself what is your partner saying about him or herself, or challenge your partner to share his or her view and feelings. Sometimes simply responding, “What’s wrong?” will do the trick. Other times you need to dig deeper and say, “I want to discuss this with you, but your tone is making it difficult to listen.”

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Romance or Relationship

Romantic comedies, romantic vacations, romantic music…romance is everywhere. Romance is fueled by passion. Romance is like a mood-altering drug that can be fleeting or cause you to keep looking for another high. We never seem to lose the desire for the high that comes with romance, yet this high becomes more and more difficult to maintain as you progress from falling in love to a long-term commitment.
You don’t commit to romance, you commit to the relationship. Romance is pleasure, relationship is work. Passion provides the motivation in romance, but relationship is motivated by a desire to address anything that causes emotional, physical or sexual detachment.
Four Reasons to Avoid the Work of Relationship
Assumptions It is easy to assume that your partner is satisfied with the relationship and that he or she feels as attached as you. Partners are often surprised to learn that their partner has withheld feelings of dissatisfaction, often over many months, even years. Avoid assumptions and talk to your partner about your relationship, both its strengths and weaknesses.
Laziness Avoid putting relationship issues aside because they are too much trouble to address. This form of procrastination rewards by avoiding tension, but the tension is only delayed. Make it your policy to address issues as they arise. Sweat the small issues and avoid creating bigger issues.
No plan Have a plan for how you want to approach relationship issues. Avoid talking about your partner and instead tell your partner about yourself. Think about what you want to say! Share your discomfort in a way that challenges to care about your concern, rather than telling your partner to change and triggering a defensive response.
Distractions Family life is full of distractions, many which demand our attention and some that are another source of pleasure. Make sure that you have not filled your life with so many distractions that you have not left time to address your relationship. Don’t fall into the trap that says if we are going to work, raising children and having fun together, then we are doing all we need to have a good relationship.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Danger Of Putting Aside Your Pain


Many experts suggest that couples must establish a base of a good relationship before they can deal with the pain that has been caused to one of the partners. Some even suggest that pain must simply be absorbed and put aside in the spirit of forgiveness.

It is difficult to share pain, particularly when your partner has hurt you. You want to lash out in anger and your partner doesn’t want to feel ashamed for having caused you pain. You understand that your anger is destructive, so you hold it in and your partner feels relieved to not be reminded of his or her hurtful act.

A healthy relationship must be safe. When you began dating and falling in love, you each sent a message that you were safe. You each gave messages that said, “You can trust me with your heart.” Now the relationship does not feel safe, your heart feels pain, not safety. How can that feeling of safety begin to be restored?

Your pain needs a voice. Your pain needs to be understood by your partner. In order for this to happen you must express your pain vulnerably. You must sound hurt not angry. Anger pushes your partner away which is not the path to safety you want. You want a path to safety that restores intimacy.

Your partner must accept your pain without judging or trying to change it. This is particularly difficult for males because they are uncomfortable around the expression of pain, particularly pain they have caused. Never the less, pain must be expressed and your partner must empathize with your pain.

It is not enough to express sorrow for causing pain. You need to know that your partner understands the depth of your pain. Empathy for your pain can actually be a beginning to feeling safe. If your partner understands your pain and cares for you, then he or she will be more than willing to avoid causing you similar pain in the future.

If you put aside your pain, then it is likely that the relationship will change permanently. Without safety you will keep a distance and your partner will get less of you. Sure you can go about your daily existence and focus on family tasks, but intimacy requires safety. You must feel safe before you give your partner your heart once again.