Are The Odds Stacked Against You?

Ever found yourself in a conflict with your partner that seems to have no solution? You just want different things or you see things from opposite ends of the spectrum. John Gottman’s research reveals “69% of marital problems are perpetual problems”, meaning they’re not going away and may not change. So what do we do? Ditch your partner and find someone who agrees with you most of the time? Nope!

The first thing you have to do is realize that all couples have ongoing differences. Maybe it didn’t seem like a big deal when you first started dating, but after a few years, it is a big deal that your partner likes to buy a new car every 5 years and you want to save for a rainy day. Couples who approach conflict with a “win-win” viewpoint are saying, “You’re important to me.” Couples who fail to recognize perpetual issues in their relationship find themselves in “gridlock”. You know gridlock has taken hold when you feel more frustrated and hurt after discussing the issue, you talk about it all the time with no resolve or you become rather stubborn and refuse to budge on the issue.

Navigating through gridlock lies with understanding the root of the dream behind your partner’s decisions. These dreams are hopes that provide purpose to your life. Talk to your partner about your dream behind the issue. Help them understand and empathize why it is so important to you.

Perpetual problems may never go away, however diffusing the hurt and anger associated with them allows you to talk openly and be more open to compromise. Your goal is not to change your partner, rather get on the same team as your partner.

What Do Women Really Want?

Movies have been made and books have been written about the best way to a woman’s heart. Ask any woman and they won’t tell you they desire a 20 something year old with six pack abs and a big bank account. They won’t say they are looking for a whirlwind romance with Prince Charming (spoiler alert! Prince Charming doesn’t exist).

According to Dr. John Gottman, women are after one thing: trustworthiness. Sound easy enough? Well, trustworthiness isn’t just a one dimensional concept. It’s made up of a few components like reliability, accountability and showing up as you. No games and no hidden agendas. Trustworthiness comes from being genuine, doing what you say you’re going to do and being who you represent yourself to be.

Whether you just met someone or you’ve been together for a while now, women tend to ask themselves, “Is he safe?”, “Will he be there for me?”, “Can I rely on him and depend on him?” The way a woman answers these questions is directly related to if a man represents a symbol of safety. Women don’t need you to climb up a tower to recuse them, but they do need to feel safe.

A Happy Couple’s Secret Weapon

For those who know me, I am a huge Gottman fan. Dr. John Gottman is a researcher first and foremost. He is also the man who studies relationships and has created a model of couple’s therapy that actually works. One of may favorite things to do is grab a book off my shelf, open it to a random page and soak in the knowledge. Today, I grabbed The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work, authored by (you guessed it) John Gottman Ph.D.

Friendship is a key ingredient in a happy couple. While it doesn’t prevent a fight, it is a way of hitting the release valve before the fight really gets going. When couples have a strong, reliable friendship, they become masters at sending each other messages and receiving messages from their partner attempting to de-escalate the conflict.

Through his research of thousands of couples over the decades, Dr. Gottman has surmised that happy couples actually have a secret weapon that prevents arguments from taking on a life of their own. The reality is that couples will have conflict. Happy couples know when to alleviate the building tension with their partner by using a “repair attempt. This name refers to any statement or action – silly or otherwise – that prevents negativity from escalating out of control.”

Some partners smile, offer a handshake or even say, “I really love you” as a conflict starts to build. Whatever you and your partner chose, know that successful repair attempts is a main factor in a healthy, lasting relationship.

Got A Complaint?

Most of us have heard, “If you don’t have something nice to say then don’t say anything at all.” Nonsense! You can complain to your partner, your children and even to your boss….so long as you do it with the best chance of having them hear you. I’m not talking about nagging or criticizing; I am talking about letting others know how you feel in a way that elicits a genuine connection.

“I messages” were all the rage some years ago and they haven’t lost their luster. When you start a conversation with “I feel….” you’re inviting someone to listen rather than run for the hills because they feel under attack. Tell someone how you feel about a particular situation or behavior. Rather than describing the person in a negative light, talk about how the situation makes you feel. Follow that up with what you need from that person about the feeling you’re having regarding the situation; how can that person make the situation better.

For example: I’m furious about the dent in the car. I need you to drive more carefully or I am angry the bills were not paid on time. I need to sit down with you and develop a better plan.

When you tell someone what you need you are problem solving rather than complaining. Connecting with your partner on this emotional level is a great way to open the door for further, non-confrontational conversation.

feel about behavior or situation and I need from you…. Go ahead and tell your partner how they can shine for you!

A Little Off The Top

Often times people come into the office and share they’ve been to therapy in the past, but “it didn’t really work” or “the therapist wasn’t for me.” Which makes perfect sense; different strokes for different folks, right? Finding the right therapist is critical. It sounds silly, but finding the right therapist is like finding the right hairdresser.

I love my hairdresser and will drive an hour to get to her, during the day because she doesn’t offer evening hours and I will pay what she charges without hesitation. Why? Because I trust her to do exactly what is best for me. I can close my eyes and say, “Just a trim please” and I know she will do just that. I found her through a referral of a trusted friend. I met with her and talked about what I wanted and I felt like she heard me. I got a good vibe. And that was many, many years ago. Since then, I’ve referred several of my friends to her and they’ve all been pleased.

Getting a referral from a friend or colleague is a terrific way to get into a therapist’s office. You’re looking for someone who listens and genuinely cares about you and your relationships. You want to get a good feeling after your meeting with them. Find someone who offers a consultation, even if it’s over the phone. Ask questions, share what you’d like to get out of therapy and some of the struggles you’re facing. You’ll get a sense if the person you’re talking to is the right fit for you. And if they are, schedule your first appointment!

Picking Up The Pieces: The Aftermath of a Fight

We’ve all been there….criticizing our partner, saying things we wish we could take back. Man, does it get ugly or does it get ugly?

The point of revisiting the hot topic that sparked a blaze is to increase understanding and empathy. Allow some time for each of you to cool off before diving right into any repair attempt. Nothing good comes from making decisions based on raw emotions. During the repair, if either of become overwhelmed with emotion, postpone the discussion.

Acknowledge your partner and offer an appreciation to them. An example might be, “Thank you for prioritizing our relationship.” Choose who will speak first; that person will be allowed to identify all feelings they experienced during the fight. Stay here! Only name the feelings and don’t justify them. Allow the other person to do the same. When you’re not speaking, you’re listening only.

Take turns acknowledging how each of your perceived the situation. Talk about what you needed from your partner during that time, “I needed you to comfort me.”
Talk about what it was that really pushed you to the point of fighting. Often times these are unresolved or underlying issues from your past. Let your partner know, “I felt unsafe and scared.” Listen to your partner describe all their trigger points as you’d want them to listen when you describe yours.

Share your story of where the trigger originates. Was this a memory from childhood? Paint a verbal picture so your partner can understand your wound now and will be aware of it in the future. Remember that your partner’s recollection of the events is real to them. This is not the place to fix or critique their responses.

Lastly, take responsibility for yourself and apologize for your role in the argument. Your partner wants to hear, “I was overly sensitive to your request and I’m sorry I overreacted.” Now is the time to talk about where the conversation started going downhill so that you have an idea of what to do the next time the feelings and triggers are arise.

– Adapted from What Makes Love Last? by John Gottman, Ph.D.

Exercise Your Way To A Healthy Relationship

We all know to have a healthy heart we need to get up off the couch and move. Walking, running or yoga-ing are a few obvious right answers. For those who are committed to a healthy lifestyle, these tasks become something you look forward to because you understand (and love) the benefits. You not only feel better, but your self-confidence increases and your mood improves.

But what if I told you that exercising in your relationship can do the exact same thing for you? Crazy? I think not. The type of exercises you do in your partnership may take on a different form, however the end results are feeling better, improved mood and self-confidence.

These exercises are commitments you make to each other to focus on the health of your relationship. This may be a daily check-in at the end of the day when you share your biggest success or a deliberate phone call to say you’re thinking about your partner sometime after lunch.

Making the effort for a goodbye kiss in the morning and looking forward to your partner coming home for the next kiss is a super exercise to keep your relationship in great shape. Make the commitment to each other to strengthen and maintain your partnership and you’ll begin to look forward to (and love) the benefits.

Invest in Someone Who “Gets” You

You get sick so you call your primary care doctor. You need an eye exam and, yep, you guessed it, you call your optometrist. So who do you call when you need couples counseling? Most people call a general therapist.

A general therapist is a professional who has a license in mental health. And just like your general practitioner, or your primary care doctor, a general therapist generally has no specialty. They work with people with anxiety and depression, they offer parenting skills and/or they may work with children and adults. There is nothing wrong with a general therapist.

Suffice it to say, that most couples who decide they are in need of couples counseling want it yesterday and they want to sit down with someone who has a specialty in relationships. It is so important to find a therapist that you feel comfortable with to get the most out of therapy so take some of the stress out of choosing a therapist and narrow it down to a specialist in what you’re looking for. Make the investment, both time wise and monetarily, with a relationship expert because YOUR relationship is worth it.

Let’s Talk About Sex

Talking about sex with your partner is such a difficult task. Talking about good sex, what we want both in and out of the bedroom and what they can do to please you almost never happens.

According to The Gottman Institute, a leading researcher on love and intimacy, “Only 9% of couples who can’t comfortably talk about sex with one another report they’re satisfied sexually”. How can you report being satisfied when you never tell your partner how to satisfy you? That’s crazy talk!

Talking about sex and intimacy allows you to create an erotic guide (so to speak) of what your partner likes and dislikes. And when I say talk about sex and intimacy, I mean actually talk about sex and intimacy!

“What turns you on?”

“What can we do to make sex more like lovemaking?”

“Please share your thoughts and fantasies during sex.”

Have fun with this. Explore each other’s desires, learn new ideas to share an intimate connection and think of unexpected ways to express your love to your partner.

Betrayal vs Cheating

Is betrayal the same thing as cheating? Not necessarily. There is some overlap, but let’s keep in mind that neither concept is ideal for a healthy relationship. Cheating is often thought of as “the act of”. For example, any type of sexual contact with a non-partner. Hugging, kissing, touching, even brushing up against someone can be considered cheating if the intent is sexually based. Don’t get me wrong, you can hug a co-worker during a time of need (say they lost their loved one). The main idea is your perception behind the touch. So, remember we said “the act of” with an emphasis on the intent. That means cheating also includes texting/sexting, emailing, messaging and talking to someone inappropriately other than your partner; these are actions with sexual intent.

Betrayal is acting in a way that if your significant other was standing next to you would never happen. Like what, you ask? Like telling a sexual joke at the office or buying an attractive person a cup of coffee. If you can’t go home and tell your partner what you did, then consider it betrayal. This paints a much broader stroke than cheating, right? Betrayal doesn’t have to have a sexual intent in mind, but don’t let that cloud your judgment. Buying that good looking person a cup of java isn’t out of the goodness of your heart otherwise you’d buy that college student sitting in the corner a well deserved mug!

Both are signs of poor boundaries and it is crucial that both partners are clear that their own boundaries are in need of changes. Betrayal and cheating are big….HUGE red flags of a relationship in distress. Consider what could happen to your relationship if these go unaddressed. These are priming the betraying/cheating partner for an affair.