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The high costs of anger – Anger and your relationships

“Dr. Fiore,” the voice on the phone pleaded, “I need anger management classes right away. I blew up at my girlfriend last night and she said it’s over until I get help”.

As Kevin recounted the first night of class, he and his girlfriend had argued in the car over which route to take home from a party. Events progressed from mild irritation, to yelling and name calling.

Things escalated at home. He tried to escape, but she followed him from room to room, demanding resolution of the conflict. He became angry, defensive and intimidating.

Frightened, she left. Later, she left an anguished message saying that she loved him, but couldn’t deal with his angry, hurtful outbursts. Kevin said that he normally is a very “nice” and friendly person. But, on this occasion, his girlfriend had been drinking before the party. In his view, she was irrational, and non-stop in criticism. He tried to reason with her, but it just made things worse. Finally, as Kevin saw things, in desperation he “lost it” and became enraged.

How should Kevin have handled this situation? What could he have done differently? What actions should you take in similar situations?

Option 1: Time-out

Take a 20 minute time-out (but commit to returning later to work on the issue). Take a walk. Calm yourself down. Breath deeply. Meditate. Do something else for awhile.

New research by John Gottman, Ph.D., at the University of Washington indicates that when you and your partner argue, your pulse rate goes above 100 beats per minute, and you enter a physiological state called DPA (diffuse physiological arousal). Once there, it becomes nearly impossible to solve the problem. You lose perspective. Your reasoning ability, memory, and judgment, greatly decline.

Taking a time-out allows both of you to return to your normal state of mind.
It is neither healthy or necessary for you to explode as a result of being provoked by your partner. Our recommendation: Turn the heat down rather than intensifying the pressure.

Option 2: Interact differently

Many couples like Keith and his partner develop patterns of behavior that create miscommunication and conflict. Do you interact in one, or more, of these ways?

  • Inattention – simply ignoring your partner when you shouldn’t. This is also called stonewalling, or being emotionally unavailable when your partner needs you, or not speaking to your partner for long periods because you are upset with them.
  • Intimidation – engaging in behavior intended to make your partner do things out of fear. This includes yelling, screaming, threatening, and posturing in a threatening way.
    Manipulation – doing or saying things to influence your partner, for your benefit, instead of theirs.
  • Hostility – using sarcasm, put-downs, and antagonistic remarks. Extreme or prolonged hostility leads to contempt – a major predictor of divorce.
  • Vengeance – the need to “get even” with your partner for a grievance you have against them. Many dysfunctional couples “keep score,” and are constantly trying to “pay back” each other for offenses.
  • Criticism – involves attacking someone’s personality or character, rather than a specific behavior, often coupled with blame. Like contempt, criticism is a second major predictor of divorce.

Option 3. Positive interactions

Start by actually listening not only to what your partners says, but what he or she means. Partners in conflict are not listening to understand; rather, they listen with their answer running because they are defensive. Unfortunately, defensiveness is another predictor of divorce.

Stick to the issue at hand. Seems obvious but is very hard to do in the heat of battle. Focus and stay in the present.

Learn to forgive

Research by Peter Larson, Ph.D., at the Smalley Relationship Center, suggests a huge relationship between marriage satisfaction and forgiveness. As much as one-third of marriage satisfaction is related to forgiveness!

Communicate your feelings and needs. Tell your partner how you feel about what they do, instead of accusing them of deliberately offensive behavior. Use “I” statements rather than accusatory, or “you,” statements. Learn to communicate unmet needs so that your partner can better understand and respond to you. For instance, If you are feeling fear, it may be your need for emotional safety and security that is not being met; communicating this is far more effective than lashing out at your partner in an angry tirade.

Control family anger with assertive communication

“Dr. Fiore,” my 42 year old married patient (Mary) began, “my family expects me again this year to host Christmas dinner and I am just too exhausted; what should I do?”
“Why not tell them how you feel,” I suggested.
“Because I don’t want to hurt their feelings and I feel guilty if I don’t do what is expected of me.”

Lack of communication such as this among family members is the root of much conflict, hurt, and misunderstandings any time of the year – but especially during the holiday season which, unfortunately, if often a time of great stress.

Mary’s dilemma is all too common – she wants to be a nice person and avoid conflict with family members, but then feels resentment and other negative emotions when she is overwhelmed or feels taken advantage of.

Unfortunately, not being direct and emotionally honest with people we love or care about can have long-reaching consequences because it gives other people the wrong message about you, what you need, and how they should respond to you.

The elephant in the room

When you have unexpressed feelings toward another person, it is like you are both sitting on a couch with an elephant between you. Neither wants to acknowledge the elephant, but its existence is there between you. The elephant acts as a barrier to real communication. It also prevents positive feelings from flowing between you and the other person.

Assertive Communication

Assertive communication is the art of speaking in a reasonable tone with good eye contact using “I” messages (as opposed to “you” or blaming messages) while clearly stating your needs, feelings, and requests. If you are an effective assertive communicator, you will also invite the listener to work toward a mutually satisfactory resolution of the problem or conflict, without offending them.

Speaking of offending, an important point to remember is that you won’t offend people if you stick to communicating your feelings, as opposed to telling others what they should or should not do!

The assertive communication formula:

There are four parts to effective assertive communication: Here is the formula:

I feel____________
When you____________
Because______________
I need___________

  • Part 1: “I feel”— start be expressing how you feel about the behavior. Stick to one of the five or six basic emotions: “I feel overwhelmed;” : I feel angry,” “I feel hurt.”
  • Part 2: “When”—What specifically bothers you about the behavior or situation? Examples: “when the family expects me to do this every year;” when it is assumed I will do it,” when no one else volunteers.”
  • Part 3:“Because”— How does the behavior affect you? Examples: “I feel pressured to do something I really can’t do this year,” and “it makes me feel taken advantage of.”
  • Part 4: “I need.” This is the tough part for people like Mary who feel guilty simply letting others (especially family members) know what their needs are. What this really means is giving the other persona clear signal of what you would like them to do differently so they have an opportunity to change.
  • Examples: “I need for the dinner to be rotated among the family; I need for everyone to bring a dish and I’ll cook the ham; I need for my sisters to come early and help with the setup”

Does the formula work all the time?

Of course not, but it works a high percentage of the time and it gives you a much better tool to deal with the situation than using anger – which rarely gets you the results you want.

If it doesn’t work at first, try different variations by using your own words – keep at it because sometimes people don’t immediately respond differently to what you are saying because of your previous established communication patterns with each other.

Also make sure that your tone clearly conveys sincerity, clarity, genuineness, and respect toward the other and his or her opinions.

Is it OK for wives to verbally abuse husbands for not helping more around the house?

In situations like that, women often feel justified in being angry, frustrated and fatigued—and verbally expressing their discontent. But, wives are not justified in verbally abusing their husbands to get them to do more.

Assertive communication

The right way to get your husband to help around the house involves teaching wives a better way to communicate and motivate their husbands. This is one of the most important ways marriage counselors can reduce relationship anger.

Assertive communication involves learning to express what you need or request without anger or rage. Anger and rage usually makes things worse and invites retaliation. In addition, parental anger is very harmful for children to witness.

Husbands need to be reminded…

But, assertive communication and better communication skills are only half the equation. The therapist must also explain to an irresponsible husband that his behavior is severely jeopardizing the marital relationship.

A skilled therapist must change the husband’s attitude by making him more receptive to the idea that in today’s society marriage is a partnership. For their relationship to survive, husband and wife must agree on how they are going to deal with routine home chores and parental responsibilities.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be a 50-50 split; it is the ?agreement and the perception that makes the difference.

The therapist must convince the husband that it is to his advantage (peace at home, better sex, more closeness, etc.) that he and his wife see things as equitable in terms of home chores, even if one still does more of the home chores than the other.

A skilled marital therapist can help balance things out, reducing hard feelings and conflict; improving toxic communication patterns that have become disrupted.

New book for new parents

The challenges that accompany the arrival of a couple’s first child are chronicled in Jaycee Dunn’s recently published How Not To Hate Your Husband After Kids by Jaycee Dunn.

Jaycee is a professional writer who sought therapy for this issue, chronicling her experiences in a humorous book backed by much research. They met with Terry Real, a famous Boston therapist. Terry conducted a weekend intervention that saved their marriage (along with follow up sessions in their local community.) Now, Terry Real is not your typical therapist. Half of the intervention that got her husband to be more responsible was Real’s confronting Jaycee’s husband with the rather blunt statement, “Get off your ass and help her out!

Most therapists would not even dream of being so direct. Yet, strong therapists must educate their patientsand—when necessary–act as catalysts for positive changeby frankly telling couples what needs to be done to turn things around.

Just asking couples “how they feel” as many therapists do during counseling sessions, is not enough. As the famous German poet Goethe said:

Knowing is not enough; we must apply. ?Willing is not enough; we must do.

Having children drastically changes things

Terry’s outburst shocked her husband and jolted him into seeing things from a completely different perspective. Why was this needed?Because things drastically changed in their marriage after they had a child.

As she writes: “When it was just the two of us, my husband and I, both peaceable writers, rarely fought. Then we had a baby.”

She continues: “And even though fathers have stepped up considerably in sharing childcare duties – since the 1960s, nearly tripling the time they spend with their children – mothers still devote about twice as much time to their kids as fathers do.”

She cited the United States Government American Time Use Survey, women reported feeling significantly more fatigued than fathers in all four major life categories: work, household, leisure, and childcare. Furthermore, even when husbands didn’t have jobs, they still did half the amount of housework and childcare that women did.

A survey of US mothers by NBC’s Today program revealed that for nearly half of them, their husbands were a bigger source of stress than their children!

What happens when men help out?

Study after study have shown that when men take on their fair share of household responsibilities, their partners are happier, less prone to depression, disputes are fewer, and divorce rates are lower.

As Janice Dunn puts it: “The day-to-day labor of keeping a household running is a remarkably significant issue for couples.”This was supported by a Pew Research Center survey that revealed that sharing household chores ranked third in importance on a list of nine items associated with successful marriages.

A 2015 study published in the Journal of Family Psychology suggests the frequency and quality of a couple’s sex life goes up when male partners think they do their fair share of the housework. My clinical experience through the years confirms that sex lives also improve when men help out more.

Verbal abuse won’t motivate your husband

Getting back to our very pissed off young mother, Janice Dunn–like many young mothers–was constantly angry and resentful, often calling her husband names that I shouldn’t repeat in a family-oriented blog.

During the other half of the intervention, therapist Terry Real told her: “…the idea that you can haul off and be abusive to your partner and somehow get a pass, that you can’t control it, or whatever you tell yourself to rationalize it, is nuts. Also, your whole “angry victim” role is going to get worse. You are extremely comfortable with your self-righteous indignation.”

He bluntly told her that she needed to take verbal abuse off the table:

You can say, ‘I’m angry.’ But don’t say ‘you’re an asshole.’

Likewise, you don’t yell and scream. You don’t humiliate or demean. They’re off the table. He concluded: “You are verbally abusive.”

He goes on to explain, as I often do to couples dealing with anger in their relationships, verbally abusing your partner to get them to do what you want is a very poor strategy.

Replace verbal abuse with respect

Even if you are furious with them, you need to show respect for each other. Successful couples avoid intimidating, demeaning, lecturing, and criticizing. The negative behaviors build resentment in your partner, then resistance, and—ultimately–push-back.

There is a world of difference between assertively standing up for yourself and aggressively putting your partner down. Here’s a suggestion, starting today, simply use the phrase, “What I’d like you to do now is…..”  Simply tell your partner what it is that you want them to do instead of disrespecting them.

Curb the urge to rocket straight from demand to anger and frustration. Most men do better if they know exactly what to do, if it makes sense to them, (always give them a reason), and if you request help rather than demanding it.

How to Get the Most out of Marriage Counseling

A guide for Orange County couples on the brink of divorce

Many couples come to me after they’ve tried traditional marriage counseling. They’re usually frustrated and depressed. One of the most common things they say is: “We tried marriage counseling and it didn’t work!” 

If you feel this way, you’re not alone. But, as you’ll see, there’s hope at the end of the rainbow.

What’s wrong with marriage counseling?

I don’t think there’s anything particularly “wrong” with marriage counseling. (If I did, I wouldn’t still be offering it to Orange County couples on the brink of separation.)

The problem with traditional marriage counseling isn’t related to the therapy itself, or the way it’s delivered. The problem with marriage counseling involves whenit’s delivered.

All too often, however, both parties aren’t fully committed to their partner and the relationship.

In situations like the one described below, even the most skilled therapist and well-planned program doesn’t stand a chance!

Meet Michael and Suzanne

Michael and Suzanne came to a regular marriage counselor following discovery that Michael had been having an emotional affair at work. Suzanne wanted to work on the marriage but Michael said he was out of love and had absolutely no energy to work on it.

Michael was convinced that he and Suzanne were basically incompatible. Because of this, he said that no feelings were left for her. The relationship had been more about raising the children than paying attention to each other. He felt disconnection, emptiness, and loneliness. Suzanne, for her part, still loved Michael and desperately wanted to try to repair things before filing for divorce. 

In this case, Suzanne was more motivated for marriage counseling because she had at least one very strong reason (among others) to want the marriage to work: she still loved Michael. But, why would he want marriage counseling to improve communication in a marriage that he thought ultimately was doomed because of core incompatibility? From his point of view, this was akin to going through the pain of cancer treatment when the outcome was bleak to begin with. He had to decide if it was worth it or not.

Mixed-agenda couples

Michael and Suzanne were a mixed-agenda couple. They were not committed to divorce, but they weren’t equally committed to working on the marriage either. Many couples are in this category. They often seek marriage counseling with disappointing results.

Research shows that mixed-agenda couples represent a meaningful subset—up to 30%–of couples presenting for therapy. Mixed-agenda couples respond differently to therapeutic interventions than couples who both want to work on the relationship.

Yet, until now, there has been a lack of treatment protocols in standard marriage counseling to work with these couples. As a result, mixed-agenda couples remain at high risk for divorce.

Leaning-in versus Leaning-out

The partner who is highly motivated to work things out is described as “leaning in”. In our example, this would be Suzanne. She was willing to forgive Michael and examine her role in the demise of their marriage.

Michael, however, viewed her as over-controlling, needy, and critical. Suzanne made him feel like a scolded child in his home. This was theoretically fixable!As a leaning-in partner Suzanne was ready to start therapy to stabilize her rocky marriage.

Michael, was the “leaning-out” partner. Like many leaning-out partners, Michael was almost “out the door” emotionally, but was hanging in there basically for the children. On the brink, he wasn’t sure what to do. He was miserable and confused; he saw no hope or possibility for change on the part of Suzanne. He feared that his feelings for Suzanne were gone, especially when compared them to the swelling of feelings stirred up in him when interacting with his peer at work with whom he was having an emotional affair. Simply put, Michael was resistant to therapy.

Leaning Out partners need a reason to want to participate in traditional marriage counseling.But, often they have lost their emotional energy to engage in the process of marriage counseling. They no longer want their partner enough to personally go through the pain of counseling – even though they don’t want to lose their family.

With such low motivation, traditional marriage counseling is doomed to failure, frustrating both the clients and the therapist.

Each partner needs their own reason to participate

For any chance of success, mixed-agenda couples first need a process wherein each partner individually (instead of together which often occur in regular marriage counseling) can be helped to understand their different contributions to the marital dysfunction.

They also need to explore and see more possibilities of ways each might changeto give the marriage hope for survival. They need to try and change their attitudes and perspective of change itself….and the possibilities that might bring.

As a leaning-In partner, Suzanne’s motivation to participate in successful marriage counseling would obviously be to save her marriage which she still values. She still loves her husband and has a lot of hope that things can turn around.

Michael, on the other hand, as the leaning-out partner would need a lot of work to be convinced that there are reasons for him to put forth effort to save his marriage. This would be done individually and would involve helping him see the potential for change. He would be asked to consider his role or contribution to the emotional distancing that had developed between him and Suzanne over the years.  

Michael would need to explore ways he could change those things and see that it may be possible to do so. He would also need to explore what he may have overlooked through the years in terms of ways that he and Suzanne might develop more common interests instead of just focusing on incompatibilities.

Discernment counseling before marriage counseling

Recently, after years of research, Dr. William Doherty, at the University of Minnesota, has developed a process called Discernment Counseling.

Discernment Counseling is a highly-focused, short-term (1 to 5 session) protocol that paves the way for successful marriage therapy.

Its goal is to help both partners decide with increased clarifyand confidencewhat direction they, as a couple, should take. It also increases each partner’s understandingof their own role or contribution to the state of their marriage.

Once these issues have been dealt with, it is easier for couples on the verge of breakup to decide which path they should take regarding the future of their marriage: intense marriage counseling is just one of the paths.

Three paths mixed-agenda couples can take

Discernment Counseling helps couples make better decisions in less time, with fewer angry sessions. There are three possible outcomes to Discernment Counseling:

  • Path 1 – Keep things as they are.Few couples who come to counseling take this path. Some, however, see it as a temporary solution until they are able to “get their ducks” in a row. They declare a truce until the kids graduate from high school, home price values increase, or a job promotion comes through, etc. Research shows that the average person filing for divorce waits 3 years after their decision before actually doing so.
  • Path 2 – Divorce or Separate: About 40 percent of couples who start discernment counseling ultimately choose this path. This path is not seen as a failure, as long as they both have increased clarity and confidence in their decision. They now have a better understanding as to what went wrong in terms of each partner’s contribution.
  • Path 3 – Commit to a period of time (usually 6 months) of intensive marital counseling and/or other work (like anger management training or parenting classes) with DIVORCE OFF THE TABLE. Going down this path, the couple could receive traditional marriage therapy. But now therapy would seem to have a much better chance of succeeding. Therapy can be done by the discernment counselor or by another marital therapist familiar with the process.

What to do if one spouse doesn’t want to have sex

When a Spouse Doesn’t Want to Have Sex

It has been two months since Janet and Mark have had sex. They’re hardly speaking to each other. If you asked Janet about this, she would say that their home has become a battle zone-they fight about every little thing. Janet goes out of her way to avoid Mark to protect herself from his wrath.

Mark tells a different story. His anger, he believes, is justified. He is fed up with Janet’s lack of interest in their sexual relationship. “She never initiates sex. She recoils when I try to kiss or hug her. I’m tired of being rejected.” To cope with his unhappiness, Mark spends longer hours at work and busies himself on his computer at night, deepening the chasm between them.

Both Mark and Janet think that the other one is to blame for the problems between them. They have hit an impasse. The result: A sex-starved marriage. And sex-starved marriages are surprisingly common. In fact, in about one in three marriages, one spouse has a considerably larger sexual appetite than the other. This in and of itself is not a problem-it’s how couples handle their difference that matters.

Here’s what you need to know to fix a sex-starved marriage and make you both happier…

Yearning for Contact

In a sex-starved marriage, one partner is longing for more touch-both sexual and nonsexual-and the other spouse isn’t interested and doesn’t understand why such a fuss is being made about sex.

The less interested spouse thinks, Is this just about having an orgasm? That’s not such a big deal. But the spouse yearning for more physical contact sees it differently. Being close physically is more than a physical release-it’s about feeling wanted and connected emotionally.

When a misunderstanding of this magnitude happens and the less interested spouse continues to avoid sex, marriages start to unravel. Couples stop spending time together. They quit putting effort into the relationship.

They become more like two distant roommates. Intimacy on all levels ends, which puts the marriage at risk for infidelity or divorce.

Typically, the spouse with the smaller sexual appetite controls the frequency of sex. If she/he (contrary to popular belief, men also can have low sexual desire) doesn’t want it, it generally doesn’t happen.

This is not due to a desire to control the relationship-it just seems unthinkable to be sexual if one is not in the mood.
Furthermore, the lower-desire spouse has the expectation that the higher-desire spouse must accept the no-sex verdict and remain monogamous. The higher-desire spouse feels rejected, resentful and miserable.

How do two people with differing sexual appetites begin to bridge the desire gap? Regardless of where you stand on the sexual-desire spectrum, it’s important to keep in mind that loving marriages are built on mutual care-taking. Don’t wait for your spouse to change first. Be the catalyst for change in your marriage. Here’s how…

If You Are the Lower-Desire Spouse

Just do it-and you may be surprised.Over the years, countless clients in my counseling practice have said, “I wasn’t in the mood to have sex when my spouse approached me, but once we got going, it felt really good. I had an orgasm, and my spouse’s mood really improved afterward.”

Why would that be? For many people, the human sexual response cycle consists of four stages that occur in a certain order-desire (out of the blue, you have a sexy thought)…arousal (you and your partner touch, and your body becomes aroused)…orgasm…and resolution (your body returns to its normal resting state).

But for millions of people, stages one and two actually are reversed. In other words, desire doesn’t come until after arousal. These people must feel turned on physically before they realize that they actually desire sex. Therefore, being receptive to your partner’s advances even from a neutral starting place-when you do not feel desire-makes sense because chances are that sex will be enjoyable for both of you.

Give a “gift.”Let’s face it; there are times when people-even people with the typical desire/arousal pattern-simply don’t feel like having sex. It’s perfectly acceptable to decline your partner’s offer from time to time. But when “no” substantially outweighs “yes,” you are creating deep feelings of frustration and rejection-guaranteed.

What’s the solution to an “I’m not really in the mood for sex” moment? Give a gift-a sexual gift-or to be more blunt about it, pleasure your spouse to orgasm if that’s what he/she wants, even if you’re not in the mood for the same. This is an act of love and caring and completely appropriate within a marriage.
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If You Are the Higher-Desire Spouse

Speak from your heart.If you’re feeling frustrated that your spouse hasn’t understood your need to be close physically, chances are you’ve been irritable and angry. Anger is not an aphrodisiac-it pushes your spouse further away. Press your mental-reset button, and approach your spouse differently. Speak from your heart-express your vulnerability (yes, you are vulnerable, no matter how “tough” you are!) and your hurt.

Example: Instead of saying, “I’m angry that we haven’t had sex in so long,” it’s better to say, “When we don’t have sex for this long, I miss being close to you. I feel disconnected. It hurts my feelings that you don’t seem interested in me sexually.”

Rather than complain, ask for what you want.Complaining, even when it’s justified, leads to defensiveness. Instead, ask for what you want in a positive way.

Example: Instead of saying, “You never initiate sex,” say, “I’d really love it if once in a while, you threw your arms around me and said, ‘Do you want to make love?’ That would make me feel great.”

Figure out what turns your spouse on.If buying sex toys or downloading X-rated videos has failed to entice your spouse to nurture your sexual relationship, there’s probably a reason. Your spouse might need to feel courted by you first.

You might be married to someone who feels more connected to you when you have meaningful conversations…spend enjoyable, uninterrupted time together other than having sex…are more affirming and complimentary…or when you participate in family activities together. This is how your partner feels loved-and the truth is, there are many people who want sexual intimacy only when they feel loved first.

If you’re uncertain about your spouse’s way of feeling cherished by you, ask. Say, “What can I do to make you feel loved?” Believe it or not, meeting your partner’s needs, though different from your own, may be a turn-on for him/her.

Try it.

Source:Michele Weiner-Davis, LCSW, is founder of The Divorce Busting Center in Boulder, Colorado. She is the best-selling author of eight books including Healing from InfidelityThe Sex-Starved Marriageand Divorce BustingDivorceBusting.com
Publication:Bottom Line Personal

Couples in crisis: How couple therapy mitigates stubborn psychological defenses

Guest article by Dr James Tolbin. Edited slightly and reproduced with permission.

Why does a couple typically seek therapy?

Research indicates that by the time a couple seeks couple therapy and arranges an appointment, the partners have been at war for multiple years on a range of seemingly unresolvable issues.

Often a recent event is characterized as a “crisis” that sent the couple over the edge, finally leading them to pursue therapy. But the couple typically has been in crisis for so long that both partners have grown weary from, and almost immune to, the ongoing conflict and persistent tension between them.

What does the average couple expect will happen in therapy?

For most couples who finally begin therapy, they often anticipate that the therapist will be a kind of mediator and/or judge who will assess the problems at hand and the strengths and weaknesses of each partner. And then, from his or her expert vantage point, the therapist will articulate a solution that involves a critique of what the partners are doing incorrectly in their relationship and what they need to do to “be better.”

In my view, this approach to helping a couple rarely, if ever, works.

This is so because, underlying the expressed problems the couple faces, is a firmly organized set of psychological defenses  each partner has developed to cope with the issues of the relationship.

What is a better way to conceptualize marital troubles?

A physical metaphor for how defensive processes in couples work is the way the human back responds to the trauma of a car accident, for example. Impacted by the force of the collision, the general alignment and expansive musculature of the spinal cord shift and lock into a new position designed to protect the vertebrae, tendons, and ligaments that were stressed or damaged in the accident. The shifting and locking into place of the spinal cord and its musculature is a defensive process that protects underlying anatomical structures from further injury.

And it is usually the case, medically speaking, that what the body does to protect itself from further injury results in symptomatic pain, chronic inflammation, and reduced flexibility which, taken together over time, actually prevent healing! Autoimmune diseases provide another example of how the body may inadvertently hurt itself in an effort to protect itself.

The defensive processes that have evolved in a relationship work in a similar fashion.

A husband, for example, who has been hurt by his wife’s ongoing ambivalence about having a child, may unconsciously respond to this injury through the protective strategy of, say, over-working, i.e., becoming overly ambitious or taking on too much responsibility in his professional life.

This defense, in turn, gradually becomes injurious to his wife; she responds to her hurt by becoming self-destructive in some way, an idiosyncratic defensive style that she unintentionally and unconsciously employs to find relief and buffer her from further anticipated disappointments with her husband.

And, as you might imagine, her self-destruction further intensifies her husband’s need to protect himself, thus reinforcing his prioritizing of his workOn and one these insidious, mutually reinforcing dynamics evolve, tangling the partners in a web of toxic psychological tendencies that only strengthen their grip as the couple struggles against them.

What is needed for positive change to occur?

For positive change to even become a possibility for this couple, the defensive processes employed by each partner must be identified and reduced or entirely supplanted. The couple therapist functions not as a mediator or judge but more like a chiropractor, strategically intervening to unlock each partner from his or her chosen defensive style.

As this begins to occur, each partner can think and feel in ways that are more flexible and less oriented solely toward protection. Once partners feel less vulnerable, less gripped by the need and compulsion to defend, there is real potential for the achievement of enhanced levels of communication, mutual respect and understanding, and new pathways for attaining the kind of love each partner desires.

Download a FREE Worksheet PDF file called “Areas of Change” that will help you develop the techniques discussed in this article.

James Tobin, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist based in Newport Beach, CA.

ANGRY AT YOUR PARTNER? Think Again!

Literally, think again. And then think about what you are thinking about- especially around anger issues.

As famous psychologist William James said over 100 years ago:

“Man can alter his life by altering his thinking.”

The case of Sally and Jim

Sally and Jim sat in my office glaring at each other. Sally told a story around an angry conflict they had had eariler in the week.

I found Sally to be quite humorous and entertaining. But Jim had an entirely different perception. Getting more and more agitated and angry as he listened to his wife, he looked at me and said “see what I mean, doc? Isn’t she irritating?

“I don’t find her irritating,” I replied. I then went on to explain that “irritation” (or most other traits or ways of relating) isn’t as much in the partner as in your perception of it- or how you think about it- or the general attitude you have toward your partner to begin with.

In other words,your mental set or mental framework you have toward your partner influences how you interpret what they do or how they are.

Negative and positive sentiment override

There is much marital research at the Gottman institute to back this up. There, researchers discovered something called “negative sentiment override” vs positive sentiment override.”

In Gottman’s theory, when negative sentiment override (NSO) is present, there is a discrepancy between the perceptions of the receiver and the sender of an interaction.  Just like Jim, we can distort and see a communication through a negative lens, even when their partner did not intend it to be negative.  In fact, objective observers may not perceive the interaction to be negative, at all. (just as I didn’t see Sally as irritating, like Jim did).

 It is in the “eyes of the beholder” so to speak, that he or she are on the receiving end of something negative. By contrast, In positive sentiment override (PSO), negative interactions are not seen as particularly negative, or at least they are not taken personally.  When there is PSO between a couple, the partners give each other the benefit of the doubt.

Even if one partner IS conveying negativity in content or tone, the other does not personalize, react to, match, or “store away for a rainy day” their partner’s bad mood, negativity, etc.

Getting from negative to more positive sentiment overide: Two Steps

Sounds good, but how does a couple shift from negative to positive sentiment override? Try these two steps as a startup strategy:

Step 1- Try to become friends again by doing things you enjoy together -like when you were dating. I know there are any obstacles to this: children, Covid-19 pandemic, money ,etc but try a little harder to re-connect.
See the attached worksheet to give you some more ideas.

Step 2- Consciously alter you thought patterns about your partner by looking at what you are telling yourself about what they do that makes you angry or upset toward then.

Here are some “self-talk” thoughts I teach people in my anger management classes to teach themselves to be less angry at whatever their partner does. These changes in thought patterns have helped many hundreds of partners be less angry toward their partner- even if their partners doesn’t change their behavior.

Change Angry Thoughts to 4 Corrective Thoughts

Angry Thought #1- My partner should think like I do. If they don’t, its my duty to work on them until they do think like me- or at least admit they are wrong.

Corrective thought #1: My partner and I don’t have to think alike: to get along we just have to be tolerant of how the other one thinks.

Angry Thought #2-My partner does things I consider stupid or wrong. Because they are stupid or wrong, they shouldn’t do these things.

Corrective thought #2: Within limits, they have a right to do what they want to- but I also have a right not to want to live with a person who does those things and I will communicate that to them calmly.

Angry Thought #3- I know I am right about the issue we often fight about.

Corrective thought #3: I am not 100% right nor are they 100% wrong on any matter of dispute. Fact is, usually “the truth” is in the middle. In marriage, there is more than one “truth” so it is possible you are both “right” but you are each looking at the conflict or issue from a different point of view.

Angry Thought #4– Things should go my way- because I deserve it and because I want it that way.

Corrective thought #4: I am not the center of the universe, or even the center of our relationship. It is irrational to think that things MUST go my way- even though I would like them to. Rather than getting angry, I need to work on my skill of accepting what is instead of what I self-centeredly want it to be. I also need to practice thinking in terms of “we” instead of “me.”

Downloads

Download a FREE PDF file called “Sharing Things as a Couple Worksheet” that will help you develop the techniques discussed in this article.

Successful Marriage: Love ain’t enough says Dr Tony Fiore

What are these “thirds” that are destructive to a relationship?
A destructive third can be anything that prevents a couple from having a close bond, having each other’s back and prioritizing their relationship. Thirds can create havoc in a marriage, yet the problem is not strictly a marriage problem per se. The real problem is inability of a couple to successfully deal with an outside stress threatening the marriage.

Common thirds that I see in Couples Counseling in Orange County are:

  • Anger or poor impulse control
  • Parenting or Children Stress
  • Substance Abuse (including excessive drinking) by one partner

Anger or Poor Impulse Control

Contrary to popular opinion, marriage is NOT a place where you should always feel that you should be able to “be yourself.” Unbridled Self-expression is about getting things off your chest, without considering how your partner will react. This is not a good thing to do if you want a secure, loving relationship with your partner.

In fact, in one study in the United Kingdom, one in five of people (20%) say that they have ended a relationship or friendship with someone because of how they behaved when they were angry.

The main problem with too much anger is that hostility begets more hostility, once a couple starts to fight. According to famed researcher Dr John Gottman, 65% of men increase negativity during an argument. You push many people and they will fight back which does no one any good.

You poke the bear too many times or with enough intensity, you get consequences.

You do NOT need to say everything that’s on your mind when you are mad–at least not now. If you must get it out, wait for a better time after you both calm down.

Even If you apologize later, the damage is done. It erodes trust between you. It invites retaliation. It encourages withdrawal on the part of your partner sometimes physically, sometimes emotionally. It says you care more about your own selfish needs of self-expression instead of preservation of your relationship.

Parenting or Children Stress

Believe it or not, studies of marital happiness show that the time of least happiness for many couples is right after the birth of that little bundle of joy.

Successful couples find a way to still prioritize the relationship itself while unsuccessful couples often kind of forget about the relationship as they devote all their time, energy and resources to raising the kids.

Forward 20 years and they look across the kitchen table one morning at a stranger they used to be madly in love with and wonder what happened.

Things get even more complicated in today’s modern world of co-parenting and blended marriages. It takes much maturity, sound judgement, and balancing ability to be a good and responsible parent, yet make your partner feel that they are number one on your list!

Substance Abuse by One Or Both Partners

In most cases, I will not even attempt marriage therapy or counseling if there is a real issue of substance abuse including alcohol abuse (I do tolerate some instances of medical marijuana use, If done in moderation, the partner is accepting of it, they have a medical card, and they do not use where children can be exposed).

What to do about the situation depends on how much you can tolerate and the degree that his or her substance use affects your relationship.
Worse case scenario–it can completely destroy it. Most spouses do not want to live with someone who abuses alcohol regularly, to the embarrassment or detriment of either. In many relationships, excessive alcohol and refusal to get help is a deal breaker–and it should be. ?

Best case scenario–adjust your expectations and put it in perspective. For example, maybe most of the time your partner is fine and only occasionally abuses alcohol–and then is a sloppy drunk, but not a mean one. Put in perspective, maybe you can learn to live with it if appropriate boundaries are established and followed (e.g., two drink limit)

If you are on the fence as to discerning what you should do about a substance-abusing partner in your particular case, consult a professional who can help you sort things out.

Can I Fall Back in Love After The Thrill is Gone?

Having been a therapist for over thirty years, I am always pleased to find new ways of helping couples. A few years ago, I discovered a treatment approach by Willard Harley that’s short term and practical. Combined with other techniques that I use, this approach has proven effective. Furthermore, it offers hope to relationships that seem hopeless. I’ve had several successful cases where one member had fallen out of love, ready to leave the relationship. If you’re interested, read on.

We really do keep score: the Love Bank

In relationships, we really do keep score. The way that we “keep score” is not necessarily a conscious one. Our mind automatically keeps an account of how well our partner is meeting our emotional needs. Our partner has a Love Bank of us too. The way it works is simple.

  • When we act in a way to please our spouse, we gain points in their Love Bank. When we act in a way to displease them, we lose points.
  • Most of us are not aware of our partners needs let alone our own. We frequently give to our mate what we need but often miss the mark in meeting their needs by not giving them what they want.
  • There are two ways to increase Love Bank scores:
    • Increase behaviors which meet our spouses important emotional needs.
    • Stop behaviors that make our partner unhappy.
  • The latter is called Love Busters.
    • When we have accumulated a plethora of points, we fall in love.
    • When there are less points coming in than are going out; when we are bankrupt or overdrawn, then we fall out of love.

Love Busters

?Love Busters are the things that we do to negatively affect our partner. We lose points in their Love Bank when we exhibit these behaviors. The most common Love Busters include the following:

  • Angry outbursts
  • Criticalness
  • Dishonesty
  • Annoying Behavior
  • Selfish Demands
  • Other “bad behaviour”

I have often found that stopping bad behavior (Love Busters) is often as important as starting good behavior (meeting our spouses Emotional Needs). ??

Emotional Needs

?We all have emotional needs. Furthermore, we have expectations from our partner to meet these needs. Men and Women generally have different emotional needs. Duh! The most common emotional needs for men are:

  • Sexual Fulfillment
  • Attractive Spouse
  • Admiration
  • Domestic Support
  • Recreational Companionship

The most common emotional needs for women are:

  • Affection
  • Conversation
  • Openness and Honesty
  • Family Commitment
  • Financial Support

How We Fall In and Out of Love. When we meet someone who makes a favorable impression on us, they will earn points in our Love Bank. For example: Bob is attracted to Jan. She gets 200 points in his love bank just for being pretty. He asks her out. She says yes. She gains another 100 points. They have a good date. She gains another 100 points. After the date she kisses him. It is a very passionate kiss. She gains another 150 points. You get the idea.

Now, what goes up can also go down. Let’s assume that they have been dating for a month and Jan cancels a date with Bob at the last moment. She loses 50 points but already has a score of 1000 so the reserves cover the loss and the relationship is good. If she was to continue to meet Bob’s emotional needs in a meaningful way, then she will have earned a high Love Bank score with Bob and he will fall in love if the score is high enough.

Now, let’s assume that Jan and Bob keep doing a wonderful job in meeting each others needs. They have romantic candle light dinners, great sex and good conversations. Basically, they don’t want to be out of sight of each other. They are crazy about each other. Their Love Bank scores are high and they get married.

Now, let’s suppose that they have been married for several years and have three children. Bob has a new job that requires him to work late so he is not as physically and emotionally available. The children are demanding more of Jan’s attention. She is frequently too tired to have sex and is not as emotionally available to Bob’s needs. Over a period of time, the couple’s emotional needs may not be getting met.

Furthermore, there may be bad habits that may be stealing points from their Love Banks. If their scores drop too low score (in the red, over drawn) they will fall out of love. Bob may all of her emotional needs into her children. These patterns may lead to an affair or a divorce.

So, How Do We Get Back in Love??

First off, many romantics do not think that it is possible to recapture love. Love is like an illusive butterfly. Once it is gone, it is gone and you can’t get it back. Of course, I do not agree with them. If you think of the Love Bank Concept, Just as it is possible to fall out of love, it is possible to fall back in love. Falling in love is achieved by getting a high enough Love Bank Score so that your partner falls in love with you. Gaining points by meeting the partner’s emotional needs can do this. Stop losing points by changing the Love Buster behavior (angry outbursts, dishonesty, etc.)?

Treatment

?Couple’s are made aware of their partners emotional needs. After learning about each other’s needs in detail, they discuss ways to meet these needs. With the help of the therapist, strategies are developed for each partner to meet the other’s needs. Progress is discussed weekly in treatment and revisions are made as needed. This approach used with communication skill building has proven effective.


Rockman Family Counseling Inc
4701 Von Karman, suite 328 Newport Beach, Ca 92660
(949) 230-9602
steverockman@sbcglobal.net
rockmanthx.com

Anger and couple finances: How to avoid financial infidelity

The most valuable thing in a long-term stable relationship is having a partnership, and most new couples don’t realize that money is a major factor in marital happiness. Money is one of the biggest generators of problems, arguments, and resentment in long-term relationships. Couples argue about spending, saving budgeting, and disparity in earnings. When couples have difficulty with money, it can lead to financial infidelity: out-of-control spending, lying and hiding finances; which can destroy the relationship. Overcoming money problems together and working as a team will strengthen the bond between you, and help you create a healthy, lasting partnership.

Money doesn’t have to be a wedge between you and your partner. It can be a great tool for learning more about one another and using money matters as a discussion point can help your relationship grow and thrive. Money can create misery or happiness, depending on how you manage it. Making long-term plans, helping reach goals and improving your quality of life are just some of the things you will be able to accomplish if you work together.

How Men and Women’s Innate Differences Influence Finances

Women’s and men’s brains, and therefore language processing and reasoning, are organized differently. Cultural anthropologists theorize that it’s because of the different survival skills they needed to learn. Research shows that women tend to be good at multitasking, cooperation and relationship-building and less focused on reaching a specific goal. Men are more goal oriented, and less complex thinkers.

When it comes to money, these differences show themselves in financial behavior. When men get into financial trouble, it is often through gambling (cards, stock market, fantasy football) or spending on drugs, porn or male toys like automobiles. Women tend to overspend on fashion, household items or on the kids. Women’s drugs problems often begin with prescription medication. Both genders can get into trouble trying to help family members or children who are out of control. The following guidelines can help couples bridge their money gap.

Money Talks

Money talks need to be a part of scheduling weekly meetings – not just for money, but also for catching up with one another. Bills, social planning, long-term goals and working on your relationship are just some of the issues you’ll discuss. Just sitting down once a week to talk about what happened and bringing the checking account up to date can be a good management tool, a time to talk about long-term plans such as purchasing a house or paying off college debt. Use the time not only to take stock of your finances, but of your relationship, too. Ask each other what is going well and what needs improvement.

If you do it with the right attitude, this weekly meeting will be something that you look forward to, not an ordeal that you dread. As you talk about positive solutions and setting out long-term goals, many financial and other problems will be solved as they arise, and before they become difficult. If you endeavor to share the time and energy in a mutually beneficial way, it can become a social occasion. Make it a pleasant occasion go out to dinner together or wait until the children are asleep or have a late breakfast on a Saturday morning, and use the following guidelines to help you.

Author Bio:Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D.(www.tinatessina.com) is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California since 1978 with over 35 years’ experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 14 books in 17 languages.

Men: How to disarm an angry wife

According to famed therapist Terry Real, the short answer is:

“To disarm an angry woman, give her what she needs.”

To illustrate this point, let me introduce to 55 year-old Jerry who came to see me because his very angry (Linda) gave him the ultimatum of seeing a therapist or a divorce lawyer. (He had to think about this for awhile, but decided a therapist was the lessor of the evils)

The Case Of Jerry
Jerry, a successful real estate developer, wasn’t a bad guy – he just didn’t have a clue as to why his wife of 10 years was always angry at him. If she wasn’t yelling, (even raging), or criticizing, she talked to him with absolute contempt. This, despite the fact that he was an excellent provider, he was a great father to their children, and he was well thought of in their social circles and their community. He did not drink excessively and he was not unfaithful to her.

He felt he could do nothing right in her eyes – but honestly couldn’t see anything he was doing wrong either. Again, her constant anger and dissatisfaction mystified him.

At first, he became defensive to ward off her attacks and protect himself. Jerry often argued with her by offering all kinds of logical reasons why he did what he did that upset her, trying to convince her that she was mistaken, that she was wrong, that she was exaggerating, or worse, that she was crazy.

Her response? More angry. In fact, now the anger included not only the original complaints, but the fact that he was so emotionally unaware that he didn’t understand at all what she was really upset about.

Jerry tried to stay out of trouble
To stay out of trouble, he started avoiding his wife more and more both physically (including sexually) and emotionally. After all, he reasoned, why stand in the path of gunfire when someone is shooting at you?

Like many beleaguered husbands, he mistakenly attributed his wife’s mood swings and anger to menopause or other medical explanations for her behavior.

When he mentioned this to her, again her level of anger increased because she saw it as a way to disavow his contribution to what she saw as her justifiable anger toward him.

Underneath, Linda saw herself as being emotionally victimized by her husband. Consequently, she felt justified in her anger and justified in her need to protect herself by attacking him.

Jerry saw himself as a good husband
Jerry, for his part, certainly didn’t see himself as victimizing his wife in any way. His motive was to please her, so he would have a peaceful life, but he just didn’t have the skills needed to deal with Linda and her emotional needs.

He grew up in a home and at a time period in our history where no one taught him how to deal with the emotional needs and raised expectations of modern women who demand much more out of their relationships than did many women of an older generation.

So, what are these skills exactly, that Jerry and thousands of other men in our society need to learn and acquire to disarm an angry wife?

(Note – I had to learn them too. The rules have just changed over the years.)

Are you ready for the shocking answer?

3 disarming skills to use on a daily basis

Skill #1: Learn better “Empathy. “ To do this, start actually listening more to her. Seriously, listen more to your wife- not only the facts and information she talks about, but how she feels about what she is telling you- and the underlying meaning to what she is saying.

Remember, “hearing” your wife is not the same thing as “listening” to her. Developing better empathy skills requires getting out of yourself and practice seeing the world as your wife does, even if you don’t agree with her. Then acknowledge to her that you understand how she sees the issue.

Skill #2: Find ways to emotionally connect on a daily basis, even if it is only for a few minutes. Think of your marriage as a plant sitting out on your back patio. To survive, both must have daily watering and sunshine. Respond to her “bids for affection.”(ways she is trying to connect with you) Ignoring or blowing off such bids is not a good idea.

Skill #3: Show More emotional vulnerability. Don’t double down on issues of disagreement. For many women, male vulnerability is the pathway to her feeling close to you.

Enlightened men who trust their partner enough to show vulnerability are able to drop their defensiveness, to share feelings with their wife, and be brave enough to risk allowing your wife to see you for who you really are.

Downloads

Download a FREE PDF file called “The Active Listening Worksheet” that will help you develop listening techniques discussed in this article.

Audio version

Click here to listen to an audio version of this post.

Controlled separation – How to give your troubled marriage oxygen without divorce

Many couples in a troubled marriage or relationship don’t really want to get a divorce, and they don’t want to go through marriage counseling right now (or they tried it and it didn’t help), so what are they to do?

The answer is an option that many couples find appealing – something called a “Controlled Separation,”- a concept explained in a 20 year old book titled “Should I Stay or Should I go?”

Controlled separation is a path to take that allows you to time to breathe and give the relationship emotional space so that you can can better make a wise decision with more confidence about the future of your marriage.

In fact, research shows that in a Minnesota sampling of couples that applied for a process called “Discernment Counseling,” 12% of the couples chose this path versus getting a divorce or starting marriage counseling.

It is not a path that most couples take when their marriage is in trouble, but it is an option for certain couples – and may be the best option for you. But for it to work, the separation must have a structure to it. Its purpose is to constructively break the marital impasse and allow for a sane decision whether to stay or go.

What structure is needed, you may ask?

There are 12 items that must be negotiated either by the couple themselves or with the help of a discernment counselor. Many couples prefer an actual written agreement containing this structure, and laying out things like how long the separation will last, how money will be divided during the separation period, how to deal with your children, etc.


Featured photo by engin akyurton Unsplash

Orange County marriage counselor asks: Is your marriage worth saving?

The Story of Mary and Bill

Mary and Bill were a nice couple empty nesters. Married 20 years, hey had built a nice life together. Their mortgage was low, their children were in college and doing well, most of the time they got along with each other fairly well. But one day Mary told Bill she thought maybe they should get a divorce. This rocked Bill’s world as he had no idea that she had still been planning this. Sure, she mentioned it several years ago, but then things had actually improved, so Bill figured the storm had passed.

For Bill, the marriage wasn’t perfect, but then he had lower expectations. Most of his unhappiness was in reaction to her unhappiness. He was happy to keep things as they were even though they had little in common anymore. Mary complained that she was emotionally lonely in the marriage, that Bill didn’t communicate with her, that he drank too much, and that he rarely paid attention to her anymore. She suspected he was having at least an emotional affair with a co-worker, though Bill denied this, pleading that they were just close friends.

Should this couple divorce? A look at some facts!

When a marriage is on the brink of divorce, commonly one person wants out more than the other. If couples divorce, seventy percent of the time it is the wife who initiates it. We call this a “mixed-agenda” couple because their interests are not aligned if one wants out more than the other. The “leaning-out” partner, like Mary, is convinced that there is little hope for the marriage, that they don’t want to live the rest of their lives in an unhappy and unfulfilling marriage. Who can blame her?

The “leaning-in” partner, on the other hand, like Bill sees things differently. Often they are desperate to save the marriage and are motivated to do almost anything. Yet, all the thing they are doing often makes things worse.

It is the leaning-out partner who calls most of the shots; in most states, a divorce cannot be prevented if one partner wants it.

To make a decision about divorce, both the leaning-out and leaning-in partners should consider the following statistics:

  • Many unhappy marriages recover. In one study, 94% of married individuals – both men and women- who said that their marriage at some point was in trouble also said that they were glad they were still together.
  • According to marital researcher Dr Bill Doherty, there is good evidence to suggest that with the proper help and willingness on the part of both spouses, many marriages that might otherwise end in divorce can become healthy, vibrant and supportive.
  • For marriages to become happy again, it requires that couples courageously confront their problems, learn specific relationship skills, and commit to staying together for at least a period of time.
  • Studies show that, for the most part, those who divorced and even those who divorced and remarried were not happier and better off psychologically than those who remained married.

Source for some of material: Should I Try to Work It Out?Kindle Edition by Alan Hawkins, Tamara Fackrell, Steven Harris.

Most marriages end with a whimper-not a bang!

Most marriages do not end because of high conflict. Most end because of loss of emotional connection with each other. That is, the majority end with a whimper, not a bang. They end like icebergs break up….a tiny fissure that keeps getting bigger and bigger until the two iceberg halves just drift apart one day. Many times, partners later regret divorcing from this type of marriage.?

Should you judge your marriage with a snapshot or a movie camera?

A marriage relationship has developmental stages, just as children go through various stages of growth. Much marital discontent can be seen as “growth pains” as the marriage goes from one stage to another. All kinds of things change as the marriage matures: individual needs, demands on your time, occupational stresses, financial status, parenting responsibilities, partner health status, balance between emotionally merging with your partner yet maintaining your autonomy as a person, degree of empathy you have for each other, life dreams and goals.

Happiness or satisfaction in a marriage waxes and wanes throughout the marriage. It goes in cycles. Just because you take a snapshot of it today and see unhappiness, it doesn’t mean things will necessarily stay that way. Yes, things could get worse; but they also could improve considerably.

Many elderly couples say that even though they had many crises, they are glad they stuck it out because in the “movie camera” view of their marriage, things weren’t that bad and many issues were fixable that seemed hopeless at the time.

Five things each couple should consider before pulling the plug

The decision to divorce or not is often in the hands of the “leaning-out” partner.

Each case is different, so it is wise to seek professional help in sorting through the many issues involved in your particular case. Here are some things to consider:

  • High conflict or not. Some marriages end with a bang. We call these high-conflict marriages. Statistics show that unlike other kinds of marriages, high-conflict couples are happier over time if they divorce. No one should remain in an abusive relationship; most healthy people consider continual emotional or physical abuse as non-negotiable deal-breakers as to the continuance of the relationship! And studies show that children generally are better off if high-conflict parents divorce than if they stay together and continue fighting.
  • Hard vs soft reasons for divorce. Hard reasons include chronic substance abuse, domestic violence, infidelity, child abuse, or chronic financial irresponsibility. Soft reasons, such as described by Bill and Mary above, include “falling out of love,” “having nothing in common,” and “spending too much time with same-sex friends.” Hard reasons usually justify a divorce; soft reasons can frequently be changed so that divorce can be prevented.
  • Potential for change. What is the potential for change in either you or your partner? Some people can and do change; others don’t and have no intention to. Many people fail at marriage not because they are intrinsically bad people or bad marriage partners; it is because they have never learned the skills needed for relationship success. If you or your partner are motivated to learn better skills, the marriage may have a chance. Even if there is infidelity, 50% of marriages now survive – some are even better than they were before the affair!
  • How do you see your life improving with the divorce? Even though the grass may look greener on the other side of the fence, remember that the roots of the grass may be covered with manure. Are you miserable because of your marriage or because of you as a person? Remember, no matter where you go, there you are with yourself. Divorce may or may not make you a happier person, it may or may not improve your life.
  • Level of commitment for each of you to work on the marriage. Commitment to making a troubled marriage work makes all the difference in the world. Commitment means being willing to do whatever it takes for a period of time (maybe six months) to turn things around. Even if you do it mostly for your children, the important thing is to do it. This might include things like anger management training, getting sober in a rehab program, or devoting more time to the family or relationship.

Angry at narcissistic husband? How to cope short of divorce!

Anger and partner narcissism: Betty and Jason

Betty and Jason had been married for 5 years and were now being seen in couples therapy because of almost constant conflict. Jason saw the problem as “Betty’s anger” which he couldn’t cope with and caused him to completely emotionally shut down. He constantly threatened divorce lamenting that he wished he had married a “sweet” girl. Betty said her anger was only because of him; she had many friends and no history of anger problems in any other relationship or areas of her life. But, she indeed was enraged with her husband who constantly berated and criticized her, tried to lower her self-esteem, could not satisfy her most basic needs as a woman, and constantly manipulated her by giving her hope for change and then completely reversing himself the next day. She called it “crazy-making.”

What is a narcissist?

Simply put, a narcissist(75% are male) is usually self-absorbed and preoccupied with a need to achieve the perfect image and have little or no capacity for listening, caring or understanding the needs of others. That is, they lack empathy. Wives of narcissists complain that their husbands are emotionally unavailable leaving them feeling lonely and deprived. Therapists who treat them see them as having variations of the narcissistic trait: they may be bullies; they may be show-offs; they may be an addictive self-soother (into alcohol, drugs, internet porn); they may present themselves as “the entitled one.” They are often easily offended by even mild “push-back” from their partners. Often, they are extremely defensive and spend an inordinate amount of energy just protecting their fragile ego.

How does narcissistic behavior affect their partner?

As they say, it takes two to tango. Almost no one can push people’s buttons like the narcissist can. No place is this more true than in the interaction of a narcissist and their partner. Narcissists have an uncanny ability to activate certain “schemas” or belief systems in your brain which you may be unaware of but still greatly influence you and how you react. For instance, you may have a schema of abandonment because of early issues with attachment (or lack thereof) with your primary caretaker as a child. Because you are so fearful of being rejected or alone, you will put up with the limitations and tormenting behaviors of your narcissist.

There are many other such schemas that may be “hard-wired” into your thinking. See “resources” at the end of this blog to learn more and gain understanding into why you may find yourself locked into a dysfunctional and maybe destructive relationship with narcissist even though you realize it is toxic.

Should you fight for your relationship with a narcissist or throw in the towel?

There are certain circumstances where an intimate relationship with a narcissist isn’t worth fighting for, especially if they are a threat to your (or your children’s) security, safety and stability. This is an issue of “discernment” –please see latest blog for discernment guidelines to help you gain clarity regarding the future of your marriage with a narcissistic partner. Or, see a discernment therapist in your local area.

How to deal with your narcissist if you decide to tough it out:

  • Your main weapon in dealing with a narcissist is something called “confrontational empathy”. This is close to something called “tough love” that you might use with your adolescent.
  • After your schemas get triggered, you may feel speechless and at the end of your rope. You may feel powerless, raw and just plain fatigued in trying to cope with him. But, you have to find a way to communicate with him to save your sanity. The key is “empathic communication-get inside his head.”

Note: DO NOT use this approach of empathy If you feel unsafe or abused; in that case, protect yourself and do not try to be empathetic.

Empathy is not simply compassion; it is communicating that you see things from the narcissist’s point of view, even though you may not agree with it. Remember that rather than tuning in to others, the narcissist remains caught up in the pursuit of approval. His focus is “all about me”, without caring much about you or others.

He is thinking to himself: “How am I doing? She really likes me. I think I nailed it. I think I impressed him. I wonder if they like what I just said. I’ll show them.” This “all about me” focus prevents the narcissist from truly engaging in interactions. He leaves you feeling lonely, empty and frustrated.

As Wendy Wendy Behary points out in the book “Disarming the Narcissist: Survivng and Thriving with the Self-absorbed” says:

Because empathy allows you to deeply understand who the narcissist is and why he is that way, it’s the perfect antidote, fortifying you to stand your ground, hold him accountable, and no take responsibility for his issues. Best of all, you can show up in interactions with him without the burden of exhausting anger, defensiveness, or submission. You get him. You may even feel badly for him and might even tell him that, but you can do so without giving in and without giving up your rights.

The strategy of confrontational empathy also involves setting limits, establishing what she calls the rules of reciprocity and the need to use time-out procedures to cool down before engaging the narcissist. Read more details of these strategies in her self-help book.

8 things you can do TODAY to prevent angry partner blowups

Spending so much time together in social isolation during the pandemic is bound to challenge the patience and coping skills of many partners. Fortunately, new technology has been developed to help you stay calm called “Gaze-Spotting” based on the original work of Dr. David Grand, developer of a technique called Brainspotting.

STEP  1 : Walk away from hearted argument, telling your spouse you need some time to calm down- but that you promise you’ll return later to work it out. Do not yell, call names, or be nasty. 

STEP 2 : Sit in a comfortable place where you an be alone. Mentally scan your body from head to toe. Become aware of where in you body you feel the tension, the anger or the frustration with your partner that triggered your anger. 

STEP 3 : Also Notice in your body where you feel the most calm, grounded, and centered.

STEP 4 : Focus your awareness to this grounded, calm body place. Stay there for 10-15 seconds. Notice where your eyes are focusing while having your attention on your body calm place.. (You can do this with your eyes opened or closed.) Let your eyes settle on a spot (called a gazespot) and maintain that eye position. 

STEP 5 : As you keep your eyes on this “Gazespot,” focus on the argument you just had with your partner. While you think about it keep your eyes on your Gazespot.

STEP 6 : Think of how irritated you are at your partner and notice how activated you are around it. Pick a number from 1-10 which you will use as a gauge to represent the degree they have triggered your anger. 0 is neutral and 10 is highly activated. 

STEP 7 : Without judging, continue to observe your thoughts as you gaze at your Gazespot and bring your awareness to your calm body place. Your mind may wonder as you keep your gaze on the spot. Just notice without directing your thoughts. 

STEP 8 : Continue to observe what is going on in the various parts of you mind with curiosity, but try not to have expectations or  judgement about what is going on. 

Think about the original issue with your partner. How are you feeling now? Take an AngerCheck from 0-10. Continue a long as you like. End when you are ready and note your brain will continue to process.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THIS ANGERCHECK TECHNIQUE, SCHEDULE A CONSULTATION WITH DR FIORE BY CALLING 714-745-1393 or click here to schedule an appointment yourself

My husband and I never fight: How can we still have an anger problem?

The Marriage of Stacy and William

Married 30 years, from the outside looking in they have a perfect marriage. They never disagree with each other. They rarely conflict. They hold hands in public. They are always civil to each other in public. 

Behind closed doors, however, there is a different story. While they dine together, they share very little with each other about their day beyond superficial topics. After dinner, William typically watches football on the den television while she goes into her bedroom to watch her favorite shows. They stopped sleeping together years ago. He masturbates twice a week for sexual release. They do enjoy each other on vacations, but this is only once a year.

Believe it or not, Stacy and William have an anger problem in their relationship – even though it certainly isn’t obvious from the outside looking in. How could that be true if they never fight, there is never any yelling, shouting, or insults hurled, and they even show some public physical affection for each other?

Couples anger has at least six other ways it can be expressed without yelling or shouting

Some angry couples, of course, fight like cats and dogs – mean spirited, always arguing, putting each other down, and are downright nasty to each other. But couples also express anger to each other in at least six other ways. Although not as obvious, it is just as destructive in its other expressions as it can be for the high-conflict couple.

  • The Ostrich – Anger expressed as emotional avoidance. Ostriches withdraw when threatened and put their head in the sand. So do some marriage partners who refuse to deal with issues that are important to their partner or are insensitive to the emotional aspects of an argument. This often enrages the more “emotional” partner.
  • The Sniper – Anger expressed as constant or intense criticism. The sniper always thinks they are right or know better. They see their partner as a project to improve. They sometimes are put-down artists.
  • Shields Up and Red Alert – Anger expressed as defensiveness. This expression of anger is difficult to penetrate. Rather than deal with issues, partners spend all their energy defending themselves or what they have done (or didn’t do). They are not open to influence from their partner.
  • The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing – Anger expressed as passive aggressive. The passive aggressive has much anger or hostility but is unable or unwilling to express it directly. So, they get you behind your back!
  • The Silent Volcano – Anger expressed as holding resentment. Some people hold resentment for years and silently or indirectly punish their partners who may not even remember the offense any longer.
  • Here Comes The Judge – Anger expressed as contempt. Some partners hold themselves to be morally, intellectually, or socially superior to their spouse. They constantly judge their partner and are not open to the idea that their partner’s opinions or ways of doing things might also have value.

Partner Anger May Be Improved by Better Sleep Habits

How sleep issues can affect anger expression in couples and negatively affect relationships and communication?

Sleep is probably the most underrated of habits that impact health and wellbeing. A lack of sleep the night before is enough to leave us tired, grumpy and fed up for the rest of the day. Getting the right amount of rest is crucial to tackling everything the world has to throw at us and that includes how we interact & communicate with other people especially with our spouses. But why? Let’s examine in closer detail exactly what it is about sleep that has such an impact on us.

Why is sleep important in a relationship?


The short answer to this question is that it affects our “Emotions”. The body needs time to recover at the end of every day. Not getting enough sleep has the potential to hinder our social abilities. It becomes harder to recognize communication cues when tired, and affects how we react to the behavior of others.

What happens to the body with lack of sleep?

What will actually happen if we don’t get enough sleep? Some of the potential dangers associated with getting less sleep include:

  • Weight gain – Sleep plays an important role in burning calories. As such, not getting enough can cause someone to pack on the pounds. It’s also been claimed that sleep-deprived people have lower levels of leptin. This chemical is what controls our ability to feel full. As such, you’re prone to eating more as a direct result of a lack of sleep.As well as these more specific side effects, you’ll also experience exhaustion throughout the day. Constantly feeling like you need to sleep is no way to get through the day productively. In some extreme circumstances, it may even result in death. Such was the case with SAP CEO Ranjan Das.
  • Lowered concentration levels – Your ability to focus will be drastically impacted if you’ve missed too much sleep.
  • A lowered sex drive – Your sex life might suffer if you’re not getting enough sleep. The NHS recently published information highlighting how a lack of sleep affected both males and female libidos. This could have a detrimental impact on your relationship.

Dangers associated with a lack of sleep

As you may have already realized, there are a number of dangers, which go hand-in-hand with not getting enough rest. These include:

  • Mood disorders – Studies have suggested mental illnesses can be caused, or heightened, as a direct result of not getting enough sleep. This occurs as a result of neurotransmitters in the brain being damaged, causing the brain to experience the same symptoms associated with depression and anxiety.
  • Raised blood pressure – Owing to the aforementioned close association of the heart and sleep, it should come as no shock blood pressure is affected when a person misses out on sleep. Increased pressure is the natural side effect of additional strain being put on the cardiovascular system.

How much of an impact a lack of sleep can have on your daily performance?

Physical exercise – Physical activity will also be impaired by a loss of sleep. There are a number of ways in which your body will be negatively affected if you over-exert yourself.

Psychological Effect – It’s a vicious cycle when it comes to sleep and exercise. You’re bound to feel less motivated if you don’t get enough sleep. Naturally, this will have a negative impact on your abilities to push yourself on the workout itself. You may not feel like you want to do any activity at all.

You’re going to notice a significant difference in your motivation, recovery and performance levels when you miss out on sleep. If you have an important day of activities ahead, make sure you always get the right amount of rest the evening before.

In short, not getting enough sleep puts us at an instant disadvantage in almost every aspect of daily life from both a health and social perspective.

Five tips for preventing resentment from ruining your marriage

When you and your spouse hit rough times, it seems that no matter what you do, things get worse.

You blame your spouse; your spouse blames you and nothing changes.

Out of desperation, you eventually step back from your situation and try to think more clearly. And thankfully, when you aren’t mired in the muck, you actually figure out more productive ways to handle your differences. You are determined to do better the next time a challenging situation rears its ugly head.

And then it happens. It feels like a déjà vu. The same old argument starts unfolding.

You and your spouse have been there so many times before.

And although you promised yourself that you would take the high road this time- to remain calm and loving in the face of controversy-your anger and resentment have another plan for you.

You are going to do the same old thing because you’re mad and resentful as hell and your spouse doesn’t deserve better treatment. All the brilliant planning for a better outcome goes right out the window.

Resentment wins. You lose. Sound familiar?

If you want to improve your relationship, you have to find ways to triumph over resentment so you can live up to the promises you make yourself to approach your spouse in more productive ways.

But the sixty-four thousand dollar question is, “How?” The following are five tips for rising above resentment.

  • To prepare for the next challenge, ask yourself, “How will I resist the temptation to allow resentment to run my life?” Most people believe that feelings are the trigger for how we behave.If we are fearful, we should avoid anxiety-producing situations. If we are shy, we must stay away from people.If we anticipate failure, we need to avoid challenging activities.But psychology has taught us that the best way to overcome negative emotions is to push ourselves to do the very thing we resist.When we face our demons, the demons go away.And it is then that we realize that feelings don’t have to run us. We can choose our how we act and react despite our feelings.The same is true for dealing with long-standing resentment in relationships. You can feel resentment and still behave in loving, productive ways toward your spouse.You can notice that you feel angry, but you can choose what you do next. In those testy moments, ask yourself, “What can I do to resist the temptation to give into this resentment?”You might need to take a few deep breaths or go for a walk. Perhaps asking your spouse for a time out would work.You might notice what that little voice inside your head is saying when you are angry. Is it fueling the fire by telling you your spouse is trying to make you angry?If so, turn down the volume of that voice. It’s just a thought and it isn’t helpful. Decide to replace it with a more positive thought such as, “She is doing the best she can right now.”
  • Understand your role in things spiraling down You might be wondering how you can beat resentment by understanding how you contribute to the problem. Here’s an example.George was extremely unhappy about his sex life. He and Fran made love once a month. If George had his way, they would make love three times a week. Clearly, there is a sizable desire gap in their marriage.If you ask Fran whether she likes sex, she will tell you, “Yes, but I don’t like having sex with George when he is angry.” Fran needs to feel close to George emotionally before she wants to be physically close.But George insists that he is angry because Fran won’t have sex. The angrier George becomes, the less Fran wants sex. The less Fran wants sex, the angrier George becomes. You get the picture.This is obviously the case of two rights. If George wants Fran to desire him, he has to be nicer to Fran. If Fran wants George to be nicer to her, she has to consider his need for touch.But even if George knows that he needs to be nicer to Fran, he might say that he can’t because he is so resentful about Fran’s blatant disregard for his feelings. However, if he can understand that part of Fran’s withdrawal has to do with his irritability, he can empathize with her and feel less resentful.When you feel resentful towards your spouse, ask yourself, “What are my steps in the dance we do together when things aren’t going well?”“What could I do differently that would, in turn, change our dance entirely?”And once you acknowledge that you really do have something to do with the problematic situation- and the solution- you will feel more compassion toward your spouse.Compassion helps you rise above resentment.
  • Focus on results Rather than pay attention to your feelings of resentment, when things go haywire, ask yourself, “What do I want to have happen?” “What’s my goal here?”In the same way that George realized that he had to be nicer and kinder to Fran if he wanted her to be more affectionate, he didn’t always feel like behaving that way.However, over time, he started to connect the dots…”When I’m kinder to
    Fran, she wants to be closer to me physically.”Observing the results of your behavior as opposed to the feelings you have inside is a sure-fire way to increase the odds you will get more of your needs met.And once that happens, resentment dissipates.
  • Forgive Judging your spouse harshly and feeling angry isn’t helpful. In fact, it’s downright harmful.Even if your spouse is making mistakes, it doesn’t mean he or she is doing it purposely. Poet and sage, Maya Angelou says (adapted a bit), “People do the best with the tools they have. If they knew better they would do better.”I totally believe this.If you truly believed that your spouse isn’t out to hurt you and that you are willing to wipe the slate clean, you will feel better and start acting in ways that signal you are ready to let go of the past.No one can free you from the shackles of resentment. You have to do it yourself. It doesn’t just happen. It requires a conscious decision to forgive and move forward.Once you realize that holding a grudge is really hurting you and your marriage, you can choose forgiveness and resentment will gradually melt away.This will make it easier for you to stick to your marriage-strengthening plan.
  • Remember, you are not perfect either I’ve heard it said that people who think they’re perfect have lousy memories.And isn’t that true? Everyone makes mistakes, even you and me.Remembering that you are great but not perfect will make it easier to be less judgmental of your partner.We are all imperfect beings.Don’t feel guilty about your mistakes but on the same count, don’t hold your spouse to a higher standard. If you do, you will have a hard time letting go of lingering feelings of anger and resentment.
  • Have compassion for both of youHere’s a personal challenge. The next time you feel resentment welling up in you, implement one or more of these five tips and see how much better you feel.

It’s a formula for success. 

© Michele Weiner-Davis, all rights reserved. michele@divorcebusting.com 303.444.7004 PO Box 271 Boulder, CO 80302

How To Accept Disturbing Thoughts

Many people have disturbing and even horrifying thoughts. These thoughts are not based in reality, yet cause us to react as if they are indeed real. Others can’t stop thinking about the possibility of losing control and even harming someone. You may worry about making irreparable mistakes.These obsessive thoughts can be very disturbing if you don’ know how to deal with them. The more we fight them, the stronger or more frequent they sometimes become.

Disturbing Relationship Thoughts
Unwanted thoughts sometimes occur in relationships. These thoughts can destroy it  even when there is no reality basis for the thoughts.  Most commonly, you may constantly “check” your  partner’s phone for texts or phone calls from old partners or previous relationships. You may become insecure and needy, desperately trying to get the “truth” or control every aspect of your partner’s life so you can trust them again. Constant reassurance that no cheating has occurred does not eliminate your thoughts and fears. Worse, thoughts may turn into accusations or demands that your partner  reveal things that they consider private or off-limits. (like previous relationships). At first,  your partner may be tolerant of these outbursts but constant accusations (when nothing is going on)   get old –fast.

How to Rid Yourself of Disturbing Relationship Thoughts
Although it sounds counter-intuitive, and against common sense, psychologists have discovered that the most effective way to rid yourself of obsessive disturbing thoughts is not to fight them, but rather to accept them and even force yourself to think about them. Psychologists call this exposure therapy which is considered “evidence-based” treatment for this condition.

Exposure therapy is a process where you slowly expose yourself to your upsetting thoughts or situations that trigger your anxiety forcing you tolerate the feelings you once had to avoid. Eventually, you learn to desensitize yourself to these disturbing thoughts and they no longer have power over your thoughts and behavior.  This makes sense once you realize that thoughts are not necessarily true at all- they are just thoughts which you have for any number of reasons (the most common reason is that something that is going on now is triggering old fears and insecurities from previous relationships or from your childhood which you don’t remember).

The idea here is that even if you can’t stop the thoughts, you can control how you respond to them. Think of unwanted thoughts like a strong wind when you are sailing. You can’t stop the wind, but you can change the angle of the sail to control your boat.

To begin this process of learning to respond differently to your unwanted thoughts, you will need to fill in two worksheets.

Start Here

We Now Offer Teletherapy During the Covid-19 Crisis

Hello Everyone,

I hope you all are well and adjusting to all the new stresses that are suddenly upon us. In some cases, being at home with each other has been a positive experience. In other cases, not so much.

At any rate, here are some resources to help you:

Finally, I am happy to tell you that I now offer telehealth services (video conferencing) for individuals, couples and anger management classes. Now get therapy from your home at a convenient time for you.Many insurance companies are paying for telehealth services during the crisis. Just email me for details and set-up. Easy-Peasy, as they say.

Email me or, schedule a session yourself right now.

Stay  well,
Dr Tony Fiore

New Discernment Counseling for Couples On the Brink

family fighting

Up to 40% of people who divorce wish they hadn’t done so. Yet, many of these people say they tried “everything”,including couples therapy, but to no avail. Why doesn’t couples therapy,even done by experienced and competent therapists prevent breakup more of the time?

One reason is that both partners and the therapist often don’t have the same agenda. Recent research in Minnesota by Dr. William Doherty shows that up to 30% of couples coming to therapy are “mixed-agenda” couples where one is leaning out of the relationship and is reluctant to work on it, and the other wants to save the relationship

That means that only two people in the therapy room really are willing to work hard to save the marriage or relationship: the therapist and the “leaning in” partner. This is known as a “mixed-agenda”; in other words, everybody is not on the same page as it may appear on the surface. So, therapy starts with one of the therapist’s hands tied behind his/her back. If the therapist tries to persuade the “leaning out” partner to to stay in the marriage, they are immediately at odds with each other.

As an alternative, Dr. Doherty has developed a protocol called “Discernment Counseling” (http://www,discernmentcounseling.com)as a precursor to either divorce or couples therapy. You can get a family mediation lawyer, to have it court order to go through family counceling. Its goal is NOT to fix the marriage but to discern if the marriage can be fixed. Its like receiving a medical diagnosis that requires extensive treatment. Before taking the treatment you have to decide if you want to or not, considering effort involved, side-effects of the treatment, cost, etc.

Discernment Counseling provides different services to the mixed-agenda partners who have different needs. For the “leaning out” partner, discernment counseling helps them make a decision based on deeper understanding of the relationship and their role in its problems and potential future. Even if they leave the marriage, this understanding will help them in future relationships.
For the “leaning in” partner, discernment counseling helps them bring their best self to the relationship and to learn to relate differently so as not to continue to make things worse by well meaning but futile attempts to save the marriage.

Discernment counseling is time limited from a minimum of one two-hour session to a maximum of five sessions. At the end of the process, the couple will decide on one of three paths they are going to take:
Path 1- Continue as things are now
Path 2- Pursue divorce or separation
Path 3- Fully participate in couples therapy and other interventions for a period of six months with divorce or separation off the table.

Having a clear decision as to what path you are both on will give both partners much more clarity and confidence in a decision about the future of your relationship,based on a deeper understanding of what’s happened to your relationship and each of your contributions.

For more information, first review Dr. Doherty’s website at http://www.discernmentcounseling.com), then call Dr Fiore (714-745-1393) for local services in either Long Beach or Newport Beach, CA.