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

Lovehacking: Quick fixes to improve your marriage or relationship

How Love-Hacks can give your marriage a tune-up

To fix a truly troubled marriage takes much effort and commitment. But, many marriages or relationships just need a tune-up. One psychologist, Dr. Eli Finkel, calls these “Lovehacks” in his new and very well-researched and well-thought-out book “The All-or-Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work.”

Lovehacks provide an efficient method for keeping our marriages afloat during challenging or busy times. There are times when we simply lack the ability or the motivation to make hefty additional investment, and there’s no shame, says Dr Finkel, in doing little things to make the relationship a bit stronger than it would be otherwise.

Lovehacks, according to Dr Finkel, have three defining features. First, they don’t take much time – which is crucial for today’s very busy and stressed couples. Second, they don’t require any coordination with, or cooperation from, our spouse. This is very important in those marriages wherein one partner is working harder or is more motivated than the other to resuscitate things. Third, they don’t require a major change or shift in expectations as many other marital therapy interventions do.

Love-Hacks fall into two major categories: those focused on countering weaknessesin your marriage and those focused on savoring strengths.

Lovehacks focused on countering weaknesses in your marriage

Marriage research clearly shows that how we think about and behave in conflict-relevant situations in our marriage is the factor that most reliably distinguishes successful from distressed marriages. As Dr Finkel says, some reactions are like a can of kerosene, others like a bucket of water.

Lovehack #1-Give your partner a break.

Practice perceiving negative behavior differently. It isn’t what they do as much as HOW YOU REACT AND INTERPRETE WHAT THEY DO that causes a problem – or not! Psychologists call this “attribution.”

For instance, your partner is late getting home from work causing you distress. To what do you attribute his lateness? Here are some possibilities:

  • He is late because he is a thoughtless jerk
  • He is late because he forgot to look at his watch at work
  • He is late because his crappy car broke down again
  • He is late because he got stuck in traffic

If we’re confident that our partner is, by and large, a decent person who want to do well by us, we should make attributions that give him or her the benefit of the doubt.

Lovehack #2-Reinterpret conflict.

Using this lovehack, spouses think about a conflict in their marriage from the perspective of a neutral third party who wants the best for all involved. This helps both partners gain perspective of the conflict with high empathy – so each can see the issue from the perspective of the other.

Lovehack #3-Adopt a growth mind-set about marriage.

You have a wide latitude in considering whether problems in your marriage are fixable. People with destiny beliefs think that partners either are or are not “meant to be.” They view conflict and other problems as indicators that they are simply incompatible with their partner.

On the other hand, people with strong growth beliefs think that partners can cultivate a high-quality relationship by working and growing together. So they are willing to try and fix things more when inevitable conflicts occur.

Lovehacks focused on Savoring Strengths:

Lovehack #6-Cultivate gratitude.

Gratitude serves as a “booster shot” for romantic relationships. Research shows that people who experience elevated levels of gratitude also experience stronger relationship commitment and are less likely to break up.

Lovehack #7-Help each other celebrate life’s achievements and successes.

When you respond to your partner’s positive life events in an enthusiastic, celebratory way, ask questions about it and show positive emotion about it, love often grows between you.

Lovehack #8-Affectionate touch.

This lovehack is particularly promising for helping our partner look at us with new eyes. Touching our partner makes them feel more loved by you and more secure in their relationship with you.

How to reduce resentment toward your partner – even if your partner won’t change!

Do You Have Resentment In Your Marriage?

Mary, age 40, came to see me recently for a consultation on how she could improve her marriage and deal with an angry husband who refused to see a marriage therapist. She was extremely resentful, unhappy and depressed. She had tried “everything” to get her husband to change- all to no avail.

The resentment Mary was feeling was normal when a partner has grievances toward their partner which are unexpressed – or- when your partner does not respond even when they are indeed expressed. Take our free Anger Quizto assess the degree of resentment in your marriage. Many times grievances are formed in a marriage because some essential needs are not being fulfilled – needs which you want satisfied through the marriage. After all, satisfaction of some of those needs are the reason you married in the first place.
Mind you, just because you have normal needs doesn’t necessarily mean you are “needy.” We all have needs, as a famous psychologist Abraham Maslow wrote about way back in the 1940s. Here is a simplified version of his needs diagram. In Maslow’s theory, lower needs (such as having enough to eat) need to be satisfied before higher needs such as “esteem” seem important.

The question is:to what extent should we look toward marriage to satisfy some of these needs?

According to Dr. Finkel, some people put too much pressure on the marriage to satisfy those needs without considering other ways to get them satisfied – so that the marriage can still survive and you can be happy again.

Fact is, many people never ask themselves exactly what their needs are and to what extent they expect their marriage partner to satisfy those needs. When I asked Mary what she wanted or needed out of her marriage, she looked at me like a deer in the headlights.

She had never asked herself that question; she only knew that she was very unhappy with her life – and very unhappy with her husband who never seemed to change even though she constantly expressed her frustration and resentment to him.

You may not be aware of some of your needs

In reality, it not a simple question to answer for a number of reasons. First, you may not be aware of some of the needs you actually have – like needing to feel safe or needing to be acknowledged often for your contributions. If that is the case, you might want to consult a psychologist to help you sort it all out. After all, it is unfair to your partner to resent them for not satisfying needs that even you don’t know that you have.

Need satisfaction is a moving target requiring re-calibration

Secondly, what partners need from each other often changes as the marriage goes through different developmental stages (yes, marriages have developmental stages just like children do). Successful couples find a way to adapt to these changes and strive toward satisfying these changing needs either through the marriage itself or in other ways.

This often requires a recalibration of your relationship which is accomplished by asking yourself some basic questions, rather than holding resentment toward your partner who isn’t changing despite your pleas.

Three questions to ask yourself about your needs:

  • What needs do I have that can only be satisfied through my partner? Some needs indeed can only be satisfied by an intimate partner. After all, that is why we got married in the first place. Examples of needs in this category are to develop and sustain a warm emotional climate in the home, have a steamy sex life, co-parent and enjoy your children.
  • What needs do I have that can be met through our partner or some “other significant other” (OSO) such as a friend or other family member? Examples of needs in this category are to receive emotional support when something bad happens at work, celebrate when something good happens at work, debate politics, attend cultural events, travel.
  • What needs do I have that can be met through our partner, through an OSO, or on our own? Learning to meditate, anger management, deepen relationship with God, learning to play the piano, writing that long-promised novel.

When Mary looked at her list of needs, she was shocked at how much she was asking of her marriage. With her therapist, she began working on a more deliberate plan for meeting her needs.

The most difficult part of course is evaluating what to do about needs that indeed can only be satisfied by one’s partner. The good news is that often through re-calibration, we can create a different vibration in the home so that our partner might respond by being more motivated to indeed try harder.

For instance, if your need is to have a warm emotional climate in the home, you might work on being less critical and more trusting by letting go of resentments caused by things done in the past. How do you do this? Through the process of “forgiveness.” You can learn to forgive either through therapy or through a a faith-based approach (all religions encourage forgiveness).

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

Needing to be Right- A Sure-Fire Losing Strategy for Partner Communication

When I was a young psychologist, I recall a young woman in my practice who was very upset because men simply didn’t see her as very feminine and treated her like “one of the guys,” instead of like a “girl” as she deeply desired. I asked for an example of what she meant.”The other night we were having drinks in a bar and one of the guys said that I wasn’t very feminine,” she said.

“How did you react?“I asked her.

With a serious face she said, “I stood up, took a swing and knocked them all to the floor.”

Psychologists call this self-defeating behavior. In over 15 years of conducting anger management classes in southern California, and hearing hundreds of stories of relationship conflict, I have seen this pattern repeated over and over again. Partners need, want and deserve different things in a relationship, but go about getting it in the wrong way due to poor marital communication.

It’s like looking for a herd of buffaloes  in New York City, or convincing people who live in Antarctica to purchase air conditioners. It ain’t going to work.

Think in terms of Losing vs Winning Strategies
Married people often don’t step back, take a look at themselves, and ask if they are going about it the right way to have a loving and devoted partner, to feel deeply connected to their spouse, to reduce conflict, or to have a peaceful home with happy successful children. But, for good marital communication, having strategies to achieve marital harmony often separates successful couples from others. Successful couples regularly employ what we call “Winning Strategies,” while other couples unfortunately use “Losing strategies”, (which they often learned as children) yet expect good results.

To improve  marital communication, we begin a series of blogs on losing strategies regularly employed by couples in trouble, in the hope that you can improve your marriage by not using them in the future. Then, of course, a series of blogs will follow of winning strategies- those ways of communicating that are used by black-belts of relationship success. Full disclosure- This material is based  on the writings of famed therapist Terry Real in his book “The New Rules of Marriage”. I would highly encourage you to download his book and read it as soon as you can.

Losing Strategy 1- Needing to always be  Right. 

I was raised by the philosophy that there is a right way to do things, and a wrong way. This way of looking at the world certainly ensured a shared vision of things (it encouraged all family member to see things the same way) but it also stifled creativity and individuality. Instead of teaching us to consider “options” in how to deal with a problem or issue, we were taught that if “A” happens, then you handle it by doing “B.” If somebody tried a “C’, they were told they were wrong because, again, there is only one “right” to a problem or situation.

Of course, sometimes this IS true. The ‘right” solution to prevent tooth decay is to brush daily; the “right” way to have money in the future is to save it or invest it. The “right” way to stay healthy is to eat your fruits and vegetables, exercise, and don’t smoke.

But, other times it decidedly is NOT true. Or, in many cases there can be multiple truths – not “the” truth. People can have long lives eating meat or not. Heavy drinkers are not necessarily alcoholics. People who don’t go to college can still become  millionaires. Dishes can get clean in the dishwasher without pre-washing them. There are multiple ways to get to a destination in your car. Different people feel loved differently. Some people can change bad habits easier than others. Some children respond to tight discipline and tight structure much more than other children.

Children who are raised to believe in the right or wrong philosophy eventually marry other children who also believe this. So, why is this a problem?  They clash because they were taught different ‘rights’ and “wrongs” – and they were not taught to be tolerant of those differences – and they often certainly were not taught to embrace individual differences, nuances, and variety in our world.

Some partners go so far as to feel “disrespected” if their spouse does things their own way. For example, what sane person puts the glasses in the cupboard upside down to prevent dust from accumulating in them? Everybody know glasses go right side up but CUPS go upside down, Right? Or did I get that wrong?

Learn to disagree without being disagreeable
Successful relationships depend on developing successful strategies to deal with disagreements and conflicts without destroying each other in the process. You can disagree without being disagreeable.

The trick is to focus not only on the argument but on HOW you argue and communicate- in other words, focus on the process as well as the issue. Very hard to do in the heat of battle but this skill separates beginners from black belts in marital communication. It helps to remember that (1) subjective reality cam be different from objective reality, that (2) Words spoken can have different meanings for each partner, and that (3) Body Language conveys tons of information, regardless of the words you use.

Subjective vs. Objective Reality
What is the difference? Let me explain it this way: You and your partner are sitting in the therapist office and your partner says “It is cold in here.” You say,  “there you go–always complaining. Actually it is NOT cold in here- the temperature is 72 degrees.” Who is “right”?
Objective cold is not the same as subjectively “felt” temperature.If your partner feels cold, the reality for him or her is that it is cold in the office , regardless of the actual (objective) temperature. Would you argue like Perry Mason to prove your case that your partner is crazy and that it is NOT cold in the office? I grew up in a home where that is exactly what happened – which typically then caused a major argument.

The truth is, most of the time nobody cares if you are factually (objectivity) right or not!

I recall the case of  Mike and Ann who fought about everything. Mike was incapable of understanding this idea that partners can perceive things quite differently. To test him, we did the following dialogue:

Therapist: “Mike, what is the color of that lampshade over there?”

Mike: It is beige.

Therapist: “Ann, what color do you think it is?”

Ann: “It is Brown.”

Therapist to Mike: “Mike, why do you think Ann sees it as Brown and you see it as Beige?”

Mike: “Because she is lying.”

What are you going to do with a person who thinks that way?

Often words spoken can have different meanings to each partner:
A second reason that partners argue over things is because spoken words can have different meanings to each partner even though the same word is used to describe something. To remedy this,try to remember the famous words of Robert McCloskey:

“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

? Robert McCloskeyThe remedy here is to be sure to clarify what you mean by the words you use.Example:

45 year old Sam to Therapist: “We only have sex  once a month. Last time was 4 weeks ago- on a Saturday night.”

Sam’s Wife to therapist: “That is simply not true. We had sex just 3 days ago. Tell the therapist the truth.”

Sam to wife and therapist:” That wasn’t REAL sex – that was only Clinton sex.”

Finally, remember that your body language conveys more meaning than do your words: What does your voice tone communicate? Your voice volume? Your facial features? Your general tension level? All these forms of communication are being “picked up” by your partner regardless of what your words say. Monitor yourself when you are talking to your partner for an appreciation of what you may be communicating to them with your body language.