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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.

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.

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.

Successful Couples Repair Conflict

Let’s face it. All couples fight. In successful relationships as well as others. Having fights is not necessarily a sign that your relationship is doomed to failure.

If all couples fight, What then makes the difference between successful vs unsuccessful relationships?

Simply put, one major difference is having the skills and ability to repair the emotional damage done during the fight. Some couples simply can’t get past it and simmer for days, weeks, even months. I know of one couple that kept a resentment for years. They didn’t divorce – they simply built a wall between them and added a few more bricks every month until there basically was no hope of reconnecting.This couple slept in separate bedrooms, rarely talked to each other, ate meals separately and kept separate financial resources. They basically were roommates.

Other couples fortunately have better skills and can bounce back from a conflict, a bad behavior on the part of one or the other, or from the pain of a grievance. Some couples just know how to do it. Mary and Jim were such a couple. They were a young professional couple with no children but strong personalities and a strong need for autonomy. She often wanted to do something that he considered irresponsible or not practical (she was an artist). He would “question” her on it (which she heard as a challenge). Her response? Anger, saying to herself “he is not going to tell ME what to do.” He replied that he was not trying to tell her what to do, he was just inquiring as to what was going on.

This led to an escalating fight with each “pushing the buttons” of the other until they no longer could stand to be in the same room. In effect, they had activated each other’s psychological alarm system so both their brains were now in a “fight and protect” mode. So they sulked for a while, until their nervous systems calmed down to normal levels. This allowed one of them (Mary)to quietly say “I’m sorry.” Then came, “I really love you and can’t imagine life without you.” Jim then said, “Let’s get on the same team and figure out a solution to the issue.”

More generally, partners with good repair skills do with following:

  • They keep the relationship itself in mind when arguing over an issue. It’s not only about “winning” – certainly not at the cost of rupturing the relationship. They WANT the relationship to work. They strive for emotional connection and harmony.
  • They realize that not all couples problems are fixable – some issues will always be there. The trick to repair is to learn how to live with each other around the issues rather than trying to change the other person to make them less irritating to you. The challenge is to cope (within reason and without losing your “self” in the process) better while finding ways to satisfy each other’s needs.
  • They are mature enough to realize that their partners have a perfect right to their own opinions and ways of doing things. They try to drop judgment and instead strive to understand their partner better.
  • Finally, couples with good repair skill do not bring up the past to use as a weapon. They stick to the current issue without slamming their partner with insults, name-calling, accusations, or “dead cow” issues.
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Couples Conflict – The Dance of Anger

Jim and Sally have been married for 10 years. They argue so much that friends invite them for dinner a lot because they provide the evening’s entertainment with their bickering and constant conflict. Their arguments are over many of the same issues over and over again. They just seem to trigger angry responses in each other and it is never ending. Watching them reminds one of seven year olds fighting in the sand box.

If you took a picture snapshot at any point in time you might think that one of them is the culprit starting the fights. But, taking a snapshot at another point in time might give you a different impression, as you observe the “victim” actually now provoking their partner.

Truth is, they are in a strange, intimate dance with each other even though they probably don’t realize it. Psychologists might say that we are observing the battle of part of the brain called the amygdala, an almond-shaped structure in the limbic system. It is in the amygdala that hurts, pain and anger are stored. Its purpose is to protect you from harm, even though the threat is not physical but the verbal assaults of your partner. So, it immediately prepares you for fight and survival. You are programmed to attack back,to protect yourself.You are reacting on a nervous system level but may not be aware of this fact. It happens so rapidly that things can spin out of control before you know it. And the anger dance begins.

The “Issue” Is Not The Only Issue
It may appear that you are fighting over the kids,who should do the dishes, or how much money you should spend on a new car. But you are also fighting on deeper levels often without your awareness. My experience with many scores of couples is that you are really fighting because you are triggering in each other old ways of feeling or behaving toward someone you love which you learned as a child from caretakers or others. Under stress, your brain reverts back to that earlier learning, never mind that you are now an adult professional, a responsible community member, and a parent. So, instead of being a reasonable human being, you become that petulant child who is not getting his way, you grind on your partner over minor infractions to wear him or her down (just like you wore down your parents), or you openly rebel to communicate feeling hurt and rejection.

In the heat of battle. many partners forget to pay attention to the damage they may be doing to the relationship itself in how they are fighting or arguing. They focus on winning the battle, but lose sight that they may be losing the war. What good is winning the argument if you are pissed at each other afterward or experiencing feelings of hurt for days or weeks? Successful couples broaden their lens and see that they must always be aware of how what they do or what they say will affect the relationship itself. Successful partners know that even if they conflict or disagree with the benefits of softening your water, they have each other’s back and they feel secure in knowing that they will be there for each other, regardless of the outcome of the specific argument.

<strongThe Dance of Security
Feeling secure in a relationship seems to be a basic human need. Secure functioning should be a major goal of any intimate connection. When there is secure functioning, partners protect each other at all times, in both public and private. They notice how they are affecting each other. When they emotionally injure each other, they know how to make quick repairs. Secure functioning partners are skilled at being able to quickly change their own emotional state and positively influence the emotional state of their partner. They think in terms of what is best for both of them not only as individuals but also as a couple.

Problem is, partners often come into relationships with different styles of feeling secure. This is because of different backgrounds and different ways of learning how to “attach” to loved ones. Unless partners learn to deal with each other’s styles of attachment, they will trigger INSECURITY in each other which often leads to anger and other negative emotions.
Jim, for instance , doesn’t believe in talking in public about personal things; he believes in strict boundaries. He is self-contained and doesn’t turn to others for emotional support or problem-solving. Sally, on the other hand, loves to talk and to share everything with everybody, especially after a few glasses of wine. Talking and getting feedback from others helps to regulate her emotions and feel good and connected with others. She firmly believes that Jim should love her no matter how she behaves in public; if he shows disapproval, this means he doesn’t really love her (in her thoughts). She doesn’t see that she is doing anything wrong.

Clearly, they are working against each other. That which reduces her anxiety, increases his, and vice versa. She becomes more and more angry and resentful as he pulls away and increasingly avoids her. He doesn’t deal with anger directly, so he starts to “passive-aggress” her by snipping,jabbing, innuendo and sarcasm. She fights back by denying him sex later that night. He complains. The next day she accuses him of not loving her for her and says that he is emotionally unavailable and she can’t stand it any longer. The dance is on but it is anything but a fluid tango….it is more like a war dance.

Putting the Pieces Together
Partners come in all sizes and shapes emotionally, many with ragged edges which we sometimes don’t see until later when the dating hormones settle down. At this stage, sometimes partners worry they are fundamentally incompatible with each other, that they may have made a mistake or that they were deceived by the other who is now clearly showing a different side to their personality. In couples therapy, we explain to the partners that they are probably going through a developmental period in which they are challenged to learn how to function as individual yet learn to do things differently so as not to trigger insecurity and anger in the other.

The simplified principle is this: Instead of trying to change your partner,find a way to give your partner what they need so they will be more motivated and eager to give you what you need. Both of you will feel more secure and will co-create what Dr. Stan Tatkin calls “the couple bubble.”

In our case example, Sally and Jim both have hard-wired (and different) styles of attachment and ways of regulating their emotions to feel comfortable. It is highly unlikely that either can change this. They can greatly decrease their levels of conflict, however, by accepting the differences between them and doing things to make the other more emotionally secure. Each needs to ask himself/herself what they are doing to make their partner feel better, not worse. They need to further ask themselves why they are doing things (like bringing up personal marriage thing in public) that they know emotionally (and socially) harms their partner. Or why Jim doesn’t share more with Sally when he knows that she needs this to feel secure inside and feel loved.
If we love someone, shouldn’t job number one be to try to make them happy (within reason) and be a source of need satisfaction for them (as long as it is reciprocal and we are getting it back)?

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