4 Tips For Making a Good Marriage Better

IMG_8708We’re easily swept up in the activities of our everyday lives.  Often, we find comfort and safety in the predictability of the status quo.  We establish routine, a flow to each day, and somewhat mindlessly move from one thing to the next.  In this article Phyllis Goldberg, Phd, MFT , Therapist, Relationship Coach, and one of Couplewise’s renowned therapist advisers, offers tips for keeping your marriage fresh and engaging.  Try out more ideas that will  bring joy and spontaneity into your relationship with the “play and fun” module of CoupleWise.  This module is based on Gary Krane, PhD’s book, Simple Fun for Busy People.  The playful activities are designed for couples who feel overwhelmed or overworked with no time for fun.  It provides easy ways to make the ordinary situations of everyday life exciting.  – Intro by Gary Krane, PhD and Heather Edwards, LMHC

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How to Make a Good Marriage Better by Phyllis Goldberg, Phd, MFT , Therapist, Relationship Coach, and one of Couplewise’s renowned therapist advisers.

You know what they say if something is moving along without any major hurdles – ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ But your marriage may not yet have reached its full potential. Believe it or not, you can change boring routines and improve your relationship.

According to the field of interpersonal neurobiology, our brains are constantly changing. And that is impacted by how we interact daily. Loving relationships can alter the brain circuits that shape memories and emotions.

Think about the immediate attraction when you first fell in love. This alchemy continues throughout life, and how we treat each other matters. In a loving relationship we can change neural functions when we decide to be more compassionate. And holding hands is enough to reduce stress and minimize physical pain. So whether you want to release euphoria-inducing chemicals like dopamine or change the wiring in your brain, here are some ideas to consider:

Invest emotionally. Make time for each other and keep romance alive. A gentle touch or quick hug releases oxytocin, a hormone that facilitates bonding. When you’re tense, an affectionate moment can help you feel relaxed and more loved. Studies show that celebrating positive events predict greater relationship satisfaction than complaining about negative ones. Just like with any valuable asset, the efforts you make will be returned in multiples.

Eliminate boredom. Lightheartedness is often a casualty of hectic family life and then, when the kids leave home, there’s an even greater void. Talk to your partner about this without being critical. Plan adventures and discover activities you both enjoy. Take on a physical challenge together and train to make it happen. Have fun and laugh – being playful can lead to greater intimacy.

Ask for what you need. No one is a mind reader. Sometimes couples can get frustrated and stop talking. Try to understand each other’s disappointment or resentment. Meet halfway and get more of what you want.  If you invest in your own happiness, your partner won’t have to be responsible for your wellbeing. By taking action, you’ll feel more confident and your relationship will reap the dividends.

Express gratitude often. Compliments serve as positive reinforcement at the very times when you may be taking each other for granted. If you feel distant, try to see your partner in a different light. Look for the qualities you love about each other. And when you’re having positive thoughts, say them out loud. Being satisfied with small changes can make a good marriage better.  Click this link for a lovely video on experiencing gratitude daily.

© HerMentorCenter, 2012. All rights reserved.

10 Tips for Fair Fighting

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10 easy tips for fair fighting will simplify and calm the way you respond to conflict.  Having a few ready-made tools can improve your success in navigating those dreaded heated moments with your partner.  Being mindful, factual, and empathic are just a few of the basic skills that deescalate potentially problematic interactions. It’s never too late to change bad habits – as long as you’re willing to try a new approach.  Conflict in relationships is a fact of life.  It doesn’t have to be deal breaker.  –Intro by Gary Krane, PhD and Heather Edwards, LMHC

-Originally written and posted by Heather Edwards, LMHC in NewYorkPsychotherapyandLifeCoaching.com

In my Coaching and Psychotherapy work with individuals, couples, families, and business partners I’ve found a few simple & effective tools for de-escalating arguments and resolving conflict as tensions rise. People often seek coaching or therapy once they’ve found themselves in repeated unhealthy or unproductive patterns. This can be a frustrating and seemingly hopeless situation without the intervention of a helper or the resources needed to get out of the mire. We can all attest to the fact that feeling stuck stinks, so try these simple tips to enlighten the way you debate.

1. Use “I” messages instead of “You” messages.
Recognize how conflict affects you. Give your feelings words. Unless your partner is clairvoyant, there is no way for him/her to truly know your experience. Brush up on your feelings-words vocabulary. Be specific about your experience. Notice where you feel your feelings. Physical symptoms are cues to recognizing your emotional responses, such as anger, anxiety, fear, sadness, or joy. Don’t be afraid to make yourself vulnerable by sharing your feelings. It can open the conversation to a genuine course of understanding and problem solving.

2. Own your feelings, actions, and wishes. State them clearly.
Use concrete, behavioral terms to describe what you want to say. Keep it short and sweet. Take responsibility for what you see, what you want, and how things need to change. Avoid accusations and blame.

3. Eliminate the words “always” and “never” from your vocabulary.
Very few things occur 100% of the time. Instead, think in terms of percentages on a scale of 1-100. Ask yourself, “What percentage of the time does this problem occur?”. Chances are it is not nearly as often as it seems. This can help gain a more accurate and realistic view of the problem which will help you address it more effectively.

4. Stick to the facts.
Resist making generalizations, interpretations or blaming statements. These will only put the other person on the defensive and derail the purpose of the argument. Stating facts rather than personal attacks keeps the conversation moving forward in a proactive way.

5. Stay focused on the goal of resolution, rather than “winning” the argument.
Once you get caught up in who’s right and who’s wrong the original problem becomes moot. When voices are raised and tempers are heated, the anger is what’s heard instead of the message. The conflict is now a power struggle that nobody really wins.

6. Avoid name calling, and physical violence.
This sabotages problem solving, mutual understanding, and conflict resolution. It damages the foundation of your relationship, threatens safety, and is more difficult to heal than the original dispute. Keep your anger and triggers in check. Be assertive, not aggressive.

7. Leave past issues in the past.
Focus on resolving the disagreement that exists in the here and now. When ancient history is exhumed, the current problem gets lost, becomes ambiguous, and takes a whole new shape. If there are unresolved issues from the past, come back to them in a dedicated discussion at another time when both parties are cool.

8. Be an active listener.
Hear what the other has to say. It’s only fair to offer the kind of listening you want and deserve in return! Repeat out loud what you heard the speaker say and check it out with him/her to be sure you got it right. Give him/her an opportunity to clarify, tweak, or restate his/her message.

9. Practice empathy.
Consider the other’s feelings and perspective of the problem with an open mind. Ask for their ideas. Don’t assume you already know them. We are all individuals with our own history, experience, and frame of reference that shade the way we think, perceive, and interact with others. Honor each other’s unique self.

10. Keep calm.
Take deep breaths or a five-minute-time-out to stay cool. Recognize when your barometer is rising. Once anger wins, the argument is lost. As stated by Thomas Paine, “The greatest remedy for anger is delay.”.

Arguments as Opportunities for Intimacy and Empathy in Your Relationship

photoMany couples find themselves repeating the same fight. The patterns become habitual and ineffective ways of meeting needs and resolving conflict. But what if couples hit the pause button and first determined their goal?

Before responding to your partner consider this, “What is most important to me? Is it the quality of this relationship or being right?”. Having the wrong goals only exacerbates the discord.  Refocusing is the ultimate teaching of CoupleWise. Acknowledging the unmet needs that are fueling the argument helps to clarify the real problem. Then, couples can address the source of the conflict, (e.g. trust, respect, safety, etc.) rather than the symptom.  Refocusing and the quality of the relationship becomes the priority.

In Dan Wile’s insightful paper below, he describes “refocusing” this way: “The inner atmosphere of a relationship is continually changing. There is the possibility at any moment to capture an intimacy that is intrinsic to that moment and to create a collaborative (empathic) cycle.”  In shifting our focus and goals, we are deciding to keep our partner as an ally rather than as a stranger or enemy. In any argument, there is an opportunity to develop intimacy rather than distance and alienation. In this article, Wile describes just how this change can happen, creating the “second level in the relationship”.

Wile, as our readers might recall from his excellent essay about Repair Attempts, which we published earlier in our blog, is the therapist whom the eminent Dr. John Gottman calls, “a genius and the greatest living marital therapist [in America].”.  Wile’s website is http://danwile.com/ and he can be reached at dan@danwile.com.   –Intro by Gary Krane, PhD & Heather Edwards, LMHC

OPENING UP A SECOND LEVEL IN THE RELATIONSHIP

(Originally published in the Los Angeles Psychologist, a publication of the Los Angeles County Psychological Association, Nov/Dec 2000) by Daniel B. Wile

A relationship is like the weather ‑‑ continuously changing. At any moment, you can confide your concerns and turn your partner into an ally, avoid them and turn your partner into a stranger, or attack and turn your partner into an enemy. You’d be turning your partner into an ally were you to say, “I’ve been feeling lonely all day at work.” You’d be turning your partner into an enemy were you to say, instead, “You’d never think to call me, would you?” You’d be turning your partner into a stranger were you to say nothing about what you’re feeling and ask, simply, “Anything good on TV tonight?”
What you want to do, of course, is to turn your partner into an ally ‑‑ and just keep him or her there. But let’s say your partner (you’re a wife talking to her husband) is taking too long to get to the point, you’re finding yourself getting impatient, and you can’t think of how to tell him that without hurting his feelings, starting a fight, and ruining the evening? So, you keep your mouth shut, but that turns him into a stranger, and a still-nattering one at that. Eventually you blurt out, “Can you get to the point some time in this century!” which turns him into an enemy, hurts his feelings, starts a fight, and ruins the evening. There was relief in getting that out, but you were surprised yourself at how harsh it sounded.
The quality of life in the relationship depends on how you deal with this enemy (or stranger) you repeatedly turn your partner into. What you’d like to be able to do is immediately turn him into an ally, by telling him, “I can’t believe I said that,” or “I think I just crossed the line, or “I’m shocked myself at how harshly that came out,” or “There was a point I was trying to make but I don’t think that was the way to do it.” You’d be taking him into your confidence about your distress over what you just said. You’d be turning him into an ally in the manner by which you’d be acknowledging having just turned him into an enemy. You’d be opening up a second level in the relationship.
This is the capability I want to talk about here ‑‑ the capability of solving the problem you just created by re-assembling the relationship on the next higher level. You’d be creating a second tier in the relationship, an observation post, a process relationship, a joint platform, an observing couple ego.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to imagine anyone having the presence of mind to come up with such a perfect conciliatory gesture. To start with, you don’t feel conciliatory. You’re angry at him. Later, in the shower, you’re still angry. You tell yourself: “What a bore he is. And if he knew me at all ‑‑ and he should after all these years ‑‑ he’d know I’m the last person on earth to care about all those details.” But, having gotten that out of your system, you’re calm enough to think, “He really did look stricken when I snapped at him like that. Poor guy!” And who says I’m so easy to live with? In fact, I’ve got the opposite problem. I worry so about boring people that I don’t give them enough information to know what I’m feeling. Who’s to say which is worse?”
You stepped into the shower commiserating with yourself; you stepped out of it commiserating with him ‑‑ which puts you in position to turn him into an ally. You go to him and say, “I feel bad about snapping at you earlier.” You hope he’ll say, “Well, I appreciate your saying that.” But no such luck. “Yes,” he says, “why do you always have to do that!?!” This immediately makes you sorry you said anything at all. You’re obviously his enemy now, which makes you want to return the favor. You open your mouth to tell him, “Here, I’m trying to be an adult and what do you do: you use it against me. You’re acting like a baby. The hell with you!”
But before you can get that you, you tell yourself, “Of course, my original comment was pretty harsh ‑‑ I was acting like a baby ‑‑ so I can’t expect him to come around right away. He needs a little time to get over it. His rejecting of your peace offering turned you into his enemy; your inner re-analysis of it turned you back into his ally. You tell him, “Yes, well, I’m not proud of it.” Your soft response when he was expecting another retaliatory sally ‑‑ he was actually wincing in anticipation of it ‑‑ completely turns him around. He says, “Well, I’m not proud of taking so long to get to the point. I know I do that a lot ‑‑ sort of get lost in minor details ‑‑ in fact I’ve been doing that with people all day and no one’s been listening to me.” He’s looking at things from your point of view in response to your having just done so from his. He’s sympathizing with you for having a partner who doesn’t get to the point, in response to your having just sympathized with him for having one who snaps at you when you don’t. The two of you are standing back looking at your earlier fight, but now each of you is viewing the other person’s position compassionately. This is the definition of shifting to the second level.
What everyone wants to do, of course, is to make such a compassionate second level an increasingly more prominent part of the relationship. Every couple has its own set of unsolvable problems that they’ll be grappling with throughout the relationship. Establishing such a second level is an ideal grappling tool.
The difficult-to-achieve goal, although you hope over the years to approximate it, is to turn the unsolvable problems (e.g., your getting impatient when your partner takes too long to get to the point), as well as any moment-to-moment problems, into usable clues for navigating the relationship. Imagine being able to tell your partner, “I hate to tell you this, but I’m starting to tap my foot,” and ‑‑ here’s the important part ‑‑ knowing that he will welcome your saying it. You’ll know he’ll see you as making a contribution to the relationship, as rescuing the two of you from the morale-sapping exchange in which you are pretending to be interested and he is pretending not to notice that you aren’t ‑‑ which, when one of you stops pretending, will lead to a fight.
Imagine further his telling you ‑‑ which he very well might do, since he’d be taking what you said as information rather than as criticism ‑‑ “Yes, I didn’t realize it until what you just said, but something’s troubling me that I’ve been circling around because I don’t know what it is.” You, then, are able to say, “Well, maybe it’s what you just said: that no one’s been listening to you all day?” You’d have avoided becoming part of the problem ‑‑ another person who wasn’t listening to him ‑‑ and, instead, had become part of the solution: someone who finally was. You would have turned this ongoing issue in the relationship ‑‑ this unsolvable problem ‑‑ into an opportunity for intimacy.
Here is the theory of relationships implied in this example:
1. You repeatedly find yourself in the unmanageable situation of having feelings about your partner that, if you express them, lead to one set of problems, and, if you don’t express them, lead to another.
2. A good way to deal with this unmanageable situation is to open up a second level in the relationship. But you can do so only when you find yourself looking at things from your partner’s point of view. Everything depends on how you feel when you get out of the shower.
3. Even then, you can’t expect your partner to come around right away. Much depends on how well the conversation you have with yourself guides you through the shoals of the one you have with your partner.
4. The ultimate goal is to turn the problems of the relationship into opportunities for intimacy.