Four Horsemen and Michelangelo

IMG_6974In this article, Heather Edwards sheds light on what makes relationships thrive – and what makes them destined for doom.  It was originally published on her blog, New York Psychotherapy and Life Coaching. She is a Psychotherapist and Life Coach, and the Blog Editor in Chief of Couplewise.

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The problems are obvious.  What are the solutions?

Sometimes the key to discovering what works best in a relationship is evaluating and eliminating what we know doesn’t work.  We know there are a few scientifically proven actions that destroy relationships.  John Gottman calls these the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”.  So let’s start there.

The first is Criticism.  Unless this is constructive with the intent of helping, it’s probably hurtful.  In destructive criticism, couples will attack each other’s personality or character in an effort to prove who is right and who is wrong.  It leaves both feeling angry and dissatisfied in the long and short run.  These statements tend to start with generalizations, and include absolute words like “always” and “never”.

The second is Contempt.  In this communication style one partner will attack the other’s sense of self using name-calling, mockery, hostility, and negative or aggressive body language and tone of voice.  It’s intent is to demean and disempower the other person’s position and character. There are no happy endings when contempt enters the room.

The third is Defensiveness.  When one partner feels like a victim, he/she might deny or make excuses for their behavior. They may cross-complain by lodging one of their own complaints in retaliation, or “Yes, but!” the original complaint in refusal of responsibility.  It is a very closed, blaming, and judgemental way of approaching conflicts. And it doesn’t work.

The fourth is Stonewalling.  When one partner stonewalls, he/she has shut down the conversation. The relationship store is closed for business.  There is a stony silence, avoidance, and a withdrawal from communication.  There may be a belief that the avoidance prevents a bigger blow up, but what it really conveys is icy distance, disconnection and smugness.  It actually worsens the problem and sabotages the chance of resolution.

What we know about happy couples:

Happy couples have 5 positive interactions to every negative one.  Gottman calls this the “Five to One Ratio”. Positive interactions are cultivated everyday in successful marriages.  A few examples of easy ways to do this are giving a compliment, showing your appreciation for something big or small, reliving a fun memory, or doing something nice for the other person. The key to the most successful relationships is spending time being together and talking together.  Share your ideas, experiences, and dreams with each other.

More sex = more joy.   In a recent study it was determined that people are 55% more likely to report higher levels of happiness when they have sex two to three times per week.  Having sex at least one time per week makes people 44% more likely to report happiness.  The happiest couples have sex at least 2 to 3 times per month.  The hormones released during sex create stronger bonds, warm fuzzy feelings, and a sense of relaxed satisfaction.  What are you waiting for?  Make sex a priority in your busy life.

Strong relationships have the Michelangelo Effect.  This means that one partner brings out the best in the other.  It creates a sense of esteem and personal satisfaction in actualizing the ideal self. They also share new experiences, celebrate good news, and laugh together.   So go for an evening walk, try a new restaurant, explore new places, relive a funny moment, and show enthusiasm for the other person’s accomplishments.

When in disagreement, the happy couple’s arguing style is open, considerate, and empathic.  It includes active listening, humor, and affection.  They even conceding on certain points their partner makes. After all, one person can’t be right all the time!  Plus, very few things in life occur “always” or “never”.  Except, of course, sunsets and taxes.

Now you have an idea of what empowers relationships, and what destroys them.  You may have recognized some of these positive and negative qualities in yours.  Remember that it’s never too late to make things better.  If you and your partner are invested in enjoying a happy life together, then start employing some of the tips here – and recognize and change the negative ones when they surface.

Everyday is Valentine’s Day

IMG_7082This article is written by Heather Edwards, LMHC, NCC, BCC Psychotherapist, Life Coach, and Blog Editor in Chief of Couplewise.  It is originally posted on her blog at NewYorkPsychotherapyandLifeCoaching.com .  In this piece she suggests ways to celebrate your love everyday.

Valentine’s Day is the day of love notes, red roses, and heart shaped chocolates. Romance is awakened and we feel reconnected.  For centuries, it’s celebrated as a day to declare and honor our one true love.

Some love it.  Some hate it.  Some just follow the relationship protocol.  There are those who yearn for a special day of gifts, romance, and kindness. There are those who loathe the “Hallmark Holiday”, deeming it contrived and corporate.  There are those who choose not to rock the “love boat” and dutifully follow tradition.  Whether you love it, hate it, or are apathetic to it, it happens every year – and this year its happening 3 days from now.  What’s one to do?

Imagine removing the pressure of finding the perfect gift or expression of love on that one day each year.  Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be a single day of celebration fraught with gift giving, spending money, and the materialization of love.  What if instead, we mindfully loved more generously and openly in our everyday lives and relationships? Everyday.   Stop wasting your time and energy searching for differences, problems, and sources of anxiety – they’re way to easy to find and obsess about!  Shift your focus to what is positive, good, and loving.

Let’s take a moment to consider the ways we celebrate and acknowledge our love and relationships on this not-so-subtle reminder called Valentines Day.  There are pretty predictable ways we conform to social expectations, but as you continue reading, imagine incorporating these ideas into each day. Yes, 365 days per year.

Acts of Kindness –

Whether you’re the gift giving type or the favor offering kind, remember the ways you reached out to your partner when your relationship was new.  What were you eager to do for that person, simply for the sake of making him/her feel good?  How did you express tenderness, infatuation, and desire?  Take time to plan a meal, give a massage, or connect through sharing ideas, dreams, and plans.

“I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame.” – W.B. Yeats

Seek Adventure –

When your relationship was new, everything you did together was adventurous simply because YOU were new to each other.  Some of those activities may have gotten lost in the shuffle of responsibility, boredom,  or routine.  Keep novelty alive!  If you are not new to each other anymore, find activities that are unique.  Get outside your comfort zone, together.  After all, getting to know each other was exciting and challenging when there was uncertainty. Recreate that excitement.

“What we find in a soulmate is not something wild to tame but something wild to run with.”  – Robert Brault

Greater Intimacy –

Some confuse intimacy with sex.  Although they can be mutually exclusive, they are far better when shaken and stirred together in a loving cocktail of sensuality.  Touch frequently.  Express gratitude.  Speak warm sentiments.  Be vulnerable.  Ask for what you need.  Confide your fears and exert your power (in a loving way, not threatening).  Don’t assume.  Take risks.  Share your innermost self.

“Warm me like sunlight and soothe me like rain. Burn me with passion and steal away the pain.” – Tyler Knott Gregson

If you’re lucky enough to be in a loving relationship, nurture it everyday.  Keep your feet on the ground, your head on your shoulders, and notice the life partner sharing this journey with you.  When you keep that in mind, everyday can be Valentine’s Day!

5 Pro-Sexual Scripts to Improve Your Sex Life

Assessing your sexual scripts It’s all too easy to function on auto-pilot.  Richard Nicastro, Ph.D., a Psychologist and a Marriage/Couples Counselor in Las Cruces, New Mexico talks about the mental scripts that influence our thought and behavior patterns on a conscious and unconscious level.  Whether we realize it or not, they are our constant companion – we even take them into the bedroom.  How do your mental scripts effect your sexual attitudes and relationships?  Consider the ways they can help or hurt your sex life.  Evaluate and adjust them if doing so can improve your relationship.  – Intro by Heather Edwards, LMHC, NCC, BCC

A mental script is a set of rules and expectations learned early in life (it can be conscious and/or unconscious) that guide and influence your perceptions, feelings and behaviors. When an actor first learns a movie script, s/he must memorize lines of dialogue, but the actor must also learn what it feels like to be a particular character and how this person is likely to behave. After rehearsing the script many times, it becomes internalized by the actor (the actor takes on the attitudes, feelings, motivation and behaviors of the character), and this new persona becomes more natural and automatic and less consciously rehearsed or forced.

Childhood learning is similar to learning a script. Your parents/caregivers, siblings and peers were the directors and/or co-stars of the early unfolding of your life. By observing others and by direct experience (being told how to behave, being praised and reprimanded for certain things you said and did), your character was gradually shaped. Ideally, your parents/guardians were the kind of directors that allowed you to experiment with different scripts and personae that felt most natural to you—allowing your authentic self to emerge and take root. But unfortunately, the parent-director can set overly rigid rules and constraints on a child so that little in the way of spontaneity and authenticity is encouraged. When this occurs, you can end up feeling lost or not fully alive within the constraints of your overly-scripted self.

Relationship Help: Are Your Sexual-Scripts Hurting Your Sex Life?

Over the course of your life, you developed scripts to help you navigate family life, social relationships, work environment, and romantic relationships. Within the arena of love, you are guided by scripts for intimacy, how to communicate, how to express feelings and emotions, as well as using your body as a means for connecting with your partner.

Your sexual-scripts are your attitudes and feelings about sex—these are often unspoken, and linger behind the scenes of your conscious mind where they exert a powerful influence over your experience of physical intimacy.

Here are some sexual scripts that people often hold:

Pro-sexual scripts:

  • Sex is an important expression of love, affection and intimacy
  • It’s healthy and perfectly acceptable to have physical and sexual needs
  • I enjoy receiving pleasure and giving my partner physical pleasure
  • I’m open to experimenting sexually with my spouse/partner
  • Being a sexual being is an important part of being human

Note how each script has a particular feeling and motivation associated with it, as well as an action/behavior that will likely result from the script. Inherent to these pro-sexual scripts is an attitude of acceptance and openness.

Anti-sexual scripts:

  • It’s wrong to have physical/sexual needs and desires
  • I should be ashamed for wanting to have sex
  • I should not find others attractive
  • My partner should not ask me to give her/him physical pleasure
  • I’m too old to feel passion and sexual arousal

Note the constricting, judgmental nature of these negative sexual-scripts. As you might imagine, they can rob you of the joy, pleasure and vitality inherent to healthy sexual expression.

Assessing Your Sexual-Scripts

Take a moment to reflect on your sexual history (how you learned about sex; your first sexual experiences; your parents’/role models’ attitudes about sex) and see how these formative experiences shaped your attitudes about sexuality, sexual pleasure and sexual expression.

Are your sexual-scripts allowing for a fulfilling sex life? Or are they blocking you from the gifts of sexual intimacy?

Critiquing “Hope Springs”: Find out what you won’t learn about couples’ counseling and sex therapy from the movie.

The following review has been written from the perspective of a sex therapist, Dr. Barbara Bartlik, MD (http://drbarbaramd.com/) and Gary Krane, PhD, co-founder of couplewise.com.

 

ImageThe recently released movie, “Hope Springs,” (GET TICKETS) depicts couples’ counseling and in a sensitive and realistic manner, providing viewers with a glimpse of what couples’ therapy actually is like. In addition, the film portrays sexuality in older people in a positive light, which is rare in our society. The film also underscores the importance of good communication and demonstrates how couples can grow in their relationship beyond that which they thought they were capable. We highly recommend the film for people in significant relationships, whether they are new or longstanding. Read more of this post

Marital Therapy May Increase Sex

Posted by Sharon Jackson

A U.S. survey of counseling professionals recently found that the top reason couples fight is not about sex and money, but that neither partner feels important or valued by the other.  The survey, “Marital Therapy May Increase Sex.” 

Dr. Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D [Marriage and Family therapist] has this to say about whether Marital therapy may increase sex:  “It’s true that more frequent intimacy can be the result of a successful marital therapy experience because the underlying problems causing the alienation have been addressed.  But the issues for relationships in trouble are complicated.  And sometimes one of the partners is already emotionally out the door and is coming for sessions to appease the other partner or because there are children involved.  So much depends on factors such as the duration of the marital difficulties, whether infidelity is an issue, if both partners are committed to saving the marriage and how invested each is in being right. So saying that marital therapy may increase sex is misleading, an oversimplification and doesn’t do the subject justice.”