10 Ways to Resolve Marital Conflict

IMG_0270Who doesn’t love a wedding? But with months and months of planning, it only lasts a short while – and then there’s the marriage. If history is prologue, neither former first daughter, Chelsea Clinton, nor longtime boyfriend, Marc Mezvinsky, had great role models for marital bliss. And that’s even without the religious issues – she was raised Christian and he’s Jewish.

This much publicized union is affirmation of America’s shifting religious landscape. There has been a gradual increase in interfaith marriages over the past two decades and more than 30% U.S. households now are mixed-faith. Despite changing attitudes, it’s still not easy to make marriage work.

If you or a loved one has recently tied the knot, you know that marriage constitutes a major change. Emotional reactions at times of transition are common and normal. And in making the necessary adjustments, some conflict is inevitable – all couples get angry and have arguments. Whether a marriage will last depends, in part, on how you prepare for the challenges. You’ll find that some of these tips may serve you well:

1. Keep your communication open and honest.Talk out misunderstandings before they become arguments. Don’t resort to low blows or get side-tracked by pointing out questionable character traits. Practice active listening skills and sending I-focused messages to clarify that what you’re saying is your own opinion.

2. Use cooperation and compromise. Be direct yet flexible as you make your way through disagreements. Look at the issue from your partner’s perspective and practice empathy. Ask yourself if being right and winning the fight is more important than the success of your relationship.

3. Minimize emotional overload. Flooding is a physiological arousal that is activated when tensions are high and communication stalls. If you’re quarreling, state a desired outcome and stick to the subject at hand. Try not to blame your partner or get defensive, and take some responsibility for what’s going on.

4. Practice non-threatening behavior. Monitor any negative comments and be slow to criticize. Try to control your emotions because your body language and tone of voice make a difference. Count to 10 before reacting – if it looks like the conversation is escalating, walk away.

5. Agree to a time-out strategy. Before you say something you may later regret, decide to put some distance between yourselves and the problem. Plan to return to the conversation later and work out a solution. And then take a break until you’re less upset and settled down enough to listen without planning a rebuttal.

6. Find a comfortable position, close your eyes and breathe deeply. Hold your breath for several seconds and release it slowly through your mouth. Repeat this several times, brushing away any distractions. Notice how focusing only on each breath can make you feel more calm.

7. Pay attention to constructive thoughts. You can turn the negatives into more positives.  For example, his anger isn’t all about me; we really do love each other; she’s under a lot of pressure at work; this too shall pass; I’m upset now but I know we’re right for each other.

8. Choose your words. In the midst of an argument, any one of these phrases would be welcomed by a partner feeling misunderstood: I might be wrong; stay with me and don’t withdraw; I see my part in all of this; let’s find common ground; I love you and we’ll work this out.

9. Stay engaged. A gentle touch, eye contact or a quick hug can release oxytocin, a hormone that facilitates bonding as well as reduces blood pressure and stress levels. When you’re feeling tense, an affectionate moment can help you feel closer, loved and even more relaxed.

10. Build emotional dividends. If you characteristically turn toward rather than away from each other, the goodwill you accumulate can provide an emotional cushion. Maintain a reserve of shared positive feelings and you will be able to draw from this supply of affection in times of conflict.

No matter who you marry, there are bound to be all sorts of differences – family values, cultural backgrounds, socioeconomic status, religious traditions. But if you work toward understanding, each can complement and enrich the other.

Chelsea and Marc have attended family holidays together so they may have already started a discussion that includes Christmas trees and Hanukah menorahs. It is often rituals and family relationships that give faith meaning. The Clintons have raised Chelsea well and she has stood by her parents through tough times. And Chelsea is a survivor – resilient, transcendent, private, well balanced – all qualities that can only enhance a marriage that seems off to a very good start.

This blog post was contributed by Phyllis Goldberg, PhD © HerMentorCenter, 2012. All rights reserved. The above material may not be copied to another web site without the express permission of HerMentorCenter.com.

Got Relationship Blues?

Hint: Stop Criticizing

Why endless criticism is doomed to failure.

 

Look at your relationship.

The problems seem obvious. But, what are the solutions?

This guest blog by Heather Edwards, breaks down relationship problems into a digestible form,making it easier for you to do what’s needed to be happier.

The Good Relationship:

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

Criticism:

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.”

Contempt:

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

Defensiveness:

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

Stonewalling:

The fourth is Stonewalling. When one partner stonewalls, he has shut down the conversationThe 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 thechance of resolution.

Learning From 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. 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, their arguing style is open, considerate, and empathic. It includes active listening, humor, and affection. They even concede 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, for 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 try to change the negative oneswhen they surface.

________________________________________________________________________

This piece was a contribution by guest blogger, Heather Edwards, MA, LMHC, who is a therapist and life coach located in New York City. She can be reached for consultation at:

• http://newyorkpsychotherapyandlifecoaching.com/

 _____________________________________________________________________________

Motivate My Partner Twitter Contest!

cw_withbg_250x250GRAND  WINNER!

  1. $100 now and $100 after our first 1000 couples join CoupleWise!
  2. Two one year memberships to CoupleWise!  One for you and one for a couple you adore (perfect anniversary gift), $360-$400 value.

WEEKLY WINNERS!

  • Weekly winner gets one hour free counseling session from CoupleWise founder, Gary Krane PhD or a licensed therapists on our board of therapist advisers.
  • The next 6 runners up will each get a free 6-month subscription to CoupleWise (estimated $59 value). You can use it yourself or give it as a gift to someone else, for example to a friend on their anniversary or to a parent on Mother’s / Father’s Day. A CoupleWise subscription would make a great gift to a couple any time.

EVERY USABLE IDEA!

TO ENTER: Tweet or write your ideas and tell us, in 140 characters or less,  “How you motivated (or could motivate) your partner to devote more time, attention, and effort toward improving your relationship.”  

Tweet your Motivational Ideas to @couplewise with the hashtag #CWMMP (CoupleWise Motivate My Partner) beginning NOW until Friday, February 14th, 2014.  If you’re not on Twitter, you can email your Motivational Ideas to MotivatePartners@RelationshipTechnologies.com.

All entries must be submitted by February 14, 2014, Valentine’s Day! The winner will be announced on March 14, 2014 and the top 10 suggestions will be viewable at CoupleWise.com.  Your name and email address will be kept strictly CONFIDENTIAL, unless you request otherwise.

Please also include your first name, age, and state and country of residence.

Criteria for entries:

– Creative and Original; the more creative, the higher the rating (10 points being the highest)

– Cost under $10; must be affordable to most people  &  not difficult for most people to do.

– Proven: show us evidence you actually did it and it worked! You can send us a video testimonial that we can post on  our site or a written testimonial from your mate as to how he or she got motivated. We will send him or her an email to verify this.  NOTE: You can still win without this proof!

About CoupleWise:

CoupleWise.com will be offering  before Mother’s Day a robust, highly interactive, individualizable web and mobile app to empower couples to create stronger, happier relationships. The CoupleWise technology

  • Enables couples to quickly clarify their problems without criticism or arguments.
  • Skills to listen empathically to each other and to make and keep agreements, and much more.
  • Ways to motivate an unmotivated partner to work on improving  the relationship.
  • CoupleWise is gay friendly.

Credit Where Credit is Due:

The best ideas will be posted in CoupleWise. Entries will be kept strictly anonymous, unless you want credit. Let us know if you would like to be credited for your idea and how? For example we could list your first name and city, but it is up to you.

Rules:

1. All federal, state, and local taxes on prize are the sole responsibility of the winner. No purchases are necessary; void where prohibited by law.

2. Participants agree to abide by all decisions of CoupleWise, contest co-sponsors, and judges, which shall be final and binding with respect to all issues relating to this contest.

3. Prize is not transferable and no cash alternative or prize substitution is available. CoupleWise and contest co-sponsors reserve the right to substitute a similar prize of equal or greater value if the prize listed is unavailable for any reason. All potential winners are subject to verification at the discretion of CoupleWise and contest co-sponsors.

4. Winner agrees that prizes are being provided “as is”, and CoupleWise and contest co-sponsors make no warranty, representation or guarantee regarding the prize, including but not limited to its quality, condition, merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.

5. CoupleWise and contest co-sponsors are not responsible for problems including (but not limited to) damaged, incorrect, inaccurate, lost, delayed, or defective entries, or for injury or damage to any computer resulting from participation in this contest. Entries that have been tampered with or altered are void.

6. CoupleWise reserves the right to modify, cancel, postpone or end the contest at any time as necessary, at its sole discretion, or to disqualify any participant or winner, at its sole discretion, deemed to have cheated, destroyed, obstructed, or otherwise acted illegally or in bad faith in relation to this contest.

7. CoupleWise reserves the right, at its sole discretion, to disqualify any individual it finds, in its sole discretion, to be in violation of the Terms of Service; to be acting in violation of these Official Rules; to be acting in a unethical or disruptive manner, or with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any other person.

8. By submitting an entry and entering this contest, you represent and warrant that: you are over the age of 18, or entering with the knowledge and permission of your parent or guardian (subject to verification), and that the entry does not contain or incorporate the intellectual property and/or confidential information of any third party.

9. By submitting an entry and entering this contest, you hereby grant CoupleWise a perpetual, irrevocable, sublicenseable, worldwide, royalty free right to publish and distribute your entry for their promotional purposes.

10. Governing Law: All issues and questions concerning the construction, validity, interpretation and enforceability of the official rules, or the rights of entrants, shall be governed by and construed in accordance with, the substance laws of the State of New York and any applicable laws and regulations of the United States.

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?

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.