Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Defensiveness Blocks Healthy Communication

“My partner does not understand me.”
“My spouse is always unfair with her criticism.”
“He always has to be right.”

How many of these statements would you answer “true”?
Do you prepare for an attack before it happens?
Do you believe that the best defense is a good offense?

When anyone feels attacked, it is normal to want to defend yourself; however, responding defensively when presented with a complaint is one way to end the opportunity for healthy conversation and connection in a relationship. It also opens the door for an escalating argument.

The best thing to do when presented with a complaint is to slow down and find a way to listen to your partner; possibly even entertaining the idea that they might be right … or have a point worth considering.

Amazingly, those who are able to let go of defensiveness, also feel better about themselves and about their partner. They recognize that “listening to” does not mean “agreeing with” but is rather a respectful way of saying “You … and your ideas … are important to me, even if we do not see things the same way.”

Hearing another person’s complaints about you can feel very uncomfortable, and yet, you might learn something useful, if you can relax and take it from an “informational perspective.”

One of the most important things to remember when practicing listening rather than defending is that it truly gives you power. When someone else feels heard, they are much more likely to “hear”.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Tip of the Week, January 28, 2008

Listen in order to be heard. Being the first one to listen in a disagreement is a good way to build trust.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Strengthen Your Relationship by Giving To Others

We have just returned from a trip to Mississippi to help families affected by Hurricane Katrina. This is our 7th trip there and we continue to be strongly impacted by the pain those families still feel. Even though it has been nearly 2 ½ years since the hurricane, the stories that we hear from the people that we meet are told as if the hurricane just happened. We watch as their eyes look toward the sky and the pain and tears appear on their faces.

One young mother pointed out marks in her ceiling where the family’s dining room table hit against it while she and her 2 children and neighbors were seeking safety in the attic. Another couple and their disabled adult son, still living in a tiny trailer, were so glad to be able to have help so that they could move into their home.

On this trip we spent time helping a single woman with her home. She received some insurance money so had been able to have some of the work done on her home; but had spent much of her free time, when she was not teaching, helping others less fortunate with their homes. She could not believe that someone would help her.

Where ever we go we are called “angels”. The gratitude of those living there is so strong. We are told that our presence alone brings hope to those living there … They are reminded that others care for them. They have not been forgotten.

Giving to others as an individual … as a couple … or as a family … is a wonderful way to put life and problems in a healthier perspective. Sharing positive experiences builds connection to each other. Learning new skills, like hanging drywall or how to frame a window, brings an increase in self-confidence. Watching others who have survived significant difficulties … and continue to be hopeful gives strength and hope that you can also survive challenging times.

Friday, January 25, 2008

I Love My Spouse … But I Am Not IN LOVE With My Spouse

This is a statement that we hear regularly from people who are trying to decide whether or not to stay in a marriage. Often people do not understand that feelings of love change over time and the intensity of feelings rarely stays the same.

I remember hearing in high school during a psychology class that there may be at least 25 people nearby with whom we could have a loving and happy relationship. Many of these people we might well consider “soul-mates” because of the chemistry we might feel and the things we would have in common. Of course, you cannot be married to all 25 … how exhausting would that be!

When the “normal” change in intensity of feelings happens, do not be surprised. When others seem attractive and curiosity about a different relationship emerges in your brain … consider it normal.

Recognize that having those thoughts and feelings are predictable … and no reason to end a marriage. There are lots of ways to reconnect to your spouse … and lots of ways to recover those feelings.

Visit our website (CounselingRelationshipsOnline.com) for some ideas for how to reconnect and fall back in love. Add your own comments here. We would love to hear from you.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Help!... I have just learned that my partner is having an affair.

We have been seeing many people this month who have been shaken by the stress of an affair. The one having the affair often feels conflicted about the marriage, frequently believing that they have found their “soul-mate”, the person with whom they were truly meant to spend the rest of their lives. The “hurt” spouse is often so hurt and devastated that they quickly react out of that pain of hurt, betrayal and anger.

Here are some words of advice for the person who has been hurt … for the time immediately after disclosure or discovery of the affair :

Do not take any quick or drastic action. You will change your mind many times about what you truly want to do. The answers will come with time and hard work.

As hard as it may be, do not push your partner to make a decision right away about the marriage or the affair. Seek advice from a therapist who is trained in helping couples recover from infidelity.

Be direct, open and honest with your partner about the facts you have learned. Many say that the worse part of the affair is the secrecy that builds walls between the spouses. Find ways to be open yourself.

As angry as you may feel, as much as you may want answers, find ways to make sure that is not all that you talk about. Do what you can to work on the friendship … when you can. The friendship and positive feelings are what got you together and may be what heals your relationship.

Remember that few affairs end in marriage. Many break up marriages; however, as time goes on and lovers are viewed in a different light, those relationships most often end.

There are some good books and web sites available to help you develop a course of action for yourself. Visit our web site for suggested help. http://couplesclinic.googlepages.com/

Do you have ideas as well for what helped you … or your relationship to heal. We would love to have your comments.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Tip of the Week, January 21, 2008

Doing for others is a great way to give to yourself … and to your community. It sends a wonderful message to children … no lecture required. Find a way to do something for someone else this week.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Starting a Complaint

We often have people ask us how to get their partner to listen to their concerns without immediately getting defensive or trying to turn the tables with a complaint about them … or about the way that they are making the complaint. We also have people ask us how to keep their spouse from “nagging” or bringing up complaints in an angry way … after they have been “sizzling” for awhile.

Starting a complaint in a positive way can make a big difference in how the conversation will evolve. Often complaints are started when someone is angry about a problem or behavior … and starting in an angry way only causes more anger… on the part of both people. Other times complaints are started after one person has thought about them for a long time and the frustration has piled on top of itself. The complaint then is “spewed” out in a quick and angry way.

Here are some tips to try when you want to talk with your partner about something that is bothering you.

Begin your complaint with a positive statement such as “I love you and I want to keep things good between us … and there is something that I really want to talk about …”

Begin with an example of a time when your partner actually did what you want him to do more of … “Last week, when you got up early with the children and let me sleep in awhile was wonderful. Can we find a way to make that happen a little more often?” or “I know that you have a really busy and complicated job. Yesterday when you called me and told me that you were headed home and would be here by 6:45 … and then got here by that time, really made me feel good. Is there any way that you can do that more often?”

Consider the complaints. Are they concerns that really affect you and your life? Many times people complain about things that bother them but really are not problems. Think about the fact that maybe you should not let that concern bother you … or as some say “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”

Some other good openings are …
“I do not want to hurt your feelings and yet (never “but”) I really need to talk about this“…

“I really feel like you care about me when you … “

“I feel the closest to you when …”

“I know that you only have good intentions when … and yet it frustrates me when …”

Monday, January 14, 2008

Step-Family Support Group of Kentuckiana

Support groups are wonderful for many reasons: meeting others who are in the same situation, finding out that you are not the only one struggling with a specific problem, hearing about how others have solved the same problems and recognizing when you can be a support to others who are in the same situation.

Living in a step-family can be one of the hardest family groups … and couple relationships … to survive in, that is why the divorce rate is significantly higher than in first time marriages. As we look for ways to support healthy couple … and family … relationships, we want to be creative with our ideas and our energy.

The Support Group for Step-Families in Kentucky-Indiana is one way of enhancing family life and supporting healthy families and marriages. The group has been meeting for a few months now and the families that come have been delighted to find others to share ideas, laughs and gripes with. If you … or someone that you know … is interested in learning more about this group, please contact us and we will share more. There is no cost. Children are invited to come … and, even though we do not have child care, we can find ways to meet, and sometimes include them in the discussion.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Tip of the Week, January 14, 2008

Change the time of day or the location when having a disagreement or fight. If you usually fight at night, get your partner to agree to only disagree during the daytime … and actually schedule a time for the conflict. If you generally fight in the bedroom (one of the worst places to fight) then agree to move all of your fights to the kitchen … or out to the back deck. If you have fought in every room in the house, then agree that all disagreements must be taken outside.

Changing the location and time can change the flavor and feel of the disagreement and help keep partners from falling into the bad patterns that caused problems in the past.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Time Out

One of the biggest mistakes that people make when having a disagreement is to continue talking … and arguing … after their heart rate rises and they are flooded. Some of the signs of “flooding” are feeling warm all over, a knot in the stomach, inability to think clearly, a headache or a racing heart.

When anyone is flooded, the tendency is either “fight or flight” … either to run away or to get more escalated, louder, an angrier tone, saying regretful and hurtful things. No one can think rationally when upset and there is no way to resolve issues or hear your partner at times like this. These conversations are deadly for a relationship and, if they happen frequently, can erode even the most loving feelings.

The best way to handle the situation is to call a time out. This does not involve running away, but rather a “time out” hand sign or words like “I am starting to feel flooded or get upset” and to take a break. Couples who talk about this before a disagreement arises can also plan a way to get back together after both are calm, to talk about the issue … if there needs to be a continued discussion.

It generally takes people a minimum of 20 minutes to calm down after they have stopped thinking about the situation or conversation … so it is important to do something different with your brain … read a book, talk about something else with a friend, play with your child, meditate, play a video game. When both are calm, the conversation can resume.

It is also helpful when a partner can notice signs of flooding in either of them and suggest a break with words that name what is happening .. “I think maybe this is not a good time to talk about this because you are appearing to be and/or I am feeling flooded. Let’s talk again when we are both in a better spot.”

It is often harder for the calmer person to allow the break. There seems to be the idea in many heads that it is better to stay with a situation and talk it out until there is a resolution when, in fact, there cannot be a real resolution, maybe a giving in or giving up … but no real resolution when either person is in a flooded state.

Talk the idea of a time out over with your partner and see if there is a way to incorporate this into your discussions, especially when the discussions can be emotionally charged. Remember, while it is the responsibility for each person to recognize when they begin to be flooded, the relationship will be healthier when both take responsibility for calm and respectful discussions.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Men and A Woman’s Tears

When women cry, men often feel helpless and their first response is to try to problem-solve or to convince their partner that tears are not helpful or the situation is not as serious as she may think. The man’s intentions are certainly good ones as men often say that, while they feel extremely uncomfortable when they see their woman crying, their main hope is to find a way to quickly help her feel better.

Women may appreciate their partner’s willingness to help; however, solving the problem may not feel like the best response and she may believe that her thoughts and feelings … even she herself … is just being dismissed.

So ... what is a man to do? If her tears are not about a concern with him, his best response is just to be a “shoulder to cry on” … someone who can just be good a sounding board. Women generally feel much better after they have talked about a problem and often, once some of the emotion has been drained away, can then come up with their own ideas about how to approach the situation. A good thing for men to remember … men or women actually, is that when listening to another person talk about a situation that is upsetting to them, do not offer advice unless asked, or until their partner thinks that they truly have a clear understanding of the situation.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Know Your Partner’s Dreams

What are your partner’s secret desires?
If she could do or be anything that she wanted, what would it be?
If he could spend time on one new activity, what would that be?
Where would she most like to travel?
How does he envision retirement?
What are some things that your partner would want to do while still in good health?
What would your partner like to be doing differently … or more of, 5 years from now? 10 years from now? 25 years from now?

Couples that really know each others’ hopes and dreams feel more connected. They have fuller, richer and more varied love maps and a better understanding of their spouse’s inner lives.

Wives are generally good at supporting their husbands to live out their dreams. Men are also often good at being clear about what they want and need for career, recreational and social pursuits. While many men are respectful and mature in their commitment to home and family, they also recognize the importance of asking for and pursuing what is important to them.

Women are not as good at looking inward and focusing on themselves and what is important to them … especially if it may be at some expense for the family. Dreams may still be there, however women often put the needs of the family above themselves. Interestingly, John Gottman, who did a lot of research on healthy relationships, found that husbands who listen, understand and help their wives to achieve their dreams have better and stronger marriages.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Tip of the Week, January 7, 2008

Why is it that people get married?
… Because we need a witness to our lives.
There are a billion people on the planet.
What does one life really mean?

But in a marriage, you are promising
To care about everything …
The good things, the bad things,
The terrible things … the mundane things.

All of it …
All of the time … every day.

You are saying …
“your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it.”
“Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will witness it.”
From the movie “Shall We Dance”

Friday, January 4, 2008

Stories of Success ... In A Marriage

An Experiment With Positivity

A woman, Jean, who was struggling with her marriage and seriously considering a divorce was reading one of the local advice columns in the morning paper. The problem involved a father and a teen-age son. The son was described as lazy, unmotivated, messy, etc. and the dad described himself as being on “his last nerve” with the boy. He had tried lecture, grounding, taking away privileges and nothing was working. The advice columnist suggested that the father “do a 180,” a complete turn-around in how he was handling the problem, and only talk with his son about things that were going well. The father noted a remarkable difference very quickly after making this change.

Jean, in her struggling marriage, decided to try the very same thing. Instead of her frequent requests and complaints (which her husband described as nagging), she was either quiet and said nothing or found something to compliment him on. This was very difficult for her to do in the early stages of the experiment; however, she noted that within a few weeks, some of the things that she had asked for were now being done spontaneously. Jean further reported that by the end of the month, her husband was doing things around the house … and for her, that she had never requested. It was also about this time that Jean noticed that she had started liking her husband again. She was truly surprised at this turn in her feelings as she had felt very few warm feelings for him over the past year … but thinking about, and talking about his positive efforts and qualities … as well as believing that she could trust these changes that he was making brought about this difference.

Jean noted several months later that things were going very well in her home. Love-making came back into the marriage. Her husband was “courting” her again with dates, notes, phone calls and texts … and she was also initiating flirting and promoting humor and fun.

Do you have any stories of success to share with us?

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Grandmothers of a Son’s Children … Often a Difficult Role

One of the list serves that we receive regularly, www.smartmarriages.com, had recent comments by a woman who is very sad because she felt left out in the cold in regard to her son’s children. She said that she felt less like a grandmother and more like a step-grandmother. She said that she was embarrassed to admit this until she started talking with friends in her own age group and found that this is a very common problem. Interestingly, this was supported by talking with women who had both daughters and sons. All agreed that they were much closer to their daughter’s children than their son’s children. As the women continued talking about this situation, they also all agreed that they felt closer to their mother’s mother than to their father’s mother.

Each of the women talked about ways that they tried to stay connected to the grandchildren … cards, gifts, visits, phone calls … and, while many had decent relationships with their daughters-in-law, they all acknowledged that they felt that the message was clear that their own mothers (the daughter’s-in-law), would be given preferential connection, even when they were not close to their own mothers before the children were born. They also decided that it would only make things worse if they tried to talk with their children about it .. Better to just find ways to stay connected with the family.

Most of the women also agreed that they had not realized this pattern until several years after the children’s birth, when the differences became clear. Try as they might, these women could not think of any way to change the pattern but did acknowledge that it helped to talk about it, know that others shared the same experience and learn to laugh about it. This helped them to be less angry at their sons and daughters-in-law … as well as the OTHER grandmother.

Are there others out there who also have had this experience … or may a very different one? Share what you have learned on this blog.