I’ve worked with couples for almost a decade and over that time I’ve seen a pattern of couples coming in to work on their relationship about 7 years too late. By the time they come into my office there has been so much damage done that the relationships are often not salvageable and that is devastating.
Why is this?
It’s understandable that when we are first in love we want to just enjoy those good feelings! And there is nothing wrong with that! Love is a wonderful thing!!
The problem is that very few of us want to engage in discussing topics that aren’t currently problems, especially when these discussions may involve some conflict. Unfortunately that means that many couples move in together or get married without ever thoroughly discussing essential topics, like:
- money and financial management
- communication styles
- conflict management
- sex and intimacy
- beliefs, values and unspoken expectations
Many couples hope or assume these things will just work themselves out in the long run. But when these topics are left unaddressed they often lead to relationship break-down.
Right now in Canada there is a 48% divorce rate. Another statistic I learned more recently is that people are spending on average $20,000 on a wedding. Those are terrible odds – investing $20,000 with only a 50/50 chance of a positive outcome.
So why do we do that?
I think we’re working on a very outdated model of relationships. There used to be a time when people would come together with very specific roles and societal pressure to stay together. But it’s so different now. We expect so much. We want our best friend, an activity buddy, somebody we think is funny and interesting and the list goes on.
So if you knew there was a way of increasing the odds of having a successful long-term relationship would you do it?
Most of us would say a strong YES!
And yet only a very small percentage of couples will engage in any sort of marriage or cohabitation preparation. That preparation could be counselling, working with mentors, it could be a lot of different things.
Yet very few couples do any of these things. At the same time there is so much research out there to show the behaviors, skills and types of conversations couples engage in who are in strong healthy relationships.
I want to help couples develop these strong foundations so that the investment they are making in their relationship is one that pays off. And one that pays off in having a secure, solid and thriving relationship.
If you are interested, please join us for a two day marriage/cohabitation preparation workshop.
- Where: Squamish BC
- When: Saturday March 2 and Saturday March 9, 2019
- What: This is an educational workshop and not intended as therapy so while there will be general discussions, but you do not need to share personal information.
- Cost: $275/couple
Click here to register or learn more about this workshop.
Please feel free to share this with anyone you know who might be interested!
Sadly no wine is involved in this post, but it is an interesting question posed by a relationship psychologist I listened to in a recent podcast: ‘You 2.0: When did marriage become so hard?’ (from NPR’s Hidden Brain podcast).
Let me explain.
In this podcast the psychologist shared a quote from the movie ‘Sideways.’’ In this quote the actor is talking about why he loves Pinot Noir – because the grape used in Pinot Noir requires very special conditions and a lot of care and attention to grow versus a Merlot grape which is much more resilient and needs less TLC, but is more common. The psychologist then suggested that many of us are aiming for ‘Pinot’ relationships with ‘Merlot’ skills and efforts.
In other words, we want to have a relationship where we are best friends with our partners, lovers, intellectual equals, adventure buddies, etc. But, we spend very little time identifying and developing the skills and behaviors necessary to support these expectations.
A ‘Pinot’ relationship is not better than a ‘Merlot’ relationship, but if you have ‘Pinot’ expectations, it’s important to have a clear understanding of the skills and behaviors that are needed to support this type of relationship.
I see this mismatch between relationship expectations and partner skill sets time and time again in my private practice. I have such deep respect for individuals and couples who become aware of and address the missing skills required to support and nurture their relationships.
But let’s face it, it’s scary taking an honest look at ourselves, it’s vulnerable and easy to feel ashamed and embarrassed rather than curious. And society seems to give us the message that we should just somehow…magically… have all the necessary skills to be a great partner and to build a healthy relationship. Talk about pressure!
Very few people would put on a pair of skis and just expect, because they have legs, they should know how to ski well! Just because we are, by nature, relational beings, does not mean we automatically have all the skills and knowledge to create sustainable, healthy relationships.
So whether you want a ‘Pinot’ or ‘Merlot’ relationship, committing to learning the skills and behaviours associated with thriving relationships is essential.
So what are these skills and behaviors?
There are many, many great books and articles covering these topics. Here are just a few titles:
- The Relationship Cure – John Gottman
- Hold Me Tight – Sue Johnson
- The 10 Conversations You Must Have Before You Get Married – Guy Grenier
As a starting point though, the single most impactful skill you can focus on is communication. Having the courage to take a good look at your communication strengths and growth areas is the biggest gift you can give to yourself and any current or future relationships and partners.
Interested in learning more?
Reading about something is one thing, but putting it into action is where change and growth happen.
To that end I’ve created a free workbook to help you put one powerful communication skill into practice.
Sign up here to get your workbook and get started today!
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Today I was thinking about the amount of time most of us invest in improving ourselves professionally, yet, how little time many of us invests in improving ourselves as relationship partners. It’s as if somehow we think this should just come naturally, but building healthy relationships can be quite a journey. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start, so I decided to review a few different relationship blogs that I think offer particularly good information, tools and resources.
The Gottman Institute was started by John and Julie Gottman, both couples’ psychologists. This blog offers couples and clinicians practical, research-based tools and skills to strengthen and repair marriages and relationships.
The Couples Institute was started by Ellyn Bader and Pete Pearson, both couples’ psychologists. This blog offers couples articles and practical exercises for improving their marriage or relationship.
Sue Johnson is a psychologist and primary developer of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT). Her blog posts include lots of great information and research about topics ranging from love to neuroscience to attachment
When asked most people say they don’t want to be lied to by their partner, yet consciously or unconsciously there are a lot of cues we can give to our partner that lets them know we are not prepared to hear the truth about what he/she is thinking or feeling.
Here is a quiz developed by Ellyn Bader and Pete Pearson of the Couples Institute that can help you to evaluate your typical responses to your partner:
When my partner begins to reveal a truth, emotion, or a disturbing aspect of himself or herself, I….
|Almost Never||Occasionally||Very Frequently|
|Look forward to the conversation|
|Listen very carefully and non- defensively|
|Ask for more information|
|Coordinate with my partner and if necessary, negotiate a better time to talk|
|Try to draw out a more complete understanding of his/her perspective|
|Tell myself to stay calm and attentive|
|Tell myself not to take personally what is being said|
|Recognize and appreciate the risk taken to self- disclosure|
|Compliment myself for encouraging the truth|
When I hear my partner saying something I really don’t want to hear, I….
|Quite Often||Occasionally||Almost Never|
|Believe it’s mostly my fault|
|Withdraw and pout|
|Counterattack and blame|
|Don’t’ say much now but will dump on him/her later|
|Use the silent treatment or cold shoulder|
|Interrupt and change the topic|
|Tell him/her why he/she is wrong|
|Pretend to listen but tune out and don’t remember a word that was said|
Add up your totals for each column
- Column 1 = 1 point,
- Column 2 = 3 points,
- Column 3 = 5 points
9-18 Congratulations for your honesty
18-27 Watch out for your tendencies to discourage truth telling
27-45 You’re on a great track. You really know that eliciting the truth builds a stronger foundation
This quiz can be a helpful tool for increasing your awareness of the ways you may be encouraging and discouraging your partner’s truthfulness.
Once your nervous system gets escalated and moves into fight/flight/freeze response, it’s next to impossible to have a useful discussion. And for many of us, we don’t even know when that response has been triggered in ourselves let alone in our partner. So we continue trying to communicate with little success. This state of nervous system arousal causes us to perceive almost everything in our world as a possible threat to our survival – we tend to see everyone and everything as a possible enemy. You both may still be engaging with words, but at the core all you can focus really on is self-protection – its pretty hard to be curious when your nervous system thinks you are under attack. Our hearts are closed. Our prefrontal cortex – related to empathy, is disengaged. Our systems become focused on fear and self-protection, not love and connection.
Because nervous system arousal can happen so quickly an important aspect of improving communication is to become more aware of when your nervous system has escalated into fight/ flight/freeze.
Here are some of the signs that the nervous system is in fight/flight/freeze:
- We experience an adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol surge
- Breathing rate increases.
- Awareness intensifies and our impulses quicken.
- We become hypervigilant, “looking for the enemy”
- Fear becomes exaggerated and thinking becomes distorted as we see everything through the filter of possible danger.
Dr. Dan Siegel offers a nice demonstration that can help to make this brain process more concrete. Once you start recognizing some of the signs that you have moved into fight/flight/freeze you can start to experiment with ways of calming your nervous system before continuing a discussion with your partner. More on some of those strategies in the next post.
If you would be loved, love and be loveable…
You don’t develop courage by being happy in your relationship everyday. You survive it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.
I care about who you are, who you have been, who you want to be. I open myself to you to listen and learn about you. I cherish you, not just my fantasy of who you are, not just who I need you to be, but who you really are…
relationship communication cartoon from poorlydrawnlines.com