Understanding emotional reactivity-it’s childsplay

Who is talking…your child or adult?

This is an important awareness couples develop in the course of RLT work with me. (Terry Real Relational Life Therapy).

The conception is that there are two parts of our psyche that come into play in a relationship. One is our Adaptive Child which was formed by either modeling or coping with our family environment when we were powerless children.  The AC is the reactive part of us that is interested in self protection and tries to look like an adult.  Essentially she tries to look like an adult by adopting any number of psychological coping skills -defending, walling off, blaming, being critical, hiding, self righteousness …..All of these reactions are adopted instead of a measured access of that elusive Functional Adult that is often only exhibited in our workplace and rarely with a person that matters and pushes our buttons. The FA has the ability to see the other person’s perspective before defending themselves, restrains himself from criticizing or making mean comments, takes responsibility for his part and knows that listening doesn’t mean he agrees. In short, the FA wants intimacy.

Our bodies give clear signals of which part of us is showing up.

ADAPTIVE CHILD                     FUNCTIONAL ADULT

Black & White                                 Nuanced

Perfectionistic                                 Realistic

Relentless                                        Forgiving

Rigid                                                Flexible

Harsh                                               Warm

Hard                                                 Certain

Tight in body                                 Relaxed in body

When couples have conflicts it is usually their ACs that are engaging. Part of the couples work is to “take their sticky hands off the steering wheel” and let the FA do the driving.

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Helping couples talk about money…..

When couples have conflict about spending and money it often boils down to a power struggle. To start a conversation about this hot topic it’s good to explore each partner’s priorities and their experiences in their families surrounding money and spending. This article has four exercises that are very effective to help couples listen to each other share how they think and feel about money.

http://on.wsj.com/2y5CNoy

 

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How Not To Hate Your Partner…. Terry Real’s approach is ‘blowing up’ on Goop!

How Not to End Up Hating Your Partner

For the last 5 years I have been taking Terry Real’s training on working with couples.  More are discovering his approach and it’s effectiveness which I find really exciting! How Not To Hate Your Husband After Kids by Jancee Dunn, published in 2017 has a chapter on the author and her husband’s marriage transforming session with Terry. Now Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop Wellness and Lifestyle has discovered the RLT approach. Check out this article

 

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Jump start your relationship with an Intensive Session!

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The drain of parenting…..

I see many young couples struggling the stresses of maintaining intimacy in their marriage while parenting and running the household.  I ran across this article, originally published in “The Conversation”.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++

Lots of women look forward to motherhood – getting to know a tiny baby, raising a growing child, developing a relationship with a maturing son or daughter. All over the world, people believe that parenting is the most rewarding part of life. And it’s good that so many mothers treasure that bond with their child, because the transition to parenthood causes profound changes in a woman’s marriage and her overall happiness… and not for the better.

Families usually welcome a baby to the mix with great expectations. But as a mother’s bond with a child grows, it’s likely that her other relationships are deteriorating. I surveyed decades of studies on the psychological effects of having a child to write my book “Great Myths of Intimate Relationships: Dating, Sex, and Marriage,” and here’s what the research literature shows.

When people marry, they’re usually in love and happy to be tying the knot. But after that, things tend to change. On average, couples’ satisfaction with their marriage declines during the first years of marriage and, if the decline is particularly steep, divorce may follow. The course of true love runs downhill. And that’s before you factor in what happens when it’s time to start buying a carseat and diapers.

For around 30 years, researchers have studied how having children affects a marriage, and the results are conclusive: the relationship between spouses suffers once kids come along. Comparing couples with and without children, researchers found that the rate of the decline in relationship satisfaction is nearly twice as steep for couples who have children than for childless couples. In the event that a pregnancy is unplanned, the parents experience even greater negative impacts on their relationship.

The irony is that even as the marital satisfaction of new parents declines, the likelihood of them divorcing also declines. So, having children may make you miserable, but you’ll be miserable together.

Worse still, this decrease in marital satisfaction likely leads to a change in general happiness, because the biggest predictor of overall life satisfaction is one’s satisfaction with their spouse.

Despite the dismal picture of motherhood painted by researchers, most mothers (and fathers) rate parenting as their greatest joy. Much like childbirth, where nearly all mothers believe the pain and suffering was worth it, most mothers believe the rewards of watching their children grow up is worth the cost to their romantic relationships.

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False Affair Confession

After an affair, couples come into counseling believing that the offending spouse will tell the truth in the office. That is rarely the case.  I tell them that my “TruthMachine” is out for repairs and they remain stuck in the confusion of a partial confession. It can be recognized by it’s typical presentation. 

Firstly a partial confession is limited to what has been uncovered. Information only comes out a little at a time as additional secrets or lies are discovered. Spouses who grudgingly confess to each new bit of new evidence are only conceding to what they have to admit. True confessions will almost always include more information than you already know.

Discussions of what happened leads  only to confusion, not clarity.  When it is hard to make sense of your spouse’s story, they are likely being deceptive. A typical deception is where the spouse insists that no sex happened even though it confounds common sense. ( ie. spending a night in a hotel room but nothing happened.) Full honesty results in a clear perspective, even though it often reveals an ugly picture. Deception, on the other hand is full of awkward twists and turns and unexpected dead-ends. When you are listening to lies, you will likely end the conversation being just as confused (or even more confused) as you were when it started.

Also there are quick shifts to defensiveness and blaming when questions are asked about the affair. Once a person has decided to tell the truth, it is a relatively easy thing to do. Easier, at least, than managing all the lies. If your spouse is still lying, they will want to shift the focus away from themselves by becoming defensive, shutting down, or blaming you.

Typically responsibility for the affair is subtly shifted to the spouse (ie. you never wanted sex, or your constant nagging drove me to it) and then there is an expectation that you do the major work to get things on track rather than accepting the responsibility themselves. If your spouse claims to have made a full confession and then leaves you to do the major work in fixing your marriage, something isn’t right. Here are a couple examples:

(a) Instead of taking the initiative to create a trustworthy environment, your spouse expects you to give her/him a checklist for what you need and it is grudgingly followed, usually with complaints about paranoia. 

(b) Your spouse leaves it up to you to fight for boundaries that help you feel safe rather than voluntarily establishing new rules for outside relationships. Genuine confessors realize the need to accept responsibility for change.

It is common sense to expect that someone who broke trust should take responsibility for fixing it yet I regularly encounter unfaithful partners who seem annoyed with this expectation. Their reluctance or resistance indicates a heart that remains self-focused. Unless that changes, there can be no real return to trust.  

Next post will be on how to recognize a true confession and a partner who genuinely wants the marriage.

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Responsible Time Outs

We have all experienced arguments where we or our partner are so flooded with emotion and upset that we need a break to stop the destruction. The best way to stop  verbal abuse – from self and another- is to take a formal time-out.

A time out is not the same as saying “I’m out of here”, then taking leave with a door slam. A responsible time out has specific guidelines.

When either partner calls a time-out – by saying the words, “time-out,” by using the “T“ hand signal, or by using any agreed upon sign – the interaction comes to an immediate stop. Partners agree in advance that a gestured signal means the following spoken word: The spoken or gestured signal is understood by both partners to be an abbreviation of the following words:

“For whatever reason, right or wrong, I am about to lose it. If I stay here and keep this up with you I am liable to do or say something stupid that I know I’m going to regret. Therefore I am taking a break to get a grip on myself and calm down. I will check back in with you later on this.”

Twenty minutes is a good break time but you can agree to something else if you like.  But if no time is specified, 20 minutes is when you need to check in. Checking in does not necessarily mean getting together to resume the discussion.  You can check in – either in person or by text or telephone – and tell your partner that you need more time. With each extension, the time-out interval gets longer. The recommended length between check-ins is:

Twenty minutes

One or two hours

Half a day

A whole day

Overnight

It’s best to give the topic of conflict a minimum of 24 hours rest before revisiting. Timeouts limit the damage and show respect and value for the relationship.

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Hold me

Sometimes a song sticks with me and this is one of them. So often couples come in seeking to reconnect emotionally. Words get in the way of connection and the gap can be closed with simple physical, non-sexual closeness.  Enjoy the song….

 

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Is porn causing problems?

I ran across this quiz in the online Men’s Health magazine.

http://www.mensfitness.com/women/sex-tips/quiz-are-you-addicted-to-porn

To avoid the ads associated with this link I copied and pasted the quiz and scoring. I found the comments in the scoring very accurate. Pornography stimulates chemicals in the brain just as a substance does, so that the behavior can be an addiction. As with alcohol, tolerance develops and greater stimulation is needed to get the same ‘buzz’ With effortless online access, this is a growing issue for many couples.

 

PORNOGRAPHY QUIZ

 

  1. Do you spend more than 11 hours a week viewing porn?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

 

  1. Does your porn viewing have a negative impact on your relationship with your partner?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

 

  1. Does your porn viewing get in the way of your work or seeing friends and family?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

Do you ever choose to watch porn over hanging out with friends or family?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

 

  1. How often do you use porn as a way of making yourself feel less depressed or bored?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

 

  1. Do you ever feel like you should try to stop watching porn?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

 

  1. How often do you use porn as a way of making yourself feel less depressed or bored?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

 

  1. Do you ever feel like you should try to stop watching porn?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

 

  1. Do you ever have problems getting hard or ejaculating with your partner?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

 

  1. Do you fantasize about what you’ve seen online to get in the mood for sex?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

 

  1. Have you found that you need more and more porn, or that you have to visit increasingly hardcore sites to get the same buzz?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

 

SCORE

Under 8 – You’re probably not a porn addict. But if you have a family history of addiction, you could still be considered ‘at risk.’ “Make sure you have sexual experiences that are porn-free and develop a range of strategies for coping with stress and boredom,” says Hall. “And if you feel your porn usage is creeping up, cut back for a while so your dopamine levels can re-calibrate.” Dopamine is the pleasure chemical that’s released when people view porn (or have sex, eat food, etc.), but the more you release it, the more you need to get the same buzz, says Hall. “That’s why people with porn addiction find their behaviors escalate to spending more and more time online and/or watching harder and harder core porn. Like alcohol, cutting back or quitting for a while will lower your tolerance again.”

9- 15 – Your porn habit is bordering on being “problematic”—so use this as a time to get a grip! Cut back a bit. Hall explains “porn is often the easy solution to dealing with life problems, but remember that it often causes the very problems that you’re trying to escape. If you’re having issues with your asshole boss or your high-maintenance girlfriend, try facing them head on.

16-20 – “You almost definitely have a porn addiction and it’s likely that you’ve struggled for quite some time to stop it,” says Hall. If you’re already noticing that porn is having a negative impact on your life, your relationships or your sexual functioning now is the time to do something about it. Hall recommends seeking out a 12-step group like Sex Addicts Anonymous or making an appointment to see a sex addiction therapist

20+ – “If you’ve scored over 20 and haven’t tried to get help yet, please do so today,” says Hall. “Like many people with a serious addiction, you probably don’t even enjoy porn any more but for some reason, you just can’t explain why you feel driven to it. What started as a pleasurable pastime, turned into a habit and then into a curse.” At this point, Hall says, your addiction is likely robbing you of reaching your goals and enjoying partnered sex. “This is a problem you can beat and the sooner you take action the sooner you can get on with your life.”

 

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COUPLES COMMUNICATION SKILLS – IT’S A DIALOGUE NOT A DEBATE

Many couples cite ‘communication skills’ as a reason for entering therapy. What that usually means is “help me convince my partner that the way they see things is wrong.” Why is it so difficult to listen to someone who sees things differently from us? 

Communication requires assertiveness which is the midpoint between aggression and passivity.

The desire to “win” is common to both assertiveness and aggression.

The desire to be considerate is common to both assertiveness and passivity.

When a person is assertive, the desire to win is tempered by consideration for the other side’s view or feelings.

According to the Mayo Clinic, assertiveness means that you express yourself effectively and stand up for your point of view, while also respecting the rights and beliefs of others….It is not a debate with each partner trying to convince the other of the error of their thinking and how theirs is the only way to see things correctly.. In order to have a dialogue, input from others has to be invited and allowed. This calls for assertiveness and not aggressiveness. Debate is a smackdown to prove power while dialogue is a tango where both move.

Most couples asking for help with communication are really asking for help with conversation. In therapy I help couples practice having a dialogue to learn that it is not fatal to listen when you don’t agree.

A basic exercise comes from the Imago approach. It may seem artificial but it can be very powerful practiced slowly with therapist coaching. The basic ground rule is that only one person talks at a time and then there are 3 main steps

MIRROR

In the Mirroring step, when your partner pauses, or perhaps when you have asked them to pause, you will repeat back everything you heard them say.  You may paraphrase, but you will mirror without analyzing, critiquing, modifying or responding. 

How to Mirror:  “If I got it, I think you said…”  or “So you’re saying…” 

Ask if there’s more:  “Is there more?”  or “Tell me more.”

VALIDATE

Once the Sender says there is “no more”, the Receiver will attempt to validate what the Sender has said by letting the Sender if what they have been saying is making logical sense to the Receiver.  If it does not, the Receiver will simply share what does make sense, then ask the Sender to say more about the parts that do not yet make sense.

How to Validate:  “You make sense to me because…”  or

“That makes sense, I can see where…”

Ask for clarification:  “This part (X) makes sense, but help me understand,

can you say more about…?”

EMPATHIZE

In the final step, Empathy, the Receiver takes a guess as to what they imagine the Sender might be feeling with regard to what they have been saying.  If the Sender has already said how they feel, then the Receiver can simply reflect this back once more.  If, however, the Receiver can think of an additional way their partner might be feeling, this is where they can add that.

When sending empathy, it is fine to say something such as:  “I can imagine you feel like …. (you’re the only one working on our relationship).”  However, it’s important to know that once the word “like” comes into play, what’s being expressed is is a thought, not a feeling.  The best way we have come to distinguish the difference between a thought and a feeling, is that a feeling can generally be described in one or two words:  e.g., happy, excited, safe, cared for, hurt, frustrated, scared.

Try to include some “feeling” words if you can, in this step.  Doing so, especially when you are lucky enough to hit the proverbial nail on the head, will often bring a look of recognition and joy to your partner’s face faster than anything else you could say.

How to Empathize:  “I can imagine you might be feeling…”

Check it Out:  “Is that how you feel?”                                  

FINISH

Now that the Sender has said all they have to say and the Receiver has mirrored, validated and empathized, the whole process reverses.  The Receiver now gets their turn to respond with whatever came up for them while the first partner was sending and the Sender shifts into being the new Receiver who does the mirroring, etc. 

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