Who’s Going to Plug the Relationship Leak?

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You are out on a lake in your rowboat on a beautiful day with four of your friends when you notice your feet are wet. You look down and realize that the water is up to your ankles as someone shouts, “there’s a hole in the boat.” You and your friends quickly convene a meeting to discuss the options.

One friend says let’s just ignore the hole because “we probably won’t sink”.e

Another friend begins to blame the others in the boat and says, “someone should have noticed the defect before you left the shore.”

One sits smugly with arms crossed and says, “this teaches you all to take boat maintenance more seriously.”

You notice another friend is totally disengaged from the conversation, staring off into the distance. When you ask them why they say, “they’re looking for another boat”

At this point, you’re feeling desperate because the water is creeping up past your shins. You shout, “someone plug that #$@! leak!”

So what does this have to do with relationships? Actually quite a bit. The international renown research psychologist Dr. John Gottman believes that one of the key indicators of a healthy, thriving marriage is the ability to recover when something happens to put a hole in your “relationship boat.” This hole could be as simple as a thoughtless remark – the fact is, you can’t be in a relationship long before someone puts a hole in your boat.

Gottman calls this effort to plug the leak a “repair attempt.” When repair attempts are made and accepted it is indicative of a healthy marriage. When repair attempts are not attempted or rejected it is a symptom of a troubled relationship.  

So why don’t we plug the leaks in our relationships? Just like the four friends in the leaky boat we have reasons to let our relationship slowly sink.

The Ignorer: This is the one who thinks if you ignore the hole it will go away. Yes, we really do this and guess what, my counseling room is full of couples who have chosen this option. The reality is if you ignore the small holes in your relationship you will find yourself swimming … alone.

The Blamer: This Tactic is to put the responsibility of healing the relationship “hole” on the other person. The problem with this tactic is you go down with the boat too. Not to smart, right?

The Punisher: This is the person who thinks that not addressing the leak in the relationship will somehow teach the other person a lesson. The major problem with this strategy is that it loses sight of the overarching goal – an intimate marriage. Intimacy in a relationship never comes from our dictating the terms of the relationship. It comes from being able to freely express our feelings and desires and allowing our partner to do the same. That means when we see the hole, address the hole!

The Escape Artist: This person’s strategy for dealing with the leaks is to look outside the relationship for a solution. They disengage from any meaningful problem solving and emotionally distance themselves. The Escape Artist is always looking for the next option when the present relationship requires them to do something uncomfortable or confrontational.    

So how do we repair a leaky relationship?

Here are some thoughts:

Take responsibility for your own feelings.

Don’t assume that your partner is aware of how you feel. It is quite possible they are totally oblivious to your hurt. This is because each person has their own perception of reality. A great amount of damage is done to a relationship when we mistakenly think that our reality is their reality. I can’t tell you how many times I have been confronted with this fact. I have been hurt by something someone said and harbor resentment only to discover that they are totally clueless as to why I am upset.

Commit to sharing how you feel in a respectful, non-critical way

Yes, you can tell your partner that you have noticed the hole in your boat in a way that doesn’t cause them to get defensive or dismissive. Here’s how:

  • When (name the actual event without embellishment or subjective criticism)
  • I felt (name the emotions you felt without giving up your own responsibility for feeling them)
  • I need (name what you are requesting from your partner that would help plug the hole)

Yes, I know this is not easy when you’ve been triggered emotionally. You may need to take a few minutes to calm yourself so that you can talk to your partner with a rational mind. Many of us have developed some pretty bad relational patterns that leave every repair attempt in tatters. In fact, some of us instead of plugging the hole take out a knife and put a dozen more holes in the boat. Not smart, I know but very human.

If you find yourself getting wet in your relationship take heart, you can learn these skills if you don’t lose hope, stay humble and keep the ultimate goal before you. To love and be loved in return.

If we can be of any help to you don’t hesitate to reach out to us. And if you’d like to receive our regular blogs and postings please sign up for our weekly updates below. 

Don't Step On My Dream!

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Ever wonder why we argue? Or as Rodney King said, “Why can't we all just all get along?” John Gottman, the world-renown relationship research psychologist, has given us significant insight into human conflict. He believes that most of our conflict comes from our vision for the life we desire to live. In other words, it is about the dreams we have for the future. We all have the way we think our lives should be and when that “reality” is challenged it creates turmoil in our lives. Here’s an example:

Kathy and Pete argue about money all the time. (does this sound familiar?) Every time Kathy goes to buy something she knows that she’s going to get the third degree from Pete.

“What do you need that for?”

“Can’t you find it on sale?”

“Do we really need more stuff around the house?”

And on and on and on …

So Kathy goes shopping with a chip on her shoulder (or rather Pete on her shoulder) and Pete anxiously scans the online bank account looking for the next “frivolous” purchase. When the inevitable happens and Kathy buys something a fight breaks out all over again. They think they are stuck in the same argument about money but they would be wrong. They are not arguing about money – in fact, money has very little to do with their argument. It is actually about their vision for their lives.

They are arguing about conflicting dreams!

Pete came from a family where there was little security. They were always on the verge of collapse. To him, money means security, safety, and stability. Something he desperately needed as a child.

Kathy came from a family where money was of little consequence since it was in abundance. To her, money is a source of fun, happiness and a means of making wonderful memories.

So when Kathy spends money Pete’s stomach gets tight and he feels his dream of security is being threatened. When Kathy hears Pete complain about her spending all she sees is the crushing of her dream for a beautiful life. No wonder they fight, their dreams are attacking each other!

Here are three things we need to know about our dreams. 

  1. We always fight to preserve our dreams and when we do we often fall into one of these three traps.
  2. Like Pete and Kathy, we often don’t realize this is what we are doing so we have no chance of resolving the conflict.
  3. When we fight for our dreams we are often not in a good position to deal with reality. Our dreams may be fantasies and actually hurt us if we pursue them.

When we fight to preserve our dreams we are in no place to understand and honor the dreams of others and therefore we lose out on true intimacy; not to mention we end up sustaining a perpetual argument.

Dreams are real, they are the golden door to discovering the real you, so let’s take a deep breath and find a better way forward. The reason why you are the way you are and love the things you love is due to the dreams you hold in your heart. Knowing them will give you exquisite insight into where conflict arises in your world. And knowing your loved one's dreams will help you create intimate connections with them.

Here are some questions to ask yourself and others. Call them dream catchers …

  1. What do I expect from life?
  2. What would an ideal day look like?
  3.  When I die what would I like my legacy to be?
  4. Who am I most afraid of disappointing? Why?
  5. When are the times I am most frustrated?
  6. Who are my heroes? What do I most admire most about them?
  7. When I think about my childhood, what were those things that were most magical for me?
  8. When I think about my childhood, what were the things that hurt me most?

Our dreams can be elusive but they are well worth capturing for they hold the key to nurturing beautiful relationships with ourselves and others. Take some alone time this week and answer these questions. Plus, if you want to really make some progress in your relationships take some time to sit down with those you love and see if you can catch their dreams too.

As always, if we can be of any help to you please don’t hesitate to reach out. Please join our mailing list to make sure you get all of our posts and blogs. 

"Talking To The Hand" Doesn't Work - And Here's Why

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Ever get hurt by what someone said or did so badly that you close down and stop communicating? It’s a bit like touching a hot stove and then quickly withdrawing your hand because, as we all know, only crazy people would leave their hand on a hot stove, right?

That’s exactly what I’m going to propose you do.

Of course, I’m not talking about a hot stove – I am talking about the courage to find insight when you’re emotionally triggered.  For many of us, our “knee-jerk” reaction to being hurt is to pull away and become silent. This causes the other person to either press for a response or withdraw wondering, “what just happened here?”.

The bottom line is that nothing gets better when we choose the tactic of; "talk to the hand 'cause the face ain't listening". The argument may blow over and the status quo return but the next time you touch the “hot stove” the pain returns and this time it brings with it the accumulated unresolved hurt from past injuries.

 John Gottman, the founder of the renown Gottman Marriage Therapy, calls this stonewalling and lists this approach to conflict as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and a major factor in failing relationships.

But like most relational patterns it is difficult to break because it feels like we’re preserving our life but in actuality we are draining the life out of our relationships. Getting hurt is inevitable. Relationships always trigger emotional wounds and the closer the relationship the deeper the hurt.  But relationships also provide us the greatest opportunity for finding  healing for these wounds, if we don't run away from the conflict.

You want me to do what? Can’t you see that everything inside of me says to run?

It is exactly for that reason we must stay in the relationship and find healing. That pain you are feeling is a giant neon sign pointing to the place of your brokenness. Relationships have a way of pointing us to these places – what we do with this pain will determine whether we find wholeness or remain broken.

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Stonewalling keeps us stuck in our unresolved, and unhealed wounds

Next time you experience a painful encounter in your relationship, instead of pulling away try creating a new healing pattern. Here are some steps that may help.

  1. Don’t engage when you’re emotionally distraught. This condition is called being “flooded” and it is impossible for you to have a rational conversation because your brain is “flooded” with chemicals from your sympathetic nervous system. Check your heartbeat, if it is racing over 100 beats per minute (80 if you are athletic) then take 20 minutes and breathe until you can return to a calm emotional state.
  2. When you do speak about your hurt, start gently and use only I statements. Talk about how you feel not about how they “made you feel”.
  3. Avoid criticism at all costs. When we criticize we are giving up responsibility for your own feelings and blame the other person for our reaction. This will only create defensiveness in the other person and dis-empower you.
  4. Look for deeper causes for your pain. Ask yourself some probing questions:
  • Why am I so disturbed by this?
  • Does this feel similar to something from my past?
  • How does it affect the way I see myself?

If the knot is too tight for you to untie consider getting professional help - don't stay stuck in your unresolved pain. Life is too short for that!

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Alone – In a Relationship

How Did I Get Here?

When we find ourselves in a difficult relationship one of the questions we tend to ask is; “how did I get here?”

Nobody starts a relationship with the expectation that, somewhere down the road, we’re going to end up feeling isolated, unloved and alone. So if that was not our intention how did it happen? Let me give you a few of the detours we take that lead down the road to an unfulfilling relationship.

It all centers around the fact we are reproducing the only kind of relationship we know.

I tell my clients that we will only deal with the past when the past gets in the way of our future. Unfortunately this is almost always the case. We learn our relationship skills from those who modeled relationships to us. How our parents resolved conflict, created a safe and secure environment and met our emotional, physical and spiritual needs will become the model we think of as “normal”.

I can hear some of you saying; “Wait a minute! I hated the way I grew up and I am doing everything I can to do it differently”. I acknowledge your efforts and support your intentions but changing the dysfunctional relational patterns of the past requires more than just recognizing what did not work; it requires the ability to put new healthy patterns in place. In order for true change to happen we must implement lifestyle changes that will feel awkward, totally unnatural and difficult to consistently apply. Here are some of the areas that we often struggle in:

How was conflict managed in your home?

Were criticism, contempt, defensiveness or stonewalling used when disagreements arose? Was there a “win at all cost” mentality? Or were you like many of us never privy to the arguments that happened behind closed doors. Few of us learned how to express anger or our complaints in a healthy way so naturally we find it difficult to do it in our relationships.

How was love and comfort expressed?

Did you feel loved and cherished in your home or did you feel like you were on the outside looking in? Conversely, were you smothered and used as an emotional support system for one or both of your parents. Not experiencing healthy love and comfort in our home leaves us with a deficit that is extremely hard to fill, especially by an unaware spouse.

How was communication handled?

Was information communicated directly or did it come through channels. If someone was angry or upset did you hear it from them or did it come at you via third parties. If we or our partner is unused to direct communication then we may feel threatened or frightened by their frankness and it may be difficult for us feel connected.  

What were the expectations for each family member?

What was expected of each member in your home? These expectation are often transferred to your new relationships without even a conscious thought that your spouse may have a different set of expectations. 

If you and your spouse are not in agreement in these areas then you are bound to feel misunderstood and alone. We create such strong and deeply held beliefs that when our partner shares a contrary view we can’t accept it, much less understand it. If we are ever going to have healthy, satisfying relationships we need to understand what those relationships look like.

After all, a sure way to become utterly lost is to redouble your effort after you have lost sight of your goal.  And that is what a lot of us do when we’re in unhappy relationships. We try desperately to make changes in ways that are just as dysfunctional as what we are trying to change. The real change needs to happen in us before we can hope to see a significant change in our relationship.

I have often had clients recount to me a litany of failed and dysfunctional relationships as if there was some grand conspiracy to make sure that they would never find happiness. I always listen patiently. (Okay, sometimes I get a wee bit impatient) But I do understand that there is deep pain and sadness when we feel disconnected, alone and hopeless. Eventually we get around to the inevitable question. What do all these relationships have in common? At this point my client has a very hard time answering that question but eventually (with some prodding) the light comes on and they say – it’s me. Yes, I say in my wisest and most compassionate tone, it is you. So what do you want to do about that?

We are at the center of our lives for good or for bad so if we’re ever going to experience something different we’re going to need to see what we are doing in order to create something new. And that my friends is why we look at the past and ask the above questions.

If you are having difficulty with knowing what healthy relationships look like I have a suggestion. Read the Beatitudes (Matthew 5: 3-10 and 1 Corinthians 13) and especially study the life of Jesus Christ. For in his example we find the highest, truest, and most worthy example of how we are to interact with one another. Or as the Apostle Paul said so well:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
— Philippians 2:5-11 NIV

As always if ever we can help you on your journey to find joy we're here to help.

Managing Pesky Perpetual Problems in Marriage

We all want our relationships to be conflict free – right? We all have a dream somewhere hidden deep in our hearts that we’ll arrive at that perfect place in our marriage where we are completely understood by our spouse and that all arguments magically disappear. But it hasn’t happened yet and (I’m sorry to say) it is never going to happen.

According to Dr. John Gottman, who has done more than 40 years of research on more than 3,000 couples, 69% of all conflict in marriages are perpetual; that is to say they are never going away. So what do we do? Are we doomed to a continual state of aggravation?

Here’s another fact that Dr. Gottman discovered through his research. Master marriages are not conflict free - they learn to resolve conflict in a way that strengthens the relationship rather than tears it apart.

So how can we resolve conflict well? Here it is in one word; compromise.

First let me tell you what compromise is not:

  • It is not sacrificing your core beliefs
  • It is not over-riding your spouse’s core beliefs
  • It is not giving up and retreating in discouragement
  • It is not taking turns winning
Compromise is the ability to let go of those things that are non-essential while holding on to your core dreams and beliefs.

Think of it this way; most conflict has a foundation in an underlying dream or desire that is being threatened. We have a vision for our lives that is not in alignment with our spouse. We call these beliefs “non-negotiable” because to compromise them would be to change how we fundamentally believe we should live. But surrounding these core beliefs is a wide area of more flexible desires that are open to compromise. Here’s an example:

Joe and Sally are arguing over where they are going to take their summer vacation. They have had this same argument for the past twenty years and inevitably somebody wins and somebody loses and it is the source of much tension in their marriage. Sally wants to spend quality time with her family (who Joe dislikes, but that's another issue) and Joe wants to go someplace fun like Orlando or Las Vegas so he can relax. They have tried the “you got your way last year so now it’s my turn” strategy but that ends up with someone having a miserable time and making the whole family miserable. The art of compromise can make this perpetual problem manageable.

They take out a piece of paper and draw two concentric circles. In the middle circle they write the non-negotiables (i.e. their core beliefs) in the outer circle they write what is negotiable. For Joe his inner circle has fun, relaxation, entertainment) For Sally she has connection with Family. What they soon discover is that when they experience their “non-negotiable” is very negotiable. Joe is okay with connecting with family but not during his once-a-year two week vacation. Likewise, Sally is fine with seeing family during other non-vacation times. They were able to work out an arrangement where Sally would see family for long weekends and periodically invite them to join them for a week in Orlando which would accomplish both their core goals.

The secret to compromise is to accurately and simply define the core, non-negotiable desires in as narrow a way as possible so that it opens up a larger area for compromise. When we get our core desires met we are far more eager to be willing to give way to help our partner get what they need.

Next time one of those pesky perpetual problems arise draw the circles and see if there’s more flexibility than you thought. It will help you examine the root of the problem and help get some out-of-the-box thinking going.

If we at Total Wellness Resource Center can answer any questions you have or help in any other way don't hesitate to email us at connect@totalwellnesscenter.net or call us. We're here to help!

Huh … What’d you say? How to Predict a Failed Relationship

There are a few iron clad predictors of lasting relationships according to John Gottman’s forty years of research and one of those predictors is what he calls “turning to” rather than “turning away” from your spouse. Let me explain.

I’m sitting on the couch very quietly minding my own business reading the latest news of those incredible Cubs and how I’m sure they are finally going to break the 108 year old world championship drought … but I digress. So while I’m reading, my sweet, beautiful and extremely talented wife chooses to ask me a question about the menu for the week. Let me say upfront that I am not one of those discriminating fussy eaters. There is almost no food that I do not enjoy and especially anything that Cheri would prepare. So I almost never have any opinion about her meal planning and what’s more, I think she should know this after numerous times of her asking and me responding with; “duh … I dun know”. So do I choose to enter once more into this dead end conversation or do I ignore her question and remain engrossed in fantasying about the Cubs? If I choose to be silent then I am heading right into one of the leading predictors of relational trauma. It is so easy to do and obviously (at least to me) so justifiable. Why respond when I know exactly what the outcome of the conversation will be? Am I not entitled to pick and choose which conversations I engage in and which I leave to parish from neglect?

Marriage can be a beautiful dance of give and take, call and response that binds the two together into an intimate friendship.
— James Tillman

If I am committed to loving my wife and being the husband that I believe God wants me to be then I am also committing to communication even when it is inconvenient, seemingly unnecessary or uninteresting. Yes, I am committing to connecting with my wife whenever and wherever the opportunity arises. Please understand that I am saying there won’t be times when we ask not to be interrupted or we may respond by asking for time since we are in the middle of something. What I am saying is healthy marriages are about a hundred little moments throughout the day when couples share their thoughts, feelings or observations with each other. Marriage can be a beautiful dance of give and take, call and response that binds the two together into an intimate friendship. But let me give you some whys. When we turn toward rather than away from our partner it …

  • Defeats propensity toward selfishness
  • Opens up opportunities for shared encounters
  • Shows respect
  • Improves communication
  • Breaks down barriers
  • Demonstrates loving kindness
  • Sets a great example to our children

If it is such an important part of a healthy marriage why don’t we do it? The bottom line is that we cease making our relationship a priority by making it less important than our comfort, convenience or a particular interest of the moment. That article about the Cubs will still be there in a few minutes but the chance to connect with my wife over something that interests her will not. It doesn’t even need to be a long dialogue. Turning to your partner can be as simple as acknowledging them with a grunt, a laugh or a quick statement of agreement. However, if you want to supersize your “turning to” skills then go out of your way to acknowledge your partners statement with your own thoughts, feelings or observations. For me that would go something like …

Cheri: So baby what would you like for diner this week?

Me: (looking up from my beloved Cubs article) Diner? Let me think. You know I’m not picky, I like everything you make. What would be fun for you to cook this week?

Okay, I’m not that good but you get the message. Turn to not away when your spouse is speaking to you and you will find a friend, companion and someone who you are blessed to share your life with.

We at Total Wellness Resource Center are committed to you becoming all that you were created to be. If ever you need support or encouragement please let us know. You can contact us a connect@totalwellnesscenter.net.