If you clicked on this blog title, chances are you or someone you know is letting technology take over their relationship. But have no fear, you are certainly not alone. We are all susceptible to the trap of spending hours on that new app, binge watching the latest Netflix offering, or getting lost in a sea of social media entertainment. Many of my clients report simply wanting to be able to unwind and relax after a long day of work and parenting, and I don’t blame you! There’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking a little time for yourself in order to recuperate. I relish my alone time as much as anyone. However, as with most things in life, balance is key.
Research has shown that arguments that start off harshly will result in tension that is equal if not more intense than where it was when the argument began. Starting discussions with your partner in a SOFT way is important and crucial to conflict resolution and maintaining emotional safety within the relationship.
Generally, rules and guidelines are designed to provide structure and a working understanding of how to act/behave in any given environment (i.e. rules for sports, traffic laws for drivers, and behavior expectations for employees). The same principle applies to the rules for fair fighting when it comes to couples.
“I try to connect with my partner, but he just shuts me down. I have tried to share many times in the past the issues I have regarding my boss, but my partner just criticizes me for what I am not doing instead of listening to me. Every time I talk to my wife, she just shames me for my decisions. My partner is here, but I can’t talk to them. I feel so alone.”
Do any of the statements above sound similar to something you’ve experienced in your relationship? Are you tired of trying to share your world with your partner and get shut down or shut out? If so, you are in the right spot. I hope my blog gives you a quick educational snippet of what emotional safety is and how, without it, relationships tend to suffer.
What is Emotional Safety?
Emotional safety refers to a state when an individual is able to be truly open and vulnerable in a relationship. When an individual feels emotionally safe, their social connections tend to thrive. When social connections are thriving, long-term relationships can be cultivated!
How is Emotional Safety Disrupted in a Relationship?
Threats to emotional safety in a relationship can come in all forms. From my experience, it is not the BIG arguments that cause couples to come into therapy. It is the SUBTLE threats that build and build over time that lead couples to question what has happened them. These subtle threats include: feeling attacked and then feeling the need to counterattack, shutting down, being judged, being criticized, and being shamed.\
How Can Emotional Safety Be Rebuilt?
Rebuilding emotional safety and reconnecting with your partner can be a daunting process. Here are just a few tips to rebuild emotional safety: effective communication, fair fighting, soft start up, acceptance, and love.
As research states, emotional safety is a key component of a long last relationship. When a person’s mind and body feel safe, their connections and relationship tend to thrive. If you and your partner are still feeling overwhelmed, please give me a call and I would love to help you rebuild the relationship you want and deserve!
“Are we going to make it?” And “Is this the worse you’ve ever seen?” are two frequent questions I get from my clients. When emotions are at a 10 and it feels like there’s no way out of the fight or crisis, it can feel like you’re drowning, and you’ve got only one big push to get that last breath before sinking down to the bottom. It’s scary. It’s exhausting. It feels very hopeless and isolating. Arguments can happen anywhere there is more than one person in the room. Two personalities, two opinions, and at least two ways of seeing something can correlate to miscommunication, which can lead to disagreements. Problems shift, however, when we stop seeing our partner as on the same team and begin to see them as ‘the other’ or ‘the enemy’. Reminding ourselves that ‘We’re in this together’ and to continue to fight the issue, and not the person, is vital to keeping this a fair fight.
Dr. John Gottman and Nan Silver wrote in, “What Makes Love Last? How To Build Trust And Avoid Betrayal” that *relationship killers are founded on two building blocks: deception (not revealing your true needs to avoid unpleasant conflict) and a yearning for emotional connection that seems unavailable from the partner. Trust is reestablished only when these areas are addressed and validated in one another. Gottman and Silver list 10 ways to betray a Lover. We’ll address five of them in this blog.
One is having a shallow or conditional commitment. When couples ignore or avoid discussing deep issues, a shallow commitment is left. Intentionally talk about goals and dreams. It’s just as important as talking about the budget or the weekly and monthly calendar. Talking about our goals and dreams helps partners to feel like a team and seen as not just business partners running a household, but two committed people wanting a stronger bond and connection.
Two, a nonsexual affair. If by what you’re doing, saying, texting, messaging, emailing or interacting/confiding in with another person would cause your partner to be uncomfortable, probably not a good idea. Be careful when you want to rekindle a past relationship on social media. In my experience, I have yet to hear someone in my office tell me that life was better because they chatted with an ex on social media or became ‘friends’. Innocent friendships are out in the open, encouraged, and have respected boundaries. If you are turning outward to fill a void in the relationship, it’s time to turn inward and talk to your partner about your needs. Sometimes when you feel off in the relationship, so does the other partner.
Lying is the third betrayal. Lies that are uttered to maintain the peace are a breach of trust.
Forming a coalition against the partner is the fourth. When we turn to our family members and friends to gain approval or to alleviate our anxiety versus turning towards our partner, we do our relationship a huge disservice. Reparation can only happen when we keep our marital conflict in the marriage or in a confidential setting with a trusted therapist.
Fifth is absenteeism or coldism. A committed relationship requires being there for each other both through life-changing traumas and everyday stresses. It also means sharing in the joys and good times as well. Remind your partner what a great wife or husband, mother or father, worker or person they are. “Atta girls”, and “Atta boys” don’t just apply to children. We, as adults, need affirming words and love pats too!
*Physical and emotional abuse is the worst kind of betrayal and is not in this list or being addressed in this blog.
If you are a sibling, have had a good friend, or ever been in junior high, you know all about insults. You know when someone insults you, you insult them right back. And not just any insult. An insult against all insults. You try to one-up their insult. Then they try to respond with an even greater insult. Until someone throws a mom under the bus with, “Your mom!”The perpetual hamster wheel. It’s all fun in games until someone gets hurt. When we get older, it becomes your wife shutting down or your husband leaving. Insult wars start with words and actions that spiral out of control until homes are wrecked, marriages become irreparable, and lives are left devalued.Long before the above scenario occurs, little offenses might be taking place. Maybe it’s laundry not being put up or a spoon not placed in the dishwasher. These are such little things. However, as we know, those tiny little snowflakes can cause quite a disastrous avalanche. It’s not about socks and spoons. It’s about feeling respected and our time being valued. When we don’t voice what our needs are and push our feelings down by telling ourselves it may be easier to just ‘clean it up ourselves’, the real issue goes unheard and unaddressed.Tension and conflict are not the issue in the relationship. It’s how we deal with the conflict and treat one another during those tense times that leads to hurt and devaluing one another. Fighting fairly means we are able to have concern for our partner’s feelings as well as having awareness of our own behavior. It’s saying, “We’re on the same team.” “I love you.” “There’s something I’d like to talk about.” Choosing not to participate in criticism (“You never…”), contempt, defensiveness (“It’s not me, it’s you”), and avoidance can lead to repair and change.In order to be intentional in handling conflict, we need to cultivate: curiosity, compassion, and (self-) control. Providing empathy to our partner’s feelings in a respectful manner, without the harsh tones, can do wonders. Ask yourself, “Where is my ownership in this fight?” It might be a good idea to take a break and come back to discuss the situation. Reiterate to your partner that you want to discuss the issue, but you need some time to think about your words and process before the discussion. This will ensure that the ‘problem’ isn’t being avoided and that you are working to come to a resolution.If you have found yourself in the perpetual hamster wheel, reach out for help. We are trained to help you to get off the endless cycle of unresolved conflict and provide the tools needed to help you fight fairly. Create the space needed in your relationship to have conflict without the pain attached to it. Adapted by: Dr. John Gottman’s “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” and Dr. Daphne de Marneffe “Put Up a Healthy Fight”.
Getting through the holidays can be notorious for being stressful for a variety of reasons. Pressures to host, to get gifts, and see friends and family. As a host, there are so many details and things to consider including: what you need to prepare for a holiday event (i.e. food and catering, house preparation, etc.), compiling the list of the people you need to invite, and then ultimately trying to set a time and date that works best for everyone.On the other hand, there are times you have multiple holiday engagements to which you are invited and you’re wondering how you’re supposed to juggle it all. If you are invited to multiple engagements, you’re probably thinking “I don’t want to hurt their feelings if I can’t stay the whole time because I have another event I was invited to. I just want to make everyone happy.” Trying to take into consideration everyone’s feelings is hard and compounds the stress of the holidays, as most of us want to make sure everyone gets included and no one’s feelings get hurt in the process.I’ve had people tell me in the past that they had three events to attend in one day – like one at 2, one at 5, and one at 8 – or multiple events for an entire weekend. I try to imagine their days hopping from event to event thinking how are you hanging in there? People tell me they hate having to rush out from the event trying not to hurt the host’s feelings, but know they are hurting the next host’s feelings if they do not make it to their event.For couples, the same issue is compounded right? I’ve heard couples complain about the difficulty in trying to please both sides of the family. I totally get it! Well the good news that I tell all my clients is that any holiday is ONLY twenty-four hours. You WILL survive the day! Just remember:
- You cannot please everyone and that is okay.
- It’s just one day and there is always time to celebrate with your loved ones.
- Remind yourself what IS important.
- Communicate and plan ahead of time!
If you are having difficulty or struggling navigating through the holidays, please give me a call!
Has someone ever asked you "how is it going" and your response was "I have no complaints"? More than likely you have either said it or heard someone say it. Sometimes my follow is "even if I complain, it will not resolve anything." The best part of the conversation is someone is caring for your well-being even in the briefest of moments. Part 2 of the habits series is exploring complaining (disconnecting habit) versus caring (connecting habit). Complaining is defined as "feeling dissatisfied or frustrated with someone or something and communicating those feelings". Complain comes from the Latin word "complangere" = com (very much) + plangere "to hit the chest." This habit can drive a wedge between individuals if the habit of caring is absent. Caring is defined as "having and communicating a genuine interest in another or concern for another." Care comes from the Old English "caru" = trouble. Caring about another's troubles takes a great deal of self-awareness and self-sacrifice. In your relationships, determine which of these habits dominates your interactions. Are you disconnecting or connecting? Which habit are you using? Until next time, everyone. Remember, the choice is yours.
What comes to mind when you think of the word “habit”? Running? Reading? Whistling? Clinking your spoon on a coffee cup? (thank you I Love Lucy for those two examples). There are many habits we partake in, but the habits of this blog have to do with communication and relationships. Of these two habits, supportive and criticizing, which do you find yourself expressing more when having a discussion or disagreement with a spouse, family member, or friends? William Glasser tells us caring habits promote closeness while deadly habits promote separation. Through the next few blogs, I will be discussing the seven caring habits and the seven deadly habits of any relationship. When looking at your present and past relationships, think about some insights you have developed about yourself. For this week, begin acknowledging when you are using the caring habit SUPPORTIVE and when you are using the deadly habit CRITICISM. Remember to keep these in verb tense, supporting and criticizing, because you oversee your actions. Try utilizing a little more support when discussing something even in a disagreement. The choice is yours so make it a good one.
Have you ever wondered what it is like for someone on the 5th floor of a building versus someone on the 9th floor? Can you see more, can you see less, can you see what I see? Perspective is a critical item in understanding. Anything that happens in the world lacks meaning until we decide to give it meaning. We all have our own ideas of how life should be, could be, and would be if things appeared or happened a certain way. However, we all know life does not always play out the way we want.In relationships, perspectives play an important role in empathy, sympathy, compromise, and cooperation. There are times where one person sees the glass as half empty and the other as half full. While these two statements are each true, what meaning is given to the reason for the perspective? Sometimes seeing another person's perspective gives us a new perspective on life. The person on the 5th floor only sees what they can see and the same goes for the person on the 9th floor. So, what do you do when you have reached your own perspective and you do not or cannot see the other’s? Come together, compromise, and tell the person to “meet me on the 7th floor.” Each person takes their own steps to give up their perspective to meet in the middle for a better understanding. The key is to understand the power of your perception and recognize your ability to change it. Here are a few steps to help:
- Explain your perspective respectfully, honestly, and openly
- Be open to hearing the other person’s perspective intently, respectfully, and openly
- Be willing to meet the person in the middle on finding some understanding if a resolution is desired
- Every now and then, do not be afraid to go up to the 9th floor or go down to the 5th because there is always something to be learned
Do these questions sound familiar: "what are you trying to say?", "what are you talking about?", and "can you help me understand"? Or how about responses such as "I told you what it is", "I don't get what you are saying", and "I can't talk to you"? These become common phrases when communicating with someone. Many times I have heard individuals come into my office to discuss communication issues with a parent, child, sibling, or spouse in hopes to clear up the muddy water. Sometimes a simple conversation can become a shouting match or a dismissive conversation which will not go well for both parties, especially if goal is a resolution. You will only talk at one another rather than talking with one another.In therapy we talk about process, how something is said rather than content, what is said. The best example I use is sarcasm. While what you may say (content) may be pleasant, the way it is said (process) is a different story. Remember to discuss and distinguish both because someone may be triggered by the content rather than the process, but the opposite may be the case for someone else. Before stepping into a conversation remember these helpful tips:
- Most importantly remember "this is a conversation not a confrontation".
- Check your attitude at the door
- Be clear with yourself about what you hope to accomplish before engaging
- Respond honestly and respectfully
- Always ask for clarity
- Listen intently
May your conversations be plentiful and productive.
Communication in itself can be tricky and complicated, but it is such an essential tool for us as people to connect with others. It is a tool that we constantly have to have in all our relationships and one that requires as much give... as it does take. Broken down into its two primary characteristics, effective communication requires 1) sending the actual message effectively and 2) active listening.For this particular post, I wanted to focus on active listening. From my recent work with couples and facilitating groups, the topic of active listening has come up quite a lot. Like communication, active listening also requires two parts when broken down. Active listening requires 1) listening intently and paying attention to the message that is being sent by the other person and 2) validation and reflecting.Where there tends to be a lot of issues among couples is part 1 of active listening. Especially during emotional or heated conversations, we may be 'listening' to our partners but we are not taking the time to really listen to the message being sent because we are waiting to respond and 'fire back.' This happens for a lot of reasons like feeling the need to defend yourself in front of your partner, literally not wanting to hear what your partner has to say, or emotionally checking out of the conversation until it's your turn to speak. Over time, these actions can lead to destructive communication styles and you may find yourself stuck in the same arguments over and over with your partner.Part 2 of active listening is just as important as part 1. Both being able to tell your partner that you understand where they are coming from and that their feelings are valid is so important. It is one thing to be heard... but it is another to feel understood.So if you feel like there is some room for improvement in your communication skills, consider the following questions:
- On a scale of 0-10, how would I rate myself as a listener?
- What areas could I improve in with my listening (and communication) skills?
- Who modeled communication for me growing up? Were they effective communicators?
- Who in my life, past or present, would I consider good communicators? Why?
Personal values (i.e. love and honor) not only help us to navigate the world, they also help us to relate to people around us, especially in our interpersonal relationships. Have you recently taken the time to evaluate what your personal values are? What values are essential to you and support a healthy life? Moreover, have you recently taken the time to consider what values are negotiable to you when in a relationship versus the values that are non-negotiable?I enjoy helping clients process their personal and interpersonal experiences in order to understand themselves more deeply and really get a sense of what their personal values are, both presently and moving forward in their lives. I believe that through collaboration and exploration of personal identity and values, I can help clients add meaning in their life in order to have quality, enriching relationships.Through self-exploration, I believe that clients can increase their overall confidence. With knowledge of communication skills, increased confidence, and a true sense of self-discovery, clients will have a good foundation of who they are in order to have flourishing relationships.Take the time to reflect on the following questions:
- What do I truly value in life?
- What do I value most right now?
- Do I see any patterns in my life?
- Are there any conflicts among the patterns in my life and my values, especially in my relationships?