Archive for the ‘Communication’ Category

Hijacked

May 16, 2016

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We have all been hijacked in our relationship more than we would like to admit. Getting hijacked by our brain and reacting negatively is one of the most common experiences we have with our partners. It feels terrible.

You know the drill …

Your partner and you have a disagreement about something. It could be anything – big or small, important or ridiculous, personal or political-it doesn’t really matter. It’s the sense of being different that may cause you to disconnect and then react to each other. It is an old dance step that repeats. over and over. It is one of the most discouraging and repetitive experiences intimate relationship offers us.

Alas, what ensues next is also far too familiar for most of us. One partner feels panic as a result of the disconnect and then escalates their reaction to great heights (i.e. need to talk about it immediately, can’t let it go, keep trying to connect even in negative ways, starting yelling etc). The other partner shuts down (i.e. withholds, leaves the room, goes to sleep, refuses to communicate. etc). This is the scene of the hijacking.

It feels so bad and usually gets worse the longer it goes on and/or the more intense each partner feels about being wronged. The hijacking gets into full swing as each partner plays out their unconscious role during the attack. One will escalate the emotional climate while the other will pull back in retreat mode. While this is predictable, it is also out of control – not a good combination.

I call this the 3Ds… The Destructive, Discouraging Dynamic Attack.

So what is the answer?

Here’s an idea on how to avoid the 3Ds.

  1. Admit to yourself that a hijacking is taking place. This requires an honest self assessment that does not include primarily blaming your partner. FYI This is the hardest step and not meant for the faint of heart.
  2. Take time away from each other for 20-25 minutes (with a commitment to return after a predetermined agreed upon time). Time away means to calmly go to another room, to not slam the door on your way out, to stop talking, to go for a walk, to do whatever calms you and then return after the specified time has taken place.
  3. When you do reconvene all you are allowed to do is MIRROR each other or take a break from talking all together and MIRROR the next day. I know this is difficult but it is a much better result than a discussion which is likely to go sideways again.
  4. CALM yourself. This is critical to getting past the 3Ds. Finding calm is one of the most difficult human tasks to accomplish during an emotional hijacking incident. I think CALM can be better understood if we break it down into 4 distinct parts.

CALM

C stands for COUNTING breaths. Count your breath as you focus on it. Inhale for 4 counts, pause for 2 counts and exhale for 4 counts. Imagine that you are creating a circle with your breath as you count 4 in 2 hold 4 out. Continue doing this for minutes at a time. It changes everything.

A stands for ACKNOWLEDGE your partner is NOT YOU! Really say this to yourself many times over… my partner is not me and that is the reality.

L stands for Listen to your partner’s perspective. While you may not agree it is possible to decide to listen to their perspective while remaining quiet. To be successful at this remember to Breathe 4 in, hold 2 and 4 out.

M stands for Monitor yourself during the emotional interaction. This alone will force you to take responsibility for your part in the hijacking and allow you to respond a little more intentionally.

So to avoid the 3Ds practice CALM in your relationship. Just so you know, this isn’t supposed to be easy or feel good or even natural so don’t let that be your excuse!

Dare ya

For the next 2 weeks, practice breathing multiple times during the day – 4 in, hold 2 and 4 out.

Then take the big step and come up with a predetermined timeframe so the next time the two of you are hijacked you can institute the time out plan and avoid the 3Ds using the CALM 4 point plan. Mirror each other when you re-engage. Allow yourself to feel liberated and successful in overcoming emotional hijacking while it is in progress.

Good luck I know you can do it!

In support

T.A.

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Receiving

December 9, 2014

Receiving from our partners is a complicated business. Puzzling as the thought might be, it is difficult for many of us to receive even though we’re convinced we want it. What am I referring to when I say receive? It could be anything…. a spontaneous compliment, a gift, a surprise, a gesture, affection, anything! Receiving from a partner the things we want most from them is very tricky indeed.

It all starts with wanting to have our needs met. We want our partners to meet our needs. Yet this can lead to lots of trouble because we often have a hard time receiving what they are giving. I know this sounds crazy but we often reject the very things we say we want and that our partner may be trying to give us in order to meet our needs.

Why does this happen? Let me explain. For many of us, when our partner tries to meet our needs, their giving never feels quite right. It is as if WHAT we actually WANT, THEY never can get quite right! We then respond with disappointment and a cycle begins of us feeling let down, becoming critical and feeling annoyed. The next step in this out-of- sync dance is that we get mad at our partners for our unhappiness and that creates distance. This may be an over simplification but hopefully you get the picture and can relate to this.

This dynamic can become a perpetual theme in the life of a relationship and believe me, it is one of the best ways to build up resentment.

Imago founders Harville Hendrix and Helen La Kelly Hunt write about this phenomenon in their book, Receiving Love: Transform Your Relationship by Letting Yourself Be Loved. They suggest that the reason we cannot receive love in our adult intimate relationships is rooted in our childhood experience. They describe how we learn to dislike the parts of ourselves that our caretakers ignored or rejected in us. So, for example, if my family didn’t think I was very lovable, or even worse, told me I was unworthy, as a result of this childhood pain, I build up inner defenses . I learn to pretend that being seen as lovable isn’t very important. I disown that part of me.

This same sequence would apply to any personality trait or behaviour that children need to have validated in order to grow–it could be being sporty or social, attractive, smart, graceful, determined, hardworking, spiritual, artistic – you name it.

But, even though we are adults, a part of us still craves these needs to be met (and who better than by our partner! ). But because of our defences we are unable to receive what they give us and we often go one step further and blame our partner for not doing it right.

Here is an example to illustrate this complex dynamic.

Let’s say you want your partner to sometimes surprise you and demonstrate that they think about how special you are. First off, we often express this wish in a negative way, believing that being a being prickly porcupine will get us what we want (and where’s the logic in that!).

But we often believe we have a right to complain because our needs aren’t being met. So you complain to your Partner about how they don’t do this. Does this sound familiar at all – “How come you never surprise me with anything?” “don’t you care about me?” “aren’t I special to you ?” etc.)

Well, one day your partner shows up with a surprise bouquet of roses for you and gives them to you saying something like, “I saw these and thought of you because you’re so special to me”.

But our mind does weird things. We focus on the negative. You might become aware of noticing you are only half enthused because you hoped for something other than flowers, or you think your partner only did it because you complained in the first place. Or maybe you think your Partner spent too much money on the roses. Or you are disappointed because what you were really hoping for was a surprise dinner out not another night of cooking with roses on the counter!

So what is going on here? Why aren’t you receiving the surprise gift from your partner?

It could be….

As a child you did not feel special so now you want to feel that you are special and that you matter. Yet, when your partner does show you that you are special (by buying the flowers), you aren’t able to accept it due to your own defenses. It is very difficult to feel special in the here-and-now when there have been painful childhood experiences. You would rather reject your partner’s giving than have to feel the long- ago pain. For most of us, over the years we have built up defenses to protect ourselves from this pain so it becomes unconsciously automatic to reject instead of receive. Instead of being able to receive what they have to give us, we end up feeling continually annoyed and/let down by them.

A big part of being in an intentional relationship is to let go of our built up defenses and learn to receive what our partner has to give us – even if it isn’t exactly what we want. What we really want may not even exist anymore. We have to learn to recognize the childhood need that never got fulfilled and begin to stretch into a more conscious place.

Dare ya

Start by consciously examining if you have ANY trouble receiving what your partner has to give you. If so, read on…

Put yourself in your partner’s shoes and accept that whatever they have to give is for you. Without judgment, be grateful for it. Be gracious and let it in.

Begin with the smallest things- a hug, a cup of coffee, a phone call, a smile . Work up to the big ones!

That’s it for now.

T

Don’t have an affair.

May 13, 2014

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“The course of true love never did run smooth” – Shakespeare (A Midsummers Night Dream)

Well my friends, I know I can’t tell you what to do but I am going to tell you anyway…..don’t have an affair. I know this seems like a stupid statement, one that doesn’t even need to be stated because everyone already knows it but really….so many kind, good, confused and frustrated partners are having affairs!

Maureen and I have been seeing a rush of couples lately who are coping with the devastating fallout of affairs.

We know that no one wakes up and says “I’m going to embark on an affair today…” Instead you gradually move away from your partner and, at the time, your reasons seem justified.

It could be that you feel disconnected from your partner, or your sex life is in the gutter or you feel criticized at home all too often or you just don’t feel that spark anymore or you travel for work so much and get lonely or you find yourself spending too much time with someone from the office that truly believes in you or….fill in the blank. The reasons are endless  – still,  DON’T DO IT!

Shakespeare said it best: “Oh What a Tangled Web We Weave When First We Practice to Deceive”.  Lies have short legs. When you lie you always get found out and then your life will be filled with regret. Believe me, you will cause yourself more pain and heartache than you can imagine. If you have children they too will be affected ultimately. One of the hardest things to work through post disclosure is coming to terms with the fact that you betrayed your partner.

I know you might not be happy in your relationship. You may even have been unhappy for a long time. I am just saying DON’T DEAL WITH YOUR UNHAPPINESS BY HAVING AN AFFAIR. Imago theory tells us that  affairs happen because lots of things in the relationship are not going well and having an affair helps you feel alive again. Affairs are the result of an already existing rupture that seems impossible to fix. Still DON’T DO IT;  it is not the answer. Maureen and I do know from working with couples for over 20 years that the worst and most painful thing to get past is an affair.

Instead of having an affair see if you can muster up the courage to  figure out why things feel so bad in your  relationship and begin to take steps to fix them. That might include coming for therapy or to our Getting the Love You Want workshop (next one is May 23-25 2014  – I promise it will begin transform your relationship).  It may include sitting down with your partner and having a difficult conversation about the state of things between the two of you. For some of you, it may even include taking a short term break from each other in order to decrease the tension. These are difficult conversations to have but they are honest.  Being honest, especially when it is  hard, says a whole lot more about you as a person than being deceitful does.

Finally – if you find yourself justifying your actions, keeping secrets and lying you are already on the slippery slope of no return. Don’t do it my friend; don’t have an affair.

Dare ya- Have the tough conversation about yourself and your experience in your relationship.

– Tamara

A change in your relationship begins with a single step…

May 8, 2014

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In their book, 10 Lessons to Transform Your Marriage, John and Julie Gottman say “Happily married couples handle their conflicts in gentle, positive ways.  They recognize that conflict is inevitable in any marriage, and that some problems never get solved, never go away.  But these couples don’t get gridlocked in their separate positions.  Instead, they keep talking with each other about conflicts. They listen respectfully to their  partner’s perspectives and they find compromises that work for both sides.”  (p. 4) 

Conflict is inevitable in an intimate relationship. Yet conflict is not a sign of a bad relationship. In fact, Imago theory says that conflict is growth trying to happen. Our partner is calling for us to grow into some part of ourselves that has been denied or disowned as part of our growing up years. And some conflict areas will only shift in very small steps over a very long period of time.

The first step towards change is to understand.  Rather than fight endlessly or give up on the relationship, we can choose to get outside of our own automatic preferences. We can listen to and understand our partners. And the best way to do that? Invite them for an Imago dialogue of course!

We have to remember that you are two different people who have different perspectives. Listen carefully to your partner’s point of view. Seek to understand. Mirror frequently in order to check your understanding of your partner. This effort will open the door to new solutions.

Dare ya– think of 3 things that you and your partner feel differently about (keep them on the lower scale of differences i.e. Canucks vs Leafs or music genres) and just for fun and practice… Have an Imago dialogue about whatever the topic is where differences exist . See if you can have some fun with it and make sure you validate. It will help you both to walk in each other’s shoes!

Let us know how it goes!

‘Til the next time! Xo

– Maureen

By Invitation Only

October 29, 2013

Our guest blogger is Tony Victor, a member of the Imago faculty. Below he writes about the important mindset we need to adopt when we dialogue with our partners. You can read more about Tony by visiting his website at the Midwest Relationship Center.

Imagine you have made a new friend and she invites you to her home.  There is something very special about being an invited guest into someone’s home.  Not everyone gets such an invitation.  To get an invitation this friend has found something very special about you.  She feels comfortable in opening her private domicile to you.  She decides to give you the grand tour of her humble home that is a reflection of her.  The way the furniture is arranged.  The way the rooms are decorated and so on.  Even though it might not match your tastes as a way of honoring her for inviting you in and showing respect and courtesy you very likely would show interest and compliment her.  After all you are a visitor in her home–An invited guest, a very special privilege.  She will enjoy showing you her home and you will likely get invited back many times.

Now imagine rather than showing an interest you immediately started making suggestions as to better ways she could arrange her furniture or better ways she could utilize her space or a better color pattern for her walls.  In so doing you have violated rather than honored her opening her home to you.  It is very likely she will feel hurt and defensive.  It is not likely you will get invited back.  Nor will your friendship grow.

Imago Dialogue is about one person, the “sender,” inviting another into their private world–their home—a sanctuary only open to a select few.  As the listener or “receiver” it is important to remember you are an invited guest.

Becky and I have been together for over 40 years.  I still need to remind myself that I am an invited guest when she has something to share with me–when she invites me into her private world.  I am not a “part-owner of her world.”  I have no right to tell her how she should arrange the space in her world.  It is my privilege to listen with great interest.  I’ve discovered that each time she gives me the grand tour of her home I discover something new and fresh.  The times that I don’t discover something are usually the times when I have forgotten that I am a visitor and assume ownership of her world.

So a simple little secret is to practice listening to your partner like you are a visitor receiving the grand tour, she will invite you in more often and your relationship will grow and blossom.

Dare ya

When was the last time you visited a new place? Was it a different country or just a new place you hadn’t been to? Remember how curious you were,  not to mention polite? Remember how intently you listened because you wanted to learn with an open mind and heart so you could take it all in?

Let yourself get into that mindset the next time you talk to your partner and see what happens!!!

I promise it will be a new experience!

T

Summer time and the living is easy!

August 6, 2013

We hope you are able to take advantage of some time off together and in that slower pace, perhaps you have time for a longer  conversation with your partner…..

Start with these questions to get to know your partner a little better, no matter how long you’ve been together:

  1.  What things do you look forward to each day?
  2. What experiences do you look forward to sharing together in the next 2-3 years?
  3. When do you wish you were better at saying “no”?
  4. Are there specific times when you wish you could say no more easily to me?

These questions come from Ellyn Bader and Pete Pearson, long time couples’ therapists and keynote speakers at the 2012 Imago conference in Vancouver.

Find more great questions from the Couple Institute website – Play 20 Questions With Your Partner.

Drs. Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson have specialized in helping couples since the early 1980s. They are co-founders and co-directors of The Couples Institute, and continually receive industry and media attention for their innovations in couples’s therapy. For more resources check out their website: www.couplesinstitute.com

Tennis Balls and Gifts

July 11, 2013

This post is by Tony Victor, Imago Faculty, and re-posted here with permission.


Here is an Imago Dialogue Riddle:  What is the difference between a tennis ball and a gift?  Well, when a tennis ball is served up to you, you are expected to put your own spin on the ball and send it right back over the net.  In fact your tennis partner expects you to try to return in such a way as to make it very difficult for her to receive it. However, if you partner does receive it be fully ready to have him put a new spin on it and send it back to you even more tenaciously than the first time he served it up to you.

A gift is just the opposite:  When a gift is served up to you, you are expected to receive it with gratitude and amazement, to admire the beautiful wrapping and the bow so delicately tied.  To, with wonder and awe, graciously unwrap it.  Just receive it — No putting your own spin on it — No sending it back.  Just receive it.

In part, Imago Dialogue is about receiving what your partner has to offer you.  The words your partner speaks are a precious gift–an opening into his heart.  When your partner speaks treat her words as precious gifts to be held, taken in, and cherished.

Even if those words are a bit painful.  Resist the urge to treat them like a tennis ball being served up to you — putting your own spin on them, and sending them right back.  Treating even painful words as a gift is the surest way to sooth the hurt for you and your partner.

This is especially important when the words are an affirmation.  Recently a couple who were making wonderful progress from their initial session began their session with her smiling, looking intently at him and saying “I love you.”  Immediately he responded “I love you too.”  This was an amazing moment of transformation for this couple.  Just a few weeks earlier they were ready to divorce and started counseling as a last ditch effort to avoid the lawyers.

I celebrated the moment with them.  Then I asked permission to try something a little different.  They agreed, I asked her to start again she looked at him and said “I love you.”  Before he had a chance to respond, I quickly asked him to just breath in the gift of her words.  Just take it in as you breath in.  Then mirror back, he said, “You love me.”  As he did his eyes welled up with tears and I knew that he was letting his defenses down.  This time he was accepting the gift not just returning the serve.  I used the above  riddle to help both partners understand this concept and how Imago dialogue is about gift giving rather than a tennis match.

While the rapid fire back and forth “I love you’s” was a wonderful step in a good direction, the pattern of communication more resembled a tennis match than a gift exchange.  As Imago therapists, I believe our role is to coach our couples to see their partners as serving up gifts not tennis balls to each other.

Tony Victor, D.Min., Imago Faculty Candidate, Certified Imago Consultant, and Certified Imago Workshop Presenter is available for Consultation either in person or via Skype or Facetime.  Dr. Victor has been in private practice for over 25 years.  He currently is the Owner and Director of a thriving group practice, The Midwest Relationship Center, LLC, located in Swansea, IL, just outside of St. Louis, MO.  If you would like to comment on this article or inquire about consultation, you can contact Dr. Victor by email drtony@themidwestrelationshipcenter.com or by calling 618-516-3338.

Dare y’a:

At the soonest possible moment, tell your partner you want to give her/him a gift and that s/he shouldn’t do anything except breathe it in for a few seconds….and then say “I love you” while gazing into their eyes.

Interview with Imago Founders

May 22, 2013

Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt, co-founders of Imago Relationship Therapy, were recently interviewed by Carol Donahoe, Rhinebeck program director at the Omega Institute, about why couples fight and how to replace negativity in a relationship with curiosity.

Carol: How did you come to create Imago Relationship Therapy together? Did it happen because of your relationship or along with it?

Helen: On one of our first dates, Harville told me he wanted to write a book about why couples fight. He was exploring why couples who are drawn together and think they’re in love end up being each other’s worst enemies. We were both divorced, and I was mesmerized by the idea. The answer to this question is so important and significant for our well-being.

Harville: This was in 1977, and over the next couple of years I continued to do research and process my ideas with Helen. She has a background in psychology, so she was a great partner. I don’t think there was ever a decision to “do this together,” it just emerged out of our relationship. In 1979 we named it Imago Relationship Therapy, in 1982 we got married, and in 1988 Getting the Love You Want came out. Helen was busy working in the women’s movement and stewarding our family when I was away, but she was always part of Imago. Sometimes I’m not sure who came up with an idea. I will think it’s me and Helen will think it’s her and then we can know it probably came up in a conversation.

Helen: I was very happy not being overtly involved, but I’ve always feel like a partner.

Harville: Yes, it would have never happened without Helen and our conversations.

Carol: So why do couples fight?

Harville: When two people meet and fall in love, they idealize each other. They see each other as the person who will meet their needs. At first it seems true—people do all sorts of things they wouldn’t normally do because they’re trying to bond with someone, and we each end up with the impression that the other person is perfect and they’re going to do all we want them to do. But once a commitment is made—this often happens after a wedding—there is a desire to reclaim ourselves, to find some differentiation from the merger that happened during courtship, and we begin to act more like our true self. For example, when we’re dating, if you say vanilla is your favorite ice cream, I might eat vanilla ice cream, too, just to bond with you. But then we get married and you find out chocolate is really my favorite flavor and you wonder where the guy who liked vanilla went. It seems to you that I’m not the person you married, that I’m behaving differently or strangely, and you want that idealized person back, the one who was meeting all your needs.

Carol: Meanwhile, the same thing is happening with the other partner, right?

Harville: That’s right. Both parties are feeling disillusioned and entitled. Both people are trying to recover themselves and neither person wants the other to do that. Couples realize at that point that true intimacy is harder than they thought it might be, and the fear of this is what makes them fight.

Carol: This is the moment, then, that there is an opportunity for a couple to have a conscious relationship?

Helen: Yes. First, both partners have to realize that they each have wounds from childhood and that one of the purposes of marriage is to finish those childhood issues. We didn’t get our needs met by our original caretakers, and now is our chance to heal that. Second, it’s important to realize that incompatibility is grounds for marriage. Most people believe if you’re struggling in your marriage you’re married to the wrong person. We are convinced that if there is struggle, growth is trying to happen and it’s the perfect opportunity for a conscious relationship. At that point, both people need to move beyond the negativity and shift their focus from themselves to the space between. Couples experience a shift when they move from their own need for gratification and embrace the well being of their partner and the whole relationship. At that point a whole psycho-spiritual transformation begins to take place.

Carol: Imago has helped millions of people, but it also helped your relationship as well. How did you come to experience your own work?

Helen: We struggled a lot in our marriage, especially when the fame came. We probably would have limped along with a so-so marriage because neither of us is a perfectionist, but we realized there was a split between how others expected us to be and how we were at home.

Harville: You were great; it was me that was the problem.

Helen: Yes, I probably thought it was you but I had to learn it was me, too. So we used Imago therapy and through that process discovered another piece that transformed our relationship: we agreed to absolutely no negativity. It became the number one rule. It’s hard, but surprisingly transformative.

Carol: What if something seems negative to one person but not the other?

Helen: If your partner thinks it’s negative, then it’s negative. Harville and I were both raised in a culture that values critical thinking. We were both schooled to look at what’s not there, to be critical. It was a good quality to have. But in a relationship it can destroy any sense of safety.

Harville: You can’t have a great relationship unless it’s emotionally safe; it has to be predictable and reliable. You need to be able to count on the fact that when you’re around your partner you’re not going to get hurt or be criticized, put down, or shut out. When we first agreed to no negativity we though we needed to replace it with positivity. But that didn’t work. In the end, we replaced it with curiosity. If you’re curious about the other then it becomes exciting to learn about them and their inner world and when they open up you are able to be empathetic and they feel safe. Safety is essential to being able to connect, and when you’re connected you are joyful to be alive.

Carol: Helen, let’s say Harville did something that really annoyed you. How do you deal with it if you don’t want to be negative?

Helen: You use what we call in Imago “sender responsibility.” You figure out how to communicate what you’re feeling from your higher brain, from the highest degree of functioning, so there is a greater likelihood your partner will hear it. Use “I” language rather than “you.” Be selective with how much you bring up so you don’t flood your partner. Speak in a calm tone to increase the chances that your partner will hear you and respond positively.

Carol: Imago has been around for several decades now and has made a difference in many, many lives. Omega is interested in how individual transformation in turn changes society for the better. Have you seen this with Imago?

Harville: Yes, we have, and we’re working on an exciting project to bring Imago to an even wider audience. We are stripping out the part of Imago that can be used to educate the public on how to be in a committed partnerships or marriage. We’re working with a group of relational experts—John Gottman , Dan Siegel, Michele Weiner-Davis, Ellyn Bader, and Marion Soloman—to launch a global wellness movement that focuses on all relationships. Our first initiative is Project Dallas, where over the next few years we’ll bring this technique to the general public using social media, traditional media, and trainings. The goal is to saturate the environment with the idea that healthy relationships make for a healthy society. We’ll be filming what we do and will ultimately turn it into a documenatary.

Helen: The idea behind this was that if you want a driver’s license, you have to take a course and pass a test. If you want a broker’s license you have to take a course and pass a test. Bu if you want a marriage license you simply have to pay a small fee, yet marriage is one of the most important commitments you will ever make in your life. We think most couples wait too long to get help so we want to bring the simple practices of a conscious partnership into the mainstream so people know how to be in a marriage before they enter one. We believe we have the technology to end divorce if people can learn these principles of communication.

Harville: Yes, and Helen doesn’t mean just she and I think we can end divorce. All our partners in this endeavor feel the same. The point is there are a lot of couples who don’t need therapy. But there isn’t anyone that doesn’t need relationship education. Maybe 10-20% of the population had a happy enough childhood not to have a problematic marriage. But that means 80% of us are great candidates for relationship education. We’re going global with this and we think it’s going to change everything.

Spring Cleaning

April 30, 2013

We’re thrilled to feature a guest-post by Lisa Brooks Kift, MFT this week. Read on for some great tips for “spring cleaning” your relationship.

Having an hour more daylight and feeling spring in the air (in Northern California anyway), I can’t help but think about the meaning of spring. For many it’s a time of renewal and recharge, a sleepy-eyed yawn and waking up from a winter slumber of sorts. Many clean their homes, their cars and their work environments.

Marriages can also “fall asleep” and get into a rut. So let’s dust out the cobwebs and do some spring cleaning there too!

  • Take a walk down memory lane.  Do you remember when you met? Can you recall what drew you to each other? Take some time to reflect upon this time. Research shows that happier couples are the ones who can recall pleasant earlier memories. It can be an anchor for the relationship, a reminder of what you might have forgotten. ”Oh yea, that’s what I fell in love with…”
  • Get back to checking in. At one time you likely talked a lot, especially in the early stages of your relationship. As time goes on and life gets peppered with kid related responsibilities, family, social obligations and work, it’s easy to let the communication between you and your spouse get tossed out the window. Re-prioritize a daily relationship check-in, even if brief. ”How are you?…How are we?…Is everything ok?”
  • Look under the carpet for hidden resentments. One problem that can be a consequence of insufficient communicating in marriage is the build-up of negative emotions towards each other. If anger, disappointment or sadness go unchecked they can become toxic. Resentment can undermine the very fabric of the relationship. If there is something bothering you, bring it up. It’s useful to begin with “I statements” rather than using attacking language.
  • Check your assumptions. What if you were upset with your partner because you misunderstood what he/she said or meant? What if you never clarified this? Well, you’d be suffering for no reason. One of the best ways couples can avoid distress is to simply ask the other what they meant rather than assume you know. Otherwise, you will likely have a negative emotional response towards him/her, followed by a negative behavior – and all for nothing.
  • Create happy memories. If boredom, “same ‘ol, same ‘ol,” and a lack of fun has permeated your marriage, it’s time to have positive experiences together to lay down over the other. It’s kind of like the negativity bias of the brain; the more you internalize positive emotions, the more you can ease your brain away from the negative. Plan date nights, go out and play, take a walk or do something totally new and invigorating
  • If you broke it, fix it. We all make mistakes and can inadvertently hurt our partners. The important thing for the health of relationships is taking ownership when it’s appropriate.  John Gottman, PhD refers to successful repair attempts as “the happy couple’s secret weapon.”
  • More gratitude, please. There is a lot of research out there now on the power of gratitude, individually and in relationships. Express appreciation for each other when possible. Notice the good rather than focusing on the not so good. It’s easy for couples to slip into negative cycles together.  Make the effort to shift to a more positive (and reinforcing) cycle of support and gratitude for each other.
  • Take it up a notch if needed. If your marriage feels particularly “dusty” and in need of some TLC, get proactive and get access to the many tools available to help couples do just that; a local marriage weekend workshop or going through a marriage workbook or book might be just what you need.

It would be nice to imagine being able to do these things 365 days a year but this probably isn’t realistic for many.  At the very least, adding your marriage to your spring cleaning to-do list every year is one consistent way to put the focus back on you and your partner again. If you’ve slipped up and “fallen asleep” during the winter, you can get back to prioritizing your marriage again…and maybe make up for some lost time.

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT is the creator of The Toolbox at LisaKiftTherapy.com, with tools for marriage, relationship and emotional health.  She is the author of The Marriage Refresher Course Workbook for Couples.  Lisa has a couples counseling practice in Marin County, CA.

Three stages of Relationship

April 12, 2013

This post is written by Joe Kort and re-printed here with permission. Imago Couples Therapy teaches partners that every relationship goes through stages. In this blog post, Imago therapist Joe Kort provides a tongue-in -cheek way to remember them! View a quick video of Joe Kort.

Couples Therapy Secret Stage #1—Call of the Wild

You see your partner-to-be across a crowded room, and the attraction is immediate. You want to be with each other; you can’t see enough of each other. The experience is a wild ride boosted by a pharmacy of natural chemicals flooding your system. Actually, you find yourself falling for familiar love: your partner reminds you of positive traits of your parents or whomever was important in raising you.

In this stage, you say:

“Something about you seems so familiar.”
“Have we met before?”
“Feels like I’ve always known you.”

Call of the Wild Alert:  People in couples counseling know that this stage won’t last. The call of the wild—a transient positive emotion designed to come to an end—lasts for between 6-18 months. Its purpose is to connect and bond two people, making them willing to stay together when things become more difficult in the relationship—as they inevitably will!

Couples Therapy Secret Stage #2 — Call of the Child

Where did our love go? Your partner’s charms are replaced by little differences that annoy you. Soon they aren’t so little. You hope to dispel them, or at least cope with them by arguing and defending yourself. But trying to change or “train” your partner won’t work. You consider couples counseling.  During this stage, unresolved issues from childhood resurrect. Couples project onto each other feelings from the times their parents acted poorly and disappointed them.

In this stage, you say:

  • “You’re so different! What happened to you?”
  • “If you loved me, you’d know what I need!”
  • “You tricked me. I was a fool to believe in you!”

Call of the Child Alert:  Every long-term couple goes through the call of the child. This stage is also supposed to happen and supposed to end, but lasts longer than the call of the wild. Even though the call of the child makes you feel like you’re with the wrong person, if this is happening, you are in fact with the right one.

Couples Therapy Secret Stage #3 – Call of the Mild

You value each other as you are, not as you might become. Even though you may wish that differences and disagreements would go away, you begin to understand that some will always be there—and you accept them. In this stage, ideally, you learn to give unconditionally, relate non-defensively, and relate with empathy and compassion.

In this stage, you say:

“I love you—warts and all!”
“We are different—and that’s okay!”

Call of the Mild Alert:  To revive the love of call of the wild and bring romance back into your relationship, your couples counselor might suggest you surprise your partner by doing the same things you did during the beginning of your relationship. That will remind you both of the old times when things were new and exciting—and let you feel how your love has endured.

A note about the author:

Dr. Joe Kort is a certified sex addiction therapist, certified Imago Relationship Therapist and a certified Sex Therapist providing mental health outpatient services for individuals and couples needing sex rehab as well as those struggling with depression and anxiety issues in the Rochester, Bloomfield, Birmingham and Novi areas. The Center for Relationship and Sexual Health – www.CRSH.com – provides this information written by its founder, Dr. Kort, in order to educate interested readers. (248) 399-7447