I see a lot of couples, and it is quite common in marriage, to get into fights about nothing. It seems you are fighting all the time about little things that after a while, you don’t even remember how it started. Usually when a couple finds themselves fighting a lot, there are issues beneath the surface that are not being addressed. In this article I will discuss one common theme among fighting couples.
Think of the saying, “the opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference”. What does this mean? When there is love and when there is hate, there is connection. When there is indifference there is no connection. To further explain, if I can push your buttons and get a reaction out of you, then I know you care. I know I can get to you, reach you somehow. But if I get no reaction, if you are indifferent, that is a whole other story. In relationships, we all need to know that our partner cares. We want to feel we matter in the lives of one another. So what happens if I am feeling like I don’t matter?
Isolation is among the most painful of human experiences. The most severe punishment for inmates is to be put in isolation. To be ignored, or to feel alone, this is what we ward against. We are wired for human connection.
So now think about your intimate relationship. In order to feel connected, we must allow ourselves to be vulnerable. To feel in tune with our partner, we must open ourselves up to be seen. Well this can be very scary. So what might we do instead? If I don’t want to be vulnerable, but I still want to be connected, I’ll fight.
Often when couples want to feel noticed, cared for, not ignored, instead of being vulnerable to get this from their partner, they will start a fight. This way I don’t have to be exposed, but I still know you care about me because you are reacting to me.
This is an important concept to understand if you are going to make changes to improve the health of your relationship. Many times couples are not aware that this is why they are fighting. They want desperately to be connected, but don’t want to take the necessary and vulnerable risks to do so, so they connect in a protected way, by fighting.
So how do you break out of this? Awareness is the first step. To begin to look at the fights from a different angle. See their purpose, to connect. Then see the consequences of connecting in this way. While it may protect you, it deteriorates the foundation of the relationship, it does damage. So by understanding that you are seeking to connect with each other, you can begin to take the courageous steps of being vulnerable with your partner. You and your partner have to work together to create a safe environment where you can share openly with each other without fear of judgement, criticism or rejection. Once you feel that sense of emotional safety, you can then communicate in ways that build intimacy and connection without damaging the relationship.
If you are struggling to make these changes in your relationship, marriage counseling can help.
When betrayal occurs in a relationship or marriage, it breaks the foundation of trust and safety. Everything you thought you knew now comes into question and there is doubt and insecurity. When going through the pain and trauma of betrayal, often the question is asked, can the relationship be saved? And if so, how?
Here are some key steps to healing from betrayal asÂ illustrated by John Gottman:
There must be believable and genuine remorse
Behavior change with understanding and insight. (One must understand the reason behind the choice, why conflict was avoided, emotions stayed hidden.)
Compensation: the act of making it good again. Making changes in the relationship to rebuild trust and positive connection.
Building a new relationship to include: creating the sacred in the relationship, honesty, transparency, the cherishing of your partner on a continuing basis.
Building emotional attunement.
What is emotional attunment? It is very important to a healthy relationship. It means being in-tune with each other. Noticing when your partner is experiencing negative emotions. Awareness of what your partner’s in the moment experiences are. Understanding and being tuned into your partners world and making the choice to turn toward your partner, not away, during times of vulnerability.
These are just an outline of some basic essential ingredients in healing a relationship after a betrayal. It is often very important to get outside help to understand what happened, why it happened and to begin the process of rebuilding.
In any healthy marriage, it is important to seek out help when things are not going the way you want them to. All couples encounter difficulties at some point in the marriage. Looking for a marriage counselor can be a daunting task. You are struggling and want someone to help but you might not know where to start. How do you know if someone is going to be able to help your marriage? If you go to a counselor that doesn’t have the right skills, it could end up doing more harm than good. Here are some questions to ask when interviewing potential marriage counselors.
Ask what their training is: make sure it’s not just in mental health counseling but that they have additional training in marriage and family therapy. The skill sets for individual and marriage counseling are very different and you want to make sure that your therapist has training specific to couples.
Ask what percentage of their practice is made up of couples. For example, my practice is made up of about 85 percent couples. You don’t want someone who sees less than 50 percent. A lot of counselors will say they do marriage counseling but don’t like to or hardly see couples. This person may not have adequate experience to deal with the difficulties in your marriage.
Ask how long they have been doing couples counseling. I would recommend seeing someone who has specifically worked with couples for at least 3 to 5 years or longer.
You also have to examine how you feel when you are talking to the person. Are they kind? Courteous? Receptive? Do they take the time to answer your questions? Counseling is also about the relationship so you have to feel comfortable with the person you choose.
Here is an article from William J. Doherty, Author of Take Back Your Marriage on the do’s and don’ts of good marriage counseling.
Do’s of Good Marriage Counseling
The therapist is caring and compassionate to both of you.
The therapist actively tries to help your marriage and communicates hope that you solve your marital problems. This goes beyond just clarifying your problems.
The therapist is active in structuring the session.
The therapist offers reasonable and helpful perspectives to help you understand the sources of your problems.
The therapist challenges each of you about your contributions to the problems and about your capacity to make individual changes to resolve the problems.
The therapist offers specific strategies for changing your relationship, and coaches you on how to use them.
The therapist is alert to individual matters such as depression, alcoholism, and medical illness that might be influencing your marital problems.
- The therapist is alert to the problem of physical abuse and assesses in individual meetings whether there is danger to one of the spouses.
Don’ts of Bad Marriage Counseling
The therapist does not take sides.
The therapist does not permit you and your spouse to interrupt each other, talk over each other, or speak for the other person.
The therapist does not let you and your spouse engage in repeated angry exchanges during the session.
Although the therapist may explore how your family-of-origin backgrounds influence your problems, the focus is on how to deal with your current marital problems rather than just on insight into how you developed these problems.
- The therapist does not assume that there are certain ways that men and women should behave according to their gender in marriage.
I recently heard this story about facing adversity. I thought I would pass it on to you. In your marriage, you may face turbulent times. When reading this story, you can apply it to any adversity in your life, but you can especially apply it to struggles in your marriage. Will your marriage be the carrot (crumbling under tough times), the egg where you harden and become cold with one another, or the coffee bean.
Enjoy the story and I hope it inspires you!
ARE YOU A CARROT, AN EGG, OR A COFFEE BEAN?
by Mary Sullivan
A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as if as soon as one problem was solved a new one arose. Her mother took her to the kitchen.
The mother filled three pots with water.
In the first, she placed carrots.
In the second she placed eggs.
And the last she placed ground coffee beans.She let them sit and boil without saying a word. About twenty minutes later, she turned off the burners.
She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl.
Turning to her daughter, she said, "Tell me what you see."
"Carrots, eggs, and coffee," she replied. (You known the tone of voice.)
She brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did, and noted that they felt soft.
She then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg inside.
Finally, she asked her to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma.
The daughter then asked, "So, what's the point, mother?" (Remember the tone of voice.)
Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity – boiling water – but each reacted differently.
The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak.
The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid center. But, after sitting through the boiling water, its insides had become hardened.
The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water…they had changed the water.
"Which are you?" she asked her daughter. "When adversity knocks on your
door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot , an egg, or a coffee bean?"
Think of this: Which am I?
Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity, do I wilt
and become soft and lose my strength?
Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat?
Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship, or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my outer shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and a hardened heart?Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water – the very circumstances that bring the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor of the bean. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you instead of letting it change you.
When the hours are the darkest and trials are their greatest do you elevate to another level?
How do you handle Adversity?
ARE YOU A CARROT, AN EGG, OR A COFFEE BEAN?
There are more than 400 million active users on Facebook. It has grown into a huge social networking site. While it is useful in that it gives you access to all your networks of friends and family and helps you stay in touch, there are some dangers to be aware of.
In my practice, I have had a steadily increasing number of couples with complaints that Facebook has become an issue in their relationship. It doesn’t have to be, but if you are not careful, it can certainly wreak havoc.
Infidelity happens at the place where vulnerability meets opportunity and a choice is made. Anyone can be vulnerable to an affair. It is a dangerous thing to think your relationship is affair-proof. Vulnerability can result from issues in the relationship: poor communication, disconnection, or lack of intimacy. Vulnerability can result from external circumstances such as grieving the death of a loved one, loss of a job, birth of a child, anything that causes undue stress. Vulnerability can result from personal issues such as lack of self-worth, fear of intimacy, or substance abuse.
Opportunity for an affair can come in different forms. It can come in the form of a friend, a co-worker, or friendly neighbor. In recent times, the Internet has broadened the depth of opportunity that is out there for an affair to occur.
Here is where Facebook becomes a threat. This is where people connect with ex-lovers, ex-flames, an ex-crush, or even with an old friend, and it might feel nostalgic to reminisce. This nostalgia can be mistaken for love interest. This may be innocent on the surface, but to the couple who is struggling, it becomes a great threat.
Here are some boundaries that may reduce the threat of Facebook on your relationship:
Be each other’s Friend so that nothing is hidden.
Do not connect with an old flame on Facebook unless you talk about it openly with your spouse and your spouse is comfortable with you doing so. But if you are having any difficulties in your relationship, avoid this at all costs.
Do not discuss any marital problems with people on Facebook. This is where the potential to share and relate opens the door to a deeper connection that threatens your relationship.
Make clear on your profile page that you are married or in a relationship.
If members of the opposite sex begin inappropriate sexual or flirtatious banter, put an end to it immediately and share it with your spouse.
Talk openly with one another with how you feel about certain types of friends on Facebook, and what each of your own personal boundaries are around its use. Be respectful of each other’s freedom of choice and privacy, but also respect each other’s boundaries on what is okay and not okay.
Be protective of your time as a couple. The other way that Facebook threatens a relationship is the amount of time spent chatting with friends, playing Farmville or Mafia Wars, or other addicting games that rob you and your partner of quality time. So put some limits around its use.
Facebook itself is not necessarily the issue, but it presents opportunities for connection that was not there before and something that may have started out as harmless fun can turn into something that breaks down trust in your relationship.
Facebook is not going anywhere any time soon. Online opportunities will continue to pose threats to the fidelity of your relationship. It is up to you to not let these outside influences inject themselves into the safety of your relationship.
Our negative emotions (pain, fear, frustration) serve a purpose. They let us know that something is going on within us that needs attention.
When we experience physical pain, it is the body’s way of alerting us that something is not quite right and needs attention. If we were to just medicate that pain without looking at what’s causing it, we can inadvertently cause more damage.
Such is the same with negative emotions. Our culture wants immediate gratification and happiness and has lost sight of the valuable growth that comes from delayed gratification and understanding and “feeling” emotions. Many are in the habit of numbing or avoiding their negative emotions. Whether it’s through prescribed medications, or self-medication techniques like drugs, alcohol, porn, sex without love, etc. Emotional pain is an indicator that something is not right. And if you allow yourself to feel it, examine it, understand the thought process and behaviors behind it, then you can do the necessary work to grow, to move through it and create healing. The problem with this method is that it’s time consuming, it’s not a quick fix. However, it’s a longer term fix and allows for a deeper connection with yourself and the important people in your life.
ÂAll marital partners, at some point in their marriage, will feel disconnected from one another. This is a normal occurrence in marriage. However, if it is not recognized as normal, if steps are not taken to prevent it, recognize it, or recover from it, it can make a couple vulnerable to infidelity.
What does it mean to be connected? It means being emotionally in tune with each other. You know when your partner has had a good or bad day, who are their best friends and who are their enemies, what’s going on at work or with extended family. On a larger scale, what their dreams and goals are, what makes them sad and what makes them happy. What their scared of and what they most aspire to be. These are things that two people who are connected know about and care about each other. It requires openness and honesty, genuineness and kindness.
When do couples become disconnected? A couple experiences disconnection for many reasons. There are times in a couples life when they are extra vulnerable to disconnection; the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or other life changes. Disconnection can also happen from not taking the time to be alone with one another, to talk to each other. Not making your marriage a priority and letting other life happenings get in the way.
How do we prevent becoming disconnected: one major way to avoid disconnection is by making your marriage a top priority and always taking time to spend with one another. When there is conflict, to deal with it by talking openly and in a caring way with one another so conflict can be discussed and resolved. Don’t allow resentments to build, talk to each other and stay in tune with each other’s emotions.
You may take all of the precautions and still find that you feel disconnected. The first important step is recognizing it. Being able to catch and notice that you have not been connecting with your partner. The next step is to address it. Let your partner know, without attacking or blaming, that you feel disconnected and together figure out what you need to do to reconnect with each other and tune back in to each other.
When you find yourself disconnected, deal with it with each other. If you do not, you both become vulnerable to infidelity. When disconnection exists for too long, it becomes to easy to find connection from someone outside the marriage.
Couples are not connected ALL the time, that’s normal. And feeling disconnected is not a sign of an unhappy or unhealthy marriage. But how you deal with it when you feel disconnected is. You must recognize it and address it and find each other over and over again to minimize the vulnerability to infidelity.
There is the obvious definition of an affair, having sex with someone other than your spouse. But are there different types of affairs? And now that we have the Internet, how does that add to the problem.
One of the ways to define an affair is to ask the question, is what you are doing secretive? If your spouse knew what you were doing, would it hurt him or her? Are you going to someone outside your marriage to meet your emotional or physical intimacy needs?
Let’s use pornography as an example. If it is not done in secret, your spouse knows about it and is not hurt by it and it is not taking the place of physical or emotional intimacy with your spouse than that would not constitute as an affair. But let’s change it around. Let’s say you are using porn behind your spouses back, and knew that if he or she knew about it, it would be hurtful. And let’s also add that you are replacing emotional and physical intimacy with your partner with pornography, that could fit under the heading of infidelity.
Let’s say you talk often with a friend of the opposite sex. You might share intimate details of your life and marriage. If your spouse knows about this person and does not see this person as a threat to the relationship and you are not looking to this person to meet emotional needs that are not met by your partner, then that is a friendship. But let’s now take the same circumstances and your partner doesn’t know about this interaction, it’s secretive and if your partner knew about it would be hurt by it, and let’s also add that from this person you get emotional support that you don’t feel you get from your spouse, this constitutes as an emotional affair.
It is important to understand the physical and emotional boundaries of your marriage and to discuss them with one another. Going out to lunch with a co-worker of the opposite sex may be completely harmless, but if it is done without your spouse knowing about it, it could potentially be construed as betrayal. It also leaves the door open for a relationship to flourish if this were to become a regular thing and you tell yourself it is harmless but fail to share it with your partner. Boundaries not only need to be clearly defined, but they need to be respected.
We all have relationships with others outside our marriage, with friends, co-workers, extended family members. This is not only normal but also healthy. We also get emotional needs met from others aside from our intimate partner. But where is the boundary? What makes your intimate relationship unique? What are the things you share with your spouse that you would not share with another? What is sacred?
There is a closeness and connection between husband and wife that is special and unique. There is a bond of emotional and physical intimacy. If you are feeling disconnected from your partner, it is never a good idea to turn outside your marriage to deal with it. Whether it be by venting to friends or family, talking to a member of the opposite sex about your marital issues (by the way one of the most common ways an affair begins), having an affair, alcohol, gambling, drugs or other destructive means of coping. Disconnection must be dealt with in the marriage with communication, compassion, empathy, understanding and love. If you are unable to work through it by yourselves, seek the outside help of a qualified counselor or pastor from your church.
Where do you begin when you’ve just found out your spouse has had an affair? Or, what if you are the one who’s had the affair and your partner has just found out?
If you’ve just found out your partner has had an affair, be prepared for the roller coaster of emotions. It is not a time to make any permanent life-changing decisions. Here are some important things to consider:
You do not have to know right now if you are going to stay or go. You are in crisis and may feel like the rug has been pulled out from under you. Give yourself time to make important decisions. Emotions are very raw right now so it’s okay to not know which direction to go yet.
Some people make the mistake of telling friends and family and then regret it later. So be choosy about who you share this with, the best route is to seek out a counselor who can help you sort through all the challenges that are in front of you. It’s also important to have a support system, again, select confidants carefully. There may be support groups in your area, seek these out through your local church or counseling center.
You are going to experience a lot of different emotions from anger to sadness, betrayal and fear, confusion and frustration. All this is normal. Research has shown that individuals who have been betrayed show symptoms of post traumatic stress. You may have flashbacks of the affair and images that you never even experienced. You will have triggers like when the phone rings or your partner gets a text message, where the fear and anger comes alive. You may want to cry one minute and scream the next.
In this kind of situation, the fight or flight response kicks in, but neither are conducive to moving forward. If you want to save your marriage, you can neither fight nor flight. A normal human reaction is to act out the rage and blame, yell at, accuse, distrust or check up on your partner. While these are normal reactions, they do continued damage to the relationship and to your own self esteem. Sometimes what might make you temporarily feel better in the moment, makes matters worse in the long run.
Self care is critical during the time of healing. Self care includes things such as exercise, going for walks, getting enough sleep, spending time with those who are supportive, getting counseling, making sure you eat well and enough. These small things might seem trivial or difficult to do, but it is important to take care of yourself.
You may want to ask questions or know details about the affair. It is okay to ask these questions, just be sure that you really want to know the answers. For some people the not knowing causes suffering and they would rather know, for others they would rather not know. There is no right or wrong, only you can know what is going to be helpful.
If you are the person who has had the affair, some important things to consider:
There is no right time frame for getting over an affair. So do not push your partner. Your patience and support is critical. Do not avoid talking about the affair, do not give excuses or blame. Right now your partner needs to know that you understand the impact this has had. This is not going to be easy for you either, but it is important that you remain supportive during this challenging period.
This may seem obvious but it bears pointing out: be honest. Be where you say you will be, do what you say you will do, don’t leave anything out no matter how insignificant it seems. Rebuilding trust is going to take time, but it starts now
Listen to your partner. If they ask questions and want to know the answers, it is important that you answer them with total honesty. Do not decide for them what they should and should not need to know. It is important to allow your partner to make the determination what he/she needs to or wants to know.
Be an open book for your partner. And remember, this is temporary. But this is an important time to be in close physical proximity to your partner to maintain a sense of safety. Allow your partner to see your phone, text messages, emails, to regain a sense of safety. You can, and it is necessary to, have your privacy back at some point, but for right now your partner may need this to begin the process of rebuilding trust and feeling safe.
You are going to go through difficult emotions as well. Guilt, shame, regret are all normal feelings to experience. It is important not to let them get in the way of being there and listening to your partner. It is also a good idea for you to seek counseling as well to deal with these emotions and to understand why you made this choice.
If you want to save the marriage (or even if you are unsure) it is important to seek couples counseling as soon as possible. It may take some time to find a counselor that you feel comfortable with. Remember, affairs happen in good marriages and to good people. There are many reasons why an affair occurs and it can take one to two years to recover whether you stay in the marriage or not. Take your time, seek help and work together to begin the healing process.
One of the things I hear most from clients who have experienced infidelity is, I never thought this would happen in our marriage. It is not something any couple plans for or thinks will happen to them. But it can and does happen in marriage, but it can be avoided.
There are many reasons affairs happen, but typically it’s at the point when vulnerability meets opportunity. So first is to reduce vulnerability in your marriage. There are two major ways that I am going to talk about in this article. The first is taking care of your marriage, yourself and your spouse. The second is communication. If these two areas are prioritized in the marriage, you reduce your risk of infidelity.
The first priority is taking care of your marriage, yourself and your spouse. We all want to feel important in the life of those important to us. We want to feel useful and appreciated. We want to belong. It’s important that this is considered in how you treat your spouse. Often in marriage, partners begin to take each other for granted and complain about what’s wrong rather than appreciate what’s right. Daily things like noticing how your partner looks and commenting on it, noticing efforts made with chores around the house or parenting the kids and sharing these appreciations, taking the time to be affectionate and making your partner feel loved and noticed. These may seem like small gestures but they add up to connection and sense of belonging that is key in preventing affairs.
I often hear the spouse who had the affair say things like, this person listened to me, understood me, made me feel I was important. Things that all too often fall out of a marriage. Recognizing love as an action, not just a feeling and treating your spouse accordingly not only works to keep your spouse from looking to get these needs met elsewhere but also helps you nurture your fondness and admiration of your spouse.
In addition to this, it is important to make the marriage as much of a priority as you would your job. Early in marriage, people are focused on having kids and advancing careers. Both of these can pull you in different directions and distract your from your marriage. It is important to prioritize and not let this happen. Carve out time on a regular basis for your marriage to include communication, fun, play, intimacy and connecting.
Another important piece is self-care. It’s important that you make your own needs known, and when your spouse can’t meet them, meet them yourself. For example, if you are a person that likes to go to the beach to unwind but your partner doesn’t enjoy that, go anyway! Otherwise resentment builds, needs go unmet and you make yourself vulnerable to an affair.
The last but possible most important piece is communication. It’s not always possible to avoid vulnerability in a relationship. Vulnerabilities can be anything from job loss, loss of a loved one, new baby, anything that can bring stress to the relationship. By always communicating with one another and working together to overcome challenges, you reduce the risk of turning to an affair to cope. Share your needs with one another and be responsive and sensitive to each other’s needs. The stronger your connection and level of intimacy, understanding of one another, ability to cherish one another and treat each other as such will build a fortress around your relationship that will be difficult for an outsider to break through.