This is the first in a series I am starting. The series is going to involve couples stories. Some of them will be success stories, and some of them not. But each of them will give you a glimpse into what other couples struggle with. I think you'll find that you are not alone in your own struggles. I hope that from reading these stories, you find insight into your own marriage and how to make improvements. These stories come from my experiences in counseling couples. In my 4 years of practice, I have treated over four hundred couples. To protect the confidentiality of those involved, names are not used. I will also leave out certain details or edit parts of the story so that the couple cannot be identified and confidentiality is maintained.
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Fighting isn't fun. Most of us don't like conflict, especially the ugly kind of conflict where we say mean and hurtful things. Conflict is as much as part of your relationship, and should be as much a part of your relationship as kissing, or even breathing. It's normal, it's necessary. But none of us like it because it's uncomfortable. Well it's supposed to be that too. Conflict calls attention to the areas where growth is needed, whether it is within yourself or in your relationship. Conflict is a call to action to pay attention to a specific area that needs addressing.
So let's start by defining conflict. When I talk about conflict, I am not talking about name calling, raised voices, or anything of the like. I am talking about confronting the uncomfortable in a kind and loving way.
I recently had some experiences that gave me a renewed sense of passion about what I do, helping couples improve their marriage and keeping families together.
There has been a lot of media lately around a recent study that was published. It reported that 40 percent of respondents said marriage is becoming obsolete. Phooey!
Marriage has great implications to our health as individuals and as a society. Research has shown over and over again that communities where marriages are strong and prevelant have lower crime rates, higher education, lower healthcare costs and other great benefits. The same holds true for individuals.
Divorce may seem like a viable option when you are unhappy or unsatisfied in your marriage. But divorce brings about tremendous upheaval and devastation in it's aftermath, especially when you have children. You should not have to remain in a miserable marriage, but divorce isn't the only option. With help, there are things you can do to create a marriage that is what you desire.
I’d like to preface this article by stating that this article is intended to focus on the needs and roles of men in marriage. Women have important needs in marriage, but that is not the focus of this article.
Laura Schlessinger wrote a controversial book called The Care and Feeding of Husbands. Well, she tends to be a controversial figure in this field because of her bold views and I won’t debate them here, but why this book was so controversial is because it was offensive to feminist women who don’t want to cater to their husbands. (I’m sure I may get some of those responses here as well!)
Men’s needs in marriage differ from women’s needs. We are often attuned to what women need in our culture today and men have had to work hard to better understand the needs of women. But how much do women understand what men truly need. In a culture where women have worked so hard to achieve equality (a work still in progress, but we’ve come a long way), and women have more power of choice in their lives and don’t depend on men for financial survival, what is happening to men in marriage?
Willard Harvey, in his book His Needs/Her Needs, states the five top needs of men in marriage. Those five needs are admiration, physical attractiveness, recreational companionship, sexual fulfillment and domestic support. The need that is often most neglected and that I want to focus on here is the need for admiration.
Women in our culture have become independent and self-sufficient. This is a wonderful thing, but men are suffering in many marriages because of it. Many have lost their place in their marriage. Men want to feel useful, purposeful and admired for their use and purpose. When women are too independent and don’t “need” their partner for anything, men can become lost in where their place is. I see problems occur when women become critical toward their partner because he is not fulfilling emotional needs or needs for help around the home. Men put forth effort and it isn’t recognized or it is criticized as not being good enough.
Affairs occur for many different reasons and I am only touching on one of them here. When a lot of couples come to me for help after an affair, I see this pattern occurring. The husband is not feeling admired in the relationship and he becomes vulnerable when a woman at work, or female friend shows that admiration. Men bear responsibility here as well, they have a choice and certainly an affair doesn’t have to be one of them. But in examining what makes marriage successful, we have to be aware of and acknowledge the needs of both partners.
Many women who come into my counseling office don’t take men’s need for sex seriously. They dismiss it as him “caring about one thing” or having a “one track mind”. But for many men, it is through sex that they feel emotionally connected, admired and desired. Typically women are the opposite, they need to feel emotionally connected (usually through thoughtful acts and conversation) before they want to or are inspired to engage in sex. So if a woman is not feeling emotionally fulfilled in her marriage, she will often stop having sex. This is one need in marriage that is not acceptable to get met elsewhere. In order to be successful at preventing affairs, we have to be aware of and able to navigate this difference between needs among men and women.
Criticism is the worst offender. That’s true for all of us. But it goes right to the core of the man’s need for admiration. So the first step is working toward eliminating criticism of your partner. Notice and acknowledge his efforts. Even though a woman does not need a man for survival, she certainly needs him for the relationship to survive. So what does admiration look like in a marriage? This is a question best asked to the man in your life. I think many men might answer that feeling desired, sexual fulfillment, being responsive sexually, acknowledging the efforts and contributions he makes, and through actions showing him why he’s the man you chose to spend your life with. These gestures go along way toward preventing affairs.
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.