There’s been a lot written about how this pandemic is affecting marriages and relationships. Through all of that, one thing has stood out to me more than anything else. I have to be honest. “I think one of the things that I’ve realized is that I don’t know Will at all.” Actor Jada Pinkett Smith said of her relationship with fellow actor Will Smith on her show ‘Red Table Talk.’ They were married in 1997, and here she is saying she doesn’t know her husband. That sounded incredibly painful to me. I know how much myself, the people I work with, and just people in general, want to be known deeply by an important other.
I thought I knew where the story was going, but what she said next was not what I expected.
“I feel like there’s a layer that you get to, life gets busy and you create these stories in your head, and
then you hold onto these stories and that is your idea of your partner; that’s not who your partner is,”
I don’t think she’s saying she doesn’t know anything about her partner. They have actually been open
about some of their marriage problems and the deep, difficult conversations they’ve had in order to
work through them. If she didn’t know him before then, surely she got to know him some during that
process. What I think she is saying, is that there is a way in which our learning about our partner is never
The “knowing” about your partner can create a sense of intimacy, but in many ways the “not knowing”
can be just as important for intimacy. The “not knowing” is about the attention, openness, and curiosity
that we can maintain toward our partner. Often when people reflect on early days with their partner,
they remember that sense of sharing and learning about each other that fueled their sense of
connection with their new love.
Then, as Jada said, we get busy and caught up in our lives. We stop paying attention in the same way.
We think we “know.” In fact, the “knowing” part can get in the way because so much of what we think
we know about our partner is really a rigid story we’re telling ourselves, not the dynamic, fluid, and
sometimes messy truth. So, we engage with the story of our partner we tell ourselves, not our partner.
That’s not to say you have to try to recreate the dynamic of getting to know your partner that you went
through when you first met. Of course, you probably really do know quite a lot about your partner if
you’ve been with them a long time. But the truth is, we can never really know someone else completely.
Heck, just knowing ourselves can be pretty difficult. It also doesn’t mean you will always like what you discover. But hopefully, it’ll be real. And it’s so much easier and more intimate to deal with real.
What we can do is embrace the spirit of not knowing. We can lean into the possibility that we’ll discover
something new and unexpected with our partner. That possibility is the very doorway to intimacy, a
chance to know and be known, again and again.
Contributed by Dr. Clay Culp, Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist at Healing Hearts Counseling
Shame. It’s a very powerful force. We all have it. But it’s hard to talk about. It’s a dark, difficult, lurking emotion. But the less we are aware of it, and the less we talk about it, the more power it has over us.
It’s easy to see when shame is triggered when you know what to look for. Here are the common responses to this trigger. Blame/projection. When someone is saying something negative about us, and somewhere inside of us we are either afraid this is true about us, or deep inside we believe it’s true, our self protective defense kicks in and we point the finger at the other person, We project our fears/beliefs back onto them and tell them they are the problem. Note: we often are not aware we are doing this. Another typical reaction is to get defensive. This is similar to the first in that it is touching on something we fear or believe is true about us so we protect ourselves by defending ourselves. We tell the other person how wrong they are. The last typical common response is that we shut down and numb out. We don’t want to feel these feelings and it’s overwhelming. Shame often makes us hide. We don’t want others to see what we fear is the truth of who we are in that shame place. All of these responses are detrimental to ourselves and our relationships. They push those close to us away. Which then reinforces feelings of shame that we are unlovable or not good enough.
No one can really make us feel something we don’t already feel.
If I know I’m intelligent and I feel secure in my competency as a person and someone tells me I’m dumb, I may not like it, but I’m not going to have a big reaction to it because I know this isn’t true. But let’s say I had a parent that put me down as a child, I struggled with school and was belittled for it. There’s a tender spot around my intelligence that includes feelings of shame. I feel not smart enough, not competent enough, and then someone tells me I’m dumb. Boy am I going to have a big emotional reaction to that that may include lashing out and blaming the other person, defending myself and telling them how wrong they are, or turning inward and shutting down. If we don’t understand where our tender spots are, our shame places, we often react while never really understanding why we react the ways that we do, and those reactions become damaging to ourselves and to our relationships.
This scenario quite often plays out in our intimate relationships. Our partner has the ability to hone right in on our most tender spots because they are the ones that matter the most to us, and they know us the best. This is the person we care the most about what they think, they are close enough to really hit those raw spots, and because they mean the most, they get the biggest reaction when those shame spots are triggered.
So let me illustrate a relationship example where both people are triggered by shame and how it leads to disconnect. Please note, all names and content are fictional, but it’s so common and universal, it’s not unusual to see yourself in it. I’m using some extreme examples of childhood wounds, but they don’t have to be this significant for us to have feelings of shame. Remember, we all have shame to varying degrees.
Joe had a very critical father grown up. If he got a B, his father would reprimand him and question why he never got an A. So Joe would try to perform and perform to get his father’s approval, and never felt good enough. His deepest shame fear was that he was a failure and would never be good enough. Sara was abandoned by her mother when she was very young, so she has deep feelings of shame that she is not lovable and everyone will leave. Joe and Sara are in a long term loving relationship.
Often times if Joe is not being particularly attentive to Sara because he is just distracted by a bad day at work, and he also forgets to take out the garbage. Sara’s shame is triggered, she fears she is not lovable and he doesn’t really care about her. So she launches into a critical attack telling him he never remembers to take out the garbage and all the household chores are up to her. She gets angry at him and tells him he doesn’t pull his weight and she’s tired of it. Sara doesn’t realize her shame is triggered, she is just reacting. Her reaction then triggers Joe’s shame. He starts to feel like a failure as a husband, that no matter what he does, no matter how hard he tries, he’s never going to get it right with her, he’s never going to make her happy. His reaction is then defensiveness. He tells her how she is wrong, that he does a lot around the house and she’s being ridiculous, thereby triggering her shame even more. If only they could see what’s going on. Their reactions are pushing each other away. But the shame they feel is real, it’s not their fault they have these feelings, and if only they could share that with each other.
So what do we do about this? We have to get in touch with it, acknowledge it, understand it, and have empathy for it so we can lessen it’s hold on us. Tune into those tender spots in yourself. Where do you recognize you have big reactions like this? What tends to trigger it? How do we react when it’s triggered? Having this information gives us the power to change our response so we can then love ourselves better and love those closest to us better. It takes tremendous courage to take a look at ourselves and acknowledge something so vulnerable as shame. But remember, it is part of being human. But if we can look at it and understand it with compassion, we can begin to heal it. We can begin to challenge these beliefs about ourselves that just aren’t true. Because the truth really is that we are all lovable, we are all enough, simply because we exist.
To learn more about Shame and it’s impact, Brene Brown has many amazing TED talks and books that delve deeply into this topic. Some of her books include: Daring Greatly, The Gifts of Imperfection, Rising Strong and others. And if you need support, counseling can help.
Wishing you love and happiness always,
One of the things that happens when couples get into distress, when one partner feels attacked, they get defensive. When this defensiveness occurs, you may end up dismissing the experience your partner is trying to share with you.
I understand that if your partner comes at you in an aggressive way (i.e. angry or blaming) it can be hard to hear the message of hurt behind the attack. Keep in mind, the height of the anger is equal to the depth of the hurt. Typically when a partner is acting out with anger, they are protesting disconnection and expressing deep hurt. If you respond by defending yourself by saying something along the lines of “that’s not true…I didn’t do that…that wasn’t what I intended…you are blowing this way out of proportion”, you end up dismissing your partner’s experience, which is very real and true for them.
The best way to disarm and diffuse the conflict, is turn toward and tune into your partner. Help slow them down by getting curious about what they are feeling and why. Really listen as they talk to what meaning they are giving the situation and why it hurts. Then your partner doesn’t have to fight so hard to be heard. The more you understand, the more comfort and reassurance you can offer. Then your parter will likely soften, and you’ll have room and space to also talk about what you are feeling and experiencing. When you understand someone’s story, you can often understand their reactions, so tuning in and listening can bring closeness, rather than both of you going off into the separate corners of painful disconnection.
Thank you for reading.
Wishing you love and happiness,
P.S. For more marriage enrichment, visit www.holdmetightknoxville.com and learn about our upcoming weekend workshops for couples.
Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy is a science based theoretical model of therapy for couples established by Sue Johnson. It is proven to work to help over 70% of couples who complete the EFT model of therapy. It is a map and strategy for understanding love relationships and where they go wrong.
If you are thinking of attending therapy with an EFT counselor, here’s a simple adaptation of a quote by Portia Nelson, written by Katty Coffron, PhD, on the process of EFT.
We walked down the sidewalk and fell into a deep hole. We couldn’t get out and we couldn’t figure out why. I thought it must be either your fault or my fault. We never quite got out of the hole; we just somehow moved on.
We walked down the sidewalk and fell into the same deep hole. We couldn’t understand. I still thought it must be either your fault, or my fault . It was a real struggle and we realized we needed help to get out. We didn’t just move on.
We started EFT therapy. We walked down the sidewalk and fell into the same deep hole again. This time we started to understand- it wasn’t my fault and it wasn’t your fault. It was the cycle’s fault. It was a struggle to get out, but we did get out.
We continued EFT therapy. We walked down the sidewalk and fell into the same deep hole again. This time we knew- it wasn’t my fault or your fault- we were both caught by the cycle. We knew we were both hurting. We reached for each other, and we got out.
We continued EFT therapy. We walked down the sidewalk and saw the hole. We reached for each other and we walked around it. We didn’t fall into the hole.
We finished EFT therapy. We reached for each other and we chose another sidewalk.
In your relationship, you may have experienced your own black hole. There is a way out. It’s not uncommon for couples to fall into these holes and get stuck, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
It takes a lot of courage to reach out for help. Many people, especially those who have had bad experiences with standard marriage counseling in the past, may think there is no help for them. But there is. We now have science and a map to understand love relationships, how to see the holes we fall into, and learn how through creating emotional safety with one another, we can learn to better understand and communicate our hurts and needs so that we can reach for each other and find each other in a way that creates the closeness and connection we all long for.
Thank you for reading.
Wishing you love and happiness,
As I write this, I have been a marriage counselor in private practice for 12 years now. In 2010 I was introduced to the theoretical model of couples therapy called Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT). I was immediately hooked. At that time I had been working with couples for 5 years. EFT addressed everything I had been experiencing with the couples I was working with. It just made sense.
Learning about the attachment model of therapy, that we are wired for connection, and the reactions we have when we feel a disconnect or distance from our intimate partner made sense of and normalized what I had been seeing in my office every day and in my own life. EFT creates a research based map for how to help couples repair and strengthen their bond.
Since attending that training, I went on to become fully certified in the model of EFT, and then went on to become an EFT supervisor to help other therapists learn this very effective approach to helping couples. I have become so passionate about helping couples through this model and in the 7 years I have been utilizing EFT with my couples, I have seen powerful and effective transformations over and over again.
I continue to want to grow this work. So I decided to team up with my colleague and friend, Jodi Clark, to begin doing Sue Johnson’s Emotionally Focused Therapy workshops for couples. It’s a 2 day intensive workshop to help couples identify and pull out of the negative patterns they are stuck in and learn how to create intimacy and bonding on a deeper level. I attended a workshop myself as an assistant before starting our own here in Knoxville. I had expected it was going to be amazing, but even still it blew my expectations away. I witnessed 10 couples transform over the course of the 2 days. It was an amazing experience and I grew even deeper in my passion to bring these workshops to Knoxville to help our community. To heal and strengthen marriages.
This workshop is different than counseling. It’s condensed into 2 days and is more educational than therapy. You are guided through 7 intimate conversations that you will do in private just the two of you. You will have access to trained EFT therapists to come and assist you if needed.
I feel so strongly that every couple, not just struggling couples, do this workshop. Our first workshop was a great success. Leading couples through these seven conversations and watching the impact it had was immensely satisfying. I hope to get the word out to do more and more of these weekends. It is a way to reach a large group of people in a short amount of time to provide true hope and healing for struggling couples.
If you would like more information, please feel free to contact me anytime at 865-283-1777 or go to the website www.holdmetightknoxville.com
Thank you for reading.
Wishing you love and happiness,
Couples can get stuck in some very vicious cycles and negative patterns with one another that rob them of their intimacy and connection with one another. Here is a story of a couple who got caught in a common pattern and how they were able to pull out of it together and reclaim their relationship. Read More
Often times couples find themselves so emotionally exhausted from the issues that plague their relationship, they look for a way out and make the decision to file for divorce. Many times the couple is made up of two people who still love each other, but they just don’t know how to get along with each other. They don’t necessarily want out of the marriage, but they want out of the pain and frustration and think divorce must be the answer.
For this particular couple, they were in very damaging cycle in their relationship and did not know how to break out of it. They had already begun the divorce process at the time they came in for counseling.
In the first session, they were unable to be productive because they were so caught up blaming each other that they could not see their own part in the cycle. They decided to separate. During their separation, they continued individual counseling.
This is my second month writing the stories of couples who come through my doors. As I stated in my first article, not every story will be a success story. But I hope each one is one that you can learn from. I hope to bring to light the struggles of many couples so others might realize they are not alone.
This story is not the story of one couple, but a story that I have seen repeated one too many times. (Names are fictional).
Joe and Mary have been married for 18 years. They have two children who are now 13 and 16 years old. Joe is a hard worker and dedicates himself to his career. He believes that by providing well for his family, he is doing his job as a husband and father. He puts in 60 to 80 hours a week and has for the last 20 years. He has done quite well in his career and provides a nice lifestyle for his wife and kids.
How to manage anger and resolve marital conflict without fighting about it.
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Welcome! If you are a couple struggling to communicate with each other, this eBook is for you. Laws of Loving Communication is a simple but effective guide for couples to learn the tools of communication that will help you to resolve relationship conflict, build greater intimacy, and stop arguing.
If you find yourself in the pattern of fighting about who is right, blaming each other, feeling like your partner doesn’t understand you, wanting to be heard but feel like you never are, this book will provide you with the necessary relationship help and tools to break out of the cycle and begin to listen to and understand one another.
This book is based on information from top counseling professionals in the field such as William Glasser, David Burns, and John Gottman along with my own experience counseling hundreds of couples in my practice.
You will learn about how to define the goals of communication, stop fighting about who’s right, turning complaints into requests, regaining a sense of goodwill and compassion toward one another, listening with an open heart and open mind, how to manage anger and other difficult emotions, and how to share with one another without getting pulled into battle.
I offer a full money back guarantee. If you are dissatisfied with the content of this book, you may contact me for a full refund. If at any point you need additional help resolving difficult issues in your marriage, do not hesitate to contact me. I will make myself available to you or provide you with the resources to best meet your needs.
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.