Archive for Keeping Love Alive in Marriage

The State of Marriage by Jennifer Olden, LMFT

This is in response to Anthony D’ Ambrosia’s viral blog post about the state of marriage. http://legacy.abc10.com/story/life/2015/12/30/columnist-5-reasons-marriage-doesnt-work-anymore/78093780/

Dear Anthony,

I appreciate your brave and honest post.  I’m sorry about your divorce and all the pain you endured.  The challenges you outlined are real, but the conclusion you drew—marriage is over—is misguided.

It’s true:  Technology is often not good for marriage.  In fact, it’s not good for relationships, period.  This is because an emotional bond requires emotions—both the ability to feel emotion and the willingness to talk about it.  Technology is an immediate feel-good distraction from negative emotion.  People stop feeling deeply, and without the ability to feel deeply, they can’t bond.

But that doesn’t mean we should just give up.  

The same could be said for parenting.  Technology makes parenting more difficult, but we don’t just throw in the towel.  We make conscious choices about how to limit its influence. Similarly, I encourage couples to put away their phones during dinner and dates.  Practice just sitting and being a person without checking the sports scores, trolling Facebook, and endlessly texting.  This requires a conscious decision not to let technology be the main vehicle of conversation.

Regarding access to pictures of sexy people via the Internet:

If you are not a pornography addict, there is no research that sexy pictures of other people on the Internet actually make you want your spouse less.  Good sex is less about how much your partner resembles the magazines and more about how well you are able to attune and respond.

You also mentioned financial hardship.

Limited finances increase stress, which can strain a marriage.  I’m pretty sure this isn’t a new problem, however.  Our grandparents did live through the Great Depression.  From my perspective, the challenges in the world make marriage more important.  If you are able to reach for each other for comfort and care when stressed, then the marital bond actually strengthens.

It’s not the stressful event that breaks up a marriage, but how it’s managed.  The most difficult problems can create a more enduring connection.

This isn’t me being overly optimistic.  I successfully teach skills to help couples be vulnerable with each other so they aren’t withdrawing or lashing out when the going gets tough.  And no matter what generation, there will be tough times, tragedy, profound loss, and 9-to-5 grinding boredom.  You are not the only generation that has suffered, even though the circumstances may be different.  It’s how the struggle is dealt with that determines whether the marriage will strengthen or be broken.

Your final point about privacy being out the door is also well-taken.  We can get caught up in wanting to be popular on the Internet for a day and become less focused on the most important relationship of all—the one with our spouse.  We are busy showing off and waiting for applause from the world, and then are disappointed that our spouse doesn’t offer the same standing ovation when we come home from work.

Here is the main point I want you to hear:  WE ARE WIRED TO CONNECT.  The need to be loved and love a significant other isn’t icing on the cake or some socially constructed pact we’ve all implicitly agreed to, like moving the clocks forward in the spring.  It’s not a decision or even a choice.  Through millions of years of evolution, love has become a wired-in survival code.  You can’t outrun it, and it’s not going to be stamped out by technology, finances, sexy pictures, or the Internet.

You mentioned a longing you’ve had ever since you were a little boy to have deep abiding love with a partner or soul mate.  You were touching this biological survival need.  You were clear about it before you grew up and had your heart broken, before life happened and disillusionment set in.

That place is still in you, buried but alive, and you can trust it.  The generational challenges are real but not insurmountable.  Love still exists and can thrive despite everything.

Couples Blog

The Attach Place Center for Strengthening Relationships

Warmly,

Jennifer Olden, LMFT

www.jenniferolden.com

 

 

Communication by Robin Blair, LMFT

Most couples that come into my office for therapy tell me they need help with communication, and they are right. Just not in the way they are implying when they tell me “he never listens to me,” or “all she ever does is nag me.” I know, when I am working with them I am going to move them from a defensive, self-protective style of communication to one of vulnerability and intimacy. But, for the first couple of sessions I let them tell me their complaints about communication. It is very insightful to me, I learn all about their hidden fears and desires in those complaints and they don’t even know they are revealing them. It is my job to point that part out.

So why do so many couples come in with the same complaint? Think about it, you wake up in the morning talking to your spouse, you spend the morning getting ready talking to your spouse, you probably text, talk, or Email throughout the day. You probably call on your way home, check in with each other after being away all day, spend the evening divvying up who is going to do what, maybe sit, down after the kids are down and enjoy some quite time together, go to bed together hopefully with enough energy to have sex, staying in some kind of contact all night with a foot or hand, then waking up and starting all over. On special nights you go out and enjoy each other’s company and on busy weeks you feel the pressure of not spending time together. This is the norm for a lot of relationships, and on some level you know that, so when it is not happening like this, you can tell something is wrong.

This is where couples get stuck. Someone might ask their partner “why aren’t you spending time with me”? This partner might feel attacked, hearing he or she is doing something wrong, actually want to stay away from those attacks, perpetuating the problem. Another person might say “We aren’t having sex enough.” That partner might think “why would we have sex when you don’t even want to spend time with me”? Again, perpetuating the cycle. So, it is easy to see where communication could break down and even turn into a blaming, attacking, defending, withdrawing cycle, and why couples come in telling me they are having problems communicating.

So what can you do about this? You can start by making time to have this discussion and talk about how you miss being in contact with the other person. You could also purchase the book Hold Me Tight: seven conversations for a lifetime of love by Sue Johnson and have those conversations. I have had many clients tell me this book changed their marriage. I promote the book so much I offer a full weekend workshop on it. Finally, if it feels like you are just too stuck to do this on your own, make an appointment with an EFT couple’s therapist.

Couples Blog

The Attach Place
Center for Strengthening Relationships

Live Long Live Strong,

Robin Blair, LMFT

Certified EFT Therapist

Family Therapy by Robin Blair, LMFT

Everyone knows when couples struggle, it affects the kids just as much. It is hard enough for us as parents to manage the weight of not getting along with our partner, but to also carry how much it is affecting our children can feel overwhelming at times. We understand that when our children see parents fighting, it takes away their sense of security. Parents are a child’s main source of security, so to have that taken away is very distressing. Then, we also have to consider the type of behavior we are role modeling to our kids. What relationships look like, what is an acceptable way to treat a spouse or a spouse to treat them. Sometimes I think “if a girl ever treated one of my boys the way I treat my husband sometimes, I would become a horribly interfering mother in law.” And even though I know all of this, in the moment, when my husband has done something that pushes me over the edge, I am going to let him know in whatever “F_ _ _ing” way I feel is necessary to get my point across.

 

So, considering we are not always capable of being perfect partners or perfect parents and knowing it is affecting our kids in whatever big or small way, family therapy is a really, really great option to help our kids resolve some of these issues. The one thing I really want to say about family therapy, from my perspective as a family therapist, is that family therapy is for the kids. Couple’s therapy is for the parents, but family therapy is really about the kids. It’s about helping parents be there for their kids. In couple’s therapy I help individuals relieve the stress of a disconnected relationship by turning the relationship into a source of reassurance, support, safety, and comfort instead of a source of anxiety and heartache. In family therapy, I help parents attune to their children and hear and support their children in a way the children need. Children are affected by distressed marriages, so in my opinion both should be happening. If you need couples therapy and have kids in the house, chances are you need family therapy as well.

 

Having said that, I want to reassure you that as a family therapist I am not here to judge your parenting skills. The fact that you are willing to lay them all out on the table with a perfect stranger who has the authority to call CPS if I deem the children are unsafe, shows me the minute you walk in the door, you have the children’s best interest at heart. I know it can be scary thinking the kids are going to tell the therapist the kinds of things you say to your spouse or them for that matter, when you have lost it; or that you drink, or are always on your phone, or work 7 days a week, or don’t work at all, or that you spank your kids, or slam doors and throw things when your mad. Not only have we as therapist heard almost all of it in individual, couples, or family therapy, we have probably lived most of it as well. I want to reassure you that your kid’s mental and emotional wellbeing is well worth it. Family therapy is not about you not being a perfect parent, it really isn’t much about you at all, it is about helping your kids process and deal with things most families don’t know how to talk about. It is about making your kids feel heard, seen, cared for, safe, valuable, lovable, and worthy. I am not here to judge your parenting, only to help your kids know that you are ok and that they are ok.

Couples Blog

The Attach Place
Center for Strengthening Relationships

 

Love Long Love Strong,

Robin Blair, LMFT

Certified EFT Therapist

 

Self-soothing by Robin Blair, LMFT

Self-soothing or auto regulating your emotions has long been seen as an important part of independence and maturity. It’s the idea that we should be able to deal with our emotions on our own and not require comfort from other people to feel better. Some therapist like to call it differentiation, and clients who are not fully differentiated are labeled co-dependent. So, is this strongly held American belief that we should be able to make it on our own, without any help from others really what our brains thrive on? Is this how the human brain is wired?

According to research on this very topic (Love Sense by Sue Johnson) the answer is no. Our brains were wired to function in tribes, not independent or isolated. According to Johnson, being emotionally isolated is as bad for our health as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. She even has research that shows cuts on people’s hands will heal faster when they are a part of a healthy relationship. What she is trying to prove is that the human brain is wired to require the comfort of another individual. We already knew this about children, but what Johnson is proving is that we need it as adults also “from the cradle to the grave” she likes to say. She is going against the cultural norm that we need to be independent adults that do not rely on anyone, and instead saying people who can depend on a significant other are healthier, happier, and more successful.

So, the important question is “how do I know if I am in an emotionally healthy relationship”? And the problem with this question is that most people instinctually know the answer, but our society tells us we should be independent enough to not care. If our fear comes up about not getting our needs met in our relationship we instantly think “there must be something wrong with me, why am I so needy” It’s even worse for men, because they have the desire to be emotionally close with their partner, but the only skill they were ever taught to express their desire for emotional closeness was sex. So they ask for it often and wear their partner out, making her feel like a means to an end or get rejected by her and completely shut down emotionally. My personal opinion is that this is why porn addiction is so prevalent in our culture. And porn is just one example of self-soothing. If a man’s only way of emotionally bonding with his partner is going to get shot down, of course he is going to turn to an imitation of it. Unfortunately, like any drug that rapidly releases dopamine, the reward chemical in the brain, over time his brain will become desensitized and require more and more to get the same result. Eventually, making love to his partner will no longer be sufficient, causing all kinds of sexual dysfunction and feelings of shame. Not to mention the havoc this will create in his relationship and in his partner.

Porn may be one of the most devastating self-soothing techniques to a relationship, but it is far from the only. Really, addiction of any kind is going to devastate a relationship. A key indicator to an emotionally healthy relationship is the ability to turn to your partner in a vulnerable way in time of need. Using the man above as an example, when his partner turns him down when he asks for sex, he would be able to say “it is so hurtful when I want to be close to you and you reject me, I feel like you don’t desire me and don’t want to be close to me, and I just can’t think of anything worse than you not wanting to be with me.” Another example could be of a woman who is feeling hurt by her partner who seems to be spending most of his time on the computer or out in the garage. In an emotionally healthy relationship she could say to him “I really miss you, it feels like you are not that interested in just spending quality time with me and I am getting really lonely here.” In an emotionally healthy relationship the partners would be able to respond in a way that shows they are accessible, responsive and engaged. Sue Johnson calls this a “Hold Me Tight” conversation. The acronym ARE represents the most basic question couples ask “Are you there for me”? Are you accessible, are you responsive, and will you engage with me emotionally?

So you can see how addictions or any self-soothing behavior would get in the way of creating an emotionally healthy relationship. First, because instead of turning towards their partners when they have a need, they turn towards an addiction to calm their fears and satisfy their need. So this could block any possibility of creating emotional intimacy. Second, if an individual turns towards his or her partner, asking ARE you there for me, and the partner is drinking or disconnected because of other self-soothing behaviors the answer is going to be no. This will keep the individual from asking this question in a vulnerable way, and instead the next time they ask it, it is going to be in a defensive guarded way. The partner is not going to hear there is a need being asked to be met, but instead they are going to hear how they have disappointed and failed in some way and respond accordingly with their own defenses up. I’m sure you can see how quickly and devastatingly this is going to take a toll on the relationship.

So, because culture is telling us we should be able to handle our emotions without the comfort of another individual and that we should not depend on other people, we are fighting our natural wiring to be in emotionally intimate relationships. A man should be able to say to his partner “I want you to hold me tonight.” And a woman should be able to request that the rest of the world just melt away so she can have all of her partner’s attention on just her. I think addictions are being created because we need this at the deepest level but feel weak and ashamed about it, so we drown out our natural tendencies so we don’t have to face our true vulnerability.

If you are interested in learning more about this, sign up for my January Hold Me Tight weekend workshop at The Attach Place.

 

“I am not like this with anyone else except my partner.”

I have a lot of people tell me they act a lot different around their partner than they do anyone else. Some of my clients are ashamed of the way they act around and towards their partner, they can’t quite make sense of it. They see is as irrational, immature, dysfunctional, cruel, I could go on and on about the way this behavior has been described by both partners. These behaviors could be yelling, name calling, stone walling, staying away from, being cold, having an attitude, ignoring, etc. There is one common denominator here, the energy behind it. It isn’t loving, caring, “you are so important to me” energy. My couples’ know that much. What they don’t understand is what exactly is behind this behavior. It seems so cruel and unloving, but they love their partner so why are they acting this way?

I am here to clarify what is actually behind this behavior that can seem very loving. It is fear! And a lot of it. Humans are tribal beings, we exists in groups and depend on these groups for survival. Americans have shrunk these groups down to just two people, you and your partner. This means your survival, as far as your brain is wired, is dependent on this one other person. So you can imagine, if this relationship feels threatened in any way what that is going to do to your brain, and what your brain is going to tell you to do about it. Animals, including humans, have three basic fear responses: fight, flight, and freeze.

Now, let’s put these basic fear responses back into those behaviors we talked about. If you are afraid you cannot depend on your partner to be there for you when it really matters, what might you do to fight against this? Maybe yell, protest, get angry, aggressive, debate, negotiate, slam doors, be pissy, name call, get critical, anything to fight against the belief that you can’t count on your partner. Well, as far as your brain is concerned, this makes perfect sense to act this way, you are fighting for the relationship because it is so important to you. Now we know your partner will notice these behaviors. What he or she will not know, is that you are doing these behaviors because he or she is so important to you.

So, let’s move to the flip side of this, say you are more likely to flee or freeze when you are afraid your partner is not going to be there for you. Let’s just say you hear your wife call you undependable, irresponsible, uncaring, or a failure. What else is your brain supposed to think other than, “I am not good enough for her”, “she is going to leave me because I keep letting her down”, “she has impossible standards that I cannot reach.” And let’s say when you feel this deep fear, your reaction is to freeze or go away from it (flee). The rational for this is, if you go away from her, you will stop making her so angry. Or, if you freeze, at least you won’t continue to make it worse. So, either way, you are trying to stop the message that you are going to lose her because you are inadequate.

The problem here is that all your partner sees is you ignoring her, abandoning her, leaving her, not caring about her fear, not caring about the relationship. Which unfortunately increases her fear that you are not going to be there for her when it really counts. The chances of her seeing your fear about losing this relationship are slim. Especially if she is stuck in her own fear of losing you. I know I am using a male partner example here, but it could go either way.

So, what are couples supposed to do if this is such a common patterns? The answer is so simple. Know what is really going on with you and talk about it. Can you imagine saying “you are so important to me and when I get the message you think I am not good enough for you, it freaks me out and I just want to get away from that feeling” Or, “when you go away from me when I am trying to talk about something that is important to me, it gives me the message that you are not going to be there for me in a way that really matters. I need to know I can count on you to be there for me.” This takes a lot of vulnerability and safety in the relationship. It is something you should sit down and talk about when you are not in a heated argument. So when the argument comes up, you already have some practice of talking in this way. The reason you are not like this with anyone else is because your partner is the most important person in the world to you, and no one else even comes close.

Couples Blog

The Attach Place
Center for Strengthening Relationships

Robin Blair, LMFT

Certified Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist

Hold Me Tight Couples Weekend Workshop for Parents of Attachment Challenged and Special Needs Children

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Weekend
April 25, 2014   6pm to 9pm
April 26, 2014  10am to 4pm
April 27, 2014  10am to 1pm
Hold Me Tight
Weekend Workshop for Couples with Adopted and Special Needs Children
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The Hold Me Tight Workshop is designed to give you a weekend away to connect with your spouse. This workshop will not teach you useless things; it will give you an opportunity to fully engage the deep, loving connection you desire in your relationship with your partner.

• Address stuck patterns and negative cycles

• Make sense of your own emotions

• Overcome loneliness

• Repair and forgive emotional and physical disconnection

• Communicate to develop deeper understanding and closeness

You will strengthen your bond through private exercises with your partner, didactic experiences, and video demonstrations of couples that have moved from distress to that longed for deep, intimate connection.   This workshop takes place in the safe environment of experienced attachment specialists and other parents experiencing similar attachment pushes and pulls in their lives because of the demands of healing the broken hearts and emotional difficulties of children from difficult biological beginnings, maltreatment, abuse and attachment breaches.  YOU will be “seen” here and your struggles will be understood.

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Hello Ce,
This attachment focused couples workshop is brought to you at a 50% reduced rate by The Attach Place Center for Strengthening Relationships. We believe that you, your relationship, and your love matter.  The stronger your relationship, the better able YOU will be to whether the slings and arrows of raising children from difficult beginnings. The Attach Place Logo  2

This workshop is especially designed with YOU in mind. To that end, we are dedicated to providing creative financing to make this opportunity possible for you and child care options.

Who:                YOU and Your Partner
When:                6pm to 9pm April 25, 2014
10am to 4pm April 26, 2014
10am to 1pm – April 27, 2014
Cost:                $300.00
Child Care:       $5 per hour per child

Snacks Provided and Local Restaurant List for Lunch Options.

Reserve your place by RSVPing to: info@attachplace.com

If you can carve out time for yourselves on a weekend, we promise that you will have valuable experiences to help you strengthening the safety, connection, and bond in your relationship.

Love Matters,
Ce Eshelman, LMFT, Jennifer Olden, LMFT, Robin Blair, MFTI,
The Attach Place
Center for Strengthening Relationships

The Chill Out Fire Storm by Jennifer Olden, LMFT

Disclaimer: My point of reference is that of a wife in a heterosexual marriage that generally fits the stereotypes. However, as a therapist, I have seen the roles switch. I’ve worked with gay and lesbian couples where gender isn’t the defining label. So, take this article with a grain of salt and look for the parts that fit.

My husband has the annoying habit of saying to me right after I bump my head, “Be careful.” It’s reflexive on his end and harmless but also NOT HELPFUL. Advice, even with a positive intention, can end up escalating the disconnection.
Take the directive, “Chill out.” Never in the history of humankind has a person relaxed in response to the phrase, “Chill out.” It has the opposite effect nearly every time. If I’m upset and someone, namely my husband, says, “Chill out” I will probably want to claw off his face. This is not chilling out. Here is a short list of similar phrases that when uttered will make your wife freak out.

Yeah, right!

Yeah, right!

1) Chillax.
2) You are being irrational.
3) Stop stressing out. It’s no big deal.
4) Have you taken your medication?
5) Is it that time of the month?
6) You are overreacting.
7) You are always upset about something.

When a woman hears these phrases, she will NOT suddenly get access to her prefrontal lobes and become a beacon of logic and reason. She will more likely get more irrational, more reactive, and more upset. These phrases are gasoline, my friends. Avoid them at all costs.

So what do you say instead when your partner is freaking out over something seemingly small that doesn’t make sense to you and really appears to be some sort of chemical imbalance? How do you address it in a way that re-connects the two of you? Try these phrases:

1) I want to get close to you, but right now you seem so mad at me it’s hard to connect, though I really want to. What can I do?
2) I want to be the antidote to your problem, but it seems like I’m the cause. That makes me go away. I need you to talk to me about what is bothering you without blaming me for everything.
3) Look, I’m imperfect and I make mistakes, but I love you and I am here.
4) I’m on your team, and we are in this together. You are the most important person to me.

The point is that if you couch your response in caring and validation you will get a lot more traction in your ultimate desire to connect than using the phrase, “Chill out.”

The Attachment Dance of Couples Blog

The Attachment Dance of Couples Blog

Love Strong,

Jennifer Olden, LMFT and Partner

Welcome to Love Strong Love Long Blog

This blog is dedicated to couples who know how much love matters and how hard it is to be in the couple’s attachment dance while living in our incredibly complex, fast paced world.

Couples Blog

The Attach Place
Center for Strengthening Relationships

Jennifer Olden, LMFT is a certified Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist and EFT Therapist Supervisor at The Attach Place Center for Strengthening Relationships, which specializes in attachment-based therapies for individuals, couples, and diverse bio and adoptive families. Jennifer provides Emotionally Focused Therapy exclusively for couples.