Silence: A Relationship Killer

Over the many years that I’ve been practicing therapy, I’ve found that couples that are struggling in their relationships often succumb to the default mode of silence. Sometimes, it’s one person who defers to the unspoken, and at times it’s actually both. In either circumstance, such silence – not a healthy pause or meditative break – speaks to the absence of verbal and emotional intimacy. Unless we’re communicating on levels of extra sensory perception or body language, words are the only tools available to us to communicate let alone resolve our issues. There’s little sense to being in a relationship and resorting to silence. Not only does it sabotage the lifeline of a healthy coupling, it chokes your expressive needs.

When you can express what you’re feeling – in the moment that you’re experiencing it – there’s much less likelihood that you’ll act out on that feeling. Problematic feelings that go unexpressed tend to percolate and boil over – they take on energy of their own, and the ensuing conflict hours or days later may have little correlation to the original emotional insult. When this occurs there’s little chance of being validated, as there may be little correspondence between your hurt feelings and the disruption of the moment.

Telling someone that you feel angry, and explaining why you do, will ordinarily sever the reactive state of being angry or acting angrily. Furthermore, the non-verbalization and suppression of your feelings will – over time – result in substantial resentment, with the accompanying behavior that we might expect. If you don’t share your problematic feelings, there is a great probability that you’ll act out on them, in any number of unrelated ways. Having done so, you now become the problem in the other’s eyes. We’ve now entered into a negative spiral of silence and struggle

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Would You Like to Be the Partner I Want You to Be?

In my role as a relationship therapist, I’ve begun prompting couples to ask their partners, “Would you like to be the person that I’m asking you to change into? Would you like to be the partner that I want you to be?”

This type of inquiry quiets the tired back and forth, right and wrong ping ponging that gets us nowhere. It’s not uncommon to ask your partner to make changes in their beliefs, attitudes, or behavior to accommodate your wishes. Very often, though, this is met by an entrenched resistance from the person being asked to change. You should ask yourself if you’re resisting simply for the sake of resisting, or would the requested change be consistent with your own growth and personal evolution?

If what is being requested seems authentic and resonant with your growth, and you are nevertheless resisting, then you might want to pay attention to why you’re digging your heels in. If you’re caught up in the power struggle and keeping a scorecard of offenses, the path to amicability remains obstructed; the larger picture is surely being missed.

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Creating Resilient Relationships

The wonder of first meeting and falling in love is in part due to the curiosity and passion of learning about each other. Regrettably, over time most relationships tend to wear down as predictability, distraction, communication issues and/or boredom set in. What can we do to ensure that our relations are resilient, that they have elasticity and bounce back from the stresses of life? We must learn how to keep our relations energized.

Relationships, and particularly marriages, are not closed systems that operate in a vacuum, but are open and natural systems that are part of much larger systems that greatly impact the health of the marriage. When we speak of a marriage, we are talking about so much more than the simple relationship of two people. The relationship of the couple is enormously impacted by infinite factors that would appear to be somewhat outside of the domain of the marriage, but they nevertheless greatly impact the relationship.

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The 5% Rule

being understoodLearning to remain present and not get drawn into the right or wrong argument requires a willful intention to come out of the groove of an old habit. Typically, in a contentious discussion or argument defending oneself is a trigger reaction. We react defensively and then in turn blame or attack. This type of exchange seems mindless and bears little chance of success. Both people feel invalidated and the chasm between the two only widens.

Yet, even in the worst of adversarial encounters, there are a few charges that might make sense to us. However, our thoughts filter these out as we seek to bolster our argument and not detract from it. Having done so, we remain mired in the ping-pong match that takes us nowhere and invalidates one another. Read more

Shared Meaning

We take for granted that our words convey exactly what we intend them to. This is a particularly misinformed assumption. I have observed that upon deeper scrutiny, the words, let alone the concepts, tend not to be received in the way the messenger anticipates. By the time a few sentences have passed, we may have a totally missed communication. How often do we pause and considerately ask the other what they mean by the word they are using?

Although this problem is more glaring in confrontational discourse, it impacts amicable conversations as well. “You don’t know how to be intimate,” she exclaims. He retorts, “I don’t know how to be intimate? You’re so angry and cold who would ever want to be intimate with you?” In the following minutes this couple is off to the races, pushing buttons and hurling invective. Read more

Does Familiarity Breed Contempt?

The expression “familiarity breeds contempt” is all too familiar. Yet, as the case with many common sayings, we might benefit from taking a look at whether or not it truly makes sense. When we don’t examine these beliefs they tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies. Ordinarily, the expression “familiarity breeds contempt” refers to what often happens in long-standing relationships and marriages. Regrettably, over time too may relationships begin to see their happiness wither. Yet, the question remains: is it actually familiarity that causes this disappointment?

We might consider whether it’s familiarity that’s the culprit or whether something else is provoking the contempt. At times, familiarity may in fact pave the way for greater intimacy and love. After all, when the relationship begins and we open to emotional intimacy, we set the stage for falling in love. If a soft kiss, an appreciative hug or the simple feeling of being cared for becomes familiar, then familiarity in fact evokes and sustains love. In loving relationships that embrace emotional support and respect, familiarity produces a wonderful life. What we become accustomed to should become the focus of our attention. Read more

Marriage: Work or Play?

Most marriages and primary relationships these days tend to focus more on expediency and structure than on substance and content. In a culture that promotes getting the job done, efficiency regrettably takes precedence over fun. Many couples have become most proficient at getting the job done well. They manage the home, the children and work, but they seem to have lost the capacity to have fun together. They may work well together, but they don’t often love well together.

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Commitment

Why Do We Mean by Commitment?

What does the word commitment suggest? It usually evokes a strong sense of intention and focus. It typically is accompanied by a statement of purpose or a plan of action. Very often, we utilize this word in regard to proclamations we may make about the seriousness of our relationships. For example, “I’m in a committed relationship,” or “ I’m completely committed to this relationship.” In such circumstances, what exactly are we saying? We take it for granted that the word or the expression means the same thing to all of us. I can assure you that it doesn’t.

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If marriage were a corporation, it would be bankrupt

 

The fact that more than half of marriages end in divorce is actually the lesser problem. The more telling consideration is that the majority of intact marriages are far from joyful. From my professional and personal experience, I’d venture that only a small percentage of marriages actually thrive. That’s a staggering rate of failure! Why would we permit these results? We’d never tolerate this rate of failure in our businesses or investments. In fact, if marriage were a corporation it would be bankrupt.

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