If you are settling for a loveless marriage, or a sexless marriage, or a high-conflict dynamic etc…you really don’t have to. Most people settle because they just don’t know what’s possible OR they don’t know what else to do!
Marriage Maintenance: How to Sustain a Healthy, Authentic Life-long Partnership - YouTube
So you found the right person, and you’re in it for the long haul. What do you do to ENSURE you keep it on the right track? How do you make sure to avoid sabotaging it, or acting out your past onto this relationship? What is a “normal” amount of problems in a healthy marriage? In this talk I interview my coaches Ned Vandiver and Kelly Clawson Vandiver about their own marriage and we identify the KEY elements you must have to achieve and sustain lasting, loving connection for life.
You can watch my masterclass here: http://goo.gl/bgrP57 OR book a call here: www.monikahoyt.com/talk
A man and a woman in the same heterosexual relationship are actually in different relationships.
Well, let me rephrase that. Happy couples have fewer gender differences. But in unhappy relationships, there are clear differences between men and women in emotional expression.
According to Dr. John Gottman’s highly respected research, gender issues significantly exacerbate relationship problems.
This seems both obvious and hard to understand. I mean, haven’t we evolved beyond gendered stereotypes? We know that it’s ok for men to cry, and that housework isn’t just for women. Right?
Apparently, not quite.
Ongoing gender issues in the post-modern age are complex and a source of debate. But anyone can observe them on a children’s playground. Girls’ identities are shaped primarily by their relationships, so in games they tend to care more about how the players relate to each other. When arguments occur, the game can end with one girl declaring: “I won’t be your friend anymore.” The stakes are high. But over time, this develops an ability to manage a complete range of feelings.
Boys, on the other hand, tend to be defined more by achievements. They care more about the game. They will argue fiercely, but never let it break up the game. Emotions will not rule. And sadly, boys still get teased for having tears. This creates men less practiced in feeling intense emotions.
Men’s ability to subordinate emotions to get the job done is a handicap in long-term relationships.
Gender Issues: His and Her Relatinoships
I hate to make generalizations because they just don’t hold true in all cases. But more often than not, gender differences all boil down to one thing: Men are less able to handle intense emotions.
Dr. Gottman found by observing married couples over many years that this fundamental difference manifests itself in various ways:
1) Men are more easily emotionally flooded.
This results in vulnerability to stress, increased heart rate and higher adrenaline levels. Flooding leads to stonewalling, or withdrawing when confronted on important topics. Men take longer to recover from emotional upset as well.
2) Women are more prone to bring up problems in the relationship.
This is often in the form of complaints and criticism, which can hurt the relationship and make it even harder for men to tackle hot topics.
3) Men and women have different grievances.
Men tend to gripe about their wives complaints and their emotional expressions. Women are more likely to complain: “he just won’t talk to me about it.”
4) Women feel they need to raise the emotional intensity to keep their partner responsive.
When women demand more intensity than her man can comfortably offer, he withdraws. This triggers her to demand even more, which becomes a vicious cycle.
5) Women are more likely to bring up the past.
This usually occurs when she is engulfed in emotion. When she brings up the past, she is more prone to using sarcasm and criticism than her man.
6) Women do more housework than men.
Even in couples that are not stereo-typically gender divided, women still do more housework. And when men do housework, it is considered a nice favor, something to be actively appreciated. (For more on how to resolve the distribution of labor issue, click here.)
7) For women there is a big connection between housework and sex.
Basic formula: The more housework a man does, the more sex he has. It’s true! This has great ramifications for you men.
What do to about it:
Accept her feelings and allow her to express herself without getting defensive (for info on how to be less defensive click here).
Remember her goal is usually to connect through empathy, not problem solving.
If you feel flooded, by all means take a break. But set a time that you can resume the conversation later.
Learn to empathize with her prerequisites for sexual intimacy.
Learn how to bring things up gently.
Remove criticism from your arsenal (to break the habit of criticism, click here).
Complaining is okay sometimes, as long as the intention is to improve the relationship.
Give your guy space when he is flooded.
For both of you:
Accept your differences without judgement! This seems obvious but is really hard sometimes.
Work at making up… Being able to successfully repair hurts after conflict is a big predictor of relationship success.
Appreciate each other, and cultivate fondness for each other. This puts money in the joint emotional bank account to help in “lean times.”
Accept that most marriages do not resolve all serious disagreements. Ever. So pick your battles.
Remember: Gender differences don’t have to mean gender inequality. As long as we remain aware and own our part in the equation, our differences can create greater depth, diversity, and opportunities for spiritual growth.
I want to hear from you! Let me know what you think in the comments below…
Do you often wonder if you picked the wrong partner? You were SO in love, and now you just can’t get what you need from them.
This common experience in relationships is a tribute to the power of the subconscious mind, which–let’s face it–is what chose your partner.
Dr. Harville Hendrix, author of Getting the Love You Want, does a great job of breaking down this phenomenon. He says we are inherently drawn to people we know, deep-down, will not meet our needs. In fact, he goes so far as to say incompatibility is the very grounds for marriage. Isn’t that awful? How can that be?
Well, according to him, adults have an unconscious need to re-create experiences familiar to our childhoods. We do this as an attempt to repair old wounds. Without realizing it, we pick somebody who has the negative traits of our caretakers, because those traits feel familiar. We re-enact the dynamics of childhood by falling in love with people who will frustrate us terribly. It is as if our psyche is saying “I only want what I need from somebody who can’t give it to me.”
BUT, here’s the good news. Dr. Harville Hendrix also points out that this apparent paradox provides us an amazing opportunity to heal from the past. He has found great success in helping troubled couples create healthy relationships, and has developed a method from his findings called Imago Therapy. Your incompatibilities become your opportunities.
For example, if your partner wants something from the part of you that was shut down in childhood, they have identified your strongest growth point. If each person is willing to stretch into a behavior the other person needs to feel met, you grow the underdeveloped parts of yourselves. If you give your partner the very things you feel you just CAN’T give, you end up getting a piece of yourself you never had before.
This is a mutual growth and healing process: Where you grow, your partner heals, and vice versa. You do not change who you are, but in fact become more of who you are.
Here is the Imago Therapy approach to creating healthy relationships that Harville Hendrix has outlined in his book Getting the Love You Want:
Begin with an internal quest. Instead of looking outward to see if you can get your partner to love you the right way, figure out what your childhood wounds and fears are. Own them and see it as an opportunity for growth. What you see in the other that triggers you can be scary but it means you have met your “Imago Match.” (Imago means image, and is used to describe the subconscious imprint of the qualities of your caregivers).
Close your “Exits,” ie. things we do to avoid closeness. Exits can be threats of separation or more subtle behaviors like overeating, watching too much television, not being present, surfing the web, etc. Pick some exits you can close and try it for one week, see how it goes.
Create a shared relationship vision. Write positive statements about your ideal relationships in the present tense, even if they aren’t yet true. For example “We spend peaceful weekends together.” Write as many as you can think of, share them with each other, and create a shared vision using the overlapping ideals.
Re-romanticize your relationship. Write up a list of things that your partner currently does that makes you feel loved and cared for. Then write another list, fantasy list of what you wished they would do for you. Share these lists and start executing the fantasy list. Challenge yourself, pick one a day if you can. It may feel forced at first, but do it anyway. It works.
Use the “couple’s dialogue.” This is a technique for communication that creates safety. When you have an issue or a concern, ask for a couples dialogue. Your partner then should 1) mirror back exactly what you have said, to make sure it is understood and not distorted by subtext, 2) validate your feelings, and 3) empathize. This doesn’t mean your partner gets railroaded—they might have their own legitimate concerns. But the rule is, if one partner initiates a dialogue, it is the other’s turn to listen.
Reap the rewards! You get the fantasy but now it’s reality. It’s a work in progress but you feel expanded. Once your heal yourselves, your relationship becomes the foundation to engage the world in healthy ways.
To see how a real couple applied one of these techniques, check out this video demonstrating the Couple’s Dialogue. It’s a great example of how to avoid defensiveness (see my blog on defensiveness here):
Transform Your Relationship - Part 7: The Couple's Dialogue - YouTube
Have you read Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix, or tried Imago Therapy to create healthy relationships? I’d be curious to hear how it went . . .Please comment below.
The question of when to divorce is a big one for troubled couples. Partners in pain ask when they should throw in the towel. What is the right amount of time to work on the relationship, and how do you know it is really done?
It feels good to think about an escape. The fantasy is that divorce will make the problems go away.
The sad truth is that most people find similar troubles in their next relationship. Not to mention the challenges that come from divorce that most people underestimate.
Conflict doesn’t always end with divorce–it just crosses two households. And children involved have no say in this decision that so profoundly affects them.
The good news is that–barring any deal breakers –most problems are solvable.
To be clear, I personally am not against divorce. I don’t think it’s wrong and in many cases it’s best for everyone.
But most of the time, unhappy marriages CAN be changed. So before asking the question about when to divorce, it is worthwhile to try to make it work.
What’s needed is HOPE to offset the overwhelming pessimism that comes with relationship troubles.
It helps to remember that a crisis can be a real opportunity for deep and radical change. It truly is possible to come through the other side, look back and say: Thank goodness we made it!
Try these techniques first before planning to divorce:
Marriage Saving Techniques
Michele Weiner-Davis, in her book Divorce Busting, reminds us that we only change our relationships by changing ourselves.
These techniques reflect a commitment to changing yourself first, and are proven to help save troubled marriages.
1) Keep in mind that “growing apart” is an illusion. Most people are essentially still the same–just perceptions of each other have changed. What we project onto our partner from our past comes into play. The truth is that couples go in and out of love, and there is no magic in magic (see step 2).
2) Figureoutwhat works. What are the exceptions to your problems? What is different when things are good? What is different about the times your problems arise but they just don’t bother you? Once you figure it out, do it! Was it that you created a nice evening and treated your partner like you were on a date? Was it that you were exercising regularly and felt better then? There are real actions, behaviors, and circumstances that create loving feelings, so find out what theyare. It’s not magic.
3) Just do it, you don’t have to like it. Within reason of course. But don’t say “Why should I have to do that?” If it works, that’s why you should do it. In the beginning of a relationship, we act out of inspired feelings. But over time, we need to step up our behaviors to improve our perceptions. Inspiration comes from the connection that comes from our actions.
4) Build on strengths. Thisalwaysworksbetter than dissecting weaknesses. Remember the 5:1 ratio? As long as you have enough positive in relation to the negative (and there will always be some negative) you’ll be fine. What is good about your relationship? How can you expand that?
5) Break destructive patterns. When faced with a problem situation, do anything differently than you usually have. Or “act as if” you felt differently. Remember, actions change perceptions and feelings as well.
6) Close your exits. This expression comes from Dr. Harville Hendrix, who recommends making sure that you have both feet in while working on the relationship. You can always step out later, but not now! Exits can range from affairs to simply not being present, spending too much time on the internet, etc.
When to Divorce
Sometimes giving it your best shot isn’t enough and your efforts fall flat.
Here is when to consider divorce:
1) If you have tried the above 5 steps for a reasonable amount of time and nothing has changed. I recommend at least three months of honest effort, because at that point it is unlikely that you will fail. But if your efforts fall flat, remember life is short and don’t stay stuck.
2) Your partner has a personality disorder. If this is the case, they need the old dynamics to feed off of. You will feel your efforts blocked because your partner’s ego cannot remain intact in the face of change. With personality disorders, in particular narcissism, there is not much you can do.
3) You still have completely different and mutually exclusive life dreams. In this case, even if you get along better, you cannot live your calling or be true to your higher purpose AND be with this person at the same time.
4) You are dealing with a deal breaker. Are you up against a non-negotiable bottom line? If you are unsure, see my blog on deal breakers here.
At a certain point, it really is best to cut your losses.
In the words of Dr. Bethany Marhsall: “Loss can be negotiated, and reputations can be repaired. But a life can never be relived. So make sure you are living it with the right person.”