Can Personal Values Differences Destroy a Relationship?

You bet they do. Often the seeds of destruction are in the relationship the moment you meet even though it my take many years for it to actually die. Famous marital researcher Dr John Gottman teaches and trains therapists as follows:

“It’s a myth that if you solve your problems you’ll automatically be happy. We need to teach couples that they’ll never solve most of their problems.”

Often that is often because partners have different values about life, relationships,money, parenting, orderliness, in-laws, or sex.

Take Cliff and Mary, for example. Cliff is a very successful 42 year old restaurateur in a local beach community. He literally works 18 hours a day. He almost can compete with Jay Leno in terms of the number of luxury automobiles he has in his garage. Every year he treats his extended family from Eastern Europe to a two week vacation at Disneyland, then gives each one (about 20 people) $25,000 to return home with. Yet, his marriage is falling apart as he opens up yet another restaurant.

His wife Mary begs him to be home more of the time, but he sees that as nagging. He values only occupational success, everything else in life is secondary- even sex. He could care less. When he needs it, it is available all around him. He says women have been throwing themselves at him since he was 12 years old. Why does he need a wife for sex or emotional comfort? If she is unhappy, then she should move on, he says.

He does agree to therapy but almost falls asleep during the session because he has been up most of the night. In the session, while his wife is in anguish, he yawns. He wants her to just return home and enjoy the affluent life he can give her; why should she complain, he reasons, when she can have almost anything she wants? What other man could give her such a life?

Value differences are hard to reconcile even in marriage therapy, because neither partner is right or wrong. There are many ways to live life. Demanding that your partner change their values because they differ from yours is a sure path toward relationship conflict and ultimately destruction.

In our example, Cliff lives his life by the values of success, money,hard work, and complete devotion to what one does to succeed. Mary values relationship, love, family life, and emotional connection to one’s spouse.

The only hope for this marriage to survive with any kind of harmony is for her to surrender to the reality that neither she nor her husband is capable of changing their very different but deeply ingrained values. Cliff has already mentally surrendered and has no intention of changing himself. Mary, however, is in anguish daily, still trying to reform her husband.

Mary can certainly make the decision that these value differences are deal breakers and that this type of marriage is not for her. Who would blame her?

But she could also make the decision to accept what is and find a way to create her own life around this reality. This would work because Cliff has basically told her he doesn’t care what kind of life she builds, as long as it doesn’t require more time or emotional involvement from him. Some wives would relish this freedom while enjoying the fruits of a very affluent lifestyle.

Value conflicts such as this one require us to look deeply into ourselves to discover what we really believe and what is important to us. When we make decisions based on values instead of emotions, our lives work better with much less turmoil.

As I often tell my clients, if you can’t change the direction of the wind, you must adjust the sails to get to your destination.

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Anger Classes Discontinued in Newport Beach

Weekly classes and our Fast-Track anger classes are no longer being held in Newport Beach. However, Our Long Beach Class on Monday night is still functioning as usual, from 7:30-8:30pm on Monday nights. Dr Fiore is still doing individual consultation for individual and couples anger issues at his new Newport Location of 901 Dove Street, Suite 295, Newport Beach, CA. Office hours are on Friday and Saturdays, by appointment. Call 714-745-1393.

Successful Couples Repair Conflict

Conflict 10

Let’s face it. All couples fight. In successful relationships as well as others. Having fights is not necessarily a sign that your relationship is doomed to failure.

If all couples fight, What then makes the difference between successful vs unsuccessful relationships?

Simply put, one major difference is having the skills and ability to repair the emotional damage done during the fight. Some couples simply can’t get past it and simmer for days, weeks, even months. I know of one couple that kept a resentment for years. They didn’t divorce – they simply built a wall between them and added a few more bricks every month until there basically was no hope of reconnecting.This couple slept in separate bedrooms, rarely talked to each other, ate meals separately and kept separate financial resources. They basically were roommates.

Other couples fortunately have better skills and can bounce back from a conflict, a bad behavior on the part of one or the other, or from the pain of a grievance. Some couples just know how to do it. Mary and Jim were such a couple. They were a young professional couple with no children but strong personalities and a strong need for autonomy. She often wanted to do something that he considered irresponsible or not practical (she was an artist). He would “question” her on it (which she heard as a challenge). Her response? Anger, saying to herself “he is not going to tell ME what to do.” He replied that he was not trying to tell her what to do, he was just inquiring as to what was going on.

This led to an escalating fight with each “pushing the buttons” of the other until they no longer could stand to be in the same room. In effect, they had activated each other’s psychological alarm system so both their brains were now in a “fight and protect” mode. So they sulked for a while, until their nervous systems calmed down to normal levels. This allowed one of them (Mary)to quietly say “I’m sorry.” Then came, “I really love you and can’t imagine life without you.” Jim then said, “Let’s get on the same team and figure out a solution to the issue.”

More generally, partners with good repair skills do with following:

  • They keep the relationship itself in mind when arguing over an issue. It’s not only about “winning” – certainly not at the cost of rupturing the relationship. They WANT the relationship to work. They strive for emotional connection and harmony.
  • They realize that not all couples problems are fixable – some issues will always be there. The trick to repair is to learn how to live with each other around the issues rather than trying to change the other person to make them less irritating to you. The challenge is to cope (within reason and without losing your “self” in the process) better while finding ways to satisfy each other’s needs.
  • They are mature enough to realize that their partners have a perfect right to their own opinions and ways of doing things. They try to drop judgment and instead strive to understand their partner better.
  • Finally, couples with good repair skill do not bring up the past to use as a weapon. They stick to the current issue without slamming their partner with insults, name-calling, accusations, or “dead cow” issues.
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    Couples Conflict – The Dance of Anger

    Jim and Sally have been married for 10 years. They argue so much that friends invite them for dinner a lot because they provide the evening’s entertainment with their bickering and constant conflict. Their arguments are over many of the same issues over and over again. They just seem to trigger angry responses in each other and it is never ending. Watching them reminds one of seven year olds fighting in the sand box.

    If you took a picture snapshot at any point in time you might think that one of them is the culprit starting the fights. But, taking a snapshot at another point in time might give you a different impression, as you observe the “victim” actually now provoking their partner
    Human Brain

    Truth is, they are in a strange, intimate dance with each other even though they probably don’t realize it. Psychologists might say that we are observing the battle of part of the brain called the amygdala, an almond-shaped structure in the limbic system. It is in the amygdala that hurts, pain and anger are stored. Its purpose is to protect you from harm, even though the threat is not physical but the verbal assaults of your partner. So, it immediately prepares you for fight and survival. You are programmed to attack back,to protect yourself.You are reacting on a nervous system level but may not be aware of this fact. It happens so rapidly that things can spin out of control before you know it. And the anger dance begins.

    The “Issue” Is Not The Only Issue
    It may appear that you are fighting over the kids,who should do the dishes, or how much money you should spend on a new car. But you are also fighting on deeper levels often without your awareness. My experience with many scores of couples is that you are really fighting because you are triggering in each other old ways of feeling or behaving toward someone you love which you learned as a child from caretakers or others. Under stress, your brain reverts back to that earlier learning, never mind that you are now an adult professional, a responsible community member, and a parent. So, instead of being a reasonable human being, you become that petulant child who is not getting his way, you grind on your partner over minor infractions to wear him or her down (just like you wore down your parents), or you openly rebel to communicate feeling hurt and rejection.

    In the heat of battle. many partners forget to pay attention to the damage they may be doing to the relationship itself in how they are fighting or arguing. They focus on winning the battle, but lose sight that they may be losing the war. What good is winning the argument if you are pissed at each other afterward or experiencing feelings of hurt for days or weeks? Successful couples broaden their lens and see that they must always be aware of how what they do or what they say will affect the relationship itself. Successful partners know that even if they conflict or disagree with the benefits of softening your water, they have each other’s back and they feel secure in knowing that they will be there for each other, regardless of the outcome of the specific argument.

    <strongThe Dance of Security
    Feeling secure in a relationship seems to be a basic human need. Secure functioning should be a major goal of any intimate connection. When there is secure functioning, partners protect each other at all times, in both public and private. They notice how they are affecting each other. When they emotionally injure each other, they know how to make quick repairs. Secure functioning partners are skilled at being able to quickly change their own emotional state and positively influence the emotional state of their partner. They think in terms of what is best for both of them not only as individuals but also as a couple.

    Problem is, partners often come into relationships with different styles of feeling secure. This is because of different backgrounds and different ways of learning how to “attach” to loved ones. Unless partners learn to deal with each other’s styles of attachment, they will trigger INSECURITY in each other which often leads to anger and other negative emotions.
    Jim, for instance , doesn’t believe in talking in public about personal things; he believes in strict boundaries. He is self-contained and doesn’t turn to others for emotional support or problem-solving. Sally, on the other hand, loves to talk and to share everything with everybody, especially after a few glasses of wine. Talking and getting feedback from others helps to regulate her emotions and feel good and connected with others. She firmly believes that Jim should love her no matter how she behaves in public; if he shows disapproval, this means he doesn’t really love her (in her thoughts). She doesn’t see that she is doing anything wrong.

    Clearly, they are working against each other. That which reduces her anxiety, increases his, and vice versa. She becomes more and more angry and resentful as he pulls away and increasingly avoids her. He doesn’t deal with anger directly, so he starts to “passive-aggress” her by snipping,jabbing, innuendo and sarcasm. She fights back by denying him sex later that night. He complains. The next day she accuses him of not loving her for her and says that he is emotionally unavailable and she can’t stand it any longer. The dance is on but it is anything but a fluid tango….it is more like a war dance.

    Putting the Pieces Together
    Partners come in all sizes and shapes emotionally, many with ragged edges which we sometimes don’t see until later when the dating hormones settle down. At this stage, sometimes partners worry they are fundamentally incompatible with each other, that they may have made a mistake or that they were deceived by the other who is now clearly showing a different side to their personality. In couples therapy, we explain to the partners that they are probably going through a developmental period in which they are challenged to learn how to function as individual yet learn to do things differently so as not to trigger insecurity and anger in the other.

    The simplified principle is this: Instead of trying to change your partner,find a way to give your partner what they need so they will be more motivated and eager to give you what you need. Both of you will feel more secure and will co-create what Dr. Stan Tatkin calls “the couple bubble.”

    In our case example, Sally and Jim both have hard-wired (and different) styles of attachment and ways of regulating their emotions to feel comfortable. It is highly unlikely that either can change this. They can greatly decrease their levels of conflict, however, by accepting the differences between them and doing things to make the other more emotionally secure. Each needs to ask himself/herself what they are doing to make their partner feel better, not worse. They need to further ask themselves why they are doing things (like bringing up personal marriage thing in public) that they know emotionally (and socially) harms their partner. Or why Jim doesn’t share more with Sally when he knows that she needs this to feel secure inside and feel loved.
    If we love someone, shouldn’t job number one be to try to make them happy (within reason) and be a source of need satisfaction for them (as long as it is reciprocal and we are getting it back)?

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    Defensiveness Can Destroy Relationships

    african american couple fighting

    How would you describe a “defensive” person? To me, a defensive person is always blocking other people, like a defensive back on a football team. Keeping them out. Not letting them get close. Not letting others influence them in any way. Defensive people are poor listeners because while you are talking they are preparing their comeback instead of truly listening to what you are saying. In their minds,they will admit nothing, they HAVE to be right, they are unable to acknowledge weakness or wrongness of any kind, and even simple mistakes signify to them personal inadequacy, unworthiness, or failure.

    In my experience, defensiveness is one of the major blocks to effective couples communication. Some couples spend hours explaining their actions, their thoughts, their feelings, or their viewpoints – all to no avail in terms of clarifying or resolving the issue at hand.

    Defensive people use numerous strategies to defend themselves from emotional attacks including denial (“No..it isn’t that way, I didn’t do it, I didn’t mean it, that wasn’t my intention, etc), justification (“OK, I did do it but only because……”), arguing as to why it was the right thing to do even if partner thinks it wasn’t, and excuse-making(“I was tired,” I didn’t think it would bother you, it was…..”)

    The truly defensive partner self-defines “reality” – what they say goes, regardless of your opinion or other evidence. If you disagree they may say things like, “are you calling me a liar?” They may also degrade you or diminish you in order to invalidate your viewpoint: (“What would you know? You couldn’t even finish college.”)

    The overly defensive person often subtly shifts blame for a problem or issue from them back to you. Its YOUR fault- not theirs that no one picked up your child at day care at 4:40 because each thought the other was going to.

    The defensive person’s ego is always at stake when arguing. You ask a question, they answer in a way which anticipates your NEXT question in order to protect or shield themselves. Example: Did you remember to cancel the delivery for today? Answer: “It really doesn’t matter because I’ll be home next week which will be better anyhow because…….”

    Denial is one of the major weapons used by the defensive person. People who deny just have an amazing ability to change things around in their mind until reality fits. I encountered the best example of this with my own family recently. My 91 year old father and I visited the homestead where I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. Or, I should say, we tried to. My childhood house address had been 3648 W.58th Street.Trust me, I had to repeat it many many times to my mother in case I got lost and had to tell a policeman where I lived)

    Upon arrival with my dad recently, we discovered there was no house left standing that had the address 3648. Only houses with address 3650 and 3646 stood in front of us. No 3648. A man walking by explained that 3648 had burned down a number of years ago. My father (who is NOT senile and is perfectly rational most of the time) absolutely could not accept that fact. “Must be a mistake.” “3648 wasn’t our address…. It was 3850… there IS our house…..that guy doesn’t know what he is talking about….etc.” To this day, he still believes that our house is standing right there where it has always been.

    Just like I always tell my patients: PERCEPTION IS REALITY. BUT NOT NECESSARILY THE TRUTH.

    Defensive people are handicapped because they block out reality which means they cannot accept influence or correct information from outside of their own beliefs or misconceptions. They are often inflexible and rigid. They remain like a rock. The harder you try to change their mind, the deeper the trench they dig.

    Another man I knew was absolutely inflexible – that is to say, defensive – on the idea of how family members potentially can relate to each other. His wife would have the family watch a feel-good programs like “Parenthood” or “Hallmark Hall of Fame Specials” where family members actually showed affection for each other, talked over issues instead of getting angry, and generally cared for each other and had each other’s back.
    Then, she would say, “why can’t we be like that?”

    Our defensive and rigid husband denied that ANY family could be like that….NOBODY communicates that way in a real family. There was NO WAY their family could do it like that. No openness to possibility, no acknowledgement that the way he did things might not be the right way.

    If you are a defensive person, try to be more flexible and open. What you perceive as a threat may actually be the act of someone trying to help you- not hurt you.

    If you have to cope with an overly defensive partner or other family member, try a softer approach in how you present things. Unfortunately, yelling, screaming, demanding or insisting that you are right only makes a defensive person more defensive.

    Strike and then back off and try a different approach toward reaching them. Or, try humor.Slide in under the radar more often rather than hitting them with the force of a Mack truck- and see if you get better results and less defensiveness.

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    Anger Management Class is a big step for some

    It is a huge step for some people to commit to an anger management class.

    Recently we had one fellow who was angry because he had to attend anger management classes or lose his relationship. He shared that he came early, circled the building and then drove away, deciding that he was too angry to walk up the stairs to the class.

    As he was driving away, it occurred to him that if he was angry at the anger management classes, maybe he did indeed have a problem.

    So, he turned around and came back.

    It takes a lot of courage to start a self-development program especially if you are using an activity tracker. It starts with the acceptance that one has a problem, a decision to overcome fear or resistance, and then a commitment to do something about it.

    Anger Class 101: Silence is an Anger Management Tool

    They say that silence is golden.

    Tell that to Sally and Jim who argue constantly and fight like cats and dogs over almost every issue. Both are highly successful, intelligent and verbal so there is no end to issues over which to fight. If perchance they do run out of issues temporarily, they creatively start fighting about fighting. They need anger class 101.

    Let’s listen to the dialogue for a moment:
    with one accusing the other of being unfair or talking “with that sneer of yours,” or “shouting at me.” while the other insists they are not shouting.

    As a couples therapist, and someone who has conducted over 1000 anger classes in Southern California and a calgary naturopath, I sometimes want to say to one or the other: “Why don’t you just keep your mouth shut so avoid an argument? Partners often inflame each other, escalate anger, and talk themselves into major fights which could easily be avoided with the practice of temporary silence. This is known as the tool of “Retreat and Think Things over” in out system of anger management.

    As Lao Tzu is quoted as having said:
    “Silence is a Source of Great Strength.”

    But, back to Sally and Jim who continue the argument:

    Yes, Jim says, but I am right and she knows that I am right, so why should I silence myself?” “The restaurant WAS where I said it was – NOT where she kept insisting (wrongly) it was located.”

    “Oh Lord, It is so hard to be humble when you are perfect in every way”
    …….Mack Davis song, 1980

    Know anyone who ALWAYS has to be right, like Jim? Not only do they always have to be right, they have an irrepressible urge to point out when they factually know that you are wrong. So,like Jim, they correct you, contradict you, argue with you, contest everything you say, and then later remind you that “I told you so” if there is any evidence that you are wrong and they were right.

    The frustrating thing is, often these people ARE right, or partiality right as http://stridestrong.com says. But, few important issues in the world are about absolute right or absolute wrong. They are about shades of each. Only very rigid people divide the world into absolute rights or absolute wrongs. Partial truths often drive arguments because of mis-communication or misunderstanding.

    “Black and White People” vs “Gray” people.

    “Black and white” people see the world in absolutes. It is either this way or that way. “Gray” people see in between possibilities, and understand that “truth” or “reality” in many cases is a matter of perception..not a matter of fact. Often, “black and white” people marry “gray” people and the fight is on.

    Some common examples: Jim sees wife Mary as stubborn and unbending. She sees herself as morally right, principled, and duty-bound to do things Jim does not agree with. As another example, Mary sees Jim as lazy, not ambitious, and negligent in his household duties. Jim sees himself as evolving to the place in life where he can enjoy life, have fun with the kids, and generally appreciate his good health and financial freedom.

    Who is right and who is wrong in these examples? Honestly, is your experience that the world most people live in is black and white, or do most issues fall in the gray area?

    Four ways to deal with a partner who sees the world differently than you do.

    1.LET IT GO.
    For some people, it is part of their personality and their ego. They cannot stand not to be right, correct an injustice, or make sure you know the right way to do things. It validates them and makes them feel good about themselves to be right and to prove you wrong. You should not be around a person like this unless you are super-secure. Let them be right in their own minds, if they have to. Let it go! (Most times). If they swear it is noon; calmly show them a clock showing it is 1pm. Do you want to learn more? Then just click here and read the website.

    2. AGREE TO DISAGREE
    On many issues in a relationship (research shows 69%), you are never going to agree anyway. So, agree to disagree and don’t bring the subject up unless the “house is on fire.” (or unless it is really doing damage to someone)

    3. SEPARATE IN YOU REMIND THE ISSUE FROM WHO YOUR PARTNER REALLY IS. Personally, I like many people even though they are diametrically opposed to things I truly believe in. If you get irritated over one slice of behavior displayed by your partner, try to see him or her as a total person.

    4. DON’T TALK AN ISSUE TO DEATH TRYING TO PERSUADE YOUR PARTNER OF ITS TRUTH OR YOUR RIGHTNESS. Sometimes the more it is talked about, the worse it gets. Let the issue get some rest. MAybe it will recover sooner.

    Are You An Anger Hypocrite?

    There are many definitions of a hypocrite, but the one that I wish to discuss in this blog is a person who professes one thing but does another. The hypocrite imposes standards on others to which his or her own behavior does not comply.

    The Anger Hypocrite
    One specific type of hypocrite that I often see in my couples work is what I call the anger hypocrite.

    Simply explained, the anger hypocrite expects their partner not to lose anger control while they themselves rage uncontrollably and rarely control their own anger, frustration or displeasure. The anger hypocrite justifies their behavior by convincing themselves that their anger is a normal reaction to the horrible behavior displayed by their partner.

    But, when you stop and think about it, is it fair to expect more of your partner than you deliver? Put in another realm, if you and your partner are both alcoholics and both agree to stop drinking, would you expect him/her to stop drinking while you continued (and then become upset when they drink)? Or, is it fair to demand financial responsibility from your partner if you are a spendthrift or don’t stick to an agreed upon budget? Preaching one thing but doing another spells hypocrisy, doesn’t it? Continue reading “Are You An Anger Hypocrite?”

    Anger Management: Learn to Diffuse The Angry Emotion

    Anger is one of the core emotions or feelings that human beings are hard-wired to experience whenever they are blocked from achieving a goal they have or an end result they wish to achieve. Anger Management is the process of learning how to deal with anger as a core emotion.

    Everybody feels anger from time to time. Not feeling it can cause as many problems as eggshell exploding over minor frustrations, set-backs or obstacles placed between us and what it is we may want.

    Some anger management programs try teach clients to be less angry. Often this works if people can learn to experience life events in a different way so as not to no longer activate those parts of the human brain that trigger anger in us. For example, rather than telling ourselves that a bad driver on the road is out to get us and make our day miserable we can tell ourselves that they probably were preoccupied with something else and did not even notice they were cutting us off. Continue reading “Anger Management: Learn to Diffuse The Angry Emotion”

    Six Parental Tips For Your Angry Children

    It was labor day when 8 year old Brandon’s mother heard a commotion from her child’s room. Seems that his 14 year old visiting cousin said something that upset Brandon which caused Brandon to strike the other boy. His mother Michelle hysterically called her therapist wondering what to do and how to handle the anger in her young son which seemed to be escalating as he became older.

    Her therapist wisely explained that children become angry in a variety of situations. Common causes of childhood anger include: frustration, needing attention, feeling powerless, being misunderstood, not feeling good about themselves, feeling helpless, being belittled or made fun of, not having physical needs taken care of, having a parent take over instead of asking if the child wants help, being disappointed, having difficulty saying what they need, or being punished.

    The problem of excessive childhood anger is growing. Yet many parents—like Michelle—feel they don’t have the tools to teach their children how to deal with normal angry feelings in an appropriate manner, without hitting or yelling at others, or losing control. Therefore, some parents ineffectively deal with their child’s anger by demanding that he or she stop being angry. Worse, some parents actually yell at or hit their child in attempts to “teach” their child not to be angry. That is like putting them alone in the woods unarmed with a raging black bear to teach them not to be fearful!

    Alternatively, good parenting requires teaching children the practical skills needed for anger control. Although feeling angry is a part of life that no one can avoid because it is “hardwired” in our brains as a protective and survival mechanism, we can teach our children positive ways to cope with these normal angry feelings. Learning the tools of anger management empowers children, makes them more effective and pleasant human beings, and improves the world by decreasing hatred, violence and conflict.

    Following are six tips for parents to help their children manage anger with the help of aberdovey lifeboat, based on our model of anger management called the eight tools of anger control”: Continue reading “Six Parental Tips For Your Angry Children”