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How to deal with difficult people coping with the aggressive driver when he is a loved one

45 year old John terrorized his family when they were his passengers. He would yell at them if they complained about his driving.

He would ignore them when they showed signs of discomfort and even seemed to enjoy scaring his passengers with his maneuvers such as tailgating, weaving in and out of traffic, passing other cars dangerously, and pulling too far into crosswalks so pedestrians are unable to safely cross the street.

John would show aggression in other ways too — like insisting on choosing the radio station, controlling the volume of the radio, and controlling the temperature, the fan setting and where the vents are aimed while driving. He refused to stop for restroom breaks on long trips.

John was anything but “passenger-friendly” yet he did not see himself as the problem. Statistics show that while 70% of drivers complain about the aggressiveness of others, only 30% admit to their own aggressiveness. John saw other drivers as “stupid, ” his family/passengers as “whiney,” and the roadway as his personal terrain. Unfortunately, we all pay the price for this kind of distorted thinking.

High cost of aggressive driving

According to recent statistics, aggressive driving is at the core of numerous fatalities, injuries and dollar costs associated with accidents. More specifically, it is linked to:

  • Fatalities (425,000 per decade)
  • Injuries (35 million per decade)
  • Dollars (250 billion per year)

The cost to the emotional well-being of family members is also very high. Often, family members develop a fear of driving with the aggressive driver. While they may not talk about it, passengers may lose esteem, respect and affection toward the driver.

Younger passengers may also be affected later in life by being exposed to this kind of driving behavior. By watching and then modeling their aggressive-driver parent, the child may develop similar attitudes and driving behaviors when he or she becomes a driver.

Driving under the influence

At its root, aggressive driving is caused by poor ability to handle angry feelings. The aggressive driver is, in effect, driving under the influence of impaired emotions. Studies list many reasons why driving arouses anger in aggressive drivers. Some of the most common are:

  1. Territoriality. The car is a symbol associated with individual freedom and self-esteem. Our car is our castle and the space around it is our territory. When other drivers invade our space the aggressive driver responds with hostility to protect his “castle.”
  2. Restriction. In congested traffic, you are prevented from going forward. This can lead to frustration, anxiety and an intense desire to escape the restriction.
  3. Multitasking. We become irritated at others when we see them driving poorly while talking on the cell phone, eating, or performing personal grooming.
  4. Poor life planning. We don’t allow enough time to get to our destination on a consistent basis so we “press” to make up for the lost time and then become stressed and angry at other drivers who we see as frustrating our mad dash.

What can you do as a passenger?

While aggressive driving behavior ultimately must be changed by the driver himself, the following are some survival tips that may help until that occurs:

Refuse to passenger with such a person until he or she changes.

Share with driver how you feel when they drive aggressively. For example: I feel anxious about how fast we’re going (instead of “you are driving too fast”); I’m upset about the way you swore at that driver and I am fearful how it will affect our children who heard you; I feel afraid when you approach pedestrians too fast; I feel bullied by you when you won’t stop for a bathroom break.

Encourage person to look at their “driving philosophy” and to develop more empathy regarding how others (like the family) are being negatively impacted by his or her poor driving behavior. That is, help him see himself through the eyes of his family.

This honest feedback from loved ones can be a powerful tool to encourage the aggressive driver to become a better citizen of the roadways.

Diffuse family anger by talking differently — to yourself!

Case #1: Jeanette and Tom had been married 15 years. Wanting to surprise him for his birthday, Jeanette bought (with her own money) Tom a big-screen LCD television.

Tom’s reaction? He instantly blew up and berated Jeanette for spending so much money, buying more television than they needed, and buying a bigger one than they had previously looked at together. Jeanette was dumbfounded at his reaction, as she truly thought this would be a gift that would greatly please her husband.

Case#2: Jim was having a friendly beer with his brother-in-law Jack when the discussion turned to Jack’s extreme success in life.

Wanting to complement him, Jim commented on how far he had come, how proud of himself he must be and how much he is an inspiration to others, given his background with alcoholic and dysfunctional parents. Rather than seeing this as a complement, however, Jack became offended and angry and began to berate Jim for having said such a thing that he was interpreting as a “put down.”

Anger is caused by our view of things

As these examples clearly show, people are not disturbed by things or events, but by the view they take of them—an observation made in the early 2nd Century by Greek philosopher Epictetus.

When an upsetting family event occurs, you have a choice of how you are going to explain it to yourself —what you are going to tell yourself about it—which will greatly influence how angry, stressed, or upset you will become over it.

Learning to change what you tell yourself – your self-talk – is a powerful tool to break a cycle of negativity that can often poison our minds when we get angry. We all have a voice in our mind that tells us messages and stories about family members and how they behave.

Tom, who exploded when his loving wife bought him a new television was telling himself things like: she has such poor judgment buying a bigger TV than we need; there she goes again, spending money excessively; why can’t she ever do what I want her to do? Why did I marry such a woman?

Of course, none of these things made any sense to Tom once he cooled down and became his rational self again. But, at the moment of anger explosion, all those self- statements seemed 100% real and true to him.

Jack who became offended at being congratulated for overcoming his past, was actually having the following conversation in his head: he is putting me down because I had alcoholic parents; he is saying I am not capable of being successful on my own instead of “overcoming” something in my past; he is mocking me because of how I grew up.

No wonder he became so upset at Jim’s innocent attempt at a compliment. Like many of us, he was responding to his perspective of what was being communicated —not Jim’s.

Three Steps to Change Self-Talk

Step 1 – Retreat and Think Things Over. Do not respond immediately to a family anger or stress trigger. Give your body and your mind a chance to calm down so you can think rationally. Research shows this may take at least 20 minutes.

Step 2 – Look at the evidence. The most convincing way of disputing negative self-talk toward a family member is to show yourself it is factually incorrect. Do not lie to yourself, but like a detective simply and honestly look at all the evidence around the issue at hand.

For instance, when calm Tom remembered that his wife was excellent with money and rarely overspent. Jack remembered that Jim never disparaged him and, in fact, had always supported him throughout the years of their friendship.

Step 3 – Find alternative ways of interpreting the behavior of family members that is more positive—and more useful.
Tom was finally able to see his wife’s buying behavior as a sign of love and caring for him, rather than trying to hurt him or cause stress.
Jack was eventually capable of seeing that Jim was truly trying to complement him and that he truly saw Jack as someone to be admired because of how far he had come in life.

Explosive rage: Does anger management training help?

Everyone has heard of road rage incidents wherein usually calm and responsible people “snap” and commit an aggressive or violent act. Turns out, that “losing one’s temper” can occur in many different life situations and cause serious emotional or physical harm to others. It is a pattern in which tension builds until an explosion brings relief, followed later by regret, embarrassment, or guilt. Called “Intermittent Explosive Disorder” (IED), it is defined by attacks of impulsive rage that seem out of proportion to the immediate provocation and has serious consequences such as verbal abuse, threats, property damage, assaults, and injury.

How common is it?

As reported in the September, 2006 edition of Harvard Mental Health Letter recent research on IED is showing that this condition is more common and more destructive than anyone had supposed. One study showed that people with more severe cases (at least three rage attacks in one year) averaged 56 life-time attacks resulting in an average of $1600 worth of property damage and 23 incidents in which someone required medical attention.

Who is most likely to have these episodes?

According to research, the percentages suffering from this disorder are about the same for men and women, blacks and whites. Only age made a difference. Younger people were more likely than older people to show these uncontrolled rage episodes. As you might suspect, persons who suffer from IED are more at risk for other emotional problems because of the increased stress in their lives.

What causes the attacks?

Behavior patterns such as rage attacks are complex and often are a combination of what is going on in your brain chemistry, what is occurring in your life and also what emotions your thinking patterns are causing.

Scientists do not yet have the answers as to what triggers rage episodes but it may have to do with brain chemistry problems as well as the outlook that people have about life as well as attitudes about how to handle life frustrations and stress.

What treatments help?

According to the Harvard Mental Health Letter, “Anger management through a combination of cognitive restructuring, coping skills training and relaxation training look promising.” This means that to control rage, people need to learn how to think differently about life events, and to learn specific skills to deal with common anger “triggers.” One of the recommended skills is that of learning to deal with stress through relaxation training.

Other skills that we our anger management clients have found to be extremely useful include:

  • Developing empathy toward others (seeing the world as they see it)
  • Taking charge of how you respond to stress, rather than just reacting instinctively
  • Changing self-talk to create different emotions in response to anger triggers
  • Learning to communicate assertively rather than with anger
  • Letting go of resentments, grievances and grudges
  • Retreating to think things over and calming down before blowing up in rage

How can you find a program for you?

Anger management programs are becoming more common across the country. The following resources provide directories of qualified providers, some of which teach the specific skills listed above:

In addition, there are a variety of home-study and online programs appearing on the internet. The quality of these programs vary a great deal, so it is prudent and wise to pick one that is authored by credible mental health professionals and is approved or certified by state agencies (although unfortunately most states do not approve or disapprove anger management programs) or other professional bodies.

Six tools to repair emotional damage in your marriage

Rudy and Marjorie were on the verge of divorce. Married 12 years, they had constant verbal battles ending in what therapists call emotional disengagement— meaning that they simply ignored each other for days on end.

Emotionally, they were simmering inside and also lonely for each other, but were unable to reach out and communicate these feelings. They were in a “cold war” with both waiting for the other to make the first move to melt the icy atmosphere.

This couple suffers a common marital malady—lack of skills to repair emotional damage done to each other.

According to marital research, almost all couples fight; what often separates the “masters” of marriage from the “disasters” of marriage is the ability to repair the subsequent damage.

Acquiring good repair skills gives the couple a way to recover from the mistakes they may have made. These repair skills provide a “fix” for the damage caused in attempting to communicate to each other in a way that caused emotional hurt to one or both of them.

It is common for partners to make relationship mistakes – after all anyone can have a bad day, be under too much stress or just use poor judgment in dealing with a situation.

Rather than emotionally disengaging from each other or staying angry, try to “fix it” if you are the offender.

And if you are the receiver of the damage, your challenge is to find a way to accept your partner’s repair attempt— that is, to see your partner’s repair attempt as an effort to make things better.

Repair Tool #1—Apologize

A simple sincere and heartfelt apology can sometimes do wonders for a relationship, especially if your partner sees you as a person who never admits they are wrong or at fault. Say things like: I’m sorry; I apologize; What I did was really stupid; I don’t know what got into me.

Repair Tool #2—Confide Feelings

Be honest and share the feelings that are underneath the anger such as fear, embarrassment, or insecurity. Your partner may respond to you quite differently if they see those other emotions, instead of just the anger.
Confiding what is in your heart and in your mind can make a huge difference in promoting understanding, closeness, and intimacy.
Say things like: I was really afraid for our daughter when I got so angry; I didn’t want to hurt you; I just lost my cool.

Repair Tool #3—Acknowledge Partner’s Point of View

This doesn’t mean you have to agree with it; just acknowledging it can decrease tension and conflict because it shows your partner you are at least listening to them. It also demonstrates empathy—the ability to see things from their vantage point instead of only yours.
Say things like: I can see what you mean; I never looked at it that way.

Repair tool #4—Accept Some of the Responsibility for the Conflict

Very few conflicts are 100% the fault of either partner. Instead, most conflicts are like a dance with both of you making moves to contribute to the problem. Inability to accept any responsibility is a sign of defensiveness rather than the openness required for good communication. Say things like: I shouldn’t’ have done what I did; I guess we both blew it; I can understand why you reacted to me that way.

Repair tool #5—Find Common Ground

Focus on the issue at hand and what you have in common rather than your differences. For instance, you might both agree that raising healthy children is a common goal even though you differ in parenting styles. Say things like: We seem to both have the same goal here; we don’t agree on methods but we both want the same outcome.

Repair Tool #6—Commit to Improve Behavior

“I’m sorry” doesn’t cut it if you continually repeat the offensive behavior. Backup words with action. Show concrete evidence that you will try to change. Say things like: I promise to get up a half hour earlier from now on; I’ll call if I’m going to be late; I’ll only have two drinks at the party and then stop.

How to control anger by forgiving grievances

Thirty-two year old Elizabeth cried during her anger management class as she related how one year ago her 19-month-old girl was permanently brain-damaged as the result of medical error at the hospital in which she was delivered.

She definitely had a legitimate grievance toward the hospital and the medical staff and felt that she could never forgive them for what she saw as their incompetence. She clearly was not yet ready to forgive—and she needed her simmering anger to motivate her to do what she felt she needed to do legally and otherwise to deal with this horrific situation.

Yet, even in this tragic situation, at some point in the future—when she is ready—Elizabeth might elect to find a way to forgive. For her to be able to do this, after a certain amount of time, she will have to take the step of separating in her mind two things:

  1. blaming the hospital for what they did and
  2. blaming them for her resulting feelings about the situation

Elizabeth cannot change what was done to her daughter, but she can change her current feelings about it and she can change how she lives the rest of her life. If she continues to hold an intense grievance, she is giving all the power to what happened in the past to determine her present emotional well being—almost like being victimized again while remaining in her emotional prison.

Should you forgive?

The answer to this question always comes down to personal choices and decisions. Some people in our anger management classes feel that certain things cannot and shouldn’t be forgiven while other participants feel that ultimately anything can be forgiven.

As an example of what is possible, the staff of the Stanford Forgiveness Project successfully worked with Protestant and Catholic families of Northern Ireland whose children had been killed by each other. Using the techniques taught by the Stanford group, these grieving parents were able to forgive and get on with their lives.

On the other hand, Dr. Abrams-Spring who wrote a classic book called “After The Affair,” cautions that forgiving a cheating partner too quickly or too easily can be an indication of your low self-esteem. In her view, forgiveness must be earned by the offending partner and not given automatically.

As you struggle with your decision to forgive or not (and remember – it is a decision), keep in mind that recent studies show that there are measurable benefits to forgiveness.

Two reasons to forgive

Forgiving Is Good For Your Health. Studies show that people who forgive report fewer health problems while people who blame others for their troubles have a higher incidence of illness such as cardiovascular disease and cancers.

Forgiving is good for your peace of mind. Scientific research shows that Forgiveness often improves your peace of mind: One such study done in 1996 showed that the more people forgave those who deeply hurt them, the less angry they were. Two studies of divorced people show that those who forgave the former spouse were more emotionally healthy than those who chose not to forgive. The forgivers had a higher sense of well being and lower anxiety and depression.

Three tips to forgive

It is common for angry people to think, “I want to forgive and I know I should, but I don’t know how.”

Tip 1- Remember, forgiveness is a process that takes time and patience to complete. You must be ready. Realize that this is for you – not for anyone else.

Tip 2- Realize that forgiving does not mean you are condoning the actions of the offender or what they did to you. It does mean that you will blame less and find a way to think differently about what happened to you.

Tip 3- Refocus on the positives in your life. Remember that a lift well lived is the best revenge. People who find a way to see love, beauty and kindness around them are better able to forgive and get past their life grievances.

How optimism can help—or hurt—your marriage

Beth and Tom were happily married for over 25 years— no small feat in today’s world. At first, their friends could not understand how their marriage succeeded, due to numerous perceived shortcomings.

However, closer scrutiny of their marriage revealed that it was their thinking patterns—the ways they explained and interpreted their partner’s behavior to themselves—that strengthened, rather than weakened, their marriage.

Tom’s lack of self-confidence? No problem! This only made Beth feel very caring toward him. His stubbornness and obstinacy? Again, Beth explained this to herself as “I respect him for his strong beliefs, and it helps me have confidence in our relationship.”

Beth’s jealousy? Tom told himself: “this is a marker of how important my presence is in her life.”

Beth’s shyness? No problem! Tom liked it because “she does not force me into revealing things about myself that I don’t want to…this attracts me to her even more.”

Marriage and health

Numerous studies have shown that the health of your marriage plays a major role in determining your overall physical health. Healthy marriage—healthy body!

Hold on to your illusions

Being able to see things in your mate that your friends don’t is a very positive predictor of marital success according to recent research by a professor at the State University of New York. Remarkably, satisfied couples see virtues in their partners that are not seen by their closest friends.
In contrast to this “illusion” by happy couples, dissatisfied couples have a “tainted image” of each other; they see fewer virtues in their mates than their friends do.

The happiest couples look on the bright side of the relationship (optimism). They focus on strengths rather than weaknesses and believe that bad events that might threaten other couples do not affect them. But, what if you are an optimist and your partner is a pessimist? That can work!

Or, the other way around? That can work, too.

However, two-pessimists married to each other place their marriage in jeopardy because when an untoward event occurs, a downward spiral may follow.

Pessimistic scenario

Unlike Optimists, pessimistic partners make permanent and pervasive explanations to themselves when bad events occur. (Conversely, they make temporary and specific explanations to themselves when good events occur.)

See what happens when Susie is late coming home from the office. Husband Jim explains to himself that “she cares more about work than about me!” Susie explains to herself that Jim is sulking because “he is ungrateful for the big paycheck I bring home!” and tells him so.

Jim defends himself by saying: “You never listen to me when I try and tell you how I feel!” Susie, being a pessimist, responds: “You’re nothing but a crybaby!”

Optimistic scenario

Either partner could have stopped this negative spiral by interpreting events differently. Jim could have interpreted Susie’s lateness as a sign of what a hard worker she is and noted she is usually on time. Jim could have seen that her lateness had nothing to do with her love for him, remembering all the times in the past that Susie has put his needs first.
Susie, if she had been an optimist, could have seen his sulking as a temporary state rather than a character flaw and tried to pull him out of it by pointing out that she really wanted to get home earlier, but her big account unexpectedly dropped in at 5:00 o’clock.

The Optimistic Marriage

The message is clear from both clinical experience and research: optimism helps marriage. When your partner does something that displeases you, try hard to find a believable, temporary, and specific explanation for it, i.e.: “He was tired;” “She must really be stressed,” instead of “he’s always inattentive,” or “he’s a grouch.”

On the other hand, when your partner does something great, amplify it with plausible explanations that are permanent (always) and pervasive (character traits), i.e.: “She is brilliant,” or “She is always at the top of her game,” as opposed to “The opposition caved in,” or “What a lucky day she had.”

How to deal with an adult bully

Sixty-four year old Bill was a married retired executive who sought anger management help on the insistence of his wife Ann. After 24 years Ann could no longer tolerate his bullying behavior toward her, their children, and their friends. He would often relate in an insulting, “get in your face” way using a loud, intimidating voice that frightened her.

She often felt like a little girl who was being scolded. He gave her orders with no thought for her feelings or how others were reacting to his behavior. If he did not get his own way, he would often pout or withhold needed finances from her.

Tactics of the adult bully

As this case illustrates, emotional bullying occurs when someone tries to gain control by making others feel angry or afraid. It is often characterized by yelling, and name-calling, sarcasm, mocking, putting down, belittling, embarrassing or intimidating. Ann said that they had no friends because of Bill’s behavior. He was forced into early retirement by his company due to alienation of upper management.

Bullies often have personality disorder

Like many bullies, Bill had a deep sense of insecurity about himself. He completely lacked empathy or the ability to perceive how he was negatively affecting others.

He honestly didn’t see himself as the problem and was constantly in dismay when others around him were devastated or offended by his behavior. Bill had what is known as a “narcissistic” personality disorder. He was only capable of interpreting events from his perspective. Pre-occupied with himself , he had little regard or understanding of the feelings of others.

Can bullies change?

While research shows that most bullies are unable to make deep changes to their personality, they are sometimes able to modify their behavior to the extent that they are more tolerable.

Usually, the motivation to change is inspired by outside influences such as employers, spouses, or children . Bill, for instance, desperately wanted his wife back as he truly loved her to the extent he was able to experience love. Other bullies we have seen in anger management classes decided to change at the threat of losing their job. Jim, a line supervisor in a chemical plant, fell into this category.

The case of Jim

An “old-school” manager, Jim often yelled and threatened employees to motivate them to produce more, thinking his behavior would be seen as positive by the company executives.

Unfortunately, too many employees complained, resulting in his being referred to Human Resources for intervention. Turns out, Jim didn’t want to be seen as a bully, had no awareness others were seeing him that way, and most certainly didn’t want to lose his job of over 25 years.

Thus, he was highly motivated to acquire more effective skills to relate to employees while still maintaining a high rate of production.

He did well in anger management as he learned our tools of anger control— particularly the tool of “empathy” which includes increased social awareness (seeing how he is coming across to others) as well as more sensitivity to the feelings of others.

Unfortunately, not all bullies are as responsive to intervention as Jim was. Many bullies remain bullies because they don’t see themselves as the problem. In this case, you may have to learn how to cope with their behavior, if you are in an unfortunate situation such that you need to continue to be with them but survive.

Four Ways To Cope

Focus on the positive attributes of the bully and try to ignore the negative parts. For instance, Bill had a very sweet and generous side to him when not being a bully— a side Ann could learn to focus on to survive the unpleasant times.

Be confident and look your bully in the eye. Speak in a calm and clear voice while asserting yourself by naming the behavior you don’t like and state what is expected instead.

Create a distraction or change the subject. Try using humor or a well-chosen word to disarm the bully. Give the bully’s ego what it needs. For instance, Ann learned to praise Bill more and give him more credit and acknowledgment for things he did do well. While this tactic is a little manipulatory, it never- the- less worked well to decrease the number of times Bill bullied her. And it allowed Ann to survive a difficult situation.

How to be less angry in your marriage – Tips on how to become allies around issues

Tom and Mary have been married for 10 years. Both are employed. Let’s listen in on an angry conversation they are having in their kitchen while making dinner:

(curtain up)

Mary: Would it have killed you to stop off on your way home to buy me some Valentine flowers?

Tom: You should have seen the traffic. It was horrible. I didn’t have time to stop. Besides, last week you never picked up my dry cleaning like you promised.

Mary: That’s the feeblest excuse I ever heard! I’ll tell you what it REALLY is. You forgot to get me something because you don’t care anymore.

Tom: How can you say that? I just built that bookcase for you, didn’t I? And didn’t I just change the oil in your car last Saturday?

Mary: Fine! (said with a hollow and sarcastic tone)
Tom: Anything good on TV tonight?

(curtain down)

After this interchange, the children came into the room which resulted in Mary and Tom focusing on them and thus avoiding each other the rest of the evening. Although neither could admit it, they were both miserable and lonely, wanting to connect with each other but not knowing how.

Turning each other into strangers

Even though they loved each other, Mary and Tom had effectively turned each other into strangers, feeling miles apart emotionally while sitting at the same table, sleeping in the same bed, and living in the same house.
Both felt misunderstood, angry, resentful and unappreciated.

Turning each other into enemies

In contrast, Dennis and Nancy , married only 6 months, found themselves constantly at odds with each other. Let’s listen in on their latest fight:

(curtain up)

Nancy: You left the toilet seat up again, just like a little boy. I almost sat in the water at 3AM this morning.

Dennis: You would think that an intelligent woman like you would remember to look to see if the seat was up or down before sitting down.

Nancy: You are inconsiderate and selfish and purposely do things to irritate me.

Dennis (to Nancy): I forgot! Get off my back.

Dennis (to himself): Why should I give in her to? Last week she wouldn’t even have sex with me after I bought her that expensive Valentine’s gift.

(curtain down)

Anger is a “fall-back” position

In both these marriages, anger is seen as “fallback” behavior—what the couple resorted to when they were unable to express themselves to their partners in any other way. Their goal wasn’t to fight: it was to be heard by the other, to control the other, or to get the other to change some problem behavior.

The crossroads moment

Truth is, at any moment in your relationship with your partner, you can elect to either antagonize them, alienate them, or turn them into an ally.

Solve the moment—not the problem

Anger in marriage is often generated by couples trying to solve an unsolvable issue. Many issues are unsolvable if attacked directly—this is true no matter who you are married to.

These issues are “perpetual” and successful couples find a way to be with each other despite these differences.

Rather than demanding change, (which often leads to frustration and anger), try instead opening up an honest dialogue around the dispute to develop deeper understanding of why both you and your partner feel as you do.

Seeing things from their point of view can do wonders to soften conflicts and decrease tensions, even if the original issue remains. Often your partner will try harder to change if they see that you are trying to understand them better.

You may also find that you too try harder to “soften” your anger if you feel that your partner is trying to understand your feelings around the issue.
Being on the same side of the issue—allies— is the key to dealing with it, even if the actual problem is never solved!

Anger management of your child’s tantrums at home during Covid Pandemic

The Science of a Child’s Tantrums – How to manage before it starts

LeAnne Simpson’s 6-year-old daughter had thrown plenty of tantrums before the pandemic. But after a few weeks of lockdown, minor frustrations that used to lead to short-lived outbursts were now setting off writhing-on-the-floor freakouts.

“First, she’d get so frustrated she couldn’t talk,” Simpson said. “Then she would start screaming, drop to the floor and roll around flailing her arms, often kicking or hitting me if I came close to her.”

Simpson tried every tantrum-defusing strategy she could muster, from playing soft music and offering a snack to squeezing her daughter between couch cushions (a calming technique recommended by an occupational therapist).

But nothing worked except sitting quietly nearby, and occasionally consoling her with words or touch. In the aftermath, Simpson would often ask her daughter what had made her so mad. “She’d always say she didn’t know,” Simpson said.

Meltdowns, common as they are among young children, are a complicated physiological response related to the brain’s threat detection system. Mid-freakout, it’s helpful for parents to understand what’s going on beneath the surface, then to mitigate the “threat” by establishing a sense of safety.

The physiology of a meltdown

According to R. Douglas Fields, a neuroscientist and author of “Why We Snap: Understanding the Rage Circuit in Your Brain,” a temper tantrum involves two parts of the brain: the amygdala, which is primarily responsible for processing emotions like fear or anger; and the hypothalamus, which in part controls unconscious functions like heart rate or temperature. Think of the amygdala as the brain’s smoke detector and the hypothalamus as someone deciding whether to put gasoline or water on the fire — with hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.

When your daughter suddenly starts wailing about sleeping alone in her bed at night, she’s probably not consciously being difficult — her amygdala detected a threat and her hypothalamus caused her to snap. During the stress response, your child might experience a racing heartbeat, sweaty palms and tense muscles (or just an overwhelming urge to punch you). As much as you may want to reason with your writhing child, don’t expect her to listen. For one thing, the stress response can dampen a child’s already-limited capacity for self-control, a function generally associated with the prefrontal cortex, or PFC.

“When you have a fire burning in your house, you don’t want to sit and ponder, you want your body to fire on all cylinders so you can escape,” said Dr. Carol Weitzman, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician and co-director of the Autism Spectrum Center at Boston Children’s Hospital.

With a bit of logical self-reflection, adults can hit the brakes on a stress response. “When a driver cuts you off on the highway and your blood begins to boil, it’s your prefrontal cortex that allows you to think, ?Wait a minute, I don’t have to act this way,’” said Dr. Weitzman.

But the prefrontal cortex doesn’t fully develop until adulthood and, according to Dr. Fields, inhibition and impulse control are among the PFC’s most complicated functions. “So when you try to reason with a child, you’re appealing to a part of the brain that isn’t fully functioning.”

Dr. Mary Margaret Gleason, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters in Virginia and a consultant at Tulane University, likens child meltdowns to a pot of boiling water, with the PFC acting as its lid. “In these moments, the intensity of the feeling overwhelms the child’s ability to organize it, so the feelings get stronger than the lid,” she said.

Fortunately, with your own developed brain, you can help your kid replace the lid on the pot during a meltdown moment by using your prefrontal cortex as a surrogate.

First, manage your own emotions

Before engaging with your upset child, it’s helpful to first regulate your own stress response, said Lisa Dion, a play therapist and founder of the Synergetic Play Therapy Institute in Boulder, Colo.

If your child is safe, leave the room to take a few deep breaths or confide in a partner — whatever you need to deescalate your own frustration. This, according to Katie Rosanbalm, a senior research scientist at the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy, allows you to use your own calm state to calm your child.

It’s not completely clear how this works. There are likely several physiological components, but one might involve mirror neurons, brain cells that fire in response to your own and other people’s behaviors. Watching someone run, for instance, seems to activate a similar brain region as when you run yourself.

Mirror neuron research on children is scant, and there’s still a lot to learn. But what scientists do know about this group of brain cells may help parents understand how their reactions affect their kids (and maybe even their newborn babies).

For example, mirror neurons have been found not only in the motor areas of the brain, but also in the areas that deal with emotion. The same part of your brain that lights up when you’re feeling happy may also light up when you observe happiness in others. “So your child may not just do what you’re doing, but feel what you’re feeling,” said Dr. Marco Iacoboni, a neuroscientist and professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Next, manage your kid’s reaction

It’s also important to pair your calmness with warm and empathic cues, which can signal to the amygdala that there’s no danger, Dr. Rosanbalm said. “The amygdala stops sending out the alarm, which causes the stress response cascade to cease.”

In the calm-down process, focus more on your actions rather than your words: Your child can mirror your emotions just by looking at your nonverbal communication, like your body posture, vocal tone and facial expressions.

Dr. Charles Nelson, a professor of pediatrics and neuroscience at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, suggested crouching down and making eye contact with your child during the tantrum, which shows you’re listening and engaged. While some upset kids might like physical touch from a parent, others might find it overwhelming.

You can also encourage your child to self-soothe with other types of calming sensory inputs. Offer her a fidget spinner or Silly Putty, have her push on a wall, or simply encourage her to take some slow, deep breaths. But try to introduce these coping skills before a meltdown hits, so they can manage a tantrum on their own once it happens.

Finally, validate your child’s feelings

As much as you might want to try explaining to your kid why they should calm down, behavior correction rarely works when stress is high.

Once your child’s partially-developed prefrontal cortex is back online, take the opportunity to help her form a story about the meltdown. Shanna Donhauser, a child and family therapist, suggested validating how hard the moment was and repeating back what happened. “Then remind your child that you’re both OK and that you can still be close. You’re still there,” she said.

After exhausting all of the behavioral techniques she knew, Simpson tried focusing on connecting with her daughter during meltdowns instead of trying to change her behavior. Back in the spring, when her daughter had a meltdown about the number of strawberries in her bowl just before she needed to log on to a virtual class meeting, Simpson held her 6-year-old close as she tried to stay calm herself.

It was then that her daughter managed to articulate what was really upsetting her — it wasn’t the fruit, she said; deep down, she was sad she couldn’t hug her teacher. The two shared tears and some snuggles, then moved on with their day.

“My daughter’s tantrums sucked every ounce of life out of me,” Simpson said. “But in the end, we understood each other better and grew closer.”

Ashley Abramson is a freelance writer based in Minneapolis, Minn. 

This article reproduced with permission from NAMA (National Anger Management Association) of which Dr Fiore is a Diplomate Member.

The high costs of anger – Anger and your relationships

“Dr. Fiore,” the voice on the phone pleaded, “I need anger management classes right away. I blew up at my girlfriend last night and she said it’s over until I get help”.

As Kevin recounted the first night of class, he and his girlfriend had argued in the car over which route to take home from a party. Events progressed from mild irritation, to yelling and name calling.

Things escalated at home. He tried to escape, but she followed him from room to room, demanding resolution of the conflict. He became angry, defensive and intimidating.

Frightened, she left. Later, she left an anguished message saying that she loved him, but couldn’t deal with his angry, hurtful outbursts. Kevin said that he normally is a very “nice” and friendly person. But, on this occasion, his girlfriend had been drinking before the party. In his view, she was irrational, and non-stop in criticism. He tried to reason with her, but it just made things worse. Finally, as Kevin saw things, in desperation he “lost it” and became enraged.

How should Kevin have handled this situation? What could he have done differently? What actions should you take in similar situations?

Option 1: Time-out

Take a 20 minute time-out (but commit to returning later to work on the issue). Take a walk. Calm yourself down. Breath deeply. Meditate. Do something else for awhile.

New research by John Gottman, Ph.D., at the University of Washington indicates that when you and your partner argue, your pulse rate goes above 100 beats per minute, and you enter a physiological state called DPA (diffuse physiological arousal). Once there, it becomes nearly impossible to solve the problem. You lose perspective. Your reasoning ability, memory, and judgment, greatly decline.

Taking a time-out allows both of you to return to your normal state of mind.
It is neither healthy or necessary for you to explode as a result of being provoked by your partner. Our recommendation: Turn the heat down rather than intensifying the pressure.

Option 2: Interact differently

Many couples like Keith and his partner develop patterns of behavior that create miscommunication and conflict. Do you interact in one, or more, of these ways?

  • Inattention – simply ignoring your partner when you shouldn’t. This is also called stonewalling, or being emotionally unavailable when your partner needs you, or not speaking to your partner for long periods because you are upset with them.
  • Intimidation – engaging in behavior intended to make your partner do things out of fear. This includes yelling, screaming, threatening, and posturing in a threatening way.
    Manipulation – doing or saying things to influence your partner, for your benefit, instead of theirs.
  • Hostility – using sarcasm, put-downs, and antagonistic remarks. Extreme or prolonged hostility leads to contempt – a major predictor of divorce.
  • Vengeance – the need to “get even” with your partner for a grievance you have against them. Many dysfunctional couples “keep score,” and are constantly trying to “pay back” each other for offenses.
  • Criticism – involves attacking someone’s personality or character, rather than a specific behavior, often coupled with blame. Like contempt, criticism is a second major predictor of divorce.

Option 3. Positive interactions

Start by actually listening not only to what your partners says, but what he or she means. Partners in conflict are not listening to understand; rather, they listen with their answer running because they are defensive. Unfortunately, defensiveness is another predictor of divorce.

Stick to the issue at hand. Seems obvious but is very hard to do in the heat of battle. Focus and stay in the present.

Learn to forgive

Research by Peter Larson, Ph.D., at the Smalley Relationship Center, suggests a huge relationship between marriage satisfaction and forgiveness. As much as one-third of marriage satisfaction is related to forgiveness!

Communicate your feelings and needs. Tell your partner how you feel about what they do, instead of accusing them of deliberately offensive behavior. Use “I” statements rather than accusatory, or “you,” statements. Learn to communicate unmet needs so that your partner can better understand and respond to you. For instance, If you are feeling fear, it may be your need for emotional safety and security that is not being met; communicating this is far more effective than lashing out at your partner in an angry tirade.

Control family anger with assertive communication

“Dr. Fiore,” my 42 year old married patient (Mary) began, “my family expects me again this year to host Christmas dinner and I am just too exhausted; what should I do?”
“Why not tell them how you feel,” I suggested.
“Because I don’t want to hurt their feelings and I feel guilty if I don’t do what is expected of me.”

Lack of communication such as this among family members is the root of much conflict, hurt, and misunderstandings any time of the year – but especially during the holiday season which, unfortunately, if often a time of great stress.

Mary’s dilemma is all too common – she wants to be a nice person and avoid conflict with family members, but then feels resentment and other negative emotions when she is overwhelmed or feels taken advantage of.

Unfortunately, not being direct and emotionally honest with people we love or care about can have long-reaching consequences because it gives other people the wrong message about you, what you need, and how they should respond to you.

The elephant in the room

When you have unexpressed feelings toward another person, it is like you are both sitting on a couch with an elephant between you. Neither wants to acknowledge the elephant, but its existence is there between you. The elephant acts as a barrier to real communication. It also prevents positive feelings from flowing between you and the other person.

Assertive Communication

Assertive communication is the art of speaking in a reasonable tone with good eye contact using “I” messages (as opposed to “you” or blaming messages) while clearly stating your needs, feelings, and requests. If you are an effective assertive communicator, you will also invite the listener to work toward a mutually satisfactory resolution of the problem or conflict, without offending them.

Speaking of offending, an important point to remember is that you won’t offend people if you stick to communicating your feelings, as opposed to telling others what they should or should not do!

The assertive communication formula:

There are four parts to effective assertive communication: Here is the formula:

I feel____________
When you____________
Because______________
I need___________

  • Part 1: “I feel”— start be expressing how you feel about the behavior. Stick to one of the five or six basic emotions: “I feel overwhelmed;” : I feel angry,” “I feel hurt.”
  • Part 2: “When”—What specifically bothers you about the behavior or situation? Examples: “when the family expects me to do this every year;” when it is assumed I will do it,” when no one else volunteers.”
  • Part 3:“Because”— How does the behavior affect you? Examples: “I feel pressured to do something I really can’t do this year,” and “it makes me feel taken advantage of.”
  • Part 4: “I need.” This is the tough part for people like Mary who feel guilty simply letting others (especially family members) know what their needs are. What this really means is giving the other persona clear signal of what you would like them to do differently so they have an opportunity to change.
  • Examples: “I need for the dinner to be rotated among the family; I need for everyone to bring a dish and I’ll cook the ham; I need for my sisters to come early and help with the setup”

Does the formula work all the time?

Of course not, but it works a high percentage of the time and it gives you a much better tool to deal with the situation than using anger – which rarely gets you the results you want.

If it doesn’t work at first, try different variations by using your own words – keep at it because sometimes people don’t immediately respond differently to what you are saying because of your previous established communication patterns with each other.

Also make sure that your tone clearly conveys sincerity, clarity, genuineness, and respect toward the other and his or her opinions.

Is it OK for wives to verbally abuse husbands for not helping more around the house?

In situations like that, women often feel justified in being angry, frustrated and fatigued—and verbally expressing their discontent. But, wives are not justified in verbally abusing their husbands to get them to do more.

Assertive communication

The right way to get your husband to help around the house involves teaching wives a better way to communicate and motivate their husbands. This is one of the most important ways marriage counselors can reduce relationship anger.

Assertive communication involves learning to express what you need or request without anger or rage. Anger and rage usually makes things worse and invites retaliation. In addition, parental anger is very harmful for children to witness.

Husbands need to be reminded…

But, assertive communication and better communication skills are only half the equation. The therapist must also explain to an irresponsible husband that his behavior is severely jeopardizing the marital relationship.

A skilled therapist must change the husband’s attitude by making him more receptive to the idea that in today’s society marriage is a partnership. For their relationship to survive, husband and wife must agree on how they are going to deal with routine home chores and parental responsibilities.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be a 50-50 split; it is the ?agreement and the perception that makes the difference.

The therapist must convince the husband that it is to his advantage (peace at home, better sex, more closeness, etc.) that he and his wife see things as equitable in terms of home chores, even if one still does more of the home chores than the other.

A skilled marital therapist can help balance things out, reducing hard feelings and conflict; improving toxic communication patterns that have become disrupted.

New book for new parents

The challenges that accompany the arrival of a couple’s first child are chronicled in Jaycee Dunn’s recently published How Not To Hate Your Husband After Kids by Jaycee Dunn.

Jaycee is a professional writer who sought therapy for this issue, chronicling her experiences in a humorous book backed by much research. They met with Terry Real, a famous Boston therapist. Terry conducted a weekend intervention that saved their marriage (along with follow up sessions in their local community.) Now, Terry Real is not your typical therapist. Half of the intervention that got her husband to be more responsible was Real’s confronting Jaycee’s husband with the rather blunt statement, “Get off your ass and help her out!

Most therapists would not even dream of being so direct. Yet, strong therapists must educate their patientsand—when necessary–act as catalysts for positive changeby frankly telling couples what needs to be done to turn things around.

Just asking couples “how they feel” as many therapists do during counseling sessions, is not enough. As the famous German poet Goethe said:

Knowing is not enough; we must apply. ?Willing is not enough; we must do.

Having children drastically changes things

Terry’s outburst shocked her husband and jolted him into seeing things from a completely different perspective. Why was this needed?Because things drastically changed in their marriage after they had a child.

As she writes: “When it was just the two of us, my husband and I, both peaceable writers, rarely fought. Then we had a baby.”

She continues: “And even though fathers have stepped up considerably in sharing childcare duties – since the 1960s, nearly tripling the time they spend with their children – mothers still devote about twice as much time to their kids as fathers do.”

She cited the United States Government American Time Use Survey, women reported feeling significantly more fatigued than fathers in all four major life categories: work, household, leisure, and childcare. Furthermore, even when husbands didn’t have jobs, they still did half the amount of housework and childcare that women did.

A survey of US mothers by NBC’s Today program revealed that for nearly half of them, their husbands were a bigger source of stress than their children!

What happens when men help out?

Study after study have shown that when men take on their fair share of household responsibilities, their partners are happier, less prone to depression, disputes are fewer, and divorce rates are lower.

As Janice Dunn puts it: “The day-to-day labor of keeping a household running is a remarkably significant issue for couples.”This was supported by a Pew Research Center survey that revealed that sharing household chores ranked third in importance on a list of nine items associated with successful marriages.

A 2015 study published in the Journal of Family Psychology suggests the frequency and quality of a couple’s sex life goes up when male partners think they do their fair share of the housework. My clinical experience through the years confirms that sex lives also improve when men help out more.

Verbal abuse won’t motivate your husband

Getting back to our very pissed off young mother, Janice Dunn–like many young mothers–was constantly angry and resentful, often calling her husband names that I shouldn’t repeat in a family-oriented blog.

During the other half of the intervention, therapist Terry Real told her: “…the idea that you can haul off and be abusive to your partner and somehow get a pass, that you can’t control it, or whatever you tell yourself to rationalize it, is nuts. Also, your whole “angry victim” role is going to get worse. You are extremely comfortable with your self-righteous indignation.”

He bluntly told her that she needed to take verbal abuse off the table:

You can say, ‘I’m angry.’ But don’t say ‘you’re an asshole.’

Likewise, you don’t yell and scream. You don’t humiliate or demean. They’re off the table. He concluded: “You are verbally abusive.”

He goes on to explain, as I often do to couples dealing with anger in their relationships, verbally abusing your partner to get them to do what you want is a very poor strategy.

Replace verbal abuse with respect

Even if you are furious with them, you need to show respect for each other. Successful couples avoid intimidating, demeaning, lecturing, and criticizing. The negative behaviors build resentment in your partner, then resistance, and—ultimately–push-back.

There is a world of difference between assertively standing up for yourself and aggressively putting your partner down. Here’s a suggestion, starting today, simply use the phrase, “What I’d like you to do now is…..”  Simply tell your partner what it is that you want them to do instead of disrespecting them.

Curb the urge to rocket straight from demand to anger and frustration. Most men do better if they know exactly what to do, if it makes sense to them, (always give them a reason), and if you request help rather than demanding it.

How to Get the Most out of Marriage Counseling

A guide for Orange County couples on the brink of divorce

Many couples come to me after they’ve tried traditional marriage counseling. They’re usually frustrated and depressed. One of the most common things they say is: “We tried marriage counseling and it didn’t work!” 

If you feel this way, you’re not alone. But, as you’ll see, there’s hope at the end of the rainbow.

What’s wrong with marriage counseling?

I don’t think there’s anything particularly “wrong” with marriage counseling. (If I did, I wouldn’t still be offering it to Orange County couples on the brink of separation.)

The problem with traditional marriage counseling isn’t related to the therapy itself, or the way it’s delivered. The problem with marriage counseling involves whenit’s delivered.

All too often, however, both parties aren’t fully committed to their partner and the relationship.

In situations like the one described below, even the most skilled therapist and well-planned program doesn’t stand a chance!

Meet Michael and Suzanne

Michael and Suzanne came to a regular marriage counselor following discovery that Michael had been having an emotional affair at work. Suzanne wanted to work on the marriage but Michael said he was out of love and had absolutely no energy to work on it.

Michael was convinced that he and Suzanne were basically incompatible. Because of this, he said that no feelings were left for her. The relationship had been more about raising the children than paying attention to each other. He felt disconnection, emptiness, and loneliness. Suzanne, for her part, still loved Michael and desperately wanted to try to repair things before filing for divorce. 

In this case, Suzanne was more motivated for marriage counseling because she had at least one very strong reason (among others) to want the marriage to work: she still loved Michael. But, why would he want marriage counseling to improve communication in a marriage that he thought ultimately was doomed because of core incompatibility? From his point of view, this was akin to going through the pain of cancer treatment when the outcome was bleak to begin with. He had to decide if it was worth it or not.

Mixed-agenda couples

Michael and Suzanne were a mixed-agenda couple. They were not committed to divorce, but they weren’t equally committed to working on the marriage either. Many couples are in this category. They often seek marriage counseling with disappointing results.

Research shows that mixed-agenda couples represent a meaningful subset—up to 30%–of couples presenting for therapy. Mixed-agenda couples respond differently to therapeutic interventions than couples who both want to work on the relationship.

Yet, until now, there has been a lack of treatment protocols in standard marriage counseling to work with these couples. As a result, mixed-agenda couples remain at high risk for divorce.

Leaning-in versus Leaning-out

The partner who is highly motivated to work things out is described as “leaning in”. In our example, this would be Suzanne. She was willing to forgive Michael and examine her role in the demise of their marriage.

Michael, however, viewed her as over-controlling, needy, and critical. Suzanne made him feel like a scolded child in his home. This was theoretically fixable!As a leaning-in partner Suzanne was ready to start therapy to stabilize her rocky marriage.

Michael, was the “leaning-out” partner. Like many leaning-out partners, Michael was almost “out the door” emotionally, but was hanging in there basically for the children. On the brink, he wasn’t sure what to do. He was miserable and confused; he saw no hope or possibility for change on the part of Suzanne. He feared that his feelings for Suzanne were gone, especially when compared them to the swelling of feelings stirred up in him when interacting with his peer at work with whom he was having an emotional affair. Simply put, Michael was resistant to therapy.

Leaning Out partners need a reason to want to participate in traditional marriage counseling.But, often they have lost their emotional energy to engage in the process of marriage counseling. They no longer want their partner enough to personally go through the pain of counseling – even though they don’t want to lose their family.

With such low motivation, traditional marriage counseling is doomed to failure, frustrating both the clients and the therapist.

Each partner needs their own reason to participate

For any chance of success, mixed-agenda couples first need a process wherein each partner individually (instead of together which often occur in regular marriage counseling) can be helped to understand their different contributions to the marital dysfunction.

They also need to explore and see more possibilities of ways each might changeto give the marriage hope for survival. They need to try and change their attitudes and perspective of change itself….and the possibilities that might bring.

As a leaning-In partner, Suzanne’s motivation to participate in successful marriage counseling would obviously be to save her marriage which she still values. She still loves her husband and has a lot of hope that things can turn around.

Michael, on the other hand, as the leaning-out partner would need a lot of work to be convinced that there are reasons for him to put forth effort to save his marriage. This would be done individually and would involve helping him see the potential for change. He would be asked to consider his role or contribution to the emotional distancing that had developed between him and Suzanne over the years.  

Michael would need to explore ways he could change those things and see that it may be possible to do so. He would also need to explore what he may have overlooked through the years in terms of ways that he and Suzanne might develop more common interests instead of just focusing on incompatibilities.

Discernment counseling before marriage counseling

Recently, after years of research, Dr. William Doherty, at the University of Minnesota, has developed a process called Discernment Counseling.

Discernment Counseling is a highly-focused, short-term (1 to 5 session) protocol that paves the way for successful marriage therapy.

Its goal is to help both partners decide with increased clarifyand confidencewhat direction they, as a couple, should take. It also increases each partner’s understandingof their own role or contribution to the state of their marriage.

Once these issues have been dealt with, it is easier for couples on the verge of breakup to decide which path they should take regarding the future of their marriage: intense marriage counseling is just one of the paths.

Three paths mixed-agenda couples can take

Discernment Counseling helps couples make better decisions in less time, with fewer angry sessions. There are three possible outcomes to Discernment Counseling:

  • Path 1 – Keep things as they are.Few couples who come to counseling take this path. Some, however, see it as a temporary solution until they are able to “get their ducks” in a row. They declare a truce until the kids graduate from high school, home price values increase, or a job promotion comes through, etc. Research shows that the average person filing for divorce waits 3 years after their decision before actually doing so.
  • Path 2 – Divorce or Separate: About 40 percent of couples who start discernment counseling ultimately choose this path. This path is not seen as a failure, as long as they both have increased clarity and confidence in their decision. They now have a better understanding as to what went wrong in terms of each partner’s contribution.
  • Path 3 – Commit to a period of time (usually 6 months) of intensive marital counseling and/or other work (like anger management training or parenting classes) with DIVORCE OFF THE TABLE. Going down this path, the couple could receive traditional marriage therapy. But now therapy would seem to have a much better chance of succeeding. Therapy can be done by the discernment counselor or by another marital therapist familiar with the process.

What to do if one spouse doesn’t want to have sex

When a Spouse Doesn’t Want to Have Sex

It has been two months since Janet and Mark have had sex. They’re hardly speaking to each other. If you asked Janet about this, she would say that their home has become a battle zone-they fight about every little thing. Janet goes out of her way to avoid Mark to protect herself from his wrath.

Mark tells a different story. His anger, he believes, is justified. He is fed up with Janet’s lack of interest in their sexual relationship. “She never initiates sex. She recoils when I try to kiss or hug her. I’m tired of being rejected.” To cope with his unhappiness, Mark spends longer hours at work and busies himself on his computer at night, deepening the chasm between them.

Both Mark and Janet think that the other one is to blame for the problems between them. They have hit an impasse. The result: A sex-starved marriage. And sex-starved marriages are surprisingly common. In fact, in about one in three marriages, one spouse has a considerably larger sexual appetite than the other. This in and of itself is not a problem-it’s how couples handle their difference that matters.

Here’s what you need to know to fix a sex-starved marriage and make you both happier…

Yearning for Contact

In a sex-starved marriage, one partner is longing for more touch-both sexual and nonsexual-and the other spouse isn’t interested and doesn’t understand why such a fuss is being made about sex.

The less interested spouse thinks, Is this just about having an orgasm? That’s not such a big deal. But the spouse yearning for more physical contact sees it differently. Being close physically is more than a physical release-it’s about feeling wanted and connected emotionally.

When a misunderstanding of this magnitude happens and the less interested spouse continues to avoid sex, marriages start to unravel. Couples stop spending time together. They quit putting effort into the relationship.

They become more like two distant roommates. Intimacy on all levels ends, which puts the marriage at risk for infidelity or divorce.

Typically, the spouse with the smaller sexual appetite controls the frequency of sex. If she/he (contrary to popular belief, men also can have low sexual desire) doesn’t want it, it generally doesn’t happen.

This is not due to a desire to control the relationship-it just seems unthinkable to be sexual if one is not in the mood.
Furthermore, the lower-desire spouse has the expectation that the higher-desire spouse must accept the no-sex verdict and remain monogamous. The higher-desire spouse feels rejected, resentful and miserable.

How do two people with differing sexual appetites begin to bridge the desire gap? Regardless of where you stand on the sexual-desire spectrum, it’s important to keep in mind that loving marriages are built on mutual care-taking. Don’t wait for your spouse to change first. Be the catalyst for change in your marriage. Here’s how…

If You Are the Lower-Desire Spouse

Just do it-and you may be surprised.Over the years, countless clients in my counseling practice have said, “I wasn’t in the mood to have sex when my spouse approached me, but once we got going, it felt really good. I had an orgasm, and my spouse’s mood really improved afterward.”

Why would that be? For many people, the human sexual response cycle consists of four stages that occur in a certain order-desire (out of the blue, you have a sexy thought)…arousal (you and your partner touch, and your body becomes aroused)…orgasm…and resolution (your body returns to its normal resting state).

But for millions of people, stages one and two actually are reversed. In other words, desire doesn’t come until after arousal. These people must feel turned on physically before they realize that they actually desire sex. Therefore, being receptive to your partner’s advances even from a neutral starting place-when you do not feel desire-makes sense because chances are that sex will be enjoyable for both of you.

Give a “gift.”Let’s face it; there are times when people-even people with the typical desire/arousal pattern-simply don’t feel like having sex. It’s perfectly acceptable to decline your partner’s offer from time to time. But when “no” substantially outweighs “yes,” you are creating deep feelings of frustration and rejection-guaranteed.

What’s the solution to an “I’m not really in the mood for sex” moment? Give a gift-a sexual gift-or to be more blunt about it, pleasure your spouse to orgasm if that’s what he/she wants, even if you’re not in the mood for the same. This is an act of love and caring and completely appropriate within a marriage.
.

If You Are the Higher-Desire Spouse

Speak from your heart.If you’re feeling frustrated that your spouse hasn’t understood your need to be close physically, chances are you’ve been irritable and angry. Anger is not an aphrodisiac-it pushes your spouse further away. Press your mental-reset button, and approach your spouse differently. Speak from your heart-express your vulnerability (yes, you are vulnerable, no matter how “tough” you are!) and your hurt.

Example: Instead of saying, “I’m angry that we haven’t had sex in so long,” it’s better to say, “When we don’t have sex for this long, I miss being close to you. I feel disconnected. It hurts my feelings that you don’t seem interested in me sexually.”

Rather than complain, ask for what you want.Complaining, even when it’s justified, leads to defensiveness. Instead, ask for what you want in a positive way.

Example: Instead of saying, “You never initiate sex,” say, “I’d really love it if once in a while, you threw your arms around me and said, ‘Do you want to make love?’ That would make me feel great.”

Figure out what turns your spouse on.If buying sex toys or downloading X-rated videos has failed to entice your spouse to nurture your sexual relationship, there’s probably a reason. Your spouse might need to feel courted by you first.

You might be married to someone who feels more connected to you when you have meaningful conversations…spend enjoyable, uninterrupted time together other than having sex…are more affirming and complimentary…or when you participate in family activities together. This is how your partner feels loved-and the truth is, there are many people who want sexual intimacy only when they feel loved first.

If you’re uncertain about your spouse’s way of feeling cherished by you, ask. Say, “What can I do to make you feel loved?” Believe it or not, meeting your partner’s needs, though different from your own, may be a turn-on for him/her.

Try it.

Source:Michele Weiner-Davis, LCSW, is founder of The Divorce Busting Center in Boulder, Colorado. She is the best-selling author of eight books including Healing from InfidelityThe Sex-Starved Marriageand Divorce BustingDivorceBusting.com
Publication:Bottom Line Personal

Couples in crisis: How couple therapy mitigates stubborn psychological defenses

Guest article by Dr James Tolbin. Edited slightly and reproduced with permission.

Why does a couple typically seek therapy?

Research indicates that by the time a couple seeks couple therapy and arranges an appointment, the partners have been at war for multiple years on a range of seemingly unresolvable issues.

Often a recent event is characterized as a “crisis” that sent the couple over the edge, finally leading them to pursue therapy. But the couple typically has been in crisis for so long that both partners have grown weary from, and almost immune to, the ongoing conflict and persistent tension between them.

What does the average couple expect will happen in therapy?

For most couples who finally begin therapy, they often anticipate that the therapist will be a kind of mediator and/or judge who will assess the problems at hand and the strengths and weaknesses of each partner. And then, from his or her expert vantage point, the therapist will articulate a solution that involves a critique of what the partners are doing incorrectly in their relationship and what they need to do to “be better.”

In my view, this approach to helping a couple rarely, if ever, works.

This is so because, underlying the expressed problems the couple faces, is a firmly organized set of psychological defenses  each partner has developed to cope with the issues of the relationship.

What is a better way to conceptualize marital troubles?

A physical metaphor for how defensive processes in couples work is the way the human back responds to the trauma of a car accident, for example. Impacted by the force of the collision, the general alignment and expansive musculature of the spinal cord shift and lock into a new position designed to protect the vertebrae, tendons, and ligaments that were stressed or damaged in the accident. The shifting and locking into place of the spinal cord and its musculature is a defensive process that protects underlying anatomical structures from further injury.

And it is usually the case, medically speaking, that what the body does to protect itself from further injury results in symptomatic pain, chronic inflammation, and reduced flexibility which, taken together over time, actually prevent healing! Autoimmune diseases provide another example of how the body may inadvertently hurt itself in an effort to protect itself.

The defensive processes that have evolved in a relationship work in a similar fashion.

A husband, for example, who has been hurt by his wife’s ongoing ambivalence about having a child, may unconsciously respond to this injury through the protective strategy of, say, over-working, i.e., becoming overly ambitious or taking on too much responsibility in his professional life.

This defense, in turn, gradually becomes injurious to his wife; she responds to her hurt by becoming self-destructive in some way, an idiosyncratic defensive style that she unintentionally and unconsciously employs to find relief and buffer her from further anticipated disappointments with her husband.

And, as you might imagine, her self-destruction further intensifies her husband’s need to protect himself, thus reinforcing his prioritizing of his workOn and one these insidious, mutually reinforcing dynamics evolve, tangling the partners in a web of toxic psychological tendencies that only strengthen their grip as the couple struggles against them.

What is needed for positive change to occur?

For positive change to even become a possibility for this couple, the defensive processes employed by each partner must be identified and reduced or entirely supplanted. The couple therapist functions not as a mediator or judge but more like a chiropractor, strategically intervening to unlock each partner from his or her chosen defensive style.

As this begins to occur, each partner can think and feel in ways that are more flexible and less oriented solely toward protection. Once partners feel less vulnerable, less gripped by the need and compulsion to defend, there is real potential for the achievement of enhanced levels of communication, mutual respect and understanding, and new pathways for attaining the kind of love each partner desires.

Download a FREE Worksheet PDF file called “Areas of Change” that will help you develop the techniques discussed in this article.

James Tobin, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist based in Newport Beach, CA.

ANGRY AT YOUR PARTNER? Think Again!

Literally, think again. And then think about what you are thinking about- especially around anger issues.

As famous psychologist William James said over 100 years ago:

“Man can alter his life by altering his thinking.”

The case of Sally and Jim

Sally and Jim sat in my office glaring at each other. Sally told a story around an angry conflict they had had eariler in the week.

I found Sally to be quite humorous and entertaining. But Jim had an entirely different perception. Getting more and more agitated and angry as he listened to his wife, he looked at me and said “see what I mean, doc? Isn’t she irritating?

“I don’t find her irritating,” I replied. I then went on to explain that “irritation” (or most other traits or ways of relating) isn’t as much in the partner as in your perception of it- or how you think about it- or the general attitude you have toward your partner to begin with.

In other words,your mental set or mental framework you have toward your partner influences how you interpret what they do or how they are.

Negative and positive sentiment override

There is much marital research at the Gottman institute to back this up. There, researchers discovered something called “negative sentiment override” vs positive sentiment override.”

In Gottman’s theory, when negative sentiment override (NSO) is present, there is a discrepancy between the perceptions of the receiver and the sender of an interaction.  Just like Jim, we can distort and see a communication through a negative lens, even when their partner did not intend it to be negative.  In fact, objective observers may not perceive the interaction to be negative, at all. (just as I didn’t see Sally as irritating, like Jim did).

 It is in the “eyes of the beholder” so to speak, that he or she are on the receiving end of something negative. By contrast, In positive sentiment override (PSO), negative interactions are not seen as particularly negative, or at least they are not taken personally.  When there is PSO between a couple, the partners give each other the benefit of the doubt.

Even if one partner IS conveying negativity in content or tone, the other does not personalize, react to, match, or “store away for a rainy day” their partner’s bad mood, negativity, etc.

Getting from negative to more positive sentiment overide: Two Steps

Sounds good, but how does a couple shift from negative to positive sentiment override? Try these two steps as a startup strategy:

Step 1- Try to become friends again by doing things you enjoy together -like when you were dating. I know there are any obstacles to this: children, Covid-19 pandemic, money ,etc but try a little harder to re-connect.
See the attached worksheet to give you some more ideas.

Step 2- Consciously alter you thought patterns about your partner by looking at what you are telling yourself about what they do that makes you angry or upset toward then.

Here are some “self-talk” thoughts I teach people in my anger management classes to teach themselves to be less angry at whatever their partner does. These changes in thought patterns have helped many hundreds of partners be less angry toward their partner- even if their partners doesn’t change their behavior.

Change Angry Thoughts to 4 Corrective Thoughts

Angry Thought #1- My partner should think like I do. If they don’t, its my duty to work on them until they do think like me- or at least admit they are wrong.

Corrective thought #1: My partner and I don’t have to think alike: to get along we just have to be tolerant of how the other one thinks.

Angry Thought #2-My partner does things I consider stupid or wrong. Because they are stupid or wrong, they shouldn’t do these things.

Corrective thought #2: Within limits, they have a right to do what they want to- but I also have a right not to want to live with a person who does those things and I will communicate that to them calmly.

Angry Thought #3- I know I am right about the issue we often fight about.

Corrective thought #3: I am not 100% right nor are they 100% wrong on any matter of dispute. Fact is, usually “the truth” is in the middle. In marriage, there is more than one “truth” so it is possible you are both “right” but you are each looking at the conflict or issue from a different point of view.

Angry Thought #4– Things should go my way- because I deserve it and because I want it that way.

Corrective thought #4: I am not the center of the universe, or even the center of our relationship. It is irrational to think that things MUST go my way- even though I would like them to. Rather than getting angry, I need to work on my skill of accepting what is instead of what I self-centeredly want it to be. I also need to practice thinking in terms of “we” instead of “me.”

Downloads

Download a FREE PDF file called “Sharing Things as a Couple Worksheet” that will help you develop the techniques discussed in this article.

Successful Marriage: Love ain’t enough says Dr Tony Fiore

What are these “thirds” that are destructive to a relationship?
A destructive third can be anything that prevents a couple from having a close bond, having each other’s back and prioritizing their relationship. Thirds can create havoc in a marriage, yet the problem is not strictly a marriage problem per se. The real problem is inability of a couple to successfully deal with an outside stress threatening the marriage.

Common thirds that I see in Couples Counseling in Orange County are:

  • Anger or poor impulse control
  • Parenting or Children Stress
  • Substance Abuse (including excessive drinking) by one partner

Anger or Poor Impulse Control

Contrary to popular opinion, marriage is NOT a place where you should always feel that you should be able to “be yourself.” Unbridled Self-expression is about getting things off your chest, without considering how your partner will react. This is not a good thing to do if you want a secure, loving relationship with your partner.

In fact, in one study in the United Kingdom, one in five of people (20%) say that they have ended a relationship or friendship with someone because of how they behaved when they were angry.

The main problem with too much anger is that hostility begets more hostility, once a couple starts to fight. According to famed researcher Dr John Gottman, 65% of men increase negativity during an argument. You push many people and they will fight back which does no one any good.

You poke the bear too many times or with enough intensity, you get consequences.

You do NOT need to say everything that’s on your mind when you are mad–at least not now. If you must get it out, wait for a better time after you both calm down.

Even If you apologize later, the damage is done. It erodes trust between you. It invites retaliation. It encourages withdrawal on the part of your partner sometimes physically, sometimes emotionally. It says you care more about your own selfish needs of self-expression instead of preservation of your relationship.

Parenting or Children Stress

Believe it or not, studies of marital happiness show that the time of least happiness for many couples is right after the birth of that little bundle of joy.

Successful couples find a way to still prioritize the relationship itself while unsuccessful couples often kind of forget about the relationship as they devote all their time, energy and resources to raising the kids.

Forward 20 years and they look across the kitchen table one morning at a stranger they used to be madly in love with and wonder what happened.

Things get even more complicated in today’s modern world of co-parenting and blended marriages. It takes much maturity, sound judgement, and balancing ability to be a good and responsible parent, yet make your partner feel that they are number one on your list!

Substance Abuse by One Or Both Partners

In most cases, I will not even attempt marriage therapy or counseling if there is a real issue of substance abuse including alcohol abuse (I do tolerate some instances of medical marijuana use, If done in moderation, the partner is accepting of it, they have a medical card, and they do not use where children can be exposed).

What to do about the situation depends on how much you can tolerate and the degree that his or her substance use affects your relationship.
Worse case scenario–it can completely destroy it. Most spouses do not want to live with someone who abuses alcohol regularly, to the embarrassment or detriment of either. In many relationships, excessive alcohol and refusal to get help is a deal breaker–and it should be. ?

Best case scenario–adjust your expectations and put it in perspective. For example, maybe most of the time your partner is fine and only occasionally abuses alcohol–and then is a sloppy drunk, but not a mean one. Put in perspective, maybe you can learn to live with it if appropriate boundaries are established and followed (e.g., two drink limit)

If you are on the fence as to discerning what you should do about a substance-abusing partner in your particular case, consult a professional who can help you sort things out.

Can I Fall Back in Love After The Thrill is Gone?

Having been a therapist for over thirty years, I am always pleased to find new ways of helping couples. A few years ago, I discovered a treatment approach by Willard Harley that’s short term and practical. Combined with other techniques that I use, this approach has proven effective. Furthermore, it offers hope to relationships that seem hopeless. I’ve had several successful cases where one member had fallen out of love, ready to leave the relationship. If you’re interested, read on.

We really do keep score: the Love Bank

In relationships, we really do keep score. The way that we “keep score” is not necessarily a conscious one. Our mind automatically keeps an account of how well our partner is meeting our emotional needs. Our partner has a Love Bank of us too. The way it works is simple.

  • When we act in a way to please our spouse, we gain points in their Love Bank. When we act in a way to displease them, we lose points.
  • Most of us are not aware of our partners needs let alone our own. We frequently give to our mate what we need but often miss the mark in meeting their needs by not giving them what they want.
  • There are two ways to increase Love Bank scores:
    • Increase behaviors which meet our spouses important emotional needs.
    • Stop behaviors that make our partner unhappy.
  • The latter is called Love Busters.
    • When we have accumulated a plethora of points, we fall in love.
    • When there are less points coming in than are going out; when we are bankrupt or overdrawn, then we fall out of love.

Love Busters

?Love Busters are the things that we do to negatively affect our partner. We lose points in their Love Bank when we exhibit these behaviors. The most common Love Busters include the following:

  • Angry outbursts
  • Criticalness
  • Dishonesty
  • Annoying Behavior
  • Selfish Demands
  • Other “bad behaviour”

I have often found that stopping bad behavior (Love Busters) is often as important as starting good behavior (meeting our spouses Emotional Needs). ??

Emotional Needs

?We all have emotional needs. Furthermore, we have expectations from our partner to meet these needs. Men and Women generally have different emotional needs. Duh! The most common emotional needs for men are:

  • Sexual Fulfillment
  • Attractive Spouse
  • Admiration
  • Domestic Support
  • Recreational Companionship

The most common emotional needs for women are:

  • Affection
  • Conversation
  • Openness and Honesty
  • Family Commitment
  • Financial Support

How We Fall In and Out of Love. When we meet someone who makes a favorable impression on us, they will earn points in our Love Bank. For example: Bob is attracted to Jan. She gets 200 points in his love bank just for being pretty. He asks her out. She says yes. She gains another 100 points. They have a good date. She gains another 100 points. After the date she kisses him. It is a very passionate kiss. She gains another 150 points. You get the idea.

Now, what goes up can also go down. Let’s assume that they have been dating for a month and Jan cancels a date with Bob at the last moment. She loses 50 points but already has a score of 1000 so the reserves cover the loss and the relationship is good. If she was to continue to meet Bob’s emotional needs in a meaningful way, then she will have earned a high Love Bank score with Bob and he will fall in love if the score is high enough.

Now, let’s assume that Jan and Bob keep doing a wonderful job in meeting each others needs. They have romantic candle light dinners, great sex and good conversations. Basically, they don’t want to be out of sight of each other. They are crazy about each other. Their Love Bank scores are high and they get married.

Now, let’s suppose that they have been married for several years and have three children. Bob has a new job that requires him to work late so he is not as physically and emotionally available. The children are demanding more of Jan’s attention. She is frequently too tired to have sex and is not as emotionally available to Bob’s needs. Over a period of time, the couple’s emotional needs may not be getting met.

Furthermore, there may be bad habits that may be stealing points from their Love Banks. If their scores drop too low score (in the red, over drawn) they will fall out of love. Bob may all of her emotional needs into her children. These patterns may lead to an affair or a divorce.

So, How Do We Get Back in Love??

First off, many romantics do not think that it is possible to recapture love. Love is like an illusive butterfly. Once it is gone, it is gone and you can’t get it back. Of course, I do not agree with them. If you think of the Love Bank Concept, Just as it is possible to fall out of love, it is possible to fall back in love. Falling in love is achieved by getting a high enough Love Bank Score so that your partner falls in love with you. Gaining points by meeting the partner’s emotional needs can do this. Stop losing points by changing the Love Buster behavior (angry outbursts, dishonesty, etc.)?

Treatment

?Couple’s are made aware of their partners emotional needs. After learning about each other’s needs in detail, they discuss ways to meet these needs. With the help of the therapist, strategies are developed for each partner to meet the other’s needs. Progress is discussed weekly in treatment and revisions are made as needed. This approach used with communication skill building has proven effective.


Rockman Family Counseling Inc
4701 Von Karman, suite 328 Newport Beach, Ca 92660
(949) 230-9602
steverockman@sbcglobal.net
rockmanthx.com

Anger and couple finances: How to avoid financial infidelity

The most valuable thing in a long-term stable relationship is having a partnership, and most new couples don’t realize that money is a major factor in marital happiness. Money is one of the biggest generators of problems, arguments, and resentment in long-term relationships. Couples argue about spending, saving budgeting, and disparity in earnings. When couples have difficulty with money, it can lead to financial infidelity: out-of-control spending, lying and hiding finances; which can destroy the relationship. Overcoming money problems together and working as a team will strengthen the bond between you, and help you create a healthy, lasting partnership.

Money doesn’t have to be a wedge between you and your partner. It can be a great tool for learning more about one another and using money matters as a discussion point can help your relationship grow and thrive. Money can create misery or happiness, depending on how you manage it. Making long-term plans, helping reach goals and improving your quality of life are just some of the things you will be able to accomplish if you work together.

How Men and Women’s Innate Differences Influence Finances

Women’s and men’s brains, and therefore language processing and reasoning, are organized differently. Cultural anthropologists theorize that it’s because of the different survival skills they needed to learn. Research shows that women tend to be good at multitasking, cooperation and relationship-building and less focused on reaching a specific goal. Men are more goal oriented, and less complex thinkers.

When it comes to money, these differences show themselves in financial behavior. When men get into financial trouble, it is often through gambling (cards, stock market, fantasy football) or spending on drugs, porn or male toys like automobiles. Women tend to overspend on fashion, household items or on the kids. Women’s drugs problems often begin with prescription medication. Both genders can get into trouble trying to help family members or children who are out of control. The following guidelines can help couples bridge their money gap.

Money Talks

Money talks need to be a part of scheduling weekly meetings – not just for money, but also for catching up with one another. Bills, social planning, long-term goals and working on your relationship are just some of the issues you’ll discuss. Just sitting down once a week to talk about what happened and bringing the checking account up to date can be a good management tool, a time to talk about long-term plans such as purchasing a house or paying off college debt. Use the time not only to take stock of your finances, but of your relationship, too. Ask each other what is going well and what needs improvement.

If you do it with the right attitude, this weekly meeting will be something that you look forward to, not an ordeal that you dread. As you talk about positive solutions and setting out long-term goals, many financial and other problems will be solved as they arise, and before they become difficult. If you endeavor to share the time and energy in a mutually beneficial way, it can become a social occasion. Make it a pleasant occasion go out to dinner together or wait until the children are asleep or have a late breakfast on a Saturday morning, and use the following guidelines to help you.

Author Bio:Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D.(www.tinatessina.com) is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California since 1978 with over 35 years’ experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 14 books in 17 languages.

Men: How to disarm an angry parter

According to famed therapist Terry Real, the short answer is:

“To disarm an angry woman, give her what she needs.”

To illustrate this point, let me introduce to 55 year-old Jerry who came to see me because his very angry (Linda) gave him the ultimatum of seeing a therapist or a divorce lawyer. (He had to think about this for awhile, but decided a therapist was the lessor of the evils)

The Case Of Jerry
Jerry, a successful real estate developer, wasn’t a bad guy – he just didn’t have a clue as to why his wife of 10 years was always angry at him. If she wasn’t yelling, (even raging), or criticizing, she talked to him with absolute contempt. This, despite the fact that he was an excellent provider, he was a great father to their children, and he was well thought of in their social circles and their community. He did not drink excessively and he was not unfaithful to her.

He felt he could do nothing right in her eyes – but honestly couldn’t see anything he was doing wrong either. Again, her constant anger and dissatisfaction mystified him.

At first, he became defensive to ward off her attacks and protect himself. Jerry often argued with her by offering all kinds of logical reasons why he did what he did that upset her, trying to convince her that she was mistaken, that she was wrong, that she was exaggerating, or worse, that she was crazy.

Her response? More angry. In fact, now the anger included not only the original complaints, but the fact that he was so emotionally unaware that he didn’t understand at all what she was really upset about.

Jerry tried to stay out of trouble
To stay out of trouble, he started avoiding his wife more and more both physically (including sexually) and emotionally. After all, he reasoned, why stand in the path of gunfire when someone is shooting at you?

Like many beleaguered husbands, he mistakenly attributed his wife’s mood swings and anger to menopause or other medical explanations for her behavior.

When he mentioned this to her, again her level of anger increased because she saw it as a way to disavow his contribution to what she saw as her justifiable anger toward him.

Underneath, Linda saw herself as being emotionally victimized by her husband. Consequently, she felt justified in her anger and justified in her need to protect herself by attacking him.

Jerry saw himself as a good husband
Jerry, for his part, certainly didn’t see himself as victimizing his wife in any way. His motive was to please her, so he would have a peaceful life, but he just didn’t have the skills needed to deal with Linda and her emotional needs.

He grew up in a home and at a time period in our history where no one taught him how to deal with the emotional needs and raised expectations of modern women who demand much more out of their relationships than did many women of an older generation.

So, what are these skills exactly, that Jerry and thousands of other men in our society need to learn and acquire to disarm an angry wife?

(Note – I had to learn them too. The rules have just changed over the years.)

Are you ready for the shocking answer?

3 disarming skills to use on a daily basis

Skill #1: Learn better “Empathy. “ To do this, start actually listening more to her. Seriously, listen more to your wife- not only the facts and information she talks about, but how she feels about what she is telling you- and the underlying meaning to what she is saying.

Remember, “hearing” your wife is not the same thing as “listening” to her. Developing better empathy skills requires getting out of yourself and practice seeing the world as your wife does, even if you don’t agree with her. Then acknowledge to her that you understand how she sees the issue.

Skill #2: Find ways to emotionally connect on a daily basis, even if it is only for a few minutes. Think of your marriage as a plant sitting out on your back patio. To survive, both must have daily watering and sunshine. Respond to her “bids for affection.”(ways she is trying to connect with you) Ignoring or blowing off such bids is not a good idea.

Skill #3: Show More emotional vulnerability. Don’t double down on issues of disagreement. For many women, male vulnerability is the pathway to her feeling close to you.

Enlightened men who trust their partner enough to show vulnerability are able to drop their defensiveness, to share feelings with their wife, and be brave enough to risk allowing your wife to see you for who you really are.

Downloads

Download a FREE PDF file called “The Active Listening Worksheet” that will help you develop listening techniques discussed in this article.

Audio version

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