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couple disagreements Articles

Survive the First Four Years of Marriage: Use Anger Management

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

We know that only half of all first marriages make it. What we often don’t recognize is that the first four years seem to be important ones in shaping, making or breaking a marital relationship.

Research has long pointed to communication as core to a couple’s satisfaction and regulation of conflict. A study by Ronald Rogge and Tom Bradbury, uncovers another tipping point of early marriage survival.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

  • The research sample included 60 couples married less than 6 months, with average age in the mid-twenties, average incomes between 20,000-30,000 and of mixed ethnicity (White 75%, Latino 10%, Asian 7%, and African American 5%).
  • What the researchers found in following up every six months for four years was that communication did make a difference in marital satisfaction and dissatisfaction, but dissatisfied couples remained together.
  • The true tipping point to divorce in the first four years of the marriages for this sample was aggression.

Raising Teens Without Ruining Your Marriage: Three Principles

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

teen boyWhereas most people are warned that the blessed event of a new baby may challenge the romance in their marriage – not enough warning is given to parents of teens. Lulled by the relative calm of the school age years, they find themselves suddenly embroiled in the challenging journey of adolescence which extends anywhere from age 12 to 18 years.

Notwithstanding the love parents have for their kids and for each other, most parents will agree that the teen years can stress even the strongest of marriages. Why?


When Couples Stop Talking: Reasons and Remedies

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

couplecrpdMost couples know the positive sounds of silence–the mutual experience of sharing time and space together without needing words. Be it walking the dog together, cooking side by side or listening to music–it is the silence of connection and love.

Many couples also know the silence that reflects tension, conflict or disconnection. Unable to speak beyond the necessities of daily life, these couples report, “ We just don’t talk anymore!”

If we recognize “ talking together” as a metaphor for the communication of confidantes, the special interest of partners and the pillow talk of intimates, then we understand that this is a silence that can start to feel emotionally deafening.

Why do couples who once had so much to say end up feeling this way? Is it inevitable as time passes in a marriage? Is there a way back?

Years together need not result in negative sounds of silence.

Yes, events can disrupt harmony and patterns can erode vitality, but if couples are curious rather than blameful about the silence between them, they may find some reasons and remedies to speak together again.

The Reasons:

If we look closer at those partners who end up sitting in a restaurant with nothing to say, painfully aware of the couples happily chatting around them, we find that partners are often unaware of what they may be doing or what has happened to shut down the verbal connection.

Here are some possibilities:

  • The Monologue: Sometimes a partner is in so much need of attention, affirmation or containment by the other that they never stop talking. More interested in what they have to say, they barely realize there is no space for dialogue. The listening partner often complies as audience for a time but there is no real ” we sharing ” and eventually no reason to continue talking.
  • The Critique: Sometimes speaking has become unsafe if one or both partners imply by verbal criticism, overt disinterest or non-verbal gestures that what the other is saying is of little interest or importance. Some are embarrassed or enraged into silence. Some give-up. Some find outside confidantes who want to listen—while the silence at home …

An Asset to Couple Intimacy: The Capacity “To Be Alone”

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

capacity to be aloneWhile the definition of intimacy may vary depending on the relationship, it is generally felt to be the “ authentic” connection between two people. As such, the connection reflects a mutuality of loving feelings shared and expressed in thought, affect and behavior.

A host of factors including safety, trust, effective communication and sexual exclusivity have been identified as important for intimacy between partners.

Less discussed and perhaps surprising, is the importance of the “capacity to be alone” in establishing true intimacy.

What Is The “Capacity To Be Alone?”

  • Originally coined by the British pediatrician/psychoanalyst, Donald Winnicott, the “capacity to be alone” refers to the development of individuality that starts with the infant’s ability to be alone in the presence of the mother.
  • It is the child’s ability to move from the sense of the mother’s compassionate, comforting and loving presence, to his/her ability to hold on to her presence, even when alone.
  • This internalized sense of the comforting mother develops into the psychological capacity to regulate anxiety, self-soothe, and experience a true authentic self. In essence, this is the capacity to be alone.

Why Is This an Asset To Intimacy?

  • True intimacy starts with a comfort in your own sense of self.  If you like yourself and feel comfortable, you will be able to relate in a real and genuine way with another person.

You won’t have to be what someone else wants or needs you to be.

  • True intimacy is possible when you have the “capacity to be alone” because it implies choice. You may want to be with someone. You don’t have to be with someone because you fear that being alone leaves you without stability or value.

You don’t have to cling to someone to avoid abandonment or avoid someone for fear of rejection.

  • True intimacy is possible when there is psychological separation or room for partners to come and go from each other physically and psychologically.
  • Couples often report that when they are apart from each other during the course of the day, they think more positively and romantically about each other than at any other time.

Neurochemistry supports …


How Different Are the Private and Public Versions of Your Relationship?

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

Almost everyone has felt the shock of hearing that a couple that seemed “so great together” was breaking up.

It can also be just as shocking to observe the public interaction of a couple only to wonder, “Why are these people together?”

Having worked many years with couples, I’ve come to understand that no one but the partners involved really know the differences in the private or public versions of their relationship.

While some differences in the private and public versions of a couple’s relationship are inevitable and even desirable, differences that cause or hide pain, rejection and disdain are destructive.

  • “In public you’re so agreeable to everyone – at home, you argue with anything I say.”
  • “If you say you’re happily married, why are there no picture of me on your Facebook page? 
  • “Why don’t you reach for my hand in public – if you love me?

How different are the private and public versions of your relationship?

In this fast paced world of expectations, social media, instant communication and blurred public and private lives, it’s worth accessing whether the differences in the public and private versions of your relationship are desirable or destructive.

Desirable Differences

The Private Version

  • Basic to the special status that partners share with each other, some differences between their private and public lives are inevitable and desirable.
  • The way partners, worry, confide, argue, joke and sexually relate belongs to them. Such aspects of their relationship usually remain private and support their bond.
  • This private version of their relating doesn’t preclude the close ties and disclosures that partners are likely to have with family and friends; but it sets them apart in a way that is constructive and desirable.

Are you trusted confidantes? 

Can you hold on to your relationship ties despite outside family demands?

Do your friends know how important your relationship is to you?

The Public Version

We all have a public version of our private self that is adjusted to fit the role, demands and expectations of our public lives.  While your public “image” might be at times very different from your role as a spouse or partner, it shouldn’t disqualify it. In the …


Reducing Marital Stress Helps Children Return to School

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

marital stress, back to schoolWhen children head back to school this year, they should not be carrying emotional baggage from home.

When we worry about how our children will handle school- what they will face and how they will cope, we often overlook the impact of marital strife on their physical, emotional and intellectual functioning.

It is difficult to feel confident, curious or open to new school friends or ideas when you are a young person weighed down by exposure to adult conflict and issues.

While we know that the impact of most traumatic events on children can be reduced if parents remain calm & learn to manager their own feelings, marital strife poses a bigger challenge. In the case of chronic marital strife, the very people who are supposed to offer safety are the ones creating the danger!

Don’t All Couples Fight?

Yes, in fact if a child never saw any discord or disagreement, he/she would have no model for conflict resolution or regulating a broad range of emotions.

Marital strife that creates a potential emotional crisis for a child of any age is a different animal altogether. It involves expressions of anger that can include chronic but subtle verbal abuse, the silent treatment, bitter fighting and at the extreme, domestic violence that warrants a 911 call.

Unregulated marital discord demands too much of children and teens.

  • Some children run in to rescue the parents and reduce the tension by engaging either or both parents in something fun, interesting, or attention getting.

Do they need this extra job as they face new appropriate childhood challenges?

  • Some children will draw the fire to themselves (consciously or unconsciously) by misbehaving or acting out in order to shift the emotional tone.

Is this a learned pattern of survival we want a youngster to take with them in life?

  • Older children will learn to escape into their rooms, their phones, or their computers- sadly some may learn to escape into drugs and alcohol.

In their necessary avoidance they tragically lose not only the connection with their parents, but a world of knowledge, relationships and …


Re-Connect With an Ex? Crucial Considerations

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

reconnect with an ex?Recycling is a good idea, except when it comes to relationships.

Regardless of what people tell themselves about the time invested, the good times missed, the great sex, or the feeling that things will be different; in most cases the re-connection with an ex rarely brings a better outcome.

Research tells us that rekindling a relationship decreases happiness. Studies of college grads as well as larger national studies of older couples reveal that those people who cycle back to relationships, often over and over again, experience less satisfaction, more uncertainty and more disillusionment in their relationships than non-cycling partners.

Let’s face it – breaking up is hard to do. When it has happened there is usually a good reason on the part of one or both partners.

Why then do people look backwards? Why do they imagine it will be different?


Renovate Your Relationship: Replace Unsafe Couple Dynamics

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

Regardless of how new or old your relationship, most couples can benefit from changing relationship dynamics that cause marital deterioration.

In a recent study in The Journal of Family Psychology, researchers, Lavner, Bradbury and Karney found in surveying 251 couples every six months for the first four years of their marriage, that despite the wish for marital fulfillment those whose marriages deteriorated were dealing with unsafe dynamics like verbal aggression, repression of feelings and denial of needs. Left unattended, such dynamics compromised the bond despite commitment, personality strengths or stress level.

In a similar way, no matter how beautifully a couple might decorate a home; a leaking roof or cracking foundation can not go unattended without consequences.

A closer look at a three “ unsafe couple dynamics” may invite mutual consideration of your relationship and the possibility of some renovations.

Verbal Aggression

“Living like this is like living in a minefield.”

  • Verbal Aggression is toxic to relationships because it destroys communication, trust and intimacy. Usually taking the form of taunts, personal insults, accusations, threats of separation or divorce, it locks the partners in pain.  Nothing changes. Nothing is learned about self or other.
  • The person who is verbally assaulted may retaliate or withdraw. At the worst, studies of intimate partner violence find that verbal aggression is a predictor of physical aggression.
  • In an atmosphere of verbal aggression, real connection is impossible. Often one or both partners go through cycles of guilt and fear. With time, emotional and physical health is compromised

Appropriate Assertion of Anger

The hallmark of a viable relationship is the ability to feel anger and express it in a way that communicates a problem, disappointment, conflict, or feeling without frightening, threatening or verbally assaulting one’s partner.

Renovations that make the healthy assertion of anger possible:

Stepping down by one or both in the face of verbal aggression is not giving up – it is protection for both. No one can fight alone. The mutual call for a “ Time Out” or the individual message, “ I can’t really respond if we are screaming,” …


Are You Invalidating Your Partner – Without Realizing It?

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Probably the hardest things to change are the things we don’t realize we’re doing – like invalidating our partner.

Thanks to a plethora of self-help books on relationships, most partners, whether dating, committed or long married, have become aware of the value of listening for improving understanding and connection. Most recognize or are reminded by their partners when they are not listening.

Validation is much more than listening or even active listening. It is a verbal affirmation of another’s right to think or feel a certain way.

“I can see why you felt embarrassed when I said that in front of our friends.”

Most people would feel betrayed in that situation.”

Invalidation

The problem with invalidation, and the reason it is so caustic to relationships, is that it is not simply the absence of validation.

Invalidation is actually the disqualification of another person’s thinking or feelings. It carries the implication that you must be crazy, bad, over-sensitive or inept to feel a certain way.


The Burden of The Perfect Partner: A Closer Look

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

If you are looking for the perfect partner or trying to be one – think twice. Perfection is painfully unrealistic for individuals and emotionally costly for couples.

While there is no doubt that striving to be your personal best and feeling good about your efforts is healthy as well as relationship enhancing – perfectionism is something else.

Perfectionism is the belief that a state of completeness and flawlessness can and should be attained. The literature on perfectionism underscores that there is an important difference between adaptive and maladaptive perfectionism. It is a difference worth considering.


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Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP & Dianne Kane, DSW are the authors of Healing Together: A Couple's Guide to Coping with Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress. Pick up the book today!

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