couple fighting Articles

How To Improve Relationship Closeness–”Stop Talking”

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

While almost everyone working with couples and every self-help book underscores communication as central to any good relationship, there are times when the last thing that brings a couple together is “ talking.”cell phone couples

If you have ever said or heard someone say “ We Need to Talk,” you know that those words rarely invite closeness, valuable communication or good memories!

The reality is that communication between couples is complex and involves much more than talking–particularly when talking is on demand, without attention to the cues of the other and without the on-going life experiences that tell partners about each other in spoken and unspoken ways.

There is often more mutual understanding that comes from spontaneous sharing in the midst of living—than rehashing issues in the well caricatured “ Woody Allen Style.”

Here are some suggestions for those times when alternatives to talking may be worth considering:

After a Cease-Fire–Re-set the Relationship

The period of time in which there is a cease-fire after an argument is not the best time to talk.

Yes, there may be more to say…

Yes, You may feel you have the ability to just clarify…

But, the most effective thing you can do is to re-set the relationship with an experience of your positive connection as a platform for going forward.

“Do you want to get something to eat?”

“Do you want to see the next episode of that series?”

  • Making overtures to go forward allows time and connection which often soften the tension and the “ need to win.”
  • When someone isn’t forced to see something in a certain way, they often have the airtime to see it on their own.
  • Couples often find that when they can dare to put down the fight to make space for they’re positive relationship, a solution or negotiation spontaneously emerges that could not have been reached in the heat of the verbal exchange.

When Sharing Time Together–Use Affection

I have often had partners complain to me that when sharing time with their spouse or partner the other “ doesn’t talk.”

They, of course, are tired of making conversation and often complain to the other “ You never talk.” This …


In a Relationship-Love Means Being Able to Say “NO”

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Can you say NO to your partner?

Can you tolerate hearing NO?

In a relationship, the freedom to say NO may be one of the most important dynamics your share. If there is no space for NO, there really is no space for an authentic relationship. Partners believe in the “ I do” because it is a choice of Yes over NO.couple on the bench


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.

Overreacting in Your Relationship: Reasons and Remedies

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnyone is a relationship knows that partners have the uncanny ability to bring out the best and worst in each other. Accordingly, whether newly married or celebrating many years together, partners can find themselves overreacting in a way that rarely happens anywhere else in their lives.


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?


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 …


What Presidential Campaigns Can Teach You About Your Relationship

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

campaigns and relationshipsIf you are human, in a relationship and living on this planet there will be decisions to make and problems to solve. They may be intrinsic to your circumstances, imposed upon you by outside factors, or a function of your personal needs and goals.

For most couples issues related to jobs, residence, children, socializing, religion, sex, money, in-laws and more demand decisions but often invite dissent.

If you want a clear example of the type of behavior to avoid when problem solving as a couple you have only to take a look at the presidential hopefuls.

Recognizing that they are, of course, contenders and putting aside the specifics of their platforms or the campaign engines that drive their rhetoric, they nonetheless offer a glimpse of the type of the exclusionary thinking and reactivity that erodes collaboration, jeopardizes problem solving and risks relationship success.

Dynamics to Avoid:

Consider avoiding the following as you and your partner build the platform for your life together.

  • Coming from an “all knowing position.” “ You know nothing about cars and have no experience buying them, I will choose.”
  • Blaming the partner for things outside of their control. “ Why would I want to go on another family vacation when the kids always get sick?”
  • Assuming the worst about your partner. “ I really want to socialize with the people from work but I know you will be uncomfortable.”
  • Looking only at what the partner has done wrong with respect to an issue. “ When it comes to money, you are the last person who should have anything to say. You used to have a bad credit rating.”
  • Negativity about the other in public. “ He has no idea of the kids’ schedules or what they need on a day to day basis.”
  • Coming into the problem solving with a solution. “ So I have it all figured out – we will buy a two family house with my parents.”
  • Refusing to see problem solving or decision making as a building process. “That won’t work, forget it.”
  • Seeing each other as one-dimensional. “ You are a city person. Why would you …

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?


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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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