couple social situations 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


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.


Sex, Statistics, Happiness and Your Marriage

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

couple walking

  • Does sex influence your happiness?
  • Do you consider sexual satisfaction in terms of sexual frequency?
  • Would comparing your sexual frequency with others affect your happiness?

An extensive study by Tim Wadsworth, including 27,500 men and women aged 40-80years in 29 countries and using the Global Study of Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors, found a relationship between frequency of sexual behavior and happiness. The more sexual frequency—the more reported happiness.

While this study confirmed the findings of earlier large sample studies with regard to the correlation of frequency of sexual activity and happiness, Wadsworth’s study added another dimension. He found that when respondents compared their frequency to the sexual frequency of others, their happiness decreased or increased depending on whether their frequency was lower or higher than others in their reference group!

What Does this Imply?

If we consider statistics as starting points for thinking, than these findings invite self–reflection and mutual consideration of sexual satisfaction and social comparison for ourselves and with our partners.

The Frequency Factor

There clearly is evidence that when we control for age, physical health, gender, educational levels etc. sexual activity is associated with well being and happiness.

But is the happiness from sexual activity only a function of frequency?

Yes and No. When you work with couples and look at the findings from other couple studies it seems that active ongoing sexual connection does matter; but, it is more complicated than just numbers.

  • It is valuable for you and your partner to know that many studies suggest that sexual satisfaction is a complex and multifaceted construct.  Notwithstanding what else is happening in your life that makes sexual intimacy more or less likely, multiple aspects of sexual behaviors such as frequency, types of behaviors and expectations all affect one’s sexual satisfaction and your satisfaction as a couple.
    • It is particularly important for heterosexual partners to recognize that there are gender differences that very much color issues of frequency, triggers of arousal and even behavior after sexual connection. Men take their cues from their bodies—something that affects frequency. There is an automatic connection for men in thinking about sex, in visual cues and …

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 …


Why Do Married Women Have Affairs?

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

We have once again been faced with a high profile marriage scandal. This time the lovers included the CIA director, a married and much decorated military officer and his biographer, a married women, herself an Army Reserve intelligence officer.

What is predictable is the media focus on the man. In this case the articles addressed the question of military code of conduct, possibility of security breaches, the explanation of male infidelity in terms of power and narcissism, and the apology and compassionate sentiments to the betrayed wife.

What is curious is how little focus was given to the married woman in this affair. Other than a redundant account of her school success and running time, she was rarely seen as more than the idealizing audience to the man. There seemed little interest in her motives and even less in addressing the broader question- Why do married women have affairs?

The Reality

Perhaps we don’t ask the question because culturally we prefer not to know the answer.  After all, with matters of infidelity, the stereotype is of the married man in an affair with an unmarried female. In the case of married women the presumption is that women are more monogamous then men. They are – but not as much as we may want to believe.

  • In the largest most comprehensive poll of its kind in 1994, Edward Laumann and colleagues found that 20% of women and just over 31% of men in their 40’s and 50’s reported having sex with someone other than their spouses.
  • Frances Cohen Praver, author of Daring Wives: Insight into Women’s Desires for Extramarital Affairs suggests that estimates of infidelity range from 30-60% of women and 50-70% of men.
  • Young and Alexander in their 2012 book, The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex and the Science of Attraction accept a rough estimate of 30 to 40 percent infidelity in marriage for men and women.

The Reasons

Having worked for many years with men, women and couples trying to hold on to marriages, recovering from betrayal or caught up in the pain and passion of an affair, I suggest …


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 …


The Big Value of “Small Talk” in Our Emotional Lives

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

value of small talkThere is nothing small about “small talk.”

Defined as polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters, especially used on social occasions, small talk has often been seen in a pejorative or dismissive way.

Actually, small talk has a much broader meaning. Whether we love it or dread it, whether it serves us as a “ tool or trait,” we use “small talk” for meeting important psychological needs. We use it to make connections, to regulate anxiety and to facilitate the interplay between these two necessary functions.

When you met your partner or spouse for the first time, did you open with a question like: Will you marry me, sleep with me, and have my children?

More likely, you used what would be deemed small talk to show some interest and bridge an initial connection:

“So you are the new guy in the office.”

“What’s a female with a Yankee hat doing in Boston?”

It is also likely that whether shy or outgoing, you have found yourself in a hospital waiting room, a delayed airplane, or the crowd outside a funeral home engaging in small talk – and that it helped you.


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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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