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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.


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 …


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,” …


Can A Marriage Survive An Affair?

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

surviving an affairRecently, we again witnessed the dismantling of a celebrity marriage with the exposure of an affair. As always, the world watched, condemned, condoned and debated the question: Can a marriage survive an affair? 

The fact is that whether celebrity or not and regardless of what the world thinks–only the couple can decide if their marriage will survive an affair.

In my work with couples standing in the emotional debris of an affair, I have found that if both partners want to recommit to an exclusive relationship and have the courage to trust and reignite their love – they can rebuild a marriage.

Difficult Beginnings are Understandable

Rebuilding sounds good but at the beginning – it is not easy. Often, no one is sure of anything but the wish to make the pain “go away.” Emotionally, the feelings of devastation, anger, betrayal, guilt and blame, don’t just go away.


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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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