For Better For Worse….Marriage is healthier and wealthier but sometimes challenging!

Middle-aged couple outdoors

In spite of everything we hear more marriages are successful than ever before but people in the twenty first century expect more from marriage than a stable economic unit. The stakes are particularly high in a marriage based on love, equality, and shared values. As a result sustaining marriage takes more time, more energy, honesty and emotional investment than previous generations and that is why a good marriage can feel like a struggle at times. All couples struggle and it can feel lonely at times.

Sex is a common issue that couples struggle with. Many husbands want to have sex more frequently than their wives. Wives say they would have more sex if husbands helped with housework and kids more and give love and affection as more than quick foreplay to sex. Husbands say that without sex they get frustrated and demotivated to help or be romantic and sex helps them feel more connected to their wives. It’s a cyclical problem and circles endlessly in some less happy marriages. In general, the more sex a couple has, the happier the marriage. Sustaining the chemistry and re-igniting passion is the challenge for many couples. There are things that help but honesty must be the first order of business to deal with the issue and it takes courage.

When dishonesty enters….passion dies. A relationship requires some edge, some risk, and some truth to keep sexual interest alive. In Mating in Captivity Esther Perel talks about reconciling the erotic with the domestic in life and says it is a paradoxical union where the political correctness of the North American bedroom can feel like a sexual cage. Bringing lust back requires us to embrace a less egalitarian approach and enchantment, liberation, and play between the distance between us. A good marriage is fine but a truly sexual marriage is better. Viva la difference!

Putting on other people’s shoes

We all have particular social roles we fill in our everyday lives. We may occupy several roles at different times throughout the day. For example, you may be a waitress, a teacher, a husband, a brother, or a mother. Each of these roles is seen as having specific associated behaviours. In our initial encounters with other people, we often view them as their role, rather than as an individual acting in that particular role. This is what Daniel Goleman refers to as the It-identity. Goleman suggests that any time we are expected to engage with someone in terms of their social role alone, we treat them as a one-dimensional It, disregarding their human identity.

Although this is socially acceptable, even necessary, for many of our encounters with other people with whom we have superficial relationships, it is detrimental to our close relationships. We feel rejected by those we care about when we are treated more as a thing than as a person. It is important that we are able to attune to the realities of our loved ones, showing them empathy.

Goleman argues that empathy is the key to healthy communication within relationships. He describes being the target of true empathy as ‘feeling felt’. In such situations, we sense that the other person understands how we feel. This is a crucial element of healthy relationships.

Through sessions, we can work together to help build your empathy skills. We can discover tools and strategies to assist you in effectively looking at a situation from another’s perspective, strengthening your ability to see things from another’s point of view. We can work individually, or as a family or group, to share perspectives and uncover the benefits of empathic relationships.

Credit: Goleman, D. (2007). Beyond IQ, Beyond Emotional Intelligence- Social Intelligence: The Revolutionary New Science of Human Relationships. New York, NY- Random House Publishing.

Encouraging Expression in Relationships

The brains of men and women work differently. There are clear biological and hormonal distinctions in the way the male and female brain operate in a relationship. Daniel Goleman, in his book, Beyond IQ, Beyond Emotional Intelligence- Social Intelligence: The Revolutionary New Science of Human Relationships, discusses the three expressions of a romantic relationship- attachment, desire, and caring. He argues that men and women are attracted to each other, but through different chemical reactions occurring in the brain. When these three expressions of love are aligned, love will flourish. However, in situations where tension exists between them, love may weaken. Goleman offers the following example: if one partner feels insecure about the relationship, the brain system for attachment may lead to feelings of anxiety, inhibiting the other love expressions. The anxiety that exists may create tension in the relationship leading to lower sexual desire.

For couples, it is important to understand how the other operates. Knowing your partners needs can help build empathy and compassion between you. Goleman argues that finding a balance between the needs of each individual and the needs of the couple is crucial to the success of the relationship.

If you are looking to better understand the dynamics of desire, attachment, and caring within your romantic relationship, I can work with you and your partner to begin to uncover how to create balance and encourage your love expressions.

Credit: Goleman, D. (2007). Beyond IQ, Beyond Emotional Intelligence- Social Intelligence: The Revolutionary New Science of Human Relationships. New York, NY- Random House Publishing.

How to Build Love that Lasts

Many people think being in love and making a relationship work is complicated. In the media, from our friends and family members, we are led to believe the message that love it hard work. But, according to research by Schmitz & Schmitz, love doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, love is easy!

Doctors Charles and Elizabeth Schmitz have been researchers in the field of love and relationships for over twenty years. In their book, Building a Love That Lasts, they challenge the notion of love as a job or chore. Couples can sometimes fall into a trap. They may become over-confident in the strength of their relationship and forget the little things that made their love so great in the first place. They stop doing the small, but meaningful, things that show their partners they care, everyday. According to Schmitz & Schmitz, the little things are the most important, and will ensure a strong relationship that is able to withstand the test of time.

Schmitz & Schmitz offer some examples of the little things that you can do to strengthen your relationship and ensure its success:

  • Remember birthdays and anniversaries.
  • Call if you are going to be late.
  • Say, “I love you”, everyday.
  • Help carry in the groceries.
  • Hug each other. The power of touch is so often underestimated.
  • Be more unselfish. It isn’t just about you.

In therapy, I help couples understand why the little things are important. What is meaningful is different for everybody and people experience love and relationships in different ways. Together, we can determine what little things are most important to you and encourage growth and connectedness in your relationship.

Credit: Schmitz, C. & Schmitz, E. (2008). Building a Love that Lasts: The Seven Surprising Secrets of Successful Marriage. San Francisco, CA- Jossey-Bass Publishing.

Four phrases that can strengthen your relationship

Often, people are afraid to say important words to the people they love- words that can change and improve their relationships. This is true for lovers, siblings, parents, and friends.

Ira Byock, a medical doctor and writer, has worked in hospitals her entire career. She often witnesses people and their relationships in the last breaths of live. This experience has taught her that, in peoples’ last moments, their feelings are not that of hatred and resentment, but rather of love and forgiveness. She argues that there are four sayings that can help improve any relationship, and that it is never too early, or too late to use these sayings to strengthen the relationships with others in our lives. After all, it is the relationships that we have with others that give our lives meaning and offer us acceptance and love.

Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you.

Byock argues that these four short phrases can help you to begin to mend and strengthen your relationship. In sessions with me, we can work together to build the courage to use these words more often with those you care about and you can begin to discover the healing power of words within your relationships.

Credit: Byock, I. (2004). The Four Things that Matter Most: A Book About Living. New York, NY- Free Press.

How to improve your marriage without talking about it

This book by Patricia Love and Steven Stosny is my favourite book to recommend to couples who are struggling with their relationship. These authors studied the dynamics between men and women and discovered that, even with the best intentions, talking about your relationship doesn’t bring you closer together, and eventually it will drive you apart. Getting your marriage to improve doesn’t involve trying to turn your man into a woman! This book gives guidance about the behaviours that make and break marriages.

A good marital therapist knows this. Most couples have a limited understanding about how communication patterns can negatively affect a marriage while positive communication can act as a giant booster! Less communication and more emotional atunement can be more effective at bridging differences and bringing a couple closer than anything at all. There are valid sex differences in the way that men and women hear things. This book talks about why we fight, what each hears no matter what is said. It talks about the things you can do to make things better.

I recommend this book to lots of my clients and I find that they love it and with the combination of reading it and working with me in the therapy room their marriage improves tremendously!

Are you in a relationship with a narcissist?

Has your too-good-to-be-true relationship turned toxic? Authors Cynthia Zayn and Kevin Dibble offer words of wisdom to help you if you found yourself to be a victim of narcissism.

Narcissistic personality disorder can be found in both men and women. Zayn and Dibble suggest that narcissist people are drawn to others who exhibit co-dependent tendencies. They offer a checklist to help you determine whether you exhibit co-dependent tendencies and are more likely to fall victim to a narcissistic relationship:

  • Do you base your feeling of self-worth on your partner’s approval?
  • Are you careful not to provoke your partner’s anger?
  • Have you lost or significantly reduced contact with friends and family since entering into your relationship?
  • Are you afraid of rejection from your partner?

Narcissists use their partners’ fear of abandonment to gain control over the relationship and have the ability to manipulate and blame the other for problems that may arise within the relationship.

Using the steps outlined in their book, Narcissist Lovers: How to Cope, Recover, and Move On, combined with counseling sessions with me, we can determine if you are involved with a narcissist and develop tools and strategies to move your relationship from that of control and fear to that of a more satisfying and meaningful partnership.

Credit: Zayn, C. & Dibble, K. (2007). Narcissist Lovers: How to Cope, Recover, and Move On. Far Hills, NJ- New Horizon Press.

How do I ask my spouse for a divorce?

Our entires lives are a process of changing and developing. Although we promise to remain married forever, it is not always possible to keep the promise. Usually, the decision to divorce is made after months and even years of silent deliberation. It is not made lightly, but even so, our spouses are rarely prepared to hear the words. As Shakespeare put it, “Though it be honest, it is never good / To bring bad news.”

It takes courage to end a marriage. No one wants to hurt a partner intentionally, and there is no way to do it without causing pain. However, when you are certain that the marriage is over and the words must be said, it is better to get it over with quickly. Few people are lucky enough to end their marriages without some emotional trauma or conflict, but it is better to move through it quickly rather than endure the long, drawn-out anguish of a dying marriage.

Inflicting pain on your spouse is often difficult to do. After all, you once loved this person deeply, and if you’ve shared a number of years with your spouse, chances are that you will not want to cause him or her pain, no matter how things have changed between you two. It may be that your reluctance to speak about problems has led to things being left until they are insurmountable, but don’t let guilt hold you back now.

Speak about it before something sparks a crisis or an affair. These are devastating ways to learn about the end of your marriage. If therapy is not possible and you know it’s too late, say so. Don’t hold out false hope if you know there is none. Don’t wait until you say the words in anger. They will be less credible and easily ignored in an argument, and when emotions are high, your guilt will be easy to manipulate.

Be honest. If you are not happy in the marriage, you can spare your partner a lot of pain if you let him or her get used to the idea gradually. Take responsibility for your share, be clear and direct, and give your spouse time to hear you and understand that you are firm.

If you are afraid that your spouse will not accept what you have to say, or will threaten you with emotional blackmail (using the children, threats of suicide) or financial blackmail, you need to be prepared. Always take the threat seriously, but don’t give in to it. This means that you don’t have to stay with a partner who is making threats, but you should always be watchful and act with tact and sensitivity. The first few days after telling your spouse, or of your leaving, are often the most anxious, so make sure your spouse has support available. Friends and family should be called upon to provide support. You can’t provide effective support at this time. Don’t give in to blackmail. It makes you a prisoner and only postpones the inevitable.

This article was written for DivorceMag.

Welcome to my Personal Blog

My name is Barb Anderson and I have been practicing in social work for over 25 years. I could not have foreseen the need to maintain a strong relationship with my clients and the general public in this manner but times have changed and I change with them so here I am blogging!

I have created this blog to help clients and potential clients obtain up to date information and links and commentaries regarding their counselling, mediation, and collaborative law needs.

I have a wealth of information about a lot of subjects that people need help with so why not share it with the people that need it for absolutely nothing but their time to read it. It helps to be able to clarify some of my ideas from time to time and to help raise questions in the minds of people that are struggling with their own issues…if it helps you gain something you can apply right now great!

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