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Taking Your Fights from ‘Sensational’ to ‘Relational’

hands-437968_640This month’s blog was written by Theresa Benoit, Co-Owner and therapist at The Relationship Therapy Center.

My husband and I are both Marriage and Family Therapists, and people often ask me what our fights look like. The answer is… uh, interesting.

The other day Jeb and I were setting up an office, and as is typical in this situation for us, I was GLARING at him with my most judgmental of looks because he had just insisted that we measure the distance from the mirror to the wall instead of just eyeballing it. I’m thinking, “Who the hell measures that stuff? I mean REALLY!!!” He feels my eyes burning through his back and says sarcastically, “Thanks for the contempt” (which is relationship-therapy language for the cardinal sin in relationships), to which I reply defensively, “YOU are not being open to my influence!” (In heterosexual relationships, a man’s openness to his wife’s influence is a good predictor of satisfaction in a relationship). As you see, our fights are impressive because we have all the lingo to launch the perfect insult!

Just in this moment our admin walks in, and can feel the dance we’re engaged in. She is too nice to say anything, but has to be thinking, “Oh, God, this is so awkward!” And, I’m sure she also noted what incredible relationship role models we are.

But the truth is that I adore Jeb and know that he is the best partner in the world for me, and he tells me that he feels the same. We have fantastic relational esteem, which is good because being divorced would be bad for our business! We have blunders and flare-ups like any other couple. But our reactive engagements don’t last long because sooner or later one of us remembers that we have tools to navigate.  And we’ve gotten good at doing a lot of proactive complaining and appreciating, and therefore we are always recalibrating.

Our relationship skills are in no way natural– we have done tons of our own personal therapy, couples therapy when we were even just dating, and we continue to learn new methods that we apply to our relationship. Our own personal growth in learning to be relational makes us confident that if we can learn these skills, it is absolutely possible for others to learn and use them as well.

So, if you really want to know how two marriage and family therapists fight, just come on over to The Relationship Therapy Center— you’ll probably get to see for yourself!  And, please also notice how well the pictures are hung.

Lean into your emotions and watch the glitter!

I recently made a calming jar and use it several times a week. What is a calming jar? It’s essentially a mason jar filled with water, a little glitter glue, and a very large amount of loose glitter. The purpose of said jar is for relaxation when negative emotions are taking over. It’s designed to be given to a child when they are upset or overwhelmed. They shake it, hold it still, then watch the glitter slowly fall back to the bottom leaving them calmer and feeling better. Great idea.

I didn’t make this jar for home. My kids are a bit older and my middle child wanted to call it a dammit jar. Not happening. Although, tempting.

This jar resides in my office. If you are one of my clients, you will encounter this jar as some point in our work together. It works beautifully as a calming jar for children AND adults. I actually think adults like it better than the children. Good for you!

In making this jar and in thinking about its uses, I remembered something someone told me not long ago about emotions. Emotions, negative or positive, last about 90 seconds. This is about the same time it takes for the glitter to fall back to the bottom of my jar. Yes, I timed it.

So many of us fight against negative emotions which only strengthens their power over us. I use this jar to teach acceptance and what I and many others call “leaning into your emotions.” This same person mentioned above also taught me that our emotions + our resistance to them = our amount of suffering. Let me say that again:

Our emotions + our resistance to the emotion = our amount of suffering

This concept is ever present when we are working to rewire our nervous system and reduce our automatic responses when triggered by others.  If you stop and experience the emotion without fighting it, judging it, or wishing it to disappear, it will go away. In 90 seconds. You end up feeling empowered, in control, and able see a clearer path to solving your problems.  Watch the glitter, people. Watch the glitter.

-Stephanie Martin, MA, LMFT, Therapist Extraordinaire

 

Instructions on how to make calming jars are all over Pinterest.  See our Parenting and Couples boards for other great relationship tools!

 

Top 10 Ways to Connect with Your Mate

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I was introduced to one of my husband’s co-workers the other day and he asked me what I did. Happy to try out my newly spruced up basic networking message, I said, “I’m a marriage and relationship therapist.”  Went great!  Uh…no.  The horror that emerged on this man’s face made me quickly review in my mind what had just come out of my mouth.  No, I didn’t drop the “f” bomb, say anything offensive, or suggest he needed therapy.  He looked right at my husband and said, “I’d be afraid to be married to her.”

I’m still unsure what this meant for him (I debated asking, but chose not to), but it got me thinking about relationships and connection.  Actually, I think about relationships pretty much all the time without this kind of event.  Why isn’t my husband afraid of this?  Besides the fact that he knew me before I became a therapist (He clearly has patience.  Me, not so much. See blog #1), we have built and work hard to maintain a solid connection with each other.  He’s got nothing to fear except my incessant need to have a home improvement project going at all times. And, being a therapist does not give me special powers to handle things the right way all the time.  I frickin wish!  I do and will continue to screw things up sometimes!

When I see couples who come to my office to work on their relationship, rebuilding connection is almost always part of the agenda.  It’s very easy to let the connection slip when kids, careers, life, or past hurts take precedence.  When couples are in high-conflict, building connection comes a little later, but it comes. Connection is your saving grace during troubled times. Connection with others reminds you that you are not alone and that you belong somewhere.

Here are some easy ways to rejuvenate and maintain the connection with your partner.  They are lighthearted and don’t need any special training to complete!  Enjoy!

Top ten ways to connect with your mate:

  1. Flirt in front of the children.
  2. Have inside jokes.
  3. Know and practice your mate’s love language. Just Google Love Language and you’ll get a plethora of good info.
  4. Miss each other.
  5. Create common and separate goals.
  6. Make your partners goals as important as yours.
  7. Talk often and lovingly about your firsts (date, kiss, sexual encounter.)
  8. Go to bed at the same time.
  9. Set limits and boundaries with each other. Respectfully.
  10. Make embarrassing your children a shared activity!

-Stephanie Martin, MA, LMFT, Therapist Extraordinaire

Image provided by www.freedigitalphotos.net & Pat138241

Bacon, Bar Soap, and Bickering in Relationships

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I spent the weekend with my best friend and her family.  It’s always very interesting to spend time with other couples in this way.  Not that I spend my time analyzing couples outside of the office (maybe just a little in line at Aldi), but I do like observing people and reflecting.  Watching a few of their more vigorous interactions (a rather intense discussion on the merits of washing oneself in the shower with soap versus body wash and another about bacon), I got to thinking about the differences in the way couples communicate.

With some, this bickering in relationships could signify a larger problem.  It certainly would for me and my husband.  It doesn’t appear to be the case with my friend and many others, I’m sure.  Deciding to discuss this observation with her, she mentioned that others have told her they noticed them bickering a lot, too.  Do these kinds of interactions leave either of them feeling disrespected, hurt, or defensive?  “No,” she said.  He answered the same and added, “It’s how it’s always been.”  It almost seemed playful between them,  as if they  value the ability to be brutally honest over the use of courtesy within their relationship.  Sounds funny, but knowing her as I do, this fits.

There are several articles out there “normalizing” the act of bickering between couples.  Here’s one, for example. It’s entitled, 20 things all married couples bicker about.   Sounds good, right?  I’m sure if you look hard enough you can find one that says bickering with your partner will save your marriage.  I’m not going to go that far, but what I will say is that it may not spell trouble.  When working with couples, I usually look to the motivation behind words and the feelings that arise following the interaction to signal problems.  Couples usually make the call for therapy when the negative interactions start to outweigh the positive, bickering or not!

Good news for my darling friend!

For more information on negative interactions outweighing the positive within relationships, read John Gottman’s work on the “Magic Ratio” of  5:1.  Five positive interactions to every one negative interaction. 

-Stephanie Martin, MA, LMFT, Therapist Extraordinaire

Image provided by www.freedigitalphotos.net & Ambro