communication

Power Dynamics in Love: How Understanding the Karpman Drama Triangle Can Save Your Relationship (Part 1 of 2)

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Here we go again.

The familiar scene plays out as you hear your spouse’s voice rise in anger.  They’re targeting you and criticizing you again for something you’ve done wrong.  Why is it always my fault?  I never see other couples fighting like this.  You feel beaten down, exhausted, and maybe even a little ashamed.

But as your spouse’s criticism digs deeper, your tone subtly starts to shift.  You raise your voice in response: “You think I’m the problem?   It’s not like you’re helping!”  You then launch into your own volley of criticisms, anger causing you to yell and berate your spouse, saying things you know you’ll later regret.  In your rage, you might even break things or throw an object across the room.

As you unleash your anger, you notice a look of fear cross your spouse’s eyes.  Suddenly you get hit with a wave of guilt.  What am I doing?  I shouldn’t be yelling.  Why did I let my temper get out of hand?  You start to backpedal, looking for ways to make your spouse feel better.  You make promises to change, to be more loving and kind, to help out around the house more often, whatever it is to appease the situation.

And perhaps you succeed at this for a day or two, but eventually you feel taken advantage of once again.  You see yourself trying to change, but your spouse hasn’t changed at all.  As your annoyance rises, you decide to bring it up again, and your spouse reacts in anger.

And so the cycle begins again.

The Karpman Drama Triangle

Does this sound familiar to you?  The scene above describes the power dynamics at play in the Karpman drama triangle.  Stephen Karpman (https://www.karpmandramatriangle.com/) a psychiatrist specializing in transactional analysis, developed this model to describe the constantly shifting power dynamics in relationships.  These dynamics are common in addictive relationships.   

Image Source: https://www.lynneforrest.com/articles/2008/06/the-faces-of-victim/

We all play each of these three roles in our relationships, but you may tend to start your spiral around the triangle in one of the three types: victim, persecutor, or rescuer.  Where you join the triangle stems from your experiences in your family-of-origin.  You might even find yourself experiencing all three roles internally, as you use internal criticism to try to motivate yourself (persecutor), only to become exhausted and overwhelmed (victim) and attempt rescuing yourself from your pain through addiction or numbing behaviors (rescuer).

Taking on any one of these three roles provides a distraction from your own issues that need to be addressed or the true problem.  While these patterns are learned in childhood from watching others interact and communicate, they may no longer be serving you. Eventually, all roles lead back to the victim, which adds to feelings of powerlessness to change.

Let’s learn about how these three interact.

The Victim

The victim is the “one down” position in the triangle.  In the victim role, you feel like a child or overly needy.  You might feel targeted or blamed with accompanying feelings of shame.  This shame often originates in past trauma.  The victim has unrealistic expectations of others and therefore is often disappointed when others don’t come through.

Often these expectations have to do with nurture or care, which victims feel incapable of providing for themselves.  In fact, the victim tends to feel unable to handle any stress or negative circumstances, as their shame-based low self-esteem and negative beliefs about themselves limit them from any agency to change.  Their lives happen to them rather than due to any power of their own.  However, they still feel resentful from always being “one-down” and incapable of helping themselves. 

An important note: the victim role is NOT equated with being a true victim of harm or abuse.  Many victims (or as I prefer to say, survivors) or trauma or abuse in childhood or adult years are empowered, responsible, and strong individuals who are taking ownership of their lives in mature and assertive ways.  If you are a survivor of trauma, abuse, or a spouse’s addiction, you ought to be treated with compassion for your experience of trauma.  You did not ask for the harm done to you, nor did you deserve it in any way.  The word “victim” here is meant to represent a role that is played in a relational dynamic that serves a protective purpose but ultimately doesn’t allow you to live into your true, authentic self. 

The Perpetrator

The perpetrator role, in contrast with the victim, feels and acts like a teenager.  They act out to deal with their discomfort or pain and protect themselves from the world, which they have learned is harmful and dangerous.  Experiencing abuse in family-of-origin can often lead to learning to bottle up anger in a way that comes out int he perpetrator role later.  Their behaviors are tied to feelings of shame, worthlessness, and fear.

This role is constantly defensive and has to be right, living in survival mode and lashing out at others.  Their defensiveness is a way of regaining power when they’ve been victimized or harmed, as they fear being powerless in situations like they experienced in childhood. Viewing themselves as the true victim, the perpetrator’s behaviors are motivated by a desire to have the other person feel their pain.  They often view the individual in the victim role with contempt and believe that their retaliation toward the victim Is simply giving the other person what they deserve.  Perpetrators may think, “I have to hurt them before they hurt me.”

In a relationship with addiction present, this is often the addict.  They are caught up in denial of their behaviors and have a difficult time admitting to their own experience of harming others.  This can be understood in light of the shame they feel: to admit that they are the perpetrator would be devastating to their need to be strong in the face of feelings of powerlessness.

The Rescuer

The rescuer is the “one up” position, typically characterized by feeling like a parent and superior to the two other roles.  Another way of categorizing this role is as a caretaker, which is often where many rescuers find their identity.  In addictive dynamics, this person is the enabler of the addict.  They often don’t like conflict or confrontation, and would rather smooth things over.

The rescuer’s “help” is meant not to truly benefit the other person, but instead to assuage their own anxiety and allow them to feel valued.  They believe that if they don’t help, everything will fall apart.  The rescuer can related to the victim in a codependent manner as they try to fix or save others.  In fact, they need to have someone to save, and can assume others can’t handle something and then take over. 

Rescuers don’t have needs – or at least, they deny that they do.  Since they are the one who helps everyone else and their value comes from this identity, they either don’t admit to their own needs or don’t see them as important.  Similar to the other roles, this tendency begins in childhood.  Eventually, however, the endless helping turns into feelings of resentment and bitterness, as they expect affirmation and appreciation for all they’ve done for others.  Yet they believe that if they are needed, they are loved, and are fearful of being abandoned if they stop helping.

In the next part, we’ll go into more depth about how to escape from the drama triangle through taking responsibility for yourself and your choices and setting boundaries.  For now, notice these patterns in your interactions with others.  How did your family interact with one another while you were growing up?  Where have you seen examples of these dynamics play out in your life or in the lives of others?

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Are you exhausted from helping others all the time, but find yourself unable to ask for what you need?  Are you always feeling like the victim of your circumstances or of others’ actions?  Or maybe you’re recognizing the addictive patterns in your life that cause you to harm other people.  Wherever you find yourself on this drama triangle, I can help you learn to break free from the trap of these power dynamics.  I offer counseling services to overcome these patterns at Restored Hope in Ann Arbor.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me to set up your first appointment today.

3 Steps to Argue Your Way to a Stronger Relationship

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Do you often find yourself in the same argument over and over again with your significant other?  Are there certain topics you can’t seem to agree on, no matter how often you talk about them?  Maybe you truly love your spouse and want what’s best for them, but you can’t seem to see eye-to-eye on finances, parenting, or household responsibilities. 

You are not alone.  Every couple faces these types of conflicts.  But there’s some good news: these conflicts are the greatest opportunities you have for increasing intimacy and connection in your relationship.

John Gottman, a marriage researcher who has been studying what makes marriages healthy for over 40 years, has termed this type of conflict “gridlocked.”  He defines gridlock as conflict that doesn’t have a clear-cut solution.  And surprisingly enough, he has found through his research that 69% of all conflicts are gridlocked.  That means over two-thirds of all conflict doesn’t have a right or wrong solution!

But that doesn’t mean it’s a lost cause.  Rather, these conflicts you experience in your relationship can be approached with a heart of compromise and understanding in order to pave the way for more closeness in relationship.

Where do these arguments go wrong?

When you’re in gridlocked conflict, you may find yourself trying to convince your significant other that you are right and they are wrong.  You may not be wiling to see their perspective because you’ve already dug in your heels on your point-of-view.

On the flip side, you might develop bitterness and resentment from avoiding conversations about these tense topics, which spills out into other areas.  Have you ever had difficulty remembering what started your fight?  Little annoyances are magnified by the underlying tension and anger from gridlocked conflict.

What needs to change?

Altering your approach to conflict requires you to reframe the argument as an opportunity to grow in intimacy with your partner.  There are reasons why you feel stuck in these areas.  Often it is because of your own and your partner’s desires and the narratives tied to them. These make it difficult for you to change your position.  The purpose of the next exercise is to understand you partner’s story so that you can see why their position is so important to them. 

This does require some level of vulnerability on the part of each of you in order to grow in intimacy.  If you struggle with vulnerability with your partner, try this exercise out with a smaller gridlocked issue first..

Gottman’s 3-Step Process

Step 1: Discuss (and listen) to each of your perspectives.

Set aside a time for each of you to talk about your personal perspective on the issue.  Use the talking formula: “I feel…because/about…and what I would like is…”  Speak in a respectful and non-critical tone to your partner, believing that they want to hear your side.

The most crucial component of this exercise, however, is playing the role of the listener.  Often we listen with one ear, but our mind is focused on our response and how we might defend ourselves.  When we do this, we’re not truly listening to the other person.  Instead, Gottman encourages you to “suspend persuasion” for a time and seek to understand your partner’s perspective, as if you were an outside observer.  Validate what you hear in your partner’s perspective.  What feelings make sense to you?  Can you understand from their perspective, even if you don’t fully agree? 

Example: In talking about housework, you might say, “I felt abandoned when I asked you to help me clean the garage and you said “no.”  I need to feel like we share responsibility and are working together to keep our home organized.”

Step 2: Identify the “dreams within conflict.”

Look deeper at why the issue is so important to you personally.  Exploring your own triggers is a self-reflective tool that helps you identify your own personal narrative contributing to the issue.

Typically, this narrative has to do with your past.  Describing why you are uniquely triggered helps your partner feel empathy.  As you discuss this narrative, ask open-ended questions like “tell me the story behind that” or “what experience from your past makes this so important to you?” to understand more of your partner’s perspective.

Similar to Step 1, it is essential to listen and understand your partner’s perspective.  Do you see why they might make the connection between the present issue and a past experience?  Does it make sense why they are having a strong emotional reaction? 

Example: “I’m reminded of the importance of my value of equality.  My father made sure that my mother felt as though they carried an equal weight in taking care of the house, and I saw that as a way they loved each other.  When you don’t help me out, I wonder if you don’t see us as equals, and then I feel unloved.” 

Step 3: Choose areas of compromise.

Once you’ve listened to one another’s perspective, asked questions, and helped each other feel fully understood, then you can move into a place of compromise.  Understanding and empathizing with your spouse’s story makes compromise vastly easier.  Where you might have been stubborn before, now that you know their story, you may be more willing to move closer to what they desire.

Make a list of essentials about this area: what do you need?  Then make a list of more flexible items where might you be willing to compromise.  Discuss your lists together and seek overlap.  Where might each of you make some compromise to move closer to your partner’s needs?  How can you practically put this into play this upcoming week? 

Example: “It is essential to me that, in general, you help out with tasks around the house.  I am willing to be flexible about what those tasks are.  If organizing the garage is not your cup of tea, I would feel supported and equal to you if you prepared dinner so I could focus on getting the garage done today.  Are you willing to consider that?”

Know this:  even in using these three steps, you will likely still argue.  Perhaps the compromise will work for a time, but eventually a new trigger will come up that needs to be discussed.  Remember: this is normal!  You will be discussing compromises and seeking to support one another throughout your relationship.  If you look at this as an ongoing conversation that will get easier over time, you’ll be set up well to continue to love one another through compromise in the course of your relationship.

Are you having a hard time finding common ground in your relationship?  Do you constantly feel stuck in your arguments?  At Restored Hope, I offer supportive couples counseling that helps you learn to communicate your dreams and listen with empathy to your significant other.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to schedule your first appointment at my Ann Arbor or Novi offices.

Disappointed With Your Sex Life in Marriage? Tips to Improve Sexual Intimacy

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Sexual intimacy is one of the most thorny issues for married couples.  Messages we get from media and our world tell us that sex is supposed to be easy, natural, and feel good.  Unfortunately, that’s often not the reality in marriage.  Histories of past abuse, faulty beliefs about sex, conflict in your marriage, or past sexual experiences can influence sexual intimacy.

Add sex and love addiction into the mix and you’ve got deeper layers of trauma, distorted sexuality, and faulty communication styles that get in the way.  Sex and love addiction is an intimacy disorder, meaning that all areas of intimacy, including sexual, are influenced by the addiction.

What does it mean to have a healthy view of your sexuality?  Marnie Ferree, in her book for female sex and love addicts No Stones*, speaks of the cornerstones of healthy sexuality as sexual choice, sexual information and attitudes, and sexual presence.  I also believe understanding expectations around sex, particularly those influenced by spiritual backgrounds, are important.  Addressing emotional intimacy in the relationship is an crucial component of feeling comfortable in the sexual realm. 

Sexual Choice, Not Coercion

Sexual choice involves the freedom to choose to be sexual out of a desire for the other person, rather than feeling forced or coerced into engaging in sexual activity. Sex with mixed motives (to feel good about yourself, to keep your spouse from bugging you about it, as a bribe) can distort your view of sex.

If you are feeling coerced into sexual behaviors with which you do not feel comfortable, or you are forced into sexual acts without your consent, this is sexual abuse.  If this is happening, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE to get connected to help in your area.

Ask yourself:

  • Do I feel like I have to be sexual in order to be loved?

  • Do I feel like I need to give my spouse sex in order to keep them with me?

  • Do I not have a choice in the matter?

Messages, Information, and Expectations about Sex

Couples need correct sexual information and attitudes, as these are often flawed or distorted by past abuse and abandonment patterns, the influence of media, comparison with peers, and messages from family or the church.  What you expect from your sexual relationship may be drastically different from the reality you experience.

Part of the issue comes from a lack of knowledge about sex.  With school programs focused on abstinence-only education, and many parents feeling uncomfortable having the “sex talk” with their children, it is easy to see how we are left with misinformation about sex.  For most of today’s teenagers and young adults, sex education comes from peers, media, or pornography, which all offer skewed pictures of healthy intimacy.

Unfortunately, distortions around the purpose of sexual intimacy can also come from churches.  Sex may be seen as simply a way to procreate, or it can be associated with shame due to an overemphasis on abstinence.  In reality, the Bible indicates that sex within marriage is intended for pleasure and delight. It gives couples the opportunity to honor and love someone other than the self in addition to creating new life. Song of Solomon is an entire book of the Bible focused on marital sexuality and its role in reflecting the relationship between Christ and the church.

Ask yourself:

  • Where or from whom did I learn about sex?

  • What were some of my earliest sexual experiences?

  • What expectations about sex did I have walking into marriage?

  • How have they changed?

  • What messages did I get from the church/my religious upbringing around sex?

  • Do I feel awkward or like I don’t know what I’m doing when I’m being sexual with my spouse?

Presence

Sexual presence, or ability to stay engaged in the present moment of sex with the partner, is necessary.  It can be easy to become distracted or to have your mind on other things when you’re engaging in sexual intimacy with your spouse, particularly for women.  Addicts may dissociate or fantasize during the sexual act as a residual coping mechanism.  Body image issues can be a distraction to being present, as well as unresolved conflict or tension.

Ask yourself:

  • Do I have a hard time staying in the present moment in life in general?  While being sexually intimate?

  • Do I tend to fantasize or distract myself during sexual intimacy?

  • Am I too focused on the way my body looks to relax and enjoy sex? 

Communication

Another key element of healthy sexuality within marriage involves direct communication with your spouse about sex before, during, and after sexual activity. Without these clear lines of communication, there can be misunderstandings about what each of you prefers. Affirmation about what you like helps with closeness and understanding of sexual needs within marriage. Addicts who are dealing with sexual shame can be aided by honest communication about feelings and acceptance with their spouse.

Ask yourself:

  • Do I talk regularly with my spouse about sexual intimacy?

  • How would talking about sex make me feel?  Nervous?  Afraid?

  • Do one or both of us tend to be critical about sex? 

Emotional Connection

I believe healthy sexuality involves not just sex itself, but also emotional connection in the relationship.  The intimacy present in marriage outside the bedroom of knowing one another and expressing and receiving affection, appreciation, and respect feed feelings of intimacy.

Honesty and vulnerability are often difficult concepts to grasp, especially when you have been in situations where you were taken advantage of or unsafe.  It involves great risk to open yourself up to emotional vulnerability with another person, and yet it elevates intimacy on all levels when you engage.

Ask yourself:

  • Do I struggle with any of the other areas of sexual intimacy because I don’t feel emotionally close to my spouse?

  • Do I have a hard time being honest or vulnerable, and turn to sex to create intimacy instead?

  • Do I use sex to run away from painful or uncomfortable emotions?

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 Are you and your spouse struggling with sexual intimacy?  Is your story of addiction or abuse getting in the way of healthy sexuality?  Do you have a hard time feeling safe being vulnerable and honest with your spouse?  At Restored Hope, I’m here to support you on your path of restoring your sexual relationship within your marriage.  I offer couples counseling at my Novi and Ann Arbor locations.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to schedule your first appointment.

*These are Amazon affiliate links.  Click here to read more about Restored Hope’s Amazon local associates policy.

One Game-Changing Tool to Approach Arguments as Opportunities for Intimacy in Marriage

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It’s a typical Saturday afternoon, and you’re wrapped in up in cleaning the house, watching a pot of soup on the stove, and attempting to keep your kids entertained.  Your spouse walks in the door to see Legos scattered around the floor, the debris left over from one of your many attempts at distraction.  Your spouse gives you a look that communicates, “did a bomb go off in here?”

You immediately feel a flood of anger coursing through your veins.  You snap at your spouse, irritated with their nonverbal insensitivity and criticism.  You start defending yourself, and meanwhile your spouse looks completely bewildered and caught off guard, like a deer in the headlights.

Little did you know in that moment, but that particular look on your spouse’s face was exactly the same as the look your father used to give you before he launched into a tirade about your irresponsibility and immaturity.  For a moment, your father’s face flashed before your eyes, not your spouse’s, and you were brought right back to the feeling of being a chastised child.

What is a trigger?

You’ve likely experienced moments like these in your life, where you’ve had an intense and strong emotional reaction to something that didn’t make sense.   These moments, referred to as triggers, are moments when you experience an intense and extreme emotional reaction that is disproportionate to the event that occurred.  Typically, these are brought on by memories of past experiences where you felt hurt, ashamed, guilty, or a range of other negative emotions.  Most often, triggers differ from person to person and are not easily predicted, and therefore can lead to arguments or miscommunication in marriage.

Talking about triggers is an integral part of learning to communicate more effectively in your relationships and have arguments that lead you to become more intimately connected with one another.

Wait a second – arguments that cause you to become more intimately connected?  That sounds like a mistake.

Guess what?  It’s not.

John Gottman, marriage researcher, prefers to talk about the concept of conflict “management” rather than conflict “resolution.”  Why’s that?  He found that 69% of conflicts couples have in their marriage are unresolvable – meaning that conflict resolution is a myth in 69% of arguments.

Instead, couples need to come to a place of compromise in their arguments.  The process of getting to compromise involves learning more about triggers in order to grow to understand your partner’s past.  As you get to know your partner’s experience, you’ll become more adaptive and empathetic to their needs, and more willing to make a compromise.  You’ll also feel known and understood as they learn your side of the story.

Sounds like a win-win after all!

How can I tell when I’m being triggered?

Step one to understanding triggers is understanding when you’ve been triggered.  This involves becoming aware of your emotional and physical reactions.  In the example above, you had no idea why you jumped from relatively neutral to raging in less than 3.6 seconds at the look on your spouse’s face.

If you were able to take a step back a little later when you had calmed your emotional arousal, you may have been able to gain more awareness of what emotion came up.  In the example above, you may have felt fear or defensiveness.  Triggers typically involve emotions or beliefs that are deeper under the surface, so uncovering them is a crucial process.

When you identify the emotion, ask yourself: what message does this emotion communicate to me?  If I could give the emotion a voice, what would it be saying?  In the example, the fear of defensiveness is saying that I’m worthless or not good enough.

Then, take a moment to ask yourself this question: when was the first time I remember feeling that way?  What is a significant time in my past when I remember having those thoughts?

Alternatively, think of that emotion or that belief and rewind the tape of your life back – what moments stand out to you as times when you truly believed that thought?  When that emotion was felt?

How do I communicate about triggers with my spouse?

Once you’ve calmed down enough to identify that trigger, then it’s time to communicate the trigger to your spouse.  This process mirrors Gottman’s Aftermath of a Fight exercise, allowing you to name what you need.

First, talk to your spouse about how you felt in the moment about what happened. “I felt angry when you came home because it seemed as though you were judging me for the state of the house.”

Next, identify why that particular reaction was triggering to you.  “The look on your face reminded me of a look my father used to give me before yelling at me about how irresponsible I was.  Back then, I would feel afraid and believe that I was worthless and not good enough.”

Then, take responsibility for the disproportionate reaction: “I responded out of fear and defensiveness to you, even though you are not my father, and I don’t believe those words were what you were trying to communicate to me.  I am sorry for snapping at you and criticizing you.”

Finally, communicate what you will do in the future, as well as asking your spouse for help.  As an option, you can invite your spouse to suggest an idea for him or her to carry out.  “In the future, I will do my best to remind myself that you are not my father and that you are not commenting on my worth or value.  If you’re willing, it would be helpful for me to hear you say that you love me or offer to help.  Is that something you’re willing to try?”

Notice how the interation above invites intimacy.  You have to step into the risk of sharing vulnerably a difficult part of your story that allows your spouse to get to know you better.  You humbly take responsibility for your fault in the matter, as none of us are without blame.   And it gives a solution-focused response on how to approach those conflicts in the future.

My hope is that you’ll begin to see your arguments with your spouse not as a signal that your relationship is falling apart, but as an opportunity to grow closer to one another and connect to one another’s worlds.

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Do you find yourself caught in a pattern of getting triggered every time you and your spouse have a conflict?  Have you been completely unaware of where those triggers are coming from?  Are you looking for help with creating intimacy with your spouse through fighting well?  At Restored Hope, I believe in the power of intimacy-building in relationships through honesty, vulnerability, and open communication.  I offer couples counseling at my Novi and Ann Arbor therapy offices – give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me to set up an appointment today.

How to Set Boundaries That Work in Your Family

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The holiday season has just passed, and you’ve likely experienced ups and downs throughout the weeks leading up to Christmas.  Perhaps your Christmas celebration looks just like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.  But maybe (like most people) there’s at least a little family drama that always unfolds around the holidays.  As you reflect on your interactions with family, in-laws, or even friends this past holiday season, you may see some patterns of dysfunction in the ways in which you relate.

It might be time to start looking at some boundaries.

How do we define boundaries? Imagine sheep surrounded by a white picket fence on a spring afternoon.  (Makes you wish it were warmer outside, doesn’t it?)  This fence provides a physical boundary between the sheep and the outside world.  If there were a huge hole in the fence, or worse yet, no fence at all, the sheep would be vulnerable to attack from wolves or other animals that think a little mutton would make a tasty lunch.

At the same time, this fence has to let the sheep in and out of the pen.  If the sheep aren’t able to leave their pen, they will eventually eat all of the grass in their enclosure and starve.  They need to be able to leave the pen to get the nutrients they need.

Basically, boundaries keep the bad things out while still allowing good things in.  In relationships, boundaries allow us to take control over our own actions and feelings, and leave the responsibility for others’ actions and feelings to themselves.  Boundaries keep us safe, and rather than distancing us from others, they allow us to more freedom to connect with others.

How do you know you might need boundaries?

Check in with yourself and your emotions.  Common emotional responses to a lack of boundaries include feeling taken advantage of, resentment, discomfort, pressure, or trapped.  If you find yourself saying “yes” to everything even when it means taking on extra stress or tasks you don’t have time to do, you might need to look at your boundaries.  Feelings of being guilt-tripped by relatives that force you to comply even when you don’t want to can be another indicator of a need for boundaries.  Maybe you constantly find yourself bailing one of your relatives out of trouble they’ve gotten themselves in, and you feel annoyed with them as a result.

It is normal to realize you need better boundaries, especially if you come from a family where boundaries were not taught or enforced.  It could be that your family communicates with passive aggressive undertones, which influences your behavior without directly communicating a need.  You also might have felt a vague sense of unrest with your family, but you’ve so long accepted this style of relating as “normal” that you wouldn’t think to set boundaries unless someone else suggested it.

How do I start to implement these boundaries in my family?

Pay attention to your emotions.

As mentioned above, if you feel trapped, hopeless, and annoyed with others, that might be a sign that you’re in need of establishing some boundaries.   Notice the relatives who inspire a vague sense of guilt in you every time you speak with them.  To practice boundaries within yourself, take ownership of your own emotional response rather than blaming them with a “They made me feel this way.”  Instead, take responsibility for how you feel and make informed choices about what boundaries you need to set in order to control that response in yourself.

Begin to say “no.”

For every “yes” you say, you are also saying “no” to something else, even if you don’t realize it.  If you say “yes” to the extra project at work that leads to long hours, you’re saying “no” to time spent with your spouse and children.  If you say “yes” to helping your family with a last minute Christmas project, you say “no” to getting enough sleep to be functional during your work meetings the next day.  Incorporate the word “no” into your vocabulary.  Practice saying it aloud in front of a mirror.  Rehearse it with a trusted friend.

Ask yourself the question: “what do I want?”

Slow down and ask yourself what you would like to see change in your relationships.  Imagine that you could wave a magic wand and make everything the way you want it to be.  What would change?  Once you realize what you want, you can make changes in your boundaries to relate to others in a way that benefits both of you.

Set physical, mental, and emotional boundaries.

Let’s say you make an emotional boundary to remind yourself about your success and happiness in life when that pesky aunt always implies that you’ve not really achieved anything until you’re married with kids.  That may be helpful for a time, but if she makes those comments every time you are together, you may eventually need to start setting a physical boundary of spending less time with her.  Looking at the aspects of physical, mental, and emotional boundaries comprehensively helps you to address all fronts where those boundary violations can happen.

Identify consequences that will play out if the boundary is violated.

In order to make sure that you set boundaries that others will respect, the boundary needs to come with an appropriate consequence when it is violated.  For example, let’s say every time you get together with your sister over the holidays, she constantly compares how much she’s spending on gifts with you.  You may set a boundary with her that you don’t talk about money while you’re shopping, and the corresponding consequence could be that you won’t shop with her if it continues. 

Communicate your boundaries clearly and stick to them.

Once you have an idea of what you need to feel comfortable and safe in relationship, communicate your boundary.  Use “I statements” that describe how you feel, rather than accusing the family member of doing something wrong, which may cause them to become defensive.  Give the other person the benefit of the doubt.  Imagine that they do not know how you feel, and by directly communicating this boundary, you are giving them the opportunity to respond in love.  Once you set this boundary and communicate the consequence if it is violated, be sure to enforce the boundary and consequences.

If you don’t follow through on a boundary, examine why.

It is inevitable that we’ll find ourselves slipping on our boundaries every once in a while.  It may be that circumstances change and therefore the boundary has to change too, or that we didn’t realize we needed to establish a boundary in a certain area until after we’re triggered.  When this takes place, give yourself grace and use it as a learning opportunity.  Identify what went wrong this time around and put a plan in place to be able to enforce that boundary in the future.  See it as a practice – even starting to do some work on boundaries will increase our feelings of confidence over time.

Expect and prepare for a negative response.

When you first set a boundary, it is extremely common to get a negative response.  Humans are resistant to change, and especially if you’re attempting to shift a dysfunctional relational pattern, that can stir up extra backlash.  When this happens, practice a grounding exercise.  Choose not to engage in an argument or be convinced out of enforcing your boundary.  Instead, remind yourself of why you’re doing what you’re doing and follow through in the ways you need.

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Do you always leave the holidays feeling overstressed and depressed?  Are you sick of getting guilt-tripped by your family members for all the things you seem to do wrong?  Have you tried to set boundaries with family before, just to see them fail miserably?  At Restored Hope, we’d love to help you learn how to effectively set and communicate boundaries that will be respected.  We offer counseling services at our Ann Arbor and Novi therapy offices to offer support and help to break your problematic relationship patterns.  Give us a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out our form to schedule an appointment today.

Surviving the Holidays With Your Spouse

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Christmas trees are going up, holiday lights are twinkling, and peace and love are filling the air everywhere…well, everywhere except in your home.  The holidays are notorious for being fraught with conflict and stress, which can wreak havoc on our relationships.  Marriages are particularly under fire.  You’ve likely experienced arguments about which family traditions to uphold, where the holidays will be spent, and stress that comes with in-laws and shopping.  Research shows that divorces are shown to increase in the months following the holidays. I believe that relates to the conflict and strife that arises out of this season of the year.

How can you actively work to combat the potential devastation the holidays can bring to your marriage?

Discuss and plan traditions in your family.

As John Gottman likes to say, regardless of where we were born, we each bring our own cultures into the marriage: the culture of our family growing up.  We raised with traditions around the holidays, and you have likely tried to implement some of these within your current marriage.  However, some of these rituals can clash.

Talk with your spouse and ask about their favorite holiday traditions.  Pay attention to traditions they love now, favorite traditions of childhood, and what they wish you’d do together.  Talk about your best and worst experiences of the holidays growing up as a way of identifying common factors to implement and avoid.  Talk about your favorite holiday memories together as a couple and seek to put into practice similar moments.

If you come from families that didn’t have a lot of traditions, it might be helpful to implement some new practices, or rituals of connection, with your family.  Rituals of connection are practices infused with meaning that family members do in order to create connection, intimacy, and security in who you are as a family unit.  These rituals are an important factor in creating a new sense of family within your marriage.

Identify your own triggers and those of your spouse during the holidays.

While the holidays often carry special and joyful memories, they can also be overshadowed by trauma or pain.  If a loved one who has recently passed away played a major role in holiday festivities, the signs of the season may bring on fresh waves of grief.  Sit down with your spouse and children and talk about ways to honor the memory of those who won’t be celebrating with you this year.

Holidays also often involve time with family, which can sometimes be distressing.  Family dynamics can be their worst at the holidays, as stress makes our negative qualities more prominent.  Have a plan ahead of time for how to navigate those triggers together as a couple.

Sometimes even just lowering your expectations for the holidays can help.  It’s often the moments when you’re most trying to make the holiday perfect for someone else that you end up steamrolling over your spouse’s emotions.

Practice damage control when (not if) you fight.

If you know you and your spouse have the same argument every holiday season, take some time to plan ahead and talk through the potential fight earlier.  Use Gottman’s Aftermath of a Fight discussion as a tool to process past fights, identify sensitivities or triggers you may have, and plan for how to approach those arguments in the future.

And when you inevitably find yourself in the argument, try to understand your spouse’s perspective and practice empathy.  Look for an opportunity to come to a place of compromise so that you can have a win-win situation, rather than trying to come out on top.

Inject some fun into your holiday celebrations.

Holidays are stressful.  (Have I said that enough?)  There are a multitude of events and schedules to juggle, between children’s schooling, work parties, and travel to visit family.  Take some time aside with your spouse to slow down and just have fun together.

Go see the Christmas lights at Greenfield Village.  Spend a day cuddled up under the blankets with hot cocoa having a Christmas movie marathon.  Drive around your neighborhood to see the lights and choose a favorite house.  If you have a hard time thinking of something, or you worry about having fun on a budget, Google some ideas and pick one or two that sound fun or inexpensive!

Budget together for Christmas shopping.

Finances are one of the top areas that couples tend to fight over, and the holidays are the season when it's easiest to overspend.  Buying gifts for friends and family, shopping the hot Black Friday deals, or going out for celebratory holiday meals can lead to greater spending than anticipated.

As a couple, set some limits on spending for the holidays.  Talk through how much you’d like to spend on your children, family members, and friends.  If this means you have to have hard conversations with your children or your extended family about your financial limits, seek to do so united as a couple.

Volunteer together.

The old adage about Christmas says that we ought to be more cheerful about giving than receiving.  However, that sentiment can easily get lost in all of the hustle and bustle.  Slowing down to notice opportunities to give back this time of year can help your family to connect to gratitude for the blessings you have and a larger purpose for the season.

Find an activity you can do with just your spouse, or bring your children into it as well.  Donate your time at a food kitchen.  Hand out blankets, food, and hygiene kits to the homeless.  Help out at a children’s Christmas party in an impoverished part of the city.  Ring a bell for the Salvation Army.

 

I believe taking one of the items above and putting in into practice could radically transform your marriage this holiday season.  Give it a try – you never know how one little shift could change your Christmas.

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Are you looking forward to the holiday season with a sense of dread rather than joy?  Do you promise to scale back during next year’s holidays every year, just to forget that promise?  Are you tired of always fighting about money during the Christmas season?  At Restored Hope, we know this time of year can take a major toll on marriages, family, and stress levels.  We’d love to support you through one-on-one or marriage counseling services at our Ann Arbor or Novi locations.  Give us a call at 734.656.8191 today or fill out our form here to find out more about how we can help you thrive during the holidays.

Three Dead-End Approaches to Communication (And One Way Out)

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One summer in college, I shared a house with eleven other women (and yes, it was as crazy as it sounds).  We had a house meeting early on where we outlined rules and expectations for living together.  One roommate asked that we use direct, verbal communication when we had concerns, rather than leaving notes, which could be seen as passive-aggressive.  While we took her concern seriously, we began to playfully design perfect passive-aggressive comments.  This experience taught me a lot about what not to do, but it also demonstrated the benefits of direct communication. 

Poor communication is the #1 reason why couples come to therapy.  Typically, communication styles between partners clash and lead to conflict, and direct communication is not happening.  Often unhealthy systems of relating are modeled for us in our families growing up, and our adoption of our parents’ styles wreaks havoc in our marriages.

Determining your own communication style sheds light on ways you can speak more directly and improve your marriage.   Here are three common unhealthy types of communication.

Passive

When you’re faced with conflict, do you run away?  Maybe you don’t speak up about your needs, invalidating your desires.  You may feel anger from time to time, but it’s easy to belittle yourself and make excuses for why you shouldn’t bring it up.

Passive communicators tend to be conflict avoidant, masking their negative emotions through calm or complacency.  Yet they must to deal with their negative emotions somehow and might find themselves turning to addictive behaviors as a coping mechanism.  This is the member of the duo that wants to run away from conflict and stop the conversation as soon as possible.

Beliefs that drive this communication style include unworthiness or low self-esteem.  Passive communicators don’t trust their own judgment and emotions, and they can feel like a doormat.

Aggressive

In contrast to the passive style, aggressive communicators use more intimidation or force with the way they speak.  They might use sarcasm, contempt, yelling, or name-calling in the course of a conflict conversation.  At extremes, this can become verbal abuse, used to gain control.

Aggressive personalities have a low tolerance for emotional distress, and therefore can fly off the handle unexpectedly.  When the passive partner withdraws, the aggressive spouse may become more ramped up and try to continue the conversation.  They want to make sure their point is heard, and therefore act as the pursuer.  Surprisingly, this communication style can also be motivated by low self-esteem.

Passive-Aggressive

Passive-aggressive communication occurs when anger has been pushed down so often that it spills out sideways.  It is often a function of the suppressed anger of the passive style boiling over.  Although the individual tries to ignore the anger as long as possible, like a beach ball that’s being held underwater, it will eventually pop back up unexpectedly, uncontrollably, and with more force than it took to push it down.

Rather than direct communication, passive-aggressive words require your spouse to be able to read between the lines and guess your thoughts and feelings.  It undermines their experience, such as when the passive-aggressive communicator denies being upset when they are bothered.  Often this style is motivated by a fear of what will happen if you communicate directly.  The hope is to find a way around direct communication and still gain control or get your needs met.

Can you tell which of these three communication styles is your go-to?  Maybe you experience more than one, or they change based on circumstances and people.  But if you find yourself stuck in these patterns, what does healthy communication look like?

Assertive

Assertive, or direct, communication is an effective way to have our feelings and needs heard and to hear the same in others without escalating into emotional volatility.  A simple formula, as described in an earlier post, is to say the following: I feel _____ because _____ and what I need is_____.

I encourage my clients to do something I call “speaking the subtext.” Often when we speak with our spouse, we imply something different from what our words are saying on the surface.  For example, when you ask, “what time are you getting home from work today?” are you wondering about a certain time, or are you implying that you’d like your spouse to come home early to help make dinner?

When being assertive, emotions don’t overwhelm and derail conversations as easily.  It is easier to set boundaries and take responsibility.  Assertive communication is motivated by a healthy view of your own value and empathy for others.

What are some steps you could take today to more toward more assertive communication?

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Do you feel like you’re unable to stand up for yourself?  Are you constantly in conflict?  Do you bottle up your anger until it bursts?   If you’re ready to revolutionize your patterns of relating, we’d love to help.  Restored Hope is an Ann Arbor and Novi therapy office specializing in healing marriages using Gottman Method techniques.  Give us a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here today to hear more about how we can help transform your relationships.

The Key Roadblock to Effective Communication

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 “At one point I couldn’t even think straight.”  “I was seeing red.”  “I felt like a deer in the headlights.”  “I wanted to run out of the room.”  “Nothing I was saying was making any sense.”  “I just couldn’t listen to him/her anymore.”

Have you ever found yourself saying these words when describing an argument you had with your spouse?  You’re not alone in experiencing this phenomenon.  If you notice adrenaline pumping through your body and you can feel your heartbeat pounding, you might be experiencing what marriage researcher John Gottman describes as “flooding.”

Imagine you’re in a water tank as you talk with your spouse.  As the argument goes on, the water is rising closer and closer to your face.  As your heart rate increases, you slowly become submerged.  At this point, you can’t hear the person speaking to you above the water, you can’t see more than a foot in front of you, and you panic as you realize you can’t breathe.

Flooding occurs when you’re in the midst of a heightened emotional situation, like an argument where the Four Horsemen are present.  Your body goes into fight-or-flight mode, with the most obvious sign being a rapidly rising heart rate.  When you’re in this state of diffuse physiological arousal, the part of your brain that runs your impulse control and decision-making capacities shuts down.  Essentially, the thinking part of your brain is overtaken by the emotional part of your brain.

Flooding interrupts your discussion as you become unable to absorb what your partner is saying and understand his or her point of view. It’s easier to say hurtful or harsh words to your spouse that you will later regret.  As you get overwhelmed with emotion, your spouse can follow suit.

Often, flooding happens when you’re triggered by something unrelated to the present-day conversation.  Perhaps your spouse mentions feeling overwhelmed by household chores.  This immediately reminds you of how angry and unstable your mother would get when she felt overwhelmed, and memories arise of feeling unsafe.

When flooding takes place, here are a few ideas of how to handle it:

Acknowledge that flooding is happening.

Identify the signs of flooding as they occur, accept that it is a normal response to tense interactions with your spouse, and acknowledge that you aren’t the best version of yourself when you’re flooded.  By taking this first step, you preempt your spouse suggesting you might be flooded, as that will likely make the situation worse.

Communicate that you’re feeling flooded or overwhelmed.

When you notice adrenaline racing through you and your thoughts spiraling out of control, pause and communicate what you need to your spouse.  Your partner can’t tell what is going on in your body or foresee your emotions, but when you communicate how you feel you invite you partner to respond differently.

Ask your partner to rephrase the statement.

Your spouse may simply be communicating with a certain tone or phrasing that triggers you.  Asking your spouse to restate the sentence allows them to slow down and think about how they are expressing their concern.  As they reframe the statement, you can sort out if you’re being triggered by what they’re saying or by the way it is being expressed.

Practice self-soothing.

Mindfulness strategies for reducing anxiety can be helpful when your body is in fight-or-flight mode.  Focusing on your breathing brings you back to the present and tells your body that you’re safe and in control.  Practice these skills on your own so that you’re prepared to use them when needed in the midst of a conflict conversation.  When you notice being flooded, you can even invite your spouse to practice with you, using an app such as Headspace.

Take a 20-minute break.

When the discussion feels too overwhelming, ask your spouse for a 20-minute break.  Do something unrelated to the conversation you’ve been having with your spouse.  While you are on this break, be sure not to rehash the conversation, how you wish you would’ve responded, or what you’ll say next. Instead distract yourself: take a walk, go for a run, read a book or magazine, listen to a playlist of your favorite music, watch a funny TV show, draw, or doodle.  This calms your body’s reaction to the trigger and allows you to re-enter the conversation from a neutral state of mind.

Take a longer break.

Sometimes 20 minutes just won’t cut it.  Returning to the conversation at a later date gives you an opportunity to cool down.  If you choose this option, set a specific time to return to the conversation and make sure you follow through. You’ll avoid resentment and bitterness that can come if the conversation goes unfinished.

Before that continuation conversation, identify what triggered you in the earlier conversation. Notice where you’ve felt that particular emotion in your life, including outside your marriage.  Be prepared to share what you discover with your spouse, as well as one thing both you and your spouse could do differently the next time you’re triggered. The goal of sharing about your trigger isn’t to create guilt in your partner, but to create intimacy in your relationship.

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Are you tired of feeling overwhelmed and angry in every conversation you have with your spouse?  Maybe you connect with the idea of feeling flooded, or you’ve seen your spouse go through the same emotional rollercoaster.  If you’re looking to experience freedom from these patterns that are no longer working in your life, we’re here to help.  At Restored Hope, we use the Gottman Method Couples Therapy approach at our Ann Arbor and Novi counseling offices to help you experience a healthy and vibrant marriage.  Give us a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to talk with someone about how we can help you.

Tired of Destroying Your Marriage? Four Antidotes to Heal a Hurting Relationship

Have you ever had a huge fight with your spouse, but then realize you have no idea what started the argument?  Are you sick and tired of exploding into anger and insults in conversations with your partner?  Maybe you walk away from discussions with a sinking feeling that something in your marriage isn’t working. Or instead of arguing, you notice yourself or your spouse muttering passive-aggressive comments, and your mutual respect and understanding is slowly slipping away.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the four communication habits that destroy marriages, as researched by John Gottman.  Luckily, Gottman has found an antidote to each of these behaviors that can help you to reverse your downward spiral into these four destructive habits.  Let’s take a look.

Instead of criticism?  Use gentle start-up.

Remember how Gottman can watch 10 minutes of a couple’s conversation and predict with surprising accuracy if that couple will divorce?  In the first three minutes of every conflict conversation, certain indicators will predict how the rest of the conversation will go.

You’ve likely seen this in your own relationship.  If you bring up a topic with your partner that begins with an accusatory “you,” your partner immediately goes on the defensive.

Instead, state your personal feelings, reactions, and needs.  The magic formula for authentic communication is founded upon naming a personal emotion you’re experiencing, expressing what you saw or heard that led to that emotion, and naming a positive need.  By expressing yourself in this way, you allow your partner to see the effect his or her actions have on you, but you also provide a solution.

  • Destructive tactic: “You never follow-through with what you say you’re going to do, I can’t count on you for anything.”
  • Antidote: “I feel ignored and hurt when I ask you to help me out with a task, but it doesn’t get done.  I need to know what timeline you have for completing that task.  Can we create a schedule?”

Instead of contempt?  Practice fondness and appreciation.

Contempt takes criticism a step further and is born out of a place of seeing your partner as less than, or looking down on them.  One way to diagnose contempt in your relationship by asking if your partner ever feels “small” or like a child when you criticize them. 

If you notice contempt is an issue for you, seek to remember the things you love about your partner and what attracted you to them in the beginning of the relationship.  Notice their strengths and abilities, particularly in areas where you aren’t as strong.  Pay attention to their contributions to your relationship or your family. 

Valuing your spouse by building up your fondness and admiration system leads to a more solid foundation of friendship and respect in your marriage.  In general, practicing gratitude and seeking to accept your present circumstances with contentment can have a multitude of benefits for your mental and relational health.

  • Destructive tactic: “Only an idiot would forget about our daughter’s soccer game.”
  • Antidote: “I can see why this slipped through the cracks. You’ve been working long hours for your promotion at work.  I’m thankful that you’re hard-working and dedicated to providing for our family.”

Instead of defensiveness? Try taking responsibility.

When you’re feeling criticized or your spouse is pointing out your weaknesses, it can feel self-protective to fight back and point out their not-so-great qualities.  Our natural bent is toward defensiveness, especially if we’re feeling guilt or shame about our behaviors.

In reality, none of us are perfect.  We all make mistakes from time to time, lose patience with our loved ones, or forget to do something we’re asked to do.  Before immediately reacting to your partner’s feedback and expression of needs, slow down and pay attention to what’s going on emotionally and in your body.  If you’re noticing feelings of guilt or shame, think through any weaknesses or faults you may be struggling to admit.

In some cases, your partner may have been triggered by something you did or said that you didn’t realize would affect them so strongly.  When you didn’t intend to hurt them, it can be helpful to acknowledge the trigger and what made it difficult for your partner and ask, “How can I support you better the next time something like this comes up?”

  • Destructive tactic: “You would go out gambling too if your life was anywhere near as stressful as mine is.”
  • Antidote: “You’re right.  I should have cleared it with you first before I spent our money at the casino.  How can we work together to approach this differently in the future?”

Instead of stonewalling? Practice self-soothing.

Stonewalling is usually accompanied by an experience Gottman calls “flooding,” which is a state of physiological arousal, the commonly known “fight-or-flight” response, where the brain is unable to process additional information.  Responding to flooding by calming your body’s natural response allows you to re-enter the conversation with greater presence of mind and ability to listen and respond to what is being shared.

There are a few different ways to respond to stonewalling.  Self-soothing exercises, such as mindfulness breathing exercises, are designed to help you focus on the present moment and sensations in your body.  The rhythm of deep breathing calms your sympathetic nervous system that has you in fight-or-flight mode, instead telling your body that you are safe.

Another strategy is to give yourself a break of at least 20 minutes from the conversation.  During this time, do whatever it takes to take your mind off of the argument.  Ruminating about what was said and what you wish you would have said only continues the state of flooding.  After this 20-minute break, come back together for another try at the discussion. 

  • Destructive tactic: Zoning out, checking out of the conversation, or not listening.
  • Antidote: “I’m feeling flooded right now, and I’m having a hard time being able to listen well because of it.  Can we take a 20-minute break to cool off and then come back to finish talking?”

My hope is that, as you begin to use these antidotes, you’ll be able to experience greater connection and more productive experiences of conflict management with your partner.

Have you and your partner hit a rut in your communication where every conversation ends in a fight?  Have you become so accustomed to using destructive strategies that you aren’t even sure what the antidotes would look like in your life?  At Restored Hope, we use Gottman Method Couples Therapy to help couples achieve greater connection and intimacy, solid strategies for effective communication, and overall satisfaction with their marriages.  We offer couples counseling at our Novi and Ann Arbor locations.  Give us a call today at 734.656.8191 or fill out our form here to talk with us today.

Four Surefire Ways to Destroy Your Marriage

My guess is that you didn’t walk into your marriage hoping that one day you’d be signing divorce papers.  You typically don’t enter into a relationship with someone that you can’t stand, or anticipating arguing nonstop.  But it’s true that over time, couples tend to slip into unhelpful patterns of relating that create distance and conflict in their relationship.

John Gottman is a researcher on healthy marriages who claims that, by watching a couple interact with one another for 10 minutes, he can predict with over 90% accuracy whether they will divorce or remain married.  How does he achieve this kind of wizardry?

Gottman has identified different communication patterns that are consistent in relationships headed toward divorce.  When he sees these patterns, coined as the Four Horsemen, he knows this relationship is headed downhill if changes aren’t made.

Learn more about these Four Horsemen in this video:

Let's look in more depth at each type of communication he lists as a risk factor.

Criticism

Criticism is the first of what I would call the “offensive strategies.”  Instead of directly communicating a concern or complaint, criticism takes the form of a negative remark about your partner’s behavior that implies a flaw in their character.  These statements start with an accusation, indicated by the word “you”.  Criticism is usually the first Horsemen that pops up in a marriage.  If it is left unchecked, the feelings of harm or pain caused by the critical communication style will likely lead the other Horsemen to develop.

Example: “You’re so inconsiderate.  You always wait until the last minute to take out the trash.  If you actually cared about how stressed I am, you’d do it sooner.”

Contempt

As the second offensive strategy, contempt twists criticism into a more destructive pattern.  Contempt is criticism coming from a place of superiority or judgment.  It attacks your spouse's character in a pointed and sarcastic manner.  It usually involves behaviors like name-calling, cynicism, and mocking your partner.  If you've ever rolled your eyes and scoffed at your partner's choices, you likely know what contempt feels like.  Gottman identifies contempt as the strongest predictor of divorce.

Example: “You’re so stupid and lazy.  Don’t complain to me about having to take out the trash, like it’s so hard.  You’re such an idiot.”

Defensiveness

Defensiveness, as can be expected from its name, is the first of the “defensive strategies.”  It involves making excuses to explain yourself against a perceived attack from your spouse.  Usually you notice a feeling of self-righteousness in response to criticism, or a desire to see yourself as the victim.  Defensiveness often comes after an insult to your pride and is an attempt to short-circuit taking responsibility.  Often, it turns the tables and places the blame back on your partner.

Example: “You think I’m inconsiderate for not taking out the trash?  Why would I try to be considerate when you leave the dirty dishes in the sink all day and can’t be bothered to clean them?”

Stonewalling

This defensive strategy is a bit like an invisible killer.  It’s the most difficult of the Four Horsemen to notice because it is quiet and contained.  Stonewalling is characterized by checking out mentally or emotionally, withdrawing from the conversation, not responding to requests or communication, or simply walking away.  I imagine it like a garage door closing over your attention: nothing is allowed in, and nothing can slip out.  When stonewalling, you can feel flooded, with adrenaline coursing through you a rush.  You can feel like your blood is boiling and your mind is racing, and you can't process any more information from your spouse.  You might stonewall in order to avoid lashing out in anger, having seen negative effects of those outbursts before.

Example: "I don't want to talk about this anymore."

At this point, you may see yourself in one (or many!) of these styles of communication.  But don't lose hope!  Recognizing these destructive relationship patterns is the first step toward change.  In a few weeks, we’ll talk through ways you can change your pattern of communication into a healthier and more honoring discussion with your spouse. (Hint – the video above previews some of these antidotes!)

In the meantime, pay attention to conversations with your spouse, coworkers, or friends.  While it may be easier to point out how everyone around you is using the Four Horsemen, I encourage you to notice which of these styles of communication are your default response when you’re disagreeing with someone.

Have you noticed these communication patterns crop up in your arguments with your spouse or partner?  Are you feeling exhausted and hopeless about being able to change how you talk to your spouse?  Are your constant arguments creating anxiety and stress in your day-to-day life?  At Restored Hope, we want to support your desire to create a healthy and fulfilling marriage using Gottman Method Couples Therapy.  Give us a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to talk with us about how you can stop the cycle of destructive communication in your marriage and feel connected once again.