marriage

The Key to Satisfying Relationships: Understanding Your Adult Attachment Style

title_the_key_to_satisfying_relationships_understanding_your_adult_attachment_style_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_michigan_ann_arbor_christian_psychology.png

How do you experience relationships?  Are you confident in your connection with others and able to relate easily?  Do you long for the perfect relationship, but feel dissatisfied once you’re in one and struggle to get out?  Do you feel terrified of being alone or abandoned, and will do whatever it takes to keep your loved ones close, even if it means sacrificing part of who you are?

Whether or not you’ve experienced these yourself, you probably know someone else who has. These patterns in relationships can create despair, hopelessness, or distress.  Often, these patterns are rooted in the theory of adult attachment styles.

What is attachment?

Attachment is an individual’s beliefs about his or her safety, security, and protection in relation to others, formed by early interactions between child and caregiver.  Attachment theory is based on the research of John Bowlby, who was curious about the distress infants showed when separated from their caregivers.  He believed that children use these behaviors in order to get their caregiver’s attention and essentially ask their caregiver, “Can I trust you to respond?  Will you take care of my needs?”  The response of the caregiver forms the foundation of the child’s attachment style.

Building on Bowlby’s research, Mary Ainsworth put this theory into the research lab.  She created the “strange situation,” an environment where a child was brought by their caregiver into a playroom where another adult was present.  The caregiver would leave for a short time and then return.  Researchers observed the response of the infant when the parent left, while the parent was outside the room, and upon the return of the parent.

She observed four different responses in children.  Securely attached children were upset when their caregiver left, but comforted by their return.  This was the most common response (60% of children) and indicated that the caregivers were responsive to the needs of the child.

Insecurely attached children were impacted by lack of responsiveness or inconsistent responses from their caregivers.  They took one of three forms:

  • Insecure-resistant attachment – These children showed high levels of distress when their caregiver left.  They were unable to be soothed upon reuniting with their caregiver, almost as if they were “punishing” the caregiver for leaving.

  • Insecure-avoidant attachment – These children weren’t distressed by their caregiver leaving and ignored their caregiver upon re-entry, often choosing to continue playing rather than engaging with their caregiver.

  • Insecure-disorganized attachment – These children demonstrated an unpredictable response that could not be categorized.  These responses were more commonly correlated with childhood abuse.

Adult Attachment Styles

Later on, researchers Hazan and Shaver extended these findings into adulthood.  They concluded that attachment styles in childhood affected the way adults experienced intimacy and connection in romantic relationships. 

For example, if you experienced insecure attachment as a child, you learned at a young age that important people will not respond appropriately to your needs.  As an adult, you may find yourself in similar relationships that confirm the belief formed early on that you cannot depend on others to meet your needs, or that you are unlovable and aren’t deserving of love or care.  Unfortunately, you can then become trapped in a cycle of relationships where you expect this belief to be true, and (in self-fulfilling prophecy) reaffirm the belief.

Read the descriptions below about adult attachment styles and pay attention to if you relate to any one of them, or if you know someone who does.  You can also take this assessment online to discover your attachment style. 

Secure attachment

These individuals are confident in themselves and in their ability to be loved and cared for by those close to them.  This doesn’t mean that they are always without insecurity – in fact, it is normal for anyone to have some level of hesitation in these areas.  However, at their core, secure individuals believe they are worthy of love and trust that their loved ones will respond to their needs.  They are willing to both depend on others and can also be depended upon by others.

In relationships, securely attached individuals are interdependent.  They can separate from their partner, have their own interests, and encourage their significant other’s interests.  But they can also come back to their relationship feeling connected, loved, and supported with their partner.  They both seek and provide support to their partners, and therefore are the most satisfied.  They tend to have honesty and equality in their relationships.

Anxious (preoccupied) attachment

Anxiously attached individuals long to be loved and worry consistently that they are not.  They become frustrated and angry when their attachment needs aren’t met in their primary relationships, and will attempt to create intimacy when they are feeling this way. Sadly, this often backfires. 

In relationships, anxiously attached individuals are over-dependent. They believe their partner will “complete” them.  They hold to the fantasy that finding a significant other to love them will solve their problems and make their lives better.  This isn’t real love, but an obsession fueled by fantasy.  Rushing into relationships, these individuals don’t allow enough time to build real trust, but instead create a false sense of security with their partner   Love addicts tend to fall into this category.  They desire to be very close, cling to their partners for safety and security, and crave reassurance that they are loved.  Unfortunately, this often causes their partners to withdraw, creating a vicious cycle that reaffirms their beliefs in their own flawed nature and inability to be loved.

Avoidant (dismissing-avoidant) attachment

Those with avoidant attachment styles struggle with the intimacy required for close relationships, preferring to be on their own without any others depending on them.  They dismiss the need for close relationships, having used that behavior to cope with early childhood experiences where they were responsible for caregivers’ emotional needs and learned to deny or shut down their own as a result.  In fact, shutting down emotionally became an adaptive way of protecting themselves.

In relationships, these individuals prefer to be independent, creating emotional distance between themselves and their partners, often as a way to protect against smothering or feeling consumed by their partner.  They learned that the way to get their needs met is to pretend to have no needs.  This can easily detach from relationships because of lack of consideration for their importance.  Sex addiction is more common in these individuals.

Fearful-avoidant attachment

Fearful-avoidant individuals have a strong sense of ambivalence about their relationships, switching between feeling anxious about losing their loved one and avoidance of emotional closeness.  They have difficulty managing their overwhelming emotions.  You might see this type as chaotic and unpredictable, and even they feel confused by the near-constant attempts to balance just the right amount of closeness with someone. 

Often this stems from a caregiver who was too close, enmeshed, or smothering with the child.  They desired to go to their caregivers to get their needs met, but may have received a negative response when they reached out. In relationships, fearful-avoidant individuals exist on a roller-coaster of drama and intensity.  They are both fearful of being abandoned and fearful of experiencing true intimacy with another person. 

Adult Attachment Styles in Relationships

As mentioned earlier, it is common for anxious and avoidant individuals to be drawn to one another and create a cycle of disappointment.  In some ways, being with a partner that reinforces childhood beliefs about the dependability of a caregiver feels familiar and therefore attractive.  While it is better for both to build a relationship with a securely attached individual, those relationships often contain less intensity, which both the anxious and avoidant crave.

Fortunately, your adult attachment style is not a permanent death sentence for your love life.  Understanding your natural tendency in attachment helps you to be aware of it when going into relationships.  It can also be changed by “learned” attachment with corrective experiences in your romantic relationship and/or friendships, relationships in therapy, and other important people in your life.  Being close to a responsive and kind individual can go a long way toward changing the dynamics of insecure attachment in adulthood.

Additional Resources

If you’re interested in learning more about attachment theory, check out these resources:

pinterest_the_key_to_satisfying_relationships_understanding_your_adult_attachment_style_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_michigan_ann_arbor_christian_psychology.png

Are you tired of repeating the same patterns over and over again in your relationships? Do you resonate with one of the adult attachment styles above? Are you ready to change the way you approach relationships so you can feel more satisfied and happy in your love life? As a mental health therapist, I’m here to help you understand your adult attachment style and learn new ways of relating to others, leading you to improve your relationships. I offer counseling services at my office in Ann Arbor, MI. Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to set up your first appointment.

Nine Questions to Ask Your Fiancé Before You Get Married

title_nine_question_to_ask_your_fiance_before_you_get_married_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_ann_arbor_michigan_sex_and_love_addiction_christian.png

 There are plenty of questions to ask yourselves when you’re engaged and preparing for a wedding.  When do we want to get married?  Who do we want to invite?  What type of cake do we want to eat?  But sometimes, in the hoopla of planning the big event, you miss the opportunities you have to prepare for what comes after the wedding.

Premarital counseling is often a prerequisite to have a religious officiant for your wedding.  Sometimes couples will attend premarital counseling with a therapist, but that practice is becoming more rare.  Yet once married couples come to my door for therapy, problems have been developing since the start of the relationship.

Why is premarital counseling necessary?  We seem to have a great relationship.

Preventative medicine is becoming a cost-saving trend in medicine.  If you can prevent problems from developing in the first place, you’re more likely to avoid the later costs of fixing it.  Similarly, in marriage, if you have a few intentional conversations before you get married, you’re more likely to avoid pitfalls of relational tension later.

Working your way out of entrenched problems in your relationship is much more difficult than addressing them head-on before they have a chance to start.  Premarital work gives you more awareness of the warning signs of a problem in your relationship.  Having practiced the skills of open communication gives you more confidence to have tough conversations early on in your marriage.

Here are some questions to consider asking as you prepare for marriage.

1. What was your parents’ marriage like?

We learn most about marriage from our families-of-origin.  Whether you have a positive relationship with your parents and trust them as role models or you are trying to be as different as you can from them, their modeling is often the most significant influence you’ll have in your marriage.

Your mother may have always taken care of the housework.  Your father might have been the person who drove the kids to all their activities.  But your fiancé’s father may have traveled during the week and their mother may have hired a cleaning service to take care of the house work.  Having discussions about the way things were in your family and how you’d like to emulate or differ from those standards can circumvent unspoken expectations you carry into the relationship.

2. How will we handle finances?

What is your spending style in comparison to your partner?  Is one of you a saver?  Is the other a spender?  What level of transparency do you want to have about finances?  Will one of you handle the budgeting and bill-paying, or will it be a joint effort?  Will you have a joint account and/or two separate accounts?

Money is one of the most common areas of disagreement and argument for couples.  Learn how you handle money through participating in a money management course, such as Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.  Start having conversations about money and spending before you’re married so you know how to talk about this sticky issue.

3. Do you want to have kids?  How many?  When?

Expectations about having children can differ widely.  Discussing your plans for children can facilitate discussions around career and dreams for the future.  For example, if you’re focused on finishing your PhD or making partner in your firm before having kids, that can be discussed.  If one of you wants to stay at home with the children, that is helpful to identify.  You may want to consider the financial cost of childcare needs.  Acknowledging the financial aspect paves the way for that important conversation to happen later.

4. What are your expectations around sexual intimacy?

Oftentimes couples assume that sex should feel easy and natural within marriage, but the truth is farther from this assumption.  What creates quality sexual intimacy within a marriage is the freedom to have open conversations about it.

These conversations can be as simple as discussing logistics such as how often you’ll be intimate, when you expect to be intimate, or even the (sometimes awkward!) conversation of what you like and don’t like sexually.  You might want to discuss how you’ll handle initiating sex and saying “no” if you’re not interested.  Consent is still important in marriage, and often unspoken expectations influence whether you feel comfortable refusing.

Also, think about how you’ve been influenced by culture, church, family, career, or other areas of your life with certain messages about sex or what it means to be a man or a woman.  Uncovering these narratives for yourself can have implications of which you’re not aware.

5. How will we handle changes in our relationship?

Are you the same person you were ten years ago?  Fifteen?  Twenty?  Or have you changed in significant ways?  The type of music you enjoyed when you were younger, for example, may be vastly different from what you like now.  Personality can change over time, so it’s important to know that the person you’re standing next to on your wedding day may change significantly over the course of your marriage.  Sometimes just recognizing this fact together can prepare you, and you can discuss how you’ll handle those changes as they come.

6. What traditions for connection do we want to establish?

John Gottman, in discussing the aspects that make up healthy marriages, outlines the importance of creating shared meaning through establishing rituals of connection.  These can be everyday points of connection, like returning home from work or having dinner together.  They can also be larger traditions, such as what you do for holidays or how you celebrate birthdays.  Discuss how your family handled major holidays and what you’ll want, especially if you’ll be splitting time between two families.  Identify the aspects of your family’s moments of everyday connection you’d like to continue.

Regardless of what your family-of-origin does for holidays, I suggest that you identify some new holiday traditions you’d like to establish in your new family with your partner. Having these special traditions you develop together help to keep connection going through more stressful or trying times.

7. What will we do when we’re attracted to other people?

One of the biggest setups for finding yourself entangled in an extramarital affair is believing that it will never happen to you.  Esther Perel, a clinician and researcher on marital issues, discusses affairs in her TED talk.  She points out that problems arise when one spouse is too ashamed of the attraction they feel to discuss it with their spouse.  They instead turn to the person to whom they’re attracted and tell them in an attempt to resolve it.  But instead, this makes the attraction more intense, as the other party may reciprocate and they share a secret.

Affair-proofing your marriage involves talking about the moments when you’re feeling attracted to someone else and asking for accountability from your spouse.  If you walk into marriage expecting this to happen to one or the both of you, it will come as less of a surprise.  Fostering a safe environment by being honest with one another is the most crucial part of keeping your marriage intact. 

8. How do we want to argue?  What are the rules for fighting fair?

Arguments are another inevitability in marriage.  Even if you didn’t fight often before you were married, there are many more opportunities for arguments to arise when you’re living your lives together.  In fact, if you aren’t arguing at all, I might be concerned about how you might be avoiding or ignoring issues that come up.

Disagreements are an open door to intimacy when they involve fighting fair.  Setting ground rules for communication, which can be aided by a therapist, helps you to be able to maintain connection even when you disagree.  Learn how to communicate your emotions effectively and listen with empathy and compassion to your partner’s perspective.  Learn about why you or your partner are more sensitive to certain interactions due to triggers or how they remind you of your family of origin. Identify what you’re really desiring underneath the conflict and problem-solve for how to create that together.

9. How will you and I become a “we”?

One issue that often arises in marriages is leaving behind the loyalty felt toward your family-of-origin to focus on loyalty to the marriage.  This is necessarily painful, as change can require leaving behind some past traditions and activities that you love with your family in service of creating a new future with your spouse.  Identifying rituals of connection (see question 6) can help create this connection by establishing new traditions together.

If you’ve been single for a long time, you may have a different problem: leaving behind the independence of single life to connect with your spouse.  As a single person, you were able to come and go as you pleased and make decisions without thought for how they would affect others in your household.  In marriage, those behaviors are more difficult to maintain.  Learning how to let go of some independence is part of a healthy process in creating a “we.”

pinterest_nine_question_to_ask_your_fiance_before_you_get_married_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_ann_arbor_michigan_sex_and_love_addiction_christian.png

Are you preparing for an upcoming marriage?  Have you had a hard time making space to answer some of these questions? Are you already married wish you’d had these conversations beforehand?  At Restored Hope, I offer counseling to couples in every stage of their relationship, with a goal of teaching tools to help create a healthy marriage.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me to find out how to schedule your first appointment at my Ann Arbor office.

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

title_power_dynamics_in_love_how_understanding_the_karpman_triangle_can_save_your_relationship_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_ann_arbor_michigan_christian_sex_and_love_addiction.png

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?

pinterest_power_dynamics_in_love_how_understanding_the_karpman_triangle_can_save_your_relationship_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_ann_arbor_michigan_christian_sex_and_love_addiction.png

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.

Four Surefire Ways to Destroy Your Marriage

title_repost_four_surefire_ways_to_destroy_your_marriage_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_novi_ann_arbor_michigan_christian.png

I’ll take a guess that you didn’t marry your spouse hoping that one day you’d be signing divorce papers.  You likely didn’t start your relationship anticipating that you would argue nonstop.  But it is true that over time, couples tend to slip into unhelpful patterns of relating that create distance and conflict.

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.

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 comment on your partner’s behavior that implies that they are flawed or stupid.  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, using this 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 involves attacking your spouse's character in a pointed and sarcastic manner.  It can include 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 justify yourself in response to a perceived attack from your spouse. Usually you notice feeling self-righteous in response to criticism or seeing 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 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.

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.

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, instead notice which of these styles of communication are your default response when you’re disagreeing with someone.

This article was originally posted on July 20, 2017.

pinterest_repost_four_surefire_ways_to_destroy_your_marriage_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_novi_ann_arbor_michigan_christian.png

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 arguments creating anxiety and stress in your day-to-day life?  At Restored Hope, I want to support your desire to create a healthy and fulfilling marriage.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to talk with me about how you can stop the cycle of destructive communication in your marriage and feel connected once again.

3 Steps to Argue Your Way to a Stronger Relationship

title_3_steps_to_argue_your_way_to_a_stronger_relationship_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_ann_arbor_novi_michigan_christian.png

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 office.

How Do We Come Back From This? Rebuilding Trust in a Broken Relationship

title_how_do_we_come_back_from_this_rebuilding_trust_in_a_broken_relationship_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_ann_arbor_novi_michigan_christian_sex_and_love_addiction.png

If you’ve faced betrayal in your marriage or long-term relationship, you know the devastation that broken trust creates.  Trust can be broken through affairs or infidelity, either sexual or emotional.  Sex and love addiction is a major factor that comes up in destroying trust in relationships.  Other addictions, secrecy around financial decisions, or secrecy around work can create similar experiences of broken trust.  But a common factor in all these cases is deception.   

Trust requires safety, and if your perception of reality is influenced by the lies or insincerity of another person, it becomes unsafe.  You might ask yourself questions like, “How will I ever know if my spouse is telling the truth?” or “How could I have fallen for their lies?” 

Shame also comes up for the betrayed partner.  You might be wondering if it’s your fault, blaming yourself for not being able to see the warning signs of the deception.  You might feel embarrassed and like a fool.  You might also be struggling with loneliness, as issues such as sex and love addiction can be difficult to share about with friends, or you can be protecting your spouse’s privacy.  Regardless, this shame is based on a distorted view of reality put forward by the partner who deceived. 

What should I expect in rebuilding trust?

Rebuilding trust is an incredibly slow process, and it requires patience and time to heal.  Usually I notice impatience in couples who come into my office feeling stuck.  The partner who committed the betrayal is recovering more quickly than the betrayed partner.  They might be feeling relief due to the fact that they are no longer carrying the burden of the secret addiction, and they can finally get the help they need.

Meanwhile, the betrayed spouse is wrestling with the new information he or she has received.  They are trying to integrate this new truth into the months or years of deception that have taken place, rewriting the narrative of their lives.  They are trying to re-evaluate and re-integrate their whole world with this information.  At the same time, they are faced with making decisions about the future of the relationship.

How do we rebuild trust?

Have you ever built a sand castle?  Some professional sand castles can be beautiful, with turrets and sculpted carvings.

Think of your marriage like a sand castle.  When the betrayal was discovered, it’s as if a giant tidal wave came and destroyed it.  Rebuilding trust involves moving sand back to rebuild that castle.  Some days it involves moving just one grain at a time, and other days you’ll move shovelfuls.  Sometimes, if the foundation is shaky or the wind from outside blows in a certain way, parts of the castle may crumble or topple and need to be built up again.

You likely won’t be building the same exact castle over again.  You’ll change parts of it to make it new and better.  Having learned from your previous experience, you’ll likely make a stronger foundation and more beautiful or intricate carvings.  You’ll consider how you will approach the marriage after the betrayal, which involves moving into a new phase that will be decidedly different from the pain that now colors the first part of your marriage.  

Rebuilding trust requires that both spouses have an active role in this process.  It is impossible for just one of you to be doing all the work.

The Deceiver’s Role

For the individual who has betrayed their spouse, the simplest way to rebuild trust is to continually match your words up with your actions.  The first step involves honesty.  You will need to be more truthful about your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors than you ever have before.  Allow your spouse access to private accounts and information.  Some spouses need this level of transparency and others don’t, but your willingness to offer it regardless of whether it’s needed or not rebuilds trust. 

Particularly in the case of sex and love addiction, formal disclosure of acting out behaviors is a major step in rebuilding trust.  In order to establish a foundation of trust before you move forward in the relationship, you will need to have a formal disclosure of all your behaviors with your spouse.  This is a major step of honesty that will lay the foundation for the other rebuilding actions to stick.

Each time you are honest about your behaviors in the future, you will move some sand back into that sand castle.  Every time you carry out an action you said you would, you build more trust.  When you are honest about difficult, negative emotions and responses, that builds trust even stronger, as it allows your spouse to see you take ownership of your feelings and actions. 

The Betrayed Partner’s Role

While it may seem that the action of change rests in the hands of the deceiver, the betrayed partner actually has a significant role in the trust-rebuilding process.  In order for trust to be built, the partner be willing to take the risk to trust.  You will (understandably) be self-protective and you won’t be ready to fully trust for quite some time.  In fact, if you were ready to trust immediately after discovering the betrayal, I would caution you against it!  But the long-term goal is to help you find ways of offering trust as the two of you heal.

When you first find out about the deception and broken trust, you ought to spend some time building up your network of support individuals and self-care so you can practice self-care and be kind to yourself as you heal.  Establish safety for yourself that isn’t dependent on your spouse’s behaviors, as they will certainly not be able to meet all your expectations at first.  Create boundaries as a way of seeing if your spouse is willing to change and adapt.

Once you’ve decided to move forward, take small risks to trust.  Acknowledge or praise your spouse when you see their actions and words lining up.  Choose to focus on the progress more frequently than the past betrayal, as it can be easy to lose sight of positive changes.  However, if the deception is still going on or if you haven’t seen actions on the spouse’s part to substantiate their commitment to rebuild trust, tread cautiously.

As mentioned earlier, rebuilding trust requires that both spouses take an active role.  But even if you do, you might feel like you keep hitting roadblocks that set you back.  When you are stuck and need a way to move forward, seek out couples counseling.  In counseling, you’re able to further discuss those areas of conflict in a way that creates change.  You’ll set goals together and consider how you’ll approach this new season of your marriage. 

pinterest_how_do_we_come_back_from_this_rebuilding_trust_in_a_broken_relationship_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_ann_arbor_novi_michigan_christian_sex_and_love_addiction.png

Are you still hurting from the betrayal you experienced due to your partner’s actions?  Are you in recovery for sex and love addiction and wondering how your spouse will ever trust you again?  Do you keep running into roadblocks to rebuilding trust that leave you hopeless for change?  At Restored Hope, I help individuals and couples to walk through rebuilding trust after it’s been broken.  Give me a call today at 734.656.8191 or email me to hear more about how I can help.

The Unexpected Power of a Thank You

title_the_unexpected_power_of_a_thank_you_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_novi_ann_arbor_michigan_couples_marriage_sex_and_love_addiction_christian.png

When was the last time you said thank you?  Was it to the cashier at the grocery store out of politeness?  Was it to your spouse for helping you carry in the groceries?  Was it to a friend who was there for you when you had a hard day?

What about the last time you received a “thank you” from someone else?  Or when did you receive praise?  For most of us, this is the more difficult question: whether due to disqualifying the positive events of our lives or genuinely not receiving praise, it can be difficult to identify positive words that have been spoken about you.

How about this: when was the last time you asked for praise or affirmation?  When did you express what you needed to someone close to you?  If you can think of an example, what did that feel like for you?  If not, what holds you back from asking?  Would you feel needy?  Like the praise was forced?

Listen to this short, three-minute TED talk from Dr. Laura Trice about the importance of genuine, authentic praise. 

How can you up your praise quotient in your own life?

Offer specific and genuine praise to those around you.

Saying a simple “thank you” is better than offering no praise at all.  But to take it a step further, think of one or two specific affirmations that you can offer another person or specific actions for which that you are thankful.  This type of praise helps others to know that you see them and their efforts, which, in turn, feels more genuine and authentic.

Offer praise rather than assuming the other person knows you’re grateful.

Dr. Trice shares a powerful example from her work with addicts.  She indicates that the core wound of many addicts comes from their parents neglecting to tell their child how proud they were of him or her.  Often parents talk about this pride with others, but did not directly express that pride to their child.

We can’t assume that our loved ones know how we feel about them if we don’t express it in words.  Take time to thank your spouse for something that you usually take for granted, or offer an “I love you” just because.  As Dr. Trice suggests, thank your children for completing their chores, even if it’s what’s expected of them.

Ask yourself: what praise do I need to hear?

If you’re feeling down or having a hard time feeling appreciated, think through what you need to hear that would help you feel more secure.  Do you want to be recognized for the contributions you offer to your workplace?  What about the parenting “wins” you’ve had lately?  Or how you put effort into finding the perfect gift for your spouse? Make a list of these areas, and then identify: where can you offer that praise to yourself?  Where would it be helpful to hear that praise from others?

Acknowledge the vulnerability it takes to ask for what you need.

When she gets down to the “why” of the difficulty related to asking for praise or thanks, Dr. Trice reveals that it is a vulnerable ask.  By requesting specific affirmations, we are indicating our weakness or a need.  It is difficult to admit this need, as we fear it could be used against us or withheld from us in the future.  Asking to be praised involves risk and trust.

You could neglect me, you could abuse it, or you could actually meet my need.
— Dr. Laura Trice

For some of us, having our needs met might be the most vulnerable experience we could have.  Perhaps we aren’t used to others meeting our needs, or we’re used to having to fight for ourselves.  It can be both healing and redemptive to ask for what you need and to receive it. 

Practice asking for the praise and affirmation you need to hear.

After you’ve listed out your needs, seek out the people you trust to ask for them to offer praise or appreciation for you.  Choose someone who is safe first and who you trust to be able to offer genuine praise.  Get creative with your ask and offer praise for them as well.  Create this as a regular practice in your life. 

I’m giving you critical data about me, I’m telling you where I’m insecure, I’m telling you where I need your help.
— Dr. Laura Trice
pinterest_the_unexpected_power_of_a_thank_you_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_novi_ann_arbor_michigan_couples_marriage_sex_and_love_addiction_christian.png

Do you struggle to feel appreciated?  Are you feeling taken advantage of, used, or disappointed by the lack of praise in your relationships?  Are you struggling with negative thoughts about yourself?  At Restored Hope, I offer individual and couples counseling at my Ann Arbor office in Michigan to help you understand your needs more fully and learn how to communicate with others about the praise you need.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to hear more about how I can help you.

One Simple Phrase to Change How You Prepare for Marriage

title_one_simply_phrase_that_will_change_how_you_prepare_for_marriage_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_ann_arbor_novi_michigan_sex_and_love_addiction_couples.png

Have you ever been to see the ocean?  Walked out into the salt water and felt the waves pushing against you? 

Growing up in Michigan, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to go to lakes nearby.  Because of that, I’ve only been to the ocean a few times.  I’m always struck by the size of the waves and the force of the current, so much so that I’ve avoided going in the water higher than my waist.

I can see how dangerous the ocean is when swimmers get caught in the undertow of the waves.  One second they’re swimming and having fun.  The next moment, the sea is sweeping them further and further out, and they’re struggling to swim back against the current.  

You might ask: what does this have to do with marriage?

Amidst all the wedding planning that comes with engagement, preparation for the marriage itself often isn’t as high of a priority.  Premarital counseling classes are commonly offered at churches, but often they are teaching general principles on managing the household and finances, or they’re a prerequisite for using a church venue.

Instead of preparation for the realities of marriage, there are plenty of messages distorted by our culture’s obsession with romance that lead to expectations of perfection from your partner and a “happily ever after” story.  We expect that our spouses will fulfill our every need, sex will be easy and fun, and we’ll never have serious arguments.  These faulty expectations set us up for disappointment.

How do you protect yourself against that possibility?  How do you prepare for this? By reminding yourself of this:

Marriage will be hard. 

I believe this one small phrase, if both partners walk into marriage believing it, can create a buffer against the difficulties that will come.  It doesn’t mean that it’ll reduce how often you fight or feel hurt.  Instead, the acceptance of this truth and the willingness to look it full in the face helps to prepare you for the inevitable arguments, loneliness, and disappointment you will face.

Let’s go back to the ocean for a moment.  Imagine yourself standing in the water and facing the horizon.  You’re able to see the waves coming.  When a massive one crests and falls over you, you’ll brace your body in preparation for the impact.  You might lose your footing for a moment, but you’ve already set up a foundation that won’t be hard to re-establish.

Now imagine that you have your back to the waves and you’re looking at the shoreline.  You have no idea the wave is coming: you’re completely blind to it.  How much harder do you think that wave will hit you?  It will knock you off your feet, pull you under, and take much more effort to stand up again.  The wave may be large and powerful enough to pull you back into the undertow, making it feel impossible to make it back to shore.

In his book The Meaning of Marriage*, Timothy Keller warns against the faulty view of marriage in our culture, saying we expect too much from marriage.  In the search for a spouse, we’re looking for the perfect person who fits all of our lengthy list of requirements and expectations.  One flaw immediately rules a potential mate out.

Once married, couples may see the purpose of marriage as satisfying our personal desires and needs, rather than seeking the best for the other person.  Often our distorted beliefs lead to expectations that our partner will make us complete.  We think marriage is the relationship that provides ultimate satisfaction.  And when we are disappointed by our spouses, we blame them instead of acknowledging that our own faulty expectations set ourselves and our partners up for failure.

At the same time, Keller says we expect too little from marriage.  But how can that be? 

Marriage has the potential to be the most significant, life-altering, and rewarding relationship you have.

I’m sure you know couples who have walked through the difficulties of marriage and come out bitter, resentful, and angry at their spouses for disappointing them.  But facing these difficulties with openness to change will impact you if you let them. 

You will have to learn new ways to see the world through your partner’s eyes.  You will have to work at the aspects of marriage that do not come easy to you.  Just as you are likely not the same person you were 10 years ago, Tim Keller acknowledges that your spouse will change over time, and you need to be ready to get to know these new aspects of who they are.

Being aware of both the difficulty of being married as well as the potential for growth prepares you well for the reality of marriage.  It allows you to look with a far-reaching view at the waves that are coming into shore and prepare for the impacts that will come.   They will still be painful, but being prepared and accepting the reality that your marriage will be hard will help you move through those difficulties and grow closer as a result.

pinterest_one_simply_phrase_that_will_change_how_you_prepare_for_marriage_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_ann_arbor_novi_michigan_sex_and_love_addiction_couples.png

Is your marriage disappointing your expectations?  Do you feel like you’re caught in the undertow?  Are you arguing constantly, frequently let down by your partner’s actions, and feeling as though you don’t recognize the person they’ve become?  At Restored Hope, I help couples who feel like their marriage is hanging on a string to reconnect, manage the difficulties of married life, and fall in love with their partner all over again.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to schedule your first appointment and hear more about how I can help.

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

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

title_disappointed_with_your_sex_life_in_marriage_tips_to_improve_sexual_intimacy_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_novi_ann_arbor_christian_sex_and_love_addiction.png

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?

pinterest_disappointed_with_your_sex_life_in_marriage_tips_to_improve_sexual_intimacy_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_novi_ann_arbor_christian_sex_and_love_addiction.png

 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 Ann Arbor location.  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.

A Real Couple Talks Sex and Love Addiction with a Marriage Therapist

title_a_real_couple_talks_sex_and_love_addiction_with_a_marriage_therapist_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_novi_ann_arbor_christian.png

For couples seeking to heal from sex and love addiction, the process can be exhausting and difficult.  Addicts need to process their own pain, handle their spouse’s trauma, and have patience in the trust-rebuilding process.  Partners of addicts must address the pain of betrayal, decide whether or not to stay in the relationship, and deal with the consequences of whichever decision they make.

A recent podcast I’ve been listening to is Where Should We Begin?, a series of one-time couples sessions with renowned couples therapist Esther Perel.  Imagine my delight when I came across a session with a couple dealing with sex and love addiction.  I immediately thought about how helpful this conversation would be for my couples.

A few disclaimers before I encourage you to listen.  Esther is not a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist.  Early in the podcast, she claims that there is little research support for sex addiction as an addiction similar to drug or alcohol addiction.  In fact, there is indeed a growing body of research indicating that brain changes occur in sex and love addicts similar to those of substance addicts.

Also, this podcast addresses the issues of this particular couple.  As a couple with your own unique story, you may have different struggles in communication or needs for healing.  For example, this particular couple was recommended to include more touch in their interactions, but that may not be appropriate for you if touch makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable.  Don’t take the advice she gives in this podcast as a “must do” for you in your relationship, but instead seek to apply the general principles to your own relationship.

Finally, this podcast contains strong language and mature themes.

Here are a few thoughts I have for both the addict and the partner.

For the Addict

You need to seek healing for the pain your addiction allows you to avoid.

A pivotal moment in the recording is when the husband admits he feels sad all the time, which the therapist points out as an emotion from childhood.  Taking away the addiction, which provided a way out from feeling pain of past abuse or current circumstance, meant he would feel the pain more deeply.  As an addict, you need to understand what you did was hurtful, and that it was done in an attempt to find healing from the past.

There is a delicate balance between taking responsibility and being consumed by shame.

Addiction is a shame-based disorder.  As a result, the addict’s typical default mode is one of shame and self-blame.  The abuse this addict experienced in his past taught him that he deserves to be punished or harmed because he is bad.  These shaming beliefs make it particularly difficult to feel appropriate guilt and take responsibility because of the pain they create.

It's time to integrate the good and the bad.

One of my favorite phrases with my clients is to remind them that there’s always an “and.”  There are two sides to every situation, both the light and the dark, the good and the bad.  Those coexist, and don’t need to be divorced from one another.  When the addiction was going strong, the “good” and “bad” selves were kept very separate.  Now you are tasked with integrating these two sides together into an understanding of the self that is realistic and kind.

Your spouse needs to have his or her pain acknowledged and understood, rather than hearing “I’m sorry” all the time.

Self-absorption is the name of the game with the addict.  In order to engage in the addictive behaviors without regret, the addict has to cut off empathy or compassion for their spouse.  In this case, the husband was still focusing inward as he explored his abuse and hadn’t adequately connected with the wife’s pain.  As you seek to rebuild trust in your marriage, you need to step out of your own pain and acknowledge the hurt of your spouse.  Your spouse needs to know you understand how hard it was for them before you can move forward.

For the Partner

It’s normal to be blindsided by the disclosure of addiction.

In the podcast, the wife makes comments like, “I thought I had the perfect marriage” and “I never knew anything was wrong.”  Addicts become adept at hiding their compulsive behaviors and putting on a mask.  If this happened to you, you are not alone.

Because of increasing acceptance of divorce, it is becoming more of a stigma to stay in the relationship and make it work.

Friends, family, even clinical professionals might encourage you to leave the relationship after a spouse’s revelation of sexual addiction.  They might not understand why you’ve chosen to stay if you are able to separate or divorce.  The lack of understanding can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.  While the addict is getting support from therapy or 12 Step groups, the partner also needs significant support.

It is difficult to separate the person from the behavior, but it is important to see them as separate.

Because of the significant betrayal, the perceived narrative about the relationship has been shattered.  The partner begins to distrust her own perceptions not only about the addiction, but also about any positive or good moments in the relationship.  It is important to, as much as possible, see the addict’s behaviors and his identity as separate entities.  The addict’s actions speak to his destructive, addictive behavior, but that does not invalidate the good in him or her.  Similar to what I mentioned earlier for the addict, keep in mind the important of the “and” – good AND bad likely coexist in your spouse.

The addict can’t promise they’ll never act out again.

This is a frightening concept for many couples as they face recovery.  The pain of the discovery leads partners to threaten divorce if the spouse ever acts out again.  But in the course of addiction, there’s a chance of slips or full-on relapses.  The couple has to make a choice that they’ll face the risk together.  As a partner, rebuilt trust doesn’t come from empty promises, but instead from assurance in your spouse’s recovery work and process of setting boundaries.

It is incredibly important to name your needs.

As your spouse seeks rebuild trust in whatever ways they can, they cannot accurately predict what helps you to feel safe and secure in the relationship.  It is a marriage myth that once you are married, you should know everything your partner needs.  Examine why you might be reluctant to share your needs as you look at parts of your story where it wasn’t okay for you to ask for what you needed.  Know that in asking for your needs, you will likely feel vulnerable – this is normal.  Seek to risk in trusting your partner with what you need. 

There is hope to turn this tragedy into a triumph.

pinterest_a_real_couple_talks_sex_and_love_addiction_with_a_marriage_therapist_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_novi_ann_arbor_christian.png

Have you gotten to the end of the road with the attempts you’ve made to fix your marriage that’s been ravaged by sex and love addiction?  Do you feel as though you can’t integrate both the good and bad in yourself or in your spouse?  Are you tired of fighting all the time and not getting to any place of understanding or resolution?  At Restored Hope, I offer marriage counseling specific to couples facing sex and love addiction.  Schedule an appointment at my Ann Arbor office at 734.656.8191 or email me to hear more.