A BETTER ME MAKES A BETTER WE: AN INTERVIEW WITH ELLYN BADER, Ph.D.
Interview Guest: Ellyn Bader, Ph.D., is a co-founder of The Developmental Model of Couples Therapy, which integrates attachment theory and differentiation. Through her work at The Couples Institute, she has specialized in helping couples transform their relationships since 1984.
The idealized relationship where partners are fused at the hip is not a healthy relationship, as it doesn’t allow for the unique differences of each partner. Bader highlights this fusion as a conflict avoidant stance that happens when one partner feels anxious or uncomfortable and attempts to merge with their spouse.
One way of doing this is becoming more like your partner in hopes of being loved. There’s a deep fear that says, “If I express my needs and have different needs than my partner, I’m going to be abandoned.”
The other conflict avoidant stance is loving your partner at arm’s length. The fear in this stance says, “If I become more open and vulnerable, I’m going to get swallowed up and lose my sense of self.”
As Dr. David Schnarch states in his book entitled Passionate Marriage, “Giving up your individuality to be together is as defeating in the long run as giving up your relationship to maintain your individuality. Either way, you end up being less of a person with less of a relationship.”
Fusion happens when a person is fearful of encountering differences. These can be minor differences including how one spends their time or their hobbies, or major differences such as conflict style and desire for togetherness. The opposite of fusion is differentiation.
The Risk of Growth
Bader describes differentiation as an active process “in which partners define themselves to each other.” Differentiation requires the risk of being open to growth and being honest not only with your partner, but also with yourself.
If you’re anxious, it could mean realizing that you lean on partner so much that if they become unstable, you both fall down. Your demands on your partner and the way you discuss conflict may be pushing your partner away, which is the very thing you fear.
If you’re avoidant, it could mean noticing that you neglect your partner’s needs and prioritize yourself over your relationship. As a result, you perpetuate the loneliness you feel. To grow in your relationship requires a willingness to stand on what Bader calls your “developmental edge” and differentiate yourself as an individual. To risk getting closer to your partner without pushing them away.
What Differentiation Looks Like
In conflict, a differentiated lover can give space to their partner who is emotionally overwhelmed while also remaining close enough to be caring and supportive, but not so close that they lose themselves emotionally. Instead of reacting with overwhelming emotion, a differentiated partner, according to Bader, expresses curiosity about their partner’s emotional state:
“Can you tell me more about what’s going on?” “Can you tell me about these feelings?”
The more differentiated you are, the less likely you are to take things as personally. As a result, you can soothe yourself or reach out to be soothed by your partner in a helpful way. Instead of saying, “You’re such a jerk. You never care for me,” a differentiated partner would say, “I’m feeling really overwhelmed and lonely. Could you give me a hug?”
To differentiate is to develop a secure way of relating to your partner. This earned security, as highlighted by Bader, is created both internally and developed within the context of a relationship. This requires being authentic with your feelings and needs.
You can cultivate a secure and functioning relationship by recognizing and taking responsibility for your part in creating unhealthy dynamics in your relationship. When you do this, you can then express your needs, desires, and wishes in a way that allows you and your partner to work together to meet each other’s needs.
When both partners are whole, not only is there more flexibility in the marriage, but there is also more intimacy.
“All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'” – 1 Peter 5:5b
I’ll never forget the first time I discovered what a feeling was. It was in my early forties. “Surely not!” you may be thinking. Yes, it is true. Since then, I have discovered many men still live in this condition. It took an older mentor to help me understand the difference between information and a feeling.
Wives are frustrated because their husbands share information, but not their feelings. They want to know what is going on inside their man. The fact is, most men have not been taught to identify feelings, much less how to share them. It is something that men must learn to do because it is not a natural trait. If they do share their feelings, society often portrays them as weak. No man willingly wants to be portrayed as weak.
In order to become an effective friend and leader, one must learn to be vulnerable with others and develop an ability to share feelings. It is a vital step to becoming a real person with whom others can connect emotionally. This is not easy to do if your parents did not teach you to share your emotional life with others. Emotional vulnerability is especially hard for men. Author Dr. Larry Crabb states,
Men who as boys felt neglected by their dads often remain distant from their own children. The sins of fathers are passed on to children, often through the dynamic of self-protection. It hurts to be neglected, and it creates questions about our value to others. So to avoid feeling the sting of further rejection, we refuse to give that part of ourselves we fear might once again be received with indifference. When our approach to life revolves around discipline, commitment, and knowledge [which the Greek influence teaches us] but runs from feeling the hurt of unmet longings that come from a lack of deeper relationships, then our efforts to love will be marked more by required action than by liberating passion. We will be known as reliable, but not involved. Honest friends will report that they enjoy being with us, but have trouble feeling close. Even our best friends (including spouses) will feel guarded around us, a little tense and vaguely distant. It’s not uncommon for Christian leaders to have no real friends. [Larry Crabb, Inside Out (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Navpress, n.d.), 98-99.]
If this describes you, why not begin on a new journey of opening up your life to others in a way that others can see who you really are? It might be scary at first, but as you grow in this area, you will find new freedom in your life. Then, others will more readily connect with you.
WHY DOES DATING GET HARDER WHEN YOU REACH YOUR 20’S?
You’re older and wiser. You know what you want from life. You
want a relationship, but there’s none in sight. Why is dating so hard in your
Dating through high school and college is one of the most
challenging experiences. These periods mark the beginnings of love, trust, sex
and heartbreak that shape the way your future-self deals with relationships for
years to come. You’re finally out of school with your new adult job, and things
are going great, but there are no romantic prospects in sight. What happened?
There are many emotional and situational difficulties in finding
a mate as you get older. Not only has the world changed since you took a break
from the dating world, but your priorities have changed, and now it seems like
you’re destined to be single forever.
Reasons why dating gets harder as you get older
We’re looking at 10 reasons dating gets harder from 20 onward,
and what you can do about it!
#1 You’ve become set in your ways. It’s true. The
older we get, the more stubborn we become about what we do and do not like.
Working through college-age relationships, while frustrating and sometimes
emotionally crippling, also taught you exactly what you’re looking for in a
mate, as well as all those little flaws you’re simply too old and too wise to put
up with now.
However, it also causes you to become slightly jaded and less
open to new types of people. Like it or not, you’ve become “old” and set in
your ways, and not even Mr. Right can seem to break your stance.
#2 You have more emotional baggage. When you’re a
teenager, you feel like your whole life is ahead of you. Love is blissful, life
is free, people are genuine, and you have all the naivety in the world. It’s
that same naivety that gives you the balls to trust in love and continue
putting yourself through relationship torture for years and years. It is also
during this time in our lives that we begin to develop emotional baggage.
Suddenly the way our first love hurt us sets the pattern for how
we handle future relationships. By the time we’ve hit our mid-20s, 30s and 40s,
our emotional and physical baggage only grows, and if you’re dating within your
age range, then that would mean your potential partner has some baggage of
their own, creating a sticky situation for your future relationship.
#3 It’s way harder to meet people. Ironically, once
you’ve matured and feel like you’re finally ready for a serious relationship,
there seems to be no avenue to find one! Once you’re outside of high school and
college, your dating pool seems to shrink drastically.
The simplicity of taking a chance with that cute girl in class
has now turned into you trolling the gym or your workplace for someone to date.
This only gets harder as you get older, as you’re not exactly keen to go
clubbing for potential partners when you have a 7AM meeting.
#4 You’ve gotten too used to casual dating. On the flip side,
perhaps you’ve spent a little *too* much time in the dating world, and not
enough time in the world of relationships to remember how to do it. As silly as
it sounds, sometimes jumping into a relationship isn’t as easy as riding a
bike, if you haven’t done it for a while.
After 3 years with my serious long term boyfriend, I suddenly
felt like I had no clue how “kids” these days were
pursuing each other. This can be incredibly discouraging to those trying to
jump back into the dating pool, but don’t give up! It may
be hard, but it sure isn’t impossible.
#5 It’s harder to meet someone with your goals. The fabulous thing
about getting older is that you only become surer of what you want out of life.
The only bad side? It becomes harder to meet someone who shares your life goals
after college, especially when life becomes tangled with demanding jobs,
children from a previous relationship, ex-wives and husbands, and other
#6 It’s awkward approaching someone new. While you realize
you’re not in elementary school any longer, the thought of approaching someone
new with the thoughts of dating can sometimes be overwhelming. This may be
easier when you are still in your 20s. However when you hit your 30s, 40s, and
50s, the thought of approaching a stranger for a date becomes as uncomfortable
a thought as approaching a child on your first day of school and asking: “Want
to be friends?”
#7 Someone else has had a chance to shape your potential
mate. Your potential new mate has already had a handful of
relationships, and may even be divorced or separated, meaning they’ve had
dozens of opportunities for someone else to shape their likes, dislikes, intuition,
trust, and everything else in between.
This doesn’t mean your potential mate has entered a “no-go”
zone. It is simply a fact of life. Still, you can’t deny how awesome it would
be to have someone at least a little impressionable to roll in the hay with.
#8 Social media and cell phones have ruined our social
capabilities. This is especially true of those in their 20s. The hard fact is
that while technology has created a fun, diverse, and explorative spin on the
current world we live in, it has also drowned our abilities to properly
Phone call, anyone? Instead, youths today would rather
communicate impersonally via text message than actually get to hear their new
crush’s voice. Ever seen a couple on a date at a restaurant, yet both of them are
glued to their cell phones? Point taken.
#9 Looks have faded. You’re not getting any younger. A
ridiculous thought for those in their 20s, but true for the rest. Don’t deny
checking yourself out in the mirror studying your face at the sleep line that
takes just *that* much longer to go away than it used to, or that one gray hair
that seemed to have five friends attend its funeral.
When you’re young, shallow as it is, you feel like you can skate
by on your looks to at least hook in your man and eventually make him see how
awesome your personality is, too. The same goes for younger guys who subsist on
beer and ramen noodles, and still look like they jumped out of a Chippendale’s
ad. Now you may be finding you’re working your magic the other way around.
#10 The good ones are taken. This applies to
most generations after 20. It seems all the good, cute guys who still have
hair, or the smart, attractive women without children are already committed to
Don’t sweat the small stuff when it comes to finding
relationships in your later years. You may be set in your ways, but you know
what you want, and when you do find that special someone, they’re going to be
of the highest quality, because you won’t accept any less.
Try not to dwell too much on the negatives when it comes to aging and meeting people. The process may be a little more difficult than when you were in your teens, but the result of a mature, loving relationship is totally worth the struggle.
By the time you hit your 20s, 30s, 40s and so on, finding that one guy or gal whom you can spend the rest of your life with may be tougher. But don’t lose hope! Someone out there may be thinking the exact same thing as they wait for your opportunity to meet to finally arise!
THIS SIMPLE COMMUNICATION RULE CAN RESCUE YOUR MARRIAGE
The columnist Ellen Goodman once quoted a friend who gave her daughters terrific advice:
“Speak up, Speak up, speak up!” this mother said. “The only person you’ll scare off is your future ex-husband!” What an improvement over the pre-feminist advice I was raised on: “Listen wide-eyed to his ideas and gracefully add your footnotes from time to time.”
All ways of speaking up, however, are not equal. One of the challenges in marriage is to make authentic “I” statements that express our beliefs and feelings without judging or attacking your partner. This may be easy enough if your partner is nodding vigorously in agreement (“I thought you were brilliant tonight”) or if the subject matter is a neutral one (“I know you like vanilla but I prefer chocolate”). But when you’re dealing with a defensive partner or a high-twitch subject, nothing is simple or easy.
“I” statements, however, can keep a difficult conversation from exploding into an all-out fight. An “I” statement starts with “I think…” I feel…” “I fear…” “I want…” Practice making these kind of statements.
Most importantly, remember that a true “I” statement:
* has a light touch
* is nonjudgmental and non-blaming
* does not imply that the other person is responsible for your feelings or reactions
* is only about you—not about your partner.
Every “you” statement (“You’re being controlling!”) can be turned into an “ I” statement. (“I need to make my own decision here”). Keep in mind, however, that changing the grammatical structure of your sentences is only part of the challenge. You also need to get the edge out of your voice. An intense, reactive tone will “undo” even the most carefully constructed “I”-statement” and may come across as blaming. So hold off until you can state your “I” position without the edge.
A note of caution: Beware of Pseudo “I” Language!
We may think we’re talking in “I” language when we stick “I think” or “I feel” in front of a sentence, but that doesn’t do the trick. Sometimes it’s easy to detect a pseudo “I” statement (“I think you have a narcissistic personality disorder”) that judges or diagnoses the other person.
In many cases, however, the difference between a true “I” statement and a pseudo “I” statement can be subtle. My friend tells this story about his wife Jill. It’s a good example of his wife making an “I” statement that was really a “you” statement dressed up in “I” statement clothing.
My friend writes: My home office has been a mess lately and Jill, who shares the space, is a much more organized person than I am. After glancing at the stacks of papers everywhere on my desk and floor, she said to me:
“When I walk into this room, I feel like our household is totally falling apart.”
Totally falling apart! Our household? I’m her hardworking faithful partner of 14 years and because my half of the office is a mess she feels like everything is crumbling around her? And yet when I said, “That’s a pretty extreme statement, she simply responded, “Well, it’s how I feel.”
How can I possibly respond to that?
A partner is unlikely to have the space to consider his behavior, much less apologize for it, if he feels he’s putting his head on the chopping block and taking responsibility not only for his behavior but for your unhappiness, as well.
Remember this: An “I” statement should serve to clarify our position, not act as a Trojan horse for smuggling in judgments and accusations.
HOW TO ASK IF HE’S SEEING SOMEONE ELSE MINUS THE AWKWARDNESS
If you’ve dated
someone for a few months, you’re now wondering how to ask if he’s seeing
someone else. There’s a way to do it to minimize embarrassment.
exactly easy. Confusion abounds no matter what stage of the game you’re in. If
you’re in that early stage, it can be even more mind-boggling. The problem is,
most of us want to know how to ask if he’s seeing someone else.
Finding the right time
to have this conversation and doing it in the right way can be extremely
difficult. It’s vital that you don’t do it too soon. Timing is everything!
Finding the right time
guys don’t want to be pressured into thinking about the future too soon. That
might be a huge generalization, but most of the guys I’ve met fall into this
category. You might be lucky enough to meet one which has his eye on the future
and can’t wait to get past that awkward stage. If so, hold onto him! For most,
we walk that line of confusion for a short while at least.
conversation right could be the difference between going with the flow in a
more open minded way, and blowing it all too soon. Never fear, there is some
very useful advice you can follow, which should calm the waters somewhat.
How to ask if he’s
seeing someone else in the right way
Figuring out how to
ask if he’s seeing someone else is nerve wracking, but you must keep it casual,
that’s the vital part. Coming on too strong at this point will make him panic
and run. Guys are like that for the most part.
Again, if you find one
who can’t wait to jump into a full blown relationship, assuming that’s what you
want too, great! For most of us, we should follow several unspoken rules to
make this conversation far less of a panic.
The most important
thing lies within you. Be sure what you want from the very start. If you want a
relationship, know that and find out what he wants. If you know for certain
that he doesn’t want a relationship and he wants to keep it casual for a
prolonged period of time, ask yourself whether you’re happy with that.
In the past I’ve made
the vital mistake of going along with it in the hope that he’ll change his mind
and suddenly want a full relationship, yet almost two years on I was still
going around the same hamster wheel of casual hook ups. Not something I would
recommend for anyone. Knowing what you want and having a general idea of where
he’s heading, and where he’s at, will help you avoid wasting time and breaking
your own heart.
Once you know what you
want, go with the flow for a short while and see what happens. Perhaps after
the first few dates, you’ll decide that you really don’t want to take this any
further. It saves you having the conversation and thinking about how to ask if
he’s seeing someone else!
Assuming everything is
going well, wait at least a couple of months before approaching this subject,
and make sure that within those couple of months you’ve been hanging out on a regular
basis, i.e. a few times per week.
Personally, I would
say two months minimum of regular dates, three months if you can. The longer
you leave it, the less pressurized the situation, and the higher the chances of
a positive answer in your favor.
How to have the
Now you know when to
have the talk, we now need to cover how to ask if he’s seeing someone else in
terms of what to say and how to say it. I can’t stress enough that the way you
say this is more important than the words you choose.
Seriously, he’s not
going to love you jumping down his throat with a demanding conversation. So,
it’s vital that you not only approach this in a casual way, but you keep the
tone of your voice light and cheery too.
Ease into the
conversation and don’t make your meet up entirely about asking this question.
Don’t jump straight in with the conversation when you first meet up. Wait a
little, so he can tell that you haven’t arranged to meet up solely to
interrogate him on his dating habits!
When you’re ready to
do the asking, keep it light once more. Something like “Can you believe it’s
been three months we’ve been seeing each other? It’s crazy how fast time goes.”
That’s a generalization and a conversation starter, and he won’t suspect that
you’re going somewhere with it. Then follow up with another line, again stay
light, “I’m not seeing anyone else you know” and use a shrug as another casual
body language aid, and then “are you?”
As you can see,
casual, calm, and the shrug shows that you haven’t made this entire date about
getting a serious answer to a serious question. This breezy attitude is far
more likely to get him to open up and be honest, than if you sit him down and
shine a light in his eyes, demanding to know answers!
Stay in the present
It’s also important
that you keep everything about the here and now. Don’t let your words or your
voice venture into the future. Keep it present tense. If you start bringing the
future into it, you could freak him out; not always, but it’s possible.
Don’t mention what you
want to happen in the future, or what you see on the horizon. You’re not a
fortune teller and you have no clue what’s going to happen. All you want to
know right now is whether or not he is seeing anyone else as well as you. The
answer is all you need for the here and now.
Dealing with the
outcome of what he says
I hope that you get
the answer you want. I hope that he says “no, I’m not seeing anyone else either”…
and that he means it. If you’ve been seeing each other for a while and things
are going well, you’ll probably be able to tell whether or not he’s telling the
truth. Don’t question it, take him at face value.
What if you don’t get
a straight answer? In this case you do need to push a little. A few extra
probing questions will give you a bit more information to go on. This is vital
because, well, why should you waste your time at this point?
If you want this to go
somewhere, you need to know he’s on the same page. If he’s still seeing other
people, he’s clearly not on the same chapter as you, let alone the same page.
At this point, you have permission to be a little firmer.
Keep it semi-light at this point, but get the answer you need. Something like “I just think after this amount of time we should be at least exclusive.” You also have to think about your sexual health here too. If he’s seeing other people, does that mean he’s sleeping with others too? Are you being careful? These are things you need to know.
Understanding how to ask if he’s seeing someone else might be full of pitfalls, but it’s the only way to get the answers you need. Time to take charge of your own dating life.
Here’s an idea for you – try keeping a little record full of the positive
qualities you love, appreciate, and admire about your spouse.
That’s because it is.
However, cheesy isn’t always bad. In fact, this simple exercise will produce
amazing results in the way you feel about and view your spouse.
It may also be a good source of self-evaluation (How are YOU doing as a
Start with these ten questions. They will help ignite within you a deep
gratitude and love for your spouse and help you realize that your spouse really
is your EVERYTHING.
your spouse answer these questions about you? Perhaps sit down together and
answer these questions about each other, then share!
are your FIVE FAVORITE things about your spouse? (i.e. her twinkly eyes; his
steadiness; her laugh; his genius brain power; her ability to keep it real)
2. If there was a book written about your spouse, what kinds of
examples would the chapter on CHARACTER include?
3. What is your spouse’s temperament and disposition like, and
what do you love most about it?
4. What physical aspect of your spouse do you love the most?
5. What, specifically, does your spouse do that makes you smile
6. In what ways does your spouse help you when you are having a
7. What are five things your spouse is really good at doing?
8. In what ways does your spouse support and encourage you?
9. What are some of the greatest things your spouse has accomplished?
10. What attributes and qualities about your spouse do you most
Hopefully you find that this one simple act fills you with
deeper love and gratitude for your spouse.
If you started to feel all the feels and to have a flood of happy memories come
floating back, it’s because gratitude changes people. And it will change you.
You see, the amazing thing about this kind of exercise is that in remembering
and focusing on positive things about your spouse you will find that you
Little things he/she does that bug you may not bug you as much. You will be
more patient. More selfless. More thoughtful.
After writing down your answers to the questions above, take
time regularly to read through what you have written. Then, find a way to share
those things with your spouse. Acknowledge often (and consistently) the
hundreds of good things you see in him or her each day. This acknowledgement
can come in many ways – words, notes, gifts, hugs, letters, expressions of
affection, etc.. The trick is to be specific about the things you love and
admire about your one-and-only.
Tell him you appreciated that he put his toothbrush back in the cup last night.
Tell her when she straightens her hair like that you think she looks drop-dead
gorgeous. Thank him for filling the car up for you before your long drive to
the airport. Hug him (and kiss him) while you tell him that the lawn looks
amazing (or that he looks amazing). You get the picture. Simply let your
spouse know how much you appreciate them for who they are and for who they are
So, go get a pen and paper and answer one of these 10
questions now. Then watch as gratitude works its magic in filling your heart
HOW SETTING HEALTHY BOUNDARIES IN DATING LEADS TO A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP
When it comes
to dating, I need you to understand that how you set boundaries and your level
of honesty sets the stage for the quality of the relationship.
example, in one of my unhealthy past relationships I would notice behavior
(deleting texts from other males, lying, and more) in my partner that made me
very insecure. After numerous failed attempts to increase the security (trust
and commitment), I told myself to “ignore her behavior.”
Dr. Gottman’s research highlights, “adaptation to negativity [and
insecurity] is dysfunctional.” While negativity happens in even stable
marriages (remember the 5 positive to 1
negative interaction ratio), in connected couples it gets repaired.
When a red flag is shown, it gets addressed, boundaries are put up, and the
relationship improves. Dr. Gottman goes on to say that, in marriages that work,
partners notice even lower levels of negativity in the relationship and take
action on it.
means honoring your needs and finding a partner who will work with you to meet
those needs as you meet theirs. It also means being realistic and knowing, as
Esther Perel often highlights, that your partner cannot accommodate you 100% of
the time or fulfill every single one of your needs. The key determining factor
of the success of the relationship long-term is your willingness to bring
up your needs in a gentle and honest way (Hint: “I” statements + a
positive, actionable recipe for success) and your potential partner’s
willingness to work with you to find a win-win solution.
starts by knowing yourself and your needs. Unfortunately, many of us are taught
that our needs are “too much” and so our blueprint for love convinces
us to seek someone who validates this belief system. Since our self-esteem is
low, we often “settle” for bread crumbs of love. I know I did.
And with low
self-esteem, it makes it difficult to be honest about your needs and put up
healthy boundaries. It’s not uncommon for someone to tolerate really unhealthy
behavior so they don’t have to be “alone.” Sadly, this mindset
doesn’t lead to a healthy, happy, and fulfilling relationship where your
significant other and you support each other on becoming the best couple and
individuals you can be.
REACHING A COMPROMISE: PART TWO OF THE STATE OF THE UNION MEETING
Only after you and your partner both feel understood during your weekly State of the Union Meeting can you begin to problem solve in order to reach a compromise. Not before.
The first step in problem-solving is to identify your core needs. Problem-solving fails when partners are not open to being influenced or when one partner gives up too much.
Dr. Gottman recommends drawing two ovals on a piece of paper, a small one and a big one around the smaller one. He calls this a compromise bagel.
Fill in the smaller oval with the needs you cannot live without. These are your inflexible areas. Try to keep this short by including only the needs that are essential to your happiness and, thus, your relationship’s success.
Next, in the bigger oval, list aspects of your position that are negotiable. These are your flexible areas. This doesn’t mean compromising on the need itself. It means being open to shifting some of the specifics about the need, such as timing, location, or methods to achieve your goal.
“I can live with only going out with my friends every other weekend.”
“I’ll switch to a closer yoga studio so I can be home earlier to help out with the kids.”
Your solutions probably won’t be as simple as this. In fact, you can expect a great deal of back-and-forth as you search for ways to weave each other’s needs into something both of you can accept.
Be open to each other’s creative suggestions. Finding a solution may not happen in one meeting. It may take a few meetings and that’s okay and totally normal. I’ve witnessed couples find a win-win even when they appear to be in opposition. For example, Kris and Kurt found a solution that allowed both of their dreams—owning a place in Hawaii while remaining financially secure—to become a reality.
It’s worth mentioning that sometimes compromise isn’t possible in a relationship. This happens when one partner’s dream is the other’s nightmare. For example, if one person’s inflexible need is to have children and their partner is inflexible about not having children, the couple is unlikely to reach a solution. In these cases, couples may need to end their relationship with a clear understanding of their differing values and why they need to move on.
In the majority of relationships, Dr. Gottman’s blueprint does lead to a compromise that works for both partners. After studying thousands of couples, Dr. Gottman discovered that nearly 2/3 of relationship conflict is about perpetual, unsolvable problems. This doesn’t prevent happy relationships—it’s how couples manage perpetual problems that makes the difference.
When dealing with an unsolvable problem in your State of the Union Meeting, it’s important to create a temporary compromise and then revisit it later to see how it is working. This willingness to play with ways of being with each other makes it easy to compromise and truly discover what works and what doesn’t for both partners.
Kris: Let’s move on to the finding a solution part. I have my two circles. I’m inflexible about having time together as a couple and as a family. I need at least a few hours once a week where it’s just you and me, and I need you to spend at least one evening at home during the week so we can have family time. I feel Jacob needs and wants to see more of you.
Emily: Okay, and what are you flexible about?
Kris: I am flexible about the days of the week this happens.
Emily: That makes sense. I am inflexible about going to yoga at least three times a week and attending my weekly women’s support group at the church. I really value being there for those women.
Kris: I know how much you enjoy those women and yoga. I get that. What are you flexible about?
Emily: I’m flexible about taking some of the other responsibilities off my plate such as being the PTO president for Jacob’s school and attending the weekly book club.
Kris: It sounds like we are in agreement about you doing less and spending more time with me and Jacob. Am I hearing that correctly?
Emily: Yes, you are.
Kris: That’s wonderful. I’d like to take you out on a date this week to celebrate breaking through this gridlocked conflict that has been pushing us apart.
Emily: We haven’t gone on a date in a while. That sounds nice. I’ll tell the book club I won’t be attending anymore which will free up my Thursday night and I’ll skip Yoga on Tuesday so I can spend time with you and Jacob. How does that sound?
Emily and Kris were able to reach a compromise fairly easily after they understood each other. Although they worked through a lot of hurt feelings in part one, they were able to hear each other’s core needs and agree to meet them.
You can expect to fall back into a nasty argument on occasion, especially during stressful times. But once you’ve mastered the vital attunement skills, you’ll be able to climb out of the hole before lasting damage is done to your relationship.
As with any new skill, improving attunement and working through conflict in a constructive way will feel uncomfortable and awkward at first. But just like learning to drive, meeting once a week for an hour will eventually cultivate the ability to be able to use your powerful attunement skills the moment there is a misunderstanding.
DATE LIKE YOU DID IN THE BEGINNING AND THE PASSION WON’T END
We are supposed to find love by dating around. All across the globe, different pairs of strangers meet every night at restaurants hoping that the person sitting across from them is “The One.”
Many dates will be awkward enough to signal the server over immediately for the check. Other dates will last for hours. Some couples get lost in the world of sharing their hearts, and when they go on a second and a third date, they put on their best behavior
The new love birds shop for attractive clothes, exercise more, eat well, and groom themselves. One of them will plan the date by picking the restaurant, the dance class, or making a reservation at a hip speakeasy neither has been to. A lot of work goes into seeing each other again.
And this is something we often forget. Dating iswork. It takes an intentional effort. And this effort is created by the desire to impress and please your mate. It is the essence of romance. It is our gestures; the care we put into the way we dress, the places we take our lover, and even the surprises that produce excitement, novelty, and emotional connection.
Date nights are like gasoline to the flames of romance. Yet, 44% of long-lasting couples in America go on one date a year. 1 These couples forget to add wood to the fire to keep the heat burning. And as their relationship goes through time, the fiery passion turns into lonely embers in the night.
“Couples who stop spending romantic time together lose sexual interest in each other.” – The Normal Bar
The authors of The Normal Bar surveyed 70,0000+ individuals and found that more than 60% of men and women in the United States desire more romance.
Globally speaking, women generally wanted to enhance the romance more often than men. But more than one-third of the men said it bothered them a lot that their lover wasn’t more romantic.
When you’re done falling in love, you must learn to stand in love. To wilfully create it. The authors of the Normal Bar propose that Romance is a simple loop that reminds us of this.
And romance is created by the desire to be loved by your partner, to impress them and your desire to love and want them more. This happens in small ways, such as showing admiration for each other, and making each other a priority by continuing to court each other.
The vast majority of the Normal Bar couples who are extremely happy intentionally spend alone time together. No kids. No work. Even after partners share a mailbox together, they still “date.”
The research is in: Date night boosts happiness, emotional connection, and intimacy.
Fortunately for you and me, men and women have similar expectations when it comes to the ideal romantic date.
Women want to feel sexy, have a delicious meal at a nice restaurant, drink some wine, and end the evening with some quality love-making at home (or a high-end hotel if there are kids at home). 2
Men enjoy pleasing their partners by taking them out to dinner at a favorite spot, followed by going somewhere private where they can give and receive full-body sensual massages. Or maybe take a bath that finishes with having sex… “all night long.”
Throw in some heartfelt surprises such as a love note, more affection, and a serious makeout session, and you have yourself the international recipe for an ideal romantic date.
The 3 Excuses for Why You’re Not Dating Your Spouse
Couples who don’t do date night don’t prioritize their time together. The kids, work, and everything else take precedence, and their relationship slowly erodes.
If you do nothing to improve your relationship your relationship will get worse over time.
When asked why they’re not dating, couples come up with three excuses:
We don’t have enough time!
No, you just value spending your time on other things than the passion of your relationship. All of us have to make sacrifices by choosing one thing over another.
A 75-year study on what makes a good life proves that the way to live a meaningful life is not fame or wealth, but by having meaningful relationships. And meaningful long-lasting relationships are cultivated by two people committing to each other.
Commitment to your partner enables you more freedom because you’re not distracted by looking where the grass is greener. Instead, you are focused on making your current lawn lusciously green. It is this investment in your relationship that allows you to go to the depth that the gold of love is discovered.
We don’t have the money for a fancy restaurant or a sitter.
One of my favorite date nights with my partner is getting froyo. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. It only has to be with your partner.
If you’re struggling with having the money for a babysitter, get creative! In The Normal Bar, the authors suggest doing “Block Dating,” which means connecting with other families in your neighborhood and rotating who takes care of the little ones. Every other week, you’ll watch their kids so they can spend the evening on a date. It’s a win-win for the whole block because you get your turn too!
We want to do different things.
Of course you do. You’re different people. Take this opportunity to push each other to do things you normally wouldn’t do. This may require some negotiating.
In Stan Tatkin’s book Wired for Dating, he talks about how his wife Tracey wanted to go to her favorite spot for a drink, while Stan wanted to see a new movie. While Stan is not a fan of just going out for drinks, Tracey prefers to emotionally connect and feels that having a drink together is a perfect way to do that.
So they went to the movie and then talked about it over drinks. While this is a simple example, it shows that your partner’s desire can be an opportunity to learn something new about both of you. It’s your responsibility to find something interesting in the thing you are doing with them, not theirs. Ask questions, explore why they enjoy it, and find delight in their joy.
The Skills of Great Dating
Try something new + learn something new about your partner + intentional together time = Great date
Couples often settle into the relationship and take each other for granted. When fun and novelty fall to the waste side, it can be toxic to a bond. By discovering fun activities that are interesting to both partners, you bring in new and different experiences that spark new levels of intimacy.
Additionally, a great date is built on expressing a real curiosity about your partner’s life. Here’s how to do it:
“Be Interested, not interesting:” 3 Everyone wants to feel valued and admired. Your ability to pay attention to the details of your partner’s life does this.
Ask questions: Remember when you could talk for hours and never got tired of learning new things about each other? This doesn’t have to end. There are always new things to learn. Your partner’s inner world is always changing. You can do this by asking open-ended questions that lead to the heart, such as:
What is a secret dream of yours?
What and who are the most important things in your life right now?
What is your biggest struggle?
If you want more ideas, I highly recommend picking up Dr. Gottman’s card deck: Open-Ended Questions. (Hint: you can even bring them on a date! I do.)
Focus with all your attention: Once your partner is talking, truly listen. That means no cell phones or other distractions. Don’t plan on the next thing you’re going to say. I like to imagine a conversation with my partner as getting a tour of her heart. I’m not sure where it’s going to go, and if I see something I’m curious about, I stop and ask my partner about it.
Show responsiveness: It’s helpful to nod or mm-hmm to indicate to your partner that you’re truly listening.
Date Night Ideas
Struggling to come up with date ideas? Here’s a few ways to brainstorm:
Date Night in a Jar: Pull up Yelp and Google and search for date ideas in your town. Select ten, write them on a piece of paper and put them in a jar. Have your partner pull out one – there’s your date!
Create a bucket list. My partner and I did this recently, and every weekend of our summer is packed with dates and fun things with friends.
Harriet Lerner, Ph.D. proposes a very simple approach to rekindling the flames of dating. If your partner feels emotionally unavailable, you may have a habit of diagnosing your partner and the relationship.
You might accuse your partner of having intimacy issues and blame them of being afraid of getting close to you.
This makes things worse.
Instead of complaining about how you don’t date – plan a date.
Such as, “there’s a new steakhouse in town, want to check it out on Friday?”
Before diagnosing your partner’s intimacy issues, try taking steps to create closeness with them to see how they respond.
The frequency of dates in a relationship is also important. If you only go out a few times a year, The Normal Bar shows that it’s simply not enough for long-lasting relationships. Dating has to happen often enough to become the norm of the relationship. Once a week, or even twice a month will do wonders, not only for the emotional connection but for the sexual connection as well.
Just because you sleep in the same bed every night doesn’t mean dating should end. Make dating a priority. Plan it. Prepare for it. Get excited about it. Think of new places to go, new things to experience, and make romancing your partner a new normal in your relationship. Court and seduce your lover with the same energy you had at the beginning of the relationship, and the fire of passion will continue to burn.
According to the Normal Bar Study based on surveying 70,0000+ individuals across the globe ↩
THE HONEST PATH TO FINDING A LIFELONG PARTNER WITH RACHEL RUSSO
I’ll be honest, dating can be difficult. It’s not uncommon to feel overwhelmed with the number of possible ways to find a life partner, with deciding whether to go on a second date or cancel and eat Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Therapy, or with knowing when to commit to someone. It can feel like a game you just don’t want to play.
That’s why I sat down with Rachel Russo, New York City matchmaker and dating coach, to discuss how you can find someone to create a lifelong partnership with.
In our interview, Rachel and I tackled:
The most common troubles people have when dating and how to solve them
Handling rejection and how to honestly reject others in a mature way
How to take advantage of current dating spaces, both real-world and online
Common Dating Troubles
Years ago I wrote about my frustrations with being a first dateprenuer. I felt lost in a maze called dating, only to find myself running into dead-ends because my dates weren’t “perfectly compatible.”
And that’s a problem.
As soon as I would finish a first date, even on my way back to my car I’d already be back to swiping on dating apps and seeing who else was out there. With the appearance that everyone and their grandmother were available, I believed I had millions of choices.
The problem is that this way of dating plays right into what is called the Paradox of Choice. It’s when you have so many options, you actually choose NOT to choose.
This is a perfect example of one of the struggles with dating. You go on a date, you connect with someone, but then you’re worried about missing out on someone even better. Even if the person you’re on a date with is amazing, you’re worried about not connecting with Janice or Jacob who might be, in your mind, a potentially better fit.
“[W]hen choosing a long-term partner.. [you are also choosing] a particular set of irresolvable problems that you’ll be grappling with for the next ten, twenty, or even fifty years.” – Daniel Wile, After The Honeymoon
To learn more about the more common troubles of dating, watch the interview here.
The Upside of Healthy Rejection
Have you ever thought about the language of rejection in romantic relationships?
“She broke my heart” or “He hurt my feelings” or “Her cheating was like a stab in the back.”
Our attachment system, a primal survival system, is designed to keep you close to others for your safety. After all, your ancestors who stayed closer to the tribe tended to survive long so they could procreate. Essentially, we are hardwired for connection.
This is why rejection is so painful.
But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong or unhealthy. Just because something doesn’t feel good doesn’t mean it’s not good for you.
People who build muscle in a gym tend to undergo difficult workouts and associate a positive meaning to the unpleasant sensations involved, which makes it easier to tolerate.
“This is the skill that’s perilously missing today: the ability to de-couple meaning from feeling, to decide that just because you feel something, it doesn’t mean life is that something.” – Mark Manson, F*ck Your Feelings
You cannot change how icky rejection feels if you do it to someone else or how hurt you might feel if you get rejected by someone you like. What you can change is the meaning. Which paradoxically makes your feelings easier to tolerate. This is classic Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
Let’s look at this as an example:
Let’s say that Alex is interested in taking Lucy on a date. Alex saw her in a coffee shop, and he thought she was beautiful. He walks up to her and says, “Hey there… [slightly awkward small talk]… I was wondering if I could take you out on a date?”
Lucy is not interested in dating someone since she just got out of a 3-year relationship and wants time to focus on herself and her career.
Would it be better for Lucy to agree to go to on the date, even though she is not interested, or would it be better for Lucy to be honest with Alex and tell him that she’s flattered, but isn’t in a space to date at this point in time?
If you think the latter is better, Rachel and I would agree.
Agreeing to go on a date in order to not hurt someone’s feelings will, in the end, hurt their feelings more than it would have if you had been honest and kind and tactfully rejected them in the first place.
As Rachel says, it is far worse to string someone along and waste their time than it is to just be honest about what you may or may not be looking for. This also means NO GHOSTING or benching.
Being rejected shows you who is and isn’t for you. Rejection can enable you to find someone who will meet your needs and someone whose needs will be met by you.
With the plethora of online dating options, you may choose one of the more prevalent apps such as Hinge, Bumble, Tinder, or Match.
While these apps are great, they also put you in a large dating pool with people who have a wide range of interests, which makes it harder to sort through who will be a good fit for you. This means more effort on your end.
Luckily, there are websites that help filter for certain values such as fitness and physical health, mindfulness, and more.
“If you are like most [people], the most important decisions you make about [dating] won’t feel like [a dating] decision at all. Where you decide to live, study, work and hang out are not just random, superficial lifestyle choices…The fact is, you can’t meet the right [partner] if you’re in the wrong place. This means that your city, your college campus, your workplace, your gym, and your favorite coffee shop are not just physical locations. They’re what scientist call ‘mating markets.’” – Tucker Max and Dr. Geoffrey Miller – Mate: Become the Man Women Want
Essentially, the best dating advice is to make dating an extension of your personal life because your local dating zone comprises all of the potential partners whose dating zones overlap with yours. 1
And when you’re having fun doing things you love, you’re probably way more attractive than if you are doing things you don’t enjoy.
In summary, the best strategy to authentically finding a life partner is to understand yourself and use that information to do social activities that lead to connections with other people who have similar values as you do.