WHEN IS IT TIME TO SAY “THIS RELATIONSHIP IS OVER”?
Frequently people come into my office unsure about whether their relationship is worth saving or if it is beyond repair. As couples tell me the story of their relationship I hear them describe the ways they each feel hurt, lonely, and discouraged. Sometimes couples come in soon after they recognize they need support in communicating with each other in better ways. They haven’t had much conflict and they feel terrible about the things they recently said to each other in the heat of the moment.
More often, however, couples have been coping with their painful dynamics for years, and their level of discouragement is high, and their hope is low. They have ingrained patterns of fighting – yelling, screaming, name-calling, and/or silence. The Four Horsemen are running rampant. They feel embarrassed and worried about how all of the fighting is affecting their kids. Maybe there has been an emotional or sexual affair. Maybe one or both partners struggle with addiction – gambling, pornography, drugs, and/or alcohol.
I often ask clients “Why do you stay in this relationship?” Or “What is your commitment to working on this relationship?”. These are some of the answers I hear regularly:
THE RISKY PARADOX OF LOVE: THE MORE YOU GIVE, THE MORE YOU FEEL
Love is often perceived as this easy thing that everyone is capable of doing. I find this to be untrue. To love and be loved can create anxiety.
To have the faith that we are lovable and beautiful with our scars, not just temporarily, but permanently in our own heart, is a questionable endeavor for many. Even I am not immune to the protective armor we wear to guard our fragile bleeding hearts.
I remember sitting in my psychoanalyst’s office talking about a new relationship I was starting. I told my analyst that my mind was jumping to conclusions. “Maybe she wants children right now and I’m not ready for that,” I said to him. “She doesn’t text very often because she’s busy working an amazing job. I don’t think she has time for me.”
THE DEATH OF LOVE ISN’T NATURAL: THE 7 STEPS TO SEPARATION
“Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source, it dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds, it dies of weariness, of witherings, or tarnishings, but never a natural death.” – Anais Nin
Marriages rarely end overnight. They tend to unravel over time, in ways that are now fairly predictable thanks to research by Dr. John Gottman. In 1986 Dr. Gottman and his colleagues built a Love Lab to learn the secrets of lasting love and understand why love dies.
By studying couples for over 40 years, Dr. Gottman could predict with a 90% accuracy which marriage would fail, and which would succeed. These are the factors he found most often contribute to the dissolution of a marriage:
Life experiences, family dynamics, and the influence of society generate many ideas of what a marriage should look like, especially when it comes to wedding planning and handling conflict. What people often forget is that the wedding itself is a symbol of something much greater: a marriage.
Young couples are often thrown off when conflict arises during the wedding-planning process. Isn’t this supposed to be the “honeymoon” phase of the relationship? It certainly can be. But sometimes, people choose to completely deny and avoid any premarital conflict in order to “keep the peace” and convince themselves that they have found the “perfect” partner.
The reality is that tension and stress (hello, wedding planning) will often become the fertile ground for conflict and your differences to emerge. It’s essential to have a grasp on what some of the damaging myths are that our world continues to hold about conflict, and what that means for your relationship.
SELF CARE: CHERISHING YOURSELF AND YOUR RELATIONSHIP
In Wednesday’s posting on The Gottman Relationship Blog, in which we shared a recent study out of UC Berkeley on the relationship between sleep and relationship conflict, we brought up the importance of cultivating good habits in self care, one of the most critical tools in maintaining healthy relationships. This weekend, we offer you a few of Dr. Gottman’s tips for goal-setting and stress management! We hope that the following lists will help you as you work to find balance and create a healthier lifestyle, both for yourself and for your relationship.
DR. GOTTMAN’S TIPS FOR GOAL SETTING:
Make your goals specific and measurable. Rather than telling your partner that you would like to talk more, suggest that you go on a date every other Saturday. Leave the kids with the babysitter and find some time for just the two of you.
Think about the pros and cons of making healthy changes. If we stick with the example above, we could imagine that a pro would be the ability to feel closer to each other and relax (at a favorite dinner spot, on a jaunt through a beloved park, in a cozy cafe), and a con could be the price of the babysitter.
A DAD’S LETTER TO HIS SON (ABOUT THE ONLY GOOD REASON TO GET MARRIED)
It seems like yesterday you were blowing poop out of your diaper onto your mother’s lap. Yet here we are, on the verge of the birds-and-the-bees conversation. The poop was way easier.
Before we talk about sex, though, I want to talk about marriage. Not because I’ll shun you or shame you if you don’t put them in that order—although I hope you will—but because I believe the only good reason to get married will bring clarity to every other aspect of your life, including sex.
“I thought I was promiscuous, but it turns out I was just thorough.” Russell Brand
Many married people envy singles for their greater romantic freedom in conducting casual relationships. Do singles envy married people for their enduring serious relationships? A recent study(link is external) of singles in the United States, conducted by Match, the world’s largest relationship company, indicates surprising trends.
IS BEING SEXY MORE IMPORTANT THAN BEING BEAUTIFUL?
Should we bring sexy back?
“I think being sexy is far more important for love and sex than beauty; and it is also quickly identifiable. If I see an unsexy pretty man, I can appreciate the looks but I don’t feel sexually attracted to him. This happens often, not just to me, not just to women. I’d like to think of myself as both sexy and good-looking.” A married woman
Both being sexy and beautiful enhance romantic attraction. Which one is more dominant? And which one is more positively received? The answer is not obvious.
IN RELATIONSHIPS, NOT ARGUING MEANS YOU’RE NOT COMMUNICATING
Lisa Brookes Kift
Researchers are doing a great job raising awareness about harmful things couples say and do in a relationship. For example, we now know from the work of Dr. John Gottman that there are four communication patterns which predict whether a couple will stay together or break up: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.
We know high conflict couples are on a one-way trip to divorce if they don’t learn how to better communicate, take responsibility, and work towards shifting their adversarial paradigm to a more collaborative one.