Is your relationship ready for football season?

By Clay Culp, Relationship Rx facilitator

Watch Clay discuss this on WTNZ’s morning show here.

It’s almost football time in Tennessee.

Nothing brings people together quite like a football Saturday in Knoxville. Perfect strangers can become best friends for a few precious hours. But if you and your partner have significantly different levels of interest in football, the season can instead lead to feelings of distance and tension.

Is your relationship ready for football season? Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Football fans:

Pay attention: Attention really is one of the most basic forms of love. When partners find their attention drifting away from each other, the relationship may be in trouble. It makes sense then, that partners often feel neglected when their significant other shifts a significant portion of their attention to football. It can go beyond annoying to actually being hurtful. Remember not to let your love of the game get in the way of the love for your partner.

Watch out for spillover: A football game may only last a few hours, but it’s impact can go far beyond that. Emotional spillover can be a major problem, especially after a loss. If football is taking up a lot of your time, the importance of protecting your other time becomes even more important. This means finding ways to calm yourself down and hit the reset button so you can be present with your partner. Remember, over-doing it with tailgating and alcohol will only make this harder. Add excess alcohol to the emotions of a football game, and you can quickly have a relationship disaster on your hands. Alcohol lowers inhibitions, making hurtful statements and even physical violence more likely. Make it your responsibility not to let your negative emotions contaminate otherwise quality time.

Non-football fans:

Accept your partner: The struggle to change someone is often even more exhausting than the issue itself. Trying to convince your partner that football doesn’t or shouldn’t matter will not work. The end result of your efforts will likely be increased anger and resentment. Instead, try accepting their fandom as one of many things that make your partner who they are, not a problem that needs to be fixed.

Communicate the real issue: Your partner’s focus on football could be upsetting for a variety of reasons, like lack of quality time or even increased spending. Regardless, the key is communicating in a direct and constructive manner. Rather than attack football itself or your partner, explain specifically how you are feeling and being affected. One way to do that is to remember to complain rather than criticize. There is a huge difference between saying “Will you quit staring at the TV? All you care about is football!” (criticism) and “I’m disappointed you’ve spent most of the day watching football. I was really looking forward to catching up with you today” (complaint).  Both approaches are bids for attention, but the former is likely to be seen as an attack, cause defensiveness, and drive your partner away. The latter shows a more vulnerable side which is more likely to bring your partner nearer.

For both:

Watch out for patterns: All relationships have patterns — predictable negative interactions based on natural differences in personality, style, and preferences. Usually manageable, major changes have a way of making patterns worse. Although we might not often think about football in this way, the amount of time, emotion, and energy involved can make it a major trigger for patterns. For example:

Spender/saver: A “saver”  might have a very hard time wrapping their mind around spending hundreds of dollars on tickets to a game. It’s nerve-wracking to think about what might happen if that money is needed for something more important later. On the other hand, a “spender” might not think twice about using the money for a special experience they’ll remember for a long time. For the spender, not being allowed to do so after working hard to earn that feels like a wasted opportunity to live life to the fullest.

Introvert/extrovert: Go to the game with 100,000 of your closest friends or stay in the air-conditioned, high-def equipped comfort of your your own home? Introverts and extroverts may have two very different responses to this question based on their preferences.

If you and your partner are on different ends of patterns like this, remember your partner is not trying to make you miserable. They’re just built differently.

Celebrate your differences: Your difference around this issue can be an exciting opportunity to get to know each other better. Discover what excites the other and makes them tick. If you don’t like football that much, be curious and try to learn what your partner likes about it so much. If your partner doesn’t like football, find out what they do like and do it with them. This can also be a time to comfortably explore individual hobbies and interests apart from one another.

 

 


Communication mini-manuevers

By Clay Culp, Relationship Rx facilitator

Watch Clay discuss the topic on WBIR.

We say it constantly: Conflict is a normal part of any romantic relationship. It makes sense then, that the ability to heal after a fight is a crucial relationship skill. We’ve all been there. There’s a huge fight, maybe even stemming from something seemingly minor. Feelings are hurt, and you’re left trying to pick up the pieces. But what if we could short circuit our destructive communication patterns before it ever got that far?

In fact, we all have our own little peace-keeping tactics, or repair mechanisms, as described by psychologist John Gottman. Like an in-flight course correction keeps a plane from veering too far off course, these maneuvers help keep dialogue flowing in a smooth, safe manner. Unfortunately, in the heat of the moment we sometimes forget to use these skills, or even block our partners well-meaning attempts to keep things on track. If we can improve our ability to use and respond well to these repair mechanisms, we have the opportunity limit emotional flooding, stop a would-be fight in it’s tracks and turn back toward a healthier way of communicating.

1) Edit and filter: Look for the constructive aspect in your partner’s statement. Even if there’s a critical word thrown in or perhaps just a nasty tone, trying ignoring that and responding only to the important, deeper message behind it. Remember, anger is often a signal from our partner that they are trying to get our attention or feel unheard. With this in mind, we should remember to filter our own words before we speak. Think about what will actually be productive and leave out the rest.

2) Direct traffic: Be directive and intentional about keeping the conversation focused and productive.  This can be as simple as “You’re interrupting me,”  “We’re getting off topic,” or “Tell me more.” Although some of these comments might seem rude, their potential to do good often outweighs the negative.  Remember,it’s easy for conversations to get off track, but conflicts are usually best solved one at a time.

3) Focus on the present: Talk about how you’re communicating and feeling in the moment. When the conversation gets bogged down in the details, this type of meta-communication helps bring the conversation back to what matters. This might mean saying something like, “It hurts my feelings when you say that.” It could also mean asking your partner how they are feeling in the moment then listening non-defensively.

4: Polite persuasion: Don’t torpedo your chance at compromise by taking an overly strong initial stance. Be open about your willingness to negotiate and your desire to understand their perspective. This can set the tone for the discussion and avoid the sense of gridlock that often leads to more lasting feelings of hurt and frustration.

5) Humor: There’s nothing quite like a shared moment of laughter to diffuse tension and remind partners of their connection. Although it’s a skill that can’t exactly be taught, one helpful idea is to remember not to take yourself too seriously. So often we realize how silly our disagreements are after the fact, a shared realization of this (even briefly) can be a very powerful thing.

 


Communication – Back to the Basics

How to Talk Effectively with Your Partner, Children, Friends, and Coworkers

by Audrey Kasting, Relationship Rx Facilitator

 

When it comes to communication tools, sometimes knowing the “correct” or “fancy” ways to phrase things can be fun and empowering. But for any tool to be most helpful, you also need to be knowledgeable about the basics. Think of it like any other learned skill. Take dancing for example: in order to become proficient in any type of dance, you have to first learn the basic steps. Then, and only then, can you really master the most flashy and complicated steps. Here are some communication basics to always keep in mind:

 

  • If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all.
    • Most of us were taught this idea when we were young. Our parents or guardians would instruct us that we should not be mean or say hurtful things, and that as a simple rule, we should not say anything if it wasn’t nice. I believe this is a good, basic communication tool for us as adults as well. It can be very hurtful and damaging when we criticize our children, friends, or our partner. In these relationships, especially with our partner or spouse, we are closer and more vulnerable than we are with others. Therefore, we have more power to do real emotional harm when we criticize and use put-downs. This doesn’t mean you should avoid conflict, but that you should simply table the discussion if all you want to do is attack.

 

  • Speak for yourself.
    • Speaking for yourself simply means to talk about what you know for sure. In any given situation, you will never know with 100% certainty what your partner is thinking/feeling. Sure, you may have a good guess, but to be safe and fair in a conversation, when you talk about your experience, your feelings, and your thoughts, things go more smoothly. When we guess, assume, or accuse, we immediately put our partner on the defensive.

 

  • Actions speak louder than words.
    • It is easy to think about how to say and word things when talking about “communication,” but the truth is, most of our communication is non-verbal. Think about what your body language, your facial expressions, and gestures are telling your partner. Are you interested? Are you showing respect and love? Think about not only what your words are saying, but what your body is saying.  It can be easy for us to try and “multi-task,” and look at our phones, tablets, or televisions, or try and do other things while we’re trying to talk to someone important.  Make sure you show your partner, child, friend, or coworker that you are listening and that you care.  Take the time to face one another and really listen.

 

  • Aim to understand, not necessarily to agree.
    • We will differ in our opinions from our partner or family members – and that is okay. Different ideas can make for an exciting conversation if they are handled respectfully. If you constantly try to convince your partner to agree with you, this mindset only breeds pressure and hostility.  Instead, try and aim to help him or her understand your point of view.  Thinking, “it’s my way or the highway,” will only stir bitterness. Try to put yourself in the other’s shoes and see his or her point of view as well! Deeper more intimate conversations will only happen when we respectfully explore our partner’s world, not when we attack his or her different ideas.

 

  • Be curious!
    • Improving our communication not only means learning and practicing tools that help us talk about difficult or negative topics; we should also learn how to improve our positive conversations as well.  Simply being curious about the person you are talking to will change the way your conversation goes. Curiosity sparks more questions, and encourages us to deepen our understanding of our partner, children, friends, and colleagues.  A study published by the Journal of Consumer Psychology found that long-term couples were sometimes less likely to know their partner’s preferences than couples who had only been married for a couple of years.  This information suggests that we need to keep learning about one another!  We are always growing, changing, and experiencing new things; just because we’ve known someone for a long time doesn’t mean we can’t learn something new, or have an interesting discussion.

 

To see Audrey discuss these points in Fox 10 News, click here!

 


Relationship styles: Righting your ratio

By Clay Culp, Relationship Rx facilitator

balance med

Watch Clay discuss this topic on WBIR.

Contrary to popular opinion, there’s more than one way to do stable and healthy when it comes to relationships. It’s all about having the right ratio of positive and negative interactions. Research by John Gottman has shown that most stable relationships can be characterized by one of three styles, each with their own pros and cons. Sharing a similar preferred relationship style helps partners deal with conflicts in ways that feel mutually satisfying. Alternatively, a mismatch in styles can often lead to destructive patterns of communication. When working well, each style helps couples make sure the number of positive interactions far outnumber the negative — a crucial ingredient for relational stability.

1) Validating: This is the type of relationship you probably think of when you hear professionals discuss the do’s and don’ts of relationships. Arguments between validators are characterized by mutual respect and a sense of “we-ness” that allows for compromise and problem solving. Couples in validating relationships tend to be highly-skilled communicators who are naturally empathetic, even in the face of conflict with their partner. While these partners do try to persuade one another, they are likely to validate their partner first and use caution as to not run roughshod over their partner before coming to a mutually agreeable decision.

Key strength: Strong sense of “we-ness.” Great problems solvers.

Pitfalls: Couples may struggle to manage individual interests as they focus on compromise and unselfishness.

2) Volatile: As the name suggests, sparks — both good and bad — tend to fly with these couples. Arguments are intense, not infrequent, and focused on trying to win the fight and change the other person’s mind rather than developing mutual understanding. Although volatile couples have a comparatively high level of conflict, they make up for it with high levels of passion, engagement, and affection. Their high level of engagement during conflict and their knack for emotional honesty and expressiveness fuels their positive interactions. Perhaps most important, volatile couples are masters at making up after a fight.

Key strengths: High levels of passion and engagement. Great at making up.

Pitfalls: Negativity can overwhelm the relationship. Honesty to the point of being hurtful.

3) Conflict avoidant: Rather than either the mutual respect and understanding of validating couples or the passion and persuasiveness of volatile couples, conflict avoidant relationships are characterized by resolving things by “agreeing to disagree.” Conflict avoiders acknowledge disagreement, but rather than come up with a mutually beneficial compromise arguments are often ended with one partner simply agreeing to be more like the other or with both partners agreeing that the issue just isn’t such a big deal in the grand scheme of their relationship. By leaning on the good aspects of their relationship, these couples are able to avoid having to resolve many issues altogether. Conflict avoiders seem to have a keen sense of what their irresolvable issues are and how to avoid the pain that continued struggle over them often causes other couples. Despite not having a solution, avoiders can leave an argument still feeling positive, having reminded themselves about all they do agree about.

Key strengths: Low levels of hostility and negativity. Won’t spin their wheels.

Pitfalls: Inability to handle major conflict, risk of withdrawal and loneliness.

While Gottman argues that most stable long-term relationships eventually lead to one of these three styles, couples can continue to negotiate their style, learning from the best of each style. The most important thing is to know and understand both your own and your partner’s style.

Photo used under Creative Commons license.

 


XYZ Statements

By Audrey Kasting, Relationship Rx Facilitator

One of the communication skills we often teach in our workshops is called XYZ Statements. These statements can be used for both complaints and compliments. Many find this formula useful for voicing a complaint because it is a direct, yet more gentle way to send a difficult message. Though this formula was created with couple communication in mind, they work not only with your partner, but are good for sending messages to your children, friends, and colleagues as well.

The name “XYZ Statement” comes from the makeup of this tool. There are three components to each of these statements, that is, an “X,” a “Y,” and a “Z.” Below are the explanations for each part, and some examples as well.

  • X: The first part of the statement picks out a specific behavior that bothered or upset you. Picking out a behavior helps you to avoid criticizing your partner. Saying, “When you left your socks on the floor,” is more specific and more helpful than saying, “You are so lazy.” Criticizing someone’s character like this, or name-calling, not only makes it difficult for that person to hear you and be understanding, but it is generally just unfair. When picking out a behavior, avoid name-calling. If you are giving a compliment, pick a behavior that you liked or really appreciated!
  • Y: The middle part of your statement, or the Y, is simply making X more specific. Many times, it is helpful to say when the specific behavior, or X, happened. For example, “When you left your socks on the floor yesterday,” helps your partner know exactly what you are referring to. I know what some of you are thinking: What if my partner does something that bothers me often? Even if your partner does something often, avoid using “always,” or “never,” as these lead to criticisms and unfair blanket statements. Y can sometimes be more general, as long as it still helps your partner to know exactly what you are talking about. See other examples below. Again, same rule applies for compliments – just make it more specific.
  • Z: The last part of the statement is critical, because here you tell your partner what you are feeling and why, or how you were affected. By focusing on your own emotions or experience, the statement is then less blaming and easier for your partner to hear and digest. For example, “When you left your socks on the floor yesterday, I felt annoyed.” Sometimes more of an explanation here can be helpful: “When you left your socks on the floor yesterday, I felt annoyed because I worked hard to clear the floor in order to vacuum the house.” If you’re giving a compliment, this is a good opportunity to tell your partner how he or she made you happy, and to show gratitude.
  • **Additional thoughts: When someone tells us about something we did to upset them, it is always a little hard to hear, no matter how nice it is worded. It is natural for someone on the receiving end to feel a little defensive. For this, I have two suggestions:
    • Pick the time wisely to tell your partner your complaint. If you are already in the middle of a fight, and things are escalated, chances are this probably won’t go as well. Or if you or your partner are already highly stressed or upset about something else, it may not be as well received. Don’t put it off too long, but use your best judgment as to when you think your partner might be a better listener.
    • Expect a little defensiveness. Give your partner room, and don’t snap back into criticisms if your partner doesn’t hear your complaint right away. If you are on the receiving/listening end, be open-minded. Respect that your partner took the time and put thought into using an XYZ Statement instead of using hurtful criticisms.
  • Though the formula is somewhat simple, these statements take practice! Be persistent and keep trying.
  • And remember: this formula is for compliments too! See examples below.

Examples:

The statements below are color-coded to help show each component. X is in purple, Y is in blue, and Z is in green.

Compliments:

  • When you asked me how meeting went after I got home, I felt really loved.
  • When you hug me when I’m sad, I feel very comforted.
  • When you helped me do the dishes last night while I cooked, I feel relieved that there was less to do before we went to bed.
  • Because you’re supporting me while I look for work, I feel very grateful.

Complaints:

  • When you left your socks on the floor yesterday, I felt annoyed because I worked hard to clear the floor in order to vacuum the house.
  • When you hung up on me during our argument the other night, I felt hurt.
  • When you didn’t make sure you were free for our scheduled date night this week, I felt disappointed.
  • When you threaten to end the relationship when you’re upset, I feel scared.


Normal Rough Patch?

By Audrey Kasting, Relationship Rx Facilitator

It seems to be common knowledge that there are natural and expected ups and downs in a marriage or long-term relationship. Couples prepare themselves to go through hard or more stressful times together. During these periods they may not feel as close, may find that they don’t have as much time to talk, that they may not do as many fun things together, or that their sex is less frequent or satisfying. Whatever the changes, couples may find that overall they are feeling less intimate, secure, or “in love.” An important question to ask is: “Are me and my partner just going through a normal rough patch? Or are my/our feelings diminishing?” The answer to this question is going to depend on each couple and their circumstances. Younger couples may especially find themselves wondering this, since they have not yet spent decades together. But here are some areas to think about if this is a thought that’s crossed your mind:

  • Infatuation ends. Most of us have experienced the wonderful rush of falling in love.       For a great number of us, there was a period in our relationship where we could not imagine a time when we would quarrel with our partner. Being infatuated with someone is driven by chemical processes in our brain, which is why we feel happy and full of energy. This cocktail of dopamine, norephinephine, and oxytocin may make us feel like we are on top of the world and that our relationship is perfect. Once we come down from this high and are no longer in a euphoric state, we learn things about our partner that bother us. The initial rush may have passed, but for couples who continue to communicate and make clear decisions for their relationship, infatuation will start transforming into a deeper attachment and love.
  • Commitment has two parts. Research suggests that “commitment” is actually comprised of two things. The first is “dedication commitment,” which refers to the feeling of wanting to be with your partner, and a willingness to put in the time and energy into your relationship. The second is “constraint commitment,” which refers to the shared investments you and your partner have. Constraints can include, but are not limited to, shared bank accounts, a house or apartment, children, and a shared history together. Constraints make it harder to leave a relationship. We also know from couples research that in a relationship, there will be times where dedication commitment will drop; during these periods, constraints help a couple work through the stress or difficulty. Research by Johnson and other show that of married couples who seriously thought about divorce and stuck it out, 90% of them were glad they worked through it.[1] With good communication, partners will most likely see their dedication begin to increase again once that period has passed. Ebs in flows in that feeling can be normal.
  • Deciding vs. sliding. Couples research consistently find that couples who make clear and purposeful decisions for their relationship fare better than other couples.       Individuals who find themselves constantly sliding in relationship decisions may begin to feel less secure or more confused later on. For example, many couples choose to live together to save money and to spend more time together. Sometimes this happens because someone’s lease ended, and it was more a matter of convenience. When this couple starts to experience more stress, one or both people might question their feelings for the other more strongly since they were not as intentional in cohabitating. Or, they may have different ideas about their commitment and what living together means for their relationship.
  • Choosing the right match.   Of course, these times of transition or stress will make many of us wonder, “Am I with the right person?” Again, the answer to this question is going to depend on each individual and couple and circumstance. However, some things to consider may include:
    • Is your relationship safe?
    • Do you share interests and values?
    • Expect good communication but don’t run from conflict.
    • Have a bottom line.

If your relationship is physically and/or very emotionally unsafe, then your relationship may need a more serious intervention such as couples therapy, in order for it to continue and grow. This may also be a sign that your partner is not right for you. Everyone should have a standard for how they want to be spoken to, and everyone deserves respect. Sure, partners won’t always use good communication skills with one another; we all make mistakes and have slip-ups. But if your partner is not on the same page in willing to try and better things, and if he or she doesn’t give you basic respect for your wants, needs, or who you are as a person, putting more energy into the relationship may not be in your best interest.

Dr. John Gottman has found in researching couples for over 20 years that 2/3 of the conflict that couples have is over perpetual issues. That means only 1/3 of the conflicts that we have in our partnerships will be solvable. We have to know that we will inevitably differ from our partner, and some of those differences will create conflict that to some degree will never go away. We will have to become good at managing conflict, because not everything we run up against is fixable. It is up to us to decide to work on these with our partner, or if those differences are something we are willing to tolerate and accept. If your partner differs from you in a way that demands you to change yourself or your basic values to receive love or respect, that person is probably not right for you. However, if you and your partner decided to work on you areas of difference in a respectful way, you may find yourselves having similar arguments or discussions over and over. That is actually normal. Some differences may not even come to light until a major life event or transition. But differences by themselves do not necessarily indicate a bad relationship or that you’re falling out of love. Differences can be helpful, complimentary, and a source of greater love and appreciation for your partner.

 

**The contents of this article are meant to be informative in nature and are not meant to tell anyone what to do about any particular relationship decision. Decisions about whether to stay in or leave a serious relationship are not to be taken lightly, and there is a lot to consider. We suggest talking to an individual counselor, case manager, pastor, or another person who is unbiased and supportive to help you if needed. Please talk to your Relationship Rx Facilitator or your health care professional for additional resources in this area.

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[1] Johnson, C.A., Stanley, S.M., Glenn, N.D., Amato, P.A., Nock, S.L., Markman, H.J., & Dion, M.R. (2002). Marriage in Oklahoma: 2001 baseline statewide survey on marriage and divorce. (202096 OKDHS). Oklahoma City, OK: Oklahoma Department of Human Services.


Hidden communication pitfalls

By Clay Culp, Relationship Rx facilitator

Watch Clay discuss this topic on Fox43’s WTNX morning show WTNZ.

Some communication problems are obvious, like name-calling, yelling, or refusing to talk altogether. But other more subtle tactics often hamper our conversations more than we realize. None of us communicate perfectly, but with attention we can improve this critical relationship skill. The following pitfalls have a way or hiding from our own attention, causing damage then leaving us feeling confused as to where we went wrong.

1) Contaminating praise: It’s possible to negate a compliment by adding things like “but” or “if only.” For example, something like “It’s go great you took out the trash honey. Now if only you wouldn’t let it pile sky high next time!” This may stem from a sense that giving our partner too much praise might cause them to get over confident and stop doing what we’ve just appreciated so much. In fact, the opposite tends to be true! Praising our partner is a powerful way to reinforce that the things we’d like to see more of, but contaminated praise is sapped of it’s power.

2) Hostile humor: This isn’t mutual, good-natured teasing. Instead, passive-aggressive, often sarcastic, attacks are masked with a thin veneer of humor.  This can be used a crutch to bring up difficult subjects that might otherwise leave us feeling vulnerable. Other times, we may tease our partner without the intention of being hurtful while not realizing how personally our partner may take the joke. Regardless of the intention or form, the common thread with this type of humor is it’s invalidating effects.  The result is an erosion of emotion safety between partners.

3) Premature problem solving: Our partner comes to us with a problem or an emotion and immediately, we go into fix-it mode. We think we’re being helpful, but in reality we’re frustrating our partner and not meeting their emotional needs. The issue isn’t so much whether the suggestions are good or not. Instead, this is usually a issue of timing. Often, what’s needed more than anything is simple, attentive listening. Problem solving can come later when we’re invited to do so. If you’re not sure whether your partner needs problem-solving or just listening , the surest way to find out is to ask.

4) Over-agreeability: This is a twist on more obvious forms of withdrawal, like completely leaving the room or refusing to speak altogether. While giving up and simply agreeing with our partner might seem like a generous thing to do, agreeing in bad faith just to end an argument causes damage in it’s own way. While it may tamp down tensions for the moment, resentment is likely to build as one person goes along against their wishes and the other feels shut out by their partner.  It robs both you and your partner of the possibility of meaningful conversation, and mutual understanding.


Withdraw-Withdraw Pattern

By Audrey Kasting, Relationship Rx Facilitator

            As mentioned in earlier posts, patterns of interaction that couples can become trapped or stuck in develop over time and often without the individuals realizing it. Their natural ways of being, interacting, and communicating with one another become a problematic road-block. Patterns usually do not exist from the beginning of a relationship. Additionally, patterns can change into new patterns over time. This shift is the result of one or both partners adjusting their reactions or stance in a set of exchanges.

One pattern that often develops as a result of this kind of shift is called the Withdraw-Withdraw Pattern. This pattern in particular is one of the ways that the Demand-Withdraw Pattern can shift if left unaddressed.

When a couple becomes engulfed by a Demand-Withdraw Pattern, the person withdrawing is reinforced to withdraw more, because the partner reacts with more demands. The person pulling or doing more “demanding,” is then reinforced to pull harder or demand more often, because their partner retreats more. After a while, this partner may get so frustrated and emotionally tired from pulling that they give up this endeavor. Most likely at this point they have also built up some amount of resentment, and so begin withdrawing themselves. This withdrawal could be an attempt to protect themselves, a general surrender, or a different attempt to gain their partner’s attention or hurt their partners’ feelings.

This does not mean, of course, that a Withdraw-Withdraw Pattern always comes from Demand-Withdraw; if both partners have a personality or natural way of interacting that fits with easily withdrawing from or clamming up in conversation, it has the possibility of developing on its own.

We know from couples research that withdrawal in relationships is a danger sign. Withdrawing too soon and/or too often can begin to erode a couple’s connection over time. Many times it’s done in a protective fashion; perhaps the partner withdraws in order to stop the anger in the room from getting worse, for example. Though this behavior is done with good intentions, the result is not always positive. The risk that withdrawal poses is failing to return to the conversation, and as this happens over and over again, important issues go unaddressed or unresolved. Then what we mean by “withdrawal” may not be just leaving a conversation early, but ends up meaning a general reluctance or unwillingness to try and connect or interact with your partner. Or, simply put, “checking out,” of the relationship.

You can probably begin to imagine why it would be difficult and dangerous once a couple has made their way to this point. With both people pulling into their own shell and not attempting to engage the other person, not only are issues going unaddressed, but their bond begins to significantly weaken. Plus, both people end up feeling hurt, neglected, sad, disappointed, afraid, and worst of all, alone.

            ~What To Do~

  • Notice the pattern. Being aware that you and your partner are engaged in a potentially damaging pattern is key. The first step to adjusting to healthier ways of communicating is realizing the need for adjustment.
  • Trust building. Brainstorm with your partners ways to build trust with one another in small bits. By sprinkling in more positives and moments that build trust, your foundation for emotional safety will also become stronger. You don’t necessarily have to share your darkest, deepest secret in order to build trust. Some simple ideas other couples have come up with are telling jokes, talking about what happened during the day, holding hands, or texting one another compliments.
  • Accept you and your partner’s personality differences. Oftentimes patterns develop from personality differences. When it comes to a pattern based in communication differences, talk about the ways in which each of you learned to share information and emotions in your families of origin or previous experiences.
  • Find a safe way to communicate. Click on links below to learn more about each technique or suggestion!
    • Use XYZ Statements
    • Use Speaker-Listener or Mirroring Technique
    • Take a Time-Out when things get too escalated
    • Business Date vs. Romantic Date


When the moment just doesn’t feel right

By Clay Culp, Relationship Rx facilitator

Watch Clay discuss this topic on WTNZ Fox43 here.

Most couples experience ebbs and flows in sexual satisfaction throughout the course of their relationship. It’s simply inevitable that as we grow, age, and change together, so too will our ways of being physically intimate with one another.

This can happen for a variety of reasons such as the birth of a child, increased stress at work, medical problems, or even just all-so common general fluctuations in intimacy. Before you know it, it seems sex has gone from something that felt natural and easy based on a mutual feeling of chemistry to something that feels tense, awkward, or uneasy.

Once the process begins, it’s easy for negative patterns surrounding sex to develop. For example, a wife may avoid all physical affection from her husband, worrying that any type of touch — even a hug — might be mistaken as a cue to initiate sex. This avoidance can be seen as deeply rejecting, perhaps evidence of lack of attraction, love, or care. Rather than simple rejection, the avoidant partner could simply be feeling “touched out” from a day spent at home being crawled on by young kids and in need intellectual, rather than physical stimulation. Without recognition and communication, however, a pattern of avoidance, pursuit and rejection can become entrenched.

Fortunately, even small and simple changes can help couples get out of their rut and reconnect. If you have found yourself in this situation, consider the following suggestions:

1) Sometimes less is more: Partners often differ in sexual desire. For the partner desiring more sex, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking the answer is simply to initiate more sexual advances. But the dance of sexual intimacy is not like a math ratio, where simply increasing the number of advances will inevitably lead to more sex. Sex is a far more emotionally complicated behavior. In fact, less is sometimes more. Easing up can have a way of reducing feelings of pressure and anxiety. And remember, physical affection apart from overt sexual advances is an important part of developing the emotional connection many people require before feeling comfortable with sex.

2) Know what you need: In order this part of our lives to be fulfilling and enjoyable, certain conditions must be met. These often include things like not being ill or tired, not being overly anxious, and feeling emotionally connected. As a culture, we’re taught that these conditions usually only apply to women. Men can and should be ready, willing, and able for sex at anytime, we’re told. This is just one of many common misconceptions. As Dr. Bernie Zilbergeld details in his book The New Male Sexuality, men are not “sex machines.” It is important for both partners to consider what factors contribute to or detract from a positive experience.

3) Discuss it outside of the bedroom: Don’t wait until the heat of the moment to talk about your needs and desires. While communication during the act itself can be extremely important, talking about it outside of the bedroom can help couples reduce anxiety. If you wait until things are already underway, you may find yourself feeling too vulnerable to really open up about what you are needing or wanting. As difficult as it can be to talk about, many people find it’s better than the alternative of never bringing them up or bringing them up during sex. Talking about it can even be a fun way to generate desire and intimacy.

4) Expand your horizons: When our focus regarding sex becomes too narrow, we often miss out of opportunities for physical intimacy and sexual fulfillment. As our relationship grows and changes, so too must our expectations surrounding sex. Focus on the process of sharing intimate time together, rather than performance or any specific outcome.

5) Don’t be afraid to dive in: As one couple recently told me, sometimes the answer is simply to “get naked and see what happens.” When the desire is there but feelings of awkwardness or tension remain, the situation is sometimes not unlike trying to go for a swim when the water feels cold to the touch. If you dip just your toes in, it’s easy to decide it would be better to wait, perhaps for a more perfect, slightly warmer moment. Some research indicates that, in fact, the mood can follow the action rather than the other way around.

6) Recognize root causes: While sex is an important component of a healthy relationship, problems in this area are often a symptom of other issues, rather than the problem in and of itself. But it’s far easier to focus on sex, a concrete and physical measure that can be counted and cataloged rather than deeper emotionally issues that may be serving as a roadblock to physical intimacy. As painful as some this can be to accept, using the symptom of sex as a starting point for deeper conversation can be just the spark needed to set you on the path toward greater emotional connection and relationship satisfaction.

Edited by Lucia Miranda, Relationship Rx facilitator.


Hey, Mom, You’re Not Superwoman!

SuperwomanThis post comes from the TODAY Parenting Team community

You see her everywhere. She’s answering work emails while simultaneously wrangling two children in the cereal aisle as she reaches for the all-grain, sugarless options. She’s on a conference call while changing an impressively full diaper, silently smiling at her wide-eyed child as editorial options are discussed. She’s emptying the dishwasher as dinner sautés on the stove and the third load of laundry starts its annoyingly-necessary second cycle.

And we’re all in awe of her, so much so that we throw around words like “superwoman” or “superhero” or “superhuman” or, my personal favorite, “a robot who apparently doesn’t need a single moment of sleep or solitude”.

I’m just as guilty as the next well-intentioned person. I see my mom friends getting their masters while they take care of four children or providing financially for their family while surviving the exhausting all-night feedings. I watch as they scurry back to the gym, forgoing rest for the sake of an “acceptable” post-baby body . I observe as they plan parties and volunteering opportunities while their youngest has started teething. I call them “amazing” and ask them how they do it and I praise them publicly.

I also see how they hide their inconceivable exhaustion. I hear their whispers of all-consuming fatigue and see the stress steal the joy from their once-enamored faces.

I tell them they’re doing a great job, and they are, but what I should be telling them is this:

Ask. For. Help.

For reasons too numerous to divulge, mothers feel the need to do it all, do it well, and do it all at once. An unnecessary amount of pressure hits a mother as soon as her little enters the world. She wants to inspire her daughters or make a perfect home for her sons. She wants to prove that she can have it all; a career and a loving relationship and a comforting home and wonderful children. She wants to appear effortless in her life choices, so she packs on the plans and fills up the calendars and drowns in the stressful situations it takes to complete it all.

Stop.

Mothers: you aren’t superwoman.

You do need sleep and you do need rest and you do need moments of sweet, blissful nothingness. You need to eat multiple meals a day and you need to relax your mind and you need to enjoy the amazing life decision you’ve made.

You need help.

You don’t need to do it all, do it all well, and do it all at once and you definitely do not need to do it all by yourself. You are not a failing mother or a weak woman if you reach out to the nearest able-bodied human and say “please, support me”. In fact, your willingness to ask and receive assistance sets a long-lasting example for your children and keeps you better equipped to, in fact, have it all.

Having a child shouldn’t be another task you add to your ever-growing list of solo accomplishments.

Having a child should be a lifelong journey, shared with a partner you’re willing to, in all actuality, go slightly crazy with.

Don’t bog down your days with “must-dos” and “have-haves”. Don’t drive yourself dangerously close to insanity trying to prove that you’re amazing. You housed and birth an actual human. Trust us, we already know you’re incredible.

Most importantly, don’t miss out on the little, perfectly beautiful and ever-so-wonderful moments of parenthood because you’re too exhausted or stressed or overwhelmed. Don’t ruin what had you excited to become a mother in the first place. Don’t turn parenting into a chore.

So, no, mom: you are not superwoman.

She’s not nearly as capable as you are. When you ask for help.