In today's blog, Stephanie discusses the importance of more advanced listening skills, including "reading between the lines". We all communicate literally and directly sometimes, as well as figuratively and indirectly at other times. This is a skill of emotional intelligence that everyone can learn, and implement, to have healthier and happier relationships.Read More
Do you know how to listen to someone? Really listen? It seems simple, right? Well, not always. If you've been in a relationship for a while, you may fall into the bad habit of "half-listening" to your partner. In today's post, Stephanie discusses the basic components of effective listening, an essential skill for any healthy relationship, as well as the common pitfalls that many of us fall into.Read More
Stephanie Cook, LCSW, licensed psychotherapist and Gottman Method Couples Therapist, discusses the recent Ashley Madison hacking scandal in which over 40 million married users' information was released. She discusses the real-world implications for the couples who have been affected by infidelity, why people cheat, and what couples can do about it.Read More
This blog post is part of my running series on marriage, based on the research and writing of Dr. John Gottman's famous book, Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work. I often recommend this book to any of my clients interested in improving their relationship, married or not. In couples therapy, I teach the skills in this book to help partners with the many difficulties related to conflict styles, communication, and strategies for healing wounds and creating happy, sustainable long-term romantic relationships.
When Dr. Gottman studied couples in his experimental ‘Love Lab’, he asked them to argue and resolve a conflict. Then he followed them for decades, and was able to isolate the factors that contributed to which couples divorced. His findings showed the critical importance of conflict in predicting divorce.
What matters isn't if you argue as much as how you argue that makes the difference in your relationship. What he found were signs of possible relational problems/divorce that allowed him to predict divorce with up to 91% accuracy. The "signs" of impending divorce are also the very behaviors that I target in marriage therapy in order to help a couple salvage their relationship if they're headed to the brink of divorce.
The Warning Signs of Divorce
#1 Harsh Startups
How you start up a difficult discussion with your partner--especially emotional or sensitive topics--is critically important to what happens next. Harsh startups are those kinds of conversations that start out badly, right out of the gate.
- "The trouble with you is ..."
- "Wow, that's just great. Thanks a lot."
- "Why still haven't done the dishes...!?"
- "My problem with you is that you never ...."
Notice the accusing and hostile tone of these words. It's critical or sarcastic, and reveals your feelings of contempt towards your partner. You are acting as if you're completely right and they're completely wrong. You're better than them. It's a quick way to make your partner defensive and get nowhere fast.
#2 The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
These are the four behaviors that are always toxic to a relationship, which I have discussed in more detail in a previous blog post. I've also added an additional fifth behavior that is just as problematic and leads to divorce.
- Criticism – you attack your partner's character--who they are as a person--instead of making a specific complaint (something your partner did or a situation). It's always better to complain about something specific, sending the message "I didn't like what you did that one time" rather than critically attacking who they are as a person, which sends the message “something is really wrong with you”. Complaints give your partner a way to fix things and make a better relationship. Criticisms push your relationship closer towards divorce.
- Contempt: When you're being sarcastic and cynical, you are showing contempt towards your partner. It's a sure-fire way to lead your relationship towards divorce! It's so bad that if you act this way regularly, research has shown that even your immune system suffers enough to make you more prone to sickness! Contempt includes things like rolling eyes, looking at your partner with disgust, sneering, mockery and using hostile humor. Contempt is the worst of all four horsemen, and is the biggest warning sign of future divorce. Sometimes, contempt is when you act like you are taking the higher “moral” ground, insinuating that you are better than your partner. When you allow long-standing negative thoughts about your partner to go unchecked in your mind, you inevitably create feelings of contempt towards them.
- Defensiveness: Carrying around a defensive chip on your shoulder is another way to bring about divorce. Maybe you show defensiveness by immediately explaining or defending yourself when your partner says anything remotely critical or complaining. You may act as though you're expecting an attack, even if that's not your partner's intent. You're on edge and ready for a counter-attack. When you're being defensive, you tend to be sending the message of righteousness, without blame, such as “it’s not me, it is you”.
- Stonewalling: This is when you tune out, ice your partner out, or shut down. It usually happens after one of the other horsemen rears their ugly heads, and you get overwhelmed. Maybe you stop listening, stop making eye contact, or stop responding. Or maybe you only respond with "yes" or "no". It's about sending your partner the message, “I don't care”. 85% of the time, the partner doing the stonewalling is the husband, and we think it's for evolutionary reasons. Women tend to be able to physiologically calm down faster, but of course this is not always the case.
- Belligerence. This is similar to contempt, but it has such a particularly nastiness to it that it's worth mentioning separately. It's not one of the original "Four Horsemen", but Dr. Gottman considers it to be an honorary horseman and sign of divorce because it is so harmful to relationships. Belligerence is when you express your anger in an aggressive, threatening way. For example, you're acting belligerent when you say something like, "Maybe I should just leave you so that you won't have someone to blame all the time."
This is when you feel defenseless or shell-shocked, usually after hearing a bunch of criticisms, contempt or defensiveness. When you're feeling flooded, you get hyper-aware, on edge, and expect that your partner is “just about to attack me again”.
If you tend to stonewall, it's usually because you're trying to protect yourself against the feeling of being "flooded" with overwhelming emotions. When you get stuck in this state of mind, you're physiologically in a state of “fight-or-flight” body feels in danger. Getting occasionally flooding can be handled in a healthy relationship, but if you get flooded on a regular basis, your marriage can become in danger.
When you're feeling flooded, undergoing the physiological changes that happen in a hyper-aware state (i.e. endocrine, heart-rate) can predict divorce for two reasons: 1) distress when dealing with the other; 2) hard to have a productive problem-solving discussion when distressed.
#4 Failed Attempts To Repair Issues
Healthy relationships require that you regularly repair misunderstandings and hurt feelings. When you do it well, you lower stress levels and conflict, and feel closer to one another. But when you repeatedly fail at repair attempts, you start to feel defeated, like nothing you try even works.
When the four horsemen take over your communication patterns, then you and your partner stop even noticing each others' repair attempts. It becomes a nasty feedback loop in which the “four horsemen” keep happening, then more flooding happens, and then repair attempts are ignored, until eventually you or your partner withdraws.
Positive sentiment override predicts the success of repair attempts. Four horsemen predict divorce by 82%. Add in the failed-repair attempts, and prediction percentage runs in the 90s. On the other hand, having the four horsemen, but with successful repair attempts, a stable relationship is likely. But when four horsemen moved in for good, repair attempts are incredibly hard to attempt, accept or even notice.
#5 Bad Memories
When past is re-written in a negative hue, divorce chances royally go up. For example, you gain strength or negativity from the adversity that you got through together. What matters most is how people frame the situation, which can lead to more negativity or positivity, etc.
When a couple has negatively "re-written" their relationship, they are nearing the end stage of their marriage. They may talk calmly about their conflict, or appear like they are doing somewhat well. They have already begun to emotionally divorce from one another.
It's important to note that such relationships can still be salvaged, however. They will not only need to address their communication problems (i.e. harsh startups, the four horsemen issues) learn effective repairs; they will also need to improve their closeness and the quality of their friendship. This means improving things when they're not fighting., so that they'll even feel motivated to salvage the relationship and want to work for it.
The Final Stages Before Divorce:
- You believe that all the problems in your marriage are "severe"
- You feel that things over seems useless, so you decide to solve problems on your own, usually without your partner, and usually moving more and more away from your partner
- You start leading parallel lives (like "roommates")
- You start feeling lonely all the time (this puts you at a higher risk for infidelity, too)
If you recognize that your relationship has some of these warning signs, it means that divorce is likely if you don't get help. Gottman method marriage counseling has a proven track record for helping two willing partners. Counseling can help you get off the path towards relationship destruction, and back on track towards rebuilding your relationship into a fulfilling, stable, happy one.
If you're on the brink of divorce or separation, consider trying "Discernment Counseling". It's about deciding whether or not your relationship is "fixable" and whether or not you even want to invest in making it work.
If you decide to start couples therapy, know that it's not about just learning negotiating skills or conflict resolution. If that's all you learn in your couples therapy sessions, your relationships isn't going to prevent divorce. You have to take it a step further and learn about what you can do when you're not arguing, by fostering a better friendship. That's when the "Seven Principles" come into play.
There is danger in surrounding yourself with people who don't believe in commitment or marriage. The company you choose to keep can have a critical impact on your beliefs, commitment, and ultimately, your relationship's success (or failure).
In today's blog, Stephanie discusses the importance of taking time to turn away from technology and towards your relationship. Small habits like this help you to connect to your partner and minimize the risk of slowly disengaging from the relationship.
Stephanie Cook, LCSW, provides in-person and online counseling services to adults, teens, couples, and families; she specializes in working with young adults and couples on improving themselves and their relationships. Stephanie owns a small private practice, Counseling ATL, LLC, located in Decatur, an intown-suburb of Atlanta, GA, near Emory University. Her blog is dedicated to helping people improve their lives and relationships.Read More
Every day in your relationship, you have infinite opportunities to connect or disconnect from your partner. Dr. John Gottman calls these "sliding door" moments--getting ready for work, doing chores, cooking meals, etc. Each is an opportunity which presents you with a choice for how to respond to your partner, either towards closeness or distance. Learn how to "turn towards" your partner during these moments, to be emotionally available, rather than turning away from them, emotionally disconnecting from them. Even if your relationship has become disconnected already, learn how to start building more intimacy and closeness.
Stephanie Cook, LCSW, therapist and writer, discusses what "turning towards your partner" is, what it looks like, and how to get help if you think too much "turning away" is happening in your relationship.
I often recommend Dr. John Gottman's most famous book, Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work, to any of my clients interested in improving their relationship, married or not. In couples therapy, I teach the skills in this book to help partners with the many difficulties related to conflict styles, communication, and strategies to heal long-term romantic relationships.
If you're looking to build strong, sustainable, happy relationship, you have to work hard to keep liking your partner. No matter how much you love someone, if you spend enough time with them, you can grow annoyed and bored if you stop appreciating them . But this doesn't have to happen. Everyone can learn to create a healthy relationship with a culture of "fondness and admiration".
In today's blog post, I share with you the key findings from Dr. Gottman's research on fondness and admiration, which is the second principle of making a marriage work.Read More
Stephanie discusses how in every day of your relationship, you are creating a "love map" of your partner, which is essentially your understanding of them...how well you really know them. Intimacy depends on curiosity about who your partner is as a person. For this intimacy to be sustainable, these "love maps" need ongoing updates, otherwise you may lose touch with the person your partner is becoming as time passes. In a happy, long term relationship, who your partner is today is not who your partner will become in 10 or 20 years, and so on (how boring would that be if we never evolved!).
So maybe you haven't "updated" your love map in a while? Well the good news is you can get to know your partner again and again, for who they are today. So go ahead, get to know each other better. Start by asking the questions in the "Love Map Questionnaire" on my blog post today.
What's all the buzz about Mindfulness? Is it just a fad? Nope. It's here to stay because it works. Read the latest blog post by Stephanie Cook, LCSW, to learn how to begin integrating mindfulness into your everyday life.Read More
Dr. John Gottman's most famous book is based on his 40 years of relationship research: "Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work". Stephanie Cook, LCSW, discusses some of the findings of Gottman's research, including an introduction into these principles, which she uses to help couples, married or not, with the many difficulties related to conflict, communication, intimacy, and strategies for creating happy long-term romantic relationship.Read More
What are the warning signs of emotional abuse in a relationship? Do you know what it looks like? Stephanie Cook, LCSW, explainsRead More
What does emotional abuse look like in romantic relationships? In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month (October), Stephanie Cook, LCSW, discusses how emotional abuse develops, what it looks like, and how to get help if you think it exists in your relationship.Read More
In honor of World Mental Health Day, Stephanie explains the essential components of mental health and wellness, including healthy coping techniques and self care, as well as the symptoms of mental health problems and burnout.Read More
Stephanie discusses how to stop yourself from engaging in the types of habits that sabotage your relationship, especially when it's most difficult; when you are highly emotional, seeing red, or vulnerable to making bad decisions. We've all been there. You're hurt. You're angry. You're at risk for saying or doing something you can't un-say. Learn how to stop it.Read More
Stephanie Cook, LCSW, discusses the relationship-destroying behaviors that most couples are guilty of, and that couples therapists are always looking for. Stephanie also discusses how famous researcher and psychologist, Dr. John Gottman, found that the presence of these "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" can predict a relationship collapse in 93% of couples.Read More
Stephanie Cook, LCSW, explains what happens in healthy and not-so-healthy relationships after the infatuation stage of "falling in love", when healthy relationships shed fake closeness for authentic intimacy.Read More
Stephanie Cook, LCSW, discusses infatuation, including why it helps couples in the beginning of relationships, as well as why it always ends--to clear the way for real intimacy.Read More
Stephanie Cook, LCSW, discusses the many reasons couples should consider online couples counseling and online marriage counseling.Read More
Stephanie Cook, LCSW, discusses the many reasons therapists should consider using online therapy to help their clients, and the many reasons clients can benefit from online therapyRead More