Hostile Couples

Thinking back over my years in practice both community and private practice, I’d never put much thought into if most of the couples I’ve worked with were conflict avoidant or hostile. To be honest there has been a good mix of both. Luckily, I’ve known how to work with them and have been able to see some of the struggles. In this post, I will focus on hostile couples. If you are part of a relationship which is hostile even at times, there are a few things that likely stick with you. First, having important or deeper conversations are difficult because they tend to lead to fighting. Second, those in these relationships know how tops one another’s buttons and really upset one another. Third, members often spend a good amount of time thinking about how their partner has wronged them but not necessarily their role. The fourth and another important piece, you and your partner struggle with self-regulating/calming down in a healthy manner.

If any of this speaks to you, know you are not screwed and it is possible to turn your relationship around. Sadly, these and other relationships often end with an idea such as, “if this is supposed to work, why is it so hard?” I will answer this common question by attempting to draw a mental picture for you, the next time you are in your car, say you wanted to go straight forward but the car was stuck in reverse. The more you and your partner fight, the car is still going in reverse and no matter how badly wither of you want to go forward you cannot. I DO NOT recommend trying this as it is only an example. The next logical question would be, how do we switch from reverse to drive (or forward)? First, take your foot off the gas, put the break on.

There are several steps I won’t be breaking down in this post, but one of the most important tasks for a hostile couple is learning self-regulation and part of self-regulation is being mindful. Mindfulness for the purpose of this blog is being in the here and now. Be present. Often times wee get swept away by past learning and we continue to bring this learning into the present and it doesn’t help.

Once in the moment, self-regulation skills are needed to be implementing such as taking a few deep breaths and then recognizing you may need some time to relax and perhaps getting out of the present environment and one more appropriate for calming down for 15-20 minutes. Afterwards coming back together and working to repair the relationship. Some of this is likely ahead of where some reading this have been. I’d suggest therapy, the reason is because you can work with a trained therapist such as myself who can support you and your partner through the different steps to learn to calm down the hostility and afterwards, implement healthy skills to make it so you and your partner over time can learn to have important conversations and have the tools to not get upset with one another to the point nothing gets resolved.

I am also going to share, I’ve been in hostile relationships. When I was younger, I always felt it was the other person’s fault and I’d blame them. Some of the words used were terrible and hurtful. This isn’t about pity from anyone, it is me being accountable as I am asking you to be. These past relationships ended, in part because I was angry and unwilling to be accountable.

I’ve been blessed by being married to my wife who has accepted me for my flaws and our disagreements are a lot better than past relationships I’ve had and some of this is maturity, maybe all of it is, because I had to own up to my end. Working with hostile couples in the past, some partners would not own their parts, it was always a contingency on the other partner to change. This is crap.

When I work with a couple, hostile or not. A few expectations are in play. First, each partner identifies their own goals in session. Second, each partner is accountable for themselves. This means that if during an argument one partner says something that really hurt the other, that person does not get to say that their words were only said because the other partner did something that upset them. These are just two of the expectations that are not negotiable in therapy with me. Couples tend to get into a cycle of hurting one another and in therapy with me that is going to stop.

If this interests you feel free to contact me (PA /NJ residents) for a free consult via the “free consult” tab which is all over on my website or email Brian@themarriagedoc.com

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes I Want Out of This

A few days ago, I saw a short video clip of Esther Perel standing on stage and she asked the crowd to raise their hand if they’ve ever thought about leaving their current partner. Many of the people in the crowd raised their hand. I was right there with them, I have had times where I have thought about not being married to my wife. To some, that may be shocking ¬†that a Marriage therapist has contemplated about not wanting to be with their significant other. To me, this is one of the most healthiest and honest statements a person can say who has been with the same person for 14 years. It is not about not loving my wife, it is about the fact that at times we get annoyed with one another and the thought has come around. Notice that I have not left my wife, nor has she left me. I would bet if she was asked if she has ever thought about leaving this marriage she too would agree the thought has come to her.

One of the best statements I have heard many times is that the people who are closest to us, those that know us best, know how to push our buttons. My wife and I have both said things to one another that have hurt. Again, not many people know me better than she does. It doesn’t make it right, but sometimes when we argue we don’t think, instead we focus on what we want and how we feel and this is typically when these thoughts of leaving the relationship tend to come about. When we are thinking clearly, these thoughts are not coming up. John Gottman calls this “summarizing yourself syndrome.” So as I sit here, writing this blog post, I am not thinking I want to leave my wife. But if you are calm, not arguing with your partner and yet you are thinking you want out of your current relationship, a few things should happen. First, John Kim would encourage you to ask yourself why you want out and assess your role. The reason being, when we want out of a relationship, we tend to focus on all the things the other person is or has done wrong and seldom do we take time to look at ourselves. I won’t go further as it isn’t the basis of this post but I felt it only fair that I mention important steps if you really in a calm state want out of your relationship what are some important steps to take before jumping ship.

To get back to situations when in an argument and not thinking clearly, which has some physiological reasons for not being able to think clearly. Here is what is important to do, first take some time for yourself to calm down, then come back together with your partner and work on repair, own your steps, whether you think you were right or wrong own your steps. Then depending on if things stay calm discuss what you and your partner can do the next time the difficult topic or situation that played into the argument comes about to change the dynamics of the situation. I hope this post is helpful if you have questions or thoughts email, Brian@themarriagedoc.com.

Bonding

I am asking that you to think back to when you first began dating your current partner. Think about the thoughts and emotions related to being in a new relationship. What thoughts/emotions come up? I’ve heard people say anything from exciting to nervous and hopeful. Many people want to spend as much time together as possible in a new relationship, talking on the phone, going to the movies, spend time with each other’s friends, the more time the better.

Overtime, the newness can wear off, but typically, we still want to spend time with the person. We can share interests and values with one another Interestingly, we don’t always separate who we are as a couple, from who we are as an individual. Instead, we created a bond with our partner, which is important, we should feel safe and secure in these relationships.

The problem in some romantic relationships is when there is a disagreement. Some partners feel and express that their significant other should agree with their perspectives on an issue and that having a different viewpoint is an issue in the relationship. Similar to all or nothing thinking. Many couples get stuck in this, the bonding stage of development., which is termed Symbiosis and characterized by poor boundaries, and one partner being passive and the other more aggressive regarding their wants and needs.

Differentiation

In healthy relationships of development, the couple may experience some Symbiosis but through therapy and or working together have been able to make a REALLY important discovery; I am me; you are you. Seems simple enough but the reality is in relationships, this is an easy area for couples to get stuck.

In differentiation, partners are able to express their individual thoughts, opinions and desires. Instead of viewing differences among partners as a threat, you both appreciate the differences each bring to the relationship. When arguments come up, these partners work to find ways to manage conflict and find resolution together. This stage of Couple development is a must in order to reach later stages. I won’t go into all the stages in this post, but I am curious, does any of the content in this post remind you of your relationship with your partner? Comment and or let me know via email. Brian@themarriagedoc.com….Thanks for reading and keep coming back for next month’s blog.