Category Archives: Blog

Women and Men Process Differently Part 1

I always find my work with people so fascinating because, though there are so many commonalities, there are also a variety of specifics that each person or each couple brings in.

Recently, I realized that there’s something that needs to be spelled out regarding how people in a relationship interact with each other. More and more, it’s apparent that specific information is not readily known. And when these details can be enumerated for a struggling couple, it will make their partnership much easier.

Since I was able to do this fine tuning with one couple just a few days ago, I wanted to share this knowledge with you. It turns out that assistance was needed on both the male and female side. Therefore, I’m going to present the situation in two blogs. In today’s posting, I’ll address what I think will be helpful for the women to know. Next week, you can look forward to the insights for the male side.

Let me first share with you the details of the situation. We were discussing something and the woman was upset that her husband didn’t “get” it. It seemed to me that, in fact, he did understand the point she was making. Yet, she wasn’t satisfied.

When I questioned, “Why?” she responded that, before they came in, he didn’t have the same response. She went on to say that it was her belief that her spouse was merely trying to look good in front of me. I addressed her husband, and again, I felt that he did understand her point.

So, what could cause this discrepancy? What I have learned is that people process information at different speeds or in different ways. Sometimes, what some people “get” immediately, takes others a while to integrate and process.

I happen to be a fast processor. Yet, at times, I’ll need to run things past several people for their input before I can truly come to terms with it. Or, I’ve now come to realize that I can present something to my husband and it will take him a day or so before he’s had time to work on it and digest it before reflecting back on it to me.

Let’s go back to my clients. She felt that her mate was not being truthful because he initially had one response to her and then presented another response in front of me. Do people sometimes try to make themselves look good? Sure. But, I suggest that just like in this case, it may also be a matter of having time to think about a situation.

Ladies: the truth is that most men do process differently than we do. That’s now a known fact. Women employ both hemispheres at the same time to process information; men use their left and right brains sequentially. So before you feel hurt and as if your man is not being upfront with you, consider the real possibility that he’s just different than you and is taking in information differently than you!

Dancing with Your Mate

Since relationships are so important, there are constantly studies being done to find out the qualities or tools that will help to enhance one’s partnership. One of these pieces of information is the importance of novelty. Often, it’s been suggested that to add spice to your relationship, you need to mix it up a bit; thus, do some things that are different.

Even newer research is indicating that what seems to help a couple having a long-term commitment is one that offers change in their relationship. This makes sense. After all, when you’re with the same person for hopefully the long haul, things do get a bit monotonous.

There’s also been quite a bit written about affairs. The truth is that affairs occur for a variety of reasons. I would imagine that one explanation, or at least an element for some, is a sense of boredom. When you’re with someone new, it sets off all sorts of neurochemical reactions in your brain.

It’s been found that the chemicals released when one is “in lust” create feelings similar to those one gets when they’re on a drug. No wonder it feels so good!

But — there’s also something very different about the affair situation — it’s not real. Oh yes … the feelings you’re experiencing might feel very real, but the situation isn’t. You’re not living with one another each day, every day, with the task of getting through the mundane chores of a partnership and/or family. In the latter, there are bills to be paid, dirty clothes to be dealt with, and crazy schedules to keep. The list can go on and on.

When you’re emotionally involved with someone new, you’re blinded by your emotions just as you were in the “Honeymoon phase” of your present relationship. The only difference is that the new relationship offers uniqueness. It’s quite the contrast to the “same old, same old” sentiments that you experience at home.

No doubt, through the years, you’ve also gotten into a great deal of entanglement with your present mate. Many times, you might question what you ever saw in this person, and it doesn’t seem like there’s any way to resolve this mess. It all can easily lead to thinking, “It’s just best to start over.”

However, just because you switch partners doesn’t mean you’re going to dance differently. You are still you, and it will only be a matter of time until the glow of love and fantasy will wane as the day-to-day mundane aspects start to arise.

Many times, I’ve spoken with clients who are really down in the dumps and feel that their lives are a mess. Suddenly, they come up with the idea that they’ll move to a whole new location to start over. There’s just one problem — they are still with themselves!

The same goes for you in a partnership. As unromantic as it sounds, good relationships take work. So, before you throw in the towel and try to start again, realize that unless you have learned new ways of functioning in your partnership, the same concerns will be there with a new “dance” partner. For most of you, there has been a shared history with your present mate. Often, there are children involved. Know that though you might not be experiencing positive feelings at this moment, they can be revived.

You owe it to yourself to give it a try!

Positively Addressing Personal Issues to Save Your Relationship

After being in practice for over 25 years, I’ve met lots of couples and heard lots of stories of unhappiness. Though my goal is to help marriages survive, there are times when a relationship must end. When there’s abuse or there’s so much toxicity between the two, a relationship is better off ending.

I’m happy to report that most of these partnerships remain intact after they’ve learned the skills necessary to have a successful relationship or the ability to have greater compassion for one another’s issues. It’s okay if one or both of the mates has “issues” focusing
– as long as the couple is willing to work, there’s hope. What saddens me is when a couple doesn’t do the work and the partnership ends.

Let me share a situation where this seems to be the case. A young couple who have been married eight years have three children — an older child and twins.

Initially, the man said that though he loved his wife, he was no longer in love with her. He did, however, want to get the feelings back. In an intervention I rarely use, we decided that he’d leave the house for a while.

What finally became revealed is that he’s been very angry for a very long time. From his perspective, though he was always very giving in the relationship, he felt that his wife put everyone before him. Rightful complaint! However, he never voiced it — at least not directly.

As we worked, she acknowledged her behavior and came to understand why she acted as she had — things like her own insecurities from her background, being given wrong advice by his parents, etc. She was clearly willing to “own” her part and make changes. In the weeks that passed, she did, in fact, alter how she responded to him.

And yet, with each week that passed, he became more vigilant in his position of wanting to end the marriage. This attitude was in spite of research I provided about the detriment to the children, the expertise I offered about people’s ability to change, or the findings that many couples who stay together in spite of their difficulties do find their marriages satisfying again in five years.

The reason I find this particularly sad is not only because of the children, but because I truly believe this is a marriage that could be saved. Yes, there are problems, but they are issues that can be remedied.

So, what’s the block? In my personal opinion, I believe that the hurt he’s experienced is triggering issues from his past. I am privy to that information. However, when I bring it up to him, he refuses to go there. Admittedly, it’s hard for many to re-experience the pain from childhood. The harsh reality is that therapy is only as good as the willingness of the client to work on the issues.

The other less psychological explanation is that, as humans, we rewrite history. If you focus on thinking the feelings are gone, it will only intensify this thought. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: the more you think the feelings of love are missing, the more you won’t feel the feelings of love. You’ll get what you expect to get.

As I’ve said before, each of you has the power to control your life and the way your life is going. Want to end your relationship? Start to focus on everything that’s wrong and the thought that you just have no more feelings left for your mate.

On the other hand, no relationship is perfect. Start to focus on the good traits in your significant other and value the person he or she is and watch the feelings grow. You can do it — you just have to want to!

Increasing the Odds of Choosing the Right Mate

Sadly, many find themselves alone due to divorce or widowhood. Most would prefer to be part of a couple. It’s often hard to meet someone new, and even more difficult to know whether the person you get involved with will be the right person.

Though no one’s perfect, there are certain signs that can help you make a more sound decision. Though relationships are emotionally driven, preventive clear thinking will help promote better odds.

1. Do the two of you share the same beliefs? Even if you’re at a later stage in life, your values will determine how your lives and time are shared. Though you don’t have to agree on everything, the more there’s alignment in your core beliefs, the easier life will be.

2. How does this person handle disagreements? Couples have conflicts. What’s important is how disputes get managed. Is the person respectful vs. shutting down or not addressing the issue? A good relationship entails each partner feeling heard and being reciprocal in meeting each other’s needs.

3. How does he or she act with others? You can tell a great deal by the behavior with others. Is he or she respectful rather than showing an air of arrogance or condemnation? Even more meaningful is the manner in which significant people like a parent or sibling are treated; they serve as good indicators of how he or she deals with those that close to him or her.

4. What’s the manner in which you’re treated in front of others? It’s important that even when others are around, you don’t take a back seat but are seen as someone who’s important.

5. What’s your private time like? Though publicly, the person may function one way, is there consistency when the two of you are alone? Though you don’t have to spend every waking moment together, you want to feel valued rather than an intrusion.

6. Do you get a sense that what you think and feel matters? Though agreement isn’t necessary, you feel that your opinions, viewpoints, and feelings are respected?

7. Does the person act responsibly? Is he or she able to manage money matters in a reasonable way? Does he or she remember significant events and respond to them in a thoughtful way? Does he or she follow through on what what’s been told to you?

I’m a true believer that everything you want to know about someone is evident initially, if you really pay attention and don’t merely respond on emotions. If you need some objectivity, ask trusted friends; their emotions are not getting in the way like yours are. If the overall picture looks good, take the plunge … they say love is lovelier the second time around!

Being Heard by Others to Increase Emotional Connections in Your Relationship – Part 3

Years ago, there was a very famous study done by Harlowe & Harlowe with rhesus monkeys. They created surrogate mothers by forming the shape of a monkey with wire. Some of the “mothers” were rigged up to give the baby monkeys food; the others had cloth on them but didn’t offer food. During times of anxiety, the baby monkeys sought contact comfort by going to the cloth “mothers” rather than those who offered food. This famous study has long been referenced to indicate the need for attachment and comfort in relationships.

Relationships, clearly, are so important. Good emotional connections in your relationships are necessary both physical and psychological health.

Though I mentioned this last week, it’s worth repeating again with a bit more detail.

More recent studies with monkeys have again indicated some very interesting findings. This time what’s been learned is that within the brain there are mirror neurons. These mirror neurons will begin to fire (start to go into action) merely by watching an individual do something. In other words, the brain doesn’t actually have to do the behavior; it merely has to observe another doing it.

The significance of this finding is that the brain is capable of tuning-in to another person’s experience. It also indicates a connection between mind and body. When a mother is feeding a baby and smiles to her, the baby will reflect that smile and respond in kind. As this is happening, a neural connection occurs of a very pleasant, comforting, secure experience. Additionally, as the mother continues to smile, there’s now a shared experience.

This interaction is not at all limited to babies and mothers. Emotions are contagious. Think about how easily your own emotions are affected by those around you — whether they’re turned upward or downward. Just as the example with baby and mama is cyclical, so is the relationship with your partner. If one of you is negative, it will affect the other. Then the other responds negatively and the spiral continues.

Emotions get conveyed through facial expressions, posture, and tone of voice. They can even be sensed on a more subtle energetic level.

Having knowledge is strength. So, now that you know that this phenomenon occurs, there are things you can do. Rather than being a victim, make a choice to respond differently instead of just reacting. If your partner is negative, chances are something is emotionally bothering him or her. Often, by matching your body language to theirs, the person, unknowingly, will feel more understood. Don’t dismiss the other person’s feelings, but try some of the suggestions in the last two posts: validating and showing more empathy. Finally, when some of the emotions have calmed down, try to be a bit more uplifting in your attitude — after all the emotional contagion works both ways.

Being aware of emotional contagion and how to enhance it will lead to a feeling of being heard by others to increase emotional connections in your relationship!

Being Heard by Others to Increase Emotional Connections in Your Relationship – Part 2

In last week’s blog, I spoke about the tool of validation as being an important one to help your partner feel understood. Validation will help your mate feel like he or she is being heard and will increase emotional connection in your relationship. I explained that it’s not necessary for you to actually experience the situation or circumstances the same way your mate does in order to validate how he or she feels. By being able to use this tool, it lets your mate feel he or she matters.

Today, I want to go further and talk about how to increase empathy. First understand that empathy is not the same as sympathy. When you feel sympathetic, you’re merely feeling sorry for someone. However, when you’re empathetic, it’s like you’ve stepped into the other person’s shoes and you’re able to understand how they’re feeling.

I read an article recently where the author said that he believed that some people suffer from Empathy Deficit Disorder. He maintains that these people are self-absorbed and are unable to tune into what others experience because they’ve been too focused on earning power, status, or money rather than being concerned with forming healthy relationships.

Though I certainly agree that this focus could cause a lack of empathy, I’d suggest that it might also be brought on by some children learning to cut off their emotions early in life. When a child feels unattended to, like they don’t matter, it’s quite painful. As a result, these children survive by shutting down their emotions. As adults they become intellectualizers — sort of cut off at the head.

The good news is that it’s been discovered there’s something called neuroplasticity which means that even as adults our brains continue to grow and make new connections. It’s also been found that within our brains are mirror neurons. These are neurons that become active merely be watching others; they literally mirror the other person. They will “fire” and react when you’re seeing someone in distress, when you see another taking some action, and even when you witness the other person being altruistic.

Of course, the question becomes how do you make this happen in your life? Well, as I often say, you can’t change something unless you’re aware of it. For some of you this will mean taking a long, hard, honest look at yourself. Do you find that you often don’t get how others are reacting? Do you realize that you’re just very much into your own thing?

Some of you may have help from those around you. It probably doesn’t feel like help though because this supposed help comes as your mate complaining that you never seem to care or that nothing he or she says seems to matter. Perhaps, it’s time to take the comments seriously.

I have a client who did shut down in childhood. She’s very aware that in many cases she just doesn’t know what to do. So what she does is watch others closely to see what they do. Then she adjusts her behavior accordingly and makes a mental note for the next time. Good for her!

If you realize that you’re strength isn’t empathy, you can make a change. Start to focus on how others are acting, responding both in words and gestures. When you do, your mirror neurons will start to react and learn. Know that it will take a little while but know that it can be done!

Additionally, be assured that learning to express more empathy will make a big difference in your relationship because empathy will increase emotional connection in your relationship.

Being Heard by Others to Increase Emotional Connections

Probably the biggest reason to be in a relationship is to feel connected. This is especially apparent in times of need — in times when you want to be understood, to be heard. And, when your partner is not able to do this, it’s quite disappointing and frustrating, not to mention isolating. So, for the next three posts, I’d like to offer some insights and suggestions to assist you in helping to connect with each other.

In today’s blog, there’s a tool I teach my couples called validation. Though at first it seems a bit difficult to grasp, using it really makes quite a difference.

Let’s start out with the obvious. Everyone sees the world differently. Pretend you and your partner were outside and there was an accident. The police come and ask each of you to explain what happened. It’s most likely that you’ll each give a different version of the very same incident. Is one of you lying? Was one of you wearing a blindfold? Of course not! It’s merely a case of two different people each having their own version, their own perception.

I’m sure you’ve experienced something similar to this in your lives. You’re telling friends about something that happened and as your mate is listening to you, he or she swears you weren’t in the same place!

When I illustrate this idea to my classes, I hold up a book and we all agree which is the front of the book and which is the back of the book. Then, I ask them, “As I hold the book up, which side of the book do you all see?” (They’re seeing the front side.) I continue and ask, “Which side of the book am I seeing?” They respond that, “I’m looking at the back side.”

My students knowing that I’m seeing the back side of the book while they’re seeing the front side of it is similar to the idea of validation.

When you’re with your partner who’s talking about a situation, you don’t have to see it the same way; you don’t even have to agree with the manner in which your partner has interpreted it. But … if you want your mate to feel validated, you have to let him or her know you understand how he or she is interpreting it that way. It’s like putting yourself in their shoes. It’s this very act that allows a sense of connection.

Now, you may be squawking that your partner is being absurd in his or her interpretation and overreacting. That may very well be true! Emotions always win out over clear thinking. So unless the emotions are responded to first, they will continue to be made active.

However, if you validate the feelings, the emotions calm down and then you can speak to the other person about some other possible interpretations or even ways to handle the situation.

Consistently when my couples report some hassle between them that got nowhere, I ask if they remembered to use the tool of validation. The answer is always, “No.” It’s a simple tool that goes a very long way.

In the next two weeks I’ll discuss how emotions are contagious and how to increase empathy.

Seasons of Your Relationship

Most of you live in areas where the seasons change. For me, Spring time has finally arrived! I love this season the most … I start to hear the sound of birds, see the buds on the trees, take off my heavy jacket, and start to smell cut grass! I feel revitalized.

It occurred to me that that the seasons changing are very much like relationships. The winter for those of us who live in the northeast of the U.S. tends to be bleak and dreary. Certainly, when our relationships are going through hard times, they seem dark as well. In reality, there are seasons to relationships as well.

I think the difference is that we have faith that the seasons will change and renew but don’t necessarily have the same faith in our partnerships.

There are things you can do to help ensure that the seasons of your relationship will go well. Here are some tips:

1. A lot of revitalizing your relationship has to do with way you think about it. Decide to have a positive attitude and think in a fresh way about the two of you.
2. Take advantage of spring and nicer weather. Go outside and take a walk together. Just having some quiet time for two of you will help from all the stress. Try to make this “date” time so no talking about problems or kids.
3. As you’re walking, hold hands. Research has shown that this one simple act does a lot to benefit you both individually and as a couple from a physical and emotional standpoint.
4. Do a check-in with each other. Just like with spring cleaning where you take inventory and de-clutter, it’s time to see what behaviors are working and which need to be improved. (By the way, I suggest doing this on a regular basis so things don’t pile up.)
5. Novelty is so important to keep relationships vital. Decide to try a new activity together. Maybe you’ll find something new to love or have a good laugh together.
6. Think vacation. Plan for one even if it’s short. It gives you something to look forward to. If funds, time, or other situations prevail, you can still think vacation by taking out pictures of your most recent one. Talking about good memories also goes a long way for bonding.
7. Adjust, accept, and appreciate your relationship. Again, just like you would when you’re doing spring cleaning, you may come to certain aspects of your home where you can make certain adjustments. Great! But in the end, what will bring you the greatest joy is coming to accept and appreciate what you have. I suggest the same is true as you consider your partnership. Again, so much will depend on how you choose to focus your thoughts!

Let Intelligence not Emotion Guide Your Relationship

Besides my private practice, I also teach Psychology at an undergraduate level at a local University. One of the topics I cover is Intelligence. We realize now that the definition of intelligence is much broader than originally thought. In fact, there are many different types of intelligence; it’s not just what the intelligence test measures.

Additionally, even when someone seems intelligent, it’s amazing how often he or she may make decisions that seem rather unintelligent. I came across a very interesting blog that referred to an article written by Michael London, a consultant to New Scientist, regarding how these faulty mistakes are made. First, I’d like to share his findings. And then, because one of the signs of intelligence is the ability to transfer knowledge from one situation to another, I’d like to point out how his findings are relevant to relationships. (Of course, you probably knew I was going there.)

London’s findings included the following:
1. CLEAR YOUR MIND: Judgments can often be based on a piece of information you’ve recently had in mind, even if it’s irrelevant. For example, bidding high at an auction after thinking about the height of the tallest person in the room.
2. DON’T FALL FOUL OF SPIN: We have an inclination to be strongly influenced by the way a problem is framed. For instance, people are more likely to spend a monetary award immediately if they’re told it’s a bonus, compared with a rebate.
3. DON’T LET EMOTIONS GET IN THE WAY: Emotions often interfere with our assessment of risk. One example is our natural reluctance to cut our losses on a falling investment because it might start rising again.
4. BE FACT BASED: Don’t allow your beliefs and opinions to cloud your analysis.
5. THINK CAREFULLY ABOUT THE LONG-TERM CONSEQUENCES: When considering how a course of action will make you feel, talk to someone who’s been through a similar situation rather than try to imagine your future state of mind; run mental movies about how an option might play out.
6. LOOK BEYOND THE OBVIOUS SOLUTION: Don’t accept the first thing that pops into your head.

I believe that all too often we would do far better if we let intelligence not emotions guide our relationships! So, what follows are my comparisons to London’s points as they relate to partnerships:
1. CLEAR YOUR MIND: Don’t necessarily respond to your mate based on something that just happened. It may not really be representative of your relationship.
2. DON’T FALL FOUL OF SPIN: When people are hurt, angry, or upset, they say things in less than perfect ways. Don’t necessarily get grabbed by the way something is presented. Instead, take a deep breath and try to trust the essence of what your partner is conveying … the underlying feelings.
3. DON’T LET EMOTIONS GET IN THE WAY: Relationships are prime areas for emotions to flare up. Try to not respond to significant others when you’re in an emotional state.
4. BE FACT BASED: Know that you have beliefs that have come from your history and family of origin. However, they may not be correct. Be willing to be open to new experiences with people who are important to you and do things differently.
5. THINK CAREFULLY ABOUT THE LONG-TERM CONSEQUENCES: Using your imagination to anticipate consequences regarding your relationships is quite a useful tool. When you’re uncertain about how to proceed, before you take action, play out different scenarios in your mind. Only proceed if you’re willing to accept the consequences.
6. LOOK BEYOND THE OBVIOUS SOLUTION: Especially when you’re emotional, the first thing that pops into your head about how to act is often impulsive and something you’ll regret. Allow yourself to consider other possibilities or get input from others whom you trust. Then decide.

Well, that was my spin on London’s points. As I said, the more you can allow intelligence rather than emotion to guide your relationship, the more empowered they will be. But you may have your own intelligent ideas!

Lion or Lamb in Your Relationship

We generally speak about March “coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb.” As a relationship expert, I was wondering if this phrase applies to you?

We know the way couples manage their conflicts as a real indicator of how well their relationships will go. Dr. John Gottman can predict with 85% accuracy which couples will end up divorcing by how the two manage their conflicts. Even more startling is that he can do this within 15 minutes!

Let’s “unpack” this a bit. For most people, when upset, emotions run high. There’s stress felt in the body. So, as a result when whatever is expressed is spoken, it doesn’t come out calmly or reasonably. Sometimes, some folks (often women) attempt to not react immediately and hold things in for the sake of the partnership. As a consequence, rather than the emotions going away, they build up. The lion roars!

In response to the lion roaring, the mate roars back either loudly or silently by shutting down. Either is equally nonproductive.

Understand that there is no blame here … merely an explanation of what happens. Just in the last two days two different clients told me situations where this very same process occurred. Both admitted they were frustrated, upset, and feeling negative. Emotions took over and boom: explosive comments and actions. Emotions will cloud clear thinking.

In the calmness of my office they were both able to see that though they were trying to “be heard,” they were, in fact, working against themselves.

I truly believe that the problem lies in the reality that we are human with emotions. Therefore, we’re afraid to get hurt and don’t want our partner to see our weakness. However, when you can come from a place of vulnerability, of authenticity, then you are more likely to be heard and get what you truly desire … connection.

To show your true self is not a weakness. Rather, it allows your mate to be compassionate and available to you. It may require that you ask for what you need. But in my book if you ask and your partner is willing to give it, that means caring.

So … you can be the lion and keep protecting yourself or you can choose to be the lamb and have what you want. It’s your decision!