Posts Tagged ‘conflict reduction’

You Might Be Dealing With A Trust Issue and Not Even Know It

August 23, 2013

Many couples don’t even realize that a breach of trust is something they are struggling with, because when they think of the word trust, they only consider whether or not their partner has lied or has been unfaithful.  Those are obvious breaches of trust.  However, even without those blatant behaviors present in a relationship, you may still sense that something is wrong.  You just can’t seem to put your finger on what the problem is.  I recently came across an excellent list in John Gottman’s new book, “What Makes Love Last,” which helps clarify for many people what it is they are struggling with, and why it really is a trust issue.

Gottman basically defines betrayal as the opposite of trust, and calls this list, “10 Other Ways to Betray Your Lover” (besides cheating).  I often read these out loud for couples when they come to see me and explain that if any of the things on this list are happening in their relationship they will likely feel betrayed on a consistent basis. These behaviors MUST STOP if a couple is going to feel emotionally safe with one another. One couple I recently counseled were experiencing all 10 betrayals!  After they heard the items on the list, it instantly made sense to them why their relationship was so distressed.

Many of the following items are also covered in depth throughout my eBook, “What You Are Really Arguing About,” but I never considered them betrayals per se.  I categorize behavior like these as a partner’s reliability/dependability.  Betrayal is a strong word, and many people might not like the thought that they are betraying their partner.  But if you really think about it, being undependable or unreliable will cause a trust issue in relationships, so the word betrayal fits these 10 items, which include:

1)    You aren’t fully committed –When one person isn’t committed, it’s almost impossible for the relationship to feel good.  If you have the sense that your partner is only with you until someone “better” comes along, or if one person is constantly threatening the relationship by saying things like “I can’t take this!” or “It’s over,” it’s really difficult to trust that person.  Another common scenario is when one person wants to take the relationship to the “next level” such as marriage or living together, and the other is completely fine with the status quo.  Not being on the same page about the level of commitment in the relationship is painful and will definitely cause trust issues for the couple.

2)    A non-sexual affair—Emotional affairs are tricky because many people believe they really aren’t cheating unless they have been sexual with someone.  But I tell people to think about it like this: If your partner was a fly on the wall and could see you interacting with your “friend” and you know they wouldn’t like what they were seeing and hearing, you are likely engaged in an emotional affair.  It can be really exhausting for the person who feels betrayed to have any influence with their partner because they can’t “prove” anything is really going on.  “It’s just my friend!” you argue.  If your partner feels uncomfortable with your relationship with someone else, be honest with yourself about whether you would do and say the same things if your partner really was a fly on that wall.  If you know that you would act differently, then you probably are on a slippery slope that with enough time and opportunity, can easily lead to infidelity.

3)    Lying—Your words and behavior have to match if you want people to trust you.  You can say anything in the world.  But if what you do is in opposition to what you are saying, people are going to be confused and mistrusting.  If you say that you were at work and it turns out you were really at a bar, your partner has every right to feel betrayed.  If you say that you want your relationship to improve, but you don’t do one thing to try to improve it, your partner will not trust you.  Do what you say you are going to do and the trust will improve.  However, if you are attempting to repair damaged trust, your words and behavior must be consistent over time.  It may take months or years to repair things once there has been a breach of trust.  Be as honest as you can.  Trust needs to be the foundation of your relationship and nothing damages trust quite like lying.

4)    Coalitions against your partner—This simply means that you are participating in a relationship that is at your partner’s expense.  A common one is with your mother (or sibling or friend).  Meaning that you tell your mom too much about your relationship and/or you team up with your parent against your partner.  Your partner will surely feel betrayed by this and these behaviors will damage your relationship.  It’s extremely invasive when two people team up against another. If there are issues in your relationship, seek a therapist who is not on either one of your sides, but is on the relationship’s side.

5)    You aren’t there in a crisis—Gottman calls this “emotional absenteeism.”  This often occurs in couples where one of them has a lack of empathy and compassion.  I see this with couples that have experienced big things like medical illnesses, miscarriages, or the death of loved ones, as well as “smaller” things like job stress or a fight with a good friend. We need to feel like we can go to our partner during times of upheaval for understanding and support.  Sometimes our partner does care, but they just don’t know how to show it or don’t know the right things to say.  But there are also people out there who really just lack empathy and cannot comfort or support you.  Instead they basically send you the message that there is something wrong with you for how you are feeling. When you feel like your partner just isn’t there for you in these times of stress or crisis, you will not only feel invalidated and alone, but you will also feel betrayed.

6)    Withdrawal of sexual interest—Many long-term couples are in “sexless relationships” meaning that they have sex 12 times per year or less.  Some couples are just fine with this. But if one partner is not ok with the frequency or quality of their sex life, and these issues are not being addressed, they will definitely feel betrayed and resentful.  Some people don’t seem to understand that they are basically sending their partner the message: “Don’t you dare be unfaithful…but don’t look to me for sex either!”

7)    Disrespect—Gottman studied “contempt” (i.e. disrespect) in couples and found it to be THE number one relationship killer.  He became famous for being able to predict which couples would divorce with over 90% certainty just by seeing them interact for 5 minutes.  The way he was able to make these predictions was based on whether or not contempt was present.  Contempt can include name-calling, acting superior to your partner, subtle (and not so subtle) slights, eye rolling, or any other way that you convey disgust.  It can also be knowing exactly what you could say that would completely crush your partner, and then going right ahead and saying that thing anyway.  Often people call that “hitting below the belt.”  This is considered emotional and verbal abuse and should not be tolerated in a relationship.  Couples need to learn how to communicate without this corrosive element in their dialogues.  (It goes without saying that if physical abuse is present in your relationship, you will not feel safe and cannot trust your partner.  Please seek help ASAP if your partner is emotionally or physically abusive. These dynamics rarely change on their own).  You likely not only feel betrayed, but also frightened. These feelings are the opposite of the emotional safety necessary to engage in an intimate relationship.

8)    Unfairness—Unequal housework and child-care usually come up in this category. When couples navigate through these issues in a way that they both find fair, they will feel much more trusting and loving than those who do not feel that the arrangement is fair. In Gottman’s book, “And Baby Makes Three” he advises men to do as much as they can to contribute to the house and kids, especially if they want their wives to feel sexual.  Women do not seem to be able to relax and enjoy sex after a long day of tending to the house and children (and often her own job!)  Gottman tells men that doing their fair share around the house is a form of foreplay.

9)    Selfishness—You can’t truly trust someone who you believe does not hold you or the relationship as a priority.  When you consistently see your partner meeting their own needs at your expense (i.e. playing golf all weekend while you stay home with the kids…every weekend) you will feel betrayed.

10) Broken promises—This can encompass any behavior from promising you will be home by 8pm and not showing up until 10, to promising you will have more children and then getting a vasectomy, to becoming a problem drinker, gambler, substance abuser, and/or sex addict.  Often the person breaking agreements promises to change, and then doesn’t change, so the betrayal deepens and deepens.  One person is usually doing some behavior that is a “deal breaker” for their partner, but dealing with “deal breaking” behavior in a marriage is tough, especially when you feel you cannot influence your partner to really change.  This can easily became a “crazy making” situation where it’s just a big circle: partner A engages in a certain behavior, partner B freaks out, partner A feels ashamed and promises to change, things are ok for a while, and then the cycle starts all over.

If any of the above behaviors are going on in your relationship, you will likely find it difficult to trust, and therefore, you feel betrayed by your partner on some level.  You may not have thought about it that way before, but this list should validate your concerns about trust.  If your partner does not agree that any of these behaviors are a problem for your relationship, you will likely benefit from some form of relationship counseling or coaching in order to help you resolve these issues.  If your partner won’t get help, try individual counseling to help you navigate through these betrayals on your own and learn to set effective boundaries.

This article was written by Relationship Coach & Communication Consultant, Barbi Pecenco. Barbi specializes in individual and couples relationship counseling and coaching. For more information, see her website at www.sdcouplestherapy.com.

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How to Self Soothe

February 5, 2009

girl-looking-out-window2After a fight with our partner, it’s nice when we can come back together and process the argument, take responsibility for our parts, comfort each other and move on. Often, however, that is not what happens. Instead, couples fight, go their separate ways, and rile themselves up about how wrong their partner is. And when they finally do come back together they usually 1) apologize without really understanding what happened or 2) don’t apologize or process the fight and just try to move on, all the while holding onto resentment.

When you and your partner fight without resolution and you don’t have the chance to comfort each other due to the anger and resentment keeping you apart, the best thing you can do for yourself is to self-soothe. Self-soothing consists of giving yourself care and comfort that calms you down and helps you regulate your emotions. It doesn’t help you or your relationship to go to your own corner and dwell on what a jerk your partner can be. It’s better to remind yourself that both you and your partner are good people and that everyone has conflict.

Here are some more suggestions for self-soothing:

1) Take responsibility for your part. Did you attack your partner? Did you get defensive? Did you name call? Think about the piece that you contributed to the argument. This will give you more of a sense of control. Don’t keep thinking about your partner’s piece or what he/she did wrong. Focus on yourself only.

2) Take care of yourself physically. Be sure to take slow, deep breaths. Often when we are upset, we breath very shallowly, almost holding our breath. This increases anxiety. Take even and slow breaths for several minutes.

3) Do what makes you feel a little bit better. Fighting with loved ones is stressful. I realize that it’s not realistic to expect you to feel good while fighting with your partner. But there is always something you can do to feel a little better. This something is different for everyone. For some it’s listening to music, or even playing music like the guitar or piano. For others it’s going for a walk or jog. Some of my clients say that praying is comforting to them. Also, it’s been proven that petting an animal is soothing, so if you have a pet, cuddle up! Yoga or meditation may help you calm down. Additionally, talking to a close friend or family member can be soothing. Just be sure to reach out to those who will be of comfort to you and not someone who will make you feel worse. Lastly, don’t resort to abusing drugs or alcohol, as that will most likely rile you up or numb you out, instead of actually soothing you.

4) When you come back with your partner, talk about your part and how you contributed to the conflict. Without anger or criticism, your partner will likely be more responsive. Be willing to apologize for your piece and be forgiving of both your behaviors and your partner. Nobody is perfect.

5) Ask your partner for what you need. Focus more on what you want from him/her and not what you don’t want. We all respond better to positives (“Please put your phone down and talk to me,”) than negatives (“I hate when you text while we are out to dinner.”)

If your partner really IS being a “jerk”, see my blogs about how to stand up for yourself or how to take an uncompromising stand. Also, you can still use some of these self soothing techniques if you are recovering from a break up or even if you do not have a partner at all, but just need help managing your own emotions.

This article was written by Relationship Coach & Communication Consultant, Barbi Pecenco. Barbi specializes in individual and couples relationship counseling and coaching. For more information, see her website at www.sdcouplestherapy.com.

One Simple Thing You Can Do to Improve Your Relationship

January 11, 2009

couple-on-beachAs a therapist, I am often asking clients what things mean to them. For example, when a client describes an event that happened, it’s important to ask what that meant to them, because people assign various meanings to the same exact events in their lives.

Nowhere is this more clear than in couples counseling. One recent example that comes to mind is a client who told me that his wife became furious when he asked her if the chicken they had at home was boneless or not. To him it was a simple question with very little meaning attached.

To his wife, it was a much different story. “He KNOWS I only keep boneless chicken in the house. That’s why I got so angry,” she said as if that explained everything. He protested that this wasn’t a dumb question and said that there was a good possibility that there could be other chicken in the house besides boneless chicken.”

This argument started to take off again in my office, but I finally interrupted and told them this was so NOT about the chicken. They were stumped. What else could it possibly be about then?

I asked the wife what it meant to her that her husband asked her about the chicken. She was confused about the question so I asked her again. (It’s sometimes hard for us to look deeper when it can so easily seem like it really is about chicken).

Once she looked inside and asked herself what this all meant, she came up with it. “It’s like he doesn’t even know me if he could ask a question like that. I only eat boneless chicken.” Once the client comes up with the meaning, it’s important for me to keep them there and help them explore their meanings and to help the other partner hear them too. It turns out the “He doesn’t know me,” meaning was a common theme behind most of their fights along with similar themes such as, “He only thinks of himself,” and “I’m not important to him.”

Once the husband understood the meaning his wife was ascribing to some of his seemingly mundane questions or actions, he was instantly able to empathize with her. He was not able to do that earlier, when all he saw coming from her was anger over what he thought was an innocent question about chicken.

If they had a better connection, he could get away with asking questions like these. But because the couple is already distressed, his wife is less tolerant of any hint of one of those themes coming up.

When we don’t stop to ask our partner what our question, comment, or behavior means to them, then what we see on the surface (usually anger or withdrawl) becomes the focus of the argument and not what’s going on emotionally for each other underneath it all. We lose an opportunity to really get to know each other when we don’t understand our partner’s meaning.

The next time your partner is mad at you or withdrawing from you or engaging in some other behavior that doesn’t make sense to you, ask a variation of the following:

“What did it mean to you that I…asked about the chicken?”
“What happened for you when I told you…(add yours here)?”
“Help me understand what it means to you that I…(add yours here).”

This article was written by Relationship Coach & Communication Consultant, Barbi Pecenco. Barbi specializes in individual and couples relationship counseling and coaching. For more information, see her website at www.sdcouplestherapy.com.