Wednesday, February 27, 2008
As we've asserted repeatedly over the years, the way many people perceive relationships is great for romantic novels, but has little to do with real life.
People enter into serious relationships such as marriage with little preparation or even basic knowledge what to expect. Then, when the inevitable disillusionment sets in, they may be so overcome with doubt that they act and react in inappropriate and self-defeating ways. And of all the forms of human misery, discord in the home is probably the most widespread.
If the above paragraph is even faintly familiar, here's some good news!
After much thought, I've decided to make my e-book: How to Build Relationships That Stick, which has won wide acclaim during the seven years it's been on the market, available free. (In contrast to the way that word is often used in the world of so-called Internet marketing, I mean it literally - no email address collected or other strings attached!) All you have to do is go here and then RIGHT-click on any one of the links on the page to download your free copy.
I must point out that although a part of the book does talk specifically about marriage and intimate relationships, the underlying principles discussed throughout the book apply to all kinds of relationships. This includes interactions between family members (parent-child, siblings, etc), friendships, and even your relationship with business and workplace colleagues and associates.
Above all, I try in this little book to explode the myths that actually kill relationships!
We said that dissension and acrimony in the home must be one of the worst kinds of misery, but the converse is also true: domestic harmony is undoubtedly the most intense form of happiness. Now it's time to put the past behind you. With the right knowledge and the right attitude, you'll not only improve the quality of your life, but also those of your relationship partners!
So what are you waiting for? Download your own copy of How to Build Relationships now!
Thursday, January 10, 2008
Your Marriage Could Be Bad For Your Health
To be more specific, marital conflict can be bad for your health. A growing body of research now bears this out, points out Dr Joshua Coleman, prolific contributor to our site (as well as dozens of media outlets around the world) on parenting and family dynamics, in his e-newsletter, The Coleman Report .
Some of the evidence: Ongoing marital conflict appears to worsen the symptoms of women with rheumatoid arthritis and results in elevated blood pressure for both men and women. Marital conflict may also worsen the symptoms of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's Disease and Parkinson's. And more.
But it's not only a question of physical health, and observable physical symptoms are only part of it. Nor is it only the two spouses that suffer. Dr Coleman reminds us that high conflict marriages also interfere with the ability to parent for both genders.
Studies show that fathers are more likely to withdraw from their children and from the parenting role in marriages that are characterized by ongoing conflict. In addition, they may become more negative and intrusive with their children than fathers in satisfactory marriages, or mothers in poor marriages.
Other studies reveal that the mother's feelings about the father can affect how much he stays involved with the kids and how much he enjoys being a Dad. Angry mothers are more likely to try and exclude fathers from child involvement than mothers who aren't angry. Both mothers and fathers are more likely to be depressed in a high conflict marriage.
Dr. Coleman alerts us to some of the most common underlying causes of marital strife. Typically, a combination of several are involved. These include: growing up in a home where there was ongoing marital conflict, outside stressors (such as worry over money, career, in-laws), and inside stressors (such as differences in parenting attitudes, division of household labor, spending habits, differences in sex drive, etc.).
Most telling of all, in most high conflict marriages, one or both spouses have never learned how to communicate.
The bottom line: if the above sounds painfully familiar, get help now! However hopeless the situation may seem to you right now, it doesn't necessarily mean you have only two choices: get divorced or live a life of hell forever. Far from it; you may be pleasantly surprised.
But remaining passive won't help. The longer you procrastinate, the more difficult it may be for professional intervention to succeed. Don't wait to seek outside help to resolve the conflicts and prevent long-term or irreversible damage to your most valuable asset - your marriage.
Act now - for your sake and for the sake of your children
Act now - for your sake and for the sake of your children
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
How Authentic Apologies Open Relationship Doors
The tension in your marriage relationship is becoming unbearable...and deep down you know you're at fault. Your dilemma is: how do I proceed now?Implementing a solution can be far from easy, points out Dr. Peter Pearson, but nevertheless there is a solution, and in a popular article on our site, he outlines a formula for getting the results you want.
Yes, it's a matter of apologizing, but what does that mean?
Dr Pearson writes that in the early days of his marriage, the mere mumbling of two basic words was sometimes sufficient to calm ruffled feathers and heal bruised feelings. "It was as if I had a license to do what I wanted - as long as I looked sincere and said 'I'm sorry'. It was like having a 'Get out of jail free' Monopoly card."
But he soon found out that just mumbling a couple of standard words under his breath, or even speaking them out loud or even with all the conviction in his command, wouldn't get him very far for too long.
Dr Pearson and his wife, Dr. Ellyn Bader, work as a professional team and are the founders of The Couple's Institute. In this month's issue of their Practice Development Dispatch ezine, they revisit the topic of the key role of the apology in resolving marital conflicts. They quote a fascinating research project of a few years ago to illustrate and emphasize a couple of critical points.
The research study in question, conducted by law Professor Jennifer Robbennolt of Columbia University, really just confirms what we knew - or should have known - all along. Participants, ages 21 to 70, read a scenario describing a pedestrian-bicycle accident. They were asked to take on the role of the injured pedestrian and evaluate a settlement offer from the other party, based on information about the injuries, the other party’s conduct, and each party’s responsibility for causing the accident.
Important to note here that the settlement that the offender suggested did not fully cover all the costs of the accident.
Robbennolt found that when a full apology was given, 73 percent of the respondents would accept the settlement offer. When no apology was given, 52 percent would accept, but very interestingly, only 35 percent would accept when a partial apology was given (meaning that the bicyclist did not take responsibility for the accident).
“An offender who offered a full apology was seen as experiencing more regret, as being more moral and more likely to be careful in the future than one offering a partial or no apology,” commented Prof. Robbennolt.
The bottom line, and this is crucial: people who feel injured or wronged want to know that the other understands and acknowledges the essence of what they did wrong! This is the prerequisite and starting point for moving forward.
Dr. Bader elaborates that the research results remind her of her many therapy sessions with couples where one party has deceived the other. The offending party often wants to rush it through with some very perfunctory expression of guilt, and then put everything behind them. Sometimes even expensive gifts are given in an attempt to alleviate unspoken guilt. "I said I was sorry. Why aren't you getting over it faster? Why are you beating me up?"
But more often than not, such an approach just doesn't cut! A primary reason why they are not getting it over faster is precisely because a clear, unambiguous and sincere admission of guilt has not been forthcoming!
Dr. Bader sums it up by citing an old African proverb that is equally relevant in so many interpersonal situations:
"It is easier to put out fire in the house of neighbors than to deal with the smoke in one's
Indeed, there are probably few things more difficult for people to achieve than the fault that lies within themselves.
May we all merit, when the occasion arises, to rise to the challenge!
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Why I Don't Like the Word 'Partner' in Connection With Relationships
The word "partner" is used very widely by people writing about relationships, including many of our own site contributors. And it's perfectly understandable. After all, what better term do we have at our disposal to describe your opposite number in an intimate relationship? While dictionary definitions may differ, its simple meaning is one who shares or participates with you in a certain enterprise or activity. So it seems quite appropriate.
Yet, the word makes me uncomfortable. I'll tell you why.
I touched on one reason in one of my early articles on the Web. I don't think an ideal marriage
relationship is a "partnership" in the same sense that we talk about business partnership, for example. When we think of a partnership, we usually think about a contract between two parties. A 50-50 sharing of responsibilities, or the like.
Yet marriage, as I explained is no business arrangement - or it shouldn't be. As I explained, if your mind is going to work along the lines of:
"You have needs and I have needs. Maybe, if I satisfy yours, you will satisfy mine. You wash the dishes and I'll pay the rent. Sundays to Tuesdays I'll take out the garbage, and for the remainder of the week you will. Other duties will be divided by mutual consent. For every suit I buy, you can buy two pairs of shoes..."...you're not very likely to end up with a happy marriage.
OK, now I can hear you say: "Hey Azriel, who's talking about marriage? You can have an intimate relationship between a man and a woman without them necessarily being actually married. That's why these relationship writers talk about your partner instead of your husband, wife or spouse. It's a term that includes everybody."
Aha, a good point! But, you know, that's exactly my point. You see, I don't really believe there can be an authentic, long-lasting, really happy, relationship of this type outside formal marriage. That, in a nutshell, is the second - and more important - reason why I shy away from the use of the term "partner" in the context of relationships.
We know that the number of couples "living together" has risen very dramatically over the past few decades. Often, the rationale is that by "trying each other out" before tying the knot, they can see how "compatible" they are. Strangely, some of these people seem to be motivated, at least in part, to take this "precaution" by the rising divorce rate.
This is quite ironic,for studies have shown conclusively that "living together" does not increase the chances of marital success. Quite the contrary, the likelihood of a durable and lasting union is diminished by this arrangement. If living together were a test of marital compatibility, the statistics should show that couples who have lived together first should have stronger marriages.
But the opposite is the case. Even though the myth persists!
What's the problem? What's lacking in the temporary arrangement, when a couple "shack up" together knowing that if things don't work out as planned... well, no big deal. It may be a little painful for a day or two, but it's just a question of packing one's bags, walking out the door, shaking off the dust and getting on with one's life.
In marriage, it's not quite so simple. And that's a jolly good thing.
If there's one key word here, that word is commitment. Making a commitment right from Day One.
You see, a newly married couple will make a deliberate effort to accommodate each other and please each other, because they expect to be together for life. In other words, their goal is not to test compatibility, but to build it!
The word spouse , somehow, is not a particularly attractive one. But, where necessary, I would prefer it to partner anytime.
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
How Ambiguity Promotes Conflict in the Family
"Good", for example, can mean "useful" or "functional" (That's a good hammer), "exemplary" (She's a good student), "pleasing" (This is good soup), "moral" (He is a good person), and probably other similar things.
If I say "I have a good daughter," can you be sure what I mean exactly? Am I saying she has high ethical principles, or that she's very popular, or that she's in good shape physically, or perhaps something else?
Technically speaking, the kind of confusion I want to talk about is not correctly termed ambiguity, but vagueness. Only since most people tend to think of it as ambiguity, I'll stick to that term. Let's begin with a simple example.
"I'll be a little late tonight," Jack calls out to his wife, Jill, as he picks up his briefcase and heads out the door after breakfast. "Some clients are coming around for a quick meeting on their way home."
On an average working day, Jack gets home around 6.15. On this night, he makes his appearance at precisely 8.08. Jill is furious; she needed Jack to attend to something important that could have been completed in less than two minutes, but could only be done before eight. Jack just can't understand what the fuss is about. Didn't he tell her in advance that he intended to be a little late?
But then, he didn't mention a specific time frame, did he? To Jack, "a little late" meant one thing; to Jill it meant another.
People see things in different ways. A "carefree" attitude to one person may be "irresponsible" to another. What I call "relaxation", you may call "laziness". What's a "convenience" to you, may be "life-sustaining to your spouse; he or she may call "extravagance" what you view as "essential spending". The potential for conflict is obvious.
But even where ambiguity doesn't lead to open conflict, there still can be plenty of room for misunderstanding, confusion and doubt. Consider this scenario:
A usually ravenous teenager sits down at the dinner table. His mother notices he is doing a good job on the potatoes and salad, but is barely touching the chicken.
"Don't you like the chicken, Jim?" asks a concerned mother.
"Yeah, well, um..ah..."
"Why aren't you eating it?"
"Well, because it's white meat and I like dark meat!"
Mother explains that chickens have only two legs and this time his brothers got to them first. Had they been millionaires, she would have bought several chickens, or maybe pre-cut parts. As the reality was, Jim should realize that this was not a five-star hotel....
"It's okay, Mom, "interrupts Eli. "These potatoes are really good and I won't drop down dead if I skip the protein for one meal."
"Quite so, Jim, but by the same token, why don't you eat the white meat just for once? You're getting too picky when it comes to food. When I was your age...."
But Jim didn't hear the rest of the story because something his mother had just said made a bell go off in his head. It was all on account of one sentence he had overheard while she was speaking on the phone a few days previously. He didn't normally eavesdrop on his mother's conversations, but he had just happened to be at the right place at the right time.
Jim's parents had decided to have new kitchen cupboards installed and they had just returned from an excursion to the craftsman's showroom. His mother was discussing their exciting experience with a good friend on the phone.
"There were so many different styles on the floor, and about a dozen different shades of wood to choose from," she had said. "I just couldn't make up my mind. My husband got really impatient and said I was too picky. I told him that wasn't being picky - I was merely making a 'preference analysis.' "
So when exactly does the (illegitimate) habit of being "picky" become a (legitimate) "preference analysis"? What's the difference between being choosy with your food and being choosy over a color scheme? Teenagers are pastmasters at spotting ironic inconsistencies. To Jim, this was a glaring example if there ever was one.
We're all human. Is this kind of situation completely avoidable? I'm not sure.
But certainly, we see here once again how important it is that parents (and teachers) strive to be consistent at all times in all their interactions with their children.
Sunday, September 25, 2005
Marital Temper Tantrums: Don't Fan the Flames!
If you are, how do you handle the explosion, when it comes? How effective is your damage control?
Take the case of Richard and Rosie.
Richard had been begging his wife, Rosie, to curb here generosity and extravagance when buying gifts. It seems his exhortations weren't always successful. One day he opened their monthly credit card statement, took one glance, and... hit the roof!
"How many times have I told you that we cannot afford such expensive gifts?!" Richard bellowed at the top of his lungs. "You are spending the money I earn with my blood, sweat and tears on unnecessary extravagances!"
Poor Rosie wasn't about to take this lying down. Almost inevitably, she responded by launching a sharp counterattack of her own. Perhaps not surprisingly, she wasn't short of ammunition.
"So, all of a sudden we "cannot afford" to buy gifts, huh? But last week we had plenty of money when you wanted to have cable television installed so you could watch your stupid sports!"
This is an imaginary incident, of course, but the imagination isn't mine! It comes from New York psychotherapist and family counselor Dr. Meir Wikler's book: Ten Minutes a Day to a Better Marriage.
Dr. Wikler stresses that there's no magic button, but in this extract he presents a list of first aid measures to take whenever your spouse loses control. He follows this up with another list of steps you can take after after the dust has cleared to minimize the chances of a recurrence. If this type of scenario is at all relevant to you, or if it might be in the future, I recommend you study both lists in detail.
Above all, I would say you have to be mindful of one cardinal rule whenever you find yourself at the receiving end of the burning rage of a spouse - or for that matter, of anyone else!
Sure, you're only human, but try hard to resist the natural inclination to give back as good as you got. Don't retaliate! Rosie's rebuttal was certainly legitimate, don't you think? In the idiom we learned as schoolchildren, the pot doesn't call the kettle black! But was her challenge effective? Hardly.
Cool logic is not what impresses the Richards of this world while they are still in the heat of battle. It only serves to inflame their temper further. At another time, and presented in another tone of voice, Rosie's words could have found their mark. But not now.
Similarly, any attempt calm or quiet a fuming Richard would be counterproductive. As Dr. Wikler puts it: "Just as you cannot douse a fire with gasoline, so, too, you cannot put out the flames of hostility by asking your spouse to lower his or her voice."
OK. So what now? As the unfortunate victim of unjustified anger, what should you be doing?
Let's look at another of Dr. Wikler's imaginary exchanges.
Ruth flew into a rage at her husband, Max. It was the couple's wedding anniversary, and for the first time in 18 years of marriage, Max had neglected to acknowledge the occasion. He was working under unusual pressure and simply forgot.
Instead of trying to come up with excuses, Max tried to empathize with his wife's disappointment and simply acknowledged her feelings:
"I see that I have caused you a considerable amount of pain by forgetting our anniversary this year. It makes you feel demeaned and put down that I did not even buy you an anniversary card...If I forgot about our anniversary, it means to you that I just do not care..."
And his little speech completely knocked the wind out of Ruth's sails.
Nobody's suggesting that it's a mature or effective way of going about things, but an anger tantrum is just a desperate attempt to express emotional pain. As always, a little empathy goes a long way.
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
Coming Home After a Long, Hard Day
Ideally speaking, that hour of the day when the various members of a family unit return and reunite after many grueling hours spent at the office, at school or whatever outside activity they happened to engaged in, should be among the most pleasant and peaceful of the entire 24-hour cycle. It should be a time of gentle winding down, of soothing jangled nerves, of warm feelings of "we're all together again", and of exchanging news and perspectives of the day in a calm, relaxed atmosphere.
But you know and I know that it doesn't work out that way too often.
For the younger members of the family, the daily act of re-entering the portals of the home can be a part of their regular routine of special significance. It means a return to the comfort, warmth and security of family life after a spell in a very challenging and sometimes frightening world outside.
Consider this scenario: teenager Sharon walks in the door, ready to burst into tears. Her school day has been emotionally draining. Let's say she had a major History test. Her attitude to school tests is normally laid back, but for whatever reason, it was particularly important for her to perform well in this one. She felt the questions were unfair and some of the topics weren't even part of the official syllabus. When she respectfully pointed this out to her teacher, all she got for her trouble was a mouthful!
So she comes in and plaintively calls out: "Ma, where are you? I need to talk to you!"
At this moment, Mom is busy speaking on the phone. Early that morning, she had left a message for an acquaintance to call her in connection with a certain community project they both involved in as volunteers. Just a pity that her fellow activist had to choose just 30 seconds earlier to call back!
"Hey, Sharon, what's the matter with you?" exclaims Mom after covering the mouthpiece with her hand. "You can see I'm on the phone, can't you?"
At this point, the potential tears that Sharon had been bravely trying to hold back cannot be restrained any longer. The trickle quickly becomes a river as she storms out the house in acute disappointment mixed with anger. Mom remains unsympathetic and as she continues her telephone conversation, she makes a mental note to scold her daughter later on for her insolence.
Probably, neither party can be said to be blameless here. Sharon could have considered that Mom might not be available to offer her the comfort she was craving her just at the precise moment she walked in through the door. Her mother could have excused herself momentarily to the lady on the other end of the phone while reassuring Sharon that she would be with her very shortly.
But what I want to stress with this incident is the potential of the hour of homecoming both for family growth and for family heartache. At best, it will be a time of healing, comfort, relaxation, recommitment and reconnection. But perhaps precisely because of its positive potential, it is also a time fraught with danger.
I'm not only talking about the children.
If Dad comes home in a foul mood, ready to blow his top at the slightest provocation, you can't expect his dear wife to show him the warmth and affection he expects. If Mom, for whatever reason, is overflowing with open resentment and hostility when hubby walks through the door, can she expect him to shower her with the care and attention she really deserves?
Of course, I'm by no means implying that since either or both of them are so tightly focused on their own unmet needs of the moment, this entitles them to remain blind to the hell the other may be going through at that time.
Just the contrary. If the overriding, uppermost thought in the mind of each partner, of each member of the family, would always be the special needs, the anguish, the unique difficulties of the others....well, need I complete the sentence?
Indeed something to think about.
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
Throw Your Resentments in the Garbage
Most definitely, according to new research funded by the US government's health research arm and conducted in the department of communications at Louisville University, Kentucky.
Trivial though it may seem, such a practice, if repeated, could be a ticking timebomb when it comes to relationships, warned the researchers.
Their report, Social Allergies in Romantic Relationships aimed to establish the nature of the link between nasty habits and nasty divorce. Among the "minor" irritants that they found could very quickly lead to irreparable rifts between couples are: failing to hang up towels, leaving a new loo roll on top of the empty one, using a fork as a backscratcher, and changing preset controls on the car stereo.
Perhaps a little bit more understandable are such habits as nose-picking, burping, failing to control flatulence, and getting drunk despite lack of obvious excuse. The list of niggles also includes laughing at one's own jokes (oblivious to the fact that no-one else is); using cringe-making terms of endearment such as "babykins' in public; reading e-mails in the middle of a discussion on an important topic; and asking for explanations of TV dramas, causing one's partner to miss a plot twist.
"Wet towels on the bathroom floor cause minor irritation, but the reaction gets stronger each time it happens," points out chief researcher Michael Cunningham. "Through repeated exposure it may produce a social allergy - a reaction of hypersensitive annoyance or disgust."
OK, so what's the solution?Assuming the couple aren't, after all, really interested in divorce, what can they do to avoid the perpetual bickering?
According to one relationship counselor, it's no rocket science: "We have so many couples saying to us they argue over everything and nothing. Communication is the key. If a minor habit causes bother, it should be no big deal to change it."
I'm not so sure.
Communication the key? Yes, if you want to bring about change without either of you losing your cool along the way, the ability to communicate effectively will be critical.
But very often, a polite and firm request to try to do something about an annoying habit will be met, at best, with a blank stare or a perfunctory nod. Why? Because you and your spouse, consciously or subconsciously, are engaged in a power struggle.
Typically, at the beginning of a healthy relationship, the love and appreciation each partner feels both for and from each other will make any idiosyncrasies the other has irrelevant. Until one trivial incident sets a motion in process from which, it appears, there's no return. The power struggle begins. Then one, or more likely both, of the partners are overcome with a feeling of fear. Each one may feel that he or she has lost the way but is unable to find the way back.
"What happened?" he asks. "What made you change so suddenly?" he asks.
"What do you mean?" she replies. "I'm not the one who's changing. You are."
The truth is that you can't restore a conflict-ridden marriage to perfect health by coercing your partner to do your will. Focusing on what he or she is doing wrong is not the answer. You transform a relationship by creating love, collaboration and respect.
And the key word is create. It won't happen by itself. No way.
Take your shopping list of complaints, frustrations and resentments, and throw it in the garbage. Good riddance! But wait, you do need a list of some sort, don't you? So sit down and write a list of things that you appreciate about your partner. List all your spouse's strengths and qualities. Then share your list with him or her.
Sure, it's easier said than done, especially when the anger and frustration is burning up inside you. The natural urge to seek immediate redress for perceived injustices may be an overpowering one, a fire that's seemingly impossible to put out.
But try. Believe me, it's worth it.
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
More Choices, More Misery...And Lousy Relationships!
A man decided to divorce his wife because, he said, he no longer loved her.
Unfortunately, for some technical reason, he could not file for the divorce for six months. Being a reasonable fellow, he decided to make the most of the situation. Just for the heck of it, he would make a list of all the things he would do, if he truly loved his wife.
So he began doing all those things. And the result? He was soon madly in love with the woman he couldn't stomach a few months earlier.
One thing we can learn from this is that love - I mean real, authentic love, not the Hollywood variety - is the product of giving, not of taking. But there's more.
The whimsically romantic notion that love just happens, that Cupid either strikes you with his arrow or he doesn't, is just that. It's a concept that has its place in romantic novels, but it has little to do with real life. I'm not denying, of course, that chemistry is often an important component in relationships, but at best, it's only part of the story. Anyone who's interested in a lasting, satisfying, "sticky" kind of relationship, the kind that may lead to a lifetime of bliss, knows that he or she has to work hard.
Darned hard. On the first day, the second day, and every day thereafter. Period.
A professor of psychology recently wrote a book with an intriguing title: The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less. In an article explaining his rationale for writing the book, Barry Schwartz alludes to the stunning array of choices available to people in modern Western society, in every sphere of their lives.
Just walk into the average supermarket in search of hair-care products, and you may have 300 or more shampoos, conditioners and the like to choose from. In countless areas of life in which we used to have few or no options, we have to make continuous choices. And of course, the present day "explosion of tolerance" for "alternative" lifestyles has given us a further set of choices unknown to our grandparents and which have far reaching implications.
But if it seems logical that having more to choose from should make us happier, in fact the opposite is true. Schwartz quotes the findings of respected researchers that "increased choices and increased affluence have, in fact, been accompanied by decreased well-being."
Now read the story of the guy who wanted to divorce his wife again.
Makes you think, doesn't it?