Frustrations wrecking your marriage? Here’s what to do!

Relationship science tells us that frustrations in your marriage that are recurring and that trigger an intense emotional reaction, come from your past, not your partner.

“Wait a minute! It’s not my past, it’s my partner who is frustrating me!”

Ok, I realize you get frustrated by what your partner does or doesn’t do. But if your reaction is intense and it happens three times or more, science says your partner is only the trigger of  a deeper frustration from childhood.

And, let me guess…your partner sees your reaction as an “overreaction” that not justified.

Am I right?

Behind every recurring, emotionally charged frustration is a deep desire to get something you didn’t get in childhood. 

Here’s how you can turn frustrations into requests and keep them from wrecking your marriage.

1. Engage in the Imago Couples Dialogue

The first step is to make your conversation safe.

Laurel was upset because she felt like her husband Ben left her alone at a party. When she brought it up, Ben reacted to her. As you read on, you’ll see how escalated it got!

The Imago Couples Dialogue  helped Ben regulate his reaction so he could listen to Laurel. It also made Laurel feel safe enough to access information buried deep in her subconscious mind.

2. Identify the root issue

When a conversation is safe you can identify how your frustration is connected to childhood.

Laurel discovered that her “overreaction” was because her childhood wound of abandonment was triggered when she felt Ben was leaving her. 

She had grown up as an only child. Her dad left when she was eight and her mom worked long hours. After school she was at daycare until she was old enough to be left alone at home.

3. Turn your frustration into a request

Buried deep within every frustration with your partner is a wish. A wish to finish what was left undone in childhood. If that frustration can be restructured into a request, your partner can give you the healing you’re unconsciously looking for.

Laurel’s frustration: “I feel like you left me at the party and when I passed by you, you didn’t speak to me. You didn’t even look at me!”

Ben’s escalated reaction to Laurel’s frustration: “What do you mean?! It was a networking party for crying out loud! I was there for business! I wanted you to come along, but I can’t even do my job without you complaining like a baby! When are you going to grow up?!

If they continue to talk like this, Laurel’s wound will continue to be reinjured and the frustration will never be resolved.

Here’s how the Couples Dialogue helped Laurel restructure her frustration into a request.

Laurel: “Last night when we were at the party and you were talking to potential clients, I felt really alone, just like when I was little and came home from school every day to an empty house. What I’m really afraid of is that you don’t realize what being alone does to me and that I’ll always have this feeling of being abandoned.”

Ben (Mirroring): “What I hear you saying is that when I was talking to potential clients you felt really alone. It reminded you of the feelings of abandonment you had when your mom was at work and you were alone in the afternoons. And that brings up a deeper fear that you’ll always feel abandoned. Did I get it? Is there more about that?…

Ben (Validating): “You make sense. Anyone would feel that way given your circumstances.”

Ben (Empathizing): “I can imagine it must feel really bad when you have those deep feelings of being abandoned or forgotten.”

Laurel (turning her frustration into a Request): “One thing that would help me the next time we’re at a party is if you will look for me every 30 minutes, touch my hand, look me in the eye and ask how I’m doing.”

Ben (responding): “I will be more than happy to do that.”

(Big hug!)

If Ben follows through, he will experience growth, and  it WILL bring healing to Laurel! 

That’s how you turn a frustration into a request and keep it from wrecking your marriage!

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VIDEO BLOG: The L.O.V.E. formula for revitalizing your sex life

Ron said, “I don’t want to be in a marriage where we never have sex!” Amy responded, “Well, I don’t want to be in a marriage where sex is all I am valued for!”

They were stuck and beginning to lose hope that things could change. This video shows how they used a four step formula (L.O.V.E) to get unstuck and revitalize their sex life.

Are you in a relationship that is lacking the passion it once had? I believe this formula can help you as well. Let me invite you and your partner to watch the video together, and then use the exercises below to begin revitalizing your sex life.

Exercises

1. Use the 3 steps of the Couple’s Dialogue (Mirror, Validate, Empathize) to gain a deeper understanding of what sex means to each other. 

Sit in two chairs facing each other, eye to eye, knee to knee. Take turns as “sender” and “receiver”.

As “sender” ask for the appointment. Start by sharing an appreciation for your partner. Then use the sentence stems under “MIRROR” to share what sex means to you and to go deeper into your feelings.

As “receiver” follow the directions under each of the three steps to MIRROR, VALIDATE, and EMPATHIZE with your partner.

MIRROR

SENDER:

“What sex means to me is…”

RECEIVER:

Mirror: “Let me see if I got what you’re saying. You’re saying…”

Then ask “Did I get it?”, checking for accuracy. Mirror any additions or corrections.

Then ask, “Is there more about that?”

SENDER:

When asked “Is there more about that?” go deeper into your feelings using these stems:

“When I think about this I feel…”

Receiver mirrors, asks “Did I get it?” “Is there more about that?” then…

“What this reminds me of when I was little is…”

Receiver mirrors, asks “Did I get it?” “Is there more about that?” then…

“What I’m really afraid of is…”

Receiver continues mirroring asking “Did I get it?” “Is there more about that?” until there is no more.

Receiver then briefly SUMMARIZES what was heard.

VALIDATE

RECEIVER:

“You make sense. And what makes sense is…”

“Is that the validation you need?”

EMPATHIZE

RECEIVER:

“I can imagine this makes you feel…” (sad, mad, glad, scared, or…)

“Do you feel like I really understand how you’re feeling?”

SENDER:

“Thanks for listening.”

Then reverse your roles and go through it again.

End with a one-minute full-body hug.

2. Use the Caring Behaviors exercise to learn what makes your partner feel loved and cared about. Then offer three of these behaviors as gifts every day for the next two months.

Click on the link above, print out two copies and follow the directions.

Suggestion: Use the Couple’s Dialogue to share the items on your list with each other. Begin with “One thing that makes me feel loved and cared about is…”

Although you do want to talk about things that make you feel loved sexually, focus mainly on the non-sexual desires. Making your partner feel loved and cared about in a non-sexual way is what rekindles sexual desire.

Utilize the power of these caring behaviors to help reignite your feelings of love for each other.

3. Use the Four Powerful Appreciations tool to share appreciations with your partner along with one-minute full-body hugs four times every day for the next two months.

Click on the link above, print out two copies and follow the directions.

Utilize the power of touch along with the power of appreciation to help reignite feelings of love for each other.

Use three exercises to apply the L.O.V.E. formula to your relationship.

L – Learn what makes your partner feel loved.
O – Offer these behaviors as gifts every day.
V – Voice your sexual desires and needs.
E – Express appreciation for your partner every day.

If you do these exercises, I’m confident you can rekindle your passion for each other and revitalize your sex life!

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My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

VIDEO BLOG: How being “too nice” is bad for your marriage and what to do about it.

If you are being nice in order to “keep the peace” in your marriage, that probably means you’re not talking about what you’re really feeling or what’s frustrating you.

If that’s the case, there are 7 reasons that show you’re not really being nice to your partner, to yourself, or your relationship.

This video provides a powerful tool that will help you to be honest in a way that will deepen your connection with each other and build a happier marriage. I invite you to watch it, and then use the questions below to discuss it together as a couple.

Discussion Questions

1. Have either of you been guilty of “being nice” as a way of avoiding sharing how you feel about something?

2. Thinking about the 7 bad things that can happen when you don’t share your feelings (see below), which one has affected your relationship?

  • Negative feelings I have don’t go away.
  • I internalize negative feelings and become bitter and depressed.
  • I internalize negative feelings and later explode over something insignificant.
  • My partner never gets to know me.
  • I don’t heal my childhood wounds.
  • My partner doesn’t get a chance to grow.
  • We won’t have the connection that gives us passion and full-aliveness.

3. How can you follow Tom and Jennifer’s example and begin using the Couple’s (safe) Dialogue to share how you feel and connect more deeply with your partner?

Click here to download the Couple’s Dialogue.

Here’s to being honest, more connected and happier with each other!

If you haven’t done so already…

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4 hacks to reignite passion, love, and happiness in your marriage

Have you lost the feelings of love you once had? Are you longing for more passion in your marriage? Are you ready to call it quits because you’re not happy and don’t love your partner any more?

Well hold on a moment!

Don’t get rid of your partner and keep your problems. Get rid of your problems and keep your partner!

Here are four brain chemistry hacks that will help you recover lost romantic feelings and reignite your passion for each other! And, I’ve put it all together for you in three simple tools that will help you build a happy marriage!

1. Touch

Science reveals that we are wired for connection with another human being. Therefore, touching your partner is not only nice, it’s necessary. 

We actually live to touch. If we’re denied touch, we don’t do too well. Our health deteriorates emotionally and physically.

Multiple studies show that human touch triggers the release of oxytocin into our bloodstream. Oxytocin, also known as the love hormone, is a neurotransmitter that increases feelings of trust, generosity, and compassion.

And it also decreases feelings of fear and anxiety that block our communication.

Remember back when you first thought about holding hands with your partner? For many couples that was an unforgettable pleasurable experience!

Read on to learn how to begin feeling those feelings again.

The case for the “one-minute full-body hug”

While all kinds of touch is good, holding hands, back rubs, etc., I’m going to ask you to give each other a one-minute full-body hug. We used to prescribe a 20-second hug because that’s how long it takes for a wave of oxytocin to be released into your system. But now we’ve learned that by extending the hug to a full 60 seconds additional waves of this wonderful “love” hormone are released.

So whether you feel like it or not, do it. Make the science work for you!

There’s an second powerful hack…

2. Appreciation

Recent discoveries in neuroscience tell us that not only does gratitude create a more positive and happy mental state but it also literally transforms your brain.

Each time you share an appreciation with your partner, it changes the molecular structure of your brain, keeps grey matter functioning, and makes you healthier and happier. Not to mention the positive effect it has on your partner.

Plus, it makes you more peaceful and less reactive in your interactions.

When you’re feeling emotional pain in your relationship, negative feelings tend to grow and expand until negative is all you can see. 

And at the same time, everything good about your partner tends to shrink until there’s nothing positive you can see. 

When that happens, we tend to get stuck in our own pain and self-absorption. We start reacting, and criticizing, and labeling our partner.

That’s when romantic feelings are replaced by anxiety and negative reactions.

When you share an appreciation, it reverses this dynamic. 

Sharing an appreciation creates new neural pathways actually rewiring your brain.

It transforms the space between you filling it with positivity that pushes out negativity. And, needless to say, it feels really good, not only to your partner, but to you too.

When you share regular appreciations with each other, you change your brain chemistry, waking up those powerful romantic feelings, and creating entirely new ones.

What if we were to combine the power of sharing appreciations with the power of touch?

Here’s a simple tool that will help you access all the benefits of both TOUCHING and APPRECIATION.

Four Powerful Appreciations

Just click on the link above, print out the tool, and follow the instructions. 

This exercise instructs you as a couple to do a one-minute full-body hug while taking turns sharing a 30-second appreciation with each other four times a day, during four critical moments. 

What you do during these “critical moments” each day has five times the impact on your relationship: (1) when you are both first awake in the morning, (2) saying “Goodbye” for the day, (3) when you first come home in the evening, and (4) when you say “Goodnight”.

Jack and Anna are a couple who were constantly fighting.

Doing this exercise for 40 days helped them begin to bypass their conflict and access the parts of themselves that really loved each other. 

As the cascades of romantic feelings continued to flood their souls each day, negative feelings about each other began to be flushed out of their relationship.

Needless to say their passion for each other was ignited and today they are much better at handling their conflicts.

A third hack is what we call…

3. Caring Behaviors

When you do specific acts that hit the bull’s-eye of what makes your partner feel loved and cared about, it awakens all kinds of romantic feelings! 

For example, if your wife says, “I feel loved and cared about when you initiate getting things done around the house”, and you get up Saturday morning and start washing the windows. Wow! Nothing could be more of a turn on! Right?

Doing “caring behaviors” has two powerful effects. 

First, it reignites your partner’s love for you.

And, second, it also causes your own dead feelings of love and passion to be resurrected.

There is a scientific reason this happens, and with this next tool we’re going to tap into that and use it to our advantage.

Keep in mind, it’s science, so you don’t have to feel it to do it. Just do it and it will be effective.

Here’s why.

When you do something for someone else, your lower, unconscious brain thinks you’re doing that act for yourself. 

That’s why it feels so good when you do something good for someone else. That’s why you feel loved when you do loving acts for others.

Doing these caring behaviors replaces the cortisol that produces anxiety and depression with oxytocin, dopamine, and other pleasure chemicals that cause you to feel joyful aliveness. 

As a result you’ll see depression literally be replaced by joy!

The Caring Behaviors exercise can help you identify precisely what makes your partner feel loved and cared about.

The fourth hack is…

4. Safe Conversations

The Imago Couple’s Dialogue is a powerful tool that helps make every conversation safe, enabling you to…

  • Talk without criticism
  • Listen without judgment, and
  • Connect beyond your differences

It’s the most powerful way I know to keep your conversations safe, enabling you to be fully open, present, and empathetic with your partner.

Putting it all together!

Here’s a how to use these 4 brain chemistry hacks with the 3 powerful tools to reignite passion in your marriage (click on the links to print out the tools).

1. Safe Conversations (every time you talk)

Use the Couple’s Dialogue as your core skill to keep every conversation safe and productive in a way that always leads you to connection with each other.

Flank this core skill with…

2. Four Powerful Appreciations (each day)

and… 

3. Three Caring Behaviors (each day)

Using the Safe Conversation model with these two types of affirmations on a daily basis will change your brain chemistry and create new neural pathways that create new feelings for each other.

It’s so powerful that I cannot overstate the importance of using these three tools together!

But nothing happens until you act on it!

So grab the tools and let’s reignite passion in our relationship!

Want to go further? Join my online course!

Six week online course: Building the marriage of your dreams

And if you haven’t done so already…

Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to your email inbox every Saturday morning! 

My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

VIDEO BLOG: Breaking out of the cycle of blaming and defensiveness in your marriage

Some marriages get stuck in a brutal cycle of blaming and defensiveness.

Blaming and defensiveness happens because of “symbiosis”, a state of living together as if you are one.

It’s a place where you and your partner can only see your own reality but not the reality of your partner.

It’s the inability to see your partner as an “other” person.

The result of symbiosis is self-absorption and conflict. That’s when all the blaming and defensiveness begins and often becomes a destructive cycle.

In this brief video…

I talk about why this happens and how to break out of this painful place.

WATCH IT with your partner and then DISCUSS IT together using the questions below.

How to break the cycle of blaming and defensiveness

Discuss with your partner:

  1. Describe your own version of the blaming and defensiveness cycle.

    (Some couples share feelings openly, others “walk on eggshells” to avoid a conflict. Either way there is probably some defensiveness and resentment going on that you should talk about. An example of walking on eggshells would be: SHE: “I want to talk to him about his leaving dirty dishes in the sink but I’m afraid he’ll be defensive.” HE: “Every time she mentions things like that I feel like nothing I ever do is good enough so I defend myself and then blame her for being obsessive.” Now describe your own version of the cycle.)

  2. How is your conflict the result of “symbiosis” as described in the video?

  3. Differentiation by definition is seeing your partner as different from you but valid in their own view of reality. How can the Couple’s Dialogue process (that the couple with the “dishwasher conflict” used) help you achieve differentiation in your relationship?

To go further…

Click on the link and print out two copies of The Couple’s Dialogue and follow the steps of mirroring, validation and empathy.

The validation step facilitates differentiation and dissolves symbiosis. The empathy step facilitates reconnection at an even deeper level than before.

When doing the couples dialogue to share a frustration, always remember to begin with an “appreciation” (as directed on the sheet).

Have fun!

And if you haven’t already…

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My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

VIDEO BLOG: How to turn marriage conflicts into healing and growth opportunities

Most of us see conflicts in our marriage as bad.

But did you know that conflicts can bring us to new levels of healing and growth we would never experience otherwise?

In the video below, the story of Mario and Rosa shows us how to turn marriage conflicts into healing and growth opportunities.

Take a few minutes to watch the video with your partner…

…and then use the discussion questions below to talk about how you can turn your conflicts into healing and growth opportunities.

Discussion with your partner:

  1. What evidence do each of you see that you married your “Imago” match? (To explore further, fill out the “Brief Relationship Workup“, then transfer the info to “My Unconscious Relationship Agenda“. )
  2. Share with each other what needs for healing you see.
  3. In what specific ways will you both need to grow in order to bring healing to each other?

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My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

VIDEO BLOG: Marriage communication that leads to connection

Couples often say they have “communication” problems.

In the video below, Rob and Janet show us how to communicate in a way that dissolves all the conflict and leads to a closer connection with each other.

Take a few minutes to watch the video with your partner…

…and then use the discussion questions below to talk about how these three steps can help your relationship.

Safe Conversation: A way of talking without criticizing, of listening without judging, and connecting beyond our differences.

Discussion with your partner:

  1. In what ways do you think you may have limited your ability to connect with each other by either criticizing or judging each other?
  2. What kinds of hidden fears or other emotions do you think are driving these unhealthy reactions to each other?
  3. How do you think these Safe Conversation skills can help you begin to talk without criticizing, listen without judging, and connect beyond your differences?

Click here to download the Couple’s Dialogue that can help you go further in developing your safe conversation skills.

Share with us your insights in the comment section below!

Also…if you haven’t already…

Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to your email inbox every Saturday morning! 

My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

Does your partner want to leave you? Here are 9 things you can do to save your marriage

For years, Mary pleaded with Jim to work on their marriage, but Jim felt they didn’t need help.

Eventually she gave up and made plans to leave him. Now Jim is desperate for help.

Mary’s desire to leave was a painful surprise and a powerful wake up call.

Having Jim’s full attention, I recommended 9 things we can do to save our marriage.

1. Express your appreciation for your partner multiple times every day

Jim’s first assignment was to share appreciations with Mary every day. This was a real change from his behavior in the past.

One evening, instead of leaving her to do the dishes, he dove in to help and said, “One thing I appreciate about you is how hard you work doing more than your share of the housework.”

Mary not only warmed up to the words of appreciation, she was impacted positively by Jim’s sincere desire to help with a task he usually left to her. 

Good job Jim! But don’t expect immediate results. You’re goal is to win the superbowl. You just got a first down. This requires patient endurance. But that’s a good start!

2. Do things that make your partner feel loved multiple times every day

If she’s open to it, use the Caring Behaviors exercise to discover the things that make her feel loved.

If not, watch for hints that she drops. If she says, “If only I had a break from the kids on Saturday, I could get a pedicure”, what do you do?

That’s right! Secretly make an appointment for her, and plan a Saturday outing with the kids. Then let her know on Friday night.

When you hit the target of what makes your partner feel loved, she cannot help but feel loved. Doing this consistently will start to open your partner’s heart and rekindle her love for you. 

But, if she is not open to your doing these things at first, don’t push it. Just continue making gentle efforts without pressuring her. 

3. Take your partner on a date to do something fun

Not what you think is fun. Find out what is fun for her and do that. 

Take her to see that movie she wants to see. Plan a dinner at her favorite restaurant. Take her to that park she has wanted to visit. Take her shopping. Find ways to laugh together.

Go all out. Pretend you’re trying to win her for the first time. Spare no effort or expense. Invest everything you’ve got. It’ll be well worth it in the end.

4. Surprise your partner with something she loves

Surprise her with coffee in the morning. Surprise her with breakfast in bed. Go out and initiate a project she’s wanting to do in the patio. Jump in and help her get the kids ready. Vacuum the house. Do the dishes. Surprise her with that new fountain she’s been wanting. Repair that broken fence that has been causing her stress. Take her out for coffee just to talk. Surprise her with flowers or her favorite candy.

Some things like planning a romantic getaway may not work if she’s not ready for that. Make sure you respect her limits at this time. Pressuring her will  be counterproductive. Don’t focus on what you can’t do. Do the little things you can do.

Be spontaneous and sincere. Let your efforts to surprise her come out of a heart that says “I genuinely care about you”, not “I’m just trying to get you back.”

5. Casually initiate non-sexual touching

Don’t let it be obvious what you are doing. Be subtle about it. 

A brief shoulder rub. A hug when you see her. Casually put your arm around her. Hold her hand briefly when you’re walking. A longer backrub if that is welcome. Rub her feet (even if she can’t stand you right now, she might let you rub her feet). 

Give her any kind of non-sexual touch that is welcome. 

Make sure to keep the touching non-sexual if your partner doesn’t want to be intimate. Give her room to not want to have sex right now if that’s where she is. You want to win her heart. When she gives you her heart, her body will follow.

Here’s a little secret: Non-sexual touching will bypass her rational rejection of you and release a chemical called oxytocin into her system which will cause her to feel closer to you and safer with you. This combined with all these other efforts you’re doing will go a long way in changing body chemistry and opening her heart to you.

6. Listen to your partner with undivided attention

Listen to what she’s thinking and feeling. Don’t judge. Don’t fix. Don’t even piggy back with your own ideas. Don’t look at your phone when she’s talking.

Use basic mirroring skills to show genuine interest and curiosity.

Use these sentence stems to simply mirror back to her what she’s saying. 

“Let me see if I got what you’re saying. You said…” 

(Paraphrase or repeat word for word what she said.)

“Did I get it?” 

(This is checking for accuracy. Staying interested.)

“Is there more about that?” 

(Turning on your curiosity. And staying curious.)

Mirroring makes your partner feel like you care. Mirroring says “You matter. What you have to say matters.” Your partner will translate that as “You value me.” 

When we feel heard, we feel valued and safe. Mirroring can help your partner start to feel safe enough to join the conversation with you about your relationship.

7. Validate your partner’s reasons for not wanting to be with you

You can validate her without agreeing with her. You don’t have to admit guilt if you’re not guilty. But do not defend yourself even if she doesn’t have her story right about you.

Simply let her know that she makes sense. 

Use this prompt:

What you said makes sense. And what makes sense about it is…

Here’s an example.

“It makes sense that after years of feeling neglected and taken for granted you wouldn’t want to be with me. That makes sense.” 

Let her know she’s not crazy. Anyone would feel that way.

8. Empathize with your partner’s feelings of anger, fear, sadness or hopelessness

This is where you start feeling what she feels. 

Use the stem: “I can imagine you’re feeling…”

Here’s an example: “I can imagine how lonely you’ve felt for all these years. I can understand how empty and sad and frustrating that must have been.”

If she questions your sincerity it’s because she doesn’t trust you yet. That is normal!  Just keep working to make your conversations sincere and safe for her. You’ll get there!

Finally…

9. Learn to express your own needs in the relationship

Hey Chuck, “What about my needs? Will there ever be a time to share my frustrations with her? This sounds like I’m taking all the blame. What about her part in the relationship failure?”

Even though you’re taking the full burden of restoring the relationship by using these tools, it will also be important eventually for you to share your own needs, desires, and frustrations. 

One of the ways we can lose connection with our partner is when we withdraw and repress our own needs. We may think we’re being nice, but we are actually robbing our relationship by doing this. 

In our example, part of Mary’s frustration is that, for most of their relationship, Jim didn’t share his needs. This caused her to feel abandoned by him. Ultimately Mary won’t be happy in the relationship unless she is meeting Jim’s needs, even as he is working to meet hers.

So, it will be important for your partner to listen to you in the same way, and to express love to you in the same way. She needs that as much as you do.

But for now put this idea off in the future. Wait until she feels safe and wants to be with you again.

Patience and perseverence!

At one point Jim said, “I’ve been doing these things for three weeks and she still wants to separate. It’s not working!”

I said, “How long did it take you to get in this mess? Don’t expect results so soon.”

Although…you’ll be surprised how often a breakthrough is right around the corner.

So don’t give up. Keep going!

Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to your email inbox every Saturday morning! 

My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

3 ways to help your partner overcome anxiety and depression that’s killing your marriage

Mike’s anxiety and depression got so bad he finally hit a wall. Having almost lost his marriage, he can now barely even function at work.

How did he get so stuck? And what can his wife Jen do to help?

This article describes three ways Mike and Jen worked together to transform their marriage into a powerful agent of healing.

The symptoms of anxiety and depression

Mike’s symptoms were: 

  • could not work
  • could not maintain relationships
  • was abusing alcohol
  • felt sad
  • felt tired and slowed down
  • could not complete activities of daily living
  • things that used to interest him no longer had any appeal

Sound familiar? 

If you or your partner are weighed down by anxiety and depression, keep reading to learn three ways Jen and Mike worked together to overcome it. 

The fundamental cause of anxiety and depression: DISCONNECTION

Disconnection triggers anxiety. Anxiety triggers depression. And then depression triggers more anxiety until it becomes a vicious cycle.

I often refer to Dr. Edward Tronick’s Still Face Experiment to demonstrate how disconnection results in anxiety.

Feeling connected with a loved one who is attuned to us makes us feel alive and whole. Our brain triggers happy chemicals like dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin which makes us feel joyfully alive. 

But when that connection is interrupted, the brain triggers the release of cortisol and the sensation of full aliveness is replaced with anxiety.

If anxiety is not relieved, it can increase and become an anxiety disorder which is the most common mental illness in the USA. Anxiety disorders include panic disorder, phobias, social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In Mike’s case the anxiety and depression that began in childhood followed him into adulthood and his adult relationships.

And now feelings of disconnection in his relationship with Jen were triggering those old wounds resulting in increased anxiety.

Growing up, Mike’s parents valued intellectual development, but lacked in the emotional skills to help him feel connected. He grew up in a home where success was a high value. The stress at times was unbearable.

If he got an A on a test, the message was you should have gotten an A+. Acceptance was conditional upon his being a good boy and performing well.

Mike dealt with his anxiety by suppressing it and trying harder. Everyone applauded him as a high achiever. No one realized how little value he felt apart from what he did to please people.

Fast forward 20 years. 

Mike was a successful medical doctor. But he was stuck in a career he hated; one that provided the image of success, but had nothing to do what he was passionate about. He felt powerless to change his situation.. “What do you do when you’ve invested 10 years in medical school and another 10 years building your practice? You can’t just walk out on that and start over.”

And yet, now things had taken a turn for the worse. Having taken a toll on his relationship with Jen, Mike could no longer function at work. He was finally forced to deal with it.

He also feared what this would do to their children. Plus, there was a looming fear of what would happen if he were diagnosed with a mental disorder. How would that affect his career as a physician? All of these stresses added to his anxiety.

In an attempt to deal with his depression Mike started drinking more alcohol. This led to increased feelings of isolation and disconnection, which in turn increased his anxiety.

The fundamental cure for anxiety and depression: RECONNECTION

If the fundamental cause of anxiety is the feeling of disconnection, can you guess what the fundamental cure is?

That’s right! 

The fundamental cure for anxiety is found in reconnecting with your marriage partner in a healing relationship.

When Mike and Jen came to counseling, this was our goal through Imago Relationship Therapy.

But what if depression, self medication, and lack of motivation are all working to keep them from reconnecting? Shouldn’t Mike work on himself first, and then work on the relationship? 

No.

The commonly held view that you should work on yourself before you can work on your relationship is simply not true.

If the ultimate solution to anxiety and depression is found in connection with your intimate partner, then your therapeutic approach should be to help reconnect you, not separate you.

We decided that Mike and Jen would work together – to use every effort to deepen their connection with each other, rather than having Mike work on himself without Jen.

But you say, “What if Mike is too depressed to work on the relationship? What if his drinking is blocking their ability to reconnect?”

We still have them work on those issues together. We are born in relationship. We were wounded in relationship. And we heal in relationship.

At first this was not an easy sell. Jen was told by another counselor that Mike needed to deal with his “alcoholism” before they could have a healthy relationship. I cautioned Jen about labeling Mike an “alcoholic” because, if we do that prematurely, it can serve to reinforce negative brain pathways.

Of course alcoholism can be a problem. But what if Mike’s increased alcohol use is simply an unconscious attempt to manage his anxiety? The solution would be short sighted if Mike were labeled an alcoholic and sent off by himself to fix that. Everyone could then blame Mike’s “alcoholism” for their problems. On the other hand, if Mike’s deeper anxiety issue can be solved through reconnecting and processing everything with Jen, that might help resolve not only the drinking problem, but their other problems as well. 

So here are the three steps I asked Mike and Jen to take together using Imago Relationship Therapy. 

1. Lower your stress level

“Mike, you gotta take a break.” We’re talking about lowering stress levels by taking time off.

At first Mike said, “But I can’t afford to do that.”

My question was, “How are you going to afford it when you have a complete breakdown?”

Why is taking a break important? To temporarily alleviate unnecessary external stress.

Stress comes from the outside: work deadlines, etc. Anxiety comes from the inside: the body’s reaction to stress.

Anxiety persists even after your stress has been reduced. But if you don’t reduce your stress, it will only create more anxiety which, in Mike’s case, was already overwhelming and debilitating.

So Mike took a medical leave of absence. Jen was committed to this with him. And together they got on a regular program of 

  • physical exercise
  • healthy diet
  • regular sleep
  • relaxation exercises

We also encouraged Mike to avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. Jen was good with all of this except the caffeine part. We all have our limits. 🙂 

2. Balance your brain chemistry

A 50-yr old theory says that chronic depression might result from an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the body. One of those neurotransmitters is called serotonin

Low levels of serotonin are linked to chronic depression. Mike’s serotonin level had become so low that his body could no longer restore it on its own. 

This explained why Mike could not come out of his depression on his own. He needed medication that would help restore his serotonin. 

His low levels of serotonin also helped explain why he started drinking more. Mike learned that alcohol was not a good way to cope, because alcohol decreases the brain’s absorption of serotonin. By raising Mike’s serotonin level through prescribed medication, his need to self-medicate with alcohol diminished. 

SSRIs (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat depression. They are the most commonly prescribed antidepressants.

Examples include fluoxetine (Prozac), citalopram (Celexa), sertraline (Zoloft), Escitalopram (Lexapro), and Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva).

If you or your partner are in a similar place, check with your doctor about giving you a prescription, and always be aware of cautions and possible side effects.

There is no reason for embarrassment if you need to take medication. 

It does not mean that you are weak. Sometimes anxiety and depression get bad enough to become a brain chemistry issue rather than a psychological issue. At that point we need to address the biological side of it. 

These medications are essentially food for the brain. They restore serotonin and other chemicals you can’t produce for yourself. 

The good news is that medication can help you return to a point of being able to deal with your issues on a psychological level because the pain isn’t making you dysfunctional. 

That’s what medication is for! 

Medication is not to solve your problem! It’s to get you to a place where YOU can solve your problem. 

Someone said, “It is hard to be a philosopher and have a toothache at the same time.”

Sometimes you need to lower your pain level to a certain point in order to become functional again, so you can work on fixing the real problem.

So Mike, with Jen’s support, took steps to lower his stress levels and balance his brain chemistry.

3. Rewire your neural pathways 

With anxiety and depression, the brain and the heart muscles have cells called neurons that can fire as a group. When this happens, they wire together and form a network, or “groove,” which can become deeper and deeper. Therefore, negative thoughts literally shape the brain structure to form negative neural patterns. These habituated “grooves” in our organs and regions of the body trigger us into feeling and acting in certain ways. These grooves produce habits. So, in part, anxiety and depression become habitual.

How do you change these negative neural pathways related to anxiety and depression? 

Imago therapy provides positive habit-forming behaviors that help reprogram your brain, heart, and nervous system.

Most people underestimate the power of these simple marriage tools.

A regular regimen of tools we use, including Safe Conversations, Appreciations, Caring Behaviors, One-minute Full Body Hugs, Positive Flooding all work to rewire brain pathways and kickstart the release of happy hormones like dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and norepinephrine.

If you engage in these prescribed positive behaviors over and over again, you will “re-groove” the muscle memory or the nervous system patterns, so that instead of automatically triggering self-destructive behavior, these new patterns orient you toward joyful aliveness and feeling connected. 

Analysts have done brain scans showing that these kinds of exercises done over time can shift your default condition back to joyful aliveness rather than negativity, anxiety, and depression.

Because we helped Mike and Jen deepen their connection with each other during the first two steps using Imago Dialogues, we were able to add these exercises that help rewire brain pathways.

So how is this working for Mike and Jen? 

It’s slow, but they are making progress. 

And since their focus through this whole process was to reconnect with each other, they will tell you everything is better.

Many things about their future are uncertain but one thing is for sure – they will face it together.

How about you? 

Please share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.

Until next week…

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My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

Four steps to revitalizing your sex life

Ron and Amy were in a sexless marriage. Their sex life was almost non-existent.

A marriage is considered “sexless” if a couple is only having sex on average once a month or less. (USA Today)

Ron said, “I don’t want to be in a marriage where we never have sex!”

Amy responded, “Well, I don’t want to be in a marriage where sex is all I am valued for!”

Amy saw Ron’s desire for sex as a physical need that made her feel “used”. 

Ron saw Amy’s disinterest in sex as a personal rejection that made him feel “undesirable”. 

They were stuck and beginning to lose hope that things could change.

We used the Couple’s Dialogue with the goal of helping them get a deeper understanding of what sex really means to each other. 

Underneath Ron’s need for sex was a deeper need – the need to be desired physically by Amy. 

When Ron feels that Amy desires him sexually, it gives him a sense of well-being in all the other areas of his life.  

But if Amy is just going along with his need for sex with a sigh, and an “OK let’s get this over with” attitude, that’s a clear message to him that she doesn’t desire him. 

As a result, he doesn’t feel like he’s the one who can make her feel amazing. This triggered in Ron deep feelings of inadequacy rooted in his childhood.

Underneath Amy’s lack of desire for sex was a deeper need – the need to be desired emotionally by Ron.

Amy also needed to be desired by Ron, but not just sexually. She needed to feel like Ron desires her emotionally – that he loves her for more than just her body. 

She wanted Ron to connect with her emotionally before expressing his love physically.

They discovered they both needed a deeper connection emotionally and physically. Amy was more acutely aware of the emotional need, and Ron the physical need.

The answer? 

In order to revitialize your sex life, you have to revitialize your “L.O.V.E.” life. 

I created an acronym for Ron and Amy and want to share it with you.

L.O.V.E.

L – LEARN what makes your partner feel loved.

Use the Caring Behaviors exercise to learn specific behaviors that make your partner feel loved. 

Examples: make me coffee in the morning, call me from work just to check in, tell me I’m doing a good job, help me with my chores around the house, spend quality time talking with me, take a shower with me, compliment me on how I look, give me a back rub, want to have sex with me, bring me an unexpected gift, cuddle without having to have sex, etc.

After you’ve made your lists and gone through the instructions on the Caring Behaviors page, study your partner’s list and LEARN whkat makes your partner feel loved. Memorize it and review it every day.

Click here to download this tool.

O – OFFER these behaviors as gifts every day.

Do at least one of the things on your partner’s list every day. Offer it as a gift.

When you do these acts of love for your partner, a powerful shift takes place in both your brains.

Feelings of love and romance are rekindled in your partner because you’re hitting the bullseye, doing what makes your partner feel loved. 

Feelings of love and romance are rekindled in you when you do these caring behaviors, because your unconscious brain actually thinks you’re doing these behaviors for yourself.

It feels good and it rekindles your own loving and romantic feelings for your partner.

Even if you don’t feel love for your partner right now, just offer these behaviors as a gift everyday. And soon your loving and romantic feelings will rekindle, becoming as strong or even stronger than before.

Learning what specific behaviors make your partner feel loved, and offering them every day is a great start toward revitalizing your sex life.

V – VOICE your sexual desires and needs.

For Amy this meant to communicate why she had lost her desire for sex, and what would help her recover that desire.

As they went forward she talked about how the caring behaviors that Ron was doing were making her feel loved and were starting to rekindle her sexual desire for him.

For Ron this meant to communicate what he wanted sexually. At first he had to go slowly, and not insist that Amy do something she wasn’t ready to do, but eventually they both could express things they wanted sexually that they had never shared before.

E – EXPRESS appreciation for your partner every day.

Appreciation dissolves criticism and negativity. It also helps you begin to see your partner as a source of pleasure rather than pain. The more you share appreciations with your partner the more your feelings will follow and the more love you’ll feel for your partner.

This will help fuel a growing sexual desire for each other.

Share what you appreciate in three areas: how you look, something you did, or some character trait you appreciate.

Do this every day during the four critical moments of each day. Click on that link to read about this powerful approach. Click here to download the tool.

Follow this four step formula for L.O.V.E. and I’m confident you can be on your way to revitalizing your sex life!

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My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week!