Feeling stuck? Get back on track to your dream marriage

Most couples begin their journey with a dream of marital bliss.

But somewhere within the first two years after saying “I do”, many get stuck and their dream becomes a living nightmare. Or, at best, a dull and mediocre existence.

How does something so good end up feeling so bad? 

It happens when we enter the Power Struggle Stage of marriage. You know you’re in the power struggle when you start wanting your partner to change. “If only you would change, I could be happy.” You start complaining that your needs are not being met. “You could meet my needs if you wanted to. And since you don’t, you don’t love me.” 

And because unconscious reactions are triggered and emotions surface from places we’re not aware of, we begin reacting in ways that are not helpful in our relationship.

For some crazy reason some partners think, “If I cause you enough pain, you will change and meet my needs! Then, we can go back to romantic love.” 

But it doesn’t work. It only gets worse. That’s why about 40% of marriages fail. And of the couples who stay together, about 75% report their marriages as unsatisfactory. These couples are stuck.

So how do we get unstuck and back on track toward the marriage we dreamed about in the beginning? 

Here are six steps that will help…along with an opportunity to enroll in an online course that will take you further, learning all the tools you’ll need.

1. Make a new commitment to pursue your dream marriage

Most things in life don’t come to us unless we go after them. When we get stuck in our relationship it will require a new commitment to get unstuck.

Make a commitment to three things: Reconnecting, Rekindling and Re-envisioning your relationship.

HERE’S HOW THE ONLINE COURSE WILL HELP YOU GO FURTHER.

Week 1: Getting on the journey to your dream marriage

You’ll discover why marriage is the best place to heal and grow and fulfill your life purpose together – no matter how stuck you’ve become. 

You’ll look at four stages that most marriages go through, and you’ll work together as a couple to create your own Relationship Vision statement that will help get you back on course and guide you into the future together. 

2. Learn how to turn conflicts into a deeper connection with your partner

Allowing conflicts to continue without being resolved will drain the life out of any relationship.

The real problem is that unresolved conflicts block your ability to connect.

When we feel connected everything works. When we feel disconnected nothing works. Cortisol which increases anxiety, and unconscious defenses hurls us into further conflict.

HERE’S HOW THE ONLINE COURSE WILL HELP YOU GO FURTHER.

Week 2: Turning Conflicts into Connection

You’ll learn about the Power Struggle Stage of marriage and why we have conflicts as a couple. You will use the Couples Dialogue to turn these conflicts into connection.

3. Discover root issues that are blocking intimacy

You can resolve conflicts but still not feel connected. You must move beyond the symptoms and deal with root issues that cause your conflicts to keep recurring. 

HERE’S HOW THE ONLINE COURSE WILL HELP YOU GO FURTHER.

Week 3: Overcoming Unconscious Barriers to Intimacy

You’ll learn why conflict is a sign you married the right person. You’ll discover what kinds of unconscious forces were in effect when you chose the partner you did, and how there was an unconscious program running in your lower brain that led you to the person best suited to help you heal and grow. You’ll use the Parent/Child Dialogue where you will gain empathy for your partner’s past and learn what to do about the childhood defenses that are blocking your ability to connect. 

4. Rekindle romantic love 

Couples who have endured long term conflict often lose their feelings for each other. Use the Caring Behaviors exercise to rekindle love and reignite passion in your relaitonship.

HERE’S HOW THE ONLINE COURSE WILL HELP YOU GO FURTHER.

Week 4: Reigniting Your Passion for Each Other

You will add to your toolbox this powerful tool called the Caring Behaviors exercise. It will help you and your partner rekindle romantic love and increase safety and connection in your relationship

5. Use conflicts as an opportunity to heal and grow

As conflicts are turned into connection, learn to ask for changes that bring healing and growth

HERE’S HOW THE ONLINE COURSE WILL HELP YOU GO FURTHER.

Week 5: Building a Healing and Growth Partnership

You will look at how your partner’s need for healing becomes a blueprint for your own emotional growth. You’ll learn that buried beneath each relationship frustration is a wish. You’ll use the Change Request Dialogue tool to begin a lifestyle of turning frustrations into requests that help you get the love you want, bringing healing to you and growth to your partner.

6. Build a culture of safety, connection, passion and full-aliveness.

Most of the great relationship tools I teach don’t work…that is unless you work them. It’s easy to start well, have a breakthrough, only to go back to old patterns. Build habits that will keep you feeling connected in a stable and secure relationship.

HERE’S HOW THE ONLINE COURSE WILL HELP YOU GO FURTHER.

Week 6: Continuing the journey to your dream marriage

You will learn how to make the relationship tools you’ve learned a lifestyle. You will learn how to develop the habits necessary to sustain change over time and continue the journey to the marriage of your dreams.

Let me encourage you to join me for the six-week online course, Building the marriage of your dreams.

Click here for more info and to enroll in the Couples Online Course.

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! 

Coronavirus forcing you to work from home? Use the crisis to strengthen your marriage

“I’m going crazy working from home!” Tom said, sharing his frustration with the shelter in place mandate.

His wife Janet retorted, “Well you’re making me crazy!”

I interjected, “Hey, why don’t you use this time to spend more time together.” 

Janet rolled her eyes in sarcasm, as if to say, “Right! Like that’s going to happen!”

Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, some couples, like it or not, are stuck in close quarters with each other.

This confinement can be a blessing or a curse. 

It’s a blessing if you feel close and connected.

It’s a curse if work is an “exit” from your relationship.

For Tom work had become an exit to avoid the pain of feeling disconnected.  

And now the coronavirus was forcing him to be with Janet in a way that revealed the painful truth that their marriage was not what they wanted it to be.

Tom habitually stayed late at work. He honestly thought it was because of his workload. But as he and Janet talked, he became aware that his workload was not really the issue.

Work had become an exit from his marriage. It was a place where he felt more fully alive than he did at home.

When he got in touch with this, he became conscious of how feelings of depression would come over him as soon as he walked through the front door of their home. Because of the negative way he and his wife communicated, he simply would rather not be there. That’s why work became an exit.

Discovering this helped Tom change this reality.

Two problems occur when we take exits from our relationship.

  • Exits rob time and energy that could be invested in the relationship. 
  • Exits cause us to put off dealing with issues hindering our relationship.

By taking this exit Tom was avoiding the issues standing between him and a happy relationship.

Tom and Janet had what I call “A Parallel Marriage”. A marriage that runs on separate tracks. A marriage where you are together, but not really, not close. More like roommates than lovers.

If you’re like Tom and Janet and this crisis is bringing up issues you need to deal with, don’t just drive each other crazy in your close confinement. Turn this crisis into an opportunity.

Here are 6 ways to strengthen your marriage while stuck at home together during the coronavirus crisis.

1. Hug each other

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.

So while you are in self-quarantine and socially distant from others, I recommend you give each other a one-minute full body hug during these times: When you first get up in the morning, after each meal, and before you go to bed at night. Include your kids in this ritual if possible.

Human touch triggers the release of oxytocin into our bloodstream. This increases feelings of trust, generosity, and compassion.

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

2. Share appreciations with each other

Say to your partner at least three times every day, “One thing I appreciate about you is…” and share something about how your partner looks, something they did, or some trait you appreciate.

New positive brain pathways are created in both of you every time you share an appreciation with your partner.

And old negative brain pathways start to dissolve.

This practice will transform the emotional climate of your relationship and your home.

3. Plan time to listen to each other

Being stuck in the same place together can work to your advantage. Make an appointment to use the Couples Dialogue.

Use it to listen to your partner, and let them go deep into their feelings about whatever it is they want to talk about. 

The Couples Dialogue will help you mirror (listen to every word), validate (affirm your partner’s perspective), and empathize (be fully present with your partner in their joy, sadness, anger, or fear).

When you listen it says “I love you” in a very tangible way.

What I like about using the Couples Dialogue is that it helps me to listen in a way I wouldn’t normally.

4. Talk about things you would not normally not talk about

Use the Couples Dialogue to share your feelings. This tool will help you become vulnerable and open up to your partner. It can help you share frustrations in a positive way. 

Perhaps one reason you don’t feel connected in your relationship is that you’ve held back your feelings.

Remember, if you don’t talk it out, you’ll act it out in some unhealthy way, eventually doing damage to your relationship.

Share your frustrations. But also share your ideas and dreams with your partner. 

Talk about things that you normally would not talk about. The Couples Dialogue will help you do this when you probably would not do it naturally.  

5. Surprise each other

Find out what makes your partner feel loved and do it. Here’s a tool that will help you do that.

Find out what your partner thinks is fun and plan it. Go against any unconscious resistance and just do it!

I know a wife who loves to play board games. Her husband does not. 

If you’re this husband, it will be a major turn-on for your wife if you pull out her favorite game, set it up, and invite her to play! Why not, what else are you going to do as you self-quarantine?!

It will increase the pleasure chemicals not only in her, but also in you. So do it!

6. Laugh together

Laughter releases endorphins which helps relieve you of the pain you feel in your relationship. 

I tell funny stories because laughter is good medicine. Here’s one I’ll give you as a bonus. It has nothing to do with what I’m saying but it may make you laugh.

A police officer called the station on his radio. “I have an interesting case here. An old lady shot her husband for stepping on the floor she just mopped.” “Have you arrested the woman?” “Not yet, the floor’s still wet.”

Whatever it takes, laugh together. It will do wonders for your relationship.

So there you have it – six ways to strengthen our marriage during this pandemic.

Let’s let the coronavirus crisis draw us together as a couple rather than blow us apart.

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

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 a single 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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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…

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…

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: 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! 

Is it marriage incompatibility…or do your differences have a deeper meaning?

Like many couples, you may be asking…

“How did I marry the most incompatible person on the planet?”

“Why could I not see who this person really was?!

“How did something so beautiful turn so ugly?!”

Before you lose hope, consider the fact that this experience is NORMAL to some degree with most couples.

Also, consider the possibility that your differences may have a deeper meaning and purpose.

We are so much ALIKE!

(The story of symbiosis and romantic love)

Most marriages begin with  pretty intense romantic feelings. This is a season where you actually feel like you and your partner are “one soul and two bodies”, sharing the same beliefs, values, tastes, and desires.

The term for this emotional state is “symbiosis”. During the romantic stage of the relationship symbiosis is pleasurable. You feel like you’re in heaven.

The problem is that, unconsciously, you are assuming that your partner is like you.

Symbiosis is the illusion that your partner shares your thoughts and feelings.

  • You believe that when you are in love you must think, feel, and act alike.
  • You’re certain that it’s not possible to function as an individual and still be in a relationship.
  • You assume you can’t operate with clear boundaries and still be connected.

I know this may sound absurd, but that’s what goes on unconsciously.

And it’s like heaven as long as this  romantic symbiosis lasts and you believe that you and your partner are the same!

But, after a while, some clues that your partner is actually different from you begin to surface.

We are so DIFFERENT!

(The story of symbiosis and the power struggle)

“What happened?! Why did you have to change?! Why can’t we go back to the way it was when we were ‘in love’?!”

When the symbiotic state of romantic love is disturbed by these indications of difference, marriage partners become anxious and reactive. Conflict occurs as they try desperately to retain the romantic illusion.

  • You get frustrated or irritated when your partner can’t read your thoughts.
  • You get disappointed because your partner doesn’t do things right.
  • You criticize your partner to get her or him to be more like you.
  • You become argumentative and dogmatic because “there’s only one way to think”.
  • You use guilt or shame in an attempt to get your partner to do things your way.
  • You say your partner is like you when he or she does something you like.

This negativity and coercion only make matters worse, and you soon feel like your romantic dream has morphed into your worst nightmare!

Symbiosis in the romantic stage is like heaven, but symbiosis in the power struggle is like hell.

The wish to maintain the romantic illusion is so powerful, and its rupture so terrifying that a couple will start to unconsciously annihilate each other through many forms of negation, negativity, as well as verbal and even physical abuse.

As things progress you realize you both have married someone who has the worst traits of your parents. We call this your Imago. You ask yourself, “Could I have possibly chosen someone more incompatible even if I had tried?!”

That’s when we start thinking about “separation on the basis of incompatibility”.

But are you really incompatible? Or do your differences have a deeper purpose?

Actually, we are a PERFECT match!

(The story of differentiation and connection)

At this point a new commitment is required.

A commitment to move from an unconscious to a conscious relationship. To move from symbiosis and self-absorption to differentiation and connection.

If symbiosis in the power struggle seems like hell, differentiation will dissolve it and make your relationship feel like heaven again.

But you must surrender your symbiotic wish, and engage in the process of differentiation.

Here’s what can happen with differentiation:

  • You move into a new paradigm in which your relationship has priority over your individual needs.
  • But paradoxically, when you serve the needs of your relationship, the relationship serves your needs.
  • You will discover that your differences do have a deeper purpose: healing and growth.
  • Your relationship problems become maps that identify the places you have been wounded and need healing.
  • You discover that it’s the partner you’re with right now, your “Imago match”, that offers you the greatest opportunity to heal your childhood wounds and grow the underdeveloped parts of yourself. To separate from this person means that you miss this opportunity, and end up taking all your problems with you into your next relationship.
  • When you move from negativity to curiosity, you discover the amazing world of your partner. Your partner is not who you thought they were. Turns out they are even more amazing than you imagined.
  • Both of you are enormously enriched when you accept the fact that you live in two different worlds, and that you look at everything through different lenses.
  • You are no longer imprisoned by a mono-centric view of life. And this transforms other areas of your life – your parenting, your life work, your community involvement.
  • In sharing your stories with each other, you co-create a new story in which you actually co-create each other. You become a much better person together than you would be by separating.
  • And, finally, meeting each other at this level restores the feeling of original connection. And that is what heals you and restores your feelings of joyful aliveness.

The Imago Dialogue process can help you and your partner discover that your problem is not really incompatibility. And you will see that your differences really do have a deeper meaning!

Let me encourage you to find an Imago therapist in your area to help if you need it. Or contact me and I’ll walk you through it.

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How to resolve marriage conflicts when one partner is “too logical” and the other “too emotional”

Jim and Patty’s marriage was in conflict. Jim was a logical, “black and white” kind of thinker while his wife Patty was more sensitive to emotions and in touch with her feelings.

They say opposites attract, and this was never truer than in the case of Jim and Patty.

Their conflicts usually ended with Jim arguing his point until Patty finally gave in to his “logic”. Patty would react emotionally, and she never felt like her opinion mattered.

For years, Patty went along with this until one day to Jim’s complete shock and surprise, she asked for a separation.

That’s when they sought help. Here’s what they said.

Patty: “Jim thinks he’s right about everything, and he tries to make me feel stupid.”

Jim: “I manage my team at work. I reason with them, and they all get my logic and everything goes smoothly. I can’t understand why Patty ‘doesn’t get it’ and it frustrates me because she’s so ruled by her emotions.”

Patty didn’t feel heard. And Jim felt like everybody in the world understood his logic but Patty.

What is the problem here?

Jim is a “separate knower” and Patty is a “connected knower”.

The theory of separate and connected knowing states that there are two different ways we know and learn. I’m no expert in epistemology, but I find this simple insight very helpful with couples.

SEPARATE KNOWING

What is “separate knowing”? Think Socrates. The scientific method. That kind of empirical, objective, linear thinking that western civilization is largely based on. That’s what’s meant by “separate knowing”.

Separate…as in detached from the object being studied. It’s the critical thinking approach.

It’s an approach that becomes adversarial and competitive, because it assumes that a group of random people can understand and describe a reality in the same objective way.

It has an attitude which says, “Prove it.” It holds that truth exists independently of who is doing the observation.

Nothing wrong with that!

The advancements in modern science and technology that we enjoy today are the result of brilliant minds engaged in “separate knowing”.

Jim is a separate knower. And who do separate knowers usually marry?

You got it! Connected knowers.

CONNECTED KNOWING

Patty is a “connected knower”.

Connected knowing adds to the knowing process things like intuition, emotion, and empathy. This kind of knowing is not detached and uninvolved.

It’s the kind of knowing that actively affirms the person you are attempting to understand. In marriage, it’s the kind of knowing where you seek to empathize with your partner.

While holding fast to your own view of reality, you stretch into your partner’s world to see and understand her or his point of view as fully as possible.

At first, Jim thought this was nonsense. He claimed that Patty couldn’t see truth clearly because her feelings distorted her perspective.

Connected knowers are often misunderstood in this way. Connected knowing is often referred to as “soft thinking”, and is not valued as much as clear, logical evaluation.

But connected knowing, when done well, uses the knower’s intuition, emotion and empathy as part of the knowing process, leading to even better independent judgments.

Connected knowing views the truth as a process that is evolving and co-created by those who are participating in it.

It realizes that observations from a detached, objective position will not necessarily result in an unbiased view of truth.

In marriage, you need your partner’s perspective to arrive at a fuller, more unbiased view of your reality as a couple.

Ok, enough theory. How did this help Jim and Patty?

THE COUPLE’S DIALOGUE

We used the Couple’s Dialogue to first help Jim see Patty’s perspective. Then to help Patty see Jim’s perspective. (Click on the link to print out the Couple’s Dialogue guide for your own use).

Through the Couple’s Dialogue Jim began to suspend his own critical judgement long enough to enter into Patty’s world.

Mirroring

The first step was for Jim to “mirror” Patty (repeat back to her exactly what she said).

It went like this:

Patty: “When you argue your point, I feel like you’re not seeing everything. I feel like you have your mind made up and I have no room in the relationship. No room to be who I am and to have my own opinions.”

As Jim mirrored Patty, he began to see things he hadn’t seen before.

After mirroring, Jim checked for accuracy: “Did I get it?”

Then he turned on his curiosity with the question: Is there more about that?”

That powerful question that ignited curiosity in Jim’s brain also made it safe for Patty to get in touch with her feelings.

As Patty felt safe for the first time in a long time, she began to share how her childhood wounds were being triggered by this feeling of not being heard and valued.

She began to get in touch with thoughts she’d never thought, and feelings she’d never felt.

Patty: “Yes, it reminds me of when I was little and I felt like my dad never listened to me. And mom was so busy I felt invisible.”

As Patty added this meaning to the collective consciousness between them, you could see a shift happening in Jim.

Suddenly he realized there was so much more going on in their relationship than meets the eye.

He began to see that his “separate knowing” was limited, leaving him with just his perspective, and blinding him to Patty’s.

Validation

The second step in the Couple’s Dialogue is validation.

Instead of seeing Patty as emotional and illogical, the dialogue helped Jim to see that her feelings made sense.

Jim: “Patty, you make sense. Growing up you didn’t feel like your dad listened to you, and with your mom you felt invisible. It makes sense that when I don’t make room for your opinion, you would feel that way in our relationship.”

Mirroring and Validation brought Jim into a place of “connected knowing” intellectually, but it was the third part of the Couple’s Dialogue that helped them reconnect their hearts.

Empathy

Empathy is the third part of the Couple’s Dialogue.

Jim: “I can imagine feeling invisible, and feeling like your opinion doesn’t matter really hurts. And I can imagine the fear you have that this will never change and you’ll never get to be who you really are in our relationship.”

Jim was now fully experiencing connected knowing. As he saw what he hadn’t seen before, and felt feelings that he hadn’t felt before, there was a transformation that occurred.

Before this dialogue, he saw Patty as simply emotional and illogical. Now he was seeing her reality.

He was becoming aware that there were past experiences that affected the way she saw everything.

Connected knowing was helping Jim gain a fuller picture of their reality as a couple.

This was the beginning of a new relationship where they learned appreciate both “logic” and “feelings”.

In time Patty began to feel safer and more able to share her feelings with Jim.

And Jim discovered how enriched his perspective and his life can become if he engages in “connected knowing” with Patty’s help.

After Patty had talked and Jim mirrored her, it was Jim’s turn to talk. And Patty went through the Couple’s Dialogue steps with Jim of mirroring, validating, and empathizing.

Through the dialogue, Patty came to more fully appreciate Jim as a “separate knower”. Because he made it safe for her and engaged in “connected knowing” with her, she was able to see the value Jim brings to the relationship as the logical “separate knower” that he was.

What about you? Are you a separate knower? Are you a connected knower? Or, are you some of both?

How is the imbalance to one side or the other affecting your relationship?

Do you have a tendency to exalt your own way of knowing while putting down your partner’s?

It’s not a matter of one way being better than the other. Both ways of knowing are necessary to arrive at a more complete and unbiased view of realty.

So let’s learn from our partner how to resolve our marriage conflicts when one partner is “too logical” and the other “too emotional”.

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How to have the kind of marriage communication that leads to closer connection

Experts cite communication problems as the number one reason marriages fail.

But good communication in marriage is not enough, unless that communication leads you to a closer connection with your partner.

That’s because…

Communication is not really the problem in marriage. Feeling disconnected is.

You can have good communication and not feel connected.

I’m not saying communication is not important, because you can’t connect without communicating. What I’m saying is you can communicate without connecting.

Sometimes you may communicate perfectly and still trigger each other’s defenses.

Whenever defenses are triggered, the space between you becomes negative. Negativity makes a conversation unsafe, and that’s what keeps you from connecting.

So…

Whether it’s criticism in your communication, or a judgmental reaction to your partner’s words, this kind of communication will prevent connection and conflict will be the result.

Talking with criticism or listening with judgment can make any subject a contentious one. And that’s when we blame our relationship failure on “communication problems”.

On the other hand, when you talk in a way that leaves you feeling connected, then you can more easily deal with every problem in your relationship.

The Safe Conversation model (aka The Couple’s Dialogue) is a tool that will help you communicate in a way that leads to connection.

Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt have defined a Safe Conversation as…

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

Let’s consider how this can work for us.

1. Talking without criticizing

Janet said to her husband Rob, “You’re going to kill yourself if you keep eating like that! You know that white sugar is poison!”

Communication? There is no question about what Janet is communicating. It’s crystal clear. But what do you think Rob’s response would be to this kind of communication?

He’d probably see it as criticism, and react by judging Janet’s intent as being disrespectful or controlling. Right?

“Stop telling me what to do! You’re always trying to control me!”

And then this reaction would then trigger further frustration on Janet’s part.

“You never listen to me.”

This downward spiral began with a critical comment.

A safe conversation can eliminate that.

You can talk about almost anything if you’ll say it in a respectful way without criticism.

It’s not what you say but how you say it. Whatever it is you’re talking about is secondary.

As safe conversation is like a truck moving produce.  The truck will deliver whatever it’s carrying: wheat, corn, beans or potatoes, it doesn’t matter.

In the same way a safe conversation will deliver any kind of message you want to send: appreciation, frustration, things you want, or things you need from your partner, it doesn’t matter. Like the truck moving the cargo, a safe conversation will deliver the goods.

So what would a Safe Conversation look like in this case?

1) Use “I statements” rather than “you statements”

Instead of saying “you” and then criticizing Rob, Janet could start by using “I” statements to share two things: “what I saw or heard” and “what I felt”.

And then she add any other thoughts or feelings that come to mind.

“When I saw you eating donuts, I felt anxious. My mother had diabetes and died at an early age and I’m afraid of something happening to you.”

2) Watch the non-verbal messages you’re sending

Often, things like a sigh, a glare, or a rolling of the eyes communicate negativity.

It will be really helpful if Janet conveys a soft look in her eyes and speaks in a kind tone.

It’s the non-verbal gestures that actually do most of our communicating.

3) Regulate your own emotional reaction

When Janet speaks in this way, she is working to regulate her reaction and the fear that drives her criticism.

This gives Rob a chance to control his own reaction, and perhaps listen with curiosity.

So, when you’re talking, use I statements, watch your non-verbal messages, and regulate your reaction to what you’ve seen and heard.

These steps will help do a lot to make the conversation safe and thus easier for your partner to listen and connect with you.

The problem may not be that your partner is not listening well. The problem may be that you’re not communicating in a way that can be heard.

Talking without criticizing can help make it safe to talk about even the most difficult issues.

2. Listening without judgment

What’s Rob’s part in this?

Rob stirred the pot by reacting with, “Stop telling me what to do! You’re always trying to control me!”

What if he were to regulate his own reaction for the moment?

You know Janet is really a decent person. What if Rob were to become curious about what feelings are driving her insensitive comment.

The three-part Safe Conversation model is designed to help you do that.

Here’s what it might look like:

Mirror

What if Rob simply mirrored back to Janet what she said?

Mirroring says to your partner, “You matter. What you have to say matters.”

Here’s what that might look like:

“Let me see if I got what you’re saying. You’re saying that when I ate that second donut, you felt anxious. Your mother had diabetes and died at an early age, and you’re afraid of something happening to me.”

Did I get it? (checking for accuracy)

Is there more about that? (curiosity)

Checking to get 100%, and then becoming curious about your partner has a powerful effect, making your partner feel like she or he matters.

The second step is…

Validate

Validation is when you say to your partner, “Although I may see things differently, you make sense.” And then you tell your partner what makes sense about what she or he just said.

“Janet, you make sense. It makes sense that because you experienced such a loss when your mother died, you’d naturally be anxious when you see me not being careful about my sugar intake. That makes sense.

“Does that give you the validation you need?” (always check to see)

Empathize

And finally, empathy is when you feel what your partner is feeling about the issue.

“And I can imagine that you’re feeling really scared. I’ve felt afraid when I thought of losing someone. And that feels really bad.”

Empathy enables you to be present with your partner in the midst of their fears. This enables you to connect emotionally, on a deeper, heart level. This will also bring a measure of healing to the wound that is driving your partner’s fear.

3. Connecting beyond our differences

As Rob and Janet connect, their differences over diet may not change. But empathy will enable them to connect beyond their differences.

You say, well, what if I can’t accept the difference? What if it’s not just an addiction to sweets, but an addiction to say, alcohol.

Then it may be necessary to ask for a change in behavior. But in my experience Rob would be much more open to Janet’s request if they feel connected.

On the other hand, if they continued being defensive and feeling disconnected, the fight would go on and on and on. Right?

What about you?

You too can learn to communicate in a way that leads to closer connection with your partner.

How?

By talking without criticizing, listening without judging, and connecting beyond your differences.

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