How is it possible for married partners to treat each other so badly?

Most marriages start with the wonderful feelings of romance but soon descend into a power struggle that can be brutal. 

That’s when we say things like:

“If only you would change, I could be happy!” 

“You could meet all my needs if you wanted to. And since you don’t, you don’t love me.”

The unconscious reasoning is: 

“If I cause you enough pain, you’ll change and meet my needs. Then we can go back to romantic love.”

How do we get to this place?

How is it possible to dish out such emotional abuse toward this person that we promised to always cherish and protect?

On the surface it makes no sense. But when we see what’s happening unconsciously, it makes perfect sense.

Dr. Harville Hendrix shared a seven-step process that explains how our marriage goes from empathy and connection to objectification and emotional abuse.

1. Disconnection produces ANXIETY

Whenever there is a feeling of disconnection in marriage the immediate result is ANXIETY. 

Anxiety is not a feeling or an emotion, but a sensation that runs through our bodies. 

It first occurred as a child with our primary caretakers. As the Still Face Experiment shows, when the rupture in connection between the child and parent occurs, the result is anxiety. When it is repaired, anxiety goes away, and the child feels alive and happy again.

But for some of us, that repair and reconnection was not consistent. And continued anxiety was the result. 

This dramatically affects our adult relationships. Whenever we feel a disconnection with our marriage partner, this same anxiety is triggered.

2. Anxiety replaces FULL-ALIVENESS

The anxiety produced by the disconnection replaces the previous sensation which was FULL-ALIVENESS.

As our neural system is flooded with anxiety we no longer sense the full-aliveness we experienced before.

3. Loss of full-aliveness gives birth to DESIRE

When anxiety shows up, it’s accompanied by DESIRE for what was lost, which is that feeling of full-aliveness that is no longer being experienced.

Buried in every criticism or frustration with your partner is a desire to reconnect and restore that feeling of full-aliveness.

So the beginning of desire occurs with the loss of connection and the appearance of anxiety.

From the time that this wounding first occurred in childhood, you have been on a journey to find someone who will help you complete what was missing in childhood and help you feel fully alive again.

That’s what Romantic Love is all about.

When you find a person who matches your parents’ positive and negative traits, you fall for that person and form a relationship. What you don’t realize is that deep in your mind is an unconscious agenda to heal childhood wounds.

And that’s what the Power Struggle is all about.

Because your partner is like the parent who wounded you, conflicts with your partner bring to the surface old wounds you need to heal.

Healing can only take place as you and your partner become conscious of what is happening and turn your criticism into a positive expression of your desire.

That proves difficult because…

4. Desire results in SELF-ABSORPTION

When we experience that rupture and the anxiety that goes along with it, we become self-absorbed.

SELF-ABSORPTION is the main feature of pain.

There was a little girl who loved the beach. One day she was enjoying all of its beauty – the sun, the water, the colors, the seagulls flying overhead, the warm sand…

…but then, suddenly, she stubbed her toe on a rock.

All the wonder of this amazing world outside disappeared, and all she was aware of was the pain that was throbbing within her.

Self-absorption is what happens psychologically to all of us when emotional pain is triggered.

When that pain is triggered, our brain stops taking in outside information. That’s when we lose awareness of other people.

When we are receiving information only from within our own psychoneural system, it’s not possible to see, acknowledge, or empathize with another person’s reality.

The emotional pain from childhood that our partner triggers floods our psyche. That’s when we lose sight of our partner and we become absorbed only in our own pain.

5. Self-absorption results in SYMBIOSIS

Because you’re not getting data about your partner from the outside, you start creating an image of your partner with the data you have inside.

You construct your partner with the figments of your own imagination.

You think you are experiencing your partner, but in reality you’re experiencing your own projections of your partner, not who your partner really is.

This is called “emotional SYMBIOSIS”. It’s when you assign to your partner your inner world and you assume they are you – that they think and feel the way you do.

“That’s a great song! Of course you like it too. Wouldn’t everyone?”

“Who would ever want their living room painted green? Everyone can see that green is not a very attractive color!”

Self-absorption requires your partner to agree with you and see everything the way you do.

6. Symbiosis results in POLARIZATION

As you’re stuck in this self-absorbed, symbiotic state, you’re rattled whenever you encounter a difference in your partner.  

When your partner’s perspective, or opinion, or desire is different from your made-up image of him or her, it’s traumatic and POLARIZATION results.

That’s when you feel your partner is no longer someone you can talk to, no longer someone who is safe.

Soon you’re fully engaged in the Power Struggle Stage of your marriage. This is when you begin wanting your partner to change.

You feel like, “If my partner doesn’t change, I can’t be happy.”

7. Polarization results in OBJECTIFICATION

As polarization happens, you lose empathy for your partner. You are no longer in touch with what your partner is feeling.

That’s when OBJECTIFICATION occurs. Your partner has been effectively degraded to the status of a mere object.

When people become objects, we can treat them any way we want.

We can criticize them, yell at them, or label them. We can withdraw from them even if it makes them feel abandoned.

We can do anything to them we feel like, because they are no longer human. They are just things that serve us. And they become objects of our frustration.

This is how it’s possible for married partners to treat each other so badly.

So what can I do? 

The Imago Couple’s Dialogue is a tool that can help you restore empathy and reconnect with each other.

Here’s how the three steps of the Imago Couples Dialogue can help.

MIRROR

When you MIRROR your partner’s feelings, you begin to see who your partner really is. When your partner feels heard, she or he feels loved.

VALIDATE

When you VALIDATE your partner’s feelings, you begin to see how their thoughts make sense from their perspective. Validation is not agreeing with your partner, but it’s seeing how their perspective makes sense according to their own inner logic. Validation results in differentiation and neutralizes the trauma so that polarization does not occur.

EMPATHIZE

When you EMPATHIZE with your partner’s feelings, healing occurs and safety is restored. You see your partner as human and not as an object, and connection is possible. It’s impossible to criticize someone you are empathetic with.

CLICK HERE and print out two copies of the Couples Dialogue. Begin using it today to reconnect with each other and disrupt this tendency to treat each other so badly.

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3 steps to healing the childhood wounds affecting your marriage

Does your partner’s controlling behavior open up old wounds of feeling smothered by a controlling parent? Or does your partner’s emotional withdrawal trigger wounds of abandonment or rejection from an emotionally distant parent?

Here’s some good news!

Because your partner can trigger your childhood wounds, your partner is also the one who can heal them.

Marriage is all about getting what you didn’t get in childhood.

How do childhood wounds happen?

Your parents may have unintentionally wounded you in two ways: Intrusion or Neglect.

Intrusion is over-involvement. Neglect is under-involvement.

If that intrusion or neglect caused you to feel a loss of connection, it’s what we call a wounding experience.

And unfortunately we bring these old wounds and unmet needs into our marriage where they can cause problems if we don’t address them.

Here is a helpful tool (created by Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt) that will help you identify your unmet childhood need and find healing from your partner.

1. Identify the “early challenge” that may be affecting your marriage.

Think about whether your parents were intrusive or neglectful. Then study the two lists below under MY EARLY CHALLENGE. Write down the ONE (and only one from the two lists) that most represents your greatest early challenge.

MY EARLY CHALLENGE

If I had INTRUSIVE parents…
I wanted:​
  • To get free from feeling controlled by others.
  • To express my own thoughts rather than what I should think.
  • To express what I felt rather than what I should feel.
  • To experience my thoughts and feelings as important.
  • To do what I wanted to do rather than what I ought to do.
  • Other (If there was something you wanted not on the list)
If I had NEGLECTFUL parents…
I wanted:
  • To experience feeling seen and valued rather than invisible.
  • To be approached by others rather than feel alone or abandoned.
  • To feel appreciated as a person.
  • To get support for what I think or feel.
  • To have someone interested in what I want and like.
  • Other (If there was something you wanted not on the list)

After you’ve written down one item from the two lists above go to step 2.

2. Identify the “early need” that may be affecting your marriage.

Just as you did with your early challenge, study the ten items below MY EARLY NEED. Write down the ONE (and only one) that most represents your greatest early need. 

MY EARLY NEED

If I had INTRUSIVE parents…
I needed:
  • To have space and time to myself on a regular basis
  • To experience trust from others in my thinking and my decisions. 
  • To be asked what I feel and what I want.
  • To experience genuine and reliable warmth when I need it.
  • To experience what I do and want is valued by others.
  • Other (If there was something you wanted not on the list)
If I had NEGLECTFUL parents…
I needed:
  • To experience a show of interest in me when I am talking.
  • To be responded to when I asked for it.
  • To ask me what I want, feel and think and then respond.
  • To show curiosity about my experiences in life.
  • To get love and a gentle touch frequently and without having to ask.
  • Other (If there was something you wanted not on the list)

After you’ve written down one item from the two lists above go to step 3.

3. Communicate your early challenge and need to your partner in a “Safe Conversation”.

Use the Couples Dialogue format below to share with your partner the childhood need you brought into your marriage. Allow your partner to respond in a way that will meet that childhood need and bring healing.

YOU: “When I was a child, I lived with caretakers who were generally _______________ (Neglectful or Intrusive), and my relational challenge with them was to ________________ (the CHALLENGE you wrote down).”

PARTNER: (Mirrors)

YOU: “And when I remember that, I feel __________ .”

PARTNER: (Mirrors)

YOU: “What I needed most from them was _______ (the NEED you wrote down).”

PARTNER: (Mirrors)

PARTNER: (Summarizes) “Let me see if I got all of that. In summary, your caretakers were generally  _____ and the relationship challenge you had with them was to _____. When you remember that, you feel _____. What you needed from them was _____, and not getting that from them, you brought _____ to our relationship. Did I get it all?”

PARTNER: (Validates) “You make sense, and what makes sense is that if your caretakers were _____, then your challenge would have been _____, and that your relationship need would be ______. It also makes sense that not getting that in your early years, you would bring it to our relationship. Is that an accurate validation?”

PARTNER: (Empathizes) “And given that, I can imagine that if you’re relationship need to ______ was met by me, you would feel _______ (glad, relieved, happy, connected, heard, etc.). Is that your feeling? Are there other feelings?”

PARTNER: “Thank you for sharing with me your unmet need caused by your childhood challenges. I want very much for you to have your needs met in our relationship.”

YOU: “Thank you for listening and for wanting to understand this about me, and for helping me with it.”

Give each other a one-minute, full body hug.

THEN SWITCH ROLES AND REPEAT THE PROCESS.

Finally, let me know how it went in the reply section below! Share your story with all of us!

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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! 

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!

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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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Is self-rejection causing problems in your marriage? It’s more common than you think

Sam and Anna were not happy in their marriage. One big reason was that self-rejection was blocking Anna’s ability to receive love from Sam.

“No matter what I do to try and make her happy, nothing is ever good enough!” Sam complained in frustration.

Anna not only deflected Sam’s attempts to show her love, she often criticized those attempts as not being good enough.

If Sam commented on how good she looked, she pointed out her flaws. If Sam went out of his way to buy her something she liked, there would always be something not quite right about it.

Eventually Sam stopped even trying.

What was going on?! How did Sam and Anna go from such a romantic and passionate relationship they had in the beginning to this place of unhappiness?

Part of their problem was Anna’s self-rejection.

1. Self-rejection is a universal problem

Everyone rejects or hates some aspect of themselves often without even knowing it.

Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt wrote in their book Receiving Love,

“Self rejection is the most universal and least recognized problem in our lives. It is the source of all our difficulties in giving and receiving love.”

2. Self-rejection begins in childhood

You may be rejecting a part of yourself you aren’t even aware of.  It could be related to your feelings, your thinking, your sensing, or your talents.

You probably aren’t aware of it because your self-rejection began in childhood. And now it’s preventing you as an adult from being a fully alive, whole person, capable of fully giving and receiving love.

When Anna was little, her dad was an alcoholic and was often away on business. Her memory of him, whenever he was home, was that he was either quiet and withdrawn or drunk and explosive in anger.

Her mom was a “go along to get along” kind of person and Anna didn’t really have a close connection with her either.

Anna felt she was not allowed to express emotions of happiness or sadness. Her mother was stoic, always trying to do the right thing, but never shared her feelings about anything.

Whenever Anna expressed any feelings or desires she had, she got the message that she was “too emotional and needy”.

The message was “having needs is dangerous” and this belief was deeply impressed on her tender, young, unconscious mind.

Growing up she learned, “You can only be safe by NOT having needs”.

This caused Anna to reject the part of herself that experienced emotions as she was growing up. She learned to deny the part of her that needed normal, loving affirmations. She learned to withdraw and minimize her reactions in order to protect herself.

Children learn quickly to do whatever they have to do to survive their wounding experience.

Anna’s rejection of her “emotional self” also resulted in a loss of joy and feelings of aliveness.

3. Self-rejection results in a “receiving deficiency” in your marriage

So now, as an adult in a marriage relationship, those old fears of “being needy” were triggered at times when Sam would make a loving gesture toward her.

As a result, Anna had trouble accepting the good things that Sam offered. Her self-rejection had become a “receiving deficiency” in her marriage.

Because she was not aware of her inability to receive love, she unconsciously erected a barrier between her and Sam – a barrier that blocked his efforts to love her.

This was so hurtful to Sam that he eventually lost hope and was ready to give up on the relationship.

4. Self-rejection results in criticism of your partner

Anna’s criticism of Sam’s attempts to love her was clearly a reflection of how harsh she was on herself.

Anna had learned to hate and reject that emotional part of herself that had needs. So whenever Sam’s actions threatened to awaken that part of her, it was met with harsh criticism.

Anna’s self-criticism manifested in criticism toward Sam.

That made it difficult, if not impossible, for her to be nurtured by Sam’s loving gestures.

5. Self-rejection results in an inability to give love

Ironically Anna expressed that she felt like she was giving more than she was receiving in the relationship. She was unable to see how she was receiving a lot more than she could acknowledge.

She also discovered that you can’t give what you don’t receive.

You can’t love others if you’re drawing from an empty tank. Anna felt like she was giving so much because she was “running on fumes”. But in reality she had as much trouble giving love as she did receiving love.

In order for Anna to be able to give love, she had to learn to receive love.

How to deal with self-rejection

Anna took three steps deal with her self-rejection and begin a journey toward wholeness and self-acceptance in her relationship with Sam.

1. Receive your partner’s empathy

Through the Imago Therapy process, Anna began to receive empathy from Sam.

One amazing purpose for marriage is that our partner (who is often perceived as causing our pain) is the one who can best heal our pain!

Using the Parent-Child Dialogue, Sam was able to help Anna get in touch with memories of what it was like living at home with parents who were either raging or absentee. She was able to pinpoint times when she was shamed for having needs.

Sam saw that Anna had a valid reason she could not receive his love. When Sam was able to tell her that she made sense, they were able to connect the dots and understand how Anna’s childhood had affected her ability to receive love. She discovered how it was all related to the rejection of her emotional self.

Sam listened as Anna revisited her fears. And his empathy helped her to begin dissolving those fears and feel safer with him.

When Sam declared to Anna in the dialogue, “You deserve to have these needs met”, it helped her open her heart toward him.

2. Turn your criticisms into requests

Looking behind her criticism, Anna discovered the part of herself she was rejecting.  

Helen LaKelly Hunt said, “Criticism is merely a ‘wish in disguise'”.

Discovering that wish will help you identify the part of yourself that you’ve rejected.

Anna’s request of Sam was that he not just “do things” to try to make her feel loved. She requested that he dialogue with her and allow her to make a request for what she needed or wanted. That would help her feel safe to open up and receive it.

So Anna’s criticism of Sam for just doing things for her without sensitivity to her was turned into a request to let her ask for what she needed.

Learning to ask Sam for what she really needed was the biggest step of growth toward wholeness that Anna could take…and the hardest.

It was hard because she was going up against years of unconscious programmed responses telling her that to have a need or an emotion is dangerous.

But, as she began to turn her criticisms into requests, there was a breakthrough that enabled Anna and Sam to connect more deeply with each other.

3. Share regular appreciations for efforts your partner is making

The third thing Anna and Sam did was to share regular appreciations with each other.

Sharing an appreciation for something has a powerful effect that literally changes our brain.

When we’re in pain, we become self-absorbed and we can only see things our partner is doing that cause us pain.

But when we share regular appreciations for the positive things our partner is doing, we break out of that self-absorption.

In time, our lower brain will begin to see our partner as a source of pleasure instead of pain – as a place of safety instead of danger.

Anna and Sam shared a minimum of three appreciations with each other every day using the Mirroring An Appreciation tool. As a result, new brain pathways were developed enabling Anna to receive these and other daily affirmations from Sam.

With this breakthrough, Sam and Anna found themselves on a new path toward healing and wholeness together.

What about you?

  • Do you deflect the love your partner wants to give you?
  • Does your partner feel like nothing she or he does is ever good enough?
  • Do you feel unloved even though you see your partner trying to love you?
  • Do you have trouble telling your partner what you really need?

If so, let me encourage you to follow Anna’s and Sam’s example.

Overcome your self-rejection by learning to receive and give love that heals.

For more on this subject I highly recommend the New York Times best selling book Receiving Love by Drs. Hendrix and Hunt.

 

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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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What you may not know about the childhood wounds affecting your marriage

When I suggest that a marriage conflict may stem from a childhood wound, some marriage partners protest.

“Wounds from childhood? Not me. My parents were great!”

“Why do you say my childhood wounds are affecting my marriage? That was in the past. I’ve moved on and the past doesn’t affect me.”

“My problem is not because of what I experienced in childhood. It’s all about how my partner treats me today!”

These are comments I’ve heard from clients or workshop participants when I share what’s called the 90/10 principle.

90% of your upset in a conflict is rooted in the past. Only 10% is related to the present.

I used to be skeptical myself, but in my experience with couples, and especially in my own marriage, I see it played out every week.

Whether or not we acknowledge it…our childhood wounds do affect our marriage.

According to relationship expert, Dr. Harville Hendrix…

Anytime you have a frustration with your partner that occurs three times or more, and you have negative feelings about it, it comes from childhood.

Emotions buried in your unconscious mind that are based on childhood can drive you to explode or withdraw, behavior that’s not productive in your relationship today.

To understand how this happens, consider with me how childhood wounding occurs.

The childhood wounding experience

Dr. Edward Tronick’s Still Face Experiment shows the interaction between a caretaker and an infant. If you haven’t seen this I encourage you to watch it now. And then let’s explore the implications together.

When the child feels connected with mom everything works well.

But when mom gives the child the “still face” causing a rupture in the connection, the child begins to feel anxiety.

When this happens in real life, we call this “un-attuned” caretaking, and it occurs to some degree in most parent-child relationships.

In busy families, especially large families, it’s hard for caretakers to stay fully attuned to every child. Most of us probably got lost in the shuffle at some point growing up.

Un-attuned care taking may not be intentional but it’s a reality.

When we lose the “attuned face”, i.e. the attuned emotions, the attuned eyes, the attuned  presence of a caretaker in childhood, we call that a “wounding experience”.

Notice how the child uses all her abilities in a desperate attempt to get mom’s attention. If that doesn’t work the child will either continue to act out, or she may withdraw and simply give up trying.

This experience shows how we adapt to childhood wounding by becoming either a maximizer (hailstorm) or minimizer (turtle).

The experience of Sarah and Eric

About a year after Sarah was born, her mom gave birth to twins who cried continually with colic. One-year-old Sarah experienced neglect.

It was not intentional. It was a time when her parents just had to do the best they could, and could not be constantly attuned to Sarah.

That’s why we say…

Healthy adults are a result of “good enough” parenting, not perfect parenting.

Sarah’s home was a normal home…

But the wounding that she experienced through unintentional neglect in childhood became a problem later in her marriage.

Sarah’s parents were under-involved. Her pain from those feelings of neglect in childhood (the 90%) was triggered by her husband Eric whenever he gave “more attention to his work than to me” (the 10%).

On the other hand Eric’s parents were over-involved. He grew up always being told what to think and what to feel. Therefore, the pain of this continual intrusion in childhood (the 90%) was triggered whenever he felt controlled by Sarah (the 10%).

And what did he do? He withdrew emotionally from Sarah when she became “controlling”. What effect did this have on Sarah? It activated more of that old pain of neglect causing even more explosive anger and need to control.

Sarah was the “hailstorm”. Eric was the “turtle”.

Our childhood defenses will always activate the childhood wounds of our partner. And vice versa.

What about you? Do you see where your childhood wounds are affecting your marriage in similar ways?

Which are you? The hailstorm or the turtle? Which is your partner?

Here is a powerful exercise that will help you better understand and empathize with your partner’s childhood wounding experience.

It’s called the Parent/Child Dialogue. Click on the link, print out two copies and follow the instructions very carefully.

As you do this simple dialogue, it’s my hope that you begin to turn your relationship of conflict into a partnership of mutual healing.

Here’s to turning conflicts into a stable connection that facilitates healing of our childhood wounds!

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Want to live “happily ever after” in your marriage? Here’s something even better!

Peter and Kathy had an amazing marriage breakthrough! But after a few months they found themselves stuck again in the same vicious cycle of blaming and defensiveness that almost ruined their marriage before. Only now it seemed worse.

Here is a couple who was able to dissolve all the anxiety that was driving their Power Struggle and connect with each other in a deeper way than ever before!  Their marriage moved from the brink of failure to a picture of marital bliss! They were so happy! So was I as their coach!

But a few months later all those feelings were gone. They felt like all the ground they had gained in their relationship had been lost. Once again they were considering separation.

What happened?

It was something that I discovered only recently.

When a couple rekindles Romantic Love, it hurls them back into the Power Struggle!

What?!! That’s right!

Most marriages begin with Romantic Love. Then comes the Power Struggle.

Then, with a commitment and the right tools, a couple can move through the Power Struggle to Mature Love and to the World Impact Stage where the changes in their marriage begin to positively impact their children and their world.

Here is the graph I made to depict that journey.

The problem with this model is that it suggests that when you get to the World Impact Stage you’ve arrived!

Then your marriage is one of eternal bliss that continues “happily ever after” as you ride off into the sunset to go out and change the world!

Right!!

I wanted to believe that! I really, really did!

But that was not the case with Peter and Kathy. Actually it’s not the case with the other couples I help. And it’s certainly not the case with Sandy and me.

Why? Because…

Marriage is a journey of healing and growth that doesn’t end with the first breakthrough you have.

There is no place of arrival where you are both healed and where you no longer need to grow.

You and I will always long for new levels of healing. And we will always discover areas where we need to stretch and grow and discover lost and undeveloped parts of ourselves.

And that’s why, when we rekindle Romantic Love, it hurls us right back into another round of the Power Struggle!

So the Couple’s Journey actually looks more like this:

Couple's Journey

Instead of a linear path, the Couple’s Journey is a progressive cycle that repeats these four stages.

As you go through this cycle, there is connection, rupture, repair, and then reconnection that occurs over and over again.

Realizing that this is normal helped Peter and Kathy feel better, and regain hope that they could get back on their journey toward healing and wholeness.

As we worked through this “second power struggle”, Peter and Kathy discovered some childhood adaptations that were fueling this new Power Struggle. Some unconscious defenses they had never been conscious of before.

Peter realized he would withdraw from Kathy whenever she was “overreacting”. He did this without even knowing he was doing it.  Through the Couple’s Dialogue, we discovered that this defense was deeply connected to the way he felt smothered as a child by his mother.

Kathy would explode when she felt Peter “leaving her”. This defense was deeply connected to the times when Kathy felt like her mother was not emotionally available to her when she was a child.

Through the process Peter saw that his own unconscious reaction to Kathy was just as powerful as her outbursts. It’s just that his defense, which was to withdraw his emotional presence, was silent while Kathy’s was sometimes very loud.

Why did they not see this before? I don’t know.

But when they became conscious of these newer, deeper dynamics, two things happened.

Peter began to grow by staying present with Kathy rather than leaving when she was upset. This immediately had a healing effect on her wound of rejection.

Kathy began to grow by regulating her emotions, making it safe for Peter to stay present. This had a healing effect on Peter as he overcame his fear of intimacy and his childhood feelings of being smothered by his mother.

This process of working through the second Power Struggle helped Peter and Kathy reconnect once again and get back on the path toward healing and wholeness. They were able to use the same skills they learned before to go even deeper this time.

It feels like a game of Chutes and Ladders.

Sandy once said that our progress felt like a game of Chutes and Ladders. Sometimes we land on a chute and slide all the down to where we were before.

It sometimes feels like you’re starting over. But that’s not true. You’re actually going deeper.

It’s something even better than “happily ever after”.

Even though romantic love fades away, romance never has to end.

Staying on the journey where you experience more and more healing and growth, and where you experience a greater and greater sense of safety, connection, and full-aliveness is even better than our fairytale concept of “happily ever after”.

Why?

Because in the fairy tale ideal of “happy ever after”, there’s no program for healing and growth.

Without conflicts brought about by the power struggle, our relationship would eventually die anyway. It’s a principle of nature that, if something is not growing, it’s dying.

Also, relationship science tells us that, ironically, you and I would never really be happy with someone who doesn’t push our buttons and help us finish the work left undone in childhood.

As Peter and Kathy made the choice to recommit and work through this second power struggle, they were encouraged by what happened.

And they discovered it does actually get easier.

They learned that each time around the cycle the rupture feels less catastrophic, the repair process happens faster, and the connection feels even deeper than before.

Also as they continue around the cycle, the emotions connected with the Power Struggle become less toxic to the relationship as understanding, curiosity, and compassion grow.

So this is WAY better than merely “happily ever after”!

What about you? Have you had real progress in your marriage only to be set back?

It happens. But like Kathy and Peter, you can stay on the journey no matter what.

Even though it will recycle through the Power Struggle, and you may feel like you’re in a game of Chutes and Ladders, eventually you will get there!

And you will have a marriage filled with safety, connection, passion and full-aliveness!

Which is better than “happily ever after”!

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Build your dream marriage part 6: Rid your relationship of “invisible abuse”

Did you know that most marriage partners regularly abuse each other? And they do it without even realizing it.

What?!

That’s right. There is an “invisible abuse” that keeps us from having our dream marriage.

Experts tell us that any form of negativity in our relationship is emotionally abusive.

If we want to build our dream marriage, we must rid our relationship of NEGATIVITY which is “invisible abuse”!

The good news is that you and I can do it!

And, when we eliminate negativity in our marriage, we can then extend it beyond ourselves – to our children, our workplace, and our city – making the world a better place.

Drs. Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt wrote this:

“We now think of negativity as an emotional disease on the order of cancer. It is pervasively destructive and ultimately kills the relationship. But unlike cancer, negativity can be stopped in an instant. You can decide now to stop all negativity. Act on that decision and everything will change. To be blunt: negativity is invisible abuse and is an addiction of the human race. When you eliminate this invisible abuse in your primary relationship, then you eliminate it in your relationships with your children, your friends, and the broader world.  You become a person of peace!”

Negativity…

  • Ruptures connection
  • Stimulates anxiety
  • Eliminates joy

So, let’s get rid of it!

Here are three powerful steps to eliminate negativity, and rid your relationship of this “invisible abuse”.

1. Make a ZERO NEGATIVITY PLEDGE.

Everything we achieve that is worthwhile begins with a commitment.

I’m asking you today to make a pledge to eliminate 100% of all negativity from your relationship.

You say, “Really? Get real, Chuck! Every relationship has negative issues to deal with. Not everything can be positive all the time.”

That’s for sure! But here’s the rub…

We can deal with all negative issues in a positive way, and thus completely eliminate negativity.

It’s also true that no one’s perfect. We will all inevitably fail at some point in our attempts to eliminate negativity. So the Zero Negativity Pledge includes several methods to repair the relationship when you don’t succeed.

How do we define negativity in a relationship?

Negativity is any transaction your partner experiences as a “put down”.

It’s any interaction that is experienced as devaluing or negating.

Negativity may be intense: criticism, shame, blame, deflection, disempowering, accusations, and contempt.

Negativity may be mild: in your tone of voice, an eye roll, or silence (ever heard of the “silent treatment”?).

It may be intentional.  Or, it may be accidental.

But, negativity in ANY FORM will keep us from our dream marriage.

It’s like putting a drop of sewage in a clean glass of water. It’s only a drop, but it can contaminate the whole glass with harmful bacteria.

In the same way, even a small amount of negativity can toxify your entire relationship.

That’s why I’m asking us to make the ZERO NEGATIVITY PLEDGE.

But what if we disagree over what is negative?

There’s an easy way to identify negativity in your relationship…but you’re not going to like it.

You really want to know? OK.

If your partner says it’s negative it’s negative! Your partner is the authority.

Your partner is the “canary in the mine” alerting you to negativity.

Same is true for you. If your partner says or does anything that feels negative to you, then it’s negative!

So, here we go…

Click here and print out two copies of The Zero Negativity Pledge, one for you, and one for your partner.

Read it carefully and, when you’re ready, sign it!.

On the second page of the printout, you’ll find The Zero Negativity Repair Process, which gives you several ways to repair your relationship should you blow it.

Study it carefully, and decide ahead of time how you’re going to repair it when you fail. Because if you’re anything like me, you’re gonna need it!

The sign of a healthy relationship is how quickly you can repair it once your connection is ruptured.

Make the ZERO NEGATIVITY PLEDGE. And, if you would, please share your experience in the comment section below.

A second step to rid your relationship of “silent abuse” is…

2. Share four powerful appreciations with your partner each day.

Guess what happens to some couples when they stop all criticism and negative talk?

They have nothing to say!

When I was young I was told, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” So, there were many times, I said “nothing at all”.

But this is a problem when we’re trying to eliminate negativity in our marriage.

When we’re addicted to negativity, it’s a hard habit to break, in part because we have to fill that space with something.

There is a tool I developed called “Four Powerful Appreciations” that can help.

Click here to print this tool out.

Here’s how it works.

Plan a moment with your partner four times a day…

  • when you first wake up
  • when you leave for the day
  • when you come home, and
  • before you go to bed

Easy to remember, right?

During these four crucial moments, find each other.

Then give each other a one-minute, full body hug while you take 30 seconds each to say to each other, “One thing I appreciate about you is…”

At first it may be hard to think of that many new things you appreciate about your partner.

But the more things you share that you appreciate about your partner, the more things you’ll see that you appreciate about your partner.

That’s the way it works.

But you’ve got to START, and then STAY WITH IT! Four times a day!

Soon negativity will be flushed out of the space between you by this constant influx of positivity.

And your partner’s lower brain…you know, the part that has a negativity bias…will start to see you as a source of positivity and pleasure rather than a source of negativity and pain.

This will go a long way toward building your dream marriage by increasing safety and the feeling of connection  in your relationship.

If you find it hard to do it four times a day, join the crowd! Most of us find it hard. So start with one…then two…then three, etc.

But START! And KEEP GOING! You’ll get there!

A third step to rid your relationship of “silent abuse” is…

3. Turn your criticism into a positive request.

Part of the ZERO NEGATIVITY journey is learning how to deal with negative issues in a positive way.

It helps to know that…

Negativity is simply a wish in disguise.

Samantha was critical of her partner, Paul.

Samantha: “You’re always late! I can never count on you to be on time!”

Using of “always” and “never” unfairly labels a person and assaults their character. It’s negative, and it’s abusive.

Through the Couple’s Dialogue, Samantha learned to express her frustration in the form of a positive request, rather than a negative criticism.

Samantha: “When you arrive late, I don’t feel like I’m valued, and it makes me feel sad. Then I get angry.”

Paul: “Let me see if I get what you’re saying. You said that when I arrive late, you don’t feel valued and it makes you sad and angry.

“Did I get it? (checking for accuracy)

“Is there more about that?” (increasing curiosity)

Samantha continued sharing with the focus on what she felt, rather on what Paul did.

They continued the dialogue through the 3-fold process of mirroring, validating, and empathizing.

Paul relayed the message to Samantha that she made sense, that he could see where his being late would make her feel “not valued” (validation). He could also empathize with her feelings of sadness and anger.

Their defenses came down, and that made it safe enough for Samantha to share a request, and for Paul to hear the request and gladly grant it.

Samantha: “The next time you are going to be late, will you call me ahead of time and tell me when you will arrive?”

Paul was more than happy to do this.

This is how Samantha turned her criticism into a request.

What about you?

Can you see where negativity is “invisible abuse” in your relationship?

Will you take the ZERO NEGATIVITY PLEDGE… replace negativity with REGULAR APPRECIATIONS… and then, turn your criticisms into POSITIVE REQUESTS?

Here’s to taking another step toward our dream marriage!

Next week we’ll look at the 7th and final part of our series…

Build your dream marriage part 7: Learn to be honest rather than “nice”

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