Forgiveness in Marriage

forgiveness in marriageSometimes in marriage counseling we encounter couples that overcome their demon dialogues, create a new dance of intimacy, and rewrite the story of their marriage. Yet, just when it appears they will move to a deeper level of connection one partner brings up a seminal incident that they just can’t seem to “let go”. Susan Johnson describes these hard to let go moments as “relationship traumas” and states that many times they include one partner feeling a profound sense of abandonment. Such incidents may include an overwhelmed husband isolating in his bedroom just after learning about his wife’s cancer diagnosis. Or maybe it involved a wife’s difficulty in showing empathy for the death of her husbands father.

Susan Johnson offers six steps to forgiveness in marriage for relational traumas.

The hurt partner speaks his/her hurt

The hurt partner describes the wound without attacking the other. The partner may use words like “I felt…alone, abandoned”. This communication is not about the details of the incident but the feelings and experience of the one hurt. The pain, which in the past had been covered with anger and criticism, is now revealed in honesty and vulnerability.

Presence and Acknowledgement

The injuring partner remains emotionally present as the hurt partner shares their experience. The injuring partner now more fully understands how their actions hurt the other. This new understanding leads to an acknowledgment of hurt and creates the safety needed to move forward.

Risk and Vulnerability

Both partners soften towards the other moving from the defensiveness of “you will never hurt me again” to “I think I can trust you now”. The new position of trust and openness allows for both partners to express emotion surrounding the incident leading to deeper understanding and connection.

Owning the Mistake

The injuring partner is now able to take full responsibility for how their actions impacted the hurting partner. This probably includes a heartfelt apology. The injuring partner is able to communicate deep regret, empathy, validation, and a commitment to “being there” in the future.

Verbalizing Needs

The next step is for partners to communicate with one another what they need in the present. This will most likely include presence, touch, responsiveness, awareness, and connection.

Rewriting the story

The couple is now ready to create a new story surrounding the incident. The new story describes how the incident damaged trust in the relationship. It also highlights what led to the demon dialogues. But, the resolution of the story is shaped by how the couple confronted the pain of the incident and was able to heal through the process of openness, vulnerability, risk, and connection.

Reference:

Johnson, S. & Sanderfer, K (2016). Created for connection: The “hold me tight” guide for Christian couples. New York, NY: Little Brown and Company.

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Marriage Conversations for Connection

couples counselingMy last post regarding couples counseling discussed the three demon dialogues described by Susan Johnson in her book Created for Connection. The three patterns of conflict most common in couples counseling are called find the bad guy, the protest polka, and freeze and flee. Each dialogue is a unique pattern of couple interaction driven by the partners need for attachment. When a partner feels disconnected from their spouse their “attachment alarm” goes off. The resulting sense of losing their partner leads to a “primal panic”. Most people respond to this primal panic in one of two ways. They become demanding or clingy in a desperate effort to reconnect with their loved one or they shutdown and pull away in an attempt to manage the overwhelming loss.

Fortunately, couples counseling restores connection in marriages that are stuck in one of the three demon dialogues. As I wrote about in this post creating a “secure base” is one of the first steps to restoring the connection that allows for a new dance. Couples counseling focuses on establishing this secure base by fostering dialogue that consists of Accessibility, Responsiveness, and Engagement of the partners.

Couples Counseling Fosters Accessibility

An accessible partner is one that is “there” when reached for. When feeling alone, scared, and vulnerable we reach out to our loved ones in an attempt to gain comfort and safety. When a partner is accessible they remain present for their spouse and provide empathy, validation, and compassion. Although this reaching may come across as anger the responsive spouse views the “reach” as a need driven by hurt and fear. An accessible spouse sends an implied message of “you are not alone”, “I am here for you” and “we will get through this together”.

Couples Counseling Fosters Responsiveness

A responsive partner is “moved” by the reach of the other. Sometimes, we are overwhelmed by another’s emotion and we instinctively hide from it, stuff it down, or deny it. This appears as cold, unresponsive, and distant to a partner in pain. A responsive partner is able to “feel” the other with a deep understanding of the hurt, loss, and fear. Understanding ones partner in this way creates a sense of moving toward each other. The reaching out has worked and the hurting partner experiences re-connection.

Couples Counseling Fosters Engagement

An engaged partner is “moved” by the emotion and pain of his/her partner and stays “in” it. They are able to maintain the connection with the partner throughout the difficult time. They do not run away from the powerful emotions, downplay them, or seek to minimize them. An engaged partner is able to feel the emotion while experiencing a safe connection with self and the other.

Start the Conversation

You can begin these A.R.E. conversations with your partner today. Although it takes practice ,as you work you will experience more connection. Couples counseling can also be effective when learning to be accessible, responsive and engaged. If you would like to overcome the power of the demon dialogues you can start the process today by calling 217-231-1413.

Reference:

Johnson, S. & Sanderfer, K (2016). Created for connection: The “hold me tight” guide for Christian couples. New York, NY: Little Brown and Company.

 

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Marriage Counseling, The Demon Dialogues

marriage counselingMarriage counseling is the process of recognizing and reshaping the relational dance between two partners. In a previous post (linked here) I discussed this process as presented by Susan Johnson the developer of Emotion Focused Couples Therapy. Susan describes emotion as the music that drives the interaction (dance steps) of the marriage relationship. In her book Created For Connection she discusses the three most common “dances” of a distressed marriage and calls them the “demon dialogues”. According to Johnson, these dialogues are rooted in the couple’s deep need for connection with one another rather than conflict, communication deficits, or skill deficits.

The demon dialogues emerge when a couple that has lost their sense of connectedness encounters a moment of stress or conflict.  When the partners feel disconnected from one another the normal stressors of marriage tend to get sidetracked by one of the three demon dialogues. However, when both partners in the marriage feel safely connected to one another managing the stress of parenting or financial concern can be navigated in a way that creates more connection.  The demon dialogues spin out of control leading to more stress, hurt feelings, and increased disconnection.

Marriage Dialogue 1: Find the Bad Guy

This dance occurs when both partners are stuck using attack as a way to protect ones self from feeling vulnerable, alone, or unsafe. Each partner blames the other for the problem because disconnection has made it unsafe to vulnerably acknowledge ones own responsibility in the situation. John blames the family’s financial issues on Mary’s irresponsible spending habits, while Mary blames John for not working hard enough to provide for the family. The pattern is cyclical in that the more one is blamed the more disconnected and unsafe they feel. The lack of safety puts each partner “on guard” for the attack of the other. A hypersensitive stance may cause the partners to see threat where there is none. This leads to more frequent attacks and ever increasing difficulty in resolving conflict.

Marriage Dialogue 2: Protest Polka

The most common pattern encountered in marriage counseling is the pursuer-distancer dynamic.  Susan Johnson calls it the protest polka. One partner protests against the growing disconnection in the marriage by pursuing the other. Many times this pursuit feels more like demanding or criticism to the partner causing them to withdraw. The more the distancer withdraws the more the pursuer criticizes or protests. The pursuer is looking for reassurance about questions such as “do you care about me?”, “do I matter to you?”, “am I important” while the distancer is attempting to protect ones self from feelings of inadequacy, not being good enough, and failure.

Marriage Dialogue 3: Freeze and Flee

The final dialogue is one of silence. Both partners hunker down in their respective fox holes and hope is nearly gone. The pursuer has no more energy to protest and therefore shuts down to protect ones self from hurt and loneliness. The distancer is finally enjoying some peace but remains disconnected as a way to protect against a sneak attack. Each partner has tried everything they know to fix the problem but nothing has worked. They feel frozen, stuck in a dance that brings deeper and deeper hurt; therefore they flee by either leaving the marriage or resigning themselves to a lonely loveless relationship.

Restoring Connection:

The solution to the three demon dialogues is connection. When couples feel safely connected to one another they are able to navigate stress and conflict in more flexible, vulnerable, and adaptive ways. Connection creates the secure sense that your partner will be there for you, will notice you, will respond to you, and is reliable for you no matter the circumstance. Restoration is possible even in the most difficult of situations. It takes incredibly hard work, it takes time, and it takes risk.

If you would like to start this journey toward restoring connection with your spouse call me at 217-231-1413.

Reference:

Johnson, S. & Sanderfer, K (2016). Created for connection: The “hold me tight” guide for Christian couples. New York, NY: Little Brown and Company.

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Marriage Counseling

Marriage counseling for couples that have experienced disconnection, infidelity, conflict, or separation is one of the most important services I have the privilege of providing. Often time’s couples come to me not knowing exactly what went wrong in their relationship. Not only that, they struggle to figure out how to make things better. I am honored to walk with them as they discover the three key strategies for healing a hurting marriage

Marriage Counseling – Creating a Secure Base

The first task of marriage counseling is creating a space in which both partners feel safe, heard, and respected no matter the circumstance. It is crucial that this sense of safety be created between the counselor and the couple, as well as between the couple themselves. John Bowlby says, “From the cradle to the grave, we all need a secure base”. Early in life primary caregivers function as this secure base. Parents create an environment in which children are safe to explore the world, while knowing that they can return to the protection and nurture of their parents when needed. The marriage relationship serves a similar function for couples. Ideally it serves as a context in which both partners exercise dependence on one another for the nurture and love we all need. This context, however, also allows autonomy for both partners to express themselves through work, play, and individual preferences. My first goal, then, in marriage counseling is to make the counseling relationship a safe place in which the marriage relationship can develop into a secure base for the couple.

Marriage Counseling

Marriage Counseling – Expanding Emotional Experience

Susan Johnson describes emotion as “the music in the dance of adult intimacy”. Emotion is the beat that drives the interactions between couples. Many couples are stuck in a painful dance that creates greater and greater distance, rather than deeper intimacy and safety. They are not aware of the role that emotional experience plays in this dance and therefore have a hard time changing the steps. My second goal in marriage counseling is to enhance and expand both partners emotional experience in the relationship. This process entails a deliberate exploration, validation, and acceptance of the internal experience of both partners. A deeper experience and expression of the emotional music of the relationship will allow the partners to experience one another in new and more connected ways. These new experiences create a new “melody” for the relationship, which allows for healing to begin.

Marriage Counseling – Choreographing a New Dance

If emotion is “the music in the dance of adult intimacy” then interactions are the dance steps. Susan Johnson describes the distressed couples dance as “rigidly organized interactions”. She argues that it is the rigid nature of interactions, driven by emotions, triggered from unmet attachment needs that lead to distress in a marriage. My third goal in marriage counseling is to choreograph a new interactional dance. This new dance takes into account the new “melody” created by enhancing and expanding the emotional experience of the couple. The new dance allows a wife to experience her “uncaring” husband as hurt and scared. It enables a husband to experience his “critical” wife as overwhelmed and lonely. The new melody and new dance steps are slowly practiced and rehearsed in a way that enhances safety and respects individual experience.

The couple begins to draw closer to one another in trust and love. They begin to experience that returning home can be an experience of returning to a “secure base”

Read more about my approach to counseling HERE

Begin the Journey to deeper connection by calling me at  217-231-1413

References:

Johnson, S. M. (2004). The Practice of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (2nd ed.). NY, New York: Routledge.

How to Teach Emotional Intelligence to Your Son

What is the most important thing you hope to teach your son before he turns 18? Many parents focus on skills like, driving a car, spending money wisely, working hard, or study habits. But, research seems to show that teaching our sons emotional intelligence may be the most important thing we do.

In 2003 researchers at Yale University studied a group of college age students and found that as emotional intelligence goes up so do positive relationships with others. These researchers also found that the ability for a person to manage their own emotions is closely related to positive interactions with others.

The same group of researchers later discovered that Lower levels of EI are associated with adolescent risk taking behaviors like use of illegal drugs, consumption of alcohol, and deviant behavior.

So, what is emotional intelligence? There is some disagreement about the exact definition but the one that I find most helpful can be summarized like this:

Emotional Intelligence is,

  1. The ability to Perceive Emotions
  2. The ability to Utilize emotions to facilitate thought
  3. The ability to Understand emotions
  4. The ability to Regulate emotions of self and others

So, What are some ways that parents can help their son to learn emotional intelligence? Here are my thoughts

  1. Focus on Connection

The research about how children develop emotional intelligence shows that it is passed on through connection with parents. Those parents that use an authoritative parenting style (balance between control and empathy) have children with higher levels of emotional intelligence. Sometimes our fast paced culture encourages parents to get their children involved in activities that will enhance their brains and build their resume. What research shows, however, is that it is “us” that matter, the time spent connecting over low cost activities enhance our children’s lives. So, build connection with your son by using the basic listening skills (I wrote about them here). Play their favorite board game one evening a week. Schedule them to cook dinner for the family one night and help them through the process. Spend a few minutes talking about the day before shutting off their bedroom light for the night.

  1. Focus on Perception of Emotions

Help your son to understand that other people’s behavior is a clue to all that is happening on the inside. Your son can learn about how to interpret facial expression, body language, tone of voice, and other communication from you. You can help him to accurately perceive emotions by guessing at what you think he is feeling and expressing it verbally (ex. You are angry) if you are correct he feels heard and now has a word for what he was just feeling on the inside. If you are incorrect he can tell you and therefore clarify his feelings for himself and for you. It is also very helpful when you verbalize what you are feeling in the moment with your child. If you have lost your keys you might say, “I am really starting to get frustrated” when you experience a setback at work you might say, “I am disappointed that…” The bottom line is; help him to perceive his own feelings by verbalizing them for him and then discussing it, help him to perceive what others are feeling by sharing your feelings in the moment.

  1. Focus on Managing Emotions of Self

Again, the best way to help your son learn to manage his emotions is to be good at managing yours. Modeling appropriate emotional reactions to normal and difficult situations shows him exactly how to do it. For younger children games like red light/green light are helpful. Older children can learn skills like belly breathing, mindfulness, and relaxation techniques. Additionally, the way you listen can be a very powerful way to co-regulate your child, which enables them to learn to regulate emotions by experiencing the process with you. (read about it here).

Emotional intelligence is one of the most important skills that a boy can learn. You can help him to learn it by focusing on connection, perception of emotions, and managing emotions of the self.

Check out this video to hear some more about boys and their emotions.

What are some other ways you have found to help increase your sons Emotional Intelligence?