Why successful couples have boundaries – by Esther Perel

“A boundary is simply what’s ok and what’s not ok.” — Brené Brown Every couple will negotiate boundaries: what is individual, what is ours, and what is public. The architecture of a relationship is made up of a web of rules and roles that we begin weaving on the first date. It never ceases to amaze me how a little unit of two can be such a complex social system. The moment two people become a couple, they set out to negotiate boundaries—what is in and what is out. Who is in and who is out? What are we free to do alone and what do we share? Do we go to bed at the same time? Do we combine our finances? Whose name is on the deed? Will you be joining my family every Christmas? There are explicit boundary markers that delineate our public contract and spoken agreement (i.e. wedding vows), as well as implicit boundaries we make with ourselves about where we draw our lines and create our own demarcation. Sometimes we work out these arrangements head on, but more often we go by trial and error. We see how much we can get away with before trip-wiring on sensitivities. “Why didn’t you ask me to join you?” “I thought we’d travel together.” “Why don’t you want to stay over at my place?” A look, a comment, a bruised silence are the clues we have to interpret. We infer how often to see each other, how often to talk, and how much sharing is expected. We sift through our respective friendships and decide how important they’re allowed to...
Emotional Regulation Cheat Sheet

Emotional Regulation Cheat Sheet

No matter how good your communication skills, everyone experiences “emotional hijacking” when conflict affects their significant relationships.   First Step for Emotion Regulation: ASSESS the elements of what is happening ACTION: Stop doing whatever you are doing, so that you may reflect on your own experience EMOTION: Label the emotion you are experiencing in the moment. (a one word answer, such as anger, sadness, disappointment, fear, anxiety) THOUGHTS: What types of thoughts are you having related to the emotion?                a. All or None                b. Judgmental                c. Catastrophizing                d. Mind Reading                e. Assuming the worst                f. Time Traveling   Second Step for Emotion Regulation: Application of SKILLS ACTION: Inhale, expanding the belly, for a count of 3; Exhale, contracting the belly, for a count of 5. Repeat 6 times EMOTION: Validate it; Practice KIND – NON JUDGMENTAL- COMPASSION towards yourself for having the emotion. Say to yourself “It makes sense that I am having this emotion, based on….”         i. My history         ii. Anyone would feel this way in the same situation         iii. My current biological disposition (e.g. sleep deprivation, PMS, recent alcohol consumption, medical illness, other stressors) THOUGHTS: Let go of sticky obsessive thoughts, REDIRECT ATTENTION to the present moment.      a. Move attention to the physical sensations of breathing (see step 1b).      b. Next, notice the feeling of being inside your mind-body vehicle.      c. Hear...

Conflict: The Pathway to Intimacy (Part 2)

In part 1 of Conflict: The Pathway to Intimacy, we learned how to identify negative patterns in our relationship and what we can do have more awareness of this destructive cycle. We are reminded to take a time out to think and go within go get clarity on what is happening within you. This may include: Your Thoughts Your Feelings Your Perceptions What You Long For or Need This should help you and your partner become aware of the negative cycle you share during times of conflict. The next step after awareness is how to improve communication between you. Use 3 Effective Communication Skills Active Listening: When your partner is talking, it’s your time to listen. Even when s/he confronts, insults, or criticizes you, you need to listen. (You’ll get a turn later). Active Listening is not about you. Listening is not an admission of fault, nor is it an admission of agreement. It’s about trying to understand what your partner is saying. Real listening conveys the message that you value the speaker. You can be angry and still be able to listen. Active Listening Involves: Reflective back exactly what you heard the other say Paraphrasing in your own words what you heard Asking clarifying questions until you get it right   Effective Talking: Before you speak, stop and take inventory first. Ask yourself the following: What feelings am I experiencing? (anger, attacked, insulted, ashamed, abandoned) What is my perception of the offense? What is the goal I hope to achieve? (Cooperation, acceptance, understanding, reassurance of love, time together, respect) How would I like this problem/issue to be resolved?...

Conflict: The Pathway to Intimacy (Part 1)

Couples believe that when they are in love, marriage is about agreeing, about NOT fighting. They’re afraid that if they disagree, or fight, something must be wrong with their relationship. Conflict does not cause divorce. In actuality, the number one predictor of divorce is the habitual avoidance of conflict. Instead of avoiding conflict in a relationship, let’s take a look at what the real problem is. Conflict: Every happy and successful couples has at least ten areas of disagreement that they will never agree on Conflict is the result of unrealistic, un-communicated or unmet expectations Most fights are really protests over emotional disconnection Research shows there are three times in a married couples’ life that the divorce rate rises – before the 2-year, 7 year and 20 year anniversary dates and we are never more emotional than when our primary love relationship is threatened Understanding your Negative Cycle: When conflict occurs, each of you should do the following assessment of yourselves. When my partner and I are not getting along: I often react by … (describe your behaviors) (I attack, avoid conflict, become cold or aloof, blame, criticize, defend, get quiet, leave, withdraw) My partner often reacts to me by … (describe his/her behaviors) When my partner reacts this way, I often feel … (I feel abandoned, afraid, alone or lonely, angry, attacked, confused, discounted, frustrated, guilty, hopeless, I’ve failed, ignored, inadequate, judged, etc.) When I feel this way, my perception is … (s/he must not care, I must not matter, I’m not good enough, etc.) When I feel this way I long for or need … When I...

5 Steps for Working Through Couples Conflict

“Inside the heart of each and every one of us there is a longing to be understood by someone who really cares. When a person is understood, he or she can put up with almost anything in the world.” – Ed Hird, Author, Speaker, Minister Couples typically come in to my office complaining, “We can’t communicate!” Each describes what their partner is doing wrong, complains about that person’s character flaw, and implores how s/he needs to change. The anger eventually subsides with both refusing to budge; and feeling frustrated, disconnected, helpless and painfully alone. What is couple conflict really about? The issue is not about who’s right or wrong, compromising or even fighting fair. At the core of most couple conflict an individual desperately needs to know “Are you really there for me? Will you respond to me when I call? Are you emotionally engaged with me?” Dr. Sue Johnson, founder of Emotionally Focused therapy calls these ARE Conversations. Behind distress, couples need to know “Will you be Accessible, Responsive and Emotionally Engaged?” The following steps can help you return to intimacy by working through conflict. Make time alone to figure out what the conflict is really about. Look within. Ask yourself, “What am I feeling because of what my partner did or did not do? Do I feel hurt? Shame? Disrespected? Discarded?” Have an honest look at your stance. Consider the three words that have saved many relationships. Not “I love you,” but “Maybe I’m wrong”. Are you focusing entirely on what your partner is doing wrong (in your eyes) and have your blinders on when it comes...

The Legacy of Bullying Behavior

Recently I was asked to discuss the problem of bullying for a local morning TV news segment. I wondered just how helpful I would be because my work is primarily with adults, not adolescents. Then it dawned on me that many of the emotionally abusive patterns that couples find themselves caught in are similar bullying patterns that adolescents experience. Unless aggressive bullies learn how to manage feelings of frustration and rejection, as well as to manage conflict more effectively, and Target/Victims overcome the lies of unworthiness and helplessness, and become assertive; they both become victims caught in a destructive style of relating. The problem, according to the newly released movie “Bully” shows that we as a society have been unsure as to whether bullying is really a problem, or if it’s just “kids being kids.” Where does one draw the line with unkindness and meanness? Secondly, when we suspect that the bullying behavior is getting out of hand, we’re unsure about what action to take. If we step in and rescue the child, it makes the child look weak; and if we don’t do anything we in essence are allowing the child to be abused. Bullying is a problem of physical and relational aggression. We need to be clear that any type of physical or relational aggression is not to be tolerated. Treating people as if they are not good enough is never okay. Understanding the Aggressor/Bully Bullying is learned behavior They lack skills in managing feelings of frustration or rejection as well as the social skills of working with or tolerating differences When the bully feels powerless or...