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...
The Five Languages of Apology

The Five Languages of Apology

Has a loved one ever hurt you and though they apologized, you weren’t able to put the offense behind you? Something about their apology was missing the mark. In their book, “The Five Languages of Apology” Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas found that “what one person considers a sincere apology is not necessarily what another person may consider a sincere apology. In essence, they have different languages of apology.” Apologizing is fundamental to having healthy relationships. The five are as follows: a. Expressing Regret: “I am sorry” The offended person needs to hear the words I am sorry. Those words convey ownership; that you realize what you did has hurt them deeply. It acknowledges and identifies their pain and ownership of your behavior. “Without the expression of regret, they do not sense that the apology is adequate or sincere.” b. Accepting Responsibility: “I was wrong” Willingness to admit wrongdoing. Own it. Conveying that what you did was wrong, unkind or insensitive. Some people have a difficult time admitting they’re wrong. Saying I was wrong does not mean I am bad. It erroneously becomes tied to their self-worth instead of being linked with behavior. Everyone messes up from time to time. No one is perfect. As one comes to terms with their individual strengths and limitations without feeling ashamed, they will be better able to own the wrongdoing. c. Making Restitution: “What can I do to make it right?” A person whose primary language is making restitution requires that the offender express a willingness to do something to make up for the pain that was caused. (When you know what...
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...

How to Recover from Infidelity

More than ninety percent of married individuals in the United States believed that monogamy is important but almost half of them admit to having had affairs. I work with couples who try to recover from infidelity, which is one of the most devastating traumatic and life altering issues for couples. Recovering from an affair impacts a couple at so many levels. The marriage does not have to and in divorce, though. It takes at the very least two years of work helping the couple rebuild trust and making sense of how the relationship became vulnerable in the first place to get them back on track. It also requires that the couple commit to complete and total honesty, which are the first steps toward recovery. Rebuilding the trust is the cornerstone of the recovery process. The injured person will need answers and clarification to the myriad questions that will come up throughout the next several months. Speaking the truth about the facts of the affair will help the injured partner to hear the facts. It may include how the affair began, how many times they were together, where they met, etc… Many details about the affair, however, cause more harm to the injured partner and should not be answered such if the person was a better lover. That type of question would best be answered with the mantra, “I’m so sorry for the pain that has caused you.” Unfortunately, affairs happen to good people in good marriages. Most affairs start-up as just friends and increase to infidelity do to an emotional connection that forms. The person feels accepted, wanted and...

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?...

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...