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The Couple's Match BookLighting, Rekindling, or Extinguishing the Flame
By Daniel Eckstein
TRAFFORD PUBLISHINGCopyright © 2012 Daniel Eckstein, PhD
All right reserved.
Chapter OneRelationship Theory and Research
The A's and H's of Healthy and Unhealthy Relationships: Four Activities for Relationship Renewal
Here are five activities couples can do with each other for the purpose of renewing their relationship. Consider the following analogy involving the letters A contrasted with the letter "H." Tony Reilley, a colleague consulting with the author, described the insights he gained from marital counseling through three significant marital partner relationships like this ...
He described his first two relationships as being the letter A. Consider the three lines comprising the letter—one straight line on the left, a leaning line on right connected at the top and lastly the cross bar between them. In his first marriage his wife leaned heavily against him. The connecting cross bar (their relationship) while strong, bore so much pressure, it eventually collapsed from the shear continuous stress on it. With this weight, the marriage didn't work out. In his second relationship, while he liked rescuing the wounded bird (his hurt partner), there was no possibility for long-term growth together.
Tony described his third relationship as being the letter H. This consists of two strong independent lines but the connecting cross bar line showed that their interdependence was not as strong. Thus, in their personal strength, there was less power between them due to more upright parallel lines.
Please note: All Activities are numbered sequentially throughout the book. and you can look on my website, leadershipbyencouragement.com for all of the activity templates.
Now reflect on this model both for current and past relationships.
The "H" metaphor can be restated to mean that each individual in a relationship leading to marriage is to be of equal strength as a foundation of this new family unit. Pillars will not support a building unless they are firmly anchored, placed in parallel positions, and bear equal weight.
The author uses the "Relationship as a Three-legged Sack Race" metaphor as another way of contrasting the following three different attachment styles. Burlap couples' sack race is used to illustrate the various ways of bonding with others attachment styles. "All four legs in the sack" is an example of enmeshment, no differentiation between the couple. "No legs in the sack" indicates disengagement, two or more individuals living parallel lives under the same roof. "One leg in the sack and one out" represents an interdependent relationship while simultaneously valuing and honoring each individual as just that.
The Healthy Couple: A Brief Sketch
Healthy individuals are usually attracted to other optimally functioning people in their interpersonal transactions. Using the concept of Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs, they are seeking to fulfill Being (B) needs, not Deficiency (D) needs for sharing and for enriching their lives in an intimate relationship. They are not clinging in a desperate way because they are empty nor do they fear they will be unable to survive alone. Rollo May richly contrasted the difference as being "I need you because I love you" with the idea "I love you because I need you."
Maslow depicts healthy individuals as being highly evolved and mature. A solid sense of personal identity provides the capacity for true intimacy. As fully integrated people they are much more likely to choose mates who also have a sure sense of their own being and boundaries. Such individuals have the desire and capacity for a reciprocal, constantly evolving, intimate relationship.
Maslow characterized the self-actualizing healthy person as courageous, spontaneous, innovative, integrated, self-accepting, and expressive. Such individuals frequently gravitate toward healthy partners. These become healthy couples who cope well with the usual transitions and reoccurring challenges in everyone's life.
The healthy couple appears to be a multidimensional, complex, non-summative unit. The ten dimensions the Timberlawn group concretely delineated are:
1. What is the systems orientation with respect to the external world? Healthy couples perceive themselves as a unit in which their relationship to each other is special and precious. Sometimes they choose to be together as a couple, at home or participating in work related social activities, enjoying each other's company.
2. What are the boundaries between individuals and between generations? Healthy couples are cognizant of and comfortable with their adult identities; they do not need their children to parent them nor to become symptomatic to bond together. If they have children, they can leave them free to participate in age-appropriate activities and non-family as well as family relationships. The same is true in relation to their own parents. They are respected and cared about but are not allowed to come between the couple and the commitment to privacy with each other.
3. Boundary issues also involve the recognition that individuals require privacy, and from such quiet inner alone time, couples can then chart new directions.
4. What kind of communication occurs? There are few double-bind communications between the healthy couple. Wishes and expectations are most often clearly conveyed. Each person's verbal and non-verbal message is concordant. The content or message and the intent or metamessage, consistent. Functioning couples creatively seek solutions and communicate in unique and varied ways. They use a broad repertoire of exchanges sent through olfactory, kinesthetic, visual, tactile, and auditory channels of communication. Each person remains an individual; therefore, (s)he does not want to look, act, or sound alike. Paradoxically, the healthy also often like to function in tandem as one unit.
5. What is the distribution of power; who assumes leadership and control? The relationship is likely to be equalitarian and mutually supportive. The parents are often quite equally matched and probably shift in terms of lead-taking on different issues in accordance with who feels most strongly about a given matter. When there are children, power and control are not abdicated to them. Conversation is liberally laced with "I" statements expressing personal ideas and feelings. Children of such a union sense the strong parental alliance and are rarely allowed to divide and conquer. Their core images do not become split into viewing one parent as good and one as bad. Each may assertively express his or her viewpoints and needs, yet neither is likely to resort to downgrading, sabotaging or acquiescing.
6. What is the permissible and expressed affective range, and to what is this conducive in terms of intimacy and closeness? The healthy couple are in touch with and expresses a wide range of emotions. Laughter, tears, sadness, and joy are shared. Losses can be discussed and mourning is permitted and understood. They frequently have fun together and believe life should encompass the pursuit of contentment and pleasure. Work and play may be intertwined. Optimism, humor, and a sense of the absurdity of life are apt to be attributes they both possess.
7. Are autonomy and individuality encouraged or discouraged? Through their own more self-sufficient and self-determining niche in the family and in the large world, healthy parents encourage their children to pursue their own choices by paradoxically both guiding and concurrently setting them free (roots and wings). They are much less likely to go into severe depression or to experience more than a fleeting empty nest syndrome when their children depart and the couple are in their middle years.
8. Healthy couples have productive ways for coping with and for replacing dysfunctional solutions. They believe their own strength and adaptability and reach out to appropriate people and resources when the need arises if they cannot manage on their own. They do not expect life to be problem free, and they do not become profane when something distressing occurs. Thus, they are reframed until they become stressors for which the couple then seeks the most efficacious course of action.
9. Is there a problem solving and negotiation approach to handling disagreements and decision-making? Negotiation is a decidedly different transactional mode than compromise or conciliation. Negotiation is hearing the other's input and trying to resolve stalemates at the highest level by drawing upon everybody's suggestions. To negotiate successfully, each participant needs verbal skills, the ability to engage the issues, and skills for listening to the other's position.
10. Does the couple have a sense of purpose and meaning in life and a transcendental value system, or do they feel alienated and adrift in the world? Healthy couples exhibit a clear and shared belief system. They believe their life matters and have a deep and abiding sense of meaning and purpose.
Seven Marriage Principles
John Gottman and Nan Silver have written an excellent book entitled The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Based on as little time as a fifteen minute couple's interview, they are able to predict divorce with a better than 90% success rate. Gottman and Silver stress that happily married couples have what they call an emotionally intelligent marriage; they are optimistic that it is a skill that can be learned by most couples.
Gottman and Silver note the chance of a first marriage ending in divorce over a 40-year period is now over 67% Half of all divorces will occur in the first 7 years. Other studies find the divorce rate for second marriages to be almost 10% higher than for first marriages.
Research by Lois Verbaugge and James House of the University of Michigan indicates that an unhappy marriage can increase your chances of getting sick by roughly 35% and even shorten your life by an average of 4 years. People who are happily married live longer, healthier lives than either divorced people or those who are unhappily married.
Here are six specific warning signs that have assisted Gottman & Silver in obtaining 90+% accuracy in predicting a couple's divorce in interviews in what they call the love lab.
1. Harsh Startup: A counselor can predict the outcome of a conversation based on the first three minutes of the fifteen-minute interaction 96% of the time. This is the first divorce warning signal.
2. The Four Horseman: Gottman & Silver have identified what they have creatively called the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse These four horsemen clip-clop into the heart of a marriage in the following order: criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling."
Horseman #1: Criticism—Criticism is finding fault or blaming your partner.
Horseman #2: Contempt—Contempt, the most destructive of the four horsemen, is poisonous to a relationship because it conveys disgust.
Horseman #3: Defensiveness is actually a way of blaming your partner by saying, in effect, "The problem isn't me, it's you."
Horseman #4: According to Gottman and Silver, "a stonewaller ... tends to look away or down without uttering a sound.... Stonewalling usually arrives later ... than the other three horsemen. It takes time for the negativity created by the first three horsemen to come overwhelming enough that stonewalling becomes an understandable out."
It is not the mere presence of these negative signs that dooms the couple to failure. In fact, Gottman and Silver say, "You'll find examples of all four horsemen and even occasional flooding in stable marriages. But when the four horsemen take up permanent residence, when either partner begins to feel flooded routinely, the relationship is in serious trouble."
3. Flooding: Flooding means that a spouse's negativity is so overwhelming and so sudden, that it leaves the partner in shock. The person then becomes anxious and hyper-vigilant about preparing for the next attack to which he or she feels powerless to defend. Frequently a partner deals with the fear by simply withdrawing emotionally from the relationship.
4. Body Language: First, the heart speeds up. Hormonal changes occur including the secretion of adrenaline, resulting in a fight or flight response. Blood pressure also often increases. Problem-solving skills diminish as a primal fight or flight defensive posture is utilized.
5. Failed Repair Attempts: Not only do repair attempts defuse emotional tension between spouses, they also can help rescue relationships by lowering the stress level and by preventing the heart from racing and making one feel flooded.
6. Bad Memories: Couples feeling negative toward their spouse frequently re-write and remember their past from a negative rather than a positive perspective. Some couples may seek counseling; others disengage by being and merely living under the same roof as the spouse. Divorce, affairs, or leading parallel lives are some the ways couples revolve the crises of their marriages.
7 Ways of Repairing Marriage
Fortunately, in the immortal words of Yogi Berra "It ain't over till it's over." Here are seven principles Gottman and Shivers suggest for repairing wounded relationships:
Principle 1: Enhance Your Love Maps
Successful couples know each other's world, something Gottman and Silver describe as " ... having a richly detailed love map ... for that part of your brain where you store all the relevant information about your partner's life ... those couples have made plenty of cognitive room for their marriage. They remember the major events in each other's history, and they keep updating their information as the facts and feelings of their spouse's world change ... No wonder the biblical term for sexual love is to 'know'."
Principle 2: Nurture Your Fondness and Admiration
They recommend that by focusing on your past, you can often detect what they call "embers of positive feelings. Couples who put a positive spin on their marriage's history are likely to have a happy future as well. When happy memories are distorted, it's a sign that the marriage needs help."
Principle 3: Turn toward Each Other Instead of Away
Here is another creative metaphor they use relative to having an emotional bank account. "Partners who characteristically turn toward each other rather than away are putting money in the bank. They are building up emotional savings that can serve as a cushion when times get rough, when they're faced with a major life stress or conflict."
Principle 4: Let Your Partner Influence You; It is very encouraging to feel you make a positive difference in your partner's life.
Principle 5: Solve Your Solvable Problems
This can best be demonstrated by softening your startup; learning to make and receive repair attempts; soothing yourself and each other; compromising; and being tolerant of each other's faults.
Principle 6: Overcome Gridlock
Gridlock is a good indication that the hopes and dreams of the couple are not being met.
Principle 7: Create Shared Meaning
The more couples speak candidly and respectfully with each other, the more likely there is to be a blending of a shared sense of meaning.
Excerpted from The Couple's Match Book by Daniel Eckstein Copyright © 2012 by Daniel Eckstein, PhD. Excerpted by permission of TRAFFORD PUBLISHING. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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