How to Become an Unstoppable Couple

Do you ever wonder what makes a couple successful?

Some of them just seem to weather any difficulties that come their way and come out still being loving and connected.

They might have extremely sad experiences—a death of a parent, a business that collapsed, a bad car accident. Even through these, rather than blaming, withdrawing or being angry with one another, they survive and, ultimately thrive. They could be called “unstoppable”?

What does it mean to be an unstoppable couple?

To me, it means many things:

  • Being a couple who continually is looking for ways to get closer, more authentic, happier and more peaceful.
  • Finding ways to celebrate how far you’ve come toward your vision of an ideal relationship
  • Being willing to do the work of making amends for past mistakes in which you had a part
  • Searching for ways to enhance your sexual relationship so that it is robust, satisfying and an expression of your emotional connection
  • Discovering your partner’s wishes, dreams and hopes by being willing to open up conversations that are focused on your partner.
  • Courageously opening difficult topics and staying curious and calm in those conversations
  • Holding your partner’s wishes to be as important as your own.
  • Willingness to compromise, surrender or hold firm in the situations that require these qualities.
  • Seeking help when you are stuck in any important way
  • Being able to be influenced by your partner’s ideas.
  • Building the capacity to stay calm during disagreements.
  • Working on yourself to increase your abilities to be the partner that you want to be.
  • Listening carefully to your partner.
  • Committing to avoid criticism, contempt, shaming or blaming even when you are angry.
  • Being loyal and believing that you have backup from your partner and you can count of that.

I have asked many such couples how they built their unstoppable relationship and how they maintain it over the years. I was determined to figure this out so that I could help the couples I work with to be this way too.

First, they create a respectful, loving and peaceful atmosphere.

With that foundation on which the relationship is built, much can be accomplished. From that place of safety, any topics, both difficult and easy, can be brought into the light (rather than hidden in darkness).

If the orientation to each conversation is: “We are seeking to understand each other better”, then the result, even of arguments, is increased emotional closeness. And the closer, emotionally, that a couple is, the more unstoppable they are.

Since each relationship involves two imperfect humans (we are all imperfect), then the more each person seeks self-awareness, the better it is for the couple.

When we are more self-aware, we are able to understand our reactions to events much better. We can then take personal responsibility for our own part of any problems and then take appropriate steps to alter the learned reactions from our past.

Here is an example of a couple I worked with (names are changed):

Jessica and Todd were stuck in a cycle of daily arguing, often forgetting mid-way through what exactly started the argument, in the first place.  With each fight, they felt more alone, discouraged and hopeless that this cycle would ever end.

Jessica’s family had engaged in loud arguing, almost as sport, and being the quietest one, she often felt overrun and invisible in this boisterous atmosphere.  She learned early that she was not going to be heard, so she might as well get silent.  She promised herself that she would not marry anyone that argued like that and wouldn’t listen to her.

 Todd’s family was more authoritarian with the parents deciding the agendas and the children expected to go along, unquestioningly. As the oldest child, Todd opted to “stand up” to his parents, by disagreeing and arguing loudly (but often with poor results). 

 In Todd and Jessica’s marriage, Todd’s way of starting a conversation would likely involve complaining about something and blaming Jessica or Jessica’s way of doing things.  Jessica, being careful not to become invisible, but not sure how to argue any other way, was very defensive and expressed it verbally.  Then the argument escalated to many topics.  Jessica got more and more defensive and Todd got more and more adamant that he was right and Jessica was wrong. 

 Both of them were left feeling misunderstood, stuck, alone and frustrated.  Something had to change.  At first, each thought it was the other spouse that should change.  Neither was wrong, but they also learned that they each needed to change, too.

 Jessica and Todd began to understand that they each had learned a way of fighting that was based more on their original family’s way of doing things, and not the way they wanted to be in their marriage. Things began to change.  Each was able to take responsibility for their part in the argument and also their power to change the dynamic.  They created some “rules” for arguing that would be less likely to trigger their old habits.  They grew to understand why their spouse acted a certain way, and that understanding reduced the fighting significantly.    As they each learned new possibilities for engaging in disagreements, they began to listen to one another and understand each other better.

 Now, each was able to feel safer in the midst of an argument.  They learned that they could talk about any topic and have it turn out well. They were now on the way to being unstoppable.

 Jessica and Todd increased their awareness, took responsibility for their part, decided to make some changes, then made them.  That is the action part of the unstoppable formula:

Awareness.  Responsibility.  Decision.  Action

 

There is more.  The unstoppable couples also told me about how they think about their partner and the relationship—their mindsets.

The partners each thought of their relationship as an unbreakable bond.  Leaving wasn’t an option that they entertained, even in the hardest times.

They thought about their own contributions to the difficult times in addition to being aware of their partner’s part. Both believed that their partner was doing their best at the time and gave them the benefit of the doubt. They forgave each other when harsh words were spoken or trust was broken in small or large ways. Both definitely became angry at times, but expressed it respectfully, most of the time. And they forgave again and again, from a position of love.

Unstoppable couples are regular people who treat their spouses like cherished friends.  They can fight, but they make up.  They fully accept each other.

The last thing I want to tell you, and a very important point, is that many unstoppable couples were not always that way. Many sought help, when their relationship was in trouble.  Those couples became my clients, like “Todd” and “Jessica”.

  • They learned new skills that enabled them to build an unstoppable relationship.
  • They learned to trust, to cherish, to be grateful for and to give their partners the benefit of the doubt.
  • They learned that they, themselves, played a part in the trouble and how to “clean that up”.
  • They began to think about the other in a loving way.  They built an unstoppable relationship.

If you would like to talk with me about any of these ideas, please email me at carol@caroljhenry.com  I would love to hear from you.

Here’s to building unstoppable relationships!

With love,

Carol

 

 

 

 

How Couples Can Argue Using Bright Lines

I imagine you have seen couples who have a great relationship and wonder what they are doing differently from you. Do they never argue?  Do they agree on everything?  Like all couples, they do, of course disagree on many things.  However, though, they have figured out some strategies for having arguments without feeling disrespected or attacked.

One of the elements may be that they each have the ability to edit what they say, manage their emotions and be kind to their partner even when they are angry.  One of the most important ways to succeed is to establish some Bright Lines (BLs).

What exactly is a Bright Line?  It is a boundary that is not to be crossed.  A BL can be something to do, or something not to do.  Of course, it is possible for you to cross a bright line, but it goes against the agreed upon rules that may exist in a society or in a relationship.  For example, Do Not Kill is a Bright Line. Another could be ‘We Don’t Buy Anything Over $500 Without Discussing It With Each Other’.

Why would be want to establish Bright Lines? When we have them, we have a true partnership.  They give us freedom to expect that our partner will handle certain things and we will handle others. In arguing, the Bright Lines give us safety because we have agreed beforehand about what our argument will look like and what behavior will and will not occur.

In successful relationships, there are likely several BLs (but they’re probably not called Bright Lines).  When couples have established some BLs, it means that they have discussed various issues and have agreed on some principles of what they will and won’t do.  They expect each other to respect the Bright Lines because they were mutually drawn.

There is a lot of safety in Bright Lines because both people know what the “rules” are and have agreed that they will keep them, to the best of their ability.  This is especially important in discussions and arguing.  When you know that your spouse or partner is going to keep the BLs, it allows each of you to talk about concerns or issues you have with the expectation that you’ll be listened to and respected.  Notice that it doesn’t mean the other person has to agree with you.  Instead, it’s about how you will be treated by your spouse during an argument and how you will treat your spouse.

In my marriage, we had bright lines about arguing, about what we would do if one of our children violated a house rule, about spending up to a certain amount, household chore allocation, and driving the children places.  It was noteworthy how these bright lines enabled us to relax more.  It was not necessary to discuss any of these things after we had agreed on the BLs.  When it was dinnertime I was cooking.  After dinner, he was washing the dishes.  I drove the children to school.  He drove them to certain of the extracurricular activities.

The most difficult BL to keep were the ones about arguing, because that’s the time of the highest emotions.  However, having them, and going back to them if we violated them, minimized our arguing remarkably.  Using the BLs as a framework was a key part of successful arguing, which we defined as arguing with respect, listening to understand and speaking without blaming or shaming the other.

For the 1000+ couples I have worked with in my marriage counseling practice, the ones who agreed on some Bright Lines and followed them, were much more able to argue and resolve conflicts.  They actually were able to resolve some long-standing conflicts.  Most important to them, was that they were able to argue and when it was over, feel good about themselves and their partner.  They ended up feeling closer and more hopeful about future difficult conversations because they trusted that they could do it well.

Here are some Bright Lines for Arguing.  They are a good starting place for couples who want to “clean up” their arguing.  After you have tried using these for some time, you could adjust them, add or edit them to fit your unique situation.

1.  I won’t argue without first checking in with myself about what I’m feeling and whether it’s something inside me or is it something the other person did or didn’t do.

2.  I will use “I” statements and not shame or blame.

3.  No contemptuous or degrading comments or sarcasm.

4.  No yelling.

5.  No interrupting

6.  Do discuss one topic per conversation (not bringing in other topics).

7.  I will take turns talking. Each talk about 1-2 minutes per turn.

8.  I will listen carefully for understanding, not just to respond.

9.  I will ask for TIME OUT if I believe that either my spouse or I feel too upset to maintain the BLs. I will set a time to come back together, that day, in as short a time period as possible.

10.  No walking away from an argument without saying when you believe you can resume.

11.  No defensiveness.

12.  No “stonewalling” which means withdrawal and refusal to talk.

13.  No physical or emotional intimidation, gestures or threats.

If you use these Bright Lines it is likely that you will see noticeably less hurtful arguingInstead, you will feel listened to, understood and respected.

Try using them and let me know how it works for you!  If you don’t want to post, email me at: carol@caroljhenry.com

I would love to hear from you.

With love,

Carol

 

What Do Autumn and Relationships Have in Common?

 

Pumpkins

Autumn is such an exciting season! It is a true transition time, and we can see those changes daily with both the temperature and the leaves dropping.

It’s also harvest—a celebration of the abundance of crops resulting from an abundance of work in the rest of the year.

It begins with celebration of the harvest and warmth, then ends with hunkering down against the cold temperatures.

As a child growing up in upstate New York (Albany), I was thrilled to see pumpkins arriving in the stores and thinking of how they can be carved to make a spooky jack-o-lantern…. and fresh-crop apples, just licked with frost so they’re crisp and juicy or warm apple cider on a chilly autumn day.

Raking those beautiful leaves now that they’re crispy and playing in huge piles before they blow away again.

As an adult, I still love all of those thing, plus wine grapes being pressed and beer broken out to celebrate Oktoberfest.

There’s also another side to the autumn transition though, isn’t there? 

As autumn develops, temperatures drop.  The trees shed their decorations. Squirrels begin scavenging for food to hold them over and bears get fat to survive the upcoming winter. We find our winter coats and gloves, to keep warm against the cold outside.

Inside, lights come on, the fires are lit. But daylight is short.  We drive to work in the dark and return in the dark.

Autumn, then, is a transition from celebration of abundance and preparation for the winter.

From warmth to cold.  From light to dark.  It begins with abundance and ends with barren ground.

That’s the cycle of nature.

Relationships

Our relationships have seasons and cycles, too. There are times when we celebrate the abundance of love, harmony and joy in our relationship.  At other times, we become aware that we’ve gotten colder toward each other and more remote. Our thoughts, like the leaves, have fallen away from the main trunk of our love, which sustained us, and now we’re hunkering down emotionally cold, and distant.

Nature rolls along in predictable cycles which are easy to see. We are acutely aware of the natural changes but cannot stop them

We CAN, however, change our relationship cycles, even though it can seem that we can’t.

In fact, once we become aware of the cycles, we have the tools to alter the trajectory of our relationship.

In this season of Autumn, could you decide to enhance the abundance in your relationship and minimize the cold and distance? Could you be the one to re-ignite the warmth and protection against the cold, for you both?

Think about your relationship. Where is there abundance?  Is there abundant love, trust, dependability, money, responsibility?  Do you have fun together?

Where is there coolness and distance?  Where are you two hunkering down and avoiding the cold (trouble)?  Do you talk to each other with criticism?  Are you communicating with each other much anymore?  Do you argue often?

ACTIONS:

Celebrate the abundant areas.  Actually, do something to celebrate them—write your partner a note, text.  Speak your gratitude when you’re together.  Buy a cupcake to mark that awesomeness.  Carve a pumpkin together.

Work to change any coolness or distance.  Uncover the difficult parts. Vow to yourself to speak gently to your partner this week, to be slow to anger or to escalate an argument.  Light a candle and talk honestly about your relationship.

Your efforts will be worth it, because you really can change your relationship, single-handedly, if necessary.

So, bundle up, light candles and stay warm.  Invite warmth into your relationship and there will be something wonderful to celebrate.

With love,

Carol

I would love to hear what you do to celebrate, share with me below!

 

 

 

Why Do Couples Wait for Crisis to Seek Help?

Only about 10 percent of couples seek help in early stages of relationship problems.  This is true in general and also for the more than 1000 couples who have arrived at my couples’ therapy office in the past 30 years. The other 90 percent have been near a crisis in their relationship when they finally seek help. 

At the crisis point, the amount of disconnection, resentment and hurt is already extensive and it takes much longer to get back onto the path of connection and fulfillment.  

It’s very sad that there has been so much pain between them before they decide to seek guidance and skills that can help them to live a life of connection, peace and happiness.  

I do understand the obstacles, though.  In the busy lives that we are all living, it’s very difficult to find the time to leave work, drive in traffic, park the car, spend 1-2 hours in the counselor’s office.  Then there is the financial expense.  If we move past time and money, then we get to the “inside” piece, namely—fear, uncertainty, worry, embarrassment, stigma and more.  It is quite difficult and courageous to enter the office of a stranger (who may or may not be an expert at their profession) and then tell her or him about your personal relationship concerns.


Here’s the truth—if you take steps to reset your relationship when it’s only a little problematic, you can learn the tools and mindsets that will enable you to prevent a further disconnect. These steps will also turn the relationship around to a deeper level of happiness.

 If you wait until crisis, it takes longer and it is more difficult to change behaviors and ways of thinking that have existed for a long time.  

These two sets of ideas—the obstacles to getting help before things get to crisis proportions, and the fact that early intervention (when problems arise but are not yet severe) prevents much pain and enables couples to get back on track more easily. Combine the two to create a real dilemma.   There is a solution that is very new and outside the box.  Namely, online relationship help.  

About three or four years ago I became aware of some offers online for couples.  As the trend grew, I noticed that a typical offer was designed around, “This worked for my wife/husband and me, so buy my program.  It will fix your marriage.”  Those programs have minimal credibility because one person is telling/selling you what they and their partner did. There’s no real reason to think that’s a “proven process” because one couple did it.  

As a person who values scientifically proven approaches to anything that claims to be helpful, I wanted to find a program that was research-based, had proven processes, and was easy to navigate.  I also wanted to see if the program creator was available to their clients, and willing to provide personalized help.  Initially I wanted my clients to have alternatives to marital therapy if they moved away or lived far from my office.  

I found no programs to fit my criteria—comprehensive, proven effectiveness, developed by a person with legitimate credentials and experience, availability for personal connection with the founder for questions and/or coaching.  None fit these criteria.

 So, I decided to develop my own program.

Each component is research-based, created by a psychologist (me) who has worked effectively with over 1000 couples for 30 years. It has a proven process for transformation, is easy to navigate and has the option of intensive or occasional personal contact with the developer.

In addition, it is heart-based and is filled with the love and caring that is truly my orientation to working with couples. When I work with people, I mentally link arms with the couples and get to work achieving their dreams of a loving, peaceful, joyful and sustainable relationship.  

Be on the lookout for more information in the coming weeks!

Reflection: The “Secret Ingredient” to Being a Great Partner

What is that secret “something” that great partners do?  Reflection.

This means they think about their day, their interactions, their parenting, how loving they have been, and any number of other relevant topics.  In doing this reflection, they are able to learn from their experiences, both successes and failures, and then adjust, based on what they just learned.   Continue reading “Reflection: The “Secret Ingredient” to Being a Great Partner”

Power of Gratitude

The practice of gratitude as a tool for happiness has been in the mainstream for years. Long-term studies support gratitude’s effectiveness, suggesting that a positive, appreciative attitude contributes to greater success in relationships, work, greater health, peak performance in sports and business, a higher sense of well-being, and a faster rate of recovery from surgery. Continue reading “Power of Gratitude”

COMMITMENT to CHANGE – IT’S COMPLICATED!

When we identify something in our relationship that needs to change, it’s easy to say to yourself, “Yes, I will make that change”.  However, if you are like most of us, after the first few days of making the change, you tend to slip back into old patterns.  In fact, our brains are wired to make it likely that we’ll slip back, at least sometimes. Continue reading “COMMITMENT to CHANGE – IT’S COMPLICATED!”

BE NICE

To Improve your SEX Life BE NICE… Could it Really Be That Simple?

Many of the couples, over 1000 to be exact, I have worked with over the years report that their sex life is very far from ideal. Some couples haven’t made love in months or maybe they have very different ideas of what they would like their sexual life to look like.  They often report that their sex life has just gradually disappeared and they want it back.
Continue reading “BE NICE”