The Truth about Relationships #1

Relationships can be great… plain and simple. I truly believe this!

Our culture tends to have two extreme and opposing messages about romantic relationships. First, that they should be REALLY EASY. The Disney ideal! If I have to work to keep my relationship alive, then there must be something wrong, because if this is “true love,” or “the one,” it should be fairly effortless!

The second and opposing message is that relationships are HARD WORK! Get ready for it! If you are going to be in a lasting relationship with someone, it is going to be a grueling drudgery!

…But what if there is a third way to look at partnership?

Yes, relationships require work. We all know that!

What if the work is fruitful and even fun… meaning it is challenging and rewarding and gives us a sense that we can make good things happen?

(I find myself wondering if anything in life is ever truly easy. Even when we have everything we need, we humans seem to have the capacity to find the difficulty in things. It’s our curse, I think, and our destiny. Suffering and discomfort lead to growth… like it or not!)

Likewise, what if there are some alternative truths about relationships? What if we are transformed by our relationships? Maybe, when we are rubbing up against our partners, challenging them and pissing them off, the relationship is doing exactly what it was meant to do… to transform us and shape us into our truest, biggest, and sharpest selves? Leading sociological and relationship researcher, John Gottman, notes that there are, on average, 10 areas of “incompatibility” in couple relationships. These “incompatibilities” are not the problem! As it turns out, relationship satisfaction rests on HOW these areas are dealt with and engaged in.

This is good news!

It is not the relationship challenges themselves that are problematic, but how we go about dealing with these challenges that really matters. And, if we have good information and use it… good outcomes tend to follow!

Tip: Turn toward each other in your differences. Show intense interest in these areas of uniqueness. Is there something for you to learn? Can your partner influence you in some way in this area? Maybe this is part of your growth and transformation as an individual.

Look for a continuing series on relationships over the next year. You might be surprised by what you read and might find yourself hopeful, once again, for the relationship you have chosen.  You did choose it, you know! Keep choosing it, if it is safe, and tune in for the next installment…

 

                --Clinton J. Nunnally

The Truth about Relationships #2: Solvable vs Perpetual issues

70% of the problems couples face in their relationships are actually not solvable!

Wrap your mind around that for a second… or maybe two…

You mean my partner and I keep trying to solve unsolvable problems???

YES!

John Gottman discovered this in his sociological research in the 90’s. One of the great skills in creating the relationship you most deeply desire is the ability to differentiate between the relationship issues that are solvable and the ones that aren’t. Why is this so important? Because it can change the way we approach the issues we come up against in our relationships.

Here’s what Gottman and others have discovered…

Solvable problems allow for a clear compromise; a win-win situation is readily visible.

Problem:             “I like creamy peanut butter and you like crunchy peanut butter”

Solution:             “Let’s buy both!”

Problem:             “I want to hike a fourteener and you want to do yoga”

Solution:             “You hike a fourteener and I’ll do yoga!”

Problem:             “I want things clean and you want things neat.”

Solution:             “I will spearhead clean and you can spearhead neat!”

Many other problems are perpetual issues across the lifespan of the relationship. You know you’re dealing with a perpetual issue when you see it coming up again and again (duh!). This is because they are so strongly tied to the individuals’ personal makeup (intrinsic drives & motivations, innate tendencies & preferences, and deeply held values).

“I need more physical touch than you.”

“I’m a verbal processor and you’re an internal processor.”

“My environment affects me so strongly, but you seem unaffected by it.”

“I’m a planner and you’re spontaneous.”

“I’m a risk-taker and you are risk-avoidant.”

“I respond emotionally and you respond logically.”

“I want to deal with conflict right now and you need space.”

I could go on and on with examples. But you can see and feel the difference can’t you? Perpetual issues aren’t resolved by simple compromise. A clear win-win is not readily apparent. And this drives couples crazy! “What’s wrong with you? You should be more like me!” Of course, we forget that the things that drive us nuts now, are the very things that first attracted us to each other! What begins as, “He’s just so easy-going and never seems to get riled up,” becomes, “How can he be so calm? I just want to shake him!” “She’s so passionate and fun,” becomes, “She’s such an emotional mess!”

Listen. As hard as you try, perpetual issues are not actually solvable. And that’s okay. And if they are ever going to be solved, it will be the result of healthy engagement around the issue. Until then, your job is to turn toward each other in these perpetual issues. Reach for understanding. Have multiple conversations. Regularly advocate for the relationship dynamic you desire. Be the change you wish to see in your relationship.

A personal example:

Betsy and I have been married for 20 years. At the beginning, I desired much more physical affection than she. This has complex origins, but basically has its roots in our childhood family dynamics. This became a perpetual issue for us. I regularly reached out for physical touch more than Betsy. I regularly requested that Betsy reach out more. I understood that her lower felt need in this area was not a personal attack on me or lack of interest in or attraction to me, but simply a way of relating that was more familiar in her. She graciously worked to increase her contact initiation with me. Over time, we have come much more center with each other. I will always reach out more often to make physical contact, but my need for it is less intense. And Betsy has really skyrocketed in her felt need for physical contact, and will reach out very often to make those brief points of contact. Amazing. But to get there, we had to dialogue, get curious and mine into each other, reach for understanding, step away from personalizing the issue, advocate for and communicate what we were wanting, and realize that it didn’t really matter who reached out more for contact – only that contact was made and responded to. And Betsy did an amazing job of responding to my reaching out for connection.

So, as Gottman suggests… turn toward each other in these perpetual issues. It will pay off.

                ~ Clinton J. Nunnally, LPC

 

The Truth about relationships #3: Appreciation

 

The number one factor in satisfying relationships is appreciation. I know. It sounds too simple. If you think about it, though, every one of us knows how good it can feel to be appreciated! When we were children, we loved to be noticed for who we were and what we did. If you have children, it’s true for them, too. And it’s true for you and me today. Appreciation tells us that we are noticed and that we have something of value to offer others.

But appreciation is, seemingly, not easy. Somehow, we are uncomfortable with it. We resist giving it and receiving it. Why? Several reasons come to mind. Perhaps it feels somehow exposing. Maybe it feels like a set-up for disappointment or failure. Or does our thinking go something like this?... “No need to say thank you, it’s my job.” Or, “Why should I be appreciated for what I should be doing anyway?” Or more contemptuous, “So now you want praise for just being an adult and doing what needs to be done? Grow up!” These are all things I’ve heard from couples when talking about the desire to be appreciated.

We are missing the point. Just because we do something out of necessity or responsibility does not mean that we can’t appreciate a person’s willingness and action! I love it when Betsy says, “Thanks for packing the kids’ lunch’s,” or, “Thanks for vacuuming, for making the beds, for putting the kids’ down, for making dinner, for doing the dishes, for working so hard to make money for our family, for taking a risk tonight going out with new neighbors, or for…” The possibilities are endless!

If you were a fly on the wall in my house, you would probably think we were ridiculous. Over time, appreciation has just become a regular part of our daily interaction. It’s motivating and pleasant, and creates a positive energy that is deeply satisfying; that often “cuts through the sludge” when any one of us is less than excited to do some task that needs to be taken care of (which is also a daily occurrence in our family!).

John Gottman researched what he termed the 5:1 ratio. Five compliments to every one criticism. The 5:1 ratio has been shown, across time, to be predictive of satisfying relationships. Less than the 5:1 ratio and you are in trouble in your relationship (statistically). It’s kind of common sense, isn’t it? But we forget.

What works against the 5:1 ratio? The human brain! The human brain, it seems, is wired to pay attention to the negative – that which is not working, that which needs fixing or improving, that which needs changing, that which is missing, and/or that which is not pleasing. It’s survival, I suppose. But relationships don’t thrive when we are in survival mode. And in our daily lives, we don’t generally need to be operating out of survival mode.

So, why not give something different a try? Why not try highlighting that which IS working? That’s called APPRECIATION! In some ways, it’s simply positive reinforcement. It works with children. It works with dogs. And it works for you and me! Simple? Yes. Easy? Yes and No. The simple truth, though, is that it works. And your relationship is worth it.

If you are struggling with creating a culture of appreciation in your relationship, or if you are having relationship challenges of any kind, one of our therapists can help. Give us a call at 303-393-0085 or visit us on the web at www.foundationsfamilycounseling.com and we can help you take the first step to improving your relationship.

                ~ Clinton J. Nunnally, LPC

How so I know when its time to get help?

The truth is, all of us could use some counseling or therapy at some point in our lives. It just feels so comforting to us to have the experience of someone really “getting it.” We need an empathic and objective observer; someone who will tell us the truth and affirm us. We want to know that we are not alone and not crazy. It is so easy to feel isolated in this culture of ours.

So, how do we know when the time has come to find a counselor/therapist?

There are so many signals and so many reasons. Maybe life feels out of control and you are overwhelmed by anxiety and worry. Perhaps you are not where you thought you would be at this stage of life. You don’t feel motivated to do all the things you should be doing. I feel lost and alone. I don’t know what I value. You can’t let go of control. You are avoiding stuff. How do I navigate life as a parent? My relationship is not working like I thought it would; we want different things and we fight a lot. You’ve lost someone. I’m so hurt. You’re afraid. Why do I feel so sad? You’re angry. You stuff your emotions and then explode. My emotions feel really big and powerful and I can’t seem to calm myself down and stay in charge of what I say and do. I don’t know who I am. I don’t know what I want in life. I know what I want, but I feel powerless to make it happen. You are self-critical; your own worst enemy. Shame overwhelms us. Life overwhelms us. We need to learn to cope, let go, accept, forgive, heal, move forward, and discover peace and maybe a little joy.

And there are many other reasons that people seek therapy.

Once upon a time, seeing a psychotherapist (then called an Analyst) was in vogue for the wealthy. Then, as the therapy world changed, counseling carried with it a lot of secrecy and shame - for the wealthy and for everyone else. I can do it on my own; solve my own problems. We don’t need a therapist butting into our lives! If others knew I was seeking help from a professional… well, what would they think? I’m so weak for having to pay for help; I should be able to do it on my own. In the last couple of decades, therapy and counseling have become much more acceptable and accessible. People, again, are happy to share that they are in therapy or have seen a counselor. This is good news!

There are so many good helping professionals in our city: Licensed Professional Counselors, Licensed Clinical Social Workers, Psychologists and Psychiatrists, along with any number of supporting professionals in the mental health community. And we are all here to support each other and the clients we serve.

Foundations Family Counseling is a truly gifted group of practicing professionals in the field of counseling and psychotherapy. We truly want what is best for our clients and we have clinicians on our team who are able to work with all of the issues listed above, and more. In the first session, you will get the sense that we really get you, we understand where you want to go, and we know how to help you get there. And if we are not the right fit for you, we happily refer to a number of other mental health professionals out there in the Denver counseling community. Because, the truth is, we are not the only good clinicians out there! And we want to help you find the best!

So, if anything in this blog resonates with you, take the first step. Call us at 303-393-0085 or visit us on the web at www.foundationsfamilycounseling.com and we will get you on the right track for getting where you want to go. We can help you learn to cope, let go, accept, forgive, heal, move forward, and discover peace and maybe a little joy.

            ~~ Clinton J. Nunnally, LPC