Couples Counseling: The Gottman method

Comment

Couples Counseling: The Gottman method

This blog post is the email response some have received from me after inquiring about couples counseling.

My friend, Tina-Fontina Bonita-Conchita saw me with Anita, having a Margarita and mentioned you might be a good person to talk to about couples counseling. Do you do that and do you take insurance?
— Bob Loblaw

Yes, I do couples counseling and I do take insurance. I use a modified version of the methods developed by the Gottman Institute.  This method focuses on appreciation, friendship and acts of connection instead of the traditional "Communication" method still used by most counselors.  Gottman's method was developed after 30+ years of studying couples as they interacted.  

Here is Gottman talking about what the Love Lab is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E94xTxEydN4

And Here is a short video about how he sees work happening: 

This is a really great overview of his process. It's a Prezi (like powerpoint) so maybe go over it with your significant other. Prezi: 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work

I don't follow it exactly (we stop at whatever stage is the most troubling and spend time focusing on cognitive changes we can do to create a new relationship with that issue) but it lays out what the process is and why it's so important to avoid the old "communication" style of counseling.  

So, here's a thought game:  I arrive home after a long day at work, park the car in the driveway and walk to the front of the house.  There in the front yard is my wife, with a shovel standing over a hole in the ground with a jet of water streaming up 15 ft into the air. 

Do I need to use proper language with her?  ("When you sever our water line, it makes me feel like you are impetuous.") 

Or do I need to love and appreciate her enough that I automatically believe she is a good person, worthy of my kindness in spite of the water line rupture?  

For those geeks out there, let's put a chart in to give the perception of scientific validity: 

Love and Connection

Our Feelings About Our Partner Predict How We React And How Much Damage or Healing We Do To Our Relationship. The numbers represent how much damage (negative numbers) or growth (positive numbers) happens to our relationship when we respond from the listed emotional states (Angry... Fond...). As our Appreciation for our Partner grows, our response becomes more positive.

This is why the Gottman method just works better.  If I have focused on how much I care about and appreciate my wife, I will automatically join with her in the problem and not blame or criticize her for the "accident" no matter how much at fault she was or how frustrated I am.  Even if she says she wanted to see what happened when she busted the water line, I will be able to still value her and be there as her partner instead of judging her, having contempt for her (lack of) intelligence, or, more commonly, use this as a validation of all the other ways I feel upset at her.  We do damage by working to push how important we are and we repair relationships by working to remind ourselves how important our partner is.  As you can see, this means we need to work together or else one partner will end up being marginalized.  This is why we need to first establish that both people are invested in strengthening the relationship instead of just getting a therapist to prove they were right all along.  

Anyway, maybe this is more a blog post than an email (and actually it will be in 5 minutes) but I think it's a fair overview of what my perspective is and what would be expected from you if you want to come in.  

Ps. This method also has been found to be more gender neutral. The "communication" method tends to favor the style of couples work that women are already socialized to be more proficient at, meaning therapy sometimes comes off as an attack on the male partner.  The Gottman method works equally well if you can figure out a way to care about your partner as they can receive it.  

Thanks for reaching out. 

Comment

Anger: An Attempt to Regain Control

Comment

Anger: An Attempt to Regain Control

Anger is a powerful emotion, full of action, importance and validation. This power and control and gives you righteous might when you were so recently lost, trapped or otherwise in a position of impotence. 

In this context, it is not surprising that so many people develop problems with anger. It, much like its cousin Blame, serve a purpose that is hard to replicate using emotion-invalidating tactics like Understanding, Compromise, and Avoidance (cooling off).  But, and yes there is always a big but, what if Anger has played you a fool and given you false promises of validation to keep you bound to it while it takes away your higher values: Connection, Trust, Safety and even Family. 

So many of us have been lured into the anger trap that it is seen as normal by many.  Mess up my order at Taco Bell and Angry Righteousness spews forward about the importance of your Pico De Gallo instead of cheese; you get your food replaced and all is right again. You may leave feeling validated, heard, and maybe a bit more important. But did you fairly evaluate the cost of your accusations of border malfeasance? Were your children watching or your spouse next to you in the car? Did it increase your chances of using Anger in more costly situations? 

Common sense tells us that our anger needs to be released, acted upon or validated. It is an emotion and emotions are valid right? 

Good! Use your aggressive feelings, boy. Let the hate flow through you
— Emperor Palpatine

The problem comes when people develop a relationship with anger that causes them to use it to get validation and feelings of control. Once this connection has been established, we will continue using it for validation and control, even when that means we hurt people, damage our own self-image and possibly have massive impacts to our personal and professional life.  

Once we have developed this addictive relationship with anger, it will be hard to break the habit. We will resort to anger when faced with frustration, incompetence, disappointments and sadness. 

This is why angry people are often frustrated people.  We don't get what we want directly, instead having to use anger to fulfill our emotional needs. I want my kids to listen to me and clean up their room. The emotion isn't Anger that I want, it's probably not even compliance. It's probably comfort or calmness from seeing the room cleaner and the kids responding to me.  If I get control and validation through anger, I'm now trying to get to calmness by asking anger to help me get there.  Welcome to Frustrationville. 

If we don't recognize the emotion we're going after and find a better way, we will continue to think that Anger is the only way.  Pretty soon we'll have friends suggesting I punch pillows and go skeet shooting to "get out" my anger. 

The problem with this pattern is that I'm not getting anything out, I'm only strengthening my belief that Anger is the way to validate my feelings. 

So, Anger isn't a primary feeling, it's a secondary feeling or response when our primary feelings aren't validated.  I feel hurt that my friends went to a show last night without texting me. Anger says that it's easier to say, "You are a bunch of ignorant asshats," than, "That really hurts my feelings to be left out because I really like you guys and don't have a lot of other friends."  Which response do you think is going to increase the chances of you getting the text next Friday? 

Disentangling Anger from validation and control is a tough job.  The people that interact with an Angry person often have developed a belief that the person is mean, "bitchy," an "asshole," nasty, or just plain ol' no fun. Others expect the "angry person" to respond with anger and may wait or ignite it so they can prove themselves right or get the upper hand.  We have to work at addressing the primary emotion quickly and actively, before Anger tries to convince us that it will do a better job of soothing us. 

But don't expect your first or fifth try to be the one that lets you feel heard, accepted and okay with the world. There will be many false starts and many roadblocks along the way. Your anger may hide many layers of un-discovered primary emotions underneath it.  Some people fear rejection and protect themselves against being rejected by acting with anger first. Others find that people only stop what they are doing and listen when they get Angry.  There are many dynamics that go into arresting this addictive tactic. But it's a tactic that, much like cotton candy, hits sweet and strong but goes away quickly, often leaving sticky fingers and upset stomachs. 

If you're interested in finding out more about your relationship with Anger, give me a call, stop by and yell at me or fill out this form to give me an idea about what your personal relationship with anger looks like. 

 

Left Out
Friends set up a night out. You aren't invited. What's your Primary response?
Arguments
When you start getting angry, what lets you end it?
Escalation
When in an argument, the most important outcomes for me are?
Built up Anger
Built up Anger
How much do you agree with the following statement
When I get angry the nasty feeling stays with me for a long time after I have "dealt" with the situation that first caused it.
Primary Emotions
What Emotions Do You Think Your Anger Is Hiding?

Comment

Comment

One of Two

What freedom do we have to harm ourselves? Do we have the right to prioritize others over ourselves or put our lives in danger? Are we even good judges of what danger we face? 

And what right do we have to hurt those around us? Should we sequester ourselves or medicate our emotions or actions away to protect those who may not be able to protect themselves?

"Bathroom" by Hermetic Hermit via Flickr

Questions without answers. Except the constant answer that we have the right to make mistakes and the right to feel our way forward using our deepest desires as much as our highest thoughts. 

You have the right but also the responsibility to not waste that right by becoming confused by the lies we tell ourselves; the lies that our darknesses tell us.  

So what do we owe ourselves and those we care for? Nothing less than honesty and nothing more than what is safe. We can give of ourselves only that which we have to give and it is dishonest to give more than is safe. If we give to an extent that makes us vulnerable, that is righteous, but to give to a level that makes us less likely to give tomorrow is unfair to ourselves and unfair to those we care for and care about. 

Support. Having it and giving it is the way away from being exploited by those we care about and by ourselves. 

Control, fear, anger, hurt, loss, importance. Betrayal only happens if you have extended your vulnerability and been hurt. 

One is fighting herself for control of her emotions of her future and of her willingness to try. The other is fighting herself to stay vulnerable after being so thoroughly hurt and marginalized. Brought to fight wolves and abandoned to fight on her own. But this isn't a single action, this is an emotion and emotions change with new experience. And these new experiences are not pre-destined, they are potentials, some easy and harsh some rare but beautiful. The potentials exist to be actuated through fear, worry, bravery and courage. There is nothing definite except that the current beliefs will be validated or challenged based on new experiences and we control those new realities. 

No!!! Yo nunca me rendí, sólo entendí que... Ya fue suficiente.

 

The common is to wait, to react, to accept, and to alter our expectations.  To act with purpose and to fight for a preferred future is not modeled and is not common. It is a brave existence without a set of models.  We aren't shown the way and aren't guaranteed success. But what we are guaranteed is a position in the process and a right to own the outcome. Future does not happen to us, it is made by us. 

 

Comment

Comment

Relationship Help: Fondness and Admiration Survey

For couples, people in relationship with a romantic partner, even people recently out of relationship. This survey form may be difficult to take, but just by taking it you may feel yourself understanding what is right and what is not. The survey is directly from the John Gottman book Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work and is part of what the Gottman Institute has developed as a way to rebuild or create stable foundations for long-term relationship success. I have only slightly changed the survey so that we can get more detailed numbers instead of a simple True / False. Questions are in a random order which includes the name field, which you can fill out with your name or with a random set of numbers and letters: just something to identify them as unique.

Comment

Comment

Emotional intelligence

The feelings we get are possibly more rational than the thoughts. For one, emotions exist as experience and do not need to be thought into existence, unlike many other concepts. This makes them somewhat outside the realm of rationalization. 

upload.jpg

We may rationalize why we have a feeling but the feeling itself, once known and named accurately, does not need further validation. The same cannot be said of theory or intellectual positions, which may change depending on our beliefs or experience. 

Comment

Comment

The Notebook Trigger Journal

A suggestion for stopping triggers and the thought spiral that comes out of them.  

through CC @ Pixelbay

  1. Carry a small pocket notebook and pencil. Fancy or plain is fine but unruled is much better.
  2. Name each journal something having to do with the stage of sobriety or change you are going through at this time, maybe "Scared days" or "unsure about everything" or "I've got this," so later you can reference your experiences based on your stage. 
  3. Frickin' carry it with you like I said. Like all the time.
  4.  It's designed for Triggers but could work for cravings or thoughts as well. 
  5. Catch yourself having an event (trigger, craving, thought, dream, emotion, etc.)
  6. Write down the date, time, location
  7. (optional) Write down the situation and the event (trigger, craving, etc.)  The idea is that if you do this you can look back and see what you were experiencing for sure. If you don't do this then your notebook is virtually meaningless to anyone else who reads it, looks at it or even watches you do the drawings. 
  8. Sketch, draw, doodle or scribble as much or as little of the page as you need to help you bring your focus away from the dangerous thought or event.  Use more pages if you have to. It can be a detailed Celtic knot or a mess of loops.  
  9. You can add anything else you want to afterwards like how it turned out, who you called, what you did to get through it or how long it lasted, but that's not as important. 
through CC by Ben Brittin

through CC by Ben Brittin

The idea isn't to think or create, it's to draw, literally draw your attention away from the event and into something else.  Those who draw, draw, those who sketch, sketch, and those who filled the margins of their school notebooks with this:

do that. The slight stimulation and attention to the drawing will be a short but very immediate reminder that the thoughts, events, or cravings are only that. They can't get you if you don't respond to them. 

It doesn't have to be the best moleskin or a #6 soft graphite pencil.  Just get something you can draw on and again, make sure you have it with you. 

Comment

Comment

Is Resilience A Normal Response to Tragedy?

For a long time the standard view of tragedy is that it only takes time for most people to get over it.  The phrase "moving on" or "time to heal" is seen as the proper way to view a situation where someone is affected by personal loss or life-altering physical status.  The loss of a spouse, of a limb, or of a child is something that we just need to go through and heal from like a cut or bruise.  

New information from Arizona State University shows that this perception may not actually apply in the majority of cases.  Up till now we thought of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Chronic/Prolonged Grief, or life status adjustment disorders to be the result when someone doesn't bounce back as they should. Now there is evidence that the majority of people that face large life changes actually continue to be affected by these tragedies for a lot longer and to be more affected by smaller life changes, such as unemployment.  

Used under CC license, Pixbay

The research article, appearing in Perspectives in Psychological Science, may not be the end of the conversation, but it does appear to look at the same data that has been used before and draw significantly different conclusions.  In fact it draws these conclusions by not looking for expected results.  Whereas many of the previous studies assumed that there was not a large group that were not resilient and instead looked for why or how they were or were not resilient, this study instead simply looked at how many of the people appear to be continually affected by what happened. 

What this also means is that for the many people who feel that they just aren't good enough to overcome what happened, they are not in the minority.  Losing a job or losing a husband both come with severe consequences for most of the people it happens to. This also means that the benefit of group and individual therapy is increased as it has been shown to reduce the negative impact from these events.  For those of us who are friends or family to someone who returned from deployment, lost a job or maybe has a child in foster care, it is important for us to realize that there is a good chance that time alone will not heal these wounds and that helping them find a way to unstick themselves and create meaning from it is better seen as a natural response to all such events instead of only necessary in a few severe cases. 

Building resilience is possible and it is not like eye color or height.  We can change how effective people are at facing and growing from life changes.  Our brains continue to be malleable throughout our lives, and we have developed a Neuroplasticity Retraining and Enhancement program that can help every single person through life's struggles.

Stop by or call to find out how getting to your preferred cognitive reality can help you break free from the negative habits and non-resilience your brain has learned. 

Comment