The 4-Step Guide to Identifying and Fixing Bad Communication Issues In Your Relationship

The 4-Step Guide to Identifying and Fixing Bad Communication Issues In Your Relationship

The 4-Step Guide to Identifying and Fixing Bad Communication Issues In Your Relationship

Ah, relationships. Those mysterious joinings of two people who may or may not be from different planets. How can we ever make relationships work when each person brings a unique worldview, colored by their own experiences into the mix? Luckily, psychologists have been asking themselves these questions for years and have actually come up with some pretty reliable answers!

 

If you’ve been reading my blog posts, you probably know by now that I’m a huge fan of Drs. John and Julie Gottman, expert therapists and researchers in the area of couples counseling. In my work with clients, I use many of the techniques that the Gottmans introduced because they have been backed by research and I find that they are extremely effective at helping couples get to where they want to be in their relationships.

 

For decades, the Gottmans have been studying couples and what makes them tick. One of the biggest discoveries that came through their research was the theory of “The Four Horsemen,” which are four behaviors that accurately predict divorce. The idea is that if we can avoid or minimize these four behaviors, then our relationships stand a fighting chance. However, if the four horsemen are present and you do nothing to change it, you’re in for a really unhappy relationship or a breakup.

 

These four behaviors are:

  1. Criticism
  2. Contempt
  3. Defensiveness (not taking responsibility)
  4. Stonewalling (Emotionally Shutting down)


The reason these behaviors are SO detrimental to your relationship is that they cause fights to escalate to a point where things get nasty and out of control. If these behaviors show up in your fights, you probably say and do things you regret and you have a really hard time resolving your arguments. You fight and fight until you are both exhausted and frustrated beyond caring anymore. Eventually, you both get sick of fighting and make up but without ever having a productive and civil conversation about the topic. Once you are getting along again, no one wants to rock the boat by trying to talk things through because you are both terrified of getting right back into another draining fight. This is not healthy conflict management and over time, fighting like this will deteriorate your relationship to the point where you completely lose respect for each other. When you get to this point, the odds are really not in your favor.

 

In fact, Dr. Gottman can predict with over 90% accuracy if a couple will divorce, largely based on whether or not these 4 behaviors are present. It’s THAT serious.

 

In this article, we will look at what each behavior is, what it might look like in your relationship, and what you can do to stop it from ruining your relationship.

 

The 1st Horseman – Stonewalling: How to Stop Shutting Down Emotionally in a Relationship

STONEWALLING: SHUTTING DOWN EMOTIONALLY

 

The first of “The Four Horsemen” is called Stonewalling. Stonewalling is the label that the Gottman’s gave to the action of shutting down. If you have a husband who shuts down, you know what this looks like. An emotionally unavailable husband is usually expressionless in his face, has a monotonous tone, and usually uses short one-word answers, if any at all. Stonewalling is more typical in males but it’s definitely not just males who are capable of shutting down.

 

Why Do Guys Shut Down Emotionally?

Anyone who has a low threshold for dealing with emotions is likely to stonewall. Often, men are less fluent in emotions than women because women are socialized to talk about their feelings whereas men are not. In typical American culture (and this holds true for most cultures I know of), men are taught to be stoic and strong. They are told things like “big boys don’t cry” growing up as kids and these words have an impact. If we go even further back to caveman times, men were hunters and women were gatherers and also raised the children. In order to be able to hunt and kill, men could not be sentimental. And women could not be completely shut down emotionally and be successful in keeping their families and the tribe together and connected. Thus, there are many reasons that men have a harder time with strong emotions than women and why they are more likely to stonewall. Having said that, it’s still very common for women to engage in this behavior too.

 

Most of the time, when one partner shuts down, it causes the other partner to try even harder to get answers. At first, she might criticize and yell. If that doesn’t work, she may beg and plead and if that doesn’t work, she may even escalate to throwing or breaking things. The partner who feels like she is being left in the cold will often relentlessly try to engage her significant other, to no avail. This cycle is extremely common and unbelievably frustrating for everyone involved. In the end, both partners are in a state of panic, although, this panic looks completely different for each person.

 

What is really happening inside when someone is shutting down emotionally?

Believe it or not, research has shown that the partner who is shutting down is actually very alert, even though he doesn’t look like it. His heart rate is likely over 100 BMP and he is feeling what we therapists call “flooded.” Being flooded happens when your body and mind are overwhelmed due to strong emotions. When you are flooded, your heart rate increases, you might feel very tense, you might feel hot or sweat, you could start shaking, your access to rational thought is limited, it’s hard to control your emotions, and you may even lose your peripheral vision and start seeing tunnel vision.

 

This all happens because your body is going into fight or flight mode. It’s reacting as if there is real physical danger in front of you and it is getting ready to fight, run or freeze. At that point, having an effective and rational conversation is NOT in the cards. Human survival instinct is kicking in and conscious, rational thought has left the building. Furthermore, your hippocampus doesn’t function well when you are flooded and it is the part of your brain involved with memory. This is why you and your partner can have completely different recollections of what was said or done in a fight and you both feel right. In reality, if you were both flooded, neither of you really knows what happened. Your brain was only half there and it just fills in the gaps with what it thinks probably happened based on your beliefs or past experiences.

 

THE CHALLENGE: HOW TO DEAL WITH AN EMOTIONALLY UNAVAILABLE HUSBAND

When you and your partner are in this situation, you each need different things. He needs space, and you need a connection. Unfortunately, there is no way for you to receive the connection that you need until he has his space.

 

While this might seem like an impossible standoff, there is a way to solve this problem.

THE SOLUTION: HOW TO STOP BEING EMOTIONALLY UNAVAILABLE

Give your partner the space that he needs. Be willing to take a break, and take a step back. Agree on a time-limit for this break, so that you both know when and where you will come back together to talk about the situation. When the break is over, it’s the responsibility of the partner that requested the break to re-initiate conversation. This way, the partner who wants to talk ASAP will not feel the other is using the break as a way to avoid the conversation altogether.

 

While you and your partner can decide what time limit feels right for you, many couples use 20 minutes as their guideline. After 20 minutes of some kind of healing activity (breathing, walking, bathing, meditation), come back together with calm hearts and eased minds. Then you can use some of my healthy communication techniques for relationships to guide your discussion.

 

Above all, remember that when your partner is emotionally unavailable, it isn’t about you. He is simply trying to feel safe in the only way he knows how. He is not trying to be difficult. In fact, he is trying to make things better by avoiding talking so he doesn’t say something that makes you feel even worse. Remembering this can sometimes help you pull back when he needs it most.

 

The 2nd Horseman: Criticism In Relationships

 

The second of the Gottman’s “Four Horsemen” is criticism. Criticism occurs when one partner verbally attacks the other. This is different from voicing a complaint or offering a critique, both of which are perfectly appropriate, and center around specific issues. Criticism, on the other hand,  is when you make a blanket statement about your partner’s personality or entire being.

 

EXAMPLES OF CRITICISM IN RELATIONSHIPS

Criticism sounds harsh, like something you would never want to hear your spouse saying to you. Someone with a critical partner might often say “I get blamed for everything in my relationship.” However, someone highly defensive may also say that so if you’re feeling blamed a lot, it might be that your partner is critical or it might be that you are overly defensive. Or it might be both but more on that later!

 

Criticism might sound something like:

 

“You never listen to me! You are a horrible husband! How can you be so selfish?!”

 

“ You never do anything that I ask you to. You are so lazy!”

 

“ You only care about going out with your friends. You leave me to do everything with the kids!”

 

HOW TO STOP THE BLAME GAME IN A RELATIONSHIP

 

It should come as no surprise that criticism doesn’t lead you anywhere except down the blame trail. It also leads to defensive behavior in relationships. Still, what else can you do when you need to share a complaint with your spouse?

 

The Gottmans believe that the antidote (or cure) for criticism is called “The Gentle Startup.” Let me show you what this looks like. The skeleton for this communication tool appears like this:

 

I feel ________about___________. I appreciate ________ and need or request __________.

 

Okay, now, let’s fill in the blanks. Say, for example, you have been feeling insecure because your spouse has been spending a great deal of time with his female co-worker, and you are starting to worry that he may have feelings for her. If you were to use criticism, you might say something like:

 

“All you want to do is be with Kerry. You never come home on time anymore. You don’t even care how this makes me feel. You are so selfish. Why don’t you just go ahead and leave me for her, since you’re probably planning to anyway!”

 

After a statement like that, a huge argument would probably begin. So, let’s try Gottman’s gentle startup method, and see how that would sound.

 

USE I STATEMENTS TO AVOID GETTING ANGRY IN RELATIONSHIPS

 

What’s an I statement? An I statement is a sentence that you start with the word “I,” and it focuses on how you feel instead of what you don’t like about the other person.

 

In this example, if you were using the softened startup formula, you might say, “I feel insecure about your relationship with Kerry.”

 

Here you used an I statement to describe your feelings, which helps because you aren’t placing the blame on your partner. In addition, you are describing the situation in neutral terms, without adding your own opinions into the mix, (i.e. you didn’t say: “I feel insecure about your scandalous relationship with Kerry). As you can see, one extra word can really make a difference.

 

Hint* – I statements need to include how you feel about the situation, not about what your partner is doing. Saying something like: “I feel that you are selfish,” or “I feel like you are being sketchy” are not effective I statements, even though technically they start with an I. If you find yourself adding “that” or “like” after the words “I feel,” you are no longer describing a feeling. You are now getting into a story or a thought. An appropriate I statement feels vulnerable and might be a little scary to share at first, but I promise it will get you farther than if you were to play the blame game.

 

FIND SOMETHING THAT YOU APPRECIATE ABOUT YOUR SPOUSE

 

Once you’ve got the I statement down, it’s time to find something that you appreciate about your spouse. For example, you might say, “I appreciate how hard you’ve been working in order to support our family.” This lets your partner know that you see the value of his work and that you appreciate what he is doing to provide for you. As the saying goes, “People who feel appreciated, will always do more than what’s expected of them.” Not to mention, your partner is going to be a lot more receptive to your proposed solution if you butter them up with a warm compliment first.

 

BE CLEAR ABOUT WHAT YOU NEED OR WANT

 

The last piece of the “Gentle Startup” involves making a clear and direct request. Something like: “It would help me if you could limit your communication with Kerry to work discussions only and call or text me at least once during the day, just so I know that you are thinking of me.”

 

This is a clear request, which focuses on what you want to see happen, rather than what you don’t want.

 

Interesting tidbit – It’s always better to put requests in the positive form (e.g. please speak to me more quietly and calmly), instead of telling someone what you don’t want them to do (e.g. please don’t sing so loud). This is because our brains can sometimes leave out the “don’t,” and only focus on the other parts of the sentence.

 

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER: HOW TO AVOID ARGUMENTS

 

Okay, now let’s put our whole new sentence using Gottman’s “Gentle Startup” approach together:

 

“I feel insecure about your relationship with Kerry. I appreciate how hard you’ve been working in order to support our family. It would help me if you could limit your communication with Kerry to work discussions only and call or text me at least once during the day, just so I know that you are thinking of me.”

 

Doesn’t that sound better than the critical version? I think so, and I can guarantee that it will lead to a better conversation.

 

HOW TO RESPOND TO CRITICISM IN RELATIONSHIPS

 

Now let’s say that you are the one being criticized in your relationship. How can you respond to that in a way that will get you the peace that you crave?

 

The first thing that you want to do is actually listen to the criticism that you are being served, and then ask yourself the following questions:

 

  • Does this criticism make sense to me?
  • Is this about me, or is it a projection that has more to do with my spouse than me?
  • If it’s true, is it something that I want to change?
  • If it is not true, how might I have contributed to the way my partner feels right now?

 

Once you figure out whether the criticism is actually helpful for you, you can decide how to respond.

 

If the criticism doesn’t seem to fit for you, you can ask your partner what contributed to them feeling this way. Listen respectfully and validate their feelings by saying something like “given what you just shared, it makes sense why you feel that way. However, I want to share a different perspective with you.” Next, share with your partner why you think it doesn’t fit. If, on the other hand, all, or part, of what was said is helpful, then you can thank your spouse and say that you will work on whatever he or she brought up.

 

Of course, if the criticism is being delivered to you in a mean, rude, or hurtful way, you have every right to let your spouse know that this is not okay. You don’t have to put up with being put down! If this is the case, you might want to say something like:

 

“I want to listen to your feedback, but your tone and the words that you are using are making it hard for me. Could you please tell me what you have to say in a more peaceful way?”

 

Whatever you decide to do, it’s best to remain calm while you do it. Even though hearing criticism about yourself can be quite triggering, you will only make matters worse if you get all your hairs in a tangle over it.

 

The 3rd Horseman: Defensive Behavior In Relationships

The third of the Gottman’s “Four Horsemen” is defensiveness. Defensiveness is the act of defending yourself against a real or perceived attack, and it’s actually a natural reaction when we are feeling backed into a corner. Most animals in nature defend themselves, and humans are no different. In fact, back when we were hunting and gathering, it was necessary to defend ourselves from anything that might kill us. Being on guard and defensive is what kept us alive so it is deeply ingrained in us as humans. Having said that, if you want a conscious relationship, you have to learn how to override instinct and unconscious reactions and make different, less combative choices.

 

DEFENSIVE COMMUNICATION IN RELATIONSHIPS

 

Defensive behavior in relationships shows up 1 of 3 ways from what I have seen.

The first is complete denial which sounds something like “I did not do that!” You might even throw in a counter attack and say “YOU are the one who did that!” if you are feeling particularly defensive.

The second is saying something like “Yeah, I did that but you do it all the time so who are you to criticize me for it?”

The third is saying something like “ok, I did do that but you did something way worse last week so you have no right to talk!”

 

These are important signs you are dealing with denial in relationships.

 

WHY DO PEOPLE GET DEFENSIVE IN RELATIONSHIPS?

 

Aside from being wired to protect ourselves from what we think is dangerous, there are many other reasons that we might get defensive in relationships.

 

One of the biggest predictors of whether a person will react defensively to any form of criticism is how that person was treated when he or she was a child.

 

For example, if you were constantly shamed, criticized, or punished harshly as a child, you will likely have a stronger reaction to criticism as an adult. Because you want to protect yourself from feeling the hurt you felt as a child, you will use a variety of techniques to stop your significant other from saying that you did anything wrong, even if you did. This behavior is often associated with a victim mentality in relationships.

 

Another reason that you might react defensively to criticism is if you have low self-esteem. If you don’t feel good about yourself as is, then the last thing that you want is someone telling you something else that you did wrong. On the other hand, if you feel pretty good about yourself in general, then it’s easier to let unwanted comments fall of your back like pesky little drops of water. Read this to learn how to love yourself more.

 

DEFENSIVENESS IN RELATIONSHIPS

Earlier, I was saying that defensiveness is natural in the animal kingdom. In marital relationships, however, defensiveness doesn’t do us any favors. So, it would benefit us to remember that our partners are not trying to kill us. Instead, we need to recognize they are trying to express themselves and we need to give them the chance to do so.

 

Let me give you an example of what a defensive reaction to a comment might be:

 

Your Partner: Your snoring is keeping me up at night.

 

You: No it isn’t! I don’t even snore! You must be you waking yourself up with your

own snoring! You should really get that checked.

 

Do you see what happened there? Not only did “you” (quotes because the real YOU would NEVER), not accept what your partner was saying, but you went and turned it back around on him. Clearly, this approach is not going to go well in the long run.

 

Still, it can be hard to listen to feedback from your significant other, especially when you feel like you are being criticized or blamed for everything in the relationship.

 

I get it. You don’t want to see yourself as a snorer. Who does? Going a little deeper, you might even fear that your partner could leave you because of it, so your immediate reaction is to DENY, DENY, DENY. (We will talk more about denial in a little bit).

 

HOW TO BE LESS DEFENSIVE IN A RELATIONSHIP

 

So, what is the antidote for defensiveness? You aren’t going to like it, but just like a medicine that doesn’t taste good, it’s good for you. It’s called taking responsibility.

 

Now, I’m certainly not suggesting that you take responsibility for 100% of everything that your partner throws at you. However, if your partner came to you with genuine concern, then it’s up to you to make him or her feel heard. There is always, always, ALWAYS something you can take responsibility for.

 

Even if you did not intend to hurt your partner’s feelings, you can still apologize for the fact that you did hurt them by saying something like “I had no idea my behavior was going to impact you in this way. I’m really sorry I hurt your feelings.” This is NOT to be confused with the terrible apology “I’m sorry your feelings are hurt” or “I’m sorry you’re upset” which essentially just insinuates that it’s your partner’s fault their feelings are hurt.

 

Okay, now let’s imagine an example of a response where you took responsibility for what your partner was saying in the snoring example:

 

Your partner: Your snoring is keeping me up at night.

 

You: Okay, I didn’t realize that I was snoring. Let’s figure out what we can do

to help you sleep better.

 

Unlike the defensive response, this one opens up the lines of communication between you and your partner, allowing the two of you to move on to problem-solving, instead of being stuck in a stand-off. Doing this will help you realize that you are not at war with each other, you are together against a common enemy: snoring! (Or whatever the fight might be that day).

 

In the example above, you were able to come at your spouse with a gentler, softer tone which helped you get better results. Sometimes, though, you or your partner might not even realize that you are being defensive, because one, or both of you might be using defense mechanisms.

 

DEFENSE MECHANISMS IN RELATIONSHIPS

The idea of defense mechanisms is almost as old as psychology itself, dating back to Sigmund Freud. Defense mechanisms are strategies that our unconscious minds come up with to help us deal with thoughts or feelings that we just cannot accept as our own.

 

While there are many types of defense mechanisms that we might use with ourselves (yes, we even hide our thoughts from ourselves sometimes), there are a few that we use most often in relationships. These strategies include:

 

Projection: Projection occurs when you place your own thoughts, feelings, or emotions onto another person. You do this because you can’t accept how you really feel, or what you really think.

 

Example: You accuse your spouse of wanting to cheat on you because you actually want to cheat on him.

 

Denial: Denial happens when you simply block facts or events from your mind.

 

Example: When your partner asks why you spent $600 at Target, you say that you didn’t do that. You aren’t lying on purpose, your mind actually made you believe that you didn’t spend the money.

 

Rationalization: Rationalization involves changing the facts to make a situation less threatening.

 

Example: In the Target example above, instead of outright denying that you spent the money, you might come up with an excuse, like: “They were having the biggest sale of the year, so if you think about it, I actually saved us money!”

 

Reaction Formation: Reaction Formation occurs when you do the opposite of what you really feel.

 

Example: You are pissed at your husband but you clean the entire house and make his favorite dinner.

 

Remember, all of these behaviors are done subconsciously, in the part of your brain where you aren’t fully aware of what you are doing. Realizing what you are doing and bringing it out into the light, is the first step to healing from these behaviors and to having a conscious relationship.

 

The 4th Horseman: CONTEMPT

 

The fourth of the Gottman’s “Four Horsemen” is Contempt and it is the most damaging of the bunch. Contempt is the single-biggest predictor of divorce because it conveys a complete lack of respect for your partner and it completely erodes the fondness and admiration between the two of you.

 

WHAT IS CONTEMPT?

The Gottmans describe contempt as:

  • Being mean to your partner
  • Treating your partner with disrespect
  • Rolling your eyes at your partner
  • Making fun of your partner
  • Sarcastic Behavior
  • Emotionally Abusive
  • Name calling
  • Making your partner feel worthless, stupid, or less than in some way
  • Acting as if you are superior, and your partner is inferior
  • Putting your partner down in public (or at all really but it’s especially embarrassing in public)

 

WHAT LEADS TO BEING MEAN IN RELATIONSHIPS?

According to the Gottmans, contempt stems from long-standing negative thoughts about your partner that haven’t been expressed. These thoughts then boil over into resentments and come out in a very snobby, and often sarcastic, way. Interestingly, the Gottmans found that couples who act with contempt toward one another are more likely to get colds and illnesses because their immune systems are weaker. It’s literally a toxic behavior!

 

AN EXAMPLE OF CONTEMPT

 

Alright, you know I like examples, so here is an example of a wife responding to her husband’s statement with contempt:

 

Husband: I’ve always wanted to learn to play the guitar.

 

Wife: Oh, really? Could you be any more useless? Why can’t you focus on something real, like making more money? How will you playing the guitar help us? You probably can’t even keep a tune!

 

Ouch.

 

These are signed you could be in an emotionally abusive relationship

 

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR PARTNER KEEPS PUTTING YOU DOWN AND NAME CALLING YOU

Most people don’t really know how damaging it is name calling in a relationship.

 

According to the Gottmans, the antidote, or cure for contempt is to “build a culture of fondness and admiration.”

 

Okay, but how do we do that?

 

First, let me just say that if there are many interactions like the one above, occurring in your relationship, it’s probably time to reach out to a couples therapist for help. Things are too far gone in your relationship and you need a professional to help you make a change ASAP.

 

However, if things are still relatively okay between the two of you, the Gottmans suggest focusing on the positive. One way to do this is by keeping a gratitude journal and writing down 1 thing you love and appreciate about your partner daily. Bonus points if you share it with them! Another way to do this is by looking into the history of your relationship to try and remember what you liked about each other in the first place as a way to rebuild that fondness and admiration. Here is a list of questions formulated by the Gottmans, that could help you remember:

 

The History of Your Relationship:

 

  1. Discuss how the two of you met and got together. Was there anything about your partner that made them stand out? What were your first impressions of each other?
  2. What do you remember most about your first date and the period of your new relationship? What stands out? How long did you know each other before you got married? What do you remember of this period? What were some of the highlights? What types of things did you do together?
  3. Talk about how you decided to get married. Who proposed and in what manner? Was it a difficult decision? Were you in love? Talk about this time.
  4. How well do you remember your wedding? Talk to each other about your memories. Did you have a honeymoon? What was your favorite part of the wedding or honeymoon?
  5. Do you remember your first year of marriage? Were there any adjustments you needed to make as a couple?
  6. What about the transition to parenthood? What was this period of your marriage like for the two of you?
  7. Looking back over the years, what moments stand out as the happiest period in your relationship? When was a good time for you as a couple? Has this changed over the years?
  8. Many relationships go through periods of ups and downs. Would you say this is true of your relationship? Can you describe some of these low and high points?
  9. Looking back over the years, what moments stand out as really hard times in your relationship? How did you get through these rough periods? Why do you think you stayed together?
  10. Have you stopped doing things together that once gave you pleasure? Explore this idea together and discuss why you stopped.

 

Okay, now that you remember what you love about each other let’s try talking about guitar lessons again:

 

Husband: I’ve always wanted to learn to play the guitar.

 

Wife: That sounds fun. I love how you always want to try new things. Maybe you can serenade me after a few lessons.

 

Ahhhh, now that sounds like a conversation built out of admiration!

 

If you can change your responses from ones of contempt to ones of respect and admiration, I guarantee that your relationship will bloom.

 

CONCLUSION

So there you have it, the four behaviors that you really want to try and avoid in your relationship because they are highly predictive of divorce or breakup are Stonewalling, Criticism, Defensiveness, and Contempt.

 

For each of these areas, I’ve explained the essentials: what they are, what they look like in relationships, how to avoid them, and what you can do instead. Of course, we aren’t perfect and glimpses of these unwanted behaviors are bound to show up from time to time and that’s okay. The point is to try and avoid falling back on these behaviors as your normal way of being.

 

If you’ve made it all the way to the end of this article, chances are you really care about improving your relationship. That’s a great sign! Remember, relationships are full of ups and downs and they take a lot of work to help them run smoothly. The good news is that the work that you do is never wasted. Even the most difficult relationships are teaching us valuable lessons about our who we really are.

 

If you recognized yourself or your partner in this article and would like to talk more about how I can help you improve your relationship with online couples therapy, book a free 30-minute consultation. I’m here to help!

The Forbidden Five: Five Of The Worst Things To Say To Your Partner

The Forbidden Five: Five Of The Worst Things To Say To Your Partner

If you are in a long-term relationship, chances are, you’ve said some things you wish you could take back. We all have. In the heat of an argument, it can be extremely difficult to hold back, especially if your partner really knows how to push your buttons. However, no matter how heated things get, the absolute worst things to say to your partner are these five forbidden phrases.

 

1. I Hate You

 

Hate is a very strong word, and by telling your partner that you hate him, you are saying that you hate his whole being, not just something that he did. I don’t know if anyone has ever told you that he or she hates you, but, trust me, it’s not something that is easily forgotten. You can hate war, poverty, or childhood illnesses, but, it’s just not a word that should be used on your partner.

 

2. You Never…

 

If you tell your partner that she never listens to you, you are probably taking one instance and generalizing her behavior from there. This kind of generalization feels very unfair, and, again, focuses on your partner as a person, rather than something that she did. In my work with couples, I find that people rarely do the same things ALL the time, so telling your partner that she NEVER does something is probably just not true. Try to stick to the moment at hand rather than bringing up every past transgression.

 

3. You Always…

 

Similar to “you never,” “you always” is another generalizing term. If you tell your significant other that he always makes a fool of himself in public, he is likely to get defensive and try to find examples of times that he acted like a perfect gentleman. Since he’ll be so busy pointing out times when this wasn’t a fool, he’ll probably miss the point of what you are trying to tell him, while needlessly angering the two of you in the meantime.

 

4. I Don’t Need You

 

This is a particularly hurtful statement to make to your partner because we all want to feel needed by the ones that we love. Telling your significant other that you don’t need her could even trigger feelings of abandonment because we often fear that if we are no longer needed, we will be left, or replaced with someone new.

 

5. You Are Worthless

 

Of course, any insult, like stupid, ridiculous, or weak could be hurtful, but, worthless, in my opinion, is one of the worst insults that you can hurl at your SO. This is because calling someone worthless not only puts down who they are as a person but it also calls into question their whole purpose in life. You don’t want to crush your partner’s soul, do you?

 

Okay, maybe if you are angry, you might be down for a little soul-crushing, but, deep down, (like, way deep), I know that’s not what you really want!

 

If you’d like to talk more about what to avoid saying to your partner, and what to say instead, contact me. I am here to help.

 

My Partner Had An Affair: Where Do I Go From Here?

My Partner Had An Affair: Where Do I Go From Here?

Despite the ever prevalent number of cheaters in mainstream movies and television, researchers have found that the real threat of an affair over the course of a relationship is about 25%. That’s approximately 1 out of every 4 couples, which isn’t great, but it also isn’t as common as it seems when you’re addicted to shows like “Scandal.” (side note: I can’t believe Scandal is over forever!)

 

Still, all the statistics in the world won’t help you if your union is the one being affected by an affair. First, you have to decide whether or not you feel that the relationship is even worth saving. For some, an affair is a “cry for help,” where one partner essentially leaves the relationship by seeking the affection of a stranger. If the relationship was hopelessly flawed to begin with, there may not be much left to save.

 

Similarly, if a person has cheated more than once, you may want to strongly consider cutting your losses and moving on. As the saying goes, “Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair,” which means that multiple offenses are very difficult to undo. If your partner is cheating on you repeatedly, you may also want to seek assessment for sex addiction to see if this is the underlying cause.

 

However, let’s say that your partner cheated on you once, claims it was a huge mistake and you both want to work to improve the relationship and rebuild trust. What can you do then?

 

Janis Abrahms Spring, Ph.D., who wrote the book,” After The Affair: Healing The Pain And Rebuilding Trust When A Partner Has Been Unfaithful,” shared some insights from her work in an interview with “Reader’s Digest.” Below, I paraphrase Dr. Spring’s main points:

 

Honesty, Openness, and Apologies

 

The first step to take after the discovery of an affair is to allow the person who was cheated on, (the betrayed partner), a chance to say everything that he or she is thinking and feeling. The betrayed partner needs free reign to go through all the necessary emotions of grief, anger, sadness, resentment, etc., and to be heard. New research is showing that being cheated on results in symptoms similar to PTSD, a mental illness that can occur after a major life-threatening trauma. The betrayer needs to be understanding of the emotional turmoil caused by his/her behaviors and “bear witness” to his partner’s pain without rushing her through it. One way to begin the process of rebuilding trust is for the betrayer to write an apology letter declaring his intentions to change his ways.

 

Avoid Cheap Forgiveness

 

Dr. Spring calls “Cheap Forgiveness,” the process by which the betrayed forgives the cheater too quickly, without going through all of the pain, anger, and sadness that comes with infidelity. Dr. Spring believes that some people rush themselves through to the acceptance phase of grief because they fear losing their partner. However, if you do this, you won’t fully heal from the incident and it’s likely to cause harm to your relationship in the future.

 

Set Rules

 

Here is one of the steps where it’s easy to tell how serious the cheater is about rebuilding trust. Dr. Spring recommends setting ground rules for allowing the betrayed to have access to the cheater’s private life. For example, she may request all of his social media passwords or request that he show her what he is doing on his phone when she asks. Yes, this may feel like an invasion of privacy to the cheater, but, it is necessary to be completely transparent to start rebuilding the trust that was broken. A cheater who really wants to change his ways will most likely be open to these invasions of privacy, whereas one who wants to continue playing the field might balk at these new restrictions. Hint: If he balks, it’s time to walk. Either he is still lying or he is not willing to do what it takes to rebuild trust.

 

Let Go

 

Finally, Dr. Spring suggests that after some time, the betrayed should be feeling more comfortable to loosen the reigns on the rules mentioned above. With time and healing, she should be able to start trusting her partner again.

 

Recovering from an affair requires hard work, vulnerability and emotional risk-taking on the part of both partners. Emotionally charged conversations, tears, mood swings, and a reluctance to trust the betrayer are common reactions in the betrayed. Given the heavy emotions that infidelity causes, it’s often helpful for both individuals and the couple to be in therapy to facilitate the healing process.

 

Trust Your Journey

 

One of my favorite personal growth blogs, Mark and Angel Hack Life, posted an article called 7 Things to Remember When You Feel Cheated On and I’d like to leave you with some of their words today:

 

“A wonderful, life-changing gift may not be wrapped as you expect. – When you don’t get what you want, sometimes it’s necessary preparation, and other times its necessary protection. But the time is never wasted. It’s a step on your journey. Someday you’re going look back on this time in your life as an important time of grieving and growing. You will see that you were in mourning and your heart was breaking, but your life was changing for the greater good.”

So, whether this experience helps you grow stronger as a couple and improve your relationship, or whether you break up, trust that you are on the right path and everything is happening for your highest and best good. And know that I am here to help you through this or any other hard times.

Is Premarital Counseling Right For Us?

Is Premarital Counseling Right For Us?

You’re getting married! It’s time to pick a caterer, a photographer, a florist, and a therapist. Hold up. Did you say therapist?

Yes, I did!

It turns out there are a whole lot of issues that many couples forget or are too shy to discuss before getting married. Seeing a couples therapist for premarital counseling is a great way to get these topics out in the open and come to decisions about them before problems arise.

 

But won’t that stir things up unnecessarily?

Now, some of you may be worried about seeing a therapist because you don’t want to “rock the boat” or start trouble where there is none. I get that and I want to reassure you that premarital therapy is NOT about creating problems and starting fights. It’s about preventing problems, deepening your connection, getting to know each other better than ever, and getting clear on your values and expectations for marriage and your future life together.

 

Will I be forced to share things I don’t want to share?

Or maybe you’re afraid you’ll find out or be forced to share things about yourself and your soon-to-be-spouse that you’d rather not talk about. Trust me, it’s better to know now! First of all, most things can be worked out through negotiations and good communication. Fortunately, you will learn a lot about healthy and effective communication in premarital therapy. That said, if there is a deal-breaker in your relationship, it’s much better to find out before your big day. I know it sounds extreme and heartbreaking but calling off a wedding is a lot easier than getting a divorce.

 

What will we do in session?

Ok enough doom and gloom, geez! If you are considering premarital therapy, you might be wondering about the kinds of things that you will talk about with your therapist. Everyone does things a little differently but here are some of the topics I cover in my work with premarital couples.

 

Assessment

Learn about each other’s emotional needs, personality types, communication styles and more using various assessment measures based on your individual needs.

Communication

It’s always important to set the groundwork of effective communication before getting into the hard stuff. And trust me, there will be hard stuff that comes up in your marriage no matter how perfect you are for each other. If you know how to talk about issues as they arise, you’ll likely have many fewer and less severe issues throughout your marriage. I teach couples specific communication techniques that include learning how to empathize with and validate each other to make sure both parties feel heard and understood.

Once you know how to communicate, then we can start getting into some other topics.

Topics we may discuss include but are not limited to:

Kids

Do you want kids? How many? Would you be open to adoption if the need arose? How about in-vitro? What kind of parenting style do you think you will use? Would you be okay if your spouse believed in spanking? How will you handle it if your spouse decides after trying for 2 years that he no longer wants kids?

Some of these may seem like worst case scenarios, but, again, it’s better to be prepared. Plus, as long as one of you isn’t dead-set for kids while the other is dead-set against them, we should be able to work things out with proper communication.

 

Money

How will money be handled in your relationship? Will you share an account or keep separate ones? If one of you is a saver and the other is a spender, how will you handle these differences? What limits will you put in place (e.g. talk to each other before spending more than $100) to ensure that major decisions are made as a couple?

Different money-styles brings many married couples into therapy. Talking about these things in advance can save you from headaches (and thousands of dollars in couples therapy fees) later. See, you’re already making good financial decisions together by investing in premarital therapy now!

 

Sex

How often would you each like have sex once you are married? Will you have regular date nights? What does each of you like/dislike in bed? What are your fantasies? What are you willing/not willing to try? How will you let your partner know if you feel you are letting your romantic life slide?

The busier you get, the more you may need to rely on a bit of planning to ensure that your sex-life stays active. In premarital therapy, I’ll teach you a simple and fun way to make sure you keep having sex no matter how busy you are.

 

Religion

What religion, if any, do you practice? How about your fiancé? If you plan on having children, will you want religion to be a part of their lives? If so, how much a part?

 

Values

A related issue is that of values. Even if you don’t practice a particular religion, are there values that are important to you? For example, do you believe in “The Golden Rule,” of treating others as you’d like to be treated, or are you more of a “fend for yourself” kind of person?

 

Politics

The country has become more and more divided in that arena. Will or does this play a part in your relationship? How would you handle one of you changing political parties? Would it matter?

 

Dreams

It’s important that your partner know about the dreams that you have for yourself and your family. What are the hopes and wishes you want to achieve one day? How can you support each other in achieving those dreams?

Have you always wanted to live out of the country? Is it your goal to go skydiving one day? Let’s make sure that your partner will be on-board. Pun intended!

This is just a basic list of a few topics you may discuss in premarital therapy. The process should be slightly different for everyone and tailored to your specific wants and needs as a couple.

If you would like to learn more about how premarital therapy can help your relationship, contact me!

The Real Reasons (That Nobody Tells You) About Why Therapists Don’t Accept Insurance

The Real Reasons (That Nobody Tells You) About Why Therapists Don’t Accept Insurance

Should I Use My Insurance Plan To Pay For Therapy?

 

Deciding to start therapy is a huge milestone in life. I’d even say it’s as big as getting married or starting a new job. I mean, think about it. What could be more important than committing to work on yourself and become the best version of you? Who you are and who you become influences every part of your life.

 

That’s why choosing the right therapist is SO important. It’s essential you and your therapist are a good fit and that the person you choose has the experience and expertise to get you to the next level in life, whether you’re working on career goals, relationships, self-exploration or all of the above.

 

One of the considerations you might take into account when looking for a therapist is whether that therapist accepts your insurance. For many people, this is a deciding factor when choosing someone.

 

After all, you’re paying a premium every month for your insurance so why wouldn’t you want to use it? It can save you money on your session costs and it can help you narrow down your search by ruling out therapists who don’t accept your plan. You use your insurance for all other doctors so why not do the same for therapy, right?

 

New therapy seekers with this belief are often confused and frustrated by the number of therapists they find that do not accept insurance. It can be really difficult to find someone that specializes in your area of need, is close to home, fits your personality, and accepts your insurance.

 

But why is it so hard? Why are there so many therapists out there that don’t accept insurance?

 

Many consumers don’t realize that there are several downsides for both therapists and clients when using insurance to pay for therapy.

 

So what do private pay clients who are shelling out big bucks for therapy know that you don’t?

 

 

Here are 4 reasons why you should not use insurance to pay for therapy:

 

1. Less Confidentiality

 

Everyone knows that what happens in therapy stays in therapy. Your therapist is required to keep everything you say confidential no matter what, right? Wrong! When you use insurance to pay for therapy, your therapist is required to provide your diagnosis and treatment notes to your insurance company in order to get paid. This undermines the basic premise of therapy and also gives a lot more people access to private health information about you. If this is news to you, you’re not alone. It’s all written into the HIPAA document you get when you start therapy (or go to any doctor’s office) but most people don’t read all the fine print.

 

2. Higher Insurance Premiums

 

Even if you’re okay with your information being shared with your insurance company from a confidentiality standpoint, you probably didn’t realize that sharing this information can have unintended consequences in the future.

 

As mentioned above, your therapist has to provide your insurance company with your diagnosis to get paid. But what if you don’t have a mental illness? After all, many people seek therapy for personal growth and exploration, not because they are depressed or anxious or have a serious mental illness.

 

In the eyes of your insurance company, these are not valid reasons for seeking therapy on their dime. If you don’t have an actual diagnosis, they aren’t interested in paying for your sessions and will not continue to authorize future sessions.

 

This puts your therapist in an awkward and ethically challenging position if you don’t meet criteria for a mental illness. He or she is left with choosing between 3 options.

 

  1.  Assign a diagnosis you don’t meet criteria for so that your insurance company will continue authorizing sessions.
  2.  Discontinue therapy.
  3.  Continue to work with you without assigning a diagnosis but risk having claims denied and not getting paid for the work.

 

At this point, you are probably starting to understand why so many therapists don’t accept insurance.

 

Ok, so you might be wondering how this all relates to increased premiums for you.

 

Let’s say your therapist opts for option 1 and assigns you a diagnosis so that your insurance company will authorize future sessions. Maybe you meet criteria for a diagnosis, maybe you don’t. Either way, you now have a diagnosis on record with your insurance company.

 

When it comes time to renew your insurance or switch plans, your premiums could rise as a result of your “pre-existing condition.” In addition, you may be required to share your diagnosis in future job interviews, which is awkward, to say the least.

 

3. Insurance-Driven Treatment Plan

 

When therapists take insurance, they are required to use treatment methods that are covered by your plan. This means they have less say in how to treat you based on your specific and individual needs. Ironically, the people who work in your insurance company and decide which methods of therapy can be used, are usually not even therapists! And they certainly haven’t met and assessed you personally like your therapist has.

 

This leads me to my next point…

Psychiatric Help 5 cents!

 

4. Questionable Quality

 

Let me preface this by saying that there are some fantastic therapists who take insurance. Sometimes highly skilled therapists accept a few insurance clients on their caseload to fill less desirable times slots or sometimes they do it as a way to “give back” to society and offer high-quality services to those that wouldn’t be able to afford it any other way. If you don’t know anything about insurance payouts (and why would you if you’re not a therapist or a doctor?), this last statement probably doesn’t make sense. Bear with me while I help clear that up and give you some rarely discussed insider info from the therapist’s perspective.

 

The going rate for a great therapist in most major cities is between $150-$350 per session. Most insurance companies pay therapists between $40-$90 per session. This is a fraction of what therapists receive from private pay clients and it requires a lot more paperwork and time to get paid by insurance companies. Submitting insurance claims is time-consuming and confusing as is getting approved to be on insurance panels in the first place. Many therapists have to hire a billing professional to help them manage insurance claims and make sure they actually get paid.

 

So why would any therapist ever take insurance if they get paid less and have to jump through paperwork hoops to get paid?

 

The answer is because they have to.

 

Again, something that is rarely discussed with consumers is the fact that insurance companies provide a steady flow of referrals to therapists. Let’s take a moment to think about who might need a steady flow of referrals to their practice and would be willing to take a major pay cut for said referrals.

 

  • New therapists just starting a private practice. Therapists who just graduated usually have some serious student loans to pay off and they need to start making money fast. It can take time to build up a positive reputation in a community so getting referrals from insurance panels (even if it means making significantly less per client) is a great way to get started. Often, therapists who opt for this route will start phasing out insurance clients as their reputation grows and they start getting more organic referrals from satisfied customers.
  • Therapists in low-income areas. If there are very few clients that can pay full price for sessions in the area, therapists in private practice will have to accept insurance or move to a community where there are more affluent people. For this reason, lower income communities do not have a lot of therapists in private practice but they do have more government subsidized community treatment centers where people can get help.
  • Therapists who do not have a lot of satisfied customers. As a therapist myself, this is a delicate situation for me to discuss and I suspect it will upset many of my colleagues. That said, the ones it offends are probably the ones who fall into this category. Many therapists who accept insurance do so because they are not good enough at what they do to facilitate referrals and command a higher fee.

 

Yep, I said it.

 

Satisfied customers talk. They leave positive reviews online. They tell their friends and family how happy they are with their therapist and they refer the people they love. They build their therapist’s practice for them by becoming walking billboards. Their friends and family start to notice positive changes in their personality and ask them what they are doing…and they tell them about their therapist.

 

Not only do satisfied customers refer to skilled therapists, other professionals do too. Medical doctors hear from their patients that they got great results working with a therapist and they send more patients. Other therapists who get asked by friends and family for referrals, send them to other skilled therapists in the community.

 

Therapists who don’t take insurance have to be really good in order to create a thriving practice. With therapy, you usually get what you pay for and if someone is charging a high fee, it’s usually because they are worth it.

 

Speaking of that price tag, I know it can feel scary to drop a couple hundred dollars on a therapy session, especially if you don’t have a ton of disposable income. However, what I’ve seen in my practice (and in many other settings besides therapy) is that those who pay the full fee and make a substantial investment, are actually more committed to doing the work than those who pay less.

 

Think about it. If you paid $20 for a meal or $200, would there be a difference in how you treated it? Would you rush through the $200 meal and then throw half of it away if you didn’t feel like eating anymore? I’m guessing not. You would savor that meal and ask to take anything you couldn’t eat home with you to enjoy later.

 

People who pay more for therapy are literally and figuratively more invested and it shows in their results. They make the most of every session, they do their homework, and they get great results. In my opinion, there is nothing worth more than your personal growth. If you take the work seriously, you will see your investment pay off in every area of your life. By the way, this is coming from someone who has spent tens of thousands of dollars on personal growth and I truly feel it’s been worth every penny.

 

Ok, but what if you literally CANNOT afford to pay the full fee but you also want to make sure you get a great therapist? Fortunately, there is sometimes an in-between option.

 

Depending on your insurance, you may be able to get reimbursed for out of network benefits, which can mean a savings of up to 40-60%. This is typically available with PPO plans. To find out, call the number on the back of your insurance card and ask how much your plan pays for out of network therapists.

 

Then, if you do have out of network benefits, ask your therapist if he/she can provide a superbill for you to submit to your insurance for reimbursement. You will pay your therapist for the sessions up front but your insurance company will reimburse you for some of the session fees. Not every insurance plan has this benefit but it’s definitely worth a phone call to ask!

 

The other option is that you can use your Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Spending Account (FSA) to pay for therapy. This allows you to save money because you are paying with pre-tax dollars.

 

So there you have it. That is the good, the bad and the ugly of using your insurance to pay for therapy as I see it. I’d love to hear from you. Have you used insurance to pay for therapy in the past? If so, how did it go for you? Let me know in the comments on this Facebook post.