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The Emotionally Secure Couple: Chapter One

As you may know I recently published a book called, The Emotionally Secure Couple: The Key to Everything You want in a Healthy Relationship. Front Cover

I believe this book can change your life and your relationships. It's full of the information and methods that I use in session with my clients. I know other therapists that have adopted these methods with their clients and they have reported an increase in their clients progress. I want to share chapter one with you today.

If you like what you read and think that it can help you in your own relationship, you can buy the book on Amazon by clicking here.

 


Chapter 1: What If?

Derek sat on the couch in my office. His Adam’s apple moved up and down in rhythm with his labored breathing. He was obviously distressed. The first few moments of the first session are like a dance: the two partners don’t know how to act without any music to guide them. Therapist and client must listen for the music that is not there and end up in synchrony.

Derek looked at me and said, “My wife and I just can’t get on the same page. Forget communication—we can’t even agree on what we need to communicate!”

I said, “But what if I could teach you how to talk to her and how she could talk to you and move you through your conflict? What if you could engage conflict in a way that improved your relationship? What if you and your wife could actually repair your marriage?”

Derek and Ruby had been married for a few years when they walked into my office. Things started to fall apart quickly. Derek moved out and into an apartment. Ruby begged him to come home. Derek stayed away. She begged some more.

Until she stopped.

After begging, she became incensed. First, she was hurt. Then she was angry. Rage and bitterness followed next. Finally, she flirted with contempt. Overarching these emotions was numbness.

She clung to numbness to protect her heart. At a different time, Ruby sat in my office and told me, “I’m not mad at Derek. I’m not. I’m not angry, I’m not sad; I’m not . . . anything. I’m just really tired.”

If I were going to help them, I would have to challenge her numbness and teach them both a way to talk that moved their relationship forward. I worried that I would run out of time before I could help them.

And I almost did.

One day, Derek walked in and told me that Ruby had decided she was done. She wanted a divorce. “The worst part is that she thinks I was drunk, and I swear to you I wasn’t. I hadn’t even had three beers in two days!”

Derek was angry. I asked him how he responded to Ruby.

“Respond? I just kind of walked away.”

“What if you could change that?” I asked.

What if, indeed!

About a week later, Derek and Ruby walked into my office and she told me, “I want to make our relationship work.”

I asked why she had changed her mind. Derek responded for her.

Derek had gone over to her house and rather than shrinking in the face of her typical haze-and-raze approach to their conflict, he engaged her. He used the same principles that I’ve written in this book to begin the healing process of their relationship. He wasn’t mean. He wasn’t caustic. He was direct. He told her how he felt. He engaged his feelings while validating hers. He told her that he loved her, but he gave her the freedom to leave and walk away. For maybe the first time in their life as a married couple, he stopped trying to control her and gave their relationship the opportunity to grow or fail.

This is one of the keys to a healthy relationship: allowing it the opportunity to fail. We’ll talk more about this later, but for Derek, it was revolutionary. It saved his marriage. And you’ll need to embrace it to create the relationship you want.

I’ll ask you the same question: What if you didn’t have to go through Derek’s situation? What if you could create habits in your life that would create a healthy relationship as a byproduct? What if you could learn new strategies to create a healthy marriage?

I believe you can do exactly that, and this book is my attempt to help you create those habits.

We will come back to Derek and Ruby later to see how they navigated these habits. By the way, as of the writing of this book, they are expecting their first baby.

Are You Contributing?

Eric and Emily had called my office and had asked to meet with me at a coffee shop. I agreed. Their relationship was in real trouble.

They knew it.

Sadly, no one else knew.

From the outside, they had done everything right. They had been friends before dating. They dated for almost a year before he proposed. A year later, they were married.

Twenty months later, they were sitting in that coffee shop with me surrounded by a throng of hipsters listening to indie music while wearing knit hats in the summer.

Both had great jobs. Both wanted their relationship to work—at least in the beginning.

Tears flowed down Emily’s face as she told her side of the story. Eric sat with a face carved from granite as she talked about her infidelity. She cried. He withdrew. She stressed that no sexual activity happened—besides a few light kisses and the occasional hug. Her assurances did nothing to thaw Eric’s face or emotions. “It just happened. I wasn’t looking for it,” she implored.

At that line, I saw my first glimpse of Eric’s emotions. He was angry. Of course, that’s understandable. What I was about to ask him, though, would start a fire in our conversation.

“Eric, what do you think you did to contribute to this situation?”

Raw, white anger boiled across his face.

“Me?!”

“He was just never home. He just wasn’t . . . there.” Emily slowly and deliberately pushed the words out for me. Eric’s response told me that this was not the first time they had had this conversation. His shoulders rolled and his head shook, his face screaming contempt without a word escaping his mouth.

Both had come from homes where their parents and grandparents had divorced and remarried, with one parent on both sides being remarried multiple times. Emily was the result of her mom’s first affair.

She was horrified at the prospect of having become a cheater. Despite whatever reasons she had to justify her actions, she felt as though she had become the very thing she always wanted to avoid.

Eric’s father was a good provider but was never present emotionally.

Perhaps this was the hardest pill for them to swallow: they had become the parent they most struggled with in their own childhood. This is, of course, very common. Children learn what they live, and live what they learn.

As with most things in couples counseling, this principle seems to be so plain, so obvious that it almost seems not to warrant utterance.

And yet, often the most basic things are the ones we overlook the most. Our parents, or primary caregivers as children, blueprint us for how we will interact emotionally as adults. They give us the plan that we utilize, often without us realizing that we are repeating what they do.

We often default to the patterns of living we learned in childhood. This is true even if we have intellectually rejected them. Rejecting them without replacing them only creates a vacuum that we often don’t know how to fill, so we return to what we know.

Eric and Emily had been taught how to save money, take care of a home, and provide all of life’s basic necessities. They had never been taught how to answer the core questions that haunt us all.

They had never been taught how to best pursue each other. Neither had ever been asked what it would mean for them to sell out to the idea of making their marriage work.

Neither had ever asked what they would be willing to pay or risk to get what they want out of their marriage.

They had never actually considered what the point of their marriage was or should be.

I told Eric and Emily, “It is my belief that any couple can come back from anything. They simply need to learn how to build the most important ingredient into their relationship and answer some basic questions every day.”

The Other Side of Pain

I’ve worked with couples who had multiple affairs—with pens ready to sign divorce papers—and they came back from those terrible situations. One husband cheated on his wife with one of her best friends while she was in the hospital with their newborn baby.

Not only are they together today, but they will tell you that they are best friends.

How does that happen?

How does a couple caught in the deepest hurt move from the most significant pain of feeling the widest gulf between them to being best friends? It happens by both individuals being committed to healing and hope. When both people are willing to move toward each other and invite the other person to walk beside them, healing occurs.

But this process is painful. It doesn’t feel good. I cannot tell you how many times someone has said to me, “But I don’t feel like it should be this hard!” or “I don’t feel like I should have to endure this pain.”

Eric and Emily both said that to me. I told them the same thing I always say at those moments: “This hard” is subjective and they are correct in believing that they do not have to endure the pain. But no matter what they choose to do, there will be pain, especially if kids are involved. And if they want their marriage to work, they have to walk through the pain. One of the biggest lies we allow our brains to tell us is that we do not have a choice in a situation. Whenever people tell me they “shouldn’t have to endure pain” or “they don’t have to go through the pain,” I tell them I agree with them. They can always choose to exclude a particular pain from their life. There is a catch, though.

Everything in life that is worth having is almost always on the other side of pain. By avoiding the thing that scares us, we avoid the things we want to be in our life. We succeed in avoiding one pain only to invite and welcome another pain into our life. There is always pain.

Eric and Emily had what many would consider to be a big problem in their marriage. There was infidelity—emotionally, if not physically—and it was this giant life-sucking hole that permeated every area of their relationship. They had a much bigger problem, though. This giant problem would allow them to ignore the many smaller problems that had led them to this point.

Emily was not being completely honest that day, and there was more to the story (there often is). And Eric had some secrets of his own to share. They were both holding onto their secrets because they had failed to create a safe place to share the hard things about their life.

We all have these traumas in our relationships. Our screw-ups sit in the back corner of our brain, taunting us. They expose our shame and demand we hide it. They bark loudly and obnoxiously until we acquiesce and hide them. In hiding our shame, we hide ourselves. We retreat our true inner being to the shadows where the shame can grow into its own dragon, seeking to slay us.

Then we try to soothe our pain. We try to soothe it by working out or making millions of dollars or getting involved in church. We try to outdo our shame, falsely believing that we can outrun it through activity. The net result becomes a heaping of shame on top of shame. Our activity does not do away with our shame; instead, it numbs our response to it. A numb soul tends to be numb to everything. This causes us to pick activities that keep us from connecting with someone else, which causes us to experience more shame.

Sometimes, maybe often, we try to deny our shame by simply retreating and not doing anything. This can lead to clinical depression. We keep the blinds in the house down and lose all sense of meaning for life. Our zest fades like the dying light of late autumn.

Most of the time, we strike an uneasy balance between those two extremes and we still fail to heal. Our world spins faster and faster as we scramble to catch up. We don’t find satisfaction in what should be our deepest and most significant relationship, all the while failing to realize that one of the biggest contributing factors to a failed marriage is overlooking a truly safe place to be all-in with our whole body.

This book will give you the tools to be able to create such a space for your loved ones. A space where complete safety can grow and blossom. The challenge for you will be engaging your greatest fears as you seek that which you desire the most.


Points to Ponder. <100 words

"Resilience is distinct from mere survival, and more than mere endurance. Resilience is often endurance with direction. Where are you headed? Why are you going there?" (26)

~Eric Greitens, Resilience. pp. 25


Thoughts on Forgiveness

I'm always fascinated by the topic of forgiveness and how it works out in every day life. As a therapist, I can honestly say that it is perhaps the most troubling thing for many of my clients to face. Not their abuse, not their affairs, not their brokenness but the brokenness of others that has seeped into their lives like an infectious disease spreading and killing.

"I don't know how to forgive," is one of the most common phrases I hear every day in therapy.

"I don't understand what it means to forgive," is probably the second most common.

So of course, when my friend Wayne told me about a book he was reading, I had to borrow it. I'm now buying it. Here's a snippet. I am hoping I'll be sharing more as I read through the book.

"Forgiveness is centered in morality, which in its simplest form is concerned with the quest for the good. When people seek the good, they do so in relation to others. Thus, morality has an interpersonal sense about it. It is not a self-satisfying, hedonistic pursuit. To be moral does not imply that one must use certain language forms or behaviors to qualify as a moral person, but it does imply that the focus is on the relationships and other people, with good intentions toward them.

            Two aspects of human goodness that are connected with forgiveness are justice and mercy, ancient forms of morality that at times seem to be connected in conflict with each other."

Enright and Fitzgibbons, Helping Clients Forgive, pp. 23

 


You can improve your marriage by keeping an appreciation journal

If you haven't read the book Decivsive yet, you should get it and make the time to read it. I read it last year and started giving it away to people.
The book deals with better ways to make decisions. I tend to think that most people underestimate the value of looking at the system that they use to approach decision making.

The book challenges a lot of commonly held ideas about how to make decisions that are actually flawed. It gave me one of my favorite questions when making a decision (what would have to be true for _______ to happen?) and it spent a few pages dismantling the idea of references as a productive manner to learn about potential candidates. 

It also helped explain a great technique for marriage counseling that I absolutely love. I'm just going to let the authors word speak for them by pasting the entire quote below.

Think of a couple in a troubled marriage: If one partner has labeled the other’s shortcoming— for instance, being “selfish”— then that label can become self-reinforcing. The selfish acts become easier to spot, while the generous acts go unnoticed. In situations like this, the therapist Aaron T. Beck, the founder of cognitive behavioral therapy, advises that couples consciously fight the tendency to notice only what’s wrong.

To avoid that trap, he advises couples to keep “marriage diaries,” chronicling the things their mates do that please them. In his book Love Is Never Enough, he describes a couple, Karen and Ted, who kept such a diary. One week, Karen noted several things that she appreciated about Ted: He sympathized with me about some bad behavior by one of my clients. He pitched in to help clean up the house. He kept me company while I was doing laundry. He suggested we go for a walk, which I enjoyed. Beck said, “Although Ted had done similar things for Karen in the past, they had been erased from her memory because of her negative view of Ted.”

The same effect held true for Ted’s memory of the nice things Karen had done. Beck cites a research study by Mark Kane Goldstein, who found that 70% of couples who kept this kind of marriage diary reported an improvement in their relationship. “All that had changed was their awareness of what was going on,”

Beck wrote. “Before keeping track, they had underestimated the pleasures of their marriage.” As in the marriage situation, our relationships at work are sometimes corrupted by negative assumptions that snowball over time. A colleague speaks out against our idea in a meeting, and we think, He’s trying to show off in front of the boss. If this happens another time or two, we might conclude he’s a “brown-noser,” a label that will become self-sustaining, as in the marriage situation.

Heath, Chip; Heath, Dan (2013-03-26). Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work (Kindle Locations 1670-1685). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 


Points to (≤100 words) Book Style

Good parenting begins in your heart, and then continues on a moment-to-moment basis by engaging your children when feelings run high, when they are sad, angry, or scared.

Gottman, John; Goleman, Daniel (2011-09-20). Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child . Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Pondering Change: Book Style

And so we retreat, back to what we’ve always known. There is a suffocating comfort to it all. Letting go is not easy. The hoarders we see on TV who are stockpiling cats and newspapers have nothing on us emotional hoarders. At least the things they refuse to give up create physical piles before their eyes. They stink and cause a scene that can’t be ignored. On the other hand, the dreams you’ve always had but refuse to actually work on tend to create hidden piles you don’t have to look at unless you really force yourself to. The hopes you refuse to edit and learn to master don’t rot so tangibly— at least at first.

Acuff, Jon (2013-04-23). Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average and Do Work That Matters (p. 106). Lampo Press. Kindle Edition.


Points to Ponder: 100 words or less

Great quote!

"We tend to add complexities to our challenges because if the problem is simple to solve, then we have to change. And change is scary. So when faced with a challenge we really don’t want to fix, we tend to overcomplicate the issues." (43)

Acuff, Jon (2013-04-23). Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average and Do Work That Matters (p. 105). Lampo Press. Kindle Edition.

 


Pain is a path, maybe the path to wisdom

Most of us are not so wise. Fearing the pain involved, almost all of us, to a greater or lesser degree, attempt to avoid problems. We procrastinate, hoping that they will go away. We ignore them, forget them, pretend they do not exist. We even take drugs to assist us in ignoring them, so that by deadening ourselves to the pain we can forget the problems that cause the pain. We attempt to skirt around problems rather than meet them head on. We attempt to get out of them rather than suffer through them. This tendency to avoid problems and the emotional suffering inherent in them is the primary basis of all human mental illness. Since most of us have this tendency to a greater or lesser degree, most of us are mentally ill to a greater or lesser degree, lacking complete mental health. Some of us will go to quite extraordinary lengths to avoid our problems and the suffering they cause, proceeding far afield from all that is clearly good and sensible in order to try to find an easy way out, building the most elaborate fantasies in which to live, sometimes to the total exclusion of reality. In the succinctly elegant words of Carl Jung, “Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.”

Peck, M. Scott (2012-03-13). The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth (pp. 16-17). Touchstone. Kindle Edition.


Isn't it Time for a Coffee Break (Artist's Series #2)

I met Amelia Rhodes over an iPad. She was writing in one of my favorite coffee shops on an iPad, so of course I had to talk to her about it. It turns out that our daughters are in the same grade. It also turns out that she is an author. Her book is called, Isn't It Time for a Coffee Break?

In the book you will:
Journey through topics such as:
The Aroma of Relationships: Love
Brew a Strong cup of Friendship
Share a Cup: Generosity
Experience the Variety of Blends: Hospitality
Filter out the Grounds: Unity
Sweeten Your Cup: Forgiveness
 
With six short, easy-to-read chapters, and discussion questions for each chapter, this book is great for small groups or book clubs.

The following is a video interview we did for her book. The entire production was done in house. Filmed off of my iPad. 
If you'd like to buy her book, you can click on my link here on the page and pick it up at Amazon. Do it. You'll enjoy it.

You can find her online here.

Ten good lessons about life

I have no idea who Robert Smith is. I subscribe to Michael Hyatt’s blog and he wrote about their friendship today and Smith’s book. I am agnostic towards Smith’s book, and probably a little non-plussed because I’m always skeptical about promises of “totally removing” any emotion like fear from our life. But I mean if Michael Hyatt wants to give me a copy, I’d be happy to read it and publicly review it. :)

Regardless of the quality of the book, Hyatt lists the following ten things that he has learned from his friend. I rather like this list. What are your thoughts?

Here are just ten of lessons I have learned from him.

  1. You can never be too generous. Give to others—and then give some more!
  2. The only difference between you and the people who accomplish great things is the way you think.
  3. Always be asking yourself, “What is important now? What is next?”
  4. Make today count. Live it like it is your last. Every minute matters.
  5. Eat dessert first. Learn to celebrate life and then live out of that celebration.
  6. Assume YOU are the problem. When you do, you quit becoming the victim and begin shaping the outcome.
  7. Embrace rejection. Every no puts you one step closer to a yes.
  8. You never really cross the finish line. Performing at a big show, publishing a book, or even getting a record deal isn’t the finish line. It’s the new starting line.
  9. Life is not about finding yourself; it is about creating yourself.
  10. Play full-out. Hold nothing in reserve.