The Four Communication Styles that Can Save Your Marriage

It’s completely natural to have conflict in all relationships. In fact, it’s inevitable, and we help couples through conflict in couples counseling regularly. The conflict even has positive aspects that offer opportunities for couple development, appreciation, and understanding. However, how couples manage conflict is what truly predicts the success or failure of the relationship.

Learning how to manage conflict in a couple of relationships is essential as there could be some conflicts that will never fully be resolved. Whether it’s due to personality differences or other fundamental differences, it’s common to have a few recurring conflicts that will never “go away,” which means managing them in a healthy way is key.

In a previous blog, we discussed the four communication styles that predict divorce, known as The Four Horsemen. If you missed it, you can find it here. Today, we will discuss the antidotes for The Four Horsemen, which is the first step in effectively managing conflict.

The Antidote to Criticism: Gentle Start-Up

We know a complaint surrounds a specific behavior, while criticism attacks a person’s character. The antidote for criticism is to complain without blame, which can be done by using what’s known as a gentle start-up.

A gentle start-up typically beings with an “I” statement, and it’s used to express how you feel about something and what you need to happen. Beginning a sentence with “You” can seem to blame, so in efforts to avoid this, try asking yourself these 2 questions before you speak:

  1. What do I feel?
  2. What do I need?

Criticism: “The clothes on the table have been there for 3 days! You’re so lazy and selfish! You never think of me or anyone in this family! You only care about yourself!”

Antidote: “I feel really overwhelmed by the clothes on the table, and I need them to put away. Can you put them away while I set the table for dinner?”

The Antidote starts with “I feel” and leads into “I need.” Furthermore, there is a bid that needs to be fulfilled. There is no blaming.

The Antidote to Contempt: A Culture of Appreciation and Respect

Contempt is displayed in statements coming from a position of moral superiority, and it is the greatest predictor of divorce.

Building a culture of appreciation and respect can begin with:

Small Things Often: Showing affection and expressing gratitude, respect, and appreciation for your partner on a regular basis will create a positive foundation in your relationship. This positive foundation will act as a buffer for negative feelings. Consistent, regular positive experiences within your relationship can be seen as “deposits” you make into your relationship bank account. When a negative experience, or a withdrawal, occurs, your relationship will stay “in the green” as long as the number of deposits you’ve made surpasses the number of withdrawals.

The Antidote to Defensiveness: Take Responsibility

Defensiveness is self-protection in the form of righteous indignation used to ward off a perceived attack. While becoming defensive is typically a response to criticism, it doesn’t solve the conflict.

Defensiveness is equivalent to blaming your partner, which usually escalates the conflict further. Accepting responsibility, even for a small part of the conflict, can help move things toward resolution.

Defensiveness: “I know I said I’d stop at the store for groceries on my way home from work, but I was too tired, okay? I had a day full of meetings and you know how busy work is for me right now! Why didn’t you just go to the store?”

Antidote: “I was really tired after my day full of meetings, but you’re right. I should have gone to the store like I said I would. I will keep my word next time or call you to discuss alternative options.”

By taking responsibility, even while expressing that they had a tiring day at work, this partner begins the journey toward compromise.

The Antidote to Stonewalling: Physiological Self-Soothing

Stonewalling is when someone completely withdraws from a conflict discussion due to feeling overwhelmed. The reaction to the emotional flooding is to shut down and disengage. Stonewalling puts couples under a lot of emotional pressure. Heart rates elevate, stress hormones are released, and a fight or flight response can be triggered.

Research shows that if couples take breaks during arguments, their heart rates have a chance to drop, and when they begin their discussion again, their interaction is more productive. Ultimately, they physiologically soothe themselves, allowing them to return to the discussion in a rational way.

The first step of self-soothing is to call a timeout:

“I feel overwhelmed. I need to take a break. Can we take 30 minutes to ourselves and then continuing talking?”

Your break should last at least 20 minutes so that your body can physiologically calm down. Try to avoid thoughts of righteous indignation (“I don’t have to put up with this!”) or innocent victimhood (“Why does he do this to me?”), and spend your time doing something soothing or distracting. Listening to music, reading, drawing, or exercise are all methods that can help you calm down.

Now that you know how to neutralize The Four Horsemen, you have the tools to manage conflict in your relationship. You just have to learn to use them! Couples therapy can help you hone these tools as you must call upon the antidotes as soon as you recognize one of the horsemen creeping in. This will help you and your partner build a healthy relationship for years to come!

Andrea R. Johnson, MA, LMFT is the co-owner of the Friendswood Center for Couples and Families. She has been in practice for nearly 10 years and works with older teens, young adults, and couples in Friendswood and surrounding areas.

What you need to know about Telemental Health

With folks being confined to their homes, unable to maintain their normal routines, there is a global heightening of anxiety and extreme isolation. Now more than ever, improving and/or maintaining our mental health is an urgent matter. I know firsthand how hard therapists all over the country are working to ensure that their current clients and new clients have access to these must needed services.

What is Telemental Health?

Telemental health is the provision of remote mental health services (typically done via video. but can also be provided through text, email, or telephone.)by psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, counselors, and marriage and family therapists. Historically, the platforms that services are provided on, had to be HIPAA compliant. Given the sudden halt to services due to the Covid-19 pandemic, associations and insurance panels have allowed more flexibility to the platforms that therapy can be provided on. What that means for you, is that sessions can be conducted on platforms such as FaceTime, Google Hangouts, and Skype. Your therapist will provide you with an informed consent discussing the limits to confidentiality when sessions are conducted on a non- HIPPA compliant platform in addition to other logistics that will ensure a productive therapy session.

Who can receive Telemental Health Services?

The short answer to this is Everyone. You can be an existing client or a new client. You can be seen as an individual or as a couple or family. There can even be group sessions provided using this medium. In my own practice, I have used video sessions for individual therapy and couple’s therapy, and although it may take some getting used to, everyone adjusts a few minutes and the sessions deliver the same value as when they are face to face.

Why should you try out Telemental health?

The reality is the whole world stands in a place of uncertainty. Uncertainty about our health, our finances, and our futures. This level of uncertainty can spiral someone into a very unhealthy space. Additionally, there’s no playbook for surviving a pandemic so we are all novices at this. Having a space that is carved out to process feelings and learning healthy coping is essential. There is a multitude of positive coping strategies that can be implemented, resulting in emerging from this devastating time more resilient than when you entered it. There are equally a number of unhealthy and destructive ways to get through this Pandemic. We do not have control of much of our external world, which speaks to the importance of understanding and managing our internal world even more. Therapy is the space to learn how to do just that.

Signs that you may benefit from continuing or starting therapy via Telemental Health.

I believe that we all can use mental health services as I view therapy as another form of preventative health care, however, if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms or exhibiting these behaviors, I would recommend that you 1) not cancel your sessions with your current therapist or 2) Find a therapist now that is offering telehealth services.

  1. Extreme isolation
  2. Increased Anxiety
  3. Inability to manage negative thoughts
  4. Constantly checking the news.
  5. Soothing with unhealthy foods or alcohol
  6. Overwhelm
  7. Inability to sleep or sleeping too much
  8. Irritability/anger outburst

If you are uncomfortable with the idea of video therapy, I would highly encourage you to try it out at least a couple of times before writing it off completely. Many people have been pleasantly surprised in the experience and appreciate the convenience of it. Imagine a couple’s therapy without having to find a babysitter! (Post kids’ bedtime of course). Just like traditional face to face sessions, you as a client have the right to try out as many therapists as needed until you find a good fit.

Lastly, keep in mind that most private practice therapists are also small business owners, they depend on their clients showing up to sustain their livelihood as well. Please keep that in mind before you cancel your session. In this season we all need to support each other.

How to find a Telehealth Therapist

Honestly, most therapists, like myself, have either exclusively gone to telemental health services or have it as an option. I would recommend looking at Psychology Today, entering your zip code, and finding a clinician in your area that matches your needs. Many have done a COVID-19 update that will let you know if they have taken sessions online. Also, if you think that you will continue with the telemental health post-Pandemic, you can use any therapist licensed in your state.

To navigate this tumultuous time we have to step up our mental, physical, and spiritual health. I encourage everyone to utilize all of the resources available to you. Sending you all so much love and light!

Saudia Turney, MA, LMFT- Supervisor is the co-owner of the Friendswood Center for Couples and Families. She has been in practice for 10 years and works with Adults, Couples, and older teens in Friendswood, Texas and the surrounding areas. She is currently accepting new telementalhelath clients in Texas.

Choosing “Right” over “Good”

The idea that everything “good” is not “right” is probably not a new concept to anyone. However, even with awareness there is a tendency to overwhelm and overcomplicate our lives with really good things. What do I mean by this? Take for example the woman in a relationship with a great guy who is focused on building his career.  At first glance there is nothing wrong with this, except that this woman has been divorced for four years, is the mother of two teenagers and has spent the larger part of her adult years supporting her ex-husband’s career and raising their children. Although she holds no regrets for those decisions, her desire at this stage of life is to be in a relationship with a partner that can support her dreams as much as she can support theirs.  Someone who is in the season of their life where they can invest in a relationship, relax and travel.  So yes, this may be a good guy, but not the right guy for this particular women and what she needs and desires in this stage of life. We can also look at the father of three small children, that was presented with a job opportunity that would require more travel than his current job.  At present he carries a great deal of guilt for not being able to spend enough time with his children and be the supportive partner that his wife needs.  He noticed that he’s becoming irritable with his family and drinking more to cope with the stress and guilt.  Although this new job would offer good money and career advancement, it wouldn’t necessarily be the right decision for his current situation.  Lastly we have the over scheduled family that is actively involved with their church, have demanding careers, and a mix of sports and performing art activities for their children.  Although taken individually these activities enrich their lives, at the end of the day, they are tired, anxious, and rarely have any downtime to spend together as a family. Do they continue to run from obligation to obligation? Do they volunteer to bake for the upcoming church picnic, or do they opt out of those good things to do what is right for their family and their wellbeing?

With decisions, the answers aren’t always clear, and sometimes you have to set boundaries and say no to really good things. Walking away from something good is never easy, but walking towards what’s right keeps us in line with our purpose and focused on what really matters. Knowing what your goals, values, and overall path are for whatever season of life you are in, helps makes some of these difficult decisions easier. With every tough decision you should ask:

1) What season of life am I in?

2) What is the vision for my family, career, relationships, etc.?

3) How will I feel if I make the decision to move forward or away from this?

If any of those answers are coming from a place of fear, i.e. “I’m afraid I won’t meet anyone else”, “I’m afraid my kids will fall behind”, “I’m afraid I’ll never have this opportunity again”, then chances are the decision is not the right one.  Fear based decisions keep us on the hamster wheel of life, repeating the same patterns and staying stuck in overwhelm and frustration. Having an abundance mindset allows us to have faith that there are always more good things for us on the road ahead.