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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.

A New Start. A New Journey. A New You. How the right therapy, and the right therapist can help get you there by David Nutter, MA, LAMFT

New starts in life often happen when people decide to engage therapy. Whenever I meet new clients as individuals, couples, or even families, I ask them what their goals are in therapy. For some, they have not been asked about what they need, want, or even prefer in their lives for a long time. For others, it often feels that they have never been heard at all, let alone asked. What happens when you go to therapy? What type of model and style of therapy will the person you see provide? What is their level of formal training, how well attuned are they to meet your needs and do they rely on any other resources other than their self-perceived competency? Understanding how much someone knows about your particular issue(s) is a critical step in selecting the type of therapist and style of therapy you will engage.

For example, as I write this article I am thinking of the many different styles of therapy available. I can immediately think of 11 different styles: structural family therapy, strategic therapy, the Milan systemic approach, the Mental Research Institute (MRI) approach, Satir’s communication approach, symbolic-experiential family therapy, intergenerational family therapy, collaborative therapy, narrative therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and solution-focused therapy. That’s a lot of different styles of therapy, all with empirical research associated with their model and experts in each field.

Added to this list of styles of therapy are the therapists themselves. Who are you going to see and what you are likely to experience is largely dependent on the type of education they have and the experience they have with others. There is a vast difference in the education requirements to become a life coach, mental health counselor or a marriage and family therapist (MFT). There are differences in approaches and emphasis, even within the same style/model of therapy. You and the particular issues you bring to therapy may be weighing on you. The therapist fortunate enough to have you as a client should work as hard on your issues as you do.

There are resources such as books, workbooks, films, music and other sources that might resonate with you that are not particularly useful or preferred by others. You have decided to make a new start and that new start needs the support of the developing relationship of trust you are building with your therapist of choice. That relationship is essential for discussing what you want to achieve and the ways you plan to address the changes or goals you want for yourself and your relationships. Your new journey starts with a decision about what you want to experience in the future. Often this gets accomplished by a review of the past and current life experiences you have survived or thrived from. The therapist caring deeply about your experiences and your strengths will celebrate what you have achieved and where you are going. Aspects that you bring to the therapy effort are elements of the way you might describe yourself—the many facets of who you are. When people describe their experiences in therapy, I hope they include feeling heard, challenged, respected, validated, encouraged and celebrated. Their experience should feel welcomed like a friend, with a serious focus in a nurturing manner. Sometimes people cry, reflect and reconsider critical directions or attitudes they have adopted. Sometimes they laugh and release tension in a light-hearted way. New beginnings are often encouraged by a therapist going the extra mile along side of you, so you can keep going more miles, confidently forward. Welcome to your new start.

 

About the Author:

David Nutter is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist at the St. George Center For Couples & Families. His career experience includes military service, management and executive positions and international business consulting. He received his undergraduate degree from BYU and his Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy from Northcentral University, a COAMFTE approved program. David was inducted into two honor societies for academic and clinical excellence and is enrolled in NCU’s PhD/ MFT program. During his Master’s program he was mentored by Steve Allred, with a broad range of client ages and issues. He served as the SGPD Chaplain (board certified) to reduce the impact to personnel and citizens from significant trauma experiences. He is adjunct faculty at DSU. He has lived in every U.S. time zone and abroad, and appreciates diversity. David is married to his “girlfriend” Diane. Together, they call their 7 children, their spouses/partners and 5 grandchildren their immediate family.

Your Mental Health Check Up by Dr. Matt Brown, Ph.D, LMFT-S

Over the past several decades, we have experienced increasing awareness of health concerns and how they impact our lives. We are frequently inundated with information from empirical studies, reality TV, and our own lived experiences; all exposing us to the dangers and benefits of taking care of ourselves. It can be overwhelming to sift through all the things you should and should not be doing to achieve your optimal well-being. Fortunately, research is increasingly identifying areas of our lives that have the biggest impact on overall mental health. And just like your Primary Care Provider is able to conduct a regular physical exam focused on key indicators of health, this article will allow you to check in with yourself using key areas of mental health. We will focus on your relationships, stress, and mindset.

Relationships

Attractive couple portrait.It is now well established that social relationships have an important impact on our mental health. In fact, our relationships are the single biggest predictor of our happiness. Recent research has shown that both relationship quantity and quality affect our mental health in positive and negative ways. When considering your own mental health, you may want to ask yourself how much time you are spending with those people who are important to you (quantity) and what that time looks like (quality). Are you being selective in your obligations, prioritizing time with family and friends? When you are with your loved ones, do you make intentional effort to connect through conversation or activities? If you find yourself lacking in this area, find ways to respectfully say no to those things that take you away from relationships and make the effort to connect when you are with those people you care about.

Stress

Stressed BusinesswomanResearch has shown that stress itself is not the culprit of mental health problems; rather, it is the reactions we have to daily stressors that contribute to problems like depression and anxiety. How do you handle these daily stressors? Do you find yourself becoming emotionally or mentally flooded when confronted with seemingly small challenges? You may need to step back and take a look at how you are handling stress. The list of ways to better handle stress is too lengthy for this article, but it includes several things you might expect (e.g., exercise, deep breathing, meditation, etc.). Something else you might try is laughing. Laughter has been shown to have multiple health benefits, including boosting immune system functioning, physiological relaxation, and reduction of pain and stress. Find time to exercise your sense of humor!

Mindset

stress 1Perhaps due to our social nature, we often compare ourselves to those around us. While there may be some benefits to this behavior (e.g., making positive changes to emulate those we admire), we need to guard against the tendency to focus on how we fall short when compared to others. Focusing on what we are lacking often leads to self-interested behaviors aimed at keeping up with the Jones’ in an attempt to measure up. The problem is that this does not lead to our intended outcome and has been shown to negatively impact mental health. Conversely, focusing on giving of ourselves has the opposite effect. For example, several studies have shown that when it comes to money, we report more satisfaction spending it on others rather than ourselves. We also find deep meaning and purpose when we are engaged in meeting the needs of others. Similarly, and ever-growing body of research has shown that focusing on what we do have and expressing gratitude is linked to positive mental health. When was the last time you gave of yourself to better someone else’s life? How often do you take time to reflect on those things for which you are grateful? If your answers reflect a need to rededicate yourself, you might start by developing a regular time to reflect, write, or talk about what you are grateful for. Opportunities to serve others are everywhere, and we often find the hardest part is not having enough time. You may start small by finding ways to serve those closest to you in small but meaningful ways.

Now What?

Hopefully, you have had some time to reflect on areas where you are doing well and some areas where your efforts could lead to increased well-being. As with any positive change we make, something is always better than nothing. No matter how small your change efforts, you are moving in the right direction. Motivation increases as we act and you can create positive feedback loops that lead to improved mental health.

mattAbout the Author: Dr. Matt Brown is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. He holds a doctorate degree from Texas Tech University and a master’s degree from Brigham Young University. He is currently Assistant Professor and Program Director in the Marriage and Family Therapy program at the University of Houston-Clear Lake and a therapist at the South Shore Center for Couples and Families.