Good People with Bad Relationships

Do you ever wonder what causes good people to have bad relationships? There is a growing body of research giving us some distinct facts about what makes a relationship successful. The days of having a theory and writing a book then being charismatic enough to make presentations around the country are slowly diminishing. It’s being replaced with scientific measurements of perspiration, heart rate, muscle tension and ratios. 

Simply put, we can’t function when we are “charged”. In bad relationships the couple is unable to practice their marital resolution abilities. They cannot express, validate, compromise, make eye contact, and the list goes on. On a simple adrenaline test, divorced couples measure 34 percent higher during conflicts! And they wonder why they are always tired, moody and can’t get along. They are essentially physically impaired.

It’s not a difficult concept to comprehend. Do you remember your grade 10 science teacher talking about homeostasis? It was a biological concept introduced in 1932 by Physiologist, Walter Cannon. The principle is that we have a set point. When our bodies are above the set point we become deregulated. In other words we get cranky, short, will probably say things and act in ways that are unhelpful.

What is one of the set points? 100 BPM of your heart rate, “when a person’s heart rate is above 100 beats per minute (or their oxygen is below 95 percent) they can’t listen very well, they can’t empathize. They lose access to their sense of humor; they are secreting two major stress hormones: adrenaline and cortisol.”

So, what do we do? Mutually establish how you feel physically and emotionally when you are near 100 BPM’s. When you get near the “set point” or see your partner near the 100 BPM, take a time out. There are even affordable home devices to help you assess your biorhythm which helps you determine if you should go for a cup tea instead of continuing the discussion with your partner. Agree in principle first. One of the two may be more skilled than the other. Establish who that is – doesn’t matter who can do this better. We are not keeping score here! The time out/ break should be at least an hour. There is nothing wrong with 24 hours. This is what masters do.


Evolved Emotions

“Strong men” and “pretty women” (those who, over a period of evolution, had the most power to cause harm or withhold benefits) are most easily angered, reports psychologist Aaron Seel. He concludes that the benefit of anger is to prevent yourself from being exploited. Therefore, if you feel affronted, safety and civility are often dismissed leading us to act angrily and take action. The result of this is this anger boosts confidence, optimism, and risk taking.

So, if you fall victim to anger quickly, take some time to think about what the angry person might mistakenly think is being exploited by you. That item is the subject for you to discuss versus your own personal sense of exploitation. If it isn’t obvious, find a therapist whom you can be candid with and who will be brave enough to share an opinion.

Tech Management

Did you know the average person sends an average of 121 business emails per day? That’s 28% of our working time dedicated to just emails! In today’s increasingly tech heavy world it can seem hard to limit your screen time. We’ve created some tech management tips to help manage your tech time:

  • Schedule your email time and keep it in it’s time frame. Spend the first 20 minutes of your day focusing on nourishing tasks.
  • Separate your work and personal inboxes
  • Delay responding to stressful emails until you’ve had time to think of a response
  • Create a default signature that is friendly and minimalist – this will save you time when sending off a quick message

If any of these tips fail to work, you may want to consider seeing a therapist. Having professional coaching and accountability can be positive ways to help limit your time devoted to tech.

Seeking Advice

We often fail to seek advice because it makes us look bad or less than. However, research actually reports the opposite. When we seek advice, generally, people are flattered that you think highly of them. In fact, being asked for advice is flattering and increases their self-confidence. In other words, others think highly of you for asking them because asking for their advice reflects on their own intelligence.

However, the seeker must be certain that the person the asker is seeking advice from knows the answer or else the results will backfire.

Therefore, seek advice! Just ensure the person you are asking it from thinks they know the topic.

4 Signs of Relationship Disaster

John and Julie Gottman.  Leaders in the field of research-based relationship therapy and pioneers of an entire field of trained therapists. John and Julie Gottman are (perhaps) the most highly recognized and regarded therapists in the field of couple’s therapy.  They have made a name for themselves by basing their recommendations in research, as opposed to opinion and theory.

One of the things that they have found over their years of study and service are that relationship failure can be predicted with a massive 90% accuracy rate based on the presence of 4 main signs.  These are 4 things that we may all do, they are natural behaviours.  The trick is to recognize, not attribute these things to your partner, and to make amends for doing these things.

Here is an easy reference list to keep in mind when interacting with your partner:

  1. Criticism of your partner’s character, not action.  Do you find yourself picking apart your partner’s personality, quirks, and way of life?  Take a step back, stop taking their inventory, and turn the focus back onto yourself and ask yourself WHY you are picking at them.
  2. Contempt of your partner.  This can creep into daily interactions starting with sarcasm and eye rolling.  It can advance to name calling, mocking, and even outright hostile behaviour.  If you catch yourself doing the above, take a pause, step back, excuse yourself from the room, calm down.  
  3. Defensiveness against your partner.  This can expressed in the form of outright righteousness and toying with your partner.  Putting up walls and acting on the defense does not lend itself to creating connection.
  4. Stone walling your partner.  This is completely withdrawing, shutting them out, closing down all communication.  Again, this behaviour does not lead to creating connection, but rather creates road blocks to healing, making amends, and deepening the relationship.

Is The Midlife Crisis is Myth or Reality?

We all get a little antsy when approaching various ages, as we get older.  But we’ve all heard of this thing called a “mid life crisis” too.  Exactly when is midlife?  What constitutes a crisis?  It’s certainly different for everyone, but here are some facts from extensive research done on the topic that will make you think.


Cornell University conducted a phone survey and found that over a quarter of both men and women have reported experiencing a mid life crisis.  This could be due to the multiple studies that show that happiness often hits an all-time low during middle age.  This low tends to be due to life events, biology, and psychology.  Our bodies and minds change and evolve, leading to these feelings.


In middle age, martially speaking, it is not typically the man who asks for the divorce, but rather the woman.  In America, with couple’s getting divorced, it is upwards of ⅔ of divorces being brought by the female partner.  This goes against what is conventionally believed to be the case, but is absolutely true when studied in depth.


Another common occurrence in middle age is the on-set of empty nest syndrome, or lack there of.  It has been shown that empty nest may be more a myth than fact.  A Canadian survey of 300 parents found that a majority of parents had positive feelings of their children’s departure, as opposed to negative.  This would prove that most parents actually look forward to their children leaving the home, as opposed to fear it or become depressed.


Lastly, when older people are asked what age they would like to return to, a majority say their 40’s!  Despite biological & psychological changes, partnered with major life changes, most people still end up recounting their 40’s as a time they would like to go back to.  This may or may not prove the existence of the mid life crisis, but only your own personal experience can determine how real this phenomenon is in your own life.

Creating REM Sleep and Optimizing Your Sleep Cycle

Researchers have known for a few decades the extreme importance of REM sleep.  This cycle is critical to our ability to create ideal sleep.  The trouble is, we can’t force ourselves to have it.  That’s right, we can’t demand our bodies to have REM sleep.

Ken Wright, the director of The Sleep & Chronobiology Lab at the University of Colorado, reports that there is no universal wake-up time.  We’re all on our own biological sleep and wake cycles.  However, it’s been shown that it is ideal to awaken at the conclusion of an REM sleep cycle, which is just before we awaken naturally.

Ken suggests that you try and set your natural alarm clock by self-monitoring your natural wake-up time while you’re on holidays.  Once you’ve established this natural wake-up time, you can begin to structure your day around this point.  Creating a daily routine around this natural ideal time will create optimal effectiveness of REM sleep.

When Imperative Thinking Has Emotional Consequences


First brought to light in the 1950’s, Karen Horney is known for her description of imperative thinking relating to emotional consequences.  She was a psychology writer who was known as a feminist before feminism.  Karen wrote on the topic of how humans see the “shoulds” and the “musts” in contradiction with the actual reality in the world around us and how this schism often causes emotional upheaval.


Frought with demanding terminology, imperative thinking and speaking can be one of the most destructive forces in intimate and interpersonal relationships.  While we all fall to this form internal and external dialogue every now and then, it’s those people around us that use imperative thinking all of the time that become conflict creators.  These people can also be leaders, bosses, and CEOs, so we mustn’t put everyone into the same category.


The top terms used within external and internal dialogue that indicate imperative thinking are phrases like “ought to”, “have to”, and “ entitled to”.  Sometimes questions can also indicate imperative thinking like “why?” and “how come?”.  These are all questions and phrases that are followed with a strong personal viewpoint that is often a definitive.  There is no flexibility for the person behind those viewpoints – their opinion is THE opinion, the only “right” way.


As you can see, this can cause quite the conflict in all sorts of situations.  When one or both parties involved in a conversation or an exchange become inflexible on their viewpoints, and neither are truly based in the actual reality of whatever they are speaking on, it can lead to conflict.  This generally stems from demands versus expectations.  When a demand is made it is generally more explicit, verbal, and stated clearly.  When an expectation is set it is often implicit, internal, and part of the inner dialogue, meaning it is rarely stated out loud.  The conflicts between these two ways of communication is clear and can lead to misunderstandings, anger, and disappointment.


If you’re finding yourself making demands or creating expectations, there are a few things you can do to work on changing your mindset.  Here are a set of questions that you should consider asking yourself before you pass a judgement, create imperial thoughts, or make a demand:

  • Will it bring out your best?
  • Will it bring out other’s best?
  • Will it help you with your long-term goals?
  • Will it make you the kind of person you want to be?
  • Is it morally and ethically sound?


Take these questions into account each and every time you find your mind and mouth wandering towards imperative thinking.  You’ll become a willing and flexible participant in constructive and open conversations with people you never thought possible.  Keep an open mind.


You know the old adage, the one that says  money can’t buy you happiness? Well, science begs to differ — sort of.

According to the Scientific American Mind, purchasing experiences  — not goods —  can give us greater well-being. That is to say, buying a $60 ticket to an activity leads to more happiness than getting a receipt for a purchase. Here’s why: Experiences generally involve social relationships. Items rarely do. Yes, we may re-use the item, but it has diminishing value as it ages or as the novelty wears off. Whereas social relationships characterized by experiences can self-generate, more relationships beget more relationships. Most of us can speak of a social relationship that is now a permanent quality relationship that was achieved as a result of a common experience.

I am a car guy. As far back as I can remember I have had a fascination with anything that has wheels. I still have my steel wagon from preschool, I had a go-kart at the age of 9, and my first car at 13. The research gets a little shabby around me though as I derived, and still derive, a lot of satisfaction from automobiles. However, I have far more memories of experiences (mostly because of an automobile, not ownership) than I do of purchasing said vehicles.

A second factor explaining why experience generates more well-being than an item is dopamine. Who would have guessed? Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that controls our reward and pleasure centers. It is generated as a result of delayed gratification. By going for the quick shiny ticket item your brain produces less chemical happiness. Delaying your gratification to go to a concert a month later increases your happiness. So instead of a ten minute rush you get, twenty minutes of brain opportunity to think, plan and visualize your positive expense.

That is a lot of dopamine!

— Dennis Coates


Esther Perel is a guru in the counselling field. She is well respected, an excellent writer, and has very little controversy surrounding her opinions. Of all the keen observations she’s made over the years, one of the keenest is: “We live in a time in which we no longer divorce because we are unhappy. We divorce because we think we should be happier. We demand a lot more from a marriage in terms of satisfaction, happiness, and emotional and sexual intimacy.”

Stop and think about it for a moment — and you’ll realize Perel is right.

With today’s rate of separation and divorce, the topic of divorce has become commonplace for the average therapist. We understand and respect that a couple may have made a wrong decision by getting married in the first place, or they simply may have not done the necessary things to maintain a quality relationship. That said, this blog has been written neither for the former or latter. No. It has been written for the preventative crowd —  those who have a good relationship and wish to keep it that way.

So let’s get to it, shall we?

I would have to agree with Ms. Perel. Daily expectations, circumstantial expectations or specific subject expectations are a central theme of disaffected relationships. Let’s look at the anatomy of an expectation, what some people may call their picture. At its most basic element, an expectation is a demand, an imperative, a standard — perhaps, at times, even a command. One has a vision of how an event or a moment will evolve. Sometimes these are conscious, other times they are based on prior experiences. Mostly we are unaware of our expectations until the picture unfolds contrary to the way we had thought. Then, we will try to force the picture by protesting to those involved, particularly if it is a person with whom we have close experience.

We often have another expectation that if they simply came around to our way of thinking, they would see their errors. So our protest will persist, and most likely elevate everyone’s emotions to the point of profound anger and hurt.

The functional opposite of an expectation is expressing a preference, a desire or perhaps even a deep desire. These will seldom lead to anger or the sharp hurt that comes from intimate expectations. Yes, it may leave the person with varying degrees of sadness or disappointment. But that is rarely as destructive as intimate anger or hurt.

So here’s a hint to help maintain a good marriage: STRIVE TO ELIMINATE EXPECTATION.

Work hard to increase the quantity and the quality of the clarity of your desire. Try to teach your partner the difference between a desire, your deep desire, and demands/expectations. Try to show how their expectation will bring out your worst just as your demand on them will bring out their worst. Model for your partner how you were disappointed (not devastated ) by a failed desire. Perhaps even be clear that you were profoundly disappointed. It is very unlikely that demonstrating anger and hurt will draw your partner in. Showing and explaining disappointment is more prone to cause your partner to be attentive. Also, look at your whole life. Try to find well-being, happiness, and satisfaction from multiple sources — not just one.

Just as we are told to keep a “diversified financial portfolio”, equally keep a wide source of well-being, not just from one person.

— Dennis Coates