How Much Can You Get Away With?

The Gottman’s, pioneers in the field of marital research, have found that a couple may be able to exchange two hostile messages in 15 minutes but that will exceed a healthy set point. Our relationship breaker flips and there is no power left to constructively resolve a conflict if over that point.

One of the Gottman’s pieces of research discovered that during conflict interactions, a positive to negative affect ratio of 5-1 or higher is healthy. That is the average ratio in a stable, happy couple. By contrast if the positive to negative ratio during conflict is one to one or less that would be unhealthy and need to be characterized by the term “disaster”. These people would be high probabilities of divorce.

Practically speaking, when my wife approaches me about an item on “my banquet of short-comings”; Gottman’s recommends that, her success will be dependent on her finding things that she can say or do to keep me constructively engaged. If she is making the “complaint”, that initial responsibility of delivering it well is hers. She may make a comment on my caliber of my dress code. She may give me an affectionate touch, a teasing remark, she may express appreciation for how good our communication is (is that four?) then say “sweetheart, my love, do you know what would be really helpful for me? If you could…” and away we go, hopefully to a conclusion.

Some say this is manipulating. Some say it is pathetic. Some say it is childish. Masters smile and hold hands. They don’t care as long as it is respectful, kind and forward moving. They do not tie their ego or pride to the process. They can maturely delay their immediate gratification for the longer term goal of relational well-being. They do not even consider the idea of manipulation or being “whipped” because they have developed an auto-trust from years of practice.


What to do after a Relationship Fight?

The June 2013 issue of Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology reports that in a study of 953 couples, most want to disengage or meaningfully engage after a fight. Disengage is to leave the room or the house to avoid. Meaningful engage means to talk it out, what some call re-hash.

But which do I do? Individuals fully neglect which ones, can you guess it? It is obvious, engagement. Actively show investment, communication and affection; NOT an apology. Did you get that?

How often have we heard “I apologized, what does he/she expect!” Apologies are indeed helpful but “engagement” is rated first, then an apology second is what Masters do. Disasters on the other hand just keep fighting or disengage.

So, when should I disengage? Firstly, when there is a threat whether it is physical or emotional. Ones perceived safety always trumps communication. Secondly, blamefulness or criticism is a dead losing proposition.  This is also a time when disengagement or differing is the best idea. Environment is a third criticism for disengagement. If children are present it would be wise to disengage.

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.

Join Our Team!

PPC – Professional Psychologists & Counsellors is a successful, well respected private practice mental health therapy group serving Saskatoon and area for over 38 years.  Our beautiful location in a Victorian heritage home on College Drive provides a comfortable and relaxing setting with off-street parking for our clients and therapists.  We work together to build healthier relationships and happier lives.

In the coming years we will see several long-standing (and might we add outstanding) therapists retire, opening the door for new (-to-PPC), experienced therapists to join our team.  PPC provides our independent contractors with an administrative support team, office space, training allowances, promotional items and ideas, off-street parking, and initial clients to begin your caseload.   Therapists choose their own work schedules and private hourly rates; however we anticipate some flexibility for evenings and/or Saturdays.

We would like to contract with one or more skilled, well respected and self-motivated therapists.   If you are an individual who is willing to promote yourself and build your own practice in addition to working with the contracts that PPC has worked hard to secure over the past many years, this position has great potential to provide full-time hours.

The successful candidate(s) require a designation (in good standing) with a professional association such as the SKCP or SASW, 5 years of experience, and minimum liability insurance of $2 Million.  Preference will be given to Registered Psychologists with the APE designation.  There is an expectation that the successful candidate(s) will have strong organizational, oral and written communication skills, and are proficient in file maintenance (clear tracking of session dates, session lengths, client attendance, and client progress).

If you would like any additional information, or would like to discuss further, please contact Dennis Coates at 1118 College Drive, Saskatoon, SK S7N 0W2 or 306-664-0000.  Emails can be sent to

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.