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.

HOW TO MAKE MONEY BUY HAPPINESS

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

I’M JUST NOT THAT HAPPY IN MY MARRIAGE

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

DON’T BE A SLAVE TO EMAIL

Did you know that, on average, a person will receive 121 emails during each day?

That’s a fact.

It’s also a fact that, according to research conducted by the McKinsey Global Institute, the average person will spend 28% of the workday reading and responding to email. Crunch those numbers and what you get is 134 minutes (or 2.23 hours) per day spent emailing. Which equates to about 13 hours a week — or 650 hours a year!

And remember: this is not the amount of time we spend using a computer at work each day. No. It’s just the amount of time we spend on emails.

The cost this has on our emotional well-being is not yet known. We’ll need decades of research to find the long-term, permanent impact of this much emailing. But what’s for certain is there can be interpersonal consequences from hitting send too quickly, from saying the wrong thing, or from including the wrong person. There’s also what may be called the spiritual  consequences of detachment from people as we stare at our screens, oblivious to those around us.

You have to wonder where all this will lead our neurological pathways.

But what is a person to do about the growing percentage of time we spend emailing? Time that could be better spent engaging with staff and colleagues?

Well,  here are a few basic things you can do to keep from “tipping over”:

  1. Always try to schedule in your email time — make it work for your versus you working for it. Keep your email time in the same place each day.
  2. For the first 20 minutes of each day, focus on something other than your screen. Leave your phone and your computer and do as much work with people face-to-face as you can.
  3. Reduce the number of routine sites you check. Facebook is a huge time-waster. Only use it when you’re home.
  4. Speaking of home, don’t carry your phone in your pocket. Shut the ringer off so work emails won’t distract you when you’re home.
  5. Separate your work inbox from your personal inbox. No matter what, resist the temptation to do dual duty.
  6. When possible, delay responding to stressful emails. Be strict with yourself. Try not to respond to any angry or stressful emails for 24 hours. This will save you a lot of grief.

If these tips fail to work, you may want to consider seeing a therapist. This is not suggesting that you some deep or underlying disorder. Far from it! It’s just that some coaching and accountability may help you begin to break the chains that bind you to technology.

 

— Dennis Coates

ARE GOOD LOOKING PEOPLE MORE PRONE TO ANGER THAN THE REST OF US?

What would you say if I told you that good looking people are more prone to anger? Those “beautiful people” who have the total package. The top five percent with gifted looks. Yes, THEM.

Would you believe me?

You should. Because they are, in fact, more prone to get angry than the rest of the population.

According to a study published in the February 2017 edition of Psychology Today, researchers found that “strong men” and “pretty women” became more easily angered than other people. It was also reported that these two groups have the most influence in society. And, get this, throughout the recorded history of evolutionary psychology, these are also the people who can inflict the most harm and withhold benefits by having the most power. When that power is challenged, their anger becomes a tool to prevent them from being exploited.

So what does that mean for those of us in the other 95 percent category? Well, here are a couple things you should know.

First, if you are being threatened by someone’s anger, stop and ask yourself — “Is this person part of that upper five to, say, twenty percent of the strong and pretty population?” If the conclusion you come to is yes (while highly subjective), it may give you some insight into the their anger. They are not getting angry at YOU. They somehow think you are, or could in the future, exploit them. So the anger you see is just a reactive pressure to protect them.

Second, if a “strong” or “beautiful” person is getting angry with you, it may not be you at all. They have simply been blessed with good looks and are acting according to their years of accumulated experience of getting their own way because of their aesthetic appeal. In a situation like this, it’s probably not the best idea to stand up to them and try to teach them a lesson. Why? Because it’s unlikely they’ll understand. How could they? They have held a premium position throughout each decade of their life. A heart to heart isn’t likely to work.

If you ever find yourself being confronted like this and it bothers you, why not have a heart to heart with yourself instead? What is it about the other person’s anger that is so upsetting? Granted, no one like the anger of others, but if you are losing sleep, dreading your relationship, not wanting to go to work, or are being consumed by your own anger at them, it may be time for a check-up. Life is too short.