I Have No Idea What You’re Talking About; Do We Say What We Really Mean?

Futurama Fry

Not sure if we should have to crack codes, or just speak using clear and direct language in our relationships. (Image/Looper)

In January 2016, I published an article titled “She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink” which became the most popular thing on the internet worldwide for a day or so and has now been read several millions of times in several languages.

I don’t think it’s anywhere near the best writing I’ve done, and I spend most days embarrassed at how much “Men do this, and Women do another thing” sort-of language is in there. I don’t believe all men, nor all women, do things one certain way, with the possible exception of our respective peeing techniques.

Despite its many flaws, “She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink” resonated with many people and continues to. Surely the click-baity headline has been a factor, but there’s something more important, and it’s the reason thousands of people have thanked me for “saving their marriage” even though I did no such thing.

That article did for many people what the book “How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It” had done for me. It removed the blinders many of us were wearing on the subjects of effective communication and empathy in our relationships.

It’s such a dangerously simple concept that all of the wise and mature people who already figured it out dismiss it as child’s play, and about which the rest of us roll our eyes like “I’m so sure this over-simplified bullshit is the reason my marriage is in shambles and half of all marriages end in divorce! No way!”

But we need the wise people to patiently teach this secret of life to their children, and skillfully share it with their friends and extended family.

And we need everyone else to start paying attention to details that—tragically—fall into a category of things most people don’t talk or think about, and aren’t formally taught.

“She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink”—effectively or otherwise—tried to communicate the most important idea in romantic relationships other than Love is a Choice.

An event can occur—anything, really—and it’s possible for one person to be deeply emotionally or psychologically wounded and feel intense pain because of it while a second person experiencing the same thing at the same time and place never even notices.

This is common. Human nature. The result of individuals not sharing brains and nervous systems.

But it’s also the reason the majority of human relationships fail.

I like the second-degree burn analogy, because it illustrates it perfectly. Lightly touching someone on their arm doesn’t hurt them. Almost never. If they scream out in pain, they’re probably a bizarrely dramatic person with some form of mental illness and questionable sanity.

HOWEVER. If someone has a second-degree burn, and you lightly touch their arm on the burn wound, their painful outburst makes sense.

And what the average person in the average relationship doesn’t understand, but that “She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink” helped some people finally get is that just because being lightly touched on your arm, or a dirty dish sitting by the sink, or a damp towel on the bed, or dirty socks on the floor, or sarcastic jokes, or staying home with kids instead of going to work full-time doesn’t feel or seem like it should be hard or painful DOES NOT mean that another human being with a different mind, heart, body, and life experiences doesn’t experience those same things in profoundly painful ways that are different than yours. Especially when it happens over and over and over. And over. And over. And over. And over. And over, again.

THAT scenario is what ends the majority of marriages and relationships of all stripes, every day, everywhere on earth and probably on some other alien worlds in the far reaches of the universe, but I can’t substantiate that since Mexico is the furthest place from Ohio I’ve ever been—and their shitty relationships look just like the ones I see around here, except it sounds better, because Spanish.

If young people fundamentally understood this basic concept of empathy and learned how to talk about it during their formative dating years, our marriage success rates would improve dramatically and help fix much of what’s broken.

It Feels Like a Code or a Secret

To me and others, it does.

Every human being’s great crime is forgetting that literally every other member of the seven-billion-and-counting human race has a totally different brain and chemical makeup than we do. Since every conscious second of our lives is experienced through our own eyes in the first-person, it seems easy enough to understand how this happens, but I continue to choke on the sheer amount of assholery I see, hear, feel, and dish out myself every day despite the growing number of people maturing into the adults responsible for setting new standards of human behavior in the 21st century.

My parents didn’t talk to me about this stuff.

No one did.

And most people never had a parent or teacher or trusted adult explain this nuanced idea while emphasizing how big the stakes are. No one prepares us for the shit-storm that ensues when we get it wrong.

So when I discovered this “code” on the heels of my life-crippling divorce, I felt a powerful compulsion to share my story and try to raise awareness about this.

After more than four years of writing about it, I don’t feel any closer to a concise and clear method for communicating this marriage/relationship-saving idea.

Commenter: ‘Must Husbands Crack Codes? Why Can’t Wives Clearly State the REAL Problem?’

Brian’s question got me thinking, and motivated me to write for the first time in weeks.

Strictly for pragmatism’s sake, YES—men/husbands/boyfriends, and presumably women/wives/girlfriends as well—must crack this code.

We’re human beings. When we hurt is often when we communicate most poorly, or not at all, running off to pout silently and waiting for an apology we’ll never receive (probably because they never even knew we were hurt by whatever the thing was).

But we also deal with a lot of philosophical questions around here, and Brian asks a fair one:

“If the wife simply came out and said ‘Hey… look, when you leave the glass there, it makes me feel like you’re not even aware that it is hurting me in a way that’s actually way bigger than just the glass,’ instead of hinting around and playing the ‘This issue we’re currently arguing isn’t actually the real issue that I’m pissed off about and fighting like hell over’ game; the guy is now presented with a statement that needs to be digested prior to spewing an emotional ‘WTF? Really? Over a glass?’ response.”

Should We Have to Decipher Coded Language in our Relationships?

Part of me believes the average guy in this “dishes by the sink” situation will respond to her attempts to connect something larger to the “dish” with the same level of dismissal and invalidation that he already exhibits toward the seemingly minor matter of the dish itself. But—BUT—if we are asking men to step outside of themselves and exercise the humility necessary to listen, communicate, behave, comfort, respect, support, love in the ways their wives or romantic partners can understand and interpret accurately, is it not also fair to ask women (or everyone who plays little miscommunication games for reasons few of us understand) to work to more clearly or effectively communicate what is actually hurting or causing relationship problems?

To Brian’s point, if someone seems dismayed at the idea that a dish left by the sink could be significant enough to be worthy of a marriage fight, might there be greater need for the affected person to communicate more skillfully WHY the dish, or the socks, or the towel, or the sarcasm, or whatever, has been elevated into a marriage-threatening thing that could fundamentally change everyone in the family’s lives forever?

I don’t know.

But considering what’s at stake, I hope more people will think and talk about it.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

213 thoughts on “I Have No Idea What You’re Talking About; Do We Say What We Really Mean?

  1. Loura Shares A Story says:

    I can answer that question.

    Many times I am so overwhelmed and tired with life (and one more dish), that I don’t have the capacity to communicate why that glass makes me so upset. I may not even know why myself at the moment. On the other hand, on those occasions when I have had the capacity to know why and the energy to communicate (calmly) why, it is invariably viewed as an attack. Defenses go up, excuses come out, gas-lighting occurs, and what could have been a learning experience and healthy exchange of words and thoughts, becomes a drawn-out fight over all the wrongs in the relationship. So then, it is viewed as “easier” (lesser of two evils) to quietly add the dish to a growing tally of hurts that cannot be communicated in a healthy way. Communication requires at least two parties.

    Liked by 7 people

    • Matt says:

      Yeah. Your experiences mirror what I cynically imagined.

      Since I was basically that guy, there are really no words. I didn’t know until I knew. Too late.

      Liked by 2 people

    • KG3 says:

      “… it is invariably viewed as an attack.” Yes! 1,000 times this! When you have a partner with limited communication skills, and little to no empathy, or any ability to look at the situation objectively, then no amount of communication–however calm–will make a difference to them. They will always view it as an attack. I’ve spent 17 years with that guy, and finally had to give up.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Loura Shares A Story says:

        I’m sorry you had to go through that. It is stressful and hair-tearingly frustrating (not to mention all the feelings of personal guilt, self-examination, and striving to “make things better” or to be a better person so you don’t blow up over a stupid cup). Good for you for making a tough move to help yourself.

        Like

    • Esmeralda says:

      Exactly, or they flat out don’t listen, and don’t show the maturity to resolve the resolvable issue, at least in my case, one moment of “whats your perspective of the incident (s)”, and we’d be great!

      Like

  2. calijones says:

    When *you* feeling bad about something only makes *him* feel bad, in other words rather than take any responsibility he just rather you didn’t bring it up.

    Most of the time we aren’t arguing about anything, but when we do it seems like there’s no way out but to brush it under the rug for the time being. I hope to find a way to deal with this but it does feel hopeless when it happens.

    Like

  3. KK says:

    What happens when the wife or husband clearly explain it exactly how the comment above from Brian stated, and the wife or husband couldn’t still care less and even further perhaps speaks her/his lack of caring vocally?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matt says:

      It’s as if when our spouses/partners/friends/most-cherished loved ones/etc. speak words to us to describe their experiences, we decide they’re making it up, or somehow mistaken, and then behave as if our asanine snap judgment is gospel.

      We’re dumb.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Donkey says:

        “It’s as if when our spouses/partners/friends/most-cherished loved ones/etc. speak words to us to describe their experiences, we decide they’re making it up, or somehow mistaken, and then behave as if our asanine snap judgment is gospel.

        We’re dumb.”

        Omg, perfectly put Matt.

        As if our asinine snap judgment is gospel indeed.

        Seriously…how can we all be so dumb and still walk and talk and look both ways before crossing the street.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Matt says:

          The most-frightening aspect of my personal life experiences is how I occasionally catch myself doing this exact thing. This thing that adversely and in some respects, permanently, altered my life forever.

          I still do it sometimes. The good news is that I can at least see it, own it and talk about it today, unlike the married version of me.

          So, yay, I guess.

          Like

          • Insight is 90% of the battle. Whenever I get self righteous a humbling experience reminds me I’m just human and I can only try again tomorrow. The challenge in marriage is to be kind when those things happen. When kindness is gone neither has the opportunity to EVER make it right.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Louie says:

              STH….oh but isn’t that the truth . On the occasional self righteous ride, idiot me always gets an eye opening (perhaps mini karma experience ) anti-view of my perception or lack there of. This forces me to be more insightful in future application , however in terms of long haul relationships that insight needs to have more vigilance on a larger more focused level than just “Ah Ha” moments .

              Like

  4. “If the wife simply came out and said ‘Hey… look, when you leave the glass there, it makes me feel like you’re not even aware that it is hurting me in a way that’s actually way bigger than just the glass,’ instead of hinting around and playing the ‘This issue we’re currently arguing isn’t actually the real issue that I’m pissed off about and fighting like hell over’ game; the guy is now presented with a statement that needs to be digested prior to spewing an emotional ‘WTF? Really? Over a glass?’ response.”

    Yeah… Tried that. Didn’t work. I actually said some variation of these words to my husband: “When you do (x) or don’t do (y) when I have asked you to, it makes me feel as if I don’t matter to you.”

    Now, the interesting part was having a similar conversation with my son. He is now 17, and I leave him lists of things to do after he gets home from school. Nothing big — empty the dishwasher, feed the cats, put away your laundry, etc. — and if you can’t get it done for whatever reason, let me know. I came home from work one night to find none of the things on the list done — the cats were not pleased — and no note. Oh, and all the lights were on and the doors were unlocked.

    After he got back from dinner with his father, I lit into him about the electricity and safety issues, then stopped, looked at him, and asked, “Do I matter to you?”. He was shocked and horrified I would even ask that question, so I told him when he didn’t follow through on things I asked him to do and made no effort to communicate why they were undone, that was how I felt. He gave me a hug and apologized. I told him I wasn’t just raising him to be a good son but to be a good man and a good partner, and that paying attention to what the other people in your life find important is part of both those things.

    Does he backslide at times? Of course he does; he’s a teenager. But I think he gets it much more than his father ever did. And I am grateful for that.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. KK says:

    So if explaining it in a calm way doesn’t work then what will get it through to them?

    Like

    • Matt says:

      An unwanted divorce and losing half of my son’s childhood worked for me.

      Like

      • KK says:

        Definitely not what I want. Don’t get it either.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Matt says:

          I had to break before I was able to start asking better questions and looking for better answers.

          When everything hurts really bad and you’ve hit rock-bottom, you lose the fear of being brutally honest with yourself and others.

          That was what I, personally, needed to get from Super Selfish Guy, to Just Kinda-Selfish But Tries a Lot Harder Now Guy.

          Like

      • KK says:

        If you were to speak man to man, how would you go about speaking to them about getting this communication flowing in a healthy way and knocking some sense into their thought flow?

        Like

  6. To echo what Loura said above, too often the “hurt” party doesn’t understand themselves why that glass or whatever being left lying around matters so much. Also, the hurt builds up over time, and sometimes the person’s heart has already moved past the point of no return by the time the “real” underlying issue is identified.

    Assuming both parties are not overly defensive and truly want a healthy relationship, seeking a third party’s assistance as a sounding board can be really helpful whenever either party is feeling hurt or misunderstood.

    I’m praying for the day when people go to counseling when they are hurting as readily as they go to a dentist when their tooth hurts.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. JenR says:

    “Because…Spanish”…LOL…glad you’re back. I needed this today.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Matt says:

      I know approximately 0.5% of the Spanish language and had a delightful time using all of the non-bad words I know while visiting. It was my first time in the Caribbean. I require several more.

      Thanks for the note!

      Like

  8. Thalea says:

    What you’re talking about sounds like humans learning healthy boundaries. We’ve mostly jumped on board with this idea in the reactive, I-won’t-take-your-shit-because-BOUNDARIES way.

    We tend to lag in the proactive, this-is-what-I DO-expect/accept/allow-because-self-love way.

    Men and women alike need to learn to love themselves wholly, and communicate from that place.

    If I tell my husband that I won’t cook on Thursdays because I have school, and then I get upset and cook anyway because no one is doing it, that’s on me because I took responsibility for something I released myself from. If resentment builds up because of it, that’s on me because I am allowing resentment to fester.

    The second degree burn analogy is interesting because if the injuries were intentional, that’s one thing – a different conversation. But if someone held a candle under my arm, I generally have the choice to pull away and say “Stop! That hurts!”

    If I get upset because they held the candle there, but I refused to move my arm and instead simply stared at them, waiting for them to SEE my arm on fire, for THEM to move the candle, I have a part in that.

    Others’ lack of responsibility is on them. But my choice to remain silent on me. And in the end, it’s healthy for me to focus on what I can control (my own boundaries and communication) rather than what I cannot control (their lack of responsibility).

    Liked by 4 people

  9. “…is it not also fair to ask women (or everyone who plays little miscommunication games for reasons few of us understand) to work to more clearly or effectively communicate what is actually hurting or causing relationship problems?”

    Well,it’s been my experience that men tend to have a great deal of trouble empathizing with women. Many of them,even those who are genuinely good people,flat out dismiss women as delusional, as not worth listening to, as not important enough to accommodate. I have always had to work ten times harder to get the point across to men and I don’t think that’s about not being an effective communicator.

    Like

    • Esmeralda says:

      and those men, arguably, shouldn’t be allowed to marry, or get into serious emotional relationships with women. Why get into a serious emotional living together relationship when you think all women are bonkers and delusional? hmmm

      Like

  10. somecallmejack says:

    Thought provoking as always!

    First, I really think that this goes both ways, and often both ways at the same time, which is tragic but avoidable.

    I apologize if this is a tangent…but I also want to say that I don’t believe that a responsible partner says “these are my childhood wounds, deal with them (and by the way, I expect you to know what they are and how to deal with them without my telling you).” I believe that responsible adult love says “help me by showing me some love as I work on healing my wounded places so that I in turn can love you better.”

    Liked by 1 person

  11. pansyass says:

    As always Matt, you seem to hit the universal “relationship pitfall” nail on the head. In my experience, empathy and communication go hand in hand. My husband is your typical black or white thinker….very rigid on right and wrong. And let’s just say he’s not afraid to tell you what you did wrong. I’m pretty laid back and take things in stride…the glass in the sink would not bother me…BUT there does come a point where I get so sick of hearing him complain about something I did or something one the boys did…I do snap sometimes and I will say I’m not the best communicator at that moment. Do I regret it later? Absolutely! Do I apologize later? Most of the time. Does he? Hell no!

    My point to all of this is my hatred for one of his favorite canned responses – “I’m entitled to my opinion.” Now before the “everyone is entitled to their opinion” police come after me, please let me explain. Yes, freedom of speech and all that, BUT, in my opinion (see what I did here), there is no place for that phrase in what is supposed to be a sincere attempt to talk openly about problems in a marriage. When my husband says that to me, it makes me feel like he is not only dismissing my issue, but also telling me in no uncertain terms, that he is not open to hearing anything that might disagree with his opinion. Maddening!

    Thanks for listening!

    Like

  12. https://mondayblues449.wordpress.com/2017/10/05/ich-liebe-bier/ -beautiful piece. current student in university been assigned to start a blog and get traction on it check out my first one and it could help a guys grade.

    Like

  13. Louie says:

    When we embark on our lifetime relationships the notion of traditional dynamics and historical behavior and subsequent complacency need to be looked at by both partners . My wife and I were from seriously different backgrounds . I was a member of 1st generation Italian immigrant family raised with lots of love but with a husband-head-of -household mentally . We worked side by side in our family business and knew roles as proscribed by the needs of the greater good. Not all of it was rosey or fun or fair. My perception born of this environment was thought ,by me, to be the way it is. My sweetie on the other hand , was brought up by an abusive mother and detached alcoholic father. The mom would randomly beat the kids in direct correlation to how pissed she was at the father and the father would witness this and do nothing . As our relationship formed I was the Knight in shining armor , I was taking her away from that environment and providing a safe haven for always . Not so in the beginning . As my perception was applied hers seem to be a revisiting of the horrors of her childhood . I didn’t fully understand the communication and empathy concept . Little things surly added up and them came my epiphany while living in the Hotel Pontiac . We need to completely throw ourselves into our relationships from the earliest stages…to understand where we came from and how we can move forward together . The key in this is to walk solidly in each other’s shoes and fully understand through good heartfelt communication and discussion what we have experienced and what our boundaries and deal breakers are. Then to effectively and consciously apply through awareness and walk had in hand and have each other’s back

    Liked by 1 person

    • pansyass says:

      Louie – loved your post. Such great advice! I’m not sure my husband and I can find our way back to each other. We are trying, but there are so many emotional scars (sadly, scars we gave each other). I wholeheartedly agree with the “have each other’s back” comment. I don’t know why this has to be so hard.

      Sad to hear about your wife’s childhood. I can’t imagine living like that. Like you, I grew up in a household with love – pretty normal childhood. My husband, however, is a slightly different scenario. His parents weren’t physically abusive, but I truly believe his mother had a narcissistic-borderline personality. I have read articles about how a mother like this can truly screw her kids up for a lifetime. I really believe this is why he has the issues that he does. Although, he would never admit it.

      Like

      • Louie says:

        Pansyass . .. Truly it breaks my heart to think of what my wife and her siblings endured . The beatings alone where bad enough but to know that there were no heros…no aunts no uncles friends relatives of any kind and least of all their own father , that were willing to intercede . …to protect them…to show them that it wasn’t their fault . While we were dating I had to back down her mom on several occasions . But true to her beautiful soul ,my love swore she would never be that way….that the behavior her mom showed would not be passed on …. As for your relationship with your husband , I’m an eternal optimist…. I don’t believe that there is no chance, no way, no hope . If you two truly love each other it can and will happen . I don’t know your relationship dynamic and what has or hasn’t transpired during its current course , but I believe in rewinds , that there is a reset button , I’m not anyone to give advice , I was truly a shitty husband once (maybe still sometimes ) but I learned what,was valuable in my life. I chose to do my part to bring our relationship to full circle we have been talking more now than we have in our nearly 34 years together . We go on dates, we are planning some little day trips , we have hashed out a lot of the hurts that took place in our lives and marriage and put them to rest. We rewound the clock and the only time we are focusing on is the present and the future . Sure the ghosts of the past continue to sneak in and cause havoc , but we handle that now as a team.. we’ve worked through the “whys ” of those ghosts . ..we’ve sorted the truths of our life together . …..those are far more eye opening . Please never give up on yourselves , if you truly love one another than it is worth every effort to move past and forward .. Individual and couples counseling helped us quite a bit . ..it wasn’t the full answer but it gave us a platform for moving forward . We got to see each other’s hurts and perceptions and really get to see ourselves as individuals as well as life partners . I have great faith that you two will be alright . As I do with all who struggle with their relationships and all those that post here I will add you your husband and family to my prayers…..blessings Louie

        Liked by 1 person

  14. anitvan says:

    I am with wordsaremylife, in my own experience, this is about boundaries and healthy honesty. I recognize that early in our relationship, we both failed to honestly communicate our boundaries to one another. You know how it is in the beginning, you let stuff slide because, you know, you don’t wanna seem high maintenance or whatever. But that’s actually dishonest. It’s hiding a part of you from your partner and its information that they need to know! It’s kinda unrealistic to expect your partner to know that you don’t like certain behaviours if you’ve been tolerating them thus far.

    At the risk of sounding like I’m blaming the victim, if you aren’t honest with your partner up front and allow them to cross your boundaries over and over again, you kinda forfeit your right to be taken seriously when you finally do speak up. And good luck trying to enforce them at THAT point.

    At that point, I think the only option you have is to be completely honest with your partner and tell them, “Hey, I’m sorry, but I haven’t been completely honest with you, and I need to tell you some things that I should have, early on in our relationship that are really affecting it now.”. And then tell him. Or her. But think about it from your partner’s perspective too.

    I was not honest with my husband and didn’t show him who I really am up front. It starts innocently enough. The first time the glass got left by the sink, I didn’t think twice about it, I just put it in the dishwasher with the rest of the dishes. And the next time it happened, I thought, oh I’ll be nice and take care of this for him. When it happened the third time, I began to notice a pattern, but I still didn’t speak up, I just grumbled about it to myself under my breath, which later became bitching about it, and eventually led to full-blown fights over the stupid (metaphorical) dish. Before I knew it had happened, we’d established a pattern of behaviour that I now resented. That dynamic didn’t occur in a vacuum, I played a direct part in creating it. There are consequences to dishonesty, even unintended dishonesty. Our partners *believed* they knew who we were based on past behaviour, and now we tell them, oh, that was not really me, even though I was acting like this is who I am, THIS is who I really am. OF COURSE there’s gonna be fallout from that! I can hardly blame my husband if he prefers to believe what he experienced over what I say – I created that monster and owning it means that I owe my husband some patience and grace towards how he responds. HE’S the aggrieved party here, I’m the one who was dishonest about myself after all, so I’m hardly in a position now to make demands. The best I can hope for is that he will take me seriously going forward.

    I can’t speak for all couples, but I suspect that we’re not the only ones who have experienced this dynamic. It’s a hard one (sorry) to break, but not hopeless of both partners are willing to work through it. If the “lied-to” partner doesn’t like the new status quo, that’s gonna make it tough of course. Time and patience may help resolve it over time, but there’s every chance that eventually one or both partners will realize that this is not the relationship they thought it was and may want out. That’s so sad and at the heart of it is this small, seemingly harmless deception.

    Anybody who’s currently trying to “get through” to their partner, my heart goes out to them. It’s a toughie, with no easy answers.

    Liked by 4 people

    • My conundrum is almost twenty years in we’ve BOTH stopped hiding who we really are. And today I’m kinda iffy on how it’s working for us. My fear is we’re both trying TOO hard. When and how do you make that sad decision?

      Liked by 1 person

      • anitvan says:

        I can’t speak for everyone, but what did it for me was one day I asked myself “What if this is a good as it ever gets? Can I live every day of the rest of my life in a marriage like this?” I decided that yes, I could, even though this marriage was much less than I wanted and hoped for, I was strong enough to remain in it for my husband’s sake. Because I DO love him, I care about his well-being very deeply. Leaving him would destroy him (he has HUGE abandonment issues) and I refuse to do that to him.

        But your mileage may vary. Your marriage is not my marriage any only you can make that decision. My best advice is, as long as you have doubts, stay. Don’t rip your family apart until you are sure that you don’t have any other options but to end the marriage. You may have to suffer a little more until you know for sure, but when you know, you’ll just know. Take the time you need to work it all out in your head and and trust that you’ll know what needs to be done.

        I’m really sorry hon. The back and forth phase sucks 😥

        Liked by 2 people

        • somecallmejack says:

          STH, Anitvan – I think one of the secrets is realizing that every day is iffy. There are no promises and no guarantees. If you can love, and you both clearly can, you make a choice and if you want to forge ahead, you stick with your partner another day. Love, a good marriage, isn’t something you _have_, it’s something you _do_, and it doesn’t look anything like the movies. Sometimes it is gritty and sometimes it just requires a lot of grit in us.

          But that question “what if this is as good as it ever gets?” is like pushing a knife slowly into yourself. It’s a choice and it requires purpose and will and it hurts so much and, speaking for myself, sometimes makes me want to panic, just freak right out.

          I ask myself, often, what are my expectations for “us” – where did they come from – are they real – are they realistic?

          Just in case you think I’m noble or enlightened or something like that, I’m probably somewhat like Anitvan’s (what IS your name, anyway??? ;-) ) husband, not like her.

          Like

          • anitvan says:

            Jack, I’m Anita IRL 😏
            You know, my husband (his name is Ken) is a super-insecure guy and is always looking for reassurance that we’re ok, but the truth is, nothing I say ever fully convinces him. If I tell him I love him will never leave him because he’s all that and bag of chips, he immediately rejects it, but if I give him the truth and tell him the reason I can say with certainty that I will never leave him is because I have simply decided that I will never cross that line and hurt him in that way, he finds it entirely unsatisfying. It’s not the Never-Ending-Love-Story reason that he’d like to hear. And I don’t know if even THAT would satisfy him for long. Sooner or later the doubt he has about himself kicks back in. He’s stuck in this never-ending cycle of seeking affirmation from others instead of from within.

            So I can really relate with what you say about expectations for the marriage. Sometimes the problem doesn’t actually lie within the marriage, sometimes we project into the marriage a problem that lies within ourselves. If you’re married long enough, it can be tough to tell the difference between the two.

            Like

            • Elwood says:

              anitvan, thank you for restoring my faith in humanity.
              “Can I live every day of the rest of my life in a marriage like this?” I decided that yes, I could, even though this marriage was much less than I wanted and hoped for.”
              That is the most mature and self-aware thing I’ve heard in ages, taking both men and women into account.
              Most people can’t make this decision and instead opt for “I will let the other person know how much of a disappointment he/she is every day of his life, because clearly I deserve better”.
              (Of course I’m not talking about violence, abuse and other social worker material. I’m talking about letting people be who they are.)

              Liked by 1 person

              • anitvan says:

                “I will let the other person know how much of a disappointment he/she is every day of his life, because clearly I deserve better.”

                Bingo. THAT’S precisely what I refuse to do.

                You don’t just discard people like a pair of old shoes.

                Like

    • somecallmejack says:

      Anitvan, your post stirs up a storm of emotion for me. Recognition and empathy and sadness and hope and loss and grit (if that’s an emotion) and bravery and fear and 57 more from either Heinz or Baskins & Robbins (take your pick).

      We did so much the same, stuffing things down to avoid conflict. In the end, it’s so much worse. We didn’t know better, we didn’t have the skills. I have been trying to grow up (at 59) for a couple of years and I think I still don’t really have this even close to right on a consistent basis. My wife probably doesn’t, either, but I can’t throw stones over that.

      More below.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Louie says:

        OK ! Jack, STH, and now anitvan…..I’m not usually moved to tears reading here but you three have made me go through a box of tissues . STH…..there is no such thing as trying too hard…I realize people’s frustrations when movement seems stagnant or non existent in the face of epic efforts , but I sense you are being harder on yourself than need be. In so many of your thoughtful and inspiring posts I have seen the warrior princess that you are and I have seen the sad come out of you as well. You have said so many beautiful things that give hope and new clarity to so many . ..that now I plead with you to keep fighting ! Jack is correct , pondering the notion of what if this isas good as it gets is infact like slowly pushing a knife into yourself,thoughts we all get about pulling plugs and stepping away are manifestations of our frustrations and our need for seeing a light at the end of the tunnel . …sometimes that tunnel is longer than we expected but there is a light . Jack… you are spot on in your response post regarding every day being “iffy”. The emotional range (and I do believe gritty is an emotion) to me at least , shows willingness , willingness to change (not who but how we are), willingness to forgive our spouses and ourselves , willingness to be more conscious , willingness to seek answers , willingness to be courageous willingness to redefine our love.
        If we all here didn’t possess this willingness we wouldn’t be reading and posting . Anitvan… your fighting spirit is exemplified in your comments about when you asked yourself what if this is as good as it gets and your answer was unquestionably courageous. Your commitment is evident and your course is of your own strength and character . I honestly value you all for the moments when my ghosts come back to haunt me …I can usually see something you have written and get some peace and comfort

        Liked by 1 person

        • Ah, you also bring me to tears :) A rough day (unrelated to marriage) has me following my poor husband around thinking out loud and needing connection to ease terrible stage fright. Unfortunately it brings up the same physical sensations as some of the intense stressful days in our past while he’s in the midst of a project in isolation (something I respect but is ill timed today).
          I don’t think he’s humouring me, I feel he’s understanding my vulnerability today that is atypical and I’m expressing badly. I’ve gotten it wrong a couple times and used historical references that were unnecessary and he’s quietly letting me think out loud and work this through. All I need is presence and acceptance that emotion “too much” – being there for this damsel in distress as he had been in past for others.
          He’s doing a pretty good job.

          Like

        • anitvan says:

          Well! I’m pleased that something I said encouraged you. 😉 That’s always my hope.

          Like

    • Esmeralda says:

      This seems like a fair discussion, sometimes it’s nobody’s fault, and sometimes people let things slide and let themselves be spoken over, and its a habit and very dishonest

      Like

  15. benleander says:

    I don’t think anyone’s always speaking their minds in relationships. And I also think that not talking about the small things that hurt you (because maybe you’re feeling silly about pointing a finger at it) will fester and fester while you push your partner further away. Until one day you feel like you can’t talk to each other anymore and all that’s left is pain. I’m going through that right now. It sucks, it hurts and I wouldn’t know how we could have prevented it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • pansyass says:

      I hear you. Why do we fight against each other instead of fighting for each other? Why does it seem that we compete against our mate instead of supporting them? Why can’t we agree to compromise instead of “my way or the highway” attitudes? Why do we punish our partners with the silent treatment or hostility when we don’t get our own way? Why can’t we grasp the art of losing gracefully for our partner’s sake and the sake of our relationship?

      These things I will NEVER understand. Aren’t we supposed to love, cherish and respect each other – the one person we chose to commit our life to? Trust me, I don’t expect perfection – there are no perfect, flawless relationships. A little less flawed is all I ask.

      Liked by 1 person

      • benleander says:

        What I experienced is that with time, partners start to keep tabs and who did what wrong. And this is so wrong for so many reasons! Now when a fight happened we would always go over all the things that happened in the past instead of solving issues and moving past them. I do believe this had a massive impact on how close we felt.
        It is so hard to fight/discuss in a constructive way with tour partner. But I think it’s probably very important to put an effort in so you don’t start to push your partner away. I wish me and my partner would’ve been able to solve our issues constructively 😔

        Like

  16. Lisa Gottman says:

    When I clicked on the link for Brian’s question I saw this comment from Laurie that I thought was brilliant. Sometimes communication is about boundaries.

    “Years ago I was cleaning the house and my husband was in his chair watching TV. I must have walked by him a dozen times. Finally I said “Are you going to help me?” BTW,we both worked full time jobs. He replied “I didn’t know you needed help. You didn’t tell me you needed help.” Okay it’s like that. Several weeks passed. I cooked dinner one night, 3 chicken breasts. One each for myself and our two boys. My hubby went to make his plate, came out and asked “Where is the chicken?” I replied “I didn’t know you were hungry. You didn’t tell me you were hungry.” At that point he realized where I was coming from turned around and made a plate of rice and vegetables. He is much better now.”

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Lisa Gottman says:

    The second part of Brian’s comment:

    “It takes both parties to communicate how they feel in a way that the other will receive it and process it. You almost knocked it out of the park with “Telling a man something that doesn’t make sense to him once, or a million times, doesn’t make him “know” “. Telling ANYONE something that doesn’t make sense once or a million times isn’t going to make them know.”

    It is absolutely true that repeating the same words or actions that haven’t gotten through over and over expecting a different outcome is the best way to end up full of resentment and burnout.

    But here’s the problem. Many women including wordsaremylife and me and I’m sure many others here have used the words that Brian suggested to reveal the meaning of the proverbial dish and have not gotten a different response. It is very often not as simple as explaining what you want clearly and what it means to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Lisa Gottman says:

    Another part of Brian’s comment asks another question:

    “I’m curious if the roles were reversed would my wife of 18 years (living together for 23) even consider that the seemingly minor spat was really part of a bigger issue that was potentially marriage ending.”

    Obviously there are individual variations but research shows the answer is more than likely that YES if the roles were reversed Brian’s wife would indeed understand that showing consideration for the spouses expressed concerns (accepting influence) is critical to feeling respected and loved. And that ignoring expressed concerns are potentially marriage ending. So yes, his wife on average would be better at understanding this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lisa Gottman says:

      It’s also true that research shows that gay couples are better at this too. So the issue is mostly getting a man in a hetero relationship to understand that accepting influence is key to a happy relationship.

      So what’s a poor straight girl to do?

      There is plenty to do. Ideally you catch it early when it’s easier to get cooperation. Set boundaries to get attention etc.

      Most of us don’t know that is what we should do. Because women often lack those healthy skills.

      So most of us end up trying to fix it at a later stage. The trick is that it after the early part of the relationship it a lot harder. And both of you probably are missing skills since you ended up there. So you have to learn new skills and try to change the system.

      It’s hard to pull off. That’s why so many people get divorced.

      But let’s assume you are committed to doing it what do you do with a guy who doesn’t readily accept influence on some topics that mean a lot to you?

      You’ve got to learn black level communication skills and unilaterally apply them non defensively to give him the easiest setup for him to be able to change.

      That’s my story. It’s very hard. I have had to work endlessly to improve my skill deficits. Praise improvements in his efforts to encourage him towards less defensivevess and stonewalling. Respond non defensively to criticism. Apologize unilaterally.

      He is changing. But it’s not a lack of communication clarity that is the issue.

      It doesn’t really work to express concerns clearly or vulnerably with many men. It’s not that simple.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lisa Gottman says:

        And of course my black belt levels skills are mostly yellow belt skills on most days. It’s a definite work in progress to learn new skills and gain maturity.

        I was just trying to express how difficult a position a woman is in this situation. It often requires HUGE skills and maturity unilaterally applied to get a man to change.

        The other option is being willing to get a divorce. With that leverage some men will be more open to changing to not lose his marriage.

        Liked by 1 person

  19. Lisa Gottman says:

    So while I agree with Anita’s sentiment that you don’t discard people like a pair of old shoes, living with a man who doesn’t accept your influence is like being kicked in the face by those old shoes.

    And trying to unilaterally do all the changing while being told that YOU are the core problem is like walking barefoot on glass. I can understand why so many women find it so painful they have to throw away the old shoes for their physical and mental health.

    Studies said that on average you are far more likely to get sick in an environment like that. Women more than men in yet another sad gender pattern. Yet another part of my story. The toll it has taken on my body and mind to unilaterally make the changes necessary to allow him to start to change is heavy. I have had major issues with depression and anxiety and significant health issues directly related to extended marital distress. I know this is common.

    I understand why women decide to leave relationships like that in ways I did not before. And I am privileged in many ways over that I acknowledge. I think those who decide to stay are often more privileged with resources or support or certain personality traits than many who don’t.

    It is not just as simple as a lack of commitment.

    My husband is willing to seek therapy. This is something many men refuse. Sadly we have had terrible experiences with couples therapist but he is willing to continue to seek help with me. This would not be most women’s experiences with a man that doesn’t accept influence. So she is left to deal with changing the system by herself.

    Often with a man who is unwilling to hear his role in the system. From his perspective it’s ALL about her changing. Research shows that husbands like this will bat back suggestions for change with no acknowledgment or alternative suggestions.

    This then requires getting to a “perfect” response that meets his needs before anything other then a ball returning to you and hitting you in the face is even considered.

    And this perfection needs to happen while the woman is in an environment set up to make that incredibly hard while she is prone to feeling mentally and physically ill.

    So yeah I get why women feel they can’t do that. The toll for wearing those old shoes is very very very high. And the energy it takes to do all that leaves little energy for kids or work or whatever else one might need to do.

    Ideally the couple can get to a place of both trading in their old shoes for new comfortable ones. A different marriage with the same person.

    Like

    • Louie says:

      Liking this quite a bit Lisa….goal wise your last 2 sentences are perfect. But I will add that from the new beginning there needs to be better understanding of boundaries, deal breakers ( perhaps re establishing them) and respecting other’s view of how to move forward. Recommitting to join together in the partnerships journey . Success comes to the stalwarts and the courageous be it the intended outcome or a fresh start.

      Like

      • Louie says:

        Sorry…that was respecting each other’s view

        Like

      • Lisa Gottman says:

        Totally agree Louie with what you said. So often though the husband isn’t willing to acknowledge or agree that he isn’t doing that already. Were you like that earlier in your relationship?

        My meandering comments were to pushback against the idea often presented but in this case by Brian that the answer is for women to express their needs overtly. If you tell him he will listen and accept influence.

        In the common cases Matt writes about that is not going to work. Because it’s the cure for the wrong diagnosis. Of course clear communicative is good and helpful.

        But as I have said over and over the real diagnosis is a lack of accepting influence. That requires a different cure then better communication IMHO.

        Like

        • Lisa Gottman says:

          And also to present a different approach to the idea that the problem is a lack of commitment.

          Like

          • Louie says:

            Was I like that earlier in my relationship? Oh I was a complete asshole! With all due respect, believing that overtly expressed needs , views, wants etc. doesn’t take into account the differences of individuals regarding notions of understanding. I assume my wife knows what I am talking about all the time …She assumes I’m a mind reader sometimes. The difference is in taking time to get clarity from your partners. Merely rolling your eyes endears you to no one…presenting a sincere ear does….applying the information received makes you regal. I can still be can insufferable asshole sometimes but I listen apply and ,really important here, remember

            Like

    • anitvan says:

      Hey Lisa *waves hi*

      Let me be clear…if, in the marriage only one person is doing the work and the other refuses…well, then, that is not a marriage, and I would have no qualms walking away from not-a-marriage. But will there exists good will between partners and a desire to repair the issues in the relationship, then no, you don’t just toss people aside.

      I know I’m pretty hard-wearing about it. My intent in not to shame those who divorce, only to give encouragement to those who aren’t yet at that point and are still in the thick of it.

      Like

      • Louie says:

        Anitvan…. i wish i knew how to use the like button …but “like”

        Like

      • Lisa Gottman says:

        Hi Anita,

        I know you well enough to know you were not trying to shame those who get divorced. I admire and applaud your conscious decision to stay with your husband. I know he has made efforts to change too so it’s not unilaterally being done.

        I am trying to add that for the situation Matt describes in his dishes scenario it is not as simple as clear communication. That is the question Brian asked.

        It’s also true IMHO that a husband can be attempting to do things he thinks a good husband does but miss the critical and key step of accepting influence.

        So it’s not as simple IMHO as the husband not doing things or not attempting to do what he thinks he find right.

        That’s what I mean by unilaterally. The wife is required in that scenario to unilaterally accept influence. Because he won’t. Because he doesn’t think it’s necessary. And that is the problem.

        Like my husband he may be a wonderful father, cooperative in other ways, a hard worker. Many wonderful things.

        But because that concept is not there the environment will be unhealthy for her. And her ONLY choice to getting him to learn to accept influence is her unilaterally applying a lot of black belt skills and maturity. Or being willing to leave.

        That is what I am trying to say.

        Like

        • Lisa Gottman says:

          Or getting a good therapist to help him learn to accept influence. That is difficult to do though both to get him to go and to find a good therapist who is able to correctly diagnose and guide them skillfully.

          Like

        • Lisa Gottman says:

          But I probably should not have beaten the shoe analogy to death in my comments. It probably gave the impression that I thought you were shaming people who divorce.

          I know that is not your message.

          Like

          • anitvan says:

            Lisa,
            Poop. Lost my comment 😱

            I’m curious…re: your husband not accepting influence…is this like an access the board thing, like he NEVER accepts it, or is there a pattern to it, like certain topics or whatever that he digs his heels in?

            Like

            • Lisa Gottman says:

              Anita,

              Thanks for asking. My husband does accept influence on many things. I think that is common in the average marriage Matt is talking about.

              He accepts influence on things he doesn’t care about. Things that don’t threaten his autonomy. Things that he feels doesn’t feel unfairly blamed. Things that make sense to him.

              So that’s the pattern. It has to make sense to him. it has to make sense FOR him. I think this is common. Only so much sacrifice is considered “healthy” because that’s what a good marriage should look like.

              There’s the problem. The definition of how a relationship should work.

              If he unilaterally accepted no influence I would be divorced. Because it would be a simple choice. Research shows that abusive men accept NO influence.

              But its spectrum. From the extreme of no influence to the more common middle ground of accepting influence in some cases and feeling like he is a good guy for giving that to her.

              The acceptance of a definition of marriage where you accept influence when it makes no sense to you or no sense FOR you (with healthy boundaries) is rejected as incorrect.

              And that’s the majority of men per the research.

              Like

              • Lisa Gottman says:

                And that’s why Matt’s post of she divorced me because of dishes went viral.

                It described a common situation where the wife is asking something that doesn’t make sense to him. And he won’t do it.

                Research shows women do it far more often.

                Women are not saints. They have many skill deficits. But usually not THIS one. And it’s foundational to a happy marriage.

                Like

                • Lisa Gottman says:

                  Or they say you didn’t say it or ask in a way that is my preference (fill in the blank with respect, nice tone of voice, clearly enough etc)

                  Of course all those things are helpful.

                  But a person who can accept influence will say “I want you hear what you are saying can you say it another way?”

                  A person who doesn’t accept influence will just reject it as a defective request. Bat it away.

                  That’s what I mean by having to be “perfect” (by his standard) before your request is even considered.

                  Like

              • Lisa Gottman says:

                Does that make sense?

                I think many men sacrifice in many ways. So it’s not like these are selfish louts. That’s what makes it so hard.

                They can honestly say and be correct that they sacrifice a LOT for their family compared to how they could live their lives if they were single.

                But it’s that relationship definition that presents a problem. The back and take of sacrificing your preferences for a person who has very different love languages and needs than you.

                So that when she asks you to put the dish in the dishwasher it is heard with the idea of its important to be open to it.

                Notice I did not say you have to do what they want all the time.

                It’s an attitude that what she wants that I don’t want is not rejected. That a give and take conversion can take place to work it out.

                That is what my husband and many men are missing. They see it as black and white. Zero sum.

                And if they sacrifice in other ways they feel it’s unreasonable to “give in” and your autonomy must be protected.

                Like

              • anitvan says:

                Lisa – Accepting influence on things that he doesn’t care about doesn’t count! Lol

                Things that don’t threaten his autonomy – without knowing specifics, that could be valid. He’s certainly entitled to autonomy of his own ideas and opinions and feelings. It crosses the line when his insistence on his autonomy disregards your right to have a say in decisions that affect you.

                Like

                • Lisa Gottman says:

                  Yes I understand.

                  Many men feel because they have raised that way that masculinity requires protecting autonomy. Not being put in a one down position. That thst is the goal. I get that. I have sympathy for men. Accepting influence as required in a relationship is the opposite of man culture rules in many ways.

                  And if you are raised in a family that doesn’t have good boundaries that as another layer of fear of being controlled or engulfed.

                  Of course we all must be autonomous. Good boundaries that’s true of course. That’s not what I was trying to say when I mean that we accept influence as a foundation for a good marriage.

                  Always hard to include complete she complex thoughts in short comments.

                  Like

                  • anitvan says:

                    Lisa – We accept influence as a foundation for a good marriage. Exactly. It sounds like your hubby is stuck in “exactly how much ‘accepting influence’ are we talking here?” He’s willing to go some of the way, but not all the way.

                    I don’t know if husbands know how soul-destroying it is to hear that – “I’m only willing to go so far for you”. He might as well tell his wife “You can’t count on me”, because that’s what she hearing.

                    Like

                    • Lisa Gottman says:

                      Anita,

                      I missed this comment earlier.

                      Yes it’s a matter of “exactly how much accepting influence are we talking here”. THAT is what is true for my marriage and for many, many marriages.

                      And you’re right that usually communicates that “you can’t count on me” to most women. That’s certainly what I took it to mean for a long time.

                      And let me add that Lisa did not respond with great skills and maturity. Ha ha. So a big part of this whole nightmare is me figuring out what a healthy relationship is and what skills both people need.

                      I had a lot of skill deficits that my husband took to mean “you can’t count on me”. He’s sensitive, as many men are l, to feeling judged and criticized. So my responses to him gave him the same messages that he was giving me.

                      So I have had to figure out my shit and try and change my interpretation of what he is doing to see it as a skill deficit. And then change my response to him to stop giving him emotionally threatening messages. So he can stop giving me emotionally threatening messages.

                      It sucks frankly. Like having to learn to drive while racing down the highway with a giant truck trying to force you over a cliff. All the while your hubby is yelling in your ear what a shitty driver you are and its all your fault.

                      But that’s the job unfair as it is. Unilateral expression of maturity I don’t yet possess. It’s exhausting. I think so many women are doing all that and still told its their fault. And that makes it even worse.

                      Like

                  • anitvan says:

                    Oh, somehow I got off-thread…there’s a comment for Lisa way down at the bottom

                    Like

    • Esmeralda says:

      sometimes the only way people learn is to lose and go without, I lost because I couldn’t cope with conflict, she lost because she couldn’t hear my Serious Issue, and we both lost because neither of us was mature enough to discuss it maturely and with respect

      Like

  20. Lisa Gottman says:

    Here’s some of what I mean of the differences.

    “Although the wives would sometimes express anger or other negative emotions toward their husbands, they rarely responded to their husbands by increasing the negativity. Most of them either tried to tone it down or matched it. So if a husband said, “You’re not listening to me!” the wife would usually say something like “Sorry, I’m listening now” (a repair that tones down the negativity) or “I’m finding it hard to listen to you!” which matched her husband’s anger but didn’t go beyond it.

    Sixty-five percent of the men did not take either of these approaches. Their response escalated their wives’ negativity.

    They did this in a very specific way: by trotting out one of the four horsemen (criticism, contempt, defensiveness, or stonewalling). If the wife of one of these men said, “You’re not listening to me!” the husband would either ignore her (stonewall), be defensive (“Yes, I am!”), be critical (“I don’t listen because what you say never makes any sense”), or be contemptuous (“Why waste my time?”). Using one of the four horsemen to escalate a conflict is a telltale sign that a man is resisting his wife’s influence.

    Rather than acknowledging his wife’s feelings, this husband is using the four horsemen to drown her out, to obliterate her point of view. This is the opposite of accepting her influence. One way or another, this approach leads to instability in the marriage. Even if the husband doesn’t react this way very often, there’s an 81 percent chance that his marriage will be damaged.”

    Like

  21. anitvan says:

    Lisa, that makes perfect sense to me. Zero-sum is exactly the opposite of a loving, giving marriage. Love doesn’t fucking keep score! Love tries to outgive the other. I mean, nobody gets it perfect, nobody’s THAT unselfish, but that’s the attitude that love leans toward.

    It sounds like your husband is more concerned about what he may be required to give up in the transaction than in how he can show love towards you. Lisa, that’s inherently selfish.

    But you’ve addressed this with him in the past, and he’s rejected it, right? Let me ask you this, do you think that he will ever be able to confront his own selfishness?

    Like

    • Lisa Gottman says:

      I think Anita that the disconnect we may be having is that my husband is typical of many husbands. It doesn’t sound like your husband has the typical kind of responses to the average dish situation so maybe that’s part of the difference on our experiences.

      Obviously I may be misunderstanding based on what I have read but it seems he has a huge fear of abandonment and that is what drives things.

      Its complicated of course but most men are driven more by a fear of control and emasculation more then abandonment.

      And that is what drives the zero sum calculation in hetero marriages.

      They are not any more selfish then other types of people but their fear of control and engulfment and emasculation will cause them to operate with a one person system mindset rather than a two person system mindset.

      People who fear abandonment are also in a one person system mindset. The selfishness just looks different.

      The goal is to not be overly fearful or either thing and that allows you to operate in a two person system.

      Like

      • Lisa Gottman says:

        So the answer to your querstion is yes I have addressed it. Just as in the answer to Brian’s querstion this is not a problem solved with better communication.

        You just find a way to move into a secure functioning 2 person system. That involves accepting influence from each other on respond if ways.

        How do you do that?

        As I have said above it is very difficult. I have done a lot of things that have moved it to a more secure functioning relationship.

        The main thing is to figure out what they are afraid of. In your case abandonment, in my case control and judgement. Then you find ways to reassure and soothe those fears.

        So that the primal part of the brain is not so freaked out that the intelligent caring person j married can’t discuss our different needs for widgets rationally and lovingly.

        Like

      • anitvan says:

        The lens of my own marriage probably colours my understanding of the dynamic in yours. I think I’ve got the right colour but I haven’t quite got the shade nailed down.

        I guess what I’m saying is, does it matter what drives his selfishness? Would he acknowledge he’s being selfish if it was for some OTHER reason? He either will or he won’t. Either way he’s telling you something.

        Like

        • Lisa Gottman says:

          Anita,

          Oh yeah my lens is always focused on my experience. It’s built into the cake. So I don’t think my experience is universal but I think parts of it are typical of many marriages that Matt describes.

          Ok to your question. Will he acknowlege his selfishness?

          Answering that is the same as answering the does he accept influence question.

          Yes he sometimes will acknowledge his selfishness. Often he correctly identifies it as a style difference that is causing some of his preference for autoregulating and preferring making decisions with a one system lens.

          But like so many men he does not a knowesge the underlying model that I am talking about in many cases.

          That the glass by the sink analogy. It could be many specifics I could give you. It’s a widget. The topic doesn’t matter.

          Most men responding to that post as you can see in the comments are seeing it as a one system problem. I don’t care about the dish I am afraid of control if I give in to her all the time.

          They don’t see it as selfish. They see it as maintaining individuality and not being controlled.

          They will say as Brian did if she wound explain it better I would consider it. They will say what about my needs?

          It’s a problem of the underlying theory of relationships stemming from the insecure attachment fear of control and emasculation.

          Now I am like you husband. Afraid of abandonment. It is a common pairing to have a man who is afraid of control and emasculation married to a woman who is afraid of abandonment.

          They both are acting selfishly often. But again I don’t think it’s a communication problem (at least for the majority of the cases) but understanding what it happening and finding ways to soothe each other’s core insecure fears to get to a healthier place.

          It was hard for me to see how I was acting selfishly when I was acting in a one person system fearful of abandonment. So I get his hard it is to see it when you are in it.

          And men have extra layers of baggage around having to protect their masculinity through not being emasculated by their wife.

          My husband is not someone who cares about that overtly. But it’s in the water and air little boys grow up with when they learn what it means to be an adult man. That’s why it’s so much harder to break through in heterosexual relationships to get them to see.

          Like

          • Lisa Gottman says:

            And since I’m on a roll I will just ramble on.

            Another factor for the average guy afraid of control and abandonment is he will perceive his wife’s requests for change as “needy”. He will see HER as needy.

            That adds to the idea that he doesn’t need to consider some of her requests for change. After all he doesn’t want to enable her dysfunctional neediness right?

            Most men are raised to become independent and self sufficient as a condition of adulthood. They see that as healthy adulthood. It’s not usually as healthy as they think since it require shutting down a lot of vulnerable emotions and living with a zero sum world lens to maintain their position.

            I have a lot of sympathy for how men are forced to conform to this stuff to fit in. Unfortunately it screws up a lot of relationships of its not identified.

            There is a correlary of problematic stiff girls learn that screw things up too but women are raised at s very young age to live in 2 person systems or to at least see that as a good goal. Men are not. And there lies the problem.

            Like

            • Lisa Gottman says:

              Should read afraid of control and **engulfment** not abandonment.

              Another factor for the average guy afraid of control and abandonment is he will perceive his wife’s requests for change as “needy”. He will see HER as needy.

              Like

              • Astrid says:

                Your messages convey similar sentiments to what I’ve been privy to as well and I appreciate your candidness in all of this. You allude to the idea that it’s not fair and that you feel like you don’t yet have the maturity to be okay with knowing the responsibility lies on you, and this is similar sentiment to what I am running into. Do you think there will be a point at which you would be able to accept the level of responsibility that is required to get your marriage to a point that is satisfactory for you? I feel like I would resent this for my lifetime as well. We can postulate all the various reasons that boy culture has set up men to fail at marriage, but at what point do we say, look, you’re now a grown man, you entered this relationship willingly…you signed on the dotted line to commit to this for a lifetime, so you need to do the work that it takes to keep this marriage afloat. If we take this from the perspective of a job or a work assignment etc., would we expect to be doing all the work just because someone isn’t quite equipped enough with the same level of skills that we have? What efforts have they undertaken on their own to expand their worldview of how a satisfying marriage should look like? I feel like continuing this education for men infantilizes them and perpetuates the unnecessary emotional labor that we women have been acculturated to perform. What are your thoughts on it?

                Like

                • Lisa Gottman says:

                  Hi Astrid,

                  Sorry to hear you are in a similar situation. It is frustrating!

                  Ok to your questions.

                  Although I use theories to understand things I am a practical person. Once I understood what was happening in my marriage I accepted the reality of the diagnosis and the cures available to me.

                  So, for me anyway, it’s important to acknowlege the unfairness. I am getting a shit burger served to me on a big shit platter. Yes indeed.

                  But I also accept that if things are to change it will require me to do certain things that my husband is currently UNABLE to do. I accept that he has more skill deficits than I do in certain areas. Accepting influence is one of those.

                  Now if he was not willing to make any changes that would be a deal breaker. He is willing to make changes but he’s very defended so the window is narrow.

                  I think too I have had to accept my skill deficits in certain areas that contributed to perpetuate the cycle. So I am working that angle too. I must learn better skills to get out of our endless pursue/withdraw pattern.

                  Am I infanticizing him? Well no I require a LOT of that guy. I stretch his skill levels to even stay in the game. I am asking and he is willing to attend dialectical behavioral couples classes so he can improve his skills as one example.

                  That class has very helpful to me to really see him. He truly cannot identify and describe what he thinks and feels it wants. (Therapists tell me this is common especially for men) That’s what I mean by skill deficits.

                  I can identify what I think and feel and want quite easily and clearly. Therefore it is on me to do that while also having to play detective to figure out what my husband cannot tell me about himself. It’s unfair but the skill deficits require it. Do I resent it? Some days sure but it’s much easier now that I clearly see it as a skill deficit and not withholding.

                  I don’t know what your responses typically are but my problem is not being codepdendent or doubting myself. I think many women come from that place so what they would do to correct that is different than what I need to do since I come from a place of feeling anger and judgment and contempt.

                  That is what I am trying to learn new skills to correct. To respond more empathetically. What place do you typically respond from one up or one down?

                  Don’t know if any of that answered your questions clearly enough.

                  Like

                  • Astrid says:

                    It does make sense, thanks for that. I think where I am is that I am not sure I am able to accept the reality of the diagnosis and the gamble I would have to take for the cure. Acknowledging the unfairness has not made it any better, acknowledging it’s a deficit and not withholding, is also not making it better. I have at this point reached a certain level of exhaustion after trying to be diplomatic for so long that I am no longer able to respond, and rather revert to a lot more reactivity than I would ideally allow myself, so I think that in a way is where I know I am starting to reach the end. It is one thing for me to be mired in chaos, it is another thing for me to become chaotic.
                    For me it is the ongoing resentment and that I saw marriage as a place in which two people would be working through their intrinsic motivation to improve themselves and to be better versions for each other. That means editing themselves, learning to modulate emotions, temper, not taking out everyday stresses on one another etc. Very little of that has materialized despite my giving the option for him to exit the relationship. It feels insulting to hear that one wants for conditions to change but isn’t willing to do the work required. I feel even more resentment at having to be the one to lead this effort, sure he would be open to influence if I threw a book at him (maybe), I’ve given up anyway, because the bottomline is that I really resent having to compensate for this. I am still trying to understand why I have so much resentment towards having to be a “mother figure”, I’m sure part of it is that I don’t want to be one, and having to sit there and verbalize his anxieties, interpret his feelings, etc. is akin to being a mother. For example I resent having to tell him, no you cannot blame me for something that is clearly your fault and unrelated to me, missing an appointment, losing items, etc. It feels like being a mother.
                    My bottomline to him is that, it’s not that he needs to know the answers to it, but that he has to have some semblance of curiosity to do the research on his own. That is the baseline that I will accept, not that I will spoonfeed him the answers to better emotional processing and self awareness. I identify with the feeling angry, unjust, outraged, disbelief. I’m sure contempt and disgust is in there as well. I have not gained more empathy, I am not sure how I would or could begin to do so. I don’t have much empathy for someone who isn’t trying on his own I suppose about a problem that is clearly very evident, one to which I’ve communicated at this point ad nauseum. So I guess my question to you is how have you learned to empathize? How much of this just feels like laziness to you and the idea that it is our lot in life to do the emotional laboring for men? How do you fight against that?

                    Like

                    • Lisa Gottman says:

                      Astrid,

                      I will reply to your thoughtful questions as best I can without knowing the specifics of your circumstances of how much they may differ from mine.

                      You said:

                      “I think where I am is that I am not sure I am able to accept the reality of the diagnosis and the gamble I would have to take for the cure. Acknowledging the unfairness has not made it any better, acknowledging it’s a deficit and not withholding, is also not making it better.”

                      I am not sure how long you have been married or have been in marital distress or have been trying to improve things. The stage I am in now is after a lot of work to understand and why things had gotten so off track. In an earlier stage I would have absolutely have not been able to find it helpful to acknowledge the shitty unfairness or the skill deficits.

                      I am not saying you would follow the same route I did and get to the same place only describing that I have been able to change my framing and feelings. For me, understanding is critical for me to change. So I have consumed lots of books, podcasts, videos, courses etc to figure out what healthy is and why we ended up here and which part was his weirdness and which part was my weirdness and which part is triggering of more weirdness by each other’s weirdness that feels emotionally threatening.

                      I am an external processor so I find places (like this) to process ideas with others to give me more insight so I can know how to change.

                      (If you are interested we can swap resources that have been helpful to us.)

                      You said:

                      “I have at this point reached a certain level of exhaustion after trying to be diplomatic for so long that I am no longer able to respond, and rather revert to a lot more reactivity than I would ideally allow myself, so I think that in a way is where I know I am starting to reach the end. It is one thing for me to be mired in chaos, it is another thing for me to become chaotic.”

                      Oh yes I hear you there. It’s understandable to start to act disregulated when our primary relationship is emotionally threatening to us instead of a support. It’s predictable. It takes black belt level skills to stay regulated in that environment. Very draining to stay even half way regimented. And it’s not healthy. That’s why it needs to change one way or the other.

                      You said:

                      “For me it is the ongoing resentment and that I saw marriage as a place in which two people would be working through their intrinsic motivation to improve themselves and to be better versions for each other. That means editing themselves, learning to modulate emotions, temper, not taking out everyday stresses on one another etc. Very little of that has materialized despite my giving the option for him to exit the relationship. It feels insulting to hear that one wants for conditions to change but isn’t willing to do the work required.”

                      Amen sister! I get it I really do. For me this is where understanding what was happening and why really helped. He sounds avoidant. It sounds like you are in a classic pursue/withdraw dynamic. That’s my story.

                      Was he like that when you got together? What attracted you to each other? Why did the dynamic between you change? When did it change? There are a lot of resources that helped me understand. A great one is an audio recording by Stan Tatkin called Your Brain on Love. It describes how we turn into emotional threats to each other. And we start to respond to each other as predators. If you haven’t heard it I hugging recommend it.

                      He agrees with your relationship ideal. And he describes how people with the type of avoidant insecure attachments do not see that as an ideal. That then frustrated our types into doubling down and the cycles escalates until you wonder why you got together at all. It’s all predictable.

                      Understanding what was happening helped me depersonalize it. That for me is a key to maintaining regulation and being able to respond consciously and not reactively. To understand the pain he is in that is not obvious to me since he shuts down so I can respond more empathetically.

                      Part 2 in another comment

                      Like

                    • Lisa Gottman says:

                      Part 2:

                      You said:

                      “I feel even more resentment at having to be the one to lead this effort, sure he would be open to influence if I threw a book at him (maybe), I’ve given up anyway, because the bottomline is that I really resent having to compensate for this. I am still trying to understand why I have so much resentment towards having to be a “mother figure”, I’m sure part of it is that I don’t want to be one, and having to sit there and verbalize his anxieties, interpret his feelings, etc. is akin to being a mother. For example I resent having to tell him, no you cannot blame me for something that is clearly your fault and unrelated to me, missing an appointment, losing items, etc. It feels like being a mother.”

                      This is incredibly common. I don’t know if that helps or not. Matt has a post about she doesn’t want to be your mother. Part of a common pattern.

                      I’m guessing he responds to you by saying nothing he ever does it good enough for you. He always feels judged she criticized etc. His dysfunctional response is then to do even less. Which of course will enrage you and escalate the mother/bad son dynamic. Sigh the answer is to get out of the cycle starting with seeing it as a cycle. And I am sure you have very legitimate complaints about his lack of adulting in certain areas. I know I do.

                      You said:

                      “My bottomline to him is that, it’s not that he needs to know the answers to it, but that he has to have some semblance of curiosity to do the research on his own. That is the baseline that I will accept, not that I will spoonfeed him the answers to better emotional processing and self awareness. I identify with the feeling angry, unjust, outraged, disbelief. I’m sure contempt and disgust is in there as well. I have not gained more empathy, I am not sure how I would or could begin to do so. I don’t have much empathy for someone who isn’t trying on his own I suppose about a problem that is clearly very evident, one to which I’ve communicated at this point ad nauseum. So I guess my question to you is how have you learned to empathize? How much of this just feels like laziness to you and the idea that it is our lot in life to do the emotional laboring for men? How do you fight against that?”

                      Well that’s the thing. It’s a complicated combination of things layered underneath common patterns.

                      Usually there is some amount of laziiness/entitlement. Usually there is a huge amount of not knowing how to be in a relationship with true intimacy so he doesn’t agree with your model.

                      Then there is the psychobiology of your things that make you feel safe in a relationship (curiosity, working hard etc) feel very threatening and are the opposite of what makes him feel safe (non judgment, autonomy just guessing).

                      The more you push for him to exhibit what makes you feel safe the more he is going to resent you like you resent him and he will push for what makes him feel safe which is more than likely the opposite of yours.

                      So what to do? The easiest option is to find a really good couples therapist but that is hard in my experience. But maybe not depending on where you live?

                      I guess you have to think about is this fixable? I my case, we have the very common patterns gone unfixed for too long. But it IS fixable in our case. I know because I research shit ha ha

                      Is he willing to change? I have been focusing on lowering my threat level so mu husband can do it. He is willing. Not the way I wound prefer but still.

                      Are you willing? That’s a pro/con calculation that needs to be made even if it’s fixable and he is willing.

                      I am because when my husband is not emotionally my threatened I enjoy him very much. He’s kind and funny and intelligent. We have a long marriage and kids.

                      We get along great as people. We just don’t get along great in terms of what makes us feel emotionally supported and threatened. Opposite.

                      So ti me the answer is yes. The bonus is I am being forced to learn to be more emotionally mature and regulated.

                      Like

                    • Lisa Gottman says:

                      Astrid,

                      I in no way want to minimize how painful and frustrating it is to be in your position. You deserve better. I hope you can find a way to get to a better place in your marriage.

                      Like

  22. Astrid says:

    Asking someone to automatically convey about the feelings about why they’d like something done and how it makes them feel when they don’t is not something that is entitled to the other spouse. That is part of why Brian’s(?) question is jarring to me. It isn’t a spouse’s right to know why in order for the person being asked finally does something, and certainly not something to be demanded of. A look into our inner world is granted as a gift, we should not have to sit and plead our case for a simple task to be done.
    If we want to even look at this to see the double standard, simply look at how we would approach this situation when another person but our spouse asks us to do this….what do we do if our bosses or our colleagues or our host ask use to please put a cup in the sink? Do we sit there and ask them to explain why we should be doing so? To ask them to communicate their hurt feelings when they’re not being listened to?
    In the office or public, we (usually) go a step further and clean up after ourselves, when we stay at other’s homes, we offer to do dishes, or to strip the sheets. We simply do it because we understand that we are not living by ourselves and that the gesture of acquiescing to a simple request is a) a sign of respect and b) a sign that you are open to being influenced. Add this when it is a female asking a male to do so, which is mired in patriarchy especially in heterosexual relationships, and the idea that most men treat housework like it’s a zero-sum game, then you have a recipe for a power struggle. Matt is right- it isn’t about the cup, but about what the cup represents.

    Like

  23. Astrid says:

    To add to that, we should not expect our partners to divulge a more vulnerable part of themselves (hurt feelings, not feeling like they matter) etc. when we cannot even signal to our partner that we’d be willing and open to abide by a simple task, to which we are now making them justify their position before we would even agree to their request.

    Like

  24. Lisa Gottman says:

    Anita,

    Adding this at the bottom.

    You said:

    “Lisa – Accepting influence on things that he doesn’t care about doesn’t count! Lol”

    Ha ha yes probably didn’t phrase that too well.

    I mean in areas where we have a difference of opinion or preference and he doesn’t have a strong feeling about it he will go with what I want if I ask him. Like which movie to go to or how to handle a situation with our kids or where to go on vacation or whatever. He’s pretty flexible on that kind of thing. He doesn’t need to get his own way or have his preferences prevail on many topics or situations.

    If, however, we have a difference of opinion or preference and it’s an areas that he does have a strong preference that’s where the problem lies. If I ask him to travel less for his work for example that will meet with resistance to accept influence from each other. If I ask him to share in certain household tasks that he doesn’t value of want to do etc.

    Again I don’t expect him to do what I want. Only to be able to discuss and try to work things out in a reasonable way that takes both of us into account.

    Like

  25. Jack says:

    I have been totally consumed by work, family and marital things for a couple of weeks…wow, lots of comments!

    I have a few things I’d like to respond to, but reading this over at this point there is a global thing I want to say.

    When I was younger, I really wanted things to be fair. I wanted to be treated fairly. I wanted what I deserved (or what I *thought* I deserved, or should that be, what *I* thought I deserved…).

    After just a little under 60 years on this Earth I no longer want things to be fair. In fact, I truly and devoutly hope they are not, or at least that I am not treated fairly.

    What I seek and hope for, and what I am trying to show others, is this:

    – to be treated with mercy, and with compassion.

    A few specifics later today.

    Like

    • Lisa Gottman says:

      Hi Jack,

      I am not young ha ha. I agree with what you say. Mercy and grace and forgiveness are important.

      But they are not enough unbalanced.

      As we have seen in the recent sexual harrasment cases as a tiny example there is a long history of mistreatment and “unfairness” towards women.

      There is a long history of mistreatment and unfairness towards women historically in relationships too.

      That is what I am speaking of when I rail against the unfairness of the amount of emotional and other labor in my marriage.

      Basic decency and respect is what I am seeking. If I don’t give that to my husband (as sometimes happens) I don’t want mercy I want to change.

      The mercy comes in being understanding of the human mistakes people make when making real efforts to change. Not in excusing the continued bad treatment.

      Maybe this is not what you had in mind I don’t know. But those are my thoughts and motivations.

      Like

  26. Astrid says:

    This concept that there shouldn’t be a keeping score only works when there is trust that kindness and generosity isn’t being taken advantage of, consciously or unconsciously (i.e. byproduct of our own upbringing). Mercy and compassion are things you may want, but if you’re not going to be doling those things out in at least equitable amount, it is not something that can be demanded of another person. We have to at the very least understand what level of “fairness” we are willing to accept. It’s about autonomy and awareness to choose what kind of things we’re willing to give up on or not be in battle about. But many of us were programmed to do the emotional labor- most women are probably not even quite aware of how much this is an extension of what we learned when we grew up, and not something we’re signing up willingly to do.

    Like

    • Lisa Gottman says:

      Well said Astrid!

      Like

    • Lisa Gottman says:

      Im sure you’re right that many women are not aware of the emotional labor but I will say I am very aware that I did NOT sign up for the inequity.

      Hence my bewilderment that it is somehow expected of me by many people. And my anger at the ridiculous unfairness of this setup.

      It’s just so bizarre to me. Why would I be expected to do more to be treated less well because I happen to be a female? I struggle with the concept.

      And I have gotten this shit from therapists MANY times hence my love for Terry Real who calls out the inequity and the damage that does to both men and women.

      Like

      • Astrid says:

        Me too, I love Terry Real- I saw your one up one down phrasing and I immediately thought about that. His concepts are great. I however am not there yet with accepting that we need to do more just to be treated the same. I find the concept that we even have to accept that men are just where they are bewildering and that it is mostly on us to get them to where we want them to be.
        I mean, there are also cultural forces imploring us to be submissive, passive aggressive, indirect, vapid, etc., but we chose to drag ourselves into the therapist office to figure out our unresolved issues with our parents that may be replicating back into the relationship, we choose to analyze our behaviors and understand when our feelings are perhaps hyperbolic etc. There are choices we can make because we’re adults and we understand how critical it is for us to have a strong sense of ourselves so that we can be mired in chaos without becoming chaotic ourselves. I’d venture many women do this before they got married.
        So then, why wouldn’t we expect the same thing of our partners? The part that I find most draining and bewildering is that this is the level of expectation that they would think is acceptable for marriage. It has to be up to us to keep things from getting bad, because their expectations are generally much lower. By the time their needs are no longer met…the relationship is usually on its way to divorce. I have no solutions for this, simply an observation of the state of most marriages I see.

        Like

        • Lisa Gottman says:

          A quick response.

          I do not accept the inequity. I acknowledge it. The pattern got so bad because I also have skill deficits. It’s not just my husband that is missing key skills.

          In my case I also have female relatives like my sister and mother who have avoidant skill deficits and can’t identify what they think and feel and went.

          So it is degendered for me to a certain degree because of that. If I want a better more intimiate relationship the reality is with them and my husband I must do more work in those areas.

          It’s my choice. That’s where I find the agency. Sometimes I don’t find the trade offs worth the effort it would take.

          Like

          • Louie says:

            I apologize for butting in here ladies. I have come to the revelation,if you will, that there nothing more liberating and powerful in my relationship than treating each other equally. Neither of us has franchise over the other in terms of social expectations or traditional role nonsense. I will not accept from family, friend or foe any notions regarding our dynamic in our relationship in how we “should be”. Anne is the same way (maybe more so). Our life together had been redefined a long time ago… we both had some shitty spouse assholery going for us. We came to terms with us as partners…we talk more and keep each other grounded. It plagues me that so many of my gender don’t understand the simplicity of respect and how the outcome of that respect has exponential benefits both to the individual and the couple. Sure there are times when she needs the man perspective and traditional testosterone fueled answer and I need the level headed feminine perspective, that’s ok… we bring our prowess’ to the table situationally. It works…we are happy…we Love like never before. The concept of the”alpha male” is a ridiculous fabrication of the boorish looking for a way to explain insecurities and gain some upper hand. I shake my head at these nincompoops. The true alpha is a protector, kind spirit, respectful and generous individual that snubs the modis operandi of the candy ass, selfish punks. Conversely there is nothing more heat filling, more pride inducing, more sexy, more honorable than women that are strong, intelligent, caring, loving and unwilling to accept social norms. It is incumbent on us to show our children to be better, not just in terms financial or social success, but in their relationships. My daughter is super strong, super intelligent and will not accept any less than fair and honorable treatment. My sons are gentlemen but not doormats very respectful and inclusive in all their relationships. Men and women alike are short changing yet another generation if they are following the same and harmful gender role traditional relationship model. We need better…it works better.

            Like

            • Lisa Gottman says:

              No apologies necessary Louie! We are all having a free flowing conversation here. :)

              It is wonderful to hear you and your wife have each other’s backs. And that both your sons and daughters are strong snd confident.

              You are right that it works better to have a mutually respectful marriage. Research backs us up.

              What has surprised me is how unconscious all this stuff. For both men and women.

              It’s not the Alpha male types that get me. It’s the men who proclaim they want a marriage between equals. And yet somehow the patterns drift away from that. Especially after kids.

              Matt does a great job of describing how it happened in his marriage.

              It takes an ACTIVE approach to prevent that from happening. And that is what is so often missing.

              We like to think we are controlled by our conscious choices informed by our values but so often we operate out of our unconscious “fast thinking”

              And that combined with fighting all the thousands of years of certain expectations make it easy to drift into swimming with the current.

              I have teenagers. I have raised my kids to be strong and conscious of all this stuff.

              It was heartbreaking to see how easily my very opinionated and strong daughter was sucked into a codepdendent relationship with a jealous boyfriend. (We have worked on it and she has learned a lot about how to emotionally navigate better).

              It happens to very strong women. Well meaning men get sucked into weirdness to defend feeling “respected”.

              That’s how strong this stuff is. It amazes me sometimes.

              I am happy to hear you and your family have found a way for all to be supported and respected.

              Like

        • Lisa Gottman says:

          Astrid,

          You said:

          “The part that I find most draining and bewildering is that this is the level of expectation that they would think is acceptable for marriage. It has to be up to us to keep things from getting bad, because their expectations are generally much lower. By the time their needs are no longer met…the relationship is usually on its way to divorce. I have no solutions for this, simply an observation of the state of most marriages I see.”

          I’ve written way too many comments already but I want to add yet another because I think it’s a very important point.

          In the average marriage we talk about here women are part of the problem too.
          Many men as we have talked about don’t accept influence in a healthy way. Many women don’t enforce boundaries against this as a corrective EARLY in the relationship.

          Women because of their cultural upbringing don’t have healthy skills to know how to effectively stand up for themselves respectfully. So they just adjust to the husband’s not accepting influence early in the relationship.

          Gottman’s research shows that the husband’s accepting influence is the key factor in a healthy marriage. But many men don’t know how to do that for the cultural reasons we have talked about.

          Usually women for cultural reasons has learned to just put up with stuff or handle it in anger or some combo of both (which is what I did). Most women are missing a key effective skill of setting boundaries effectively.

          So the research says in the cases where the husband does not accept influence BUT the woman does know how I set boundaries in a healthy way to correct that early enough they go on to have a happy marriage.

          So in the average marriage it is a combination of a lack of skills that create the problem. By the time the woman is fed up enough to overcome her cultural training it’s a deeply entrenched problem.

          Most couples wait 6 years after marital issues are dysfunctional until they seek couples therapy. Much harder to correct then. Also a lot of women then ate just fed up and DONE.

          I think it’s important to see it as a cycle. This doesn’t let men off the hook but acknowledges that women are also lacking skills. I know I was/am.

          Like

          • Lisa Gottman says:

            I have recommended Atkinson’s ebook many times but here is the link again in case someone is interested.

            It’s based on research and is very concrete for what to do and how to learn key relationships skills like how to stand up for your respectfully or accepting influence of how to deal with differences. Highly recommend.

            http://thecouplesclinic.com/resources/books/

            Like

          • Astrid says:

            Here is the tl;dr part:
            Our resentment isn’t that we have to exert boundaries, it’s that the boundary we have to exert are boundaries that protect us from disrespect, contempt, condescension, emotional disregulation, fairness – things we think are basic parts of what marriage already comes with.
            Maybe that is our fault to assume those things should be automatically present. That I can at least claim that that is my basic expectation coming into this marriage.

            I am offering a different point of view in that many women are stuck in cycles of anger and shutdown, not because this is the strategy they’ve employed since the beginning, but that they are essentially no longer capable of responding to the situation after years of trying to be diplomatic about the situation. I’m not saying all women, but the stories I hear from my community, the women I know, do not resort to these vacillations of passive aggressiveness until their well has run dry, which after years of this it’s pretty logical that that is what is bound to happen. Maybe our stories are unique, I am not claiming that this is the experience of most women.

            The first thing I’d like to address is that the boundaries I feel we have to exert on our husbands and significant others are far more “elementary” compared to the boundaries we automatically are assumed in female to female friendships. We would not accept many of the less than stellar behavior of our husbands, had this been our women friends. If this happened, we would discuss it, say how upset we were, apologize for our part in the offense, and if there are real grave violations of trust, decide if the friendship is worth continuing. This is at least how I’ve experienced my female friendships- maybe other women have different relationships. You have an extremely great point in that women have issues exerting their boundaries on a regular basis, partially because in most of our non spousal relationships, (a) the boundary is seldom violated because we are usually looking out for one another. The point I would like to offer however is what I wrote above:

            (b) that the boundaries we find ourselves having to exert to our spouses are those in which we are not challenged by with our friends. We are completely caught off guard when let’s say our spouse decides to blame us when they lost an expensive pair of sunglasses (yes true story). Can you imagine, in any scenario in which that happens among our female friends and what our reaction would be? I simply cannot because I do not have friends that I allow in my life to do that or rather that would do that to begin with.

            So from my rather limited point of view, women do assert boundaries- at least the women I’ve been privy to from their stories. We do it when we manage up our bosses, we do it when we have to have a difficult conversation with our colleagues, we do it with our friends when unbeknownst to them, they offend us. This again is my experience, but I think my friends do this.

            Theme: our resentment isn’t that we have to exert boundaries, it’s that the boundary we have to exert are boundaries that protect us from disrespect, contempt, condescension, emotional disregulation, fairness – things we think are basic parts of what marriage already comes with.
            Maybe that is our fault to assume those things should be automatically present. That I can at least claim that that is my basic expectation coming into this marriage.

            Personally, I have never accepted my husband’s lack of influence (until as of late ironically- because I couldn’t care less), what I call to be “game” in the relationship, which is probably why our first real fight came at about four months into dating. I feel that I have been very clear about the vision of what I wanted in the relationship. I gave him Gottman’s book to read around nine months into our relationship. What I will claim responsibility to is this and to me this is another important lesson some women need to also take into account and what I am having a hard time forgiving myself for: I exerted my boundary. I said I do not think this is going to work; I said this somewhat early on. I want someone game to influence, someone who can engage in dialogue when there are differing opinions, stance, stance, then dance in the words of Terry Real, not just someone who says “no” and expects me to live with it. You need to think really hard if this is what you want, because in my opinion, this is not what you aspire to.
            And this is where I went wrong. I gave him a choice instead of walking away. I believed his words over myself. I wasn’t ready to live with the chance that I might be mistaken about my theory and belief of this relationship, and in essence, perhaps I hoped that I might be wrong about it. You can argue that it was about kindness and generosity and giving someone a second chance and all of that, sure. You have to weigh that however with how convicted you are about your belief over his words, irregardless of how true his intentions may be. Women also need to realize whether or not what they want in a guy is something he is able to deliver. Most guys cannot deliver this from the get go [I also was not aware of the extent of this systemic problem]…they weren’t taught to be cooperative, they were taught that life is a zero sum game, that marriage is also a zero sum game. So yes, you will have to do work, a lot of it, and a lot of it is elementary level work of collaborating, how to dialogue, how to engage in win win etc.
            And you really have to think about what you are sacrificing (time, effort, patience) in order to get the marriage to where you want to be…and what you’re giving up less time to further work on continuing education classes, join a non-profit board, run for leadership positions, knit, meditate, yoga, whatever else because you’re certainly going to be the one running around finding books, understanding what’s wrong with the marriage, talking to other women, spending time with your own therapist talking about the marriage, and then to add to that couples counseling. Meanwhile, yes the husband will probably be open enough to go to sessions with you, maybe do his own therapy, but most of the continuing education will be led by you. I’m not saying a blanket statement that it’s not worth it, but that my hope is that women become much more aware about what they will be juggling and balancing, and giving up, because we all have 168 hours in a week…we have to figure out how we want to spend it, and something’s gotta give.

            Like

            • Lisa Gottman says:

              Astrid,

              I actually agree and relate to almost all of what you said.
              I don’t think we are that far apart.

              The difference may be that it sounds like you have had experiences with females that were almost universally healthy in terms of accepting influence, not blaming you for lost sunglasses etc., setting healthy boundaries etc. I think you have been very lucky there. Good experience with female colleagues and bosses too? Family? I ask that because we have less choice in those usually.

              I agree on average that women are better at being in a 2 person system that is the foundation of a good marriage.

              I don’t think on average that women are as good at men at being able to set healthy boundaries. And that is why they often accept all kind of shittiness that men would not. Again let me absolutely acknowlege ALL the misogyny and horrible treatment that women have had to endure that has nothing to do with that statement.

              I’m talking about many women I know who can’t say no to doing all kind of crap they don’t want to do. Who give and give and give. And they STILL feel guilty for not doing more.

              I have female friends who are just as avoidant as my husband. Who are lovely generous people in many ways but who change the subject abruptly when an uncomfortable topic comes up.

              I could tell you many stories about female friends and relatives etc. Supposedly there are just as many women who are insecurely attached as men. So from that lens women are missing key skills there too.

              I think as Terry Real so eloquently describes this is largely cultural that men so often don’t know true intimacy. But he also describes, as you know, that women don’t know how to ask for what they need in healthy ways. Or use leverage to get change. Or walk away if need be. They just keep doing what doesn’t work until they get fed up.

              Anyway, I largely agree with you. I do agree with you and Terry and the research that it is usually the MAN in hetero relationships that is the major block.

              However we might have a slight disagreement that women are great at relationships. I disagree with Matt on this point too. Of course it ok to agree to disagree. :)

              I think women suck at relationships too. But they are better than men in key ways as it relates to a 2 person system.

              Most humans are not very good at emotional regulation. Or dealing with a significant other who deals with stress in a very different way.

              I think I agree with 90% of what you said. Which is incredibly high for me on the Internet ;)

              So let me recap: while it is a cycle it is the MAN who usually creates the block that women have to have skills to overcome.

              I absolutely believe that if my husband was better at accepting influence we could have made so much more progress on fixing our marriage. No question my skill deficits are there. But if you can accept influence from each other it’s a whole different, faster, more productive process.

              Like

            • Lisa Gottman says:

              Astrid,

              I think your summary of where you “went wrong” is very astute. I have a slightly different but similar enough.

              If I could go back in time I would at that point have insisted on intensive premarital counseling to address those issues. Because I think my husband is a wonderful man and I would choose him again but would have set firm boundaries around learning key skills from the start.

              I didn’t know what all this stuff then. And when you don’t come from a securely attached family dynamic you don’t know what normal is even if you think you do. Would you say you had a healthy family background so you knew?

              I think that is many peoples story. They don’t know what healthy is even though they think they do.

              I have been advising my niece over the last few years who was dating and recently married about all this hard earned wisdom and cautionary tales we could now share. I think it has made a difference to her being spared from the things we have had to go through.

              So you are so right about people needing to know all this stuff.

              Like

  27. Astrid says:

    Let me clarify too, the problems I have are mostly systemic, the same ones Terry talks about, so no it’s not about being a bad person, but in the standards of my 21st century marriage, it does not cut it.

    I would say that I didn’t know I had a healthy family background overall- I counter that you don’t really know what anything is within a spectrum of things, until you have another basis for comparison. My parents fought, which to me meant that we weren’t what I’d ideally like, but at the same time, after hearing others examples etc. in greater detail, yes I grew up in a quite secure family. I also grew up in a family where my father did yield to my mother, even in very big things of her realizing her dream for her family. I took all of this for granted, I think.

    As for friends, the ones I choose to keep are universally healthy. I have no qualms about letting go of the ones that aren’t. I employ a three X strategy attempt to talk to someone calmly, but if it is clear to me that they’re there to unleash their fury on me, I walk away and they’ve lost the privilege of participating in my life. For the most part though, I don’t have to do this often. The friends I consider closest to me, are those in which we do not have these types of blowups- they usually recognize when they’ve said something insensitive, I usually also know this and would be willing to do the same, and we both do the repair. To me it’s logical.

    In general, I’ve had good interactions with colleagues and bosses, too. Not that they have never offended me, but here’s a classic scenario…boss asks something that is to me almost unrealistic to get done. My words back are I hear you. here’s what I have on my plate, here’s what I think can get done, so if we want to complete A on time, we need to cut something, where would you like to cut it? How would you like to help so that we can get this done. That to me is the boundary setting. Maybe I’m fortunate in that the person is then game with letting me know what could be cut next etc.

    Boundaries to me is about problem solving and collaborating to get to an end goal, but to establish boundaries, you’ve gotta trust that the other person is going to take your needs into consideration as much they’re going to take their needs…they’re going to say, what am I willing to let go of. This is not in my experience how men view negotiation, this is why we cannot have the same boundary dynamic with men as we do with women.

    Whatever our approach is, ie. even if we have to be nicer, firm, kind, and not be so emotional when stating what we want, the part that to me is worth mentioning is that, most women have unknowingly signed up to become the de-facto leader of the emotional part of the marriage. Even Terry is asking this of us. It’s worth asking women if that’s what they really want to do. I don’t doubt that many men will progress, but to me it’s not good enough, because to me it’s the dependency of men on women towards the emotional progress that is also an equally large problem. If it is now well known that men benefit from intimacy and vulnerability, and that to me is reason enough that they venture on their own to self help books, personal therapists, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, men’s camps, whatever else that gets them to where they really should be. Most of this isn’t about having a better marriage, most of this is about being a more whole person- and that- that is not a wife’s responsibility to fulfill, unless she wants to.

    Like

    • Lisa Gottman says:

      I agree with you it should not be the wife’s responsibility. You are right that Terry Real acknowledges that the wife has to do more emotional labor to get him to a better place.

      That is because the population he is dealing with are women like us. Women already in a long term relationship trying to correct to a better marriage.

      As you know Gottman identified 35% of men who do accept influence so this if not ALL men. There uses substantial majority of men who do know how to accept influence in relationships. Probably in my opinion because they grew up in a securely functioning family so that is what he learned as a default.

      As you pointed out the real issue is that many people don’t know how relationships are supposed to work in a healthy way. There are many books and models and opinions out there. Most of which I think doesn’t work or is based on wrong even harmful ideas.

      If I had known what I know now I would not be in the position I am in. I would not be commenting oj this blog. I would not be doing all the work I have had to do. But because I didn’t know what was happening I used the wrong interventions.

      I wasn’t able to identify the problem of not accepting influence because my dad accepted influence. I screened out friends and boyfriends who showed obvious signs of not doing that (though I didn’t know that was the exact thing). Similar for avoidant ways of dealing with things.

      I was looking for someone who did not have a angry way of dealing with things. Because that was what u experienced. And I absolutely did a good job with that. Unfortunately I didn’t know that there are all these people out there who don’t show anger but just avoid.

      When you are dating you don’t trigger each other as much so you don’t get to see the true insecure attachment style that shows up once you the primary person and the feel good hormones disappear.

      So that’s why this is really a problem at the dating level. You have to know what a healthy relationship is and what you need to look for. If you do want to have a relationship with a person who has an insecure attachment style it needs to be addressed early to correct it so that your marriage will be healthy.

      But so many people don’t know all this. I didn’t.

      And so here I am. In the population of women who are faced with the choice of doing more or breaking up.

      I agree it’s not “fair”. I can understand why you or someone else would just decide it’s not worth it. A lot of that calculus depends on how much the guy is willing to change. Or also how much damage has been done.

      I’ve read it’s common for women to decide to leave and the man really wants to change at that point but she has just been through so much she’s done.

      Maybe that’s where you are at I don’t know.

      Like

      • Lisa Gottman says:

        One question for you. Have you considered using a Terry Real trained therapist who would call out your husband’s bad behavior?

        Like

      • Lisa Gottman says:

        Typos in the comment. Substantial minority of men who accept influence at 35% I meant to say.

        Like

        • Astrid says:

          Marriage wise, I am still early <5 years, no kids. It would be asset loss at this point. I am almost tempted to hold a moratorium- for six months to a year dedicated to him taking the time to learn what he should have learned in childhood and to incorporate this into his life independently of me. As for me, I need fresh air to see if I'm just mired in keeping the marriage or if there's even feelings left. There's the other part of the resentment right…you make the commitment of death do us part, and then you're the one who has to file for it because the relationship even at this point has not reached his nadir, so he's not about to file for it either. And his nadir, as you can probably guess is not something I would allow myself to compromise my values for. It's a fucking bitter pill to swallow.

          Bottomline, I need to know that he can do this, that there's actual real substantial progress without me monitoring and being the guard and the boundary checker. I think if he shows demonstrable progress after a year by himself, then maybe I am willing to go back…but at this point, yea I'm pretty much ready to get out. I have no plans for kids, certainly if there were even 5% of a desire to do so, it is now at zero. Luckily we are both on the same page with this.

          I did read Gottman's 35% of men accept influence, and one of my first questions I have is what does that really look like, what does he consider accepting influence? Is it sitting there after hours on end asking for them to get it and then they finally do, or is it accepting influence from the get go? In my experience, I do not have one single girl friend of mine that I feel have found a match to their level of emotional intelligence with their men…this isn't a knock to the men; they're overall decent, honest, etc. etc. Most of it, I believe is the result of systemic patriarchy. The invulnerability that has been inculcated into them does not make for a foundation of closeness and connectedness that's crucial for a well functioning marriage. And you're right, these problems do not surface to the extent that it will until you step into marriage. Our major fights after marriage, had it happened before the commitment, I would have zero qualms about having said that's enough you've lost your card of participating as a guest in my life.

          I would say off the top of my head my girlfriends all compensate for their husbands/significant others in the emotional department, some more than others, but we all put up with behaviors with men that we would not from one another. I have not seen one where there's an equal "yoke", I have yet to see a pairing where the man is more aware than my girl friends.

          Our therapist blames most things on his anxiety, which is like the favorite word of the US these days to claim that they have anxiety…when really most of it is an unpracticed thing of not being able to detach your emotions from your behavior. Classic childhood things. Things I know I did even at 15, early 20s etc. This isn't unfamiliar to me, it's that I don't want to deal with it as a grown woman.

          How long have you been in your marriage (ballpark wise?) How and when did you feel like something was somewhat amiss? I want to let women know that patriarchy is still well and alive, that the days of gendered power imbalances aren't over, so that women who want to continue into their marriage can know to expect to do more of the emotional work or abstain from the marriage altogether…and certainly hopefully before kids, because at that point, you have to think about your dependent than simply your own unhappiness and sense of unfulfilled life.

          Liked by 1 person

          • “I did read Gottman’s 35% of men accept influence, and one of my first questions I have is what does that really look like, what does he consider accepting influence?”

            I really do believe there is some truth to that. I’m not sure how I’d describe “accepting influence,” accommodation,tolerance,recognition that you have needs as a person? My husband will never have my emotional intelligence or my vulnerability. He is not going to suddenly learn how to be emotionally sensitive or empathetic, but in spite of all that, he accepts influence. He can reason that this is a partnership, that his wife’s contentment is related to his own.

            It’s an interesting paradox, because my hubby is definitely patriarchal, traditional. It really helps too, that I don’t expect him to meet my emotional, spiritual, needs. He does sometimes,but the times that he doesn’t are okay too,because I have filled up in other ways.

            Like

            • Lisa Gottman says:

              IB:

              You said:

              “He can reason that this is a partnership, that his wife’s contentment is related to his own.”

              Yes! It’s a partnership mindset with an understanding that we each affect each other.

              The style of that can vary quite a bit depending on culture and preferences but that general mindset is the important thing.

              Liked by 1 person

          • Lisa Gottman says:

            Here is one definition of what Gottman is defining as “accepting influence”. 35% of men exhibited this skill. I know men in marriages who do know how to do this. Of course as I said in another comment, it’s a spectrum of abusive men accepting no influence to very open to accepting influence.
            From Gottman’s blog:

            “Being open to influence requires a man to let go of avoidant strategies like distancing, attacking, and defensiveness. This doesn’t mean adopting an inferior position, but rather allowing his partner’s needs to be of primary importance in his life.

            Accepting influence is also about moving from a position of “me” to “we,” which requires a shift toward more maturity and complexity, beyond seeing the world as a binary, win-lose, right-wrong, zero sum game.

            Stan Tatkin, Ph.D. describes this movement from a one-person system to a two-person system as “secure functioning.” Such a shift demands and facilitates maturation by caring for one’s relationship in the long term through considering another’s mind and emotions.”

            https://www.gottman.com/blog/emotionally-intelligent-husbands-key-lasting-marriage/

            Men and women are different for nature/nurture reasons. And let me add my usual caviat that there are huge individual variations and more differences within the group then between the group of men and women.

            Having said that, men don’t have to be especially verbal to be accept influence. Or highly skilled emotionally etc. It’s not the style that matters.

            It’s simply about considering the other person’s point of view and being mindful of how things will after them. Being open and willing to work together to find common ground.

            Gottman studied people who gave different ideas about pâtriarchy too. In cultures or religions that believe in male leadership the men can still accept influence from their wives by respecting her point of view and opinions and factoring it in to his decisions. It is still the key factor to a happy marriage.

            Like

          • Lisa Gottman says:

            I can understand frustration with a therapist using “anxiety” as an excuse for bad behavior. It may very well be an explanation for why it’s more challenging but not an excuse.

            And I say this as a person who has had some pretty severe anxiety I have had to with hard to overcome.

            My husband had severe panic attacks. The thing I admired about him is he never used that as an excuse. And he has made incredible progress through a lot of hard work.

            I don’t want to minimize the difficult that anxiety or depression or other mental or physical illness can add to a secure functioning relationship. No question it adds another layer of difficulty.

            But like eveything else the key is to see it as something to overcome together in a partnership mentality. (Of course each individual is responsible to adult as well).

            And that’s again where differences in how we use to soothe ourselves msg create problems if not understood.

            My husband like to be alone and think internally when stressed. I am the opposite. I like to brainstorm with others or vent.

            Neither of these is right it wrong but they are the opposite of what the other person finds stress reducing. And if you don’t understand that you get into a he/she is needy won’t solve they’re own problems and the other person is thinking he/she us selfish and cold and doesn’t care.

            Anyway the point is if your husband has a different way to deal with his anxiety than you do it can cause all kinds of issues if not understood and handled properly. It sound like you do handle things differently.

            I hope your therapist is able to help you both navigate this stuff. In the hands of a skilled therapist it can be worked out.

            Like

          • Lisa Gottman says:

            Astrid,

            You’ve been married less than 5 years with no kids right? That actually is good news. It gives you more flexibility to work things out with more distance as you described without having to consider how it would affect kids.

            Some people find it helpful to separate and “date” again and to focus on correcting the skills missing. Are you familiar with Bill Harley’s books and website. He takes that approach if a man particularly won’t change his problematic behavior.

            You said:

            “How long have you been in your marriage (ballpark wise?) How and when did you feel like something was somewhat amiss?”

            We’ve been married over 20 years, 2 kids. The other answer is too long for this comment. But I’ve answered some of it in other comments.

            We get along great as people. But our attachment styles are opposite. That’s where our problem lies. Partly as a result of that difference what we are looking for to make us feel loved and secure is opposite.

            It was noticibly early on but we had good enough skills that we could repair and get through well enough.

            In the last 5 years is when it became more obvious. We have made a lot of progress but more to go.

            Most of our intense frustration has been in not being able to find a good couples counselor. We were both willing to learn and they have been so unhelpful and in some cases truly bad.

            That is truly discouraging. But luckily I am good at learning from books.

            Like

            • Lisa Gottman says:

              And as I’ve mentioned in other comments, although my husband accepts influence in many areas and topics there are some that he resists.

              And that has been blocked being able to make progress.

              Like

  28. Astrid says:

    Yea I think my CNI is how he deals with anxiety- I am not a problem solver necessarily, but the problem has to be stated as I am feeling anxious rather than an “acting out” of the anxiety itself. When it comes to the influence piece, what I mean is that does Gottman view having influence as a husband who does this from the initial get go, or does this mean that a wife has to convince the husband first…I find that 35% is believable for the latter, but I think to have a husband that is fully open to influence and dialogue, that knows how to collaborate without prompting and offers more than straight yes or no, is far less than 35%. Case in point, if a person says, hey let’s go to Italian next Friday and the person simply says No…you often have to ask them to say, is it the restaurant you don’t want, the type of food, the time…this dialog which is pretty automatic for most women I’d say is something that has to be built from the ground up. It looks from the outside a case of not accepting influence, but in another instance, it’s again a lack of understanding of what it means to engage in conversation.
    As for what you said about Stan Tatkin: “describes this movement from a one-person system to a two-person system as “secure functioning.” Such a shift demands and facilitates maturation by caring for one’s relationship in the long term through considering another’s mind and emotions.” Maybe it’s just me, but seriously, isn’t this what the wedding vows mean?

    Like

    • Lisa Gottman says:

      The 35% is men who accept influence from the get go as you say. They are out there. I know some. My dad despite other flaws was one.

      There is a subset if the 65% that can change once the wife gets his attention through boundaries (early on). There is another subset that requires professional intervention from someone like Terry Real.

      And another that will never change.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lisa Gottman says:

        Lots of other subsets in that 65% I didn’t mention. Matt is representative of a subset that “gets it” after the wife threatens to leave or really does leave.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Lisa Gottman says:

        Another way to think about the 35% of men who already know how to accept influence is that those are the happy marriages. Able to work things out in a win/win place.

        Subsets of the 65% of marriages with husbands who don’t accept influence can move on to become happy if they find a way to get the husband to accept influence and move into a 2 person system.

        Obviously this is incredibly simplistic but just for broad ideas with group averages.

        Like

    • Lisa Gottman says:

      If you are interested in details of how Gottman determined the 35% number there are a lot of details of his classic studies in the book The Marriage Clinic. Lots of scientific analysis. The Science of Trustis very good too.

      He has lots of more recent research too. Probably can find a lot of stuff online if it interests you.

      Obviously we all have our own personal experiences that may or may not line up with group averages.

      Like

      • Astrid says:

        I liked the science of Trust! And I have his mathematical modeling book Principia Amoris- I think his concept of influencing functions, husband and wife state at rest, those things are all very important to determining fit. So I agree that there’s differences among personal preferences, etc. My question now is what’s the line of best fit essentially…What is the image of a good fit? Can we truly know this prior to marriage, or do we need to have a reassessment period after we get married so that we can ultimately decide if this is something that we want in the long term? Many of these wife and husband at rest states are different from what the boyfriend and girlfriend at rest states are. Men seem to be more open to influence in the beginning; I mean if bad behavior came out in the initial weeks of dating, most people would have ended it right then. So there is something to be said about how these behaviors manifest themselves over a long period of time.

        Like

    • Lisa Gottman says:

      Astrid,

      You said:

      “As for what you said about Stan Tatkin: “describes this movement from a one-person system to a two-person system as “secure functioning.” Such a shift demands and facilitates maturation by caring for one’s relationship in the long term through considering another’s mind and emotions.” Maybe it’s just me, but seriously, isn’t this what the wedding vows mean?”

      That’s the thing many people don’t think that is what the wedding vows means. We are often taught to think of a healthy relationship as two seperate individuals who are each responsible to regulate themselves.

      That’s why they don’t get the whole dish thing.

      We are taking Dialetical Behavioral therapy couples class. Now I like DBT. I think it’s very useful to help learn skills to regulate emotions.

      But the foundational premise of this couples class is each individual is responsible to regulate themselves. This is true on one level but that is NOT the foundation of a 2 person secure functioning system that Stan Tatkin was describing on Gottman’s blog.

      That’s why this idea is SO common that I don’t need to worry about listening to my wife’s concerns on widgets. Because that’s her job to regulate herself.

      Gottman described the secret to a happy marriage as when the other person is upset the world stops and attention is paid. So many people confuse that with doing what the other person wants.

      I have so often heard women say I have to love myself before I can love someone else. Which again is true on one level but misses the point of the foundation of a secure functioning relationship where you soothe each other. Help regulate each other. Help each other love themselves.

      Like

      • Lisa Gottman says:

        And I do think many women don’t get the balance right either.

        Like

      • somecallmejack says:

        I think Tatkin’s emphasis on secure _relationships_ is right on.

        Asking whether I, or my mate, are secure or anxious or avoidant may be diagnostic but it’s not going to be therapeutic, and it can easily put the emphasis on the wrong things. “I became insecure because of how I was raised, am I doomed for life?” “My partner is avoidant, I picked the wrong person!” How about “you are you…I am me…how do we put this together so we both feel heard and respected and cherished?”

        Like

        • Lisa Gottman says:

          Yes the insecure attachment label is to diagnosis why things are not working.

          And to give a North Star to move towards behaving in ways that promote secure functioning individually and together.

          One of the things I like that Stan Tatkin says is you don’t have to transform yourself into from insecure to secure. For example, an avoidant or anxiously attached person doesn’t have to become an “anchor”.

          Instead you develop agreements between yourselves that ensures that you behave securely with each other.

          As an example my avoidant husband can learn to make sure he says hello and goodbye instead of leaving wordlessly. It’s a “dishes” issue. He doesn’t care but it means security to me. Far easier to change behavior than attachment styles.

          And I can learn to be careful with my tone of voice and not calling out his name to get his attention (one of the great tips from Tatkin for avoidants).

          These agreements are the essence of accepting influence.

          Like

          • Donkey says:

            Hey Lisa!
            Fascinating stuff.
            Am I understanding this correctly: Avoidants can be triggered by someone saying their name as a way to get their attention? Is it the loudness of it (“calling out”) that is the trigger, or something else? Do you know what avoidants would prefer instead?

            Like

            • Lisa Gottman says:

              Hi Donkey! Nice to talk to you here.

              This is from Stan Tatkin’s audiobook Your Brain on Love. Incredibly helpful book.

              Avoidants go into autoregulating mode when by themselves. So to abruptly interrupt that feels like a rude shock. Feels like someone wants something from you that feels burdensome.

              The way around the name trigger (which is deeply wired) is to use something other than their name. Hey honey, sweetie or whatever.

              The general principle is to give avoidants a soft warning that they need to go out of autoregulating mode.

              Say hey can you give me a few minutes later (as opposed to right now) or are you ready to go in a few minutes? Stuff like that.

              That’s why texting can be your friend with avoidants to tie into Matt’s most recent post.

              I use texting a lot with my husband and son to give a soft way to prepare to get out of their autoregulating.

              And I no longer yell their names down the staircase. It’s interesting that it has produced better results.

              Like

              • Lisa Gottman says:

                It’s helpful for me to think about being woken up from sleeping.

                It’s jarring and annoying to have someone say you name loudly to wake you up. Or tell you you need to get up now.

                Better to have someone say it softly and more gradually and not say your name. It reinforces safety to an autoregulator.

                That’s how they wake me up from general anesthesia.

                It’s yet another way to get smart and depersonalize the responses of an avoidant. The “rejection” responses can be changed when understood.

                That’s why I don’t buy into the idea of you can’t change other people. You can sometimes if you know what a correct diagnosis is and hiw to effect change.

                Like

              • Astrid says:

                I absolutely agree that when the other partner is upset, the world stops and I listen. And I still think that “we are often taught to think of a healthy relationship as two separate individuals who are each responsible to regulate themselves,” is somewhat largely true.Striking the balance between the two is challenging, but I think it’s imperative to do so. We do this for friends as well so we have some semblance of what is an appropriate level of taking care of someone. Lisa, how do you deal with negative bids for attention? That’s where it is most difficult for me to deal with. The complaints about the various states of this world, the incompetent government, the idiots that are alive, things like that…it’s draining for me. They’re not exactly personal complaints like oh I had a hard day at work bc so and so did this…they’re more hyperboles than anything and for me, that’s the hardest to be the recipient of it and to give it an equal consideration as a positive request for attention.

                Like

                • Lisa Gottman says:

                  The more you describe your relationship it sound like you would empathize with my husband. I have an “easiy to upset” style. He has a “slow to upset”. Neither is inherently right or wrong but because they are very different ways of managing your nervous system they feel very wrong and dysfunctional to the other person.

                  The answer to your question is in this pdf.

                  http://www.thecouplesclinic.com/pdf/F-Core_Differences_in_Ways_of_Maintaining_Emotional_Stability-Legimimately_Different_Ways_of_Navigating_Life.pdf

                  Like

                  • Lisa Gottman says:

                    What you describe as your husbands negative bids for attention could be an easily upset style. He might find your style equally annoying and cold if he’s like me.

                    Like

                    • Lisa Gottman says:

                      I didn’t phrase that last comment well. I meant that I often find my husbands and other peoples “slow to upset” style as annoying and cold. In my experience because they often view my style with contempt like I can’t control myself or am overly negative.

                      I didn’t mean to project all that onto what you husband may or may not feel. Obviously I have no idea.

                      Like

                    • somecallmejack says:

                      The conversation you two are having reminds me of myself, sort of, before I really started trying to clean up my life and my marriage. I used to listen compulsively to the radio (mostly public radio news and call-in shows; a habit I picked up from my father-in-law, but that’s a different topic!). Around the time I started asking what was going on in our marriage I also started looking at my own habits.

                      All that I got out of listening to the radio/news all the time was a generally stressed and distressed mindset that inevitably led to anxieties being thrashed out with my family, almost always a negative sort of thing.

                      I decided it was almost an addiction, and sort of like drinking Clorox, and just stopped, cold turkey. Radio and TV news today are sort of like alcohol to an alcoholic and my life (and my interactions with other people) are much better and (to the point you were discussing) much more positive, now that I’m not constantly trying to deal with anxieties about all sorts of things that, on the whole, I have absolutely no power to influence (today’s example: the outcome of the AL election).

                      I don’t think you do much to help other people, especially your spouse, see something like that if they don’t see it themselves, but I think Lisa’s point about what look like negative bids perhaps being something else is a good and valid point.

                      Like

              • Donkey says:

                Yeah, it makes sense! Thanks for explaining.

                Like

  29. Esmeralda says:

    Literally, you are only worthy of marriage if you can communicate an issue, and take advice on how to improve as not an insult, and discuss problems with both people listening. Conflict avoidance, guilt hoarding, and not being empathetic to someone you want to stay in your life isn’t that hard

    Like

    • Lisa Gottman says:

      Esmeralda,

      I agree with you that those things are key to a happy marriage. I’m curious why you think that doesn’t describe the majority of relationships.

      What blocks doing those things if it isn’t hard?

      Like

  30. Astrid says:

    Lisa, that’s a great PDF by the way. I’m curious how much of this is part of the male-female divide, how much of it is personality, and how much of it is patriarchy (i.e. the way men were raised to be devoid of emotions etc., When I read this, I seem to be able to put this into buckets of more likely to be a man vs. woman type of thing, I’m sure there’s variance of course, but it does seem to strike a gender line. I guess in the end it doesn’t matter, really where these differences originate since we have to live with each other. I do wonder though if milennial men are less likely to tow these lines or what.
    Especially when you talk about this slow vs. fast to emotions…is that really a personality difference? There’s also what I would argue as fast to emotion but slowness in response. ie. you notice the emotions they’re there, but you don’t act on it, emote it to someone else, you’re just kind of a bystander watching it. Is that what can be equated as cold? Because it’s not that I don’t feel it, it’s more that I don’t want to act on it until it feels no longer fleeting.

    Like

    • somecallmejack says:

      I bought the full copy of that last year. I *need* to read it – I’ve only read selected parts. It is really good reading, and quite different from most marriage/relationship/self-help books (and I’ve read literally dozens of these, and have read at least one book by every therapist/author that more than two people have ever heard of, seriously).

      Good reminder!

      Like

      • Lisa Gottman says:

        Jack,

        Sounds like you have read quite a lot of relationship resources.

        I’ve probably annoyed people on this blog by recommending that Brent Atkinson ebook so often but I think it’s very helpful. Very practical with concrete instructions. Including cool flow charts for what to do.

        It’s not random opinions either but based on research.

        One of the best 20 I have spent. (Along with a handful of other resources.)

        Liked by 1 person

        • somecallmejack says:

          Yes to all. Tip to those considering ordering a copy: they will “personalize” the copy they send by inserting your spouse’s name, which your spouse might or might not appreciate. I don’t know whether they could do a generic version with “My husband” or “My wife” in place of your spouse’s first name? Even an open-hearted spouse might get a little spooked if they found this (excellent) book (sent as a pdf) lying around with their name all over the text. :-) Wicked highly recommended, just be aware…

          Like

      • Lisa Gottman says:

        Jack,

        I am often accused by therapists of intellectualizing and not using the books and other resources I use to really change. Which I absolutely know is the opposite of true for me.

        I’m curious how you use the resources you read it change. How do you find them helpful in your process? Have you ever been accused of intellectualizing?

        Like

        • somecallmejack says:

          No one has said that to me in so many words, but one of my therapists did strongly urge me to READ LESS. Stop, actually, IIRC.

          Honestly, sometimes they help, and sometimes they don’t – but the stuff that doesn’t usually just gets jettisoned without further thought.

          It’s a little hard to answer your question. In general terms, I’d say I try to open up my almost hopelessly narrow vision. I grew up in a family with no physical or emotional connections where being your own independent individual was a cardinal virtue – a family of rigid one-person systems governed by black and white, all or nothing thinking.

          So perspective-expanding is good. And I would say this, too. From Johnson to Real to Schnarch to Gottman to Schwartz to Tatkin to Hendricks to Hunt/Hendrix to RIcho to Paul and many more, I think that nearly all of these people are really saying more or less the same thing. (Or maybe it’s just my filters…) Graphically, I see them all arrayed around a circle, pointing to a common point in the center. I think they all contribute a lot, and their contributions are on the whole complementary. If they appear to be separate, I think it’s just the inherent difficulties that result from trying to systematize your thoughts and words. Well, that and perhaps a bit of marketing or understandable empire-building (in a good way)? ;-)

          Like

          • Lisa Gottman says:

            You find they say the same thing? That’s very interesting since some of them have very different (opposite in some cases) foundations.

            What are the common core things that you see them pointing to?

            Like

            • somecallmejack says:

              I know that sounds a little controversial (or just plain wrong). I was reading something by Gottman (John, not Lisa…heh) the other day in which he was drawing some apparently pointed contrasts between his views and those of Schnarch and Johnson. I don’t really buy it, though, at least not from 35,000 feet, which is the altitude at which I prefer to fly.

              Increased respect for your partner and yourself.
              Lower reactivity/greater emotional stability.
              Be aware of your pre-programmed defaults.
              Think objectively/critically.
              Be curious/ask questions, about yourself and your partner.
              Think in terms of two people, not yourself.
              Accept that things will not be perfect.

              The end of the working day isn’t the best time to try to wrap that together but that’s a first draft.

              Oh, and among the many great authors I’ve forgotten to mention, I do want to call out David Burns, who I know is a favorite of yours, too!

              Like

              • Astrid says:

                The one that I think I disagree most with Gottman is the concept of the good enough marriage. I’m not sure what good enough means to him, but this was brought up during a weekend session where one partner was not quite satisfied by the response in attentiveness of the other partner, and for me maybe the way Julie said it, it felt dismissive, I’m not sure, but it struck me in a negative tone. I also fundamentally believe this is in direct contrast to Eli Finkel’s book or even what Terry Real advocates for. I think the days of the good enough marriage are numbered…so if we don’t start striving for more than good enough, many of use will end up not having partners til our old age.

                Like

                • somecallmejack says:

                  This – “good enough” – is *SO HARD*.

                  One of the gigaWatt issues for my wife and me over the last couple of years has been how we feel about where we are.

                  I come at her, loaded up with perfectionist expectations that if I’m honest I know few, if any, people could meet, and freak out because I think she’s willing to “settle” for “good enough,” which isn’t good enough for me. I’m reactive and intolerant and blaming or at least very critical, and I freak out and wall up when I think she’s not on board and doesn’t care.

                  She, reasonably, wants to just know that I love her, and us, as we are, and enjoy the moments we have with some grace and gratitude.

                  I know that I have what I’d call “expectations issues,” as in: unrealistic, possibly unachievable, expectations. And although I’m working on them, I am a poster child for just about every one of David Burns’ cognitive distortions. So it’s not clear that my view on “good enough” is really very accurate.

                  Gottman is a little bit of a sensitive area for me, and I read him with care because to be very honest when I have evaluated where I see our marriage using his rubrics we are a miserable, abject, hopeless failure and should have divorced each other decades ago.

                  Like

                  • Ditto Jack 🙏
                    I’ve been following all this and thinking. A lot.

                    Like

                    • Lisa Gottman says:

                      STH,

                      I’ve appreciated this rich and thoughtful discussion. So many different deep things to consider as we all learn new things. It’s helpful to hear so many different perspectives.

                      Like

                  • Lisa Gottman says:

                    Jack:

                    You said:

                    “Gottman is a little bit of a sensitive area for me, and I read him with care because to be very honest when I have evaluated where I see our marriage using his rubrics we are a miserable, abject, hopeless failure and should have divorced each other decades ago.”

                    I can relate to this a lot. A few years ago, watching Gottman’s The Art and Science of Love seminar filled me with such overwhelming sadness. Because he was describing a marriage I longed for but was far, far away from. I had to read other people for a while. When I read his scientific books it was easier for me to not feel that overwhelming grief so I could focus on figuring out how to get out of this mess.

                    Terry Real invokes anger so I have to only read that when i am not already angry.

                    I guess all that is to be expected as part of the process.

                    Like

                • somecallmejack says:

                  Another thought – this could be a huge dissertation but I’ll refrain – finding a “really good” partner in old age (what’s that, anyway? – we’re roughly 60, which might really qualify as old age for this purpose) means that we’ve lost all the years of being with and knowing someone, even if many of those years were tough. Put differently, if my wife or I were to marry a new partner now, there’s a whole lifetime of learning and knowing (good and bad) that you would simply never have the -time- to achieve with a brand new partner.

                  Some marriages are clearly bad enough that either or both of the partners is better off starting again with a clean slate, but I think a lot of us give up too easily, and forfeit something really unique because, very understandably and reasonably, we just ran out of steam. I speak as someone who has had a lot of times when the firebox got cold and there was little or no steam in the engine. Part of me still really believes we can do better…

                  Like

                • Lisa Gottman says:

                  Astrid,

                  You said:

                  “The one that I think I disagree most with Gottman is the concept of the good enough marriage. I’m not sure what good enough means to him, but this was brought up during a weekend session where one partner was not quite satisfied by the response in attentiveness of the other partner, and for me maybe the way Julie said it, it felt dismissive, I’m not sure, but it struck me in a negative tone. I also fundamentally believe this is in direct contrast to Eli Finkel’s book or even what Terry Real advocates for. I think the days of the good enough marriage are numbered…so if we don’t start striving for more than good enough, many of use will end up not having partners til our old age.”

                  I’ve read a lot of Gottman’s stuff though I certainly am not an expert. From what you describe its sounds like Julie struck a wrong note in the seminar in her bad response rather than that being representative of their idea of the concept of a good enough marriage.

                  My understanding of both Gottman and Terry Real and lots of others of the “good enough marriage” can for summed up in a story Terry Real gives in one of his books.

                  A man was complaining that his wife was not as sexually Alfred and adventurous as he wanted. The wife had a history of sexual abuse and rape. She had done a lot of therapy and was invested in a healthy sex life for both of them.

                  Terry Real told the guy: you have a choice to make. You have this desire of a sexually adventurous marriage. You are married to thus woman who will not be able to give that. You need to decide if your desire for that is enough of a priority over all the other good things you can get in thus marriage.

                  If it is the most important thing you need to acknowlege that and get a divorce her rather than trying to get her to be something she can’t.

                  If you decide the good things you have in your marriage with this woman is even without your ideals then accept that reality. Grieve what you are the going to have and then accept it and move on to appreciate the other good things you are choosing. The “good enough” marriage is about that in my opinion.

                  I wish my husband had certain things that I would like. I used to try and change him to give it to me. Then I had to accept that I had to decide if what he is going to be able to give me is good enough. If WHO HE IS is “good enough” as my spouse. In my case it is.

                  This is separate from accepting bad behavior and not accepting influence.

                  Like

                  • somecallmejack says:

                    If my wife EVER shows up sexually as Alfred, I am outta here. It may be the paramedics that have to get out out of here, but one way or the other, it’s OVER!!!!!!

                    Like

                  • Lisa Gottman says:

                    I think this is a hard reckoning. My husband and I are the opposite for what we need to feel secure. The things he does naturally are the opposite of what I would naturally need to feel soothed and secure.

                    Like the guy in Terry Real’s story, I long for someone to make me feel secure and not abandoned. My husband can improve his skills but he will never be that person.

                    So I have to decide at the top of the flowchart. Is this a deal breaker? Are there other good things that can make this a “good enough” marriage?

                    Dan Wile says when you get married you marry a particular set of problems. If I married a different guy that made me feel really secure he might be a superstrict disciplinarian which would trigger me in another way. Or he might be more clingy than I would like or whatever.

                    We only focus on the problem we have and what we are missing abd discount all the problems we don’t have. The brain is like that.

                    Of course there are some deal breakers. There are some values so important someone can’t be in s marriage without it. You just have to be honest and make adult decisions. No marriage partner is going to match all your needs and wants. It’s always some version of “good enough.”

                    Like

                    • somecallmejack says:

                      I so long for a group where people, couples, could discuss this. I am pretty sure my wife would never go for it. I think it would make a world of difference to me. Nothing really to say or do about that, just sayin’.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Lisa Gottman says:

                      Another “good enough” Gottman statistic. 69% of problems in even good marriages are perpetual. You never really solve these differences.

                      It could be one of the 5 most common differences listed in the Atkinson style differences. One of our big perpetual problems is the difference of “togetherness first vs independence first”. We will never “fix” this. It’s to some degree hard wired into our personalities. But in a good marriage you find ways to accept influence from each other and come up with agreements (as Tatkin describes) of how to treat each other kindly.

                      Because they are perpetual differences they have to be constantly adjusted as new things happen or things change.

                      Understanding that has been both sad for me. But also hopeful. David Snarch talks about marriage as a crucible. It forces you to learn lessons and make choices. Way outside my comfort zone.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Lisa Gottman says:

                      And let me add that acknowledging that the problem is one you will have to live with for the rest of your life needs to be reckoned with. Some problems I would not be wiling/able to live with forever.

                      Like

                    • somecallmejack says:

                      I keep coming back to the question: what are my expectations, and are they realistic, achievable expectations? Or are they beautiful but unrealistic, unachievable ideals? Do I even have a practical ideal of what a relationship would look like (in either case)?

                      Lisa, you mentioned the story in one or Real’s books about the man who was disappointed that his wife couldn’t fulfill his idealized view of a sexual relationship. But after work, they did get to a wonderful place – that did not meet his original expectations – but was wonderful nevertheless and, Real comments, better than most people ever get to with their partners. If I recall correctly, the husband realizes both that his ideal had not been achieved and was likely never going to be, but also realizes that he/they have this wonderful gift between them, and “settles” for that.

                      I guess my point is that “settling” is a very ambiguous term – what it means depends entirely on the context and on how you view things?

                      Like

    • Lisa Gottman says:

      Astrid,

      Glad you found the pdf helpful. It’s an except from the Brent Atkinson ebook I linked to in an earlier comment.

      How much is gender vs personality? Hard to say. That book makes no gender distinctions in its advice which I think can be helpful to many people to just make it general.

      But while there may be catergories that stereotypically (or factually even) tend to be more male or female the approach emphasizes to just figure out what YOUR spouse is like and how to respond effectively.

      I appreciated this approach to a large degree. Often the gendered books describe some of my characteristics as “male” which I find frustrating.

      For example I am more of the “problem solving” style vs the “validation” style (can’t remember the exact names. Can’t tell you how many times that has been described as a male problem or therapists have told my husband not to problem solve. I have to tell them “no, in my case that is EXACTLY what I want”.

      Anyway, all this stuff is a mashup of nature/nuture with a huge variety of individual variations. I find it helpful to understand the general trends so that I can better deal with the real job of understanding how to deal with myself and the one guy I married.

      Like

    • Lisa Gottman says:

      Astrid,

      You said:

      “Especially when you talk about this slow vs. fast to emotions…is that really a personality difference? There’s also what I would argue as fast to emotion but slowness in response. ie. you notice the emotions they’re there, but you don’t act on it, emote it to someone else, you’re just kind of a bystander watching it. Is that what can be equated as cold? Because it’s not that I don’t feel it, it’s more that I don’t want to act on it until it feels no longer fleeting.”

      I don’t know how much it’s a personality difference vs something else. I do think research has shown some of that is evident in babies so clearly there is some “nature” involved as well as adaptations to “nurture”.

      I can only speak for my experience of course. I am an “easily upset style”. That is separate how emotionally mature you may or may not be. How skilled you are at regulating your emotions.

      Sort of like being an introvert vs extrovert. Being an introvert doesn’t mean you are the great with people. Being an extrovert doesn’t mean you don’t enjoy being alone. It’s more of how you best regulate your energy levels and nervous system.

      So my easily upset style prefers to emote my displeasure at life’s injustices. Shaking my metaphorical fist to sky to declare my judgment at the unfairness at the situation. It’s my preferred way to discharge emotion and restore “balance to the force”.

      My hubby usually has the opposite style. He prefers to internally discharge his judgment of this a determines “acceptance” as the way to go. (Not acceptance as in its right but more that is the way it is.)

      So when I am using my style that disregulates him. He finds that exhausting and negative. I find his intense style dismissive and cold.

      Neither of these styles are right or wrong. It’s the disconnect that is the problem. Now that we understand it better we are learning skills to be able to respond better to each other.

      I would double down in my emoting before because it looked to me that he was not “getting it”. He would double down on his style to try and adjust me. It creates an exaggeration of each style that disregulates you even more if you don’t understand what is really happening.

      Like

      • Lisa Gottman says:

        Annoying typos.

        Being an introvert doesn’t mean you are *** NOT*** great with people.

        Like

      • Lisa Gottman says:

        Another typo. Hard to proofread in the tiny phone.

        “So when I am using my style that disregulates him. He finds that exhausting and negative. I find his ***INTERNAL*** style dismissive and cold.

        Like

  31. Lisa Gottman says:

    Here is the other book I mentioned as super helpful. This one describes the basics of different attachment styles and how that explains relatiinship dynamics that seem inexplicable. Great ideas for how to navigate being paired with each style.

    https://www.soundstrue.com/store/your-brain-on-love-3232.html

    Like

  32. Astrid says:

    Somecallmejack,

    That’s exactly my point as well. We all have already enough injustices that happen to us, directly- a rude waiter, an unreasonable boss, a person who cuts us off at work, it almost feels like screaming injustices about things that a) didn’t really directly happen to us but is external of us and b) we’re not willing to get our hands dirty to solve the problem or be part of the solution is looking for reasons to be upset. Checking Twitter is one thing (I don’t have it for a reason), reading Twitter comments is asking to be made upset. I guess my motto is more like so what there are stupid people in the world, or people who take advantage of others, we do know this about the world, but if you’re not willing to somehow make a dent to combat whatever injustice you’re feeling, I’m not sure that I want to hear about it. It’s like feel free to have these emotions, but please do not try to rain down on my parade type of feeling.

    Like

  33. Astrid says:

    Lisa,

    Yea I mean I can see my responses as coming off cold as well- didn’t think about it that way- he called me that the other day, which I simply brushed off as him projecting his view of himself, because in general I don’t think cold is an accurate description of myself.
    I put a pretty sharp filter before I lodge a complaint about the state of this world in that a) did it actually happen to me, b) how realistic is the worst case scenario that I’m making up in my head, and c) do I have enough of the information to assert my position regarding said complaint.

    This unravels the moment he says something that does not meet those requirements. Interestingly, I don’t feel this way about actions (at least the majority of the time, just verbal responses). So when he does this, most of the time for me I just ignore it completely, or retort back with that’s not a realistic scenario that will happen. I try to remain diplomatic for several instances, but it wears on me. I don’t think I’m capable of being able to see the bid behind it at least not enough in which I can respond to it knowing it’s a bid. For me it’s negativity, especially if the complaint is just about the state of the world.

    The therapist has said the extent of his upsetness is emotional disregulation, of feeling “very safe”, which begs the question of can he please just be less safe around me…because it is targeted…this is not characteristic of his behavior in the outside world. That is obviously my experience- and in my perspective, I feel like I can hold space for venting, just not in the frequency and the type and the manner in which he chooses to engage that discussion.

    And upon further inspection, I can even understand and be empathetic to the I think my boss is being a jerk, but I’m much more intolerant of the humanity is full of stupid people type of statement…so my tolerance is somewhat dependent on the type of complaint he lodges as well. So to your statement, unfairness of a situation in which I am directly impacted by, is something I can understand. Unfairness of a situation in which I fail to see a direct relationship, like again state of humanity, etc. it’s much more difficult.
    Don’t get me wrong, I think I am actually an “easily upset person”- I definitely feel the stress of cancelled or delayed flights, people being late, my being late, etc. I think a non easily upset person would not actually have an emotion register when minor conveniences occur…and I do feel it.

    Like

    • Lisa Gottman says:

      Astrid,

      I wish I had more time to respond fully. Just a few thoughts.

      The fact that he is regulated with other people but “targets” you shows that he doesn’t lack general emotional regulation skills. But that the dynamic between you as each other primary is perceived by him to be emotionally threatening. Sounds like it’s the same for you since you feel targeted by his response to you.

      This book if you have not read it explains it all and how to deal with it. I highly recommend. Seriously it explains why your husband does stuff you find inexplicable.

      https://www.soundstrue.com/store/your-brain-on-love-3232.html

      I relate to your husbands position. The things you say are quite similar to what my husband says.

      PS I quite frequently rail about the state of the world or things I find unjust that have nothing to do with my personal experience. It is subjective whether one finds this helpful neutral or negative and a waste of time and energy.

      Like

      • Jack says:

        Worth reading if you’ve read _Wired for Love_?

        Like

        • Lisa Gottman says:

          Jack,

          Far superior to Wired For Love in my opinion.

          Has some of the same information but I found it more helpful in what to do once you know you are dealing with insecure attachment.

          IMHO

          Like

          • somecallmejack says:

            Cool. That’s quite a recommendation. It’s been sitting in my Audible library for a while. I just finished Love Sense this morning (which I really liked), so that’ll be next up. Thank you!

            Like

            • Lisa Gottman says:

              Let me know what you think.

              I heard it over thanksgiving and found it very helpful. Stan Tatkin is releasing a new book about how to fix your marriage in March.

              What were your takeaways from LoveSense?

              Like

    • Lisa Gottman says:

      Astrid,

      “The therapist has said the extent of his upsetness is emotional disregulation, of feeling “very safe”, which begs the question of can he please just be less safe around me…because it is targeted…this is not characteristic of his behavior in the outside world. That is obviously my experience- and in my perspective, I feel like I can hold space for venting, just not in the frequency and the type and the manner in which he chooses to engage that discussion.”

      I don’t think your therapist is correct of the dynamic based on what you have described.

      It’s not “feeling very safe” that is causing him to erupt. My guess is it’s “not feeling safe”.

      Or it could be entitlement or something else or a combo.

      Do you think your therapist has a good plan to help you?

      Like

      • Astrid says:

        I can’t really comment on her rightness or wrongness about the theory of emotional disregulation as I’m not a therapist myself, but I can offer an explanation as to what she may think it means and how it does make sense to me. The problem is I can only do so in a way that paints my husband like a child, because that’s when these types of behavior would be deemed acceptable and understandable. The feeling safe allows a toddler to exert temper tantrums with their own parents that they probably would feel more ashamed of and uncomfortable with with his grandparents or babysitter. I see this frequently in children where I’d make a comment so and so is so well behaved and my friend (the mom) would say, “that’s because you don’t see him everyday, etc.” It is partially as an adult an entitlement type of thing because obviously at this point those behaviors are no longer appropriate. So, I can see it logically how it is emotional disregulation. I think our therapist pretty much expects me to show “hurt” when he does this to me, which is nearly impossible as the very feeling I associate with is disrespect and that does not evoke pain, it evokes anger, frustration, incredulity for me. I also feel that it places way too much on my action to get him to be more responsive rather than reactive.

        Like

        • Lisa Gottman says:

          “I think our therapist pretty much expects me to show “hurt” when he does this to me, which is nearly impossible as the very feeling I associate with is disrespect and that does not evoke pain, it evokes anger, frustration, incredulity for me. I also feel that it places way too much on my action to get him to be more responsive rather than reactive.”

          Does your therapist use an Emotionally Focused Therapy framework? Is that why they expect you to feel “hurt”?

          I

          Like

          • Astrid says:

            Whatever it is, it’s not happening and not because I refuse to feel hurt but because I believe that if I’m angry, that’s what I truly feel at the moment and there’s no iceberg feelings below it. That anger can turn into another feeling, but at that moment what I feel is anger and frustration and incredulity and not pain…I guess if that’s EFT then that’s what it is. It doesn’t work.

            Like

            • Lisa Gottman says:

              Astrid,

              You said:

              “Whatever it is, it’s not happening and not because I refuse to feel hurt but because I believe that if I’m angry, that’s what I truly feel at the moment and there’s no iceberg feelings below it. That anger can turn into another feeling, but at that moment what I feel is anger and frustration and incredulity and not pain…I guess if that’s EFT then that’s what it is. It doesn’t work.”

              You know this is also my experience. I don’t feel “hurt”. I feel anger at being treated like shit.

              This is why I don’t relate to the explanations Matt often uses for the female experience. I don’t feel hurt when the dishes are left by the sink I feel anger. There is no hurt underneath the anger. Anger is anger. I feel anger because I know I deserve better as an equal human being.

              I am sure there are people who would describe it as hurt so I’m not saying that Matt is “wrong”. It’s been my experience though that it’s usually women that are expected to be “hurt” as their response. Ever heard a therapist ask a man if they feel “hurt”? I haven’t. Ever hear men’s experience to injustice described as “hurt”? I haven’t. There is a layer of gender shit in this stuff IMHO.

              Like

  34. Astrid says:

    I guess in many of these personality diferences, like the rubric that you sent, I think we all skew one way or another, right? Sure he’s not an extrovert and I’m a minor extrovert, but really doesn’t it come down to how game are you at doing extroverted things when you may not feel so ideal, and vice versa, my leaving him alone if he feels overwhelmed? I think that has to do with more of the influence aspect than not. I am spontaneity first with some structure, but I am with someone who likes predictability, let’s say. Isn’t the space between again how likely you are to give in to doing some things that are outside of your comfort zone? To me that’s what partnership is about, being able to dance after the stances have been said…there’s little motivation to remain in one when the partner doesn’t want to dance with you.

    Like

  35. Lisa Gottman says:

    Jack,

    You said:

    “I guess my point is that “settling” is a very ambiguous term – what it means depends entirely on the context and on how you view things?”

    My take is this is why it’s important to first understand how healthy relationships function. Those are the things you don’t settle on. You have to keep working and setting boundaries until both of you agree on the goal and actively work to get the skills necessary. You must agree to be in a 2 person system and accept influence and have good relationship skills to take care of yourself and the other person. Not optional.

    After you have that, what you decide you need is subjective and you have to make conscious trade offs. If I want children and my spouse doesn’t or can’t that may be something you can’t live without. Or you can.

    If I want someone who wants to spend a lot of time together (togetherness first) I may decide I can’t be married to someone who wants to be alone a lot (independence first). Or you may decide that the other things balance that out so that overall it’s “good enough.”

    I think that’s how you can seperate between whether your expectations are unrealistic or not. It is realistic to expect things that relate to the definition of a healthy relationship. Other things are subjective. IMHO

    Like

    • Astrid says:

      Lisa, that’s a good point too. The non negotiables are almost easy black and white things that filter relationships out when they aren’t compatible. What’s hard to negotiate are they gray lines. And this is where I have my theory for the gray parts in your life…

      I would say don’t settle on the extent of influence that you’d like to have on your partner and vice versa. I think Gottman alluded to this in his discussion of metaemotion. It’s not quite the same, but I think that one of the most fundamental things you should have in common is this equivalency in influence. Otherwise, I think small fights become really big fights, because you’re not talking about the disagreement, but to what extent the other partner should see your problem as our problem and be on the same team with you. This is easier said than done because I fundamentally believe that patriarchy in some respects has led men towards avoidant or controlling behaviors (one extreme or the other), and women towards being almost too open to influence out of social norms to remain non-argumentative etc. So, many of these mismatches are unfortunately not just due to personality differences, but in the way we were actually brought up. Sure personality differences exist, but it’s exacerbated by culture. For example, as a non-American, I came from a pretty egalitarian family, where my dad was if anything more influenced by my mother than not. It’s hard for me to fathom how that is not the norm in American culture.

      Also, something that helped me a lot was my therapist asking me is, if you had the answer to what settling means, or if in my case I had the answer to what normal means in the confines of a relationship, how would that inform me of the next step? Say you found out you were settling, would that inform you of a different step? Say you found out that you actually weren’t how does that shape your next step? I started realizing that asking for what is normal got me nowhere. It was sufficient enough that it isn’t normal for me…so if I don’t want to deal with it, it should be enough for it to be noted as a problem that requires a combination of readjustment in my expectation, change on his behalf, or the decision to leave. My standards are probably higher than the average marriage, but I’ve stopped asking myself the question of what is average what percentile am I at, how bad are our problems comparatively. It’s enough to know that the problem is bad enough in my perspective and will require change.

      Like

      • somecallmejack says:

        I could be completely mistaken here, or misunderstanding what you’ve written, but it sounds like something I keep doing that I suspect is distorted thinking. I have spent a lot of time trying to compare what my wife and I “do,” how we relate, to “what’s normal,” what the couples that Gottman calls “the Masters” do/have/create. And we don’t measure up very well. But here’s the thing: no two people are going to have a relationship that looks and feels like any other couple’s relationship. In other words, I don’t think there is a normative, standardizable, definitional successful marriage. There are just marriages that are, more often than not (and definitely not always) supportive, safe, engaged, respectful and joyful (among other things, and notice that I didn’t include “happy”).

        My two cents, please disregard as seems right from your chair.

        Like

        • Astrid says:

          I think that’s right, I used to try to figure out what is normal, and now I don’t, because it doesn’t solve anything. I also know that part of the satisfaction from marriages that some people have is from lower expectations as well, so it’s no wonder why some people feel like they hit the jackpot if their partner doesn’t immediately shut them down while the other party is entirely responsible for checking the health of the marriage. There are many factors at play to why someone thinks their own marriage is healthy, and not all of it is based on some objective scale. I agree with you there. I also got pretty depressed reading Gottman because I felt like the “good enough marriage” is not what I was aiming for. Singlehood was great that coupledom needs to be alternatively great, and that’s unfortunately not the case.

          Like

        • Lisa Gottman says:

          I know people have different things that with for them but my whole approach is about trying to figure out what “normal” is.

          I find it helpful because it tells me what the goal is.

          To me it’s like getting a physical. They take my blood and test a lot of factors. There is a range of what is “normal” based on group averages of healthy people.

          There might be unusual outliers but for the vast majority of people of your results are not in the “normal” range that tells you something is off that needs to be addressed.

          The same is true for relationships IMHO.
          When I was a young adult I went to a therapist and said I am here to figure out what normal is.

          Why? Because I how up in a family that loved me but with certain dynamics that I knew were problematic. But it was hard for me to figure out which parts were in normal range or not. As one example, I have been able to identify the lack of boundaries as one area that was not “normal” and I have tried to learn healthy boundaries and differentation skills.

          Why?

          So I can recognize healthy and unhealthy in my relationships including my marriage and pârenting.

          I think if you are walking around with a resting pulse rate of 30 and your doctor had checked your heart and other functions and they are all healthy more power to you. You are freakishly abnormal to be healthy at 30 as compared by the average range of 60-100. But for millions of other people a pulse rate of 30 means something is seriously wrong.

          In the same way there may be couples that don’t do things like the “masters” and are happy. More power to them. But for millions of other people of you act in ways that predict unhappiness (contempt, stonewalling, criticism, defensivevess, not accepting influence etc) you will have a shitty marriage eventually.

          I see that as a helpful diagnosis just as I do when something is flagged as unhealthy in my physical exam. It shows me what has to change. As I said in another comment I get that it’s sad. I felt/feel that way often.

          But for me it doesn’t mean I should say there is no way to identify the fundamentals of a happy or unhappy relationship.

          There are variations of course. Just as there are variations within the range of healthy to my blood work.

          That’s the way I think about things. Your mileage may vary.

          Like

  36. Lisa Gottman says:

    Hey yet another therapist told us we “intellectualize” last night!

    I have a whole lots of thoughts for why most men and analytical women don’t find therapy helpful.
    They are trained to see analytical or “problem solving” as something to be fought.

    It’s one of the things I like Gottman and Atkinson and other research based therapists. They do not take that approach.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matt says:

      Maybe that’s why I hated it.

      Like

      • Lisa Gottman says:

        Matt,

        Maybe that’s part of why you hated couples therapy. From I have read it seems you had one of the many many couples therapy sessions that involved sitting on a couch being encouraged to tell what you hate about each other.

        We have had a lot of those types of sessions. It should not be that way. That is NOT what good couples therapy looks like. I’ve taken couples therapy training and I have seen videos and demonstrations of what good couples therapy looks like so it’s a sad thing when you are given a bad substitute.

        The therapist should have a concrete plan with clearly stated goals. Actively take charge of the sessions. Interupt and guide back to the session goal. Work with the couples strengths and weaknesses (hence our frustration at being told they we “intellectualize” rather than working with that style as a strength). Use research based interventions. Seek feedback. Etc

        Couples therapy is very hard to do. I acknowlege that. But good therapy is incredibly hard to find. Harder than it should be IMHO.

        Like

        • Louie says:

          Awesome Lisa… when the Shit Hit the fan in our relationship we had several crummy counseling sessions with well meaning kwacks from local non profit organizations that offered services. Our parish priest,who had known us most of our lives,( and performed our wedding ceremony) suggested an older retired divorced counselor he had worked with through Catholic charities. She saw me on my own because my wife wouldn’t hear of it…she said she was done. But Nora knew better…she got me to place of strength and healing then reached out to Anne and asked for clarification from her on things we talked about…that opened the door. Before long Anne called me to tell me she wanted to go with me to my next session. We went weekly for 10 months… Nora’s plan was evident to me after the fact. She wanted to extend any feelings we had in common towards each other to be what was to bind us and move in a positive direction. I loved Nora and Anne did as well…. Nora passed away 10 years ago she was a crafty and skilled believer in the power of love and kindness and understanding.

          Like

    • somecallmejack says:

      Lisa:

      You wrote: “I have a whole lots of thoughts for why most men and analytical women don’t find therapy helpful.
      They are trained to see analytical or “problem solving” as something to be fought.

      It’s one of the things I like Gottman and Atkinson and other research based therapists. They do not take that approach.”

      I must not be analytical enough, or may too much, but I don’t see why men [who you generalize as analytical?] and analytical women are train to see “problem solving” as something to be fought? I would have thought it went the other way?

      I am still trying to figure out how to concisely respond to your Q about Love Sense. Just started the Tatkin Audible book today. Very different presentation than his book, _Wired for Love_. I like it!

      Like

      • Lisa Gottman says:

        Jack,

        “I must not be analytical enough, or may too much, but I don’t see why men [who you generalize as analytical?] and analytical women are train to see “problem solving” as something to be fought? I would have thought it went the other way?”

        I didn’t write my comment clearly enough.

        I meant that therapists are trained to see analytical styles and problem solving as defense mechanisms. I have been told this by several therapists that is part of their training.

        As a result of that therapy is often designed best for a particular type of person. One who is not analytical or uses the problem solving style Atkinson talks about.

        People who want to talk primarily about how they feel about things in a discussion format would be more comfortable. Of course emotions are important. I just mean it as an Atkinson like style difference that is not seen as a style difference but that the other style is wrong or “ineffective”. Our current therapist declares the analytical style that I use to change as “ineffective” despite my giving many examples of how it HAS been for me.

        Sigh.

        Men resist going to therapy for several reasons from what I read. A large part is therapy is often coded “feminine”. Because the current common setup of talking about feelings is a skill most men are at a disadvantage to most women. So therapy also makes them feel incompetent. And to ensure that in an unstructured environment with no clear goals is a big hurdle.

        Maybe you don’t relate to some of that?

        In general, skills based training based on research with a clear goal and structure is going to be a much better fit for most men. I happen to think a majority of women would also like it aka David Burns structured approaches.

        But I know there are many people who find a dialogue talking about things helpful so there is room for different approaches to help different styles.

        In my case I have a hard time getting therapists to see my “learn from books to change” “flow chart analytical” way of processing things as a postive acceptable style. I can identify and talk vulnerably about my emotions so that’s not a problem.

        I just need to understand things to get myself to change.

        Like

        • Astrid says:

          Lisa, this is Gold.

          “I meant that therapists are trained to see analytical styles and problem solving as defense mechanisms. I have been told this by several therapists that is part of their training.

          As a result of that therapy is often designed best for a particular type of person. One who is not analytical or uses the problem solving style Atkinson talks about.”

          I flat out told my therapists, I don’t have very many strong emotions in general. It’s not because I am shoving it down and it leaks out when I cannot suppress it… I am analytical because I don’t believe emotion alone is the best way to make significant decisions in life. That doesn’t mean I suppress my emotions, and that doesn’t mean I don’t factor my emotions into the decision making process.

          Gottman’s is as close as I will say to being more detached from emotions, but I also feel Gottman doesn’t bring enough objectivity and behavior centricity- it still focuses on perception, which has its merit, but certain actions are just black and white wrong and no amount of explanation of I’ve just been stressed at work etc. is something that is productive in that conversation. With that said, I think he comes close to it.

          My first therapist was phenomenal. He actually reminds me of Terry Real, same no bullshit type of person, who solely believed in the goodness of others and their ability to lift themselves out, but who would put a mirror up to show you all the things you’re doing to damage things. I felt so nostalgic for him while I listened to Terry Real’s interview with Esther Perel because Terry’s philosophy is pretty much what my therapist applied to our sessions. I credit the impetus for my transition and who I am today, to him.
          Terry had a good quote, which I’m sure to butcher it but it said something along the lines of
          “Maturity is about not foisting your adult child onto others to deal with.”

          Also, hi Matt! Sorry we’ve hijacked your board…there’s been so many great conversations as a result of your blog entry. I love it.

          Like

          • Lisa Gottman says:

            Astrid:

            You said:

            “I flat out told my therapists, I don’t have very many strong emotions in general. It’s not because I am shoving it down and it leaks out when I cannot suppress it… I am analytical because I don’t believe emotion alone is the best way to make significant decisions in life. That doesn’t mean I suppress my emotions, and that doesn’t mean I don’t factor my emotions into the decision making process.”

            Yeah. It’s the assumption that if you use a cognitive process to regulate your emotions then you are suppressing or denying them. Sigh.

            You know the way I think about it? I use a lens of Myers Briggs thinker/feeler personality differences. Everyone thinks and feels. The difference is that “thinkers” use understanding first to process and regulate emotions. Whereas “feelers” use emotions first to process and regulate emotions.

            This is incrediblly simplistic of course. We all use both. I like to think of it as part of the Atkinson style differences. It’s understanding first vs feel first.

            Therapists are trained that the feel first method is the way to access primary emotions. So if you are an understanding first processor they will often label that as not deep enough. They will label it as intellectualizing or suppressing your vulnerable emotions.

            When in fact it is just another style. No doubt some people do use intellectualizing as a defense mechanism. But that is a seperate thing. Just as some people use “emotionalizing” (just made that up) to avoid seeking change.

            Sounds like we have a somewhat similar style. Although in my case I feel intense emotions. I just figure out what they mean and if I need and how to change them by understanding cognitively.

            Like

            • Astrid says:

              Yea I’m a high NT…minor E, moderate J. I’ve heard this combo in women is pretty rare. I use cognitive process to regulate my behavior and response to what I am feeling. I am not using a cognitive process to even regulate my emotions; that’s what bothers me about many therapists, many things don’t register an emotional response. Many emotions I feel I acknowledge and then work it out myself or sit with it for awhile before formulating a response. It is a rare occasion in which I react to emotions without processing.

              Also, I feel a focus on emotions is honestly counterproductive in many scenarios. It’s not about hurt most of the time, it’s about consideration for others, it’s about acting in your best self, and it’s fine to not do so all the time, but you need to acknowledge that the behavior is less than stellar rather than shrug it off as just that’s being human. That’s why the dishes argument Matt presents to me, well I don’t buy it.
              To me most women get irritated at their men for asking questions of why do you want me to put the dish in the sink, is because it is used as a way to justify that the woman’s request is not important, it’s a please prove to me that what you want me to do is worth my time. It automatically puts the woman at the level of a lower position (which may be again zero sum game and patriarchy at play).
              How do I know this? Because men don’t continue to remain as curious as to why the dish needs to be put in the sink after they have done it. I’ve not seen a scenario that goes, hey so I put the dish in the sink, but why is that important to you? So if they really want us to answer questions like why is it important for me to be such and such…see if they do it first and see if they actually still ask that question…if they don’t it’s mostly because it’s a way of saying prove it to me that what you’re asking is important.
              I have not seen a scenario in which a husband accepts influence and then asks hey so I did accept that thing you asked me, so why is that influence thing important to you? People use these types of questions to justify not doing it. Otherwise, that question would still be equally important before and after the action has been done. This is why many marital dynamics is about power and influence…with men playing the zero sum game often times, and women being taught to be open to influence. It sets up an unfair playing field with women needing to essentially audition their needs, priorities, importance to their men before gaining acceptance and influence.

              Like

              • Lisa Gottman says:

                Astrid,

                You said:

                “That’s why the dishes argument Matt presents to me, well I don’t buy it.
                To me most women get irritated at their men for asking questions of why do you want me to put the dish in the sink, is because it is used as a way to justify that the woman’s request is not important, it’s a please prove to me that what you want me to do is worth my time. It automatically puts the woman at the level of a lower position (which may be again zero sum game and patriarchy at play).”

                I agree with you that is exactly how I understand it.

                I do know that there are women (some/many???) who do describe it as “hurt” and experience it more in the way Matt described and books like How To Improve Your Marriage Withiout Talking About It. I’ve had discussions with women (and men) on the blog and elsewhere who relate to that more than the way we describe it.

                I think some of the difference also may be where one lands on Terry Real’s 4 quadrant grid. I often assume a one up position when faced with the dishes scenario. Contempt. Judgement. He “Should” behave the way I think is correct etc.

                They position is going to experience it as anger not hurt as a one down position would. A “grandiose” response in Terry Real’s terminology.

                I think that is part of the explanation at least in my case. Not all of course. Lots of layers.

                Like

          • Lisa Gottman says:

            Another thing about Terry Real that relates to the discussion about couples therapy. Even though he has more of a discussion style than Gottman or DBT or CBT there is a structure that is followed. I took one of his therapist training courses and there is a structure underneath. It’s not just listening to people complain about each other.

            EFT is like that too. There is a very particular structure that is supposed to happen. In my experience, most therapists don’t follow the structure even whey trained and certified. Ditto for a lot of other models. That’s why IMHO you end up with so many couples who find couples therapy does nothing or makes things worse.

            Like

          • Lisa Gottman says:

            Astrid,

            You said:

            “Terry had a good quote, which I’m sure to butcher it but it said something along the lines of
            “Maturity is about not foisting your adult child onto others to deal with.””

            I think that is a great quote and so true. Part of my issue is trying to learn to not use a lot of judgments of what people should do. For me it’s hard to get the balance right of observing good boundaries vs making rigid judgements of what people should do.

            That’s a big part of what I have found helpful about Atkinson’s ebook. That principle is foundational. That things that seem obviously wrong to me are usually not. Many many other people can be satisfied with doing things way I find wrong.

            I still struggle with the concept frankly because it’s a challenge to identify things I think are unhealthy or damaging and not come at it from a one up grandiose position. My husband tells me that is very often what my attitude comes across as and is what I am bringing to our dysfunctional cycle.

            So I am trying to learn new skills.

            As I mentioned I am currently taking a Dialectcal Behavioral Therapy class. DBT as you may know focuses on learning skills to prevent “foisting your adult child into others” as Terry Real says.

            Very challenging to do it. I did not do it last night when the therapist once again told me I was “intellectualizing” as a defense mechanism. It was my adult child responding in frustration.

            So that’s the thing. How to respond effectively to a situation or person who is not doing what I believe is correct or treating me fairly? Responding as an adult not a child adult who judges others?

            Sigh. It’s verrrrry hard my child adult whines. It takes so much energy out of me right now.

            I wonder if you relate to any of that or if uou have tools you use to prevent judgment and contempt you can share?

            .

            Like

            • Astrid says:

              This is I suppose from my own perspective in that I firmly believe there’s a difference between contempt and discernment. I think comparisons are not all bad, and that I argue discernment is quite important. Contempt focuses on character and the essence of the worthiness of a person to remain as they are. To me, being contemptuous of others is unproductive, because I actually cannot be certain that a particular judgement of mine about their character is at all correct. It’s the same reason why I don’t like to ascribe intention (negative or positive) to what someone does. I will never know. Even if I ask them, they may not tell me the truth. So it’s probably from more of a pragmatic point of view that I don’t really ascribe judgement to others. I can’t possibly be certain enough that I am right on track.
              With that said, I think discernment is very useful. It describes from an objective point of view the skills and behaviors someone has or doesn’t have. It’s tangible, somewhat measurable and it is quite deterministic. Smoking is unhealthy for you, there’s correlations to lung cancer, being fiscally irresponsible is correlated with greater marital stress, not being accountable over and over again erodes trust. It’s important to discern these things. It’s important not because it elevates you, but it separates you from what is not you and that’s something you do need to be aware of.
              There’s a fine line between contempt and discernment and for me, it’s more about how I feel about myself, that makes me more likely to discern rather than hold someone in contempt. If I feel quite comfortable in the decisions that I’ve made, I can still discern that other people’s actions aren’t what I would do, but that I wouldn’t make then a step further, a judgement of who they are in relation to me. I think of it as here’s a better way to do things, because it gets you a better result, and usually what you want. I also think there’s a difference between saying hey that behavior is wrong and leaving it at that, vs. hey that behavior is wrong and therefore I am right. Contempt to me is about judgement of behavior and then using that judgement of behavior to relate it back to you. You need to have both to be contemptuous.

              Also, I think the antidote to contempt isn’t about trying to not be contemptuous, it’s about being happy enough with who you are that you don’t think about being contemptuous. It’s kind of outgrowing your toys rather than hard-knuckling yourself from not drinking alcohol. End result is the same, refraining, but why you’re doing it, is very different.
              All this stuff I’m dealing with my husband is a recognition of where he is in his developmental achievements, that is discernment and one I think one needs to be able to make. It’s rather objective and quite important; it leads to good decision making. There’s not a part of me that thinks I’m now a wholly better person than he is.
              I don’t know your husband and your way of telling him he is wrong, but I suspect that there are perhaps elements of both, that perhaps there is contempt in what you are saying, but that also there’s a misperception about what you think about his poor behavior and how he internalizes that as a person, how your judgement about him is now becoming his judgement of himself. That’s at least my experience. Not sure if that helps.

              Like

      • Lisa Gottman says:

        Jack,

        You said:

        “I am still trying to figure out how to concisely respond to your Q about Love Sense. Just started the Tatkin Audible book today. Very different presentation than his book, _Wired for Love_. I like it!”

        If I limited to only recommend two books to someone with a unhappy marriage they would be the Atkinson ebook and Takin’s Your Brain on Love. I think between those two books a lot of practical advice of how to understand what is wrong and how to fix it.

        Like

Join the Conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: