Finding Love and Keeping It: A Guide to Love Relationships
Part 4: Save a Partner Relationship: Work on a Happy Family
By David Quigley
Arguments in any family relationship can be painful, sometimes destroying the love and trust between people, and leading to affairs, cold rejection, and finally divorce. And most of us did not learn from our family of origin how to conduct these arguments in any kind of safe loving fashion. This article, based on my own research and the work of family therapist and researcher John Gottman, will give you and your partner and family members lots of tools to help you to resolve arguments without damaging the relationships that are most important to you.
Be warned however that if you intend to benefit from the advice offered here, you and your partner must both be willing to do your communication differently. It takes two to change a relationship. I remember a couple I saw for several sessions. The wife was highly critical, even verbally abusive toward her husband. I kept insisting that she please stop attacking him verbally. Her response was consistent. She would stop it grudgingly, and then resume her attacks a few minutes later. She was a native Sicilian who was convinced that she had a God given right to call her husband terrible names and yell at him whenever she wished. Why? “Because that’s the way they do things where I come from! And my folks stayed married all their lives.” In spite of her husband’s willingness to spend time in therapy, I recommended he leave this abusive relationship ASAP. He was in love, so he spent another year and a few more thousands in therapy before he realized there was no choice for him except to leave her…and he deeply regretted not listening to my advice earlier. What I discovered many years ago is that no one changes their behavior unless they see the importance of such changes for their own lives.
Lip service is not enough. And going to a therapist together to talk about your problems is not enough. Your partner and you must both be ready and eager to make changes in your communication strategies if you want to restore love and joy to your relationship. Sometimes ones partner will be willing to change only if you loudly and consistently threaten to leave unless your partner’s behavior changes. Sometimes I encourage this ultimatum approach. But alas even this approach will often only produce a temporary behavior change. Once this person has you settled back in, your suitcases unpacked, they will most likely fall back on their old habits. Therefore, I insist if I am going to help save a relationship, and I have saved many, both parties have to see the value of changing their behaviors and both must be eager to make these changes.
So…if your marriage or family is troubled read this article. Then make sure your partner and family members read it. Maybe read it to them. Then if you both see the value of these new strategies, you are ready for a glorious rebirth of your relationship. If your partner resists, have them call my home office at 707 539 4989 and I will do my best to explain. And if your partner refuses, you need to examine how much longer you are willing to endure this relationship as it is.
The first principle of conflict resolution is simple: your family is not your punching bag. Your partner and your children should be the most important and cherished persons in your world. I believe it is a great privilege to be gifted with a family, and that family deserves nothing less than ones full devotion and protection. Therefore no matter what your mate or children are doing, no matter how you feel about their actions, you have no right to act out your rage and hurt onto them. Period.
Of course this means first and foremost that your family must be safe from physical violence, hitting, slapping, and destruction of property, yelling, and threats of violence. We must commit ourselves to giving up these behaviors. But the ugly behaviors that I call “acting out” are not limited to physical violence. How many of these forms of acting out are common in your family?
Name calling, including derogatory terms like “lazy bum”, “dirty whore”, “idiot”, etc. Think for a minute about times in this relationship you have been called some ugly name. Do you remember how it hurt? Are there some that are especially painful or especially frequent? Are there any you use on your partner? Are you both willing to do your best to give them up?
Exaggerating is a common and deadly form of acting out. Anytime you say in a heated rage “you always” or “you never”, you are not only exaggerating your partners flaws, but you are verbally condemning them, andyou, to a relationship of utter misery. Remember when the heat is on: if this person is always this way and never that way, why are you with them?
Punishing withdrawal is a subtle but painful form of acting out in which we withdraw from our partner physically or emotionally, especially in the midst of a crisis and when their need for us is greatest. Slamming the door as you walk out in mid argument, or putting on a fake smile and clamming up with a muttered “I’m fine” are good examples of this kind of behavior. Withdrawing your touch by denying your partner affection and sex is equally common. Having affairs or spending all hours at work or in a bar can sometimes be associated with punishing withdrawal. Of course all of us need time out from a troubled relationship sometimes, but search your soul to see if you are hiding from a relationship in order to punish your partner.
This is different from withdrawing from a partner when they are acting out against us, which I call “safety withdrawal”, and which is an essential part of my work with dysfunctional families. Safety withdrawal is essential to protect oneself from abuse and teach a partner not to hurt us. But safety withdrawal can and should be done with love. “I won’t listen to you yelling like that. Remember David taught us not to act out. But I love you and I’m ready to discuss this with you when you are ready to do so calmly. Your feelings are important to me. I’ll be in my room.” This is an example of the valuable strategy of safety withdrawal. Notice that this includes reassurance of my love for my partner, appreciation for their feelings, and precise notice of my availability for discussing the issue calmly.
Dragging up the past is a common strategy of acting out. However, the mention of problems from the past is not always acting out. It depends on how it is done. Listen to these two statements, and feel the impact they might have on you:
Sharing feelings: “I’m worried about all the time you are spending at work. I’m afraid it might lead to an affair like what happened last year. That was so painful. I don’t think my love could survive another blow like that.”
Dragging up the past: “How could you be so selfish as to be working late again? I haven’t forgotten that affair you had last year. You were such an ass! My mother warned me about guys like you. I should have believed her!”
The difference between these two statements is the difference between acting out and expressing ones feelings and needs in a vulnerable and honest fashion.
Of course it is very difficult to control our expressions of feeling when we are very upset. Most of us are human after all, rather than a Vulcan like Mr. Spock. But for us volatile humans there is a well established procedure for releasing our negative emotions before they are acted out on our partner with devastating consequences. Instead of acting out our rage and disappointment on our partner we need to release our rage privately away from our partner first, and then come to our partner when we have calmed down.
There is an easy way to do this. Developed as “hot seat work” by Fritz Perls in the 1960s, this technique has been used effectively for anger management for decades and is easy to master. I recommend going to a private space, maybe a friend’s house or even outdoors. Imagining your partner is in front of you, do all the yelling, accusing, and hitting you need to do to release your rage. Then take a few minutes to imagine yourself becoming your partner. Explain as this partner the reason why things went the way they did. Once you have heard this telepathic explanation, you can prepare for a face to face communication with your partner. Remember the principles of problem solving that we discussed in our last article. (Creating a Happy Family Part 3: Clearing the toxic Assumptions that Destroy Intimacy) Be prepared to present your feelings as a problem to be solved, even if you have to write or rehearse your speech. Then you and your partner together can fix the problem while preserving intact the intimacy and love you have built together!
Old habits are hard to change. So I recommend that you be patient with each other. When a fight begins, DO NOT take your partner’s assault as a deliberate attempt to sabotage the new plan. See it as a simple error, and offer a gentle reminder that we have agreed to do things differently now. Don’t hesitate to call a therapist if you need help who is trained in this technology. Our office may be able to help you find one.
In our next article we will address how rituals of intimacy can help build security and passion in any relationship.
Articles in this series:
Part 1: Love or Hypnosis? Relationship Partner Choice Error
Part 2: Ideal Relationship Partner Guide: Your Vision of Love
Part 3: Relationship Work: Problem of Partner Assumptions
Part 4: Save a Partner Relationship: Work on a Happy Family
Part 5: Hypnosis of Family Rituals: Sexual Expressions Training in Love Relationships
Part 6: Ritual Work: Need for Family Love, Important Ritual in Relationships
Part 7: First Base to Home Plate: Hypnosis in Sexual Intimacy Therapy, Bond of Pleasure & Ritual