Marital Mind Reading

 

frames

Sensing what others might be thinking or feeling is a good social skill. But believing we know for sure what another person thinks, feels, wants, or needs is dangerous.

Four examples of mind reading.

1) If your spouse is silent and you say, “You’re mad at me!” that’s mind reading.

2) If your spouse is late getting home and you say, “You’re cheating on me!” that’s mind reading.

3) If your partner forgets to buy milk and you say, “You did that on purpose!” that’s mind reading.

4) If your partner cleans the kitchen and you say, “You don’t think I’m capable of doing this myself!” that’s mind reading.

Two factors that fuel this bad habit.

1) anxiety.

2) depression.

Two ways to look at this phenomenon:

1) negative mind reading leads to anxiety and depression. Who wouldn’t be depressed if we thought our spouse had such negative feelings, motives, or thoughts?

2) anxiety and depression lead to negative mind reading. Looking at our partner’s through a negative lens colors everything negatively.

Two things make this habit highly vexing.

1) the tendency for the mind reader to conjure up negative motives, negative thoughts, or negative intent in their spouse.

2) the tendency for the mind reader to believe they are absolutely, 100% correct.

Two reasons counselors find breaking clients of this habit very difficult.

1) Nobody likes to be told their beliefs might be wrong. The mind reading client then reads the mind of the therapist, “He’s minimizing my fears,” “He just doesn’t get it.” “He’s a jerk.” “He doesn’t know my spouse as well as I do. I KNOW I’m right!!”

2) If the spouse is not guilty as charged this means the mind reader has issues to work on. It’s much easier to blame others for our unhappiness.

Two ways to get out of this dysfunctional pattern.

1) drive each other so crazy with false accusations, negative spins, and erroneous mind reading that one of you leaves. You can’t mind read if there’s no mind around to read.

2) Get so fed up with poor communication that one of you admits, “My interpretation might be wrong.”

Two ancient Proverbs on this topic.

1) “Do you see a person wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them.”

2) “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.”

Four practical things a mind reader can do to break this habit.

1) Check the accuracy of your speculations, “I have a feeling you’re mad. Am I right?” If they say no, believe them.

2) Get in the habit of coming up with alternative explanations why your spouse does what they do. “He’s silent because he’s problem solving.” “She cleaned the kitchen because it was messy.” “He was late for dinner because of traffic.” “She forgot the milk because the kids were distracting.”

3) Look inside yourself and see if mind reading is a subconscious plot to provoke your spouse, reinforce negative self esteem, feed your anxiety monster, or conjure certainties in a world of uncertainty.

4) Look at the lens through which you look at life. If it’s negative, change it. If we can’t change our spouse we can change our view of our spouse.

Advertisements

Some Thoughts About Anger

anger cartoon NYKR

A while ago I received the following email.

Hi Mr. Johnson, I am a reporter for Klipsun Magazine at Western Washington University. I am writing an article on anger management and I would love to have your point of view on the subject. Such as, how to handle anger, why it happens, and gender differences….Thank you so much for your help, (name).

Hi, (name). Here are some thoughts re. your great questions.

1. How does anger management develop?

A person either realizes their anger is not serving them well and undertakes a plan of self improvement on their own initiative, OR family and friends convince them to get help, OR (worst case scenario–violence) the court requires people to get their anger under control. Once the angry person is on board with the goal of reducing their anger I work with clients to engage in three tasks: 1) list all the benefits of controlling anger (rather than it controlling us); this keeps us motivated when the battle gets hard. 2) Track the five stages in the anger sequence [trigger, thought, physiological responses, emotion, and action]. By identifying and separating these five stages we get more power over them. 3) Work on the primary culprit in anger, namely, our thoughts. The counseling term for this is cognitive therapy.

2. How can anger management be maintained?

Keep reviewing the benefits of conquering anger–lower blood pressure, less cost for broken items, fewer doctor bills for broken hands or feet for hitting or kicking stuff, longer lasting friendships, more free time in our brains to use for productive stuff, etc.

3. What is the difference between getting angry and having an anger management problem?

Getting angry is a good and proper response to injustice, cruelty, oppression, etc. Think MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. They channel their anger and hurt into traffic safety laws, etc. If I had the magic ability to make all anger vanish I wouldn’t use it. We need anger to inspire battling the things that need battling. But there’s a thin line between healthy anger and problematic anger. Anger becomes a problem when we’re angry in the wrong way, at the wrong time, with the wrong people, for the wrong reasons (this is my paraphrase of a quote from Aristotle). Anger problems can creep up on us and because of denial or cluelessness we don’t know why we lose friends, get in so many fights, or need so many prescription drugs (or alcohol) to calm down, etc. So when family and friends suggest we may have an anger problem it’s a good idea to consider that what they’re saying might be correct.

4. What would you suggest to your patients to deal with their anger?

In addition to the steps above, we deal with practical matters like stress relief, healing the hurts, fears, and jealousies behind much of our anger, and capturing those distorted cognitions that fuel anger. “That motorist cut me off on purpose” vs. “Maybe they’re on the way to the hospital to have a baby.” “If a person criticizes me my life is ruined” vs. “Hmm, they’re sure having a bad day,” or “I demand that life be fair!” vs. “Oh well.”

5. What is the difference between female anger and male anger?

To be honest in my experience both genders get angry with only a few subtle variations. Stereotypes bug me but anecdotally I believe it takes longer for guys to calm down once elevated and it takes longer for women to let stuff go. Other than that, both men/women explode, hit, fume, stuff, scream, etc. And the strategies for de-escalating are the same. Here’s a recent blog post on this theme which is only partially tongue in cheek.

Wow! Thank you so much! Anger is an interesting subject, I’ve gotten a lot of different feedback on how people deal with their anger, such as some may yell and others might bottle it up. Again, thank you so much for your thoughts. It has really helped my article. (name).

Annoyances in Marriage, Pt. 3 (and a free book!)

Managing Marital Irritations.cover

Glynn Wolfe might win the prize for history’s most irritable husband. According to his daughter in law, Vikki Wolfe, Glynn left his wife because she ate sunflower seeds in bed. But wait, there’s more. Wolfe divorced another wife for using his toothbrush. But wait, there’s still more. Wolfe is famous for being a wife collector. All counted, he married and divorced a total of 29 wives. Click here for his bizarre story. I’m not sure who needed counseling more, him or his 29 wives!

If you’ve asked your partner to quit eating sunflower seeds in bed or using your toothbrush and they refuse you can do like Wolfe did and file for divorce.

Or, you can become more tolerant of your partner’s irritating mannerisms. If you can’t change your partner, change yourself. Here are some tips.

1. List the things your partner does that irritate you.

2. Ask them to list the things you do that irritate them.

3. Compare lists and negotiate. “I’ll put down the toilet seat if you stay within our budget.”

4. Don’t give your partner negative labels. If you’re convinced your partner is a “self absorbed, cheating, immature, lying, slob” you’ll look for evidence to back up the label…and of course you’ll find it.

5. Re-examine the stories you tell yourself about your partner’s bad habits. Our interpretations play a bigger role in our frustrations than our partner’s behaviors. “As a man or woman thinks, so are they.” Here are some common stories that deserve challenging.

  • “My partner irritates me on purpose.” This might not be true. They could be mindless, automatic behaviors. Don’t you ever do things without thinking? Give grace and the benefit of the doubt.
  • “I take this personally!” If we treat their actions as a sign they don’t care about us, isn’t prioritizing us, or doesn’t love us, we’ve turned a benign action (like how to load a dishwasher) into a moral issue.
  • “If you really loved me you’d stop driving me crazy with all your irritating habits.” To which your partner could answer, “If you really loved me you’d let me do what I do without nagging.”
  • “They should know what I like. I don’t need to tell them.” Maybe it never occurred to your partner that it bothers you. They aren’t mind readers.
  • “My partner is one big irritation.” Is that their only redeeming trait? Won’t you miss that irritating habit once they’re gone? If the marriage is that dysfunctional there are bigger problems than crumbs on the counter or leaving wet towels on the floor.
  • “They don’t respect me.” Maybe they do respect you but just don’t have the same passion for when dishes get washed, bills get paid, or floors get vacuumed. They could just as easily say you don’t respect their way of doing things.
  • “If they don’t load the dishwasher right I’ll leave!” That’s why divorce attorneys call marriage a three ring circus–engagement ring, wedding ring, and suffering.
  • “Reasoning hasn’t worked. Time to explode!” Two wrongs don’t make a right.
  • “I’ll fight fire with fire! If they don’t take out the trash, I won’t talk!” Welcome to the walled off marriage. Hard to be close to someone you punish with silence.
  • “Any request my partner makes is an attempt to control me.” Really? Where did you learn that? From a demanding parent, grandparent, or ex?
  • “Differences are not allowed in this relationship!” Um, oneness does not mean sameness.

Click here Managing Marital Irritations.1 for a free book, Managing Marital Irritations. (This book contains Bible references).

Annoyances in Marriage, Part 2

annoying-203x300 Two brave souls, Joe Palca and Flora Lichtman, did a scientific study of things that are annoying. They published their results in a book aptly titled, Annoying. They say a thing is annoying when it’s unpleasant, repetitious, and we don’t know when it’ll end. Think of hearing half a phone conversation, something they call halfalog (as opposed to dialog or monologue). It’s unpleasant because we don’t know what the other caller is saying, it’s repetitious because we hear a voice then silence then a voice then silence over and over, and every second the conversation continues past our tolerance level the more our agitation grows. The same goes for pesky mosquitoes, nails scraped on a black board, texting at the dinner table, snapping gum, knuckle cracking, pop-up ads, and someone clipping their nails in public. I read this book with fascination since I love doing two things: helping individuals deal with their partner’s annoying habits in healthy ways, and helping individuals eliminate their own annoying habits. With wit and humor the authors describe why spouses have a low tolerance for each other’s annoying behaviors but a high tolerance for the annoying behaviors of others–we can get away from others but we’re stuck with our spouses! Also, in public we know life is hard but at home we expect a comfortable environment with agreeable people! How do we protect ourselves from disillusionment and the annoyances we called in our last blog post, surprising reversals?

  1. Remember every good trait has its inherent down side; there can be too much of a good thing. Life wouldn’t be so difficult if we didn’t expect it to be so easy.
  2. Remember that a growing irritation might reflect our diminishing tolerance level more then our partner’s increasing irritations. Are they more irritating or are we more irritable?
  3. If our partner’s irritating mannerism occurs only occasionally, try to ignore it.
  4. Be mindful of our own irritating mannerisms and be willing to reduce their frequency. Reciprocating irritations escalate in a negative feedback loop. Decreasing irritations by one party can trigger decreasing irritations in the other.
  5. Seek equity. Make sure there is fairness in the amount of love each gives and gets in the relationship. If you get more love and your partner gets less, they’ll be unhappy and easily irritated. Solution? Increase your deposits into their emotional love bank (be kind, generous, thoughtful) and decrease your withdrawals from their love bank (reduce the frequency of your irritating mannerisms). The old saying, “Love covers a multitude of sins” has merit. A full love bank can stand a few withdrawals. An empty love bank can’t handle overdrafts.
  6. If you get less love in the relationship and your partner gets more, you’ll be unhappy and easily irritated. Solution? Ask them to give more. If after several sincere and calm requests that doesn’t work, you’ve got some hard choices to make–separate bedrooms, separate vacations, separate lives?
  7. Accept your partner, irritations and all. Wanting a perfect spouse is like wanting see-saws that only to go up.
  8. Become boring. Some passive-aggressive spouses love to push buttons because they want revenge, drama, or entertainment. If you don’t want your partner to get your goat don’t let ’em know where it’s tied up. Wear an invisible Teflon coating. Become a duck and let the irritations roll right off. Be as impervious to their annoyances as a wind up alarm clock is in an electrical storm.

Next blog post: more tips and insights for Managing Marital Irritations (plus a free book).

When Cute Mannerisms Become Irritations

"I used to love it when you'd try to help me. Now it's just annoying."

“I used to love it when you’d try to fix me. Now it’s just annoying.”

It happens in every marriage. That cute mannerism you used to find so endearing while dating now drives you up the wall. That thing your partner did which was once attractive is now aggravating. A young couple gaga in love wholly embraces each other’s quirky habits, but fast forward a bunch of years and those quirky habits now drive each other bat guano crazy. Here are some examples I’ve collected over the years.

I used to love her helping heart. Now she’s off saving the world and I gotta cook dinner.

I used to love his pensive seriousness. Now I wish he’d open up and be more talkative.

I used to love his giving spirit. Now I wish he’d give to me and the kids and not all the neighbors.

I used to love her career accomplishments. Now I wish she had more time for family.

I used to love his relationship with his mother. Now I wish he’d stop calling her 4 times a day.

I used to love her laid back attitude. Now I’m annoyed she’s late for everything.

I used to love her spontaneity. Now I think she’s ADD.

I used to love his black and white thinking. Now I wish he wasn’t so stubborn.

I used to love her innocence. Now I wish she wasn’t so gullible.

I used to love his cool demeanor. Now he won’t talk to me.

I used to love his hard working attitude. Now he’s a workaholic and I never see him.

I used to love my wife’s body. Now all she does is work out.

I used to love his humor. Now he sounds like an immature dork.

I used to love her jokes. Now she never takes anything seriously.

I used to love his attention. Now I feel controlled.

I used to love it that he listened to me. Now he gets irked if I talk to anyone else.

I used to love her compliance. Now she seems like a doormat.

I used to love him letting me decide things. Now he makes me decide everything.

I used to love her as the life of the party. Now she never shuts up.

I used to love his risk taking. Now he seems utterly irresponsible.

I used to love it that she’s smokin’ hot. Now I’m angry guys stare at her.

These annoyances are tolerable in small doses. In large doses we get annoyed! Why do we get turned off by the very thing that attracted us to our mates in the first place? Because disillusionment sets in. What initially brought a big pay off of joy, entertainment, and warm fuzzies, eventually fails to deliver. We get acclimated, we get numb, we take our partners for granted. Like a drug addict who needs bigger and bigger hits, couples, if they’re not careful, need bigger and bigger relational pay offs.

Next blog: what to do about marital irritations.

Have You Ever Been Annoyed By a Family Member?

Built into the human body is an aversion to irritation. Scraping a fingernail on a black board makes our ears hurt, rancid tastes make us gag, pop up ads offend us, drippy faucets unnerve us, advertising jingles become ear worms and make us crazy, and pesky mosquitoes can drive us bonkers.

There are four ways to cope physical annoyances. For example, to minimize the irritation we feel when cutting onions we can either:

tupperwareQuarantine the onion by putting it in Tupperware

Insulate our eyes by putting on a gas mask

girl-crying_l

Let nature take its course and flush out irritating onion odors with cleansing tears

Stories-at-Work

Re-frame the irritation by telling ourselves a new story.

“This is the price I pay for adding flavor to omelets.”

“My tears may mean I’m using too many onions in this dish.”

“Onions boost my acting career by giving me authentic tears for my stage performance.”

“Onion odors are natural, unavoidable, and an irreversible part of the universe.”

As a family conflict mediator it’s my privilege to coach couples, parents, and teens on ways to reduce family irritations. Just as there are four ways to cope with physical irritations, there are four ways to cope with psychological, relational, and family irritations.

Quarantine the irritating family member—put ‘em in a time out.

Insulate yourself by leaving the room (better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome family member, Proverbs 21:9).

Let nature take its course and process your irritation with cleansing tears.

Re-frame the irritation by telling yourself a new story.

“Irritation is the price I pay for living under the same roof with my family.”

“Irritations motivate me to develop patience, kindness, and tolerance.”

“My irritability alerts me to the possibility that I may be irritating to others.”

“Relationship irritations are natural, unavoidable, and an irreversible part of the universe.”

Please do not retaliate by returning irritation for irritation. This only causes things to escalate. Unless of course you’d like to come in for family counseling. I do have openings.

Soft Start Ups

Peanuts.Harsh.PE4

Our old friend Charlie Brown nailed it–his soft answer turned away a whole flock of wrath. Marriage researcher John Gottman provides us with a list of questions to measure the level of softness in our relationships. How many of these statements are true for you and your partner?

  1. My partner is often very critical of me.
  2. I hate the way my partner raises an issue.
  3. Arguments often seem to come out of nowhere.
  4. Before I know it, we are in a fight.
  5. When my partner complains, I feel picked on.
  6. I seem always to get blamed for issues.
  7. My partner is negative all way out of proportion.
  8. I feel I have to ward off personal attacks.
  9. I often have to deny charges leveled against me.
  10. My partner’s feelings are too easily hurt.
  11. What goes wrong is often not my responsibility.
  12. My spouse criticizes me personally.
  13. Issues get raised in an insulting manner.
  14. My partner will at times complain in a smug or superior way.
  15. I have just about had it with all this negativity between us.
  16. I feel basically disrespected when my partner complains.
  17. I just want to leave the scene when complaints arise.
  18. Our calm is suddenly shattered.
  19. I find my partner’s negativity unnerving and unsettling.
  20. I think my partner can be totally irrational.

If you have five or less TRUE answers you and your partner know how to initiate difficult conversations gently without being critical or harsh. This increases your chance of resolving conflict. If you have six or more TRUE answers one or both of you tends to be harsh, contemptuous, critical, defensive, or withdrawing. This prevents issues from being resolved. If your spouse tends to raise issues harshly the best advice I can give is to make sure he/she feels known, respected, and loved by you and that you accept his/her influence often.

Try the Charlie Brown approach and see how it works!

Anger in Marriage: Love’s Executioner

donald duck angry art movie cartoon

“How many times do I have to tell you I’m not angry, I’m not emotional, and that our marriage is just fine!?”

After fourteen years as a marriage “angerologist” here are some anecdotal observations about marital anger.

Men are afraid angry women will belittle, disrespect, or criticize them. Women are afraid angry men will kill them.

Men find female anger grating. Women find male anger terrifying.

An emotionally unavailable man triggers a woman’s anger. An angry woman triggers a man’s emotional unavailability.

A sexually unavailable woman triggers a man’s anger. An angry man triggers a women’s sexual unavailability.

Angry women will fume, nag, or explode. Angry men will fume, fume, fume, and then explode.

Men put more holes in walls than women.

Women buy shoes, clothes, and purses to soothe their anger. Men buy boats, motor homes, motorcycles, quads, jet skis, and guns to soothe their anger.

Men think the reasons behind female anger are petty. Women think, “Men don’t get it.”

Women speculate that the cause of male anger is his parents, his job, the economy, his ex, or his mental instability. Men say the cause of male anger is speculating women.

During a fight men get angry faster. After a fight women get over their anger faster.

During a fight women can remember details from offenses decades old. Before, during, and after a fight men can’t remember anything.

A woman says of her anger, “I’m just blowing off steam,” and of his anger, “He’s irrational.” A man says of his anger, “She made me angry,” and of her anger, “She’s got issues.”

No couple can resolve issues while angry; rationality goes out the window.No couple can live on rationality alone; well managed emotions make life better.

A woman unwilling to admit being angry says, “I’m hurt.” A man unwilling to admit being angry says, “I’m frustrated.”