Marital Mind Reading

 

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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.

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Marriage: A Shopper’s Guide

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SPRING CLEARANCE SALE on POTENTIAL MATES

Wise car shoppers kick tires and consult Consumer Reports, Kelly Blue Book, or Motor Trend Magazine before buying a used car.

Choosing a vacation spot is easier when we read reviews, ask friends, or talk to a travel consultant.

Wise business owners conduct extensive interviews because they know it’s easier hiring the right employee than retraining a wrong one.

Even going to the movies or choosing a restaurant is easier when we ask what others think of the plot, the service, or the value.

When it comes to getting married, however, some people don’t put a lot of thought into one of the biggest decisions of life. They feel the urge and take the plunge! Over the years I’ve heard many different reasons why people got married.

She is smokin’ hot!
He’s rich!
I wanted a big wedding because I was skinny and wanted to be ogled and envied.
I was drunk.
I didn’t want to be alone.
I wanted to get away from my parents.
She’s pregnant.
I was pregnant.
Why not? If I get unhappy I’ll get a divorce and find a new partner.
Our sex is amazing!
I was a single parent and this person was willing to help me raise my kids.
I didn’t want to get married but we already sent out the invitations.
They make me look and feel good.
They’ve promised to meet my every need.
I found someone who will give me what my parents never gave me.
I can control this person.
An imperfect mate is better than no mate.

If I were to write an instruction book for people “shopping” for a marriage partner, I’d suggest the following checklist. Some of these marriage criteria are counter intuitive but I believe courting couples ignore them to their peril.

How does this potential partner treat their parents? It’s not uncommon for old relational patterns to return once the glow of hormones wears off.

How long have you dated? We recommend at least a year so you can see what your future partner is like during every season. Summer lovers can become winter Grinches and vice versa. Better to find out sooner rather than later.

What are your prospective mate’s life goals? It’s hard to feel close if you’re headed in opposite directions.

What common values to you share? If you love risk taking and your partner is risk averse you’ll struggle. If you’re a saver and they’re a spender you’ll struggle. If you’re a dancer and your partner is an irredeemable klutz, somebody’s going to be unhappy.

How adept are the two of you at resolving disagreements? It isn’t conflict that tears marriages apart, it’s poorly managed or avoided conflict. I often give love struck couples in premarital counseling the following assignment, “Go have a fight.” It usually gets a big laugh but I’m serious. Why wait until the honeymoon to discover how well or poorly you handle stress, anger, and fear?

What are you and your partner’s expectations about marriage? This isn’t easy to answer when we’re infatuated, love struck, and just getting to know each other. But unmet expectations are one of the biggest conflicts couples have.

What did your criminal background check reveal? This is a painful reality: some people lie. Better to find out sooner rather than later the truth about military service, degrees, awards, debt, criminal records, affairs, previous marriages, or kids. I’ve been shocked to learn how sneaky some people can be. Check ‘em out!

What about your partner are you hoping to change? The person who thinks they’re going to help their partner eliminate their irritating mannerisms or character flaws, change their weight, hair style, religion, or personality is in for a huge disappointment. Making personal changes is hard enough. Feeling pressured to do so is almost guaranteed to fail.

How do you manage your anxiety? A person often chooses a mate because they believe their spouse will become their “anti anxiety drug.” Rather than dealing with fears, worries, and anxieties themselves, they make their future partner responsible for their moods. This puts tremendous pressure on a marriage. A future partner may be willing initially to be that anti-anxiety drug but will eventually poop out.

What do your family and friends think of this person as your potential life partner? If those close to you have doubts about how well suited you are for each other, pay attention. Those who are objective see what we in our love struck subjective state can’t.

How tolerant of differences are you both? Many people go bonkers when their partner voices a contrary opinion or expresses a preference that differs from their own. Two becoming one does not mean two becoming the same.

How willing are you both to work at making a healthy marriage? Even couples who agree on the above questions will go through marital stages. And each stage requires adaptation, compromise, and negotiation. Marriages put on “auto pilot” often end up in counselor’s offices because good marriage don’t just happen. They require attention, conversation, and new skills.

God puts us in marriages partly to make us better people. If we’re single we don’t have to learn how to get along in intimate relationships. But if we share a bed, budget, or kids either the marriage will work on us or we’ll work on the marriage. I hope these questions will help you kick a few tires before signing the marriage license.

Some Thoughts About Anger

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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, 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).

Challenging Negative Thoughts When Things Go Bad

blackboardHere’s a handy truth to keep in mind the next time things don’t end well. The end of an experience does not define the beginning and middle of an experience.
 
If on day fourteen of a two week vacation we lose our luggage, it rains cats and dogs, and we run into grouchy people it doesn’t mean the whole vacation was crummy. And yet we’re prone to think the whole vacation was a disaster even if the first thirteen days were great. 
 
If we enjoy 40 minutes of musical bliss listening to a vinyl record but the last minute has a scratch on it, we tend to think, “The whole record was ruinied!” conveniently overlooking the first 39 minutes of pure enjoyment.
 
If a pregnancy goes well but the delivery is hard mommies tend to treat the whole pregnancy as an ordeal (so I hear).
 
If the last years of a long and fruitful life end in a depressing nursing home it doesn’t mean that person’s whole life was depressing. Yet we are prone to equate how a life ends with how it was lived in the beginning and middle.
 
If a 400 page novel engages, inspires, entertains, and delights but has a crummy ending we tend to forget the 399 pages of enjoyment.
 
If a long term marriage ends in a painful divorce people tend to think their whole marriage was bad, forgetting the fun times in the beginning and middle.
 
Our tendency to let a bad ending color the beginning and middle of a good experience seems unavoidable, doesn’t it? 
 
But try it out. See if you can catch yourself letting a bad end define the whole thing. 
  • Don’t let a bad dessert erase the memory of a great dinner.
  • Don’t let your teenager’s surliness erase the good memories of that first step, first word, first day of school.
  • Don’t let a repair bill when something breaks erase all the years that stove, car, tent, bike, computer, or lawnmower worked great.
It will be hard at first but by learning to resist letting an unpleasant end of an experience define the whole experience we’ll have happier memories, less discouragement, and greater control over a mind that’s prone to negativity. 
 

Soft Start Ups

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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!

If You Were A Coach For The Worry Olympics

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If You Were a Coach at the Worry Olympics

Most people trying to overcome the worry habit invest a ton of energy avoiding, fighting, and ignoring their worries. And those strategies work for many. But counselors know that some worries are so stubborn, so nettlesome, and so vexing that a different approach is needed.

Here’s a new way to overcome the worry habit: pretend you’re a worry coach and you’re getting your team ready for the Worry Olympics. How would you train calm and cheerful people to become first class worriers?

  1. List the Benefits of Worrying (motivate each team member to embrace the goal of worry)
  • Worry motivates me.
  • Worry helps me solve my problems.
  • Worry keeps me from being surprised.
  • Worrying is a great way to spend my time.
  • Worrying makes me a responsible and valuable human.

II.  List things to worry about (the longer the list the less your team will relax)

  • We’ll worry when bad things happen. This would give the team only a few things to worry about since the best worriers worry only about things that haven’t happened yet.
  • We’ll worry when bad things are about to happen. This would give the team even fewer things to worry about since we never know when something bad is going to happen.
  • We’ll worry about bad things we imagine might happen. Now you’ve given the team an infinite number of things to worry about.

III.  Find evidence for impending doom (turn the team’s molehills into mountains)

  • If I think it, it must be true.
  • My thoughts create reality.
  • My elevated heart rate proves my worrisome thoughts are accurate.
  • Statistics, studies, and odds in my favor are all bogus.
  • Things are not merely correlated, they’re causal! 

IV.  Eliminate distractions to worry (help your team stay focused)

  • Avoid faith, hope, love, and prayer
  • Avoid friends, hobbies, and work
  • Avoid family, romance, and sleep
  • Avoid everything that gets our minds off of worry

V.  Create worry-prone neural pathways in the brain (develop the team’s worry habit)

  • Remind the team of all the bad things that could happen.
  • Repeat this mantra over and over, “What if…what if…what if…?”
  • Imagine all worst case scenarios.
  • Tell yourself that if it’s possible it’s probable.
  • Reinforce worry by engaging in superstitious rituals (checking, washing, ruminating).

VI.  Remove all uncertainty from the team (demand 100% certainty about everything)

  • Obsess over “why?” questions.
  • Avoid reading books on probability, randomness, and the law of large numbers.
  • Make the team prove they’ll never get laid off, sick, broke, old, die, or rejected by others.
  • Treat everything like an emergency…solve all problems right now!
  • Reject anyone who reassures them things aren’t as bleak as they imagine.

VII.  Reinforce worries with Google (feed the team’s adrenaline addiction by finding sites run by…)

  • Conspiracy theorists
  • Fear mongers
  • Hand wringers
  • Snake oil salesmen
  • Pessimists

Do you want to get over the worry habit? Do the opposite of this list.

What To Do When Others Disappoint Us

Inside the brain of a frustration stuffer

Inside the brain of a frustration stuffer

When others break their promises, fail to meet expectations, or behave badly we can stuff our frustration (and eventually blow up), rant and rave (and make things worse), or we can voice our complaints in a way that holds others accountable while saving the relationship. It’s a way to disagree agreeably, turn debate into dialogue, and get the results we want.

1.  How we justify NOT confronting

  • We deny the risks of staying silent.
  • We exaggerate the risks of confronting.
  • We’ve convinced ourselves we’re conflict avoidant.
  • We ignore the benefits of resolving the problem.
  • We think nobody else is complaining so why rock the boat?
  • We’re afraid of hurting other’s feelings.
  • We were taught, “Don’t question authority.”
  • We expect others to read our minds.
  • We’re guilty of doing the same thing and we are hypocritical.
  • We don’t know how to complain effectively.
  • We figure “What’s the use?”
  • We hope to ignore it and the problem will go away.

2.  If we don’t confront others when they…

  • Break promises they’ll continue to break promises.
  • Violate expectations they’ll continue to violate expectations.
  • Behave badly they’ll continue to behave badly.
  • Lie, steal, cheat they’ll continue to behave badly.
  • Abuse drugs, others, or us they’ll continue to abuse.
  • Act irresponsible they’ll continue to act irresponsibly.
  • Act immorally or illegally they’ll think we approve of their actions.
  • Do wrong we’ll be tempted to belly-ache to others which doesn’t help at all.
  • Deserve to be confronted they’ll get away with things.
  • Offend others they’ll continue to blindly offend others.

3.  Confronting is risky when the…

  • …offense is petty. Would others think this problem is worth complaining about?
  • …complaint addresses the wrong problem.
  • …complaint addresses too many complaints at once.
  • …offended person loves to control, micromanage, or stir up drama.
  • …complaints are frequent, loud, and unending.

4.  Effective confronting starts with curiosity: why did they do that?

5.  Effective confronting creates safety

6.  Establish your credibility

  • Others often disappoint us because we’ve disappointed them.
  • Ransack your memory—are there unresolved old hurts between you and the other person?
  • Is an apology necessary?

7.  Start by sharing your good intentions

  • I want you to be successful…
  • I want to protect you from other’s wrong assumptions.
  • I am concerned about something and I need your help.
  • I want you to continue to live/work here, however, I’ve got a problem.
  • What do we need to do to help you succeed?
  • I don’t want to add to the problem by looking for blame. I just want to solve the problem.
  • I know what I care about. I want to learn what you care about.

 8.  Launch the conversation

  • Describe the ‘gap’ between what was expected and what you observed. “This is what I saw ___.”
  • Offer a tentative interpretation of why you think the other person did what they did (“These are the ideas going on inside my head ____.”
  • Ask if those ideas are correct. If your conclusions are wrong, let them explain their point of view. Seek to understand before you are understood.
  • Don’t say, “You said ___.” But rather, “I thought we agreed that ___.”
  • Does the other person agree there’s a gap? “Did we miss something? I thought we agreed that ___.”
  • What was the underlying cause—lack of ability or lack of motivation? “Are you choosing not to do what I ask or are you unable to do what I ask?”
  • End with a question, “So, I was wondering what happened?” “What would it take to fix this?” “Where should we go from here?

9.  Stay calm. If we lose our cool THAT’S what others will focus on, not their responsibilities. Be direct and respectful.

10.  Ways we justify using force to make others change

  • Other’s non compliance makes us feel powerless, so we ramp up the threats, the volume, and the criticism which in turn triggers their resistance.
  • Exerting power/threats gives us quick results (or so we think) but it turns us into policemen.
  • We think there are only two options: force them to comply (I win, they lose), or let them off the hook (I lose, they win).
  • Others used power on us and so we use it on others.
  • Hurt people hurt people. If we have been hurt, we should do our best to focus on solutions, not revenge, punishing, angry demands, martyrdom, guilting, or manipulating. These tactics don’t last.
  • Winning coaches/drill sergeants abuse their players/recruits. We think, “Some people simply deserve my tantrums, threats, and attacks.”
  • If necessary we can always use power later (law suits, firing, leaving the relationship, discipline). But let’s start with effective complaints first.

11.  Help them be motivated to take appropriate action

  • Do not try to motivate by using force.
  • Do no assume the other knows what you want. Spell out your expectations and boundaries clearly, calmly, and professionally.
  • Help them see the natural consequences of their continued disappointing behavior, “Here are the negative things that will happen if you continue to ___.”
  • Help them see the see the natural consequences of good behavior, “Here are the good things that’ll happen if you start doing ____.”
  • Brainstorm possible solutions that help you and the other person meet your and their personal goals.
  • Agree on who will do what and by when, and set a date for follow up. Check back with (not check up on) later.

12.  Some possible consequences to mention if they continue to resist you

  • Does this behavior accurately represent who you are and what you want for yourself?
  • How might others (family, coworkers, peers) view your behavior?
  • How might your behavior negatively impact others (family, coworkers, peers)?
  • How might you benefit by changing your behavior?
  • Compare short term benefits with long term costs of not changing negative behaviors.
  • Compare short term benefits with long term benefits of making positive changes.

For more information see Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzer, Crucial Conversations (McGraw Hill, 2002) and Crucial Confrontations (McGraw Hill, 2005).

Men and Women Can’t Be “Just Friends”

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Talk about a dilemma! Some married partners demand the right to have close opposite gender friends AND they expect their partners to approve. I’ve yet to see this work. One is accused of being overly jealous; the other is accused of lacking healthy boundaries.

In a recent Scientific American article opposite sex friendships were studied and the authors concluded, “The possibility remains that this apparently platonic coexistence is merely a facade, an elaborate dance covering up countless sexual impulses bubbling just beneath the surface.” Strong language, indeed.

 Other thought provoking observations:

  • Men were much more attracted to their female friends than vice versa.
  • Men were more likely than women to think that their opposite-sex friends were attracted to them—a clearly misguided belief.
  • Females generally were not attracted to their male friends and they assumed that this lack of attraction was mutual.
  • Men consistently overestimated the level of attraction felt by their female friends and women consistently underestimated the level of attraction felt by their male friends.
  • Two people can experience the exact same relationship in radically different ways. Men seem to see myriad opportunities for romance in their supposedly platonic opposite-sex friendships. The women in these friendships, however, seem to have a completely different orientation—one that is actually platonic.

Glass cover

One of the best affair recovery books I use as marriage therapist is Shirley Glass, Not Just Friends. She explores the new crisis of infidelity resulting from platonic relationships that become progressively intense. Personal and professional friendships between men and women have become so prevalent and accepted that, according to Glass, even “good” people in “good” marriages can be swept away in a riptide of emotional intimacy more potent than sheer sexual attraction. 

While it’s true some partners can be insecure, possessive, and jealous without cause, greater damage is done to marriages by partners who defy, deny, and disregard the concerns of a loving spouse. I don’t get to vote who your friends are…but your spouse does. And I believe we ignore their cautions to our peril.

 

 

 

Differences in Marriage: Not A Bad Thing

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“I know there are differences but I’m going to change him.”

 

With all the slogans promoting marriage oneness (“Be of one mind,” “Two shall become one flesh,” “How can two walk together unless they be agreed?”), it may come as a surprise to hear that differences in marriage can be a good thing. Look over the following statements and pick several to discuss with your mate. Get ready for some possible differences of opinion!

1. When “two become one” it means “one flesh” (sex, kids) not “one soul in two bodies.”

2. Jesus said marriage only lasts until death and that there is no marriage in heaven.

3. Technically, your partner is not your soul mate. You were complete even before you found your other half (a term I’m not especially fond of). You are a whole person whether married or single.

4. Allowing no difference in a marriage means either one forces the other to merge, or one voluntarily merges with the other. In both cases, the individual is lost.

5. When we die and go to heaven as individuals not as a couple.

6. There is a rhythm in marriage, get close and be separate. We need to be separate and connect; not get stuck in either extreme.

7. If one person loses them themselves to merge with the other, at some point they’re going to say, “Hey! When do I get a say in our decisions?”

8. If being in a relationship means you having to no longer be you, that defeats the purpose. If husband and wife are identical, one of you won’t be necessary.

9. Many marriage problems occur NOT because the couple is too separate but because they’re too close. There are no emotional boundaries. One person never gets to separate and miss the other person.

10. Couples that are emotionally fused (like a blue and yellow crayon melted into one green blob) never feel connected. There’s no place where they can emotionally touch each other since they’ve merged.

11. Boundaries not only separate two countries, they are also the place where two countries touch, like the US/Canada border. Emotional boundaries are where two people touch. But if you’re fused there’s no place to touch.

12. Individuals eager to eradicate differences between me and my partner never learn how to tolerate differences.

13. People who fear abandonment hate differences.

14. People who fear being engulfed hate fusion.

15. How we deal with differences is more important than what those differences are. If one partner wants differences and the other wants no differences, there’s a difference! And thus a conflict!

16. To some, differences sound like criticism or betrayal. “If you really loved me you’d agree with my ideas, tastes, and opinions.”

17. Some are so afraid of isolation that they refuse to talk about differences. Conflicts focus on the details of some issue rather than the more global and philosophical discussion of the existence (and importance) of differences. A good question to discuss, “How many differences can this marriage handle?”

18. Many a partner claim to be okay with differences…until their mate makes a decision contrary to the unspoken rule, “We must agree on everything.”

19. To remove differences we either say, “I’ll become like you and lose me,” or “You become like me and lose you.”

20. Fights usually aren’t about surface issues but the more subtle issue of whose view of differences will prevail.

21. Some differences in marriage shouldn’t be tolerated. If one thinks infidelity, drug abuse, addiction, or abuse are good and the other thinks they’re bad, that may be a difference too large to tolerate. What are the deal breakers in your relationship? Unconditional love and sacred marriage vows do not mean any misbehavior can be tolerated. Best to hash this out prior to marriage.