Jordan Johnson – Marriage & Family Therapist, was recently interviewed by NBCnews.com and asked how new marriage trends are impacting relationships today. Follow the link below to see what he has to say:
According to John Gottman, in every interaction in our significant relationships, there is an opportunity to attune or turn away. We have many experiences where we notice our partner, and we make a choice: “Do I ATTUNE myself to what is going on,” or, “do I turn away?” Pay attention to what happens when you turn away. What are your thoughts? What happens to the other person? What does your body feel like? What do you choose instead?
A-T-T-U-N-E is an acronym for just how to turn toward our partners in a supportive and empathetic way. Our job with each other is to create emotional safety, and it is through small moments, like attuning, that create stability and ongoing romance. When we feel acknowledged, we feel secure and safe.
T- Turn Toward
Here are some fun ways to practice attuning opportunities:
Go for a walk with a spouse or child.
Plan a picnic.
Cook dinner together.
Call each other during the workday.
Volunteer in the community.
Plan an outing together: hike, bike, or drive.
Visit the beach.
Go dancing together.
Plan to attend brunch.
Get away to a secret location.
Whatever you decide, remember the importance of attuned engagement and the strengthening power it has.
For extra support or help making repairs in your relationship, make an appointment with Wasatch Family Therapy at 801.944.4555.
The concept of assertiveness is one of my favorite topics, and I’m excited to share some of the key points from my new book “The Assertiveness Guide for Women: How to Communicate Your Needs, Set Healthy Boundaries, and Transform Your Relationships.”
What is assertiveness exactly? Contrary to what some may think, it’s not being pushy, rude, or aggressive. In the book, I define assertiveness as the ability to reflect on one’s past and present experiences, manage one’s difficult emotions, and clearly express oneself while also being open to someone else’s perspective (that’s quite a definition, right!). Some women may fear or shy away from assertiveness because they think it will threaten their relationships, but practicing it is actually the only way to get your needs met while also maintaining a closeness with others.
Everyone has an innate desire to be understood, to be heard, and to be validated. This is why close relationships can be so powerful.
They give us the opportunity to connect with others in ways that allow both individuals to be seen, respected, loved, and really feel known by the other person. But as many of us have experienced, even burning love can cool down, and even couples who once had a deep emotional engagement with one another may find themselves feeling disconnected and dissatisfied.
As a clinical therapist of more than 20 years, I’ve sat with many disheartened couples who are confused about where their love has gone and why they don’t feel the same way about each other that they once did. There are a great number of reasons why a marriage or romantic relationship could be in distress, and I won’t attempt to solve or remedy all of them in a single article. I will say that one thing I have seen work wonders in improving relationships and alleviating marital and personal hardship is empathy. I call it the “secret sauce” of a happy marriage. In fact, a Harvard research study from a few years ago showed that marriages were more successful when the man tried to demonstrate empathy in his interactions with his wife. Clearly, there’s something important and noteworthy about it.
So what is empathy exactly? It’s a willingness and ability to sit with another person, really listen, and reflect back your partner’s experience. Some individuals are naturally empathetic, whereas others need to work to develop it a bit more. Either way, it can be an invaluable trait to bring to a marriage. Here are some ways that you can use empathy to improve your relationships.
One of the first things to do is to listen to the emotional message in your partner’s pleas. This can be difficult because the words and the emotional message might not be the same thing. For example, if your spouse says things like, “you always come home late,” or “you never text me when you’re on your way,” it may be tempting to get defensive at the criticism.
However, I encourage you to listen for the deeper meaning in the words. It’s likely that what your partner is actually trying to communicate is “I miss you when you’re away and want to spend more time with you,” or “I’m scared that I’m not important to you.” Practice this communication skill of deciphering the underlying message, then figure out how best to respond to it.
Another good strategy for employing empathy in your relationships is to step out of your own emotional experience sometimes to fully listen to and seek to understand the other person’s. This is not easy. When a spouse is giving critical feedback, your gut reaction is likely one of trying to explain, defend, or rationalize, but these uncomfortable situations are when empathy is needed the most. Press the pause button on your own feelings, and as painful as it might be, try to see things from the opposite perspective.
And finally, show empathy by reflecting back your partner’s experience in your words. This is an aspect of active listening that can help to clarify any inadvertent miscommunication. Using phrases like “what I’m hearing you say is ____” or “you must be feeling _____” can help make sure you two are on the same page. The Harvard study showed that women were happier when their husbands were making their best effort to respond empathetically to their negative experiences. So if you’re not perfect, don’t stress! This is a skill to learn and to develop, and a marriage or close relationship is the perfect opportunity to practice.
Empathy is not necessarily a cure-all, but it is a crucial component of a healthy relationship (especially a long-lasting one like a marriage). In times of distress, practice these methods to strengthen your connections to the ones you love.
Can you feel it? Slowly but surely spring is coming. The days are longer, the flowers are starting to peek out from the ground, and it is warming up. I always take spring as a time of assessment about myself and where I want the year to go. The majority of people make “new years resolutions.” Usually these include goals about eating better, exercising, and getting out to meet new people and have fun. I don’t know about you, but in January when it is cold and snowy all I want to do is stay inside, and make and eat homemade bread and cookies. Suffice it to say, my new years goals take a backseat very quickly. However, in the spring I am much more motivated to take inventory of where I am and what I can do for the rest of the year to feel good and make my relationships better.
It is common in spring to do “spring cleaning.” We open the doors and air out our homes. We clean out our flowerbeds to make room for plants. Let’s
do the same emotionally. Look at and evaluate how you are doing personally and with your relationships. After your evaluation you can make some commitments to yourself. Doesn’t commitment sound a little more decisive than a goal? For some reason when I say I have committed to someone or something I have a strong desire to follow through. Goals, it seems, can be easily broken.
Here are some of the commitments I have made to myself this spring.
1) In an effort to exercise more I have signed up to run the Big Cottonwood Half Marathon in September. My hope is to match or beat my time from my last half marathon. This motivates me throughout the spring and summer to exercise and prepare well for the race.
2)In an effort to connect more with my husband we have committed to going on two dates a month.
3)I will do one thing just for myself daily. I have three young children and most of my time goes to taking care of them. In an effort to take care of myself I will do something just for myself. This may include reading, working on a project, doing my nails, journaling, or simply sitting quietly and meditating.
Although these may not seem like monumental commitments, I think they will keep me focused and help me feel better throughout the rest of the year. I challenge you to do the same! Look at yourself and your relationships and see what needs some sprucing up. Come up with one to three commitments to make your year great.
With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, many people are excitedly stocking up on chocolates and bears, making reservations, and trying on endless sexy ensembles for that perfect February 14th date. However, what if you’re not one of those people? What if you’re not single, but your relationship is currently not in a great place, and you can’t stomach the thought of trying to fake it through an awkward dinner with your spouse? Don’t panic! Here are a few ways that you and your partner can still make it through enjoy Valentine’s Day without a major dose of anxiety and tension.
Whatever you do, don’t let the day sneak up on you. If you wait until the night before to start thinking about it, you’ll definitely find yourself stressing. Take control of the situation now, and start planning out what you would like the day to be like. Do you and your partner want to try and do something together that maybe doesn’t include romantic pressure, but that could be fun, relaxing, and enjoyable? Would the two of you rather plan an evening at home with your kids and make it a family affair? Do you want to do absolutely nothing but watch movies in your pajamas? The point is, prepare ahead of time so that you and your partner both know what to expect.
Although Valentine’s Day is marketed as the romance-seeped, blissful, sex-filled holiday of the year, let’s try to remember what it’s really about…LOVE. What is love? Well, that’s a loaded question! Love is many things besides romance and sex-it’s friendship, caring, empathy, respect…the list goes on and on. Maybe this Valentine’s Day, you and your partner seek to connect with each other on a different level. For example, you could agree to give each other the gift of respect for the whole day, and agree to practice talking kindly to each other. Or, perhaps you feel like roommates, and maybe you could do an activity together that allows you to try and be friends for the evening. If even any of that is just too much, consider seeking connection with the other people you and your partner love and care about. Maybe you take cookies to a neighbor, or have some trusted friends over for dinner. Whatever you do, seek connection-don’t spend the day soaking yourself in feelings of loneliness.
Again, while Valentine’s Day is promoted as a day to think solely about your partner, it might be a good idea to do something nice for yourself too! Especially if the day is going to be hard for you this year, make sure you and your partner encourage each other to practice some self-care. Go get a massage, spend the morning reading a good book, or go for a walk. Self-care can be done together or separately, but either way it can feel soothing and comforting on a day that may otherwise be filled with painful reminders.
Best of luck to you! I hope no matter what your current relationship situation is, that you are able to find peace, connection, and happiness this Valentine’s Day. And remember…it’s just 1 day. :0)
Sometimes in our love relationships, we have been hurt or let down so often by our partner that we begin to develop an adversarial relationship. We are always on guard to protect ourselves from further pain. Our relationship becomes us vs. them in an attempt to wall off our heart from the one who knows us best, and therefore knows how to hurt us the most. Most of the time in these situations, our partner isn’t trying to hurt us. Our partner is hurting themselves and like us, is trying to protect from further pain.
In the book Love Sense, Dr. Sue Johnson describes what happens in these relationships:
“When emotional starvation becomes the norm, and negative patterns of outraged criticism and obstinate defensiveness take over, our perspective changes. Our lover slowly begins to feel like an enemy; our most familiar friend turns into a stranger. Trust dies, and grief begins in earnest.”
She goes on to say that the “erosion of a bond begins with the absence of emotional support”. This is key. In order to keep our most important relationships strong and healthy, we have to actively work on being an emotional support for our partner. We need to be there for them, and we need them to be there for us. Emotional supportiveness creates a teammate mentality. Instead of problems turning into us vs. them scenarios, they are approached with the couple as a team, facing the enemy (or the negative cycle) together.
One roadblock in our ability to be there emotionally with our partner is our hurt and anger.
Anger is a secondary emotion. Its purpose is to act as a shield, protecting our more vulnerable (primary) emotions. If my husband doesn’t call me when he said he would, it’s easier for me to lash out at him in my attempt to make sure he knows how hurt I am. My lashing out is likely to cause him to feel defensive and respond with anger of his own (because he is also using anger as a shield to protect himself). If I take a moment to breathe, and calm myself before commenting on his missed phone call, I might say something like, “when you don’t call me when you say you will, I feel really hurt. I worry that I’m not important to you, and you mean so much to me that it hurts in my chest to think that I don’t matter to you.”
Instead of expressing my secondary emotion, anger, I’m expressing my primary emotion. Fear. Fear that I don’t matter to my partner as much as he matters to me. I’m being vulnerable and asking my partner to reassure me and be vulnerable in return.
If my partner responds to my vulnerability with criticism, it reinforces my view that he is not a safe person to turn to, and the emotional bond is further damaged. If he responds with reassurance, the emotional bond can be strengthened. “I’m so sorry I didn’t call. I got so busy with my meetings that I forgot. I know it means a lot to you that I call when I say I will, and I’m sorry I let you down. You do mean so much to me.”
Dr. Johnson describes three questions that we can ask ourselves and our partners when we are working to strengthen or repair our emotional bonds.
1. Are you Accessible? (Will you give me your attention and be emotionally open to what I am saying?)
2. Are you Responsive? (Will you accept my needs and fears and offer comfort and caring?)
3. Are you Engaged? (Will you be emotionally present and involved with me?)
Dr. Johnson combines these into one “core attachment question”. ARE you there for me?
Sit down with your partner and talk about these questions. Do you feel like your partner is accessible, responsive, and engaged? Are you accessible, responsive, and engaged with your partner? When have you been successful at answering “ARE you there for me”? When have you struggled? Think about the last struggle and look for the primary emotions under the struggle. Try being vulnerable with each other.
The stronger our emotional bond, the easier it is to deal with the frustrations that crop up in every relationship. Sometimes the damage in our relationships has gone on for so long, or is so emotionally painful that we need help in repairing it. Couple’s therapy can help break the cycle of negative interactions and allow emotional bonds to be rebuilt stronger than ever.
Are there ways to approach difficult conversations that will make it more likely that we’ll be heard? Absolutely. I talked with Scabs, host of Love Rice podcast about communication strategies and tips form my newest book The Assertiveness Guide for Women. We share some personal stories about difficult conversations we’ve had recently. In this interview I come off more like a chatty girlfriend than a “professional.” It feels like listening in on two girlfriends talking.
I recently chatted with Natasha Helfer Parker, LMFT about how the ability to develop good assertiveness skills can help with sexual satisfaction. We discussed cultural gender messages, both within Mormonism and without, that get in the way of such things as differentiation, communication skills, self-care and self-awareness. I share the 5 skills from my book The Assertiveness Guide for Women that can help shift these patterns around. We also discuss managing libido differences, increasing female arousal and pleasure, sexual education for our teens, how to get past “chastity” language and more.