As the years pass in my Couples Practice, in my own marriage and in seeing what everyone else experiences in theirs, it becomes ever more clear that certain problems are built in to relationships no matter how evolved we try be.
Even when there is love and good intentions on both sides, things do not continuously run smoothly. Since these disconnected times are unavoidable, it seems that the best we can do when we're in a relationship that we want to last for the long haul, is to agree together that when we're going through these difficult periods, we will follow certain rules, and that these rules will be sacrosanct.
The obvious first rule is the absolute prohibition against physical aggression. We also must agree that we will not walk out of the house and disappear for periods of time, that we will not act out in front of friends or family, and especially if there are kids there, that we will keep our business between us.
This means that there will be periods of time when we both have to do the unbelievably hard work of containing our emotions and perhaps, even, go through the motions until we both calm down and have a chance to talk in a constructive way.
We can review John Gottman's four predictors of divorce in his book "The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work."
Research shows this is what doesn't work:
- Starting discussions in a harsh angry way
- Using criticism, blame or contempt when communicating issues
- Flooding our partner with our anger and
- Ignoring the physical stress that is building up by just keeping on keeping on.
But, the good news is that there are tools that do work and we can all learn them! More to come.
Dr. Joan Emerson is a licensed psychologist with a specialty is couples counseling. Her office is in Park Slope, Brooklyn. She is trained in Imago Therapy which teaches the kind of communication skills that helps couples understand each other and rebuild the connection they desire. For more information from Dr. Emerson, go to her website, here: http://www.joanemerson.com/
She also has a blog, here: http://parkslopecouples.blogspot.com/.