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The Loving at Your Best Plan is an exclusive marriage & couples counseling and therapy in NYC integrating the most effective models to help couples thrive. At the core, our therapists integrate Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral and Schema Therapy, Gottman Method Couples Therapy, Interpersonal Neurobiology, the latest developments in happiness research, and the science of how to make changes last. 

The Loving at Your Best Plan: It's How You Love that Counts.

Is Your Spouse Voting for Trump?

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Can the election lead to divorce or separation? Do partners or spouses need to both be Democrat, Republican, or Independent for a marriage to survive? Marriage and relationship research tells us that while partners who belong to the same affiliation are more likely to match, once they are in a relationship, political differences themselves don’t have to derail a marriage.

A love relationship breaks down over many factors, but they are quantifiable and predictable. When a couple enters a relationship, often the chemistry that attracts them can paint the partner in the most positive light, and blind them to negative aspects. For instance, one partner’s “lack of expression” in the beginning of the relationship is experienced as calming. As the relationship continues, the spell can turn to a surprising awakening that the partner is “cold” and dismissive.

The dynamic in the relationship shifts from romantic notions of connection to feelings of loneliness. The couple is headed toward a negative sentiment override, John Gottman’s term for a couple seeing more negative than positive aspects in their partner. With this shift, suddenly the support for Clinton or Trump from one partner becomes an elephant in the room, yet another reason the other partner is viewed as “selfish” or “too sensitive.”

When a couple enters negative sentiment override, the choice of a political candidate isn’t the real issue that is harming the marriage. A couple needs an effective intervention to help them regain mostly positive feelings toward each other. A healthy dynamic includes a couple being able to discuss and honor the similarities and differences of each other. This does not mean necessarily agreeing with your spouse, but you can see where he or she is coming from, and understand why he or she believes what he or she does.

Whatever the outcome of the elections next Tuesday, a marriage does not have to be threatened by differences. Can you understand your partner, and appreciate his or her perspective? Perhaps creating a “we” in a relationship means appreciating and making space for two “I’s.”

Does political party disrupt your marriage or love relationship? Share your experience, and join the conversation.

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What Are Your Relationship Deal Breakers?

Did your man or woman pass your love test?

Did your man or woman pass your love test?

When you met your partner or spouse, did he or she pass your "deal breakers" test? If you are like many couples, the chemistry that drew you to your partner may have been nature's way of cementing the bond between you, and many of the items on your "deal breakers" list may have been tossed to the side. Perhaps the next question may be, how much do "deal breakers" matter down the road, and if the person you fell in love with passed your test without any deal breakers on your list appearing, are you more likely to stay together over the long haul, happily?

Elizabeth Bernstein writes in the November 2, 2015 Wall Street Journal that partners in love relationships focus more on the negative qualities of a partner than positive attributes when considering a deepening of commitment. The potential for risk can outweigh the potential for rewards. Studies published in October of this year show that women have more deal breakers than men, perhaps related to evolutionary factors influencing the survival of raising a child. Participants in the study with higher self-esteems were much more choosy than those with lower self-esteems, having more items on their deal breaker list.

Both men and women in the studies scored a potential mate being "unclean" as a deal breaker, followed by "lazy" and "too needy." Women ranked a partner not having a "sense of humor" as a breaker, perhaps because humor is associated with higher intelligence (men did not score this as a high factor). For men, "low sex drive" and "talking too much" were higher deal breakers (women rated "bad sex" as a breaker). For a long-term mate, the top deal breakers were "anger issues," "dating multiple partners," and "untrustworthy." Shorter-term relationship deal breakers topped off with "health issues--like STDs," "smells bad," and "poor hygiene."

Were you too picky? Or not picky enough?

Were you too picky? Or not picky enough?

Was your list overly picky, or not picky enough? The studies show patterns in mate selection, but may have a more difficult time reading in-between the lines to explain the patterns. My observations as a marriage and couples therapist in New York using the Loving at Your Best plan are that partners usually have high sexual chemistry when they meet, and emotional chemistry builds over time. Initial deal breakers that stop the possibility of a relationship from forming are usually apparent from the start: desire for children, religious or political affiliations, smoking habits, financial and social status, and pet preferences, to name a few filters.

However, the factors that matters the most related to long-term happiness in a marriage or love relationship doesn't include any of the qualities mentioned so far on the "deal breaker" list. The key element for a couple's happiness boils down to two words: emotional responsiveness. This may seem simple, but a lot goes into whether a mate can turn to his or her partner and share even the most vulnerable parts of him or herself, and trust that his or her partner will respond in a way that can help him or her feel better. I have seen many couples where one partner started couples therapy determined not to have a child. After some hard work in the relationship, the couple is able to frame the real block as a matter of trust: can I trust you to still be there for me, that I won't get lost in your eyes if we bring a child into this world together? Usually key relationship experiences in this person's background give them every reason to be wary of having children, and once those reasons are understood and validated, an opening can occur to help the couple identify what is needed to take a leap together.

What are key questions we ask in love relationships?

What are key questions we ask in love relationships?

Reading between the lines of the long-term relationship deal breakers, they all involve key questions we all ask in love relationships: can I count on you to be there for me when I really need you? Can I trust that I am in your mind, that you would not purposefully hurt me? The top deal breaker in the studies of "anger issues" usually is related to how a partner manages his or her emotions in the love relationship, and how the other partner responds to him or her. What some on the outside see as purely an "anger management" issue usually reflects more on a disconnection occurring between the partners that leads to protests in the form of anger: what does it take to get through to him or her? This is a breakdown in the couple's connection. "Dating multiple partners" and "untrustworthiness" are probably related to the same issue of mistrust. A lot of factors influence infidelity, though for most caught in its painful web, a couple has experienced a series of disappointments or even emotional betrayals, and a partner chooses to cope with the hurt by seeking validation or support outside the primary relationship. Certainly there are times when this is not the case, such as a partner who comes into the relationship with a sexual addiction, or a person who is challenged by limits and feels entitled to act however he or she chooses to, though these are the rare cases that I have seen.

What initially drew you to your partner can develop into an allergic reaction

What initially drew you to your partner can develop into an allergic reaction

Couples also often identify that the qualities that initially drew them to their mate can become the things that drive wedges between the two in a marriage or love relationship. For instance, Jan claims that Chris's calm demeanor was very attractive, instilling a sense of safety that felt like a reprieve from Jan's childhood growing up with an alcoholic parent. However, as time and experiences showed, this "calmness' that Chris showed became a way to dismiss emotions, and brought out anger and resentment in Jan. The root problem was how the couple connected, not an inherent flaw in Chris. Fortunately, the couple was able to identify the problem, and make strides so that Jan could feel that Chris was safe to go to when feeling vulnerable, and Chris could feel confident to know how to respond in a way that helped Jan feel better. 

The studies also show the notion of a couple magically being sexually connected. We have all seen this in Hollywood movies, and plenty of couples have not recovered from sexual challenges that involve deep emotional themes. Satisfying sex in a marriage or love relationship over time requires the safety to communicate wants, needs, desires, and fears. When the safety is lacking, one or both partners start to withdraw, avoiding sex and intimacy, or becomes overly demanding, which ends up pushing the other partner away. Sex and intimacy that is satisfying and fulfilling in a love relationship requires a safe connection between both partners.

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Are you in an unpredictable marriage?

Can you count on your partner?

Can you count on your partner?

The cost of being in a marriage or love relationship when you do not know whether you can count on your partner or spouse may surprise you. Tara Parker-Pope writes in the October 26, 2015 issue of the New York Times about new research from Brigham Young University showing that relationships where one or both partners can’t count on his or her spouse for love and support affect that partner’s health negatively (NYTimes). This is not a surprising finding in my twenty years of experience working with couples as a marriage therapist in New York City. The body can easily be flooded with adrenaline during a conflict, especially when high levels of anxiety are present. When partners are distressed, anxiety can take over every element of the dynamic. Research shows that after two minutes of adrenaline being pumped into the nervous system, cortisol is released, a damaging hormone that lowers the immune system. Distressed partners have a lot of cortisol releases, and a lowered immune system takes a toll on overall physical health.

Some key findings from marriage and couples researchers include:

  • Harsh startups almost never end well: 96 percent of the time the outcome of a conversation can be predicted by the first three minutes of a 15 minute conversation
  • When all four ingredients of criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling are present in a relationship, the chances of the marriage or love relationship ending increase to 94%, unless there is an active intervention to change the dynamic
  • Criticism boils down to: what is wrong with you?
  • Defensiveness sends a message to a partner that “the problem isn’t me, it’s you”
  • Contempt is feeling disgust toward a partner or spouse: it is the result of a repeated pattern of negativity in a relationship. The recipient of contempt in a relationship is physically ill 33% more than a partner in a healthy relationship
  • Stonewalling involves tuning a partner out, emotionally. The partner often sees this pattern as a way to stave off the worst affects of a conflict, without realizing how stonewalling escalates most fights—until both partners enter this stage, usually when a relationship is hanging by a thread)

A Happy Heart: Calming Effects

Additional research backs up the findings from the Brigham Young University study, including observations of couples having a conflict showing that marital fights lacking warmth or including a controlling tone were as predictive as smoking or high cholesterol for poor heart health. A University of Virgina study by James A. Coan showed that couples in satisfying relationships had a calming effect on the brain similar to pain-relieving drugs, while couples in distressed relationships did not show the same calming benefit. In some ways, being sometimes supportive and sometimes not is more difficult for our brains to accept than knowing the response won’t happen.

Problems in a Marriage Can Become Intractable

Get help before the problem becomes intractable

Get help before the problem becomes intractable

As the lead researcher in the University of Virgina study, James Coan, suggested, even couples in distressed relationships could seek counseling before the problems in the relationship became intractable. This is echoed by John Gottman’s findings, warning that the average couple enters marriage or couples therapy after a disconnection has become nearly insurmountable. Yet, dramatic change in love relationships can happen, and often relatively quickly, when both partners are motivated to make their relationship better. As long as one or both partners have not “checked out” of the relationship, couples can shift from distress to happiness in a relatively short time period.

A Clear Path to Positive Predictability in a Marriage

From my experiences with couples seeking marital therapy, they have gotten stuck in patterns that are all too familiar in their life histories, and just need to first understand how they got into the pain, and find a way out through experiencing each other differently, repeatedly. This is the dynamic couples focus on in therapy: understanding negative patterns, and creating new ways of connecting that can be healing and securing. Although painful at times, the reward of couples therapy can far outweigh the discomfort when often years of hurtful experiences get supplanted by positive responses in a marriage or love relationship--changes that help both partners feel the other is predictable in a positive way.

Are you in an ambivalent relationship? Take the online quiz: AMBIVALENT?

Sources: the New York Times, October 26, 2015, and The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman (Harmony, 2015).

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What Happy Couples Know

Happy couples know the details of each other's lives

Happy couples know the details of each other's lives

Do you know the intimate details of your partner's life? Do you know what he or she likes and dislikes, and what makes him or her happy and sad? What are his or her favorite movies, music, television programs, books, and activities? What about his or her work life: do you know about his or her coworkers and the name of his or her boss? If you know the answers to these questions accurately, you have made space for your partner in your life, and your marriage or love relationship is most likely in a good place.

The small things in your daily life are where you will notice your partner. For instance, when you're at a restaurant and the waiter asks what your partner wants, you have a good chance of being able to answer his or her top choices on the menu. You're more likely to record his or her favorite program on the DVR because you know he or she would enjoy watching it together. You have a connection when you know each other's goals in life, what you're both afraid of, and what you're both striving to achieve.

If you don't know the answers to these questions, what state is your marriage or love relationship in? Most likely, you're feeling distant from each other. Your love may not be as strong as it once was. Perhaps an injury has occurred that stopped you from making the effort to update your partner's likes and dislikes. Maybe you tried to be there for your partner, but suddenly realized that he or she wasn't there for you.

Do you have "Date Night" with your partner or spouse every week?

Do you have "Date Night" with your partner or spouse every week?

Knowing the intimate details about each other's lives is a sign of a strong, healthy bond in a marriage or love relationship, and it helps you cope much more effectively with the predictable and unpredictable stressors in life that we all face. But the couples who are healthy and happy together weren't born with a supernatural gift for being in relationships. Most likely, the purposely are doing things that unhealthy couples either stop doing, or never got into a habit of doing from the beginning. 

Healthy couples make it a habit to talk about their deepest hopes, desires, and fears. Regardless of how busy they are in their lives, they take the time to make each other a priority. At least once a week, they go out for "date night," and instead of sitting at a restaurant across from each other in silence, they're engaging with each other and sharing each other's lives together. The more you know and understand about your partner or spouse, the more likely your marriage or love relationship will stay on track and will grow even stronger. It isn't enough just to know each other. You need to use what you know about your partner or spouse to help build your love for each other to help make each other's dreams become realities.

Share Your Experiences

Do you have a pattern as a couple that helps you stay close and up-to-date on each other's lives? Do you sometimes feel lonely, like your partner doesn't really care about what is happening in your day-to-day life? Share what works and what is hard in your relationship. If you found this message helpful, share it with a friend or family member by clicking the share button below.

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Have You Fallen Madly In Love?

Doesn't everyone want to fall madly in love?

Do you try intensely to keep intimate, meaningful, and deep connections with a partner or spouse in your love relationships? Falling madly in love is part of a fantasy many people have to find their true "soul mate." If you relate to this drive, you probably do all that you can to keep the other person in your life, and to feel as close as possible to him or her. Most likely, if you focus strongly on having a deep connection with your mate, you also are relatively good at reading other people's emotions and empathizing with their plights.

While some people may enjoy going out on a date with a partner along with a group of friends, if you focus on connection, you probably would rather have deeper experiences that inspire more intimate conversations to get to know your date. Your focus is more likely to build a deeper bond with the man or woman you desire.

Trying to get to know another person intimately also involves risk. You may open yourself up to being vulnerable faster than other people, and then get hurt if your attempts to reach out are not responded to. Helping build a stronger buffer for hurt and rejection can help you to continue along your path of finding your true love, and help keep your relationship strong. 

The Negotiator Trait in a Love Relationship: Who Matches Best?

In her book "Why Him? Why Her?" Helen Fisher, a key creator of chemistry.com, calls this type of personality style a "negotiator," meaning a partner who seeks a long-term commitment and marriage more than most other personality types. Feelings are held supreme, along with a person's thoughts and motives. Of the four personality types Fisher describes, negotiators are the most romantic, and fall in love much more than the other three personality types she describes. A romantic evening and weekend may be at the top of your list of plans, along with expressing love verbally and physically. 

Are some personality types better suited in marriages and love relationships than others?

Are some personality types better suited in marriages and love relationships than others?

Sex is a key part of strengthening the bond of a relationship, and for people who most fit this style, casual sex most likely feels empty and meaningless. Fantasy can easily take over, however, and reality may not quiet meet the expecations of your dream. For you, sex is most likely a point of discussion, since a good sex life is linked to a healthy, loving relationship. 

If you identify with this personality trait, you place a priority on connecting with your partner, but this isn't necessarily expressed through clingy behavior or becoming demanding. Instead, if you aren't getting your needs met, you most likely start to feel like you're carrying a weight on your shoulders, and feel that you need to break free of what may start to feel less like a soulmate and more like a source of deprivation. Nothing less than unconditional love is expected, and loneliness with a partner or spoues who doesn't know how to love can amplify your unhappiness. A drawback of this personality trait may be that you stay far too long with a partner or spouse who is not a good match for you.

Are You and Your Partner or Spouse a Good Match?

How do you know if your partner or spouse is a good match? Helen Fisher describes four personality traits, but she is not a marriage or couples therapist, and does not offer remedies for partners who have different traits to make a relationship work successfully.  Fisher claims that negotiators are not usually strongly attracted to other negotiators. If they are, both partners may share many traits that work smoothly together, and may also experience challenging matches, not being able to make up their minds when a decision is necessary, or giving each other little space to develop individually. 

Do You Relate to this Personality Type in Your Marriage or Love Relationship? 

Is this a series of traits that you relate to? If so, have you found it easier or more difficult to relate to certain types of partners? A key philosophy at the Loving at Your Best Plan is that personality traits do not have to determine the success of a marriage or love relationship. Even people with extremely similar interests, values, and styles can have a terrible relationship, and mates with almost nothing in common who share the most important thing in common, each other, can have fantastically happy marriages and love relationships. 

Reference: "Why Him? Why Her?" by Helen Fisher, Henry Hold and Company, 2009. 

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