couples therapy nyc

Is Your Spouse Voting for Trump?


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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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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Does Your History Matter?


What lessons did you learn from your family about emotions? Your caregivers communicated a belief about emotions, whether you realized it or not, that probably affects you today in your marriage or love relationship. How has this emotional philosophy affected you when you've experienced key moments of vulnerability in your life?

How your family and caregivers dealt with emotions can have a significant impact on how you connect with other people in your life today. Your awareness of what you're feeling, your ability to express your emotions, and how you reach out to others for connection all are influenced by your earlier experiences. At the same time, your awareness of what your partner or spouse is feeling, and how you respond to his or her needs are equally influenced by your earlier experiences.

Why Does Your Emotional History Matter So Much?

One of the strongest contributors to how you'll connect with your partner or spouse is your emotional experience, and this helps shape your ability to connect in your closest relationships, unless you're able to realize how the past may be interfering with your present situation. We all respond to situations in different ways, and one of the strongest influences on how we react is our family history. 

Why Not Just Forget About Your Past? If you work on understanding it, won't you just get stuck in it?

Why Not Just Forget About Your Past? If you work on understanding it, won't you just get stuck in it?

Exploring your family history isn't always easy. Why not just forget about the past? In reality, our brain never forgets our experiences, and when those situations haven't been put together in a way that helps us make sense of our lives, we're open to being subjected to the past overwhelming us and being imprisoned by our past instead of responding in the present with a reaction that best fits the now.

For example, when you meet someone for the first time, he or she may remind your of someone significant in your life, like a sibling, a past lover, or a past friend. These associations can have positive or negative assumptions to them that may not fit the actual person in front of you now, yet you may immediately start to treat him or her like the person your brain is associating him or her with. We can see how this could lead to some bad scenarios.

You can work to become more aware of these associations in your life, when you're having an "outsized" reaction to someone or something that doesn't seem to fit what is in front of you. Journal writing is one key way that can help you determine the difference between the past and now. Writing a description of how you are experiencing the person or the situation can often give you insight into what may be reminding you of the past situation, and even more importantly, what is different about then and now.

We use many tools at the Loving at Your Best Plan to help couples work detangle past experiences without becoming mired in or overwhelmed by the past. You can contact one of our therapists and meet with him or her to help uncover what may be holding you back from getting the love that you really need and deserve in your life.

Share Your Experiences

Have an experience when a past event shaped your response to the present? Share your experiences to help others relate to them. If you liked this article, feel free to forward it to a friend or loved one.

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What Helps You Deal With Stress?

Can you turn to your partner when you are feeling sad, anxious, or bad? Your answer matters.

Hint: He or She Probably Sleeps Next to You Each Night

When you feel safe with your partner or spouse in your marriage or love relationship, your ability to cope with challenging situations is significantly strengthened. Despite many dangers in the world, with the support of the man or woman you love, your sense of security can be solid. John Bowlby, the father of attachment theory, described how necessary it is for humans to have a connection that provides a “safe haven” and a “secure base” to explore and learn about the world. Even when facing extreme stressors and traumatic situations, having the support of your loved one helps you to weather the storms. Without that security from a loved one, you may feel isolated and alone, leaving you more vulnerable to threats in the world. Confidence in yourself can decline, and your connections with other people may be hindered.

How Do You Manage Your Feelings?

What are the patterns you’ve established to connect with the people you love most in your life? How do you manage your feelings, and how do you respond to your partner or spouse when he or she has intense emotions? Attachment theory identifies specific patterns we have that either strengthen or weaken our closest relationships, and how we experience the ups and downs in life. If you don’t have a close person to turn to in times of stress, you’re much more likely to suppress your emotions and feel isolated. As a child, if your caregiver easily got overwhelmed by his or her own emotions, most likely you’ll do the same in your adult romantic relationships. Both of these patterns leave you more vulnerable to the harms of trauma that can occur in life.

What Are Relationship Traumas?

Traumas may include physical separation, alienation and loss of key connections in your life. They may also include a singular trauma that can occur in war, or through physical or sexual abuse. Survivors of childhood sexual, physical, or severe emotional abuse are often identified as having borderline personality disorder (BPD) symptoms. The prognosis of BPD can be significantly influenced by a love relationship’s security, or lack thereof.

A safe connection in our romantic lives protects us, while an insecure connection leaves us open to the painful after-effects of trauma. Even worse, if your trauma was caused by a caregiver you counted on to help you survive in the past, your symptoms in the present may be intensified and can hinder your ability to connect in your adult romantic relationships in three key areas:

  1. Creating and growing secure connections
  2. Managing your own emotions when faced with situations associated with your trauma
  3. Responding effectively to your partner or spouse when he or she needs your support

Want to Succeed in Your Love Relationship? Key Points to Remember

  1. Connection is a motivating force that drives us to seek and maintain contact with key people in our lives. We are all emotionally dependent on key caregivers in our lives. The key question: is your dependency on your loved one secure or insecure?
  2. A secure connection with a caregiver helps you feel more confident in yourself. Rather than being enmeshed, a secure connection means being integrated—appreciating both your connection and the differences within your relationship.
  3. Contact with key caregivers helps you survive the challenges in your life. You feel strengthened to face stressors in your life when you know your partner or spouse has your back.
  4. A secure connection provides a “secure base” to explore your world and adapt to different situations. You feel confident to face risks, to learn, and continually navigate the world around you.
  5. Being available to your partner and responding when you need each other builds security. Emotional engagement with each other is vital to sustain a love relationship. Any response, even anger, feels better to your central nervous system than no response.
  6. Uncertainty in your love relationship activates your connection needs. You seek closeness to the one you love when you are threatened, and are most in need of your partner's response in those key moments. You need proximity with your partner to help you manage your emotions, especially during times of vulnerability.
  7. Distress when separated from your partner or spouse is predictable. If your partner isn’t responding to you when you need him or her, you’ll likely protest this void by getting angry, clinging to him or her, or getting depressed and withdrawing. A natural response to loosing a connection with your loved one is to get depressed.
  8. Patterns of connection in a love relationship are limited, and can be identified. When your needs for connection aren’t being met, you’ll either protest through anger or detach and withdraw from your loved one. Your built-in attachment circuit in your central nervous system gets set off when you feel a lack of connection, driving your response to aggressively reconnect, or to suppress your need and focus on tasks instead of the connection. The two patterns can easily become habits. A secure connection involves a partner calming distress when separation occurs, and then reaching out for reassuring contact when your partner returns. An anxious connection occurs when you experience extreme distress when you separate from your partner, and lash out upon his or her return. A partner’s attempts to soothe you often don’t make a difference. If you tend to withdraw when your connection needs arise, most likely you experience physiological distress but show little emotion when you separate or reunite from your partner. Instead, you focus on behaviors or activities. Both anger and withdrawing are self-maintaining patterns attempting to manage emotions. The patterns often reinforce each other.
  9. How you connect with your loved one shapes how you view yourself and close relationships. Strategies to connect show how you deal with emotions, both your own and the emotions of your partner. When you have a secure connection with your partner, you're more likely to feel worthy of his or her love and care, and to feel good about yourself. A secure connection is related to feeling secure about yourself: you believe significant others will respond to you when you need them, and you feel that your partner is dependable and trustworthy. This model of connection becomes a healthy schema, a core belief you have that biases how you see yourself, relationships, and the world.
  10. When you feel isolated and experience loss of a connection, your attachment circuit experiences trauma. We know why deprivation, loss, rejection, and abandonment by your partner have such intense effects on you. This loss impacts every area of your life, and makes dealing with overall stress in your life more difficult. If you’re in a relationship with a partner you feel you can’t count on, you probably use words to describe your relationship that are framed in life or death terms.
  • If you’re a survivor of past violations of connection from key caregivers in your life, you most likely have even more intense fears involving symptoms of depression and hyper-vigilance with separations. For instance, with a history of childhood sexual abuse, trusting your adult partner to be a source of safety and comfort can feel impossible, and how you react when your attachment circuit gets activated to your partner may actually make it less likely that you’ll get a response that you need to feel better.

In a Marriage or Love Relationship, Patterns Can Change

Patterns of connection are not set in stone—they can be flexible and change when repeatedly  exposed to responses that are healing. A survivor of trauma from the past may have a hard time reaching out for a partner’s help during a flashback, but when his or her partner manages to respond with care, new ways of engaging can emerge in the relationship. This is not an easy experience, and requires managing intense emotions, but it is possible, and most importantly, can lead to dramatic changes.

How you reach for each other, and how you respond to each other are skills--they can change, with practice.

How you reach for each other, and how you respond to each other are skills--they can change, with practice.

How you relate to each other in your marriage or love relationship is not pathological, but stems from adaptive strategies to get your needs met. For instance, numbing yourself to minimize your needs for connection can help if you’re faced with a volatile and abusive partner, protecting you from the pain of rejection. This numbing strategy can help maintain the proximity of a less-than responsive caregiver. Over time, when these patterns become rigid and constricting, they pull for strong responses from your partner that reinforce your initial fears that you can't count on him or her for emotional support. Conversely, when a partner responds in a way that doesn’t fit your negative expectation, your brain has a hard time making sense of his or her positive responses, and often doesn't trust them. Repeated exposure to positive responses is necessary for the brain to change the expectation of your partner's response.

Marriage and Couples Counseling in NYC: It's How You Love That Counts

In your marriage or love relationship in NYC, if you've been stuck in negative patterns that don't get better, have you found ways to break through these impasses? The Loving at Your Best Plan offers top-rated methods to help break through even the most challenging couples dynamics. Combining schema therapy with emotionally focused couple therapy, Gottman Method Couple Therapy, and Mindsight provides couples hope to not only live happier together, but to heal individual wounds and injuries that may have been with you throughout your life.

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References: Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy with Trauma Survivors: Strengthening Attachment Bonds by Susan M. Johnson; Schema Therapy: A Practitioner's Guide by Jeffrey E. Young, Janet S. Klosko and Marjorie E. Weishar