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Surviving Turbulent Times in a Marriage

Knowing how to grieve together can strengthen and deepen your love connection.

Knowing how to grieve together can strengthen and deepen your love connection.

We all want life to give us certainty, and all desire a sense of permanence. At the same time, there are moments when we are faced with the reality that life is uncertain, and volatile. Even with the latest advances in medicine, and our eternal struggle for immortality, we still face a reality that at some point, we will lose loved ones around us, and eventually, we will die. How we navigate our longings and desires in a world where we are forced to face certain realities is an area that can challenge our well-being, and the connection in a marriage or love relationship.

In moments of uncertainty, volatility, or loss, we reach for other people that we trust to respond in ways that help us through life’s storms. Is our partner or spouse emotionally available for us in a way that helps us feel safe to reach out when we are vulnerable? Does he or she provide soothing responses that help us feel connected, rather than isolated?

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Loss

brings up the most intense needs

For couples, it is precisely these moments of need that can shape and define the path of a love relationship. We need our partner or spouse when the vulnerability hits us. Some people may not realize how much it matters to continue giving soothing responses long after the vulnerability or loss has struck.

For instance, the sudden death of a parent can bring overwhelming feelings of loss and grief to one partner. The intense need for understanding and comfort from the partner or spouse may never be higher. As we are forced to face loss, many people experience grief in waves that may continue for years after the event.

A challenge in a marriage or love relationship is to embrace each other in those moments of vulnerability, even when it may seem that the loss should already be healed. Grief can be complicated, and a loving and caring partner or spouse shows compassion toward his or her mate through the long haul.

Ask yourself: can you count on your partner or spouse to be emotionally available for you during times of vulnerability, uncertainty, or loss? Can you imagine feeling safe and comfortable enough to reach out to him or her and ask for what you need in those moments? Have there been times in your marriage or love relationship when you’ve experienced intense vulnerability, and your partner or spouse let you down?

In our love relationships, we need to know that we can count on our primary connection to consistently respond in ways that help us feel better. This is not a state of perfection, but being able to predict that most of the time you'll get what you need forms the basis of a satisfying and long-lasting marriage or love relationship.

The good news is that inviting and receiving positive responses is not the result of something we are “born with.” We can learn a set of skills that help us thrive in our love relationships. With secure connections, we can plan for our future, reflect on the nature of our lives, and search for deeper meanings together. We find comfort in our connection with the person we love most, sharing our vulnerabilities together, while receiving empathic responses that lessen the dread and isolation of life's uncertainties.

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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Does Your History Matter?

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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