sue johnson

Is a Ghost from the Past Haunting Your Marriage or Love Relationship?

Ghosts from the past can be unwelcome intruders in your marriage or love relationship

Ghosts from the past can be unwelcome intruders in your marriage or love relationship

Are you or your partner or spouse experiencing symptoms in your marriage or love relationship that could be related to a history of trauma? A common dialogue between a couple where one partner has a history of trauma might go like this:

Chris: Don't you dare come up from behind me and grab me like that again! I can't stand that, and you did it anyway.

Pat: What? Are you serious? I just came up and gave you a love squeeze. Why are you freaking out so much? You're impossible. I don't want to be with someone who is so cold and frigid. Ice queen... that is who you are.

Trauma is like a ghost from the past, an unwelcome intruder that many times can be strongly affecting a relationship without either partner seeing it. With a keen awareness, you'll notice these ghots come up through specific symptoms that may include a partner or spouse re-living the past trauma without knowing the partner is going through a trance into the past, numbing and detaching after being exposed to the thing that reminds him or her of the trauma, avoiding situations that are somehow linked to the trauma (a common source of sexual problems in a marriage or love relationship), being hypervigilant around the cue of the trauma, and experiencing irritability when something is connecting with the trauma.

When a trauma survivor is able to turn to his or her partner or spouse and ask to be held and comforted during a flashback, rather that to detach or hurt himself or herself, a new trust and sense of hope can emerge for the survivor.

Traumas involving key caregivers are "violations of human connection" (Herman, 1992). More than anyone else, your partner or spouse has the ability to help you heal from past relationship traumas. A partner or spouse can have the most effective healing power over past traumas for the person who has experienced past relationship betrayals and abuse. Partners or spouses can become healers.

If you are in a safe and secure marriage or love relationship, your immune system is more likely to be functioning well, and your ability to cope during stressful life events is significantly increased. In a distressed marriage or love relationship, both partners in the couple likely experience more depression and anxiety symptoms. The sense of community usually decreases in a distressed relationship, so your body needs the help of your partner or spouse even more.

In a secure connection, you are able to face your fears and maintain a strength that helps you cope, regardless of the stress. If you feel isolated and alienated from the larger world, you are much more vulnerable to outside dangers.

When you or your partner or spouse have been subjected to physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, your health may be impacted in each of those areas. Re-experiencing physical sensations can be effectively treated through exposure therapy, known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Relationship symptoms do not respond in the same way to CBT, but are much more likely to respond to relationship therapy when a partner or spouse can serve as a source of comfort and safety. It is a partner or spouse that lies next to the survivor of trauma in the middle of the night, a time when anxiety is often peaking, as memories are being processed in the mind. If a partner or spouse doesn't know how to respond in key moments when threat is perceived, he or she may become part of the problem instead of offering key elements of healing.

At the Loving at Your Best Plan, the therapist works to address the symptoms of the trauma, and much more. A focus is to help create a safe and secure emotional bond between the couple in the marriage or love relationship, a connection that promotes safety and calms danger and threat. A history of trauma intensifies the need for a safe connection, and trust is the basis for a secure relationship.

Relationships where one or both partners have trauma in their histories are more likely to have intense negative patterns of interacting with each other, and without an effective intervention, these patterns can kill the relationship. Therapists at the Loving at Your Best Plan integrate top-rated interventions for couples with difficult and challenging histories, especially trauma. These therapies include schema therapy, emotionally focused therapy, Interpersonal Neurobiology, and Gottman Method Couples Therapy.

Do you or the person that you love have a history that includes trauma on an emotional, physical, or sexual level? If so, have you found ways to effectively navigate the symptoms in your marriage or love relationship in NYC? Share your thoughts.

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Source: Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy with Trauma Survivors: Strengthening Attachment Bonds by Sue Johnson, PhD.

 

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

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

How Can You Make Your Marriage or Love Last?

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What Does a Lasting Love Look Like? When your marriage or love relationship is in a secure place, you’re able to pause and observe what is happening when you and your partner or spouse are getting stuck, regulating your emotions, and then reflecting on what the conflict between the two of you means for both of you. Once you understand and make sense of the meaning for yourself and your spouse or partner, you can then ask for what you need, and be open to responding to what your partner or spouse needs.

What Does a Distressed Marriage or Couple Look Like? If your marriage or love relationship is distressed, you most likely will have difficulty managing your emotions, understanding the meaning for both of you behind conflicts, and responding effectively with what you both need. In a distressed marriage or love relationship, you’ll likely get stuck in the typical negative patterns of the “Demon Dialogues” described in "Hold Me Tight" by Sue Johnson, the creator of Emotionally Focused Therapy:

  • Attack/Defend
  • Attack/Attack
  • Withdraw/Withdraw

The negative patterns you get stuck in are most likely reactions to the “raw spots” or sensitivities that all of us have in our marriages or love relationships. These sensitivities filter through what is happening in the moment between you and your partner or spouse, using the lens of associations from your past experiences.

What are these Core sensitivities?

 

  • Abandonment
  • Emotional Deprivation
  • Mistrust
  • Defectiveness

When your love relationship or marriage is emotionally secure, you and your partner or spouse may hit areas of sensitivity at times while managing them in a way that can actually be healing. For instance, if you’ve experienced instability in your key relationships, your partner or spouse can work on staying emotionally present with you when your fears arise, helping you to soothe the sense of danger your mind expects from unreliable relationships. As you work to soften your reactions to your partner or spouse, he or she responds in ways that help you know you can rely on him or her, even without being perfect. The expectation in your mind that important people aren't reliable or won't be there for you shifts to knowing from experiencing that your partner or spouse is there for you.

What Can You Do To Improve Your Marriage or Love Relationship? 

  1. Identify the negative pattern that takes over your marriage or love relationship when you feel disconnected or alone
  2. Define the sensitivities you and your partner or spouse have underneath the intense emotions or numbing out that occur
  3. Invite your partner or spouse to "take the elevator down" with you into your deeper emotions (fear, sadness, shame), and help him or her understand your vulnerable side
  4. Identify what you need, based on your emotional state. Ask your partner clearly and directly for your need to be met, most importantly, in an inviting way
  5. Understand your partner or spouse and his or her vulnerabilities, along with the meaning behind what upsets him or her. Invite your partner or spouse to tell you directly what he or she needs

 

Share Your Experience in Your Marriage or Love Relationship

Have you had times when you've realized you've been caught in a negative pattern with your partner or spouse? Do you know what lied underneath the conflict for you and for him or her? Have you found a way to successfully navigate conflicts in your marriage or love relationship? Share your experiences, and help others learn more. 

Need a Marriage or Couples Counselor or Therapist in NYC?

The Loving at Your Best plan for marriage and couples counseling and therapy in NYC helps couples learn to reconnect and to thrive. Even if your relationship has been stuck in a very negative place for a long time, there can still be significant hope that you and your spouse or partner can get your relationship back. If you'd like more information, contact our office today at 212-725-7774, or schedule an appointment directly online: www.LovingatYourBest.Genbo ok.com

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How Your Brain Protects You and Can Hurt You in Your Marriage or Love Relationship

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In your marriage or love relationship, your mind wants to protect you from the possibility of abandonment, hurt, or betrayal that you may have experienced from a prior significant relationship. However, your brain is much more likely to keep you alive if it overestimates the links or associations between what is going on in your present life and your past, even as a child. If your brain underestimates the connections with past injuries, you could die. One problem with this advanced survival machine called the brain is that overestimations can often backfire in your current marriage or love relationship, and your partner or spouse may be the unfortunate recipient of past sensitivities that either are not relevant or only minimally connected to the present with your partner or spouse.

All of us have memories that we are not literally aware of, but that our brain does not forget. A part of our brain always remembers events: the hippocampus, a memory center in your right, emotional hemisphere where early memories are formed and associations are stored that you are not aware of. The other part of your brain where memory is stored connected with danger or threats is called the amygdala, located in your right hemisphere, and the emotional source of fear that ties in with your upper-intenstinal area (what many call “butterflies in your stomach”). Memory that is stored in your amygdala includes experiences you are aware of: when I was 4, I touched the stove and burnt myself, so I don’t want to touch a hot stove again.

How Your Brain Affects Your Marriage or Love Relationship

Your brain is an anticipation machine, constantly anticipating what is happening in your current marriage or love relationship based on your past relationships. However, these past associations may not apply to your current relationship, and this could get you into trouble without you even necessarily knowing why. 

Neurons that fire together wire together: new experiences can replace the old beliefs

 

The closer your emotional connection with your partner or spouse, the more likely you are to express openly your sensitivities and vulnerabilities that you are aware of from your past, which dramatically helps your partner or spouse manage your sensitivities and respond with antidotes to your past hurts or betrayals. Every time your partner or spouse gives you the response that you need, your brain learns a new pattern, and neuronal firing occurs in your mind that eventually creates a new neuronal cluster or schema that shapes how you perceive yourself, relationships, and the world. Schemas are highlighted by the creator of schema therapy, Jeffrey Young, in Reinventing Your Life. Every time you reach out and invite your partner or spouse to understand, soothe, comfort, reassure, and validate you, your mind connects these experiences and creates associations that lead to expectations for safety and security in your marriage or love relationship. 

How to Truly Live in the Present

Research clearly demonstrates that your early experiences are not nearly as important in shaping your life as how you’ve reflected and “made sense of” those experiences, how you understand your story, so that you’re choosing to put yourself in situations that reinforce healthy beliefs or schemas in your current life. For instance, instead of staying with a partner who is likely to abandon you because he or she is still married and living with his or her spouse, you commit to a partner who is available, able to commit, and lives in proximity to you, even though he or she isn’t perfect (an antidote to the abandonment schema).

If you and your partner or spouse do not have safety and security in your marriage or relationship, you’re much more likely to get stuck in a negative pattern that includes frustration and anger or detachment and withdrawal. The patterns involve negative coping strategies that were once adaptive when you were hurt long ago. However, the same strategies that were so effective can backfire, and reinforce the likelihood that you’ll receive the responses you’re most afraid of from your partner or spouse. These coping strategies are referred to as the “Demon Dialogues” in Hold Me Tight, by Sue Johnson, the creator of Emotionally Focused Therapy, in “Conversation 1.” The negative patterns usually create stronger neuron clusters in the mind that reinforce your worst schemas about yourself, relationships, and the world.

Share Your Experiences

Have you noticed a time when you became emotionally upset in your marriage or love relationship, but didn't know why your reaction was so strong? re there times when you feel your partner or spouse is having an intense reaction that doesn't seem to fit the situation he or she is in? Share your experiences and help our community learn from each other. If you find this marriage & couples counseling and therapy in NYC blog helpful, please share it with your partner or spouse, and your friends and family.

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