A variety of experts such as Gottman, Johnson, and Tatkin, say one of the most common conflict cycles in relationships is the pursuer-distancer dynamic. In other words, if one partner becomes frustrated, agitated or (in extreme cases) aggressive - the other partner's reaction may be to become increasingly defensive and/or physically distant. This includes leaving the room, house, or neighbourhood.
Dr John Gottman says, “More relationships die by ice than by fire.” What does he mean? Through Gottman’s research, he found that couples who stopped talking together, who were ‘too busy’ to make time for each other, or who simply ‘got on with the everyday business of life’, ended up emotionally disconnected from each other.
What a tremendous opportunity we are presented with as we take time to rest and gather with friends and family and to make meaning of the year just past. What we believed to be important and took for granted in the beginning of the year radically changed in March. Unquestionably, 2020 was a struggle for many people, families and relationships and, through necessity, 2020 allowed us to strip back our deeply held values and priorities in life (for some it seemed to be toilet paper)! Priorities like safety, security, health, connection, time together, appreciation and gratefulness emerged as repeated themes.
Words like ‘change’, ‘unprecedented’, ‘crazy’, have been thrown around daily in our lives over the past 7 months. COVID, shut-down, quarantine, isolation have become conditions we have had to learn to live with. They have all become associated with negative feelings, fear, hopelessness, and most of us feel like we are in a constant state of survival. This is a very hard way to live and yet we are managing it. The conditions that have led to this state of affairs have changed irrevocably how we will live in the future - greater awareness on hygiene, social distancing, management of viral illness both at a macro and micro level. On top of that, we are also aware that trying to go back to our old ways leads to community relapse and results in a re-emergence of infections, loss and distress.
These same conditions can be found when we take a look at relationships that begin to struggle.
In the first session of the Gottman Bringing Baby Home Program, couples are asked the somewhat mandatory 'transition to parenthood' questions.
1. What words would you use to describe how you see the transition to parenthood?
2. What physical changes do you feel you will experience?
3. What psychological changes do you feel you will experience?
For many couples, this is the first time they will get to think about how they might answer these questions. New parents have a generalised notion about some of the changes that may occur, but they almost always involve the baby or personal changes. Very rarely do couples think about the impact of the transition to parenthood on THEM and their partnership.
Through the 45 years of continuous Gottman research, we have learned a lot about conflict and conflict management. It turns out that conflict management is not just about what and how we communicate with our partners using gentle start-ups, making repairs and accepting influence but also about what our body and brain are doing during conflict. John Gottman noticed in his research that when couples conflict escalated it was not only their words, tone, and volume that escalated it was also their heart rates and the amount of stress hormones being secreted. We call this Flooding or Diffuse Physiological Arousal. The research findings were compelling.
Marathon therapy is an intensive form of couples therapy. It can come in many forms depending on the individual therapist’s preferences and approaches. Generally speaking though marathon couples therapy is not that different from standard weekly or fortnightly couples therapy, it just all gets done in a couple of days and creates a more emotionally intense process for the couple. So how do we do it?
At Relationship Institute Australasia we have been offering marathon therapy for the last 6 years and have found a process that seems to work well for both us and for our couples. Like standard couples therapy there are still 3 phases that we take each couple through.
The ‘Baby Blues’ is the common term used to describe a new parent’s feeling of depression that can usually develop between the birth of a baby and 3 months of age. It can affect 8 in every 10 new mums and studies have shown that 1 dad in 10 can also suffer from postnatal depression.
Whilst it is generally a temporary condition, the good news is that the Baby Blues is nothing to be afraid of and is completely treatable with awareness and focus.
Being prepared for what to expect will make all the difference in getting through this time and supporting your partner to get back to normal as quickly as possible. Here is your simple list to follow with some tried and true advice for any new parent.
So here we are at the Easter / ANZAC public holidays, and like many people I speak to, it is ‘How did we get here so quickly’?
With over three months passing since Christmas and the first term of school is done, I look back over this period and remonstrate the amount of work, tasks, logistics, driving, sport events, school functions, time on planes, taxis and hotel rooms I have spent and wonder … how did we fit it all in?
Indeed, life is busy, so how do we continue at this pace and stay connected in our relationships. John Gottman quotes a study of professional couples where both are working full time, and it is found that during their week there is less than 30 minutes of conversation between the 2 of them and the majority of this conversation is on logistics e.g. who is dropping the kids off to their extracurricular activities, what to buy for dinner and so on.
This cannot be OK. I appreciate we are all busy. Nevertheless we need to make, indeed create, opportunities in our relationship to connect, to generate fondness and friendship, to update each other on how we are traveling through time and space individually and together.
So how we can we do this?
The following are three suggestions on how this can be achieved. They don’t necessarily cost money, but they do include time and the both of you.
Imagine Sally and Ron, they have been together for several years, they are walking through their local park when Sally says, “Wow, look at that beautiful flower!” Ron is now confronted with a sliding door moment. If he takes door 1 he will turn towards Sally by saying something like, “Yes, it’s very beautiful. You really love flowers don’t you.” Or he could make a more neutral response by saying simply acknowledging her with a “Mmmm.” This is called turning towards a bid for connection.
If he takes door 2 he will completely ignore Sally’s comment and just keep walking. This is called turning away from a bid for connection. Or if he takes door 3 he might say something like, “For goodness sake, how often do we have to admire a pretty flower. They’re flowers, they’re pretty, I got it!” This is called a turning against a bid for connection.
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