One Step Closer Towards Emotional Intimacy!
In all relationships there will be conflict; as a couple’s therapist my main purpose is to teach couples how to manage their conflicts. There are some sure fire ways to flare up and exacerbate conflicts into negative cycles and aggression. If couples learn how to communicate and manage ineffective and explosive conflicts they will report a deeper sense of satisfaction in their relationships, more frequent and emotionally gratifying sex, higher and deeper feelings of emotional security and safety. Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Gottman has done extensive research on what deteriorates relationships by observing couple’s patterns of communication, Drs. Gottman has translated their observations into healthy communication approaches to help restore trust and peace back into relationships. Drs. Gottman has reported 6 things that predicts divorce:
1. Harsh Startup
2. The Four Horsemen (Defensiveness, Criticism, Contempt, Stone-walling)
4. Body Language
5. Failed Repair Attempts
6. Bad Memories
We will focus here on One step to begin to practice in your relationship to improve your emotional intimacy.
Step One: Practice Self Awareness
Couple’s usually neglect a check in with themselves before embarking on difficult conversations or during a difficult conversation with their partners. Couples usually push through difficult conversations in order to reach a ‘resolution’ What the research indicates, however, is that when our bodies are in a state of fight or flight (triggered by stressful situations) we usually have very little access to higher executive functions of our brain which helps us think logically, problem solve and conceptualize various sides of an argument. It stands to reason then that while we are activated in a conversation with our partners the pattern of pushing through is unproductive and may in fact cause more damage to the situation. I recommend that couples do a body and emotional check in with themselves before and during a discussion with their partners. Common questions to ask yourself are:
How is my body feeling (where in my body do I feel Stress?) Take a moment to feel around for it.
What is it that my body needs? (Do I need to eat ? Do I need a nap?)
What is my emotions right now? Am I angry? Am I feeling emotionally flooded? Am I anxious?
Is this the right time to have this conversation with my partner?
Can I continue this conversation with my partner in a healthy way?
Is my own emotions getting in the way of me really hearing and understanding my partner here?
Do I need to step away from this conversation for now?
If after doing this check in with yourself you identify difficult emotions or feelings of anxiety or stress then it is not the right time to engage in difficult and layered conversations. Couples often also try to have difficult conversations before bed or after work; this may not be such a good idea given that when we are tired or hungry we usually have lower frustration tolerances and are more likely to become agitated quicker in a conversation. It is a good idea to practice signaling conversation with your partner to indicate that you are interested in what your partner has to say and in trying to solve the issue at hand but may be unable to give them the attention and care they deserve. Some loving and non confrontational ways to communicate this to your partner are:
I would love to talk about this but I am afraid right now I am feeling (insert feeling) and I fear that this conversation will explode on us if I attempt to engage with you on this issue right now, can I have some time to take care of my emotions and come back to this conversation when I am less (insert feeling)?
I hear that this is important to you and I want to hear you on this, can we talk about something lighter for awhile until I can get myself in a more loving place to be able to truly understand you?
I love that you are so interested in us and talking about this issue to get us back on track that makes me feel really cared for! I’ve checked in with myself and I think I need to (insert self care, i.e.; take a nap) before I can truly be on the same page with you.
These are merely guidelines and may not be this language. I encourage couples to make the language their own. What’s important is that there is a 1) Validation of your partners needs and efforts 2) Letting your partner know what’s going on for you 3) Making a positive request.
Working on your relationship is a process and never truly ends. Dr. Gottman has coined the term: Master couples and Disaster Couples. Master couples simply continue to work on their communication and reduce the cycle of negativity in their relationship. Have fun with the process use positive non sarcastic humor to get through and realize that your partner comes with their own story of love and childhood history that feeds into their experiences we all can gain healing through the creation and sustainment of a healthy relationship! Enjoy the journey!