Does your partner drive you a bit batty by doing the same thing over and over that they must know by now that it is a pet peeve of yours? Here is a little secret about disagreements with your partner: if the same argument keeps coming up, over and over again, you may be dealing with a “perpetual issue.” Dr. Gottman’s research has shown that perpetual issues make up about 69% of conflict couples have. These are issues that relate to fundamental differences between partners, such as differences in personality or lifestyle preferences.
When you are discussing a perpetual issue, the most valuable skill is establishing an ongoing dialogue about the issue. An essential part of this dialogue is to slow down the conversation. The aim is to understand what is going on underneath the surface. Then, with this understanding, explore options to make things better for both of you.
For example, take Joe and Mary. Mary wants to be on time, but Joe has a relaxed stance on timeliness. Is Mary’s need for timeliness about a value like respect? Is there a backstory that can help flesh out what is going on? Is Joe’s underlying value about relaxing and escaping the tyranny of time? Is there a disaster scenario for them around some aspect of this? The possibilities of what could be going on for each person are endless.
When we understand what is going on, for ourselves and our partner, and we both feel heard and understood, avenues for honoring each other’s needs become possible. A deeper understanding will allow you to experiment with possible solutions. But know that you will likely need to return to dialogue when it comes up again. As always, remember to avoid the Four Horsemen (contempt, stonewalling, criticism, and defensiveness).
Let us go back to Joe and Mary. For Mary, timeliness is about keeping her word and being responsible. For her, it is about how disappointed and let down she feels when others fail to show up for her. For Joe, his relaxed stance on time is about not worrying about responsibilities all the time. His story is about how stifling it was to grow up in a house where there was no space made for hanging out and being creative. With this understanding, Joe and Mary discussed ways to manage this difference. One option they came up with is deciding which events will be prioritized for being “on time” and which events both will be “more relaxed” about. They also decided to set up activities that are not bound by a set time frame.
Once you have set up a plan, give yourselves some opportunities to try it out. Come back and talk about it again after a while to see what may need to be adjusted. Remember that this is an ongoing conversation; keep experimenting, building on what you learn along the way.
While some arguments will change over time, others will stay with you as you find ways to deal with them. Keep in mind that differences are inevitable when two people love one another. The important thing is that the positive things about your partner and your relationship can far outweigh these differences.
Highly unlikely… for starters, “sex addiction” is not mentioned in the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is used to make diagnoses in the United States. The World Health Organization also does not use the term sex addiction in its diagnostic guide (it has “compulsive sexual behavior disorder”).
How can we know if something (whether heroin, porn, sex, gambling, or alcohol use) is an addiction? According to Prof. Mark Griffiths, there are six criteria to consider: 1) Salience: does it dominate thoughts, feelings, and behavior? 2) Mood modification: is it used to shift mood? 3) Tolerance: are increasing amounts needed to achieve the same effect? 4) Withdrawal: do unpleasant feelings, or physical effects, occur when discontinued or suddenly reduced? 5) Conflict: does it create interpersonal conflict or intrapsychic (internal) conflict? 6) Relapse: is there a tendency for the activity to recur after years of abstinence or control? Another hallmark of addiction, according to Dr. Allen Frances, is that something that may have given pleasure at the beginning now no longer does so, but can’t be stopped. For most people, even though sex may create problems, the act itself remains pleasurable.
I think it is clear that very few people would qualify, given the above criteria, for having a sex addiction. Yes, this behavior can create plenty of problems, but calling it a “sex addiction” may be more about avoiding taking responsibility than about dealing with an addiction. Yet the fallout from an affair is real, regardless of what it might be attributed to. But, if it is not due to “sex addiction,” what is it due to? Most likely, it is about trust, commitment, intimacy—either that these are lacking or are broken—and a host of other related issues.
To save a relationship after an affair takes a lot of work—from both partners. Even then, there is no guarantee of success. It is possible to create a healthy relationship after an affair if both partners are willing to put in the hard work. And for many couples, this is worth doing. It goes without saying that getting help can make a big difference; the-sooner-the-better. If you want to explore this option, contact me for a free phone consultation.
Everyone has some sense of what trust means in relationships. As it is a vital part of any healthy relationship, it is worth taking a look at. When trust is broken, any relationship is in serious trouble and likely to end.
Take Judy, for example, who was in a relationship with a partner who cheated on her. For a long time, she wasn’t able to trust her partners as this experience “infected” her with jealousy and lack of trust. Years later she fell in love with Jack and she told him about her earlier experiences and her “hypersensitivity”—which, in this case, means being vigilant about something painful that has happened in the past. For Judy, this came not only from her prior cheating partner’s behavior but also from her father’s infidelity to her mother. Jack asked what it would take for her to trust him. She thought about it and asked that they have a “no secrets” policy; for her, this meant no secret passwords, Jack always being available by phone, and no repeated meals or business trips with attractive women. He was willing to meet all of her conditions and then some. Not only did Judy eventually stop being suspicious and jealous, but over time she was able to relax some of the conditions she had needed before.
In relationships, trust occurs when we know our partner acts and thinks to maximize our best interests and benefits, not just their own. It’s that sense that our partner has our back and is there for us and is willing to be consistent in meeting our needs. The first step in building this kind of trust is listening with compassion and understanding to one another, just as Jack did for Judy.
Did you notice the listening part above? Learning how to be a great listener is a skill you can work on. Start with this simple listening exercise to help you become a great listener. As to compassion and understanding, stay tuned for more…
Commitment can be defined as “the state or quality of being dedicated.” In the context of a relationship, a useful way of looking at commitment is this: believing, and acting on, the understanding that this relationship, with this specific person, makes one's life-long journey complete.
A lot of the couples who come for my guidance question their commitment. In all cases the marriage vow, “for better or for worse,” applies—with the understanding that when worse both must work to make improvements. So, when things have tipped into “worse,” what can you do? First and foremost, make sure the four horsemen (Contempt, Criticism, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling) are out of the equation—this is the solid foundation upon which to proceed. Effective communication is also essential; so practice your listening skills—be a good listener for one another. Be gentle with one another when discussing the pain points in your relationship. Don’t be afraid to get support if you need it—and do this sooner rather than later—particularly if you find it is hard or painful. One way to get hands-on experience with these skills is to participate in one of The Art & Science of Love workshops, or get personalized coaching.
What if you want to ensure your commitment is in good shape and stays that way? In this case, gratitude is key, so find ways to celebrate the wonderful things about your relationship and your partner—be sure to cherish the positive. Beware of trashing your partner (with others or in your thoughts), avoid making negative comparisons of your partner with others, or nurturing resentments. For partners who have fallen into this, there is a higher risk of an affair (emotional and/or physical). When concerns arise, address them—be gentle. This can lead to more intimacy and prevent the erosion of commitment.
If you were to guess what men would say they want more of in a relationship, what would you guess? Sex? Actually, according to research done by C. Northrup, P. Schwartz and J. Witte, and written about in The Normal Bar, it is communication. For men in unhappy relationships, they were asked to choose from nine answers. Sex was not their number-one wish. The top wish was for communication, then affection, and sex was in third place. Complaints weren’t all that different for unhappy women, whose list had communication first, affection second, and then financial stability in third. For happy couples, both women and men said they wished for nothing to be in first place (in other words, all their needs were met!), then there was a tie between sex for men and communication for women, in second place.
So, for both men and women, communication tops the list of what we want more of in our relationships. Happy relationships, when they are working well, have plenty of this, and we lack for nothing. When things aren’t optimal, we crave more communication. The art of intimate conversation, then, is the key to a better relationship. Check out earlier blogs on how to communicate effectively to buff up on these skills (How to get rid of criticism and defensiveness, A simple listening exercise to help you become a great listener, and Contempt, the battery acid). Make sure there are plenty of moments in your life together as a couple when you take time to foster good communication. This is not just talking about good things, though this is important, but also about things that aren’t perfect. Finding ways to keep communication flowing in gentle ways with one another is the best way to make sure the engine of your relationship has all the oil and gas it needs to run smoothly for the long haul. This takes some time and attention, but it is worth it.