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Couple with broken heart

For 35 years, I have been treating couples, helping them to find the kind of relationship we all dream of – supportive, trusting, communicative, loving and respectful.

It is the relationship where partners really listen to each other and learn to not hurt each other. It is a fantasy for the many and a reality for the few.

Imagine you are one half of a couple, walking into my office for the first time. I am your marital therapist/psychologist.

You come in, hoping I will take your side and tell your partner or spouse that he/she is bad and must change.

Your partner comes in – with the very same wish and expectation.

The other spouse is almost always the bad guy, at least in your mind.

You each want your partner to change so you can be happy. Maybe good for you in your mind, but that path will not get you to your fantasy relationship described above. No way! No how!

I have a long history of taking couples like you and helping them to master the fantasy relationship above.

Choosing one partner as the good guy and another as the bad guy is not the way.

Instead, I have learned that I must get individual to focus on and change their own part in the emotional Vicious Cycle between them.

What is the Vicious Emotional Cycle, you may be asking?

It is a cycle that I have found in every couple that has sat on my office couch asking for help over the last 35 years.

One partner, Partner 1, does something to disappoint, hurt or disrespect the other partner.

Partner 2 then protests, explains, tries to be better, or ignores the disrespect for a while. Then Partner 2 starts to get resentful. “Why is Partner 1 still treating me this way? I am a good person/partner.”

Now, the next time Partner 1 acts in this disrespectful way, Partner 2 reacts in a way that makes Partner 1 feel disappointed, hurt or disrespected. Partner 1 reacts back.

Typically these reactions are one of two types: Attack or Withdraw. A reaction of Attack means partners end up getting angry at each other, each one expecting the worst from their Partner.

A reaction of Withdraw means one or both Partners avoid, walk away, cold shoulder or distance from the Partner.

Sometimes one Partner attacks and the other Withdraws. Sometimes they both attack and then Withdraw. Over time, each Partner starts to predict what the other is going to do.

Each Partner focuses on the other Partner’s part. “He/she is always attacking me. I feel disrespected. Or, he/she withdraws and doesn’t work things out. I feel hurt and disrespected.”  

Read along and imagine your own relationship’s Vicious Cycle as you read.

Bette and Bob lived in the suburbs and had two boys, 8 and 6. Bob was in the financial industry and commuted. He worked hard and brought home over $400,000 per year.

What made Bob a high earner also contributed to his Wall Street narcissism. Thinking highly of himself, he was able to use his charisma to attract wealthy clients. They loved him.

One of his responsibilities was to keep his clients happy. And happy they were when he took them to strip clubs that also served gourmet meals.  

The only person who wasn’t happy was his wife, Bette. Bob was never home to put the kids to sleep. She had all household and children responsibilities. And she found both marijuana and coke in his pockets.

Bette confronted Bob on his selfishness and his addictive behavior by getting very angry. After a while, when nothing changed, she withdrew from Bob and kept her pain, hurt and resentment bottled up within.

Now she was cold, distant, and very controlling around the house, as a way of protecting herself from hurt and to give herself some sense of power.

Once Bob started noticing Bette’s more controlling behavior, he attacked her in anger at being disrespected. Then he would withdraw even more. Finally, he went off and had an affair. Bette learned of the affair and the attacks and withdrawals became even more intense.

The Vicious Cycle was now at its tipping point. Get help or get a divorce!

Bob and Bette decided to get help. Once they sat on the couch, their agendas became clear.

Bette was outraged at how she was being treated and wanted Bob to change. Bob was outraged at how he was being treated and wanted Bette to change.

I dashed their individual hopes, and began to point out their Vicious Cycle to them. Within a few sessions, they each began to recognize and say to each other: There is the Vicious Cycle again. We got triggered. Let’s STOP.

Once they each calmed down, they learned two important things: (1) To treat each other with significant respect, and (2) To talk out their needs, asking for what they each want and asking for collaboration and compromise.

As they learned these new skills of treating each other with respect and negotiating for collaboration and compromise, they started using them on each other.

STOPPING the old Vicious Cycle Patterns, and substituting patterns of respect and collaborative negotiations became more frequent. Over time, with a lot of forgiveness and understanding, Bette and Bob reached the fantasy relationship talked about.

What is going on in your relationship? Is it the fantasy relationship that you want or something else? Rate yourself below.

f you don’t like your rating and want more from your relationship, you can find help by taking our course: Extraordinary Relationships and Win/Win Communication at www.extraordinaryself.com/register/

From Dysfunctional Patterns to Healthy Patterns:

(In the first blank, Rate yourself from 10-1, 10 meaning that this is a very dysfunctional pattern for you, to 1, meaning that you do not have this problem. Rate your spouse in the same way in the second blank.

_________ Blaming _________

From Blaming to Taking Responsibility for Your Own Part in the Problem

When you notice yourself Blaming, STOP and focus on your own contribution to the problem. Accept responsibility for your own part, learn from the experience and problem-solve how to handle the same situation better next time.

_________ Self-Attacking _________


From Self-Attacking to Self-Soothing

When you notice yourself Self-Attacking, STOP and focus on your own self-value and soothe yourself with kind and loving words, like a nurturing parent. From there, focus on your contribution to the problem from the perspective of “There is no failure, only failure to learn.” Keep on focusing on what there is to learn until you feel satisfied that you can do things differently next time. Use mental rehearsal to practice new choices of thinking and behaving.

_________ Selfish _________

From Focusing on the ‘I’ to Focusing on the ‘We’

(Primary Relationships are about mutual respect, mutual caring and mutual need satisfaction through time. It is not just one person’s needs that need to be satisfied, it is both people’s needs that need to be satisfied. As you think of yourself and your own needs, ask yourself “ And what does my partner need in this situation?” Give to your partner when you can and be prepared to negotiate differences.

_________ Getting Angry and Attacking or Withdrawing _________

From Getting Angry and Attacking or Withdrawing When You Don’t Get Your Way to Negotiating Differences

(Dumping anger, frustration and coldness into a relationship creates the Vicious Cycle. It usually means that people have not learned how to self-soothe when they don’t get what they want, and from there negotiate differences. First of all, recognize that you deserve to get a reasonable amount of your interpersonal needs met in the relationship. If you need your way too much, you are having issues with self-empowerment and need to learn to feel good without overpowering or controlling your partner. If you give in too much, you have issues with self-empowerment and need to learn how to assert yourself and get a reasonable amount of your needs met. Otherwise, why be in the relationship?

Once you get yourself into a self-soothing and self-empowering state, start to negotiate the differences. Before asking for what you want, or before asking the other person to do or not do something, validate them. They need validation and acknowledgement of their position in order to be open to hearing you. Validate and then state what you want and why it is important to you. Keep on finding out why their stand is important to them. Keep on discussing until you both see that one person’s need is clearly more important than the other’s.)

_________ Frustrated and Unappreciative _________

From Frustration and Irritation to Gratefulness and Appreciation

A marriage is a long-term project. The more you focus on your own frustration and irritation, the more the marriage erodes. Everyday, tell yourself about what you have to be grateful for, in terms of your partner and your life. Daily express that appreciation to your partner.

_________ Holding On to the Past _________

From Holding On to the Past to Forgiveness and Moving On

We all do the best we can in any moment. When we grow and learn to think differently, enlarge our perspective and have more choices, we often look back at the past and are angry for our own choices and/or for the other’s choices. Staying angry does not allow any new interactions based on growth or for learning to take place. So it is best to forgive the past when you can and move on to new choices and a healthier relationship.

_________ MindReading _________

From MindReading to Asking for What You Want

Often in a relationship, one or both parties will decide they know what the other is thinking. They will predict the other’s thoughts and behaviors and react in advance to them. That prediction and preparation is the brain’s way of taking shortcuts and using up less energy when responding. However, it does not allow for new patterns to emerge in a relationship. Stop mindreading and start listening /looking for and influencing the relationship patterns in new directions.

Make a list of what is good in your marriage and what you do appreciate in your partner. Also, ask yourself how you are asking for what you want now..