3 Things We Can Learn from Successful Couples About Relationships

I started reflecting yesterday on what this last decade of working with couples and relationships has taught me about creating successful friendships.

Young couple holding hands

I started reflecting yesterday on what this last decade of working with couples and relationships has taught me about creating successful friendships.

Three tools quickly surfaced. Simple, powerful and effective for creating the kind of closeness and connection that each of us desire in our relationships.

1. Invest. I love the analogy that Stephen Covey uses in “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” as he equates relationships to bank accounts. He points out that much like bank accounts, we are asked to take a risk and make an investment before we can make a withdrawal of capital.

Investing relational capital has many forms: call a friend out of the blue to see how they are doing, let someone you really appreciate know it, or surprise a pal with flowers. Then, when you need to withdraw on that relational capital—a favor or a listening ear, you’ve got a friend who will be there. And much like financial capital, the ability to withdraw increases as the friendship is matured through time and ongoing investments.

2. Choose them. One of my mentors, also a couple’s therapist of 30+ years, once shared with me that the primary thing that successful couples do is choose one another. Conversely, she has noticed that the ones who stop choosing one another begin to fall apart, and experience so much pain and heartache in the process.

So, in moments when one partner would rather do an alternative activity (i.e. eat at some other restaurant or not bother with the dishes), they choose instead to do what their partner has requested. In doing so, their chosen partner feels like a priority and the relationship is provided the nourishment it needs to continue thriving.

Platonic relationships are incredibly parallel. A dear friend of mine comes to mind who consistently makes me a priority. He answers the phone when I call, or if he can’t, texts me right away to let me know he will call back soon. I love that. He is always game for my favorite type of food—Northern Indian, by the way—even though it’s not the top one on his list. If he tells me he will be there for a get-together that I’m having he always is, regardless of other demands on his schedule. I feel constantly chosen by him and in turn I choose him back. Herein lies the success of our relationship.

3. Altruism. This is one of my favorite practices, and comes from psychologist and relationship master John Gottman. As a way to increase intimacy and reduce conflict in relationships, he suggests that couples look at what their partner is doing through an altruistic lens.

In other words, we choose to believe that the intention of their action was intending good rather than harm. In day to day living, this altruistic lens sees our friend’s lateness as a result of bad traffic rather than because we are not a priority to them. It sees a forgotten birthday because our friend had a busy day and it simply slipped their mind. When they forget to pick up the ice we requested for the party, we choose to believe they just spaced and forgot instead of believing that the oversight means we don’t matter to them.

“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

Looking for the quick summary? Here you go:

Invest in friends so that they will be there for you in the future, choose your friends so that they know they are a priority and watch those friendships flourish, see everything your friends do–even things that you initially perceive as hurtful–through a lens of altruism and kindness, and you will experience less hurt and more joy in your relationships.

Happy connecting.

Jeremi McManus, MFT Psychotherapy and Couples CounselingJeremi McManus  is a Relationship CoachPsychotherapist, and Couples Therapist who works with people who want more fulfilling and satisfying relationships. His own ups and downs in dating and relating were instrumental in leading him into this field. If you feel like you could use some perspective, he looks forward to hearing from you. Jeremi is a Licensed Psychotherapist and delighted to call San Francisco home.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mastery in Love

[This post is a direct summary of a terrific article called “Masters of Love” that was published June 12, 2014 in the Atlantic by Emily Esfahani Smith.]

Four decades ago John Gottman began studying couples in response to the crisis that a majority of marriages were ending in divorce. He set up a “Love Lab” in which interviewed spouses about their relationship while hooked up to electrodes that measured their heart rate, sweat, etc., and then checked to see who was still together six years later. From the data he gathered, he separated the couples into two categories: the masters and the disasters. You guessed it, the masters were still happily together while the disasters were either broken up or in chronically unhappy relationships.

During the interviews the disasters looked the same as the masters, but their physiology told us a very different story via the electrodes. Heart rate, blood flow and sweat production was all elevated in the disasters. This arousal in the disasters let Gottman know that they were in fight-or-flight mode in their relationships. In other words, their bodies believed that there was a lion sized threat present while they were trying to talk to their partner. Masters on the other hand showed a lack of physiological arousal, thus a greater degree of physical and emotional comfort around their partners.

In 1990, Gottman gathered 130 couples together in a lab designed like a bed and breakfast retreat to try to get at the heart of why some couples flourish while others anguish. His key discovery was in the requests that partners made for connection or what he termed “bids.” A husband would make a bid by saying “Look at that beautiful bird outside!” He is requesting a response from his wife so that they can share in a moment of connection with one another, however brief.

His partner now has a decision to make about whether to – as Gottman called it – “turn toward” or “turn away” from her spouse. These bidding interaction had a tremendous impact on the closeness of the relationship. Couples who ended up divorced had “turn toward” bids that were met with closeness just 3 out of 10 times, whereas couples who were still together six years later were emotionally responsive 9 out of 10 times.

Through these interactions, Gottman could predict which couples would stay together 94% of the time.

So much of the success of the couple came down to the spirit that the couple brought to the relationship, be it kindness or generosity or hostility, contempt and criticism. “There’s a habit of mind that the masters have,” Gottman explained in an interview, “which is this: they are scanning their social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning their social environment for partners’ mistakes.”

Contempt is the #1 factor that tears couples apart. Kindness, on the other hand, glues couples together. Masters tend to think of kindness as a muscle that needs regular exercise to stay in shape, much like a relationship need regular hard work to stay healthy.

Fights are critical times that separate the happy from the unhappy relationships. Here’s Gottman again: “Disasters will say things differently in a fight. Disasters will say ‘You’re late. What’s wrong with you? You’re just like your mom.’ Masters will say ‘I feel bad for picking on you about your lateness, and I know it’s not your fault, but it’s really annoying that you’re late again.’”

One way to practice kindness is to interpret a partner’s acts charitably rather than assuming the spouse has negative intentions. Disasters tend to assume that he left the toilet seat up deliberately to annoy her, whereas masters will believe he absent-mindedly forgot to put the seat down.

Another powerful kindness strategy is in being able to connect with and celebrate a partner’s shared joy. Disasters tend to respond to good news with disinterest and shut down the conversation. In Gottman terms, “turn toward” your spouse’s good news rather than “turning away” from it.

A lot of factors tear couples apart, but one of the most fundamental is a lack of kindness. Instead of the negativity and critique that guides chronically unhappy couples, the happy ones meet the stresses of life while practicing a shared sense of generosity and kindness.

[To reiterate, this post is a direct summary of a terrific article called “Masters of Love” that was published June 12, 2014 in the Atlantic by Emily Esfahani Smith.]

Jeremi McManus, MFT Psychotherapy and Couples CounselingJeremi McManus  is a Relationship CoachPsychotherapist, and Couples Therapist who works with people who want more fulfilling and satisfying relationships. His own ups and downs in dating and relating were instrumental in leading him into this field. If you feel like you could use some perspective, he looks forward to hearing from you. Jeremi is a Licensed Psychotherapist and delighted to call San Francisco home.

Posted in Dating, Mindfulness, Psychotherapy, Relationship Coaching | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Simple Ways to Relieve Stress

The alarm blows like a siren, I leap out of bed.

www.sfrelationshipcoaching.com

Was that meeting at eight or 9? And where did I put my work cell phone? Look under the pillow, on the dresser, under the bed, by the computer…nothing!

Now I’ll be late, and will certainly miss the bus. Run downstairs. ArgI bet it’s at the gym. Glance at the cell phone. No text. Why do they never get back to me?? Chew fingernails. How am I going to make this appointment?

I’m good at stressing out.

As quickly as it started, I’ve worried the entire day away. I’m crawling into bed, and still a bundle of nerves. To boot, I cannot sleep with all of this anxious energy racing, so a new stress tape begins. Did I forget to…

Worrying sucks. It often makes my life worse and rarely makes it better. And unfortunately our species is really good at it. Unlike animals, we have a well developed an incredibly resourced frontal lobe. We often allocate many of those resources to thoughts about the past and future. When we land on a bad thought, it activates our stress response.

Perhaps you’ve heard it referred to as the fight or flight response. This stress response is governed by what some psychiatrists think of as our reptile brain. As long as it reports back that we are safe, everything is copasetic.

But the moment our reptile brain registers danger, it takes over and our rather superhuman powers unleash.Access to our frontal lobe and rational thought is limited or cut off. Our body gets flooded with all the resources—adrenaline, cortisol and stress hormones—needed to fight or take flight from a lion.

Unlike us, animals are very much in the moment so they sense real danger and they respond accordingly. Lamentably for us humans though, we allow the anxiety about tomorrow and yesterday to take hold of our minds, thus triggering our reptile brain to prepare ourselves to face our imagined threat.

Our reptile brain’s response is incredibly useful to fight or flight from a real enemy. But we only get so many of these superpower doses before we are left pretty depleted. So, no wonder many of us drag through the day exhausted, irritable and short-fused. Then, to top it off, we have difficulty sleeping at night.

Commercial break. Let’s say you woke up this morning with 100 energy points to spend, how are you going to use them? I’m guessing that, like me, you would want to balance them among what’s important in your life. You know, relationships, play, work and so on.  Trouble is, every time worrying generates a stress response, it zaps 10 of those points.

So, if you managed seven good worry sessions today, you only have 30 points left. That energy needs to stretch through the hectic hours of your nine to five, one grocery store run, helping your partner with dinner and putting two kids to bed. No wonder you have so little energy left over for the important people in your life and feel tired all day.

Okay, back to our regularly scheduled program. Is there a fix? Yes.

1. When a worry tape starts, focus your awareness on your breath.

One of my favorite exercises is to try to count 10 breaths in a row, and to make each breath longer than the one before it. Even right now, pause to feel this inhale and then notice the exhale that immediately follows. Then on this next one, see if you can count slowly to three as you breath in and out. Now go for four.

2. Bring your attention into your body.

Specifically notice right in this moment the way your feet feel in your shoes. Can you feel the pressure of the shoe around your foot or detect the temperature you are feeling? Now notice your ears. Can you detect a slight breeze on your ears or perhaps notice a slight tingling sensation on your earlobes?

Suddenly the worry tape starts again: totally okay. Totally normal. Human in fact. Simply come back to this same awareness of what you are feeling in a specific part of your body.

3. Expectations are ripe grounds for the activation of our stress response.

As a meditation master once told me, The future is unwritten. As a result, we often try to plan our day to give us a sense of control about how things are going to go. Again, a very human thing to do. And it’s a fine thing to do until the plan begins unravelling, as they often do.

When you begin texting your friend about meeting at the drive-In at 7 p.m., also remind yourself that things probably won’t go exactly as planned. Traffic or work or whatever will slow one of you down, and that’s okay. That way when one of you is running behind, your stress response is a little less likely to get triggered. One of my favorite ways to remember this is in the phrase, Hold it lightly.

“What screws us up most in life is the picture in our head of how it is supposed to be.” ~ Socrates

Extra special bonus. We can do things to deplete some of those energy points we wake up with every morning. Too much alcohol, caffeine, sugar and other substances are examples.

Something nagging us in the back of our minds can similarly suck battery life by acting like a constantly running background app. In this case, jot the thought down or put the needed reminder in your phone so that the nagging can stop.

On the flip side, there are all sorts of great things we can do to let go of that toxic stress that builds up in our body and even increase the number of energy points we have for the day. Here’s a quick list of my favorites:

1. The Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of sleep every night for adults.

2. 30 minutes of active movement daily. That one is a Mayo Clinic doctor’s orders.

3. Good nutrition. Focus on fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains and some protein.

4. Constant hydration. I carry my Klean Kanteen everywhere and end up drinking more just because it’s in front of me. The recommended dose of water per day is half an ounce or more per pound of bodyweight.

5. Touch a friend. Researchers at Berkeley found that this will reduce the stress hormones in your body and gives the message, I’ll share the load. And particularly when stressed, it feels good to know there’s someone in our corner.

Jeremi McManus  is a Relationship CoachPsychotherapist, and Couples Therapist who works with people who want more fulfilling and satisfying relationships. His own ups and downs in dating and relating were instrumental in leading him into this field. If you feel like you could use some perspective, he looks forward to hearing from you. Jeremi is a Licensed Psychotherapist and delighted to call San Francisco home.

Posted in Dating, Psychotherapy, Relationship Coaching, Yoga | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Secrets of Happy Couples

I’m always a little cautious when I see a title of an article claiming so much. But then I spent some time with this infographic that Happify has created and it is really solid. Not only have they culled really needed data for couples and relationships, they used great sources in the process.

Image

Want to find out what’s worth $105,000 in happiness per year? Enjoy!

Jeremi McManus  is a Relationship CoachPsychotherapist, and Couples Therapist who works with people who want more fulfilling and satisfying relationships. His own ups and downs in dating and relating were instrumental in leading him into this field. If you feel like you could use some perspective, he looks forward to hearing from you. Jeremi is a Licensed Psychotherapist and delighted to call San Francisco home.

Posted in Dating, Psychotherapy, Relationship Coaching | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

6 Tips for Happiness

Tal Ben-Shahar, AKA the most popular professor on Harvard campus, has noticed something that is often wrong with the perspective with many professionals in the psychology field. There is too much emphasis on what is wrong with us – our anxiety, our depression, our anger. Instead, he suggests, what if we flip all of this over and notice what’s good and the things that are working in our lives.

happy coupleLeigha Butler compiled these six tips from Ben-Shahar that you can do to increase happiness:

1. Give yourself permission to be human.

2. Simplify. Less is more.

3. Develop goals that fit for you.

4. Value your relationships, particularly the healthy ones.

5. Cultivate a connection between your body and mind.

6. Focus on the positive in your life.

The original article by Leigha is over at Elephant Journal and has even more good stuff in it.

Jeremi McManus  is a Relationship CoachPsychotherapist, and Couples Therapist who works with people who want more fulfilling and satisfying relationships. His own ups and downs in dating and relating were instrumental in leading him into this field. If you feel like you could use some support or perspective, he looks forward to hearing from you. Jeremi is a Licensed Psychotherapist and delighted to call San Francisco home.

Posted in Dating, Psychotherapy, Relationship Coaching | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Favorite Quotes Lately

It’s so beautiful when someone can capture a thought or feeling or glimmer of wisdom in a few words. So I wanted to take a few moments to acknowledge a few that have really resonated with me lately, perhaps one will land with you as well.

No Need to be Perfect

~~~

i have decided to stick with love

~~~

making a big life change

~~~

comparison is the thief

~~~

Jeremi McManus  is a Relationship CoachPsychotherapist, and Couples Therapist who works with people who want more fulfilling and satisfying relationships. His own ups and downs in dating and relating were instrumental in leading him into this field. If you feel like you could use some perspective, he looks forward to hearing from you. Jeremi is a Licensed Psychotherapist and delighted to call San Francisco home.

Posted in Dating, Mindfulness, Psychotherapy, Relationship Coaching | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

3 Keys to Strong Relationships

“Did they look impressed when I told them I had a Master’s degree? How many Facebook likes did I get on my new post? If I buy that pair of Seven jeans, will Tricia think I look good?”

Jeremi McManus SF Relationship Coaching & Psychotherapy

Any of this sound familiar? If it sounds like a day in the life of your thoughts, you’re certainly in good company.

(contd…)

Jeremi McManus  is a Relationship CoachPsychotherapist, and Couples Therapist who works with people who want more fulfilling and satisfying relationships. His own ups and downs in dating and relating were instrumental in leading him into this field. If you feel like you could use some perspective, he looks forward to hearing from you. Jeremi is a Licensed Psychotherapist and delighted to call San Francisco home.

Posted in Dating, Mindfulness, Psychotherapy, Relationship Coaching | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment