Tips On Marriage and Relationships
A few weeks ago I posted a Q&A on my Instagram about any relationship struggles you were having. I have the lovely David Fox from Fox Psychology to answer your relationship concerns.
I know Adrian and I have had our ups and downs over the past 17 years but it takes communication, awareness and most of all love to work things out. Actually did I mention hard work as well? Some months and years seem more carefree while others take that little more care and sometimes there's that huge gap where you think, are we ever going to get back side by side on this wonderful journey of life!
Back to David Fox, he is a Sydney-based author, speaker and registered psychologist with a master’s degree in psychology. So I asked him if he could help answer our general concerns we experience throughout our marriage and various relationships.
David is highly skilled and experienced in couples and relationship counselling and is a Gottman certified couples counsellor. He has worked with couples presenting with a wide range of issues such as communication difficulties, trust issues, loss of connection and conflict for over ten years. His passion for working with couples and helping them through their most difficult periods comes from his own personal struggles as well as years of working with couples to identify how to get back on track.
David’s other passion is teaching people individually and within organisations how to help themselves thrive and overcome mental health difficulties – especially anxiety and depression.
He is the author of the books Change your Life!Hope and Healing for Anxiety and Depression and Black Belt Mind: Overcoming anxiety, depression and anti depressants which are available on iBooks, Amazon and Book Depository.
Q&A with David Fox
Q: There’s no more affection or intimacy, married 20+ years
A: This is unfortunately a very common occurrence and experience for so many couples. Dr. John Gottman has spent his entire career researching what the couples who he calls “The Masters” do to maintain their fondness, admiration and affection towards each other. One of the striking bits of research that he references is a worldwide study looking at couples who were still happy and intimate after 10 or 20 years and one of the things that they had done on an almost daily basis is kiss…for 7 seconds! That is not a peck on the lips or cheek. They also maintained their playfulness.
One of the things that I do with couples is to understand where resentments have remained dormant because they have never been processed properly in order to leave them behind for good. Affection and intimacy fall away when we forget that relationships are built on genuine friendship, admiration and fun. When he lose the fun, when we don’t encourage each other’s growth and talk about dreams that we have as individuals and as a couple, we are likely to lose affection and intimacy.
It may be time to start with what Gottman describes as “updating your love maps”. A love map refers to the mental space that we have for understanding our partner’s world. You may have been together for 10 or 20 years and we think we know everything that there is to know about our partners, but we would be wrong on two counts.
One, we are not the same people that we were 10 or 20 years ago. Our preferences may change, our goals and even some of our values (what’s important to us) may have changed. It is important to create time together as a couple to talk about these changes. The second, is that there are probably so many bits and pieces, from our partners lives that we don’t actually know. Getting to know each other again with the same curiosity from when we first met by asking different questions (there is a Gottman App to help with this), can help to give you a renewed sense of friendship and connection. When you do this and find time to have fun together, the likelihood of affection and intimacy coming back into your relationship is high.
Q: Post baby rut. Some days it’s like co-parenting in a busy world with no lust.
A: This is another very common trap that so many young couples fall into. It’s like no-one tells us when we have a baby that the very nature of our relationship is going to change. If couples are not keenly aware that there is a major trap called “taking our eyes off our relationship” during the first year or two of having children, then the fun, spontaneity and intimacy is going to suffer. We certainly live in very busy times with both parents often having to work but even if one parent works and the other is running the household and looking after the little ones, the physical, mental and emotional load that is added from having a baby can be immense. This does not mean that we have to just accept this state of affairs. Every couple can find 10 minutes to connect with each other, to stop their world from spinning for a brief period of time and remember who they are as a couple. One of the most important things to do to maintain intimacy is to make it a priority. If you don’t both consciously and jointly decide that the intimacy in your relationship needs attention and find ways of exploring your sexuality together, it may suffer over time.
There are some great resources such as the Gottman App which includes different decks of cards – questions to ask each other about sexual fantasies etc which can be a “great night” in with your partner. All you do is open the app and shake your phone to get another question. There are also books that you can read such as The Art of Sexual Ecstasy by Margo Anand – which can help teach you eastern practices to enhance your physical connection and intimacy. Depending on the levels of support around and your financial situation, try to book a night every two weeks at least to go out for dinner to reconnect and enjoy slowing this down.
Q: My husband has a hard time sharing his feelings, how can I help him express himself?
A: There are many reasons why men struggle to express their emotions. Some are obviously cultural in nature and others can be due to events from childhood where showing emotion was actively discouraged. What this can mean is that showing emotion becomes unsafe and much too vulnerable. One of the most important things for any difficult conversation is to ensure that both of you are aware and happy for the conversation to go ahead at a time that works well for you both. Practising having conversations where you try to name the feeling or emotion that you are having and why you think you’re having it can be a great starting point. In sessions with couples, I use a sheet which lists a whole range of emotions that couples can look at and then try to accurately name what they are feeling. The most important thing to do is to approach the activity without too much seriousness. Make it a learning game. If you both agree to come from a place of curiosity and ask questions like: “What are you feeling? “What do you think is contributing to this feeling?”, “What does it feel like in your body?”, “Is there anything I can do to help?”. Ultimately, it will be up to him to let you know how you can help but as long as the desire is there to connect on a deeper level with each other, then you will start to feel much closer to each other over time.
Q: My wife and I haven’t been affectionate, and she sees no problem with it
A: One of the tools that I use almost every time that I work with couples is a questionnaire which looks at a variety of the most important needs that most people have when they are in a romantic relationship. I get couples to complete the assessment for themselves by rating how important these needs are to them and how they feel when the need is not met. They are then tasked to rank these needs into order to create their top 5. They then share this either together or they share it in session. There are three important questions we need to answer: 1. Do I know what my partner’s needs are? 2. Do I know specifically how to meet that need? 3. Am I willing to meet it? The last one is obviously very telling. You may have a different level of need for affection and that is okay, but if it is important to you and causing you to feel disconnected from your wife, I would suggest sitting down together at a time and place that will be conducive to having the conversation and ensuring that you both avoid criticising the other. Do not make it personal, just talk about what you are struggling with and why it is important to you i.e. your intention is to have a closer connection again.
Q: We fight over the most minuscule things, it’s a daily challenge trying to be happy
A: The first thing I would look at if you came to a session would be if there are any underlying resentments or additional stressors that are causing the fights over the small things. Sometimes we get into arguments over small things because have never really sat down to resolve the bigger things. Having an open and honest discussion about things that may have been bothering us but we have been too afraid to discuss can help. Dr. John Gottman describes how a couple can either be in positive or negative sentiment override. This is about whether you generally feel more positive or negative in the relationship. If you are in negative override, then even something that appears to be quite neutral could be blown out of proportion and feel like World War 3! It is so important to learn to pick our battles and just as important to learn to avoid criticism and defensiveness in the way we communicate. Being more open and sharing when we are feeling anxious, tired, hungry, stressed, overwhelmed or frustrated can help diffuse how we react to each other around the smaller triggers. Realising when you have now both become sensitised to having had many arguments over a short period of time is also very important. Decide to give each other an argument holiday and pretend for a while that you really like and care about each other! Remember, usually it is our ego that feels the need to be right in an argument. Practice quieting the ego and ask yourself: “Do I want to be right or do I want to be happy?
Q: Not sure if he’s not answering because he is actually busy or because he’s just not interested.
A: If you are in the beginning stages of getting to know someone and you don’t sense that there is a reciprocal desire to connect and respond to messages or calls then I would say it’s a possible red flag. Sometimes, people play silly games which can be because of their attachment style. If someone has an avoidant style, they may shy away from showing their true feelings and avoid getting into something too quickly. If they have an anxious style then they may be much more forward about how they feel and want to engage a lot more. Of course, it is important to understand how busy someone is in reality. If he works in retail and is not allowed to be on his phone for most of the day, that is fair enough for not replying much or answering each time you call. However, if you call or message and you don’t get a response overnight, I would say that is a flag for sure. As I always say, it takes a few second to send a message and say when he is free to chat or message. Try some reverse psychology, don’t call or message and see how long he goes without contacting you!
Thank you so much David for taking time to answer Dani & Co. questions and we cannot wait to do it again really soon.
Always remember to;
"Check yourself. Sometimes you're the toxic person. Understand that you make mistakes. You hurt people. Apologise. That's growth, understanding that there are things you need to work on. That's enlightenment, striving for continuous improvement, instead of faking perfection."