Honesty really is the best policy

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen honesty, or rather the lack of honesty, play out as the underlying issue in a marriage.

HonestyI always ask new clients about what prompted them to come see me.  This generally gives me a pretty good idea of the presenting issues in the relationship and provides a launching point into the work we’ll do together.  We’ll typically address some serious topics over the course of the first few sessions, topics that are good to discuss in any marriage.  But inevitably, there will come a time when, often by accident, one spouse will say something that catches the other by surprise and touches a nerve.  

I’ll see the body language change almost instantly, followed by a “I didn’t know you felt that way”.  And with that, the stakes are raised.  As a counselor, this is when my work gets tough and requires a lot of  finesse.

Why? Because many of us bury – and I mean deeply bury – the root causes of our frustrations with our spouses. Sometimes that’s because we’re unaware – we haven’t really unearthed those roots ourselves.  But often it’s because we are fully aware, and scared to death to expose them, for fear of unsettling the delicate ground we’re walking on in our relationship.

''Most of us bury the root causes of our frustrations with our spouses.'' Click To Tweet

The underlying issue: we’re scared

In my experience, when we’re not honest about a serious issue in our relationship, 9 out of 10 times it’s because we’re scared. We’re scared of how our partner will respond to our feelings.  We’re scared of the conflict that will result. We’re scared of the hurt feelings, the hostility, anger, tears, you name it.  Or maybe we’ve been burned by past attempts and think there’s no good way to proceed.  The end result is our fear keeps us silent and it controls our relationship.

The counseling world calls this a “lack of differentiation”. We’re burying our true selves for the sake of our spouse’s feelings. Or, often, what we perceive their feelings will be. And in turn, we’re sacrificing a deeper, more mature,and more authentic relationship with our spouse, all in an effort to keep the peace.
''When we're afraid to bring up difficult topics with our spouses,we're letting fear control the quality of our relationships. '' Click To Tweet

Is it time to bring honesty back to your marriage?

I don’t care whether it’s your spouse’s weight, or how they parent your kids, or that they work too much, or that they don’t want sex very often – whatever it is, if you’re not talking about it, then it’s not the real issue.

The real issue is that you aren’t willing to be honest with your spouse.  These “secrets” cause cracks in the foundation of your marriage that will eventually grow big enough to swallow both of you.

What you can do now

Everyone needs a place to begin.  If you are struggling with being open and honest with your spouse on tough subjects, here are four steps that will help you kickstart honest conversations:

Number One: Identify what’s important to you – Don’t make this about your spouse, make it about you.

Number Two: Write it down – Think about it. If you can’t put into words what’s important to you, how can you tell your spouse in a way they can understand it?

Number Three: Tell your spouse – Pick a time when you’re both in listening mode, when neither of you is frustrated or hostile. Again, make it about what’s important to you, not about whether your spouse is doing their part.

Number Four: Listen – Don’t sit back and listen, sit forward. Express with every part of you that you want to hear your spouse’s feedback – even when it’s not the feedback you wanted.

Now, it’s just the beginning, but it’s a solid one. After this, you can take actions to help you process what you’re saying to one another, truly accept the other’s perspective, and learn to support each other’s personal growth. That growth will provide the cement to re-strengthen the foundation of your life together as a couple.

I’m not going to kid you though.  It may look like a simple process, but this can be really tough to do..  It takes practice and often times it takes the guidance of an experienced therapist who can lead you through the process until it becomes more natural to you.   If it feels daunting or like it could never work for your marriage, I urge you to have at least one conversation with us before you give up.  You can give us a call or schedule an appointment online. Your marriage is worth at least the phone call, right?

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Psychological Childhood Trauma Recovery

Childhood experiences can impact our current daily life and our ability to have healthy functioning interpersonal relationships. They can also distort our perception of ourselves and others.

When I am working with a couple, sometimes it is clear there are dynamics in the relationship stemming from experiences that predate the relationship. These pre-existing conditions often go unnoticed as a contributing source to the couple’s struggles – until, of course, they are pointed out by a therapist trained to recognize and address them.

Our Formative Years

We are all shaped into the adults we are today by our experiences during our formative years (birth to 18). Not only are our bodies physically morphing during this time, we are emotionally and developmentally morphing as well.

When a child experiences trauma, it can stunt – or even halt – emotional development. So while our bodies continue to grow and we begin to look like adults, there can be components of our emotional development that are underdeveloped or still childlike.

What is Trauma?

Research has shown that any experience that is less than nurturing during our formative years can create trauma wounds that, left untreated, are capable of hindering or preventing our ability to maintain healthy functional relationships as adults.

''Any experience that is less than nurturing can create trauma wounds that hinder our ability to maintain healthy functional relationships as adults'' Click To Tweet

Read that last sentence again. Any experience that is less than nurturing.

Some trauma is blatant and easily recognizable. Sexual and physical abuse are examples and we all know the horrible devastation they cause.

Other trauma however, isn’t so obvious. This ‘relational trauma’ can be very subtle and even unintentional. It can look like unintentional neglect or subtle manipulation. It can also look like a “lack of” – a lack of affection, or comfort, or attention, or appropriate limits. Though not blatant or intentional, it still can have a significant impact on our abilities to love ourselves and others.

The Effects of Relational Trauma

In short, it fuels self-defeating behaviors.

Issues like anger and rage. Or depression and anxiety.

It can cause persistent feelings of rejection, loneliness or inferiority.

Addictions. Fears of abandonment. Low self-esteem.

It can put you in a pattern of choosing people who are not good for you.

It can cause problems with emotional connection and intimacy in relationships.

Just to name a few.

Often, these self-defeating behaviors need to be addressed before couples counseling can be fully effective – and lasting.

Treating Trauma

Studies have shown that, to be effective, trauma must be treated experientially rather than just cognitively (learned with our brain), so it was important to me to have a program available here at The Marriage Place to help our clients do this important work.

We call it our Breaking Free Workshop.
''“Trauma must be treated experientially rather than just cognitively in order to be effective.'' Click To Tweet

The 3-Day Breaking Free Workshop

Based on the pioneering research of Pia Mellody, Senior Fellow at The Meadows and author of Facing Codependence (a great book by the way!), each 3-Day Breaking Free Workshop is limited to a small group – usually 3 or 4 – and facilitated by one of my most experienced therapists. The workshop provides a safe environment for participants to:

  • Explore the origins of their relational trauma;
  • Identify and recognize their adaptive survival mechanisms;
  • Learn how to release negative emotions rooted in painful experiences;
  • Re-parent the parts of themselves that have been shamed, neglected or abandoned; and
  • Reclaim their intrinsic worth

What to expect

I’m often asked what to expect from a Breaking Free Workshop. Well, in the words of our clients, it’s transformational, life-changing and healing.

Those are big words with lofty expectations and I’m always a little hesitant to use them because 1) I think – in general – they get overused and 2) every client’s experience is different.

But I’ve seen it time and again and still sometimes find myself amazed at the difference I see in clients after they’ve gone through a Breaking Free Workshop.

I had a client whose anger and rage were so explosive his wife and kids were scared to get close. When I saw him for the first time afterward, I noticed he even carried himself differently. He told me he learned he can feel hurt and express himself without yelling and screaming now.

It was certainly transformational. And life-changing – not only for him but for his family and for his marriage.

''When we’re afraid to bring up difficult topics with our spouses, we’re letting fear control the quality of our relationships.'' Click To Tweet

What you can do now

None of us had perfect upbringings. None. Some of us know this all too well.

Some of us had parents that meant well but were carrying baggage of their own and didn’t realize we needed something more. Or parents who, due to circumstances beyond their control, weren’t always able to give us what we needed.

Some of us got what we needed from our families but experienced trauma at the hands of another caregiver. Or neighbor. Or (fill in the blank).

Some of us don’t even realize yet that we didn’t get what we needed during our formative years.

But if you are dealing with symptoms of relational trauma – like the self-defeating behaviors I listed earlier – I hope you’ll consider reaching out and letting us help you address the source. There are coaches and counselors here at The Marriage Place that can help you find the answers.

Call us or schedule an appointment

(972) 441-4432 or Send us a text at (214) 431-5764

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