11 Things I Wish I Knew Before Falling in Love
I have to say my husband and I have a pretty good relationship. It’s not because we were fortunate or special, it’s actually because we screwed up one too many times. After my first marriage, 2 kids and hundreds of mistakes over the years, you eventually figure out what to do, and what not to do. I just wish someone like Dr. Greg Cason, PhD, a licensed psychologist specializing in cognitive therapy who stars on the hit Bravo TV show, LA Shrinks told me all of this before I dove head first into my first relationship.
COMMUNICATION IMPROVES WITH COMMITMENT
I always wondered about the secret of a long, happy marriage. I am very optimistically biased. So what’s the secret? Cason admits that the key to his longtime partnership of 23 years is that they simply don’t break up. It’s what he calls “an odd but profound solution.” It stops them both from focusing on how to get out of issues while forcing them to face uncomfortable and even painful problems.
When you know there is an out, you are less inclined to want to do the hard work. You have to have “mind over body”, as Cason refers to it; “Risk feeling very uncomfortable in your body to have certain necessary conversations.” The upside to mind over body is that better communication in relationships can free up partners to feel happier, healthier and safer within the comfort of a committed and close-knit partnership.
BRIDGE THE GAPS WITH COMMUNICATION
I never realized communication was important until it affected my marriage… in a negative way. Sometimes we’d resolve our issues peacefully, other times we’d accumulate resentment for weeks at a time. So what are couples fighting about? I reached out to Dr. Greg to find out what couples in committed relationships are struggling with. Most couples, that have come into Cason’s office over the 14+ years initially complain of sex, money or parenting problems. But eventually it all boils down to poor communication.
Whether poor communication consists of too much talking or too little, the important to remember is that the amount of words added up don’t make for a quality connection. So what is communication all about? According to Dr. Cason, communication is about bridging the gaps and tightening the connection. It’s not about verbiage; it’s about how you serve words to the other person in a way that allows them to effectively input what you’re saying. It’s also about respecting what they are communicating back.
MEN & WOMEN COMMUNICATE DIFFERENTLY
In my first relationship I was a mediocre communicator. But I did all right, because I knew how to leverage my beauty and charm. Overtime I got lazy, the charm went away and so did the quality of our communication. But what else was missing? Cason explains that most men communicate better with a partner while sitting side by side and engaging together in a common activity, such as watching a sports game or cooking. Women, on the other hand, usually feel best when talking with their partner face to face and without the outside influence of an activity.
If you are struggling with communication, think about the best style of communication you prefer with others and ask your partner about the most comfortable environment for him/her to open up. I recommend watching this profound theory on how men and women handle information and what's so important about the "nothing" box men treasure so much:
Wasn't it great? I hope so.
RETAIN CONTROL BY NOT JUDGING
I’ve been told time and time again to think positive and stay in control of my emotions. But with years, it becomes a real challenge. So how can you stay in control? Cason says: “Talk about your feelings instead of your disappointments. People can’t get defensive about your feelings.” People can and usually do, however, get defensive when they feel their behavior is being criticized and controlled.
Blaming or judging your partner actually renders you powerless to fixing the problem. As Dr. Cason points out, “If you think your partner is the problem, you give up control and power in the situation” and you dis-empower yourself from tackling the issues head-on.
GOTTMAN’S 4 HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE
Your communication with each other should sound more like a conversation, not a dictatorship. That’s why when you have a conversation with your friend, you never get defensive, instead you have an invisible ball you pass to each other. Dr. Cason is a follower of John Gottman, PhD, and author of The Seven Principles For Making A Marriage Work and here is what he discovered:
Gottman uses the metaphor of the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse in the New Testament to depict poor communication in relationships. His four ill styles of communicating are criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling and contempt. Watch Dr. Gottman describe it himself:
Cason works with couples to prevent them from participating in these four types of communication blunders. He guides partners to new ways of talking about their issues with compassion and assertiveness. He believes that when a person can speak up for what he or she wants in a clear and direct way while respecting the need of his or her partner, most issues can be resolved.
IT’S EASY TO GET SEX BUT HARD TO KEEP IT GOOD
I didn’t know that an estimated 1 out of 5 marriages are “sexless.” Did you? Usually it is a situation where one partner withholds sex for one reason or another. I know a friend who uses sex as a measure of control. But many simply feel ashamed of their sexuality, thus unhappy with their sex life. So how do you please your partner without ruining it for you? Here is how Dr. Greg suggests you can retain good sex in your relationship:
Communicate. Have a simple sit down with your partner to talk about each other’s sexual fantasies. Make sure you co-create a safe and nonjudgmental environment for one another to feel comfortable expressing vulnerability.
Work together to remove shame from your sex life. Eliminate the shame that prevents you from letting go and enjoying sex. Place no shame on each other’s deep secrets and darker feelings.
Understand gender differences. Most men, Cason explains, get sexually excited by women who can play a clear sexual role in a relationship—taking care of their physical appearance and making a point to exert sexual confidence. Women, on the other hand, usually get “in the mood” when they see men being more hands-on with the children and showing more displays of emotional support.
So instead of simply spending time talking about your needs, make a point to also get creative about what you notice within the relationship. If your partner responds well to your sexual advances or to your emotional support, make a point to incorporate more of that behavior into your relationship.
USE ROLE REVERSAL
There is always going to be a better method to communicate with your partner. You just need to be willing to use it consistently and get better at it. Dr. Cason believes that switching up the role you play in your relationship can improve sex and communication. He advises that a partner who is more aggressive about initiating sex should back off and allow the other partner to come forward a bit. He also advises shy partners to try being more assertive.
Cason mentioned Hold Me Tight by Dr. Sue Johnson as one of the top 5 books for healing relationships. I actually added it to my wishlist on Lovendar and my husband just got it for me on Amazon. The book came in the mail yesterday. In it, Johnson has come up with three different styles of fighting that are exhibited by most couples. One of the styles takes the shape of one partner being too aggressive with communication in relationships and the other partner being too passive and shutting down as a result of the other’s aggression.
When you can unconditionally love your partner, you take the focus off changing and controlling him or her, and redirect it toward working with them to improve the level of acceptance in the relationship. Cason refers to this as a “mutually supportive relationship” where you focus on fulfilling your partner’s needs and wants and less on trying to dictate what you feel those needs and wants should be.
Dr. Greg Cason recommends a great read: Reconcilable Differences by Andrew Christensen and Neil S. Jacobson. Both authors clarify the importance of acceptance in relationships, noting that 2/3 of couple issues are not fixable even with good communication in relationships.
LOOK AT YOUR CONTRIBUTION TO THE PROBLEM
I always believed if you are not getting enough of something you need to ask for more of it. I couldn’t be more wrong. So what’s the problem here? Cason uses the example of the needy partner to shed light on the idea of self-reflection over judgment. Dr. Cason says: “A needy person is usually responding to the partner pulling back. First look at your side of the equation to find the area where you have emotionally or physically distanced yourself.” When communicating with your partner about your feelings and needs, Cason advises to:
Admit your part in the equation
Express what you see is happening in the other person as a result of your behavior
Give your reasons for why you have behaved that way
Offer reassurance that you do indeed want to resolve things as a couple.
BE ASSERTIVE BUT NOT AGGRESSIVE
Learning to be assertive is hard. So how to be assertive without stirring up the pot? Dr. Greg explains that many partners confuse assertiveness with aggressiveness. An assertive partner understands communication in relationships and can ask for what is needed without demanding it. An aggressive partner demands that their needs are met and does so with little regard for the feelings and needs of the other person.
Some partners are neither assertive nor aggressive and are instead, passive. It’s important, Cason notes, that a partner not be aggressive or passive, because this leads to power struggles within a relationship. Usually passive people end up with aggressive people and vice versa; this leads to partners feeling unheard and disrespected.
TAKE THE RESPONSIBILITY
When I started my relationship, I thought I could figure things out on my own. But I was wrong. Why? Because I never had a good role model, a formal education in psychology and the things that worked with my ex- didn’t really work in my new man. It takes years before you get smart on your own.
So what should you do? If you are willing to spend money, you can find a relationship expert that’s right for you, but if you aren’t, you’ll have to focus on tackling problems one at a time. This means you’ll have to assume the responsibility and spend the time reading relationship blogs, success stories, get free counseling and ask your parents for advice.
According to Dr. Cason, the reality is that society is becoming less and less connected. It’s not only his job as a therapist to find ways to connect with people to help them, but it’s also your job to improve your own connection with your loved one by reaching out those who can help you. You can contact Dr. Greg for a free consultation today.
To learn more about Dr. Greg Cason and his methods of improving communication in relationships, visit his website at DrGreg.com. If you live in the Los Angeles area and want to schedule a consultation, complete and send in the contact form on his website.