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The Magic 5:1 Ratio

The Magic 5:1 Ratio

Five to one.  This magic ratio is known to every well trained Gottman Couples Counselor out there and beyond.  It’s what the masters of relationship do and the disasters don’t do.  It is one of the reasons the masters stay happily married and the disasters don’t.  So what is it?

In the research apartment lab that some would equate to the Big Brother House, researchers quietly watched and coded all interactions between couples for decades.  Then, in other research studies, observers even coded the interactions in the couples' homes, and here is what they found about this magic ratio.

If you were to take a 15 minute segment of a conflict between a husband and wife, the group we call the masters of relationship had a five to one ratio of positive to negative in their interaction with each other during the disagreement!  In normal daily interactions that did not involve conflict, that ratio was 20:1! 

So to further clarify how this has been coded for years, the researchers looked at all the positive traits displayed in the discussion.  Things such as showing interest in what their partner had to say, asking questions to further understand, being excited about their partner’s ideas and solutions, showing affection, interjecting humor, empathy, and understanding.  They also looked at all the negative traits displayed such as hostility, showing disappointment, hurt feelings, sadness, anxiety, tenseness, and evidence of depressed states.  They then divided the number of seconds spent in positive states by the number of seconds spent in the negative states and found that even in times of conflict, the masters, spent five times as much time praising and showing affection and interest to their partners as they did trying to prove themselves right.  

Another way to look at this without a stop watch is that for every negative thing that is said during a conflict, there are at least five positive things said about their partner.  Do you know any couples that display these traits?

As referenced above, when not in conflict, the masters had a ration 20 times as much positive to negative, but what about the disasters?  The disasters showed a ratio of 0.8 to 1; slightly more negative then positive.  This 0.8:1 ratio was displayed not only in conflict, but when just sitting around living their life.  A couples assessment will show this couple to be in “Negative Sentiment Override” on the Sound Relationship House model, Level 4.  This will be discussed in a later article.

If you and your spouse are having trouble managing conflict, there is hope.  Using clinically proven techniques, I can teach you and your partner ways to communicate on a far deeper level than you perhaps ever thought possible.  Don't wait until it's too late.  Call me at 469-225-9040, or contact us online for a free consultation.

Pet Loss

Pet Loss

For many, the loss of a pet can be a devastating thing.  They weren’t “just a dog,” or just an anything for that matter.  They were our friend.  They were a part of our family.  For many people, their pets are their children, and the loss can be very traumatic.  To make things worse, others may judge, or not understand why you’re so upset, why you’re missing work, or why you don’t just go get another pet.  This is what we often refer to as disenfranchised grief, which is a type of grief that social conventions may not acknowledge.  The truth of the matter, however, is that giving it a name doesn’t make it any less painful.  The bottom line is that pet loss is just as significant as any other lose.  That’s because grief is a reflection of the love, and if the love is real, the grief is real.  

With our pets, we’re responsible for their health.  We take care of them, feed them, and try to keep them safe, but sometimes despite our best efforts, things happen.  An accident could lead to a death you didn’t have time to prepare yourself for.  This isn’t to say that a prolonged passing is necessarily easier.  At times you may have given your pet 110% in their last days, taking care of their every need.  This can be especially draining as well.  Perhaps your pet didn’t die.  Maybe he or she was lost and you find yourself constantly worrying about them; wondering where they are, and if they’re safe.  This is a loss that must be grieved as well.

Whatever the case may be, you need to be allowed to grieve in your own way.  As we often say, “The way others feel about the way you should grieve is none of your business.”  Grief, as odd as this may sound is a gift that will help you heal in time if you allow it to do its job.  When you push it down, or deny the emotions, you’re only delaying the process.  

Experience your feelings without judging them.  Mourn the loss in your own way, and in your own time.  Sometimes when you’re having trouble moving forward, you may realize that when you think about your pet, you find yourself stuck on the ending.  It was so hard, and perhaps you had to make a painful decision you hoped you would never have to make.  This is common, but just realizing that’s what you’re doing can often help.  If this is the case, when you find this happening, just as if you had a camera, zoom out.  Reflect on all the wonderful times, and the good years, not just the ending. If you’re still having issues, you may find it helpful to talk to someone.  

If you or someone you know is having trouble dealing with a loss and would like to speak to talk, call my office at 469-225-9040, or contact us online for a free consultation.

Masters & Disasters of Relationships

Masters & Disasters of Relationships

Throughout these articles on relationships you’ll commonly see a reference to the Masters of Relationships, and the Disasters, so I thought we thought it would be a good idea to explain a little about the terms.  While on the surface the terms likely seem obvious, there has been a lot more going on behind the scenes than one might think to categorize these two groups.

For decades, Professor Emeritus John Gottman and his staff have been researching couples ranging from newlyweds to old age.  In fact long before there was a “Big Brother House,” there was “The Love Lab,” a resort style apartment on the medical school campus where couples were allowed to stay and simply live their lives with no direction from the researchers.  Cameras watch their every move during research hours, and trained observers catalog their every interaction.

Over the course of time, these couples have been brought back every few years to find out how they’re doing.  Some are now divorced, some are still happily married, some have kids, and some from the earlier studies now now have kids that are getting married.  So how does this play into our two groups?

A “master couple” is defined as a couple who stays together and is happy with the relationship.  Conversely, a “disaster couple” is defined as one who breaks up, or who stays together, but is unhappy with the relationship.  With these definitions in hand, the researchers along the way would separate the two groups and look at the mountains of data they had compiled, and ask, “What common threads can we find?”  “What did the masters group do in their interactions that led long happy relationships that the disasters group failed to do?”  

Over the years, this compilation of data has led to the most clinically and empirically tested protocol for couples counseling in history.  As a testament to its validity, Dr. Gottman has been able to predict with 96.3% accuracy how long a couple will stay married by using the data that we now know defines a master couple vs. a disaster couple.  

So as you read through these articles and see the term masters and disasters, take a moment to realize how important they are.  These often seemingly little, insignificant things are anything but, and applying them to relationships, romantic or otherwise, are the difference in success and failure.  

If you or someone you know is having relationship issues, call me at 469-225-9040 or contact us online for a free consultation.

Internal Family Systems - IFS

IFS - Internal Family Systems

“Part of me wants to, but part of me doesn’t.”  How many times have you heard someone say that?  How many times have you said that very thing or something like it yourself?  Now make no mistake, I’m not inferring that you have several completely independent personalities or identities roaming around in your mind, but for purposes of explaining things it’s sometimes easier to talk in such terms.  In fact if you’ve ever seen the movie, “Inside Out,” you’ve seen a pretty good graphical representation of the inner working “parts” of Internal Family Systems or IFS.  In fact, Richard Schwartz, the father of IFS so to speak has actually been in collaboration with Disney to create games and other tools to use “Inside Out” to teach children about how our emotions come into play in a healthy emotional model, something we advocate in Emotion Coaching: The Heart of Parenting.  

Now that’s not to say that Richard Schwartz was the first to come up with the idea of “parts.”  One of the things that attracted me to the IFS modality was my previous training in a parts therapy model that dates back to the early 1970s and was developed by Richard Bandler and John Grinder.  Having a strong background in clinical hypnotherapy I began using the parts therapies they developed as part of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) very early in my career with excellent results.   With that said, however, just as with any modality, there were times it worked better than others.  

Thousands of hours of training and practice using NLP both coupled with as well as independent of hypnosis gave me a very strong grasp of the underlying modality.  Then fast forward a couple of decades and I began to learn about Dick Schwartz’s work with “parts.”  Dick, a marriage and family therapist, was well trained in Family Systems, a method of working with families in conflict, but he was also counseling patients with eating disorders, a very difficult case load to put it mildly.  Reaching the end of his rope in some cases and not having any tools to help his patients, Dick began noticing the language patterns mentioned above.  Things like, “Part of me wants to stop,” or “Part of me wants to die.”  It was at this point that he began experimenting with the application of the Family Systems model as a way to work with these internal “parts.”  

As I began to follow Dick’s work I first saw the similarities between IFS and NLP, but very soon I also began to see how applying the Family Systems model to internal parts was also keenly different in a few key areas.  Not only was it different, it was polar opposite in some areas, and in these areas, the Family Systems model made it make sense.  

When looking at the way Internal Family Systems deals with the conflict in the mind I began to see things through a new lens, or to give a nod to Bandler and Grinder for their original contribution, I now had an “updated map of the territory.”  I began to see why at times in the past, parts therapy likely hadn’t worked.  You see, through IFS, we learn that all parts are not created equal.  Different parts have different jobs, and it’s important to respect both their job descriptions and their boundaries when working with past traumas, or anything else.  There are also some other key differences that are beyond the scope of this article, but the bottom line is that time and time again, IFS is proving itself to be one of the most powerful tools available for dealing with a wide range of issues.

If you're dealing with traumas from your past that you just can't seem to resolve, if you're dealing with negative self-talk, self-esteem issues or any other self-related issues that you just can't resolve, and you would like to learn more about IFS, call me.  I can be reached at 469-225-9040, or contact us online to talk.  The initial consultation is free.

Drifting

Drifting

“It’s easy to drift.  In fact, drifting is almost universal in marriage.  The bloom of the courtship and the honeymoon passion are inevitably challenged as marriage is affected by the reality of living in today’s time-starved world.  The issue often becomes not one of how to avoid drifting, but how to avoid being stuck in and derailed by it.”  

The preceding is a quote from a course text published by the American Association of Christian Counselors.  “Drifting” sounds so straight forward, but how do we recognize it, what is it really, and how do we fix it?  Counselors define drifting as A gradual, subtle, often unintentional severing of emotional ties in a relationship.”  When coupled with the knowledge of your weekly schedule and daily life, that definition in and of itself, is enough to strike fear into many couples, because you can see how likely it is to take place.  What’s more is a drifting relationship is a failing relationship.  

Though drifting is only one form of relationship failure, there is none more dangerous.  This is due to its subtle nature.  It slowly and stealthily erodes the foundation of the relationship leaving unsuspecting couples prone to crises.  What makes it even more dangerous is that it is often not easy to detect because it looks so good both internally and externally.  

So how does a couple protect their relationship from failure due to drifting?  In working with couples in my practice, I’ve found the answer to be in the the research of Dr. John Gottman when he says, “Small things often.”  You see, while the diamond ring, the new car, and the lavish vacations are nice, they’re not the true building blocks of the relationship.  It’s little things throughout the day, every day that builds “The Emotional Bank Account,” something that will be discussed further in upcoming articles in this series.  It’s filling the car up with gas because you knew it was going to be raining in the morning when your spouse left work.  It’s turning off the TV and going for ice cream, folding the clothes, or a hundred other little things that let your partner know you care.  

In the Sound Relationship House model that is the result of decades of clinical studies on relationships, the first three levels are all about building, maintaining, or in many cases rebuilding the friendship.  All levels of the SRH model are important to protect from drifting, but those first three levels are key.  In upcoming articles I’ll be discussing the importance of “Love Maps,” “Sharing Fondness & Admiration,” and one of the biggest of them all, “Turning Towards.”  It’s such a seemingly tiny moment of your time, but has major implications for in how your relationship survives.  

Much more is to come, so keep checking back, but in the meantime, remember the mantra, “Small things often,” and keep it fresh in your mind.  

If your relationship is drifting, and you need help getting things back on track, call me at 469-225-9040 or contact me online for a free consultation.

Turning Towards - Bids for Attention

Turning Toward vs. Away

Is your emotional bank account overdrawn?  If so the overdraft fees can be far worse than anything imposed on your regular bank account.  So what am I referring to, and how does it affect your world?  Well as you have probably guessed, this emotional account has to do with your relationship.  When the balance is high, and you’re having a bad day or in a thoughtless moment react harshly to your spouse, it’s not the norm.  Therefore they are more apt to realize you’re dealing with something right now, and either let it go or come to you and ask if there is anything they can do to help.  If, however, the balance is already overdrawn, then this just becomes one more in the long list of events that may spell disaster for your relationship.  

So how do you fund the emotional bank account?  Well the answer comes from research by The Gottman Institute and it’s found in the three little words, “Small Things Often.”  I have referenced this in previous articles, but today I’d like to address one that is specifically known for increasing the balance of your account.  It’s Level 3 in our Sound Relationship House model-“Turning Towards Instead of Away.”  This is such a seemingly small thing, that it’s easy to miss, but holds profound hope for your relationship.  

In each day there are these short moments in time-moments Dr. John Gottman refers to as “Sliding Doors” in time after the movie by the same name.  These are short opportunities that exist for mere seconds and have the ability to create a profound affect on your relationship, and it’s in these short moments that you have the opportunity to turn toward your partner.  

These moments were first observed in the apartment lab where researchers have been studying relationships for decades.  A typical example takes place when the couple is having breakfast.  The husband is eating his cereal, staring at the TV, and the wife looks out the window over the ocean and says, “Oh what a beautiful boat.”  Now the husband has three choices.  He can continue watching TV, eating his cereal, and ignore the comment; this is known as turning away from the bid for attention.  He could also respond harshly with a comment like, “I’m trying to hear this.”  That’s turning against the bid for attention, or he might reply by turning his head to see the boat and say, “Oh.”  Now while he could obviously show more interest than just, “Oh,” that little acknowledgment is enough to be considered turning toward the bid.

This little bids are often subconscious in nature, meaning your partner may not even realize he or she has requested your attention, but it’s oh so important.  What we know from the research is that the couples we call the Masters or Relationship who stayed married, turned toward their partner’s bid 86% of the time.  Couples who were divorced six years later (The Disasters) only turned toward their partner’s bid 33% of the time.  Oh and one last thing! Learn to pay attention because when it comes to bids for attention, it’s unusual for a partner to rebid if a bid is declined or ignored.  In fact research has shown that in happy couples if the bid is ignored, the partner will only attempt a rebid 22% of the time.  The Disasters, or couples who divorced, well research showed they didn’t rebid at all.

So strive to never miss that sliding door in time.  When your spouse comes in all happy and wants to tell you a joke, put down the book, turn away from the laptop, or mute the TV, and be genuinely interested!  Take that moment:

“Oh look, a hummingbird.”

Oh, wow!”

Maybe even get up and go look.  

If you feel like your partner is missing your bids for attention, research shows us there are some underlying reasons as to why 50% of the bids are being missed.  If you'd like to work on that and become one of the masters of relationships, call me at 469-225-9040 or contact us online for a free consultation. 

Do You Have An Angry Brain?

 

Do you find yourself at times becoming so angry that you have trouble thinking?  Maybe you act impulsively during an outburst of anger.  You may even get so mad that you find yourself feeling out of control of your actions.  In some cases, people can actually “see red.”  That’s right; even if it’s never happened to you, yet, as fits of anger and rage continue to feed and grow, there is physiological reason for the event, and you can become so mad that you can actually see red.

If you’re currently experiencing any of these events then you know the horrible impact the growing trend can have on your life, your job, and your relationships.  You see, neurobiology has shown us how over time these angry responses actually become hard-wired in our brains.  This causes us to respond angrily in situations that in other cases wouldn’t cause us to necessarily lose our composure.  What’s more is that it’s not just our relationships that are at risk.  Several clinical studies have confirmed time and again that these angry neural-pathways in the brain actually damage your health.  Other studies have shown that what you do with that anger can actually affect the health of your spouse and family.  

So what is a person to do who has developed these angry responses?  

Well the good news is that just as neurobiology taught us how these knee-jerk, angry responses become hard-wired in the brain, it has also taught us how to reverse the process.  The bad news is that that it takes work and commitment.  In fact the rule is, “Real brain change takes real effort.”  You have to be willing to make a strong commitment to the goal and be wiling to take time, put thought and emotion into it, be willing to practice, and do the homework assigned.  In other words, it has to be important to you, but the better news is that the journey is worth it, and it does work.  

Now some of you may be thinking you’ve read books or tried counseling before.  Maybe you were sent to counseling by the courts or a probation officer.  Maybe you went because your spouse told you if you didn’t they were going to leave you, or your boss said if you didn’t go he was going to fire you.  The problems with these scenarios are many, but at the forefront are two big ones.  First, it’s like quitting an addiction.  Over the years I have used hypnotherapy to help many clients quit smoking as well as other harmful habits.   It works very well, but only if the client wants to quit, not if he is there because someone else wants him or her to quit.  The same holds true with healing an angry brain.  You can’t just be going through the motions because a spouse or parole officer has sent you to counseling.  There has be a commitment from you; a deep desire to not be that person anymore.  The second major reason why previous counseling may not have worked is that change--real change to an angry brain takes time.  It takes more than 10 sessions to change years of hard-wired angry responses, and most anger management workshops meet for one to two hours a week for about 10-12 weeks.  How long does it take?  Well every situation is unique, but as a general rule we tend to think in terms of 3-6 months for real, positive change.

Again, the point I would like for you to take away from this is that all is not lost.  It doesn’t matter that you’ve had 4 failed marriages, that you grew up in a house with an angry alcoholic, or that you’ve been this way since childhood.  Real, meaningful change is possible when approached from a neurobiology point of view.  

Please watch for upcoming articles in this series that will delve deeper into why the brain adopts these angry patterns and how to break out of them.  In the meantime, if you or someone you know is dealing with anger management issues and wants to change, call the office at 469-225-9040, or contact us online for a free initial consultation.

References:

Potter-Efron, R. T. (2012). Healing the angry brain: how understanding the way your brain works can help you control anger & aggression. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.