Infidelity is the most common type of betrayal that our society focuses on, but really, it's the subtle, unnoticed betrayals that truly ruin relationships. Check this out -When partners do not choose each other day after day, trust and commitment erode away.
Partners might be aware of this disloyalty to each other, but dismiss it because it’s “not as bad as an affair.” This kind of thinking is false. Anything that violates a committed relationship’s contract of mutual trust, respect, and protection can be cataclysmal.
Betrayals are founded on two building blocks: deception (not revealing your true needs to avoid conflict) and a yearning for emotional connection from outside the relationship.
Below, I've listed three betrayals that ruin relationships. It's only by purposefully confronting and taking responsibility for them that couples are able to reestablish their trust in each other.
It’s very easy for platonic friends to bond in the trenches of work, day after day. Sometimes we call this person a “work wife” or “work husband.” Even friendships made at the gym or local coffee shop can threaten the bond at home. These nonsexual relationships can lead to both parties sharing intimate details about each other’s lives. That sharing within a friendship doesn’t make it a betrayal. What makes it a betrayal is this: if your partner would be upset by the things you’ve shared or would be uncomfortable watching the interaction.
Joe first learns of his wife’s sexless affair when they hosted a Christmas party. Kate has never mentioned Chris, the new manager of her department. At the party, Chris seems to know about Emily’s entire life. He even brought their son Jake a the newest version of his favorite game.
Joe looks at Kate with a shocked expression. Her uncomfortable look sinks his heart. When he approaches her after the party, Kate argues about her friendship with Chris. She tells Joe it’s “nothing” because they are “just friends.” Kate then turns against Joe and defends Chris. She accuses her husband of being irrational and jealous and tells him it’s those reasons that he didn’t know about Chris in the first place. Joe feels there is nothing irrational about his jealousy. Whether he admits it or not, his wife is cheating. The evidence lies in her secrecy.
5 signs your partner’s friendship is not an innocent friendship:
Couples don’t feel supported when one partner walks the fence of the relationship. They don’t feel like their partner has their best interests at heart, that they have their back. When this happens, it’s not uncommon for the betrayed partner to blame a trigger as the real problem, when it’s actually the lack of commitment.
As Camille reflects on her first marriage, she knows she began to feel betrayed when her husband stalled on starting a family. At first she thought he was anxious about becoming a father, but in couples therapy it became clear that he was hesitant to deepen his commitment to her.
Like an anxious lover, she clung onto him with desperation, terrified of losing her marriage until she realized she never really had one to begin with. Sometimes a partner may pressure the other to marry or move in, believing that taking the next logical step will deepen their connection, but it’s difficult for a marriage to succeed if it is built on a vow to create a strong bond rather than the result of one. The shallowness of the bond will eventually leak through the connection.
Steps to create unconditional love: When couples ignore or dismiss talking about difficult issues, they are left with a shallow commitment. By using conflict as a catalyst for closeness, couples can intentionally use problems as an opportunity to discuss their goals, fears, and dreams. Couples that unconditionally love each other live by the motto, "baby, when you hurt, the world stops and I listen."
Emotional withdrawal can be something big, like choosing a work meeting over a family funeral, or it can be as small as turning away when your partner needs emotional support.
A committed relationship requires both partners to be there for each other through the earth-shaking traumas and everyday annoyances. That means celebrating joys and successes with your partner, too.
Everybody has different ways of expressing themselves. In a committed relationship, it is the responsibility of both partners to uncover and disclose these preferences to understand what the other requires to feel loved, protected, and supported. Think of The Five Love Languages. In his research lab, Dr. John Gottman discovered that happy couples turned toward each other 86% of the time, while unhappy couples turned towards each other only 33% of the time. That means unhappy couples withdraw 67% of the time! Emotional withdrawal sets in when someone's bids for closeness are ignored.
Solution: To improve your emotional connection, focus on rebuilding and updating your Love Maps, cultivating a culture of admiration and fondness, and turning towards bids more often.
Do any of the items listed above feel familiar or make you feel uneasy? If so, you may be facing a betrayal. Maybe it’s as serious as finding discomforting text messages between your partner and someone else. This list is not about who is right or wrong. Like sexual affairs, these betrayals can be overcome if you recognize the problem and repair the relationship together.
What feelings were denied you as a child?
Did your parents or caregivers say:
Hendrix acknowledges that the rules of emotional expression differ between men and women. Early on, we realize that what’s “allowed” for boys and what’s “allowed” for girls is clear.
Hendrix recognizes that, for boys, emotional expression or the expression of empathy is perceived as weakness or fear. Girls, on the other hand, are encouraged toward these tender exchanges.
Males learn to cut off their own emotional experiences, which, in turn, impacts their ability to express themselves clearly and to develop empathy for their partners. The cutoff that I refer to here often looks like withdrawal, leaving the more emotionally expressive partner to chase after the distant one. These interactions create a negative withdraw-pursue cycle in the relationship.
In my work with both heterosexual and same-sex couples, I have seen these patterns play out repeatedly. Men and women repress their feelings based on a host of unique factors. Factors that influence emotional repression can be traced back to early childhood. These can include influential personalities in the individual's family of origin, cultural and religious background, definitions of masculinity and femininity, trauma, the political climate, and more.
Some of my most meaningful work with a person occurs when they learn how to undo their own emotional repression. Here are some of the steps we take to help them emotionally evolve.
1. Learn Emotional Language
When repressed enough, partners lose their ability to retrieve the language or emotions. Evidence of this may include responses such as “I don’t know” or “I can’t describe it” when a person is asked how they feel. In therapy, we start small, reviewing the six most basic human emotions: anger, sadness, fear, joy, love, and surprise. But knowing the feelings is not always enough to name them and experience them in the moment.
2. Work from the Outside In
We register our feelings in our bodies. We typically feel our emotions in our throats, behind our eyes, in our torsos (including back and chest), in our bellies, and sometimes in our legs, arms, hands, and feet. When you learn the sensations of the body you are then able to connect your experience to the learned emotional language. Heat in your cheeks might connect to anger, a lump in your throat might indicate sadness, loss of breath may connect to surprise, and butterflies in the belly or ice-cold palms may mean fear. Practice noticing your reactions to conversations and experiences, pay attention to your body, and begin to make the connections for yourself.
3. Verbalize the Feeling
Once you tune into the sensation and connect it to the relevant feeling word, you can verbalize the feeling by sharing with your partner. You can say, for example, “I’m aware that I have butterflies in my stomach and that I feel scared,” or, “I can feel my heart pounding right now; I know I’m angry and I need time to cool off.” Being able to verbalize your feelings gives you and your partner a chance to communicate about what’s fueling them and why they may be uncomfortable.
When you complete all three steps, you've begun to overcome emotional repression. You’re no longer detaching from your feelings. You’re no longer denying yourself the right to speak up about your experience. You’re allowing others to know you more deeply.
Of course, there are other feelings words, such as disappointment, loss, confusion, bewilderment, hope, excitement, and others. But for anyone who has a lifetime of emotional repression, the six most basic human emotions often capture enough to name the feeling adequately. As you become more habitual in sensing, naming, and verbalizing your emotions, consider expanding your emotional language to describe how you feel.
For those of you on the receiving end, check in with yourselves. Make sure you want what is offered. Anger, sadness, and fear are generally harder to receive than love, joy, and surprise. Sometimes, people tell me they want their partners to express themselves more fully, but when they do, the receivers struggle to take in what their partners say.
Healthy emotional communication requires everyone to be both a giver and a receiver. Reciprocation of emotional expression provides the best environment for intimacy between people to grow. If you are struggling with this, either individually or as a couple consider making an appointment with me or another qualified therapist.
Hendrix, H. (2008). Getting the love you want: A guide for couples. New York, NY: Holt Paperbacks.
Starting couples therapy can be scary. As a couples therapist, I’ve heard complaints from couples who’d been ready to make their relationships better, only to end up in the office of a well-meaning but ultimately unhelpful therapist.
I have the privilege to work with many brave couples who work super hard to save their relationships. As a therapist, I find couples work to be very satisfying because of the dedication required of partners. A lot of couples begin counseling in distress and crisis. While that's sad in and of itself, some of the saddest stories I’ve heard involved couples having experienced poor advice or guidance from previous therapists.
Below are a few of the potentially harmful things a therapist can do with a couple facing serious relationship challenges:
Our lives can be all over the place. Every day we face a whole new slew of people and situations that have the potential to stress us out. Since we're all unique individuals, we each have our own ways of dealing with these stressful people and times. Some of the tools that we employ are helpful...while others are not so helpful. Since we're all different from one another, the things that stress one person may not have the same effect on the person sitting right next to them. Stress is super complicated and highly personal to the individual who experiences it. Think about what makes you feel stressed out. I'm sure that you have known other people who aren’t bothered by your stressors and seem to deal with them without so much as a bat of an eye. Do you know people who stress out about things that would never occur to you be a problem? The reason people react differently to the same stressor has to do with their experiences. Stress is brought on by "triggers" or situations/people/emotions that you are particularly sensitive to because of things that have happened in your life.
Take anger, for example: A person who was raised in an unpredictable environment where anger caused yelling, intimidation, or physical violence will likely react differently to anger than someone who was taught to express anger in a healthy way. Both people may experience a partner being angry with them, but only one of them is likely to be triggered.
There is no limit to the ways individuals are triggered because there is an unlimited number of circumstances that affect human beings. In addition to the diversity of triggers that exist, there is a broad spectrum of ways people react to their triggers. People tend to develop defense mechanisms, or unconscious reactions that protect them from the pain of their triggers. It is common to be unaware of the presence of these defense mechanisms as well as when they are in use. I bet that almost all of us have heard or used the term “become defensive” when we feel that someone is trying to protect or defend themselves in an argument instead of listening to the opposing point of view. This often happens when a person is triggered by the subject matter. Even after the trigger has passed, the defense mechanism remains and may impact relationships and work.
As a therapist who works with young people and LGBTQ+ individuals and couples with a variety of anxiety, depression and personal image issues, I see my share of defense mechanisms that come out during the course of a therapy session. As a therapist, I am trained to identify and help people work through these defenses, which is critical in making progress on whatever issue brings them to counseling.
There are many different types of defense mechanisms, but the following are five common ones. Regardless of how emotionally healthy we are, we all have defense mechanisms at play every day.
A qualified therapist can help you build your self-awareness, heal past pain and/or trauma, and get you coping in a healthy way with any triggers that come your way.
We've all experienced being hurt by someone we love. It's inevitable. Even when two people have a connected, secure and healthy relationship, they will end up hurting one another at some point. We're human. That's just the way it is. When couples come to see me for therapy, it's often due to an experience or pattern of experiences that caused one or both of the partners to feel hurt. The couple decides to come to therapy because they are having a difficult time resolving this hurt. They need some help in order to feel safe with each other again.
When working with couples, I want to understand the nature and significance of the hurt before moving toward resolution. How bad is it? How deep is the impact? First, we must understand the two levels of hurt: relational hurts and attachment injuries.
Relational Hurts (Hurt Feelings)
Couples who are secure in their relationship can usually navigate relational hurts on their own. Some examples of relational hurts might be forgotten anniversaries, reactive insults, or blow-up fights that sneak into relationships. For couples who feel they can depend and rely on each other in times of need, relational hurts are pretty simple to navigate. Attuned couples do this by sharing their hurt feelings with each other, hearing and empathizing with the hurt of their partner, and they provide comfort and reassurance. Partners can then move forward in the relationship with trust, security, and safety despite the hurtful experience. This is a natural and expected experience for healthy relationships.
I can often tell when a hurt falls into the category of a relational hurt. In our sessions, couples may share feelings of sadness, anger, hurt, and pain in response to an experience. But when I ask them if they feel their partner loves and cares for them, they can quickly answer “yes.” For them, even though the hurt happened, it hasn’t significantly changed the way they view each other or the relationship.
Attachment injuries are trickier. These injuries require a lot more care, consideration, and guidance, sometimes from a couples counselor.
When couples are trying to respond to attachment injuries as if they are merely a relational hurt, they can stay stuck. Without recognizing the significance and impact of the injury, they can go down a long road of frustration and more hurt. An injured partner can feel even more hurt that the other person is not responding in ways that provide healing. The hurt deepens, becomes more complex, and can create great distress in the relationship.
Dr. Sue Johnson defines an attachment injury as “a feeling of betrayal or abandonment during a critical time of need.” When an attachment injury happens, a partner may view their relationship as changed or they may view their partner in a different way. An affair is a good example of an attachment injury. Infidelity often causes a partner to view a previously safe relationship as unsafe. While they used to view their partner as trustworthy, they now wonder, “Can I ever trust this person again?”
There are also more subtle attachment injuries. One example to consider is that of a wife, grieving the loss of her mother, crying in her bedroom. The wife observes her husband walk by on his phone, consumed in a work call. He sees her in tears but, because he was so focused on his work, he never returns to check on her. In that moment, the wife decides she is not important to him and she must go through this pain alone. In that moment, everything changes in how she views the relationship and how she views her husband. She was in need and he wasn’t there.
There are three ways to determine if a hurt is an attachment injury. First, partners report they have apologized, but their hurt partner keeps bringing up the hurtful experience. In addition, the hurt partner may report feeling as though they relive the hurtful experience when they think or talk about it. They can still feel the pain, almost as if it just happened. Finally, couples report a significant, defining shift in the relationship felt by one or both partners that can be traced back to a specific time or incident. If any of these things are happening in your relationship, there may be an attachment injury.
If you believe you are dealing with an attachment injury in your relationship, here are some helpful things to think about:
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is a metaphor depicting the end of times in the New Testament. They describe conquest, war, hunger, and death respectively. Dr. Gottman uses this metaphor to describe communication styles that can predict the end of a relationship.
The first horseman of the apocalypse is criticism. Criticizing your partner is different than offering a critique or voicing a complaint. The latter two are about specific issues, whereas the former is an ad hominem attack. Criticism attacks your partner at their core. When you criticize, you're actually working to dismantle his or her whole being.
The second horseman is contempt. When we communicate in this state, we are truly mean. W treat others with disrespect, mocking them with sarcasm, ridicule, name-calling, mimicking, and/or body language such as eye-rolling. The target of contempt is made to feel despised and worthless.
“You’re ‘tired?’ Cry me a river. I’ve been with the kids all day, running around like mad to keep this house going and all you do when you come home from work is flop down on that sofa like a child and play those idiotic computer games. I don’t have time to deal with another kid – try to be more pathetic…”
In his research, Dr. Gottman found that couples that are contemptuous of each other are more likely to suffer from infectious illness (colds, the flu, etc.) than others, as their immune systems weaken! Contempt is fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts about the partner—which come to a head in the perpetrator attacking the accused from a position of relative superiority. Contempt is the single greatest predictor of divorce according to Dr. Gottman’s work. It must be eliminated.
The third horseman is defensiveness. We’ve all been defensive. This horseman is nearly omnipresent when relationships are on shaky ground. When we feel accused unjustly, we search for excuses so that our partner will back off. Unfortunately, this strategy is almost never successful. Our excuses just tell our partner that we don’t take them seriously, trying to get them to buy something that they don’t believe, that we are blowing them off.
Although it is perfectly understandable for the male to defend himself in the example given above, this approach doesn’t have the desired effect. The attacking spouse does not back down or apologize. This is because defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner.
The fourth horseman is stonewalling. Stonewalling occurs when the listener withdraws from the interaction. In other words, stonewalling is when one person shuts down and closes himself/herself off from the other. It is a lack of responsiveness to your partner and the interaction between the two of you. Rather than confronting the issues (which tend to accumulate!) with our partner, we make evasive maneuvers such as tuning out, turning away, acting busy, or engaging in obsessive behaviors. It takes time for the negativity created by the first three horsemen to become overwhelming enough that stonewalling becomes an understandable “out,” but when it does, it frequently becomes a habit.
Pay close attention the next time you find yourself engaged in a difficult conversation with your partner, a friend, or even with your children. See if you can spot any of The Four Horsemen, and try to observe their effects on the people involved.
Being able to identify The Four Horsemen in your conflict discussions is a necessary first step to eliminating them, but this knowledge is not enough. To drive away destructive communication patterns, you must replace them with healthy, productive ones. Take the first step to discovering healthy, productive methods of communication and patterns of interaction by starting couples counseling today.
From a recent study comprised of 40,000 "Relationship Checkup" participants, Dr. John Gottman, a primary figure on the relationship research and couples therapy scene since the mid 80’s, has new data. Here are just a few relationship research nuggets on heterosexual couples from his study. You might find some of the results surprising!
What percentage of couples presently engagee in therapy is at least one partner considering an exit? 66%
82% of couples are having problems with loneliness in the relationship
What About Problems with Intimacy and Sex?
Sex Quality: 55%
Sex Frequency: 49%
How many partners have problems with trust? 66%
The Top 3 Things Couples Fight About:
86%: Not having fun anymore
74%: No emotional connection
Speaking of conflict, the biggest obstacle to productively navigating conflict in relationships is flooding. Flooding means that the heart gets to 100 beats per minute, and when that happens it is nearly impossible to communicate from a calm, grounded place. In fact, when flooded, communication can be erratic, irrational and possibly damaging to the relationship. The antidote is self-soothing or helping each other soothe, if possible. Sometimes leaving the situation (in a structured time out) is the best thing a couple can do for a relationship. 96% of couples are flooded during conflict. It is interesting to note that LGBTQ couples seem to do a much better job than heterosexual couples with conflict and communication.
I will leave you with one more nugget and it’s an important one to consider for those who are struggling in married or long term relationships: The #1 predictor of divorce is contempt. If you are calling your partner names, assassinating their character or hitting below the belt in other ways…and you would like to save your relationship, please seek counseling for help.
Couples who share rituals are able to create shared meaning together. Daily rituals help shape our lives in positive ways and habits are super important to our success in all areas of life. Generally speaking, habits and rituals make us more productive and healthier. In a relationship, world-renowned marriage and relationship expert, Dr. John Gottman, calls these habits rituals of connection. Here are 5 rituals that you can build into your relationship right now to begin creating new or renewed connection in your relationship.
1. Eat meals together without screens, your texts and emails can wait. So can the Instagram photo of your plate of food.
2. Have a stress-reducing conversation. Take a few minutes each day to ask how your partner is doing. The purpose of this conversation is to process external stress, not to bring up problems in your relationship. Couples who engage in "active listening" by taking turns sharing how they feel and to sho compassion to one another, will grow immensely in their emotional connection.
3. Take a vacation without the kids once a year. If your budget doesn't allow a big trip, try camping or a weekend get away.
4. Exercise together. Studies show that sharing an exciting experience can bring couples closer together. Experiment with new and different ways to get moving.
5. Share a kiss. A daily six-second kiss will increase your emotional and physical intimacy. Physical contact releases oxytocin (the bonding hormone), can improve our mood (for days) and can help you stay calm. Holding hands, hugging, touching, and making out can reduce your stress hormones (cortisol) and increase your sense of relationship satisfaction.
Dr. John Gottman suggests that couples commit to a magic six hours a week together, which includes rituals for saying goodbye in the morning and reuniting at the end of the day. Sticking to these rituals will help you grow stronger in your relationship.
So, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), millennials experience more stress and are less able to manage it than any other generation. What's up with that? Millennials have been found to be more anxious than older Americans. The APA reports that 12% of millennials have a diagnosed anxiety disorder—almost twice the percentage their Boomer counterparts.
On a non-clinical scale, a BDA Morneau Shepell white paper revealed that 30% of working millennials have general anxiety, while a 2014 American College Health Association (ACHA) assessment found that anxiety regularly afflicts 61% of college students. In my work with college students, I have found this to be an accurate representation. Anxiety and stress sabotage my students' productivity and academic performance. Some sources of millennial anxiety may be due to a tough job market, student debt, as well as psychological causes. Some psychological causes that I have seen in my practice are issues such as ambition addiction, career crises, and choice-overload. However, even more simple day-to-day behaviors can trigger anxiety. Here are some reasons that I've witnessed why 20-somethings are so anxious:
Many of the couples that I work with show up to counseling confused and frustrated because they just don't know what to do with the one another. They are missing each other. Their needs aren't being met and they have fought for so long that now they are just numb. They are stuck. The key to unlocking stuckness and creating lasting change is learning to listen and to expand on key emotions.
In order to do this, I work with the couple to identify their negative patterns of interaction. The negative patterns are the enemy - not the partners themselves. By focusing on the exchanges in the session and helping the partners see the spiral they are caught in, rather than just focusing on the last thing the other partner just said, helps them begin to see the entire dialogue; how it has a life of its own and hurts each of them. However, even though both individuals recognize the spiraling patterns, the situations keep repeating. They get trapped in the emotions and sucked back into their stuckness. It's important during these times that we slow down the interactions in the session so the emotions truly come to the surface and the other person can see and understand why his or her partner is responding in the way that they are. Actually talking about the emotions--often fear, sadness, embarrassment, shame--changes the conversation and all of the sudden the partners are hearing each other and experiencing each other differently for the first time.
In relationships we are looking for a unique kind of emotional responsiveness - it's a responsiveness that is key to lasting love for couples. Dr. Susan Johnson says that emotional responsiveness has three main components:
Just like I often ask in sessions - Are you there, are you with me?