The Marriage Podcast for Smart People
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Build a Marriage You’ll Love Today and Treasure for a Lifetime
Why Is My Spouse So Controlling?
There’s a level of control that occurs in relatively few marriages that we would see as part of an abusive power and control dynamic. But then there’s a lower level of control that doesn’t come from an abusive spouse that can still be frustrating and lead to conflict in the marriage. We’ve talked about the abusive kind of control before, so if you want to learn more about that kind of control feel free to go back to our previous episodes of the podcast to learn more about what that looks like. Today, we’re talking about the annoying kind of controlling. This is not so much about the spouse’s power and dominance as the controlling spouse’s worry, fear, anxiety, and maybe even mental health issues that are driving this behavior. And sometimes the non-controlling spouse may also be acting in ways that prompt this behavior. If you’re listening to this to try to figure out your spouse, you may ask yourself what your role might be and how might you help your spouse feel less of a need to be in control. Where Control Issues Come From 1. Fear Control issues are often rooted in fear. This is the first place to look. If you’re afraid and you want to make it safer, you’re going to want to control the variables. This is quite a common response to fear. Fear can come from a number of different places. One place fear can come from is trauma. When something very frightening or overwhelming happens, it may cause a person to install certain requirements or demands in order to preserve safety. For example, you’ve been in a late night car accident, and you now want to control all of the family travel so that there’s no late-night travel going on and no one is allowed to go out after dark. So now you’ve become “controlling.” You’ve installed requirements or demands on others in order to preserve your sense of safety and well-being, to stop the horror from repeating itself. Another source of control is abandonment (fear of being left alone). If you were left alone at some point as a child or at a point in your marriage, that may result in the kind of controlling behavior where you don’t let your spouse do things on their own or do certain things on their own. You always have to be there, or you always have to do things together. 2. Betrayal Betrayal may also lead to controlling relationships with certain kinds of people in order to prevent re-betrayal. For example, if in your first marriage you were sexually betrayed by your spouse, in your second marriage you may marry a faithful person, but you exert control on them to make sure that that previous betrayal doesn’t re-occur, much to the frustration of your current spouse. That can get difficult because it can cause such distress in your marriage that there’s an emotional separation, or drifting apart that occurs between you. Thus, controlling behavior can lead to further dysfunction. In another scenario, if you’re a late teenager and you saw your father gamble away your family’s savings and eventually lose the home, job, etc., that’s a major financial betrayal. And later in life when you are a mom you may think you’re a super budgeter, but there’s actually a ton of control over where every penny goes. So, in this situation if the husband buys a chocolate bar and the wife gets upset and he may get frustrated and say “can I not even buy a chocolate bar without asking your permission?” This is clearly a higher level of control than just a healthy budgeting habit. 3. Mental Health Issues Now that we’ve talked about a few fear-related causes of control, we’re going to move on to look at mental health. Some mental health issues can cause controlling behavior. Take personality disorders like Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Someone with BPD may say if you leave, I’ll hurt myself, or I might not be ok somehow (there’s a clinging aspect of BPD that does relate to fear of abandonment, but it is also a mental health condition and the fear piece is a part of...
Defining Emotionally Abusive Behavior
This is a subject we’ve wanted to address for some time. We see some irony in the work we do with couples or individuals when it comes to abuse. Often, though not always, people who are in a relationship with a truly abusive person do not realize it. On the other hand, couples who are in high conflict often label the other person as abusive when they are not really an abusive person, although they may relate to abusive tactics from time to time. So, the ‘abuse’ word gets abused sometimes. And other times, when it should be used, it’s not. So, we hope we can provide some clarity today by going through some of these emotionally abusive behaviors. One distinction we want to make right off the bat is that probably all of us at some point in time have resorted to using one or more of the abusive tactics we are going to discuss in this episode. There’s a difference between bad behavior and a more fundamental problem of being an abusive person. The latter is a more characterological issue: it’s a way of seeing one’s intimate partner all the time as someone to be controlled, dominated, manipulated to serve you, as less than you. On the other hand, many of us in conflict may use some abusive tactics — that’s not acceptable either, but it’s nowhere near the scale of severity compared to a spouse who faces a characterologically abusive person every day. It may just be that your marriage is normal, there’s no cycle in that sense, but when you get into conflict, you might use unpredictability or blame. That’s bad too, but not problematic in the same way as abuse. The key distinction between resorting to abusive behavior when in conflict and being in an abusive marriage is that the cycle of abuse is always happening in an abusive marriage. We talk extensively about being in an abusive marriage in episodes 123, 124, and 125. Generally, abusive behavior can be verbal, emotional, and/or physical. Right now, we’re focusing on emotional abuse. Emotional abuse can include verbal assault, dominance, control, isolation, ridicule, or the use of intimate knowledge for degradation. This is the kind of abuse that targets the emotional and psychological well-being of the victim in order to gain power over them. It is often (though not always) a precursor to physical abuse. Some types of physical behavior can be considered emotional abuse in that they involve acts of physical violence although the victim is never physically impacted. Examples include: throwing objects, kicking a wall, shaking a finger or fist at the victim (threateningly), driving recklessly while the victim is in the car, or threatening to destroy objects the victim values. Emotionally Abusive Behavior 1. Gaslighting According to Paige Sweet, gaslighting is "a type of psychological abuse aimed at making victims seem or feel 'crazy,' creating a 'surreal' interpersonal environment (so bad it didn’t seem real) (p. 851). It’s more of a gendered phenomenon that occurs in power-laden intimate relationships where the wife is dependent, not the husband. The husband brings the social and economic capital to the relationship, and so has a degree of power that he can abuse. It promotes the idea that women are overly emotional, irrational and not in control of their emotions. Signs of Gaslighting: Spouses who gaslight will often "flip the script.” That’s the basic tactic: whatever actually happened, they’ll say something else happened. You heard them say XYZ, they’ll deny saying it at all or tell you it was actually ZYX and you must be losing it for not remembering. When there’s not another witness and your spouse is doing this constantly, it erodes your sense of self-trust. There’s lots of lies: about what was said, what actually happened, and who did what. This is usually more subtle, rather than a blatant thing. Another tactic is to use your insecurities against you: you’re worried because he didn’t come home last night?
How Do I Know When/If I Can Trust My Spouse After Betrayal?
How do I know if I can trust my spouse again? This question represents one of the most profound dilemmas a betrayed spouse will struggle with as they journey towards healing after a significant betrayal. How do I know I’m not going to get hurt again? How do I know I’m not just being a fool to trust him or her? Trust is so easy to break and so hard to build: today we’d like to give you more insight into the dynamics at play in this important struggle. Before we talk about indicators of trustworthiness, we’re going to look at factors that are independent of trustworthiness, or a lack thereof, in your spouse, that affect your ability to trust them again. The Interference of Betrayal Trauma Betrayal often causes symptoms of trauma to appear. Symptoms of betrayal trauma include: Avoidance (possibly even as far as terminating your relationship with your spouse)Hypervigilance (fear response) which can involve scrutinizing all of your spouse’s behaviors, searching, researching, double-checking and interrogatingObsessive questioning, meaning that you continually grill your spouse, and may find it hard to stop Rage (fight response)Numbness (freeze response) Identifying these symptoms isn’t meant to pathologize any of them. It’s just good to be aware of the symptoms so that you can recognize it if you experience betrayal trauma. Sometimes you can spend a lot of emotional and mental space trying to figure out what happened. Gordon, Baucom and Snyder (2005) note "a primary disruption experienced by the injured partner is intrusive, persistent rumination about the event, which can become so overwhelming and uncontrollable that it interferes with both concentration and daily functioning" (p. 1394). If you’re experiencing symptoms of betrayal trauma, the process is entirely inside because of what the betraying spouse has done. The symptoms of betrayal trauma can protect you from reaching out to your spouse again, even if they’ve returned to a trustworthy place. We’re delicately saying that the symptoms of trauma can prevent you from trusting, even if you are in a situation where it would be safe to trust again. Part of the impact of trauma is how it affects trust. Gordon, Baucom, and Snyder (2005) go on to observe: "A major cognitive response associated with the discovery of an affair is the change in beliefs about the partner and relationship; one can no longer trust in his or her partner or feel safe within the relationship" (p. 1394). Trauma affects what you believe about your spouse. Here’s the point: they betrayed you. The betrayal causes trauma. In the ensuing fallout, it is possible that significant cognitive and emotional changes occurred in your spouse so that they are now a trustworthy person. But if your trauma is unresolved and unhealed, the trauma itself will prevent you from seeing, believing and acting on that trustworthiness. We’re not saying all betraying spouses become trustworthy. Yours may not be. But we are saying that yours may now be, but your trauma prevents you from acknowledging this because it’s protecting you. In conjunction with your spouse doing what is necessary to become a changed, trustworthy person, you also need to take care of this trauma that has occurred. For betraying spouses listening, it is not for you to turn on your spouse and say this is your fault/problem. A trustworthy betraying spouse can say “yes, I caused this, and I understand that your healing may not follow the same trajectory or speed as mine and you take all the time you need and I will do what I can to support you and I will do what I can to support you.” If they won’t do this, that is a sign that they’re not really trustworthy because they are still blame shifting. That’s for betrayed spouses to consider as you reflect on yourself. Now, as you reflect on your spouse, we want to give you some warning signs, and some proceed with caution signs. Keep in mind that trust is not a switch that you...
The 5 Pillars of Attachment
We talked a lot about the 4 predominant styles of attachment in episodes 251 to 254. Attachment is basically the science of love, and in the marriage counseling world, it’s one of the core issues that we’re interested in working on when we are looking at how spouses are relating to one another. As we discussed in previous episodes, there are four styles of attachment, and the best style is called secure attachment. In this episode, we’re going to talk about the five pillars of secure attachment that make up that style of relating to others. Review of Attachment For a quick review, attachment is the science of love, or more specifically, the secure emotional bond established between two people (either in a parent to child relationship or in marriage). With a secure attachment style, you can create robust, healthy relationships, and the people in those relationships, your spouse and children, will be best positioned to thrive and grow. A default attachment style is formed within us as a result of the bond during infancy with our primary caregiver (often our mother). Generally, that attachment style becomes the default for how we bond with our spouse through courtship and into marriage. It is possible to change one’s attachment style, but for 68-75% of the population, the childhood attachment style persists into adulthood and only about 40% of people are securely attached (which is the best style to have). Most people don’t realize that it’s possible to change styles, or that they need to, which is why we want to tackle some of these conceptual topics in today’s episode. 5 Pillars of Attachment The five pillars of attachment are: A sense of felt safetyA sense of being seen and known (attunement)The experience of felt comfort (soothing)A sense of being valued (expressed delight)A sense of support for being and becoming one’s unique best self. We’re going to start each one with how a parent does it for a child and by extension how when a child becomes an adult, they extend that for their spouse, and how they can extend that to their spouse today. 1. A Sense of Felt Safety Parent to Child Safety comes from consistency, reliability, and protection. Consistency and reliability are about predictability. Are you present and available in a dependable way, when your spouse needs you (or was your parent)? If a parent was unpredictably available, you probably felt you could never be sure so you needed to check in regularly to see. This leads to an anxious attachment style. If a parent is able to consistently respond to their child’s emotions, needs, and wants, the child will experience a sense of felt safety. On the other hand, if a child grows up in a home where their parent flies off the handle unpredictably, this can lead to an attachment injury even if the parent is always there because the parent is not consistently available. It’s important to note that just because you are unavailable at one particular time does not mean the child will not have a secure attachment style. No parent is perfect, and as long as a parent’s response to their child is understandable and predictable most of the time, then the child will have a sense of felt safety. Protection is also not helicopter parenting. All children have small injuries such as cuts and bruises; providing a sense of safety does not mean parents need to prevent their children from experiencing any level of pain. Protection does mean taking care of adult concerns without exposing the child to them. Children should not feel responsible for other adult concerns (e.g. financial instability). And of course, parents need to pay attention to adult-level threats such as serious physical hurt, inappropriate sexuality, etc. A child should always be protected from serious threats such as physical and emotional abuse and neglect. Failed protection means the child develops memories and feelings relative to their primary attachment figure that a...
What Causes Infidelity?
Today we are going to take a compassionate and sensitive look at the “why” of infidelity. We believe that infidelity is a choice, and, from our own moral perspective, it is wrong, but at the same time when it comes to making sense of infidelity as part of rebuilding a marriage, further examination reveals a lot of complexity and many sensitive topics. Infidelity Looks Different for Different People Infidelity is more common than we might think. A 1994 study showed that nearly a quarter of all men and fifteen percent of women engage in sex outside marriage in either a current marriage or previous marriage. Individuals who commit infidelity can have very different stories. From the perspective of a betraying spouse, some people come in and know how they got derailed. Others come in saying “I don’t know how I got here,” or “I didn’t want this.” There can be a real disconnection from the consequences of their actions. Factors that Can Contribute to Infidelity Dissatisfaction with marriage People who are dissatisfied with their marriages are more likely to seek sexual satisfaction elsewhere than people who are satisfied with their marriages. According to Gerald Weeks, an expert in the field, one of the strongest factors making marital infidelity more likely is diminished marital satisfaction". This information may bring up questions like “what does this mean for distressed marriages?” “Do all affairs point to a distressed marriage?” “Does this happen to all distressed marriages?” It is certainly not the case that distressed marriages always lead to infidelity. There are some situations where infidelity is a result of diminished judgment and an unexpected opportunity, rather than a sign of distress. For example, if a partner goes on a work trip and has too much alcohol and ends up having a sexual encounter with someone other than their spouse. And not everyone in a distressed marriage will have an affair, many people in distressed marriages are faithful to their spouse. But if your marriage is in distress, it’s best to get help and not just to hope for change without taking action. Little or No Sexual Intimacy There have been shown to be higher rates of infidelity when sexual intimacy within the marriage is low in frequency or quality. This is not to say that if you’re not having sex with your spouse that justifies going elsewhere for sexual fulfillment, but a lack of sexual intimacy does increase the temptation. From a Christian perspective, continually withholding sexual intimacy from your spouse is also abandoning one of the privileges of marriage. Doubts the Marriage Will Last Individuals are more likely to engage in extramarital sex if they doubt the long-term viability of their marriage. These doubts may lead them to think that the traditional rules regulating marriage no longer apply to them. One can start thinking “because the marriage won’t last, I’m going to seek sexual fulfillment elsewhere.” But once the norm of sexual fidelity is violated, prospects for the continued stability of the marriage are lessened considerably, so this mentality ends up leading to the disintegration of your marriage, regardless of what hope you had for the marriage to begin with. It’s important to watch for doubts, and what you may entertain based on those doubts about the viability of your marriage. If you find yourself having doubts, try re-visiting your core values. Ask yourself, even if it didn’t last, how you would like the end of the marriage to be remembered? If you’ve been holding off getting help for your marriage, maybe now is the time to do so. Multiple Sexual Partners Prior to Marriage Once again, this doesn’t mean that if you’ve had sexual partners prior to your marriage that you will be unfaithful to your spouse. Correlation is not causation. However, statistically individuals who have had numerous past sexual partners prior to the marriage are more likely...
How To Balance Parenting and Marriage (Even During a Pandemic)
Did you know that the research shows that marriage takes a hit when you have kids? One author reported in 2005 that an analysis of 90 different research studies showed the drop in marital satisfaction is a shocking 42% larger among the current generation than their predecessors. A more recent study from 2016 showed that 67% of couples reported a decline in relationship happiness for up to three years after the birth of their first child. Those figures are reported in non-pandemic situations. Clearly, parenting does impact marriage for most of us, and parenting during a pandemic presents additional challenges. We want to give you some concrete ways to boost your marriage even while you’re parenting during a pandemic. How to Prioritize Your Marriage Instagram and Facebook don’t tell the full story. While we find ourselves posting photos of some pretty sweet moments with our kids, we need to normalize the fact that parenting is very challenging. It makes life more complex and challenging. And those Instagram moments are few and far between. We don’t want to be negative, but we do want to be real. Parenting is hard work. Recognize the Pressure High expectations mean lots of social pressure to have your kid excel in one area, if not multiple areas: academically, socially, in sports or athletics, with spiritual values, etc. It’s exhausting and consuming. As if this wasn’t challenging enough, the compounding problem is that by the time the kids are all launched, the dad and mom hardly know each other and they’ve endured all this stress with little resolution: divorce can become an appealing option. So how does a couple balance all these demands and not end up in that place? Here are a few ways to help couples find balance. Have a Daily Stress-Reducing Conversation Stress often creates overwhelm and emotional reactivity. Having a stress-reducing conversation involves discussing the day’s frustrations, but separating those frustrations from the relationship. Don’t blame all of your frustrations on the relationship when stress is likely the root cause. That gives you both a chance to vent, gain support, and show empathy for one another. This is very important during isolation too. Spend Time with Just One Another This is good at any time, but extra tough if you have kids at home right now who are normally at school. Be intentional about making the time for one another. This restores or fosters a sense of partnership so it’s not only about parenting but also what exists between you two. Think about ways you can do this on a daily basis (smaller, consistent moments) but also on an intermittent basis (e.g. date nights). This may look a bit different during a pandemic, but try to find creative ways to spend time just with one another even if you can’t do some of the activities you would normally do together. In a pandemic context you likely have more time, but it can be harder to make time just for each other if you are home with your kids, so being intentional about creating time is key to prioritizing time with your spouse. How to Stay Close to Your Spouse When Parenting is Demanding If you feel like you’re several years into raising kids and aren’t exactly sure how to pivot back to putting some focus on your marriage, the bonus guide for today’s episode has a couple of great starting points to help you with that. You can get this by becoming a patron of The Marriage Podcast for Smart People. Get the Guide! Discuss Division of Labour A University of California, Berkeley study tracked 100 couples from first pregnancy through the child's transition to kindergarten found that the No. 1 source of conflict in the first three years of parenthood is the division of labor. According to psychologist Carolyn Page Cowan, the couples had expected a more 50-50 arrangement than they ended up with. The study also showed that when dad doesn't step up,
How to Confront Your Husband About His Pornography Addiction
Reasonably often, we get inquiries from a wife whose husband is addicted to pornography and he won’t do anything about it. In this article we want to help you prepare for that first serious confrontation where you have a very deliberate conversation about this problem and how it is impacting you as his wife. Understanding Denial It’s almost inevitable that you are going to run into some level of denial in a conversation like this, so let’s begin by talking about denial. It would be easy to run into this and throw your hands up in the air and give up. However, it is important to understand that denial is a common response to addiction. It is a feature of addiction. And addicts are typically in denial of the negative consequences of their addiction. One important piece to understand is that the part of the brain that craves or desires something has no direct neural connection to the part of the brain that holds the consequence for engaging in what you desire. One relatable example is a second piece of dessert: the idea of that second piece is always significantly more attractive when you’re about to start into it than the experience of it when you’re through it and starting to feel gross. If someone were to stop you before that fork bite and say, “No, you should not do this! You’ll feel gross” your automatic response would be, “Get out of my way or you’ll be wearing this fork! I want it anyway!” Now, that is a somewhat trivial example, but it illustrates the power of denial in addiction to the point where a person can ignore the evidence that their choices are harmful. Nevertheless, it’s still important that the addict is confronted with the consequences of the addiction. We’d just like you to understand that the addict will be in denial and we want to help you prepare so that you can present your evidence, your complaints and concerns in a way that you can motivate him to seek help. Prepare Yourself First As we’ve mentioned in other episodes, we are born-again Christians who are not perfect but are trying to live lives that reflect the values of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. All of that to say, we come at this issue with a moral belief that pornography is not helpful to marriage. We also recognize that we have a lot of listeners who don’t share this belief system and so you’ll approach this issue differently. So, we’re going to offer a range of questions that you should consider as you prepare for this conversation. Depending on your own beliefs and values, some of these questions will be more relevant than others. There are no right or wrong answers to these questions: we just want to think through all that might be going on for you as you approach a confrontation like this with your husband. Consider your motives for having this conversation:What are you hoping to accomplish?Is it to reassure yourself that you are enough?Are you angry and looking to express this?Is it a conviction against his use of pornography?Consider the basis of your objection:Is it moral?Is it based on general beliefs that you have about pornography?Is it the fact that your spouse is lying or hiding to cover it up?Is it other behaviors that come with the addiction, such as gaslighting?Being clear on exactly what you are objecting to will help you make yourself clear to your spouse.Consider the consequences:What impact has his pornography use had on you?What needs and fears are you carrying into this conversation?Pay attention to what your body has been telling you, what your thoughts have been, what you feel in your heart about pornography and describe its impact on you as thoughtfully and precisely as you can. Your husband needs to know the negative effects this has had on you.Know what you are willing to accept and be prepared to state boundaries that you will consider implementing in order to create emotional and relational safety for yourself. When Your Husband Wont Face His Pornography Addiction...
Coronavirus and Your Marriage
Well, we live in unprecedented times as many of us are adjusting to a global crisis. We are recording this episode in the middle of the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic, with some of our listeners in cities in full lock-down and others nervously awaiting the community spread of this disease. Certainly, it has created considerable stress and new issues to negotiate. Today, we’d like to help you understand how these kinds of crises impact marriage, but more importantly, how your marriage can help you buffer the storm. How Coronavirus (Or Any Crisis) Affects Marriage We want to start by normalizing what many are experiencing during this time of crisis. This is a very stressful time. Under this kind of stress, all sorts of issues are going to show up: things related to your family of origin, how you wish to feel supported under duress, communication differences, sexuality issues, attachment, and also loss. To start with the loss issue, many people have lost the regular rhythm of their normal routines. You may find yourself no longer gathering with colleagues at work every day. If you had kids in school, you’ve lost your quiet time at home and the routines you were accustomed to. You may have lost the ability to gather with your church community, go to the gym, and head to the grocery store without fear. There is a lot of loss all around us even if the coronavirus is not in our neighbourhood. And if it is? There could be tragic loss as well. All of this comes with a lot of stress, so we’ll start by looking at how stress affects your marriage. Stress Affects Both Spouses Even if you are not personally as stressed, if your spouse is feeling it, it will bleed over into your experience too. Studies have shown that there is more of a correlation in wives experiencing the stress of their husbands than vice versa. So if your husband is stressed, even if you weren’t, you are going to pick up on that and are likely to have an empathic response. It’s just really hard to get through a time like this untouched by what is going on around you. You May Disagree on How to Handle the Pandemic At ordinary times in life, you may disagree about how to handle money or whether to spend holidays with family or away on vacation. Similarly, you can also disagree about how to handle crises like this pandemic. These disagreements could be related to your family of origin. If your respective family of origin handled crises in different ways, your spouse’s approach to handling the current crisis may be much different from yours. For example, you may believe that this is a time to connect (carefully, and with social distancing) and help one another out as much as possible by sharing resources. But your spouse may feel this is a time to stockpile and hunker down and really protect yourselves and your children. Normal disagreements and differences in the way your family of origin styles tend to show up during a time of crisis. You Deal with Stress Differently It may also be that you have very different ways of coping with stress. This will be accentuated right now. One spouse may want to control the situation and take every possible step to ensure safety. That would be more of a doing or busy response — nothing wrong there. But the other spouse may just really need to talk about their fears and anxieties. You can see how it would be easy to have a disconnect: one spouse wondering why the other is not helping with what needs done, and the other just longing to sit down and be able to talk it out. Naturally, if you don’t take time to communicate with one another, the stress of this crisis can make you feel estranged. So, it is important to pay attention to how the pandemic may be affecting each of you differently and how you respond both respond to it. Your Attachment Style Impacts Your Stress Response We have talked about attachment style in past episodes (episode 251-254) and this is relevant when you are under str...
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Build a Marriage You’ll Love Today and Treasure for a Lifetime