Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Turbulent Marriages Are Threatened by Trump vs. Clinton Feuding

 

A growing number of unhappy couples are having heated arguments about Trump versus Clinton and, as a result are now making appointments for marriage counseling. It is no surprise given that the American Psychological Association just concluded that half of U.S. adults say this election is a significant source of stress. In fact, half of the couples I counsel place political arguments at the top of their sparring list. ‎ I haven't seen this many political arguments in my career as a couple’s therapist. There has not been so much dissatisfaction and stress as with presidential candidates Trump and Clinton. The problem is not as simple as spouses stating, let's just agree to disagree. If it were, marriage counseling wouldn’t be needed. Here’s how I have tailored my guidance for conflict resolution skills for these couples.

The fundamental truth is that each couple has the instinctive skills to solve their own problems and cultivating and nurturing those skills may be my most important role as a therapist.It is imperative to change the habitual patterns of unfair arguments. Most couples know how to de-escalate as well as how to escalate a disagreement. These Clinton/Trump disagreements turn into raging arguments that go for weeks and escalate at the risk of causing long-term damage. The wife yells at her husband, you are an arrogant thick conservative just like your father, and the husband sneers back, it’s no wonder you support Hillary because you are both lying liberals. When she shouts, he is insane and I don't know how I ever married him and they question each other's character, the situation spirals out of control. What started as a disagreement over political viewpoints is threatening the fabric of their marriage.
The first priority is for me to assess their communication. I ask them to continue their argument in front of me for 20 minutes while I study their facial expressions, body language, tone and the volume of their voices. After a glimpse of their sparring style, it is time to get to work and tone down the harmful rhetoric. 

These are the four treatment steps that seem to be most helpful:
Number 1: Teach couples how to de-escalate by calling a time-out when things get heated and they both get flooded. A time-out can’t be for five minutes because that is not enough time to calm down. Try an hour or a day or a week or just table the whole discussion and lock it in a cabinet. If the couple doesn’t calm down quickly and speak in a normal tone of voice, I apply some pressure by asking, you have ten years invested in your marriage and two children and you are ready to flush it down the drain for political differences? Last, who dreamed up that you have to resolve all your marital differences before bedtime each night? It is preferable for couples not to go to sleep angry, but resolving all differences is an unrealistic goal. Do you know what spouses should do each night? Express respect, affection, and appreciation to each other; tomorrow is another day.
Number 2: I re-focus the couple back to the topic of politics and not each other's character. I establish a ground rule: No personal attacks on your spouse in any shape or form. Otherwise this “external” conflict devolves into an “internal” struggle. Keep it on the outside; keep it external. It cannot be allowed into the inner sanctum where you store feelings, emotions, hopes, and dreams for you, your spouse and family. 
Number 3: I insist couples understand the difference between a disagreement and an argument. Disagreements are normal and common in healthy long-lasting marriages. ‎ Arguments, especially those that are scorching, are not. I reference the indispensable research of Psychologist Dr. Jon Gottman. Gottman found that two thirds of relationship issues in normal couples are perpetual. Examples of the most common disagreements are: parenting, money, work stress, intimacy, in-laws, and household chores. In his "love lab", Gottman discovered that it is the "regulation" of conflict not the "resolution" of conflict that is critical. 
Number 4: I remind each couple of the marital commitment they made in front of family, friends, and God. It is not a commitment as-long-as the love is strong, or as-long-as our political views remain in-sync rather it is a commitment No Matter What. Too often these days, commitments are like Velcro, it holds well but is easy to pull apart (Professor Bill Doherty).  Commitment is crucial as we humans are evolving and dynamic. Circumstances change; life happens. Just because you don’t have an in-law issue this year, doesn't mean you won’t next year. After all, your mother-in-law might move in with you. You don't argue about parenting your toddlers currently, but have you prepared yourself for adolescence? Not arguing about finances now is great, but what if you are laid off in an economic downturn?
As a last resort ‎I give couples an ultimatum that they must tone down the rhetoric, halt the character attacks, and start repairing immediately. I don't have a crystal ball, but I will predict that if you both continue down this road, you will likely destroy your marriage. The consequences of that choice not only impacts you both but doubles the chances that your children will get divorced.
Final note: This is a disagreement that will not end on November 8 with the presidential election. One candidate will be the winner; the other the loser. In a scorekeeping relationship which is as common as it is detrimental, one spouse will believe that he/she is the winner of the argument. ‎If the losing spouse rubs it in for months with quotes like I told you this is the kind of president she will be, it is a recipe for continued provocation and friction. Also, keep in mind that marriage is not a 50-50 arrangement. Do you know how to really win big? By giving more in your marriage, not by taking more.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Can you Guess The Secrets of a 50 Year Marriage?

This is one heck of a sweet story from the Boston Globe. Click here to read the article. This is not a research study, it's just some wonderful quotes from some long-term married folks. Said Rosemary Kreder (91) about her husband, "His jokes are so bad that they're actually funny. And he always waits for the laugh."

Spoiler Alert: what are the two most common responses? Humor and Laughter. No surprise there. Not sure who first said it but....Take what you do seriously; don't take yourself too seriously. YES....inject humor and levity into your marriage...a well as your family....as well as your friendships....as well as your life! Laughter has been shown to be therapeutic, just like smiling is contagious. That's my conclusion and as Steven Wright says: A conclusion is the place where you got tired of thinking.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Extended Family Moving Closer? Sounds Great for Marriage


 
According to a recent New York Times article, the typical adult now lives only 18 miles from his/her mother. Over the last few decades, Americans have become less mobile. Extended family nearby is a terrific indicator for healthy marriages because it means we’re becoming a country of close-knit families. Members of multiple generations can lean on one another for financial and practical support. And close proximity to Grandchildren = Priceless.

 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

NPR-Cincinnati...My Favorite Book-Related Radio Interview

When the NPR producer called me regarding their national series on family size, he was kind in saying "Well, you wrote the book Dr. Singer." NPR is so chill; what a pleasant experience. They give you time to think and time to answer during the interview (and such a distinguished panel of experts-not too shabby). With the TV promotion of my book, all of life was compressed into 3.5 minute segments. I finally realized that the interviewer is going to ask me 3 questions and that's it.

One NPR caller to this show asked....When there are 7 billion people in the world, why have any children? I responded: It is totally your decision; in my entire career spanning over 3 decades I never encouraged couples or suggested, that what they need for their marriage is a child, or another child.

The most asked question of my book: So, Dr. Singer, what really is the perfect family size?  My book has 92 self-test questions that assist couples in making the best decision for themselves. Couples shouldn't ask, What is the ideal number of children to have? They should ask: Are we both ready to have another child now (regardless of gender)?

Click here to enjoy the interview .......and please support your local public radio station.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Distracting Power of a Cellphone



According to a series of experiments led by researchers at the University of Essex, just putting your cell phone on the table (not even holding it) appears to reduce in-person conversation quality. The researchers observed, “The evidence indicates the mere presence of mobile phones inhibited the development of interpersonal closeness and trust, and reduced the extent to which individuals felt empathy and understanding from their partners.”
You know how we dump our boots in the "mud" room on the way into our homes? Maybe a bin for phones belongs there too.