Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Turbulent Marriages Are Threatened by Trump vs. Clinton Arguments


A growing number of unhappy couples are having heated arguments about Clinton versus Trump and now making appointments for marriage counseling. It is no surprise given that the APA just concluded half of U.S. adults say this election is a significant source of stress. In fact, half of the couples that I counsel place political arguments at the top of their sparring list. ‎Let me describe how I have tailored my guidance for conflict resolution skills for these couples.

First off, I insist that couples understand the difference between disagreements and arguments. Disagreements are normal and plentiful in healthy long-lasting marriages. ‎ Arguments, especially those that are fiery, are not. Disagreements between parents do not adversely affect children. It's actually beneficial for children to see their own parents modeling a realistic picture of marriage so they can internalize those skills for their own marriages later on. It is not good for children to be raised in high-conflict marriages. 

Next, I refer to the indispensable research of Dr. Jon Gottman with each couple. Gottman found that two thirds of relationship issues in normal couples are perpetual ‎(Oy!). Examples of the most common disagreements are: childrearing, finances, intimacy, in-laws, and household chores. In his "love lab" Gottman discovered that these issues will never be resolved and that really doesn't matter. It is the "regulation" of conflict not the "resolution" of conflict that matters. 

I haven't seen this many political arguments in my whole 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 that simple, marriage counseling would not be needed. 

The fundamental truth is that each couple has the instinctive skills to solve their own problems and cultivating/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. When the wife says to her husband, you are an arrogant thick conservative just like your father, and the husband says to me, Dr. Singer it’s no wonder my wife supports Hillary because they are both lying liberals, they need marital triage, fast. 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 is spiraling out of control. What started as a disagreement over political viewpoints is threatening the fabric of their marriage.
The first priority for me is to assess their communication as best I can in a short time span. I ask them to continue their argument in front of me for 20 minutes while I study their facial expressions, body language, tone and volume of their voices. After a glimpse of their sparring style, it is time to get to work and tone down the rhetoric. 

These are the 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 quick 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? Do you know what spouses need to do each night? They need to 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 new 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 and spouse, your family, and your community. 

Number 3: 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, intimacy is passionate, and you remain a Democrat. 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 (Dr. Bill Doherty).  Commitment is crucial as we humans are evolving and dynamic beings. Remember the common arenas of marital conflict? Circumstances change; life happens. Just because you don’t have an in-law issue this year, doesn't mean your mother-in-law might not move in with you next year. You don't argue about child-rearing with your toddlers currently, but have you prepared yourselves for them as adolescents? Not arguing about finances now is great, but what if you are laid off in an economic downturn?

Number 4:  The 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 very likely destroy your marriage. The consequences of that choice not only impacts you both but will double 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 win the other will lose. In a “scorekeeping relationship”, which is both common and destructive, one spouse will believe that he or she has “won” the argument. ‎And if the losing spouse rubs it in for years with quotes like See I told you that this is the kind of president she will be, it is a recipe for continued provocation and strife. 

Don't be under the misimpression that marriage is a 50-50 arrangement; it's not. 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 well as your 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.