Premarital Counseling Tip #4, The Up’s and the Down’s

July 1st, 2013


It seems something went wrong with this never being published. SO here is number 4.



One important piece of information I want all couples entering premarital counseling to embrace is the understanding how to “operate” your partner. I often joke about how toasters come with owner’s manuals, but our partners certainly don’t. Instead we have to learn through sink or swim.

Part of building an owner’s manual, is really understanding and appreciating the often significant difference between how individuals are wired to behave. One common area that can often cause problems in relationships has to do with arousal regulation. There is a continuum in which we all fall around how energetic or calm we feel. Our level of energy can be determined by our diet and exercise. It can also fluctuate depending on what time of day it is. However, it is important to understand that it is also determined through our neurological wiring, genetic structure and absorption of immediate family experiences.


What goes wrong:

When a couple interacts while they are in different arousal states, it can be annoying, grating or disappointing. Additionally, how one person regulates their own arousal level may or may not be affective in influencing their partner’s.

How do you get your partner to come play? How do you get them to relax? How do you manage differences in agendas on a day-to-day basis?

I find that in both my experience gained through premarital counseling and in conversations with couples who have been successfully married for years, people often struggle mightily with this very issue. This is especially true after being apart for work or other reasons. If one person wants to unwind alone and the other wants to play or debrief his or her day, being annoyed with each other is distinct possibility.

Start paying attention to this idea of individual peak personal arousal. Where do you tend to gravitate? What about your partner? When are your arousal levels different? How do you treat each other? How does that affect your relationship?


Helpful Hints:

  • Learn to take things slowly. Don’t push each other in either direction. Learn to shift your partner’s arousal level in small steps and adjust your own actions in response to your partner’s needs and expectations.
  • Pay attention to how easy it is for you or your partner to transition between activities and energy levels. Some people shift quickly. Others find transitions jarring and intrusive. Figure out if your partner needs more time to change activities.
  • Learn to negotiate. Remember from the last Premarital Counseling blog that negotiation is a key element to a relationship based on fairness and mutuality.
  • Develop mutually agreed upon rituals around “reunions”. Often when couples reunite their arousal is at different levels. But remember from the Premarital Counseling Gift #1, hearts and brains attune to each other. Meaning, so will arousal. For a great video on how to attune to each other during reunions watch the “welcome Home Exercise” in the favorites section of my You Tube Channel.
  • Finally, be kind to each other. Remember the concept of Differentiation from Premarital Counseling Gift #3? You and your partner will never be in synch with each other 24/7. You can deal with that through contempt or kindness. The choice is yours.


“Many a war has been avoided with a friendly smile, a well-placed touch, and a reassuring voice.”

– Stan Tatkin


Premarital Counseling Tip #5

May 20th, 2013


Premarital Counseling Tip #5, Novelty and the Mundane

In this edition of the Premarital Counseling blog, I would like to share some ideas about how to create and appreciate positive interactions between you and your partner.

First the bad news:

A lot of life involves “everyday moments.” We get up, eat breakfast, go to work, eat dinner, and go to bed. Our brain is designed to do most of this without much thought. Moreover, everyday moments don’t often catch our attention. For example, when was the last time you noticed how pretty the sky looked on the way to work?

On top of that, the mind is designed to “notice” novelty and threat. This is a fast acting process in our neurologic system and it is “dumb,” meaning it doesn’t utilize higher-level neurocortical functioning. While this tends to be great for survival of the species, it can prove problematic in relationships. Especially with how quickly we feel threatened when our partner’s do something that trigger us. Obviously, these things can be more problematic in long-term relationships.

But wait! There’s good news:

As humans, we are not confined to living our lives on autopilot. Our consciousness allows us to engage the world more volitionally, as well as train our autopilots to habitually direct us towards life enriching experiences.

Now one way to work with this is to focus on novelty. In Brain Power; Improve Your Mind As You Age, Michael Gelb and Kelly Howell point out that being a life long learner is one of the best ways you can take care of your brain. “Use it or lose it.” Couples can utilize this same purposeful mental commitment in their relationship.

I define intimacy to couples as the sharing and receiving of the self. I explain that there are six categories of intimacy: cognitive, emotional, physical, sexual, spiritual, and generative.

Generative intimacy is the intimacy of creating something together. This could be as simple as tonight’s dinner. It could be much more involved such as decorating a new house together. Or, it could be meaningful such as making a “home” together. Premarital couples in particular need to be discussing these things as they commit to creating a life together. However, creating a life together is not a one-time event. It occurs on an on-going basis throughout the relationship.

What do you and your partner do to create your future together? How are you using your new relationship as “canvas” for the work of art that is your life?


Helpful Hint:

Do you have the infamous “Ya’ know what we should do one day…” list? How many practical ideas and dreams fall by the way side never to be pursued? Why!?!    If it’s fun and attainable… JUST DO IT!!!


Do you know what makes you feel “alive” in relationship?

Do you hold the intention together to pursue your Aliveness?

Do you act on this intention? In other words, why aren’t you participating in the enjoyment of your own life?


“When things are not going in a satisfying way, then it is ALWAYS an aberration in either your Aliveness, your Intention, your Participation, or some combination of them”

– Jon Eisman


Now for the twist!

While creating novelty is exciting, John Gottman from the University of Washington found that it is the level of friendship that creates the strongest foundation for a relationship. It is not the fancy vacations to exotic locations that hold relationships together, it is how they appreciate and share their enthusiasm and fondness for each other on the day-to-day level that counts most. In his book The Seven Principles that Make a Marriage Work, Gottman shares his findings as well as offers practical exercises for couples to strengthen this aspect of their lives. I highly recommend this book for all premarital couples to help them build a solid relationship together.

For more information on Gottman’s book, please read my book review blog, February 2012.



Premarital Counseling Tip #3

April 25th, 2013


In the first “Premarital Counseling” blog I discussed how couples nervous systems and hearts electromagnetically “wire together”. In the last blog, I discussed the importance of choosing love and committing to repairing any injuries with your partner. I wrote about common roadblocks to “repair” and the need of a commitment to the concept of “mutuality.”

In this “Premarital Counseling” blog, I will elaborate on how one creates “mutuality.” I will also discuss three of the common counter positions that lead to the opposite effect – relational distress.


Premarital Counseling Gift #3, Repair Part Two: Creating The Win-Win.

When it comes to “repair”, successful couples fully understand that they are “tethered” to each other. That sense of “togetherness” provides a powerful resource for providing a sense of security, comfort, and confidence with which to face the world. If they present themselves as “antagonists”, they must understand that there is never a true winner in an argument. If one goes down, both go down.


“What is good for me must also be good for you.”

                                                                       – Stan Tatkin


I love this quote by Stan Tatkin. It is a perfect mantra for mutuality. Compare it to these other three statements:

  • “What’s good for me is whatever is good for you.
  • “Because it is good for me, that must mean it is good for you.”
  • “You do what is good for you and I’ll do what is good for me.”


In the first statement, there is a lack of recognition of Self. The person has somehow learned that their needs and desires are secondary to the needs and desires of the other. Sometimes to the point that they are no longer even aware of their own needs. They thus organize their sense of selfhood around the needs of another. These people lack sufficient differentiation, the ability to maintain a sense of Self and Other when you are in close relationship. This is the common position of the “co-dependent personality”.

In the second statement there is also an absence of differentiation between Self and Other, but in the opposite direction…lack of recognition of Other. This type of person struggles with accepting the possibility that their point of view isn’t necessarily the “right” point of view or the only point of view. This type of thinking often shows up in the heat of battle, but it can also be one of the major underlying dynamics in the relationship leading to marital discord.

The third stance outwardly prioritizes differentiation, but at the expensive of connection… lack of recognition of Relationship. Thus, while it may appear differentiated it is actually pseudo-individualization as a coping strategy for the inability to successfully navigate differences between Self and Other. These people often feel walled off and emotionally inaccessible to their partners. Because they are more “self-contained”, they can easily fool themselves into thinking they are more “put together” than their perceived “irrational” partners. The truth is, these people are “self-contained” because they never learned how to depend on someone in a healthy way in their childhood. They are thus limited to “auto-regulation” and lack the ability to participate in “co-regulation,” an essential part of mutuality.

“Mutuality”, on the other hand, is a commitment to the “Win-Win” resolution. It is the ability to hold Self, Other, and Relationship as equally important entities. When there is discord in the relationship, mutuality allows us openly examine each side of the equation and negotiate a solution that is fair and just for each person.

Successful couples embrace this concept and are mutually committed to protecting the fact and importance of their relationship even in times of distress. They know that if anyone’s feelings are left unattended to that the relationship and both parties in it will ultimately suffer.

Learn to see each other’s points of view. When someone feels hurt take the time to really get clear with each other about what the behaviors or interpretations of those behaviors meant to each other. And most importantly, hold a sense of compassion for the struggle that you and your partner face in learning how to deal with differences and disappointments.


Here’s an example:

During an argument, couples are often unconsciously organized around perceived threat – something they need will not be given or some thing undesirable is being imposed. Typical examples, “He/she never understands my pain and continues to ignore my needs and feelings.” Or, “He/she always attacks me for not being enough and I never feel accepted for who I am.”


  1. Take some time to slow down. Breathe!
  2. Shift your focus from threat to friendliness.
  3. Take time to think about what it is you both really need from each other? What is the real issue?
  4. Take responsibility to make the necessary repairs.


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