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Posts Tagged ‘Marriage’

Reminders for a Healthy Marriage

Posted on Thursday, April 30th, 2015 by Sanctuary staff


By Darcy Hakkarainen

Many days as I sit in my office with clients I am reminded of the courage required to be married. Sometimes it is easy to give ourselves to our partner emotionally and even physically. However, there are other times (and I think every relationship has them) where the differences between you and your spouse loom large and the ways you have responded to each other around those differences inadvertently hurt the other. In our hurt it is often difficult to stay open and present with our spouse. Every now and again I have the opportunity to share about marriage in the community and hear more stories requiring courage and commitment.

Recently I visited two MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) groups in the area and spoke about aspects of love and marriage and last night I had the privilege of sharing with the Stephens Ministers at a local church. I shared what the research shows about how to build a strong relationship and about conflict resolution. There were a couple of points from John Gottman’s research on marriage that really stood out to the Stephens Ministers and I thought those points worth repeating here. I know I find reminders helpful as I pursue a healthy marriage!

#1 – 69% of marriage problems are “perpetual” meaning the root of the problems stem from personality differences, or deeply held experiences from family of origin, etc. These problems cannot be solved and so you develop strategies for dealing with those differences much the way a family would deal with an injury to one of the members. Not something you want to deal with, but you do, and that is just how it is.

#2 – People can only change if they perceive they are basically accepted and liked for who they are. It is very difficult to make any changes from a defensive position because you are too busy defending yourself. Therefore, “the basis for coping effectively with either kind of problem [perpetual or solvable] is the same: communicate basic acceptance of your partner’s personality,” (Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, John Gottman, p.149).

#3 – Gottman has learned in his research that no one is ever right in an argument. Two subjective realities exist, not one absolute truth. So, if someone has the goal of being right they may win that point at the expense of the marriage. I find in those situation that the other spouse usually has difficulty staying emotionally present because the end goal (if someone has to be right) is not about the marriage and resolving the conflict. To further a marriage relationship and allow emotional safety and closeness, each person has to let go of being right and be open to hearing how the experience impacted the other in order to make and receive repair attempts and move on together.

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Creativity and the Care of the Soul

Posted on Thursday, April 30th, 2015 by Sanctuary staff

Shall We Dance?

By Caroline Timmins

In the film “Shall We Dance” (Miramax, 2004) Richard Gere plays John Clark, a middle aged man with a secure marriage and a profitable career. Yet beneath his outward stability brews an increasing internal discontent. The daily routines of work, parenting, and relational maintenance have become wearisome. One day while riding his commuter train home, his bored gaze falls upon a mysterious woman staring from the window of a dance studio. Although dance is completely outside the realm of his mundane existence, the woman’s face intrigues him and finally one day he stops off at the studio.

As the film continues, John finds himself secretly taking dance lessons, not because the woman is returning his flirtations, but because he actually discovers he enjoys the creative outlet. However his secrecy has aroused suspicion in his wife. When she uncovers his private passion, she turns up at a dance competition catching him completely off guard. A heated exchange ensues where she, understandably upset, demands an accounting. His answer is surprisingly simple, profound and revealing: “I was unhappy…and it’s not about you.”

I wonder how many times we feel similarly, but remain unskilled or too ashamed or fearful to articulate. I also wonder how many extramarital affairs begin not due to a quest for a new person, but rather out of a desperate search for renewed passion. In shortsightedness we attribute our deadened selves to spousal neglect…when really it is we who have neglected our own souls. Of course there are many times when the marriage has gone untended. Like a once beautiful garden after years of neglect, it becomes buried beneath the weeds and choked by vines. Communication has gone cold due to years of routine, but still I ponder, should not the starting point be the mirror?

I myself reached this conclusion through an involvement in a simple creative endeavor. It was at a time in my life when, due to the demands of marriage and parenting, I had unknowingly slipped into a fairly joyless existence. The dreams, spiritual connections and creative pursuits that once fueled my thirst for adventure, love, and beauty had fallen by the wayside. In short, and by my own neglect, my spirit had atrophied. I was unhappy but it had nothing to do with my spouse or children. During that time, I was asked by theatrical friends to play a part in a Christmas drama. It was not something I would ever have pursued on my own. In fact, I had a lot of apprehension as to my ability to act. But taking this risk in the artistic realm proved to be a catalyst for spiritual revival. While the experience did not transform me into an actress, it did teach me an invaluable lesson about the care of the soul, or rather, how careless can be the neglect of it. I needed creativity in my life to nurture my soul, to help me think and feel better, and to help me remember who I was and what I wanted.

In the book, What We Ache For, (Dreamer, 2005) the author appropriately attributes the following benefits to creativity: “creative work holds surprises, teaches us things we did not know before we began, changes us, helps us unfold and become who we are at the deepest level of our being.” For me this proved precisely true. My experience and characters like John Clark fuel my ponderings. How many men and women like him complete their daily commutes every day between the worlds of work and home stuck in a fuzzy malaise? Caught in the strong undercurrent of indefinable unhappiness and unaware of how creativity relates to the care of the soul, they turn down unhealthy secret back alleys to try and infuse a little excitement into their lives.

In my experience, creative endeavor can be the fresh wind that revives the dusty interiors of the human soul. My involvement in the Christmas drama was not so much about mastering the art of the stage as it was about reconnecting with the long ignored, creative voice within. Somehow by boldly acting out a role on stage, I gained the courage to cultivate the parts of my real life that were cowardly shrinking behind the curtain. The creative endeavor provided a wake-up call to my own soul. Sometimes, before we can begin to weed the marital garden, we need to tend our own little plot of soil.

Creative involvements can till the frozen ground of the soul providing softer more fertile space for unhampered growth. Creativity is always the door, never the destination. Like the wardrobe opening into Narnia, creative work can transport us to that magical place within where Aslan’s grand arrival marks the end of barren winter and the beginning of fecundate spring. Through creative pursuits we care for our souls and at the same time, gain the confidence and energy we need to invite our spouses to join us in the dance.

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Sound Relationship House: Legacies

Posted on Tuesday, September 30th, 2014 by Sanctuary staff

By: Darcy Hakkarainen
In this newsletter over the past year I have been exploring the Sound Relationship House (SRH) marriage theory based on the research of Drs. John and Julie Gottman and the Relationship Research Institute. If you are interested in reading about the first 6 levels of the house, please see the previous blog entries. Level seven is the attic where legacies from our cultures and our families are encountered. Every relationship is a cross-cultural experience because even if many other aspects of culture, region, and religion are similar, each family of origin (the family you grew up in) is unique. In creating your own family you learn to combine parts of your legacies and reject other parts. Together, you and your spouse build your own new family culture, one that has never existed before. This is the legacy your child(ren) will take into their future relationships. This level, called Creating Shared Meaning and Values, is about creating an inner life together as a couple and a family: a unique family culture with customs (Sunday dinner out), rituals (a special birthday party when a child becomes a specific age or a champagne toast after the birth of a child), and myths (stories a couple tells that explain their marriage). Family rituals may develop naturally as a couple bring in things they each enjoyed from their own childhood or add to their own family what they felt lacked in their family of origin. In the 1950’s having dinner together as a family was a common family ritual. Today this ritual is observed by less than 1/3 of U.S. families. Further more, more than half of those who enjoy a family dinner have the TV on during dinner. Ecker & Walters (2003) found that consistent family rituals encourage the social development of children and increase feelings of family cohesiveness by 17%. Shared Meaning emerges as rituals are prioritized in a family. There are many family benefits to Shared Meaning. Having shared meaning leads to greater stability and a sense of “we-ness” in a relationship. It also helps partners settle conflicts and pursue the goals that are collectively important to them like building a successful business or raising healthy, well rounded children. The researchers found that when a couple finds shared meaning they are willing to support one another’s dreams, even if they don’t personally gain from that dream. “Shared Meaning is critical for achieving satisfied lifelong relationships,” (Bringing Baby Home Couples Workbook, p. 136). The Sound Relationship House is not a “building” that gets built once in a relationship and a family. It is a house that must be revisited often. Relationships are growing or they are in a state of atrophy. Blessings on you as you strengthen and grow your relationship!

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Creating Shared Meaning

Posted on Thursday, September 11th, 2014 by Sanctuary staff


By: Darcy Hakkarainen

Research conducted by Dr. John Gottman and others at the Relationship Research Institute shows that the two things most needed to make a relationship last are a strong friendship and an effective way to regulate conflict.  In the last two newsletters handling conflict was explored. Conflict is more easily dealt with when a couple has created a culture of appreciation for each other and focused on their friendship. In previous newsletters building friendship was explored by looking at the first
several levels of The Sound Relationship House (SRH), a schema developed by Gottman and his team for illustrating the foundation of a marriage. Knowing  your spouse (their Love Map), communicating Fondness and Admiration (or affection and respect), and clearly expressing your needs and responding to the needs of your spouse are aspects of that foundation.

Once a couple has strengthened their friendship and found ways to regulate conflict, safety to focus on the final 2 levels of the SRH is created. Making Life Dreams and Aspirations Come True is level six and it incorporates each preceding level.  This step is about creating the necessary conditions for each of you to be able to honor one another’s life dreams and life goals. What is the basis of a continued positive emotional connection even during conflict? Therapists once believed that if conflicts were resolved, positive feelings would rush into the couple’s relationship as easily as air rushes into a vacuum. This, it turns out, is not the case. Positive emotional connections, including play, fun, exploration, and adventure need to be built intentionally. Don’t forget to keep building a strong friendship (for it is a journey not a destination) and finding way to use what you have learned about your spouse’s Love Map to date each other in meaningful ways!

Some conflict is very difficult to resolve and a couple may get into a gridlock position.  This level of the SRH is the basis of unlocking conflict gridlock, in which the couple’s values within a position in the gridlocked conflict are explored and understood. In this way it is the bridge to the top of SRH, which is Creating Shared Meaning: Legacy, Values & Rituals of Connection. Let’s briefly explore this bridge here.  Conflict gridlock often stems from inner ideals or values. If possible try to uncover the hidden dreams behind your partner’s position during conflict. This may not come naturally to you or your spouse but is worth it. Broadening the conversation to include hopes, values, goals and dreams provides potential places of overlap between you and your spouse; places of common meaning or where a compromise could be reached.

Finally, as the name suggests, the sixth level of SRH is also about helping one’s partner realize important life goals and making the relationship, in general, effective at Making Dreams and Aspirations Come True. Talking about life dreams and the meaning behind them requires trust.  These conversations might leave you feeling exposed.  However, the risk in this area has the potential for great gains since vulnerability often leads to a deep emotional connection between those who have shared in it.  This growing emotional connection and ability to move through gridlocked conflict will prepare couples for the seventh and final level of SRH which will be explored in the next newsletter.

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Solving Solvable Conflict

Posted on Sunday, July 20th, 2014 by Sanctuary staff

couple.conflict.David.Castillo.Dominicby Darcy

This article continues my series on The Sound Relationship House. The Sound Relationship House (SRH) is a model for looking at relationships that emerged out of years of marriage research conducted by Dr. John Gottman and the Relationship Institute. Level five of the SRH is Effective Conflict Regulation. The word “regulation” may jump out at you. Why not effective conflict resolution? As discussed in the last newsletter the research shows that about 69% of relationship conflict are perpetual problems that do not get resolved. We looked last time at some helpful ways to approach those conflicts.

Doing the math, 31% of marital conflict is then “solvable”. What do we do with that conflict? The research demonstrated four ways successful, happy couples regulate conflicts. First, the researchers discovered that conflicts usually end in the manner in which they begin. Therefore, a Softened Start-Up is bringing problems up in a gentle way. Complain about something specific but don’t blame the other person. Second, Accept Influence by be willing to see how your spouse’s view might be valid. There is no absolute truth in a conflict. In a fight many of us think our task is to help our partner see how we are right. However, understanding your partner’s point of view and communicating that understanding to your partner is a more effective tool that “being right” for conflict regulation.

Third, Repair the interaction and De-escalate the conflict. Sometimes conflict becomes very negative and a repair attempt is needed. The Gottman Repair checklist (Bringing Baby Home Couples Workbook, p. 117) is a research-based list of phrases that can help get a conversation back on track. You can see the full Repair Checklist here. These phrases continue to build the opportunity for communication between you and your spouse. It may feel unnatural to use these at first but learning how to use a new tool takes practice. It will feel more natural over time.

The fourth and final step is discovering the common ground that exists with your partner and reaching a compromise. “Yield to Win…To be influential, you must accept influence,” (Bringing Baby Home Couples Workbook, p. 118) is a principle highlighting what works in relationships. To yield to win, consider some of these questions: How can we emotionally support each other on this issue? How can we honor each person’s position? What feelings do we have in common? What goals do we have in common? Where is there overlap in our position? How can our common goals be accomplished? Can we develop a plan for compromise?

As you work through these questions keep in mind the first three steps, revisiting them when necessary. Also, remember to take a break if either of you gets overwhelmed or flooded, but have a set time to come back together. Like any skill it may take time and practice to fine tune and master these constructive problem solving tools. Be patient with yourself and your spouse. Be willing to risk the awkward or uncomfortable to achieve the goal of being effective problem solvers. If conflict is inevitable then learning to work through the solvable problems effectively with your spouse is a skill-set worth having!

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