Why your marriage sucks (probably)


90% of the couples I see for marriage therapy have one thing in common that has to be dealt with--before they can even start to change the way they communicate. The short explanation is that emotional flooding creates a situation like the picture above. They think they are being logical, but really no one is in their right mind. In this state, a couple won't even get to the point of negotiating around a conflict--they can't even agree on what the conflict is!

This is why a lot of couples feel like that they don't have 1000 arguments, rather they have the same argument 1000 times. But this isn't even an argument, because an argument goes back and forth. An argument would be an improvement! With emotional flooding it's just banging your head against the brick wall that separates you. Again, refer to the picture.

Dr. John Gottman, whose marriage therapy work I follow, has used the term "DPA," diffuse physiological arousal, to describe this situation. Basically, it's where the heart rate gets over 95, and the research shows that the ability to listen in any effective manner has gone out the window.

Gottman connects this DPA flooding to "NSO," negative sentiment override. NSO is where ANYTHING said only reinforces each other's negative perspective and blaming. Neutral statements are taken as negative statements, and positive statements are taken as sarcastic or are simply ignored.

Gottman's extensive research shows that in order to negotiate conflicts, a couple must arrive at conflict management with the opposite, "PSO," positive sentiment override. In this opposite perspective, there is listening to understand, rather than listening to respond/attack. Dialogue is possible. Expressing emotion is productive rather than threatening. Gottman calls this the "Positive Perspective."

So the most critical thing I do with couples, again 90% of the time, is to deal with this first. The positive perspective cannot be "therapied" in. Simple exercises must be learned and practiced at home to "repair" the situation before it gets out of hand. Research also shows that the only effective "repair" once DPA flooding actually occurs is to take a 20 minute break to get the heart rate down and get out of NSO. There was literally no other solution found in 20 years of research.

But it's all so simple, right? Honestly, once my couples realize that all they have to do to save their marriage is to participate in the activities and homework of therapy, they see that it's just a matter of time before they're happy again. And the worst that can happen is that they'll take a 20 minute break! Gottman calls this attitude "turning toward." And often, when DPA flooding is resolved, the "conflicts" that brought the couple to therapy don't seem to matter all that much anymore!

My hope is that you will choose a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist like me for your marriage therapy, because you can be assured that it's not just more useless talk. There's a plan, a plan that works, a plan that is "doable," and is firmly based in research that demonstrates effectiveness and positive outcomes for years down the road. My job is to work myself out of a job, as fast as possible.

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