The Hardest Part of an Argument

by: Valery Vengerov, M.Psy. R.P.(Qualifying)

One of the most common experiences that couples report having after an unresolved argument is the daunting, heavy silence that follows. The lack of resolution of an argument leaves each partner feeling misunderstood and often in a state of resignation. Each partner might think: “I give up. He/she will never understand me. Why even bother? I’ll deal with this on my own.” This lingering silence can be a protest. The longer and more frequently couples remain in this space of estrangement from one another, the more stressed and dissatisfied they become with their relationship as a whole (Liu & Roloff, 2015). Resentment builds, and distance develops as the ‘couple’ unit starts to feel unsafe. 

In therapy, couples have the opportunity to safely share the accumulated hurt and resentment that underlies and results from these silences, and that threatens their relationship. They can experience the relief that comes with being heard and listened to. They also find out more about their partner, who becomes more accessible and available to them as a result of therapy. Couples can learn how to repair conflict faster and more effectively in therapy, and reduce the amount of time they spend feeling disconnected and resentful of one another (Gordon & Chen, 2016).

Whatever challenges you and your partner want to address in couples therapy, improving communication is vital.

Evidence- and science-based couples therapy will help both of you to define your thoughts, feelings, and desires to each other with openness and empathy.

A therapist in CFIR’s Relationship and Sex Therapy team can also help you to arrive at a better understanding of each other’s point of view. You can collaboratively set your treatment goals to ensure that you or you and your partner’s concerns and needs are adequately addressed.

References

Gordon, A. M., & Chen, S. (2016). Do you get where I’m coming from?: Perceived understanding buffers against the negative impact of conflict on relationship satisfaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 110, 239-260.

Liu, E., & Roloff, M. E. (2015). Exhausting Silence: Emotional Costs of Withholding Complaints. Negotiation and Conflict Management Research, 8, 1, 25-4.

Valery Vengerov, M.Psy., R.P. (Qualifying), is a Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying) at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR) in Toronto. She works with individual and couples clients, to help them resolve a wide range of difficulties related to depression, stress and anxiety, trauma and loss, and relationship conflict and betrayals.

Emotional Dialogues in Couples: 9 Steps to Greater Emotional Communication and Connection!

Learning how to experience and express our emotions and needs to a partner can be very difficult, particularly if in our own family of origin, our inner feelings and needs were not addressed. Working through feelings and emotions requires adequate time and space to complete these types of interactions.  Couples often struggle and elevate distress when trying to engage in discussions of feelings and needs while multi-tasking (e.g., cooking, driving, shopping, taking care of the children). 

Discovering how to efficiently and effectively process your partner’s and your emotional experience is essential, so each of you feels understood and seen by the other. Picking the right time to have these dialogues is crucial, taking turns so that each partner feels sufficiently validated in their experience and their needs resolved is also important. Emotional accessibility and responsiveness to our partner’s emotional experiences and needs help our partners distress to lower and deepens the connection between partners. To be accessibility means to be able to be present and engaged sufficiently with your partner’s emotional experience. Responsiveness involves interest and engagement in identifying and resolving the underlying needs associated with emotions. These types of interactions are the essence of secure attachment.

The clinicians at CFIR support couple clients to develop emotional attunement through nine different steps. Learning how to complete these types of emotional interactions can lower distress and stress levels when partners have a guide to help them to process their emotions and needs. Come learn how to emotionally communicate and connect using steps developed by clinicians at CFIR’s offices.

7 Signs Your Relationship May Need Help

by: Joshua Peters, M.A., R.P.

Relationships have never been easy and now it seems we’re in a space and time where technology and the way we connect are continuously growing and changing. The intimacy we have with someone can mean so much, yet it seems we consistently struggle to maintain the bond. How can we know if we are “getting it right” in our partnerships?

In speaking about the complexity of our relationships, famed relationship expert, Esther Perel notes that “companionship, family, children, economic support, a best friend, a passionate lover, a trusted confidante, an intellectual equal […] we are asking from one person what an entire village once provided.” In this paradigm, it can be hard to understand when our partners and our relationships maybe failing us. 

Here are some signs that indicate your relationship may need some work:

1. Lack of Communication 

In a world bursting with ways to communicate, it may be surprising to learn that ineffective communication remains a common issue in relationships. It’s impossible for your partner to know all your needs, feelings, and thoughts without talking about them. Communication is essential in overcoming relationship wounds, and very few relationships can survive without it.

2. Arguing with No Repair

Though constant arguing can sometimes be indicative of relationship distress – unrepaired conflict may be the real culprit. Arguments, when done sympathetically, are an essential part of relationship satisfaction. Repairing from a dispute allows partners to accept each ones’ differences and re-establish their love for one another. 

3. Loss of Curiosity

We are continually growing and changing as individuals and it crucial we remember to remain curious about our partners as they grow. The experience of curiosity and surprise is one of the essential processes in maintaining long-term desire. Partners in healthy relationships are happy to explore their partner’s unique perspective of the world.

4. Mind Reading

This familiar refrain, “Look, I know you’re angry…” exposes a common misstep in many relationships. Often experienced in conjunction with a loss of curiosity, partners start assuming they are always in each other’s “bad books” even before a problem is revealed. Stay tentative about your perceived experience of your partner, especially in times of distress. You might be surprised by the difference between how they feel and how you thought the feel!

5. Loss of Priority

It can be hard to find a balance between work, children, friends, and family in today’s busy world. How you prioritize your relationship may look different to you, so it’s crucial that you discuss this with your partner. Failure to explore this in a discussion could leave your partner feeling unloved and unimportant. 

6. No Hurt – Only Anger

When we’re most distressed it may feel instinctive to get angry. Though anger is an important emotion in that it tells us something isn’t working, it isn’t usually helpful in resolving conflict. Instead, opting to express our more vulnerable and hurt emotions allows our partner to understand and ultimately care for us when necessary. 

7. Blaming your partner

It takes two to tango! Though one partner may sometimes be experiencing more distress, it’s beneficial to recognize that your relationship is co-created by both of you. Take note of how you may be contributing to the dynamic between you and your partner.

Couples experiencing any of these relationship difficulties at heightened levels may feel like they are insurmountable problems. However, exploring these issues can provide a needed check-in for your relationship. Moreover, what you discover can inspire you and your partner to reimage what your relationship could become. Couples therapy offers an excellent opportunity to explore these struggles and move towards growth. The skilled clinicians at CFIR can help you and your partner better understands your current distress and support you to build a more resilient and healthy relationship.

Can Social Media Impact Your Romantic Relationship? Here are Five Ways to Get Connected

A restaurant in the U.K. recently announced it will be banning the use of mobile devices in their establishment on February 14 in an effort “to refocus diners on the food and experience”. This move has generated a bit of online buzz and has turned attention to how preoccupied society is becoming with the world-wide-web and more specifically, social media. In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, we recently asked, Dr. Tracy Dalgliesh C. Psych. “Can social media outlets have an impact on our romantic relationships? What are some positive ways to use them (or not) on Valentine’s Day?“. 

Here’s her response: 

Social media becomes problematic when we use it to turn away from our partner, resulting in decreased connection and communication. Instead of working through an argument and engaging in a difficult conversation, you turn to scrolling through social media. This is an avoidance strategy, and we know from couples research that shutting down (i.e., stonewalling) is a type of communication that can result in long-term couple distress.2 (For more on the four communication styles that predict the dissolution of a relationship, see https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-four-horsemen-recognizing-criticism-contempt-defensiveness-and-stonewalling/. Recent research suggests that excessive use of devices leads to lower relationship satisfaction.1 This is even truer for partners with anxious attachment (i.e., they fear that they are unlovable or unworthy). Other examples may include messaging friends over talking to your partner, checking your phone in the middle of a conversation with your partner, or sharing fun and exciting information with others online and not your lover. 

Individuals fall into the trap of the comparing themselves and their relationships to what they see on social media. Profiles often portray the happiest moments – and these are often posed images. They do not display the challenges that couples all face. Frequently seeing these stylized and selected images can impact how you view your own relationship. Thoughts of “why aren’t we that happy?” or “we never do anything exciting” may arise and create negative feelings towards your relationship and partner. This negative filter may then lead to thoughts of “I could be happier with someone else,” further contributing to dissatisfaction. 

Social media can also impact one’s feelings of jealousy and insecurity. All of the platforms for social media offer easy ways to connect with others privately. This becomes a problem when it is done in secret, or when connecting with someone else feels good and you are putting more energy into that connection than with your partner. A negative feedback loop can also start, where jealousy leads to snooping, which further exacerbates feelings of jealousy. In some situations, social media can lead to infidelity. 

While social media can present with its challenges for couples, I do believe that it can be used in a healthy manner – where couples can build and enhance their connection. Here are some tips on how to use social media this Valentine’s Day to enhance your relationship:

  • Set limits on the time that you are on your devices. Agree to put the phones on silent in another room (e.g., from 7pm-9pm) on Valentine’s Day (and maybe every day!).
  • Send a message letting your partner know you are thinking of them or excited to see them at the end of the day. We long to know that we matter to the ones we love, so let your partner in on your feelings.
  • Send a good morning or good night love meme.
  • Share a memory or article with your partner that you found on your social media outlet and use it to get to know the other person’s opinions and desires.
  • If scrolling and connecting is part of your time together, take a break and talk about what you each found interesting. Ask open-ended questions, like “What did you find most surprising to read today?” or “What emotions did you feel while seeing X.”

1. James A. Roberts, J. A., & David, M. E. (2016). My life has become a major distraction from my cell phone: Partner phubbing and relationship satisfaction among romantic partners. Computers in Human Behavior, 54, 134-141. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2015.07.058.

2. Gottman, J. M., & Krokoff, L. J. (1989). Marital interaction and satisfaction: A longitudinal view. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 57, 47-52.

Read more about our Relationship & Sex Therapy Service.