The Logistics of ‘Fighting’

Conflict, arguments, discussions, fights — whatever you’d like to call them –are entirely normal in all relationships. No matter how hard you might try to avoid them, chances are you are going to encounter conflict at some point within your personal relationships. What if, instead of trying to avoid conflict, we became better at it?

‘Good’ communication is said to be the secret to all conflict resolution. Although ‘good’ communication is essential, you should also consider some logistics when resolving conflict. Here are five tips to improve the logistics of your arguments:

  1. Schedule your conflict. It sounds odd at first, but take a moment to think about it: Have you ever said something you did not mean during an argument? Most of us have. Emotional flare-ups at times stop us from engaging the “rational” part of our brains. Taking some time apart and preparing to “argue” at a specific time will allow both of you to settle your emotions and give you some time to reflect on what is important to you.
  2. Take care of your body first. You would not go into an important business meeting or school presentation hungry, sleep-deprived, or in an unpleasant physical state, would you? Of course not. Doing so would alter your ability to think and perform in those situations effectively. The same applies here. If possible, make sure all your physical needs are met before engaging in a potentially conflictual discussion. Not only will this improve your mood, but it also allows you to think more clearly.
  3. Neutral environment. Our environment makes a huge difference! Try to find a neutral place where you both feel comfortable discussing the issue(s) (and try to keep conflict out of your bedroom!) Ideally, bedrooms are for sleeping or sex; do not bring your arguments into that space.
  4. Limit distractions. Put your mobile devices away, turn off the television, and give each other full and undivided attention. No one likes to feel like they are being ignored or not listened to; inattentiveness may make the argument much harder than it already is. The fewer distractions, the quicker you can focus on the discussion and (hopefully) come to a resolution.
  5. No interruptions. If you have children in the house, make a conscious effort to watch your voice’s volume and tone. Finding healthy ways to resolve conflicts is vital because children and adolescents can absorb discord energy between parents. You also want to make sure you are in an environment where you will not be interrupted or cut-off. It is vital to mutually dedicate this time to focus on each other and the issue at-hand without fearing interruptions.

Rebeca Fernandez Bosanac, B.A. is a counsellor at CFIR working under the supervision of Dr. Reesa Packard, M.A., Ph.D., R.P. Rebeca is currently studying to complete her Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology at Yorkville University. Her professional experience includes working with at-risk youth struggling with extensive trauma, dual-diagnoses, and behavioural issues and working in harm-reduction programs with individuals who struggle with substance abuse, trauma, homelessness, and mental health disorders.

Couples: Why We Don’t Understand Each Other

“I told you so many times!” “No, you didn’t!” That is the kind of argument we regularly hear in couple’s therapy. If you are or have been in a romantic relationship, that situation probably happened to you as well. It can occur when one partner realizes the extent of the other’s feelings, like “I knew it bothered you, but I didn’t know it bothered you that much.” How is it that despite all our communication, we still sometimes don’t understand each other?

As we are unique human beings with our individual histories, there are different possible explanations for miscommunication experiences. A common reason is that people often think they express their feelings and needs when, in reality, they have not been as direct as they believe. For example, a partner often says what they think the other is doing incorrectly or what they want the other to do or stop doing. While it may seem that this is direct communication, it may fail to communicate important aspects of one partner’s experience, including why this is important to him/her and how the others’ actions make him/her feel. This can be perceived as blame and criticism rather than a direct expression of feelings and needs and often leaves the other partner defensive and unable to listen and empathize.

Another common miscommunication issue is that we often think our way is the “right” way and can dismiss a partner’s feelings or perspective and not give space for discussion and compromise. When one partner is not open to the other’s point of view, the chances are that the other person will not be inclined to try to listen and understand either.

These are a few things to be mindful of that can help strengthen your communication as a couple. Both members of the couple need to work together to improve communication, and it is not the responsibility of only one member of the couple to make things better. However, working together can be difficult, especially if communication is already a challenge. At the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships, we can help you develop a deeper understanding of your relationship dynamics as a couple and help you communicate in new, helpful ways to better understand each other.

Vann-Vateil Phlek, B.A., is a counsellor at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships working under the supervision of Dr. Karine Côté, C.Psych. She has completed her B.A. in psychology at the University of Ottawa, and provides counselling to adults and couples.

‘Self-Object’ Experiences and Your Relationship

Being in a relationship can, at times, present its challenges. Immersing yourself in and making sense of the other person’s inner world (i.e., their thoughts, feelings, intentions, etc.) is no easy task to undertake. Each individual brings their own internal experience to the relationship, and some of those experiences can leave the other person struggling to attune to their partner’s needs. Heinz Kohut first proposed the concept of ‘self-object’ experiences in which the individual turns to others to have their self-esteem and self-related needs met. These others are often referred to as self-object and can include our partners and other important people in our lives. These experiences help us all maintain a positive and cohesive sense of self.

The majority of us desire and seek partners who make us feel better, and this generally means a partner who is understanding, positive, and affirming. We seek partners who we can look up to, admire, and rely on in stressful times. When we find ourselves in positive relationships, this helps regulate and integrate our emotional experiences and fortifies our sense of likeness and belonging. In such circumstances, our partners can act as a reliable and dependable source of self-object experiences.

On the other hand, when we find ourselves in relationships riddled with trouble and conflict, this may leave each individual with the sense that the other cannot provide self-object experiences reliably. At times, the presenting conflict between couples relates to a lack of needed self-object experiences, whether these problems relate to disengagement, finances, sex, parenting, etc. For example, disagreements about finances may relate to one partner’s self-object experience of safety and security that is fulfilled by saving compared to the other’s need for stimulation or soothing through buying. These common issues faced by couples often translate into underlying self-object needs and failed attempts to meet identified needs by the other. Within the pair, one person’s need for a particular experience may leave the other at odds with their own equally legitimate need.

One of the goals of couples therapy is to support the pair in becoming a more reliable source of self-object experiences that complement the relationship. To attain this objective involves clearly communicating needs, understanding the other’s self-object needs, and noticing its cues. Also, the ability to understand each other’s experience and, on occasion, tolerate failed attempts to meet self-object needs without perceiving these incidences as threatening are equally essential goals in couples’ work. Couples therapy can help reframe conflicts in terms of their underlying self-object needs and help improve an individual’s ability to meet their partner’s needs within the couple’s relationship.

Nancy Amirkhanian, M.A., R.P., is a Clinical Psychology Resident at Center for Interpersonal Relationships (Toronto). Regarding couples therapy, she works with partners to address various relationship issues, such as repairing ruptures due to infidelity, improving sexual and emotional intimacy, challenges with communication, and managing conflicts due to blended families, parenting, and finances. Nancy is currently completing her pre-doctoral residency at the CFIR under the direct supervision of Dr. Lila Z. Hakim, C.Psych. and Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych.

Navigating Complicated Interpersonal Dynamics During the Holidays

For many individuals, the holidays are marked by wonderful moments. However, we cannot deny “the most wonderful time of the year” can also be influenced by significant stressors, such as feeling pressure to find great gifts, planning and preparing for large gatherings, feeling obligated to travel to the different yearly family parties, triggering moments provoking loneliness, sadness, and grief… Even though there can be a real part of us wanting to enjoy the holidays, there can also be another part dreading it. 

Of course, the holiday season is already looking very different this year. The global pandemic and its various impacts have forced us to slow down, required us to socialize and practice self-care creatively, and brought different types of losses and grief. As a clinical psychologist, I am supporting clients dealing with their disappointment and sadness for not celebrating the holidays as usual. I am also validating clients who feel relieved for not dealing with the same level of pressure they usually experience.

Through my clinical lenses, I also see this as an interesting opportunity for self-reflection and possible adjustments in our way to navigate those contentious relationships and hopefully finding more ease in dealing with them.

Dr. Karine Côté, D.Psy., C.Psych.

One difficulty that seems somewhat alleviated this year – but still present – is the obligation to face complicated interpersonal dynamics. Whether it is a problematic relationship with a parent, a sibling, in-laws, or friends, we now have the perfect reason to limit contact and staying home during the holidays. Through my clinical lenses, I also see this as an interesting opportunity for self-reflection and possible adjustments in our way to navigate those contentious relationships and hopefully finding more ease in dealing with them.

Reflect on your ideals

The other’s unmet ideals often fuel complex relationships (e.g., your parent, sibling, friend, etc.). When the other does or says something that triggers deep frustration, sadness, or disappointment, this emotion is most likely related to a need or ideal of this person that is once again not met. 

Example: When a mother makes a cold and critical remark, the immediate feelings of anger and sadness are linked to a wish of being validated and recognized by her – not just related to this one critic. The ideal of having a warm and encouraging mother is still not met; the hope of gaining her recognition is crushed once again.

Validate your needs and emotions

To regulate the emotions resulting from an unmet ideal, validating the feelings and taking authentic ownership of the underlying need is essential. It is normal to feel disappointed in a relationship context, but we can also offer ourselves what we need, such as kindness, recognition, or motivation.

Example: The anger and sadness resulting from being criticized by the attachment figure is normal. The need to receive encouragements and warmth is valid. Being able to validate the emotions and needs will lower the emotional activation and meet that need internally (e.g., “I am allowed to feel this way, I can recognize my own achievements”). 

Practice differentiation

The difficulty of a loved one meeting our ideals and needs is often mostly related to them and not entirely to us. Because of their limits, experiences, and requirements, sometimes they cannot meet our ideals. Practicing healthy differentiation, or recognizing what belongs to them and what belongs to us, can help mitigate negative emotions.

Example: The mother is very harsh on herself, not celebrating her positive actions and attributes – therefore, it is hard for her to do it for others. Her tendency to be overly-critical towards others belongs to her self-critique and does not reflect others’ worth or abilities.

Enjoy the good you can get

It is often not because some needs and ideals are not met that the whole relationship is negative. After validating emotions, identifying and meeting underlying needs, and differentiating from the other, it is much easier to feel good from the interaction.

Example: Even if the mother is critical, she is caring and warm in other ways, such as cooking for the family, playing with her grandchildren, often calling, sending thoughtful gifts, etc. The one critic hurts, but it does not represent the entirety of the relationship. 

Assert needs and limits to others

At times, asserting needs and limits is necessary to maintain a healthy relationship and to be able to connect with the other. Talking with “I” statements when we are emotionally calm can help us get what we need from the discussion and offer an occasion for repair.

Example: Point out that the remark made a few days ago was hurtful, and what was wanted was encouragement. Doing so can help get support from the mother and cause her to reflect on her tendency to be overly-critical. 

In summary, navigating complicated relationships can be difficult – especially during the holidays. Taking the time and space to reflect and adjust our own internal experience can positively impact our well-being and interpersonal relationships we deeply value. If you need support to learn how to cope with complicated relationships in your life, professionals at CFIR can offer support and possibly help you move towards repairing them.

Dr. Karine Côté, D.Psy., C.Psych. is a psychologist at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR). Dr. Côté provides psychological services to individual adults and couples experiencing a wide range of psychological and relationship difficulties related to mood and anxiety disorders, trauma, eating disorders, sleep disruptions, and interpersonal betrayal. She works from a humanistic approach and integrates therapeutic techniques from gestalt and object relations psychotherapies, emotion-focused therapy (EFT), and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

Love in the Time of COVID-19: Coping With Separation From a Partner

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a drastic impact on all of our daily lives. While many can stay at home with their partners, other couples are separated indefinitely while restrictions on travel are in effect, or as a means to prevent transmitting the virus to a partner who is especially vulnerable to developing a critical illness. It can feel especially isolating to be apart from a partner at a time like this when we most need support from loved ones, especially when the duration of the separation is unknown. Here are some tips for managing this difficult situation:

1. Find ways to maintain your connection while you are apart

Some things to consider:

– Technology now offers a variety of ways to engage with someone remotely. In addition to phone calls and video chats, consider multiplayer online games as an option. These are not limited to traditional video games. Some of these games allow you to simulate playing a board game or completing a puzzle together!), or websites that will enable you to stream the same video together. 

– Rituals can feel grounding at a time like this; consider having a shared mealtime or coffee over video chat, or making a point to wish one another good morning and good night each day. 

– If possible, consider having some of your partner’s favourite snacks or other things they enjoy delivered to them.

– Discuss what each of you needs when it comes to communication. What works best for each of you in terms of scheduling and other commitments? Having a conversation together helps to mitigate the chances of misunderstandings and hurt feelings in this stressful time.

2. Take things one day at a time

It is natural to worry about how long it will be before you can see your partner again, or what the worst-case scenario could be. Still, these worries often contribute to high levels of stress while not helping us to adapt to the situation at hand, especially as it has been rapidly evolving. What can you and your partner do to keep yourselves safe while staying connected today and in the near future? What are the things you can be grateful for, even in these challenging times?

3. Take time to speak about your concerns about the pandemic and how it will impact you or others

Understand that your partner may have very different concerns from your own, as this pandemic is having a range of impacts on people. Some may be worried about their health or the health of loved ones, others may be struggling with lost work or other financial difficulties, and still, others may be distressed about missing important events. Be sure to take time to talk about these concerns so that you can support and validate one another.

4. Take time to speak about literally anything else

While it can be challenging to maintain a sense of normalcy and to maintain your connection as a couple, it’s also important to talk about things other than the pandemic: different aspects of your daily lives, your hobbies, and interests, your hopes and wishes, etc. Consider whether there may be opportunities to talk more deeply about some of these things than you might typically, given the extended time apart and disruptions to your routines and way of life. While you may not be able to avoid a painful time away from your partner, are there ways you can use this time to develop your relationship in a new way?

5. If you live alone, identify others around you who can provide help if you need it (for example, if you are ill or otherwise self-isolating and need someone to run essential errands for you)

Our partners often take on these tasks for us, and it can be anxiety-provoking to be without them at a time when we may need such help; neighbours, extended family, friends, or coworkers may be able to help if asked. If you do not have a robust social network in your area, look into community resources that may be able to help those in need. If you are healthy, also consider whether you might be able to volunteer to provide help for others in your community.

The pandemic has spun the world into a challenging time, and it’s okay not to feel okay being away from your partner right now. In addition to these tips, be sure to take care of yourself and reach out for (and provide, as you are able) support from others in your life, to help cope with this difficult time.

Clinicians at CFIR can work with you to collaboratively set treatment goals to ensure that you or you and your partner’s concerns and needs are adequately addressed. Secure and confidential video and phone treatment options are available. Contact us today.

Dr. Tracy Clouthier, C.Psych. (Supervised Practice) is currently practicing under the supervision of Drs. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych. and Aleks Milosevic, C.Psych at CFIR (Ottawa) provide psychological treatment and assessment services in both English and French to adult clients facing a variety of difficulties, including depression, anxiety, relationship challenges, concerns related to self-esteem and identity, difficulties with emotion regulation, trauma, and challenges adjusting to life transitions and other stresses.

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.

Attachment Injuries in Couples: Healing After Betrayals

by: Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych.

An attachment injury occurs when a partner is betrayed or abandoned, and trust is violated at a moment of critical need for support and care. The injury can be traumatic as the injured partner is left with a sense of helplessness, isolation, and intense fear about the other’s availability (Johnson et al. 2001; Zuccarini et al. 2013). These traumatic incidents occur when a partner’s belief and faith in the reliability and dependability of the partner is shattered. Examples of these types of injuries include marital affairs, emotional affairs, money mismanagement, violation of boundaries, abandonment at times of need during pregnancy, alignment with parents over partner, child-rearing conflicts, and lack of support during illness, among others. These traumatic incidences become a barometer of the offending partner’s trustworthiness, dependability, and reliability. The attachment bond between partners becomes frayed as a result of these injuries.

In these instances, clinicians at CFIR will address the lingering hurt and anger and heal the frayed bond. The emotional processing of these events is essential to the healing process.  Attachment bonds are emotional bonds.  The emotional accessibility and responsiveness to the injured partner’s experience facilitates recovery and healing.

Attachment Style and Couple Sexual Issues

According to attachment theory, as a result of early year interactions with caregivers, we either become securely attached or insecurely attached—either anxiously or avoidantly attached.  Attachment style then influences sexuality in complex ways. Anxiously attached partners in the bedroom might be seeking out sex for reassurance of self or attachment fears.  For example, they may feel less positive about themselves (e.g., undesirable or unattractive), and/or have worries about the availability, accessibility, and responsiveness of their partner.  Strong sexual desire is fuelled by the need for self and attachment reassurance. Avoidantly attached partners are not motivated sexually in the same way.  These partners are more likely to focus on the pleasure-oriented aspects of sex only and have difficulties with feelings of closeness.  Some avoidantly attached partners will have sex for duty’s sake. Arousal and desire problems arise when anxiously or avoidantly attached partners are unable to fulfill these goals.  

The clinicians at CFIR support couple partners to discover the multiple ways in which securely attached partners experience and explore sexuality. The couple and sex therapy clinicians at CFIR use a wide variety of strategies to support couple partners to build more confidence in their sexuality, greater eroticism, and desire.

Forgiveness and Reconciliation for Couples Post Affairs

Forgiveness and reconciliation after an extramarital affair is a complex process. Forgiveness occurs when there is an experiential shift in the injured partner toward the betraying partner— a movement toward softer feelings. This experiential shift requires an unpacking of different types of emotional reactions associated with these types of relationship traumas. The shattering of one’s sense of self, the other, and one’s sense of future identity in the aftermath of an affair can create instability and insecurity in one’s self and the relationship. These types of injuries result in complex emotional reactions that require resolution. Reconciliation, the next step in recovery, occurs when steps are taken to rebuild trust and restore the relationship after a forgiveness process. These steps are essential for the restoration of security.

The team of psychologists, psychotherapists, and counsellors at CFIR employ evidence-based interventions to support relationship partners beleaguered by emotional injuries in the aftermath of an affair. Steps to forgiveness and reconciliation and the interventions required for successful resolution of an extramarital affair have been delineated in research conducted by Dr. Zuccarini, C.Psych., co-founder of the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships. (Zuccarini et al., 2013). Clinicians at CFIR are prepared to support you in promoting healing in your relationship.

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