Stress from Status Anxiety – Will it kill your Relationship?

Stress from Status Anxiety – Will it kill your Relationship?

One of the most common questions asked about counselling is; “Is it – an Art or a Science”?

This week on the Therapia blog we are going to be focussing on emotional attraction and drawing on the works of two terrific anthropologists. David Brooks (The Social Animal) & Alain De Bolton
(Status Anxiety) and world leading relationship expert Dr John Gottman will also share some tips.

Case Study

Simon & Cathy have attained nearly every marker of external success available to a couple in their forties, except one their marriage. The global admiration each accumulate through achievements pursuing single minded career goals has cost the relationship which is now disintegrating in all of the usual ways. Their intimacy has gone with the wind, Simon and Cathy’s lives are busy like ships in the night.

The couple presented to counselling “wanting to return to the old days, when they were spontaneous and loving around each other, but were afraid they would fail if they tried… so they just withdrew,” and blamed each other for everything that went wrong. Each felt personally put-down by the other and utterly helpless, yet still righteous and certain that they were in the right and “wondering if they were losing their minds.”

In our daily practice at Therapia we often call this the downward spiral of disconnection. As the rift grows wider, trust breaks down, and turning away (rather than towards) becomes the daily ritual.

As the years went by, Simon & Cathy fell out of the habit of really talking, or even looking each other in the eye. In the evening, she’d be watching TV at the far end of the house and he would be in the home office playing games on his laptop. Sharing everything felt so natural when they were first married, but now not sharing had become the norm. Sometimes Cathy would have something she wanted to share but she felt awkward and cautious their relationship now had a written constitution. It would be inappropriate to rush into his office with some enthusiastic daily happening or curious fact.

Simon & Cathy Could benefit from one of Professor John Gottmans simple principles it’s called the 5 to 1 ratio and at Therapia we call it Deposits to the Love Bank.

Any couple will benefit from aiming to have five positive interactions for each negative one. This ratio works because it gives us the opportunity to start seeing each other in a different way, noticing the positive things our partners do in place of all the stuff that annoys us. Changing our focus in the moment becomes a habit, and our attitudes shift. But Simon and Cathy’s problems can’t be solved purely by pursuing this ratio, because simply without a basis in emotional attunement, success is nsustainable!

What Simon and Cathy are missing is friendship. They are missing a foundation of emotional attraction, a bond that can make their marriage a safe foundation to return to every night, a steady source of joy and satisfaction amidst the hectic stressors that make up their working weeks. Different interests and busy personal schedules don’t have to dictate the course of a marriage – after all, pursuing independent goals is far less lonely (and often far more successful) with a partner’s support.

“Great,” you might be thinking. “Sounds beautiful, but how do we get there?”

Here’s how you can start. Below, you’ll find an exercise designed by Dr. Gottman to increase emotional attraction by having stress-reducing conversations!

Building Emotional Attraction. First of all, what is emotional attraction? Emotional attraction means being attracted not just to your partner’s body, but also to their hearts, minds, and dreams. It means valuing them for who they are and what they stand for. While you may be sexually attracted to your partner’s physical appearance, developing deeper emotional attraction will make these feelings much stronger.

For example, you might find it pretty sexy that your partner can carry out an intellectual conversation, or talk about a novel or current news story that you’ve both read. This kind of attraction goes much deeper than the physical. Think of it as an expansion of “looks aren’t everything.”

Your emotional attraction to your partner is largely determined by the ways in which you communicate. If you are communicating well, you are likely comfortable opening up to your partner about your opinions without having to worry about being judged for them. This high level of intimate trust is reaffirmed in daily dialogue – specifically in a “How was your day,?” conversation – but you may be surprised to find out that this conversation doesn’t always have a positive effect!

The Stress-Reducing Conversation. What this conversation does (or ought to do) is to help each of you manage external stress in your daily lives so that it doesn’t spill over into your relationship. According to Dr. Gottman’s close friend and colleague, Dr. Neil Jacobson, one of the key reasons for couples’ relapse after problem-solving in marriage counselling is “disruption” caused by stress from other areas of their lives.” In other words, outside problems at work, with friends, with family members often end up coming into relationships to fuel the fires of conflict.

Couples who are overrun by stress and fail to talk about it with each other see their level of emotional attraction drop, and subsequently see their relationships suffer. On the other hand, those who talk about the stresses of daily life with one another and help each other to cope keep their relationships strong.

Many couples have this sort of conversation at the dinner table or while undressing for bed. Sadly, this discussion does not always have the desired effect. Instead of decreasing stress, it actually increases it. While there is a time to talk about issues with your partner, discussing those that affect your relationship at this time will most likely bring about disaster.

“For starters, think about the timing” of the chat. Some people want to unburden themselves when they’re barely through the door. Others need to decompress on their own for a while before they’re ready to talk but they may also want to talk before it gets late and they feel too tired. Talk to your partner and find out their preference!

The cardinal rule in having a stress-reducing conversation: only talk about stress outside of your relationship.

This is not the time to discuss areas of conflict between the two of you, or point fingers of blame. It’s also not the time to instruct your partner on how to fix the problems they’re facing. It’s an opportunity to support each other emotionally regarding other areas in your lives.

Remember: understanding must precede advice.

Though these conversations don’t centre on your relationship, they directly improve it. They allow you to connect on an intimate level. How? Emotional attraction grows when you feel your partner is listening to you, respecting and accepting your perspective, and expressing genuine care.

If you currently feel dis-connected from your partner and would like to learn some new relationship tools contact Therapia on 8364-3811 or make an appointment through our website. www.therapia.net.au

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