Author Archive

Three Steps to Recovering from Relational Conflict

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016
by Beth Flinn, LPC

In any relationship, conflict is inevitable. Many couples want to know if there is a right way and a wrong way to resolve conflict. Relationship researcher, John Gottman, says the way couples fight is not as important to marital happiness as the way they make up. Gottman’s more than 25 years of observing and studying couple interaction has shown that three components of making up can make a huge difference in marital satisfaction. Cultivating the following make-up skills might just change the emotional thermometer in your relationship:

First of all, learn how and when to exit the argument. Couples who practice the art of ending the argument quickly are happier than couples who drag things out for days. This can be difficult, especially when each person feels the need to be right, or to get the last word. It is always best to end an argument before emotions escalate and harsh words are spoken.

Secondly, learn how to make and receive attempts to repair what happened in an argument. Talk to your partner about what might work for each of you as a repair attempt. Sincere apologies and statements like “How can I make things better?” or “I can see my part in all of this” are examples of ways to repair hurt feelings.

Finally, learn ways to reconnect after a fight has ended. A gentle touch, a lingering hug, a kind and sensitive question like, “Are we okay?” are all examples of reconnecting after conflict. Find out what works for you and your partner in terms of reconnection and make this a habit in the way you make up.

Keep in mind that a key goal in communication is not conflict avoidance but successful negotiation of differences. The next time you find yourself in a conflict use it as an opportunity to practice more productive ways to exit the argument, make repair attempts, and reconnect with your partner afterward.

Love Story

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016
by Beth Flinn, LPC 

I love movies, old and new, and I’m a sucker for a sappy love story. Recently I re-watched “Love Story” — wow, it has been awhile.  I first saw the movie as a teenager, and I imagine my young self tearfully absorbing the movie while giving silent validation to the never-before-spoken phrase, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

Shortly after the 1970 movie came out psychologists, clergy, and the like weighed in on that oft repeated line and declared it nonsense.  Of course it would be lovely to never commit an offense against our beloveds, but here on earth where relationships can be prickly, such perfection is highly unlikely.

Forty-five years later, I remember the line, and I remember the backlash, and I remind myself of what is true. Real love, sacrificial love, means having to say you are sorry day after day, time after time.  Love is a verb – it’s something we do, not just something we experience. Love means saying “I messed up, forgive me, I’ll keep trying, I’ll do better.” And real love replies, “Me too, I forgive you, I’m sorry for my part, yes, let’s try harder.”

Today I am grateful for the apologies in my life, delivered (to me and by me) with sincerity and humility.  I am grateful for forgiveness that has been extended (to me and by me) to and from the ones I love.  Sappy love stories are fun, but real love stories deliver the true happy endings.

Home for the Holidays…as an Adult

Monday, December 7th, 2015

by Beth Flinn and Annie Higgins

Around this time of year, we often hear people tell stories like this one: “For the better part of 365 days, I behave as a competent, self-confident adult, carrying out tasks and handling a myriad of responsibilities. But put me back in my mother’s house at the holidays with my siblings and I am instantly thrust back into the role of the baby of the family, with everyone joking and smirking about how I always get away with doing the least. And I let them do that to me–I fall back into that role so easily, and find myself feeling annoyed, irritated, counting the moments until it is over.” Ah, the holidays. We anticipate, decorate, wrap, and deliver. We dream, expect, prepare, and sometimes dread.

Family roles and expectations often determine the degree to which we are able to fully enjoy “the most wonderful time of the year.” Often it is difficult to escape the role that seems thrust upon us, and that we are no longer willing to play: the peacekeeper, the conversationalist, the organizer, the family clown. How do we begin to change what seems to be so entrenched in our families?

  • Be aware of not only the role you seem stuck in, but also the roles other family members occupy. How do you contribute to maintaining the status quo?
  • Be pro-active in letting your family experience other sides of you, besides the role you typically play.
  • Recognize and affirm characteristics of your family members that do not conform to their expected roles.
  • Set boundaries when appropriate. Let family members know that certain behaviors are hurtful and will no longer be tolerated.

It is vitally important to keep in mind that we teach others how to treat us. Therefore, if we were used to a certain type of interaction growing up, the only way to change the interaction now is to model and even ask for a different type of relating. Old habits are difficult to break, but in order to create more enjoyable holiday experiences, these may be family traditions worth breaking. Therefore, it may be necessary to let Uncle Eddy know that you would prefer a hug or handshake over the traditional noogie he has waiting for you this Christmas.

Protecting Monogamy

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

By Beth Flinn, LPC

Beth headshotWhen I counsel engaged couples, I usually ask if they plan to be monogamous. Generally, the first response I get is a startled look that says, “What kind of dumb question is that?” followed by a verbal response such as, “Of course we’re going to be monogamous; we are getting married!” Next I ask them how they know they are going to be monogamous, and I am usually greeted with a blank stare as each person turns to the other and mumbles something like, “Well, we just assume…isn’t it implied?”

Statistics clearly point to the fact that merely saying, “I do” does not guarantee marital fidelity, so why do we assume that it does? Throughout my work with numerous premarital couples, I have yet to meet a duo that has actually had an intentional discussion about monogamy, what it means to each of them, and how they intend to be faithful to each other and their marriage vows.

Most couples agree that, in the purest sense, monogamy means not having sex outside of the marriage. But in today’s world, with the many ways of connecting others, the lines can be hazy. For instance, what kinds of communication with others over social media is okay and what is crossing boundaries? What constitutes flirting? What are the boundaries concerning emotional relationships with others? What is the couple’s agreement for how to operate when someone feels attracted to a third? (News flash: That doesn’t stop happening just because you get married!) Of course, not every circumstance can be predicted or prevented. But I have found that when couples sit down and have the sometimes-difficult conversations about monogamy and individual expectations about relationship boundaries, the path to being true becomes a lot less cloudy.

Whether you are dating, engaged, or already married, it is never too late to have this very important conversation. In fact, it is best to treat this as an ongoing discussion throughout the course of your marriage because different seasons contribute to different vulnerabilities. Though this might be a difficult or uncomfortable subject to address, keep in mind that it is far less uncomfortable than the fallout for not having appropriate boundaries to protect your marriage in the first place.

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