Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Ultimate Conflict Repair Exercise

I have created the ultimate conflict repair exercise by combining Dr. Sue Johnson’s work along with the work of John Gottman. In the past I have found that both exercises were good however they were both missing important information. For instance Sue Johnson’s Hold Me Tight Conversation 4  exercise was excellent at helping couples get quickly in touch with deeper feelings but it was missing the listening/validating piece. The John Gottman exercise we have personally used many times within our own relationship but I find that having each person go over their side of the conflict in length can take a long time and it is hard to get to the “jist” of what happened and the deeper feelings, so Sue Johnson’s exercise offers a quicker deeper solution.

So here they are combined together the best of both worlds enjoy:

ARE Conversation for Connecting and Healing Conflicts

Instructions: This exercise is for processing or working through conflicts or negative feelings. The goal here is to increase the understanding between the two of you without falling back into the conflict.

The belief here is that there is no absolute reality in a disagreement , but rather there are two subjective realities.

This exercise is designed to help you understand these two realities and to ease similar situations in the future.

1.  Identify a Specific Moment– Identify a specific moment during a fight or times of distance when you suddenly feel more vulnerable or on guard.

2.  Identify Most Negative Thought–  Identify the most negative thoughts that go through your head at that point? What is the worst, most catastrophic thought about your partner, yourself or your relationship? (For example: “He/She doesn’t care.” “I am never going make it here or measure up.” “We are going to fight and split up.”)

3. Identify Deeper Feelings – Choose from the list below to pick the words that best describe the deeper emotion that comes up for you in these moments. This is often some kind of fear about yourself or your partner and how he or she feels about you. It may be some kind of anguish or hurt.

Lonely Worried/Shaky Let down Hopeless Panicked Sad
Inadequate Failing/Ashamed Isolated Alone Humiliated Scared
Helpless Lost/Confused Unwanted Dismissed Intimidated Unattractive
Vulnerable Insignificant Rejected Overwhelmed Angry Criticized
Defensive Misunderstood Small Powerless Hurt Unappreciated
Unfairly picked on Like my partner doesn’t like me Taken for granted I have no influence Out of Control My opinions don’t matter

4.  Share Thoughts and Feelings– Each one of you takes a turn in sharing your subjective reality about the disagreement including your worst thoughts and the feelings that came up for you. It is important that when you share you try to use language that helps you own your perspective and reduces the amount of blame towards the other person. Example is saying, “My worst thought is _______” or “My mind is telling me _______” or “The story I have in my head says_______” or “My perspective is________.”

5.  Share the Need– What specific reassurance or response from your partner would help you with these feelings right now? See if you can tell your partner in a short, simple, and direct way what it is that you need from him/her when these feelings come up? This need or longing is usually for some kind of caring, comfort or reassurance.

See the common adult attachment needs below:

     I need to feel or sense that….

1. I am so special to you that you really value our relationship. I need that reassurance that I am number one with you and that nothing is more important.
2. I am wanted by you, as a partner and a lover that making me happy is important to you.
3. I am loved and accepted, with my failings and imperfections. I can’t be perfect for you.
4. I am needed. You want me close.
5. I am safe because you care about my feelings, hurts and needs.
6. I can count on you to be there for me, to not leave me alone when I need you  the most.
7. I will be heard and respected. Please don’t dismiss me or leap into thinking the worst of me. Give me the chance to learn how to be with you.
8. I can count on you to hear me and to put everything else aside.
9. I can ask you to hold me and to understand that just asking is very hard for me.

6.  Listening Partner
Focuses intently on what their partner is saying.
Tries to understand their partner’s deeper feelings and subjective reality of the situation.
After the sharing partner has finished the listening partner validates their partner’s subjective reality by saying, “I really understand that you felt _________ when _________ and __________ happened.”
Then they reassure their partner about their need: Example: “I hear you that you need to feel cared about and important and I want to reassure you that you the most important person in my life and I care about you very much.
Remember you are here to listen, validate and reassure your partner do NOT go into defending or sharing your feelings or side of the story.

Partner’s switch turns and the listening partner has a chance to share his/her thoughts, feelings and need, while the other listens.

7.  Admit your Role- It is essential that each of you takes some responsibility for what happened. Each person takes some accountability for how the conflict came about.

8.  Make it Better in the Future

1. What is one thing your partner could do differently next time?
2. What is one thing that you could do differently next time?

Are you flooded?- If at any time during the conflict repair one or both partners become flooded with emotion it is important to take a break, calm your self down (make take up to an hour) and then come back and finish the repair exercise.

Robin Menard MSW RCC RSW
Marriage and Couple Specialist
A Path of Heart Counselling Services

The Male Brain and the Female Brain

Do you ever wonder why your husband or boyfriend is acting inconsiderate? Or why they seem to lose their senses when they see a hot woman? Or why they snap so quickly into anger? New research shows that the hormones in mens brains are very different then the hormones that women have and this creates differences in personality and behavior.

The hormones in women’s brains make them much more likely to be considerate, nurturing and understanding of others emotions. When baby girls are born their brains are instantly flooded with estrogen. This makes them much more likely to watch adults faces and begin to develop areas of their brain for observing and understanding emotions. Baby boys are flooded with testosterone which makes them mush more action orientated so they are more focused on a mobile or things that move. On the play ground you might see little girls working together cooperating and building a house, then out of nowhere a little boy the same age may come running by and smash the house.  Research has shown that the estrogen and progesterone in girl and woman’s brains makes them much more likely to nurture, take care of others needs, and observe and understand others emotions. They build super hwys for understanding emotions and caring for others. Boys and men on the other hand do not have these hormones; instead they have testosterone which makes them much more action orientated, aggressive, sexual, and solution focused. The problem that happens when it comes to couples is that women look at their men and say “I made him lunch, and I bought him a shirt, I’m always thinking about him and considering him, but he doesn’t ever consider me!” Ladies they just aren’t built the same as us.

What does a man have that a woman does not have? The area in men’s brains for sexual instinct is 2.5 times larger than what is found in a woman’s brain. At age nine boys testosterone rises 25% which sets off puberty and makes his brain’s sexual pursuit circuits grow more than twice as large as those in girls’ brains. Testosterone primes the visual cortex to focus on sexually attractive females. Sometimes all it can take is the hint of a female shape to make a young man snap his head around.  The kind of chemical cocktail that goes off in a man’s brain when he sees a woman with a hour glass figure causes him to literally lose his senses. During sex men’s brains produce chemicals that create euphoria similar to being on cocaine. When men have regular sex their brains rapidly manufacture dopamine- the brain’s feel good neurotransmitter for reward. Plus most men have shame tied to directly asking for their adult attachment needs to be met and often try to initiate sex to try and feel loved, wanted, valued, and appreciated. As women we have a hard time understanding why it seems like our men go into a trance like mesmerized state when they see a hot or sexy female. We can now understand that men do not look at other women and lose their senses on complete free will, that when a man sees a women that has an hour glass figure their brain’s is literally lighting up like a Christmas tree.

As women it is so difficult for us to understand why men have so much trouble controlling their anger. A man’s brain area for suppressing anger, the septum, is smaller than it is in the female brain so expressing anger is a more common response for men than women. The amygdale, the part of our brains that is associated with emotion and the fight or flight response, is larger in men. Starting from age nine until men are late in their forties their brains are fuelled by testosterone and vasopressin which fuels their brain circuits often making them a hair trigger for anger. Studies have found that although men and women report that they feel anger for an equal number of minutes per day, men get physically aggressive twenty times more often than women do. As a man’s frustration grows (say in bumper to bumper traffic) his testosterone and stress hormone, cortisol, activates the amygdale and fires up his fighting circuits. Then his “good judgement” brain circuits, the frontal lobes, go dark and offline. Also women’s brains are flooded with estrogen, progesterone, and oxytocin which can cause a calming effect; men’s brains are not.  When you look at the facts, biologically men have a harder time suppressing their anger.

New research on males and females can help us to have a deeper understanding of some of the fundamental differences between men and women. Many of the women I work with (including myself) struggle to understand why men behave in ways that we ourselves would choose not to do. It is my hope that by sharing this information more women can further understand their men and give them a bit of a break (after all they aren’t women now are they ;) . I want to clarify that in no way am I condoning negative behaviours of being inconsiderate, having a wandering eye, or venting anger on another person. And in now way am I condoning any kind of abuse or violence caused by anger towards women.   It is my intension to educate and help women understand that there is more going on in this picture than what meets the eye, and to further help us to find peace, as well as love and accept our men even more.

Robin Menard MSW RCC RSW
Marriage and Couple Specialist
A Path of Heart Counselling Services

All of this information was borrowed from the book ‘The Male Brain” by Louann Brizendine, M. D.