Tidy Up Your Relationship, The 5 Benefits of Marie Kondo's Tidying Up Techniques That You Also Get From Imago Therapy

I caught the Tidying Up with Marie Kondo bug. Like so many, my family and I were enthralled by her Netflix series (now have a garage full of giveaway bags). On “The Late Show,” Stephen Colbert asked her why she thought so many Americans were captivated by her show. “People want to unclutter their hearts,” she responded. You can watch the segment [here].

The series goes into the homes of families who feel overwhelmed and paralyzed by their stuff. Like magic, Marie steps in and transforms their lives with the KonMari Method, not only tidying up their homes but their intimate relationships. As a marriage and family therapist and certified Imago therapist who specializes in couples, this caught my eye. Imago Therapy is a relational modality that focuses on intimate partnership.

During each episode, I witnessed couples getting closer and appreciating each other more, which was visible by the way they communicated with one another. The show illustrated how shifts in behavior can create desired change. Marie Kondon’s approach to organizing also doubles as relationship advice. In fact, it compliments my work as an Imago therapist at several turns. Using a proven formula makes the impossible seem doable.

Couples who once were at an impasse and could not imagine a way to move forward could do so by following manageable steps. As seen in the show, intimate relationships can dramatically improve. Her process helps couples deepen intimacy while tidying up the mess around them.

Here are 5 ways on how Imago Therapy helps Marie Kondo your relationships.

1. You can change

The show beautifully demonstrates how partners can continue to grow and change. It is essential to keep growing and moving forward in your relationship. Couples often come into my office wondering if people ever change. The answer is YES with a method. This show exhibits that positive modifications to behavior are possible.

In my work as an Imago therapist, I utilize a step-by-step structure called the Behavior Change Request. Within this format, partners stretch into their best selves. Our partner holds the blueprint for our individual development. Relationships are best when partners facilitate each other’s positive growth.

2. You have a vision

Together couples work towards a common goal to organize their home. They share a joint vision of the future. Their vision keeps them connected and on track even when they get stuck and find it difficult to change. Item by item, couples’ sense if the thing they are holding sparks joy and if they want it to be part of their future. They keep on task until their vision becomes a reality.

“We are working together on something that will definitely be life-changing,” beamed Wendy, an empty nester, from episode two. This process is similar to designing a relationship vision, a series of positive statements that describes your ideal relationship. A relationship vision is a powerful tool to bring your hopes and dreams into fruition. Read my husband and my HuffPost piece to construct your own here

3. You can manage your space

Couples learn how to manage their environment. It’s very common for couples to argue about the area they share. “The biggest fights we ever get into are over money and cleaning,” laments Kevin, a show participant in season one. Throughout the series, couples complain of feeling stressed out by their belongings. In organizing they reduce their anxiety. Anxiety causes disconnection in relationships. When anxiety lessens, couples can enjoy each other more.

Each item finds a place in the home creating more ease and calmness for the inhabitants. Partners also take responsibility for their own clothing and knick-knacks. This is important for differentiation, which makes it easier to see and understand that you are two different people in one relationship.

Taking accountability is an invaluable skill within intimate partnerships. When you are accountable for your actions and their repercussions you create trust within a relationship and in yourself. When you stop blaming the other partner that’s when the transformation occurs. At one point, a participant begins to weigh-in on the significance of her husband’s shirt. “As a rule focus only on the clothes that belong to you,” Marie gently admonishes.

4. Communication

Couples who once argued about the clutter started talking about other topics and interests. Some even became more romantic. The constant battling ended when a system was integrated into the house that managed the chaos.

In the last episode, Alishia and Angela admitted, “The bickering declined.” They also shared how the process allowed them to get to know each other better. They learned why certain sentimental items were essential to their partner. These exchanges deepened the experience for all the participants.

In my practice, I teach a method of communication called the Intentional Dialogue. It provides a pathway for couples to communicate effectively through difficult conversations. The process is an opportunity for partners to be seen and heard. Seemingly impossible conversations occur because couples utilize the dialogue structure.

5. You have more time for each other

Couples found more time to enjoy one another when they were not bogged down by their clutter. Many complained of feeling swamped by their home. Some rooms were avoided because of the mess. The atmosphere in the house was tense, nothing seemed to get done, and items were difficult to find. This added to the stress.

However, their interactions changed after they integrated an organizational method leaving more time to laugh and love. Having successful systems in place makes life and relationships easier to manage.

As a marriage and family therapist, it’s an honor to share various relationship protocols from how to discuss difficult topics to repairing ruptures in the connection. These skills enable partners to be playful, creative and remember why they fell in love.

Couples uncluttered their hearts and re-discovered the daily joy of being together.

“My method of tidying not only cleans the surfaces of your home but helps you consider how you want to live and what kind of relationship you want to have with your family and friends and all the things that surround you,” Marie summaries.

Just like there is an approach for tidying up, there is a guide to improving your relationship and getting the love you want. The framework I use with couples is a step-by-step process that enhances connection. It teaches you how to move through conflict quickly and easily and live the relationship of your dreams.

Change is possible with a method.

Relationship Remodel

We did it!

After months of planning and construction, Duane and I remodeled our two bathrooms. I wanted to renovate them since I moved in fourteen years ago. Last year, we included new luxurious bathrooms to our Relationship Vision.

Remodeling is an arduous process, and I couldn’t help but recognize how it made a fitting metaphor for transforming romantic relationships. When you and your partner develop a relationship blueprint together, it is easier to stay aligned while everything around you seems to fall apart.

It was difficult to see through the dust. Our offices are in our home, and rather than reducing the number of couples we saw during construction our business unexpectedly surged. My heart was beating fast as I saw the workmen hauling out walls, tile, sinks and endless bags of debris, leaving behind dark cavernous spaces that we would wander into by habit, half-dazed by the strangeness.

Even though I longed for the day when we would start construction, there was still a feeling of loss and panic as the demolition ripped through our home and upset the balance of our work-life routines.

I reassured myself everything was going to be okay because we had a detailed drawing. Having a clear vision or plan is vital when life feels like everything is upside down. This is particularly true of our intimate relationships. For this very reason, weddings include vows.

Disconnections and misunderstandings are inevitable in relationships. A Relationship Vision is the map that you can rely on when your marriage seems to stall or slip off track. It’s a mission statement with rich, specific detail. It is a list of positive statements that start with the pronoun “We ..” and includes whatever actions, objects or attitudes you both desire, however grand, greedy or unrealistic they might sound. For instance, "We take long walks together. We view disagreements as opportunities to grow." (For the complete instructions on how to create a relationship vision read our article on HuffPost, [https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/resolution-to-re-vision-your-relationship_us_5a42a44ee4b0d86c803c739a], and watch our video, https://harveycenterforrelationships.com/news/2017/12/26/relationship-vision-video-guide.

These statements, carefully crafted, design and manage your relationship as you navigate life together, and remind you of the behavioral bar you have set for yourself to show up as an adult who has put relationship rather than righteousness first. You get down to the studs of what you originally envisioned when you fell in love, identifying the things you did and the things you have always wanted to do together. It is a description of what you want to become.

Due to the stress of our remodel, I was accusatory and quick to anger. A low was when I berated Duane for picking the wrong ceiling fan. I needed reminding of some of the items in our Relationship Vision, such as, "We always treat one another with kindness and respect." Duane and I work with couples within an Imago Relationship paradigm developed by Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt. Imago theory explains that our partner holds the blueprint for how we need to change and grow into our best selves. It is in a relationship that we become whole. This process is not easy. Even if it is an elected change, like our remodel, change is challenging. Updating our bathrooms was something we both wanted, and it still challenged our patience and caused upheaval in our home. We had to contend with difficult emotions like anxiety and uncertainty. A shared document that explicitly states: “We give each other the benefit of the doubt. We are physically affectionate with one another. We have each other’s back,” kept our heads above the noise and dust and inevitable chaos.

All change can feel overwhelming. I recently learned it is excruciating for a tadpole to turn into a frog. The tadpole is no longer able to breathe underwater, and it is forced to leave the only environment it has always known and emerge to take a breath in the air. I experienced change with this same intensity at times. Constantly, we move one way or another on the control-chaos continuum. Commitment to a meta-map of our life together provides us with the scaffolding our delicate evolution requires.

The process of creating a Relationship Vision also reframes the tired adage that marriage requires compromise. The word compromise implies that everyone’s desire gets deluded or reduced in negotiations. We are told to believe that romantic love is a series of concessions, and no one gets what they want. This view negates the co-creating power of relationships and robs us of the unexpected discovery of actually getting more than you imagined at the outset. When my couples are polarized, I encourage them to tease out a third option that holds both points of view and fulfills both desires. Despite appearances, we discover that needs are never mutually exclusive. During the process of our remodel dialogues, Duane, and I found lots of solutions that were surprisingly better than our own ideas. Duane wanted to redo the downstairs bathroom, and I wanted to renovate the upstairs, so we did both. Also in the downstairs bathroom, Duane wanted to tile the floor and cieling a greenish slate color. In my opinion, this would have made the bathroom too dark. We found a third way, using white porcelain in the sink area and slate in the shower, which created a depth of field that we both love.

Next time you and your partner are at an impasse see if you can find a third solution, one that is better than either of your separate views. Instead of hunkering down in your point-of-view, see if you can creatively come up with a third option that you love even more. You don’t need to be involved in a big project to utilize this approach to decision making. Employ this method in cooking, scheduling, parenting, finances, the everyday decisions that make up our lives.

The hammering stopped, the dust cleared, and our fragile art objects came out of hiding and found their old places. After months of preparation and upheaval, we are delighted with our new state-of-the-art bathrooms.

Whether renovating your bathroom or planning your weekend, change, especially in a relationship, is often messy, hard, and unavoidable. Rather than fighting against each other, we found win-win solutions to unify and expand our desires. Our Relationship Vision created the momentum to start the remodel and kept us connected as we navigated the journey. You and your partner can do this too.

Thea quoted in Bride Magazine


MINDFULNESS IS THE LATEST WELLNESS BUZZWORD TO GO MAINSTREAM. KARI MOLVAR EXPLAINS HOW STAYING IN THE MOMENT CAN KEEP YOU RELAXED AND HAPPY WHILE PLANNING, ON THE BIG DAY—AND IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP. Paula Mallis clearly remembers her wedding day: The Los Angeles–based doula planned it in six months, dealt with intense opinions from family members (including a mother-in-law “with big feelings,” she says), and then, on the day itself, watched as the skies opened and it poured on her cli side gathering in Big Sur. “The umbrellas went to shit,” she says. “We ended up in one room with everyone sitting on the oor, soaking wet.” There in the room, Mallis broke out in tears—not the sad, why-me? kind but the happy-smiling-love kind. “Every- one was laughing, and everything was how my husband and I wanted it,” she says. Despite the downpour, they still had the amazing, crazy, fun day they’d wanted. Not everyone would laugh in the face of such stress, but Mallis had prepared herself. Her secret power? Being mindful, setting intentions, and upping her meditation practice during her engagement. “Weddings involve so much pres- sure and anxiety,” she says. Mindfulness helped her stay “calm, centered, and present.” To say mindfulness has caught on is an under- statement. At its most basic, “mindfulness is the act of bringing your full attention to the present moment,” says Ellie Burrows, founder of MNDFL, a meditation studio in New York. Granted, this isn’t exactly new: Mindfulness is rooted in Buddhist and Taoist practices that PHOTOGRAPHS BY COREY TOWERS BRIDES.COM date back thousands of years. Burrows says it’s about quieting your brain so it’s not constantly pinging with thoughts of the past or worries about the future. “If, for example, you’re talking with your ancé, then you are engaged in listen- ing.” That means putting the mute button on interruptions “about your to-do list, the next thing on your calendar, or checking your phone.” By not being at the mercy of a roving brain— or the incessant alerts from your phone, feeds, and followings—you’ll make better decisions, have more control over emotions and reactions, and forge stronger bonds with loved ones. If that sounds radically simple, it is. “Mindful- ness isn’t new; it’s just more talked about now,” says Khajak Keledjian, the founder of InScape meditation studio in New York City. The rise is tied to our recent obsession with various self- care practices—from crystal healing to sound baths—that have gone from mystical to main- stream. We’re craving what Suze Yalof Schwartz calls “solstice,” a kind of primal balance. Schwartz, founder of the UnPlug Meditation studio in L.A., says, “Our culture is plugged in 24/7. But we need silence and self-connection so we can be more creative, happier, and healthier,” she says. “Just as we recharge our phones, we need to recharge ourselves.” A mounting stack of research backs up the ben- e ts: Meditating can decrease anxiety-related CALLIGRAPHY BY HANDMADE LETTERS OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2017 247 MANTRA COURTESY OF CHRISTINE D’ERCOLE

cortisol levels, increase emotional intelligence, and sharpen mental focus. In fact, according to the National Business Group on Health, 22 per- cent of U.S. companies (like Apple and Nike) now o er mindfulness perks to employees. As Burrows says, “It’s no longer just monks in robes telling you that mindfulness is good. It’s your doctor, boss, or friends. Our lives can be quite chaotic, and mindfulness can help anchor us.” And there’s nothing like planning a wedding to throw your life into chaos. “The money, the relatives, the expectations—both personal and external—all contribute to serious stress,” says Schwartz. “I wish I’d meditated on my own wedding day. I was not really present.” Taking a beat to breathe helps you “build resilience in your brain so that you’re able to stop stress as it comes your way,” says Schwartz. It also lets you absorb all the happiness around you— so the day doesn’t speed by in a blur. A mindfulness practice can take many forms, says Mallis, who launched WMN Space, an all- woman wellness hub in L.A.—and can help you MINDFULNESS IS THE ENEMY OF MULTITASKING— THE DEFAULT MODE FOR SO MANY BRIDES-TO-BE. tap into your inner power as you navigate through the planning to the happily-ever-after part. First, take a breath—and read on. PLAN WITH PURPOSE Meditation is often the easiest gateway to mind- fulness, but if you’re new to it, start small. “Try meditating in the morning for 15 minutes. This way, you start your day centered, calm, and clear,” says Keledjian, who also recommends nding a consistent spot where you’re used to the sounds and sensory factors. “Fewer distrac- tions makes it easier to stay focused and present.” Meditation is simply a form of contemplation. InScape’s weekly Focus33 guided meditation class is just 33 minutes, takes place in a cocoon- like space lit with purple tones, and is popular with brides-to-be like writer Kate Erickson. A teacher leads the class through a series of breathing exercises. “I kind of felt like I was nodding o , and when it was over I really felt as if I had been transported—like when you’re get- ting a facial and dozing but really loving it,” Erickson says. Her goal was to “calm my thoughts for a bit. I expected to love wedding planning, but I nd it completely overwhelming.” What she’s picked up in class serves her well beyond the con nes of the purple cocoon: When presented with sorting out hundreds of reception-related details, “taking a moment to focus on my breath has saved me from many planning-related freak- outs.” (If you can’t make it to a class, apps like Headspace and Insight Timer o er guided medi- tations of varying durations.) Mindfulness is the enemy of multitasking, the default mode for so many brides-to-be. “Multitasking often means you’re doing many things at once in a shallow sense,” says Keled- jian. If you concentrate on one project at time, he says, “you’ll actually be more e cient. It’s about focusing your attention narrow and deep versus wide and shallow.” Chances are, you’ll immediately notice a mental shift: “What would it feel like if I talked to my wedding planner and wasn’t looking at a screen or driving or walking anywhere?” Burrows asks. “I would be more present for that conversation and make more thoughtful responses.” If you still nd yourself getting anxious while planning (and taking it out on everyone), Bur- rows recommends “intention setting,” which is when you purposefully try to cultivate a quality, like patience or openheartedness. Find a quiet spot and write down your goal—literally, “I want to be more patient.” (Think of it as a to-do list for your soul...and mood). Then start recogniz- ing opportunities to ex that emotional muscle. For brides who need a little extra coaching in the calm-yourself department, Padma Shankar Coram, a wellness coach at the Grace Belgravia spa in London (where Pippa Middleton is rumored to be a client), recommends EFT—or emotional freedom techniques. The alternative therapy is part of the spa’s wellness boot camp for brides and involves tapping on the body’s meridian points to release negative energy. This, coupled with visual-guided meditation (in which you imagine your desired outcome actually happening), “helps remove jitters regarding the big day,” Coram says. To nd an EFT class or practitioner in your area, check out the directory at thetappingsolution.com. Your bridesmaids can get in on the mindful vibes too, says Mallis, who hosts “blessing circles” over bachelorette weekends. “I led one where everyone wrote their wishes for the bride’s mar- riage. They wished for things like understanding, communication, and great sex,” says Mallis, who was surprised by how open the group was to what many consider a hippie-dippie activity. “This group was full-on partying; I didn’t expect them to be down. But they laughed and cried and said it was the weekend’s most magical moment.” STAY PRESENT, SAY “I DO” You have something borrowed, something blue. Now you need something...balanced. “Have a mantra for the day,” suggests motivational speaker Christine D’Ercole. “It helps you see the big picture and not stress over little stu . I like to use these eight words to begin a mantra: I am. I can. I will. I do. Then complete the phrase with words that capture the ideas you want to carry into the marriage.” Repeating the mantra keeps you from “getting caught up in the fuss over place settings or desserts. It’s critical to the success of the event you’re celebrating.” You’ll also be in a much happier mental place if you do a quick gratitude list. “Take up to 15 minutes before the ceremony to get centered,” says Keledjian. “Breathe deeply and take in the excitement and the love surrounding you. It’s a great time to remind yourself of what brought you to that moment.” During the day, pick two moments when you can steal away to connect with your partner. “Express your gratitude for the love that you feel, even if it’s just for ve minutes,” say Bur- rows, who suggests ducking out right after the ceremony and then again after dinner. Should a crisis pop up and you start to “wander o into bridezilla land—thinking, I hate my hair!— place your hands on your heart, close your eyes, and slow your breath,” Schwartz says. Inhale through your nose for four seconds, hold the breath for four seconds, and exhale through your mouth for four seconds. “Give thanks for the celebration, then think of three things you’re grateful for about your spouse and three things you’re grateful for about yourself. Then open your eyes. This will shift your mood,” says Schwartz. “Nothing is prettier than happiness, so do this before going down the aisle.” If you can remember to do only one thing? Turn on your senses. “Smell your bouquet, feel the texture of your wedding dress, really listen, and take in what people are saying during the toast,” says Thea Harvey, a meditation teacher in L.A. “When you do this, you’re in the present.” Then stay there by eliminating distractions. Give your phone to a bridesmaid. Hands free, heart open! BALANCED MARRIAGE Mindfulness skills can help your relationship too. “Meditation is the best thing you can do for your marriage,” Schwartz says. “Petty things won’t bother you as much. The toothpaste cap left o ? Dishes in the sink? No problem.” You can strengthen your bond simply by being an active listener. “In my relationship, we try to put away our phones when we connect after a long day apart and be mindful of our time together,” says Burrows. Such pauses can make you less fraz- zled. “I have a lot more space between my reaction and the trigger,” she says. “I’m a better partner.” Still, your partner might not jump into all your rituals right away. “I grew up with a much more spiritual outlook than my husband did,” Mallis says. But after 11 years together, he recently picked up on self-care habits to “remain centered and present.” Mallis says, “I’m like, ‘Good bae!’ I think he’s just getting it.” 248 OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2017 BRIDES.COM BRIDES.COM OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2017 249

Marriage: What No One Tells You

By Thea and Duane Harvey

Your partner is a pain in the ass. You probably already know this, but what you may not know is that this is the way it is supposed to be. Sorry, it’s unavoidable. Everyone is difficult close up, even you. “But this is so unfair!” you might think. “My friends are easy.” Marry them and they won’t be. This is usually the first thing relationship experts Harville Hendrix and Stan Tatkin point out.

Commitment creates a unique environment with its own law of physics. What goes on in the rest of world doesn’t apply. Primary partners get close, very close, and this is the problem.

Of course, you didn’t realize this when you first met, and neither did they. You didn’t notice because you both were high on drugs. Your pituitary glands secreted love hormones and you fed off each other with high excitement and obsession. You have so much in common. You are so much alike. Everything is wonderful. But it doesn’t last. The hormones fade and what you are left with is a partner who knows exactly how to try your last nerve. 

There are three reasons why your partner gets under your skin.

Close Proximity

The first has to do with shared space. You are more likely to bump into one another, more likely to step on each others toes, to get elbowed in the eye in the middle of night. But this isn’t just physical space, it’s psychological space. The fact that you’re actually very different people comes as a shock. We each have preferences, moods, rhythms, idiosyncrasies, to say nothing of bad habits. The very fact that you are different and locked in the same room provides plenty of opportunities to clash. You are on a space station together, you speak different languages and there is no gravity.


The second reason has to do with a special kind of memory called implicit memory, the kind we don’t recall in the usual sense. The brain likes to pare down and simplify the past so it converts stories into automatic reactions. Another name for this is procedural memory. The vast majority of our brain architecture was formed before we had the verbal capacity to label and recall events, therefore a great deal of our experience cannot be accessed directly. Instead of recalling early events we act them out, or sink into the feelings they inspired.

The most important characteristic of these early years is that we were utterly dependent on someone. Problems always arise with one-sided dependency, even in the best of situations. These same problems resurface as implicit memory when we enter into a committed adult relationship. Like it or not, commitment is dependency and dependency is scary. And to complicate matters, we are taught from a very early age that dependency is bad. We live in a counter-dependent culture. Dependency is natural and necessary, yet we are shamed by it.

Growing Up

The third reason your partner is frustrating is because they perform the job we enlisted them to do — to help us finish growing up. Were your parents annoying? Same thing. We have to be told what to do or we won’t do it.

Your partner has the blueprint for your personal growth, but the very idea that someone knows us better than we know ourselves is inherently offensive. But it’s true. Partnering is two-way parenting. It is in a relationship that we learn and mature.

Here are three things you can do to turn things around:


The part of the brain responsible for processing vision is called the occipital lobe.
The strange thing is that the occipital lobe defers to the hippocampus, the seat of memory, to decipher what we see. This means that for the most part what we see is the past. The brain has an evolutionary bias toward the negative, so what we think we see isn’t good. We must compensate for this by consciously visualizing our partner in a positive light. Research has demonstrated that happy couples delude themselves about their partners qualities. Get delusional.


The next step is to take that positive visualization and express it. When your partner does something you like, tell them. Remember, this is in your best interest. If you don’t tell them they are likely to stop doing it. Tell them what you appreciate — often. The most radical way to implement this is to combine three fresh appreciations a day together with a commitment of zero negativity. No criticism. That means if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.


Commit to radically reducing your partner’s displeasure by eliminating one by one the things you do that frustrate them. Be curious as to what it’s actually like living with you. Exploring how your partner experiences you can be a real eye-opener. If you can swallow the idea that your partner holds the blueprint for your personal growth you will soon discover capacities and talents you didn’t know you had.

Practicing these three points is guaranteed to turn a pain in the ass partner back into the love of your life. And when they do annoy you, you won’t mind so much.

Follow Thea and Duane Harvey on Twitter: www.twitter.com/theaharvey

Tantra and Relationship Tips

He said, “She never wants to have sex. She’s always complaining she’s too tired. It’s frustrating being turned down all the time.”

She said, “All he wants is sex. I’m exhausted after work and taking care of the kids. He never pitches in enough and when we do it’s all about what he wants.”

As couples therapists, we hear that a lot. Sex is often the source of deep frustrations because our earliest injuries are often sexual and shaming. Creating a connection that is mutually satisfying is two-pronged: eliminate the negative and enhance the positive. Less pain, more pleasure. A simple truth most couples find difficult to practice. As a married couple, as well as therapists, we believe we have found a winning combination of methods for doing just that. The combined processes of Imago Relationship Therapy and Tantra not only bridge the intimacy gap, but can take a great romance to the next level. (click here to read more...) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/thea-and-duane-harvey/relationship-tips_b_3175724.html

How Couples Benefit From Sexual Fantasy | HuffPost

Read our simple five point suggestions on how to use your imagination to keep the flame alive.

How Couples Benefit From Sexual Fantasy By Thea and Duane Harvey Sex is an act of the imagination, and in committed romantic relationships imagination often is the first thing to wear out. Romance requires novelty and fantasy. The process of falling in love is the invention of the person we’re getting to know. There is always a bit of projection in romance. We take a few positive details and spin the rest in our minds. If we’re smart we never stop doing this. Here’s some tips to help re-cultivate the fantasy and re-circulate passion.

Pretend your partner is perfect. Strange as it may seem, it works. (read more here....http://www.huffingtonpost.com/thea-and-duane-harvey/sexual-fantasy-benefits_b_3379710.html)

Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/thea-and-dua...

Couples Repair Playbook

It was an idyllic afternoon in the small town of Idyllwild, California. The sunlight glistened from the pine needles and the birds were sweetly chirping as Tahquitz Peak stood proudly in the distance. My husband, our six year old daughter, and I were visiting his mother, whose health was in decline.

We were enjoying a family shopping trip to the local stores when it happened. We were all trying on hats when Duane asked how his looked. I was distracted and annoyed as my daughter was hanging on me and I flippantly responded. My callous, “It looks fine!” did not land well. Duane took issue and said he did not like my tone. My tone? His comment set me fuming. Our exchange became heated until his mother approached and told him how much she loved the hat. We silently stewed as we continued shopping, the irritation mounting inside each of us. His parents drove back to the house while we walked. This gave us the opportunity to let the other one have it and release all the fury that was bottling up. Impervious to the presence of our daughter we were each determined to prove the other wrong.

Relentlessly, we argued back and forth like we were trying to win a point in a tennis match. We returned to his parent’s house with no apparent winner and barely hid our anger behind pleasantries as we ate dinner with the grandparents. But under the polite remarks we were both plotting our next round.

This second round never materialized. Instead after dinner we retreated into a passive aggressive silence and we both went to bed disgruntled. The next morning was soured by the day before as we remained distant and aloof.

What happened? What went wrong? What could we have done differently to avoid this caustic collision?

The following are a few playbook tips to mend your breakdown fast.
1. Benefit of the doubt 
Always give your partner the benefit of the doubt. After all, commitment is about putting your life in their hands, so you might as well believe their intentions are good. We all have off moments. Daily stresses and aches and pains can cause us to be insensitive or unable to be our most loving selves. This is why we need to give our partners a pass whenever possible. Studies have shown that idealizing your partner is beneficial to committed relationships. Most conflicts are the result of misunderstandings, or mis-read cues. We think we know what our partner is thinking but we don’t. Be curious instead of reactive. Get the facts before you attack. Resist your automatic impulses, wait, step back, take a breath and respond compassionately. Chances are if your partner is acting badly toward you they are probably in pain. In retrospect I could see that Duane had not yet come to terms with his mother’s rapid decline in health.

Whatever the argument might seem to be about, it’s aways a breakdown in the quality of the connection. Duane did not really care whether or not I liked the hat, what he did care about was that I dismissed him, and what I cared about was that he accused me. The argument was about the sudden loss of a positive connection, and we were both vulnerable to this because of the surrounding circumstances.

2. Repair quickly 
What distinguishes successful couples from those that break-up is the ability to repair swiftly. Hurt, injury, conflict are all normal, inevitable and necessary for growth within a relationship. The longer the connection is broken the harder it is to repair. The mind is a negative magnet and during the disconnect your partner is collecting every complaint that they have ever had of you, and re-constructing your identity. You don’t want to be mistaken for the person your partner creates in your absence. Projection can be a nasty thing and the best way to prevent it is to show up in a positive way.

3. Do the opposite 
A good rule of thumb is to identify what you typically do when conflict arises, and then do the opposite. If you usually withdraw, approach and stay present. If you tend to pursue your partner around the house or text them relentlessly, let it rest, step back and wait. Another example of doing the opposite is relaxing the facial muscles. This immediately sends your partner a non-verbal cue that they are safe. Doing the opposite will be difficult and perhaps feel impossible, but you will discover it is relationship game-changer.

4. Do not set the record straight 
It is important whenever conflict occurs NOT to set the record straight about what really happened. Neuroscientists have discovered that memory is unreliable. It is impossible to get an accurate account of what happened. Therefore because of the way the mind works, what happened is less important than what needs happen. No matter what your partner says or how they respond, do not defend or justify yourself. Do not expect your partner to take responsibility for their part. They will only see how they contributed to the problem after you have fully owned your own contribution.

5. Take Charge 
In our private practice we have noticed a common confusion around the idea of taking responsibility. Seeing your part in creating or maintaining the disconnection is equated with giving in and taking blame. We all have a fundamental aversion to being wrong. The fear of being wrong is second only to the fear of being bad, because when we were growing up accusations of either exposed us to the danger of disapproval, and therefore threatened our sense of safety. But as adults when we refuse to take responsibility in our relationships we actually diminish our personal power and constrict our range of freedom.

6. Shake off the mood 
The heavy sensation that lingers after we make-up is chemical. It results from the activation of the dorsal motor vagal complex. When our body is physically or emotionally injured the dorsal motor vagas floods the body with opiods and lowers our blood pressure causing us to feel deflated and withdrawn. It is an autonomic bodily protection response. However, to repair our relationship we need to shake off this stupor with laughter, silliness or sex. Even if it feels inauthentic, it is important to remember that it is nothing more than a chemical residue. Our true authenticity lies in our intention to reconnect, not in our moods.

What distinguishes successful couples is the ability to repair. How we handle the breakdown makes all the difference in the world. Don’t be discouraged by conflict. Whether disconnections are frequent or few and far between, they can deepen trust if you step into the repair mode promptly.

Please share with us your experience. We would love to hear from you!

Follow Thea and Duane Harvey on Twitter: www.twitter.com/theaharvey

What Grown Up Marriage Looks Like: Huffington Post

What Grown Up Marriage Looks Like

No one is emotionally grown-up all the time. Our earlier selves are not filed away as memories but cordoned off like a half dozen smaller siblings who think it isn’t fair that the biggest makes all the decisions. It doesn’t take much for any one of them to climb the furniture and take over. Marital maturity is not about suppressing these earlier stages, but recognizing when they show up in ourselves and in our partners, and then, before coaxing them back into the highchair, gently remove any sharp utensils they may be welding. As grown-ups, we protect our marriage from ourselves.

Good role models are hard to find. Although no marriage is perfect, we need to have a vision, however ideal, toward which we can direct our appetite for order and adventure. That is what this is: A simple five-course menu to satisfy the circumspect as well as the exploratory palate, with minimal disruption and mess.

1. Secure

Safety is built into the environment. There are no windows left open for someone to fall out of, and the air is fresh and free of pollutants. Marriage is no place for criticism or put-downs, however well intentioned. The unbreakableness of the bond, a kind of necessary illusion, is assumed. We are securely attached. We need a solid base. Emotional safety is a foundational tenet of both Imago Relationship Therapy and Safe Conversations. You can afford to take risks because you know the house won’t collapse. The freedom to deeply depend on another and the privilege of being deeply depended on is a kind of shared amnionic fluid. When we inevitably do let one another down, we recognize the hurt and quickly repair. In this way, the small woundings and salves can foster a growing sense of resilience. The mechanics of safety are commitment and trust. Not just trust in the upper case issues of Money and Sex, but in the small moments of on-going availability and responsiveness. It also helps to know that we interest our partner enough that we can draw on their prolonged undivided attention.

2. Hot

Roll the word erotic off your tongue and notice how it changes your mood, energizes your senses. It’s utterance evokes an electrical charge that makes an ordinary room or a meal magical and otherworldly. It provides energy, promotes focus and transcendence. If that sounds like a drug, it’s because it is. But this addiction is delicate and needs regular feeding. We mustn’t take desire for granted. Sex therapists report that low sexual desire is the fastest growing sexual dysfunction. Among the many contributing factors the one we can immediately do something about is laziness. Good chemistry takes planning. The more we scheme to give pleasure, the more pleasure there is to receive. If desire is already low, sex experts encourage us to simply bypass this first stage and move on to the second stage of arousal by engaging in pleasurable touch.

Even the greatest pleasure can become irritating with mindless repetition. Human beings are, as more than 100 studies show, prone to hedonic adaptation, an innate—and measurable—capacity to become habituated or inured to most life changes, positive or negative. Our senses grow dull to what is most familiar. Intimacy and desire have always felt mutually exclusive, even to researchers. The workaround is enlisting the imagination to discover the strangeness of our partner. Their familiarity is actually a comforting illusion designed to make us feel safe, but we are all ultimately unknowable and unpredictable. Looking at them as if we don’t know them can feel slightly dangerous. Looking at them the way others might see them, as a sexual object, can feel stirring and somehow off limits— in other words, erotic.

Dan Savage has a simple directive for keeping the flame alive: simply be Good, Game and Giving, that is, develop some basic sexual skills, be open to whatever your partner proposes, and in addition to focusing on their pleasure, I would add a fourth G of Greed, for the simple reason that desire begets desire.

3. Adventurous

Marriage is often mistaken for the end of possibility. But if you list and compare the activities of dating singles to committed couples, you will explode the myth of the spontaneity and daring of the dating scene. Dating activities are actually quite predictable and highly planned. When you don’t know the hidden desires and fears of your date you are likely to play it safe because doing otherwise is courting disaster. How were you supposed to know that a class in the seductive art of Japanese bonding would bring on a full blown panic attack? or that the skydiving instructor would remind her of that ex-boyfriend? Dating, to be successful, is a rather conservative game of trial and error. Married couples can experiment and push the limit because they know so much about each other’s threshold for excitement.

Novel experiences release dopamine, which elevates our energy and mood, and generates bonding. The research of social scientist Sonja Lyubomirsky names adventure as a key ingredient for happiness, especially between couples.

Although adventure can certainly promote eroticism, it’s also about tapping into that child-like curiosity toward everything around us. Experience has a tendency to contract on us unless we step out of our comfort zone and explore. Whether international travel, hang gliding, scuba diving, checking out sex shops, trying new restaurants, or trapeze lessons at the Santa Monica Pier, breaking with the safety of routine and habit opens up a depth of bonding that imprints pleasurable associations between people.

4. Imperfect

This one emits a sigh of relief. The project of self-improvement, when applied to our partner, has a limit. As important as it is to strive and grow, it is equality important to relent and relax into the human mess that we ultimately are.

If you have ever tried to teach your partner how to improve their ways hopefully, your experience with whatever aftermath that caused has guaranteed you will not try again. Believe it or not, acceptance is the best device there is for promoting change.

We all struggle with bad habits, bad attitude, rudeness, carelessness, self-righteousness, prejudice, narrow-mindedness, etc. Each one of us is a piece of work. We would do well to remember that we are the primary pain in the ass to those we love. These imperfections are what Dan Savage calls The Price of Admission to be with an otherwise wonderful person. Alain de Botton writes that in marriage “we must choose which sufferings we wish to endure.”

Focus on your partner’s assets and overlook their shortcomings. This applies to physical appearance, personality traits, and behaviors. Make a list all the things you adore about your partner in each of these three categories, review, and share it often. Allowing yourself and your partner to be flawed is liberating, and spurs unexpected growth. Relaxing on the behaviors we want changed, in ourself and our partner, is the first step, but not the last, to crafting new more effective ways of living.

5. Forgiving

How long is it reasonable to hold a grudge against a toddler who made you late for work because of a car seat inspired melt-down? Imagine what it would be like if you let your so-called adult partner off the hook just as quickly. Not easy. But with practice the ventral vagal nerve complex becomes toned and develops a wider range of responses, allowing you to actually choose how to respond to stress or hurt. If you want to let more things roll off your back, you have to practice. Choosing to let it go or address it is up to you, so long as it is a choice. Forgiveness can be learned. Choosing a posture of generosity toward your partner will create the goodwill required for them to switch out the behaviors that hurt you, for those that feel caring. Letting your partner off the hook doesn’t encourage bad behavior, it prevents it.

The easiest way to forgive is to see beyond the adult mask into the eyes of the child. No one is always grown up. Regression is nature’s evolutionary phase of rest before and after developmental strides. If you know your partner well enough to marry them, you should also know that they have no intention of causing you pain. It happens as a result of their own pain.

As grown-ups, we don’t get triggered, at least not often. And when we do we have the ability to listen to complaints while resisting the powerful urge to defend ourselves. Contrary to conventional wisdom, a defense, however well reasoned, only deepens the hole we have dug, or stumbled into. When we grow big our issues get small.

For a personal view into how Thea and I repair from a breakdown, see our Couples Repair Playbook.

Attending to any one of these five menu items makes each of the others easier to absorb. What your grown-up marriage looks like will be up to you. No two relationships are the same. The complexity of flavors we bring out in each other cannot be replicated. The romantic notion of lovers that their connection is absolutely unique is absolutely true. And most of the time that irreplaceable bond wants to grow up and be taken seriously because that’s where the real fun is.

Thea & Duane Harvey

Read the entire article at the Huffington Post here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/what-grown-up-marriage-looks-like_us_58b4b77be4b0658fc20f993d