Prescott Relationship Center, PLLC

Stop the Pain and Conflict so you can feel Connected, Safe, and Appreciated in your Relationship

This content shows Simple View

Prescott Relationship Center

Communication in Relationships – Part 1 of 3

Video transcript by Youtube: Hello my name is Keith Cross. I’m a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the owner and clinical director of the Prescott Relationship Center. I wanted to start today with the first of a three-part series on communication it seems like a common topic that our couples come into the center with and it’s understandable all too often what we’re thinking feeling Continue reading 

Communication in Relationships – Part 2 of 3

Video transcript by Youtube:   Hello my name is Keith Cross. I’m the owner and clinical director at the Prescott Relationship Center. I’m a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and wanted to talk to you today about different types of communication and how we can often how we can often result in disconnection around how it is that we’re communicating. What I’m going to use for Continue reading 

Communication in Relationships – Part 3 of 3

Video transcript by Youtube: Hello my name is Keith Cross. I’m the owner and clinical director of the Prescott Relationship Center. We’re finishing up our series on communication so we did part one and sort of why it is that we communicate the way we do in especially important romantic relationships and then we did a section on what that kind of looks like when we’re trying to Continue reading 

When To Press The Panic Button – Your Guide To Asking For Help

Even the most independent among us need support sometimes. Yes, even you. In fact, it can be hard to know when it is time to seek help when we become overwhelmed in life. However, doing so can prevent far greater hurt and anguish in the longer term.

We all go through difficult chapters in varying themes and capacities. Financial crises, pandemic realities, and political transitions are all a common stressomarriage communicationr for many of us, especially recently, and it can greatly affect our mental wellbeing. Our relationships, romantic or otherwise, are also a considerable factor in how we feel in life. Even with the most honorable of intentions, life has its way of serving curve balls when we least expect them.  Additionally, mental health conditions that we cannot predict or avoid (such as clinical depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and hormonal imbalances) play a specific role in how we feel and how capable we are to cope with conflict and disruption. Without the right help, we can quickly become unstuck.

The key to knowing when to ask for help?

There is no lower limit. Everyone’s pain threshold is different. Our experiences and personal histories are unique to each of us. There is no wrong answer or ‘bad time’ to reach out for the help you deserve. You should not have to live in a way that causes you pain without a source of help or guidance to safely see you through to the other side.

There is always a way out. There are pathways that can relieve the pain we are feeling. No matter how desperate you might feel or how hopeless a situation may appear, there is hope. We may just need a guiding torch to help us identify the correct route along with a kind hand to hold in reassurance that better is coming.

Therapy is an incredibly empowering way of overcoming personal battles. It is a space within which we can lay down the concealed heavy loads we are struggling to carry. It is where we can give space to our emotions without fear of judgement or rejection, as we follow the gentle voice of a professional. There is no better time in life to start than the present and this applies to the process of booking a course of therapy directly.

There is no need to rush.

It is completely normal to fear the unknown and to need a little breathing space as your mind absorbs the concept of a new step. Tread gently in the knowledge that you are in control, no one else. You are the leader of your destiny and that will not change. Therapy will be ready to welcome you whenever you’re ready to press the ‘help’ button.

Needy or Needed? Understanding and Embracing the Difference.

When deep and hurtful rejection occurs, it can create a trigger response of what we call “fight, flight, or freeze.” Ironically, trauma survivors can sometimes resort to pushing away those they care about most in efforts to avoid experiencing the vulnerability of close relationships. However, others can sometimes hold on just a little too tightly in efforts to control the situation and reassure themselves they are ‘safe’ in some way.

Healthy relationships are built upon strong foundations of equal respect and care. However, this doesn’t mean that there is a constant 50/50 balancing act of support happening. It is perfectly natural for one partner to need more aide at certain times in life, and the same in return. But when does fair requirement switch to neediness?

Let’s take an example:

‘Anna has suffered terrible reaction in her childhood which has lead her to seek unhealthy relationships in her young adult life. She later goes on to meet a kind and genuine partner who has no interest in manipulating her in the way her former partners have done. However, Anna finds herself demanding her partner’s full attention and reacting extremely emotionally when her needs are not satisfied. This causes tension in the relationship as her partner feels unfairly treated. The relationship ends, despite them both still feeling strongly about one another.’

In this example, we can see that Anna has unhealed wounds that are causing her to demand more than her partner can reasonably provide. She is seeking full and absolute validation, despite this being an impossible and unrealistic goal. Anna could benefit from taking time to heal from her past with the support of a professional therapist to help her overcome her battles. From a place of healing she may be able to remedy her attachment issues and rebuild her relationship.

Let’s take a look at a positive example of balance within a healthy relationship:

‘Martin has suddenly become responsible for the care of his elderly mother who has become incapacitated by a previously undiagnosed health condition. He finds himself struggling to balance his roles at work and at home. This is causing him significant distress. Martin’s partner sees what he is going through and offers to help him. Martin’s partner takes on more chores and drives him to work each day to allow him time to talk through how he is feeling before each day begins. His partner understands that the situation is extraordinary and helps Martin where possible until a longer term solution of care provision is found.’

Fundamentally—our partners do not need to ‘fix’ everything that might occur in life. They simply need to be willing to offer loving support without causing detriment to their own wellbeing.

No one likes to see their partner suffer. But it is a true privilege to know we have introduced genuine positivity to a difficult situation that our partner is facing. This is the true nature of loving connection, after all.

Reasons why the corona virus could be triggering stress in your relationship – and ways to stop it happening

No matter what stage of life we enter, there will always be natural highs and lows. Finance, familial commitments and social responsibilities can all tug at our attention at various times.
These stress factors tend to turn up in our closest relationships, as reactions to what we are feeling. We might withdraw more than usual, or become uncharacteristically snappy. Unchecked, these issues can grow into deeper long term problems.
Then, as if regular life wasn’t enough to deal with, along comes a global health pandemic!
If you are feeling overwhelmed during the ‘corona era’, then you are certainly not alone. Mental, emotional, relational and physical wellbeing is a concern we are all adjusting to right now in varying capacities.
More than ever, we need to come together in unison with our loved ones to overcome the challenges we are facing. But how can we do so when so much uncertainty surrounds us?
First step? Take a deep breath. Give credit to yourself for doing all you can to overcome this unfamiliar territory. The very fact that you have sought out this article demonstrates your willingness to bring positivity to your relationships. Be proud of what you have already achieved.
Have you taken that breath? Great – let’s continue!
Have you noticed that your partner is more difficult to be around than usual? Just like you, they might be struggling with adjustment to working from home (or not working at all), afraid of losing a loved one, fearful of how this pandemic might impact their immediate community/state/country/world, or just general worry about the future. Sometimes fear and worry can lead to everything from withdrawing to outwardly angry behavior. This can cause feelings of neglect when one partner feels they are making more effort than the other, which only serves to further disconnection and make it that much more difficult to maintain a sense of closeness.
Try to allow a little more room than usual for a change of behavior with this in mind, within the limits of harm for your own mental health.
It is vital to remind your loved one that they are in your thoughts. Make sure you are taking opportunities to give full attention to each other, away from any background distractions.
The process of connection is ongoing for every shape and size of relationship. For healthy love to thrive during this universally challenging time, a conscious series of movements and adjustments on a daily basis are necessary. This applies now just as much as it always has done.
At a time when so much is uncertain, there is one thing we can rely on; the power and the depth of genuine love. Thankfully, there is no virus on Earth that can remove its presence, nor its power.

Keeping love healthy while working from home – 7 ways to connect during Covid-19 quarantine

With the arrival of Covid-19, thousands have suddenly been required to work remotely. Offices all over the globe have been swapped for living rooms, bedrooms, and any other space with WiFi connection.

For many, working from a home environment will be something of a shock. It can be difficult to rapidly and unexpectedly adjust.

Sharing the space with a loved one takes a little configuring, but it can become a very positive experience – even in challenging times!

Here are 7 easy ways to keep love alive while working from home with a partner:

1. Keep to a daily schedule. Mark out breaks and work sessions, agreed upon by both partners. Your partner will appreciate knowing when you’re doing what, so that you don’t clash in the home space. You’ll be far more likely to be productive – and less bad tempered later on!

2. Shower and get dressed. Pajama life can leave you feeling lazy and unfocused. It also doesn’t demonstrate much effort for your partner! Force yourself to take a proper shower and dress in daywear. You’ll feel refreshed and ready to face the day together.

3. Create time for yourself. Get up early and go for a walk before anyone else is up and about. Or take a walk around your garden, if you have one. Anything that removes you from your home space will regenerate both your mind and body. Both are vital to the wellbeing of your relationship – don’t neglect them.

4. Agree on a ‘do not disturb’ signal. It might be that when either of you are working while wearing headphones you are ‘inaccessible.’ Or you could agree that when a door is closed, then this signals no entry. A simple agreement like this prevents a multitude of future disputes.

5. Differentiate day and evening. When work ends, pack everything away and reset the lighting or curtains to ‘evening mode.’ Psychologically let go of your office, allowing time to focus on each other. Make it special, lighting candles and choosing a movie each night of the week.

6. ‘De-tech’ at least once a day. Mealtimes are a great time to put smartphones on charge in another room and make space to hear one another. Reconnecting away from the glare of screens will you give you an opportunity to hear one another’s experiences in real time.

7. Take moments for ‘time-out’ when you both need it. Being cooped up comes with natural challenges. It’s imperative that small annoyances are kept in check. If you feel frustration rising, take yourself into another room to take a few deep breaths before you re-engage. Repeat as necessary!

We are certainly living in uncertain times. None of us can know for sure what lays ahead. But what we do know, is that love remains.

Embrace this moment of simpler living to work on your most important relationships. It could be the rare opportunity to connect that you never knew you needed!

Couples Impacted by Trauma, Part 1 of 3

Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples Impacted by Trauma

Approximately 70% of people experience a traumatic event in their lifetime. Sometimes trauma occurs as a one-time event, such as in the case of a serious car accident or a rape. It can also be experienced over long periods of time, such as in the case of repeated childhood sexual abuse or witnessing violence in the context of war.

Many individuals who experience some form of trauma may re-experience the trauma through flashbacks and nightmares. They often avoid reminders of the trauma, and experience many difficult thoughts and emotions related to the trauma. Many are also constantly on guard and alert for possible danger.

The impact of trauma is not limited to the individual who experienced it. In fact, some trauma survivors may avoid intimacy and retreat from important relationships. This can lead spouses and partners feeling cut off, rejected, and helpless.

Many individuals who have experienced trauma need counseling to work through the impact of the trauma on their personal life and intimate relationships. Although many individuals assume the most appropriate way to address their pain and symptoms of trauma is through one on one counseling, family involvement should be an integral part of the counseling process.

One particularly effective way to involve a spouse, or partner, is through emotionally focused therapy (EFT) for couples. Numerous studies show that EFT is an effective treatment for couples impacted by trauma.[i],[ii] In the context of trauma, EFT helps couples in two main ways. First, EFT improves the relationships of couples impacted by trauma. Second, EFT leads to improvement of trauma symptoms in individual trauma survivors. When trauma survivors go to individual therapy, their family members often feel cut out and excluded. They don’t know how to help. But in the context of EFT for couples, partners are not only included, but considered an integral part of the healing process.

The next two blog posts will explore these benefits of EFT in detail. Stay tuned to learn how your relationship might benefit from EFT.

[i] MacIntosh, H. B. & Johnson, S. (2008). Emotionally focused therapy for couples and childhood sexual abuse survivors. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 34(3), 298-315.

[ii] Weissman, N., Batten, S. V., Rheem, K. D., Wiebe, S. A., Pasillas, R. M., Potts, W., Barone, M., Brown, C. H., & Dixon, L. B. (2017). The effectiveness of emotionally focused couples therapy with veterans with PTSD: A pilot study. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 0(0), 1-17.


Couples Impacted by Trauma, Part 2 of 3

Emotionally Focused Therapy Improves Relationships Damaged by Trauma

Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) is a form of therapy that is often used in the context of couples counseling. It focuses on identifying and modifying couples’ emotional interactions. It works towards building healthy attachments and bonds between partners. This focus of EFT on emotions and bonding is what makes this therapy such an effective treatment for individuals and couples who have been impacted by trauma. Trauma destroys healthy attachments; EFT helps couples learn how to rebuild them.

A study was completed on the effectiveness of EFT for couples in which one partner had experienced childhood sexual abuse. This study found that 50% of participants reported significant improvement in relationship satisfaction at the end of treatment.[i] Other forms of trauma have been studied as well. For example, researchers looked at the effectiveness of EFT in the couple relationships of veterans who experienced combat trauma. These couples also reported increases in relationship satisfaction following EFT.[ii]

What makes EFT for couples effective in the aftermath of trauma? One of the main reasons has to do with how trauma impacts the attachment a couple has with one another. For example, research shows that many survivors of childhood sexual abuse develop an avoidant style of attachment. Many survivors of sexual abuse were abused by a close family member or friend. They grow up believing that people are not to be trusted, which makes them fearful and anxious in the context of close relationships. Survivors of abuse tend to avoid intimacy and sharing, which is often difficult on their partner.

Emotionally Focused Therapy provides the ideal setting for couples to move away from anxious and avoidant means of relating. The research study on EFT for survivors of sexual abuse described the counseling process in this way: “Through EFT…therapists assist couples in creating corrective emotional experiences where expectations and fears concerning others can be revised.” Another way to put this is that EFT helps trauma survivors relearn how to be in relationship with someone who is trustworthy.

As a couple’s relationship begins to heal through EFT, this leads to another necessary area of healing. The trauma survivor often begins to find healing from their actual trauma symptoms in the context of that improved relationship. The next article will discuss in detail how this happens.

[i] Dalton, E. J., Greenman, P.S., Classen. C.C., Johnson, S. M. (2013). Nurturing connections in the aftermath of childhood trauma: A randomized controlled trial of emotionally focused couple therapy for female survivors of childhood abuse. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice. 2(3), 209-221.

[ii] Weissman, N., Batten, S. V., Rheem, K. D., Wiebe, S. A., Pasillas, R. M., Potts, W., Barone, M., Brown, C. H., & Dixon, L. B. (2017). The effectiveness of emotionally focused couples therapy with veterans with PTSD: A pilot study. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 0(0), 1-17.


Couples Impacted by Trauma, Part 3 of 3

Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples Improves Trauma Symptoms

In the previous article, we found that Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) can significantly improve the relationships of couples who have been impacted by trauma. This article will explore how EFT for couples can also lead to significant improvement in the individual symptoms of trauma survivors.

Several research studies support this. Veterans who were impacted by combat trauma reported that EFT for couples reduced their depressive symptoms and psychological stress related to trauma.[i] Additionally, fifty percent of adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse reported that EFT for couples led to a significant decrease in their trauma symptoms.[ii]

What leads to these improvements? It has to do with the protective impact relationships have in the face of trauma. Relationships affect the extent to which an individual experiences distress after a traumatic event. The closer and stronger a trauma survivor’s relationships, the less likely they will develop chronic symptoms of PTSD. As a trauma survivor improves their relationship through couples counseling, they also find an ally in their individual healing process. Spouses and partners learn to provide safety, connection, and support in a number of specific ways.

  • When a trauma survivor experiences nightmares, flashbacks or other re-experiencing symptoms, they can go to their trusted partner for empathy and care.
  • Instead of engaging in unhealthy coping skills such as drinking, cutting, or binge eating, a trauma survivor can find support from their partner.
  • When a trauma survivor struggles to deal with difficult emotions such as grief, anger, and shame, a partner can become someone who helps them process these difficult emotions.

Partners learn how to be effective allies in the context of couples counseling. When trauma survivors go to individual therapy, their family members often feel cut out and excluded. They don’t know how to help. But in the context of EFT for couples, partners are not only included, but considered an integral part of the healing process.

If trauma is impacting your marriage, EFT for couples can help. Processing your emotions and building new connections in the context of counseling can bring healing to your trauma and transformation to your relationship.

[i] Weissman, N., Batten, S. V., Rheem, K. D., Wiebe, S. A., Pasillas, R. M., Potts, W., Barone, M., Brown, C. H., & Dixon, L. B. (2017). The effectiveness of emotionally focused couples therapy with veterans with PTSD: A pilot study. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 0(0), 1-17.

[ii] Dalton, E. J., Greenman, P.S., Classen. C.C., Johnson, S. M. (2013). Nurturing connections in the aftermath of childhood trauma: A randomized controlled trial of emotionally focused couple therapy for female survivors of childhood abuse. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice. 2(3), 209-221.


Has the “B” Word Taken Over Your Relationship: How to Stay Connected, Even When Life is so “Busy” (Part I)

Life is busy. For many couples, each week is filled to the brim with various commitments. Couples often look back at the end of the week and realize they didn’t take any time to focus on each other and their relationship. Everything else came first, and the relationship got swept to the side. Often, this is due to one or both partners working long hours. Other times, couples spend a great deal of time caring for their small children.

Yes, life is busy, but research suggests it is no busier than it has been in the past. Many people believe that limited time together is a growing issue. But, research suggests otherwise.

One interesting study looked at how couple leisure time has changed over the past four decades since 1965.[i] Researchers expected to find that couples are now spending less time together. But they actually found the opposite. In each decade since 1965, couple leisure time has actually increased. These statistics are hopeful. It means that despite real concerns, couples are somehow finding more time for one another than in past decades.

This is an encouraging trend, but many couples are still rightly concerned about the busyness of their lives. Research does indicate that spending regular time together leads to happier relationships. A report completed by the National Marriage Project found that, “husbands and wives who engaged in couple time with their mates at least one day a week were approximately 3.5 times more likely to report being ‘very happy’ in their marriages, compared to those who enjoyed less quality time with their spouse.”[ii]

Think back over the last week. Did you and your partner spend any one-on-one time with each other? If not, what kept you from pursuing more time (i.e. children’s activities, work, extended family activities, tie with friends, or maybe fear of getting into an argument with your partner).

Stay tuned for Part II of this article, where we will talk about how couples can intentionally spend quality time together when life is busy.

[i] Van der Lippe, T. & Gershuny, J. (2010). Spending time together – Changes over four decades in leisure time spent with a spouse. Journal of Leisure Research, 42(2), 243-265.

[ii] Wilcox, W. B. & Dew, J. (2012). The date night opportunity: What does couple time tell us about the potential value of date nights? The National Marriage Project. Retrieved from


Part II – Has the “B” Word Taken Over Your Relationship: How to Stay Connected, Even When Life is so “Busy”

How to Spend Time Together When Life is Busy

If you are concerned that you are not spending enough time with your partner, there are practical steps you can take this week. Couples who excel in this area tend to be both intentional and strategic about their shared time together. They are intentional about sitting down each week for at least a few minutes to discuss their schedules. And they are strategic about scheduling activities they enjoy and that lend to conversation.[i]

Consider how this might play out in your own relationship.

  1. Set time aside every week to go over your schedules.

Pick a time at the beginning of the week to compare schedules. If it is possible, be intentional about meeting at the same time every single week. The more you communicate about what you have on your plate each week, the more likely you will find unscheduled time that can be saved for your relationship.

  1. Schedule quality activities over a quantity of activities.

Many couples think they have to spend a large quantity of time with their partner each week to maintain their relationship. But, this is actually not the case. In fact, research shows that the quality of a couple’s time together is more important than the quantity of their time together.

One study found that couples who were satisfied with their leisure time together were more satisfied in their marriage than those who reported a greater amount of leisure time together. So, as you schedule time for one another, consider what you like to do. What activities bring you joy when you do them together?

  1. Schedule activities that allow you to have a conversation.

When you do spend time with your partner, what do you do? If you are like many couples, it is likely that you spend a large amount of your leisure time with your partner in front of a TV.

But activities hold a higher level of quality when they allow you to simultaneously hold a conversation. One study found that couple leisure activity is only related to marital satisfaction when there are high levels of communication during the activity. So, find an activity where you can talk. Instead of watching TV, play a game. Take a walk, go out to dinner, or play miniature golf.

Stay tuned for Part III, where we will discuss how you can build a quality relationship with your partner, even when you are unable to schedule regular leisure time with one another.

[i] Holman, T. B. & Jacquart, M. (1988). Leisure-activity patterns and marital satisfaction: A further test. Journal of Marriage and Family, 50(1), 69-77.

Part III – Has the “B” Word Taken Over Your Relationship: How to Stay Connected, Even When Life is so “Busy”

You Can Build a Quality Relationship Even When Life is Busy

Some couples go through busy seasons of life that are unavoidable. No matter how intentional they are about scheduling time together, it is an unfortunate fact that they have limited time to spare. For example, time is limited when one partner may be going back to school or is having a particularly busy season at work.

If you fall into this category, be encouraged. It is possible to maintain a happy and healthy relationship, even when time together is severely limited. Research on couples in busy relationships has found that happy couples do the following things.[i]

Don’t bring work home. Happy couples do their work at work and choose not to bring it home. Although they may have very limited time at home, when they are there, they choose to be completely present. They take the time, even if it is only a few minutes, to connect with their partner and children and focus solely on them.

 Verbally support one another. Happy couples verbally support one another in their work and other responsibilities.

Find ways to keep occupied as individuals. When only one partner in a relationship is busy and the other has lots of extra time, the less busy partner finds ways to independently stay occupied outside of the relationship.

Accept the busyness of life. A level of acceptance is needed for busy couples. Couples accept that the busyness is only for a season of time or that it is for a good cause and worth the sacrifice.

Share decision making, childcare, housework, and finances. Happy couples share decision making in all areas of life. Work and responsibility are not dumped on one partner. And nobody is left out of important decisions.

It is possible to have a happy relationship when life is busy. It takes effort, communication, and a change in perspective. But, many busy couples have happy and fulfilling relationships.

[i] Zimmerman, T. S. (2003). Intimate partnership: Foundation to the successful balance of family and work. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 31(2), 107-124


Stress in Relationships

My partner always comes home stressed out about work, but he/she won’t talk to me. What can I do to get my partner to talk about his/her stress? What can I do to keep my stress from affecting my relationship?

There are a variety of stress reducing activities in the popular media today. However, most of these are individually focused (i.e. what can I do to reduce my stress). Of course many of these techniques work, but sometimes we need the help, comfort, support or encouragement of our partner. For this reason, this handout will focus on how to cope with stress in our relationships!!

A word on stress in marriage:

In his research on the effectiveness of marital therapy, Neil Jacobson found that one of the key variables in relapse after his own approach to marital therapy is whether stress from other areas of the couple’s life spilled over into the relationship. Couples who are overrun by this stress see their marriages relapse, while those who can help each other cope with it keep their marriages strong.

So what can we do to make sure our non-couple stress doesn’t affect our relationship?

There are many ways to make sure you don’t take out your work frustrations or child rearing annoyances on your partner. First and foremost, you need to talk about it! If you are stressed, don’t labor under the illusion that it will “just go away” or “I will just deal with it myself, I don’t want to stress out my partner by unloading my stress on him/her.” Next, use whatever stress reduction techniques you have used in the past which you know work for you. If going for a drive works, DO IT! If exercising works, DO IT. If talking it out works, DO IT!

However, in many cases, your partner wants to know what is going on in your life and would like to be a part of helping you through your stressful time. However, it is important to remember that we all experience stress in different ways. Some people just like to be left alone for a while before talking, some people can’t wait to get in the door to start discussing their frustrations. Furthermore, some people “just want to talk” about what is bothering them whereas others want to jump into problem solving mode. So how are you supposed to know how your partner would prefer to deal with his/her stress? ASK!

Here are some guidelines to help with these conversations.  Remember all the important things to remember when communicating about difficult issues such as:

  • Validation
  • Acceptance
  • Gender differences
  • Expectations
  • Sometimes it is difficult to listen to your partner when he/she is really angry about something that is making him/her stressed. It often feels like you are the one being attacked. If you are feeling this way, check with your partner to make sure this is really about non-couple stress.
  • “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” (Steven Covey)
  • Don’t trivialize your partner’s concerns.

Here are some additional tips (adapted from The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman):

  • Take turns – Each person takes time to vent their frustrations!
  • Don’t give unsolicited advice – If your partner has not asked for it, don’t give it!
  • Show genuine interest – Stay focused. Make eye contact. Ask questions.
  • Communicate your understanding – “I’m sorry she made you feel that way.” “How outrageous, that’s so unfair.” “You weren’t stupid, that could happen to anybody.”
  • Take your spouse’s side – Be supportive, even if you think his or her perspective is unreasonable. The point isn’t to be dishonest, timing is everything. When your partner needs support, give it to them.
  • Express a “we against others” attitude – Help your partner feel that he/she is not alone, that you will go through this together.
  • Validate emotions – Let your partner know that his or her feelings make sense to you!!

Why do we communicate the way we do? (Part 1)

Why do we communicate the way we do?

There are MANY theories as to why we communicate the way we do.  The most recent and well researched theory asserts that our communication and interaction styles begin to develop very early in life and are shaped by our life experiences.  Let me provide a brief explanation of this theory.

This theory focuses on the connection between early experiences with caregivers on how we experience and express emotion throughout the lifespan.  Often it is in the expression of emotions that we have the most difficulty communicating.  As an infant, we continually monitor the accessibility of caregivers and tend to “flee” to this caregiver for safety in times of distress.  This is where the concepts of “attachment” and “secure base” come from.  It is through these attachment experiences that infants learn to cope or survive in their particular environment.  When caregivers can not or do not meet the infant’s needs, the infant’s ability to manage his or her emotions is affected.  Based somewhat on the temperament of the infant, they will tend to respond in one of two ways, by either “pursuing” or “withdrawing.”

For example, if an infant is ignored by her caregiver when she gets distressed, she may learn that by crying louder and longer (pursue), she gets the attention of a caregiver.  Unfortunately, after hearing this screaming baby, the caregiver may not respond in a very caring way.  This baby learns that, although they have to scream and holler to get attention (albeit negative), it’s better to get negative attention than no attention.  If the infant learns that, even by screaming she does not get her needs met, she may “give up” (withdraw) because she knows her efforts will be fruitless. This baby learns that it doesn’t matter what she does, her needs are not important, so why even try.  This makes it difficult for either infant to trust that others will take care of her.  This is where the terms “secure” and “insecure” attachment come from.  These tendencies/approaches to care then become a template which is then used to view others in relationships and get perpetuated through life.

Now, most of us were securely attached to our caregivers.  However, we all have the tendency to either pursue or withdraw when distressed as adults.  Sound familiar?  I bet you tend to fall into one of these categories yourself.  We all learn to interpret the interactions we had with our caregivers and apply those expectations for how we should be treated by others to relationships outside of the caregiver relationship.  You don’t have to remember these interactions for them to influence you into adulthood!! 

Stay tuned for Part II where we discuss how this influences our adult relationships and what we can do about it!

Sharing Withholds Communication Activity

Although I believe it is in understanding our interactional patterns that is most critical to establishing healthy communication, there are some fun activities that we can use to get us talking and learning about each other.  Here is one of my favorites!  My wife and I attended the Becoming Soul Mates marriage retreat almost 15 years ago and this activity was in the Participants Guide.  Although we followed the directions closely the first several times, we found ourselves paying more attention to the positive behaviors we appreciated in each other and, most importantly, sharing those observations more freely/safely (even the concerns/complaints).  When we were able to share both the positive with the negative, it helped us greatly!  Thank you to Les and Leslie Parrott for this great activity!

My best,

Dr. Cross

Sharing Withholds

This exercise will help you and your partner keep a clean emotional slate and avoid needless conflicts.  Begin by writing two things your partner has done in the last forty-eight hours that you sincerely appreciated, but did not tell him or her.  For example, “I appreciated the compliment you gave me as I got out of the car yesterday,” or “I appreciate the help you gave me in writing my proposal last night.”

“I appreciate…”

“I appreciate…”

Next, write one thing your partner has done in the last forty-eight hours that irritated you but you did not say anything about.  For example, “I didn’t like it when you borrowed my umbrella without telling me,” or “I didn’t like it when you said nothing about the meal I prepared for us last night.”

“I didn’t like it when…”

Once you both have written your statements, take turns sharing them.  One person shares all three statements one after another.  Then the other person shares their three statements.  Here is an important part of the exercise:  The person on the receiving end can only say “thank you” after each statement.  That’s all.  Just “thank you.”  This rule allows couples to share something that bugs them without fear of a blow-up or a defensive reaction.  It also allows couples to receive critiques at the same time as positive affirmations.

This exercise can be done every day.  Once you get the hang of it, you don’t need to write your statements down.  All it takes is for one partner to say “Do you want to do withholds?”  Then each of you can take a moment to gather your thoughts and away you go.  Sharing withholds can save hundreds of hours of needless bickering.

(from Becoming Soul Mates Seminar: Participants Guide by Les and Leslie Parrott –

Dr. Cross’ Important Communication Tips

Dr. Cross’ Important Communication Tips

Based on what we know from Part I and Part II of this series, here are some tips to help improve your communication and closeness.

  • If you are a withdrawer, do what you can to engage in discussion with you partner. When you feel like running away (either physically or emotionally), muster whatever strength you can to STAY WITH your partner and tell him or her how you are feeling.  Say, “I really feel like running away right now (or I’m scared, or I’m not sure how to do this but here goes,…), but I know this is important for both of us that we talk so I will try my best.”   Remember, the pursuer needs to know that you have a pulse!!  They feel like they’re pulling teeth to get you to talk and the less you talk the more they pursue.  So talk to them and you’ll see that they will feel less need to pursue!!
  • If you are a pursuer, don’t criticize or belittle your partner or his/her feelings. Remember how difficult it is for you to stop pursuing and think about that when you are in conflict!!!  When you belittle his or her feelings, you are belittling the person!  When you feel like criticizing or blaming, STOP!!!  This is EXACTLY the thing your partner expects and is EXACTLY the thing that will get them to clam up again!!  So if you want them to talk, YOU HAVE TO LISTEN,…REALLY LISTEN TO THEM!!  When you want to talk and you feel like criticizing, say, “I have something I would like to talk with you about and I would really like your feedback.  I know it’s not easy for you when I do this, but I’ll try not to blame or criticize you because I want to hear what you have to say and I know blaming you will turn you off.”
  • If your partner is talking to you and you don’t understand what he/she are trying to say, TELL HIM OR HER!! Ask for clarification, simply say, “Honey, I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying, it’s important to both of us that I understand what you are talking about, can you help me a little?”  Asking for help shows you care!!!!
  • Try to put yourself in your partner’s shoes, imagine what it would feel like for them and VALIDATE, VALIDATE, VALIDATE!!!! Use phrases like, “If I were in your shoes I would feel sad too,” or “I can see why you are angry, I would be angry if someone did that to me.”  Avoid phrases like, “It will be ok” or “Things will get better.”  Unfortunately this invalidates the person’s experience and feelings.  Also, DON’T try to solve the problem, often we just need a caring ear to talk with!!
  • If you don’t feel like your partner really truly heard (REALLY heard) what you were trying to say, it’s ok to say, “I’m not sure I conveyed my point, can I try again?,” or “This is really important that I convey my feelings accurately, can I clarify something?” Remember, if you say, “You don’t understand what I’m trying to say,” you might get a defensive reaction, so try to use “I” messages instead.
  • Other things you can do to help the conversation go well:
    • Look at your partner when he or she is talking. THIS TELLS YOUR PARTNER THAT YOU ARE REALLY LISTENING!!
    • Touch your partner. Put your hand on their shoulder, hold their hand, or just touch their knee.  THIS ALSO TELLS YOUR PARTNER THAT YOU REALLY CARE, EVEN IF YOU ARE ARGUING!!!!
  • Whatever you do, ACKNOWLEDGE when your partner takes a risk to do something different!!! Tell your partner, “I can see that this is REALLY difficult for you to do and I appreciate that you trust me enough to take that risk.”

Remember, you don’t always have to agree,…in fact you can agree to disagree too!!  Even couples who have been in happy marriages for years still have problems that may never get fixed!!

Why do we communicate the way we do (Part II)

In our last post, we discussed why we often approach communication in our marriage or romantic relationships the way we do.  Here, we will focus on what to do about it!

Think about these questions:

  • When you are in conflict with your spouse (or others in your life), do you feel like you’re pulling teeth to get them to talk (pursuer) or do you tend to avoid confrontation altogether (withdrawer)?
  • When you are angry, do you feel like crawling into a shell (withdrawer)?
  • Do you tend to be critical of others and maybe yourself as well (pursuer)?

Ultimately, pursuers “pursue” because it is the only way they know how to

engage others and fear being rejected!!

Ultimately, withdrawers “withdraw” because they don’t know how to engage

others and fear of appearing inadequate or incompetent!!

Here’s where it translates to your relationship: pursuers often attract withdrawers and vice versa.  Often times married, engaged and dating couples end up coping with stress or conflict in rigid ways, one will criticize/pursue in order to try to get the withdrawer to talk, and the other will hide/withdraw in order to stop the other from pursuing.  But the more one withdraws, the more the other pursues (and vice versa) and the cycle continues.

Now we know why we communicate the way we do,

but what can we actually DO to change it?

First and foremost, know how you tend to react to distress and DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT!!!

If you tend to withdraw, share your feelings and TALK!

If you tend to pursue, be quiet and LISTEN!

But remember, it does NO good to talk if you are worried about getting criticized, ignored, or rejected!!  Change is not always easy and giving up our defenses is a big risk and leaves us vulnerable to hurt!!  Not only do we need to risk doing things differently ourselves, we need to have patience and support for our loved ones who are making an equally difficult effort!  SO WHEN YOU DECIDE TO TALK, DO WHATEVER YOU CAN IN YOUR POWER TO ACCEPT and VALIDATE, VALIDATE, VALIDATE THE OTHER PERSON AND APPRECIATE HIS/HER EFFORTS!!!!  Nothing is more powerful than to hear from your partner, “Wow, that must be frustrating,” or “If I were in your shoes, I would be SO angry,” or “How sad.”  Validation can also be conveyed without words by holding your partner’s hand, looking him or her in the eyes, and “being there” just to listen.

Stay tuned for specific tips on how to communicate with your spouse or partner!

Which strategy do you use now?

Did your past relationships teach you that loved ones were unreliable and that you had to be vigilant and fight to be seen and responded to?  Or did you learn that depending on others is dangerous and it is best to distance yourself, to not need others and avoid closeness?  These basic strategies often switch on when we feel that our partner is distant or disconnected.  Which strategy did you use in past relationships, say, with your parents, when things started to go wrong?  Which strategy do you use now?

From Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Sue Johnson