BY: Tray Tankersley, APC, NCC, ThM
Years ago, the medical field coined a phrase to describe symptoms pediatric nurses and doctors sadly encountered with their young patients. The medical workers noted weight or rate of weight gain that was significantly below that of children of the same age and sex. These observations were summarized in the phrase, failure to thrive.
Often the cause of failure to thrive is organic, tied to not taking in enough calories because of poor nutrition. However, the medical field also discovered non-organic (unrelated to nutrition) causes of failure to thrive. Research showed that even when children’s basic needs (food, clothing, shelter, diaper changes, baths) are met, if the child does not have an emotional connection (an attachment or bond) with another human being, the child will not thrive and sometimes, the child will not survive.
Think about that!
A child needs an emotional connection just as much as she needs food, shelter and clothing! What is connection?
Think of connection as an emotional bonding that keeps loved ones close so that they will “be there” for us, emotionally, when we are in need. Sue Johnson (creator of Emotion Focused Therapy) writes, “In order to fully thrive, we all need someone to depend on, a loved one who can offer reliable emotional connection and comfort.”
To develop cognitively, emotionally and physically, children need a strong, predictable, stable emotional connection. He needs this as much as he needs food, shelter and clothing.
Adults also need emotional connection! We NEVER grow out of our need for connection. We do not become adults and then all of a sudden don’t need to feel safe, loved and bonded to another. We are hardwired for connection…and this hardwiring and need never goes away, no matter how old we are!
Obviously, as adults, we do not need to fed with bottles and we no longer need diapers.
But the need to feel close to, connected with, bonded to, attached to another person…that need never goes away, no matter your age.
Every conflict in a marriage relationship is really about ONE thing…
Conflicts about dishes, parenting differences, sex, sharing details of life are really about being seen, being heard, being taken seriously, being considered. All of us want to know the same things about our spouse: does he care about me, does she appreciate how stressed I feel, does he really know how I am doing and how deeply this (behavior) affects me, does she listen to my concerns.
Conflicts are cries for connection! And we all NEED connection!
“Them’s Fightin’ Words”
BY: Tray Tankersley, LAPC
My wife and I fight ALL THE TIME…perpetually (meaning this NEVER gets resolved)…
…about the air-conditioning system in her car…more specifically, about when to turn on and when to turn off the air. When I was younger, I read that starting your car while the air-condition was on put additional strain, wear and tear on the engine. So, for many, many years now, before I turn-off a vehicle, I turn-off
My wife HATES this! She wants to IMMEDIATELY feel the air blowing on her the instant the car is cranked. She yells. She complains. She asks why (over and over even though I have shared my reasoning dozens upon dozens of times). She huffs and puffs…and yet I still persist.
Am I just mean? Uncaring? Deaf? Stubborn? Yes. I am all these things.
And, at some deep level (maybe even a “core belief” level), I firmly believe that I am being a good steward of one our most important and expensive possessions.
So, my wife and I keep fighting…
Relationship guru John Gottman has researched love, relationships, marriage, conflicts for decades. His research tells him that 69% of relational conflict is about perpetual problems. 69%!!!!
Think about that - almost 7 out of every 10 conflicts you have with your spouse are about perpetual (read, UNSOLVABLE) issues! Lasting differences in personalities and needs contribute to perpetual problems.
So, when you think to yourself or say out loud, “We are never going to see this the same way” or “We are never going to be able to resolve this” you may be right!
With perpetual problems, the goal is not to get your partner to agree with you. The goal with perpetual problems is not to solve them, not get on the same page with your spouse or have him or her get on your page. The goal is affect (emotion) oriented.
The goal is to establish a dialogue about the problem that communicates acceptance of your spouse and to actively cope with the unresolvable problem, rather than allowing it to fall into the condition of gridlock - painful communication and exchanges marked by criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.
…back to the air-conditioning
It’s one of those unbearably hot, humid Georgia summer days. Alicia and I are dripping in sweat. We get into our hot car and I crank it.
No air comes on (because, of course, I had turned the air-conditioning off when we last parked). Alicia complains verbally. She protests. She tells me I am “so weird” and OCD (she’s right). She (or I by now) have pressed the power button on the air-conditioning and we are experiencing warm air blowing on our faces while the compressor begins its work of cooling the air.
And we leave the parking lot AS FRIENDS because I know she is for me and for us. And she knows I am for her and for us. She does not make me compromise who I am and one of my core beliefs and I don’t make her compromise hers. We both possess a “positive sentiment” about our relationship, which makes this kind of communication possible…what about relationships in Negative Sentiment Override? That’s
a topic for another day and another blog!
“Trick or Treat”
BY: TRAY TANKERSLEY APC, NCC, THM
A few weeks ago I heard a memorable quote, part of a larger statement made by the leadership of Boeing, an American aerospace bellwether and the manufacturer of the 737 MAX plane. Responding to Congress’ damning investigation of a series of 737 MAX plane crashes, the leadership of the company stated:
Change is always hard and requires daily commitment, but we as a company are dedicated to doing the work...
I second that - change is hard and requires daily commitment. Those who seek therapy, whether they can articulate it or not, are seeking change. This sounds good, until the changes are articulated: I need a different spouse; I want my children to change their behaviors; I wish my manager would leave; can I get a new mom or dads. It’s human nature, isn’t it? We all want change. We just want someone else or something else (besides us) to change.
Our role will be to bring our best, most empathetic, patient, understanding self to help others make the necessary changes. Ok, hopefully you are chuckling with me.
We find as therapists that, at some level (usually on a “surface” cognitive level) clients believe that they have opportunity for growth and change. And, I find that clients believe that the other (fill in the blank) still possesses MOST of the responsibility for the problem and most of the needed change!
In the therapy room it sounds like this:
Client: “I know I don’t do everything perfect and I need to make some changes...”(long pause) “BUT YOU SHOULD SEE WHAT HE/SHE/THEY DO...”
Be that as it may, you do not have enough anger, manipulative skills, anxious activity or enough facts, logic, data and reason to make anyone else change.
The ONLY person you can change is yourself. The only responses you can change are yours. The only facial expressions, eyebrow raises, frowns you can change are your own. The only thoughts you can control are yours. The only emotions you can regulate belong to you. The only words you can command come out of your mouth.
Change is always hard...because it requires something from you. It’s always easier to require something of someone else.
But requiring change from someone else keeps you from the TREAT of change. It’s a treat to learn to respond differently. It’s a treat to grow as a person and learn the skill of grounding and emotionally regulating yourself without having to rely on someone else to do it for you. It’s a treat to find new words and new ways of expressing emotions and vulnerability.
The TRICK is embracing the well worn rule of life - you’re the only one you can change!
Tray Tankersley, Th.M, Counseling Intern
In the counseling industry, I've discovered a key ingredient to marriages that “succeed” in therapy and those that don’t. You may venture your own guess- Is it improved communication techniques, great conflict resolution skills, proficiency in identifying feelings? I love all of those…and they are ALL important to building marital satisfaction.
What about discovering my spouse’s love language? Becoming more attuned to the other? Yep, those are good, too!
Praying together, attending church, joining a small group? Fabulous choices!
However, what stands out to me in counseling as a key factor for working towards greater fulfillment in marriage is HUMILITY.
I wish I had a nickel for every moment in couple’s therapy when I thought to myself – “if one of you, just one of you, would self-administer one small dosage of humility, the entire tone of this conversation and marriage would change.” I call it a Neil Armstrong moment – “One small step for spouse…one giant leap for marriage.”
Here’s the catch- Easy to say…hard to do! It's easy to talk about humility and the need for its presence in all relationships. But inviting humility into the counseling room and into every corner of the marriage relationship? Well, therein lies the challenge. We all know, however, that we must build our marriage on more than words.
An ancient hymn provides the Christian with a well-lit path to developing a heart of humility. Before referencing the hymn’s words, the author instructs his readers, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
In other words, have the same mindset as Jesus, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage. Rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death-even death on a cross!”
The thing is, we cannot manufacture humility in our life. Humility flows only from a heart that is consistently reminded that God made himself nothing so that we might have everything. Our God left the security and comforts of heaven to come to this broken world and experience its brokenness and injustice so that we might avoid the justice of God for our multiple wrong doings. Instead of walking around demanding that people recognize him, bow down to him, serve at his beck and call, our God used his divinity to pay our debt.
The language of humility is simple – “I’m sorry. I was wrong. I did not intend to do that, but I clearly see how you experienced my words like that. Will you forgive me?” Good words! My hope is that those words come from a heart transformed by the Good News that our Creator humbled himself, valued us above his own interests and died so we could live!
Legacy Strategy Blog
Legacy Strategy, Inc. is a private counseling practice in Kennesaw, Georgia.