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Ask Our Coaches:
Secrets: What happened in the past,
stays in the past – right?
"Is there anything wrong with keeping secrets from your partner?"
This column answers questions submitted by our readers. Submit your
questions to Tara@relationshipcoachinginstitute.com
who will forward them to our coaches all over the world. Each
issue, we'll publish a few answers from our RCI coaches.
My wife is threatening to divorce me. She's accusing me of having an affair with a woman at work – we'll call her Kristen. It's not true. I've been married for about a year and a half and we dated for two years prior. Before I met my wife, I did date Kristen for about a year, but that was several years before I even met my wife. Kristen is single and we've worked at the same company for the last 12 years.
I never told my wife about my dating Kristen, but somehow she found out. I don't think I have to tell my wife everything I've done or am doing in my life. It had no bearing on my dating and marrying her. She's accusing me of keeping secrets and is demanding I give her a rundown of my past. What's the big deal? It's not a secret. It's just something I chose not to share because it's irrelevant. I love my wife. I don't have affairs and never would.
My question: What's healthy for couples when it comes to their pasts? Is there anything wrong with keeping secrets from your partner? I'm not hurting her or me or anyone. And, I do resent the fact that she's throwing this in my face as I've never asked her to give me the details on her past dating/sexual history. Any thoughts?
Scott from St. Paul
Dr. Dar responds …
It must be very difficult to be accused of such a thing. Your wife feels threatened because she found this out from someone other than her husband, contributing to additional feelings of distrust.
Since, potentially, you are in contact with your ex at work, combined with your wife discovering the "secret," her need to know everything about your past is exacerbated. One thing I know for sure is that in a marriage there shouldn't be any secrets. Secrets are uncovered over time and the truth does come out. My husband and I have an agreement that the details of my past escapades before I met him are a topic that neither of us needs to discuss in detail. He knows that I had a lot of experience before I met him and I am very open with him.
Because I am not defensive and am open to sharing with him, he is not threatened. In your case, a secret was kept and discovered by her rather than you revealing it to her. She was blindsided, and now is reacting out of preservation, perhaps wanting to ensure that no more surprises occur.
You should compassionately listen to your wife. Reassure her by letting her know you love her and married her, that there is no one else but her, and answer her questions like an open book. Otherwise, you are sending signals that you have something to hide which will cause more conflict in the long run.
Dr. Dar | www.RelationshipSuccessSource.com | 704.651.8568
Katherin responds …
Your question is one I hear frequently. When we fall in love with someone, we're falling in love with who the person is right now. This includes all of their past successes and mistakes, their family of origin issues, and their past relationship experiences. All of our past experiences contribute to making each of us who we are today.
When we commit to a person, we are committing to accept all that came before us -- all of it! It's what made the person who they are today.
I don't believe it's necessary to tell everything about our past to our partner. What should be mentioned are those experiences that affect our partner, such as STDs, financial information, values, health history, etc. Going into detail about all of your past relationships and sexual encounters is not necessary, unless it affects your current partner.
Your wife's reaction concerns me. I would invite you to get to the bottom of her issue surrounding Kristen. Your wife is expressing distrust in you. This is very damaging to your marriage and needs to be understood and resolved. My guess is her finding out about your previous relationship with Kristin has triggered something about her own past and trust issues.
And, be honest with yourself. Have you given your wife any reason to distrust you? Be open to discuss your wife's reaction, and yours, to this problem. Get coaching help if necessary.
Katherin Scott | www.KatherinScott.com | 425.681.2620
Rick and Jo respond …
We would all appreciate some sensitivity from our partner when they discuss their past. Put yourself in her shoes. If she had been dating someone in her office before you came along, and she had not disclosed this to you, would you not be a little bit jealous (honestly)? It's the unsaid that creates the doubt in her mind. So if there is nothing to hide, don't hide it. And, at the same time, don't "rub her nose" in the details of it.
Rick and Jo Harrison | www.SecretstoSoulmateSuccess.com | +61.3.5420.7366
Susan responds …
It sounds like your wife had some issues with betrayal in her past and that history is fueling her fears and her accusations. While there are several directions I could go to respond to your question, one way to approach this is to ask her about her history, hear her and continue to reassure her while she works to let go of all of it.
From my view, sharing helps bring couples closer and helps them understand one another. It may be irrelevant from your point of view, but to your wife, it may be important information. Women tend to be rather intuitive and even with the best of intentions from your end, your wife will likely intuit things, add her own fearful spin based on her history, and jump to conclusions.
Personal ownership is very important in a relationship and while your wife's fears are her issue to heal, you can be a loving support while she goes through it. Compassion, sharing and reassuring from a calm and loving place will certainly help. Hiring a relationship coach can also help resolve the situation and create a deeper connection and better communication.
Susan Ortolano | www.RadiantPathways.com | 818.232.3186
The Many Faces of Defensiveness
by Shirley Vollett
When you have no point to defend, you do not allow the birth of an argument.
~~ Deepak Chopra
Defensiveness adds "fuel to the flames"
A sure-fire way of escalating conflict in our relationships is by being defensive. This usually happens when we feel criticized or attacked by another -- whether or not that was their intent. Defensiveness is an understandable attempt to protect ourselves, however it isn't very effective.
A personal example of defensiveness
While writing this article, I was working at my computer. From the bathroom next to my office, my husband called out, "Where have all the towels gone?" I thought I detected a note of irritation in his voice. "They're in the wash," I called back. I had just put all the dirty towels in the washing machine.
"Did you have to put them ALL in the wash?" responded my husband as he walked away, air-drying his hands. "I'm not the ONLY one capable of walking upstairs and getting a clean towel!" I yelled after him.
Sound a little defensive?
Whether or not it was intended, I felt criticized by my husband and out slipped a defensive response. Had my husband and I continued this interaction over the towels, I expect we could easily have escalated into a full-blown argument over who-does-what around the house. Did my husband actually intend to be critical or attacking? Because of my defensive response, I never got to find out.
Defensiveness is a very "human" response. Sometimes our partner is indeed critical or even nasty in delivering a communication. John Gottman, the well-known relationship expert, points out that defensiveness rarely produces the effect we desire. The attacking or critical spouse doesn't back down or apologize.
Why doesn't defensiveness work?
According to Gottman, it backfires because "defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner." When we're defensive, we're saying to our partner, "The problem isn't me, it's you." Small wonder that our partner often responds in a self-protective/attacking manner!
By being defensive, both partners handicap their ability to understand each other's perspective. Defensiveness just escalates the conflict, it doesn't resolve it.
In his book, When Marriages Succeed or Fail, John Gottman alerts us to the most common signs of defensiveness. Many of us are acutely aware of our partner's tendency to be defensive. However we may be less aware of our own defensive reactions. So I invite you to consider how defensiveness shows up in you.
Here are 7 common signs of defensiveness:
#1 Making Excuses
This is when you claim that external forces beyond your control forced you to act in a certain way.
Partner 1: Why didn't you pick up my dry cleaning like you promised?
Partner 2: That big client of mine talks so much, there's no way I could get away from work in time to get your dry-cleaning.
This is when you meet your partner's complaint or criticism with an immediate complaint or criticism of your own, totally ignoring what your partner has said.
Partner 1: Isn't dinner ready yet?
Partner 2: The garbage you said you'd take out to the back is still sitting at the door!
#3 Table Turning
In one move, you defend yourself from attack and blame your partner, showing them how their complaint or criticism about you applies to them.
Partner 1: I've been waiting for 20 minutes and you're still not ready.
Partner 2: I had to wait a half hour for YOU yesterday when you were late to pick me up from work!
This includes any statement that starts with agreeing and ends up disagreeing, justifying your transgression.
Partner 1: Why can't you leave some hot water for me when you shower in the morning?
Partner 2: I know you needed to shower but I had to wash and condition my hair and I'm really not very awake first thing in the morning.
#5 Repeating Yourself
Thinking you are right, you repeat back your point of view, often louder, rather than try to understand your partner's point of view.
Partner 1: I'd like to go home now.
Partner 2: I just want to talk to a few more people.
Partner 1: I really don't want to stay at this party any longer.
Partner 2: Honestly, I just want to talk to a few more people!
#6 Denying Responsibility
No matter what your partner charges, you insist, in no uncertain terms, that you are not to blame. This tendency also underlies many of the previous ones.
Partner 1: I can't find my keys since you used them.
Partner 2: I don't know why you always blame ME when something goes missing!
#7 Tone and Body Language
Beyond words, we can also convey defensiveness by our tone and/or body language. Whining, crossing our arms across our chest, and a false smile when we don't mean it, are just of few of the ways that we may defend ourselves against our partner's perceived criticism.
How to deal with your defensiveness?
As a starting point, begin to notice when you are reacting defensively. Becoming more aware of your own defensive responses is the first step in reducing them. It's difficult to change what you're unaware of.
Remember: Your partner is trying to convey some important information to you. They may not always communicate in the most constructive and responsible manner. And, you may not listen in the most constructive manner -- you may be quick to assume attack, especially in those areas where you feel vulnerable.
When you notice that you're responding defensively, you can acknowledge this to yourself and to your partner. "I'm feeling defensive, so it's hard for me to hear what you are saying." This admission alone may change the course of the entire conversation. From there, it may be much easier to hear what your partner is actually trying to say.
Invitation to action
Over the coming week, begin to notice when/if you react defensively. Then reflect on these questions:
• What situations/topics are most likely to trigger your defensiveness?
• What "style of defensiveness" is most typical for you?
• What new possibilities open up when you acknowledge your defensiveness?
Copyright © 2009 by Shirley Vollett. All rights reserved in all media.
Shirley Vollett, BSW PCC is a Life and Relationship Coach, with over 20 years of combined experience in counseling and coaching. She delights in helping pro-active individuals make positive changes in their lives, their work/business and their relationships. http://shirley.vollett.com
8 Tips for Successful Communication
with Your Partner
by Katherin Scott
Most experts will tell you the number one most important skill in a good relationship is communication. Sometimes they tell you in hundreds and hundreds of pages. You don't need to read hundreds and hundreds of pages.
There are really just a few things you need to do. Some of them are easy; others are more difficult to learn, and you'll want to practice a lot. Be patient. Successful communication with your partner can transform your relationship. These are skills worth learning.
#1 Open body language.
The first step toward successful communication isn't words, it's posture. Relax your shoulders. Stop contracting your eyebrows. Lean slightly forward. Uncross your arms. Communicate with your body that you're not angry or judging. You're committed to hearing your partner and resolving your problems.
#2 Responsive listening.
When you're having a conversation with your partner, you need to show that you're paying attention. Maintain eye contact. Nod. Say "mm-hmm," and "I understand." Allow your partner time and space to say what he or she needs to say.
#3 Say back what you hear.
Sometimes what you hear your partner say is not what he or she meant. You may get angry over something you heard, but it may not be what was said. Before you respond, make sure you're both on the same page. Don't say the exact words back because that doesn't demonstrate whether you've really understood. Say what you heard in your own words. If that's not what was meant, patiently talk it through until you both understand what's being said.
#4 Set aside a time to talk.
With kids, jobs, housework, and other obligations, it can be hard to work through a whole conversation. Make sure you take the time to have a conversation without distractions.
#5 Abandon sarcasm.
Sarcasm ends open conversation. Always listen with an open mind, and if you disagree with something, say you disagree. Don't say, "Oh, yeah, that's true." Say, "It hurts me that you said that. I don't think you're listening to me, and I'd really like you to hear what I'm trying to say."
#6 Focus on one thing at a time.
If you're trying to talk about getting the kids to school on time, don't bring up the grocery problem. Don't take your partner's every failing to court every time you have a dispute.
#7 Focus on actions.
No matter how angry you get, don't make the argument destructive. Talk about what your partner does, how you feel about it, and what you think needs to happen. Don't turn what your partner does into who he or she is. "It's really important to me that you show up on time. I really don't like how late you get," is a good way to put things. "You're a lazy, procrastinating, inconsiderate slob," is not.
#8 Go to a relationship coach.
Habits are hard to break. If you've been beating the same paths without positive results, it may be time to get outside help. Having an outside perspective can be invaluable.
Talking is a lot harder than it seems. Don't feel bad if it seems you and your partner are speaking alien languages to each other. Most couples feel that way at one time or another. The main things are to stay calm, be patient, and focus on your love for each other. You'll work things out.
Copyright © 2009 by Katherin Scott. All rights reserved in all media.
Katherin Scott, MA, is an internationally recognized authority on dating and attracting love. She coaches worldwide and regularly conducts seminars and workshops to help people empower themselves to find love and happiness. Katherin's newest book is, ABC's of Dating: Simple Strategies for Dating Success. www.KatherinScott.com
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