How low can you go? Anger management in marriage.

Anger management is something all couples have to deal with. At some point we all have those disagreements in our marriage that get out of hand and lead to sparks of anger and days of the silent treatment. The question of the day is– how low can you go when it comes to setting a ceiling on how much anger is allowed to brew in your home?

In my therapy practice, I often ask my clients to rate on a scale of 1 (very low) to 10 (very high) what is the highest they’ll let anger go in an argument. Somewhere in the 7,8 range is a pretty common response. Far too often, it’s more like 11.

Then I ask what they think the maximum anger level is in a really healthy, strong marriage. “Uh, maybe a six?” is pretty standard.

It’s generally quite a surprise to hear that the best thing for marriages is to keep the heat below a 3 at all times. 

So how do you do in this regard? Here’s an activity to help you rate yourself.

Anger management
You will disagree from time to time--it doesn't have to look like this.

Once you know how angry you tend to get, you can set a goal for yourself. Next time you begin to have an argument with your spouse, practice paying attention to your internal “anger” signals. When you hit a 4, practice the PO2 “exit and re-enter” anger management technique. Leave the conversation for five to ten minutes to cool off, and then come back to it. Remember, coming back is just as essential as leaving–you should address the disagreement fully. Oh, and let your spouse know you need a breather to cool down–don’t just storm off!

The bottom line is that in marriage, the lower the ceiling on anger, the better. When differences come up or tensions simmer, it’s better to learn how to resolve them calmly and collaboratively. It takes patience and practice, and you can do it! Anger management–even with just the little things you get irritated with–will make a huge impact in your relationship.

Have a great end to your week,


Body Language: Fantasy Photoshopped Celebrity Couples

Ever shared which celebrity you would date if you could? While your friends answered Brad Pitt or Megan Fox, did you answer “Waterfront-era-Marlon-Brando” or 30s Bombshell Veronica Lake? While now neither is impossible! At least for each other…. Thanks to modern technology (which has reached a new level with the use of deceased celebrities’ holograms) , here are 10 impossible but amazingly classy combinations of celebrity couples regardless of era.

Beyond the brilliance of the photoshop job on some of these pictures, what do you think about the premise? Would these relationships work out? We might be able to tell just by looking at the posture of the couples…and in this case, how well the photoshop artist mimicked the postures of real, loving couples.

I’ve written before about cute couples photos and how pictures can both reveal and hide the reality of situation. A smiling couple isn’t necessarily a happy couple. Beyond looking cheerful, the position of our hands, the tilt of our head, and our stance towards our partner reveal subtleties about our relationship with our spouse. Celebrity gossip magazines like to capitalize on these hidden clues by bringing in body language experts to analyze couples photos for potential marital problems. Sometimes they’re spot on–the couple is going through a rough patch. Other times the picture taker simply caught the couple in motion or at a bad angle.

Body language cues are subtle and complex, and good to know about. Some communication experts believe the up to 90% of what we say comes in the form of non-verbal communication. WebMD has a useful article on the most common body language indicators for communication in relationships and in the office.

Synchrony: Synchrony is when your body language mimics your partner’s. This is a subtle yet important way we express empathy and agreement with the other person–you “sync up” physically as well as mentally and emotionally. The more we mimic, the more likely we are to have a similar opinion, and to feel positive and supportive emotions. This can be indicated by copying your partner’s crossed arms, or arms on hips, or tilt of the head. It’s kind of fun to catch yourself doing it! On the other side, if you are projecting opposing body language such as facing away, avoiding eye contact, or fidgeting, it may be a sign that you are feeling oppositional.

Always, if you’re picking up unspoken negative body language from your spouse, act on it and ask directly if anything is wrong. Never just assume wordlessly–sometimes our interpretations are way off!

One last fun tip from WebMD is for dinner with the inlaws:

“One of the most important body language signs you should convey during your first encounter with your partner’s parents is eye contact with your partner,” says [Patti Wood, author of Success Signals: A Guide to Reading Body Language.].

Your partner’s parents want to know that you are interested in and care for their child. The best way you can tell them that you are “the one” is to look at your partner with love and affection.

With this new knowledge, enjoy these photos and have fun creating story lines for the couples based on their body language.


Paul Newman and Scarlett Johansson
Marlon Brando and Penelope Cruz
Demi Moore and Paul Newman
Catherine Zeta Jones and Robert Vaughn
Ann Margret and Tom Cruise
Humphrey Bogart and Drew Barrymore
Elizabeth Hurley and Clarck Gable
Vanilla Ice and Veronica Lake
George Clooney and Grace Kelly
Elvis and Angelina Jolie
Gary Cooper and Scarlet Johansson
Kirk Douglas and Halle Berry






How to deal with a jealous husband

When tackling the issue of jealousy, Dr. Hirsch likes to start with some Eric Clapton lyrics: “Before you accuse me, take a look at yourself!”

If you’re faced with a jealous husband or a jealous wife, you may be partially to blame. And if you are the one who is jealous, you should also examine your own culpability. Marriage problems are rarely ever a one sided affair. And they need to be solved together, too.

There are two situations where you might find yourself feeling jealous or have a jealous husband or jealous wife. If you are jealous, you are probably struggling with which one to believe: is there a real threat to your marriage, or are you just imagining and projecting things? This expert advice from Dr. Hirsch can help you decide and, most importantly, address the problem so you can repair your marriage in a positive and empowering way.

Case #1: The jealous spouse is picking up on clues to a real danger.

Example: Marcus’s husband Alison is working one-on-one on a tough work project with an attractive male colleague. They’ve been working late and getting drinks together after work. Marcus is feeling jealous and uncomfortable.

Should Marcus be worried that Alison is having an affair? It’s important to remember that full-blown affairs don’t happen all of a sudden. They grow over time. At the same time, Marcus’ feelings are very valid because they are warning signs of behavior that is threatening their marriage. Because of this he should speak up and address the problem now. Staying attuned to his early feelings of danger gives him the opportunity to address the issue before it actually leads to an infidelity.

If you are in Allison’s place, you might react to your husband’s jealousy by dismissing it. Of course you aren’t having an affair! How could he think that?? At the same time, remember that something you have been doing has been causing him distress and is already hurting your marriage. This alone indicates that you need to address the situation.

If you are jealous of your spouse, or have a jealous husband or jealous wife, here are some steps to take:

  1. Prepare for the conversation. Choose a time when you are both unstressed and rested. Also, make sure you have top-notch communication skills to handle this sensitive issue. You and your partner will want to remain as calm and positive as possible–this can be challenging with such an emotional subject. Try some PO2 activities to brush up on healthy dialogue skills.
  2. Approach the subject. This may be embarrassing or awkward, and at the same time, so important to work out. Stay open to your spouse’s opinions. Coming out of the discussion with a re-affirmed trust in each other’s fidelity is the goal.
  3. Set up an action plan so the situation doesn’t progress or recur. Also set up guidelines for what you consider appropriate behavior around members of the opposite sex. For example, Aliston might ask that Marcus not hang out with female coworkers one-on-one outside of work.

NOTE: If you find you cannot productively discuss the jealousy or come to a solution, you may want to try couples counseling or online marriage counseling with Power of Two. In addition, if you have a chronically jealous husband who tries to unreasonably restrict your activity and quality of life, you may want to check if his behavior falls under our reasons for divorce guidelines.

 Posting tomorrow…What if I’m just projecting onto my spouse? The 2nd Case Scenario.

How to fight fair

Today I wanted to explore Dr. King’s sayings on protest in terms of how to fight fair with your spouse. This is the second of 3 posts celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King and kicking off Black History Month in February.

2.  “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.” ~MLK

2011 was a year of protests, from Egypt to the Occupation of towns across America. Many of these protests involved thousands of peaceful, non-violent protestors. At the same time, many of them also devolved into violence. Watching the Occupy Oakland protestors next door to my home town, Alameda, I saw first hand how similar this conflict was to how argument escalates in a marriage. It reminded me of how important it is to learn how to fight fair and carry Dr. King’s words in our hearts.

It started out peacefully enough with one side–the “people”–stating their opinion and displeasure at their relationship with the other side–the government. At first side #1 received  non-response from the other side (the Mayor’s office). So they continued with their complaint. With no dialog occurring between the two sides, each became more and more worked up and entrenched in their different opinions. After becoming increasingly frustrated with the protesters and unsure of what to do, side #2 lashed out with frustration at side #1. Both sides ended up exploding at each other with terrible violence. When the smoke cleared, both were hurt, embarrassed, and more alienated from each other than before, and nothing productive had come out of the encounter.

Both the Occupy protesters, the government, and our marriages can benefit from learning how to fight fair. Only mutual love and respect can solve a dispute between two parties–screaming louder to drown out the shouts of the other side will not convince them that you are right. Here’s how to win a fight with love. This is how to fight fair.

1. Love means...being truly interested in your spouse’s point of view and hearing her opinion.

Realize that both of you have important view points to contribute the issue. If you respect your spouse, you will respect their needs and desires reflected in their opinions. Being negative or dismissive about things that are important to your spouse will lead to serious marriage problems.

2. Love means…willing to work together until you find a win-win solution.

Try to get to the root causes of your opinions instead of focusing on opposing solutions. For example, you want to go biking but your spouse wants to watch a movie. Two opposing ideas, right? Well what if your underlying reason is that you want to get out of the house, and your spouse’s reason is that she has been on her feet all day and wants to rest. Now you can find a new solution that addresses both your desires. Why not go for a car ride–you get out of the house, and she can stay seated. Win-win!

3. Love means…knowing where your anger limits are and working around them.

Everyone has hot spots that get them from calm to raging in 2 seconds. Know what gets you riled and will push you away from how to fight fair. At these times practice Exit and Re-enter strategy: leave the room to cool down and return once you’re calm.

4. Love means…being on the same team.

If you treat your partner with love, you will realize that you are always on the same team. You are both working together on how to make a relationship last long, healthy and happy for yourselves and your children. Likewise, the citizen and the government are really working towards the same goal: to have a safe, supportive, and respectful relationship, and to create a great country. Maybe marriage skills and conflict resolution should be required teaching in high school civics classes!

Dr. King’s words teach us how to rekindle a relationship

From now through February the Power of Two Marriage Blog be celebrating Black History Month! I’m starting off with a series of 3 posts that use Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s quotes as tips for how to rekindle a relationship. As I’ve experienced from working with PO2, the skills we use to interact peacefully with our fellow citizens are completely applicable to happy marriages, and visa versa–you can use the skills you learn in online marriage counseling and marriage help books to better all of your relationships.

 1. Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase. ~MLK

Marriage is an act of faith. It means promising to trust as well as love another person through all of life’s ups and downs. In a previous guest post Lori Lowe explains how trusting your spouse, assuming the best in the situation, is a key element of how to rekindle a relationship. This starts with small things. Did he forget to take out the trash again? Instead of thinking “He’s so lazy!” or “He just expects me to do all the work!” avoid anger by first assuming the best case scenario: it was a simple mistake and he was distracted by all the other things he has to do. Maintaining a positive outlook on your marriage and spouse, coupled with asking questions when things are unclear, will help avoid conflicts and increase understanding.

This applies to bigger issues, too. Lori includes this anecdote of how one coupled learned how to rekindle a relationship after a big misunderstanding:

After the death of their infant son, John and Kathy Eubanks were more than devastated. The lactating mom, Kathy, was hormonal and extremely emotional. John soon returned to work where he saw little sympathy from coworkers, many of whom didn’t even acknowledge his loss.Nine months later, John returned home to Kathy crying again and said, “I don’t know how much more of this I can take.” He says he meant that it was very hard to see her suffering. However, Kathy interpreted his comment to mean, “If you don’t get happy, I will leave.” She was convinced divorce was imminent because of her assumption.

One day Kathy confronted her husband and asked, “Are you planning to divorce me?” (Remember that was her assumption due to his earlier statement.) John was taken by surprise and said, “No way.” It led to a breakthrough discussion where they shared their feelings and made a commitment to grieve together and to be unified in their suffering.

Remember, ask questions before you make assumptions, and always assume the best in your spouse. Starting from a point faith that he or she is on your side, loves you, and would never intentionally hurt you, is part of how to rekindle a relationship that is suffering from negativity. Here is a link to a fun flash game that will help you cool down your anger and see your spouse’s POV.

Next week:  “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend,” or, How to Win an Argument…

A note about Dr. King:

Over the years MLK has become an American mythological figure and much of the complexity of his real life and personality have been lost. For example, many Americans today don’t know that Dr. King had a very troubled marriage plagued with infidelities. At the same time, he a was a remarkably well spoken and intelligent leader whose words cut to the core of how human beings should treat each other. We can easily apply some of his famous sayings to our marriages.

4 common relationship communication problems

Watching dogs interact can teach you a lot about human behavior, relationship communication, and how to make a relationship last. This Thanksgiving my family convened and my Grandparent’s house for a few days. My new dog, an energetic and sweet 10-month-old mutt named Laika, got to meet the Grandparent’s 12 year-old fox terrier, Molly. Needless to say, chaos ensued.

At the same time, in between all the barking it was fascinating to watch the two dogs work our their relationship. They got along relatively well when there was nothing much going on. Then, as soon as food or human attention came into the mix, the teeth came out. Each doggy wanted a piece of the pie (literally). Molly the terrier was clearly an alpha female and was born this way. She would preemptively nip at Laika whenever she felt her status or access to the preferred good was threatened. Laika wouldn’t really engage in the fight, but neither would she run away yelping. She would just stay put until the yapping, snarling Molly tired herself out and/or got what she wanted.

Molly and Laika were having major relationship communication problems that they solved the dog way: barking, biting, snarling. Luckily for us humans, we can use words to make ourselves better understood. At the same time, I saw many of the same problems between the dogs between some human relationships during the Holiday. We all have instinctive personal styles of conflict resolution, and often times they lead to confrontations that leave with both spouses feeling rotten.

My Thanksgiving experience reminded me of one of my favorite PO2 produced videos about Conflict Resolution. Check out the clip below for insight into your own fighting style and more effective ways to communicate with your spouse.



Which of these 4 conflict styles sounds the most like you and/or your spouse?:

1. Do you ever just give up when you disagree? If you consistently feel that your desires are just not worth the fight, you are yielding. Yielding can lead to low, simmering negative emotions like depression and resentment.

2. Do you delay tough discussions or avoid sensitive topics? This is freezing. Freezing builds up icy walls of stress, tension, anxiety and emotional distance.

3. Do you default to bickering, arguing or even fighting when you disagree? That’s the ‘fight till you win’ strategy. This can can develop into controlling behaviors, and verbal or even physical abuse. Also, fighting often results in one partner yielding, and, as noted above, yielding has bad emotional consequences.

4. Do you feel that your relationship issues are all hopeless and you are tempted to invest your time and energy elsewhere? That’s called flight. In the worst case, you can flee to addictive, numbing behaviors such as alcohol or gambling; at the very least, the problem never gets solved.

Stopping arguing doesn’t necessarily stop divorce

A new study from Ohio State University is challenging long-help assumptions about marital happiness, arguing, and how to stop divorce. Married couples are often assumed to start out relatively blissful and then dissolve into bickering and fighting. However, it turns out that a couple’s level of fighting and happiness are both stable factors over the course of a relationship. Researches identified three types of marriages among 2,000 married couples over two decades: low-conflict, (16% of participants); moderate-conflict, (60%); and high-conflict (22%). They found that these groups stayed more or less consistent over the 20 year study.

Interestingly, the study found that the frequency of argument did not necessarily predict how happy or unhappy a couples was. Rather, levels of positivity, intimacy, and resolution skills were more important. In other words, a marriage that had disagreements did not mean misery, and a marriage devoid of conflict did not necessarily stop divorce.

Certain couples were designated as “volatile,” meaning they had high conflict but also mid to high happiness ratings. These couples may have disagreements often, but I’m guessing they are strong on other skill areas such as resolution and intimacy. After all, it is inevitable that you and your spouse will be at odds about things; the key is knowing how to deal with that without causing hurt feelings.

The most divorce prone group was described as “hostile”. Interestingly, it didn’t matter whether or not these couples argued much–they were miserable. Hostility is a pattern of negativity that can take many forms. Dr. Heitler and I have talked before about how toxic even small bits of negativity can be. Habits that are all not outright forms of conflict–such as sarcasm, put-downs, avoidance, the silent treatment, and passive-aggressive acts–can be just as tragically damaging to a marriage. According to the study, these are the danger signs to watch out for the most in your relationship.

This study brings up some very good advice for thinking about marriage. Marriage is a huge decision–it is a commitment for life. Chances are you are marrying your loved one because you intend that relationship to last and stop divorce. Take a good long look at how you interact as a couple now. Although you both will continue to change and grow as people, this right now is the basis for how you will interact for life. It is especially important to look for warning signs of abuse and control in your relationship. Does your fiance do things that make you seriously uncomfortable? These behaviors will NOT disappear after you wed. This is the time to seriously evaluate if you want to be legally, emotionally and spiritually bound together.

At the same time, I firmly believe any relationship is open to change with the right tools and dedication. I would be interested to see the statistics for relationship counseling among these subjects. Did any of them try couples counseling or marriage enrichment to improve their marriage? While this study shows even “hi-conflict” marriages can be happy, I would argue that if couples made the switch to low conflict, they could be even happier. Conflict takes up time and energy that could instead be put towards building a loving and supportive marriage. Real transformation can be accomplished with skill based learning and practice. We all have the ability to change our habits if we truly dedicate ourselves to the task. So don’t just settle for the marriage you have if you feel it could be better. Go out and chase your happily-ever-after!

Forgiving infidelity and moving on—for your health

Dr. Martin Luther King advised us to “never succumb to the temptation of bitterness,” and boy, was he right. Forgiving infidelity and other wrongs is one of the hardest things to do, and at the same time, it may just help you live longer. A new book, “Embitterment: Societal, psychological, and clinical perspectives,” reviews years of research on bitterness that shows not only is it unproductive from a social, emotional and spiritual perspective, but takes a devastating toll on our physical health.

Today’s CNN article opens with the story of a young college student who was tormented because of his race. The stress and bitterness he held towards the injustice eventually led to sleeping problems and panic attacks. Finally, he landed in the hospital and was found to have a dangerous condition of thickened heart muscles—one of the leading causes of heart-related sudden death in people under 30. It wasn’t until this young man was able to move on and release his bitterness that he recovered physically.

How can a mental state have so much impact on our bodies?

When we feel negatively towards another person, our brains trigger the release of stress hormones. This is a very effective mechanism for dealing with real danger situations. It prepares our bodies to attack, defend or flee from a potential threat. However, when these hormones flood the body for a long period of time, the stress begins to do some real damage. Heightened blood pressure endangers the heart, and chemicals such as C-reactive protein further weaken the heart and other body systems. Irritability, sleeping problems, anxiety and depression also often occur.

The journey of marriage is wonderful and opens the doors to some of life’s greatest joys. At the same time, bitterness is one of the biggest marriage problems couples have. Unspoken tensions, jealousies, pet peeves, family drama… all of us experience some kind of event in our relationship that could spark bitterness. Suspected or acknowledged cheating often puts the greatest strain on a marriage. So how do we move beyond bitterness and get to forgiving infidelity?

1. Grieve
Give yourself the time to grieve your loss. An infidelity is a huge blow to the foundations of your reality, and it is painful. Acknowledge that you feel this pain, that you are hurt, and that things are going to be difficult. Recognizing your feelings helps to soften them eventually and will get you ready for forgiving infidelity.

2. Seek solidarity
Read the news, talk to a friend, or find a support group. Realize that many people are going through what you are right now, and many experience worse. This in no way delegitimizes the pain you are feeling—it should give you a sense of strength and perspective to your emotions.

3. Talk it out
It is essential to talk to the person that hurt you if you are going down the path of forgiving infidelity. Communicate with your spouse openly and honestly about how you feel. At the same time, try to understand the other person’s underlying concerns and mental state. This isn’t an excuse—it is an explanation. Understanding will help you to reach a calm common ground.

4. Think of your health
Keep this article in mind. Realize how much damage you are doing to your body and mind by not forgiving infidelity. You have a right to your feelings…you also have the right to have a long, healthy, happy life regardless of other’s unjust activities. After all, “living well is the best revenge,” (George Herbert).

I also suggest calming activities such as yoga, meditation, prayer, or other mindful activity. These can reverse the effects of stress.

How about it? Do you find bitterness (and it’s ugly siblings, Regret and Envy) dominating your life? How do you deal with it? Share your tips and stories about forgiving infidelity and more!

When humor hurts

While looking for a video to post yesterday, I came across a two-minute clip of a little boy becoming hysterical when a little girl proclaims she is going to marry him. His mother captures the whole thing on film, encouraging the battle of wills. At first, his overreaction is pretty darn cute. And yes, it’s a funny metaphor for some adult behavior. But watching the entire thing a few times left all the PO2 staff with a sour taste in our mouths and led to an interesting discussion. It brought up a very serious topic in dealing with other people’s emotions.

We very rarely set out to consciously hurt or anger someone, especially the people we love. However, many of our patterns of speech and behavior can have unexpected impact on other people. This is why it is so important to be aware of and monitor your responses to your spouse. One example for communication in marriage in the Power of Two curriculum is the use of “but…” When you’re having a conversation, using this little word actually negates what your partner just said and sets you up in opposition. We often use “but” without realizing that it can hurt our spouse’s self-esteem and lead to arguments!

This video brings up another unexpected shark lurking in the waters of your relationship: humor. Specifically, misplaced light-heartedness– not taking other people’s emotions, desires, and needs seriously. A great sense of humor is a wonderful thing, and having little in-jokes with your spouse is part of a healthy relationship. At the same time, humor can be really hurtful and a big setback in how to communicate with your spouse. When your partner makes a serious personal statement such as “I want” or “I don’t want,” or shares an emotion with you, don’t laugh at them, tease them, or disregard their feelings. When you do, you imply that what they are feeling is mistaken, misplaced or crazy, and denies the validity of the things they care about.

Respect the power of their feelings. Be serious when your partner is serious. You don’t have to feel the same way (you are two different people after all!), but you should respect and try to understand the reasoning and concerns behind your partner’s position. This shows your spouse that you recognizing her or him as an independent, valuable human being.

This is especially important for children, who are in the midst of developing their sense of self. Your child might get upset over things your believe are completely ridiculous, but remember that to them, the pain is very, very real. Denying it can be very hurtful and confusing. Comfort your child, try to see the world from his or her point of view, and acknowledge his emotions. Try using this great phrase from our conflict resolution section:

“Yes, I understand why your are upset (elaborate)…and, at the same time (find a comforting solution).”

Treating your child with compassion and seriousness with raise compassionate, confident adult.

Granted, knowing when and when not to be light-hearted is a very tricky skill! And everyone disagrees on what is funny. What do you think? Is the video funny or not? How would you have dealt with the situation?