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Let’s Make a Contract: Getting Through Unhappy Romantic Relationships
Based on the solid premise that similar values and expectations are the necessary foundation of a healthy romantic relationship, Let’s Make a Contract: Getting Through Unhappy Romantic Relationships is the new book for anyone with doubts about the dynamics in their relationship.
A great deal of research on how attraction and love are different, family of origin issues, cognitive distortions, chemicals like oxytocin, and an impaired belief system about how love should look was applied by the author in real-life situations with her patients. Insights not often talked about emerged which will enable readers to take a complete inventory of their past and present relationships and discover repeated and unfulfilling patterns that have led to unhappiness and suffering.
Readers are provided with worksheets to help discover their uncompromisable values and the traits they want in a partner, which then gives them a blueprint from which to screen for potential romantic partners rather than using “feelings” as the main gauge. Story examples of distressed couples hit home the reasons why so many relationships start off so well only to end up in heartbreak.
From the rush to romance to violating one’s own values to mental health issues and infidelity, Let’s Make a Contract: Getting Through Unhappy Romantic Relationships is an eye-opener and provides the latest guide for screening for healthy love relationships.
Dr. Ann Schiebert
Dr. Schiebert is a psychologist in the Emergency Department (ED) at the medical center of one of the country’s most respected major HMO’s. There, she evaluates for safety, determines types of treatments, assesses capacity and cognitive impairment, and provides feedback and support for families of patients in the ED. In addition, Dr. Schiebert also works in the medical center’s Chemical Dependency Department where she treats patients challenged by trauma, chemical dependency, codependency and dual diagnosis.
Ann has an excellent success rate in helping families turn their situations around, and she is highly sought after for her work. She finds it rewarding to facilitate patients in discovering their wonderful, authentic selves, and getting them back to a healthy mindset. Another of Dr. Schiebert’s area of expertise is helping people in unhappy romantic relationships investigate how they got in their current situation, how to reconsider the “path to romance,” and how to create happier long-term relationships.
Her teaching experience pertaining to Clinical Skills and Psychopathology during graduate school gave Ann an ability to interact with a variety of audiences and to be comfortable doing so. As a psychologist, she uses this “gift” to teach groups of between thirty and forty patients on the topics of communication, how to work a program of recovery and healthy relationships.
Ann has penned a series of books titled Let’s Make a Contract. She has three in the series thus far, having to do with getting teens through substance abuse, getting them through high school, and the forthcoming title for adults, getting through unhappy romantic relationships. She’s been up close and personal to all of those matters in her own life. If she were a member of a tribe, her special role would be healer, and rightfully so.
In her spare time Ann enjoys traveling to Europe. She lives in the Bay Area with her husband, her two ragamuffin kittens, Biscuit and Teddy, and her fifteen-year-old Maine Coon, Murphy. She is the mother of three adult children.
Let’s Make a Contract
Getting Through Unhappy Romantic Relationships
By Ann Schiebert, PsyD
Category: Family & Relationships/Love & Romance
BISAC Code: FAM02900
Title: Let’s Make a Contract: Getting Through Unhappy Romantic Relationships
Author: Ann Schiebert, PsyD
Formats: Print & eBook
Price: $16.95 (print) $6.99 (e-book)
ISBN: 978-1-941713-75-4 (Print)
ISBN: 978-1-941713-76-1 (Kindle)
ISBN: 978-1-941713-83-9 (ePub)
Gail M. Kearns
825 E. Pedregosa Street, Suite 2
Santa Barbara, CA 93103
5 Ways to Have a Love That Lasts
Is everlasting love really elusive? According to relationship expert Dr. Ann Schiebert, people in long-term happy RRs are not always happy. They quarrel, slam doors, roll their eyes in frustration, sleep apart, and do many of the behaviors that are done by those in unhappy relationships. The difference is that they take their struggles in stride and know how to navigate rough waters.
To get started on the right foot, she makes the following important suggestions:
- Base your decision-making about potential romantic relationships (PRR) on values, not just on chemistry. Research shows overwhelmingly that if you find someone with whom you share values you will have a strong foundation for a long-term romantic relationship. Have the “values conversation” before committing to a romantic relationship.
- Remember, initial attraction is based on the “love cocktail.” The love cocktail is made up of oxytocin (this induces the desire to cuddle), dopamine (the “lust,” adultery, motivation, and addiction neurotransmitter), norepinephrine (produces the racing heart and feelings of excitement), and a chemical called PEA (phenylethylamine), which delivers that feeling of being on top of the world – the euphoric high. This love cocktail lasts about six months. It will never provide one with a good foundation for a lasting romantic relationship.
- Do not minimize characteristics of your potential romantic relationship that irritate you. So often we make up excuses about why a PRR’s unacceptable behavior “wasn’t really so bad.” My favorite saying is, “When people show you who they are, believe them—the first time.” Ask yourself how you would feel about living with that behavior for the next five years. Don’t forget, when the dating mask comes off, there you are with the actual person who you may or may not like. Giving a pass to behavior that is unacceptable to you does not provide stability for a lasting romantic relationship.
- Long-term relationship satisfaction is highly influenced by sensitivity to your partner’s positive emotions. If you are enthusiastic about an accomplishment or a fun event you participated in, of course you want to share it with your romantic relationship (RR). If the response is that your RR briefly looks up says, “great,” then continues to look at the computer, this is not being sensitive to your partner’s positive emotions. In fact, this type of response can seed resentments.
- As a relationship grows, and the love cocktail and limerence begin to wane, it is important to keep up romance. Most of the research concludes that having sex at least once a week increases relationship satisfaction substantially. Many couples use sex as a problem solver or a way to “erase” any issues that are challenging the RR. Sex is a way of being close, physically and emotionally, whereas problem solving is a cognitive exercise.
Interview with Dr. Ann Schiebert
In your book, you talk about the limerence stage of a relationship. What does this mean?
Limerence is a term coined by Dorothy Tennov in her 1979 book called, Love and Limerence. Limerence refers one of the unhealthier parts on the “love spectrum.” It looks like love, feels like love – but it is NOT love. It is a “crush” and it is “infatuation” that is contingent on sexual attraction and is accompanied by the expectation that one’s feelings for someone (usually a person whom we don’t know very well) will be reciprocated.
Limerence involves obsessive thoughts, intrusive thinking, fantasies, compulsory longing and emotional attachment for another person. The end goal is to join – form a pair – fast! (All attractions can start this way but for “real love” these transient feelings are NOT the basis of the relationship.) In limerence we are lost in unreasoned passion and separated from our balance and good judgment. We lose our ability to make rational decisions and become overpowered by longing for reciprocation and fear of rejection.
Limerence is much like an addiction to another person. That other person and our urgency for “coupling” becomes the organizing principle of our decisions in all areas of our life. When limerence wears off we begin to believe that the person we “got” isn’t the person we thought he/she was. It is this realization that seeds the end of the relationship.
What are three most important red flags couples should be aware of in the limerence stage of a relationship.
Do a self-inventory to see if you are
- Minimizing unattractive characteristics.
- Excusing behavior which you find problematical.
- Finding yourself infatuated and obsessed with a stranger who you don’t really know.
Why do so many people settle for less than they are looking for in a partner? Is this more prevalent with men or women? Why?
Settling is being tired of the search for the “right” guy/girl and getting into a RR by convincing ourselves that no one better will come along. It is the process by which we allow our intuition to be overridden by our worry about the future. When we settle, we abdicate our most important values. We shut off something inside ourselves for another person. Settling does not lead to happy romantic relationships, because settling is usually accompanied by a struggle for our own authenticity.
Here are the top eleven reasons people rush into relationships and “settle for less” —usually during the time when the “love cocktail” and “limerence” are in control:
- Sex—we may be having sex even before a relationship begins. Many of us are thinking that if we are in a relationship after sex, we get to know the person.
- The primal desire to bond with someone we “love” and who “loves” us. We want to belong.
- Fear—fear of being alone, of having one’s biological clock run out, of not finding the “right one,” of never having the fantasy dream wedding, of being the last single person in your group of friends, and the list goes on and on.
- Believing “a relationship will complete me.”
- Believing a relationship gives definition to our life.
- External pressures: your relatives just love the person you brought to meet them.
- Pregnancy—you have sex and now you find yourself with a child on the way.
- “Feels like home.” The dynamic with the person in your life feels like your family of origin. It feels “comfortable” even if it is unhealthy.
- Codependency—you consciously or unconsciously take on new “projects” to “fix,” “rescue,” “save,” give advice to, and lecture about why they need to change.
- A new relationship diverts us from our problems.
- Sex/relationship addiction.
While women seem to “settle for less” more than their male counterparts, “settling for less” is an equal opportunity enticement provided by the “love cocktail” and limerence.
What are the most common deal breakers in a romantic relationship?
So many of my patients have no idea what their RR “deal breakers” are! Let’s define this term. A deal breaker is any factor that is significant enough to terminate a relationship. In order to really know what one’s “deal breakers” they have to know what their uncompromisable values are. In a general sense, “deal breakers” are those behaviors, beliefs, practices that violate our own values. The most common ones are:
Lack of Respect
Lack of Empathy
Why do couples allow their boundaries to be violated?
Let me count the reasons!
Avoid an argument
Keep the peace
Lack of knowing what our boundaries are
A history of unhealthy role modeling in which the members of our family of origin do not teach us how to have boundaries.
When we allow our boundaries to be violated we teach others how to treat us! We reinforce what we don’t want by giving the boundary violation a pass. What’s not OK becomes, OK.
What is your view about couples living together before tying the knot?
Research shows that for the majority of couples, living together doesn’t lead to marriage. Intuitively, one might think that living together creates familiarity and a period of time that gives the couple an opportunity to “really” know each other. Statistics do not support this popular belief. As a clinician, I actually have no opinion about this practice. I also do not hold much hope for the success of a happy, sustained relationship for those “getting to know” each other by living together before marriage.
What does it mean when someone says they get lost in a relationship?
It means that they give up their authentic self to become someone that will please their partner. In the long term, this “mask” will not sustain itself and the eventually parts of ourselves that we have hidden are revealed. If we present as one person but are really not that person we have created and entered into a relationship that is not based on honesty.
What is the best thing to do when an argument arises with one’s partner?
In my book I have a list of fair fighting principles. Learn them, follow them, practice them, discuss them with your partner. Go for negotiation, problem-solving, and collaboration!
- Be sure you identify the one reason you are angry.
- Discuss one item at a time. Do not discuss one issue then another and another. Just one item and then go do something else. Dumping all one’s issues in a single discussion is too much.
- Degrading language is insulting. Discuss the issue and not the person.
- Use “I” statements. Resist starting sentences with the accusatory “You.”
- People’s attention span is usually eight seconds to 20 minutes! Take turns talking and keep it short. One minute is usually the best.
- Don’t refuse to participate in the conversation. This is rude and does not contribute to problem-solving.
- Do not yell! Who shouts the loudest accomplishes nothing.
- Take a time out if things get too heated. This does not mean just walking out on your partner. This means saying to your partner, “I’m getting a little worked up. I need a break. I’m going for a short walk and I’ll be back in ten minutes.” Slamming the door on your way out only serves to shut down conversation.
- Listen. Most people listen with an agenda. We interrupt the speaker to make our point. This is not listening. Listening is just hearing what someone has to say without comment and saying, “Thank you for telling me that.” Take turns listening.
- Problem-solve. Negotiate. Collaborate.
- Being so cruel that the other person has no choice but to either fight back or leave is called “hitting below the belt.” Decide what the purpose of the argument is. Is it about assassinating your partner’s character or is it about problem-solving?
- Avoid attacking your partner’s character, such as telling him/her, “You’re neurotic,” or “You’re depressing.”
- Ask for feedback and clarification. It is important to check out if you heard what you were told correctly. Paraphrase what you heard and request feedback about whether or not you heard it accurately.
- Follow anger with a clear request for a change.
- Don’t argue while under the influence of a mind-altering substance.
How should critical thinking come into play when verbally or physically attacked by one’s partner?
First of all, as a clinician, physical abuse is always unacceptable. However, there are many people who are trapped in the cycle of abuse wherein the “honeymoon” period somehow becomes worth the abuse. The promise of “never doing that again” is repeatedly believed even though there is evidence of behavior change. There are many components that can lead to physical abuse. Some of these are:
- Family history of physical abuse – so it “looks normal.”
- Low self-worth
- Love seeking as a solution to problems
Verbal/Emotional abuse includes discounting, threatening, undermining, using the children as a manipulation for control, mind games, character assassination, put downs to name a few.
In both verbal and physical abuse there is often NO critical thinking until one gets therapy!
How can a couple heal their relationship when one of them has been cheated on?
This depends on the values of the couple. If one member of the couple has an “uncompromisable” value that is fidelity, then such a violation can be very challenging to overcome. It will take much work on the part of the person who violated his/her partner’s value to set the dishonored standard of behavior, right. In my clinical experience, resentment toward the partner who went outside the relationship is rarely resolved but the “appearance” that “everything is OK” often prevails.
What does codependency in a relationship look like?
Codependency is a control issue. While the codependent does for others what they could be doing for themselves, their rescuing, fixing, advice-giving and “helping,” is actually a manipulation to mold someone into the type of person the codependent wants them to be.
I teach about codependency at my job. Over the years I have learned that codependency in a relationship wears many different masks. In a romantic relationship it typically involves the codependent taking the “one-up” position and their partner being placed in the “one-down” role. Codependents get their ego fed by solving other people’s problems and therefore those in relationships with them often feel incompetent.
What would you say to a person who comes from a dysfunctional family and has no healthy relationship role models?
I would say, “Read my book!”
At what point should a person give up and leave an unhappy romantic relationship?
There is a template in my book that guides people through a process that helps with assessing when it is time to leave an unhappy romantic relationship. Some of those questions that assist in this evaluation are:
Am I suffering in this unhappy romantic relationship (URR)?
Can I afford a room, apartment, or other living arrangement? Can I move in with a relative?
Would I be willing to experiment with a trial separation?
Would leaving be better or worse for the children in the long run?
Is the feeling gone in my relationship?
Can I get it back?
Has there been an unforgivable betrayal in my romantic relationship like infidelity, deception or abuse?
Does my partner criticize me most of the time?
Am I emotionally disengaged?
Do I love my cat/dog more than my partner?
The only person who can decide whether to leave a URR or not is the one who is suffering in the relationship. We have to ask ourselves, “Why am I stuck in suffering?”
What does a happy, healthy romantic relationship look like?
I was somewhat surprised when I did the research required to answer this question. In brief, here are the components that make up a happy and healthy romantic relationship:
Shared values are more important than shared interests when it comes to happy long-term romantic relationships.
Looking for positives and being responsive and kind will help create a healthy and happy romantic relationship.
Watching romantic “love finds a way” movies wherein love overcomes all obstacles creates that belief for viewers. What you watch on TV matters!
Looking for positives and being responsive and kind will help create a healthy and happy romantic relationship.
Being happy for and interested in your partner’s successes will help create a happy romantic relationship.
Doing fun activities together helps cement a happy and healthy relationship.
Long-term relationship satisfaction is highly influenced by sensitivity to our partner’s positive emotion.
Having sex at least once a week increases relationship satisfaction substantially.
Long-term relationship satisfaction is higher with couples who decide not to have children. (See the book for more information about this.)
Happy long-term relationships involve some agreement about who is going to earn the money (one or both), how it will be spent, who will manage the bill paying responsibilities, when it is OK to use credit to make purchases, and the amount of monthly income to be saved.
Long-term relationship happiness is maintained when one focuses on the relationship instead of social media distractions.