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Karen Gless, Ph.D., R.N., M.F.T. Dr. Karen Gless has maintained a successful practice as a Marriage and Family Therapist since 1985. She also has over 20 years experience in the medical field as a Registered Nurse in medical and psychiatric nursing and has received advanced training in relationship counseling and sex therapy.


Dr. Karen Gless

How to Reawaken Love And Control Conflict By

KAREN GLESS, PhD Aalona Counseling Center 3660 Clairemont Dr., Suite 9 San Diego, CA 92117 858-273-2980

Dr. Gless is past president of the San Diego Chapter of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists and past president of the San Diego Society for Sex Therapy and Education. She has written numerous articles on “Communication for Couples� for Living Better Magazine, has appeared on TV shows and has been quoted in Cosmo Magazine. Her experience as a Registered Nurse gives her a unique perspective and understanding of the physical side of sexual problems, while her specialized training in human sexuality and counseling enables her to work with the emotional side of sexuality. She guides couples toward a more fulfilling relationship and shows them how to be on the same team. Really understanding yourself and your partner increases intimacy and strengthens your relationship. Her approach to relationship counseling really does reawaken love and control conflict.


It is possible to love again. You can handle your differences and have a rewarding relationship with modern marital and relationship counseling. This approach is based on a combination of Dr Gless’s own clinical experience and the latest research. Researchers at the University of Washington studied both happy and troubled couples to discover why some couples are successful and why others are not. They learned a great deal about how to help those couples who are in trouble. The wonderful result is that even couples who are in crisis and emotional pain are able to rekindle their love, manage their conflicts and face life together. Dr. Gless has focused these new counseling techniques and guides couples through an exciting process of discovering the possibilities and happiness inherent in their relationship. The Five Keys are: FIRST SECOND THIRD FOURTH FIFTH



These five keys open the door to mutual happiness. It is said that love brings a couple together, but the ability to handle conflict is what keeps them together. You will learn the real world skills that successful couples use to manage the inevitable conflicts that arise in any relationship. You will learn more about each other as a basis for valuing each other and facing the world together as a team. Finally you can share your dreams and hopes in life with each other so you can achieve fulfillment in life as individuals and as a couple.


THE FIRST KEY KEEP THE FLAME OF LOVE LIT HAPPY MEMORIES One of the discoveries researchers made about happy couples was that they do or say ten or more nice things to each other for every unpleasant thing. A positive interaction can be as simple as a kind word, a smile or an affectionate touch. That keeps the relationship worthwhile so the couple can handle the emotional challenges of conflicts. Often the first step in making positive changes is going back to the time when you first fell in love. The honeymoon period was a time when you both had a positive mind set toward each other. During the honeymoon you filled up your Love Bank. The love bank is that storehouse of good feelings you have about each other and the nice things you do for each other that make the relationship valuable. Recalling those good times reminds you that you have good things to give each other. But much of the currency you had built up in your Love Bank can be wasted in unresolved conflicts. In the first stage of changing you begin to rebuild your Love Bank accounts and learn to manage conflict so you don’t squander your good will toward each other. In later sessions you will learn how to increase intimacy, support each other, develop a positive mind set toward each other and keep your Love Bank filled to overflowing. For now, it is enough to remember that there were loving feelings and positive dreams that brought the two of you together.

Reawakening love begins by soothing the pain that has built up over time. When couples come in for therapy they have at least six years of very painful conflict behind them. They are emotionally bruised, very tender, angry and hurting. They tend to blame each other. They have tried just about everything and they have run out of options. They really don’t know what to do and they are hoping the therapist will solve it for them quickly. Before that happens it is time to do what Dr. Gless calls having “coffee and donuts time” with each other. That means putting your conflicts aside for a while so you can rebuild your Love Bank account. The Love Bank account is the sum of the investments you have made in your relationship by doing good things for each other. During this time it’s like sitting down to have coffee and donuts and a light conversation while you let the change process work for you by not trying to solve everything over night and instead working at rebuilding your Love Bank account. In rebuilding your Love Bank account you learn the skills you need to create the happy, rewarding, supportive relationship you deserve together. Then you can learn how to manage conflict by identifying when you are too upset and how to soothe yourself so you can have a productive conflict instead of attacking each other. You will begin to love and support each other again. And, especially, you will discover how to work as a team and face life together.

SOOTHING THE PAIN The classic argument that ends the honeymoon is a very important turning point in the relationship. This is where you test your conflict management and resolution skills and work things out or where you begin to hurt each other and struggle against each other in your relationship.



THE SECOND KEY FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT MANAGING CONFLICT Too many couples end up in a state of Gridlock, meaning that they have certain conflicts that they just can’t clear up. No matter what they do, they can’t make any progress in resolving these conflicts. The first step for most couples is to stop trying to solve the worst of their conflicts and learn how to handle smaller arguments. This enables you to heal the hurt and bruised feelings as you begin to replenish your Love Bank. One of the most important skills for having a successful relationship is being able to have productive conflicts. A good conflict with a positive outcome can make your relationship stronger. You will learn important skills for managing conflict such as: Repair Attempts. When you make a mistake such as insulting your partner, you can make a repair attempt, which is apologizing for your mistake. The other side is accepting an apology and moving on with the discussion. De-escalation Attempts. When things are getting too heated in an argument, it is time to cool things down with a deescalation attempt. This can be as simple as saying, “Let’s calm down. I think we’re getting too upset.” Taking Breaks. When you are stuck in an argument and it is getting too emotional, it is time to take a break. Breaks not only give the two of you a chance to calm down, but when you return to the discussion you will be able to see things from a new point of view. When people are locked in emotional conflict, they can’t see other possibilities. Compromise. There are two different types of conflict that couples have. One Dr. Gless calls Routine issues. These are the ordinary, everyday disagreements couples have such as working out schedules and deciding who will pick up the children. With Routine issues compromise is often the best way to resolve things.


The other type of conflict is over Core issues which deal with deeper emotions and beliefs. These are the issues that cause most couples the most trouble. Resolution of a Core issue calls for a deeper, more creative solution. Core issues are handled over a longer period of time through learning to appreciate differences and what Dr. Gless calls “chipping away” at the issue. Resolving any conflict calls for an important change in point of view. Too many people are invested in winning an argument at all costs. When you start to look for a mutual solution, you begin to see “winning” as actually losing. Then you are ready to work it out together. PHYSIOLOGY AND FIGHTING There are some very important facts you need to know about human physiology and arguing. For example, as we get more upset in a conflict, our heart rate rises and when it gets near or above 100 beats per minute, we lose our ability to think clearly. This is called Flooding because we are so flooded with emotions that all we can do is defend ourselves. By using a pulse monitor or taking your pulse, you can be aware of your heart rate. Some people are quite surprised to learn how upset they become during an argument. If you have an exercise pulse rate monitor that will do fine. You can also take your own pulse by putting your fingers on the underside of your wrist and counting the beats. Feel around gently until you feel the beating and then start counting. You need a watch or clock with a second hand. You can count for 15 seconds and multiply by four or you can count for 60 seconds and skip the math. Being aware of your heart rate is helpful in learning Self Soothing, which is very valuable in managing conflict. During a break in an argument some people keep themselves upset. By keeping negative thoughts at bay you can calm down and be ready for a fresh start. This usually takes about 20 minutes. Take your pulse when you are relaxed to get a base number, usually from 60 to 75 beats per minute. Then, when you are taking a break take your pulse every five or ten minutes until it gets close to your base rate. Then you are ready to talk about the issue again.


Self-soothing is particularly important for men, who actually respond more strongly to emotions and tend to stay upset for longer periods than women. When a man learns to soothe himself, he is much better at handling arguments. RELATIONSHIP POISON There are certain behaviors and attitudes that are poison to any relationship. When couples come in they often display several of these destructive behaviors. The Seven Relationship Poisons are: Personal attacks, criticizing your partner’s character instead of asking for what you want Defensiveness, never admitting any fault or reacting to any problem with a counter-attack Stonewalling, refusing to talk or stomping off in the middle of an argument Refusing to accept influence, not accepting anything your partner says or any part of it Contempt, this is one of the worst and can end a relationship very quickly Abuse (emotional and physical), deliberately hurting your partner on any level Belligerence, bellowing and raging to frighten your partner into submission Awareness of how damaging they poisons are is the best way of eliminating them. Each Relationship Poison has an Antidote. For example, Personal Attacks are replaced by asking for what you want. Defensiveness and stonewalling are replaced by seeing if there is at least part of what your partner is asking that you can agree with or go with. In other words, instead of arguing by focusing on your disagreements, see if there is something you can agree with. The antidote for contempt is realizing that your partner has valuable things to offer you. Abuse and belligerence have no place in a relationship and call for the help of a skilled therapist.


THE THIRD KEY KNOW YOUR PARTNER LEARNING ABOUT EACH OTHER Happy couples know a lot about each other. They know what their partner does during the day. They know about their partner’s childhood and life, who their friends are, what they like and dislike and much more. This knowledge about each other is called your Love Album. Learning about each other helps you understand and appreciate your partner’s uniqueness. Many couples think they know all about each other and are surprised at how little they really know. The process of learning about each other can be a lot of fun. Setting aside time to share the News of the Day is one way. You tell each other the events you are looking forward to, some of the current stresses you are experiencing, the things that you are worried about, your favorite music, favorite movies, special events in each other’s lives and some of your dreams for the future. You learn about each other’s triumphs and struggles in life, the most important events in growing up, likes and dislikes, hopes and fears. Constant conflict turns lovers into strangers. Learning about each other begins the process of becoming lovers again. Successful couples know how to keep in touch with each other’s lives and help to lessen each other’s stress. Set aside fifteen to twenty minutes each day for catching up on the News of the Day. That way you can stay in touch with each other and give each other the support you both need to deal with a sometimes difficult world. Research shows that excess stress is exhausting and can cause degenerative diseases. Couples who stay connected and support each other live healthier, happier, longer lives together.


THE FOURTH KEY TEAMWORK WORKING TOGETHER A successful couple works as a team. That doesn’t mean they do everything together, but they do know how to coordinate their activities and they can merge their different ways of doing things. For example, there are three basic relationship styles: Intense. These people seek excitement. They enjoy a good time and even like a rousing argument. They may have strong emotional ups and downs, but they can remain romantic and passionate long into a relationship. Nesting. These people like to think things through and come to a reasonable solution. They are uncomfortable with loud arguments and prefer a reasoned compromise as the best outcome. They aren’t very spontaneous, but they do think it is a “good idea” to have fun. Calm. These people avoid strong emotion. They don’t like too much excitement or too much conflict. They like things to be on an even keel and are very reliable. They are very solid partners, even though they may be a bit boring. You need to know your relationship style to work together with your partner. It is especially challenging for an Intense and a Calm type to get along since one loves a good fight and the other would rather pretend that nothing is wrong. They can benefit greatly from each other’s approach to emotion if they learn to appreciate what the other has to give. Most people can easily identify their relationship style by thinking about it. Review the definitions and see if you can figure out which style you prefer and what style your partner uses.


TEAMWORK STYLE It also helps to know how you and your partner work best with others. There are three basic teamwork styles: Dominant/Submissive. In this style one person takes charge and the other follows orders. This is an efficient system that works best when the leader listens to suggestions and the follower contributes. Cooperative. Here two people work together, giving suggestions and talking things through. This is a balanced approach that can deal with many possibilities, but arriving at a final decision and course of action can sometimes be difficult. Chaotic. In this style the players constantly shift roles and give seemingly random suggestions. This style seems very disorganized, but can lead to highly creative results—or a mess. The current tendency is to emphasize the value of the cooperative style, but all three have advantages and disadvantages. Many couples have areas where one is dominant and the other is submissive. She may handle the finances while he plans out the weekends. Others may cooperate most of the time, until certain subjects come up. Couples with a chaotic style need to identify those things, like bills and taxes, that need to be taken care of, and times, like vacations, when they can enjoy taking off without a schedule. Often creative people have a chaotic teamwork style and link up with a cooperative or dominant partner who takes care of the business end of things. There are also times when a dominant/submissive couple needs to switch roles. It may even be that the dominant member needs a break from being in charge. At times like this a couple may need help from a therapist who can help them identify their teamwork style and guide them through changes so they can work together effectively.


THE FIFTH KEY SHARE YOUR DREAMS DREAMS AND GOALS In the final phase of the work you begin to work together on your dreams and goals in life Falling in love is more than being overwhelmed by strong emotion. People who are in love feel that they have a shared direction in life. They are going somewhere together. And this is true. They are bringing together two different backgrounds and personalities to form a union that is unique, one that has never existed in the world before. By exploring your dreams and hopes you reach the places where you can have the deepest intimacy with each other—or experience the most painful conflict. These are the Core issues you are struggling with. You will need all the skills you have learned up to this point to uncover the dreams behind your Core issues and begin to discover solutions that can work for each of you together. In dealing with your Dreams and Core Issues you begin to put together what Dr. Gless calls your relationship house. The walls are each of you and the roof is the two of you together. Each of you counts as an individual and so does the relationship the two of you create together.

Part of their solution was that they would buy a house in a quiet neighborhood at a reasonable price so they could continue to save toward retirement. Also George would never have to fix anything in their new house. Often our dreams are unconscious. As you learn about each other, you will find ways of connecting more deeply and what seemed to be your worst conflicts can become the source of your deepest and most meaningful connections. You may not understand all of this at once but you will as you experience the exciting discoveries that lie ahead. You will discover the real rewards of a great relationship. Recapturing the joy of your relationship begins with remembering why the two of you got together in the first place and being open to what each of you has to offer the other.

ONE COUPLE’S STORY George and Alice fought constantly over whether to live in an apartment or a house. George felt they couldn’t afford to buy or rent a house while Alice felt that apartment living was too crowded and noisy. When they looked at their underlying dreams, George remembered that his family made a fortune buying run-down houses, fixing them up while they lived there and then selling them. He always dreamed of having a nice place that he didn’t have to take care of and then leave. Alice grew up in a military family that was constantly on the move. An apartment felt terribly temporary to her. She dreamed of a stable relationship in a permanent place. When they shared their dreams and fears, they were able to work out a solution.



The 5 Keys to Lasting Happiness in a Relationship by Dr. Karen Gless, Ph.D  

How to Reawaken Love and Control Conflict

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