Tony shares and responds to the article “The 10 Best Predictors of a Bad Romantic Relationship” by Seth Gillihan, PhD Tony also references the article “Attachment Woes Between Anxious and Avoidant Partners,” by Darlene Lancer, JD, LMFT And follow Tony on the Virtual Couch YouTube channel to see a sneak preview of his upcoming podcast “Murder on the Couch,” where True Crime meets therapy, co-hosted with his daughter Sydney. You can watch a pre-release clip here

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Tony mentioned a product that he used to take out all of the "uh's" and "um's" that, in his words, "must be created by wizards and magic!" because it's that good! To learn more about Descript, click here


Tony: Hey everybody. Welcome to episode 357 of the Virtual Couch. I'm your host, Tony Overbay. I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist, certified Mindful habit coach, writer, speaker, husband, father of four, and creator of the Path Back, an online pornography recovery program that is helping people become the very best versions of themselves. And please reach out to me through my website if you are interested in a coupon code, which is going on through the month of January to get a discount on the Path Back course. And the Path Back course is amazing and the Path Back group call that happens weekly is even better. Maybe not even better, but it goes along perfectly with the Path Back. 

Just do me a favor, go sign up for my newsletter at Just plain and simple. You're gonna hear more about The Magnetic Marriage Course. The Magnetic Marriage Podcast. Two, actually three new podcasts getting ready to drop. A Waking Up to Narcissism q and a. And actually my goodness, if you don't listen to the Waking Up to Narcissism podcast in general, again, do me a favor and listen to last week's episode with Ashley Boyson. It was the most downloaded episode that I've done on Waking Up to Narcissism within a 48 hour period because Ashley is incredible and inspiring, her story is unbelievable. There are literally several true crime podcasts and TV shows about her case. The title of the Waking Up to Narcissism episode is “Ashley Boyson on Surviving Betrayal, Narcissism, and Murder.” And she also has courses, online courses, for infidelity survivors, for parents navigating parenting a hurting child through trauma and grief. And she is about to release an eating disorder course for parents and kids that are struggling with eating disorders along with her daughter. And if you use the coupon code, “virtualcouch”, all one word, you get 40% off of her courses. But the other podcasts, here we go, Murder on the Couch, a true crime meets therapy and psychology. I'm doing that one with one of my daughters, Sydney, and if you go to the Virtual Couch YouTube channel right now, and while you're there, if you can hit subscribe, that would be awesome. There's a 90 second clip from the recording of that podcast I think will give you the vibe, the energy of that podcast. I mean, we talk about really difficult subjects, so I'm already giving a heads up to Virtual Couch listeners that it is a True Crime podcast. I still try to be myself and Sydney is amazing and funny and just that's something that she's very interested in and fascinated by. And I just love the banter. I love the relationship that she and I have. We've recorded a half a dozen episodes already and we're recording more, but if you go to the YouTube channel, find that 90 second clip on the Virtual Couch YouTube channel, and please subscribe and get ready. It's coming out very, very soon. We've got all the artwork and the music and those sort of things that are being put together right now. 

But let's get to today's episode. So I love when listeners send me articles and ask for my opinion, and I won't, I won't use what I like to refer to as narcissistic math and say, this happens hundreds of times a day. No, it doesn't happen all the time, but it happens more and more, and I really do enjoy when I can almost give a cold read or look at an article that somebody sends me more like a reaction podcast. So that is the goal today. I was sent an article by somebody that I really appreciate, and I don't know why I assumed it was an older one, but I'm looking at the date now. It's only a week old. So this first came out on January 10th, 2023, so it's perfect. But it is titled “The 10 Best Predictors of a Bad Romantic Relationship”. And this is by Seth Godden. Seth is a licensed psychologist. He has his PhD. So Dr. Seth or Dr. Godden wrote this for So I am gonna read these 10 predictors and I want to give my honest opinion. And I'm gonna put my marriage therapist hat on, step into my healthy ego, all those wonderful things. Admit that I am confident in many things when it comes to couple's therapy and couple's relationships. And with that admission also comes the understanding that of course, that means that I don't know what I don't know, and this will be my opinion. So if you hear these things and think, okay, this must be the way of relationships, then again, this is just my opinion. This will be as if I was, I guess, asked about these 10 things, let's say in a live interview. So I think you get the point. So let's go. Here we go. The 10 best predictors of a bad romantic relationship.

So Dr. Seth said, “Few things affect your long-term happiness like the quality of your romantic relationship. It can affect your mental health, your physical health, and even how long you live. It's fair to say that your relationship's quality can be a matter of life or death.” And then he has a link, he says, “A review of 43 studies found that 10 variables consistently predict relationship quality. The first set of predictors were about the relationship itself.” And what I thought was really interesting is I did follow the link to the review of 43 studies and it is a really cool article, that is, I think it says, “Machine Learning” is what it says. Here we go. “Machine learning uncovers the most robust self-report predictors of relationship quality across 43 longitudinal couple studies.”

So these studies, there are 43 of them, and I couldn't even begin to tell you all the names of the people that put these studies together because it literally is 43 relationship studies. And then machine learning then uncovered the main points or concepts of what the predictors of the relationship quality was. And so it's really neat to see. I'll include the link to that article that does the machine learning of the 43 longitudinal couple studies in there as well. But number one, the first set of predictors, again about the relationship itself. Number one, a partner who seems uncommitted. So this is a predictor about a bad romantic relationship. So a partner who seems uncommitted. “Knowing your partner is in it for the long haul provides a sense of safety and stability. Your relationship suffers when you worry that they have one foot out the door.” So, man, let me jump right in here. So here's why I'm excited to talk about these concepts today because that sounds amazing, that if we could turn to our partner, especially if we're having trouble and just say, hey, I just need to know that you are all in. Then that would calm our anxiety and then we feel like, hey, I'm willing to do the work. So again, so while I agree with this wholeheartedly remembering that these are the 10 variables that consistently show up in this review of 43 different studies, but I believe that what this speaks to is our brain's desire for certainty and I think that so often if we do not have certainty, then we feel like whatever that task is, well, it might not be worth undertaking.

So we may feel anxious, we may feel like, I don't know if I want to commit to this relationship, if my spouse is not willing to commit as well, which sounds fair. But people are in different places in the relationship. When people even come into therapy, I remember early in my therapy career, I would think, okay, I got two people, two willing people here, and they're ready to go. But often when things get to the point where people want to go into therapy, unfortunately I wish people would go in much sooner. One person is very frustrated. The other person may not even feel like there's anything wrong, or the other person may feel like this thing is already past this expiration date and I don't even know what to do. So when we are wanting this certainty, that would be perfect. But in reality, we don't always have that certainty and we have to have the courage to move forward regardless. What I see in my office, I think often, is that a spouse, again, wants to know that their partner's all in and willing to work on their relationship before they commit to that relationship. And I almost find this to be somewhat of a game of, I'll call it relationship chicken. Where the couple can then start to even argue, well, what does it mean to be committed? Does that mean that we will live under the same roof? Does that mean that we'll go to counseling? Does that mean that we will go on date nights? Does that mean that we will be honest or that we'll hold back on some of the things that may be difficult to talk about? Does that just simply mean, hey, I'm not leaving. So even the concepts around certainty or to know that our partner is all, can then start to be a discussion in itself that will cause the relationship to feel unsafe.

So this is where I feel like unfortunately life is full of uncertainty and not to go dark or grim, but how often do we learn about somebody who maybe passed away suddenly? As a matter of fact, I was thinking about this. My wife and I were driving somewhere this weekend and we saw, oh, we were driving home from a basketball game and we saw a billboard that was paying tribute to Lisa Marie Presley. So then immediately we started Googling and found that she had passed away. And if I'm correct, I believe she passed away from a cardiac event. And so then we even looked at what the difference was between that and a heart attack, but she was my wife and I's age. And so that stuff starts to feel just real. And so life is uncertain. And unfortunately we can't always get the certainty that we so desire. So I think what is difficult is in reality, you only have control over the things that you have control over. As a matter of fact, let's add that to the mix. So we've got uncertainty and we've got a lack of control. And so often when we feel anxious, this is the way we want somebody else to manage our anxiety. We want them to tell us, no, I'm in it and I'm willing to work on it. And that will make us feel, whew, okay, I'm feeling better, so now I can work on it, but in reality, I would love for you to work on it because you deserve a healthy relationship.

Now in reality, if you work on the relationship, it is gonna change the dynamic of the relationship and that's the part where it will even feel scarier to look over across the room and see if your partner is not working equally as hard. Because all of a sudden we might have some really difficult conversations or things that we're gonna be confronted with of am I willing to go back into this unhealthy relationship or this pattern of just living? Or are we both going to try to dig deep and then create an even better relationship? And unfortunately, there isn't any certainty that comes along with that, and that does feel scary, and that's part of being a human. And so do you have the ability to do the work that you know is necessary in your relationship or on yourself, even if your partner equally isn’t yoked or in the same place because I would highly encourage you to do that. And so what that can look like in my office is let's say that somebody looks over and says, hey, I need to know that you're in before I commit to this. Then I might try to help the other person frame that I understand and I can understand that would be hard if you feel like I'm not. And right now, I really want to look at what it looks like to just be here, and be in this room and what are the tools that we don't know, that we don't even know that we have?

And so let's just start to slow things down and then just see where do we even go from here? What does the rest of the day look like? I can't give you the certainty that I'm in it for the next five years, and that does feel scary. So that one's hard. So again, that number one factor of a set of predictors about a bad romantic relationship is a partner who seems uncommitted. So if you can provide your partner with a little bit of certainty, that certainly would not be a bad thing. But maybe that certainty is gonna be, hey, I'm willing to continue to come to counseling, or I'm willing to look at some articles and we can talk about these things. But right now, that might be all that somebody can offer in the relationship and yeah, that's scary. And you as the person who maybe wants more certainty, you absolutely have the right to say, well, I need more than that. And so then I'm not sure if I'm willing to put myself out there right now with a lack of certainty. So, that's where I would really recommend that you go see a couple's therapist, a couple's coach, somebody that can really help you work through that.

So number two is a lack of appreciation for one's partner. Dr. Seth says, “In healthy relationships, the partners feel lucky to be with each other. So when appreciation is low, the relationship suffers.” Man, okay, so let me go on a train of thought. I feel like this is something I've just been thinking about a lot lately, and that is this concept of what are you looking for in your relationship because it's the expectation effect. What seek ye, you will find what you're looking for. Now, I'm gonna throw an asterisk here because it's difficult for me not to go off on tangents about emotional immaturity, narcissistic relationships, emotional abuse, these sort of things. So, that is probably over on the Waking Up to Narcissism podcast, or I can even touch on it a little bit on a podcast like this one today. But we're kind of gonna put a little rule out and say that we're not talking about an extreme personality disorder or incredible emotional immaturity. We're not talking about that right now. So we're talking about when somebody starts to just feel a disconnect in the relationship, what are they looking for?

I'll have clients often have a list put together where they'll say, okay, but let me just pull out this list, and let me help you understand Mr. Therapist some of the ways that she is not showing up in the relationship. And so then they have these things and it might be, once a day, it might be every few days. And so then the expectation effect or what seek ye, or what are you looking for? The person is finding those areas where somebody is coming up short because we're human beings and we are gonna come up short because we're imperfect. And do we have those tools to be able to communicate, not to communicate, to say, hey, I want you to change this. But the tools to be able to communicate and say, hey, when you do that, it's hard for me because here's how I feel. So again, it's not about trying to tell the other person, here's what I don't like about you, here's what I don't like about your behavior. To me as a marriage therapist, nails on a chalkboard, because people are allowed to have their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. But then what we wanna do is be able to have mature adult conversations around, tell me more about, or, take me on your train of thought or help me understand when you do a certain thing. Because when you do that, here's what that maybe triggers in me. And so this is where we're designed to deal with a motion in concert with another human being.

So if somebody continually just gets angry and frustrated and then they come in and they are yelling about work. Then if you just become in sheer terror when your spouse starts yelling about work, then that's something that is absolutely okay for you to not be okay with. But if you're just saying, hey, I need you to not do that anymore because that makes me really, really frustrated, then that is a form of control. Which sounds crazy, right? Because it feels like one should be able to say, hey, don't yell about your work. You know, it makes me not feel safe. I still want us to be able to have that conversation. But it would start with, hey, sounds like you're frustrated with work. Help me understand. Take me on your train of thought. 

Here's where I'm gonna drop into my four pillars. Here we go. So pillar one, let's say that this scenario is the husband comes home and he is just angry and frustrated from work. And every day that he comes home, he slams that door. And so all of a sudden the wife is starting to feel like I don't even like him to come home because I don't know if he's gonna come in and be happy. I don't know if he's gonna come in, but primarily he's gonna come in and be really angry about his day at work, and he's gonna be frustrated and he's gonna feel like he wants to quit, which is gonna make me feel unsafe because I don't feel like he's taking into consideration our finances. So you can see how there can be so many of these variables, these unknowns, this lack of certainty. But if he comes home and he's angry and frustrated about work, and if she drops into the four pillar framework, pillar one. I'm gonna assume good intentions, or there's a reason why he's doing what he's doing. That he, again, doesn't wake up in the morning, thinks I'm gonna spend the whole day at work. I'm probably not gonna reach out to my wife much. And then when I come home, oh, I'm gonna slam that door and I'm gonna tell her I can't do this anymore and I don't care about her feelings. No, that's not what's happening. So that assuming of good intentions, and again, we're not talking about that if there's legitimate abuse here, emotional abuse, physical abuse, spiritual abuse, or financial abuse.

But if he comes in and she's saying, okay, man, that would be hard if he feels like he does not want to continue in his job, pillar one. And then if he's saying I can't do it anymore and then pillar two, my pillar two is I would love to help her not put out the fixing your judgment vibe. I would love for her not to say, I don't believe you. That's ridiculous. Or you can't do that. So pillar two, and why I like this example I'm giving is pillar two, she could even say, hey, look, you can do really hard things. You're an ultramarathon runner. You know, or you deal with a lot of pain, or, I see you lift weights and you can, you're so strong and you can pull through very difficult things. What she is telling him is, you're wrong. So let me kind of step back there. If he says, I can't do this anymore, her saying, yeah, you can, you do hard things. Sounds motivational, sounds amazing. But in reality it's saying, no, you're wrong. I don't believe you. And that doesn't make us feel heard or understood.

So that's where I drop into my pillar three, questions. Questions before comments. So the questions would be, man, tell me what that feels like. Why do you feel like you can't do this anymore? Take me on your train of thought. Help me understand, because we wanna be heard. We wanna be understood. And then that pillar four is her then leaning in, being present, not going into a victim mentality. And after she has assumed good intentions or understands there's a reason why he's expressing himself the way he is, pillar two, she's not gonna say, are you kidding me? Do you know what that's gonna do for me? How are we supposed to live? How are we supposed to pay our mortgage? But instead, just that pillar two is more of a mindset where she's just gonna note that maybe she doesn't agree, and then pillar three, she's gonna drop in and ask questions before making comments. Help me understand. I really want to know because that would be really difficult if this person I care about goes to work every day, can't stand it, comes home, feels so frustrated, feels like the day was a waste, feels like they just want to go to bed and just get the day done with, man, that would be hard. And here comes empathy. But then pillar four is that then I don't want her also to go into a victim mindset and say, okay, well I guess I can't say. You know, I guess, I'm just supposed to smile and give him a hug and, you know, probably he wants to be intimate. Is that what I'm supposed to do?

No, we're gonna get to her being heard and understood as well. So that pillar four is almost just maintaining presence. Just being, just being there. And then at that point, this is where I would love for everybody to be on the same page with the four pillars, honestly, is at that point, he feels heard and understood, and now she knows that she is gonna now be able to express herself. And he's gonna drop into that same framework, assuming good intentions, can't tell her she's wrong, and he's gonna ask her questions and he's gonna stay present. So in that scenario, she might say, that is hard, and I appreciate you sharing that. And, I can't imagine how hard that is and I see you, I'm here for you, but man, that's hard for me because I worry, you know, I worry about our finances. I worry about that feeling of financial safety. I worry about you. I worry about if you, you know, maybe he turns to unhealthy coping mechanisms. She worries about his eating. She worries about his drinking. She worries about him just tuning out in front of the tv or on his phone. So she worries. I worry, I feel, I hope. And those are, those are absolutely okay statements. I was going on this tangent of lack of appreciation for one's partner. You know, what are you looking for in the relationship because you'll find it. So if you are finding a disgruntled partner over and over, then you can easily say, yeah, and then again, here's where he did the thing where he was really upset. So are we looking for the positive aspects in our relationship or are we looking for those negative aspects in the relationship?

I'll blast through this so fast. I actually brought this up in a Sunday school class of all places over the weekend, but that is the expectation effect and the concept around maze bright and maze dull rats. If you have heard me say this, then hang in, I'll make it quick. But the study in essence was, let's just say there were a group of rats. Let's just for the simplicity's sake of numbers, let's say they were 20 and one group of people were given 10 rats and they were told these are these maze bright rats. They've been genetically engineered from before they were even born to go through mazes just incredibly fast. And then the other group were given these 10 other rats and they were told they're just rats. That's all that they are. And then they were given, I don't know, a few days to train these rats to go through mazes. And now cue the music montage, the Rocky scene, and you've got the group that has the maze bright rats. These genetically engineered amazing rats and they are sitting there at the end of the maze and they're cheering the rats on and they're petting the rats and they're giving the rats little rat massages. And they probably got them little tracksuits. And these rats, they are just, they are eating it up and the people are just saying, we feel so lucky. We got these maze bright rats. Over on the other side of the room, you've got the people with the maze dull rats thinking, why'd I get these dud rats? Look at them just sitting there. Just fighting and not moving along the maze and, when's the big race and we can just get this over with. I feel so humiliated. 

And then the day of the big race comes and the maze bright rats, sure enough, go through the maze, I think it was 2.1 times faster than the maze dull rats. And that's when the researcher said, surprise, that was just 20 random, they're just rats. There is no such thing as a genetically engineered maze bright rat. So what is the moral of that story? The expectation effect. What was the expectation that the groups put into their test subjects? Their rats. So I often like to then say, do you view your spouse as a maze bright? Or do you view them as maze dull or do you view your kid as a maze bright kid or a maze dull kid? Or better yet, how do you view yourself? Do you view yourself as maze bright or maze dull because you're going to find those things that you look for.

Number three, again, the number three indicator of a predictor of a bad romantic relationship. Low sexual satisfaction. So what Dr. Seth says, “When your sex life suffers, your relationship quality is likely to suffer as well. Apparently, the quality of sex may be more important than the quantity as the frequency of sex was less consistently linked to relationship quality.” And boy, I could do a whole podcast on this, but let me just refer quickly to the information I've shared a couple of times on podcast and it was from a training that I had gone to with a Dr. Kevin Skinner, who I know he's one of the founders, or fathers of the betrayal trauma and has written books, has done a tremendous amount of research. And I did about 18 months of betrayal trauma training with Dr. Skinner. And during that time, he gave this almost throwaway data that then I'd followed up with him about later. And I just thought it was phenomenal. And in essence, he talks about these levels of intimacy. And so when we meet, and this is my interpretation of that data, that information. That when we meet, in essence, we just get together because we find each other physically attractive and sure that is a wonderful thing and that helps. But then underneath that physical intimacy or physical attraction, there are these levels of intimacy. And down on the bottom we've got psychological intimacy. We've got honesty, loyalty, and trust. We've got commitment, up from that, we've got verbal intimacy. Can we just talk? We talk for days. We just feel so connected. And then when we have that psychological intimacy, that verbal intimacy, up from that is emotional intimacy. So when we have a connection to these two base layers or levels, then we can step into this emotional intimacy and we feel safe enough to start to really open up about our emotions and we really start to feel more connected with each other. And above that, I believe it was cognitive and intellectual intimacy where we can be in two different ballparks with regard to one, I sometimes say one person can have their PhD, the other, their GED, but because we're connected psychologically and verbally and emotionally, then it doesn't matter, cognitive or intellectually because we are connected and of that is spiritual intimacy.

We can have two completely different belief systems, but at the top of that intimacy ladder, so to speak, is physical intimacy. And when that is the byproduct of all those other layers of intimacy, then you really feel connected. And I feel like going back to this low sexual satisfaction, that is what I believe leads to more of that quality of sex. And it's not about the frequency. Now when you feel connected in all those levels, then they're sure there'll be time for the quickies, those sort of things. But you'll also have this opportunity to connect and have the quality of sex that it will be something that people just haven't really known. And if you've had one of those days where you really do feel connected with your spouse, you've spent a lot of time together, you've talked about a lot of things that aren't just about scheduling or the kids or finance. And you just start to really appreciate your spouse and you spend time with your spouse and you feel like we're connected verbally. We've opened up emotionally. That is where sometimes you just feel like you just want to just wanna hold their hand. You just wanna hug them. You just wanna touch them and cuddle with them. And that is where somebody starts to just feel this absolute deep connection. Now, there are some gender stereotypes here that come out and they are pretty common. And I will say that in my office, typically I do find the male is the higher desire partner. The female is the lower desire partner and that can result in an unhealthy relationship pattern. Where oftentimes in those scenarios, I find that the guy will say, well, if we had more sex, I'd be happy, then I'd be willing to talk. And the wife, in essence is saying, if we talk more, then I'd feel more connected and I'd be willing to have sex. 

And so again, I could do another podcast on that, might be one for another day, but I feel like that's one that might need help. Sorting those things out with a licensed professional because I can't say enough about as a marriage therapist and now worked with, I don't know, 12, 1300 couples that you've worked with these situations and had these conversations enough that you really can help people talk about things that are uncomfortable to talk about. So that low sexual satisfaction really is something that is so common in relationships because I feel like there will be times where people are more sexually equally yoked than others. And when there is an imbalance, the ability to talk about that is gonna be just very, very important. I turn to a book called Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships by David Schnarch. And boy, he has a lot of really difficult but great, kind of self confronting quotes and comments in this book, Passionate Marriage. And I went on Good Reads, to find a few of them, and I can't really even find one to do justice the way that if you can take care of things, if you can learn to self confront and so many of the podcasts I've talked about over the years, if you can learn that, we go into relationships as codependent and enmeshed, but we're trying to become more interdependent and it's okay to have our own thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and that we don't need our partner to continually validate us. So we need to learn how to self validate, self-sooth, to be able to stand in this healthy ego and to know that there are various things that are important to me, that matter to me because they do and at some point, as I become more emotionally mature, I don't need my partner. To validate every experience I have, because if I'm doing that, I like to say that my partner, there's probably an overwhelming chance that they're not gonna say the things exactly that I want them to, to make me feel better about myself. And now I get to say they must not care about me and what's wrong with me. When in reality, as you start to learn the things that really matter to you, step in alignment with your core values and your sense of purpose, and not continually look for others to tell you that they agree or that's the right way to go, then that is a whole new level of feeling confident.

And that confidence is what can lead to this concept around differentiation or again, differentiation is where one partner ends and the other begins. And in between there's this gap of just invalidation. And so learning to be differentiated is an incredibly emotionally mature process where you can still maintain a relationship with somebody that you care about even while having different opinions and not feeling like they are there to only validate you or to knock you down. And when we start looking in the world of emotional immaturity, there's those concepts around whole object relations. And where, you know, we need to be able to see both good and bad in someone. We need to be able to hold that whole frame together so somebody can absolutely say something that can cause us to feel frustrated, but we still love. It's not an all or nothing, it's not a black or white thing. So that comes into play here as well because when we feel anxious or we feel like the relationship is not in a good place, and it can be because we're unwilling to take a look at how we are showing up in the relationship, how we self confront, then oftentimes that's where we want our partner to just have sex with us, calm my anxiety, help me understand.

And then once my anxiety's calm, now I'm willing to talk. But we just put our anxiety over onto our partner and said, hey, can you manage my anxiety. And then I'm willing to show up. But what that often looks like for the other partner is, hey, when I'm feeling happy, I would really like to celebrate with sex. And if I'm sad or down, then if we could have sex, that would help me feel better and nothing helps get me out of a funk or even if I'm feeling physically under the weather, a cold, like sex. And so then in these situations, I will look over at the spouse hearing this and I'll say, what are you hearing? And they'll say, well, that ultimately I'm in charge of his happiness. And that if I am not there whenever he needs me to be there in this way with intimacy then now it's my fault. And that's a lot of pressure to put on your spouse. So that needs to be something that you need to learn to confront in yourself.

Here is a quote that I wasn't gonna read from Passionate Marriage but he says, “When we stand up and confront ourselves in ways our parents have not, a desire for justice makes it harder to forgive them in some ways. However, the increased differentiation this endeavor provides allows one to better self-soothe to validate one's own experience, thereby unhooking the need for confession from one's parent. And at this point, forgiveness becomes an act of self-caring and a deliberate decision to get on with one's life.” So why do I mention that in this scenario we weren't talking about parents, but too often the reason I feel unsafe or the reason I feel unseen or unloved or unheard is because I didn't necessarily feel that connection from a parent. And so now all of a sudden I need somebody to validate me and to tell me it's okay, and I'm looking right across the room and that's my spouse. And if I'm really just going into a place where I just need to feel better in that moment, oftentimes, and I will assume that then well, sex, that'll do it. And then that will calm my anxiety and then I'm willing to show up and be better. But that's still putting that on your partner. It's okay if you've done your own work and self confronted and recognize that it's okay to ask for things in a relationship in a marriage when it's done in a healthy way, not when it’s done in a manipulative way or in a way that’s asking somebody else to manage your emotions or manage your anxiety. But the quote that I was gonna read in this scenario was, Shnarch has a great quote where he said, “When we think of people giving up on their marriage, divorce usually comes to mind. But many people who give up on their marriage or themselves or their partner, don't leave. They stay in the comfort cycle until their marriage presents the inevitable dilemma, venture into the growth cycle, or face divorce, loss of integrity or living death. Validating and soothing each other has its place in a marriage, but not when you're dependent upon it, you get stuck in the comfort cycle because neither of you has the strength or motivation to break out. That's when the other side of the process comes in holding onto. Self confrontation and self soothing.”

So in this scenario, again, where we're talking about lower sexual satisfaction and when your sex life suffers and your relationship quality is likely to suffer, at that point, that is where I think people often start to feel like, okay, my relationship is completely out of whack and I don't know if it will get back into alignment or it won't be healthy again. And so it's easier to start with the intimacy or the sexual component, and I'm saying easier for people to start to blame. But I feel like often that's the byproduct of people that don't feel connected and they aren't able to communicate effectively, and talk about their hopes and dreams and feel safe. And so then they will often just go to, well, here's a physical act that signifies that we're okay. We need to be okay to have a better relationship with that physical act. 

Number four, he says, “A partner who seems dissatisfied. It's a great feeling to know that your partner is happy in the relationship. When they seem unhappy, it can introduce all kinds of questions,” And here we go again, “uncertainty about the health and future of your connection.” So remembering this is one of the best predictors of a bad romantic relationship. So that one is, if one of the partners seems dissatisfied. So it goes back to that concept around certainty. So I feel like this is where we just need the tools to communicate and we all do want to feel heard and understood and seen in a relationship. And I know that that's not the end all be all. As a matter of fact, I monitor a couple of different groups where people are talking about the concepts around differentiation and self confrontation, interdependence, cleaning up their lives, and the way that they are showing up in a relationship. And I am all for that. But oftentimes, even people when they are talking about what solution works best to save a relationship, they may say, look, you can only take care of what you can take care of, which is absolutely true. But I feel like we also need a vehicle to communicate more effectively. And that is my four pillars of a connected conversation based off of the work of Sue Johnson, and emotionally focused therapy. So when people just say, okay, you know what? I just need to show up and be the best version of me. Absolutely. That is a wonderful, amazing thing. And that is the goal. And I feel like having a way to communicate with your partner is essential. It is something that we do not learn from the factory. And so if you are over there being the best version of yourself and then just saying, okay, I'm showing up as my best self. If they are not, then I don't know what to do with this relationship. Then I feel like we're missing a huge component of communication. So if your partner, you know, a partner who seems dissatisfied, then I feel like that is an opportunity to start to understand why.

And that's hard because we gotta step out of our own ego and it's gonna make us feel uncomfortable. We may feel attacked and judged. The number five predictor that is of a bad relationship, a bad romantic relationship is high conflict. Dr. Seth says, “I don't know anybody who enjoys getting into fights with their partner and a lot of conflict can quickly sap the joy from a relationship.” So if you are in a relationship where there is often high conflict, I do believe, and this was last week's episode, “The Body Keeps the Score”. That over time your body just falls into a pattern and it says, this is what we do. So even if somebody says, how was your day? You may say, well, where are you going with that? What do you mean? When in reality the person is maybe trying to show up differently and saying, I really want to know about your day. And if the spouse says, why, so you can tell me that I'm lazy or that I don't do enough, or that you do more than me. And you can see where we fall into these relationship patterns over time. And then when we don't have the tools to be able to break the cycle of that relationship pattern, well we start to feel hopeless or we start to feel stuck. And that can be really, really difficult. So in that scenario, if there is a problem where we continually go to high conflict, go seek help because what can be really difficult is if one in the relationship is starting to change the dynamic and saying, I don't want this high conflict anymore. What they're also doing is stepping out of the role that they have found themselves in, in the relationship. And so oftentimes, even when one person is trying to work on the relationship by making themselves show up differently, the other partner will feel in an odd way, almost unsafe because they don't know what the angle is of their partner. So they may push even more buttons and try to pull that partner back down into the muck because that's all they know at this point. So that can absolutely take the help of a third party. Number six, an unresponsive partner. “A responsive partner seems to get you and respect your thoughts and feelings even when they don't agree with you. It feels bad when your partner doesn't seem to understand or respect you.” An unresponsive partner, and it is hard. I really love being able to go through this article because every one of these, I wanna say there's a reason why, you know, there's a reason why there's high conflict because we didn't have the tools to communicate well. There's a reason why a partner seems dissatisfied because they didn't feel safe or have the tools to communicate their needs. There's a reason why there's low sexual satisfaction in a relationship, and it goes back to not being able to communicate effectively what your relationship with sex was like growing up, what your expectations were in the relationship, where things possibly went off track.

There's a reason why this one, an unresponsive partner. There's a reason why no one wakes up and just decides to be unresponsive. It's something that happens gradually over time, and if a partner feels very unresponsive in the relationship, it's because eventually their body keeps the score, their body is telling them, what's the point? If I express myself, then I'm probably just gonna be told I'm wrong, or I'm gonna be talked out of what my opinion or my feeling is. So I'm gonna slowly but surely grow to be somewhat unresponsive. So when I read this, and Dr. Seth pulls this data from these 43 different studies, a responsive partner seems to get you and respect your thoughts and feelings even when they don't agree with you. Boy, that is the goal because it is absolutely okay to have your own thoughts and your own feelings, and we do not have to agree on everything. And if you are sitting in your relationship thinking, well, no she agrees with me all the time, and we're on the same page with everything. Then I would love for you to do a little self confrontation and step back and say, okay, but are you, are you hearing her? And are you willing to tolerate that discomfort that may come with disagreement? And this would be an amazing way to check in, although unfortunately when I work out, I go back to the world of emotional immaturity and I have had people in my office where if I'm starting to have this conversation, if somebody mentions something that they're unhappy with and the other spouse says, no, we've talked about that. You and I are in agreement that we're gonna do this for the rest of our lives, then I just want that person to hear themselves say that. If this person is in my office now saying, but I don't agree with that. That's where I'll have the partner say, well, why haven't you ever said that? Well, it's because they don't feel like they can say that.

So if you're hearing this and you feel like your partner's somewhat unresponsive, now's the wonderful opportunity to do some self confrontation and say, do I create a safe enough environment for my spouse to be able to express their opinion? And it doesn't matter if you're at year 50 or year two, now is an opportunity to unhook from those unhealthy patterns and learn that it is absolutely okay to have two different opinions.

As a matter of fact, that's even better because if the two of you are in alignment all the time, you're basically just asking for this person to go along with you and just validate everything that you're feeling, you're thinking, and there's no polarity there, there's no excitement or joy, but we're so afraid that if our partner has another opinion, that for some reason that's gonna equate them leaving the relationship. No, we are two different people that came together with completely different experiences and yeah, we were emotionally immature at the beginning, so we probably did say, I agree with everything. Because that feels good. We feel wanted, we feel loved, but then life happens and we graduate school and we have kids, and we move and we get jobs and we go through financial difficulties and we have to make decisions and people in our lives, they leave and they die, and then the springs up more things. And so we are of course gonna have completely different experiences than our spouse. And so in a healthy relationship, we're able to talk about our experiences. And our partner is gonna stay present with us and say, tell me more about that. What's that like? And then we may say, well, what are you feeling right now? And that's where the real growth occurs. That we happen to be two people that are going through this life. And what a joy, what an amazing opportunity to be going through life together. Because now we can have two different perspectives. And that's the real goal of differentiation is where I can have this relationship with somebody that is completely different than me and they can have their opinion and I can even listen to it because I like this person and I care about this person.

And what can I gain from this person? I might be able to take in some of that data that is part of their life experience and that might help me through difficult times and we're there and we're in it together. Okay, there are three more. Dr. Seth said the remaining predictors of relationship quality were what each partner brought to the relationship. So those first seven were ones that were predictors were about the relationship itself, so I'll buzz through these three quickly. Number seven, individual factors. Dissatisfaction with life. If you are somebody who is unhappy, feeling unhappy, down, depressed in life right now, then it makes sense that you're gonna see your romantic relationship in more of a negative light as well. So do individual work. If you are overwhelmed with anxiety or depression, or uncertainty or fear the future. Then that might be something that you can work on to get your emotional baseline high so that you can bring that into the relationship. Because if your emotional baseline is low and you are unhappy in general, then it is hard to show up and be in a relationship. And we may want our partner to carry the load more, which, you know, there are gonna be times where, again, we aren't equally yoked, but we have to be able to communicate that. And if that isn't something that you've been able to communicate throughout your relationship and now you find yourself just so flat and down and apathetic that you don't even want to participate, then go get help. Please, because you deserve to be happy, period. And then a happy you is able to show up more in a relationship. And then get even more. It's that one plus one equals three concept. So again, that was number seven, dissatisfaction with life. Number eight, Dr. Seth says, depression, so, and he says on a related note, people who are depressed tend to report a lower quality relationship, and part of this association can be that bad relationships contribute to depression. So it is a little bit a chicken and the egg. So if you feel, again, dissatisfaction with life, if you feel depressed, and actually let me jump down to number nine. He talks about negative affect, other negative emotions like a lot of anger or irritability are linked to worse relationship quality. So as with depression, as with dissatisfaction,  a bad relationship in turn can contribute to negative emotions so they can feed upon each other. So if you feel like you can't even show up for your relationship, then get help. Get individual help. I know I'm pro therapy, but it's because I'm a therapist and because at this point, I still remember being a new therapist in my early thirties after doing a decade in the computer software industry. And I was one of those people that wondered, ehh therapy, you know, isn't necessary. And I remember being about five years into the profession and going to a Christmas party and somebody saying, yeah, I don't know about therapy, and I remember the years before I would've defended it. Well, studies say, and I've found, and at that point it's like, oh, bless your heart. Therapy is amazing and it changes lives and amazing people go to therapy and the stigma behind therapy has changed. Thank goodness. I love when people talk about when they see their therapist or they talk about their therapist. And as a therapist, that relationship, that dynamic, I mean, what an honor to be able to share these intimate details with people and to go in the minds of people where they've never let somebody in before. And to watch how validating that can be when somebody that is a captain of industry or a well-respected member of a community and they come into your office and they open up about things and you're able to say, man, tell me more. What's that like? And to watch almost the relief just wash over somebody's face as they realize that it's okay to just have thoughts and feelings and emotions because we all do and they are all over the map and they're because of the way that we were brought up or the things that we've been exposed to or see.

And so when we just let those things rattle around in our head, they don't work out to the, and we live happily ever after story. Oh no. They end up with the what's wrong with me story. And sometimes when we're able to just communicate that to somebody else, it's liberating. It just is absolutely liberating to get these things off of your chest and to have somebody who knows what to do with that. And instead of saying, well, you should do this, or, why didn't you do this? Or do you realize how that would affect somebody else? No. Thank you for sharing. You're a human being, man, I can't imagine how hard that must be. And so now tell me more. Tell me what your, what's the next step? Where do you want to go? I'm right here with you. And how powerful that is. Number 10 is, and I love it and I'm getting close to doing a little bit of a deep dive on the different attachment styles, but he said that attachment styles both anxious and avoidant attachment styles are highly predictive of poor relationship quality.

A person with an anxious attachment often worries that their partner will leave them and those with avoidant attachment are careful not to let their partners get too close. And just one quick note too is he says, “It's interesting to note that demographic variables like race and gender and religious affiliation tended not to matter for relationship quality, and the same was true for objective characteristics of the relationship, such as having children versus being child free. Interestingly, living together or apart and dating or being married. So those are different things that turn out to not be as big of a factor as one thought. I will end and wrap up just a little bit on attachment. I dug up an article that I referred to, I think I did an episode a while back called something like “The Dance of the Anxious and Attached”, anxious and avoidant attachment, and this is from Darlene Lancer and it's from Psychology Today as well. And I just think this is fascinating. I'm gonna read for a little bit and then we'll wrap this thing up, but she says, “The relationship duet is the dance of intimacy that all couples do. One partner moves and the other backs up. Partners may reverse roles, but always maintain a certain space between them. So the unspoken agreement is that the pursuer chases the distancer forever, but they never catch up. And that the distancer keeps running but never really gets away and they're negotiating the emotional space between them.” And so she talks about how we all have needs for both autonomy and intimacy, independence and dependence, but we also simultaneously fear both being abandoned, which is acted out by the pursuer and being too close, which is acted out by the distancer. So we have this dilemma when it comes to intimacy. So how can we be close enough to feel secure and safe? Like the person's not gonna leave without feeling threatened by too much closeness where we're gonna feel overwhelmed.”

She said, “The less room there is to navigate this distance, the more difficult the relationship.” There may be less anxiety and therefore less demand on the relationship to accommodate  this narrow comfort zone. But here's the part I really wanted to read. I got two paragraphs, origins. I love a good origin story. So Darlene says, “Attachment theory has determined that the pursuer has an anxious attachment style and that the emotionally unavailable partner has an avoidance style. Research suggests that these styles and intimacy problems originate in the relationship between the mother and the infant. Babies and toddlers are dependent on their mother's empathy in regard for their needs and emotions in order to sense their selves or to feel whole. So to an infant or a toddler, physical or emotional abandonment, whether through neglect or illness or divorce or death,” and I would add in there, or just life. We don't know what we don't know, “threatens its existence because of its dependency on the mother for validation and development of wholeness. So later as an adult, feeling this separation and intimate relationships, its experience as a painful reminder of this earlier loss. But we don't even know that that's where it's coming from.” And then Darlene says, “If the mother is ill or depressed, or lacks wholeness and self esteem, then there are no boundaries between her and her child. Rather than responding to her child, she projects and she sees her child as only an extension of herself as an object to meet her own needs and feelings. She can't value her child as a separate self. The child's boundaries are violated and its autonomy, feelings, thoughts, and her body are disrespected. So consequently, the child does not develop a healthy sense of self, and instead he or she discovers that love and approval come with meeting the mother's needs and tunes into the mother's responses and expectations. So this also leads to shame and codependency. So the child will learn to please and perform or rebel, but in any case, gradually tunes out its own thoughts and needs and feelings.” And I should have jumped in earlier and we're talking about attachment theory and we're talking about the relationship with mother and infant, but absolutely, dad plays a huge role as well. Daddy issues, anybody? So, I don't want a mother to be hearing this and think this is all on me. Because, no, it's both. It's the relationship with the parent, the parent child relationship. But in this scenario, so again, where she's saying, when somebody then feels a shame and codependency that they learn to please, perform, or rebel, but basically gradually tune out their own thoughts and needs and feelings. So then later intimacy may threaten the adult sense of autonomy or identity, or he or she may feel invaded or engulfed or controlled or shamed or rejected. And here's what's fascinating is a person may feel both abandoned if his or her feelings and needs are not being responded to, but at the same time now all of a sudden engulfed by the needs of his or her partner. So in codependent relationships where there aren't two separate whole people coming, true intimacy is impossible because the fear of non-existence and dissolution are so strong. So we learn these defenses as kids in order to feel safe. So she goes on to say that as adults, these behaviors create problems and result in miscommunication.

For instance, if you repress your anger to ensure that there's closeness there because you worry that if I get angry, then I'm gonna push my partner away. Then you stand a good chance of alienating your partner because you're unaware that you may be expressing your anger indirectly. By withdrawal, by silent treatment. You know, if you ignore your partner in order to create distance, then you inadvertently devalue him. And that creates a whole other problem. So, I'm gonna wrap it up, but that is my reaction to this article of “The 10 best Predictors of a Bad Romantic Relationship”. Seth does go on in the article, and again,  I'll link to it. He does say how to improve your relationship. And I'm not just saying, you know, the same old things, but he does say, cultivating and appreciation for your partner, paying more attention, look at them as if you were looking at them for the first time. Look at opportunities to express gratitude. He says, work on bedroom techniques. Do research on how you both wanna show up sexually, be willing to tell your partner your needs. But I would add, not from a manipulative standpoint, but from a, hey, check this out. You know, make the relationship better for your partner. Look for small ways to make their life easier. Do a chore for them. Offer a listening ear. Set your phone down. Knowing that they're happy will increase your own satisfaction with the relationship , and for yourself. Find joy in life. Look for ways to find more rewards everyday. People that keep gratitude journals, there's some good data studies that say that that is a really helpful process and try to look for unique things each and every day. Because what will end up happening is you're looking throughout the day for the things that you can be grateful for. And I love that he says, treat your depression. Follow a self-guided book. Use an evidence-based app. Go to therapy, talk with your doctor about medication. Your relationship will likely improve when you find ways to boost your mood. And go to therapy. Invest time and money in working with a professional, either alone or as a couple. Both approaches are eventually gonna lead to, they can lead to a happier relationship. 

So thank you so much for spending the time here today. If you have questions, comments, anything that you feel would be helpful to add, comment on the post will go up on Facebook or Instagram and you can also contact me through my website. If you have questions or anything else that I can address, I love a good question and answer episode, and I'm gonna do more of those over on my Instagram account. I'm gonna do some live question and answers, so please get those questions in. You can submit those through the website. And I just, I appreciate all the support and I look forward to seeing you next time on the Virtual Couch.

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