Ari Sytner

When Nagging Ruins a Relationship

Posted by in Relationships & Marriage, therapy

In my work with couples, it is fairly common to observe many marital stereotypes. This includes the witch of a wife being an overbearing figure who can never be pleased. The imagery evokes sympathy for the poor guy who just can’t win. No matter how hard he tries – working long hours, helping with the children and household, this guy is just in a bear-trap of a marriage which will never loosen its grip. Yet, there is much more to this picture that requires analysis.

The husband can barely recall the early days of his relationship when things were enjoyable, calm and far more mutual. Now, after years of taking his beatings, he is left with two obvious choices.

Option A: Continue to be beaten into submission and keep his mouth shut. Through embracing his daily routine and hobbies for comfort, he will ultimately sail through the years, while his lonely and burdensome marriage continues to wear him down or eventually push him over the edge.

Option B: He can fight back and stand up for himself. After all, why shouldn’t he defend himself? Who says that his wife always has to be right? Is there anything wrong with wanting to relax after a long day of work? I mean, come on – he is killing himself from morning till night to earn the income needed to support his family and just at that moment when he crashes on the couch, his wife asks him to switch the clothing from the washer into the dryer! He wonders to himself, “why doesn’t she get me? Can’t she tell I’m exhausted? Would it kill her to do it herself?”

The problem with choosing either of these options – is that no good will ultimately come from them. To stick with Option A is to die a slow and painful death. To choose Option B is to run the risk of fueling confrontation and accelerating the decline of the relationship and the disillusion of the marriage. (Of course, with a competent therapist, this option can be more safely navigated).

Yet, let’s not forget secret Option C.

In this scenario, the husband can take a moment to fondly recall the good ol’ days when life was pleasurable and the relationship was fun and exciting. He remembers the dating, romance, flirtatious looks and intimacy that they once shared.

Where has it since gone and how can they get it back?

I don’t believe that relationships grow stale. We just stop working on them. Like any fire, it will die out if not constantly fueled. 

At the beginning of most relationships, of course, there are crazy fireworks. However, the trap that many couples fall into is that their relationship turns from loving to transactional. And why shouldn’t it? There are bills to be paid, carpools to arrange, and shopping to be done. Through a responsible division of labor, couples can reach a smooth level of functioning, wherein the home is a well-oiled machine and something to be proud of. However, as a result, the relationship itself becomes stale and the friendship, romance, and intimacy that once fueled their magnetic bond tends to dissolve in the wake of this robotic partnership.

Their challenge and primary goal for this couples, is to learn how to bring the love back to the forefront – as it truly is the foundation to everything else in their world. In their hectic lives, when a couple slows down enough to take the time and give that sideways glance or smile, a touch on the hand, or thoughtful text during the day, it reminds them of their love, and helps refocus them on who they are as a unit – a loving couple.

So, at the end of a long day, when a husband hears his true best friend asking for the laundry to be put into the dryer, and it is accompanied by a smile and a wink, it is no longer viewed as an attack or judgment against him, rather, it is an expression of intimacy. 

Whereas it may be natural for a guy to take affront to such a request – as if she did not care about how hard he has been working, the relationship grows stronger when he hears his wife’s pain, stress and frustration, and responds, not out of obligation, but out of love, caring and support.

With the many couples I have counseled, I have found that a spouse who sounds like a nag, might in fact, be a best friend who is in need.

By learning to communicate effectively; and really listening to understand what your spouse is feeling; and through investing in the friendship itself; the necessary daily transactions no longer become a chore. Instead, they are elevated to meaningful gestures of love which strengthens the bonds of friendship and marriage, and adds fuel to what should be a fiery and exciting relationship.


To work with Ari, click here to schedule a free initial call.

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Head-On Collision: How to Actually Win a Good Fight

Posted by in Relationships & Marriage

Newton famously said that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Yes, this applies to relationships, and the way people’s words and hostilities collide when fighting.

When a couple fights, think of it as two freight trains racing toward one another. The stronger and faster they go, the more disastrous the impact will be. Plus, in all likelihood, at least one, if not both trains, will be severely damaged and even totally destroyed.

Therefore, in order to win a fight, the goal is to avoid a collision altogether by reducing the speed, intensity, and even changing the complete direction of the conversation.

Wait a second! What if you feel that you are absolutely right and you deserve to win the fight? Why should you not hold your ground and stick to your principles?

I want you to always remember this point: if someone wins, that means that the other person loses. If they lose, two things will happen.

  1. The relationships as a whole will suffer because your partner is defeated
  2. You are now stuck with a loser (and nobody wants to be in a relationship with a loser!)

Therefore, we must keep in mind that the goal of an argument is not to win the fight! Rather, it is simply to avoid a collision by changing tracks and resuming the journey, while heading blissfully together in the same direction.

So, how does this work? How does one simply change tracks?

Please indulge me further in my train analogy: For those who have ridden the subway, you know the feeling of watching a train fly by you in the opposite direction. As you look out the window, all you see is a blur of faces and streaks of colors. There is absolutely no connection to the people in the next train.

However, from time to time, a train pulls up alongside yours, heading in the same direction and at the same speed. It is during those moments when you look outside and instead of feeling the rush of motion, it is as if everything stands still and you can clearly see all the faces of the strangers in the next train. You can smile, wave and feel a real connection, almost as if they are in the same train with you.

This paradigm is exactly how we fight.

Take a husband and wife for example - angry, frustrated and armed with a laundry list of reasons why they each think they are right. Ultimately, like two trains, they will either violently collide, or just fly past the other in a blur and squander the opportunity to truly connect.

What if there was a way for the two trains to pull up alongside each other and move in the same direction so that they can once again connect and see one another, rather than only see a blur?

This is a common exercise that I do with my clients. I invite them to look at the other person’s point of view, digest it, and really try to see it through their own eyes. This is not only an intellectual exercise but an emotional one as well.

Instead of asking, “why is my wife so stubborn?”, try this: “I wonder why this issue is so important to her?”

Instead of asking, “why does my husband always think he is right?”, try this: “I wonder what I could be doing better to show him that I value his opinion and feelings”.

Thus, even if you don’t agree, perhaps you can stop and appreciate who they are and why they feel the way they do. Slowing down to appreciate the person more than the agenda, is what we talk about when we say that relationships take hard work and compromise.

Whenever we stick to our guns and hold our ground, nobody wins.

What we ultimately want to do is each abandon our own rigid views, in place of a suitable compromise that shows we care more about the person than our perspective. After all, you must ask yourself, do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?

To contact Ari for relationship support, coaching or intervention - click here

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The Marriage Fumble, Timeout & Reset

Posted by in Relationships & Marriage

OK, so you’re marriage is great and things are going well. Until…

After a stressful day, with lots on your mind, you feel like crashing and unwinding. Incidentally, it is the same time that your spouse feels like having an engaging conversation with you. While you’re not trying to be hurtful, you’re frankly in no condition to have a deep conversation. All you’d like is to get out of it without being hurtful or rude. Nevertheless, your spouse senses your distance and feels rejected, even though it was never your intention.

But with matters of the heart, since when do intentions count?!

Now, instead of enjoying the rest of a quiet evening, you are left trying to apologize and make amends for having hurt your spouse’s feelings and been insensitive at a time when something weighty was on his or her mind. And to make matters worse, this important conversation is set aside in light of trying to fix the newly created tensions. This dynamic only further drives a wedge between a couple and a quick solution is needed – before things rapidly deteriorate!

Many of my clients report this type of scenario as a common occurrence. It is what I like to refer to ask the “marriage-fumble” (which can really happen in any relationship). It is tantamount to an incredible, action-packed football game, which had one bad play. Consequently, when the game ends, all the fans and sportscasters focus exclusively on that one fumble, ignoring how amazing the rest of the game was.

Yes, a marriage-fumble is a bad play. However, it should not define the entire game. A quick recovery and turnaround is necessary. It is under these circumstances, that a couple must summon all of their emotional intelligence and maturity to recognize that this was just an off day, and not a reflection on who they are as a couple, nor does not mean that one is married to a rude or insensitive person.

Therefore, the solution is to stop the play, blow the whistle and call a timeout. For in the alternative, a couple will angrily hash out and replay the fumble ad nauseam. The game of he-said/she-said will be both hurtful and unproductive. The first lesson in recovering from a marriage-fumble is to not make things worse by pointing fingers and fueling debate. Therefore, after a fumble the first things to do is stop and not make matters worse.

Ordinarily, I work with my clients to help them learn from their fights how to better understand one another and to develop improved communication skills. While there is room down the road to learn from these blunders, keep in mind that we all have off-days from time to time, and a fumble does not represent the typical argument. It need not be studied, explored and rehashed. Suffice it to simply call the play an error and humbly ask your spouse for a reset, where you can both erase the play and start over.

Usually, when a couple has a shared desire for a fresh start, the relationship can be refocused and elevated to an even higher level of intimacy than before the fumble – resulting in a win-win!

To contact Ari Sytner for counseling, interventions or feedback, please click here.

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