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WELCOME TO MY BLOG!  I will be using this page to pass on information,  offer comments and thoughts about the strengths and challenges of successful marital relationships and share other pertinent information that becomes available to me.  The science of love relationships is extraordinary.  We have never had the information and guidance as is available today to understand the emotional complexities of relationships and how to build strong marriages.  I will be sharing that information with you on this page as well as my own personal insights or comments. If you have questions or comments about any of the material I share, I welcome your response:, or share on facebook or twitter. Thanks.

Date: 4/24/2018 4:10 PM EDT

     Do you have a good enough relationship? What’s that? It sounds like settling for less than best.  However, through my counseling approach, I see myself actually encouraging couples to strive for the “good enough” relationship.

    In a good enough relationship, people have high expectations for how they’re treated. They expect to be treated with kindness, love, affection, and respect. They do not tolerate emotional or physical abuse. They expect their partner to be loyal.
This does not mean they expect their relationship to be free of conflict. Even happily married couples argue. Conflict can actually be healthy, if you know how to deal with conflict, because it leads to greater understanding.

    People should not expect to solve all of the problems in their relationship, either. John Gottman has discovered in his research almost ⅔ of relationship conflict is perpetual. As Dr. Dan Wile (After The Fight) says, “When choosing a long-term partner… you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unsolvable problems.”

   That doesn’t mean that you settle for being treated poorly. In his empirically-based theory, John Gottman describes what couples in the good enough relationship do and have. They are good friends. They trust one another, and are fully committed to one another. They have a satisfying sex life. They can manage conflict constructively. That means they can arrive at mutual understanding and get to compromises that work. And they can repair effectively when they hurt one another.

They honor one another’s dreams, even if they’re different. They create a shared meaning system with shared values and ethics, beliefs, rituals, and goals. They agree about fundamental symbols like what a home is, what love is, and how to raise their children.
Expect that. You deserve it. It’s not unreasonable, and it’s achievable. 

Happy marriages begin when we marry the ones we love and they blossom when we love the ones we marry. 

Posted by Jim Covington, M.Div., M.A., LMFT | Post a Comment

Date: 2/2/2018 10:53 AM EST

Love is not always easy. I witness how difficult it is everyday in my work with couples. And being married, I also know love is not always easy. I am not exempt from the challenges of love either..and I'm a marriage counselor! I know that it's more than saying "I love you." It's important to say that to your partner, along with meaningful compliments and expressions of empathy and gratitude. These are good deposits in what John Gottman refers to as your emotional bank account.
But what about putting love into practice?
Bestselling author and researcher Brene Brown argues that "love is beautiful when it's professed, but it's only meaningful when it's practiced."
How do you and your partner "practice" love in your marriage in a way that creates meaning for both of you? Do you offer gifts, express appreciation, do chores around the house, intentionally spend time together, or give nonsexual physical affection?
Try this: Have a conversation with your mate about how love is expressed and practiced, both verbally and in meaningful ways and actions in your relationship. Express what you need from your partner, in a gentle manner, and seek to understand what your partner needs from you--to feel loved. Keep it simple: "Hon, I love you, but what do you need from me to feel that love?"
"Happy marriages begin when we marry the ones we love and they blossom when we love the ones we marry...."

Posted by Jim Covington, M.Div., M.A., LMFT | Post a Comment

Date: 1/5/2018 11:10 AM EST

The interactions that are most destructive in relationships are those that express angry criticism or impart a blaming, judgmental attitude toward one's partner.

Anger can overwhelm even the most self-reflective and self-aware person. When you are feeling blamed or criticized, even if the reasons may be valid, your pulse races and your limbic system takes over, making rational thought almost impossible.  

Anger is always expressed negatively as criticism and/or blame and it sets off the deep-seated fear that we will be rejected(not important enough) and/or abandoned.  It makes sense that such scorn makes it infinitely harder to hold on to our mental equilibrium and emotional balance.  So we either angrily strike back defensively or withdraw and become emotionally distant.

I have often noticed that partners usually have no clue as to the real impact of their negative judgments.  Someone once said to me: "But mature adults should be able to deal with criticism.  It's really just feedback."  To which I answer: "But this is YOU giving feedback that he is disappointing you, and you are your partner's main source of safe connection.  He no longer feels safe in his most important relationship."

MESSAGE:  Blaming may feel good in the moment, but the effects can be disastrous.  While expressing anger or blame can get your point across, it will also erode your intimate bond.

The point is this: anger is often an indication of deeper feelings--feeling rejected, inadequate, dismissed, not feeling a priority, taken for granted.

So the next time you get angry, stop and think about why you're angry.

Then tell you partner what you feel and what you need in a softer tone, rather than a harsh one(John Gottman, How Marriages Succeed or Fail). For example, this is how Marge feels after her husband bailed on their date night:

After withdrawing and saying nothing for a while, in a raised voice she says: I don't believe this!  You always cancel on me to meet up with your stupid friends! Hello! Remember me!  You just think about yourself all the time! You never, ever think of me!  

The key emotion here is feeling unimportant. Once she identifies this, she can communicate in such a way that her partner can understand her.  She can then construct a more coherent and loving start-up to their conversation: 

Marge: "Is this a good time to talk about something that's been on my mind?"   
Tony: "It is."  
Marge: "I feel unimportant when we make plans and you cancel them.  I'm sure you don't mean to make me feel that way but I hope you understand.  So can we make time this week to do something together?"

In other words, speak from your own needs in a non-blaming and unapologetic tone.  Choosing your words and emotions with care is not easy.  It takes practice, but once you start using this approach, it can repair and actually strengthen you bond over time.

Posted by Jim Covington, M.Div., M.A., LMFT | Post a Comment

Date: 1/4/2018 12:04 PM EST

We are born to bond.  Hence the reason humans need friendships and communities….and for most of us, a committed love relationship—a safe haven to go to and a secure base to go out from.

Sue Johnson, Hold Me Tight(which I highly recommend to all couples), tells us that this secure base is sought in all love relationships.  She informs us that a silent unspoken need is the root of all solid connections: emotional presence.

Unconsciously or quietly we are always asking:  Do you see me? Are you there for me?  Do I matter? Can I tell that I’m special to you by the way that you look at me? These questions can only be answered by emotional presence.

I often hear in my work:
       She’s looking at me, but it’s like she’s looking past me.................. I know he cares, or I ‘think’  he cares and objectively I think he loves me, but he’s so checked out! So I don’t know!......................Sometimes I just want to shake him—tell him to wake up! He’s hardly ever present, it seems!

So here’s your homework:  When you see your mate today, make eye contact and let him/her know you see them.  It just takes a second. Taking that second can be one of the ways you can be present and connect.

Connection is always based on quality of presence or as John Gottman puts it: turning toward each other on a daily basis and making bids for connection by a loving gesture, loving eyes, a smile, a hug),  or  attuning to each other(You ok? How are you feeling?), or validating each other(I really understand how that made you feel…)  

And that’s how we feel seen. That’s how the bond between you is kept secure. That’s how trust remains steadfast.   Jim Covington       

Posted by Jim Covington, M.Div., M.A., LMFT | Post a Comment

Date: 12/7/2017 5:31 PM EST

Greetings everyone......I have some important advice:  Turn off your stupid smart phones, iPhones, cell phones, laptops, video games--whatever!  I exaggerate of course, but recent research is indicating that as electronic communication has grown, our attention span is decreasing, our intellects are weakening, and  human connections have declined. We are close electronically.  Yet we are drifting farther away from one another personally.  I read a report recently that referred to this phenomenon as phubbing.  Phubbing is the practice of snubbing others in favor of our mobile phones.  We've all been there, as either victim or perpetrator. 

The time couples are able to be "present" with one another, is crucial for feeling emotionally connected. I am not suggesting you have to be present with your partner 24/7. But being present at various times of the day with your mate is critical for fostering your connection with each other.  Otherwise, emotional distance will definitely set in, which is often the source of nagging and criticism.
Modern technology, meant to keep us all connected, actually creates distance in couples even when we're not aware of it. Every couple needs to have technology-free time to experience each other with full non-distracted attention.
Homework:  Sit down with your partner and make rules for technology-free time.  Suggestions:
    1. Phones off and out of sight during food preparation and eating meals.
     2. No taking calls when we're in the middle of a conversation or we have people over--calls can be returned later.
     3. Set aside time to set down with each other and check in, make plans, have a conversation--without answering any calls.....  I call this a "ritual of connection."
     4.  If it's absolutely necessary to take a call, do so out of earshot of others.

Posted by Jim Covington, M.Div., M.A., LMFT | Post a Comment

Date: 11/2/2017 3:54 PM EDT

After 30 years of doing couples therapy, I know that both Alexia and James are just seeing the tip of the iceberg. Submerged below is the massive real issue: both partners feel emotionally disconnected.

"If Alexia would just not get so emotional and listen to my argument about our finances and the kids, we would get somewhere," James tells me.  

"Well, if James would talk more and not just shout at me and blame me, we wouldn't fight. I think we are just growing apart here."

James and Alexia are watching their back, feeling criticized, shut-out and alone. Underneath all the loud arguments and long silences, partners are asking each other key questions in the drama of love: Are you there for me? Do I and my feelings matter to you?"

We know from all the hundreds of studies on love that have emerged during the past decade that emotional responsiveness is what makes or breaks love relationships. Happy couples quarrel, but they also know how to tune into each other and restore emotional connection.

Our loved one is our shelter in life. When this person is unavailable and unresponsive or attacking us, we are assailed in a tsunami of emotions--anger, sadness, hurt, and above all fear. This fear is wired in. Being able to rely on a loved one, is our innate survival code.

That being said, what's a simple way to foster that wired in need for connection? I am going to suggest a way. It's fostered by a question. In a way, it seems so obvious. How could we not ask this question throughout our marriages? The question is this:

From time to time ask your partner, "What do you need from me to feel loved?"

This takes the guesswork out of marriage. It conveys to your partner that you are thinking of her/him and that you want to truly be loving and supportive. It's also an opportunity to ask for what you need, too.

John Gottman calls this the positive need.

Having needs doesn't make you needy, and you're not burdening your partner when you express your needs. You are giving them a chance to know you, tune into you, and be there for you.

Homework(obvious): Ask your partner what she/he needs from you to feel loved..

Remember: Happy marriages begin when we marry the ones we love, and they blossom when we love the ones we marry. Jim Covington

Posted by Jim Covington, M.Div., M.A., LMFT | Post a Comment

Date: 9/19/2017 4:15 PM EDT

Greetings everyone......I received a report recently which I have decided to share with everyone.  For over 75 years, a team at Harvard has tracked the physical and emotional well-being of two populations:  over 700 men from both poor families and graduates from Harvard. The study included brain scans, blood samples, self-reported surveys and actual interactions. (I’m not sure why it was limited to men…but I believe the results would not be that different if women were also included.)
The conclusion:  One thing surpasses all the rest in terms of importance:  the clearest message from the 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.
The biggest predictor of your happiness and fulfillment overall in life, is basically, love.
The data is also very clear that those who feel lonely are more likely to see their physical health decline earlier and die younger.
According to one of the researchers, “It’s not just the number of friends you have, and it’s not whether or not you’re in a committed relationship.  It’s the quality of your close relationships that matters.”
What that means is this: it doesn’t matter whether you have a huge group of friends or if you are in a “perfect” romantic relationship.  It’s the quality of the relationships—how much vulnerability and depth exists within them; how safe you feel sharing with one another; the extent to which you can relax and be seen for who you truly are and truly see another.
There are two foundational elements to this: “One is love.  The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.”  So it’s important to prioritize not only connection but your own capacity to process emotions and stress. 
The data is clear, that in the end, you could have all the money you’ve ever wanted, a successful career, and be in good physical health, but without loving relationships, you won’t be happy. 
So the next time you’re scrolling through Facebook  or remain glued to your phone, instead of being present at the table with your significant other, or you are staying late at the office instead of getting together with your family or close friends, consider making a different choice. 
Relationships are messy and they’re complicated.  Well, that’s life.  And according to the director of the Harvard Study, Robert Waldinger, here is the bottom line:  The good life is built with good relationships. And obviously, that includes loving marriages.
Remember: Happy marriages begin when we marry the ones we love, and they blossom when we love the ones we marry......    Jim Covington       

Posted by Jim Covington, M.Div., M.A., LMFT | Post a Comment

Date: 9/19/2017 4:13 PM EDT

 I recently received a post from the Gottman Institute. I liked it and have decided to share it with you. 
It's called The Grass is Greener

In any interaction, there is a possibility of connecting with your partner or turning away. One single moment is not that important, but if you’re consistently choosing to turn away, then trust erodes.

When this happens, you begin to focus on your partner’s flaws. You forget about their traits you admire and value.

Eventually you start making what researcher Caryl Rusbult calls “negative comparisons.” You start to compare your spouse to someone else, real or imagined, and you think, “I can do better.”

Invest in your marriage instead. Express appreciation for each other. Brag about each other’s achievements. Say “I love you” every day.

The grass isn’t greener on the other side. The grass is greener where you water it. (And even if the grass looks dead, it may still be possible to restore it to green, if you water it.....)

If you are interested in reading further about how to "water the grass," go to

Posted by Jim Covington, M.Div., M.A., LMFT | Post a Comment

Date: 7/10/2017 3:19 PM EDT

When couples have compassion for each other, here is what they hear from each other in words and actions: I'm interested in you....... I hear you........I understand how you feel.....I'm with you......I'd like to help you (whether I can or not).....I'd like to be with you (whether I can or not)....I accept you (even if I don't accept all your behavior).
When marriages end, the final rupture is usually not caused by too much anger or abuse or infidelity.  Rather, most marriages die a slow, agonizing death from too little compassion.
Compassion is sympathy for the hurt or distress of another.  Compassion is empathy.  Compassion is experienced as attunement, i.e., the feeling that your partner is there for you. At heart compassion is a simple appreciation of the basic human frailty we all share, which is why the experience of compassion makes you feel more humane and less isolated.  Compassion is love.  Love is an act, not just a feeling.  Compassion is the antidote for criticism and contempt.
Compassion is necessary for the formation of emotional bonds which are the ground of strong, healthy marriages.  Think of when you were dating someone you eventually came to love. Suppose you had to call that person and report that your parents had died. If your date responded with, "well, that's tough, call me when you get over it," would you have fallen in love with that person?  Chances are, you fell in love with someone who cared about how you felt, especially when you felt bad.
Most of what you really fight about in your relationship is not money or sex or in-laws, or raising the kids. Those are common problems that seem insurmountable only when you're hurt.  What causes the hurt, i.e., what you really fight about, is the impression that your partner doesn't care how you feel.  When someone you love is not compassionate, if feels like abuse.
As compassion decreases, resentment automatically rises, making common problems insoluble.  That's why most of the time, the problems couples fight about are not the issue.  The issue is the lack of felt compassion in their relationship.  If unfettered by the better angels of our nature, resentment builds and will inevitably turn into contempt.

Remember: Happy marriages begin when we marry the ones we love, and they blossom when we love the ones we marry.       Jim Covington              

Posted by Jim Covington, M.Div., M.A., LMFT | Post a Comment

Date: 6/5/2017 10:33 AM EDT

John Gottman writes about four types of communication that are most detrimental to marital or committed relationships: criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling..  Of the four, he names contempt as the most toxic and predictor of divorce. Based on my own observations, I agree with him.  

Contempt expresses the feeling of dislike toward somebody, and implies that the other person is considered worthless and undeserving of respect. Contempt projects superiority, conveyed through insults, name-calling, tone of voice, as well as facial expressions. Contempt eats away at a relationship rapidly and painfully. Conflict escalates and prevents meaningful communication. What separates contempt from criticism?  The intention to insult and psychologically abuse your partner.

Ways to show one’s contempt
1. Insults and name-calling are the most conspicuous and crude—you’re ugly, a jerk, a wimp, loser,  etc.
2. Mockery is a subtle put-down, where the spouse’s words or actions are ridiculed to show he or she is not worthy of respect or trust. A man may tell his wife, for example, “I really do care about you,” and she replies sarcastically, “Oh sure, you really do care about me.”
3. Body language, such as rolling one’s eyes or sneering, gives the clearest clue that a couple is in trouble.
4. Tone of voice is probably the most powerful weapon of contempt.

Responses to contempt
What do you do if you have a partner who is harshly critical or contemptuous toward you?
     Don’t be drawn into contempt, criticism or defensiveness. You can stand up for yourself, but without joining in the sneering, ridiculing, and hostile negative judgments. 

     The best way to neutralize your contempt is to stop seeing arguments with your spouse as a way to retaliate or exhibit your superior moral stance.  Rather, your relationship will improve if you approach your spouse with precise non-blaming complaints by expressing feelings from your own inner experience (rather than attacking your partner’s character). In other words, it’s not what you say, but how you say it that makes all the difference.

Posted by Jim Covington, M.Div., M.A., LMFT | Post a Comment

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