Nov 7, 2006: Issue #001

Welcome to the first issue of Marriage Matters, an ezine devoted to helping individuals and couples prepare for, enhance or revitalize their marriage.

In this issue:

  • Feature Article: Time-Out: A Key to Unlocking the Door to a Healthy and Happy Marriage
  • Four Tips for Better Communication
  • Upcoming Event: Seven Truths about Love to Keep Your Marriage Strong

Time-Out: A Key to Unlocking the Door to a Healthy and Happy Marriage

By The National Healthy Marriage Institute

Have you ever looked back on a heated conversation with your spouse and found yourself wondering, “Why in the world did I say or do that?”

Researchers have found your body releases a large amount of adrenaline and other hormones during a verbal conflict. These hormones increase your heart rate and move your decision making process from the front part of your brain to the back of your brain.

The front of your brain allows you to think clearly, understand an issue from more than one perspective, think creatively in order to solve problems, and communicate your position in a way your spouse will understand. The back of your brain is wired to react by fighting or running away. Resolving conflicts with the back of your brain often damages your relationship rather than strengthens it.

Our bodies don't have a visible “alarm” that goes off when we stop thinking with the front part of our brain and start reacting with the back part of our brain. However, Dr. John Gottman has found a way to identify when this transition is taking place. In his research with couples, he has found this transition begins when their heart rate rises 10% above their resting level. For example, if your resting heart rate is 85 beats per minute and it suddenly increases to 94 beats per minute, then your “alarm” is going off. You may think you are still in control but the back of your brain is actually taking over what you are doing and saying.

To know when your “alarm” is going off you need to learn what your resting heart rate is and how to monitor it during a disagreement with your spouse. At first, you may feel uncomfortable monitoring your heart rate during a disagreement. Remind yourself it is better to feel a little uncomfortable than to lose control and say or do something that damages your relationship.

What should you do when your heart rate increases more than 10%? Take a time-out! During the time-out, do something that will help you to relax and calm down. Do not use this time to think about the disagreement you just had. As soon as both of your heart rates are back down to normal levels, you can continue the discussion. It is also okay to set a time later that day or the next day to finish the discussion.

How can you prevent your heart rate from skyrocketing in the first place? Force the front part of your brain to view and feel the issue from your spouse's perspective rather than from your own. Once you understand each other, you have significantly increased your chances of either resolving or managing the conflict in a way that strengthens your relationship.

Time-outs are an easy concept to understand but can be difficult to implement. However, by using time-outs you will significantly reduce the pain and misery and increase the joy and happiness in your marriage.

Action Plan

What obstacles might prevent you from taking a time-out and how will you overcome them? e.g. pride, fear

How are you going to prevent the back part of your brain from taking control during difficult discussions with your spouse?

How will you recognize when the front part of your brain is shutting down and the back part of your brain is taking control?

What will you do to calm down when a time-out has been called?

Visit to read the other topics in this pamphlet series.

© 2005 The National Healthy Marriage Institute

Four Tips for Better Communication

by Nathan Cobb, Ph.D.

Couples often find it challenging to handle disagreements under stress. Here are some tips for getting over those tough communication hurdles during stressful times.

1. Take time to stop and reflect. When you find yourself reacting instead of thinking, it helps to take a time-out to cool off and think about what to do next. Let yourself calm down first. Don’t let your emotions control the situation.

During the break, try not to focus on everything that made you angry. Instead, ask yourself: What am I feeling underneath the anger? What am I needing? How would I feel if I were to look at this from my partner's point of view? What is my partner needing? What can I do to make it right? How can I express myself more clearly? When you’ve gone through this reflective process, go back and talk about it calmly with each other with an open mind.

2. Speak simply, directly and from your heart. Remember that if you go in with guns blazing you’ll likely come out with a few holes. Instead of attacking or blaming your partner out of anger, let him or her know you feel hurt, afraid, sad, guilty, lonely, unimportant, etc. in connection with the problem. Let your spouse know what you need. Attack the problem not the person. Avoid being critical or blaming your partner. Acting out your anger may protect you from feeling vulnerable, but it also dupes your partner into not realizing you feel hurt or lonely, and usually breeds more anger in turn.

3. Listen to understand. Most communication problems can be resolved by sincerely listening to each other. Many of us think we are listening, when really we are listening to ourselves. That is, we're thinking about what to say next or how to counter the other person's arguments. Try setting aside your own story or perspective for a while. You can come back to it. Let go of the need to be defensive and just listen. Remember, how your partner feels is about your partner, not about you. Remind yourself that you won’t be diminished if you sincerely listen (in fact just the opposite usually happens). Clarify things before making assumptions or jumping to conclusions. Offer a summary of what you’ve heard.

4. Let go of the need to be right. Often couples become stuck in gridlock because they value being right more than being a couple, or more than being respectful. Instead of searching for ways to accept and make room for each others’ feelings and perspectives, partners insist, “I am right. Therefore, you are wrong and must change.” One husband once told me, “I don’t care about being right anymore. It’s a lonely world being right.” Work on accepting, even valuing, the differences in your relationship.

Communicating well under difficult circumstances is hard work but the reward in terms of a stronger relationship is well worth the effort.

Ucoming Workshop: Seven Truths about Love to Keep Your Marriage Strong

A Workshop for the General Public

Date: Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Time: 6:00 – 7:30 PM

Location: 200C Haddon Road SW, Calgary, AB T2V 2Y6

Speaker: Dr. Nathan Cobb, Ph.d in MFT, R.Psych

Admission: $25.00 per individual or $40 per couple

Come for an uplifting and engaging seminar about keeping love strong and alive in your marriage. Whether you want to strengthen an ailing marriage or enhance an already happy marriage, this workshop is for you.

Learn why good communication is important but not sufficient by itself. Couples must also focus on developing and strengthening mutual friendship, love, closeness and respect for each other.

In this workshop, we'll cover practical and simple things you can do that make a big difference in changing the emotional climate of your relationship for the better. Learn principles to help you feel more connected and to better manage the differences that inevitably arise between two people in marriage.

Register today as seating is limited.

There are several ways to register:

Online: Click here to register and pay online.

By Fax: Fax your name, phone number, address, number of people attending, and credit card information (number, exp date, name, and signature) to (403) 255-8570.

By Phone: Please call (403) 255-8577

Please feel free to call the phone number above if you need more information. I look forward to seeing you there.

P.S. Do you have a friend who might be interested in this workshop? Please let them know.

Nathan Cobb, Ph.D. in MFT, RMFT, R.Psych
200C Haddon Road SW
Calgary, AB T2V 2Y6
Tel: (403) 255-8577
Fax: (403) 255-8570

For more information please visit

Nathan Cobb, Ph.D in MFT, RMFT, R.Psych

Nathan Cobb, Ph.D.
Registered Marriage
& Family Therapist
Registered Psychologist


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Affair Recovery

Anger Control

Resolving Conflict


Marriage Counselling

Pre-Marital Counselling

Stress Management


How Can I Be A Better Listener?

Can Our Marriage Be Saved?

Communication Tips

How to Stop Arguing and Shift to More Productive Dialogue

How to Talk Productively About Your Differences

Why Goodwill is Essential to Good Communication

Fair Fighting Rules for Couples

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