Your Story, Conversations, and Communication – With Annie Harton

In this episode, I invite marriage and family therapist Annie Harton to join me on the show.

Annie works with couples to help them develop lifelong marriages and comes on the show to talk about some of the things she helps couples with.

We talk about the Gottman Method of relationships, things you can do to build better communication, and things to look out for in your marriage. This episode is insightful and will help you to build better intimacy with your partner.

About the Guest

Annie is a licensed marriage and family therapist residing in Indiana.

Episode Links

Follow Annie on Instagram: @annie.harton

To Purchase Annie’s Book: Click Here

Annie’s Blog, Photography, and other Interviews

Contact Me

Instagram @annmlosinski
Email me at catholicbrides@gmail.com
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Transcript

Ann Losinski 0:27
Welcome back to the Catholic bride’s Podcast. I am super excited for today’s episode we are joined by Annie Harton and she is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in Indianapolis. Welcome to the show Annie.

Annie Harton 0:43
Thank you.

Ann Losinski 0:44
Super excited to have you! Why don’t we just start by you just telling us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

Annie Harton 0:53
Yes, I am a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, like you said, in Indianapolis, Indiana, I’m working at a practice where I’m able to integrate my faith. Here on the south side. I’ve really enjoyed being able to utilize my background and theology, some skills in writing. I’m also an author. And I also do a little bit of photography so tomorrow I’m taking photos at a wedding. So that’s another way that I love to highlight love.

Ann Losinski 1:32
super cool. I’m also a photographer as well. So, that’s awesome. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about what you do as a marriage and family therapist and kind of the process that you do there.

Annie Harton 1:48
Yeah. So, as a marriage and family therapist I see individuals, couples and families, but my favorite clients to work with are probably premarital. So whether that is prior to engagement, prior to marriage. I feel like it’s really powerful to begin some really important dialogue for people to recognize how they are bringing their stories of singleness, or their stories of childhood into this lifelong relationship that will integrate the stories forever. So we don’t lose ourselves, but we are called to give ourselves when we get married. I love, encouraging them to know and find power in meaning in their stories so they’re able to learn more about one another and they’re able to teach their partner about themselves.

Ann Losinski 2:57
That’s super cool. So, when you’re talking about stories, what types of things that are we looking for like if somebody is coming to you and you’re helping them formulate their story, what types of things are you looking for, for them to be able to formulate that.

Unknown Speaker 3:15
Yeah, I have really found a lot of interest in Narrative Therapy so someday I may be some official narrative therapist, but right now I just use some techniques that I’ve learned from the power of telling our story and really recognizing the problematic piece to our story so a lot of times we define ourselves by our anxiety, our depression our addiction, some sort of trauma in our lives that we think that that defines us, but what Narrative Therapy teaches is that the problem is the problem. You are not the problem but you are in relationship to it, so it really helps to really change our language around and really recognize that we are much more than the box that we put ourselves in so I help people externalize, the problematic piece of their story typically by drawing it or kind of figuring it out as some sort of villain, and really recognizing what powers the villain has and then kind of how we can combat that as an individual as a couple. In order to really be friended in a way that our stories are with us. We can’t change the past we can’t change, you know, kind of a lot of aspects to it but we can change the way we interact with it in the present in the future and when that comes into a marital relationship, it’s important to be transparent it’s important to know how to ask for what we need and how to offer our help. In, you know, welcoming ways to our partner stories as well.

Ann Losinski 5:15
That’s pretty cool. So if we’re integrating our stories together. Is there a process that you use for couples to be able to kind of go through that together. Or like steps that they can take even on their own in their own life at home, to be able to open up these discussions and talk about different things like that.

Annie Harton 5:43
Yeah, a lot of times we need to be open to getting to know our story and to be able to confront it a lot of times we just want to shake off the past or to close a book. You know, we want to kind of stop the movie halfway through, instead of seeing how it how it finishes up. So we want to kind of give up, or close ourselves down to learning about a past experience or a past relationship that we had that really impacted us. But the best way to do that is to continue to date, continue to be vulnerable and trust your partner to really listen and to listen to understand, rather than to listen to respond. So one of the ways I do that is through the Gottman method so Dr. Gottman is one of the top marriage researchers, and he has taught the system that is called the sound relationship house. and the bottom foundation so when you build a house you can’t just get to shared meaning, you have to kind of walk up the steps, you have to build up the walls of the house in order to get to the roof in order to get to kind of the sky’s the limit. analogy. So the foundation is what he calls love maps, and these are the kind of questions that you would ask on first dates or, you know, early stages of the relationship about. “Tell me more about yourself” and “tell me about your favorite job that you’ve had” or “what your relationship is like with your family and just what are your interests” and just kind of easy natural questions that you would ask someone that you’re interested in, especially at the beginning, but often in relationships we kind of miss. We missed those seasons of transition and forget that we are constantly changing and our spouse is constantly changing as well so to go back into those creative questions that really bring out some deep answers and to really remember that we are always changing our interest in our environments, whether we’re changing jobs or moving or our dreams are shifting to really go back in time to the beginning and to go back to the basics so that we can build up and get to know each other because to truly love is to truly know. So in order to really be loved, we have to be fully known. And if we don’t ask those questions, or have those questions asked of us, we won’t feel known, and we won’t feel like we know our partner either.

Ann Losinski 8:48
Okay. So, when you’re saying asking first date questions, you mentioned a couple of them “Tell me about yourself.” “Tell me about your family.” I’m assuming that those change over time as well, right? So obviously you’re married to your spouse, you’re not going to ask them to tell me about yourself but would there be more questions that are adapted to later on in your relationship after you’re married, as opposed to, first date questions because I’m assuming that there’ll be similar, but is there quite specific questions that work better at specific times of life.

Annie Harton 9:25
Yeah, there are so many questions to choose from, there’s actually a free app. That is called card decks, just like a deck of cards, and it’s based off of Dr Gottman’s research and there’s different themes, whether that’s rituals of connection or questions having to do with sex and intimacy. Questions having to do with just general love maps questions for men question, questions for women. And a lot of these questions are not like business like questions so a lot of couples start to live like roommates, or start to just talk about managing the household or being parents, rather than forgetting about the passion and the interest of what going on a date is like so and so when you go on a date, you’re actually asking curious questions about one another, not about, oh do the blinds need to get fixed or oh, we need to take that kid to that event next week. But to really kind of step back and realize that before anything else, your marriage needs to be built up because the more time and investment we put into our marriage – everything else will flow from that. And I think the world has kind of forgotten of the order of that we kind of distract ourselves with everything else. And then we try to reconnect 20 years later when the kids leave and realize that we haven’t kept up with those questions and we haven’t kept up with that dating relationship so we feel very strange and the other person feels very foreign to us.

Ann Losinski 11:23
Yeah, that’s so true. I can see that in a lot of couples because especially as life gets busier and as children come into the picture that it can be super overwhelming and super, like you said more of a business meeting, as opposed to like a date. Do you recommend having a specific time for set aside time specifically like Tuesday night is our date night and we go out and we don’t talk about the kids, or what do you recommend as far as that goes.

Annie Harton 11:57
Yeah, it works differently for all couples depending on what your jobs are like depending on what your lifestyle is like, you know, whether someone travels a certain day of the week or what your typical traditions are each week. I know that my parents grew up so I’m a big sister of quadruplets siblings, so I grew up in a busy household that the doctors encouraged me to go to preschool early to get away from the quads. And then my parents were encouraged to continue dating, as well. So my parents have had this really healthy, friendship, in their marriage because they have made it a point to go out almost every Friday and Saturday night on some sort of date. So whether they left us with some, you know, pizza, or fish sticks or something in the oven. They knew that whether they were gone for a little bit of time, or kind of a longer evening with friends and we had a babysitter. They knew that we would be thankful for that in the future, even if we kind of whined about it when they were leaving walking out the door and now I’m a marriage counselor preaching that same thing to every, every client I have is, go out on dates and don’t listen to what the kids think because they think that they need you there all times but if that marriage is not healthy. Then the kids are not going to gain all that they need to from the love in the marriage.

Ann Losinski 13:35
So true. Going back to what you said a little bit ago about the Gottman method, I think he said there were stair stepping blocks, is there are they specifically laid out, could we go into that in a little bit more detail.

Annie Harton 13:50
Yeah, so he calls the sound relationship house. I really liked that image, because if you really think about building a house, you have to be aware of what stage of the building process you are in. So you start with love maps, and then after you really feel like you’ve connected and you’ve grown in knowledge with one another. You start to think about how am I showing fondness and admiration, how am I turning, you know, How am I, letting my partner know that I love and I care for them and that I’m not just taking something from them but I’m kind of showering my love on them and knowing that I’m there for them. And then the next step is about turning away or turning forward, that’s one of the biggest factors in relationships is knowing these bids for connection that we are constantly almost constantly making these bids, whether that’s pointing out something out the window if a bird flew by for pointing out “hey there’s a bird”, you know, the way that our partner responds to us, shows us how invested they are so if we start a conversation or we try to you know get some attention. Our partner can either turn away, turn against or turn towards us and connect, and the more bids, that we are making, and the more connected we feel. The more, the more plentiful, our emotional bank account. So all of these bids that we’re making all of these investments that we’re making into our, our deposit, our emotional bank account, we’re able to really lean on that. When situations are hard. So when there’s a typical difficult season which everyone will have some sort of dip, just like we have hills and valleys have all sorts of things and we know that that’s the case in life too we have, we have rougher seasons. But if you are typically responded to. when you want the others attention when you want to connect when you want to initiate a conversation when you want to grow deeper, then those seasons will be more manageable, because you have some money in the bank, so to speak, so you’re not going to be running on kind of a broke statement, you’re going to be able to lean on one another, knowing. Oh, this, this is just an off day, rather than. Oh, this is what they always do they never listen to me. So that’s kind of that next statement. And then, and then you continue to grow from there. But one of the big parts of the turning away and turning toward are the four horsemen. So he calls these The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse which I always think is pretty entertaining because I went to the University of Notre Dame. And so there’s a history of the four horsemen. And in the football. Football life there so it’s kind of funny when I recall these four horsemen that don’t have anything to do with football or Notre Dame, but these are the four horsemen of the apocalypse and he calls them that, because the apocalypse is like the end of the relationship, so they did this study in the love lab, so I think it was in Seattle and they put couples into this love lab, and we’re just kind of keeping an eye on them for a weekend so it’s just like a couple that’s asked to go into this apartment for a weekend, and just listening to how they speak to one another. And they could start predicting, whether people were going to get divorced within five minutes. So, they weren’t going to get divorced in five minutes, but within five minutes of observing a certain couple. They can tell the probability that this couple would either be totally depressed for the rest of their life, or be separated or divorced in something that they used in order to make that bold prediction prediction is to see when the four horsemen would show up and how often they did so if the four horsemen showed up within five minutes. That was a clear sign that the couple was not going to do very well, going forward. There is hope so if you, if you acknowledge these four in your relationship. This is what I love to help couples really, really use some helpful antidotes and heal, these areas so there is hope but if you don’t recognize that they’re there, you’re just going to keep eating at each other. But the four are defensiveness, criticism, contempt, and stonewalling. So the for again defensiveness, which is when you just kind of fight back. It’s like a root of reflex so everyone knows kind of a defensive lineman or some sort of defensive if you get something thrown at you, you’re going to just kind of want to want to throw it back. Contempt is when you talk like you are better than another. So when you are acting like you are kind of an elite, you are better that person’s just lower, they’re not as good, they’re so stupid, just kind of this tone of “Oh, I can’t believe you even exist”, kind of, type criticism is when you criticize the person, or something to do with their character, instead of a task or a specific point so if someone didn’t do the dishes. You could say, “Oh, you’re so lazy. You don’t do you know you don’t do anything around the house”. Instead of really saying, “Oh, you didn’t send it through the dishes today”. So it points out the person’s kind of dignity, I’ll mostly kind of like poke at the person’s character as a whole. And then the fourth is stonewalling, and I’m excited because I actually just got a little oxygen and heart rate reader for your finger the ones who have been in the hospital and not and recommends using these for couples work, because stonewalling is when your heart rate goes above 100, and it’s telling your body that you are not emotionally able to process anymore so you may be physically in the conversation or the argument, but you are not emotionally there. So there’s flooding that happens that you aren’t able to really hear anymore. You’re not really able to engage, but you just stay put. So the partner thinks that you are engaged. But that you are just so overwhelmed your heart rate is skyrocketing. And so, stonewalling is the tendency to not know when a break needs to be taken. And when you need to step away and really be able to cool down before you really take in what the, what your partner is bringing to you.

Ann Losinski 21:37
Okay. So with the stonewalling thing is it just a matter of then communicating. When if you realize that this is happening. Do you just communicate to your partner that, hey, I need to step away from this, or what is the best way to approach that.

Annie Harton 21:54
Yeah. It takes a lot of awareness, to know your own body, and to also know signs that your partner is shutting down. So sometimes someone may not realize that’s what they’re doing. But you can tell, sometimes if someone is kind of zoning out, or if they are you know getting red in the face maybe or if they’re just, you know, if you can kind of feel their, you know their breath has kind of been being taken in. You just don’t really know what’s either happening with them, or your own body if you’re like I’m getting really stressed right now and I don’t feel like I can think clearly I don’t really think that I can respond well you know this isn’t gonna end well if I stay here so I’m just gonna get more and more angry or I’m just frustrated. The best thing to do when you notice you or your partner is feeling that way is to be okay with taking a break. Even though it’s always ideal to have conversations when you know feel called to have conversations. It’s also healthy, to be able to either accept a break, or suggest a break so if you are stopping in the doorway to bring up a conversation to to maybe your husband that is finishing up some work in his office and he’s not really totally present with you right now and he’s just gonna get kind of more frustrated with his wife who was standing there and he’s not really ready to communicate. At that moment, who has finished up at some more emails and then he’ll be ready in an hour or so. So, even though she wants to talk now, he could easily say “I know you really want me to hear you right now and I want to hear you. But right now, my, my focus is elsewhere. And I think dinner tonight would be a really helpful time to discuss that. So can we continue over dinner or can we continue after dinner” you know if you have kids at the table. So the biggest thing about taking a break, is to come up with a time to return. Never should you take a break and not have a return time, because the other will always wonder, “Are we going to continue that how often do I nag you about continuing that?” you don’t want to feel abandoned. So the biggest thing is take a break, whether that’s, hey, I need to go on a run. I need to go take a nap. I need to go. You know, watch a TV show like doing something that’s kind of cool and you down something that’s not going to be overwhelming for you. But then the say hey, tomorrow morning or you are I’m really tired I really need to sleep right now so we talked about in the morning or anything so it can break should not be super long, and you should be able to at least come back together within, within 24 hours if not, if not shorter, but it’s important to have that date scheduled that hey I know this is important. And I want to be at my best when I engage with you.

Ann Losinski 25:23
Yeah, that’s super helpful I think because I know in my own life with my husband and I talk and we talk about things and I can totally see now like what you’re talking about with the stonewalling and stuff. And it is a lot more fruitful, when we do have a set time or like hey, we’re going to talk about this at this specific time, take a break and then come back to it. Because even if we don’t, and like you said, it’s like how much do I nag you about it, when are we going to talk about it again? So I think I agree with you that having that set date or like set time to come back and talk about it is super helpful and super I think healthy as well because then you both have the same expectation, and you’re not constantly waiting and wondering, and you can come back to it and settle it that way. So I think that’s super helpful, it makes a lot of sense.

Annie Harton 26:14
Yeah. And that, in that shows that you are interested and that you are willing. So I think it sounds. At first, Like, at first that sounds like you’re rejecting them right so if someone wants to come talk to you and you’re like, I’m not ready for that. So you feel like that would be a rejection so it does take some humility, it does take, you know, a hit, it may be frustrating for the person initiating the conversation to say, Man, I was really wanting to talk about it now, but I appreciate that you care for me so much that you are scheduling another time where you will be able to be more loving. Right so it’s this balance between knowing when the boundaries are appropriate to say, where, when is our best. Yes, made it one of the, one of the best books I think is called the “best yes” by Lisa Turk first. I love every single book of hers one of my favorite authors I quote her in my own book. But she always talks about the best. Yes. Sometimes we have to say no to a good Yes, in order to choose the best. Yes. So it’s just kind of a balance between knowing what to say yes to and when and how to communicate. Why, instead of just saying no, I can’t talk but to say I really want to engage well with you You mean a lot to me. But right now I’m super distracted, and I just can’t be the spouse that you need right now. want to wait until we can really sit down and not have any distractions around.

Ann Losinski 27:54
For sure. So one other question I had for you is I know some of our listeners might be just starting out in marriage or like are engaged to be married. What would be your top tip for people that are just starting out to start off on a good foot, so to speak.

Annie Harton 28:13
Well I’ve already said one of them is to never stop dating. Never. I know that sounds super easy at first and then there’s all these excuses that come up afterwards, but don’t stop dating. Dating will save your marriage, save your whole mental health, you will remember that you chose each other that you are cared for and can get away from the cares of the world for a little bit and be with your partner neck actually live as a partner live as a cherish bride, right, you know, live as a like to remember as a groom why you pursued this relationship, why did you choose this. So that’s kind of the biggest thing is just get in a pattern of picking that date night or picking that commitment to know. We need to continue to have conversations that are about us, and we and do this together as a team, into really listen to understand, rather than listening to respond. Another thing is, pray together. I just heard that couples who pray together have less than a 1% chance of divorce. So couples, pray together have less than a 1% chance of divorce. And this can be any sort of prayer, whether it’s, you know, speaking out loud to each other, meditating in some way, listening to a sermon or a talk, or listen to music. Being able to really connect and share what you need in some way. I think that is so essential and it’s interesting to have couples come in here and say that they are willing to have sex, but they think that prayer is way too intimate. So that, depending on how long they’ve been married they’ve never ever sat down and actually shared intentions or shared any concerns about really what’s going on in their faith and their relationships. And I just think that’s such a fascinating statistic that, you know, 1%. So, I want people to know that stat and kind of similarly is natural family planning has kind of the same steps so do natural family planning, which means charting and being able to discuss your cycles and discuss your fertility together it takes a lot of communications that come together so you don’t feel like you’re using each other but you’re coming together as a team. And I think that divorce statistic is less than, 5%, I think, and the only downside of that is some sexual frustration. But that is the only, only thing so those two. Two things both help with communication connection and being able to build that strong foundation that is going to be very hard to break.

Ann Losinski 31:35
For sure. So I just have one more question for you this is kind of one that I’m asking all of my guests. What is your favorite Bible verse/passage.

Annie Harton 31:49
Yeah there’s, there’s a lot of them but I keep going back to Philippians 4:13. I’m a baseball player, when I was in elementary school, actually signed a Like, I got one of my mom’s voided checks, and she saw she voided the front and then I got this guy’s autograph on the back. And he wrote Philippians 4:13 under his name and I rushed home. And I opened up my Bible to see what that was. And since then Phil 4:13 stands out a lot for me and especially after this last weekend’s reading at church, just knowing that as we’re preparing for Christmas and knowing. One mightier than eyes coming in one, you know through all the trials we have and that God is mightier, and that we don’t have to understand everything we don’t have to accomplish everything we don’t have to depend on our own own strength. But when I work with my couples I always say I will hold the hope for you until you’re ready to pick it back up again and I feel like that’s kind of what God does for us and I just got the sign for my office. That has a quote from one of my new favorite songs from Joshua Hislop. That’s called gentle heart in the sign it says, we found hope in a hopeless time. And I feel like I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me really reminds me that I don’t have to have all the answers. And I can just hope in the weight fullness joyful hope, knowing that there will be grace, there will be answers. There will be understanding. But it may not come in, in the time that I’m that I’m expecting,

Ann Losinski 33:50
that’s so beautiful especially like in regards to 2020 and how that’s been. I think that’s super great to remember as well. Well thank you so much for joining us, Annie it’s been great having you today.

Annie Harton 34:07
Yeah. Can I share my book.

Ann Losinski 34:10
Yeah, for sure.

Annie Harton 34:12
So I wrote a book for singles and married and all vocations, really, but it’s called the single truth. You are more than your relationship status. And I wrote about what I’ve learned about love as a single marriage counselor. And I think it really reminds us not to define ourselves by art status so even if you are engaged with the ordinary to not put our whole worth into that. But to remember that we are our own person that is able to give our love to one another. Instead of having that kind of stolen from us in a way of not saying that we don’t lose ourselves in the relationship that we give ourselves and we are so much more than our job or so much more than our relationship or so much more than all of the different labels and boxes that we that we put ourselves into.

Ann Losinski 35:09
That’s awesome. I think that’s like a super great reminder, especially in today’s society where it’s all about boxes and whether or not you’re dating or married. I think it’s a super great reminder to like kind of forego the boxes and remember that God has a place for you in this season right now where you are. Yep. Awesome. I will put a link to Annie’s book in the description and think, thank you everybody for tuning in. And I hope you have a wonderful day. And God bless you all, and we’ll see you in the next episode.

Annie Harton 35:45
Thanks, Ann

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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