The holiday season can be stressful on any relationship, much less one that is already struggling. We have to contend with colder temperatures, less daylight, and making great holiday memories. For some of us, even television commercials serve as a constant reminder that we must create a "perfect" holiday experience. Couples who already feel distant from one another may find it difficult to put effort into their relationship when so many other things are vying for their attention. The holiday season can be a time for connection and renewal; if we are purposeful about putting effort toward improving the relationship at home. I've put together a few suggestions that may help you and your partner get the best out of this holiday season.
Choose Your Partner
With the holiday, many of us experience more time with extended family. This can be a positive experience for some; while many find this increased family togetherness very stressful. Knowing the challenges both you and your partner may face is very important to adequately plan for a positive experience. While planning events, plan for emotional first aid for both of you. If you know that your partner wrestles with depression when their hypercritical mother visits or seems to crumble under the weight of their father's disappointment, talk to your partner about it. Allow them to vent to you without dismissing or minimizing their experience. Allow yourself to see your partner's pain. Ask them what they need to get through this experience. Create an alliance and develop a strategy that will reduce the stress of the interaction.
Questioning why your partner allows this person to push their buttons may not help as much as understanding that this person pushes their buttons. Our families know exactly how to push our buttons because they are the ones who installed them. Many couples struggle with difficult family relationships because they do not realize that their bond is being tested. The "divide and conquer" strategy will succeed in pulling you apart if you are not prepared. Use the stressful events to bring you closer together and solidify the bond between you.
Choose Your Battles
The stress of the holidays can dramatically increase the conflict in an already stressed relationship. Pay attention to one another. If your partner is particularly stressed before an event, this may not be the time to argue about finances. Your concerns are valid and should be addressed; at the appropriate time. If you are already hurting and lonely, arguing about the holiday menu may feel like salt in an open wound. Set aside calm time when you, your partner, and your relationship are in a good space before discussing potentially controversial topics. When you give yourself and your partner time to calm you may find that the topic is not as important as it seemed originally. This may require a cost/benefit analysis. Consider asking yourself a few questions before engaging in this way.
- Does the potential benefit of this conflict outweigh the cost of the conflict itself?
- Will this interaction ultimately bring us closer together or further apart?
- Will this matter to us in a few weeks, months or years?
Choose Your Boundaries
Many conflicts over the holidays begin when we do not have adequate boundaries. If one family member seems to want to remind you of your failures and make you feel bad; limit your interactions. If a particular event makes your stomach turn each time you attend, you may want to consider opting out. This is your holiday too. It may not be in your best interest to force yourself to interact with family members that put you or your spouse down. Know what is acceptable behavior to you and resist the urge to succumb to the pressure to make others happy. . If your family is toxic that does not mean that you have to let effect you. You have the option to choose to allow that toxicity into your relationship. Honestly, not having boundaries between your relationship and your family can prove to be detrimental. Many couples struggle because parents, friends, jobs, hobbies, or other things come before their relationship. The holiday season can be a welcome distraction from a struggling relationship but ignoring your challenges may be detrimental. Find time to feed your relationship so that it can emerge stronger when the holidays are over. What you feed will flourish, what you starve will suffer. Choose to create protective boundaries around your relationship to help it to survive.
Holidays can bring on good and bad stress. Having difficult relationships with the ones you love can very easily make this time of year more difficult. Creating a secure base in your relationship can help to make this time a little easier. Your relationship can be the safe place you need to reduce the stress of the season, if you put the effort into it. Its like building a house. Houses can be great shelters from the elements, if it is built. Build your house and protect yourself from the rain. Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter for more tips to help your relationship survive this holiday season. If you are in or near Columbus, Ohio and need help with your relationship Click Here.
Couples attempting to restore their relationships in the wake of an affair experience a swarm of emotions. One minute they are enemies, the next they are starving for intimacy and connection. The relationship has changed and no one seems to know how to get through it. The whole world seems different and yet, it just keeps going as if life as you know it has not completely crumbled. When I see couples in my counseling office there is one question that continues to hang in the air like a million-dollar chandelier hanging by a single thread of dental floss. "How could you do this to me?"
This single question continues to repeat like a mantra under hushed voices at midnight and loud voices in the middle of dinner. It seems to be the theme of almost every question asked about the affair. It keeps offended spouses awake at night and unfaithful partners in constant defense. This is the question that is asking so many other questions and begs to be addressed before healing can begin.
How Could YOU Do This To Me?
How could you, the person that told me that I was the most special person in the world, betray me like this? This question is about trust in the commitment to be responsible with a loved one's emotions. This is also about attachment. In most couples I see for infidelity recovery they are one another's most trusted person. Many times partners are the only trusted person. The offended spouse questions if this is the person they thought they knew. They question if they ever really knew this person at all, or if they should ever trust anyone again. To address this question is to address the identity of the person that was unfaithful. The hurting partner needs reassurance that the behavior does not define the whole person or their entire relationship.
How Could You Do THIS To Me?
How could you do this very personal, (assuming) mean-spirited, hurtful thing? This question is wondering was this premeditated? The query asks about the intent behind the specific behavior. It assumes that the offending spouse considered alternatives and willfully chose this action to use as attack. Some hurt partners read ill intent in the thought that their spouse conjured up this plan to hurt them in a very personal way. To address this question is to convey the absence of intent to harm by specific actions. Helping an aggrieved spouse to understand the actions are not purposeful in creating the depth of the pain.
How Could You Do This To ME?
This is the way the question is framed most in my office. How could you do this hurtful thing to create so much pain and punish me? The affair feels like a personal attack to most offended partners. It feels as though their spouse wanted to hurt them and knew this would destroy them most effectively. Many describe it as a dagger being hurled directly into their heart, with a twist and a smile. Others take it as confirmation that they are worthless and unlovable. To address this question is to address the feeling that this is a personal attack. An offended partner would need to be reminded (numerous times) that the act was not an intentional assault.
Infidelity recovery requires many questions to be answered in order to successfully heal. These are only some of the ways this question can be delivered and received. This very complex question is an accurate representation of many questions asked during the restoration process. Recovering from an affair is difficult but not impossible. Couples can and have come back stronger than ever before. Repair may not be easy, but it could one of your relationship's greatest accomplishments.
All hands on deck! I assume if you are reading this that your home is much like ours around this time of year. We struggle with coordinating open houses, supply lists, paperwork, clothes, shoes, new teachers, bus routes, the list seems to never end. Lazy summer mornings are traded for before dawn wake-ups and 100 meter dashes to the bus stop. We forgo trips to the pool to trips to the local Supercenter for the unanticipated item we neglected the day before. Managing all of this is exhausting! In all of the to-do list items competing for our attention, how do we keep our marriage alive? Here are a few suggestions to help your relationship alive (and dare I say thrive) through the chaos of this time of year.
Remember You Are In This Together
One partner may carry more of the load when managing day-to-day tasks, but in the end, you are a team. Sometimes it is easy to get irritable and soon begin to bicker with one another. Remind yourself and your partner that you are working together to get through this. When you disagree, try to hear the message instead of getting stuck on how it is being delivered.
Get Organized To Stay Organized
If your family is anything like ours, we start the year off really strong with organization. Sometime around the time the leaves change our plans have dissolved into a distant and fleeting memory. Sticking with a plan can assist you in making it through this school year successfully. Spend some time organizing schedules and then put in time each week or month to check in and make sure the plan is still viable. Start basic and expand as time and needs require. That will help your family to maintain over the school year and allow you to find for just the two of you as well.
This Too Shall Pass
In most families this back to school chaos is not permanent. One day you will find that most of the emergencies were temporary annoyances and will soon be forgotten. Years from now you will live in the peace and harmony that comes with no longer having school-aged children. Your family will find your own special kind of order and settle into a routine. Be patient, it will probably get better. Find ways to appreciate one another every day. What you say to your partner may out last the struggle you are in right now; becoming either comfort or contention for years to come.
Take Time Out For Self-Care
With all of the stress of meeting some deadline or standard don't forget to take care of your own individual needs. Some parents lose sleep over scheduling soccer practices and choir rehearsals. They drag themselves from activity to activity without stopping for rest or a decent meal. Your body is much like your car. If you don't put fuel in it, eventually it will stop. Do yourself, your partner, and your family a favor; get some rest. I don’t think the earth will stop because you took a nap every once in a while.
Spend Time With Your Partner
Sometimes it is easy to forget that you are more than just co-managers of the family. You are two people who love one another. The ultimate health of your family is largely determined by the health of your relationship. Put time for love and re-connection on your calendar because it is just as important as making sure the health forms are in by the deadline. Sneak away together on a regular basis. This helps your children to learn to prioritize their own relationships as well when their time comes. Regular attention to your spouse also teaches the children that they are not the center of the universe; helping them learn healthy boundaries.
Starting a new school year is difficult for many families. The first day of school signals new beginnings. Sometimes the school year also signals new anxieties (or old ones repackaged). Acknowledging that you are working together for a common goal could be a great way to bond in your relationship. Setting a plan and sticking with it will model organization, teamwork, and togetherness. While managing the children make sure to take some time out to nourish your marriage, your relationship will thank you for it.
Knowing when to begin the process of finding a marriage counselor is an arduous task for some couples. Marital distress is exhausting and seemingly all consuming, but some couples assume it will get better over time. This is true for some, but not true for many others. Many marriages suffer unnecessarily because the couple waits so long to reach out. My experience with couples tells me if you are thinking about it, you should probably take that insight seriously; it may save your relationship. Here are some signs that it may be time to seek assistance with getting your relationship back on track.
You Acknowledge Your Relationship Is Not Working
Some people expect their marital bond and happiness to decline over time. This is not the natural life cycle of a relationship. If you find that your marriage is suffering, stagnant, or emotionally painful than it is not working. We can feel when our relationships are not working. We no longer look forward to coming home from work or spending time together. Small disagreements turn into huge arguments. Neither of you feel loved, supported, or appreciated. You may have even tried to fix it on your own but nothing seems to work. This may mean it is time to reach out for help.
You Need A Blueprint For A Successful Marriage
Most of us haven't the slightest idea how to make a marriage work in 2017. The blueprint set forth by successful marriages in previous generations has become outdated. We have concerns we did not have in the past. We have to juggle social media, unlimited internet access, many of us have double income households, children, great careers, building businesses, etc. We struggle to figure out what our relationships are supposed to look like. If this is your struggle, you may consider an objective, well-trained ear to help you to define what your successful relationship will look like.
Things Are Not Getting Better
Every relationship has ups and downs. Some days you tell yourself that forever is not long enough to be in love with this person. Other days you question why you chose this person in the first place. Bumps in the road are normal and healthy. You will not be madly in love all of the time. Some days you will just be mad. You may consider making the call to a relationship therapist when the bad days far outweigh the good days, or the good days are so far and few between that you have lost track. This is a sign you may need some tools to help you communicate with one another more effectively.
Some people still struggle with the stigma of couples counseling as if they are admitting defeat. This belief could not be further from truth. You are admitting defeat when you don't try. You are most powerful when you decide to work toward what you want. Relationship therapy is about investing in the commitment you made to one another. The road back to one another is not easy, but it is definitely worth it.
In honor of Father's Day I thought I would write something for my guys.
Long before college I knew I wanted to be a couples' therapist. I absolutely loved the idea of sitting in a room with two people who seemed so far away from one another and watching them get closer and closer. One of the most compelling reasons relationship counseling is my chosen specialty is because I noticed guys do not get to say much in their relationships. We know the old adage "happy wife, happy life" which is true, but what about happy husbands?
It seemed to me that many guys are expected to be the silent partner in relationships. In counseling couples I've noticed some wives are vocal about her needs and those needs are frequently the topic of discussion. Many husbands couldn't, or wouldn't, or just didn't voice their needs and wants as much. But why?
I spent many years searching for the answers only to find very few texts that helped me to understand men in general and a minuscule amount that explained men in relationships. So I made it my mission to find out how I could help the guys in the relationships I see. I wanted to help give them a voice too. After years of searching and practicing I found several things that needed to be addressed if we (spouses, partners, the mental health community, etc.) were going to be effective with men.
Keep a respectful tone
Men respond best to respectful words and tone. It seems so basic but many times we forget this. Most men's ears are very tuned into tone of voice and will make meaning of it almost instantly. Some struggle with hearing the message if the tone is not respectful. Tone can make or break a relationship.
Honor the way he sees the world
Most men did not grow up in environments in which their emotions were encouraged or even appreciated. They were told they were weak or out of control if they showed the wrong emotion. This may have helped to shape how he feels about emotions in general. Being in a relationship may be much harder than we give him credit for. He is supposed to love someone but may have been taught not show his feelings. What??!! No wonder he may choose to keep feelings completely out of the discussion. It helps to appreciate his efforts when he feels safe enough to share.
Allow him his dignity
Watching a spouse completely berate a man sends a cringe that moves from the bottom of my feet to the ends of my curls. Some relationships have lost so much dignity I swear I am watching a parent correct their child. We sometimes revert to our most unhealthy patterns while upset. Having a peaceful discussion about issues gives us the best odds on a positive outcome.
Men are amazing and complex. Keeping these points in mind may create a safe place where a man can share what he thinks and feels. I believe we could all have better relationships if we respect each person's individuality and need; and this includes the men in our lives.
To all of my men out there who are raising a child (biological or not) I wish you the best Father's Day!
Let’s face it. Most of us avoid the difficult conversations with our partners because we don’t want it to start another fight. Soon we find ourselves doing a cost-benefit analysis. Is the desired outcome worth the cost of an argument today? Some days we feel brave and start the conversation while bracing ourselves for the emotional consequences. Other days we remain silent and let the anger and resentment fester only to have it explode days or weeks later. This does not have to be your fate. Here are some helpful tips to start a difficult conversation.
Check Your Anger
All emotions are valid. If you want a receptive partner to hear your concerns anger is not the way to engage them. Anger comes across as attack. Very few people can feel as though they are under attack and remain open and responsive. Most people respond with defensiveness, withdraw, or counterattack. None of these responses will help you or your relationship. Instead harness that anger and allow the other emotions to come through. If you feel lonely, hurt, or disrespected; say so. Someone who is concerned about your well-being is more likely to be open to you if they can connect with your emotional experience.
Check Your Motives
It may seem obvious to you that your motives are pure. This may not be so obvious to your partner. Make sure your words are chosen carefully and respect those “hot buttons” in your partner. If you know your partner is sensitive to feeling overpowered then make sure you are doing everything you can do to level the playing field. If your partner frequently complains about feeling isolated in the relationship make sure you are paying special attention to ensuring you have included your partner in the discussion. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself “Will what I say next ultimately pull us closer together or further away?” If you want to be heard and understood make sure that you words give life to your relationship.
Check Your Default
If you are prone to believing your partner does not love you or wishes you emotional harm you may want to refrain from those difficult subjects. The two of you must work through these fundamental issues before you can have open and honest dialogue. This is also true of your partner’s default. If they struggle to find the good in what you have to say the two of your will continue to struggle with difficult conversations. Once you have cleared away the negative subtitles that are playing under one another’s words you will be free to create a new story.
Communicating in relationships does not have to create additional strain in a relationship. Some conversations are difficult to start, yet we still need to have them. Be brave and express yourself. Honest conversations are the building blocks to emotional intimacy.
It is painful to be in a relationship where you sit up at night trying to figure out how to feel connected again. The silence between you and your partner is uncomfortable and familiar.
Many couples come into my office with similar stories:
1. They are better friends or roommates than they are lovers
2. The kids left and now they do not know each other
3. They are living completely separate lives.
The sad truth: I can usually trace the disconnect back to silence.
Most people do not enter into relationships with the expectation to drift apart; they just do. They let work, kids, family, activities, and life get in the way of building the love they want. Couples struggle to juggle all of the responsibilities of life so something has to give. Unfortunately many people assume they have time later to work on “us” because so many other things are demanding our attention. Some couples address it in short spurts with weekend getaways or date night. Other couples assume this is normal in long-term relationships and allow life to take over. The silence is deafening and neither of you know what to do about it.
Address The Elephant In The Room
This may sound like common sense, but ignoring the problem will not make it go away. Talk to your partner about how you feel. If you are feeling disconnected most likely your partner shares your experience. They may even thank you for bringing it up. Just talking about it can begin connecting the two of you in ways you have not been in years. Start the conversation without anger or blame; attempt to find out why. Avoid blaming or accusations.
Develop A Plan And Stick To It
Contrary to popular belief marriages can be healed outside of going to therapy. Honestly, therapy is not a guarantee to save your relationship. If you are both committed to your relationship you can read books by reputable authors, get support from couples you respect, go on a retreat; whatever you think would work best for you. If you find that you need more professional assistance make sure that your therapist specializes in your presenting concerns, has a clear plan, and is objective. An excellent therapist for individual counseling may not necessarily have the training and expertise needed to provide effective relationship counseling.
Make One Another A Priority
In order to start the process of transforming your relationship you must make it priority. Many marriages fail because the relationship is secondary to any and everything else. What you feed will flourish, what you starve will die. It is hard to excel in other avenues in life if your marriage is failing. Take the time to invest in your relationship to ensure it survival. The returns on your investment may continue for years (even generations) to come.
It is important to remember your connection was not broken overnight and cannot be rebuilt overnight either. It takes time to find those things that bonded you two in the first place. Your connection will be rebuilt one moment at a time as small drops into a bucket that can fill to overflowing; What keeps you from starting today?
Do you need support for your relationship? Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
When an affair is discovered, a relationship is changed forever. Two people are grieving different things at different times and the world seems to go into a tailspin. Partners who have the affair have their own list of challenges and I will reserve those challenges for another post. This post is about how the very identity of the betrayed partner is shaken to the core.
There must be something wrong with me.
Betrayed partners (at varying levels) will internalize the affair as an insult to who they are and what they provided to the relationship. "If I were younger, more attractive, more attentive"; the list goes on and on. This partner will put their very being under a microscope to extract some kind of meaning out of what they are going through. Most will blame themselves, some only for a short while until the anger sets in. Others may carry that blame for years.
The betrayed partner is trying to make sense of this somehow. The research and my experience with counseling couples recovering from infidelity teaches in most relationships the answer is much more complex than simply lost attraction. Even some of most desirable people in the world have been cheated on.
Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms Betrayed partners seem to experience a form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in many ways. They may experience:
This is a traumatic experience. Trauma is a highly stressful event that is emotionally overwhelming and exhausts a person's ability to cope. This is our brain and body's way to manage risk for re-injury and to regulate emotion.
Crisis of Identity and Loss of Trust in Many Facets of Life
To extend the understanding of the crisis in identity, many betrayed partners will ask: "What does this mean to the world around me?" . They lose trust in themselves to understand the world around them. They lose trust in their partner's love and fidelity. They also lose trust in the "realness" of the world around them. "If I didn't know this, what else is there I don't know?"
Many betrayed partners have to find a new place to put their identity, because the person or relationship they put it in is not as it seems. They are faced with the potential of no longer being part of a couple, and perhaps explaining to other people why the couple split. If they stay, the betrayed partner must contend with the embarrassment of this decision; even if only few people know. The person they were bonded to is not who they thought and the wake of that shock can spread to many (if not all) other aspects of life.
Finding Hope in a Dire Situation
Knowing that this event does not have to permanently define who you are is key. It also does not define your relationship. Affairs are such a taboo subject that statistics vary widely; between 30-60% of all marriages will experience infidelity. It is very likely that you know someone who has survived this. Getting support is key to recovery. For some support is reading books, others it is talking with a pastor or trusted friend. Most couples who are trying to stay together find a trusted therapist to assist them. The most important key to recovery is understanding that you must work to recover. Many couples are able to rebuild after an affair and emerge stronger and better than ever before. Some are better apart. Working toward recovery will help BOTH partners decide if they will be better together or on their own; but better is possible.
Most couples come to marriage/couple counseling stating that they have difficulty communicating. One spouse may say "my partner never listens to me". The other may say "you are always complaining". One may communicate too much, while the other, too little. It's frustrating and sometimes even depressing when you feel the person you want to connect with most is not listening. This challenge is not communication in a relationship as much as it is about understanding one another. Couples communicate anger and hostility very well. The challenge is openness and connection while needing to discuss difficult issues . Here are some proven ways to help the make conversations more productive; so that you can get back to the business of loving one another.
Timing- Many times partners run into problems when the attempt to have conversations at the wrong time. Fights erupt when heart-to-heart discussions are attempted when someone is tired, hungry, angry (hungry + angry = hangry), sad, or busy. If the topic is a serious one, wait until the other needs are met. Your chances are better for a positive outcome if you do.
Speak The Way They Hear- Many people are surprised to hear that women use about 25,000 words a day and men only about 10,000 (this is a generalization of course). Use this knowledge to your benefit. If you notice that your listener is zoning out when you talk, use a bullet point approach. If you realize your listener keeps asking questions, expand your point to include stories or metaphors.
Be A Model- This may be one of the hardest suggestions. If you really want your listener to hear you, you may want to be a great listener yourself. This would mean taking turns and trying to see the other person's point of view. This is called modeling; as you are showing your listener what you need. The challenge with this suggestion is that most people will only do this some of the time. If you can practice this skill and make it a part of all interactions it could make your partner more receptive to what you have to say.
Find A Positive- Go into the interaction with a positive thought that you would like to express to your partner. What can you appreciate about them? Sincerity is key because your partner will detect a phony statement a mile away. If you are genuine about having a positive attitude, it will show. If you are not, it will breed distrust in your relationship.
Stick To The Point- Bringing up delicate issues and/or asking for behavior change is delicate. The normal human response is for your partner to want to defend themselves. Expect that. They may bring up other issues in defense too. Acknowledge those issues immediately, then come back to the original point. Tackling one issue at a time is key in working through conflict in romantic relationships. Promise to revisit their issues later and keep your promise. Scheduling a time in the next 24 hours is a good idea. This will teach your spouse that you are willing to tackle difficult issues they will bring up in the future.
Discussions (and even conflict) are not bad in a relationship. Those who have successful marriages view conflict as a way to find deeper meaning and connect with one another. No couple does this perfectly, but small improvements over time can lead to big changes. Hey, look on the bright side, maybe a conflict every once in a while could motivate you to find great ways to make up.
If you would like support for your relationship please feel free to contact me at email@example.com
Couples fight. Some couples seem to have mastered the art of fighting. You may be surprised that couples fight in session. They say terrible things to and about one another. They say almost anything to get a reaction from the other. Webster defines "communication" as "the imparting or exchanging of information or news". Most couples do a great job of imparting contempt or venomous insults at one another.
Partners are taught tools like:
1. Use "I" statements
2. Convey your point non-verbally as well
3. Use simple concise language
4. Use repetition
5. Avoid blame
Great tools right? Not really. With distressed couples this may turn into something like this:
Her: I feel that you are an idiot. I should file for a divorce because I am married to an idiot (enter eye roll)
Him: I am an idiot. I married you (pointing).
Effective relationship counseling realizes giving tools partners can use to destroy one another is not an option. A better option is allowing the partners to experience one another differently. If partners can get to the heart of the why they are fighting, the fight changes drastically. Fights become rituals of connection, one way to promote healing, a way to work through issues, and a catalyst for great adventures in making up. There is a music to the dance of the conflict cycle; teaching the rules for communication are NOT the melody that reconnects people.