Constructive Conflict: Arguments That Help Your Relationship Grow

Constructive Conflict: Arguments That Help Your Relationship Grow

Constructive Conflict: Arguments That Help Your Relationship Grow

Why Constructive Conflict is Vital to Every Relationship

Having conflict in a relationship is often viewed as a negative thing. In reality, having disagreements is not just inevitable — successfully working through differences is what leads to health and growth in a relationship. Constructive conflict allows you to talk about the most important things, and find positive resolution for both of you. 

Literally, all couples will have different expectations, preferences or hopes around certain things. This causes friction, AND this is normal and expected — not a sign that there is anything wrong with your relationship.

The Difference Between Constructive Conflict and DEstructive Conflict

DE-structive conflict occurs (ironically) when people try to avoid conflict, and let things build up to the point where they’re angry, hurt, or explosively reactive. Generally, this happens between two people who love each other, don’t want to rock the boat, or who don’t know how to talk about their feelings in the moment. 

They tend to NOT engage in conflict until their feelings build up to the point that they are feeling really hurt, resentful or angry. Then they lash out or act out in ways that lead to unproductive conflict that often makes things worse instead of better.

Learning the keys to constructive conflict can help you avoid this.

Learning How to Talk Through Differences Constructively and Compassionately

The first key of constructive conflict is changing your internal beliefs about what “conflict” is. Try this on for size: 

  1. Conflict is NORMAL: Two people will of course have differences of opinion, different needs, different expectations or different wants. All “conflict” is, is discussing those things openly for the purpose of finding compromise and solutions. That’s all! 
  2. Constructive Conflict is GOOD: Talking through differences constructively will not just resolve the issues, these conversations are the vehicle for partners to understand each other more deeply, strengthen their bond, and develop a more satisfying and functional relationship for both people. In this way, “conflict” (at least, constructive conflict) leads to deeper connection.
  3. Not Addressing Conflict is BAD: In contrast, couples who don’t talk through problems openly and honestly will instead often begin to ruminate about unresolved issues, feel increasingly resentful, and feel more hopeless about the relationship itself. Particularly when people have negative beliefs about “conflict,” they may find it difficult to explicitly express moments when they feel hurt, disappointed, or frustrated. Instead, they stuff their feelings, don’t talk about it… and then it festers like an infected wound.
  4. Avoiding Conflict Damages Your Relationship: When “festering” happens, people become reactive. They are walking around feeling low-grade annoyed and resentful much of the time, and when they have a new (even fairly neutral) interaction with their partner, the anger and hurt feelings they’ve been holding on to often come out sideways. People will be snappy, critical, snarky, or cold.
  5. Avoiding Conflict Creates a Toxic Dynamic: Often the reactions seem out of proportion to the current situation because they are the buildup of unresolved feelings that are (ironically) created by attempting to avoid conflict in the first place. But — here’s the hard part — because in their partner’s eyes they’re behaving jerkily, without obvious cause, their partner will react negatively to them. That’s when an actual fight starts.

Avoiding Conflict Perpetuates Problems

Couples who are not able to learn how to communicate with each other and talk through problems constructively will often have repeated nasty feeling fights about the same issues over and over again. Arguments that never end in increased understanding or positive change, but rather partners feeling increasingly distant and alone. Over time, this rots a relationship from the inside out. 

Couples who have been bashing at each other unsuccessfully for years will get to a point where they don’t fight anymore. That’s when couples are on the brink of divorce: They’ve stopped engaging with each other because they have given up believing that change is possible for their relationship. They are emotionally withdrawing from the relationship. It’s only a matter of time before it ends. 

There Are a Number of Crucial Conversations that Every Couple Should Have

On an ongoing basis as the relationship and life circumstances continue to evolve “going there,” and talking about points of potential conflict as soon as you and your partner feel out of alignment with each other will help you both get back on track, understand each other’s perspective, find solutions, and build bridges to the center. These conversations don’t just solve problems and reduce conflict; they are the engine of growth for a relationship. 

Talking About Expectations in a Relationship

Couples (hopefully!) come from different families. Every family has a culture; a way of doing things, and a set of unspoken expectations about what “should” happen that is transmitted to their children — sometimes explicitly, but often not. When two people come together to form a new family they each carry with them a set of subconscious beliefs about what their partner should be doing or not doing as they build their life together. 

These expectations will often lead to conflict sooner or later, as each partner does what feels normal to them — unintentionally ruffling the feathers of their spouse. This is especially true for partners whose families differed in the way that love was shown or the way that people communicated. It’s critical that partners have self-awareness about their own beliefs, and understand that their expectations are simply a byproduct of their own family of origin experience, not necessarily “correct.” 

Being able to talk through their beliefs openly and honestly can help a couple understand each other’s perspective, gain empathy for why the other person behaves the way they do, and find ways of meeting each partner’s needs. Ideally, in doing so, they explicitly create a new family culture together; one that they both feel good about.

Talking About The Way You Talk

Couples will always have to talk about the way they talk to each other. As described above, when people don’t know how to lean into hard conversations constructively, negativity in a relationship increases. Then, when topics do come to a head, there is often a lot of negative energy around them. People then begin fighting with each other about the way they’re communicating, rather than about the problem itself. Learning how to stay calm and listen non-defensively is a core skill that is often hard-won for many couples. 

Furthermore, because people come from different places, they carry with them different expectations about how to communicate. One partner may be more conflict-averse, believing that “if we’re not fighting we are okay.” They may seem distant and uncommunicative to their partner, which is problematic. Another person may come from a high conflict family with an aggressive communication style, and their “normal” may be perceived as threatening or hostile. Still others may come from families where things are not addressed directly, but rather through behaviors. They may feel very frustrated when their partner is “not understanding them” when they are, in fact, not actually saying how they feel, or what they need out loud.

The variations of these differences are endless. But without an open discussion of them, and a willingness to learn new skills and bend in each other’s direction, these types of communication issues can cripple a relationship. 

Talking About Teamwork

When you’re dating, and in the early stages of a romantic relationship, your connection centers around being companions and finding novel ways to have a good time. As you enter into a committed partnership and begin building a life together, each partner needs to be putting time, energy, and work in creating and maintaining that life. 

As we all know, “adulting” is actually a lot of work: Jobs must be worked, homes must be cleaned, meals must be prepared, finances must be managed, yards and cars must be maintained. Throw a few kids and pets into the mix, and very quickly, life becomes a lot of care-taking.

All couples will encounter bumps in the road as their partnership evolves into one of increasing responsibility due to each of their expectations about what should be happening. Frequently one partner will begin to feel that their shared responsibilities are out of balance and that their partner is not contributing enough or in the way that they would like them to. [More on this: How to Create a More Egalitarian Partnership] Sometimes this is as a result of subconscious family of origin expectations or gendered roles that overly burden one partner (often the female, in heterosexual relationships).

This is not bad; it’s normal. All it means is that conversations are required to discuss how you’re each feeling, create new agreements, and find new routines that work for both of you. When this happens, and both people step up and follow through, balance and harmony are regained.

Leaning Into The Three “Touchy” Topics of All Relationships

How to Talk About MONEY

Most couples have conflict about money, sooner or later. This too is inevitable; money means very different things to different people. Each individual in a couple has a different relationship with money, different approaches to handling it, and different expectations about what should be done with it. In nearly all relationships, one person will have a more conservative approach to money (the “saver”), and the other person will be a bit more liberal (the “spender.”)

Again this is completely normal. All couples need to build a bridge to the center and create agreements around what “we” are doing with money that feel good for both partners. Many couples clash and fight about this topic, which is simply a sign that they’ve not yet come to agreements and learned how to work together as financial partners. Having constructive conflict where they each feel heard and understood by the other allows them to create a shared vision for their financial lives, as well as a plan for how to work together financially to achieve their goals. 

How to Talk About SEX 

Sexuality is another emotionally charged topic for many couples. Over the course of a long term partnership, most couples will experience ebbs and flows in their sex life. Sometimes people become disconnected sexually when they have a lot of unresolved conflict in their relationship, or their emotional needs are not being met by their partner. This is especially true for women. Other times, life circumstances such as job stress or having children make it difficult for partners to have the time and energy for a healthy sex life. 

While it’s normal for all couples to go through a “dry spell,” losing your sexual relationship can start to erode the foundation of what makes you a couple (rather than roommates, or friends). Because sexuality can be so strongly linked to attachment needs, body image, and self-esteem issues, people are often hurt or angered by the experiences they have (or don’t have!) with each other sexually. Conversations about this topic can feel extremely tense, uncomfortable, and even hurtful. Many couples find this subject more comfortable to avoid than to address, but avoiding it only leads to increasing distance.

It’s vital for couples to talk with each other about how they are feeling about their sex life so that they can reconnect with each other in the bedroom. Over the course of a long-term relationship, as the road of life twists and turns, this conversation may need to happen over and over again as you both evolve physically and as your family structure changes.

How to Talk About PARENTING

The parenting of children is another area in which couples will always have differences that need to be addressed and agreed upon. This is largely due to our family of origin experiences; we all subconsciously parent the way we were parented. (Or we parent as a conscious decision to NOT parent the way we were parented if coming from a patently abusive or neglectful background). 

There is a spectrum of approaches to parenting that range from more authoritarian to more easygoing. The problem is that couples may have highly negative reactions to the way the other person is interacting with or caring for their shared children if things are happening that are different from the way they think parenting “should” be. This is also an extremely triggering topic for people because of the deep love they have for their kids. When they see their partner doing (or not doing) something that they view as having a negative impact on the children, it’s completely understandable that people get emotional. 

The path to resolution is being able to respectfully talk through each of your feelings, perspectives, and preferences and find ways of parenting together that feel good (enough) for both of you. Remembering that there is no “right” way to parent is often extremely helpful for couples attempting to find unity in this area. 

Remember, addressing conflict openly, authentically, and compassionately IS The Path to a strong healthy relationship. (NOT the symptom of a problem!)

Differences are normal and expected. After all, you’re not marrying your clone! Getting married is an event. Becoming married is a process. All couples need to have a series of conversations as they do the work of coming together and creating agreements for how they communicate, how they show each other love and respect, how they work together as a team, manage money, and parent children. These conversations are critical, not just to resolve problems, but to grow together as a couple. Healthy, productive conflict is absolutely necessary for couples to flourish. Lean in!

All the best to you both,
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Let’s  Talk

Real Help For Your Relationship

Lots of couples go through challenging times, but the ones who turn "rough-patches" into "growth moments" can come out the other side stronger and happier than ever before.

 

Working with an expert couples counselor can help you create understanding, empathy and open communication that felt impossible before.

 

Start your journey of growth together by scheduling a free consultation.

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How to Feel More Secure in Your Relationship

How to Feel More Secure in Your Relationship

How to Feel More Secure in Your Relationship

Let Yourself Feel Loved

OVERCOMING INSECURITY | It’s not uncommon for both women and men to feel insecure in a relationship from time to time. We often see emotional insecurity as an underlying issue to address with couples who come to us for marriage counseling, couples therapy, premarital counseling and relationship coaching. After all, when couples don’t feel completely emotionally safe and secure with each other it tends to create conflict and problems in many other areas of their partnership. [For more on the importance of emotional safety and how it may be impacting YOUR relationship, access our free “How Healthy is Your Relationship” Quiz and my mini-couples coaching follow up video series.]

It’s especially true for people in new relationships to have some anxiety, but even people in long-term relationships can worry about their partner’s feelings for them sometimes. While very common, feeling insecure in your relationship can create problems — for both of you. 

Root Causes of Insecurity

If insecurity is an issue in your relationship — either for you, or your partner — you might be speculating about the root causes of insecurity and how to heal them. People can struggle to feel emotionally safe with their partner for a variety of reasons — sometimes due to their life experiences, but sometimes, due to things that have happened in the current relationship itself. 

Insecurity After Infidelity: Certainly being let down or betrayed by your partner in the past can lead you to struggle with trust in the present moment. Insecurity after infidelity or an emotional affair is very common. In these cases, the path to healing can be a long one. The person who did the betraying often needs to work very hard, for a long time, to show (not tell, but show) their partners that they can trust them.

Anxiety After Being Let Down Repeatedly: However, insecurities can also start to emerge after less dramatic betrayals and disappointments. Even feeling that your partner has not been emotionally available for you, has not been consistently reliable, or was there for you in a time of need, it can lead you to question the strength of their commitment and love. Trust is fragile: If your relationship has weathered storms, learning how to repair your sense of trust and security can be a vital part of healing. Often, couples need to go back into the past to discuss the emotional wounds they experienced with each other in order to truly restore the bond of safety and security. These conversations can be challenging, but necessary.

Insecurity Due to Having Been Hurt in the Past: Sometimes people who have had negative experiences in past relationships can feel insecure, due to having been traumatized by others. For some people, their very first relationships were with untrustworthy or inconsistent parents and that led to the development of insecure attachment styles. This can lead them to feel apprehensive or protective with anyone who gets close. However, even people with loving parents and happy childhoods can carry scars of past relationships, particularly if they lived through a toxic relationship at some point in their lives. It’s completely understandable: Having been burned by an Ex can make it harder to trust a new partner, due to fears of being hurt again.

Long Distance Relationships: Certain types of relationships can lead people to feel less secure than they’d like to, simply due to the circumstances of the relationship itself. For example, you might feel more insecure if you’re in a long-distance relationship.  Not being able to connect with your partner or see them in person all the time can take a toll on even the strongest relationship. Couples in long-distance relationships should expect that they will have to work a little harder than couples who are together day-to-day, in order to help each person to feel secure and loved. In these cases, carefully listening to each other about what both of you are needing to feel secure and loved is vital, as is being intentionally reliable and consistent.

Feeling Insecure When You’re Dating Someone New: And, as we all know, early-stage romantic love is a uniquely vulnerable experience and often fraught with anxiety. Dating someone new is exciting, but it can also be intensely anxiety-provoking. In new (or new-ish) relationships where a commitment has not been established, not fully knowing where you stand with a new person that you really like is emotionally intense. If you’re dating, or involved in a new relationship, you may need to deliberately cultivate good self-soothing and calming skills in order to manage the emotional roller coaster that new love can unleash. 

Feeling Insecure With a Withdrawn Partner: Interestingly, different types of relationship dynamics can lead to differences in how secure people feel. The same person can feel very secure and trusting in one relationship, but with a different person, feel suspicious, worried, and on pins and needles. Often this has to do with the relational dynamic of the couple.

For example, in relationships where one person has a tendency to withdraw, be less communicative, or is not good at verbalizing their feelings it can lead their partner to feel worried about what’s really going on inside of them. This can turn into a pursue-withdraw dynamic that intensifies over time; one person becoming increasingly anxious and agitated about not being able to get through to their partner, and the withdrawn person clamping down like a clam under assault by a hungry seagull. However, when communication improves and couples learn how to show each other love and respect in the way they both need to feel safe and secure, trust is strengthened and emotional security is achieved.

Types of Insecurities

Emotional security (or lack of) is complex. In addition to having a variety of root causes, there are also different ways that insecurity manifests in people —and they all have an impact on your relationship. As has been discussed in past articles on this blog, people who struggle with low self esteem may find it hard to feel safe in relationships because they are anticipating rejection. The “insecure overachiever” may similarly struggle to feel secure in relationships if they’re not getting the validation and praise they thrive on. 

For others, insecurity is linked to an overall struggle with vulnerability and perfectionism. People who feel like they need to be perfect in order to be loved can — subconsciously or not — try to hide their flaws. But, on a deep level, they know they’re not perfect (no one is) and so that knowledge can lead to feelings of apprehension when they let other people get close to them. In these cases, learning how to lean into authentic vulnerability can be the path of healing. [More on this: “The Problem With Perfectionism”]

Sometimes people who are going through a particularly hard time in other parts of their lives can start to feel apprehensive about their standing in their relationship. For example, people who aren’t feeling great about their career can often feel insecure when they’re around people who they perceive as being more successful or accomplished than they are. This insecurity is heightened in the case of a layoff or unexpected job loss. If one partner in a relationship is killing it, and the other is feeling under-employed or like they’re still finding their way, it can lead the person who feels dissatisfied with their current level of achievement to worry that their partner is dissatisfied with them too. 

Insecurities can take many forms, and emerge for a variety of reasons. However, when insecurity is running rampant the biggest toll it takes is often on a relationship. 

How Insecurity Can Ruin a Relationship

To be clear: Having feelings is 100% okay. Nothing bad is going to happen to you, or your relationship, or anyone else because you have feelings of anxiety or insecurity. The only time relationship problems occur as a result of feelings is when your feelings turn into behaviors.

If people who feel insecure, anxious, jealous or threatened don’t have strategies to soothe themselves and address their feelings openly with their partner (and have those conversations lead to positive changes in the relationship), the feelings can lead to behaviors that can harm the relationship. Some people lash out in anger when they perceive themselves to be in emotional danger, or that their partner is being hurtful to them.  Often, people who feel insecure will attempt to control their partner’s behaviors in efforts to reduce their own anxiety. Many insecure people will hound their partners for information about the situations they feel worried about. Still others will withdraw, pre-emptively, as a way of protecting themselves from the rejection they anticipate.

While all of these strategies are adaptive when you are in a situation where hurtful things are happening, (more on toxic relationships here) problems occur when these defensive responses flare up in a neutral situation. A common example of this is the scenario where one person repeatedly asks their partner if they’re cheating on them because they feel anxious, when their partner is actually 100% faithful to them and has done nothing wrong. The insecure person might question their partner, attack their partner, check up on their partner, or be cold and distant due to their worries about being cheated on or betrayed — when nothing bad is actually happening. This leaves the person on the other side feeling hurt, controlled, rejected, vilified… or simply exhausted. 

If feelings of insecurity are leading to problematic behaviors in a relationship, over time, if unresolved, it can erode the foundation of your partnership. 

How to Help Someone Feel More Secure

It’s not uncommon for partners of insecure people to seek support through therapy or life coaching, or couples counseling either for themselves or with their partners. They ask, “How do I help my wife feel more secure,” or “How do I help my husband feel more secure.” This is a great question; too often partners put the blame and responsibility for insecure feelings squarely on the shoulders of their already-anxious spouse or partner. This, as you can imagine, only makes things worse. 

While creating trust in a relationship is a two-way street, taking deliberate and intentional action to help your partner feel emotionally safe with you in the ways that are most important to him or her is the cornerstone of helping your insecure girlfriend, insecure boyfriend, or insecure spouse feel confident in your love for them. The key here is consistency, and being willing to do things to help them feel emotionally secure even if you don’t totally get it. This is especially true of the origins of your partner’s worry stem from early experiences of being hurt or betrayed by someone else. 

Tips to help your spouse feel more secure: 

  • Ask them what they need from you to feel emotionally safe and loved by you
  • Give that to them (over and over again, without being asked every time)
  • Rinse and repeat

How to Stop Being Insecure

Of course, it’s very frustrating to partners who feel like they’re not just true-blue, but doing everything they feel they can to help someone feel safe and secure… and yet insecurities persist. While partners of anxious people do need to try a little harder to help them feel secure, the person who struggles with insecurity needs to also take responsibility for their feelings and learn how to manage them effectively. Note: This doesn’t mean not ever having worried or insecure feelings (feelings happen y’all), but rather, learning how to have feelings that don’t turn into relationship-damaging behaviors.

Without the ability to soothe yourself, become grounded in the here and now, and get your emotional needs met by your partner (or yourself), unbridled insecurity can put a major strain on a relationship. But how? How do you manage insecurity? That’s the million-dollar question, and that’s why I’ve made it the topic of the latest episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast! 

If you’re struggling with insecurity in your relationship — either as the person who worries, or the one who’s trying to reassure them — you’ll definitely want to join me and my colleague Georgi Chizk, an Arkansas-based marriage counselor and family therapist who specializes in attachment therapy as we discuss this topic. We’re going deep into the topic of insecurity in relationships, and how to overcome it. Listen and learn more about:

  • The root causes of insecurity
  • The surprising ways insecurity can impact a relationship
  • Practical strategies to help someone else feel more secure
  • Actionable advice to help yourself feel less insecure
  • How trust and security are healed and strengthened
  • Concrete tools couples can use to banish insecurity from their relationship

We hope that this discussion helps you both overcome insecurity, and create the strong, happy relationship you deserve.

With love and respect, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby & Georgi Chizk, M.S., LAMFT

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How to Feel More Secure in Your Relationship

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | Love, Happiness & Success

Music Credits: Juniore, “Panique”

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Let’s  Talk

Real Help For Your Relationship

Lots of couples go through challenging times, but the ones who turn "rough-patches" into "growth moments" can come out the other side stronger and happier than ever before.

 

Working with an expert couples counselor can help you create understanding, empathy and open communication that felt impossible before.

 

Start your journey of growth together by scheduling a free consultation.

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Protect Your Relationship In Times Of Stress

Protect Your Relationship In Times Of Stress

Protect Your Relationship In Times Of Stress

Habits of Healthy Couples

In my work with couples through online marriage counseling and relationship coaching, many of my couples clients report that their conflicts become unavoidable and difficult during stressful conditions. Even the most healthy, successful relationships will admit that when outside stressors begin to permeate the protective barrier built with patience, perseverance, and care there is an underlying discomfort that starts to engross itself into the relationship.

Now more than ever as we face social isolation, city-wide quarantines, and the threat of a highly contagious virus we need to rely on our closest relationships for support. Unfortunately, the stressors due to the state of the world we are currently living in make our relationship conflicts heavy and difficult.  

When under perfect conditions, relationship conflicts are easily manageable and negotiable. Stress, however, awakens a fight-or-flight reaction that requires a mindful response from both partners. If you are looking for ways to protect your relationship in times of stress, here are five easy ways to look out for your partner and your relationship when things start to feel a little heavy.

5 Easy Ways To Protect Your Relationship In Times Of Stress 

Look for Opportunities to Show Grace

When we are experiencing a great deal of stress, anxiety, or worry we’re far less likely to be as forgiving, thoughtful, or mindful of other people as we would be normally. The lack of patience we feel when stressed (especially when stuck at home) can lead to a great deal of conflict in any relationship. 

As such, simply being aware of your or your partner’s shorter temper caused by stress can allow the flexibility of compassionate understanding. Looking for opportunities to show grace is an excellent way to protect your relationship in times of stress. 

If your partner is likely to experience high levels of anxiety and decreased patience as a result of stress, give them grace for it. Make these moments an open conversation and ask them how they’re doing, how they’re coping in spite of the increased stress, and if they need anything.  

When we show grace to our partners in their time of need, they are more likely to reciprocate for us in ours. Being supportive of your partner’s feelings and reactions to stress (even if you don’t fully understand) will strengthen your bond.

For more on communication in times of stress, read: Communication That Connects

Consider Your Partner’s Love Language

Every one of us has a special way we understand and process love. For some, it may be spending quality time together, while others may enjoy words of affirmation. When asking what your partner needs, consider their love language. If you don’t know what your or your partner’s love language is, here’s a link to a quick quiz to find out:  http://www.5lovelanguages.com/profile/

You can better support your partner when you know how they prefer to give and receive love, and vice versa. Stress and anxiety may prevent us from showing love in the best way, but if we understand our partner (and them us) on this deeper level, it makes showing up for one another easier.

Showing your partner love in the best way that they receive it can make a huge difference at the end of a long, stress-filled day. Sometimes, however, no matter how love is shown our loved ones may simply not be in the best place to receive it. When this is the case, it’s okay to give them adequate space to work through and process what’s happening internally.

Remember, your partner loves you! And if their “flight” response is initiated in times of stress – give them the much-needed space they may need to heal, so that they can show up for you when you need them the most!

Know that Time Apart is Okay!

Sometimes, after long stressful days what we need is a period of time alone to reset, recollect ourselves, and reorient to being at home. This can be extremely difficult for partners whose boundaries are drastically different from one another. 

If you are a “reacher” and always down for attention, but your partner tends to retreat when stressed or tired you can help them by giving them some alone time to process their day and feelings. This will help avoid conflict and maintain a healthy relationship. 

If you or your partner are encountering a lot of stress within the home environment, encourage one another to find a quiet space to be alone for a few minutes. This simple act helps to reset our internal stress meters allowing us to “show-up” more attentive and empathetic for our partner.

Looking for other ways you can practice empathy? Read: Empathy: The Key to Connection and Communication

Maintain Your Individual and Relationship Routines

Stressful situations often cause us to forego certain routines: relationship care routines, self-care routines, and professional routines. We NEED these routines to feel normal, be successful, and feel a sense of security in ourselves and our partner.

If you and your partner try to keep a regular date night once a week, do everything you can to maintain that routine. That means if you’re stuck at home, bring date night home. You can light candles, cook an easy meal together, and find a fun activity to do.

If you’re accustomed to an early morning workout in the gym but can’t go to the gym, find a few guided yoga videos or in-home exercises to keep your regular routine going. Maintaining your self-care routines will help you feel more comfortable in an otherwise stressful situation. Not to mention, exercise and a little R-n-R can refresh your mind and lower stress cortisol levels.

When working from home, it’s important to maintain your professional routines. Set a schedule, connect with coworkers via phone or online video, and meet your deadlines just as you would at the office. Also, stepping away from your work when the “workday” is complete will help you keep healthy habits around work / home boundaries.

These are just a few ways that maintaining routines can help protect your relationship in times of stress.

Externalize The Stress And Unite Together

We can all be guilty of bringing external stressors into our interpersonal relationships. The more stressful things become the more it impacts our day to day with our loved ones. Eventually, we find ourselves snapping at our partners, angry at them for little things.  

It may seem at these times that we’re angry or frustrated with our partner when what we’re really experiencing is loss. We miss our partner in the stress-free environment that allowed us to fully enjoy our partner’s company. Our partner isn’t our enemy during these times, in fact, they’re our greatest ally. 

Unite together, recognize how the stress is impacting your relationship, and talk together about how you both can work to lower stress and protect your relationship. 

These 5 Easy Ways to Protect Your Relationship in Times of Stress are all contingent on safe, open communication with your partner. Always communicate openly with your partner and do everything you can to listen and empathize with them. 

Wishing you all the best,
Silas Hendrich, M.S., MFTC

Silas Hendrich, M.S., MFTC is a couples counselor, therapist, and life coach with an easy-going, humorous, and down-to-earth style that makes personal growth work both enjoyable and effective. His tireless support, encouragement, and expertise help you get motivated to make real and lasting change in yourself and your relationships.

Let’s  Talk

Real Help For Your Relationship

Lots of couples go through challenging times, but the ones who turn "rough-patches" into "growth moments" can come out the other side stronger and happier than ever before.

 

Working with an expert couples counselor can help you create understanding, empathy and open communication that felt impossible before.

 

Start your journey of growth together by scheduling a free consultation.

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How To Keep Your Relationship Healthy During Self-Isolation

How To Keep Your Relationship Healthy During Self-Isolation

How To Keep Your Relationship Healthy During Self-Isolation

Staying Sane, Together

We have found ourselves in an unparalleled situation that no one could have predicted. The world is facing a challenge more difficult than anyone could have expected: forced family time indefinitely — home quarantine 24/7. For couples out there, you may be looking for answers on how to keep your relationship healthy during self-isolation. Because let’s be honest, being together All The Time can feel a little overwhelming. 

As an online marriage counselor and relationship coach, I am now seeing my couple’s therapy couples in all different types of situations, being confronted with new and unforeseen challenges in how to manage their relationships in claustrophobic quarters. Have you experienced this too?

Figuring out new formulas to handle household responsibilities when parents are working at home, being together 24/7 in a confined space, managing the kids 24/7, are all issues that no self-help book or couples therapist has advised on previously. [Speaking of kids and quarantine, here’s some helpful advice on how to survive! Tips to Survive Quarantine with Kids.]

Compounded by the increased stress and anxiety of financial issues and general uncertainty about the future, this quarantine has the potential to make or break our relationships.

I want to share with you 12 simple tips on how to keep your relationship healthy during self-isolation as we navigate through these very uncertain times. 

Embrace The Dialectic

One of my college professors wisely told me, “The closer you come to the truth, the closer you come to a paradox.” Almost every issue in life involves embracing the dialectic, which is examining how two contrasting ideas can simultaneously be truthful, and in the paradoxical truth, a greater understanding emerges. 

There are going to be times when you’ve never felt closer to your partner and when you absolutely detest them (this is normal!). In your relationship, you might get to connect and talk with each other in ways that you have never before but you might also get more annoyed and irritated than ever before! (If this is you, don’t worry – we have all been there!)

Embracing that you can have opposite feelings at the same time will relieve relational stress and anxiety that may feel pressing or hard to navigate. We do not have to choose one or the other. Embrace that your partnership is not black and white, and it is from the grey where true compatibility, trust, and partnership emerge. 

Receive Clarity Around Your Relationship

This surreal state of uncertainty is the perfect opportunity to discover your ‘truth’. 

Here’s were clarity around your relationship steps in – either you know that this relationship was not meant to work and this is the straw on the camel’s back, you now have the clarity to make the right decision for both of you. Or, more optimistically, the clarity you discover is around how much you really love your partner and how you are ready to jump in and give them your complete love and dedication. 

This is an opportunity for clarity, whatever that might mean for you. 

Gain Perspective And Create Your “Future”

How will you as a couple look back at this in 5 years, 10 years, and even 20 years?  My daughter’s teacher told her that this will be her generation’s 9/11. What will you tell your children and grandchildren about this time? As uncertain and rapidly changing this might seem, we are living history right now.

What do you want your memories to be? Did you learn how to live differently? Did it teach you something about what is really important and what your values truly are? 

Hold onto that after this pandemic is over and let it change your life. This quarantine can be what you make it — maybe you started your novel or cleaned your whole house top to bottom, or maybe it was a time to relax and reflect. 

Keep A Balance

Don’t bury your head in the sand, or become overly focused and obsessed with the crisis. There is a balance between knowing what is going on in the world and ruminating about it.

Everyone needs to focus on creating a balance. Life will go on and you will still need to function; so find plenty of time to balance your work, your relationships, and your life.

Limit your social media and time spent watching the news for the sake of your own sanity. This could be a good time to start new habits around the news, social media, and managing your own anxiety. [Here’s more on creating balance through Intentional Living – How to not Panic in the PANIC.]

Dealing With Crisis Shows Us Who We Are

How we handle challenges that life throws at us shows us who we are and shows us who our partner is. 

What are you learning about yourself and your partner during this time? How can you use this to cooperate better with your partner in the future?

Using this time to gain insight into your partnership will ultimately help set your relationship up for success as you move forward.

Slow Down And Tune In

If there is ever going to be a better opportunity to get off of the proverbial ‘rat race’, this is it. What do you want to do that you are usually too busy for? Who do you want to be that you’ve never given yourself an opportunity to be? This is your moment to jump in and work towards your best self

As a couple, this is an excellent opportunity to become the couple that you loved, that brought out the best in both of you. 

Show Your Vulnerability

This is a time to expand who you are in the daily rituals and expectations of everyday life. Show your partner that you want to connect. Show your partner that you are worried or that you are scared or that you are hopeful. This is a great opportunity to show more of who you are. Remember to laugh, make love, and dream. [For more on creating rituals together, read: Keys to a Successful Marriage During Quarantine.]

The “so-that” Principle

Everything we do in life is the “so-that.” The so-that principle says, “I do ___ so-that I can/feel/know/do/have/etc.” What is your so-that? What will this do for you in the road ahead? Is this making me happier? Or richer? Are you leading your life to be rich or successful, fulfilled, loved, or happy? What is your so-that? 

Look For The Spiritual Meaning

What existential questions is this time bringing up for you, your partner, and your relationship? I hope it brings up the fact that how we spend our days is how we spend our lives. How do you want to be spending your days and ultimately, your life together? 

Recognize The Fragility Of Life

When ask what people miss after a loved one passes away, the thing most commonly said is that they miss the little things. The everyday moments. The small annoyances. The daily habits. Choose to not let those moments go. 

Take stock of your time together, find gratitude in the little things – recognize the fragility of life and the brief moments the feel fleeting but important. Honor these moments.

Be Open To Sharing Your Feelings

Unfortunately, we do not get to choose which feelings to feel. We choose to feel all of our feelings or we try to feel none of them.

You can try to control your life so that you only feel the feelings you want, but it does not work that way. If you want to live life on life’s terms, you need to choose to be open to feeling them all. 

In a time like this, there will be moments of joy and moments of panic. Choose not to shut yourself down to that experience. You will regret it. Be open to sharing this experience as partners working through this time together as you work towards keeping your relationship healthy during self-isolation.

Warmly,
Brenda Fahn, M.A., LMFT

Brenda Fahn, M.A., LMFT helps people strengthen their marriages, their families, and themselves. She can help you enjoy your relationships with your partner and children, heal from difficult experiences, and cultivate meaning, joy, and love in your life.

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How to Keep Stress From Tanking Your Sex Life

How to Keep Stress From Tanking Your Sex Life

How to Keep Stress From Tanking Your Sex Life

Stress and Sex Drive

Is your partnership struggling to keep things “spicy” in the bedroom? Due to all the current stressors in the world, we are all experiencing a multitude of difficulties. As an online sex therapist and couples counselor, I have worked with couples through it all and commonly as a result of stress, it is possible that sex will take the last little note on a couple’s list of priorities. 

Even without extraordinary stressors like today, in most long-term relationships, sooner or later there will be a time when the sexual dynamic is not as ambient as it once was. Even in a happy and otherwise fulfilling relationship, sexuality can take a hit due to several reasons, including stress, major life events, hormonal changes, physiological concerns, etc.. 

However, when things in the bedroom become a little more dull, repetitive or almost absent, there are quite a few ways to “spice things up”. Because of the current state of stress that MANY of us are in, I wanted to share with you my favorite bedroom-play tips for more fun and less stress in the bedroom. You won’t believe how easy it is to keep stress from tanking your stress life!

Give Each Other A Sensual Massage

A massage will help you or your partner relax and connect with each other on a physical level. The massage doesn’t have to be very sexual or even lead to sex (although it can), but you should focus on making the moment intimate (so, not a sports massage). You can keep your underwear on, but make sure there is ample amount of skin to skin contact between the two of you. 

For the full effect to take place, use massage oil (coconut or olive oil is also fine), light some candles, put on some music, and create a nice relaxing ambience. Let stress melt away as you tune into eachother.

Not the best at home masseuse? Now that we have to wash our hands constantly, try making it fun by giving one another a hand massage with oil or hand cream. This can be a very sensual, stimulating yet simple activity to connect physically.

Genuinely Compliment Each Other

Compliments make us feel special and help us connect, and it’s easy to get caught up in the in the motion of life and to forget how good we can make our partner feel by pointing out our favorite things about them. Don’t hesitate to show appreciation for each other’s wonderful qualities. 

Try complimenting your partners unique personality and also mention all the things you find physically attractive about them (their eyes, lips hands, muscles, bottom, etc.).

When we feel good about ourselves (especially if our partner is the one giving us all the feels) then it’s a lot easier to take a step back, breathe, and find gratitude in all the little moments together

Pillow Talk

After sex, spend some time talking about what felt good during the experience. If you’d like something done in a different way, try approaching it with positive language, such as ‘ it feels great when you’ – try avoiding negative language like ‘don’t do this, or I hate it when you…’ 

Pillow talk can lead to some of your most intimate moments. Your connection to your partner may feel heightened during this time, your partnership may have the comfort of vulnerability, and using this time to express your love for one another – likes, dislikes, dreams, fears…can lead to a deeper strength and healthier stress levels in the long-run.

Read Erotic Stories To Each Other

This is a fun one…there are several books and online websites you can find that have erotic stories. Finding one that you like and sharing it with your partner can be a great part of your foreplay. If you are creative, you can also write your own stories about all the sexy things you’d like to do with your partner, in what setting. These can be hypothetical or very realistic. 

Reading to each other is a great way to get your heads out of the “real world” and into your relationship. If you or your partner struggle with foreplay due to the pressing stress of life around you – this is an excellent way to encourage one another’s sex drive while letting some of life’s worries go.

Share Your Sex-Fantasies

So many times I hear my clients share that they love hearing about their partner’s fantasies. Similar to the previous point, this can create a great amount of desire in your dynamic.

Sharing your sex-fantasies with your partner can open new opportunities to adventure in the bedroom. Encouragement here is key. You don’t have to be the most adventurous sex partner to have a little fantasy fun. Join in as you feel comfortable and have fun with it. 

Explore Your Environment

Have sex in different parts of the house/apartment – try the kitchen, livingroom, car in the garage, guest room or bathroom. Novelty is also a great way to light that spark and have fun.

Speaking of exploring your environment, get clean together. Showering or bathing together is in so many of the classic romance movies because it’s exactly that – romantic, sensual, heated, and fun. Lather one another up with soap while exploring each other’s bodies in a sensual way. 

Try A Sex Toy 

There are so many great sex toys available out there. Some are simple and very affordable; some are more elaborate. It is fun to get something that you can use together, but it can also be helpful to have one just for solo play. 

If you’ve never used a sex toy before, start simple and speak with an expert (or read some reviews). They can help you pick out the right plessure gadget for you and your partner. 

Test Out New Positions 

After some time, most couples have their usual 1-3 positions they stick to. I understand why = they work. However, when the spark starts fading, it is a great way to help you explore each other again. 

You’ll find that your preference might have even changed over time. However, most importantly trying new positions is not just about finding the best way to get to the end, but about having fun. Yes, sometimes it will be awkward or impossible, but try and have fun with it. Don’t be afraid to look or sound silly, as having fun together will boost your libido (and a boosted libido means less stress).

Solo Play (You do you, boo *wink wink*)

Spend some time self-pleasuring/masturbating. Solo play, like coupled sex, can help reduce stress. This can be part of your ‘me time’, where you can explore fantasies, explore what feels good, and what your preferences are. 

It will also provide a pleasure roadmap that will be useful for your partner, as once you know what feels nice, you can then teach your partner the best ways they can participate as well.

Send A Provocative Text

Sexting is for everyone, and it is a fun way to give your partner some insight on what is on your mind, or what some of your fantasies might be. You can do this even if your partner is in the same room as you.

Have fun, that’s what emojis are for anyway right? Sexting is an excellent way to get foreplay started.

Sensory Play 

Take away one or more senses during foreplay. Not being able to see or hear heightens the awareness on other pleasurable sensations and that can be very exciting. 

Make sure you establish the ground rules first, so everyone feels comfortable throughout.

Commit To One Sexy Act Every Day

This could be anything from a kiss, to a sensual massage, to doing any of the previously mentioned activities – staying in a frame of mind that promotes intimacy, can have a positive impact on your libido and help reduce stress both individually and within the relationship. 

Ask For Help When Needed!

If you feel sexuality is a difficult part of your relationship for any reason, even without the added stressors of today’s climate, rest assured there is help. Online sex therapy with a qualified consultant can be very helpful in exploring the root causes of the difficulties and finding solutions to help you get to a more fulfilling sex life while leaving that pesky stress behind. 

Here’s to spicing things up in the bedroom!

Dori Bagi, M.S., SAS, MACA

Dori Bagi, M.S., SAS, MACA is a kind, empathetic couples counselor, individual therapist, and life coach who specializes in sex therapy. Her friendly style makes it safe to talk about anything, and her solution-focused approach helps you move past the past, and into a bright new future of intimacy and connection.

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Dating After Divorce

Dating After Divorce

Dating After Divorce

Markie Keelan, M.A., LPC is a therapist, life coach and dating coach whose mission is to help you create authentic happiness and satisfaction in your life especially when it comes to dating after divorce. She supports you to create a deeper connection with others, as well as actualize your life’s purpose.

 

Ready to find love again?

I often hear the question, “When is someone ready to start dating after divorce?” That’s a hard question to answer, but those who are newly divorced give dating a lot more consideration than the majority of single folks out there.

Their hesitation to jump back into the dating pool makes sense; the reason being is that divorce shakes our confidence in our ability to connect. When you’ve gone through a traumatic relationship loss or breakup it can make you question your ability to trust others but also your ability to trust your decisions on choosing a partner. Dating after a divorce feels much riskier.

So, if you are lost with no idea where to even start with dating after divorce, don’t worry, you are not alone and there are ways in which you can help yourself. Here are some guidelines to help you recover and get back out there.

Tips For Dating After Divorce

  • Revise your self-talk to support your success

Confidence plays a major role in the healing process of divorce. Some relationships can be similar to an addiction to another person. Addicts don’t believe that they’ll ever be able to survive without their drug. Divorcees can sometimes feel like they’ll never be able to find love again.

This is a negative thinking pattern that can lead to more than just lack of confidence but isolation, anxiety, and depression. So be in-tune with what you are telling yourself, and try to create a more empowering narrative. Chances are a good dose of loving self-talk could help your situation. For more on how to do this, check out our Happiness Class.

  • Assess whether you are you really ready

You may not be ready to date if you’re still, in your heart of hearts, privately carrying a torch for your Ex. Like an addiction, when a relationship ends we can be ambivalent and question whether or not we’ll go back into that relationship again. Many people spend months after a breakup or divorce half hoping your partner may change their mind and realize they made a huge mistake. If that’s the case, you then are putting your healing process in their hands. Furthermore, any new relationship you attempt is likely to spin its wheels.

Take back control by committing to moving yourself forward. It may be helpful to get clarity and closure about why your breakup or divorce was a good thing. For example, recognizing that your past relationship wasn’t meeting all of your needs and working on clarity and closure for yourself. This may mean you keep distance from this person and take every precaution not to slip back into the purgatory of waiting and hoping. For many people, getting the support of a great breakup recovery coach or participating in a breakup recovery group can help them heal and grow, as opposed to wallpaper over the pain by dating prematurely.

Only then will you be genuinely emotionally available to begin a healthy new relationship with someone else.

  • Make a needs list

Many times in failed relationships we were not getting our needs met before they ended. Maybe you don’t even know what your needs are in a relationship because they have been on the back burner for so long. Take your time to write out a list of what you NEED in a relationship. This list could include, honesty, trust, quality time, etc. This list will help guide you in the dating process to be honest with you and your future partner of whether or not this relationship will work for you.

I also encourage my dating coaching clients to ask themselves, ‘What do I need to be able to come to a new relationship the way I want to?’ This way you are also looking at what you need to be able to provide in order to connect back to others in a way that isn’t compromised by manipulation or feelings of inadequacy.

  • Let go of the pressure to heal  

Depending on what the reasons were for the divorce, it could take days, or it could take years to grieve this relationship trauma. Don’t let a time frame determine your journey towards love. Feeling pressured by time or other people doesn’t help us grow into the person we want to be. I encourage divorcees who are not ready to enter back into the dating world to engage your support network and surround yourself with people you can rely on.

  • Focus on self-care

Lastly, I’d suggest making time for self-care. Surround yourself with people who support you, do things that are fun, and make sure you invest in rest, nutrition, exercise, and your healing process. When you put energy into your self and your own wellness, you’ll exude the confidence and self respect that’s so attractive to potential new partners.

Dating after divorce can feel challenging, but you have a lot of power. Remind yourself that although your mind may be trying to trick you that the rest of your life is going to be an uphill battle, it doesn’t have to be. Using some of these different approaches I’ve described, like revising your self talk, working through the past before moving forward, prioritizing your needs, honoring your own timeline, and practicing good self care can arm you with a set of tools to help you feel genuinely able to move forward, and challenge yourself to be open to finding love again.

All the best to you,

Markie Keelan, M.A., LPC

Ps: If you’re ready to jump back in the pool, here are more ideas to support you in this podcast: The New Rules of Modern Dating — check it out!

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