Attachment Styles in Relationships

Attachment Styles in Relationships

Attachment Styles in Relationships

Hey baby. What’s your attachment style? 

That question is overtaking “what’s your sign?” on dating profiles, and I have to say I think it’s an improvement. When a marriage counseling or relationship coaching client knows their attachment style, I’m thrilled; Becoming aware of your attachment patterns helps you understand how you show up in relationships, and how that impacts the way your partners respond to you. 

Can the Zodiac tell you that? I don’t think so. 

But, as with any psychological concept that gets compressed into 50-second TikTok videos and disseminated widely, confusion about attachment styles is gaining traction as quickly as awareness of them. And that’s too bad, because attachment is both important and fascinating stuff.  

When you become attached to a romantic partner, an invisible machine starts whirring in your brain, monitoring the security of that bond and the availability of your mate. If the relationship feels threatened, attachment prompts you to take action to preserve it, either through bids for more connection, or for more space. 

This machine keeps our relationships alive and in balance, which makes it possible for us to sustain love for a lifetime. So how does it work? And why does attachment look so different from person to person, relationship to relationship, or even from day to day? 

I created this episode of the podcast to answer these questions and more. We’ll be diving into the science of attachment, some popular misconceptions about attachment styles, and common attachment dynamics that may be playing out in your relationship — and how you can handle them. 

I hope this episode helps you to better understand yourself and your partner, and gives you a new appreciation for your brain’s incredible attachment machine. To get the most out of this episode, I recommend taking our attachment styles quiz first. 

With love, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Attachment Styles in Relationships

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Attachment Styles in Relationships — Episode Highlights

Attaching to a romantic partner is a fundamental human drive. It happens without much effort or conscious thought on our part — we simply canoodle with an attractive mate, and before long, find that even the thought of losing that relationship is enough to cause us a full-on freakout. 

Our first attachment is with our primary caregiver when we’re babies. There’s no substitute for this connection; without it, babies can’t develop into happy, healthy kids.  

But the quality of that primary relationship will shape the way we bond with other people for the rest of our lives. This is your attachment style, and it has a major impact on how you show up in your most important relationships. 

Adult Relationship Attachment Styles

The first thing to know about attachment styles is that they exist on a spectrum. Perfectly embodying one attachment style or another is exceedingly rare. Instead, attachment is a bell curve, and most people spend their time hanging out on its hilly center. 

With that caveat out of the way, here are the four identified adult relationship attachment styles: 

Secure attachment — People with a secure attachment style have the core belief that “I am ok and you are ok.” They believe they are worthy of love and respect, and generally trust their romantic partners to treat them that way. Securely attached adults don’t spend too much time worrying about whether their partner loves them, cares about them, or wants to be with them. They tend to recover from breakups and rejection fairly well, and they’re comfortable with both closeness and space in their relationships.  

Anxious attachment — People with an anxious attachment style aren’t so confident that they are ok. They worry that their partner doesn’t really love them, care about them, or want to be with them. They’re afraid of abandonment, and they require a lot of reassurance that their partner isn’t going anywhere. Sometimes their need for reassurance can arise through controlling behavior, and can have the effect of pushing their partner away. They may be labeled “needy” or “clingy.” 

Avoidant attachment — People with an avoidant attachment style don’t feel worthy of love and respect, and they don’t trust other people to meet their needs. They tend to feel it’s safer not to rely on anyone, and they have a core belief that they are on their own. When a partner tries to get close, avoidantly attached people can experience that as a threat. They may avoid commitment and emotional vulnerability, and develop negative narratives about their partners to justify holding them at arm’s length. 

Disorganized attachment style — Also known as anxious-avoidant attachment, people with a disorganized attachment style may display an inconsistent orientation toward their partners. They may want love and closeness, but have trouble trusting their partners, and feel a deep need to protect themselves from abandonment or rejection at all costs. They tend to alternate between pulling their partners close and pushing them away. Disorganized attachment is not the same as having fluctuating feelings about a partner, or a fluctuating desire for closeness; it’s a rare attachment style that’s associated with an abusive environment in childhood. 

Relationship Attachment Styles Aren’t Static

Our attachment styles vary from relationship to relationship, depending on how our partners are oriented. If we’re with an anxious partner, who only feels loved when we’re constantly reassuring them, we’ll naturally feel a little more avoidant. If we’re with an avoidant partner, who seems standoffish and remote, we’ll naturally feel a little more anxious, and a bit more preoccupied about the relationship. 

Even within the same relationship, attachment styles fluctuate. During periods when your partner seems more distant or withdrawn, your anxiety will be piqued; you might find yourself pushing for more affection or attention to alleviate your anxiety about how secure the relationship is, without being conscious that you’re doing so. If your partner starts to seem needy, clingy, or demanding to you, you’ll naturally push for more space, and move a little closer to the avoidant end of the bell curve. 

This is the attachment machine at work, helping your relationship find an equilibrium so that it can be sustained. But sometimes couples can get locked into extreme pursue-withdraw dynamics, particularly when an anxious partner is paired with an avoidant partner. This can cause a lot of conflict, and a lot of stress for both partners. 

If a pursue-withdraw dynamic is happening in your relationship, it can help to understand why you’re either withdrawing from your partner, or pursuing them, and what their predictable reaction to that will be. These cycles can be hard to break, but working with a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, who understands relationship systems, can help. 

Attachment Issues in Adults

When it comes to attachment, there’s a wide range of what’s normal and fundamentally healthy. Just because you tend to lean a little more on the anxious side, or you tend to need a little more space in your relationships, doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong. 

But that doesn’t stop people from armchair diagnosing themselves or their partners with “attachment issues,” which are actually pretty rare. Attachment issues in adults are on the far ends of the attachment style bell curve, and they’re often associated with childhood neglect, abuse, trauma, and abandonment, or with personality disorders that develop independently of those experiences. 

Of course, this happens, to varying degrees. It is possible that your past experiences or your genetic predispositions have led you to develop attachment issues as an adult. But labeling yourself or your partner with attachment issues isn’t helpful; It makes it harder to develop self compassion and understanding, to learn and grow in your relationship, and to develop the trust and emotional safety that a healthy attachment requires. 

Attachment Styles In Relationships

If you suspect that you and your partner’s attachment patterns are triggering conflict in your relationship, working with a licensed marriage and family therapist with an understanding of attachment can be incredibly helpful. 

And just being part of a healthy relationship can also go a long way toward healing insecure attachment. Through secure relationships, people can recover their sense of trust  and safety with others. [To learn more about how this works, listen to this episode on Healing Relationships.]
I hope you enjoyed this episode on attachment styles in relationships, and that it helped you understand some of the invisible dynamics at work in your relationship. Want to learn more about your own attachment style? Take our attachment styles quiz.

Episode Show Notes

[5:52] Attachment Styles in Relationships

  • Attachment is having an emotional, psychological, and, to an extent, physical bond with someone.
  • There are three main attachment styles—secure, anxious, and avoidant. 
  • None of these attachment styles are “wrong” or abnormal. 

[15:17] Do I Have Attachment Issues?

  • People have a tendency to self-diagnose themselves with specific attachment issues without understanding what’s healthy.
  • Most people fall within the normal spectrum of secure attachment with some behavioral tendencies towards anxious and avoidant attachment styles.
  • There is no one with a perfectly secure attachment style.

[22:35] Biological and Childhood Influences of Attachment Styles

  • Attachment has its roots in basic human survival drives; we need communities and family bonds.
  • Answering an ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) questionnaire can help you understand if you have some difficulty with attachment. 
  • If your attachment style is causing issues in your relationships, it’s best to consult a licensed marriage and family therapist.

[30:04] Attachment Issues in Adults

  • Bonds and attachments happen in every relationship, not just with your romantic partner.
  • Changes in relationship dynamics or responsibilities can cause rifts that may threaten a person’s attachments on an emotional level.
  • Relationship distress can make even the most securely attached people exhibit traits of insecure attachment.

[41:03] Opening Discussions About Attachment.

  • It’s okay to talk about attachment behaviors you or your partner exhibit.
  • Talking to your partner or people can help you both feel more secure with each other.


Music in this episode is by Yuutsu with their song “Attached.”

You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: https://yuutsu.bandcamp.com/track/attached. Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.

Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you're listening to the Love, Happiness, and Success podcast.

That's the band Youth Zoo with the song Attached. I think doing a beautiful job of conveying the bond of a strong attachment to another person, and perfect for our topic today because that's what we're talking about—attachment styles in relationships, and how to figure out yours as well as that of your partner. 

This is a super important topic, but I think also one that is very much alive in the zeitgeist right now. There's a lot of talk about attachment issues and what they mean, and not all of it is great information. I hope to dispel some of the myths today and help increase your clarity, and confidence, and understanding about attachment styles in order to be able to use this awareness for positive things in your life and in your relationships.

I'm glad we're here together today. Thank you so much for joining me. If this is your first time listening to the show, I am Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I'm the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling & Coaching. I'm a licensed psychologist; I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist; I'm a board-certified coach; and I am the host of this podcast. I love doing this show for you.

My intention of every single episode is to make these really, genuinely helpful and valuable for you. I'm always listening to your questions that come through on Instagram. Sometimes people email us hello@growingself.com with your questions, and so that I can be sure that I'm creating podcasts that are genuinely helpful to you. 

If you have questions or things that you would like to learn more about, please get in touch with me. I would love to hear what's on your mind. What I have been hearing a lot of lately is how incredibly important your relationships are to you, and understandably so. I mean, our relationships are truly the most important things in our lives in many ways. 

I mean, having healthy relationships with other people is just so fundamental to having happiness and the life that you want. When things are not well with our relationships, or when we want more closeness with people than we have, or if we're feeling a lack of love and connection in our lives, it really impacts us on every level. There is a reason for this. 

This is not some deficit that you should be happy by yourself and you aren't, so, “What's wrong with me?” It’s not even going to bat that away. The truth is that humans are built to bond. It is why we are here. It is essential to our survival from an evolutionary perspective, and attachment is also fundamental to our wellness. 

That is true for children. Children literally cannot develop properly without secure attachment bonds. Some people experimented with this early in the late 1800s, early 1900s of the powers that be decided that it might be a better idea to take poor children away from their filthy alcoholic parents and put them in hospitals or orphanages. Perfectly clean, nice rows of gorgeous sparkling cribs, fed at regular intervals by clean nurses dressed in white and bundled up in identical little swaddles. 

It all seemed like a good idea. Unfortunately, though, the babies kept dying, and nobody could figure out why. Until the psychologist and researcher John Bowlby showed up and had the gall to say, “Hmm, maybe it has something to do with our lack of attachment to one consistent caregiver.” Everybody sort of scratched their heads and said, “Oh, okay, maybe.” 

They revised that policy, thankfully. Attachment in infancy is crucial to literally growth and survival. It is crucial to our developing of psychological health and wellness in very basic ways in early childhood. It is no less important to us as adults, and the idea that it should be otherwise is very much a myth of Western culture.

I'm just going to take that myth away from you while we're talking. Instead, turn our awareness to what attachment really is and how it really works. My hope for this conversation is to help you understand what is normal and also help you understand when there might be signs of real attachment issues, so that you can manage them effectively because you can. So we're rolling into all of it today. 

This is a huge topic. We have a lot to talk about. We're probably not going to cover all of the everything about attachment during this conversation today, but broadly, I'd love to give you an understanding of all of this. Let's start by just defining our terms. Like, when we talk about attachment styles in relationships, what are we talking about? 

Attachment Styles in Relationships

Attachment is essentially having a bond with someone—an emotional bond, and a psychological bond, and, to a degree, believe it or not, a physical bond with someone. In the sense that when we do bond with another person, we experience neurological changes and even hormonal changes. Attachment happens on very deep levels.

When we're talking about attachment styles, we're referring to your signature ways of relating to others. Broadly speaking, there are several different kinds of attachment styles. There are what we think of as a secure attachment style, which is the ability to have strong, enduring relationships with other people. 

Where the core assumptions and the core kind of emotional experience of that relationship is, “I am fundamentally okay. I am fundamentally worthy of love and respect, and other people are fundamentally okay and trustworthy. I can connect with someone and feel generally sure that they will treat me well and be nice to me. I will get my needs met in this relationship, and we're all alright.”

That is the nonscientific way of describing what it feels like to have a secure attachment style. Not that there aren't ups and downs, but that fundamentally, “I'm okay and you're okay.” It's important to understand that the attachment kind of style, the way of relating, extends to other people as well as to yourself, “I'm okay, you're okay.”

There are other types of attachment styles that can show up when babies, young children, and anyone through our lives have experiences with other important people that teach you otherwise—either, “I am not okay, and I can't trust you,” is where other kinds of attachment issues start to show up.

Broadly speaking, there are two other kinds of attachment styles. There is an anxious attachment style where the core experience with other humans is, “I'm not sure that I am okay. I'm not sure that I am worthy of love and respect, and I'm not sure that I can trust you to meet my needs.” What that turns into is a lot of anxiety about relationships. 

“I don't fundamentally know I'm okay, so I need a lot of reassurance from you that I am okay. I need a lot more like active love than a securely attached person needs in order to feel okay. I don't trust that you're gonna give it to me. Even if you do give it to me, I can't trust it, that it's real, so I need more, more, more, more, more.”

Somebody with a really anxious attachment style never really feel secure in relationships, never really feel loved, and really needs a lot of reassurance and like active love behaviors. “You have to say nice things to me and give me lots of compliments and tell me you love me 75 times a day. If I text you, you have to check me back within five seconds. If you don't, I'm going to be very upset because what does this mean?” So lots of anxiety.

Also, in very anxiously attached people, it turns into a lot of controlling behaviors because they really need this from others in order to feel okay and secure. When they don't get it, they tend to get very escalated and very upset. You see a lot of control happening in relationships from anxiously attached people who are trying to get their partners to do things in order to help them feel better, essentially. That is one far end of this attachment spectrum.

The other end of this attachment spectrum refers to people with avoidant attachment styles. Similarly, early in life, they had experiences with usually caregivers where they learned, “I am not worthy of love and respect, and I cannot trust other people to be safe or meet my needs. Therefore, I am making an executive decision that I no longer need other humans.”

“Other humans are not relevant. They are not important. I am the only person that really exists, that matters, I can only trust myself. I'm not even going to try to connect with others, or think for a moment that my needs will be met by them. Because not only will they not be, if I get too close to them, I will be in danger, so I'm just not going to do it at all.”

An avoidant attachment style turns into a fundamental psychological solitude, essentially. “I am the only being. Other people are sort of around. I may try to utilize them in order to get my needs met. But without an emotional attachment, because that is not going to end well.” People become very much islands with an avoidant attachment style. Other people aren't safe, fundamentally. 

There's also not a desire to attach to other people, commonly with people who have very serious attachment issues on the avoidant side of the spectrum. What this also looks like in practice is that in relationships with people that do begin to develop some closeness, somebody with a very avoidant attachment style, will begin actively rejecting that other person. 

These happen at like deep emotional levels that are nonconscious, but what that bubbles up into is a lot of consciously all of the reasons why somebody isn't good enough. It's a lot of criticism; it's a lot of comparison; it's a lot of focusing on somebody's negative characteristics—all the reasons why they're not going to be a good partner, and really kind of talking themselves out of a relationship, because fundamentally they feel uneasy being close to other people, and so they rationalize it. 

Somebody with an avoidant attachment style will usually have a series of fairly short-lived relationships. They will either find ways to end those relationships—kind of breaking up with people, and it is always the other person's fault, by the way. Or there can be a lot of, like, cheating behaviors because, in their minds, they're not in a relationship anyway. The other person is not that important to them, and there all these other people that they could be hanging out with, so hey, why not?

It can look like the sort of indiscriminate attachment. Superficial kind of bonds with other people that—but nobody is, like, really important is what that can kind of look like. These attachment styles, as you are inferring, can have major issues on the health of your relationships. If you have a very pronounced attachment style in one of these directions or another, it's going to be global. 

If you have an avoidant attachment style, it's going to show up in every relationship with your significant other, with your family, with your boss, and vice versa. It's very powerful stuff. It's important to know this about yourself if you have these tendencies in every single situation, because this stuff has to be managed or you are going to blow out of every relationship, right? Through no fault of your own, like you didn't make this happen, and was the hand you got dealt, and it's crappy, and it's yours to deal with, and again, it can be managed by understanding it.

It is also true that there are attachments, and attachment styles, and attachment experiences that happen in relationships that can feel like these, and to a degree, they are very, very normal behaviors, truly. Again, while the attachment issues are very significant, either if you see them in yourself or if you're trying to have a relationship with somebody who has very significant attachment issues, it's real.

Do I Have Attachment Issues?

But the thing happening right now that I think is so interesting is people are self-diagnosing, or diagnosing their partners with attachment issues, without a full awareness of, like, the normal spectrum of what this looks like and how attachment always works in every relationship. I think a great example of this, I sometimes get asked to provide expert opinions or whatever, with journalists will, like, reach out and ask for commentary.

I had this one very nice girl reach out not too long ago. She was working on a piece for publication about attachment styles and relationships, and could I provide some insight like, “Yeah, sure.” We're talking with each other about attachment and kind of secure versus anxious, avoidant. As we were speaking, she was like, “I'm pretty sure I have disorganized attachment style. Like, I'm anxious and avoidant in relationships.” 

I heard that was like, “Oh, really? Tell me more.” She's like, “Yeah. Sometimes just when I'm with people, sometimes I worry about how they feel about me, but then sometimes I wonder if I really want to be with them anyway. So I don't know, I'm pretty sure I have disorganized attachment styles.” 

Like, “Okay.” In the back of my mind, I was thinking, unless you were raised in an orphanage staffed by Satanists, I don't think you have disorganized attachment style. It's very rare, and it is very profound. It is associated with, like, really serious early childhood and abuse—abuse, and neglect, and abandonment. Certainly, like, that exists, right? 

I mean, people do end up in foster care and live through terrible neglect, and drug addicted parents, like all those things happen. But even then, like, if babies have even just enough, like, somebody in their lives was good enough, they can achieve so much resilience and so much health. 

But—what, anyway, what I came to understand through talking with this journalist, and what has also come out in conversations with clients, is that I think what's happening is that people are learning about attachment styles, anxious attachment styles, and avoidant attachment styles, and doing the same thing that I and the rest of my classmates did in our first year of counseling school, where we read the DSM and basically diagnosed ourselves with everything in it, and started handing out diagnoses liberally to friends and family. 

It's because with things of a psychological nature, we can see instances of these things in ourselves. If you have just enough information to be dangerous, it is very easy to make kind of sweeping statements about yourself and others that are not just inaccurate, they're also not helpful. Here's the irony, doing that too much can also create issues in your relationships.

If both you and your partner are completely fine, have secure attachment styles, but if you are interpreting either your or their behavior as being in some way pathological and then kind of going off to the races in that direction that will also cause problems. 

I want to unpack this a little bit more with you. What ended up happening with this journalist, and also sort of happens usually with clients, at some point during our sessions, I do begin drawing weird pictures. With this journalist, the weird picture that I drew was one of a bell curve. I don't know if you've ever encountered a bell curve in any statistics classes.

But essentially, if you visualize a hill—a hill with it's higher in the middle, and on each side, it kind of slopes down. What we do with these hills, these bell curves is it's kind of a visual representation of normal distributions of things. When it comes to attachment and secure attachment, imagine that the middle of the hill is fairly broad. Everybody in, like, that highest middle part of the hill has a secure attachment style. 

There is no exact center. There is no perfectly, perfectly securely attached human. We can all kind of trend towards one side or the other based on our normal life experiences. But due to the culture of our families or just some things, we can kind of have a natural tendency towards being a little bit more attached or a little more avoidant, and still be very much within that normal spectrum.

Then, when we start to get to the edges of the hill and start to slope down on one side or the other, this is where attachment issues begin to be more pronounced. They're both on a spectrum. You can go from that normal, secure attachment to slightly anxious attachment. As we continue sloping further down the hill, and we kind of get to that tippy end. That is, is where you'll find severe attachment issues. It represents a very small part of the population. 

Most people are somewhere in that secure spectrum. Whatever happened with their caregivers or early life experiences was good enough—does not have to be perfect, it has to be good enough. When we start getting to the sides of the hill, it means that there are some non ideal things that left tendencies either towards avoidance or towards attachment, much more rare in terms of a percentage of the population. 

Then at the very tippy ends of the slopes are those serious attachment issues that I was describing for you earlier on the show, where people fundamentally have serious issues in their relationships where they cannot feel safe and secure with other people. They're very anxious, they become very controlling and demanding, or, on the other side, they are avoidant to the extent that they essentially block any efforts at attachment.

Those, again, are rare and are associated with serious things. I've had clients who do have those more severe kinds of attachment issues. Every single time it has been associated with things like being in foster care infancy, being raised by addicted or mentally ill parents who were not functional enough to meet children's needs consistently. 

Attachment Style Quiz

If you are curious to know if your life experience is kind of consistent with that serious attachment injuries, you might consider taking the ACEs questionnaire. ACEs stands for Adverse Childhood Experience scale, I think. Anyway, Google it. It has a number of questions, and if you have a relatively high ACEs score, it means that you have had fairly extensive adverse childhood experiences, trauma experiences that would be consistent with those kinds of attachment disorders. 

If that is the case and you're having these consistent issues in relationships, my sincere and heartfelt advice is that you take this to a psychologist—a very good, qualified, licensed therapist. You could see a clinical psychologist. A licensed marriage and family therapist will also have specialized training and education in attachment styles to be able to work with you on some of these things. For the rest of us, we're somewhere on that spectrum, right? 

Why this matters is because the other thing that happens that confuses people is that, again, going back to the very first thing we talked about, because we humans are built to bond, we have hardwired machinery essentially in our brains and in our bodies that create attachments to people. Whether we want them to or not, I mean, we spend a lot of time with a person and kind of have a trajectory towards particularly a romantic relationship, you will develop attachment bonds.

One of the things it's important to know is that these bonds are created and maintained at nonconscious levels. They are related to human survival drives. Our ability to attach and bond to other humans is as fundamental to life. Human life continuing as like feeding yourself and not freezing to death from an evolutionary perspective because humans are a collective species. 

We would not have survived out in the wild without being in tribes, in groups of people who were connected to each other, loyal to each other, and these were often groups based around family bonds, kinship bonds. Then, certainly, when it comes to the attachment bonds that parents have to their children and the partners have to each other, it gets even stronger.

When you think about it, it makes perfect sense from an evolutionary perspective because a parent cannot walk away from an infant, that infant would die. Similarly, partners, I mean, if there's a couple that has had a child together, and it's 100,000 years ago, that the female and the infant are going to be highly dependent on the male, or I don't know, maybe, depending on the culture of the tribe, it was the other way around.

But there's so much energy that goes into raising human babies, people literally cannot do it alone. The attachment bonds that people formed with each other held them together, even when things got hard. Even when there's a drought, or a famine, or a war, “I'm not going to leave you.” Because if people were left, people were abandoned, that's it: lights out, right?

These bonds exist in humans the same way that they exist in animals. You're seeing those documentaries of, like, mother bear or little bear cubs, and the mom is trying to, like, take care of the babies; same thing. These are very, very, very old, deep parts of your brain that are older and deeper than the part of your brain that is conscious. It's only the outermost layer of our brains and new parts of our brains that have conscious thoughts. 

They visualize things; they think in words; they think into the future; they can make sort of interpretive associations or have creative ideas. That is the very outermost layer of your brain. That is what separates humans from animals. We have that sitting on the surface, but the rest of our brains, the inside, is still very much that old mammalian brain, and that is the part of your brain where attachments are formed and maintained.

There are some things that are a little bit different with human attachments, obviously, but it's important to understand that these are just so deep and so powerful, and they are baked into the machinery. I don't know how many of you listening have been pregnant before. But I remember when I had my first baby and was pregnant, I was fascinated by all of these things that my body was just kind of automatically doing that I had no idea. 

It could do, like, all this stuff, just sort of like going on autopilot and things happening. It's like, “Oh, I was built for this. My body was designed, and it knows exactly what to do in order to create another human.” There were all these little mysterious, like, architectures and things that sprang into life when it was time to grow a child, right? The same is true for your brain. You have structures in your brain, you have hormones that get activated, neurotransmitters that get activated when we develop attachment bonds. 

Interestingly, and I've shared this in other podcasts, particularly related to why it can be so difficult to end a relationship, like, some of the breakup recovery podcasts I've done, is that there is evidence to suggest that the parts of your brain responsible for those attachment bonds are the same parts of your brain that have opioid receptors and dopamine receptors.

When we think about becoming addicted to, like, illegal substances, or heroin, or cocaine, or whatever, the reason why people can get addicted to those illegal substances is because those drugs use the parts of your brain that nature originally developed to bond to other people. They essentially hijack it. I think that's very interesting and also important to know that bonding process is a natural, healthy, normal, addictive bonding process, but is just as powerful. 

Attachment Issues in Adults

Biology aside, the reason why it's important to understand how fundamentally just human this is, is because attachment bonds happen in every single relationship. Wow. In the example of two securely attached people who get together, and they have a nice relationship, and generally speaking, they feel comfortable being close to each other. They aren't terribly preoccupied about their partner, worried about things. 

They will, if their relationship becomes distressed, have these attachment kind of flare ups, because our attachment bonds mobilize in efforts to restore kind of balance, or equilibrium in a relationship. 

For example, if you are married to a nice person, you're having a nice time and something changes. I don't know, maybe you start⁠—maybe you had a child, and now all of a sudden, you know, who's taking out the trash or getting up with a baby is more fraught than it was, right? The totally normal, unexpected, but what can happen is that people can experience these kinds of relational problems as a threat to their attachment bond.

“You're leaving me with all this housework, you're not getting up with a baby on an emotional level,” that turns into, “Don't you love me? Don't you still care about me?” When these attachment bonds are threatened, all this emotional machinery flares into life.

What happens is that partner will kind of move towards the anxious end of the spectrum and say, “Hey, why aren't you doing this? Where are you? I need you to do these things. Please help me with this.” They become elevated, can sometimes even become aggressive in pursuit of getting their needs met, because they're trying to restore equilibrium into their relationship. 

On the other side of this same situation, nice secure relationship and all of a sudden, one of the partners is now experiencing their formerly calm, kind, generally loving partner as being aggravated with them, snappy with them, frustrated with them, and on an emotional level, their attachment becomes threatened. It turns into, “Oh, I am not safe with this person anymore. I need to kind of keep away, move away, distance.”

That will sometimes turn into disengagement, defensiveness, kind of in our narratives around, “Oh, you're just being ridiculous. It's not that big of a deal.” That is reminiscent of someone with an avoidant attachment style. That is also efforts to kind of maintain equilibrium in a relationship. This is very common. 

I would struggle to think of a couple that I've ever seen over my decades-long career as a marriage counselor who was in a distressed relationship and coming in for help, and who was not having an attachment bond kind of flare up as a result of it.The most common combination we see is a pursue-withdraw kind of orientation where one person is aggravated, angry, semi-hostile, accusatory, and the other person is withdrawn or avoidant in response to that.

This pursue-withdraw, kind of round and round the thing, not fun, but very normal. Because the pursuing partner is feeling anxious in the relationship and is trying to get their needs met from their partner through outreach, that can often be angry and can often sort of come across as being controlling, right? Nobody starts this, and it's nobody's fault.

The normal behavior is to kind of withdraw in response to somebody who is—you're experiencing is threatening or critical or kind of out to get you, and vice versa. If you are in a relationship with somebody where you aren't getting your needs met, they aren't behaving in ways that make you feel loved and respected, the very normal and natural response to that is to say, “What the heck? Are we still doing this? Are you still there?”

The reason why I wanted to get into this a little bit is because these patterns are very, very common in relationships and have nothing to do with anybody being fundamentally securely or avoidantly attached when they show up. Two people standing at the tippy top center of that hill in any kind of relational distress will always start to fall onto one side or another with each other. 

You can also have different experiences in different relationships. You can be in a relationship with one person who was maybe a little quieter or shut down or did not speak your love language and it made you start to feel a little bit anxious. You will begin to have anxiously attached tendencies in that relationship as a result of your reactions to that particular partner.

In a different relationship, you might be with somebody who's coming on a little strong, who wants to spend more time talking than you do, who maybe wants to have sex more than you do, wants to spend all their time together. You'll be like, “Yeah, I think I need to see some other friends right now,” or “Okay, it's a lot. No more talking.”

It could even be like an introversion-extroversion thing. I mean, there could be all kinds of reasons why there can be these sorts of differences. But in response to that person, you're going to try to regain equilibrium by pulling away a little bit from them. If you think back on your life experience with different people that you've been around, and can observe yourself kind of showing up differently in different relationships. 

That's why our relationships are systems, which means that we react to other people, and then those other people react to us. This is why relationships and and couples counseling honestly can get so complex, is because there's this interplay of attachment, potentially, attachment styles, but also like attachment responses, and understanding these systems, right?, and the way that people relate to each other.  

That is why, like, a marriage and family therapist—a licensed marriage and family therapist will be able to understand all of these systemic pieces. Whereas if you go to couples counseling for a regular therapist, either an LPC or just a psychologist who doesn't have that systemic training, and they will look at both of you sitting in their office and be like, “Oh, well, you're avoidantly attached, and you're anxiously attached, and you guys are not—I can't believe you found each other. What are the odds.” 

There's this tendency to kind of look at individual psychology as opposed to that systems psychology. What winds up happening is that one or both of you gets pathologized. It turns into being about your issues, as opposed to understanding that dance that you two are doing together, so that you can resolve it together, which is what a marriage and family therapist does. As an aside, if you are going to see couples counseling, look for a licensed marriage and family therapist.

But back to the attachment piece. The other thing that can happen here with attachment stuff is that when people don't really understand how significant and severe, very real, like, attachment issues are, they can look at the experiences that they are having in their relationship, either how they are feeling in their relationship currently, or how they are experiencing their partner, and they can also begin to label and pathologize these.

The same way that if you went for couples counseling with a clinical psychologist who may have had one class in couples theory and techniques, there is a tendency to begin pointing the finger. If you are with a partner who is withdrawing, who is uncommunicative, who is not responding to you the way that you want them to, and you read some article or see somebody dancing on TikTok talking about avoidant attachment styles, it's like, “Oh, my partner has an avoidant attachment style.” That's what's wrong. 

Ironically, what that turns into is, first of all, a lack of awareness of how your partner might be experiencing you—that is leading them to kind of avoid, and move away, and experience you as being more hostile and critical because now you're pointing your finger and calling them avoidantly attached and, “You're broken psychologically,” whatever. 

It's really to the detriment of real relationships to pathologize our partners in this way, or vice versa to be in a relationship with somebody who wants more love and affection and attention than you've been giving them. 

If you read a little bit of pop psychology, you might want to label them as having an anxious attachment style, which then gives you permission to basically invalidate everything they say next, because you've already decided that they have broken attachment styles and they're just being ridiculous, so you don't have to change anything about your behavior in this relationship, because it's not your problem, it's their problem, because they have an anxious attachment style.

Again, not helpful. If this is a relationship that you're interested in keeping, it's important to understand systemically what people do in relationships in response to each other. That involves these signature attachment styles in relationships.

Now, of course, it is also possible that you are actually connected to somebody who has adverse childhood experiences that has resulted in nonideal attachment styles. If that's the case, also, just be cautious and understand that these things exist on a spectrum. That nobody is perfectly secure, or avoidant, or anxious. Again, other people might seem different than you based on cultural factors or what was normal in their family, which might be different than yours. 

Also, that there's a wide variety of “secure” in the middle on the top of that hill there, so give people the benefit of the doubt. If you are experiencing somebody as being avoidant, or attached in their interactions with you, it's okay to have a conversation about that. 

I listened to this podcast about attachment styles, and I realized we might be doing this thing together. Listen to—you can get somebody to listen to this podcast with you and say, “I feel like we're doing this. I feel like you might have sort of anxious tendencies with me, and I could feel myself kind of stepping back from you. I wonder what we can do to both help each other feel more stable and secure again.”

Because again, all that means when people start behaving this way is that they're not feeling secure in their relationship. Either they're experiencing danger that they need to move away of, or they're experiencing a lack that they need to pull out of their partner, right? 

Just to be how we'll have a conversation, like, “I feel like we're probably doing this with each other, and I'd like to get back to center again. What would help you feel safer and more secure with me?”, and to have a conversation about that. 

Now, of course, if this has been going on for a while in a relationship, and bad feelings have been happening as a result, what you will also see is that people, their core narratives about each other start to change, it turns into “always/never” kind of language. “She is always complaining. I can never do enough. She's never satisfied. She has unrealistic expectations.” It's fundamental to her character, or “He is just unloving. He's dense. He has zero empathy. I think he might have Asperger's. He's incapable of loving me the way I need to be loved.”

It turns into these, like, global kinds of narratives that we hold about each other. That is a serious danger sign in a relationship, and one of the key indicators that it is time to get in front of a competent marriage counselor quickly, because if that goes unchecked, that'll snowball into a lot of disconnection. 

The on-ramp to this is often just having those interactions with each other where these attachment styles are being expressed. People don't get to that core narrative without having had experiences with that person over and over and over again that teach you, “He will not understand how I'm feeling. He doesn't have any empathy for me. Why try? I'm just gonna give up right?” There's a long on-ramp to that, so just be aware of that. 

Now very lastly, on the subject of those attachment styles in relationships, I will also say that if you believe that you are in a relationship with somebody or that you yourself are kind of on one side of that hill or another. So either an anxious attachment style as evidenced by consistently worrying about how not just this partner, but all your partners feel about you, whether or not you're loved, looking to specific behaviors to confirm whether or not you're loved. If you aren't getting those behaviors, feeling really bad and upset, needing a lot of reassurance and kind of safety seeking in your relationships.

One thing you might do—if you scroll back through my podcast feed, I did a podcast about trust issues in relationships, so you might want to check that out. But also recognizing that the other side, too. 

If you or your partner are on the other side of kind of an avoidant attachment style, so the other side of the hill, there's a lot of distancing from people, a lot of criticism of other people, a lot of ambivalence about relationships, like, “Not quite sure I want to be here with you. Are you really good enough for me? I don't know.”, so like hot and cold kinds of things. 

If you or your partner are either of those, the first step is achieving awareness that that's a thing, it's global, and breaking the idea that you're only feeling this way because of the specific person. If you have real attachment issues, it will be global. It will show up in all of your relationships, not just the one that you're in currently, so that's kind of the big sign. 

Then, also, it's important to understand that just like people are harmed in relationships, that attachment machinery can change in response to what we experienced in very early infancy and childhood, and also through relational trauma later in life, I should add, not to the same extent. But okay, probably too much information.

Just like how people are wounded in relationships, people are also healed in relationships. The best thing that you can do if you have an anxious tending attachment style or an avoidant tending attachment style is to be in a healthy relationship with a person who is somewhere in the middle. Somebody who has a secure attachment style will be able to kind of ride the waves and the ups and downs of life with somebody who has anxious or avoidant tendencies and kind of help restore equilibrium.

They will not be as reactive, and it will be an emotionally safer relationship. Although you can take the most securely attached person in the world and put them in a relationship with an anxiously attached person, they will exhibit avoidant tendencies in response and vice versa. 

The most perfectly securely attached person in the world, match them with somebody who has an avoidant attachment style, and they will become anxious in that relationship with that person in efforts to kind of restore that emotional equilibrium. 

But recognizing this and working towards achieving a healthy, secure relationship with that person will not just  feel better for everybody, but it will also be very healing. You might want to check a podcast that I recorded a while ago now with one of my colleagues, Dr. Paige, here at Growing Self, who specializes in relational trauma and talking about the power of healing relationships. 

Even if you did have negative experiences early in life, and you might always feel a little anxious or a little ambivalent about people as a result, if you understand that about yourself and create a healthy healing relationship with a partner, you will have corrective emotional experiences that essentially retrain your mind, retrain your body, retrain that really deep attachment, bonding place in your brain that other humans are okay, they can fundamentally be trusted, and that you are fundamentally okay. You are worthy of love and respect. You're good, and you can expect generally good things from other people, too. 

When you have those experiences over and over and over again, no matter what stage of life you're in, it is fundamentally healing. You deserve to have that. Healing relationships are key. I would invite you to go back and check out the podcast on healing relationships. Also, if this is an area where you'd like to work on yourself, I would strongly suggest that you get connected with a really good therapist who can help you unpack all of this, uncover the blind spots, and help you gain the self-awareness that we talked about so much during this episode. 

Very lastly, there is another resource that I have for you on a previous podcast where we addressed attachment styles and relationships. I did a attachment style quiz that is really more of like a self-assessment and almost like a mini workbook. It's totally free. But if you want to check it out, you can text 55444 and then text the word “attach”. Wait, I’m embarrassing myself now⁠—“attach” to 55444. 

Anyway, you'll get an email with this activity that I created for you. It is a series of questions that isn't, like, some trite true/false, “Oh, this is your attachment score.” It's really more complex. It'll invite you to walk through, like, some journaling questions. You'll have some prompts to like reflect on your experiences growing up, some of those core assumptions, and I designed it to help you gain some awareness around those old patterns in yourself, so it's a useful tool. 

If you have a therapist, you could certainly show it with them and do it with them. It might even be something interesting for you and your partner to do together if this is something that you're working on together as a couple, provided that you can have emotionally safe conversations about it together. 

But anyway, it's a nice set of activities that can help you get clarity, but also even, I don't want to oversell it. You're not going to resolve attachment issues just by participating in the activity, but it will get the ball rolling, so there's that. 

Again, you can text 55444—to text that number and then just type in the word “attach” and you'll get the link to the activity. Okay, that is all for now. Thank you so much for spending this time with me today. I hope it was helpful to you and I will talk to you soon on another episode. I'll be back next week.

All right.

Building Confidence in Dating

Building Confidence in Dating

Building Confidence in Dating

If you’ve been swimming around in the dating pool for any time at all, I’m sure you’ve heard this advice: Be more confident. It’s sexy!

And, if you’re someone who struggles to feel confident while dating, that advice probably feels about as helpful as if you’d been told to be taller, or younger, or to have better hair. 

Lacking confidence is a problem that feeds on itself: When we don’t feel good about ourselves, that feeling can contribute to outcomes that make us feel even worse. We might view every rejection as a verdict on who we fundamentally are, and question whether we’re ever going to find the love we’re looking for. 

Unfortunately, none of that is attractive to the kind of partner you want to connect with. They’re looking for someone who’s solid, who knows who they are, and who can show up and be themselves, flaws and all. 

It doesn’t help that the modern dating process itself is a confidence-undermining machine. I constantly hear from therapy and dating coaching clients that the ghosting, breadcrumbing, and rollercoaster of disappointments that accompany online dating make it hard to feel good about themselves, and to persevere through the dating process. 

That’s why I wanted to create this episode of the podcast for you: So you could learn about the roots of true confidence, in dating and elsewhere in life, and show up to every encounter feeling sure of who you are — and fundamentally happy with who that person is. 

My guest is Neha P., a therapist and dating coach here at Growing Self. Neha has helped many clients find self confidence and love, and today she’s sharing some insight that will help you too. 

I hope you’ll tune in, on this page, Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. 

Xoxo, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Building Confidence in Dating

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Building Confidence in Dating — Episode Highlights

When you’re struggling with dating, it’s easy to start feeling bad about yourself. Many people wonder if they’re doing something they’re unaware of to turn off potential matches, or even, when things are going really badly, if they’re fundamentally worthy of love and respect

All of this can take a toll on your self confidence, and can make continuing to put yourself out there to face more rejection a challenge. But being able to cope with rejection and bounce back reasonably well is the number-one skill that you need to find love. There are literally billions of people who are not a match for you; you only need to find one who is, and continuing to date is the way to do so. 

Building confidence in dating can help: By building up your self-esteem, you can manage rejection in a healthier way, while becoming more attractive to the right person in the process.

Online Dating Confidence

Online dating can make it especially difficult to hold onto your confidence. Dating apps give us access to more potential partners than we’ve ever had in the past — and every one of those potential partners is also faced with just as many choices. 

When we have more choices, in dating, or shopping, or even in choosing which career we want to pursue, we take longer to settle on a decision. And that means we’re all doing a lot more rejecting, and we’re experiencing a lot more rejection. 

Add to this that communicating through a screen doesn’t always put us on our best behavior, and you have a dating pool that’s full of uncertainty, churn, and unnecessarily harsh rejections from people we don’t know (anyone who’s been ghosted after a few dates knows what I’m talking about). It’s enough to take a toll on anyone’s confidence. 

One way to maintain your confidence in the online dating climate is to keep these realities in mind, and recognize that they’re not just true for you, but for everyone. Online dating is an isolating experience, and when we’re not talking about it, it’s easy to imagine that other people have it easier than we do. But if you do talk with friends about their experiences, you’ll probably hear online dating horror stories that rival your own. 

Remembering that online dating carries some serious downsides, and that they’re not unique to your experience, can help you prevent disappointments from eating away at your confidence. 

What is Confidence in Dating? 

Confidence, in dating and all other areas of life, is about having a basic sense of trust in yourself. When you’re confident, you feel like you deserve good things. You feel like you have the right to take up space, speak your mind, and generally be yourself. 

Confidence isn’t about striving to be better, although we often think we need to improve before we earn the right to feel confident. Real confidence comes from self acceptance, and from valuing and appreciating yourself for who you really are. 

Dealing with Rejection in Dating

No matter how confident you are, rejection hurts. Literally — our brains process social rejection like they process physical pain

When you experience rejection in dating, the first thing you should do is validate that for yourself. It makes sense that you’re feeling sad, disappointed, and maybe even a little hopeless after a string of failed attempts at connecting. It’s totally normal to doubt yourself and to compare yourself to other people. 

Next, practice having a supportive inner narrative. What are you telling yourself about the rejection and what it means about you? Is this how you would talk to someone you love? (Hopefully, you are someone you love). There are likely pieces of your narrative story that aren’t accurate. This is a good time to remember your “wins,” or instances where you weren’t rejected (or, maybe even times that you were the pickier partner who did the rejecting!)

Part of having a supportive inner narrative is taking a realistic view of what rejection is actually about. We tend to personalize it, and assume the other person thought we weren’t good enough. But, in reality, we have no idea what’s going on inside that person, and rejection often has more to do with their own preferences, readiness, and whims than anything essential to us. 

Finally, try approaching your “failures” with a growth mindset. While it’s true that many of our dating disappointments are beyond our control (for example, it’s not really up to you whether someone is attracted, feels chemistry, or is at a point in their life where they’re able to connect on a deep level), you may be able to identify some regrets from your dating experiences. That’s ok — making mistakes and then improving is all part of the process. 

Dating Confidence Tips

Still not sure how to feel more confident while dating? Here are a few tips: 

  • Make a list of things that you like about yourself. You might feel a little silly doing this, but seeing your self-love on paper can help you remember your best qualities. 
  • Remember a time when you felt confident. Were you making someone laugh, taking part in a hobby you love, or maybe just doing your job? When you’re on a date and feeling like a big sweaty pile of nerves, remember you’re also that person, and this potential match may just get to see that, if they’re lucky. 
  • Remind yourself that it’s not (just) about you. Whenever we’re having a relationship, there are at least two people involved. The person you’re dating will bring their own issues, preferences, values, attachment styles, and context to the table, and those things will either line up with what you’re able to offer, or they won’t. Rejection really isn’t as personal as it sometimes feels. 
  • Remember you also deserve to be picky. You deserve to find a healthy, loving relationship with someone you’re genuinely excited about. Don’t approach dating with the mindset that that’s not out there for you, or that you’re going to have to settle. 
  • Treat other people with kindness and compassion. When you treat the people you’re meeting like human beings with emotional lives as complex and important as your own, you can date with integrity, and feel more confident about yourself and about what you deserve from others in the process. 
  • Give yourself time and space to process rejection. If you start to feel down, burned out, or hopeless after dating rejection, give yourself a break. Dating is supposed to be fun — not a grueling exercise or a form of self punishment. Take good care of yourself emotionally, and you’ll be better able to connect with the people you meet. 
  • Get clear about who you are and what you want. You probably have a list of what you’re looking for in a life partner, but have you taken the time to get clear about your own goals for dating, and the kind of relationship you’re trying to form? When you have clarity about your intentions for dating, you have some structure to follow, and you feel more like you know what you’re doing. And that helps you feel confident. 
  • Repair past hurts and heal before moving forward. Finally, before you jump back into the dating pool after a rough breakup or divorce, give yourself the time and space to heal. When you’re fully through with the healing process, you’ll be more open, available, and more attractive to the kind of partner you’re looking for. 

Episode Show Notes

[02:29] Self-Confidence and The Online Dating Experience 

  • Many people struggle with confidence in dating. You’re not alone!
  • The online dating experience is difficult and solitary.

[13:00] Comparing Yourself

  • Comparing yourself to others can affect your confidence.
  • Social media only shows snapshots of happy couples, not the string of rejections that came before.
  • Dating is a numbers game. You need to be strategic, but remember to be kind to yourself and others in the process. 

[14:32] What is Confidence?

  • Confidence comes down to having trust in yourself and your authentic identity.
  • We deserve to trust ourselves instead of thinking we need to earn it.
  • You can feel the most confident when you know who you are and accept it, rather than striving to change.

[22:46] Hang on to Your Authentic Self

  • Remind yourself that rejection is not always about you.
  • When you experience rejection, take your time to heal and feel ok on your own again before entering another relationship.
  • You can potentially hurt others if you are not taking care of yourself emotionally. 

[30:31] Repairing the Damage Done to Self-Worth and Self-Confidence

  • Get clarity about the experiences and red flags you want to avoid.
  • Communicate your needs in new relationships.
  • It comes back to being authentic and finding out early on that you are simply not compatible instead of seeing it as a rejection.

[37:41] Difficult Topics In Dating

  • Avoid difficult and overly personal topics on the first date.
  • Don’t spend the first date trying to figure out if you can be in a long-term relationship. Just figure out if you want to go on a second date. 
  • Talking about difficult topics is a gradual process.
  • Know what you’re looking for and date with intention. 

[42:59] Red Flags in Overconfidence

  • Watch out for people who are not as interested in talking about you as they are in talking about themselves.
  • Overconfidence can be a sign of fragility or something harmful.
  • There should be a balance in your conversations. Are they showing up with authenticity?


Music in this episode is by Redhino with their song Hope.

You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: https://redinho.bandcamp.com/track/hope. Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.

Lisa Marie Bobby: I am so excited about today's episode because today we're discussing a topic that I just know is going to be so helpful for so many people who, like so many, are looking for love and for healthy, new relationships. That means today we're talking about how to date with confidence. Every dating coach or advice columnist out there will tell you, and I think they're largely right in some ways, that confidence is an incredibly important attractive quality when you're out there dating. And I'm sure you've noticed this, in your experience that when you're finding people that, those early stages, their level of confidence is oftentimes an attractor or a turn-off, particularly if it's absent. We understand that we see that and other people said, we gravitate towards that sense of inner security. 

But paradoxically, dating itself is a confidence smasher for many people. I mean, you only need to have been ghosted one time by somebody that you really liked. It makes you question yourself. It's hard to keep putting yourself out there, particularly if you're starting in early relationships going on a few dates, it's not working out. I mean, it's sort of the antithesis of what any of us need in order to feel confident and secure in ourselves. To address this conundrum, and help you find some clarity and direction for how to reconnect with your strength and your self-confidence in this situation, I have invited my dear colleague, Neha, to join our conversation today. 

Neha is a therapist on the team here at Growing Self. She is also a marriage counselor, a couples counselor, relationship coach, who often works with couples who are on a quest to strengthen their relationships or improve their relationships. But she also works with a lot of people as a dating coach. People who are looking for the same thing that you are to have a healthy, happy, high-quality relationship and how to build that from the ground up. So, Neha, thank you so much for spending some time with me today. Thank you. 

Neha P.: Of course, and thank you for that introduction. I am so looking forward to having this conversation with you around a topic that feels so applicable to a huge audience. So I'm looking forward to this conversation. 

Self-Confidence and The Online Dating Experience

Lisa:  Well, it's so relatable I mean, like every single person that I have talked with who is dating, particularly the online dating experience, it is hard. And I think it's very common to have experiences through dating itself that damage self-esteem and self-confidence, quite frankly. I mean, I've known so many people that I've just like, given up after a while, they're like, “I can't handle it anymore”. They take down their profiles, “I don't even want to try.” So it's very real. This can look like a lot of different things for different people. But with your clients, what are some of the things that you've seen around that confidence in dating? What do you hear people talking about?

Neha: I feel like one of the most common things that I hear from my clients around dating, especially in this age in which online dating is so prevalent, it's so accessible to many people. And so a lot of people are maybe venturing more towards online dating is that it's really easy to be ghosted. I think it's really common to be ghosted, unfortunately. I think that in itself can be such a confidence-killer because there's this lack of closure around, “What did I do? Or what didn’t I do that contributed to us not continuing our conversation or to the conversation just ending abruptly?” 

I think that can really get into us examining ourselves, “What did we do wrong?” and ruminating on the fact that it's about us in this moment for being ghosted, as opposed to wondering what might that other person be experiencing, if they're even ready to engage in this type of relationship that is contributing to them ghosting you.

Lisa: It makes you question, 

Neha: It makes you question and makes you really be hard on yourself in a lot of ways, too, and really nitpick around how am I presenting during our brief conversation or even just through the stating profile?

Lisa: Yeah, did I use too many emojis? I use the wrong emoji. I mean, like it can be very nitpicky kinds of that I say the wrong thing. Yeah, wow. And at the same time, I think that should add insult to injury, people are often told that they need to be confident or to present themselves as confident in order to be successful in dating. There's like this weird bind, this chicken or the egg kind of situation and it's so hard. 

Neha:  It is so so tough, and I think in a lot of ways, easier said than done. When it comes to being confident, especially if we've experienced sort of like a string of rejection, through our dating experience. Just as you were mentioning earlier, a lot of people can sort of lose interest or desire to be dating when there has been this sort of not-so-great experience or feeling rejected in those moments. I think one thing to acknowledge is that our brain can process rejection similar to physical pain. It's not only this, like, emotional pain that we're experiencing, but it could be a physical pain as well for feeling overstimulated. 

We might experience headaches or tension in our shoulders, or even nausea to a certain extent. I think at times, we can also underestimate how rejection can impact us not only emotionally, mentally, but also physically at the same time. 

Lisa: That's a really good point. Just thinking about what you're saying, there's like a rejection response that's kind of like hardwired in us in some ways. Like, I don't know, if you've had this experience, but I have where there's a situation that like, in retrospect, I don't even care that much about. It's not a super important situation, or  I'm not deeply invested. But if I feel, rejected by this situation, or like, it's something, I'm losing something, all of a sudden, I get activated in ways that surprised me. And I think it's that very, like human biologically based response to a rejection, even if it's not like a profoundly important thing. It's just like what we do. 

In all these little, tiny micro rejections that everybody experiences with online dating, you're saying that it can really start to take a toll even physically, that is very validating.

Neha:  I feel like giving ourselves to empathy, especially during these moments of rejection can feel so soothing towards ourselves. Not only reminding ourselves that it makes sense that you'd feel hurt during this moment, even if it's, we say you describe like something that doesn't feel profoundly impactful to us. But it still hurts being told no, whether relationally, professionally, in a friendship, to know I can't hang out with you right now. No, I don't have time to discuss this important issue that might feel important for you, that type of thing. I think giving ourselves that initial piece of empathy and validation of it makes sense that you would feel this way in this moment. Doesn't mean that you're wrong, it doesn't mean that you're quote-unquote, overreacting means that you are experiencing something, and we need to sort of honor that experience at the same time. 

It's also a great moment for us to sort of briefly examine how might have I contributed to this piece of rejection, whether it be at the very early stages of dating, or whether it be when we are sort of like going on dates, engaging with a certain person. When we are able to examine ourselves for more of a compassionate lens, I feel like we're giving ourselves the space to change, rather than just condemning ourselves for showing up this way. Although we want to own the ways in which we can show up just a little bit differently, I encourage my clients to not let that take up too much of the narrative that we have about ourselves, stories that we tell ourselves. 

Just because in this instance, I might have said the wrong thing, it doesn't mean that that is who I am, it means there are moments in which I can show it this way. And now I'm aware about it. And now I can do something about it. But I think compassion is such an important tool during  the dating process, especially if we've experienced rejection.

Lisa: I love that positive, supportive, inner narrative, growth mindset, learning from the mistakes and with gratitude as opposed to collapsing into self-hatred, yes.

Neha: Again, easier said than done sometimes. And I think with that, it just takes practice to with thinking about how we talk to ourselves, not only when we're dating, but also like, even professionally to within friendships, I think it's really easy sometimes to really hone in on some of that negative self-talk, as opposed to saying, “What can I learn from this? What do I want to do about it?” So I think that can also be a great tool. It's like sometimes challenging some of these thoughts. I always get rejected, versus “Can I think about moments in which I didn't experience rejection, which dating did work out for me”, by reminding ourselves of these moments in which can sort of contradict that really mean voice in our head that can show up. I think it helps also process the rejection that happened and allow us to have a space to try it again.

Lisa: That's a really good point. And I would imagine too, I think for a lot of people, because that online dating experience, in particular, is so fundamentally isolating. It's just you with an app and the avatars and text messages going back and forth. Like it's a very solitary experience in many ways. And I think that it can be common for people to imagine that it's going differently for others. That other people are having an experience that is different from theirs where they may be feeling rejected, or they're interacting with a bunch of people that don't really feel like a good fit for them. There's a sort of imaginary “other” that is having like a great experience and meeting wonderful people online and like finding love immediately. And I wonder if you found that to be true for your clients like they're sort of comparing the experience that they're having with the experience they think they should be having and that in itself is making them feel bad. Do you see that? 

Neha: Absolutely, although dating is fundamentally a way in which we're trying to make relationships and connect with people, you're spot on with especially online dating is an isolating process. It is us behind the screen, and connecting with another person behind the screen, or just going through these profiles, which feels just a little bit disconnected to a certain extent. We can't really get the information that we really want, by just looking at a profile. We need to put ourselves out there and connect, which of course, is scary in its own right. And I think you're spot on too with this comparative mindset of the guy next door who's trying to do this is probably connecting with many people, or she is probably having such a positive experience compared to what I'm having.

And it makes me think about, I'm such a fan of asking yourself the why question: “Why am I feeling like I need to compare myself to someone else's process?” Or “What would it be like if I were to talk to somebody who is also experiencing online dating, to help me normalize this process?” As opposed to feeling ostracized, and that I'm doing something different, or experiencing something differently than the person next door. It's—gosh, dating is really hard right now. During COVID times, we were already feeling a level of isolation in its control, difficult to just going back to that period of like ghosting, where we can't sometimes even get the opportunity to connect with somebody, we don't get the chance.

Lisa: As we're talking, I'm thinking too, about the potential for viewing the lives of other people, friends, and acquaintances through the lens of social media. Because there you see people posting pictures of like, the fun dates they're on or cute selfies, like with together with a cute guy that they met through whatever platform. And people aren't talking about the 150 rejections that they had on the way to creating that. There's this tendency, societally, to amplify the positive things, which can really make people who aren't having that picture-perfect thing to post wonder if they're doing it wrong. If there's like something about—do you see that as being part of the comparison process with you, I mean, you're probably much more tuned in to what's happening with people on social media than I am.

Comparing Yourself

Neha: I think that is such a great point, not only in dating but just like on an everyday basis. When we notice ourselves having comparative thoughts with the individuals or couples that we see on social media. I think social media is a highlight of people's lives, as opposed to the five days that being in a relationship can feel difficult at times. We aren't—we're just showing the Friday night, super intentional date night that we had, and not the conflict that we had right before we left on this date. I think social media can be really deceiving and a lot of ways and it can sort of amplify those comparative thoughts that can lead to us feeling isolated, to us feeling like we're doing something wrong. So it makes me think about when we do notice ourselves, comparing ourselves on social media to other people taking a step back and saying, “What story am I maybe not knowing about at this time?” 

It's not that we wish relationships that we see tend to be negative or to have conflict. And that's the reality, conflict is healthy and normal and expected within relationships and they're not easy—dating is not easy in general. And just as you touched on, we don't get to see the 150 rejections before it leads to that one true connection. Dating is really a numbers game in a lot of ways and so you need to be strategic but you also need to be kind to yourself at the same time.

What is Confidence?

Lisa: That's a really great reminder, is just to not buy into the image creation that is happening and just know that there's more to the story. That's really good. And so we're talking right now about ways that people can just support themselves in the difficult situation with online dating, ways of reminding themselves about the truth of the situations and not compare themselves to others. And going into this idea, more deeply now of, confidence. That can be I think, for many people a very elusive experience. I think many people, most people struggle with self-doubt, and self-esteem. 

Sometimes feeling like they're maybe not quite as amazing as other people. I think it's part of the human condition. Confidence is this state of being that we strive for. We're sort of told we should be confident. And then of course, when we see confidence in others are like, “That's how it's done.” So can you break down in your experience? What is confidence? I mean, people who appear to be confident, what are they doing differently than people who are like, “Yeah, I'm not really all that great.” Can you just like, take us into it?

Neha: That is such a good question and such a big question, too. And so when I try to break down what confidence is or how it can present. I think part of it comes down to trust and self. Trust in our ability, trust in our power, trust in our judgment, especially too. When we notice ourselves feeling we kind of know what we're doing or we feel like we can sort of we're allowed to occupy space in a room. I think is kind of what it gets down to, as well.  We deserve to be in a relationship in which we are treated really well, or we deserve to have good things that happen to us. 

I think when we start reminding ourselves of our trust and self, it can feel connected to increasing our confidence in self. And I think when it comes to trusting self, I think at times, it can feel helpful to understand why maybe there are moments in which we don't feel our most confident self, I think a lot of this can go back to some explorative conversations, either by yourself with a trusted loved one, or even professionally to around. When were these moments in which I started to maybe not trust myself in which I was maybe given messages that I should be thinking a little bit differently than what my gut is telling me. I think when we can start bringing awareness to when this first started, or what maybe patterns we can notice within ourselves, we can start to create new changes in the way that we think or experience ourselves. 

I think when we also believe that we are intrinsically worthy of respect, power, and ability, we're starting to believe that we deserve these things rather than we need to earn these things. We deserve to trust ourselves rather than we need to earn trust in ourselves. One of the ways in which I encourage people to build confidence is — and as cliche or corny as this might sound — listing things that we like about ourselves. I think it's much easier for us to pinpoint the things that we don't like about ourselves, rather than honing in on the skills that we have that make us feel confident. The ways in which we can connect with ourselves or other people that bring us joy and happiness. 

Once we start to acknowledge the ways in which we are showing up in a confident way, we're starting to see them a little bit more often. Someone who might say that I have really low self-esteem or self-confidence and I'll challenge them or encourage them to think about a time in which they did feel confident. And then they might recall a moment that happened a day ago or three days ago or last week. I would encourage you to not only listing things but also pointing them out in the moment when it's happening.

Lisa: That's really good reminder, and just like retraining yourself to focus on the things you are doing right, the things you do know how to do. Because I think it's very easy to just fall into this super focused on the negative aspects of yourself or the issues that there's actually a lot going on. I'm just going to share something I think that our older listeners may resonate with us more because I think that this is something that does come with more age. But I think when I was younger, in my 20s I think that I thought that confident people had their act together.

They looked good, they said the right things, they seemed to just be together in a way that I didn't always feel or they had circumstances in their lives that I didn't have. And I thought that being confident was like creating those things. And I think one thing that has happened as I've gotten older is that really this idea of confidence is more around self-acceptance. Valuing and appreciating yourself for who you are, instead of try feeling like you have to be somebody different and just, “This is who I am and I say weird things and I'm kind of a mess and that is okay.”  

That is almost the definition of confidence in some ways. And I just wanted to mention that because I think especially for some of our maybe very young listeners. Well, I think that that's a hard one insight, I think you probably don't really get that until you get older, but I just wanted to float that so that they know it's coming down the line is that like, self-acceptance.

Neha: That's an important word, acceptance for self. I think there's like a bigger movement around authenticity, which is great. And we're also starting to notice some shifts on social media around this too, which I think is so great.

Lisa: I don't look at social media enough to know that. Tell me what's going on. 

Neha: I am on social media, I can tell you a ton of it.

Lisa: I can tell you, you are a young person. So that makes sense. 

Neha: We noticed Instagram posts of vulnerability of the conversations around mental health that we often don't see. We just see the perfect days, rather than the moments that don't feel so good. I think TikTok has really helped with some of these shifts as well, because they can't get compared to Instagram and please let me know listeners if I'm getting this wrong. But I think TikTok has opened up a level of it doesn't need to be perfect. I think people on TikTok  can feel silly, they can have greater conversations, they build low risks than Instagram, which are just snapshots of our life, but I think this movement towards authenticity is hopefully being introduced to Gen Z a little bit earlier than maybe Millennials or any older generations.

Lisa: That's refreshing. So you're saying that maybe I need a TikTok account, that will be my energetic home on social media? Do I have to learn how to dance because I don't know about that.

Neha: I think it's a prerequisite to be on TikTok that you have to do at least one dance. But I love that idea of self-acceptance and authenticity is sexy. It is confident being confident oneself. And I think we can underestimate the value of accepting ourselves. When we notice the person next door or the person on social media presenting to be so confident we try to recreate something that might not feel authentic to ourselves. Maybe a good question for people to consider is what does confidence for me really look like? When do I feel the most confident?

I know for myself, I feel most confident when I feel knowledgeable about something. When it feels like I can have a conversation and kind of like quote-unquote, know what I'm talking about, that makes me feel really confident. For others it might feel like if they learned a new skill, or if they're able to perform in a certain way like that is feeling confident. Maybe relationally it's when I feel like I can get a laugh out of somebody that makes me feel connected or confident. What does confident look like for someone relationally, professionally, in friendships, I think that's a great way to kind of understand what are we realistically aiming for, rather than trying to recreate something else that doesn't really fit for us?

Hang on to Your Authentic Self

Lisa: Well, that's such good advice. And I think, especially for somebody who's in the midst of the dating experience, there are so many things that can damage confidence. And so what I'm hearing you say is that one of the most important strategies for people to be using and remembering is that authentic clarity around who they and the parts of themselves that they really like and appreciate. And not trying to be different and that self-acceptance, and that it's actually the path to confidence is reminding yourself of who and what you already are, and why that is a good thing. And like finding ways of holding on to that. 

Even though these experiences are intrinsically rejecting a lot of times. Do you have any thoughts or advice for strategies or ideas that you've found that helped people hold on to that fundamental sense of, “I am okay, even if this guy— or whatever— online didn't know me well enough to even give me a chance to find out.” Or I think even harder for people like going on, not just one date but like six dates like it feels like it's you're on the on route to a new relationship and then actually it winds up not working out? Well, what would you advise somebody to do to just hang on to themselves, their authentic selves, through this?

Neha: I think first and foremost… I think it's so important to remind ourselves that sometimes, not all the time, it's not about you. Sometimes it's about the person who is sobbing a relationship or ghosting you they are ready to have the relationship. They realize that this isn't the relationship that they feel super compatible with. That expression of: you can be the sweetest peach on the peach tree but they might like apples instead. It has less to do with you and more to do with that person's preference and somebody really loves peaches. And they're gonna come and they're gonna find you and they're gonna adore you for the ways in which you show up, reminding ourselves that we are someone person and we also deserve to be picky.

We might also notice ourselves, wanting to end a relationship with somebody or not respond to someone's conversation. On the inverse, we know what it feels like to feel rejected. So try not to reject, or ghost people, I should say, in a way that feels unkind. I think also important to give ourselves a little bit of time and space to experience that rejection or to process it just a little bit, we can learn from the ways in which we learn from quote-unquote, mistakes. We can take care of ourselves in order to feel like we are showing up in our next potential relationship in a way that feels authentic to ourselves, rather than feeling like in that phase of rejection. If we aren't, connected back to ourselves, before we engage in, we could ultimately end up hurting someone else in that process. So we definitely want to be mindful of that.

Lisa: Say more about that — if we're not feeling fully like ourselves, we might wind up hurting somebody else. And what did you mean by that?

Neha: Yeah, so I think about experiencing rejection, and I might notice myself having lower confidence, reexamining myself, maybe feeling angry, or frustrated to a certain extent too. And then potentially wanting to hurt someone the way in which I felt hurt. Regardless of what the person did, or anything like that. Or we can show up disconnected in a conversation. We can show up emotionally not curious about the person — guarded is the perfect word — we can feel guarded in our presentation. And then the next person is going to think, “Well, what am I doing wrong in order to cause this person to respond this way?” So it's kind of like this domino effect that we can maybe notice or be contributing to this dynamic that is experienced within the dating world. 

In order for us to feel like we can reengage in a potential conversation with somebody else, I think it's so important to give ourselves some time, and yet time doesn't heal all, it's what we are choosing to do with that time.

How are we reflecting back on our experience in this? What are we doing in order to take care of ourselves? Sometimes compounding rejection can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms, anxiety, and negative self-talk these types of things. I would encourage individuals to potentially if there are dosing themselves in a lower space for an extended period of time, and it feels intense — seek a professional to a therapist or coach, somebody who can help them sort of untangle the meaning that they're making around rejection in order to continue forward.

Lisa: Yeah, well, that's a good point. I think we've all been there, that negative loop starts in your head. The problem is that it feels true and it can be — no matter what you're looking for, you will be able to find evidence of that. I think it can be hard to get out of that kind of mental rut if you've been really like berating yourself or being harsh with yourself. It can get very easy to get tricked into believing the things you think and the things that you feel. They're not all helpful. 

When it comes to the dating process itself — I've heard you talk about some of the things that you try to teach your clients around this. We have our little dating coaching program, and like one of those first foundational steps is really getting clear about who you are, what you want. How do you think that that helps people hold on to their confidence and empowerment just right from the get-go?

Neha: I think when we have clarity around what our intentions for dating are, we can experience dating in a little bit of a more structured or intentional way. And I know I'm using that word left and right, but I really mean it. If we are clear around the type of relationship that we want, or why we're on the app — are we seeking a long-term relationship? Are we wanting a physical relationship with someone? Not only are we being clear with our intentions, but maybe we can also communicate those intentions to someone else. If people were to engage in online dating, and we're noticing transparency, we're noticing honesty, that in itself is confidence building.

I don't need to pretend what my intentions are, I know what my intentions are. I am on this app because I want a long-term relationship, not because I just want to chat with someone endlessly or just go on dates type of thing. I think when we're also exploring what has really helped or what has worked for us in the past, that can help with confidence too, If we reflect back on what relationships have really worked for me in the past, or what traits within certain relationships have worked for me. And maybe if we don't have as much dating experience or relational experience, we can be thinking about, “What type of relationship do I deserve to be in?” 

I intentionally use the word deserve with my clients versus what type of relationship do we want. Because when we think about deserve, I think we're able to notice that we have worth. We have self-worth not only as an individual but as a person as part within a relationship. We're able to examine just a little bit differently of “I deserve to be treated well.” I deserve to have someone who openly communicates. I deserve someone who understands my triggers, rather than I want a relationship that has good communication — which are important — but we're able to just understand a little bit more when we use that word deserve from my experience.

Repairing the Damage Done on Self-Worth and Self-Confidence

Lisa: Well, that's a nice reframe that what you desire compared to what you deserve. Although I'm thinking that — well, and that's probably a topic for another day, Neha. I was thinking about, that it's not uncommon for some of the people that we work with to have had relationships that were really toxic in some ways and where regrettable things happened. And over the course of those relationships, sometimes made to feel like they didn't deserve more. And I know that can take a lot of different forms and again, topic for a different podcast. 

But I guess I'm curious to know, I would imagine just because of understanding that and knowing people that in your work as a dating coach, and I use that term sort of loosely, and you say euphemistically because you're really a therapist, right? Like, I'm wondering how often you spent a lot of time with people just working on those like foundational self-worth repairing some of the damage that has been done in previous relationships. Maybe even a long time before we even think about posting a profile on a dating site? I mean, how common is that? Would you say it in your work?

Neha: I could maybe honestly say almost every single person that I work with, in dating coaching has experienced hurt in a relationship before or through a dating experience. So part of what it's like clarity, or working on ourselves is increasing self-awareness within our previous relationships. So what parts of our previous relationships is still very difficult? What types of difficult moments do we not want to experience again in a relationship? By talking this out by processing, we're not only wanting to untangle some of these false narratives that we can have about ourselves or hurtful narratives, I should say. But we're also being mindful of what types of like red flags we need to be mindful of avoiding in the future. 

I think part of a lot of people's experience, especially at the beginning of a relationship, or within dating is having rose-colored glasses on to a certain extent where we're just seeing the really great things in people which is important to acknowledge. And we also want to be mindful of not letting things slide that feel like a deal-breaker to us, just because we're connecting with this person. It might not be that you need to completely dissolve the relationship, but it would be a great cue for you to say something.

“I feel hurt. When you talk to me like this. I'm wondering if you can say it a little bit differently.” Or  “I feel disconnected to you when we go days without talking.” What do you think is a communication strategy or schedule that we can both feel comfortable with? A lot of people that I work with have described themselves as not wanting to present as too needy within relationships. Which I think is such an important word to break down a little bit more. 

I think there's a difference between being “needy” and having needs in a relationship or as an individual, which we all do. Asking your partner for  a scheduled date night is not you being needy, it’s you having a need within a relationship. I think that can also help build up confidence around communicating our needs feeling like we deserve to be in a relationship in which I feel safe enough to express my desires to this person or that I have these thoughts, feelings. What I've noticed with individuals who might notice themselves not verbalizing their needs or desires as much, is resentment can be built up not only for the person but themselves for where the relationship ended up. 

That is something that I also think as we reflect back on previous relationships, were there moments in which you felt like you couldn't communicate what your needs were because you didn't know how partner was going to interpret that. And sort of reworking and building up some of those like healthy communication skills, healthy relationship traits as well.

Lisa: There's so much good work to do. And I'm just thinking about the wisdom of what you're sharing. I mean, really, helping people be very clear and assertive, and feeling able to talk about how they feel and what they need just in that spirit of authenticity and confidence. And this is actually who I am and this is really what I want in a relationship. And just the wisdom of doing that early and often, particularly in a new relationship. Because the alternative is not talking about that, pretending to be somebody that you're not, feel a different way than you actually do. And having this relationship really be built on a foundation of inauthenticity and hiding. 

I'm imagining that that probably turns into a really nice reframe with your clients of somebody who has actually been talking about who they are and how they feel. And the other person is like, “I think I don’t want to date you anymore.” Instead of that being perceived as a rejection, having it feel like a, “Thank God, that that didn't get any further than it could have because that would not have been in a good relationship for me.” I mean, like to really have that be a very positive reframe.

Neha: That really comes back to compatibility rather than you doing something wrong. It is not wrong for you to be authentic, or to communicate, that just might mean that we have different alignment when it comes to how we communicate, or what our long term expectations are in a relationship. We're able to set to communicate those things that we need earlier into the relationship, just as you described. We're able to set the scene for what we hope this relationship can or might not turn it into.

Lisa: I’m thinking right now of some business advice actually, I once received, which is irrelevant, it's this idea that you should fail fast. If something isn't going to work out, you find that out as quickly as you possibly can and just be done with it — fail fast. I'm hearing that that same principle applies to dating really. Your job is to figure out swiftly who is incompatible with you and be done and not like so that it sort of liberates you to continue your search as opposed to doing that thing that people do, which is, well, “If I was different, maybe that would have worked out.”

Neha: So applicable, not only in the business world relationally., professionally, with friendships, too. I love the idea of, “It's okay, that it's not going to work out with this person.” It doesn't mean that something's wrong with you, something's wrong with them, it just means that we try again. Dating is really a numbers game in a lot of ways. We want to filter, and we want to filter fast. 

When it comes to conveying the things that we want, a lot of people will wonder, when do we start having these conversations? When do I start saying, “Yeah, I want to have kids.” This feels important relationship. That is an important thing to consider, too, when it comes to being authentic, but also being mindful of when you're introducing these bigger topics into a relationship.

Difficult Topics in Dating

Lisa: Well, let's talk about that. And I know that this is kind of going into the nuts and bolts of good dating strategies. While we're here together, how do you help your clients kind of figure out that balance? Because on the one hand, we do want to be authentic, and in a confident way, showing up as ourselves. And at the same time, not leading with a weird stuff. So how do you help people sort through that and figure out what the balance is?

Neha: Well, one reminder that I like to share with my couples that I got from you, Lisa, is the goal of a first date is to see if you want to have a second date or not. So when they think—

Lisa: Oh, great, I remember that. But it sounds really good.

Neha: It’s so helpful for people to think about, when we go on a first date, it's not that we need to start planning our life with this person. It's that we need to examine, do I enjoy this person's company? Do I feel like there could be a potential for us to connect again, or to connect one month down the road — something like that — as opposed to feeling like the first date is where I need to know if this is my life partner or not. I think that helps relieve some pressure. That is a lot of pressure to have on yourself to try to figure that out within one date. I think when it comes to introducing some of these conversations, I would encourage very practically to not have some of these conversations on the first date, maybe even on the second date. But maybe as we start to feel comfortable with this person.

And we want to understand like, “Does this person have similar values as me? Does this person have similar lifelong goals? Does this person want to be working for the rest of their lives? Or does this person want to quit their jobs tomorrow and travel the world with me?” Like we do want to understand, do our lifestyles sort of match up? And I think that is a great conversation to have a little bit earlier into the dating process at a very high level.

“What do you see yourself doing 5-10-15 years?” So if you see yourself traveling the world, how do you imagine yourself potentially starting a family if that is part of the conversation. I think there's a way to have these conversations in a way that feel like it flows into the conversation rather than it feeling like a job interview and saying, you want to have this does this feel true for you? That type of thing.

Lisa: That's such great advice and you're really talking about discernment. And, yes, do you like this person enough? Do you enjoy their company in a general sense enough to want to hang out with them again, and then it's, do I like this person enough to be talking about myself and my values and my kind of hopes and dreams for the future, and that it does take a long time to get to know people. And you're sort of advising this stance that I think is extremely appropriate, which is like, “I'm still checking you out. We're getting to know each other,” and this occurs over multiple interactions. But I think so often the case, and particularly when I talk with people who are really struggling with dating, they're not doing that. They are getting swept away by feelings. 

The first date lasts for 72 hours. They are — and not to sound moralistic because it's not about that — but like having sex with people that they've just met. They're not thinking through it. They're basing their responses on highly emotional factors that generally have no bearing on whether or not it's going to be a good relationship. I think that can really obscure a lot of things. Jumping into the deep end can really prevent people from doing what you're suggesting, which is, are our values compatible? What is this person's character? What do I want and deserve and is this person fundamentally capable of doing this with me? Or are they just hot and superficially charming? Because there's a time and a place for that too. Is that what you're describing?,

Neha: Absolutely, going back to that piece of clarity of dating with intention. If I am dating in order to have a long-term relationship, then what subliminal messages am I conveying to this person and very transparent conversations am I also having with this person. Just as you said, there's a time and a place to meet with someone just for a physical relationship, and that is perfectly fine. But if you're wanting to have a long-term relationship, then maybe we want to go into this first date, with some intention, or some boundaries around when we plan on ending the date, when we want to plan on reconnecting with this person. There's a difference between playing the game and feeling like you aren't putting effort into connecting with this person. 

When there are rules around waiting three days before you text somebody. I think, to a certain extent, if you're dating with intention, there isn't really a need to play games, especially if the other person that we're wanting to seek out is also ready for a long-term relationship. We're wanting to feel like we can authentically reach out to this person when we do want to connect with them, rather than feeling like we need to wait X amount of hours or days.

Red Flags in Overconfidence

Lisa: Yeah, that's a really good reminder. And then one last, and I know we're coming up on our time, but one last question on the subject of confidence in dating. I feel we would be doing a disservice to our listeners if we didn't address: is that, you and I both know from our training and our background is as therapists, that sometimes people who seem the most confident, are very charming, they're very witty, they look good, they smell good. They have the trappings of success. There's actually a correlation between those qualities and things like antisocial personality disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder. Sometimes the people who seem the most confident and attractive early on, are the ones that you should actually work really hard to stay away from. 

Are there any recommendations or pieces of advice that you can give our listeners certainly for them to be more authentically and confident in a healthy way? But being able to sort of discerning, as you said earlier, a potential red flag or warning sign around what antisocial personality disorder can actually look liken on the first date — highly attractive. How do you help people parse through that?

Neha: I encourage people to consider if the person that they're talking to is as interested in learning about you as they are interested in talking about themselves. Sometimes we can experience a person just wanting to talk about themselves or asking you questions in order to just give you their answer. I think that can feel like a red flag when it feels like there is an imbalance in the desire to have this kind of conversation, the desire to get to know one another. I think that is one to definitely look for when it comes to red flags. I think also self-awareness is something that feels so important to have within a relationship. 

People will ask me all the time, like, “How do I know if a person is the one?” And I'll always say,  “Does this person have a desire to grow and change with you? And does it feel like long-term values needs, goals are aligned?”  Thinking about that first one, it's not about them completely over apologizing, or being super hyper-vigilant to the ways in which they show up. But saying, “You know what, just a second ago, I said something, and I wish I could take it back, because I actually meant this”, or “This is what I'm actually trying to convey,” or “I apologize if that hurt your feelings. Here's what I meant to say.”

I think if a person can communicate that level of self-awareness, or maybe if even if that level of authenticity shows up for you, and you say something like, “You know what? Help me understand what you mean by this.” And they're able to examine why you might be answering that question. I think that's a great indicator of having that level of self-awareness. And so the opposite of that lack of self-awareness, lack of accountability is also a red flag.

Lisa: That is great advice that if the other side of the table is similarly confident in an authentic way that is based on self-awareness and personal responsibility, and taking ownership and being vulnerable, that's a good sign that it is genuine, healthy confidence, versus one that feels fragile or potentially harmful. Because people can be very confidently love-bombed and be swept away, and not until a long time later be like, “Wow, that was not what I was looking for.”

Okay, I just wanted to talk about that a little bit. Because, again, the topic of confidence in dating. There are other elements of this for people to be aware of, but thank you for spending this time with me today, Neha, this was such a wonderful conversation. I am so appreciative just of all of the really good insights and also like the actionable ideas you shared with our listeners today. Thank you.

Neha: Absolutely. It was such a pleasure. And as a final reminder that dating is hard and it takes time and it takes confidence and you can do it.

Lisa: What a wonderful — I think people need to be reminded of that, to keep going. Oh, good. Thank you again for doing this with me and we'll have to visit another time. 
Neha: I would love that. Thank you so much, Lisa.

Dating During Coronavirus

Dating During Coronavirus

Dating During Coronavirus

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Dating During Coronavirus

None of us are quite the same people we were in March 2020. If you’re like most of my counseling and dating coaching clients, the pandemic has changed the ways you work and live, and put you into contact with new truths about who you really are. 

For anyone on the quest to find love during COVID, all of this newfound self-awareness is bound to bubble up in your dating life. Maybe you’ve gained clarity about what you’re looking for in a partner, or where the edges of your sexuality actually lie, or what it would mean to show up as your true, authentic self with everyone you meet. 

If so, I’m so excited to share this episode of the podcast with you. My guest is Damona Hoffman, a celebrity matchmaker, relationship expert, and the official dating coach for OkCupid. Damona has not only been reflecting on how the pandemic has changed the dating landscape, she’s been researching it extensively using online dating data. Her findings offer some eye-opening insight for anyone looking for love. 

Join us for fascinating tidbits about 2021 dating trends, alongside timeless advice for making a meaningful connection. You can listen right on this page, or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. And while you’re there, I hope you’ll subscribe! 

Wishing you peace and true love in the new year, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby 

Dating During Coronavirus

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Dating During Coronavirus: Episode Highlights

Since the onset of the pandemic, data shows that people are doing more pre-screening before a first date. Singles seem to be thinking long and hard before meeting up with a stranger who could give them a deadly illness, feeling them out not only for COVID conscientiousness, but for compatibility. 

After all, a bad date never feels worth it, but a bad date that puts you at risk feels especially not-worth-it. 

Dating in 2021

Many people have given their love lives an overhaul during the pandemic, ending relationships, entering new ones, and opening themselves up to new dynamics. Throuples are on the rise, data shows, as are mentions of bedroom preferences in dating profiles. 

Thanks to ample time for self-reflection, many people seem to have new clarity about their relationship goals, what they want in a partner, and what they want in their sex lives

Dating As Your Authentic Self

Being your true self, and being vulnerable enough to share your truth with other people, has always been the backbone of successful dating. 

But many people make the mistake of putting forward an idealized version of themselves on dates. This is an understandable impulse, but it’s self-defeating for anyone looking for true love. Wearing a mask is the antithesis of emotional intimacy, which is the real key to building a loving relationship. 

The Myths of Modern Dating

Too often, we focus on finding our ideal partner, rather than on creating meaningful relationships with the actual people in our dating lives. 

In reality, we are lovable because we are loving. You can’t wait for love to find you, you have to create it with the real people you meet. 

Empathetic Dating

One downside of the rise of online dating is an uptick in appalling behavior. Ghosting, breadcrumbing, and stringing people along while you search for a “better” match have become all-too-easy thanks to dating apps. 

When we rise above these deplorable trends and date with empathy and compassion, we’re “living in the light,” and safeguarding our integrity. It’s a remarkably effective way to build self-love and self-respect — two very attractive assets in a mate. 

Interracial Dating 

Online dating data also offers a wealth of insight about interracial dating. Unfortunately, the racial biases that shows up throughout our society are visible here. 

Even equating racial dating preferences with racial bias is wildly inflammatory, many people feel. But the takeaway isn’t so much that we should or shouldn’t dismantle our tendencies to date one race or another, but that we should examine these preferences and get curious about where they’re coming from, rather than accepting them as a given. 

Dating During Coronavirus

For anyone dating during coronavirus, some good news: There are millions of single people who’ve used the trauma of the pandemic as a springboard for growth, exploration, and heart-opening self-reflection. 

Millions of them are dusting off their profiles and getting back out there now, ready to build a meaningful connection with someone like you. 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: My guest today on the podcast is Damona Hoffman. She is a celebrity matchmaker, relationship expert, the official dating coach for OkCupid and the host of the dates and mates podcast. Her dating advice has been featured on the drew Barrymore show, NPR, A&E, the WashingtonPost, the LA Times. And now she's here talking to you. Hello Damona. 

Damona Hoffman: Hello? Hello. Thanks for having me back. Yeah, I'm so excited to continue our conversation. My listeners probably know this, but I had the great privilege of speaking with Damona about a year ago about dating and relationships. And things have changed over the last year. Damona is back with fresh information about dating trends for right this very second. And I'm so excited to talk with you about this and share your insights with our listeners. 

So I know there's much to discuss. Where should we start?

Damona: So much has changed, but so much has stayed the same. Remember when we thought, I feel like last year we were really enthusiastic about the pandemic ending and new ways of dating and relationships in our lives. And we're going to get back to travel and all those things. And we've seen some of those things, but they look a little bit different than we expected. So I'm excited to be here with you today and unpack what has actually happened in 2021. And then what we can expect in 2022. 

I've been dating coaching for over 15 years. And it's interesting seeing how my predictions, even from back then have come to pass and how we've evolved so much in dating. Like I started writing dating profiles, that long ago. Yeah. So dating online was around back then, and it's crazy to me now, how much people have integrated dating apps and online dating into their life and how it's really changed the dating culture.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Even more. So you think over the last couple of years than it had been previously? 

Dating During Covid

Damona: For sure. And over the last year, especially as lockdowns and safety and health and wellness became more of a focus. And as people were still really isolated, we've seen a major trend towards people adopting dating apps, but also new ways of communicating.

Like I've always said to people, you've got to screen your dates, and before the pandemic, we were in this hyper-speed. Burnout. It was just nonstop, nonstop conversation, nonstop dating. And the process that I saw was people would go on the dating apps swipe, go right to the date. And then they're sitting there on this date going, wait a minute. I don't even want to be here with this person. What has gone wrong? 

And now we're forced. We're forced to screen, because we have to make sure before we go out with someone that they are a safe person for us to know. And then, as people were isolated or even a lot of people moved in the pandemic, and that's one of the things that I think is really actually special about this time, as horrible as it has been, it's really made us go inside and ask ourselves, are we living the life that we really want to live?

Maybe it's not in this job. Maybe it's not in the city. Maybe it's not with this person. And we're seeing a rise in divorced singles going back on dating apps. And now we have an opportunity to build the life that we really want to build. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. I agree that this has been a life experience that has made everybody reflect on their values and, who am I? Why am I here? What do I want? And that positive relationships are such an important piece of that. I know that, here at Growing Self, there's a big influx. Couples, established couples, wanting to work on their relationships for a variety of reasons. And your area of expertise is really on people who are looking to establish healthy relationships.

And I know that there's been a bunch of new data coming out lately. That is really interesting what you've shared about dating trends. And I'm so curious to know more about what you've learned from your research over the last year. 

Damona: I've learned that people are finally doing the work, not your listeners. I'm sure they have always been doing the work. 

Dr. Lisa: They are here to grow, Damona. They are. 

Damona: But we're seeing everyone else's finally catching up to them. I know my Dates and Mates listeners are also always saying, here I am, I'm doing all this learning. I'm trying to, I'm trying to better myself. And yet I go out there in the dating pool and people are not at the same rate of growth that I am. But we are seeing a change in that. And we're seeing a big shift of people to dating based on values and dating based on these deeper qualities and characteristics that really line up more with long-term compatibility. 

And we're even seeing people redefine, how do they even, how are they defining their sexuality? What kind of relationship do they want? We've seen a 250% increase at OkCupid in users identifying as bisexual as compared to last year. 

Dr. Lisa: Wow. That is huge. That is a huge increase. What do you make of that? 

Damona: I think that people are figuring themselves out, they're listening to this podcast and they're allowed now to explore different parts of themselves that maybe were suppressed or maybe they just didn't even realize were attractions that they had or relationship goals.

And, we've even seen an increase in people. Saying they want non-monogamous relationships or they're looking for a throuple. It's not for me. I'm married, I'm happily married. We're coming up on 15 years. It's not my relationship goal, but I think it's wonderful if people have that option and can be transparent. 

I've seen a big trend towards people wanting authenticity on dating apps, we want a real name. We want the real age. We want verification. We want to know that people are there for the same reasons, and it's okay that there's a variety of reasons for people to be on a dating app or, just out in the dating scene. 

Dr. Lisa: Wow. Isn't that interesting, like in that, the zeitgeist of our times in many ways is one of constraints and limitations, but there is this psychological and emotional freedom that is exploding in the relationship landscape, and that people are feeling more free in other parts of their lives. That's kind of cool.

COVID Dating

Damona: It's really cool. And I think it's also driven by the pandemic. Forcing us into our homes and where we're looking at ourselves on a Zoom screen all day long, and also where you didn't have to dress the part for a lot of jobs that you used to have to go into the office for. And now it's just you in your home, your apartment, being yourself at work, at home. 

And I've even seen, like I write for the Washington Post date lab, and I interviewed a non-binary individual who we matched on a date. And they were saying to me that really, they were forced to come to terms with their own identity throughout the pandemic, because they didn't have to wear put suit and tie on to go into the office, and they could express, they can wear what they want and express their gender the way that felt most authentic to them. And when they were having to express what was appropriate for their office, they couldn't even get to that place of really understanding, who were they authentically?

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Yeah I understand it. So many of us, even like subconsciously, are dressing to meet these expectations from others. And so when left entirely to your own devices of, what do I actually feel like wearing today that is only for me?  That really pushes people into contact with themselves. And it sounds like that happened with the person you were working with. That’s awesome. 

Damona: And I love encouraging people to do this in dating as well, because there's so much emphasis on what you, who you have to be to be dateable to be lovable, to feel sexy and confident. And I think we're also seeing an unraveling of that and people realizing, I've been saying this on dates and mates for years, but when you are your most authentic self, that is when you attract your authentic love. Who wants to contort themselves into knots to fit into this ideal, who wants to be a fake version of themselves and attract someone in that version, and then feel this constant pressure to live up to that ideal that isn't really attainable or sustainable for the long-term? 

So you're probably seeing this also, as you're working with couples who are unpacking that and realizing that. Some of these questions that were not asked in the beginning need to finally be unpacked. And then as we are figuring ourselves out, that makes us have to reconfigure our relationship to the person we're in partnership with.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Trying to be somebody you're not is the antithesis of true emotional intimacy. Like, how can you be known and loved for who you are if you're pretending that you're different when you're first meeting people and, I think, have the courage to be authentic from the get go. And that is going to, I think, nicely limit the people who are attracted to you, which is a good thing, because if somebody really wants to be with this idealized version of you, that is not going to be a good person for you. And I feel like it's so deeply ingrained in our society that sometimes we're not even aware of it.

Dating in 2021

Damona: When we turn on this attraction magnet and step into this other version of ourselves, I think sometimes we're not even aware of it. So that's been another lesson of 2021 as we go deeper into ourselves. 

And, I don't know how colorful we can get on this podcast, but even sexually, we've seen that people learned what they like more in the pandemic. There's been more self-exploration. I'll let you read between the lines what I mean. And it's, we're seeing it, it's coming out in dating that people are saying that they are kinky, that there has been an increase in BDSM mentions in female users’ profiles. 

And I just love this idea of women taking ownership of their sexuality as well. And saying, I'm not going to be ashamed. Let's stop with the sex shaming and like the, all of these ideals that have been passed down to us from generation to generation. And get our needs met. Be our authentic selves. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, definitely. What a nice reframe, when left to your own devices, it’s just the raising of awareness again, of, what do I actually like and how do I advocate for myself going forward?

Damona: That's huge and it's important to do, and it's really hard to do, but this is just such a time of exploration. That's really what we're seeing in OKCupid. People are now waking up to this realization that you control your own destiny. If you want to try something different, you want to date a different gender, you want to try something different in the bedroom, you better speak up and you better try it. Now is the time. Now is the time, now is the time. And I'm seeing this also among my Dates and Mates  listeners that are in couples. They're now being brave and asking for what they want in the bedroom and asking for even the emotional intimacy from their partners.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. That's where it gets real. So there's tons of interesting research coming out of your OkCupid project. And I wonder if it is okay to ask you about the new book that you're working on. Can we talk about that or is that, are you not ready to? 

Damona: It's probably not going to be out until 2024. So it's not long. 

Dr. Lisa: I hear you loudly. We have ambitious goals. Don't we? 

Damona: Yes. Look, it's not my date, my publisher's date, but we'll see. It's called the “Modern Love Myth.” Fix it. It's basically, heal your broken beliefs, fix your broken heart. So it's a chance for us to look at all of those things that are on the list, things that we thought we needed in a partner even a year or two years ago, remember way back then? I know it feels like a lifetime ago, but it's really about this moment that we've been talking about and a chance for us to unpack those things. 

And the last time we talked, we were discussing interracial dating. I'm the product of an interracial, interfaith marriage. I also have a very diverse family background. My stepmother is Mexican American. My sister-in-law is Indian American. Her parents had an arranged marriage in India and moved to the United States. My family tree is literally the United Nations. And I really feel like my life has been enriched by that. And as  I seek out more experiences where I can be culturally educated and have my worldview expanded, I think this is also a unique time in history, where we have access to new people, new communities, through dating apps. Through social media, all of these tools, these technology tools that weren't even available when I met my husband 18 years ago, now allow us to expand our dating circle to ask the question, is this the most convenient match for me, or my ideal match? Is this someone with whom I share values and goals for the future? Is this someone that I can communicate with? Is this someone I can build trust with? 

Because we look back just a few generations ago, and most marriages were either out of convenience or out of financial necessity. So if those two things are not a factor for you. Speaking to your listeners right now, if those are not a factor for you, how would you date or relate to your partner differently?

Dr. Lisa: Yes. That if, again, you can really do anything you want and you have access to the entire world. And I love what you're saying. Like you grew up, I think appreciating not just diversity in terms of backgrounds, but like a diversity of thought. That is so enriching, like different perspectives and different ideas.

But also you're saying that there are so many commonalities that transcend background, values, life goals. And one of the things that I really wanted to talk with you more about after our last conversation are issues related to interracial relationships, interracial dating. Because we didn't have a ton of time to go there, and I'm really wanting to talk more about your research into this.

Interracial Dating

I know that you wrote, and it is just an amazing piece for the Washington Post a while back, where you are looking at research in and around dating. And I actually, if it's okay, pulled up a couple pieces of this, one of the the points that you raised was that people, white people essentially, we're not indicating that racial bias or racial preference was very important to them, but that when you saw the outcomes in terms of who was being reached out to on some of these platforms, there was a real difference.

And the gist of the article was around how racial preference and racial bias does emerge in dating, particularly online dating, and how that impacts people. And I'm just, I'm wondering if you, if we could talk a little bit more about that today, because I think for so many of our listeners, we have a very diverse audience, a diverse practice, and a lot of couples in interracial relationships, these relationhips have so many strengths and beautiful aspects, but there are some differences that I think need to be acknowledged. And I think these differences begin to emerge even when dating. 

Damona: Oh, there's so much to unpack, so much to unpack. Yeah. So that is a long standing trend that people will, say, if I believe black lives matter. And we're seeing also on OkCupid, there's been a huge shift towards values and people like we have a Black Lives Matter badge that you can get from answering one of our managing questions. So you can telegraph out your values and people are choosing to do that.

So there's a difference though, between, I support Black Lives Matter. I believe myself to be open-minded, fair. And I believe in equity and the actions I've taken are in alignment with that. And I find that sometimes people are not even aware of the ways our subtle bias shows up in our daily life and in our daily choices.

So, what you're referring to is actually based on some older OkCupid data that showed people would say they would not date someone who exhibited racial bias. And yet, when they looked at the data, they saw that people would predominantly match with people of their same race. And it's shifted, that data is about 10 years old, but it’s still really impactful.

I see it deeply impacting, particularly the black women who listened to Dates and Mates and who are in my client base because they really feel unseen a lot of the time. And they feel that they're overlooked because of the way that people search, where they will strategically eliminate certain races.

And so that's what the Washington Post article was saying. If you eliminate a particular race or will only date someone of your same race, does that mean you are exhibiting racial bias, or is that just a dating preference? And it's really interesting to me how so many people, I got a lot of positive feedback, a lot of the comments that you'll see on the page and that article saw five times the normal readership for that column. And we had to shut down comments at the Washington Post on it for 48 hours, because it was getting so inflamed, but people were so incensed to just be asked the question, if I make this choice, is this an example of racial bias? And I think that kind of knee-jerk reaction does absolutely nothing for us generating an equitable society. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. It doesn't. The question is, okay, if we want to frame this as a dating preference, where does that come from? And I think that's this blank space, particularly for a lot of white people, is this sort of absence of felt ethnicity, but that really is this inherited racial hierarchy about what do I like and what do I want. 

And that kind of mental organization that is largely outside the consciousness of a lot of white people. And it shows up through behaviors. It's at the core of so many of our behaviors and it's impossible to move past it if we're unwilling to examine it.

Damona: What I was doing with the article was asking people to ask the questions of themselves. Like I talked about this “five whys” technique that I use with my clients to really get to the core of their true dating and relationship beliefs and why they have them. And the problem is that the more you start unpacking that, the more uncomfortable choices that you're going to be faced with, the more uncomfortable realities you'll have to examine. And I know that's tough for people, but I feel like it's important to ask the questions because, if we don't ask them, especially now, we don't ask why, how are we actually going to grow? 

And so it's not that I was saying with the article, which I think some people misunderstood, like everyone should be dating all ethnicities. That wasn't quite what I was saying. I would love to have my clients just date, race open, but we have to be willing to do the work. So I was just suggesting, let's see where that comes from. 

You don't have any non-white friends in your friend circle. If you really were to examine it, let's look at your friend group. Look at your 10 closest friends. How many people of color are in that group? Oh, I don't have many or maybe I only have one. So if we go back a step, why? Because I didn't meet anyone at my church, at my school, in my neighborhood. And then we unpack and we say, why is that? 

Because even in the neighborhood that I live in Los Angeles, I'm a member of the trustees board of the historical society of my neighborhood. And there's some information that's in our history. That's a part of our history that people don't really want to look at. Nat king Cole lived in my neighborhood. He had a cross burned on his lawn. Not that long ago, not that long ago.

And so we can't look at the history and be like, let's just look at the pretty houses, let's look at the cultural institutions, without examining how that happened there. If you look at the actual guidelines of your neighborhood, your residential area, a lot of them were built in with the premise. You cannot sell this house to a black person. It's still in many of the rules, even though now we ignore it. It's still there. 

So we’ve got to look at where that came from, why we haven't integrated neighborhoods still to this day. There's a lot of segregation because red lining prevented people of color from owning homes that would help build generational wealth for their families. And it's uncomfortable, it's really uncomfortable. It's very ugly. 

I can see it from both sides as someone who has a white parent and a Black parent. So I'm not up on a pedestal, saying I figured it all out and I'm above all of this. I am in it with all of us, trying to unpack that and come to terms with it so that we can actually move forward and take ownership of our choices and not continue to make the same kind of decisions just because that's how it's always been done.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. And going back to that theme of self-awareness and making contact with yourself, what you're saying is that being confronted with some of these ideas and asking those “why” questions. can really, I think, especially for a lot of white people, push us into contact with uncomfortable anxiety things that we would rather not have be true, and leaning into those feelings really is the path of growth because it results in this a level I think of self-awareness and freedom in some ways, like going back to your book, why do we believe the things that we believe in?

Sometimes those biases, those ideas are just so deeply buried outside of our consciousness, that it isn't until we observe or have it reflected back to us by others, what we're actually doing that we get some insight into. Why is that? And particularly in relationships.

Relationships as Growth Opportunities

Damona: Absolutely. I think we learn in relationship. We learn in relation to others. And so we're at a unique time in our growth as a human species that we have a chance to even ask these questions. And there's so many other questions that I would love to also unpack and that I will be unpacking in “The Modern Love Myth.”

But we have so many myths. We have this myth of a soulmate that we're looking for. This ideal person, there's one person, this needle in a haystack, and yet over 70% of people believe that they're looking for a soulmate. And I see that keeps a lot of people from being able to do the kind of work that you do of taking the person that's sitting right in front of them and figuring out how to grow with them, if you think that there's some other soulmate, that it's supposed to be easy, it's supposed to just click and fall into place. 

And if it doesn't happen like that, then that person must not be your soulmate. And there's somebody else out there in the wide world that you can find that will fulfill all of your needs without you having to do any of the heavy lifting or the uncomfortable conversations like we've been talking about.

That's not fair to yourself. That's not fair to your partner or your future partner. We have to completely flip our mindset I believe around that. There's a lot of possible partners you could match with, and there's no perfect person, and there's no perfect partner for you. You make them the perfect partner because you're both willing to show up and integrate your lives.

Dr. Lisa: So glad you're talking about that. That's been coming up in a lot of conversations lately that I've had with clients. And it's, I think, there's a sort of double-edged sword because, I think people have become more aware of what they want and feel empowered to create it. And that can also lead to this in some ways perfectionistic ideal of what they're looking for in a relationship that is very, as you say, other-focused, and I've so often found that really, the point of change that opens up so many doors for people to have great relationships is really related to these questions around, am I loving? Can I cherish and appreciate another human for who and what they are, without having to have them be more like me? 

And that is such a point of growth for most people. I think it's that true love idea around, how can I appreciate you and celebrate our complimentary strengths and differences, as opposed to wanting this sort of mythical person who is exactly like me in some ways.

The Myths of Modern Dating

Damona: Yeah. That's been an interesting shift actually as dating apps have expanded their reach. And now there is the belief that I can find the perfect partner. Some people are a little too dialed into that. And one concept I've been talking about all year on Dates and Mates that I will also be exploring more in the book is empathetic dating.

I am really trying to impress on my listeners how important it is to be empathetic in your dating search. And not always center yourself in the narrative of this love story. 

Dr. Lisa: Are you saying the “what's in it for me?” Damona, is that what we're talking about right now? 

Damona: It's the “what's in it for me.” And it's also just this idea that people are sort of characters in your life story and it is about me, of course. And so every action that they take is somehow a reaction to something that you've done, or in some way is there to fuel you to make your next choice or move in the relationship. And this is a really difficult concept, I think, to put into practice, especially, as we are on dating apps and people are looking at option after option. And I've said this for so long that you've got to become a real person. If you're, if you just stay in the app and you never meet up in real life, that's not your boyfriend. That's your pen pal. And it's not a real authentic exchange. I believe in real time, synchronous communication.

And I believe that we really learn about ourselves, relating to these people that we meet as possible options, but so many times as we are looking at this, the Cheesecake Factory menu, you understand you're looking at the Cheesecake Factory menu. And you start to think, do I want fries with that? Do I want a salad? I'm ordering up my perfect partner. Rather than, I'm in the kitchen at the Cheesecake Factory building it too. And I can appreciate the potatoes themselves in their raw form. Even if I don't choose to have the fries. I know I'm going way deep on this cheesecake analogy.

Dr. Lisa: Like truffle oil, we could go, I'm also a fry fanatic. So you're speaking my language 

Damona: A hundred percent. But, I think it’s really the key to unlocking this next level of what we're going to experience with dating apps being such an unbelievable tool to be able to make connections. 

I talked earlier about divorced daters entering the dating scene and we're seeing a huge increase. A 300% increase among user profiles saying that they're recently divorced since 2017. So this is a trend, it's not going away. It doesn’t mean more people are divorcing, but it means that people have a place to go. 

As all my Dates and Mates heard, before, if you were divorced, and you wanted to date again, and you were in your fifties or sixties and your life was set, your job was set, your friend circle was set, your church was set, all of those places where people used to meet, then you were just like waiting for someone in the PTA to get divorced, chasing her out, chasing around all the same single dads, right? 

So the idea that now, especially women can re-enter the dating scene and feel sexy and feel seen and have options. I think it's a great thing, but it's a new tool for a lot of people and we just have to learn how to use it effectively and how to use it in a way that's really compassionate to the people that we meet.

Empathic Dating

Dr. Lisa: And if that's okay, I would love to talk more about that. And I know we don't have a ton of time left, but you used the phrase empathic dating a couple of moments ago. And you have OkCupid, you have the Cheesecake Factory menu, there's everything in the world. And how do you take the ideas of empathetic dating and begin to apply them? 

And I know that we'll get the whole story when your new book comes out in 2024. But in the meantime, what would you advise people who are like, yes, compassion, empathy, but how?

Damona: Well, the first thing I would ask my clients is, look at all of the things that irritate you about dating today. First of all, don't put any of them in your profile. I don't want to read that. Like, I can tell someone's whole relationship history by reading their profile and hearing them say, “Don't even message me if you are not faithful and loyal. Don't even message me if you are a smoker. If you have kids from another relationship, if you're X, Y, and Z.” 

So we're going to erase that and let them start with a clean slate. The next thing that you do is, look at the behaviors that are frustrating for you and see how you can do the inverse of that. So many times people will say to me, I hate being ghosted. It is the worst, I've been chatting with this person online and then all of a sudden they just left. And I'll ask them, if they can look back through their messages for me and let me know if they've ghosted anybody else or failed to respond, like they say, oh I matched with this person and they didn't send me the first message.

How many times have you not done that? And I asked them to really take ownership of the way that they move forward on the dating app, not with the expectation that the other people are all going to magically do the same, but with personal responsibility. And I find that really makes you date from a fuller place, but it also makes you feel a little bit more in control, because obviously you can't control other people's behaviors, but you can control what you put into the mix. And I'll have my clients, if they decide they don't want to see someone, and it's totally up to you. Anyone that you haven't met on a date, you don't. I also have to remind people of this. Don't go if you're not feeling enthusiastic about it. You owe that person your best self and your best time. So if you're not feeling it, don't go, but tell them where you're at.

I have my clients do this thank and release strategy. You thank them for whatever they've given you. Even if it's grief, if they've given you grief, it's information that you can use in how you're going to relate to someone the next time. 

So you thank them for their time. You thank them for connecting. You wish them lots of luck. And then you move on. You unmatch, you go on about, and you don't hold on to those feelings because that starts to hurt us as well. When we keep carrying that frustration, that overwhelm, that disappointment from date to date, you thank and release them without any expectation of what they're going to say back or how they're going to handle it, but you send them love and thank them and release them.

Then you can close that loop and feel more whole yourself. 

Dating With Compassion

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, no, that's a wonderful strategy. It really is like getting clear about what positive qualities you seek in a partner, even in the beginning stages of dating, and really becoming committed to your own integrity around being that person.

And just that, I am going to live in the light in all of my interactions, and giving other people a chance. I think it's very easy for all of us to excuse all of the weird and questionable things that we do personally, because we have reasons. Bad mood, they did this, I was just reacting to that.

We make sense to ourselves, but it's very easy to judge other people and attribute things to their character that we ourselves may do. 

Damona: A hundred percent. And I've been reading a lot of Brene Brown lately. And, she talks about how it changes your perspective if you believe that people are doing the best they can. And I think this is also a core belief of empathetic dating. I really believe it's funny. 

My dad challenged me on this. He was like, you really think people are doing the best they can? I'm like I really honestly do, with the information they have with the upbringing they've experienced, with the pressures they have at work and finances and all that. I think that people are doing the best they can. With COVID, let's give ourselves and everyone else a break. We're doing the best we can. It's not always in everyone's best interest or whatever. But if you can just adopt that philosophy of, everyone you meet is doing the best they can with the tools and resources and education and empathetic capacity that they have.

And you just, like you said, you live in the light, you send them love and light and you hold your boundaries as well. That is the most empathetic thing you can do for yourself, and for others. 

Dr. Lisa: Totally. Yes, you have to have those healthy boundaries for sure. But I love what you're saying Damona because it's like, how do you practice being loving throughout the whole process? Even if you're talking with people who aren't going to be your ideal partner. I think it was Louise Hay who said we are lovable because we are loving, and to allow yourself to practice really being loving towards others as like great practice to be a great partner in relationship to somebody else who deserves that. 

I think that's the thing that gets flipped for a lot of people. As you were saying before, people become the star of their own movie and stop asking themselves, how do I be a really great loving partner? Cause that's it. That's a different experience completely. 

Damona: And we also have to have that same empathy for ourselves, even though we're not centering ourselves in the narrative, we have to also come to dating as whole, as we can make ourselves. We're not looking for someone to fit. Our missing puzzle piece. We have to come to it whole. 

So I also have my clients do a gratitude practice. I had my clients last January do a 30-day gratitude journal. And every day, just say one thing that you have gratitude for. Even if that thing is, I had a hot shower today. Because some people didn't.

Just having gratitude for what you have, because when you date from a place of fullness, you're looking for someone whose energy matches that, and you can both hold together and amplify and uplift one another, rather than if you come in, thinking of all this stuff you don't have and the relationship that you don't have, you’re starting out from a period, from a place of want and need.

I've just seen too many times, that doesn't form the relationship that you're really desiring. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. What words of wisdom, this is so much good stuff. And I love it. I so appreciate you giving us an overview of the dating trends. Thanks to OkCupid, but also I just love where you're going in your work, because that's what I hear throughout our conversation today.

There's been such a window of opportunity for growth that has opened up in people's lives because of this kind of quiet time of the pandemic, and it’s beginning to emerge in relationships. And I can't wait to learn more about your book. It sounds like you're really thinking a lot about how to help people understand those old beliefs and really bring those into the conscious awareness and do that growth work you were talking about so they can have really authentically healthy relationships.

Damona: Absolutely. It's a magic moment that we're in right now, where we have a lot of the tools, we have the knowledge. And we have this space to be able to work on ourselves. And, whenever we emerge from this pandemic, emerge from it as more whole.

Dr. Lisa: I love it. So share with our listeners before we end, where they can learn more about you, your work with OkCupid, if they want to keep tabs on your book, when it comes out. And I would love to talk with you more about your book when it does, but where should they find you in the meantime? 

Damona: Thank you. I am every week doing the Dates and Mates podcast at datesandmates.com, or wherever you're listening to this podcast right now. And for OKC. I think a lot of people don't realize it's free. It's a free app. So if you're on that fence, the whole thing is free. There are premium features that you can become a member to unlock, but if you're on the fence, just try it out, just download it and dip your toe in the water. And then if you need more support and help from me, come back to dates and mates.com and I will get you started.

And of course, I'm on Instagram. Twitter or Facebook at Damona Hoffman. So that's where you can get the updates on the book. 

Dr. Lisa: The forthcoming book. Okay. Going to be watching your Instagram. And, as soon as it comes out I'm going to pounce. 

Damona: Thank you so much for having me. I love our conversations too, and I love all the work that you’re doing. Dr. Lisa: Such a great conversation. Thank you so much for coming back. And I can't wait until our next one.

Feeling Emotionally Invalidated By Your Partner?

Emotional Invalidation

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Feeling Invalidated

Hi there. Are you reading this “advice from a marriage counselor” article because your partner just forwarded it to you, as a way of attempting to communicate that you invalidate feelings or they feel emotional invalidation and that they would like this to change? First of all, sorry, but second of all… never fear. I'm the couples therapist in your corner. This one is going to boomerang nicely and wind up working out in your favor. Promise.

I'm going to let you in on a little secret that your partner — possibly not having read this article themselves before impulsively texting it to you on the headline alone — might not know yet: we all invalidate our partners accidentally. I'll bet you probably feel invalidated by them from time to time too. Am I right? Yes? Welcome to relationships.

Emotional Invalidation

How do I know that you're feeling emotionally invalidated sometimes too? First of all, I've been a marriage counselor and relationship coach for a long time. It is extremely rare to find a couple where one person has *actually* been exclusively responsible for all the hurt feelings and conflict. (Except in the tiny percentage of couples counseling cases that I could count on one hand where the hurt-inducing partner has actually been a diagnosable sociopath and/or narcissist. But I will save that tale for another day.)

Secondly, I've also been married for a long time to someone I adore and would never want to hurt on purpose. And I'm a marriage counselor! I should know better! And To. This. Day. I still do things that accidentally invalidate my husband and make him feel bad. More than once I have had to apologize for making him feel like I don't care, despite the fact that I love him very much. 

But I'm working on it and it's better than it used to be. You can do the same. On today's episode, I'm talking all about emotional invalidation and what to do when you're feeling invalidated to make it stop. Listen below or scroll down for show notes and a full transcript of today's episode.


Emotional Invalidation

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Emotional Invalidation: Episode Highlights

Step One: Let's Define “Invalidate”

First of all, let's talk a little about what “invalidation” means. When you invalidate someone, you basically make them feel like you (a) don't understand them or their feelings or (b) if you do understand, you don't care. The impact of this original invalidation will then generally make your partner swing one of two ways, towards either hostility or withdrawal and emotional shut down. Neither of those are good.

In order to not invalidate feelings anymore you need to be self-aware of when it's happening, and what you're doing to cause it. This is the hard part, because almost nobody is intentionally trying to make their partner feel diminished or unimportant when it happens. If you call an invalidating person on it in the moment, they usually get really defensive and start sputtering about how “that's not what I meant” and protesting that their intentions were good. 

Again, except in the case of narcissists (see link above) this is true. Emotional invalidation is generally unintentional. So, no need to beat yourself up if you've been unintentionally hurting someone you love. But you do need to take responsibility for how our actions impact others. We all do.

So let's get familiar with what invalidation actually looks like so that you can become more self aware. Emotional invalidation comes in many flavors, and can happen in both subtle and dramatic ways. 

Let's review.

“It wasn't that bad. You're Overreacting.”

Types of Emotional Invalidation

Now, take a deep breath and non-defensively read through the following descriptions of “emotional invalidators” and see if you can spot yourself. 

See if you can spot the invalidating behaviors your partner uses. (They are in there, I'm sure). 

But again, the hard part is recognizing your own. Bonus points if you can think of other ways you might be invalidating sometimes that I haven't put down here. The possibilities are limitless!

But here are some of the “usual suspects.”

Inattentive Invalidators: These types of invalidators don't pay attention when their partner is talking about something important. (C'est moi! I totally do this.)

Example of Inattentive Invalidation in Action:

Them: “I had a really hard day at work today. I think I might be getting sick.”

You (And by “you” I mean “me”): “I was just thinking that it would be fun to go to Canada this summer. Or Newfoundland. Newfoundland! What do you think?” [Picks up phone to start checking flight prices.]

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Belligerent Invalidators: Their M.O. is to rebuttal rather than listen, and put their energy into making their own case instead of seeing things from their partner's perspective.

Example of Belligerent Invalidation in Action:

Them: “I feel like you were rude to my friend.”

You: “Your friend is an annoying idiot who drinks too much and if you want to avoid these problems you should stop inviting him over.”

_________________________________

Controlling invalidators:  These types of invalidators are extremely confident that their way of doing things is right and just, and will either intervene or undo things that their partner does in efforts to correct, (i.e. “help”) them. This happens in many situations including parenting, housekeeping, social situations, and more. 

Example of Controlling Invalidation in Action:

Them: “No, Timmy, you can't go out to play because you have to take a shower and clean your room.”

You: “You need exercise, Timmy. Be back before dinner.”

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Judgmental Invalidators: These types of invalidators minimize the importance of things that they do not personally feel are interesting or important to them, in a way that creates disconnection in their relationships.

Example of Judgmental Invalidation in Action:

Them: “What should we do this weekend? So many fun things! Do you want to go to the farmer's market / prepper expo / rv show / rodeo?”

You: “Pfft. NO. That is so boring, why would anyone want to do that? Personally, I'm busy anyway. I have to spend the weekend finishing my Fortnite challenges. Wanna watch? No? Okay see you later.”

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Emotional Invalidators: Then of course there is the stereotypical, garden-variety Emotional Invalidator, who feels entitled to “disagree” with other people's feelings, or argue that other's feelings are not reasonable, or to talk them out of their feelings.

Example of Emotional Invalidation in Action:

Them: “Crying”

You: “You shouldn't be sad. At least we have one healthy child already….”

You some more: “….That's not what I meant. We can try again next month. The doctor said that this could happen for the first time….”

If this conversation sounds even remotely familiar… I'm glad we're here right now!

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Fixit Invalidators: Then, there is the “Fixit” Invalidator, who would prefer to leap over messy feelings entirely and go straight to helpful solutions — having zero idea they are making things infinitely worse by doing so.

Example of Fixit invalidation in Action:

Them: “I am heartbroken about my argument with my sister. I feel really bad about what happened.”

You: “She's just a drama queen. Forget about it. You should make plans with some of your other friends. I'll see if Jenny and Phil want to come over on Friday.”

Does this sound like something you might say?

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Owner of the Truth Invalidators: Lastly, there are the reflexive “that's not what happened” invalidators who pride themselves on being rational and who sincerely believe that their subjective experience is the yardstick of all others. If it didn't happen to them, it is not a thing. A kissing-cousin of codependency, this type of invalidator will often follow up their original invalidation by explaining to you how you, actually, are the one with the problem.

Example of a Truth Owner in Action:

Them: “I am feeling really invalidated by you right now.”

You: “I am not invalidating you. You were just telling me that your day was hard and you're feeling overwhelmed, and I know for a fact that you shouldn't be feeling that way because it wasn't that bad. You just need to get more organized. You're overreacting.”

_________________________________

Good times, right? Yes, there are so, so many ways to invalidate someone. This is just a small sample of the many ways, shapes, and forms emotional invalidation shows up in relationships. There are many more. Not sure what kind of invalidator you might be? Ask your partner. I'm sure they'd be happy to tell you.

Next, now that we've “cultivated self awareness,” as we say in the shrink-biz, we're going to talk about how to stop doing that, and start helping your partner feel validated instead.

Step Two: Understand The Importance of Validation

While the first step in learning how to stop accidentally invalidating your partner is to figure out what kinds of emotional invalidation you are prone to, the second step is to learn what it means to be validating and why it's so important.

What is “Validation” Anyway?

So, what is “validation?” To validate someone means that you help them feel understood, accepted, and cared for by you. It requires empathy. Empathy happens when you really get how others see things, and that you support them in their perspective — even if you do not share their perspective. 

Because empathy is such a foundational skill in so many areas of Love, Happiness and Success, the development of empathy is often a big part of what is happening in emotional intelligence coaching, personal growth work, as well as couples counseling. Empathy requires intention, but it's incredibly powerful when you start really getting it.

This is super important in relationships because validation is a cornerstone of emotional safety. And emotional safety — feeling like you are accepted and valued for who you are, like your thoughts, feelings, and preferences are important to your partner, and that your relationship is loving and supportive — is the foundation of a happy, healthy relationship.

Just consider how wonderful it feels to hear these words, “I can understand why you would feel that way.” No matter what's going on, when you hear that it feels like you're accepted by the person you're with and that it's okay for you to feel the way you feel. That right there is the strong foundation from which you can then find your own way forward. (And in your own time).

Also, if we were to dissect pretty much any basic argument that a couple can have, 98% of the time, arguments start with one person feeling invalidated by the other. When anyone feels invalidated the natural response is to then escalate their efforts to be understood. Which can sound like yelling. Then if the invalidator doubles down on defending their invalidating behaviors in response, it can get pretty ugly pretty quick. 

As I'm sure you know. Incidentally, if you have been feeling like your partner is emotionally reactive and unnecessarily hostile towards you, it can actually be an important clue that you've been making them feel invalidated without realizing it. (Read, “Twelve Effective Ways to Destroy Your Relationship” for more on this and other common relationship mistakes.)

So if you work towards being more validating, you will not just stop pretty much any argument in its tracks but your partner will feel emotionally safe and accepted by you, and you will have a much stronger, happier relationship. Win, win, win.

Step Three: Validate Feelings Intentionally, Through Practice

The real problem with changing your (our) tendency to be accidentally invalidating is that it can be really hard to wrap your (our) brains around the fact that we really are hurting the people we love without meaning to. 

In none of the examples of “types of invalidators” was I describing anyone who was trying to be hurtful. They were just failing to understand their partner's perspective or needs or feelings, and prioritizing their own instead. 

Human beings are generally self-focused, unless they put purposeful effort into being other-focused. Sad but true.

The good news is that it's not hard to be more other-focused if you decide that it's important enough to make it a priority. It just takes intention and practice, and a genuine desire to want your partner to feel more cared for by you.

Here's what my perspective of me being invalidating (and then trying to practice validation) looks like at my house:

My husband is telling me something but I'm not really connecting with what he is saying. He's talking about his day at work, and how he's not feeling great. And now he's going on and on about this guy he works with who's super annoying, and incompetent, and how he's thinking about taking the day off tomorrow to go take photos and how he might drive out towards the mountains, and now he's talking about this new video game that he started playing with our son, and how there are these avatars that build sawmills and jump over sharks and there are dances (or something) and …

….I've now officially zoned out, and am now following the spark of ideas that whatever he just said to me has just ignited into being, through the chambers of my own mind.  Day off… Mountains…. Nature documentary…. Camera lenses…. Majestic landscape photos…. I want to go somewhere beautiful… Catherine said good things about Quebec…. He's still talking but I'm now having an entirely internal experience. I know he's still there, but it's the muffled, “Wa-wa-wa” like the adult in the old Charlie Brown cartoons. I am now entirely absorbed by my own thoughts rather than what he is saying, but not on purpose.

Sometimes he can tell when I'm not there anymore, but most of the time neither of us realize what is happening until I say something apparently out of the blue, like “I was just thinking that it would be fun to go to Canada this summer. Or Newfoundland. What do you think?” [Picks up phone to start researching flight prices]. Then I look up from my phone to see his shoulders slump a little and this look cross his face like, “Do you even care about what I'm saying?” Only then do I realize that what he was talking about felt important to him, and I made him feel bad. He's annoyed. He should be.

Because in that moment, my lack of attention left him feeling invalidated in our conversation. He was left feeling like he wasn't important or interesting enough for me to pay attention to, or worse, like I just hijacked the conversation to talk about whatever I was thinking of instead of what he was bringing up. Which I totally did.

But like you, I didn't mean to hurt his feelings. It just happened because I wasn't making him a priority at that moment, but indulging my own self-absorbed thoughts instead of really deliberately tracking what he was saying to me. (If you, too, have a tendency towards adult ADHD, I'm sure you can relate.)

In contrast, when I remind myself of my intention to be a good friend to him, to help him feel cared for and validated by me, it's a totally different experience. I will myself to focus on what he is saying. I look in his eyes. When I feel my mind starting to slide towards something other than what he is talking about, I bring it back to him by very deliberately reflecting something I heard him say. I think about how he might be feeling and ask about that. Or I ask open-ended questions to help him say more about what is going on for him, but also as a strategy to keep myself engaged. In short, I am using communication skills and empathy to help him feel validated.

I try really hard to stay present, and stay on topic. Sometimes I am more successful than others, but I know he sees me trying. We know each other well enough now and we can even laugh about it, as we do when I glaze and he just stops talking and makes a face at me. Humor helps. So does managing your expectations that your partner can or should be perfectly perfect at validating your feelings all of the time.

But truthfully, if you want to stop making someone else feel invalidated it requires a certain level of courage and humility. It's hard to think about, “What's it like to live with me” and really allow yourself to understand, deeply, what you do and how it makes your partner feel. I think that embracing personal responsibility without being defensive is one of the hardest things to do in a marriage, and helping other people move into this receptive, honestly reflective space is often the hardest thing for me to do as a marriage counselor. That's why I wanted to model this for you.

How to Validate Someone's Feelings

Every flavor of invalidation has an antidote that's a little different. Just as there are infinite ways to invalidate feelings, there are many strategies for how to validate someone's feelings too. I could go into great detail about what the antidote for each involves, but then this would be an actual self-help book rather than a blog post. But, briefly, here are some pointers:

I hope that this discussion of how you may be accidentally invalidating your partner was helpful to you, and gives you clarity about how to shift the emotional climate of your relationship just by making your partner's feelings and perspective as important to you as your own. Not easy to do. It requires emotional strength, the ability to be honest with yourself, and the willingness to grow in service of your relationship. But it is so worth it.

Now, please send this post and episode back to your partner so they can think about what THEY need to be working on in order to help you feel more heard, valued, and understood by them. 

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

The music in this episode is “Dive” by Beach House from their album “7”. You can support them and their work by visiting their website or on Bandcamp. Each portion of the music used in this episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act. Please refer to copyright.gov for more information.

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[Intro music: “Dive” by Beach House, from their album “7”]

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Hey friends. Today, on the show, we're going to be talking about something that we need to talk about. It is a silent killer of many relationships. You may be experiencing this on your own. It's feeling invalidated. Either you might be listening to this because you are feeling routinely invalidated by your partner, which is hard, or perhaps you are listening to this because your partner is telling you that you are making them feel invalidated. 

This is a really significant issue and one that we need to address together. So that's going to be the focus of our time together today, is talking about what invalidation is, why it happens, and most importantly, what you can do to either feel heard and understood by your partner in your relationship or potentially do a better job of helping your partner feel validated and respected by you. 

If this is your first time listening to the podcast, I'm so glad you found us. I am Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I am your host. I am also the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling & Coaching. I am a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. I'm a licensed psychologist. I am a board-certified coach. But what I love doing more than anything else is helping people improve their relationships. I am very married. I've been married for a long time. I've also just worked as a counselor and a coach for so many years. 

Just one of, I think, my main takeaways from all of this life experience is that truly, our wellness, our happiness, our health comes from the quality of our relationships largely. That's why so often on this podcast, I want to talk about things that can help you improve your relationships. Because when our relationships feel strong and successful, everything just feels so much easier in our lives. We feel better emotionally. We have more fun. We have a nicer time. We have a strong foundation from which to launch off and do amazing things. So I am a relationship person. 

That's what we're talking about today is in the love quadrant: what you can do to increase the emotional safety in your relationship. I think that that's one of the things that happens when invalidation is present in a relationship is that it really erodes the emotional safety between you and your partner. And ugly things can start happening in a relationship when people aren't feeling safe, and respected, and heard, and understood. That's what happens when invalidation is a frequent issue in a relationship. 

What Is Validation?

To just dive into our topic today, first of all, allow me to just take a couple of minutes to orient you to validation, what it means, why it's important, to set the stage. When I am talking about either validation or invalidation, to validate someone, it means that you're helping them feel understood by you, that you get whatever they're sharing, you are accepting what they are telling you about how they feel. In that space, also, helping them feel cared for by you, that they're not just saying something and dropping a stone into a well. 

There's this response. You get them. You understand how they see things. You can see the situation through their eyes. Also, there's the sense that their perspective is supported by you. I also want to say that in a truly healthy, vibrant relationship, there is always some diversity of thought. We're not partnered with clones of ourselves, right? People can have different perspectives, different opinions. But there's this sense of fundamental respect for each other's perspectives, even if it is different from yours. It's like this: “Yeah, you know when I look at it that way, I can see why that makes sense.” 

Just think about it. When somebody says that to you, “I can understand why you would feel that way.” I've had friends in my life just naturally say things like that to me in conversation, and it's the relational equivalent of somebody just walking up to you and just folding a warm, soft blanket around your shoulders. “Yes, that makes sense. You make sense. Your feelings make sense. I can see why you feel that way. I would feel that way too if I were in that situation.” It's just like this, “Ah, thank you so much for saying that.” It's just such a nice experience to have.

I think that we all crave that from our partners from time to time. Again, that's a cornerstone of emotional safety. Now, if the phrase emotional safety is a new one for you, I would encourage you to scroll back through my podcast archive. I have done a podcast episode on emotional safety, specifically, where I talked a lot about that concept and how important it is in healthy relationships, and would encourage you to check out that episode if you'd like to explore more about all the different elements of emotional safety. Keep in mind that to be able to validate someone's feelings is an incredibly important part of that. 

When we're creating emotionally safe relationships, and when we are validating people that we love, it is, again, it's like this experience that people are having with us, that we accept them, that we value them, we respect them for who they are. We think that their thoughts, and feelings, and preferences are important. They're important to us, right? In that context, over communicating that regularly, through the way we're communicating and the way that we're interacting with our loved ones, it just creates this very loving and supportive relationship. That's a foundational component. 

How Does Emotional Invalidation Happen?

I have to tell you, as a marriage counselor, 95% of the time, when a new couple drops into the practice, and they’re, “We'd like to work on our relationship.” “Okay, great. What's going on?” 95% of the time, it is some variation of communication. “We're not communicating as well as we'd like to. Communication feels hard.” When you dig into that, like, “Okay, what about communication is feeling hard right now,” invariably, one, often both partners are not feeling validated. It's not that the words coming out of each other's mouths are not terribly problematic in and of themselves. 

It's that they're not getting a validating response from their partner. The problem with communication is that they are not feeling like their partner hears them or understands them. They're feeling like their partner is misinterpreting their intentions. They say something well-intentioned, well-meaning, their partner takes it the wrong way. Here's something that they are trying to say that is interpreted very negatively, that is responded to in an angry way. Or they're feeling like their partner just doesn't have empathy for their perspective, or slaps whatever they're trying to share out of their hands, or making them feel uncared for, or that their feelings or perspectives aren't important in that moment. 

That is very much about a validation issue. Because validation, really, at its core, is around having empathy for the other person. Being able to accurately understand their feelings, understand their intentions, and then reflecting back to that person: “Yeah, I can understand that. I'm not sure that I see it exactly the same way. But when I look through it, at the situation through your lens, I can understand that. Also, I understand that this is important to you. And I understand that you are actually feeling this way.” 

I think the other big meta message within that is “I love you, and this, whatever this is, is important to you. You care a lot about this. This is making you feel a certain way. Because you are important to me, I care about it too because I care about you.” Again, it's just this whole experience of being cherished when we're talking about validation and how impactful it is. So many arguments, again, start this way. If we were to dissect pretty much any basic argument that a couple can have, almost all of the time, these arguments begin with one person feeling invalidated by the other. 

When that happens, when anyone feels invalidated, the natural response to this is to escalate your efforts to be understood, which often sounds like yelling, am I right? If you say, “Yeah, I feel this way,” and the response you get from your partner's like, “That's wrong.” Right? “That didn't happen, or no, it's not that big of a deal.” That, I think, makes all of us say, “No, you don't understand. No, this is true. This is happening.” All of a sudden, we're really fighting to be understood, aren't we? We are not fighting to win. We are not fighting to control. We are fighting to be heard and to feel like we're cared about, to feel like we're important. 

So the other thing that happens, so one person feels invalidated, and then they escalate, “No, I really need you to understand this.” Then, what also happens is that the invalidator, the person who originally came out with a less than ideal response, will double down on defending their position and will defend their invalidating behaviors. “No, that's not what I said. That's not what I meant. Why are you making such a big deal out of this? This always happens when we talk about your mom or your job,” or whatever it is, right? 

How Fighting to be Heard is Invalidation

When this starts to happen, one person is like, “No, I really need you to understand how I'm feeling right now.” The other person is like, “That's dumb.” It can get extremely ugly, so fast. I think everybody within the sound of my voice right now has had this experience at one point or another in their relationship. I know that I certainly have. Truth be told, if we're all going to move towards healthy humility here, I think that our partners have probably felt this way with us from time to time. 

I think that when we are fighting to be heard, we are experiencing invalidation. We're not getting the response that we want. We are really looking for comfort, or connection, or reassurance, and when that isn't what we're getting, right? It feels bad. I think it is very, very easy to miss the moments that we are accidentally and unintentionally making other people feel that way with us. Because I have to tell you, it is so easy to do. When I sit with a couple in marriage counseling, or couples therapy, or whatever it is, and unpack all of this at the core, I do not find narcissists. I do not find sociopaths. I do not find people who are irredeemable and incapable of having healthy relationships. 

What I find are people who are simply unaware of the impact that they are having on others just because they're in a different place, or they're not fully understanding how important that particular moment is. It's just all these missed opportunities to connect. I have been so guilty of that in my own life. I think that chances are, if we are going to be humble and with healthy humility here together, you could probably reflect on some moments in your own life when you have unintentionally done the same. 

The reason why I want to talk about this part for a second is because one of the easiest ways to just melt away all that defensiveness, and restore emotional safety, and increase love and validation all around, is when we can be humble and reflect on our own process because it helps us be more emotionally safe. It helps us be more validating and responsive to our partners, and I think it also helps us handle the moments when we are feeling invalidated by someone else. 

It helps us handle those moments so much more effectively because we can shift away from that automatic response of, “You just totally invalidated me. I'm going to be mad at you.” “No, that's not what I said. I'm going to start fighting to be heard.” We can shift out of that and into a much more helpful and respectful way of getting our emotional needs met in that moment when we are able to stay soft, and empathetic, and emotionally generous with our partners, and make an effective repair attempt, which is, “You know, let me try that again. I feel like maybe you didn't fully understand what I was trying to communicate to you in this moment and how important it is for me right now just to feel heard by you, and respected by you, and understood by you. So I'm going to have a redo.”

Particularly, if you and your partner have had the opportunity to work on some of this stuff together in couples counseling, or relationship coaching, like it's not the first time they've had this conversation with you, it immediately orients them back to, “Oh, this is one of those moments when you're not looking for me to do anything. You are not attacking me. You are not presenting me with a problem that I need to solve. I don't have to be defensive right now. This is one of these moments when you're just trying to connect with me emotionally. I can do that. So thank you for giving me another go at this so that I can be a better partner for you right now. Because I love you, and you're important to me, and that is what I want to do. Okay? Okay, so let's do this again.”

Then, you can literally have a redo with your partner, where there is a different outcome. That outcome is one where you feel loved, and cared for, and respected, and supportive, and have had the opportunity to share your feelings about something that's on your mind, and not have it turned into an argument. It turns into a conversation where you just get to share and be heard. Maybe that is 100% the goal. That's fantastic. No other action is required. We do not have to change anything. We do not have to fix anything. You got to say it. It was received, and we're done. That's fantastic. 

Other times, I think another component of validation can be attached to, “I'm feeling this way, and I would like to find a solution to this problem because I'm feeling bothered by the situation. I'd like to have a productive conversation with you where we could maybe just talk about different ways of handling this because I don't like feeling the way that I'm feeling right now. So I'm just hoping that we can sort through this.” When there is validation happening on both sides, it isn't just you saying, “I have a problem, and we need to fix that because I'm not okay, right now.” 

It turns into, “Let me tell you about how I'm experiencing this situation and help me feel like you understand what I'm saying. Now tell me how you are feeling in this situation and what you see is the ideal outcome or different options here.” Because when you are being intentionally validating, and respectful, and supportive, you start asking your partner questions like that. “I'm not the only one in this relationship. You might have a totally different perspective here. Tell me more about how you see this, or how you've been feeling in these situations. How are you experiencing me when this stuff happens?”

Because in that space of emotional safety, when you are able to validate your partner and help them feel really understood and cared for by you, they will tell you how they're feeling because they trust you. You're not going to freak out when they tell you how they're actually feeling. But if there isn't that trust in your relationship, they won't tell you. The trust has been broken to the point that people do not feel safe enough to share how they are really feeling with each other. 

Overcoming Emotional Invalidation

We think of trust many times as something that is broken through betrayal. There's an affair or there's some catastrophic lying going on in a relationship, and that can certainly damage trust. But there are many more subtle kinds of betrayals of trust that I think people don't fully recognize or understand the significance of because they're subtle, and a betrayal of trust that happens all the time. 

Unintentionally, nobody's doing this on purpose. But when someone tells you how they really feel, or what they need, or what their hopes are, or what is upsetting them even, and when that is invalidated, or dismissed, or rejected, or reacted to with hostility or contempt, it is a betrayal of trust. The message that people receive is, “I don't care about how you feel. I disrespect your experience right now. I reject this.” What happens is, they're like, “Okay, cool, noted. I am never doing that again. The next time you ask me how I'm feeling, I don't think I want to enter into that ring of emotional intimacy with you because I don't trust you enough to tell you how I really feel right now.” 

This is hard. This is, I think, a place where I find with many couples, I often need to stay for a fairly significant period of time in couples counseling or in relationship coaching, because people really do not understand the impact that they are having on each other. Again, and I say this as someone who has done exactly the same thing, we all get so focused on our own perspective, our own needs, and whether or not they are being met in a relationship, and whether or not we are feeling validated, or getting the response that we want. 

We get very hyper-focused on what is happening in that regard and really miss the systemic nature of relationships, which is, “When I'm feeling that way, what do I do? How do I approach my partner? How do I engage with them?” Because especially people who perceive themselves as really fighting for their relationships, fighting to have greater emotional intimacy or greater connection, have no idea how scary or emotionally unsafe or even threatening they themselves are being in these moments when they feel like they're seeking emotional intimacy. 

I'm going to do a whole other podcast on that topic, that concept, specifically, around emotional intimacy and what to do when we're feeling lonely and disconnected in a relationship. So more on that topic to come soon. Just that one takeaway from today would be to ask yourself: Are you validating your partner? Are they feeling invalidated by you in those moments? Or has trust been broken in the past that accidentally trained them to hide from you, and to not communicate with you, and to not tell you how they're really, really feeling even though you want them to, but something has happened, where they feel like they can't? 

That's a really, really common thing that happens in relationships. It is frequently due to that primary issue of people feeling invalidated or rejected by each other in these potentially tender moments of connection. 

What Does Emotional Invalidation Look Like in Action?

With that in mind, I would really like to turn this conversation to talking a little bit about understanding what invalidation looks like in action so that we ourselves can be more conscious of the times that we're doing it and then, also have a little bit more empathy or understanding for the times when our partners may be doing that to us without fully realizing it. Because empathy is so key. 

To begin, when invalidation is happening, what we are communicating, what is happening is that people feel like we don't understand them. We are misinterpreting them. We are taking what they are saying, and then running it through our own filter of meaning, and coming up with something different than what they were trying to communicate to us that they don't feel understood. Or that if we do understand what they're saying conceptually, we don't care about their feelings. Not that we don't care, but that we are rejecting it, and it can be very, very subtle, you guys.

It could be like, “I'm sure they didn't mean that when they said X, Y, Z. You're probably just overreacting.” Those kinds of things, which might be true. I don't know. But the truth of what is happening or not happening is so insignificant that the truth of what's happening is that your partner is actually trying to tell you how they are feeling, emotionally, in this present moment. You have just been offered the gift of trust and emotional intimacy. What are you going to do with that? 

Are you going to make them feel like you don't understand, or they're stupid, or their feelings are ridiculous or not important, or they're being overreactive, or they're just not thinking about this the right way? Because that doesn't feel good. We all know how that feels, right? It is not good. Or are they going to be leaving whatever interaction they just had with you feeling like, “I love them so much because they love me.” Just feeling loved. In order to improve this experience, we need to be self-aware of when it's happening and what we are potentially doing to cause it.

Types of Invalidating Behaviors

There are different flavors of invalidation. We all have our unique styles, I think. When I am being invalidating to my husband, I'm usually doing it in one of a couple of ways. So let me just run through these types of invalidating behaviors. See if you can see yourself in any of these and maybe if some of these are true for your partner. 

Inattentive Invalidators

One, and I think this is probably the most common, and this is the one that I am so guilty of, is an inattentive invalidator. These types of invalidators, they're just not paying attention when their partner is talking about something important. Oh my gosh, I can so easily do this, because I don't know what you're like. Me, I'm just kind of usually zooming along at 900 miles an hour. I am a habitual multitasker. I know it's not good to do that. But I am doing the dishes while I'm on the phone with somebody, and I'm thinking about five things that are happening.

Sometimes in these moments, this is when my husband wants to tell me about something. What happens is, they will say, “Oh, I had such a day. I'm not feeling good. I think I might be getting sick.” Then, you might say — by you I mean me — you’d be like, “You know what, I was just thinking that we should go on a trip to Canada.” Or, “Oh did I tell you that Julie called. She was thinking that we might go camping this… Would you want to do that?” So, I am now picking up my phone and researching campsites or travel reservations. 

My husband just said something totally unrelated to that. He was trying to tell me something about how he felt. It triggered an idea in my mind, or I wasn't really paying attention to the impact of what he was trying to say. Because there can be emotional connotations to certain things that people say. They're very easy to miss unless we're really paying attention. So he, in that moment, felt like I was totally disconnected from what he was trying to communicate, which I was. It's just because I wasn't fully present. 

I was kind of thinking about something, and he said something, and I had a random thought in my head and just sort of impulsively acted on it. I'm nowhere near where he is in terms of what he's trying to communicate or what he is needing for me in that moment. It’s not intentional. It’s not like I'm trying to harm him in those moments. I'm not mad at him. It's just really a simple lack of attention. I, in order to be a better partner, need to slow down sometimes. Also, one of the things that I have found over the years, and I see this routinely with the couples that I work with too, is to be able to set some boundaries or guidelines around these conversations. 

When I can tell that he is trying to communicate about something that might be more important, and I am not in a headspace where I can do that. I have a crisis situation at work that I'm thinking about or needing to deal with and that maybe he doesn't know about that, right? So he's trying to talk to me all of a sudden, and I have learned to say, “I want to hear all about this. Can you give me 15 minutes? I need to take care of this. I need to X, Y, Z or whatever.” Then, 15 minutes later, I am like, “Tell me more,” blink, blink, and I’m looking in his eyes asking appropriate questions. I'm all there. 

But I need to communicate to him when I can't be present. Because if he doesn't know that, he's going to try to communicate with me and not have a good experience. I think we've learned a lot about each other over the years. He's like, “I would like to talk to you about something important. Is now a good time? Or when can we talk about this?” That conversation right there has been a game-changer, I think, in our relationship. But for so many couples that I work with, particularly, in relationship coaching, people come in, and they have been feeling so badly with each other, and it's just felt so hard. 

When we unpack it and when we dial down into it, sometimes, you guys, the answer is as easy as that. “Tell me what is going on in the moments that you're trying to communicate, and it's not going well, or it's feeling frustrating. Literally, where are you?” It could be, sometimes, people are telling me, “It was during dinner, and our three-year-old was having a meltdown, and X, Y, Z.” They start talking about all of these different circumstances. When we're able to identify the practices that people are using, the boundaries that they're setting around their communication, and how they are communicating their needs in those moments to each other, it's so much easier. 

It was actually not this big, horrible, catastrophic thing. We don't have to spend nine months in therapy talking about, “Yes, your mother was an alcoholic, and all of these big things about why you can't communicate.” No, it's actually learning how to say, “Is this a good time to talk?” to your partner. Not always. Sometimes, there are old things, and it goes deeper. But, you'd be amazed at the impact of making these small procedural changes can make on the way that everything unfolds. So I just wanted to share that. If inattentive invalidation is a thing at your house, just try it. Let me know what happens. 

Belligerent Invalidators

Now, there are other kinds of invalidating behaviors that we should talk about. Another common one is a belligerent invalidator. The MO of a belligerent invalidator is to rebut rather than listen and put their energy into making their own case, instead of seeing things from their partner’s perspective. 

Example, somebody, either you or your partner, is talking about, “I didn't feel good about that situation. That person was being rude, or that felt uncomfortable.” A belligerent invalidator will basically tell you why you're wrong for feeling that way. Or say, “Yeah, well, this is what was actually going on.” 

What's happening in those moments, and again, it's not on purpose. It's not intentional. But it's like they are replacing your perspective or whatever you just shared with their own perspective. They are not trying to be hostile or belligerent. But it really feels that way. Because it was like you just put something out there, and then, they just steamrolled over it with their concept of reality. 

This, again, is super common. I think it is very easy to identify people or situations when we have felt that way. Less easy to identify when we ourselves are accidentally doing that. Somebody shares something, and it's very easy to say, “Oh, no, that's not what happened. Let me tell you what really happened.” Sometimes, when you do that to people, they'll fight back and it'll turn into an argument, which in some ways is great. It's healthier in some ways, and it’s like, “ No, I need you to listen to me right now.” 

Other times, you will do that to someone. You'll say, “No, no, no. That's not what happened. Let me tell you what actually happened.” People will just take it, and you will have made them feel really bad, and uncared for, and disrespected. They just kind of go inwards. You just steamrolled right over them and broke their trust in you. You're not emotionally safe. But they're like, “Okay.” We'll exit that. You might not ever know what just happened. You'll feel fine because you were just telling them what you thought. What's the harm? You're just calling it like you see it right? You’ll never know that that was actually a real wound. 

That's another thing about relationships. We've all heard that saying, “Death by a thousand cuts.” These micro-moments? Those are cuts, and if you're with someone who isn't real assertive in telling you how you're making them feel, you can just keep cutting, and cutting, and cutting, and they'll just eventually be done with you, and you will not have known why. That is a terrible thing to consider, and it is a reality of relationships. So, belligerent invalidation. Please keep that one on your radar. 

The next time somebody tells you something, particularly, if it has anything to do with how they felt, or perceived something, or reacted to something, is just to keep in mind, they are telling you how they feel right now. Their truth is how they feel. Your job as a partner, or a friend, is to help them feel understood by you, not corrected by you. Nobody's asking you for that. So, again, I'm being direct. I am being your friend right now. Because the alternative when you're doing that to people and not fully aware of it can be really bad for relationships, and it's very easy to do. 

Controlling Invalidators

Another very common kind of invalidating behavior are the controlling invalidators. These types of invalidators are often extremely confident, which is a good thing in many situations. But they are very confident that their way of doing things is right and just, and will either intervene or undo things that their partner does in efforts to correct it. 

Now, I have also been guilty of this in my relationship. Again, I think it's more due to impulsivity than ill will, right? When someone is invalidating in a controlling way, they often feel like they're helping. They are stepping in. They're going to manage something. They're going to prevent a possible problem that they foresee in the future and that maybe their partner doesn't. But this happens in so many situations, including parenting, housekeeping, social situations around finances. 

One example would be, one partner saying, “No little Timmy, you can't go out to play because you have to take a shower and clean your room.” The other partner is, “Oh, yeah, Jim's mom called and wants you to play. Just be back before dinner.” So it's this really subtle and common kind of invalidation that happens when one person's preferences or things that they are trying to create or do are, again, just undone by someone else. 

This can happen in very small ways, too, around someone's preferences for how you do things. I think, for many couples, teamwork can feel hard. One aspect of every successful relationship is just being able to work together as a team, right? Like the most banal things. Who does laundry? Who folds the laundry? Does laundry get put away in the drawer? Or does it stay in the laundry basket even if it's clean? Who gets the mail? Who opens the mail? How often does this happen? Who pays the bills? 

These little procedural things, even around cleaning, cleaning the house, or making the bed, or cooking a meal that people who have a tendency towards this controlling kind of invalidation, they wind up taking over for a lot of different things because they have stronger opinions about the way that things should be done. The message that is sent to their partner is, “You're not doing it right. Your way of doing things is wrong, and I am taking this away from you.” 

The experience on the other side, again, can be very subtle. People may or may not be talking about this, but it leads to a lot of withdrawal in relationships. It's like this: “Okay, I tried. It wasn't good enough. Fine. You do it.” It is this sense of being, sometimes micromanaged, but just disrespected. “My preferences, my ways of doing things, my feelings in the situation are not important to you.” It's like, “This is your show. This isn't my show.” 

It comes through these small interactions and through these very subtle and seemingly insignificant, controlling kinds of invalidating behaviors that many of us are not aware of. Because, again, our intentions are not bad. We're not trying to make our partners feel micromanaged or disrespected. It's that we maybe have done this before, maybe we have our preferences; we already have a system. “No, the bread goes here,” that kind of thing. But again, what it leads to, particularly, if it's a pattern in the relationship is the other person withdrawing and just feeling like there's not space for them. 

I do not want to genderify this because these patterns can exist for both men and women and in same-sex relationships, certainly. But usually, controlling invalidators, in my experience, tend to be women. Not always, but many, many times. So just check in with yourself. “Am I doing this?” See if you can notice it in yourself. Again, notice, too, that when this is happening, you're not trying to be disrespectful. You're not trying to be damaging. You are not trying to communicate contempt. But that's how it can still be received. 

Again, I'm not saying these things to make you feel bad. When we shine the light on ourselves and understand how easy it is to accidentally make other people feel this way, we can become much more gentle and compassionate when we are experiencing invalidation from others. We can see the other person not as this invalidating enemy who is trying to hurt me emotionally. It's, “Oh, they don't understand what's happening right now.” Because I, sometimes, don't understand the small things that I do make other people feel a certain way. 

When we can move into that space of compassion and collaborative understanding. It's so much easier to talk about that authentically and have grace for the other person to say, “Let's have a redo. This is one of the things that we've been working on. We've been talking to Lisa about this or whatever.” It softens it. It makes it much more likely to have your needs met when you can have empathy for the noble intentions of your partner, noble intentions much of the time. 

Judgmental Invalidators

One other thing, a couple other kinds of invalidating behaviors, there is also such a thing as a judgmental invalidator. These kinds of validators, again, in my experience, they are truly trying to be helpful. But what they do in action is that they are minimizing the importance of things that they don't personally feel are interesting, or important, or significant that their other person sees. They do so in a way that creates disconnection in their relationships. 

An example of judgmental invalidation would be somebody saying, “What should we do this weekend? There are so many fun things. Do you want to go to the farmers market? Do you want to go to the RV show, rodeo, anything? It could literally be brunch with my friends.” The judgmental invalidator would say, “No, that's boring. I want to spend this time playing video games with my friend. Or I am not even remotely interested in brunch or your friends. Why would I want to do that?” 

Again, they probably feel like they're being authentic, right? They're telling you how they really feel. Also, a judgmental invalidator can also communicate this way about emotionally laden things. “That's, again, the wrong way of looking at it.” Or “Why would you think that?” What they're doing is, they're so entrenched in their little perspective of the world, their own little fiefdom of reality, that it is very difficult for them to look over the wall and understand that other people have other interests. 

They have other cognitive filters. They have other expectations of relationshipse. They are interpreting the world differently. They have different motivations. They have different tastes. They're just, again, so stuck in their own one worldview. It's like they're just looking down at their feet. This is the way things are. To have that acknowledgment of the diversity of all humans, they struggle with that. But again, they're not doing it out of maliciousness. They are simply being authentic. 

They’re like, “Why would I do that? I've never gone to a rodeo. I don't really get it. No, I don't want to do that.” Again, what happens is that it sends this message of what you are interested in doing, what you like, what you might want to try, “First of all, I don't understand that, and I will not participate in that with you. That isn't important to me, so I won't do it.” 

Again, it can be very subtle. But I tell you what, I have seen so many relationships break apart on those rocks, I can't even tell you. Because what happens is that the person on the other side feels like if they want to maintain a connection with this individual, they have to enter their world. They have to be into what they are into. They need to hang out with their friends. They need to participate in their interests because their partner is not coming over the line onto their side of things. 

Now, just to state this very plainly, and clearly, it is also true that in vibrant, healthy relationships, partners have different interests. It is 100%, okay, to have hobbies, or sports, or activities that you are into that your partner is not into. You don't have to be doing all the same things together all of the time. I think, in some ways, to have that kind of diversity in a relationship is quite healthy because you have this sort of interdependence. You can have your separate lives and separate friend groups. 

I think that makes for a more interesting relationship, right? You can go do something fun with your friends, and your partner can go through a different thing. Then, you can come back together and have an interesting conversation because you have stories to tell and things to share. It's great, right? So that's how people grow and evolve. All of those things are healthy. 

But I think when there is this, almost absolute refusal to enter into someone's worldview ever, what is experienced is a lot of judgment. Because, again, I think people are not intended to come across this way. But the meta-message is that “Well, that's dumb. Why would you want to do that? Ew, no, that's boring.” For whatever it is. That feels really bad. It feels really bad to be partnered with someone who is judgmental of who you are and what you're into. 

I think that the lesson we can take here is that even if you are not into the things that your partner is into, it is okay to help support their interests by talking to them about it or doing things with them sometimes. You don't have to spend every weekend of your life doing the thing. But, what we want to communicate is that “Your interests are important to you. Therefore, they are important to me.” 

Listen, you guys, I have a 13-year-old who is super into video games right now. Candy Crush stresses me out. That's all I can take, right? Not only am I not interested in playing video games, I do not really care that much. But my 13-year-old is super interested in this. So, I will be a video-game spectator. I will watch him play. He's telling me about all these different missiles, and guns, and squads, and things, and whatever. He is so excited. 

To connect with him, I am not being judgmental and rejecting of the things that are important to him because it would be so easy for me to do that. Because inside my head sometimes I'm like, “Why would you want to, anyway?” But in those moments, my role is to like, “Tell me more. What do you like about this game? Or tell me about what happened when X, Y, Z. Or who's your favorite character? Or what do you like about? Tell me about the plotline.” 

Asking questions being engaged, because the alternative is to subtly communicate judgment, and rejection, and invalidation in a way that can create a lot of disconnection in a relationship and sends a message, “You're not important to me. What you're into is dumb. I think you're dumb. I don't care about this.” It feels like “I don't care about you.” We don't want to do that for the people that we love. Again, easy to do. Easy to do. 

Emotional Invalidators

Now, there are a couple of other kinds of invalidators that I'm going to talk about really briefly. One of the most important, and this, oftentimes, I think, is a very obvious one is the emotional invalidator. How many times have we encountered these people in our lives? This is the stereotypical garden-variety emotional invalidator who disagrees with other people's feelings, or argues that other people's feelings are not reasonable, or tries to talk them out of their feelings.

For example, if you have ever been crying for some random reason, and your partner wanders in and says, “You shouldn't be sad about that.” Or “It wasn't that big of a deal.” Or doesn't even acknowledge the fact that you are in the grips of a big emotion, or tries to cheer you up. Again, these responses to emotion often come from — this is hard to even say out loud, but it's so true — they are honestly well-intentioned. 

Somebody thinks that they're trying to make you feel better. “Look on the bright side. Or at least, X, Y, Z.” Or, “You know? Forget about that. Let's go do something fun. Let me distract you from your feelings.” Oftentimes, people are trying to help you because they perceive emotions as being problematic, dark emotions as being something negative that need to be avoided. They themselves are often not that great in noticing how they feel or being able to stay engaged with their own negative emotions, which is a core component of emotional intelligence. It's hard to do. 

Again, not to genderify, but many men, as we've talked about on this podcast previously, are not socialized to have a really deep relationship with their own feelings. So many little boys to this day get yelled at for crying or punished for having “negative,” I prefer to call them, dark emotions. There's a lot of negative connotations around those. Emotional invalidators often will see someone in the grips of a negative emotion and be like, “Oh, no, I have to get them out of there because that's not good,” not recognizing that it is so positive and so important for all of us to really be in those fully present spaces sometimes. 

Like, “I am having an authentic experience right now. I am feeling really, really sad about this situation.” Or “My feelings were hurt.” Or “I just feel really bad about this situation that happened at work. I don't know what to do.” Or “I'm feeling so overwhelmed” Or… Whatever it is, in order for us to grow and to be genuinely healthy, we need to go into those spaces, and stay there, and process our feelings, and take wisdom from those feelings. 

The best thing that any of us can do when our partner is in that space is to say, “Tell me more about what's going on.” Open-ended questions. “When did you start feeling this way? What were the triggers? What happens to you in these moments?” Or to say nothing at all, just to sit there with somebody and allow them the luxury of having their feelings validated in your presence. Because just to simply be present with someone when they're not okay is such a gift. It's so emotionally intimate. We don't show everyone in the world that side of us. 

But in our most intimate relationships, we are extending this treasure of, “This is how I really feel. This is who I really am. This is what is true for me.” To simply have that be acknowledged, and accepted, and not argued with, and not to have someone try to change it or do something about it, is the greatest gift that we can ever give. That really is how to connect with someone. Anything else leads them to feel like, “They don't care about how I'm feeling. My feelings are not important to them. My feelings are making them uncomfortable. So I need to fix myself back up again because they can't handle it.” 

Do you want somebody to feel that way with you? I don't. So just to be aware of that in those moments. Even just a hug, or “I hear you,” or “Yeah, that is a really hard situation. That is legitimately so hard. I'm so sorry that that is happening. I know that there is nothing that I can do, and I'm just so grateful that you're sharing these feelings with me right now. Because I appreciate that we have that kind of relationship where you let me into this.” Just even saying simple things like that can be just the most amazing thing you could possibly do.

Mr./Ms. Fix-It 

A close cousin of this emotional invalidation, somebody who's very uncomfortable with dark emotions, is the other well-intentioned person that is a Mr. Fix It or Ms. Fix It in those moments of, somebody is struggling with something hard and what they're trying to do, honestly and legitimately, is saying, “I love you so much. I'm going to solve this problem. Let's fix it because I don't want you to feel bad about this. Let's fix it.” So it is, “I'll pick the kids up tomorrow.” Or “Let me. It's okay. Here's what we should do instead,” and jumping right into solutions.”

Hey, I am all about solutions. Yes, all couples need to solve actual problems together. There are so many moments of opportunity for productive, collaborative problem solving that do actually make changes in the way you do things, where you talk to each other, the way you handle things, related to parenting, or finances, or boundaries. So much stuff. There is a time and place to actually focus on making specific changes. 

What often happens to the detriment of relationships is when people jump into that problem-solving space at the expense of the emotional-connection space. Again, it is so well-intentioned, but I can't even tell you how many couples I've worked with in couples therapy or relationship coaching, where we had to stay awhile on helping people understand how those efforts are actually received on an emotional level by their partner. 

Because when someone says, “I'm just feeling so overwhelmed by the situation, right now. I'm feeling so frustrated.” And somebody is like, “Okay, well, let's just do this. And then, it'll never happen again,” they don't experience that as being helpful. The message it sends is, “I don't want to hear about it. We need to just fix this immediately, stop talking about this. I don't want to know how you're feeling about it. I am going to shut the door of emotion. We'll fix this, so we can never talk about it again.” It's kind of how it's experienced.

Again, noble intentions, problem-solving is good. But without the space of being able to connect and really talk about the feelings and help your partner feel genuinely validated in that moment, it does the opposite of what is often intended, which is to fix something. What it actually does is create emotional disconnection in the relationship. It turns into, “Well, she doesn't want to hear about it, or she's just going to tell me to do this thing differently. So, whatever.” It creates withdrawal. It makes people feel uncared for and they're not truly known by their partner, which over time leads to serious disconnection in a relationship. 

Again, we'll talk more about that emotional intimacy in upcoming podcast episodes. But be aware if this is something that you tend to do in relationships is that rushing in to fix or trying to talk people out of their feelings. I will bet you a cookie that subjectively, you feel in those moments like you're trying to be helpful. You're trying to make them feel better. You're trying to look for solutions, all positive things. But there is a whole other dimension of relationships. 

We must make space for the authentic emotional experience of our partners, and help them feel understood, and respected, and affirmed, and validated by us. Because even if we're fixing things, and trying to keep things positive, our relationships, over time, become really hollowed out when that emotional connection, emotional safety, emotional trust, emotional intimacy is eroded. That is what happens when people are invalidating each other. 

The Arc of Change is Experiential

Lastly, just want to share that these patterns are often entrenched in relationships. They can be difficult for all of us to see when we are doing them because our intentions are often good in those moments. I would just like to float the idea that your partner probably experiences those moments similarly. They struggle to understand how their responses may be impacting you. So, certainly, would invite you to get them to listen to this podcast if that would be helpful, just to raise some awareness. 

Also, these things are hard. I spend, easily, several sessions with couples, helping them gain self-awareness about these interactions, in these small moments that invalidation is happening in order to help them recognize them and do something different instead. So I always feel bad in some ways. I love making these podcasts for you. I hope that you find the information in them to be helpful. But I also just want to say out loud that the process of creating change in these areas is not just about getting information, listening to a podcast, and being like, “Okay, cool, I'm gonna do this instead.” 

The actual arc of change is experiential. It occurs over time. So I just want to say that because I always worry that people will hear one of these podcasts and then assume that they should be able to do all of this stuff now that they've heard this, or even worse, that their partner listens to this podcast and should be able to do this stuff differently because of having benefited from this information. Personal growth does not work that way. Personal growth is never an event. It is a process that starts with maybe information. But then, it has to turn into self-awareness and recognition. That is very experiential in nature. 

I just wanted to offer that so that you are gentle with yourself if this is a growth opportunity for you. Also, so that you are gentle with your partner. I hope that if you take nothing else away from our discussion today, please do take away this idea that if you are feeling invalidated in your relationship, as is so common, to take away that the fact that when people are engaging in behaviors that are experienced as invalidating, they are not intending to hurt you. There is a huge lack of awareness around the impact of these behaviors. 

To be gentle and compassionate with your partner, and shift into a more effective stance of “Let's work on this. Let me help you understand what's happening in these moments. Let's try this again. Here's what I'm looking for you. I'm looking for emotional intimacy right now. I'd love to feel more of this with you. When these things happen, I don't feel emotionally connected to you. I'd like that to change.” 

Having those kinds of conversations are just so much more helpful in the long run than having it just turn into a fight or being really critical with your partner because they maybe don't have the self-awareness or the skills yet to help you feel validated in those moments. Because we all engage in invalidating behaviors, sometimes, it's so easy to do, and I hope that we can all have grace with each other and help each other grow and evolve. That is my intention for us today. 

I hope that you took something away from this podcast. Hey, if you did, as a favor to me and your fellow travelers on this journey of growth, if you could, trot over to wherever you're listening to this podcast, and leave a review. That helps this podcast reach more people. As you probably know, we don't do any advertising. This is not a mercenary thing. 

This is me trying to help people who are probably never going to be my clients but to take hopefully valuable little bits of information away that will help them have more happy, and loving, and stable, honestly, relationships, and marriages, and families, and homes that can improve their lives, also the lives of their children, for kids to grow up in a home where there is an emotionally safe relationship happening with them, and their parents. To witness that in their partners, that is what lasts for generations. 

So help other people find this show. Review it. Share it on social media, this episode and others. I would really appreciate it not just for myself, but for everybody that can benefit from hearing this message, too. So thank you again for being here today. I will be back in touch next week with another episode of the Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast. Bye-bye.

Withdrawn Partner? Stop Pushing Them Further Away…

Withdrawn Partner? Stop Pushing Them Further Away…

Withdrawn Partner? Stop Pushing Them Further Away…

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.

Are you trying to have a relationship with a partner who avoids, defends or worse… refuses to talk at all?

Few things are as frustrating, or as hurtful as trying to engage a disengaged partner. It's hard NOT to get upset and angry when you're feeling rejected, unloved, or uncared for. The problem is that many people who clam up as a defensive strategy when things get tense don't understand how destructive their behaviors can be to your relationship.

But there is help, and there is hope. Because these types of communication problems are so common, I thought it might be helpful to you if I put together a “Communication Problems” podcast-mini series.

“Communication Issues” is the single most common presenting issue that brings couples to marriage counseling. The first thing to know about communication problems: Absolutely ALL couples struggle to communicate with each other from time to time. Just because it's happening in your relationship does not spell doom. Truthfully, by making a few positive changes in the way you interact with each other, you can avoid many communication problems — and start enjoying each other again.

In episode 1, “Communication Problems and How To Fix Them” we discussed the most important and empowering things you can remain mindful of if you want to improve the communication in your relationship: Systems theory, and your own empowerment to affect positive change.

In episode 2, “Dealing With an Angry Partner” we addressed the oh-so-common “pursue / withdraw” dynamic that so many couples can fall in to. This idea is at the core of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy — one of the most well researched and scientifically supported approaches to couples counseling. (And what we practice here at Growing Self!)

Specifically in episode 2, we looked at this communication pattern from the perspective of the “withdrawer” (i.e. the person in the relationship who might be perceiving their “pursuing partner” as angry or even hostile). In that episode I gave you some tips to help get back into the ring with your partner, some insight into why they may be so angry, and things that you can do to help soothe their anger and bring the peace back into your home.

In the third and final episode of our “Communication Problems” series, “Dealing With a Withdrawn Partner” we'll be looking at this from the perspective of the partner who pursues — the one who is attempting to engage with a partner who seems emotionally distant, avoidant, and unresponsive.

If you've been feeling frustrated or angry because your partner refuses to talk to you, this one is for you. In this episode I'm talking about what may be leading your partner to seem emotionally withdrawn, as well as things that you can do to help your partner come closer to you emotionally, and start opening up again.

We're discussing:

I sincerely hope that this series helps you understand what may be happening at the root of your communication problems, as well as some real-world tips for things that can help you improve your relationship.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

www.growingself.com

 

P.S. One fantastic, low-key strategy to start a dialogue with your partner is by taking our “How Healthy is Your Relationship” quiz together. You can send your results to each other, which opens the door to talk about how you're both feeling — with out an anxiety-provoking conversation for your conflict-avoidant partner. Just be ready to learn some things you didn't know! Here's the link to get the relationship quiz. xoxo, LMB

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Communication Problems and How To Fix Them, Part 3: When Your Partner Refuses to Talk

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

Music Credits: Nick Drake, “The Time of No Reply”

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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.

Long Distance Relationship Questions

Long Distance Relationship Questions

Long Distance Relationship Questions

Love From a Distance: Making it Work.

[social_warfare]

Love From a Distance: Long Distance Relationship Questions

Since we do so much online marriage counseling, online couples therapy, and online relationship coaching here at Growing Self it's only natural that we routinely work with couples in long-distance relationships seeking long-distance couple's therapy online. Over the years, I've learned a lot as an online marriage counselor specializing in long distance relationships about the special strengths and vulnerabilities unique to long distance couples.

For starters, long distance couples have so many strengths! Most people see a long-distance relationship as a challenge or not an ideal situation. However, when you have strategies to make your long-distance relationship strong and successful, a good long distance relationship actually offers many opportunities and positive aspects that a typical relationship does not.

With the right formula and a strong foundation, love can bridge any gap. Distance, after all, makes the heart grow fonder.

Questions About Long Distance Relationships, Answered.

In this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast, I'm answering questions about long distance relationships and how to make them work. Despite the downside of physical absence, there are many unique opportunities for growth that a long-distance relationship can provide. While it has its challenges, it also has advantages. I am ecstatic to bring this topic to the table and share some insights and best practices to help long-distance couples get through the bouts of doubt. 

Tune in to this episode to learn more about what makes a long-distance relationship work. 

Long Distance Relationship Questions: The Podcast

If you're in a long distance relationship, here's what you'll get from tuning in today:

  1. Learn the different kinds of long-distance relationships.
  2. Discover actionable strategies that successful long-distance couples use to deepen their relationship.
  3. Learn how to manage anxiety and feel secure in a long distance relationship.
  4. Understand some vital long distance relationship questions that you and your partner need to be asking each other, if you have long term intentions.

So much great information for long distance couples in this episode. Listen right now to “Long Distance Relationship Questions” on Spotify, on the Podcast App, or scroll down to the bottom of this post to listen to this episode.

If you're a reader, you can scroll through the highlights and / or access the full transcript of this episode below.

 

Long Distance Couples Therapy Online

Let's get a super-basic long distance couple's therapy question out of the way first: “Do you provide long distance couples therapy by three way video?”

We get this question all the time, and the answer is Yes! Our experienced relationship experts routinely work with long distance couples for online relationship therapy and online relationship coaching via secure, three way video.

For more common questions about our therapy and coaching services you are officially invited to our FAQ / Help Center page or you can also spend some time with our chatbot. (Lower right). Now that one is out of the way, so we can move on…

Kinds of Long-Distance Relationships 

Did you know that there are different kinds of long distance relationships? And that depending on the kind you're in, you'll have different things you'll need to think about and do to make it strong?

For example:

  • One kind of long-distance relationship is when a long term, married, or committed couple who lived together is now living apart. It can be a temporary separation, usually due to work or military deployment. 
  • Some couples have a more permanent or semi-permanent long-distance relationship, and that’s just the kind of way they operate. 
  • Another type of long-distance relationship is when a couple becomes a long-distance couple during the early stages of relationship development or dating. 
  • There are also long-distance relationships that develop from meeting once in person, sometimes while on vacation. 
  • The last kind of long-distance relationship is when people meet online and don't physically interact — all their interactions are over the internet. This kind of relationship is happening more frequently due to the pandemic.

Advantages of Long-Distance Relationships

Long distance relationships can work. Long distance relationships can flourish! Here's why:

  • Long-distance relationships can give a different kind of individual growth. 
  • There are many opportunities for personal growth that are sometimes hard to achieve when couples are together every day. 
  • A long-distance relationship challenges people to change and evolve to keep the relationship strong and healthy despite the distance. 
  • The independence and individuality that long-distance relationships bring about can keep the relationship vibrant, novel, and engaging. 

How to Nurture a Long-Distance Relationship

The secret to having a healthy, strong, and satisfying long distance relationship is to very deliberately find ways of maintaining your connection so that you both feel loved and cared for despite the miles between you. Here are some things to think about:

  • Long-distance relationships have mostly conversation-based interactions: this is a huge strength.
  • Invest in conversations to deepen the connection. Remember, your partner needs to hear from you even if you don't feel like talking. 
  • You have to manage your expectations regarding who you think your partner is and what kind of person they are, especially when your day-to-day interactions are limited. There might be some things about your long-distance partner that you haven't seen yet.
  • Work on emotional responsiveness and open communication in order to keep your connection strong.

Questions For Long Distance Couples

Part of the “success strategy for long distance couples” needs to be making sure that you're on the same page about what you're doing. (You may need to have this conversation periodically!)

Part of what our relationship experts do when providing long distance couples therapy online is a comprehensive assessment to understand the strengths and growth opportunities of your relationship, including a couple's most important long term goals, values, and hopes.

Here are a few long distance relationship questions to get this ball rolling:

  • What are your long-term goals as a couple? 

  • Is the relationship feeling good for the both of you? If it stops feeling good, what will you do?

  • What are your values? What is important to you?
  • How do you maintain your connection as a couple? 
  • What would you consider to be a deal-breaker in a relationship?

For even more, we invite you and your partner to take our “How Healthy Is Your Relationship Quiz” to get insight into your relationship's strengths and growth opportunities. This is a low-key way to have  connecting conversations about how to grow your relationship together. 

And, free advice from a marriage counselor:  If you are not able to have productive conversations about these (or other) essential topics, that is a sign that it might be time for couple's therapy or relationship coaching.

Enlisting the support of a relationship expert can help you improve your communication, connect on a deeper level, learn how to show each other love and respect in the way that you need it, and get on the same page about your long term needs and goals. If you'd like to get involved in long distance relationship therapy online, the first step is to schedule a free consultation session. 

Understanding The Needs of Long-Distance Relationships

It's additionally important to consider the unique needs of long distance relationships. Here are just a few things to think about:

  • Knowing each other’s love languages can help maintain the connection amid the distance.
  • One of the biggest challenges for long distance couples is that or both partners may experience heightened anxiety or insecurity, which requires responsiveness, reassurance, contact, and information. Here's more info about “How to Feel More Secure in Your Relationship”
  • The lack of physical presence can be a point of conflict. 
  • Couples therapy or relationship coaching can support in creating conversations between a long-distance couple. 

Advice for Long-Distance Couples About to Cohabitate

Many long distance couples long for the day when they'll be together again. The challenges they face when moving in together can therefore surprise them.

  • Couples have to plan and handle their reintegration carefully when they reunite.
  • There is an opportunity for growth in conflict. Welcome it and deal with it constructively. 
  • Find ways to get to know each other on a deep and realistic level. 
  • There are many opportunities to be emotionally available and to be vulnerable with each other. 
  • Do not get attached to any particular outcome, especially for long-distance couples in the early stages of dating. 

5 Powerful Quotes From This Episode

“And so one of the biggest stress points for long-distance committed couples that are having a temporary separation is that they have to reconfigure all of those roles so quickly. And it can be challenging to do that.”

“There is also a neat opportunity for a healthy interdependence, and opportunities for individual growth that are sometimes more challenging to achieve when long term couples are, you know, breathing each other’s air every single day and sort of doing the same thing.”

“And so, you know, it's almost like a fire that needs some air to breathe. relationships can be like that too.”

“But again, even just having those conversations with each other can be the opportunity to really learn so much about each other- long term goals, values, hopes and dreams. Also the way people operate in terms of their willingness to bend on your behalf.” 

“Conflict in a relationship is always simply a sign that there are things that need to be discussed and worked out. All conflict is an opportunity for connection. It is not a bad thing to have conflict in a relationship. That is an opportunity for growth.”

Enjoy this Podcast?

Learning how you could create love, happiness, and success for yourself has never been this easy. If you enjoyed today's episode of the Love, Success, and Happiness Podcast, I hope you subscribe where ever you listen to podcasts. (And consider leaving a review!)

Post a review and share it! Did this podcast help you? Or did it make you think of someone else who could really benefit from having this information? If so please share this with your family and friends so they can discover how to handle long-distance relationships. 

Have any questions? You can contact me through our website or find me on Instagram or Facebook. You may also reach out to us and inquire about online therapy and life coaching. Growing Self is also on Instagram and Facebook.

Wishing you all the best, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Long Distance Relationship Questions

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

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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.

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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.

Long Distance Relationship Questions: Podcast Transcript

.
Access Episode Transcript

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby and you're listening to the Love, Happiness & Success podcast. This is another one from the band, An Eagle In Your Mind, a band that I am slightly obsessed with right now, doing good stuff. This particular song is called “If You Open The Door” and I thought it was a great mood setter for us today.

Today we're talking about love at a distance, long-distance relationships, and how to make them work. I really wanted to speak about this topic, because we have been getting, I think, even more couples than usual and long-distance relationships here at our practice at Growing Self. More questions from long-distance couples coming through on the blog at www.growingself.com, through Facebook, through Instagram

And understandably so, because long-distance couples really do have unique challenges and also unique strengths, but really need to approach different aspects of their relationship differently than real life couples do. And so we're getting so many requests for long-distance couples. 

And I have to tell you the funniest thing. Recently, we started noticing long-distance couples reaching out and saying, “Do you guys do couples counseling for long-distance couples through three-way video?” And, like, yes, we see so many long-distance couples, and we did prior to the whole pandemic situation. I think we're probably even doing more of that now. But it's like how else would we do couples counseling for long-distance couples if not through a three-way video call? So the answer is an absolute yes. If you would like to do long-distance couples counseling with us, we have two of you in different places and a couples counselor in the middle. 

And now under normal circumstances, certainly we have had some long-distance couples, like fly in for a weekend and do like couples counseling intensives. But we're not doing any of that right now. Maybe in 2021. We'll see how it goes. But what we do have tons of experience with, of course, is working with long-distance couples. And so I am going to be talking today about long-distance relationships and best practices to make them not just work but work really well. And let's just dive right in, shall we? 

Actually wait, no. I do want to mention that I'm going to be talking about different variables related to long-distance relationships in this episode. And in addition to this episode, I did another podcast on this topic. I think it's been a couple of years, but also really good stuff. I interviewed a marriage counselor on our team who had a lot of experience with long-distance couples, as many of our counselors do. But anyway, so you'll want to look back on the podcast feed to find that one if you would like to hear more. 

And then in addition, on the blog, at www.growingself.com, we have several articles around long-distance relationships and couples counseling for long-distance relationships with different perspectives besides just mine. I have a number of colleagues with a great deal of expertise on this subject. And so you'll want to cruise on over to the blog at www.growingself.com, and do a little search in the search bar for long-distance relationships or three-way couples counseling for long-distance couples, and you'll see all kinds of information there. So I wanted to mention that just to resource you.

But for today, one of the things we're going to talk about first is the fact that believe it or not there are different kinds of long-distance relationships. And depending on what kind of long-distance relationship you're in, there are different practices and ways of handling certain situations that will improve your relationship, but you have to take into consideration what kind of long-distance relationship is this. Because otherwise, it won't be the right approach for you and your unique situation. 

So with that in mind, one kind of long-distance relationship is when there are married or like long-term committed couples in long-distance relationships. Two variables here. Many times, it is a couple that has been together for a long time prior to living apart and usually the reason why they moved away from each other. Sometimes, work obligations is the most common. Certainly, military families going through a deployment kind of situation will experience this sooner or later. But that's what I have most often seen. Sometimes people need to live apart, in the event that somebody has to like be with another family member, like caretaking for a parent who is in a different state. So there are all kinds of reasons why. But it is a long-term married or committed couple who lived together, and did a relationship for a long time, and is now living separately, either for usually a temporary period of time, but sometimes not. 

Now, there are also long-term married or committed couples who have permanent long-distance relationships or semi-permanent long-distance relationships. And that's not a temporary thing due to a job or deployment. But that's just kind of the way they operate. And those typically work really well for both people if they are using the best practices that I'm going to be sharing with you today. 

I think it can be generally harder and more stressful for couples who are circumstantially long distance when prior to that, they lived together for a long time, because it's very disruptive. All couples and all families create roles, and responsibilities, and kind of organizational systems in order to manage their shared lives together that depend on both people participating. And so one of the biggest stress points for long-distance committed couples that are having a temporary separation is that they have to reconfigure all of those roles so quickly. And it can be challenging to do that, but then also to reintegrate once a couple comes back together again, that can be a stress point that we'll talk a little bit more about. 

Now, another different kind of long-distance relationship is one where a couple has become a long distance couple at a much earlier stage in their relationship development. So sometimes, they had been dating for a while or either talk, maybe talking, about marriage at some point, but like, they are not in the same kind of stage of development as a long-term married or committed couple. Their relationship is newer, I guess. 

And sometimes, that can be the same sort of thing, like somebody has to leave for a job, or work, or school, and for whatever reason that the relationship just wasn't quite in the place that it needed to be in order for it to make sense for somebody to pack up their life and move to Indiana with the guy they've been seeing for three months or whatever. But there's a lot of interest, and excitement, and people want to be together, and care about each other. But the relation just hasn't evolved to the point where it made sense to move together. 

And in this situation, one of the primary challenges and obstacles is how do we continue to deepen our relationship, and get to know each other, and have our relationship progress and evolve as it might if we were in the same town continuing to see each other multiple times a week and do sort of a normal relationship path? And so there's that, like how do we progress as a couple? 

And also in this situation, there can be a lot of anxiety, and like insecurity, and worry for partners on each side, because their contact with each other can be much more limited and not being able to be together on a more regular basis in person. And that in itself when people are in that kind of anxious or insecure feeling place, particularly in a new relationship can lead people to behave in ways that are different than they would if they were together in real life. And those ways of coping with the anxiety and the things that people might need to have from the person that they're dating can be different to the degree that in itself can put stress on the relationship and create its own set of problems. So we need to talk about that.

Now, there is another. We're not done. There is another kind of long-distance relationship that happens surprisingly commonly. I have talked to so many clients, usually individual therapy or coaching clients that I see who will come bouncing back in after a vacation or something and say, “I met the most amazing person while I was in Cancún or whatever.” I’m like, “Great! That's exciting.” And my client lives in Denver and their love interest lives in Chicago. And now we have to figure that out. 

And so, that's getting to know someone who, from the very beginning, they may have only met, met once in person. And so again, how do we continue progressing in the relationship and from the very get go? How do you get to know a person in a way that is boundaried, and healthy, and slow enough to be appropriately cautious, but also giving you opportunities to really get a clear sense of who someone is and figure out whether or not you would like to pursue a relationship with them? Because you know, you can't just meet up for a cocktail on a Thursday night with somebody who lives in Chicago when you live in Denver. That is different. So lots, lots to talk about there.

And then lastly, another kind of relationship that is a whole other animal is a phenomenon that occurs when people meet online and do not have any interactions with each other in real life. IRL, as the kids say. Their entire early-stage relationship is conducted exclusively online. And in the context of this pandemic situation that we are all enjoying so much, this is happening more and more. Like even people in the same town will have first, second, fifth dates by video conference, or FaceTime, or Zoom, and get to know each other that way. 

And because the online dating, so not just online dating apps, but literally online dating has so many different variables, and opportunities, but also potential pitfalls. I have actually created a podcast that will be airing in a few weeks on this specifically as a separate thing. I think we're entitling it something like “Pandemic Dating.” But even prior to the pandemic, more and more frequently, people might meet online through social media, or friends of friends, and be in different states, and have that whole getting to know you process online. And there can really be a unique set of pitfalls and perils when you begin a relationship from the outset through that medium. So that deserves its own separate podcast and that will be coming out for you soon.

But today's discussion is going to be focused on the three primary kinds of long distance relationships that I've discussed. So committed couples who are now living apart. And then couples who date and are then disrupted. And then also couples who randomly meet each other and then want to figure out how to establish a relationship with a long-distance situation.

So there are, believe it or not, as well as challenges in long-distance relationships, there are also some advantages that many couples enjoy. Like we think of a long-distance relationship as being non-ideal and it certainly is for some couples. But for many of them, it can really be a very interesting, and growth promoting, and satisfying way of life, particularly for established, committed couples. 

While there are certainly the challenges that I described at the outset of this podcast around roles and responsibilities I mean, certainly when children are involved there is also a really neat opportunity for a healthy interdependence, and opportunities for individual growth that are sometimes more challenging to achieve when long term-couples are breathing each other's air every single day and sort of doing the same thing. People in long-term relationships always have to grow, and change, and evolve within the relationship in order for that relationship to be a really genuinely healthy, and satisfying, and vibrant relationship over the decades. And so, it's almost like a fire that needs some air to breathe. Relationships can be like that, too. And so in a long-distance situation with an established couple, they're doing different things. They're having, maybe time and energy to pursue other hobbies, or hang out with other friends, or go other places, or be around other people, and just have different life experiences that will grow and change them independently. 

And so the neat thing can be when they do come back together again, or have opportunities to talk and hang out, there is, I mean at a basic level, more to talk about sometimes than when you're doing the same thing as the other person every single day and watching the same TV shows, right? So there's like, novelty, and interest, and conversation, and just interesting things. And it can really also be a neat way to put each other in a position where you can learn about different aspects of each other or grow in different ways. And that is the kind of energy that keeps a long-distance relationship, I mean, a long-term relationship interesting over many years are opportunities to do that. So if you're a long-distance couple, you have that built in which can really be to your relationship’s advantage. 

And also, in addition to that, when you are in a long distance-relationship, a committed long-distance relationship, it requires a couple to have conversations around, “What are we doing? What do we want? We need to talk about this. And do we want to be doing this two or three years from now? What are our long term goals as a couple? What do you want? What do I want? How do we get that into alignment?” 

And having like, kind of deeper, in some ways, more meaningful conversations than couples who are just kind of like falling into the same rut and just sort of doing the same thing over and over again without thinking about it too much or talking about it too explicitly. In order to have a satisfying, healthy, long-distance relationship, you have to be doing that, and talking about plans, and coordinating things. So lots of opportunities there. 

Now, what is I think true for all long-distance couples are also, the question that comes up around, “How do we stay emotionally connected as a couple? How do we remain each other's friends? What are the rituals that we need to have in place to stay connected, to stay emotionally and even physically intimate with each other?” Because, again, there aren't natural opportunities to do that day-to-day if you're living apart. And so the building of those, the intentional building of those is very important.

So when it comes to the second kind of long-distance relationships, where people have been developing a relationship and that relationship development has been disrupted because of a move or a separation, the question is really more around: how do we continue to develop our relationship, and get to know each other, and learn to love and trust and connect with each other in the context of this long-distance situation? 

Again, there are real opportunities here. When you are dating someone long distance, the opportunities to connect are almost exclusively around talking with each other, either on the phone, or through text, or through video calls, but it's very conversation-based. So I can't remember the last time I sat on the phone talking to my husband for an hour-and-a-half about things, right? Certainly, we talk about things, but a lot of times it's in 10-minute increments in between childcare duties, right? But with this situation, you really have the opportunity to invest a lot of time into conversation-based interactions. And in doing so, you really can have the opportunity to get to know someone even more quickly and on a deeper level. 

So conversations around who are you and what's important to you? And where did you come from? And what do you want? And tell me a story about your life. Or tell me a story about your day. These are all doorways to getting to know someone and to deepening connection. 

I think that one of the big challenges here is the possible I won't say possible. I will say frequent experience, which is very common in long-distance relationships, which is sometimes the difference between our ideas about who someone is versus the reality of who someone is. Like the whole story. And so, what we humans always do is that when we have little bits of information, we tend to extrapolate many other things from those little bits of information that are reality based. 

And our constructions are pretty much always in alignment with what we want things to be, right? And particularly when we're very excited about someone in an early-stage romantic relationship, we tend to have all kinds of highly optimistic ideas about who someone is and what they really like. And when you're talking with someone, periodically on the phone or on a video call, or maybe you get to spend a weekend together once a month or two, there can be limited opportunities to gather enough information about how people really are when they're stressed, when they're disappointed, when they don't feel like talking. How do they handle conflict? How do they solve problems? How do they load the dishwasher? Like, those kinds of things can be absolutely missed, when you're spending not that much time with each other, or when your opportunities for kind of day-to-day interaction are limited. 

And even if you are spending time together in person, that time is often a short-term couple of things and it oftentimes feels more like a vacation. You're getting together, and it's like we're gonna go do these fun things, and we're so excited to be together. And people are behaving and feeling differently than they do when you live together day-to-day. I mean, it's just a different experience. 

And not that it can't be fun, and wonderful, and all good things, and you can certainly deepen a relationship. Just always keep in mind that there are going to be new things that you will learn about this person, as you get to know them and spend more time with them, which, you know, can vary in terms of their importance. 

I personally have worked with couples who spent most of their relationship like a one to three year long relationship long distance and just loved each other to pieces. “We’re having the best time.” And then, they decided eventually to move in together or get married and had all kinds of things that surprised them. And that would, maybe not deal breakers, but we're creating conflict and disappointment, and that really needed to be worked through constructively, and that they had not been aware of prior to living with each other or getting married. So just keep that in the back of your mind. 

And it can be really helpful to figure out, how can I get to know this person as they really are? So don't try to keep it necessarily light and fun. I mean, super early stage of relationship, fine. Keep it light and fun. But if you're really considering this person for long distance or long-term relationship potential, figure out what you need to know. Like what is actually super important to me? What is a deal breaker? Let me hear about a bad day or also noticing how they operate when they are maybe busy or stressed. How emotionally responsive are they? Are they able to answer your bids for connection? Are they giving what you what you need, even in the context of a long-distance situation? 

And I'll just share; it may be a big mistake to assume that relationship issues that you're experiencing in a long-distance situation are just because it is a long distance-situation. It is also worth considering that if someone isn't emotionally responsive or isn't available when you want them to be in the context of a long-distance situation, it may be that that could be the way that they actually are, and that it is not likely to improve if you were together day-to-day. 

And that may not be true. Some people just aren't great technological communicators. But don't make too many excuses or blame too many things about the relationship on it being long distance, because people tend to be consistent in the way that they behave in many different situations. Of course, long-distance situations do, again, present their unique set of challenges. So there's that. But it can be hard to figure out what is ultimately the truth. 

And it's also, I think, a stressful situation for many couples who are developing their relationships and getting closer and closer together to figure out, “When should we move in together or be in the same town together? What do I need to be seeing or experiencing with you from a distance in order for me potentially or you to feel comfortable with packing up our lives and moving to Omaha to be together?” Particularly, if you're still in a phase of our relationship where it would be prudent to live close to each other and see how it goes. And I think it's wonderful to be cultivating a relationship with someone where it seems like there's enough opportunity there to find out whether or not it is a good long-term match. But that can be a hard decision to make if your relationship has been long distance exclusively prior to that. 

And then, there's also all kinds of conversations around who's going to move? And what is that going to look like? And should we move in together? And is that okay? Do I have a backup plan if that doesn't work out? There are so many things to consider. But again, even just having those conversations with each other can be the opportunity to really learn so much about each other long-term goals, values, hopes, and dreams. Also the way people operate in terms of their willingness to bend on your behalf. That in itself can be a very important, I hate to use the word metric, but let's do it as a data point, when it comes to evaluating whether or not this is the person for you. So there's this. 

And I think that this dynamic is even more pronounced for couples who meet each other in a long-distance kind of context and have to, from the very get go, figure out how to do all of this from the very beginning. And whether it's orchestrating time together or regular calls and routines or dates. Like what does that look like online? So those are things to be thinking about. 

And now, some of the things that we have found to be super, super helpful for long-distance couples are really like, and just to say this out loud. Just like with any relationship situation, there are very rarely like hard and fast rules. Like if you want a good relationship, do this, not that. I mean, there are some things that are easy to generalize, but every person is unique. Every couple is unique. And there are so many “correct” ways to have a really high-quality, long-distance relationship. 

So it is not the job of a couples therapist to tell you what to do. It is our job to help you as a couple create systems, and ideas, and practices that work for you and your unique needs. But I will just share some of the questions that a good long-distance couples therapist would always be asking you and encouraging you to be thinking about and talking about. And I just offer these so you could have some of these conversations on your own if you'd like to, but certainly conversations related to what are our long-term goals as a couple. How do we feel about this long-distance situation? Is one of us okay with it and the other person not okay? What do we do with that if there's conflict around it? Is this feeling good for both of us? And also, what how are we going to handle this if it stops feeling good for both of us?

And relatedly, I think that there's always an important conversation to be had around, what are your values? What is actually more important to you? Is it more important for you to live in Omaha than it is for you to be in the same location with this person you're in a relationship with? Or is your pursuit of this career goal more important to you than being with your partner in person? And is that true just for now? Or will that always be true? 

And helping people get clarity around what they want and what their priorities are in life, not just for their own benefit but for the benefit of their partner, who can then to have all the information, make informed choices about what they want to do long term. Because if you're in a relationship with someone who is always actually going to prioritize their career goals over their connection with you and your family together, you should know that, particularly before you invest a whole lot of time, and energy, and years, and have children with this person, right? So those kinds of conversations are really, really important. 

Secondarily to that, many couples can experience challenge and friction in long-distance relationships when it comes to, “How do we maintain our connection as a couple? How do we feel close to each other day-to-day when we live apart? How do we not just maintain but strengthen our attachment to each other?”

And this can often involve developing different aspects of a relationship. It can involve building a new sort of way of being friends and partners to each other. Lots of opportunities to increase your emotional intimacy. And beautiful things can come of it in terms of rituals, of connection, and things that you do with and for each other in order to help each other, not just know intellectually, but experience, to feel that you are just as important as you always were, even if they're not able to show you day to day through small things. 

People who tend to have like a love language that's oriented around conversation, and emotional connection, and words of appreciation. For those types of people, this maintaining connection can feel much easier in the context of a long-distance relationship. People who really need a lot of like physical connection — hand holding, hugs, things like that. Or acts of service — doing things around the house for each other can feel like a little bit of a crisis. But if you're in a relationship where those things are not really possible in the same way, a couple has to get creative. How do we make it possible or more possible? It requires effort, but it is definitely achievable. 

And also, for many couples in long-distance relationships, sooner or later, there will be a, most of the time, for one, sometimes both partners, to experience a little bit more anxiety or insecurity than they would in a relationship, because it's a long-distance relationship. So it's, “We were supposed to talk at eight, but you weren't – where were you? You weren't home? Who were you with?” Like those kinds of things. Or you know when people seem less emotionally available or kind of distracted. That's like more fraught than it would be many times if you're living together. 

And in these situations, people need more overt, like, reassurance, maybe more contact. There needs to be more information. And that often needs to be really freely given. There has to be a lot of priority around, “How do I show this person that they're important to me, that I am their partner, that I care about them, that they can trust me, they can count on me, that this is a stable situation in the absence of my physical presence and my ability to be there with them day to day in real life?”

So that can be a point of conflict for many couples. And again, as I mentioned at the beginning of this podcast, when people are anxious or feeling insecure, it can create a pursue-withdraw dynamic in a relationship, as I have discussed on many past podcasts. I will refer you back to those for more information. You could listen to the communication podcasts I've done. 

But there needs to be a lot of sensitivity to that and what anxiety is doing to you. Or also, if somebody is wanting more from you. If you experience yourself kind of withdrawing from that, to be just real conscious of that, and how it may be impacting the relationship situation in even more dramatic ways than it would if you were together in real life. Because if you don't have that much time together, your interactions in those small moments become the majority of what people have to understand you. So there can be a lot there that's worth discussing. 

And I will say on that note, I think that is probably the reason why the majority of long-distance couples decide to pursue couples therapy or relationship coaching in a long-distance context is because when they try to have these conversations, it feels very difficult, or it winds up feeling frustrating, or it turns into a conflict, or they're not getting their needs met from each other despite having conversations around that. And if you have these conversations and have that experience, that can be a real good indication that it might be time to have some more support and helping you really kind of figure this stuff out if communication is feeling hard or if you're asking for change and change isn't happening. Those can be signs that it's time to get some support.

So those are things to be considering and to be doing for long-distance couples. In addition to those points of conversation, it's really important to have deliberate, intentional conversations, particularly for that first type of long-distance relationship a married or committed longer term couple who has been living apart that is now anticipating reintegration and to be planning in advance for that reintegration process. 

Certainly, for military couples and families where one person is active duty and has been on deployment and is now coming home, that needs to be handled thoughtfully. Because, in the meantime, it is highly likely that his or her partner has established all kinds of new routines, and rhythms, and ways of doing things. And then for you to walk in the door, and throw down your coat, and start messing around, and doing things, and touching stuff, and moving things around, like that may or may not be welcome or helpful. Just talk about this. 

And also for the person on the other side. If you have hopes or expectations that your partner is going to walk in the door, and throw down their coat, and start doing laundry, like to be talking about that at the very least to help them understand what those expectations are and how they can be helpful to you. And just together, as a couple, figure out what that's going to look like and expect that there will be friction, which is good conflict in a relationship, is always simply a sign that there are things that need to be discussed and worked out. 

All conflict is the opportunity for connection. It is not a bad thing to have conflict in a relationship. That is an opportunity for growth. So expect it. Welcome it and have a plan for how you're going to deal with that constructively. Because it's constructive. It's always constructive. When you handle conflict productively, it is constructive. 

For people in a newer relationship, last words of advice for you would be to be really deliberately considering and actively participating in ways that you can really get to know each other on a deep level and on a realistic level, so that you can make informed choices about the potential for a future with each other. And there are so many opportunities again, to be emotionally available, to be vulnerable with each other, to be emotionally responsive to each other, particularly if one of you is feeling anxious about something. So many opportunities to show each other who you really are. 

And also very, very helpful to if/when the time is right to potentially move in or move closer to each other, find ways of doing so where you can mitigate the risk to each other, in the event that you know either it's different than you were hoping it was or if, for some reason, it doesn't work out. Be thinking about how you can get to know each other be in the same place without it being this like do or die, life or death, like super pressure-y situation. Because that in itself can add like a weird and difficult pressure to a relationship that a relationship doesn't typically experience when people are getting to know each other who do live in the same town. That would be absent of that kind of pressure. And so just to be thoughtful about that.

And then, while it is so difficult to do this when you are really excited about someone, and you're in love, and really hopeful about your future together, I always caution clients in my work as a dating coach is to not get attached to any particular outcome and really be kind of focusing on, how am I feeling in this relationship? Does this feel good to me? Is this working for me? Is my long-term happiness and satisfaction dependent on this person and making all kinds of changes and then I will feel happier and better about the situation? So like, just being really clear and honest with yourself about those things.

And I think approaching it with an attitude of cautious optimism that, “They seem really great and I'm really enjoying this so far. And I'm really looking forward to getting to know them better.” Before really like making major life decisions on your experiences of them so far. 

Because everybody is a mixed bag. Every relationship has aspects about it that are wonderful, and aspects of it that are challenging. And the key to having a really happy, healthy, enjoyable long-term relationship is not finding your perfectly compatible, perfect soulmate who does not have any issues, because everybody does. It's finding a person that has 75-80% of the things about them you really like and appreciate. And those things outweigh the 20-25% of them that is actually non-ideal, possibly annoying. That's always going to be there. That part doesn't matter. Does the good outweigh the bad significantly enough? And just know that that bad is there. You just may or may not know what it is yet. And so the point of dating is to figure out what that is, and if it is stuff that you can live with. So just keep that in mind unsolicited advice from a jaded dating coach.

So I hope that these ideas were helpful to you. I hope it kind of opened the window into some of what we do with long-distance couples that we see for couples therapy online or the work that we do as dating coaches, and just kind of like giving you some of the questions and strategies and things to think about, so that you can use them in your own life and make good decisions about it.

And of course, if you are in a long-distance relationship and would like to pursue couples counseling through a video or if you're in a dating situation and would like to do some dating coaching about how to handle long-distance relationships, we are always here for you. Come on over to www.growingself.com. You can schedule a free consultation, and we can talk get to know more about your situation, and how we may be able to help. 

Or otherwise come over to www.growingself.com and browse around all the other articles and podcasts that we have just for you around long-distance relationships, about strengthening your connection and your strong bond, about communication strategies. It is all there for you, so I hope you come take advantage of it. And I will be back in touch with you next week for another episode of Love, Happiness & Success.

 

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