Healing Your Relationship After An Emotional Affair

Healing Your Relationship After An Emotional Affair

Healing Your Relationship After An Emotional Affair

Emotional Affair Recovery

Emotional Affairs: What Are They?

When we think of cheating in a relationship, the first thing that often comes to mind is sexual infidelity. While sexual infidelity can absolutely be devastating to a relationship, another kind of infidelity that can pose just as much of a threat has recently begun to garner more attention: emotional infidelity. 

So, just what is emotional infidelity? An emotional affair occurs when one partner engages in a relationship that has an inappropriate level of emotional intimacy. While emotional affairs do not include an active sexual component (such as exchanging pictures or engaging in physical intimacy), there is usually an element of attraction for at least one side of the affair, often labeled an “innocent crush.” Emotional affairs can also lead to sexual affairs down the road.

Emotional Affairs vs. Physical Affairs: Which One Is More Serious?

When I first meet with a couple that wants to recover from an emotional affair, one comment I often receive is, “Well, nothing sexual actually happened!” While some people may think that an emotional affair is not as serious as a physical one, the reality is usually much different. An emotional affair can inflict just as much pain and damage to trust in a relationship as a sexual one.

Part of why emotional affairs are just as painful as physical ones have to do with boundary violations. When partners come to me justifying their emotional affair by saying that nothing sexual happened, what they are really saying is, “I didn’t violate the boundaries we have around sexual fidelity.” While this may be true, couples also usually have boundaries around emotional fidelity, although they are much less likely to discuss these kinds of boundaries explicitly. When these boundaries around emotional fidelity are violated, the feelings of deception and betrayal that are experienced are very real and poignant.

One thing that can help ensure that both partners are on the same page about emotional fidelity is explicitly talking about what the boundaries are. The earlier you have this conversation, the more likely you and your partner will have a greater understanding of what’s important to each of you. Here are just a few questions that can be helpful to discuss with your partner around emotional boundaries:

  • What kinds of things are okay to discuss with or confide in close friends? What things are off-limits?
  • Is it okay for us to have close friendships that the other doesn’t know about? What kinds of things do we need to disclose to each other?
  • Are there certain kinds of people (i.e., people who you used to date, people who you are attracted to, people with a history of infidelity) who are off-limits for ongoing close friendships? 

If you find that having this conversation starts to bring up uncomfortable feelings or results in one or both partners shutting down, it’s okay to reach out for help. Including someone you both trust in the conversation, such as a relative, spiritual leader, therapist, or mentor could provide a level of safety/comfortability in the conversation and accountability. 

Emotional Affairs vs. Close Friendships: What’s The Difference?

A question I often receive as a couples therapist and relationship coach is what the difference is between emotional infidelity and a close friendship. Emotional infidelity includes a betrayal of trust or, in other words, doing something that would hurt or make your partner feel uncomfortable if they knew about it. In many ways, this difference is dependent on the boundaries that you and your partner each feel comfortable with for emotional fidelity in your relationship, which is why it’s so important to talk about those boundaries.

Three other criteria that can help define the difference between an emotional affair and a friendship are:

  • Intimate information, such as life dreams and personal hardships, is shared
  • The closeness of the friendship is kept a secret from your partner
  • There is sexual attraction going at least one way in the friendship, even if that attraction has never been acted on

Pay attention to your friendships, are any of them playing with the boundaries that you and your partner have agreed on? Are you crossing any lines that would make your partner feel uncomfortable? By checking in with yourself regularly, you can avoid slipping into an unhealthy relationship with others that would ultimately betray your partner’s trust. Emotional affairs don’t happen in just one night, they tend to gradually grow and turn into something more serious over time – the earlier you read the signs, the easier it is to nip it in the bud before it gets out of control. 

Grow, Together.

Before we sought help from you, I was at a point in my relationship that I had really given up on hope... you have changed our lives.

— Couples Counseling Client

What Are The Signs That You Are In An Emotional Affair?

In addition to the above three criteria, here are other signs that reveal you may be involved in an emotional affair: 

  • Your partner would feel uncomfortable if they witnessed your interactions with your friend
  • You feel that the friend understands you better than your partner
  • You feel emotionally distant from your partner or find that it’s difficult to communicate with them
  • You find yourself anticipating being able to spend time with or communicate with the friend more than in other platonic friendships
  • You find yourself sharing more with the friend than with the partner
  • When you learn big news, your friend is the first person you want to share it with
  • You dress up for your friend
  • You feel dependent on the emotional high from interacting with your friend 

If you recognize that you’re in an emotional affair and want to save your current relationship, the affair must be ended. Because of the emotionally intimate nature of emotional affairs, this can be very difficult! You likely will have developed a strong attachment to this person and will be tempted to try to hold on to the friendship by committing to adhere to certain boundaries with them. While this desire is understandable, it is usually not sustainable. If the intense emotional attachment is still present, it will be very easy to cross those boundaries again if the friendship is maintained. 

Once you have decided to end the emotional affair, here are some steps that you can follow: 

  • Communicate this desire to the other person. Clearly state that you feel that the friendship has crossed a line that cannot be uncrossed and that you have chosen to not participate in it anymore. Ask that they respect your wishes.
  • Set clear boundaries. Let them know that you do not want any more contact with them. If they are a work colleague or someone who you will need to interact with, set clear boundaries for the content and method of communication that is okay. For example, you may request that they only communicate with you through your work email and that your supervisor or other coworkers are included on every email. 
  • Delete the person from your social media and block their phone number and personal email. While this may seem like an extreme step, it is an additional safeguard you can put in place to make the temptation to reconnect as minimal as possible. 

Once you have decided to end the emotional affair, the first step is to communicate this desire to the other person. Clearly state that you feel that the friendship has crossed a line that cannot be uncrossed, and that you have chosen to not participate in the relationship anymore. Ask that they respect your wishes.  

Secondly, you will need to set clear boundaries. Let the friend know that you do not want any more contact with them. If they are a work colleague or someone who you will need to interact with, set clear boundaries for the content and method of communication that is okay. For example, you may request that they only communicate with you through your work email and that your supervisor or other coworkers are included on every email.  

Lastly, you will need to make a conscious effort to remove them from your personal life. Delete/block them from your social media, block their phone number and personal email, and cut off other forms of communication. While this may seem like an extreme step, it is an additional safeguard you can put in place to make the temptation to reconnect as minimal as possible.  

Remember, you’re not doing this to hurt your friend, but to save your most important relationship with your partner. 

Signs That Your Partner Is Participating In An Emotional Affair

Because of the nature of emotional affairs, it can be difficult to recognize if your partner is participating in one. Usually, when emotional infidelity occurs, there is a lack of physical evidence. However, here are a few things that could indicate the presence of emotional infidelity: 

  • Your partner spends large amounts of time texting or messaging on their phone or computer
  • Your partner is protective over their electronic devices and does not let others use them
  • Your partner no longer shares emotional or personal things with you
  • Your partner suddenly seems to be less interested in hearing emotional or personal things you want to share with them
  • Your intuition tells you that something is not right
  • When you try to discuss your concerns with your partner, they tell you that you’re imagining things or get overly defensive 

If your partner is in an emotional affair and you decide that you would like to pursue reconciliation, they must also make the choice to end the affair and to focus their efforts on rebuilding trust and emotional intimacy in your relationship. If your partner is serious about ending the affair and repairing your relationship, some telltale signs include: 

  • They accept responsibility and are remorseful for the ways that they have violated boundaries and broken trust
  • They are committed to ending all contact with the person as much as possible
  • They demonstrate their commitment to rebuilding your relationship by putting effort into reconnecting and actively participating in couples therapy

Moving Forward After An Emotional Affair

Once contact has been cut off with the affair partner and the couple has decided to move forward in their relationship, it is time for the healing process to begin. This can be a very difficult and tricky process to navigate, which is why I recommend enlisting the help of an experienced couples therapist, preferably someone with a license and training as a Marriage and Family Therapist! Your therapist can guide you through the affair recovery process and help you to build a relationship that is stronger and more connected than before the affair occurred. 

A good couples therapist can help guide you and your partner through emotional affair recovery by giving space to the partner who was hurt by the affair so they can express their pain and ask questions of their partner. In return, a good couples therapist can give space to the partner who was involved in the affair, accept responsibility and validate their partner’s pain.  

Additionally, emotional affair recovery with a trained professional can help you and your partner explore some of the circumstances that led to the emotional affair, revisit boundaries for close friendships, and help you and your partner find exercises and establish habits that will help you reconnect and build emotional intimacy and trust in your relationship once again. 

As painful and heartbreaking as experiencing an emotional affair can be, I have also seen couples emerge from the repair process stronger and more in love than ever. With time, commitment, and hard work with an experienced couples therapist, couples can understand some of the circumstances that led to the emotional affair, rebuild trust, reconnect, and learn new tools to build deep and lasting emotional intimacy.

 

Warmly,
Kensington Osmond, M.S., LAMFT, MFTC

Online marriage counseling new york florida online couples therapist

With compassionate understanding and unique insights, Kensington Osmond, M.S., LAMFT, MFTC helps you improve the most meaningful parts of your life, from your emotional well-being to your relationships.

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

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Becoming a Better Listener

Becoming a Better Listener

Becoming a Better Listener

communicating effectively

“Listening well is about giving up control. It’s releasing your perspective, holding back your impulse to speak or prove yourself. It’s living in the moment with the person you are listening to and truly feeling their world.” – Brendon Burchard

 

Becoming a Better Listener

 

Have you ever been in conversation with your partner or a friend and noticed that you can’t recall what they just said, or perhaps you hear them talking, the words are familiar, but the meaning isn’t setting in? I’m sure you aren’t intentionally tuning them out, but when it comes time to reply, are you engaged enough to offer intentional feedback? 

Listening well is a required skill for productive communication. If your partnership or friendships struggles with communication (and to be transparent, many do!), a good place to start is assessing your listening skills. 

“Listening” seems simple enough, tune in and do your best to not tune out. But there is so much more that goes into the art of listening than just, well, listening! As a couples counselor and individual therapist, I work with clients on becoming better listeners, and today I want to discuss with you the importance of this fundamental communication skill and tips you can implement in your conversations right away for becoming a better listener.

 

Struggling to Listen

 

Listening becomes a second priority to internal contemplation generally for one of two reasons:

  1. You have personal thoughts on what is being shared with you, or it’s reminded you of a story or point that you’d like to share. In order to not forget your train of thought, you have now tuned out the person speaking and are tossing around your own ideas waiting for a moment to interject.

     

  2. You cannot relate to what is being shared with you, or you are uninterested in the topic or person who is talking. Perhaps unintentionally, you have moved on to other thoughts and ideas – leaving the conversation altogether. 

Let’s take a moment to look at the first reason for not listening well: personal thoughts/stories/revelations relating to or in connection with the conversation at hand. We are all guilty of this one from time to time and there are reasons why this may happen more frequently or without personal recognition. One reason why people may turn internally and away from the conversation is that they are anxious or nervous about showing up for the conversation in just the right way. Have you ever felt like you needed to form your answer or response internally before you could speak? While this might feel like a good way to set your conversation up for success and share your point of view, it takes away from your ability to fully engage with the person speaking.  

Similarly, when you’re listening and are reminded of a great point or idea and you immediately interject the conversation abruptly, it can leave the person speaking with the impression you aren’t listening, or don’t care to hear their full point of view. You aren’t intentionally wanting to make them feel this way, but by not practicing better listening habits you are essentially saying, “What I have to say is more important than what you’re sharing with me now.”

Listening can feel less of a priority when we want to share our perspective or insight. We become quicker to voice our opinions, perspectives, or stance and unintentionally stop paying attention to the person speaking to us.

If you’re anything like my clients who come to me wanting to become a better listener, you’re a caring and kind person and you want to strengthen your communication skills with your partner, friends, family, or others in order to encourage growth and happiness in your most important relationships. 

So, how do you know if this is an area of strength or one of weakness? And how can you become a better listener? Read on for more!

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Intentionally Listen

Listening is a skill that takes practice. You’re not going to go into one coaching session and walk out as a professional listener. You’re going to have to put in the work. In my work with therapy and coaching clients, how to listen effectively feels challenging for many. [Curious if you're a bad listener? Here are 10 Signs You're a Bad Listener.]

What I think we miss early in life is how to be aware of what is going on in our present moment, both internally and externally. We have this amazing brain that sets us apart from everything else, but sometimes, we can be so stuck in our heads that we find ourselves working mostly on autopilot. We may be focusing on something we did or trying to prepare for something we need to get done and because of this, we can forget to intentionally ground ourselves in the present. 

So, how does this affect our listening skills?

If we are unaware of our emotional state, are stuck in our head preparing what to say, or ruminating on something that happened yesterday, it becomes pretty difficult to be present when someone is speaking to us. Our mind’s ability to multitask, which is something we need, can actually make listening less effective because of these distractions. We learn to communicate from those around us and through that communication, we learn to listen.

To truly listen, understand, and show that we are present in the conversation, we need to be playing a more active role. Intentionally listening to empathize, validate, and understand is not passive, it takes effort, it takes active listening. 

The encouraging part of all of this is that you can actually start active listening on your own today. By intentionally practicing your listening skills, you can gradually build better listening habits. Here are a few key skills you can implement today to begin actively and mindfully listening:

Active Listening Key Skills

Pay Attention – Give the speaker your undivided attention. Maintain eye contact, notice when a distracting thought pops up, acknowledge it, and direct your attention back to the speaker, listen to understand – not respond, and pay attention to body language.

Show That You’re Listening – Use your body language to show that you are engaged in what they are saying. Nod your head occasionally, smile, or use other facial expressions, verbal affirmations for the speaker to continue like “yes” or “uh-huh.”

Reflect, Clarify, and Summarize – Your role as the listener is to understand. Our own perspective can often filter what we hear, so in order to put those aside and get to what the speaker is really saying reflect on what is being said and ask clarifying questions. 

  • Reflections may sound like: “So, what I’m hearing you say is…” or “It sounds like you’re saying…”
  • Clarifications may sound like: “Did I hear that right?” or  “What did you mean when you said that?”
  • Summarize what you are hearing every so often to make sure you’re understanding. There is a lot happening in just a few minutes of conversation!

Defer Judgement – Interrupting can frustrate the speaker, and ultimately, it impacts how well you understand their perspective. Allow the speaker to finish before asking questions. 

Respond Appropriately – Be open and honest in your response and share your opinions respectfully. 

Mindful Listening Key Skills

In addition to Active Listening skills, I like to consider the benefit of Mindful Listening skills. This is where that present awareness can be helpful. 

Check-In with Your Body and Mind – Prior to a conversation, check-in with your body and mind. Did you have a stressful day? Are you carrying any tension in your body? What emotions are you presently feeling? If you find that your mind is cluttered with past and future related thoughts, give yourself a chance to refocus and bring yourself back to the present. This can be done with a few deep breaths, counting to four on the in-breath, pausing, and four on the out-breath.  

Cultivate Empathy – Empathy is also an important listening skill as it lets the other person know that we not only hear them, but we are trying to feel what it might be like from their perspective. In fact, Empathy is The Key to Connection and Communication. By being empathetic, you are showing that you can set aside your own lens, perspective, and belief in order to put yourself in their shoes and understand what they might be going through. 

Periodically Check-In with Your Body and Mind – Throughout the conversation maintain that present awareness of your own inner “cues” similar to the check-in from earlier notice when thoughts, feelings, or reactions come up that might block out our ability to be present or see the other’s perspective. 

Mindful listening is a way of listening fully to the speaker without judgment, interruption, or criticism while being aware of your own internal thoughts and feelings that might get in the way of communicating effectively. When you combine active listening skills with mindful listening skills you show the speaker that you are present in that moment with them, you hear them and respect their perspective and what they have to say. 

Emotional Intelligence and Listening

Emotions are essential to communication. The speaker is conveying their perspective through their feelings as well as their words. While we listen, emotions are triggered inside of us as well. Emotional intelligence is recognizing and managing our own emotions, as well as the emotions of others. 

With awareness and management of our own emotions, we can use active and mindful listening skills more effectively. If we are not recognizing and managing our emotions, we can often react without thinking and these emotions can affect what we think and hear. Essentially, emotions can control how we react to someone speaking to us. Instead of feeling controlled by our emotions, we can use them to improve our conversations. They can become a tool to better understand the speaker and in turn, make us a better listener. 

Practice Emotional Awareness

Recognize/identify the emotions the speaker may be experiencing and the emotions we are experiencing during the conversation. This is where those active and mindful listening skills can be so helpful. Stay present, reflect, ask clarifying questions, empathize. Try to see the topic from their perspective. 

The Speaker’s Emotions: Pay attention beyond their words. What is their tone of voice? Something said enthusiastically could mean something different than the same thing spoken out of frustration. Pay attention to the tone of voice, facial expression, and body language to help understand what those words actually mean, and what emotions might be behind them. 

Our Emotions: As the speaker is speaking, we will pick up on their words, body language, and tone of voice, and emotions will be triggered inside of us. We might easily identify ones such as annoyance, joy, frustration, or excitement, but others might be harder to identify. Maybe we cannot name a specific emotion, but we feel something different. It can be easier to overlook these cues or even push them away, but they all give us important information. 

Reflect the Emotions of the Speaker

Again, we are using those reflective and mindful listening skills here. When you notice an emotion that the speaker might be experiencing that seems relevant to their story, reflect this. 

Example: “I noticed as you talked about your new position at work, you seemed a little tense or frustrated. [reflection] Why is that? [clarifying question]”

Example: “You look excited. [reflection] What’s up? [clarifying question]”

Recognize and Use Your Emotions

When a strong emotion is triggered inside of us, we want to avoid reacting without first pausing. Pause to identify the emotion you are experiencing, then use this emotional experience to ask a question directly addressing the topic that triggered the emotion.

Example: If we start to feel frustrated or defensive, use this emotion to craft a question directed at the speaker’s message that roused that emotion.

  • “That’s an interesting perspective. What led you to that view?”
  • “I haven’t heard it described that way before, can you tell me more?”

Manage Your Emotions

While listening, manage emotions that are triggered inside so that they don’t end up preventing you from understanding the speaker’s message. Managing your own emotions allows you to remain calm and open, which may help the speaker manage their emotions as well.

Managing your emotions prevents you from reacting impulsively. When reacting impulsively, we skip emotion recognition and regulation and are most likely reacting prior to fully understanding the speaker’s message. Depending on the reaction, the speaker may not continue trying to express their message or it could even lead to conflict. 

I have found that questions and reflection can really be helpful when emotions are triggered. You are redirecting your emotional energy into understanding the message more clearly. You are intentionally calming your own emotional response by turning your focus on listening carefully to better understand the speaker. 

Practice Makes Habit

Practice, practice, practice! Practicing these skills can create a habit. The way we have learned to listen is still something we have learned, so we can unlearn it too. It may take time because we have been listening to respond for so long, but it’s possible. Awareness is key. Notice how you are paying attention when someone is talking, when you are focused on your response over what someone is saying, and if you are quick to jump in with your perspective rather than listening to understand. 

Start to recognize emotions as they arise and name them, “Earlier, when my partner wasn’t responding when I was trying to get their attention, I noticed I felt tense and frustrated.” Then explore that emotion, “I wonder if it’s because it felt like they were ignoring me? Maybe that hurt my feelings and instead of being sad I got angry?”

Breaking down these listening skills into small steps can make it feel less overwhelming or intimidating and over time you will notice this practice paying off in your conversations with friends, partners, family, and colleagues. 

However, if while practicing these strategies you notice a few are really tough to learn and use, asking for help or more resources could get you over that obstacle. Emotional intelligence coaches can help coach you through the more difficult aspects of identifying emotions, regulating and managing them, and utilizing these skills in your relationships. 

So, it turns out there is so much more to listening than just hearing what another person is saying and responding to them! I hope these skills are useful in your exploration of how you listen to those around you and hope they help cultivate presence, openness, empathy, and better understanding in your relationships. 

Warmly,
Kara Castells, M.A., MFTC

Online marriage counseling new york florida online couples therapist

Kara Castells, M.S., MFTC is a couples counselor, life coach, and individual therapist who creates an accepting and supportive environment for you to find clarity in your personal life and relationships. She is skillful at applying systemic and evidence-based approaches to create lasting change.

 

 

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Everyone experiences challenges, but only some people recognize these moments as opportunities for growth and positive change.

 

 

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Becoming a Better Listener

Becoming a Better Listener

Colorado therapist and relationship expert, Kara Castells, M.S., MFTC is on the Love, Happiness and Success blog discussing Effective Communication. Learn how to have meaningful conversations, connect on a deeper level, and develop your listening skills through active and mindful listening. Read more here!

Grow Together, Or Grow Apart

Grow Together, Or Grow Apart

Couples under stress will either grow together, or grow apart. Dr. Lisa shares the small “make or break moments” that will strengthen your relationship… or damage it. Learn what you can do — today — to cultivate the healthy, happy, connected relationship you want and deserve.

Learn and Grow

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Grow Together, Or Grow Apart

Grow Together, Or Grow Apart

Grow Together, Or Grow Apart

Grow Together, or Grow Apart:

Why Right Now May Be a “Make or Break Moment” For Your Relationship

Grow Together, or Grow Apart

Is your relationship growing together, or growing apart? As a Denver marriage counselor and online relationship coach, I am highly aware that the current circumstances of the world are putting a unique type of stress on relationships. Many couples are using this pressure to grow stronger than ever before. Other couples are growing apart, and may never recover.

On this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast I'm discussing the seemingly inconsequential “make or break moments” that will either strengthen your relationship or tear it apart. Listen now so that YOU can be intentional and self-aware about what's happening in your own relationship.

Relationships Under Stress

The ongoing global health crisis of Covid 19 plus the turmoil and uncertainty in the world right now is putting stress on everyone, both as individuals but also as a couple. We're dealing with more stress and anxiety, but without the protective factors that we usually have to soothe ourselves and practice good self care. We have a swarm of new things to figure out, and may be dealing with heightened fear or anxiety, job loss, health issues, and for many of us, grief.

To cope, we find ourselves turning toward our number #1 people for support — our partners, or our closest friend, or go-to family member. If we reach out in these moments and connect with the love, empathy, emotional safety and responsiveness that helps us feel calmer, safer and more supported…. our relationships are strengthened. If we reach out but feel criticized, judged, uncared for alone… it creates mistrust and emotional damage.

What's happening in the moments when YOU try to reach out lately? Does it feel healing? Or harmful?

Healthy vs Unhealthy Relationships

Great relationships don't just happen, great relationships are grown — moment by moment. Little things matter. All couples have had LOTS of moments lately to either show each other love and respect, solve problems productively, and provide each other with emotional support… or fail at doing any of those. Great relationships don't happen despite difficult circumstances, great relationships are created by overcoming difficulties and challenges together. Couples who do this courageous work together come out stronger and more successful on the other end.

Some couples are achieving this right now…. but some marriages are quietly failing.

Marriage Falling Apart?

If the stress and strain of the current situation is making you feel like you're in a relationship growing apart, that your relationship is becoming unhealthy, or even that your marriage is failing or falling apart you'll definitely want to tune in and get the relationship repair strategies I share including:

  • Why understanding our innate need to love and be loved is key to reconnecting with your partner or spouse. 
  • Gaining self awareness around how positive and negative interactions that you have with your partner affect you (and how you may be impacting them without realizing it).
  • Learn the most consequential “micro-moments” that many couples dismiss as being unimportant (to the detriment of their relationships).
  • Learn about the core principles of a happy and healthy relationship.
  • Gain a deeper understanding of how conflict can strengthen relationships.
  • Recognize what actions make the relationship system work.
  • Learn how to cultivate compassion, empathy and emotional safety in your relationship, and more….

You can listen now by scrolling down to the podcast player at the bottom of this page, or tune in to the “Grow Together, or Grow Apart” relationship podcast on Spotify, on Apple Podcasts, or wherever your like to listen.

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Grow Together, or Grow Apart: Episode Highlights

Our Need for Connection 

Humans are relational. As burdens come, we have a healthy instinct to find comfort with people we love. This may manifest differently in what we receive from others. What holds is these connections build our relationship even further. It's healthy and adaptive to share our burden with others. This is how closeness, connection, and strong, secure attachments are achieved.

When we are in this space of needing support and reach out, our relationships will become strengthened when we're met with responsiveness, empathy, and understanding.However, if we experience judgment, ridicule, or rejection when we reach out in vulnerable moments, our relationships are damaged. It's incredibly important to avoid this at all costs, particularly in stressful moments when your partner needs you.

Feeling Failed by a Loved One 

We often think of relationships as being damaged by fights and conflict, or obviously “regrettable incidents.” While this can be true, what's more common is that our feelings of love and attitudes towards our partners change not only during dramatic moments. Micro-moments can also define our relationships, building from everyday encounters. Small moments of judgment, ridicule, resentment, or silence, or small actions (or inactions) may destroy your relationship in the long run. Without responsiveness in a relationship, we may feel existentially alone.

When your relationship is becoming unhealthy and you're growing apart rather than together, you may find yourself withdrawing from that instinct to connect. Because this is the opposite of our everyday adaptive attachment needs, withdrawing from that instinct is damaging on a deeper level. Couples can end up getting a divorce because they don’t talk about and resolve the most important things during these types of “make or break” moments.

Couple fights don’t always have to be about something big. It may come from even the smallest things. All “conflict” is an opportunity for greater understanding and increased connection. Particularly when we have effective strategies to stay calm, practice radical acceptance, and maintain our empathy for each other, we can turn conflict into connection. 

Here are some strategies that healthy relationships and healthy couples use to achieve this.

Happy and Successful Couples

When we learn acceptance, our relationships grow stronger and healthier — there will be compassion and empathy. What else do happy and successful couples have?

Psychological Flexibility 

We react to situations as they come, allowing us to respond to different situations appropriately. Problems are inevitable, but when you’re psychologically flexible, you can figure out a path through them. This ability to stay in the present, approach problems without preferences, judgments, and other biases tie into our emotional intelligence.

Flexibility allows us to regulate emotions and communicate with our partners. It enables you to stay connected to your partner. If this is an area you need to work on, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Coaching may help manage these thoughts better.

Kindness and Generosity

According to the Gottman Method of Marriage counseling, when kindness and generosity are at the center of a relationship, couples can:

  • Have empathy for each other 
  • Communicate feelings, thoughts, and needs 
  • Respect each other

What Gottman’s research has found is that you can basically throw 90% of everything else out the window if you keep kindness and generosity at the center of your relationship, that you have kindness and generosity flowing between two people. Treat your partner with the utmost consideration so that you can grow together as a couple and as individuals.

While all of these sound great, do remember that kindness goes beyond your words. You also need to show kindness through your actions. You should also know how your partner needs love and appreciation from you. Once you learn this, make sure to shower them these lavishly.

Empathy

You might understand your own worldview better than you understand your partner’s. Your partner may be more connected with their feelings than you are. Whichever is the case, we should approach our partners without judgment and accept how they make perfect sense in their context and perspective.

Understanding already goes a long way, but it isn’t enough. Make sure that you understand your partner’s feelings and assure them that their feelings are just as valid as yours. It’s not a competition.

Acknowledging our personal feelings will allow us to respect differences within the relationship. When there is respect, it gives room for understanding and appreciation.

Courageous Conversations

In the podcast, I mentioned how one of the most destructive things we can do in a relationship is not talking to each other. We tend to avoid bringing things up out of anger or fear. We bottle them up until we explode. Couples who do this can eventually grow apart. (More on this subject: Withdrawn Partner? How to Talk To Someone Who Shuts Down).

But in a healthy relationship, it’s vital to have conversations about the important things. These aren’t fights or discussions; instead, these are authentic and passionate exchanges of our thoughts, values, and truths. After all, effective communication is crucial to a healthy relationship, and a lack of open communication can create distance.

These conversations can be challenging because people can discover that there are areas of their relationship that feel out of alignment. There are differences in values, perspective, needs, wants, or desires — and that is all okay. (More on “How to Have Difficult Conversations” right here.)

Related to courageous conversations is the concept of emotional safety. It is the most critical component of a healthy relationship. When we have courageous conversations with our partners, and with kindness and empathy, we can give each other an emotionally safe environment that allows us to grow together and be authentic.

Emotional Intelligence

Your ability to understand the thoughts and feelings of others and then respond to them appropriately and effectively depends on not just emotional intelligence but also the foundation of emotional intelligence — self awareness. This is the ability to understand and manage your thoughts and feelings first.

Emotional intelligence is all about being aware of your feelings and surroundings. It is the ability to regulate your emotions. It is also vital for understanding our partners.

Emotional intelligence is powerful. It allows us to: 

  • Become aware of our own and other people’s feelings
  • Regulate emotions
  • Practice empathy, especially during stress and disappointment
  • Establish emotional safety

Respecting the Fact That Relationships Are Systems

Relationships are systems where two individuals respond and react to one another. You and your partner are not existing independently. What we put into the system partly influences our partner’s behavior. When you are aware of this, you understand that your negative actions can also trigger negative responses from your partner. This cyclical nature allows us to adjust and change ourselves to be better instead of forcing our partners.

Steps to Grow

How can you start taking steps to grow your relationship?

You can have your partner listen to this episode and have courageous conversations about things that matter to you most. To help you along the way, you can take our How Healthy is Your Relationship quiz.

If you feel that you are both growing apart no matter how much you try, it’s not too late. You can seek expert relationship advice from a licensed marriage and family therapist. Learn how to find a good marriage counselor here.

More Resources 

We have a comprehensive library of other relationship podcast episodes and relationship advice articles here at GrowingSelf.com, I hope you take advantage of them!

  • How to Have Difficult Conversations – Like courageous conversations, difficult conversations bring people together despite differences in beliefs, feelings, and values. Learn how to have and respond to these difficult conversations. 
  • Emotional Safety – Learn more about how to practice emotional safety for you and your partner.
  • When to Call Quits in a Relationship – Walking away from a relationship can be challenging for many. Listen to this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast to learn when to call it quits.

These trying times are genuinely challenging for everyone. I hope this episode gave you valuable advice on how to improve your relationships. What did you learn and can apply in your life from this episode? We would love to hear your thoughts on the comments below this post. 

Did today's discussion inspire you? Please review, subscribe to, or better yet, share the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast.

Wishing you all the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Grow Together, or Grow Apart

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

Music Credits: Sarah Kang, “More Than Words”

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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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Grow Together or Grow Apart: Podcast Transcript

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Access Episode Transcript

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

 

[More Than Words by Sarah Kang]

 

Isn't that the cutest song? That is Sarah Kang and the song More Than Words, I thought this was a nice segue for us into our topic today, because today I am putting on my marriage counselor hat. And we're going to be talking about relationships, and particularly why this very moment that we are sitting in right now together is a make-or-break moment for a lot of relationships, possibly including yours. 

Grow Together, or Grow Apart

I have to tell you in my perch, my 30,000 foot view as the clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching, not only do I have my own clients and couples and individuals for therapy and coaching, but I also do a lot of consultation with other marriage counselors and relationship coaches on our team to talk about what's going on and to kind of work together around cases and kind of keep an eye on trends. 

And I'm also listening to you, my dear listeners, who’ve been getting in touch with me on Facebook or Instagram or through our website growingself.com to ask your questions. Often, these are relational questions. And so through all of these various sources and channels of information that I have access to, I have become aware that there is a really important thing happening right now relationally for many, many people. 

Grow Together

And I feel like today's episode of the podcast is almost going to be like a public service announcement in some ways to let you know that right now, there are opportunities to either grow your relationship in like profound and enduring ways. Like what is happening right now between you and your partner, or you and your friends or you and your children or your closest confidence is an opportunity to have a very deep, solid, trusting, connected relationship that will endure for many years to come. Or if you don't handle this moment, as well as you could, this could doom your most important relationships. And I'll tell you why. 

 

We are currently, as I record this in a time of high stress, a lot of uncertainty, a lot of unknowns. There's so many different things happening in the world. And right now we need each other more than ever. And some of us, not me, of course, but, some other people are not behaving always as well as they could due to all the stress again. Not myself personally, because I don't do that sort of thing. But if I was that sort of person, I might be a little higher anxiety right now. I might not have access to all of my self-care routines that usually support me. I haven't had a massage in 10 months. We can't see our friends as much as we want to. 

 

And in addition to just losing some of the niceties of life, jobs are in peril, economic security is in peril. You may have had—like I have—people close to you who have died or become incredibly ill perhaps, you yourself have become incredibly ill. Perhaps you are partnered with someone who, like so many, is experiencing the ramifications of long COVID, who is not okay right now and is still building back to the way things were before and that future feels doubtful. Like there's a lot of really real stuff going on. And I haven't even scratched the surface of social justice and other things. 

Healthy vs Unhealthy Relationships

Anyway, but the point is, we are all dealing with a lot. And because humans—we humans are so relational. In our moments of stress and strain, we have these instincts, these healthy, normal, adaptive, resilient instincts to turn towards each other, to come together in these moments of difficulty and share the burdens with the people that we love the most and who love us the most. This can take so many forms in a relationship. It can mean talking about how you feel. Laying on the floor sobbing while somebody pats you on your back. It can look like so many different things. It can look like being kind of quiet, not really wanting to talk, not being your usual fun, bouncy self, withdrawing, like so many forms. 

 

But the point is that in these moments, we need each other. And when we are in this space of needing support, and we reach out for that support in whatever form it may take, and connect with someone who cares about us, who sees us, who has compassion for what we're going through without judgment, without criticism, without telling us we should cheer up or feel differently, or any of the things—when we connect with that kind of energy, and experience true love in the form of empathy and compassion. And then when that understanding is followed up by responsiveness, like, hearing what we're saying, and giving us what we're saying that we need, that moment, that 90 seconds of relational interaction is like welding you emotionally together in your relationship. You reached out, you connected, your needs were met, and it was this, “I am loved. I'm safe. I'm secure. We are together in this. I love you. I'm so grateful to have you in my life.”

 

It's these kinds of micro moments that we're all dealing with. And the good news is that many of us are getting them from our partners and because of this, are developing a deep, deep enduring appreciation and gratitude for our relationships and the steadfast love of our partners through thick and thin.

Why Marriages Fail

In the same 90 seconds span, there are lots of people reaching out in healthy ways, and maybe in some not so constructive ways. And we'll talk about that too, but reaching out saying “I'm not okay.” And being met with silence, rejection, ridicule, resentment, hostility, criticism, or just nothing at all. Or somebody saying, “Yes, sorry, you feel that way.” But there's no responsiveness. There's no movement to kind of come together in honor of what someone is communicating. 

Couples Who Grow Apart

Those micro moments, it is like a machete hacking through the fabric of a relationship. Nothing dramatic may happen in that moment but every time it does, there's a slice to the core that says, “I'm not understood. I'm not cared for. I'm not safe. I can't trust this person. I can't talk to this person. Even if I can talk to this person, it doesn't matter because either they don't care, they don't care enough. They're not doing anything to help me. Never mind.” And there's this withdrawing. This basic, basic experience of being profoundly alone. And like not just alone-alone, but like existentially alone, like “where is the person I am sharing this with? Who is here for me? What do I do?” And this particularly for us collectively minded humans, if you have any attachment needs at all—healthy, normal adaptive attachment needs, it is incredibly painful and damaging on so many different levels. 

 

I am aware right now that I'm being very dramatic as I talk about this. But like I have this feeling almost of urgency and this is why I really wanted to talk with you guys about this today. And you know, partly this was prompted. I have to tell you. 

Online Marriage Counseling and Couples Therapy

So here at Growing Self as you know, I'm sure if you've listened to this podcast more than like half a time. We really specialize in marriage counseling, couples therapy, relationship Coaching. So I would say, 70- 80% of our clients are couples who are either seeking to improve their relationship or they are individual coaching or therapy clients who are coming to us because they need to make some decisions about their relationships. Or like maybe their partners won't come into couples counseling with them, so they're here on their own trying to see if they can make something better. Or if that fails, they're having very honest conversations with us about what they want to do with this—if their relationships can be improved. 

 

So a lot of this going on. I think that we've seen a flood of couples coming into our practice, because I think many, many people and couples have become acutely aware that when everything else falls apart, at the end of the day, like really, all we have is each other. And particularly in this quarantine pandemic experience, like, the people that you live with. Be it your romantic partner, your husband, your wife, your boyfriend, your parents even—it's like this, sort of family experience, either if it's the family, you were born into the family that you chose, the family that you created.

It's like, our most important relationships have become dramatically important. I mean, it's really illuminating how crucial and important these relationships are. It's like this boat that you're floating on together in the midst of this ocean that's chaotic and dangerous, and in ways both emotional and literal. 

 

There's this, I think, renewed importance of relationships right now. And so lots of couples coming in, who are committed to their relationships and are realizing like, “We need to do everything that we can to make this good for both of us and have a happy, healthy relationship.” 

How to Fix an Unhealthy Relationship

Also, seeing interestingly, people coming in like adult children with their parents wanting to improve those relationships and deal with some unfinished business, which is always a positive thing. A lot of dating coaching clients who are like, “I'm feeling extremely ready to be in a relationship, what do I need to do to get there?” But again, this other subset of people coming in, figuring out—because they have had experiences with their partners, particularly over the last few months when they've needed their partners so much, and felt like their relationships were failing them. And really just at their wit's end and not knowing not knowing what to do and wanting to get clarity to make a plan one way or the other. 

 

Anyway, this is what has been happening in our practice. And then I had a journalist reach out to me a little while ago, and this happens from time to time, and they're like, “Hey, working on a story about”—this is somebody from, I don’t know, NBC, CBS, one of them, a reporter. It was like, “Hey, I'm working on a story because there's data out right now showing that divorce rates are down.” And the journalist’s angle was like, there was all this talk at the beginning of the pandemic about how much stress and strain this is putting on relationships, and how so many marriages were doomed because of it. And now there's all this data showing that divorce rates are down across the board. “Dr. Bobby, can we have your comment?” So like, “Okay, sure.” 

 

Because it's true. It's true that, again, many couples in this space have had this fork in the road moment, where they have had to figure out how to have difficult conversations about important things that really do need to be hashed out and resolved. They have been spending more time together. You're not running out the door to go to a happy hour with your friends. You are at home with the person that you live with. And so it's spending more time together, figuring out what to do to make life meaningful and good for both of you. Maybe getting reengaged with quiet activities that can help you kind of connect, and even if it's just cooking dinner at home and having a nice conversation. Like these are small, intimate moments that I think many relationships have benefited from. There is a quietness that has settled over our lives that in some ways has been really good because the focus can be on the relationship and on your family. Instead of running around with 97 different friends and these different activities like there's a lot of quiet time at home, and it's good for conversations and for connection. 

 

I think too, when people feel stress and anxiety, there is this natural inclination to bond and to connect and to share. And it goes so deep within us that it's almost an instinctive, reflexive, like, “Where's my person?” in these moments of stress. And I think that because of this, this is part of the reason why divorce rates are down, is because many couples have a renewed sense of appreciation for each other. And I think like this sort of big picture highlight of when everything else falls apart, I can count on you. I can count on this family through thick. And it has really renewed people's commitment to do everything in their power to have a really healthy, high quality relationship, because it matters so much. 

 

As part of this podcast, I'm going to be giving you very specific information about things that you can do at home today within the next 30 minutes of hearing the sound of my voice in order to invest really good things into your most important relationships because we need each other right now. We need each other.

 

But, so going back to this interview with this journalist who was like, “Divorce rates are down and people decided that during the pandemic, they loved each other. Didn't want to get divorced anymore.” I was like, “Yes. And let me tell you about the other side of this, Mr. Journalist.” And I think honestly, he wasn't really expecting this perspective because on the surface of it, the data says, “Yes, fewer people are getting divorced.” That's a good thing. 

 

However… he has not been privy to the same kinds of intimate conversations that I have with so many people, my counseling and coaching clients, and being in these consultation groups with other people in the team. And what we're hearing over and over again, is the part of the shoe that hasn't yet dropped, which is the other side of this equation. And I know, this is probably true for so many of you also that, that you have experienced probably, in some ways, your worst nightmare over the last few months. Not just in the circumstances of life, but in your relationship, right? That you have felt failed by your partner. You have felt emotionally rejected at the time that you needed the most. And you have felt this wounding that has probably taken your breath away, like, “Oh! Oh my god, did that just how did that just happen?” And again, it doesn't have to be some big crap show fight, right? It can be the smallest things. 

 

I have had people tell me that, and think about it, this is so understandable, a lot of anxiety about getting sick. And in this terrible pandemic and they're really worried about things like keeping their environment relatively safe, as safe as any of us can. So wearing masks when you go places, washing your hands, doing things around the house to keep things a little bit cleaner than usual. And it is totally okay to have a spectrum of comfort with different levels of safety. And there may or may not be an objective truth right now that like, “this is what everybody should be doing.” 

 

So, that aside, what I'm always more focused on is the relational piece of this, which is that one person is saying, “I'm scared. If you did this with me, it would help me feel a little bit less scared. Can I count on you to do this with me?” And the other person says, either “No, that's stupid. Oh my god, really? You're such a pain in the ass, like, why?” Or arguing with them about how it doesn't make sense. Or saying “Yes, sure.” And then just not doing it. I mean, there are these tiny little moments over things that do not seem like that big of a deal but when you look at it through this relational lens, it is this big existential question like, “Do you love me?  Do you understand me? Do you see me? Do you hear me? Do you care about me and how I feel? Am I important to you? Can I trust you when I am scared, and I need help?” Like, these are very fundamental foundational attachment kinds of wounds. 

 

And so there are couples, all over the place, where these kinds of things are happening in many different ways. It could be somebody can't tolerate the other person being anxious or sad or worried and shuts it down, like, “Nope, look at this funny cat meme. Look, look, it's a kitten eating a popsicle.” Or whatever. Like trying to change the subject, trying to fix things, cheer people up. 

Radical Acceptance to Strengthen Relationships

In a recent podcast episode, if you recall, if you're a regular listener of mine, we talked about radical acceptance and how being able to just hold the space with someone is the most important and healing thing any of us can do, as opposed to trying to, like make people feel better talk them out of their feelings. Like, it feels like rejection when somebody does that to you. But that's happening all over the place. And there are so many other little things that are happening within families, within homes that might not seem like a big deal, but are a very big deal.

 

In many homes, particularly, if it's a heterosexual couple, and there are children involved, many children—women are feeling extremely burdened with all of the things. And this has been a huge growth moment for many couples to reorganize the way they do things. If everybody's working at home, how do we divvy up the responsibilities in a way that really feels equitable and fair for both of us? So this has been a growth moment for so many couples to be like, “Okay, what we're doing right now is not actually working because I'm not getting anything done. Neither you, what do we need to do here? Our children's needs aren't getting met.” And it's been a really good thing, because it's led to more fairness, teamwork. Every couple needs to create a set of agreements around like, “Okay, I changed the litter box, you clean the toilets, and this is when it's going to happen.” Like in order just to have a functional life together, that some of that has to happen. And, and this has been one of those make-or-break moments for couples to figure that out. And lots of couples have very happily with or without the support of a relationship coach, right. 

Healthy Relationships Prioritize Trust

But there are other couples who have really struggled to do this. And it could be the smallest thing from somebody saying, “Yes, I'll be done with work at 3, and then I'll take the kids, and you can do your thing from 3-5” and then, like, okay, so the person is like, “Okay, I'm going to count on this.” And then their partner who said they would be done at 3, comes wandering in at 3: 45. And, like, “What's for dinner?” I mean, it's like, “Wah!”, and it seems like such small inconsequential things. But again, it's the same big underlying themes of, “I can't trust you. We had a plan. We had an agreement and I am being harmed by your failure to follow through with what we agreed on.” And these seem like such small things, but they erode the fabric of a relationship that leads to resentment. It leads to hostility. It leads to a reduction in the things that keep a relationship good. 

 

It's hard to be kind and generous and empathetic to someone when they are not holding up their end of the bargain the way they said they would, right? And so, there are all kinds of negatives like relational cycle that can start spinning out from those micro moments like little mini dervishes. And so, these small, small things are highly consequential, and many couples are experiencing these like, death by a thousand cuts kind of moments. 

 

Some people are acutely aware that that is happening and they are here at Growing Self, talking to their therapists about what this means for the future of their relationship. And some people are just beginning to get very weary and very disappointed and starting to pull away emotionally and feel more distant and disconnected from the partners that are showing them that they cannot be counted on. That is happening quietly in many homes right now as we speak, perhaps even yours. And so, this is again that like do or die, grow together, or grow apart kind of moment that you're faced with now. 

 

And I also want to say, just to normalize all of this, all relationships have, I'm using my finger air quotes right now “that all have issues,” right? All relationships have things that are nice, things that are not so nice, challenges, and strengths. This is just what it means to be a human being in a relationship. We are all a mixed bag. And our partners are all a mixed bag. And all relationships are a configuration of the best and worst of both of us, right? And so, the point isn't that you have some sort of hypothetically perfect relationship where none of this stuff ever happens, that is not a reality-based idea. 

 

What it is, is what do you do in these moments that are an opportunity to grow closer together, or to grow apart? Because if you don't do anything, and just let things fall, where they may—while all relationships have issues and have strengths, and also have growth opportunities, as we like to say around here, stress will illuminate all of the cracks and fissures and fractures. So stress doesn't necessarily create the problems, but it will reveal the problems more acutely. Because again, when we depend on each other for so much more, and there's so much less that we have in the rest of our lives, our relationships, hobbies, my massages, right? Like we notice when we're not getting our needs met from our partner that much more acutely when we're so much more dependent. 

 

This is a real opportunity to take stock of a relationship and say, “Okay, these are the parts that are working for both of us. These are the parts that aren't working really well for me right now. Let's talk about what's feeling okay, and not okay for you. So that we can work together to improve the situation for both of us because if we don't, if we just let it go and keep doing to each other what we have been, this isn't going to work out long term.”

Stop a Divorce and Save Your Marriage

I don't mean this to sound scary, but I have talked to so many people over the last few months who have said very plainly and clearly, “I am no longer interested in being married to this person. I can't trust them. When I really needed them, they weren't there for me. I've tried everything I know how to do to improve the situation, I don't think it's possible to improve it. But circumstantially, this is not a good time for me to get divorced. It's financially—I don't even want to go look at apartments right now, with the masks and disease and all that. I don't want to have to deal with finding a different childcare situation for my kids. Financially, it feels safer for me to just stay put right now. But, this is just me, waiting until the time is right. But I know very clearly that I am done and that we are getting divorced as soon as possible.” 

 

They're saying that to me, they're not saying that to their partner. Their partner may have no idea what's going on. Their partner might not understand the micro wounds that has led to this person sitting with me to be firmly and clearly convinced that they're done with this relationship. So yes, divorce rates are down. And there is this thing simmering under the surface that has yet to grow into fruition. 

 

I want to change gears now that I've hopefully impressed upon you the importance of taking this moment seriously if you would like to remain married or partnered or in a connected relationship with a person that you're thinking of right now. We're going to talk about that. 

 

Just as a side note, because I know that many people are sort of on the down low thinking about or actually making plans to get divorced once we're past this. I have actually—had sought out— why can I say this? I'm just going to say this. There is a divorce lawyer who's based in Denver—a Denver divorce lawyer who's incredibly, not just knowledgeable, but really ethical and extremely honest. I had the great pleasure of interviewing her a little bit ago. And it's such an interesting conversation. She absolutely spilled the beans around things to think about if you are entertaining the possibility of divorce. We talked a lot about strategies to create an amicable divorce situation, a collaborative divorce, which is the best possible outcome, if you're going to get divorced is figuring out a way to part as, if not friends, at least, yet still have some kind of relationship at the end of it. Particularly if you're going to be co-parenting with each other or have a business together. So we talked a lot about that. 

 

She also offered a lot of her insights into the aspects of divorce, the experiences of divorce that people don't think about before they pull the trigger. Really great questions to ask a divorce lawyer, I asked them for you. And so if you've, if you have been leaning in this direction, I do hope you join me for that podcast. I'm going to be airing it next week. So look out for that. 

 

But for the rest of you who believe that there's still a glimmer of hope for your relationship that maybe it has felt like it's been sliding down the unhappy path towards disconnection, towards disappointment towards growing apart, I want to discuss some ideas that will help you begin to turn this around and begin to use this opportunity to grow back together again. 

 

Because I tell you what, and if you take nothing else from this podcast, take this: relationships that are good and healthy and happy, don't have any less problems than anybody else's. They are not relationships with two highly evolved people, who just don't have the same weird quirks and things that the rest of us do. And great relationships don't come into being because they don't have issues, problems, or circumstances that are difficult. Great relationships happen because of all of those things. They are grown through difficult circumstances. They are grown through facing challenges together. They are grown through having very difficult conversations and figuring out how to solve problems together. Great relationships are grown by very intentionally, doing certain things at critical moments that strengthen a relationship. And strong relationships are stronger for having gone through challenges together and having worked through difficult issues together. 

 

People who are in new relationships that have been together for six months, not to knock it, it's fun, and it's cute, being in love and all that good stuff is lovely. But that is not nearly as strong, or as deep or as intimate of a relationship as the kind that couples create because of having gone through the crappy crap together and come out the other side successfully. That's the path to creating a deep relationship—is not avoiding the problems or not trying to create a relationship without any problems. It is addressing them courageously and also competently. So this is good news for a relationship. Because of all the hard stuff right now, this is the path to creating the kind of relationship that you would really like. 

 

Let's talk now about some strategies for how specifically to do that. There are several things that you can do in order to create a healthier relationship and to have growth moments with your partner. 

 

So first of all, and I would also just like to back up a second and say this is not my opinion, the things I’m going to share with you. These are things that are based in research. There are all kinds of self-proclaimed relationship coaches everywhere, who just like basically make crap up. I am not one of them. I am a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, in addition to being a relationship coach. And I myself, like the rest of the couples, counselors on my team here at Growing Self, exclusively practice evidence-based forms of marriage counseling, couples therapy, and relationship coaching. So we are looking at what do we know from fact that helps couples form healthy, happy relationships? And how do we guide couples through having these very specific experiences and new skill sets offered to them so that they can replicate these positive outcomes. So that is what we're doing here. 

 

And also, I've mentioned this before, but myself and the people on our team here at Growing Self are really specialists in marriage counseling and couples’ therapy. So it’s like even get in the door to be able to be a couple's counselor here at Growing Self, you have to at minimum, have a master's degree in Couples and Family Therapy. So like not just being a garden variety therapist, you have to have specialized education and training. You have to be eligible for licensure as a marriage and family therapist, which is 1000 to 2000 hours of postgraduate experience seeing couples and families under the supervision of a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. 

 

I think we have two people on our team who offer couples counseling, who are not licensed Marriage and Family Therapists. And the only reason they're here is because they have done extensive postgraduate training in couples and family therapy that is really the equivalent to what they would have learned if they'd done a master's degree in couples and family therapy. 

 

So I just want to preface what I'm about to share with you through that lens because I think that it's wise for you to be discerning about where you're getting your information, particularly when it comes to something as important as your most important relationship. Because when it's like really real and very serious, date nights are not going to cut it, they're going to make things worse instead of better. 

 

So, anyway, sorry, I'm going to get off my hysterical soapbox, now. So let me tell you, they're the fork in the road moment, the fork in the road, there is the happy path towards growing together, there is the unhappy path of growing apart. What we know from research is that there are very, very specific and important things that happy successful couples do within themselves and within their relationship. 

Psychological Flexibility

First of all, we know that one of the most important factors for having a great relationship is something called psychological flexibility. Psychological flexibility, and this refers to the ability to be able to kind of like shift gears and stay in the present, not get overly attached to specific outcomes, or rules or shoulds, or muster black and white thinking. But rather be able to kind of take things as they come and make decisions and react to situations that are in alignment with your most deeply held values.

 

So that means, being able to let go sometimes of your preferences, or the way that you think things should be. And being able to come into the center of “We're having a problem. I'm unhappy about this. And I love my partner. I want this to be a good outcome for both of us. What do I need to do in order to create that?” 

 

It kind of ties in to emotional intelligence, which is one of the things we're also going to be talking about, but psychological flexibility, I think, is a very important component of emotional intelligence because it has less to do about how you feel, and even what you do compared to what you think and being able to have a flexible mindset, where you can sort of shift gears cognitively to be able to like handle appropriately whatever is coming up in the moment, either from your circumstances or from your relationship or inside of yourself. And having some mastery around what's going on between your ears so that you can stay in a good enough place. And you can also be flexible and responsive to whatever’s going on with your partner right now. 

 

The opposite of this is extreme rigidity and getting very bent out of shape when things don't go your way. Or when your preferences aren't always accommodated and having big feelings and reacting from those feelings as opposed to being able to kind of mediate cognitively what's going on and what you would like to think and being able to reach for a more helpful thought instead.

 

So, I mean, look it up yourself—psychological flexibility in relationships is huge. And if this is a growth area for either you or your partner, you might consider getting involved in cognitive slash cognitive behavioral therapy, or cognitive behavioral coaching. There is such a thing as evidence-based coaching. It is not for the treatment of mental illness. It is for people who would like to develop things like cognitive flexibility, and be able to manage their thoughts in a way that feel better for them. So there's that. 

 

And when you're able to practice psychological flexibility, it allows you to regulate your emotions, communicate effectively, and most importantly, work with your partner to find productive solutions to inevitable problems. The problems are inevitable. It's just when you're psychologically flexible, you can figure out a path through them, staying connected to your partner. 

 

And when couples can do this together, they're really able to stay aligned through thick and thin, because life throws a lot of stuff at us. And there are lots of times when things don't work out the way we'd quite like them to or when our partner isn't being the way we would want them to be and is being able to shift gears and be appropriately responsive to what is actually happening. 

Kindness and Generosity

Okay, another key core thing. If you want to take your relationship down the happy path right now, is to be practicing kindness and generosity. That sounds fluffy. I know it does. But here's this. One of the most prolific and well-respected researchers in the field of marriage and family therapy is Dr. John Gottman, he's written about 97 books, are all amazing. He has developed a evidence based form of marriage counseling called the Gottman Method of Marriage Counseling. The Gottman method is different from other kinds of marriage counseling in the sense that is extremely behavioral. It is very coachy. And so a lot of what we do here Growing Self with Relationship Coaching is based on the Gottman model, because it's so amenable to kind of a coaching model. Again, not for mental health stuff, but for more of a coaching focus. 

 

And what Gottman his research has found is that you can basically throw 90% of everything else out the window if you keep kindness and generosity at the center of your relationship. If you have kindness and generosity flowing between two people, nothing else matters quite as much. Like, you can have bad communication, you can not have date nights, you could not do a lot of other things that you would think would be very destructive to a relationship. But I mean, obviously relationships are better when you do have those things. But if you have kindness and generosity, in ample amounts, you're going to be okay. 

 

And so what do I mean by that? Kindness and generosity is when you very deliberately make efforts to treat your partner with consideration, with kindness. And like, being able to—this is actually connected to the next thing but like, have a lot of empathy for how they're feeling, what they're needing right now, even if that is different from what you are needing or wanting, and to be able to give that to them, and communicate your respect for how they're feeling and what they're needing through—here's the important part—not just your words, but your actions. And that's where this generosity piece comes in, which is being able to give things to your partner generously, that are what they need and want from you. There's generosity there. 

 

And there needs to be balance in a relationship at a certain point like it's nice and we get our needs met in return. But in a relationship where you are focusing on kindness and generosity, what you are getting or not getting is not always going to be your number one priority. You're going to be thinking, “Wow, what, I'd really like to have more conversations with my husband. And I know that he is not okay right now. He is not feeling good. I know that he's super stressed at work. I think he feels bad about what's happening to us financially right now. And I know, because I know him, that when he gets into that space, he goes internal. It is not easy for him to talk about things like this.

What can I do to show him that I understand that, that actually, when he is checking out and playing Fortnight for three hours at night, he is maybe doing that, because it's his way of trying to manage some of the stress right now. How do I show him that I get that, and that I love him, and that I want him to have what he needs? You know what? I am going to bring him a big bowl of popcorn and put it right next to his video game chair and just kind of wave and give him a kiss on the cheek and let him know that I love him and that I am so happy that he is playing Fortnight with a bunch of 14 year olds right now.” Can you tell that I'm a Fortnight widow, my husband and son playing fortnight constantly. I get stressed out but I try to play any video games or I have to shoot at someone or I get shot at. I’m like a candy crush person, 100%. 

 

But it's like how do we be generous with our partners when they are showing us what we need from them as opposed to getting all resentful and demanding when we're not getting what we need. Right? That will be a quick, quick turn down the unhappy path if we stay focused on that kind of opposite of kindness and generosity, which is sort of selfishness and self-focus and lack of empathy. So how does your partner feel loved and appreciated by you? If you don't know the answer to that question, find out and then lavish them with it every chance you can. 

Empathy

Another core piece of a healthy, happy relationship with a couple that grows together. And it's related to kindness and generosity, certainly, but it's this core piece of empathy, which is not just understanding how your partner feels or how your loved one feels. It doesn't have to be your partner, it could be your child, it could be your parent, it could be your friend. But, “I understand how you feel and how you feel is valid. And how you feel is important.” 

 

It's not quite enough to just get that someone else is sad or afraid. True empathy goes into, “If I were to put myself in their proverbial shoes and look at the world, through their eyes, through their set of life experiences, through their belief system, through their values, through the things that they tell themselves in their own mind, this makes sense to me, when I see it through their eyes, without judgment or criticism or blame.” Or that if you did this differently, more like how I do it, you wouldn't have these problems, right? Without that kind of, of condemnation or ridicule. It's just “Yes, I could see why you feel that way.” When I put myself into this, this point in space, if I fast forward through all the years of your life and arrive at this point in time, I would probably feel exactly the same way too. I get it. This makes sense. 

 

And here's the other piece. The way you feel is actually just as important as the way I feel. My feelings are not more important than yours. I might understand my own worldview better than I understand yours and I might be more contact with my feelings and I am in yours. But the way I feel, the things I want, the things I think about, my values are not more important than yours are. They are equally important. 

 

And so this sounds like a simple thing but it is very easy to slip into conflict and just like that waterslide, like shoot down the unhappy path of disconnection. When you begin to believe that your partner is behaving unreasonably, and that they're wrong to think and feel and behave the way that they are, and judge them for it. Empathy is the antidote. Everybody makes sense. Trust me. I have sat with—I can't even tell you how many, hundreds, possibly thousands of people. Some of them are doing things that are surprising or feeling things that are different than other people feel. And I have never in my entire life met a person that when I sat down with them, and didn't like really get a whole story, and all the information and kind of put all the pieces together, that didn't make perfect sense. You make perfect sense, and your partner behaves and makes perfect sense—behaves in a way that makes perfect sense. If they're behaving in a way that doesn't make sense to you, it's because you don't have all the information yet. 

 

Find out the information with empathy, with empathy, without judgment, without criticism, without blame. Because when you understand somebody’s why, things fall into place. And in having this kind of attunement with your partner and being really compassionately accepting of your partner's thoughts and feelings, even if they're different from yours. But when you achieve that level of understanding, all conflict immediately melts away. There's just nothing to argue about. There is only the opportunity to have a deeper connection with your partner that they feel understood and cared about by you. And then you'll have the opportunity to open a door so they can understand your perspective a little bit more deeply. And from that point, all that's left to do is figure out how to solve solvable problems and appreciate and respect each other's differences for the rest of it. Empathy is really important right now. 

Courageous Conversations

Another core skill, if you want to have a growth moment with your partner. This might surprise you, but it's true, to have courageous conversations that might even feel like fights. Let's just reframe those, they're not fights, they are passionate conversations about things that are important to people. A while ago, I did a podcast about how to have difficult conversations that is really geared more towards having productive connecting conversations between two people who might be in very different ideological places or have different values. Because if you don't have those, there is distance and disconnection, and relationships will just wither and evaporate. 

 

And the same holds true for our intimate partnerships. People sometimes erroneously believe that having a healthy relationship or a good relationship is kind of defined by having lack of conflict. “Well, we don't fight, everything's fine,” right? No, if you are not having important, meaningful conversations about important things, you are not having a relationship in some real ways. 

 

Now, there are couples that have worked a lot of stuff out. I mean, my husband and I have been together for—I don't know what year is this, it was sometime in the early 90s, I don't even know. But anyway, a long time, and we've worked out a lot of things. And so we still have courageous conversations from time to time about growth areas. And that is the engine of growth in a relationship. When somebody says, “This is how I feel, and you might not be happy about this, or you might not like what I want, but I have to say it because I have to be authentic with you. And I have to be real with you. And I have to let you into my inner world. This is me. And if I'm not talking about this, you don't really know me. You don't know who I am. And if I'm not hearing about what is important to you and how you really feel it means I don't know you.”

 

And so these conversations can feel challenging sometimes because people can discover that there are areas of their relationship that feel out of alignment. There are differences in values or perspective, or needs or wants or desires. And that is all okay. The goal is not to be exactly on the same page and an alignment about all the things but is to achieve, understanding and respect for each other's differences. And to be talking very openly about what those are, and how you can work together to make this as good as possible for both of you. 

 

Also, courageous conversations are absolutely necessary to be solving and facing the issues of life right now. From how do we communicate about things? How do we work as a team together in our house? “You know what? I did dishes five times today, how many times did you do dishes? None? That is not okay with me.” And it doesn't need to be I'm being more conflictual than I probably would be in real life. But although Matt Bobby could handle it. Because he's actually usually the one that does dishes five times a day, and I'm like, “What's for dinner?” 

 

But that aside, to be able to say, “I have to talk to you about something important. XYZ is not working for me right now. And I want to have a conversation with you about what we can do together to make this feel better for both of us because I am not okay.” And it can be about anything, but it is the conversation that you least want to have is the conversation that you most want to have. It can be very tempting to think about avoiding difficult conversations as not rocking the boat, as being not communicating well, I'm not saying anything about things that really bothered me, and I'm just stuffing it in that bottle until I get more and more resentful until I explode. Let's not do that. Have courageous conversations when things come up because that authenticity around your true thoughts, feeling needs, desires, will help you feel known and be known, you will know your partner. And you'll be able to achieve this deeper understanding and a deeper union, really, through courageous conversations. And couples who don't do this will inevitably grow apart. 

 

I will tell you a secret. One of the most insidious destructive ideas that you can have in your head, that will be the seed of destruction for your relationship is this idea of, “No, I don't want to say anything. It won't change anything. It doesn't matter, we'll just have a fight. No, it's not worth bringing it up. I'm just no, I'm just going to deal with it.” That is the narrative that will land you in a divorce lawyer’s office, that inner narrative in your head is what will become the barrier for the necessary courageous conversations that we all need to have. 

Emotional Safety

Related to this is the deliberate practice of emotional safety. I have also done standalone podcasts on this topic. But as a quick refresher, emotional safety is the primary foundational component of a healthy relationship. It is related to empathy. It is related to kindness and generosity. It's related to communication. It is also related to psychological flexibility. When we are being emotionally safe partners, it is okay for your partner to not be okay sometimes. That means that they can say thoughtless, insensitive things, and you can say, “I don't like the way that sounded but I love you so much. I'm going to give you a redo, try again.” I use that one with my 12 year old son on a fairly regular basis, but it's like, you are not going to explode. You're not going to fall apart. You're not going to criticize. You're not going to reject people. You are being emotionally safe for your partner when they need you. 

 

And that goes both ways that when you're in a high quality relationship where you are feeling emotionally safe, it means that you can be mad sometimes. You cannot feel like talking, you can be you're not best self. You can be imperfect. You can have your own little weird quirks and things and you can feel sad or scared. And it's just that like unconditional positive regard that even if you're not okay, it is emotionally safe for you to be authentic. And to be not always okay that you're loved anyway. 

 

Not that we don't all have a responsibility to do the best we can to bring the best we can to the table like it does require intention, but it's like committing to being a safe person for your partner to talk to, to be empathetic, to be non-judgmental, to try to be kind and generous when someone is sharing their authentic feelings with you, in a way that fosters this feeling of safety, that is not being the fixer, or the solver of the problems or the whatever, it's not that type of safety. It's emotional safety, it's, “I am a safe person for you to be real with. What's going on?” And to have that going both ways in a relationship is I think, what we all really, really need right now, particularly when there's so much going on in the world. 

 

I mean, just this morning, my husband saw something on the news and had a solid, I think four minutes of ranting in the kitchen, about whatever it was like “Ahh!”, smoke actually coming out of his ears and just, and just kind of like, “Yes, that is so messed up. I can understand why you're angry.” As opposed to telling him to calm down or like “think about this instead,” it's like, “Yes, this is bad.” You can do this, too.

Emotional Intelligence

Our next skill, and then I promise, I only have two more, and then we'll be done because it's like a 19-hour podcast. But the next skill is emotional intelligence. This is another core component of a healthy relationship. I am planning a podcast on this topic specifically to come out for you in the next—probably February. But anyway, about how to increase your emotional intelligence. But here's why. Your ability to understand the thoughts and feelings of others, and then respond to them appropriately and effectively depends on not just emotional intelligence, but like the foundation of emotional intelligence, which is the ability to understand and manage your own thoughts and feelings first. 

 

So to have that emotional intelligence is a skill set that allows you to be aware of how you're feeling, regulate it if you need to, have control over your reactions, be able to communicate effectively during times of stress. And it's also related to empathy, not just empathy for others, but also really empathy for ourselves. Particularly under times of stress or disappointment, and by very deliberately building up your own emotional intelligence skills, and working on that part of “Okay, how am I showing up?”, you will immediately see positive results in your relationship. 

 

And so if you feel like you and your partner have been growing apart lately, I would recommend getting real serious about emotional intelligence and working on what you can, which is how you are showing up as—are you being an emotionally safe person? Are you having courageous conversations, that are productive and well intentioned? So not like attacking people, but having honest, important conversations. Are you showing up with empathy? Are you showing up with kindness and generosity? And are you really working on psychological flexibility that allows you to kind of roll with things as opposed to freaking out about all the things like these are all related 

 

And so I want you to also hear that all of the constructs that we've been discussing, hang together. Psychological flexibility is an aspect of emotional intelligence. You can't have kindness and generosity without empathy. Having courageous conversations requires emotional safety. If you are not being emotionally safe—people, yes, your partner is not going to talk to you, because it will be unpleasant, conflictual experience, right? So, these are things that all hang together. 

Remember: Relationships Are Systems

And very lastly, is one last idea, is that people who have healthy, enduring relationships that are made stronger for having gone through difficult times and coming out the other side, have a high degree of awareness for and respect for the fact that your relationships are systems.

 I mean, the successful couples or people with harmonious relationships with their family members know what Family Therapists like me have been preaching for decades, which is that any relationship is more than just two individual people kind of bopping along. A relationship is a system. And that means that people are not just existing independently. Two people in a relationship are reacting to and responding to each other's reactions and responses. So there's like the cyclical thing. Your partner is having reactions to you. And your reactions are in turn what you perceive your partner to be doing or not doing. 

 

So there's this like, cyclical thing. And by understanding that whatever is happening with your partner right now is at least in part influenced by what you are putting into the system. You immediately become empowered to change it. And not by demanding change in your partner and insisting that they change 19 things about yourself, themselves, rather, so that they can be closer to perfection, right? But is to really get very deliberate about, “Okay, what is it like to be in a relationship with me right now? What am I contributing to this relational system? And what adjustments can I make that might help my partner have a better reaction to me?”

 

I know that that can be very difficult to take on board. And I also know—I'll just say this out loud, some relationships are in fact irredeemable. There are such things as narcissists and sociopaths, and people who just can't or won't be emotionally safe or have empathy for others, or have courageous conversations, or have emotional intelligence. Those are realities. I would refer you back to another podcast that I did about when to call it quits in a relationship. Like if you don't know if your partner can do these things with you, time to find out. So listen to that podcast for some advice on how to create that. 

 

I do hope that this honest, courageous conversation that you and I have had together today can provide you with a little bit of a roadmap to help you understand the importance and the significance of this moment for your relationship and can empower you to do everything that you can do in order to help you and your partner grow together right now instead of apart. 

 

If that isn't possible, next week, we're doing a podcast on amicable divorce. So stay tuned. But in the meantime, I do hope this conversation has been helpful. And very lastly, I tell people this all the time, I'll tell the same thing to you. Resources to get this started, you could certainly have your partner listen to this podcast with you, trap them in the car, go on a drive and turn on the podcast. 

 

Also a tool—we offer a free relationship quiz on our website that is super like low-key. It's the How Healthy is Your Relationship quiz. And I think it was growingself.com/relationship-quiz, I'm pretty sure is the URL. You can go on the Growing Self website and Google. Or there's like a search bar on our site. So you can look up different resources. But look up the How Healthy is Your Relationship quiz. And you can take that quiz together. You can take it. Your partner can take it. You won't see each other's answers. But the neat thing is that then you can kind of just come together in a nice emotionally safe space and just compare answers. 

 

For the purpose of yes, sure communicating to your partner how you're feeling, it can kind of get the conversational ball rolling. It also provides some information in the results of the quiz to help kind of orient each of you to like some of what we're talking about and somewhat is different. But like the different domains of your relationship. So you'll see the parts of your relationship that are strengths for both of you, and the parts of your relationship that are growing areas. 

But to have like that be the intention of the conversation like “Okay, let's take this quiz together. And let's just talk about what parts feel like they're working for each of us and then maybe talk about some ways that we could improve how this is feeling for both of us.” 

 

You might be surprised at some of the things that you learn about how your partner is feeling about this relationship. Going back to what we talked about before, that once you have that information, the way they're behaving and feeling will maybe make more sense to you once you have that. So there is a resource for you. 

 

I also just want to say this and again, as I said on previous podcasts including a recent one about discernment counseling, when relationships are strong and healthy, fundamentally—so yes, there are problems and parts that people are not happy with each other about—but fundamentally, people love each other and they want it to work, they're still committed. That is typically when people show up in couples counseling, in relationship coaching. As “We want to make this as good as possible. We're having trouble talking about this, without it sort of disintegrating into an argument. We really want to learn how to do this together, can you help us figure out how to do this together?” Yes! And in those cases, it's usually fairly easy. Like, 4, 6, 8 sessions, we do all this stuff, and teach couples how to do these things and be these things with each other, and they go off on their way. 

 

If you are in a relationship, where you have not been getting these things for months, perhaps years, and you are having really negative relational cycles with your partner. They are refusing to talk to you. There's a lot of hostility and resentment. There are a lot of automatic negative assumptions about each other's motives. There are feelings of hopelessness, almost about their relationship. I just want you to know that this is also not just normal but expected. 

 

If you have been living without kindness and generosity, empathy, psychological flexibility, emotional intelligence, a real dedication to emotional safety—to have a very, very difficult feeling relationship is a predictable outcome of that. And it is still not too late. It does mean that you will probably need the support of a good—and by good I mean, someone with specialized training and experience, look for a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a at least a master's degree or a doctorate in marriage, family therapy, and who practices, evidence-based forms of couples’ counseling to help you. It can take a little bit longer to kind of peel this onion and be able to understand each other with empathy and compassion again. It's going to be a little bit of a process. Because what we have to do is really help you to restore your empathy and compassion for each other. 

 

So that it stops feeling like an adversarial thing or like this person is somebody that you don't understand and who doesn't understand you. This can be achieved. It just takes a little bit more time and it takes skilled evidence-based couples counseling, and we do it routinely. I cannot tell you how many couples I've worked with who came in being like, “I do not understand this person and I never will.” And, yes, it took a few months, but at the end of it was like, “Wow, you know what? They're amazing. I can't imagine my life without them.” 

 

So just know that and I hope that that helps you hold on to hope even if it feels like you guys have been drifting away. 

 

Big podcast. I'm going to stop now, and I'll be back in touch with you next week for another episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast. Thanks for listening.

 

[More Than Words by Sarah Kang]

 

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In this episode, I help you understand how radical self acceptance works and why it is essential. It is an emotional intelligence tool used to guide us to understand and value ourselves. And consequently, lead a better life. 

Listen to the full episode to better understand radical self-acceptance!

In This Episode, You Will . . .

  • Understand the relevance of radical self acceptance in your life.
  • Recognize (and release) your tendency to beat yourself up for having feelings.
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  • Become aware of how toxic shame can worsen your well-being.
  • Find out how unconditional self-acceptance can help in your relationships.
  • Discover self-love through practicing mindfulness.
  • Recognize the power of facing negative emotions. 

You can listen now by scrolling down to the podcast player at the bottom of this page, or tune in to “Radical Self Acceptance” on Spotify.

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Radical Self Acceptance: Episode Highlights

The Relevance of Radical Acceptance

The art of radical acceptance — radical self-acceptance — will change so much more for you both on the outside and the inside than you will ever even know.

There are four goals of radical acceptance, which are a prerequisite to genuine personal growth. You have to ask to understand:

  • Who are you?
  • What is important to you?
  • Why are you the way you are?
  • What works and what does not work with you?

Stop Beating Yourself Up

When people stress themselves out into something they should be but are not, they become the opposite of their goal. These people start to create an internal emotional environment, which is the antithesis of the calm they need.

As a therapist, I often recommend radical acceptance to my clients, but sometimes are apprehensive at first. It's because they equate “acceptance” with “giving up.” That is not the goal. The goal is to feel calmer and less stressed or upset about what's currently happening. From that space of strength, you will be much better able to take steps towards changing the situation. (If you want to. You don't have to).  

What is Radical Acceptance?

Radical acceptance is about believing our inner reality or experience and not judging ourselves for having it.

When people don't feel good on the inside, it’s because there is a gap between how they perceive the way their world is or how they are and how they think they or their world should be.

In 2018, a group of psychology researchers examined the overall mental and emotional wellness of several people. They compared two groups of people: those who were accepting of and those who did not like experiencing negative emotions. The first group had excellent mental and emotional wellness, but not because they experience less negative emotions. It is because they openly accept that they will experience negative emotions from time to time.

Accept Yourself

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Once you accept negative experiences as a normal, healthy, and expected part of your life, you will feel incredibly liberated.

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To be straightforward, you do not need someone who will try to fix, change, or reject your negative feelings. Most of the time, you will only feel worse or alone. It’s because they are indirectly implying that you have feelings you should not be having.

You may also tend to shame yourself for having negative feelings. It is intolerable for you to show that you are not okay because you believe you should be okay. And as opposed to this, radical acceptance advocates that it is okay not to be okay.

Unconditional Self-Acceptance

A byproduct of practicing radical acceptance is having compassion, tolerance, and love for yourself even when you are not 100%. You are also better able to connect with people when they are not okay. Since we can face our own negative emotions, it becomes more comfortable to sit with others who experience the same.

In my experience in couples counseling, when one vents out their negative feelings toward their relationship, the other's acknowledgment and acceptance are enough.

However, when the other chooses to reject and disprove their partner's feelings, the conflict starts. It is just one more moment where there wasn't understanding, empathy, and tolerance for the reality of the other person. And all of a sudden, they feel lonelier and more ashamed.

How to Practice Self-Love

You should start by choosing to release the idea that you should be feeling anything specific. You have to believe that relentlessly stressing yourself out for not being okay will only sink you.

Here’s a Buddhist story about two monks who were robbed and were pushed into a river:

One monk got too consumed and distracted by his anger that he drowned and was never seen again. The other monk also felt anger but was able to return to a place of radical acceptance. It no longer mattered to him how he got in the river. What matters is that he is in the river and what he must do to survive.

When you get wrapped up in negative emotions, it becomes nearly impossible to get out on your own. Nonetheless, you can strive to shift into a space where you acknowledge and accept what is without any judgment. From there, you will be better able to see and try to solve the problem.

The Power of Facing Negative Emotions

Even with radical acceptance, you are allowed to feel resistance to what is happening. You are allowed not to like what is happening, wish it was different, or feel sad about it. Sometimes that sadness can point us in the direction of a thing that we would like to create in our lives, but we don't know what that is until we listen to the sadness.

The people who have been working hard to avoid their negative emotions do not like grieving. So I help people like them to understand that negative emotions are not bad. It is healthy for a person to feel legitimate sadness, anger, or grief.

People are also afraid of accepting negative emotions because they might get consumed and never be okay again. This fear exists because they have been avoiding these big emotions for so long.

I also guide my clients through their negative emotions:

  • Touch your negative emotions without any judgment.
  • Examine what the emotion feels like in your body.
  • Talk about what you feel at the moment.

There is power in facing your negative emotions. When you stop resisting your truth and rejecting your feelings and begin to radically accept any and all of how you really feel, that in itself becomes a point of resilience and truth. It is also a point of growth because you are not afraid to admit when you are not okay. 

Resources

I’ve introduced you to the essential life skill of radical acceptance. What did you learn and can apply in your life from this episode? We would love to hear your thoughts on the comments below this post. 

Did today's discussion inspire you? Please review, subscribe to, or better yet, share the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast.

Wishing you all the best, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

 

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Radical Self Acceptance

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

Music Credits: Denver's Mike Masse, with a cover of “Dear Prudence”

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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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Radical Self Acceptance: Podcast Transcript

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Access Episode Transcript

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

 

[Dear Prudence by Mike Masse]

 

It’s just one of my favorite songs of all time. “Dear Prudence,” of course, recorded originally by The Beatles, that particular version, is performed by a really talented local Denver artist by the name of Mike Massé with an “E” on the end, M-A-S-S-E. He has a website mikemasse.com, and he does all kinds of cool stuff. So you should definitely check out more of his things. And if you ever like to hear that song again, you can call Growing Self and talk to Erica, first of all, who is a gem. And then if you're lucky enough to get put on hold, like, if she's transferring your call or something, we have the privilege of using Mike's lovely song as our hold music. So, thank you, Mike, and thank you for enjoying this beautiful song with me because it's good stuff.

 

And so, that is our segway into our topic today because we are talking about how to be engaged with a world as yourself, as authentically as is your truth and with the world as it is. And, practicing I think new for some of us but very important life skill of radical acceptance. And I am very deliberately posting this particular podcast for you on the week after the turn of the year because how much of the time are—you know this time of year, it's like, “Okay, this year, I'm going to make all these changes. I'm going to go to the gym, I'm going to starve myself, I'm going to make myself do XYZ,” and it's like, so exhausting. 

 

We also know from research that any kind of new year resolution thing is generally not helpful when it comes to making real and lasting change in our lives. And there are certainly things that are. We've talked in the past about habits and really like doing deep work on yourself. All of that is well and good. But for many people, the biggest, most important, powerful life-changing point of growth is not changing at all, but rather experimenting with something called radical acceptance, radical acceptance. 

 

If you want to take it up a notch, we could talk about radical self-acceptance and how we understand, and appreciate, and value ourselves for exactly who and what we are. And absolutely release the inner critic and the judgment and the self-blame and even just that uneasy feeling that you should be doing something different, something better, something more. You should have a goal, you should have a resolution, new idea. Radical acceptance is a release of all of that. 

 

And that's what I really want to talk with you about today so that I can just—hopefully helpful counterbalance in your ear if you are being besieged by other forces in your life right now. Who are doing this cheerleader “This year is the year everything is gonna be different” voice in your ear, and that may or may not feel congruent for you. 

 

Radical acceptance that's what we're doing today on the Love, Happiness and Success podcast. And I'm so glad you're here to join me. I am Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I'm the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. We're based in Denver, Colorado, but we see clients all over the world. We specialize in couples counseling, marriage counseling, and a lot of coaching. I think more of what we do than therapy these days is really in the coaching camp. But because me and everybody on the team, we have a background in mental health. Like myself, I'm a licensed psychologist, I'm a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and I am also a Board Certified coach. So I like to think that we take it to a deeper level. 

 

And that's also what I try to do for you in this podcast is, give you hopefully helpful new information, new ideas and, and different ways of supporting you on your journey of growth. So we're always talking about your love, happiness, and success. And the topics that I select for my podcast are all about you. I am listening to you, thank you, if you're one of the many who's gotten in touch recently on Instagram @drlisamariebobby or gotten in touch with Growing Self @growing_self on Instagram, or through our website. We have a very active blog community at growingself.com. There's always a lively discussion in the comment section. You can also connect with us on Facebook if you like, or you could just send an old fashioned email to hello@growingself.com if you would like to share what's on your mind lately. 

 

And our topic today is born of what I'm hearing from you, which is that, boy, there are a lot of you—and hey I can relate, who can't? Who is just, like, coming out of the end of this year feeling like you've been through a meat grinder on so many different levels. And it's hard to even know what to do next, or what to try, or what to grow, or if it's even possible to have goals right now. And you know what, there's again, a time and a place for growth and goals. And I'm right there as a life coach, but I tell you what, as a psychologist, the art of radical acceptance, radical self-acceptance will change so much more for you both on the outside and the inside than you will ever even know. 

 

I see there's this weird paradox when it comes to personal growth, that before people can really change and grow and develop and do anything different. They must first understand themselves, understand who they are, understand what's important to them, why they are the way they are is often very helpful. And also, get a lot of clarity around what is working, what isn't working, to begin to create a plan that will move you forward into a different reality.

 

And here's the paradoxical part in my experience, both as a life coach and as a therapist, when people, as we so often do—no judgment. But when we expend a lot of time and energy into feeling upset—usually with ourselves, sometimes with other situations—when we badger ourselves and criticize ourselves and shame ourselves into being something that we should be that we're not, it creates an emotional environment inside of us, that is absolutely the antithesis of the kind of calm, compassionate, non-judgmental way of being that true growth and mental and emotional health really requires. And there is an enormous amount of value in figuring out how to accept yourself and the world around you.

 

Many times when I first introduced the idea of radical acceptance or radical self-acceptance to my clients, they have a very common reaction, which is some variation of “So, do you mean I'm just supposed to give up? That I'm just supposed to tolerate these things that feel intolerable to me? That I'm supposed to stop trying, that I'm supposed to stop doing the things I think are important for me to be better or some aspirational thing.” And, so it's like, there's a lot of anxiety when people think about moving into a space of self-acceptance, or even general acceptance because it feels like this is hard to put into words, but I'll try. When people don't feel good on the inside, it is because there is this gap between how they perceive the way their world is, or how they are, and how they think they should be, or their world should be. So the larger the gap between what you want to be or what you want your life to be about, what you want to have, and your present reality, the more unhappy you will feel. And this is always true and can be useful when we apply it to generating motivation—topic for another day. 

 

But what is incredibly insidious, and what happens so often more often than you would think, although if you can relate to this, they'll probably be like, “Yes, I could see other people doing this too,” is that when people believe that they should be happy, they should be free of negative emotions, or dark emotions, they shouldn't be angry, they shouldn't be sad, they shouldn't feel upset or disappointed, or guilty or even shame, when people have inner experiences that are different than what we think they should be, this, in itself, can create enormous feelings of unhappiness and shame. Because we feel something that we believe we shouldn't feel. This is a little bit mind-blowing, okay, but I want you to like, let it sink in for a second. 

 

The fact that we aren't okay, the fact that we are not having a good time, or not feeling good about something is itself a cause to feel badly about and beat ourselves up. Say you are feeling a little low, or depressed, or not motivated, or don't want to get up and go jogging at five o'clock in the morning when it's 10 degrees out, okay? Just say that you don't actually feel like doing that. If you haven't cultivated this radical acceptance idea, that inner reality in itself, can then generate all of these negative feelings. This, “What is wrong with me? Oh, my God, I am such a loss. Why am I depressed? There's something wrong with me for feeling the way that I do. Oh, my God, I wish I felt better, why don't I feel better, I really want to feel better. Ah!” And it turns into this, like, avalanche snowball-ly thing of beating yourself up for like, being a human with human feelings, and desires, and longings, and sadness, and loneliness, and all of these other things that are actually the human experience. 

 

And so when we talk about radical acceptance and radical self-acceptance, what we are really talking about is how we can have an inner reality, an inner experience without judging it, criticizing it, believing that there is something wrong with us for having it in the first place.

And this isn't just my idea, I'd like you to know that. There have actually been a number of very interesting research studies. I think one of the more recent ones was in 2018. 

 

A group of psychology researchers compared the overall mental and emotional wellness of people who were really pretty good at accepting the fact that they had challenging emotions sometimes, compared to the overall mental and emotional wellness of people who really didn't like the fact that they sometimes had negative thoughts or feelings. And what they found is very interesting, and I think an important takeaway, which is that the people who identify themselves as most generally happy is having a lot of mental and emotional strength and wellness, and really like being the most psychologically resilient and hardy, we're not the ones who were experiencing the least amount of negative or dark emotions. The people who were most resilient were the ones who were most accepting of the fact that they did have difficult feelings sometimes. Isn't that interesting? 

 

That the true path to happiness and wellness is not eradicating any challenging emotions or difficult situation, or problematic thoughts, it is rather understanding nonjudgmentally that that happens sometimes. And that not only is it normal and expected, it is okay. And that you don't actually have to do anything, to change it, to escape it, to make it be different. You don't have to do anything at all. Because the fact is that when we, really patiently, compassionately, and mindfully sit with exactly who and what we are, and how we feel, and think about why we feel the way that we do, and how it's absolutely legitimate when we see it through our own mind. And if you just kind of like, let that feeling be inside of you. It just is there for a little while.

And then that sort of floats off, then you don't have to do anything to change it. 

 

And sometimes it doesn't float off. It's sort of a persistent feeling of sadness, or loneliness, or disappointment that you carry around with you for a while. And that is also okay. It doesn't mean anything is wrong with you. It doesn't mean that you're some sort of uniquely deficient human that you're having that experience. That is the human experience. And when we can accept this as being a normal, healthy, expected part of our life, sometimes it is incredibly liberating. 

 

Very analogous to if you're feeling sad, and you go to a friend or family member or your partner, somebody who loves you, and you say, “I am so sad right now, I have just had the hardest day. I am just so sad about some of the things that are happening in the world. I don't know how we're gonna get through this. I just sometimes it's just, it's just so hard.” And to have someone with you, and be with you and say, “Yes, it really is hard,” without judgment, without being like, “Look on the bright side.” Without saying, “Look, this funny cat meme I found. Watch this cat meme. It'll cheer you right up because you shouldn't feel sad. I'm going to make you not feel sad. Let's fix it. Let's do something. Let's change it.” Right? 

 

I mean, how do you really feel in those moments when you're like, “No, I'm actually sad right now.” And somebody's like, “No, no, that's not okay.” It feels worse. It feels like you shouldn't have the feeling in the first place. It feels lonely. That feels like the person that you're trying to share with how you're feeling doesn't understand you. And it feels like you don't have the right to your feelings. Feels like kind of shaming, like, “Oh, I guess nobody else feels this way.” Makes you feel more alone. And think about how often we do that to ourselves without really even realizing it. You know that it's so intolerable for any of us to just not be okay sometimes. So, we have to take an antidepressant or to do something to be better because I'm not supposed to feel this way. 

 

And radical self-acceptance is just predicated on this one idea that it's actually okay to not be okay. And how do we have compassion, and tolerance, and love for ourselves when we're not 100%. And fascinatingly, like we don't want to attach specific outcomes to our radical acceptance practice because that is entirely not the point. 

 

But I will also say that often, a happy byproduct of a good radical self-acceptance practice is that when you become able to tolerate and have compassion for and just sit with nonjudgmentally, any and all thoughts and feelings that happened to be true for you in the moment, you become much better able to stay compassionately connected to other people, in their moments of not okayness. 

 

When we are putting a lot of energy into criticizing ourselves, judging ourselves, feeling ashamed about the way we feel, and you know, like, “I feel so bad and ashamed because of the fact that I feel shame sometimes,” right? When we have that going on, in our own mind, it's like this almost frantic energy to escape what is happening inside of you, if it's not happy and light and all good, which it's not sometimes you're not a damn robot, like, it's part of the human experience. 

 

But when we can't do that inside of ourselves, for ourselves, it is virtually impossible to sit with somebody else who is actually in that place. And you see that a lot, especially my role as a couple's counselor, like some couples where they're both just dying to be seen, and cared about, and understood, and loved for who and what they are. And it can take a lot of work sometimes in couples counseling to just sit with a couple and have one person say, “I just feel so sad sometimes and I feel like you're disappointed in me. I feel like I can't be the person that you want me to be. And it just, sometimes it makes me feel like just withdrawing or it's too hard to try that I'll never be who and what you want me to be and that makes me feel really bad about myself.” For somebody to be able to say that, and have it be heard, and received, and loved by someone who cares, without having to change it, that moment in itself is enormously healing. 

 

Compared to the exact same sentiment that's expressed to a partner that says, “You shouldn't feel that way. That's not true. That no, let me tell you five reasons why that's not true.” And honestly, but like the paradox here is that they're oftentimes trying to make their partner feel better. They're saying, “No, no, no, don't feel that way. Don't feel that way. Because here's—because I'm going to tell you why you're wrong. And that wasn't always true. And that is not what I did, by the way.” And so it like, turns into this defensiveness and this push back, and that is a rift in the relationship. It is just one more moment, where there wasn't understanding, there wasn't empathy, there wasn't tolerance for the reality of the other person. And that person all of a sudden feels lonelier and more ashamed. And more like how they feel so badly about themselves as actually true.

 

So, it happens in relationships, and it happens inside of ourselves, and it's time for it to stop.

So how do we do that? How do we push back against self-judgment and move into a space of radical self-acceptance? I think it begins with a choice. You have to decide that it is actually okay for you to not be okay all the time. And to release this idea that you should be feeling anything specific, because you will feel sad, lonely, disappointed, guilty, angry, shame, I think we all do, from time to time, annoyed with yourself, annoyed with other people. 

 

And there's an enormous power that comes with making a decision that it is okay. You are allowed to have all of those feelings. It is normal and expected for you to have all of those feelings. And there's nothing wrong with you for feeling the way that you do sometimes. And that it is really the thing that will hurt you is to relentlessly beat yourself up and judge yourself and criticize yourself and demean yourself and shame yourself for not being okay, and not being happy, and not being perfect. That is what will really sink us. 

 

I think the idea of radical acceptance, in addition to being applied to radical self-acceptance, is also enormously helpful when it comes to accepting circumstances that are not what we really want. And there's a story. I think I've probably shared this before in a previous episode. But there's a Buddhist story that illustrates the point of radical acceptance. And that I think, again, we can all relate to.

 

And the story goes that there were two monks walking by a river minding their own business, and this person maliciously came out of nowhere, and just jumped them and robbed them and took their stuff and threw them into the river. And this was a cold, fast deep river, a dangerous river that we're rapids. Now these two monks are in this river, and there's rocks and whitewater it's bad, I mean, it's like really a bad situation. And the first monk is like, “What just happened? That was not okay.” And he's like, the guys walking off in the distance like carrying their money like, “How dare you? I can't believe you did this. I am so mad. That was angry.” And like just absolutely beside himself wrapped up in the anger, and the injustice, and the horror about what had happened. And was just in the state of “I cannot—this is not okay.” And because so wrapped up in this emotion about what had happened, he drowned. The river got him; he breathed in water and hit his head on a rock and was never seen again. 

 

The other monk was equally distressed and upset and that same emotion, and like “I'm so—how dare that? But this is not okay.” And then very quickly, came back to a place of radical acceptance of “I am in a river. I am in a fast cold dangerous river, does not matter how I got here. What matters is the fact I am here now. And what do I need to do right now to survive this.” And “Oh, look, there's a branch sticking out over the water, I'm gonna see if I can paddle out over that way,” and grab hold of that branch, and hauled himself out of the river and lived to fight another day. 

 

Did that second monk have the right to be just as angry and upset at the injustice of what they had just experienced? Yes. And what he was able to do is mindfully accept that even though a bad thing had happened, he was able to kind of release the almost judgment, like, release the ideas about what should be happening compared to what was actually happening. And instead come into the, here and now, where he was in the river. He was accepting the fact that he was in the river and figuring out what he could do in this present moment to make his situation just incrementally better without being upset about it. 

 

And also not getting attached to any outcome. There might not have been a branch there. There may not have been a way to make that incrementally better. And so we would have floated along for a while, just in the river. I am in a river right now, sort of looking around what's happening next. But it's this, like, mental state of being present, mindful, without judgment or angst in the face of difficult circumstances. Because when we get all wrapped up in our anger or injustice of it all worked up, shaming ourselves around, “Oh, my god, this is so terrible that I feel the way that they do or that this thing is happening.” It becomes impossible to get out of it on our own that the inner experience that we are having in response to something external, an external circumstance that is happening, “to us,” or that we don't want that be happening right now. Or that same level of angst and judgment around an inner experience that we think should be different is what will ultimately sink us. 

 

And the big, the big lesson, a big shift is coming into a space of being able to say, without judgment or criticism, “This is happening, this is happening.” And can I solve the problem? You know, if there is a solvable problem, let's go ahead and do that. But you will be much better able to find solutions and actually solve problems. If you're in a space of acceptance, right? Then like laying on the floor, bawling your eyes out. “So what is happening, what do I have to do, but one foot in front of the other.” 

 

And then also, when it comes to that radical self-acceptance, to be able to say, “I don't like this. I don't feel good about this situation. I wish it were different. I feel sad that this is happening. And that is okay. I'm allowed to feel sad that this is happening.” And as we've been discussing in other podcasts recently, not only is it okay for you to feel sad or angry about something, what is the hidden gift, even of the sadness or anger? 

 

If it is motivation, to say, “You know what, I don't want to do this again, what do I actually need to do to not have this particular life experience again, because I don't like it.” Or “If I really listen to this sadness right now, what is it telling me that maybe I need to listen to, like, why am I sad? I am sad, because I miss my friend, or I miss my life, or I miss feeling stable in my world, or I miss maybe a relationship that has ended. I feel sad about that.” And you know what, sometimes that sadness can point us in the direction of a thing that we would like to create in our lives, but that we don't know what that is until we listen to the sadness. 

 

But you know what, sometimes sadness says, “You have the right to grieve. You can be sad, and experience a loss and feel the sadness of that loss.” It is grief, and it is okay. Because the path through grief, like so many other things, is not rejecting grief, talking yourself out of grief, making grief go away. It is embracing it. Allowing yourself to be sad and angry and all of the things for as long as you want to or need to. And then that's it. That is actually the work of grief. It's giving yourself the time and space to feel those feelings and trust that even in dark emotions, especially in dark emotions, sometimes the act of feeling them and being present with them is in itself, the paths through them. 

 

I know that sounds weird, particularly if you have been a negative emotion avoider. When I present this idea to some people who have worked really hard for a long time to not feel bad things, or you know that they label as bad in their own mind, right? That's oftentimes part of our work is having to say “that's actually not bad, it's healthy.” It's a challenging emotion. And it's incredibly healthy to feel legitimate sadness, and anger, and grief, it's a good thing. So we have to reconceptualize that, first of all. 

But the other part and I don't know if this is true for you, but I've had people say, “I am afraid that if I accept this feeling if I allow this feeling to come in, and be inside of me, and if I really let myself feel sad or mad, or any of these things, that I will be consumed by this emotion. I will be lost forever. I will always feel this way. And I will never, ever be okay again.” I know that like when I say it out loud, it doesn't sound like a rational thing. But it is so true when people have become afraid of fear, afraid of sadness, afraid of big emotions, it is because they have been avoiding it for so long. And that's part of the like, cognitive framework that makes them push it away as “No, I can't let this in because if I do, I will be steamrolled and lost forever. This sadness will be a bottomless pit. I will never, ever be okay again.” 

 

And so then, of course, what we do in therapy, or sometimes coaching is to actually have a little experiment or somebody practices sitting with me, and touching that anger or that sadness that they've been resisting for so long into practice. Just accepting it nonjudgmentally without trying to change it, or make it go away. And we talk about what it feels like in their body. We talk about how it makes their face feel flushed, or their stomach hurt, or that makes the tears come. We talk about the thoughts that come up alongside of it. We talk about the feelings, and then after a while, there's not really anything more to talk about, we're just sitting there breathing, looking at each other. 

 

And then I say, “Now what are you aware of?” “I feel better. Actually, it sort of, like, didn't last as long as I thought it would. I'm actually alright.” And that, that is really the moment of healing and truth because when people stop resisting their truth and rejecting their own feelings and begin to accept, radically accept any and all of how they really feel, that in itself becomes a point of resilience and truth. And is a point of huge growth. 

 

Because when people are okay to be not okay, when they can say, without judgment, or self-criticism or shame, like “I feel ashamed of myself right now. Or, you know what, I am kind of judging myself right now.” And that's okay. I do that sometimes, like without it turning into this big horrible thing. They can then be like, “I'm judging myself. I do that sometimes.” I don't want to judge myself and be able to sort of walk themselves through that the way you would compassionately take a child by the hand who's wandered into something that maybe is not really to their highest and best like, “let's go over here.” It's like this friendly way of being with yourself. Like, “You know what? You don't have to judge yourself for this. You don't have to beat yourself up. Let's go back and listen to that podcast. Dr. Lisa recorded a couple weeks ago, where she made us list out all of the awesome things that we have done and all of the strengths that we have, why don't we revisit that again, because that is true.” Yes. 

 

And to also be able to sit with that inner child sometimes and say, “You know what? You have every right in the world to be sad. And to wish things were different and I love you. And I'm just going to sit right here with you while you have these normal, healthy, legitimate feelings that do not need to be changed. They just need to be felt and embraced. And we're just going to sit here and do that together without any attachment to any particular outcome, and certainly not with any expectation that they're going to go away because they don't need to. It's all okay.” 

 

Radical self-acceptance. So much compassion, so much love in this perspective. And before we close today, I would also like to share that if you've been inspired by these ideas and like, “Yes, I want to get better at radical self-acceptance,” you will invariably find that it's hard to do that. And I would like to just invite you to consider that—it is hard to practice radical self-acceptance, and it is also okay to struggle with radical self-acceptance. Yes, and not have it turn into another thing that makes you feel bad about yourself. If you are not always perfectly self-accepting, because it's hard. And it's okay. 

 

So, radical self-acceptance, and also radical acceptance of reality is a—I think, incredibly healing and affirming, and empowering way of being, that is also irrefutably true, and is also something that you have 100% control over, no matter what else the world throws at you. And it can be difficult and disempowering to set goals and be pushing yourself onward and upward and constantly and all these things. And again, time and place for that, but that foundation of radical acceptance and radical self-acceptance is a strong floor to stand on. If you decide to build on it down the road, great. But it's really hard to do, to do more until you accept what is. 

 

And so that's the idea that I would like us all to be sitting with this particular New Year season. I hope it helps you value and accept and appreciate all of your experiences that are valuable and worthy, without judgment. And just like “Dear Prudence,” you too get to be in the world and loved and appreciated for exactly who and what you already are. You don't have to change anything. And you have the right to feel exactly the way you do. And so do others. As you practice self-acceptance and self-compassion, you may notice yourself having more compassion and empathy for people around you. And happy byproduct as you feel more accepting and comfortable in yourself. You will also, as a happy byproduct, strengthen your most important relationships while you are, at the same time, strengthening your relationship with yourself. So all good things. 

 

I hope that you enjoy it. And I hope that you also respect and appreciation for the parts that aren't fun because there are light and dark and all things, and it is all valuable and rosy, just like you. All right, talk to you next time.

 

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Personal Growth: The Greatest Gift

In this season of gift giving, it can be easy to forget what our loved ones really want: Our unconditional love, trust, kindness, appreciation, attention, time, understanding, empathy, respect, emotional safety, and cherishing. However, we can't give those to others without prioritizing our own wellness. On this episode of the podcast, learn the personal growth strategies that will help you grow into your best self, and also become a true blessing in the lives of others.

read more
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Anger is a Secondary Emotion

Anger is a Secondary Emotion

Anger is a Secondary Emotion

What's Your Anger Telling You?

Anger is one of the first emotions we learn as a child. It is easy to express, and therefore usually the first emotion we show when we are upset about something. The problem is that anger is a secondary emotion or an emotion that only shows what is happening on the surface. 

I often use the “iceberg analogy” with my clients to talk about anger as a secondary emotion– When you think of an iceberg, you might immediately visualize a large piece of ice floating on the surface of the water, however, what we often forget is that there is a massive chunk of ice underneath the surface as well. Maybe you’ve heard of the expression, “that’s just the tip of the iceberg”? The same is true with anger!

Anger is what is happening on the surface, and if we keep exploring underneath, we might begin to see the larger picture of our emotional experience. Underneath we find our “primary emotions,” the ones that explain where our anger comes from (e.g. shame, fear, disappointment, hurt, and loneliness). If we are able to access these primary emotions, then we can communicate them to others. Doing so also helps us resolve those emotions quicker than simply responding with the secondary emotion, anger. 

Where Your Anger Comes From

Anger is not bad. Yep, I said it! Anger is actually a very useful tool that we’ve picked up as humans to protect ourselves. You see, in moments of anger, our brain sees a threat and is trying to protect us from it. In fact, our brain is triggered into its “survival mode” where we find our fight, flight, freeze response, which in most cases is demonstrated with anger.

Long ago, our ancestors were faced with real-life threats, such as bears and snakes, and they needed their brain to kick into survival mode instantaneously in order to live. While we don’t necessarily have the same predators lurking around our neighborhood today, our brains still operate in the same way, only this time the threat might be your partner yelling, your child throwing a temper tantrum, or someone cutting you off on your way to work. 

Your brain kicks into survival mode, your heart rate, and blood pressure increases, your pupils dilate, and you might get flushed or hot. The blood rushes from the front of your brain where logical problem solving occurs and settles in the back of your brain where your flight, fight, freeze response occurs. Your body is preparing for an attack and is using anger as a defense mechanism to protect you. While this was helpful for our ancestors, it's not as helpful for us (unless you're hiking and encounter a mountain lion!). 

Vulnerability and It's Connection to Your Anger

Vulnerability makes us susceptible to pain, the opposite of what our brain wants when it feels threatened. Even the word vulnerability is defined as “capable of being physically or emotionally wounded” in the dictionary.

Since we know that our brain is usually operating in survival mode when we feel angry, it is very hard to convince our brain that being vulnerable with our emotions is a good idea! Our brain is looking right back at us saying, “Yeah, yeah, nice try chump.”  But what if the threat our brain is perceiving isn’t really a threat at all? What if we’re expending so much “survival energy” just to push away people who actually care about us and want to help us survive?

It makes me think… maybe we should redefine vulnerability? 

Maybe being vulnerable with our emotions can actually help us find a deeper connection with others. There are some cases when vulnerability is not a good idea, such as when emotional or physical abuse is happening. In those situations, your brain is doing its job very well. However, most of the time, what we are experiencing is not a threat to our existence. In fact, sometimes it’s the very opposite! It’s a moment when a loved one might want to connect with you in an intimate way. However, we often miss out on these moments when we react in anger. 

Stop The Cycle of Not Allowing Yourself to be Vulnerable

Little by little, teach your brain that it is safe. This requires consistently taking a risk. Putting yourself out there, sharing your primary emotions, and trusting that the other person will respond in kind. I know, I know, this is scary stuff! Especially if you’ve lived your whole life avoiding vulnerability. But isn’t it worth it to experience an intimate connection with someone you know you can trust and love? 

As hard as this may be, the good news is that our brains are incredibly flexible. We can shape it and teach it our whole lives if we try! The more you practice vulnerability the easier it becomes, because your brain is learning that there’s no actual threat to your survival. 

"I have tried counseling for about a decade with various counselors and have never been able to connect or grow with them. [My Growing Self Coach] has connected with me genuinely and helped me grow more in two meetings then several counselors have done in a decade.”

— Coaching Client

3 Steps to Better Communication When Angry

Step 1: Help your brain! The blood needs to move back to the front of your noggin where logical thinking occurs. The best way to do this is by giving your brain more oxygen to move the blood back where it belongs. Try taking deep breaths, leave the room momentarily to take a break from the “threat,” or simply find a mantra that reminds your brain it is safe! I tell my brain, “You’re okay, just breathe.”  

Step 2: Think about the iceberg. Ask yourself, what’s really going on underneath the surface here? Do feelings like shame, fear, or hurt explain what I’m experiencing better than anger? Try using an I feel statement to describe what you're feeling at that moment (I feel _____ ). But instead of filling in the blank with “angry”, reach for a word that tells the fuller story. 

Step 3: Remind yourself that you survived! Your brain saw a threat, you helped it realize you are safe, and you practiced vulnerability by communicating how you’re really feeling underneath the surface. If you did it once, you can do it again. And the more we practice the easier it is for our brains to realize there’s no need to “survive” next time. 

As a couple’s, family, and individual therapist, I’ve had the privilege of watching countless people take control of their brains and risk vulnerability which ultimately leads to a beautiful connection with their partner, friends, family, and many other people in their lives. Regulating anger can be a difficult and scary task, but it is possible. So in the words of the great Gloria Gaynor, tell your brain, “I Will Survive!” 

Warmly,
Georgi Chizk

 

Bentonville Arkansas Marriage Counselor Bentonville Therapist Bentonville Premarital Counseling Bentonville Family Therapy Online Therapy Arkansas

Georgi Chizk, M.S., LAMFT is a warm, compassionate marriage counselor, individual therapist and family therapist who creates a safe and supportive space for you to find meaning in your struggles, realize your self-worth, and cultivate healthy connections with the most important people in your life.

 

 

Real Help, To Move You Forward

 

Everyone experiences challenges, but only some people recognize these moments as opportunities for growth and positive change.

 

 

Working with an expert therapist or life coach can help you understand yourself more deeply, get a fresh perspective, grow as a person, and become empowered to create positive change in yourself, your relationships and your life.

 

 

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

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Personal Growth: The Greatest Gift

In this season of gift giving, it can be easy to forget what our loved ones really want: Our unconditional love, trust, kindness, appreciation, attention, time, understanding, empathy, respect, emotional safety, and cherishing. However, we can't give those to others without prioritizing our own wellness. On this episode of the podcast, learn the personal growth strategies that will help you grow into your best self, and also become a true blessing in the lives of others.

Personal Growth: The Greatest Gift

Personal Growth: The Greatest Gift

Personal Growth:

Why You Are The Greatest Gift

PERSONAL GROWTH — Why YOU Are The Greatest Gift: You are already amazing. You, and your life, is a gift to the world. You are on a courageous path of personal growth and development. As you work on yourself, cultivate areas of personal growth, develop yourself, and liberate yourself from the things that are holding you back… you are actually helping others. Not only are you inspiring them, you are benefiting them and their wellness just as much as you are your own.

Does that idea surprise you? That you are actually the greatest gift of all? That by working on yourself and your own personal growth, you're helping others too?

If so, it's worth re-evaluating your understanding of personal growth.

Why Is Personal Growth Important?

If your personal growth feels like an afterthought, you may not fully appreciate just how incredibly important and impactful you already are. Without having a full awareness of how much you really matter it can be easy to dismiss the importance of your personal growth, and make it (subconsciously) less of a priority than it should be.

When you don't recognize the true power of your presence in the lives of others, it can be easy to think that people value things about us, or want things from us that they might not. This misperception makes us think that the way we “give” or show love to others is through giving presents or doing special things for them. While those typical gift actives are certainly nice, they are no replacement for what people really want.

The truth is that what your loved ones want (and need) more than anything else is the very best, happiest, and healthiest version of you. 

The Greatest Gift You Can Give Someone

This concept of giving to others by our own personal growth is sometimes more easily understood when we think about it from the other side. Think about it this way: Have you ever been in a relationship with someone who was exhausted, or constantly stressed, or had super-low self esteem, or who was struggling with untreated mental health issues? (We all nod our heads).

Think about how you felt with them: Like, perhaps, they were in such a not-great place that it felt like they didn't have the capacity to be your soft place to fall. Or that they were in so much pain that they legitimately couldn't be there for you. Or that, due to their own issues, they reacted to you in a way that didn't make you feel emotionally safe, or understood, or secure, or that you could trust them.

I bet that the thing that would have mattered more to you than anything (much more than anything they could give you, or buy you as a present) would have been their fundamental mental, emotional and physical health. If they were healthy and well, they would have been able to be what you needed them to be for you. 

Their wellness would have been a gift — both for them, but also for you too.

Self Care is Not Selfish

From that perspective, it can be easier to understand how you and your personal growth is truly the ultimate gift.

We think of loving others as being outward in nature. Our idea of “love in action” may include the way we do things for others or gift them with things. Particularly in our consumerist culture, it can be very easy to get tricked into believing that gifts or presents or experiences or things is the ultimate expression of our love and care.

It can be easy and understandable to lose sight of the fact that what people want the most, more than anything in the world, are the big things. Unconditional love, trust, kindness, appreciation, attention, time, understanding, empathy, respect, to feel emotionally safe, and to feel cherished for exactly who you are is truly what we're all craving.

However, when we neglect our own personal growth and fundamental wellness, it is nearly impossible to have the level of mental and emotional wellness that those things require. Think about it:

  • When you're personally depleted and exhausted, it's impossible to feel fully present and patient with others.
  • When you struggle to have compassion and empathy for yourself, you'll struggle to feel it for others too.
  • When you aren't taking care of your physical health and wellness, you won't have the energy to spend time and energy with others or engaging in fun activities.
  • When you're pushing yourself, criticizing yourself, and judging yourself, you inadvertently become emotionally unsafe for others.
  • When you'e depending on others to make you feel secure or worthy, you'll become emotionally reactive and others won't feel safe and secure with you.

I could go on. The point is that our ability to give others what they genuinely need and want from us is dependent on willingness to invest in our own personal growth, our own mental and emotional wellness, and our own devotion to becoming the highest and best versions of ourself.

Being who others really need and want us to be is not selfish, it's selfless. Your being okay is the ultimate act of love towards others.

The Gift of Personal Growth

On the latest episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast, I'm taking a deeper look at the topic of personal growth counseling and discussing some specific ways that, through your own growth, you can become an even greater gift in the lives of others. We'll be talking about some new ideas that can foster your personal growth and wellness, in domains including:

  • Your self esteem
  • Your empathy for yourself
  • Your appreciation for yourself
  • Your physical health
  • Your unique strengths and talents
  • Your mental health and emotional wellness
  • Your emotional intelligence
  • Your financial wellness
  • Your being emotionally safe and compassionate for yourself
  • Why cultivating all those aspects of your own wellness directly benefits others, as well as yourself

This episode is intended as a gift to YOU. I hope that this discussion helps you appreciate and embrace just how incredibly important you are. I hope that this new perspective helps you to prioritize your own personal growth, release any notion that your personal growth and self development is “selfish,” and instead, embrace the truth: The ultimate gift you could ever give anyone is actually you. (YOU!)

With much love to you and yours,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

 

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The Gift of Growth

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

Music Credits: Rodello's Machine, “The Beauty of Your Life”

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

Let's  Talk

 

 

Real Help, To Move You Forward

 

Everyone experiences challenges, but only some people recognize these moments as opportunities for growth and positive change.

 

 

Working with an expert therapist or life coach can help you understand yourself more deeply, get a fresh perspective, grow as a person, and become empowered to create positive change in yourself, your relationships and your life.

 

 

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

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