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Financial Therapy For Couples

Financial Therapy For Couples

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.

How to Stop Fighting About Money

For many couples entering couples therapy or marriage counseling, differences around money are a significant source of conflict in their relationship. And of course, money fights are common, because money is one of those things that means different things to different people.

For some, money a stand-in for love and connection, and for others money means security. Some people view spending money on things they enjoy as what gives life meaning, and others view accumulating money to pass on to the next generation as the purpose of life itself

Other people view money as freedom, and still others see it as a tool. People can also have negative associations around money, including guilt or fear. Other people can even tie their sense of self-worth to the money they have in the bank, or to outward displays of wealth.

Money is, in short, a loaded topic.

So it’s only natural that all couples usually have at least some differences around money, because they’re different people. Even if a couple is in basic agreement about their values around money, there will still be differences. In general, financial values exist on a spectrum between “spending” and “saving.”

Why Couples Fight About Money: Savers vs Spenders

In every relationship, there is a person who has a “saver” orientation and a person who has a “spender” orientation. This is even true between two people who are freer with their money than other couples, or within a couple who generally saves more than other couples. They, as a unit, may appear aligned around what they’re doing with money, and yet still find things to squabble about between themselves.

Saver fights: “I thought we agreed to put $1500 into the retirement account and bump the mortgage payment by $500 from now on. We can totally live on a $300 a month grocery budget — you eat too much anyway. Don’t you want to have the house paid off in three years???”

Spender fights: “No, I’m excited about Rekyvic and Dublin and Amsterdam, but I really had my heart set on Prague too. I mean, if we’re going anyway shouldn’t we embrace it? We’ll pay it off! We can use the line of credit from the condo in Vail, it’s appreciating like crazy. Why are you such a kill-joy?”

Of course, in couples who are even further apart on the spender / saver continuum than these examples, you can only imagine how intense fights about money in a marriage can get. This is never more true than around the holiday season, when budgets get blown faster than you can say “Fa-la-la.”

As we speed toward the holidays, life can become a twinkly blur of get-togethers and activities. The internal, sometimes even sub-conscious drive to have a “nice holiday” can drive us to spend way more money than we intended. In some couples, holiday spending can even be hidden between partners, creating a rupture of trust when it’s disclosed in the sober grey light of January.

Yes, “financial infidelity” is a real thing, and it causes real trauma to relationships. When couples are frequently fighting about money to the point where it feels like it’s impossible to communicate about finances, people will begin to hide spending, hide debt, or get overly controlling or even aggressive about money. This can lead to splitting up finances, which is often a symptom of avoidance in a relationship.

When it feels impossible to come to agreements about money, when communication about money always turns into a fight, where there is a lack of financial trust, or vastly different values around money, couples move towards separate bank accounts… and sometimes, sadly, eventually separate lives.

Financial Therapy For Couple

By the time couples arrive in marriage counseling to discuss the ongoing conflict about money, it has often evolved into a bigger deal than can be solved by simply making a budget together, or getting scolded by a financial planner. Feelings have been hurt. Trust may have been broken. Even worse, couples can start to fear that they are too far apart in their basic values around life and money to even be compatible.

This can be a scary time for couples. I remember how it was in my own marriage when money was the number one thing my husband and I were fighting about.

I felt like we barely had enough money to get by, and was frantic in my efforts to conserve our resources — even if it meant wearing second-hand clothes from thrift stores and packing PB&J for lunch every day.

My husband, on the other hand, felt stifled, unhappy, and constrained when I attempted to squash the flow of money through our life. He felt that without having anything to enjoy or look forward to, life felt empty and burdensome.

At the time, of course, neither of us realized that we were both right, and so we fought endlessly over who’s perspective was more true and noble. I’d give him hell for spending $4 on a latte at a bookstore (or god-forbid, buying one of his fancy art-magazines), and he’d make crappy comments about how gross it was to buy used shoes.

We finally got into marriage counseling, and only then, learned how to listen and understand. We no longer have conflict around money. We have conversations about money. It’s good. You can do this too.

Marriage Counseling Around Finances

It can be hard for a couple, particularly a couple in distress, to see through their own anger, fear, and moral judgment to see the other person’s perspective about money for what it usually is: A deeply held personal value, often related to core emotional and psychological needs.

However, without a high level of understanding and empathy, it’s very hard for couples to get on the same page about money. That’s where great marriage counseling, financial therapy, and relationship coaching come in: They can all help you stay calm enough to talk through your thoughts and feelings in a way that fosters understanding and empathy about money, and what it means to each of you.

For example, when I put down my shining sword of virtue and justice long enough to hear what my husband was actually trying to communicate, I learned that his less-privileged background led him to view money as something to be pounced upon and enjoyed while it was there (before it evaporated again), as opposed to accumulating it and cultivating it. I understood him more deeply, and had empathy for what money represented to him: Pleasure and meaning in the moment, and not anything that could be counted upon.

Over time, I also came to understand that being open to his perspective was good for me, too: Because of him, I’ve had more fun, more  interesting adventures, and, frankly, better furniture and clothing than I ever would when left to my own devices.

And as the conflict between us diffused into curiosity and openness, he learned that I inherited a deep anxiety around money from my immigrant family, who fled Europe after the second world war when Stalin appeared to be the next maniac drumming on the horizon. As a first-generation-American who grew up watching her Belgian father save scraps of wire, unbend pulled nails for a second use (stored in glass baby jars he’d saved from my earliest months), and literally cut off the moldy parts of the cheese before proclaiming it perfectly fine, I had a deeply ingrained survival instinct to conserve money.

I’m pleased to report that my perspective influenced my husband too. He now tolerates my budgets and squirreling, and seems to like the fact that we have a financial buffer between us and disaster, as well as a plan for the future.

We no longer fight about money. However — and this is the important part — our alignment about finances is NOT because either of us have changed who we are. He is not exactly like me, and he never will be. He still thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to spend $900 on a BMX bike, and on the rare occasions I shop for clothes, it’s usually at consignment stores.

But he understands me, and accepts that saving money and avoiding debt as much as possible is a wise way to live. And I understand him, and have accepted the fact that it’s important to be generous, and that nice things and meaningful life experiences are worth paying for.

That level of acceptance and understanding is always my hope for the couples who come to us for help in getting on the same page around money. If fighting about money feels like it’s destroying your relationship, please know that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Particularly during this time of year — the holidays, and their aftermath — you have lots of opportunities to talk about finances. This year, I hope you consider giving each other the gift of listening with the intention to understand. Ask your partner what money means to them, and try to get on their side of the table. Don’t have a conflict. Have a conversation.

If you want to solve your financial disagreements for once and for all, the answer is not controlling or changing each other. It lies in developing empathy, understanding, and a sense of common purpose that unites you as a couple and as a family. Hard to do, but so, so worth it.

With love and respect to you both,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

 

‘Tis The Season To Be… Present

‘Tis The Season To Be… Present

Maggie is a career coach and life coach who specializes in helping people get clarity about their life’s purpose, and teach them the skills and strategies to overcome obstacles and create a life they love. She leads our Design Your Life online career and life coaching group.

How To Get a Grip On Your Phone Use.

Reading digital detox advice on your phone is a little bit like getting weight loss tips while eating ice cream.

It’s a clear case of hilarious irony colliding with cringe-worthy guilt.

But hey, we’re only human, and all of us – every single one of us (yes, even the people you think have an iron will and appear to have everything put together on the outside) succumbs to temptation and easily slides into habits that don’t serve us.

Cue Christina Perri singing Human.

This time of year, with so many actual things going on in our lives during this busy holiday season, digital over-use can become even more apparent. This is a time to connect with others and enjoy the sights, smells, activities and rituals of the holidays.

But for many of us in this modern age, things like cookie-making with the kids or tree-decorating with the family quickly devolve into hours of Pinterest scrolling on the couch, while your kids or partner drift off into their own personal digital universe. All of you together in your aloneness.

And who among us hasn’t cursed after we picked up the phone to find a cookie recipe online and then two hours later — having missed the actual window of cookie-making opportunity — looked up and thought, “What have I been doing?! That’s two hours of my life that I can’t get back.”

Then we swear we’ll cut down. And we try. And it works. For a while. Until it doesn’t.

Whatever your flavor of choice:

  • Scrolling through Facebook (I know, I know – no one’s on FB anymore, but some people sincerely still show up there – raising my hand, tentatively)
  • Video games
  • Phone games (but they’re brain teasers so I won’t get dementia later in life, right?)
  • Porn
  • Blogs (one of my friends has a handful of sites she visits regularly that she calls “interior design porn”)
  • Those silly quizzes (yes, I really did need to know that if I were a live-action princess, I’d obviously be Cinderella)
  • News sites that feed our political divisiveness
  • Insta (okay, I know it’s called The Gram now)
  • Tumblr
  • That new favorite app (one of my clients told me about Marco Polo, and I’m restraining myself. Do. Not. Need. Another. E-toy.)

I could go on and on. The fun clearly never ends. In fact, if we consciously taper of our phone use, there’s almost a stalkerish quality to how we get reeled back in. Facebook emailed me to tell me that I had 97 notifications after I went on a hiatus for a few days. When I deleted that message, I got an email that one of my good friends had posted an update – my good friend was named and there was a teaser and link. Finally, in disgust, I logged on the FB and spent far more time than was necessary changing my email settings. Stop chasing me, FB!

And the Screen Time feature on the latest iOS. Yeah, I didn’t need that, Apple. Thanks very much anyway.

Look, here’s the thing: over-the-top phone use is like any other compulsion. What starts out seemingly innocently – in fact, often with a real purpose in mind – gradually erodes into something that becomes destructive and unhealthy.

The problem is, by the time we recognize it (or someone calls us on it), we’re in deep, and we tend to react badly:

  • We might become defensive and angry and spew rationales about why it’s important and justified
  • Maybe we berate ourselves for our weaknesses, mentally lashing ourselves for our bad habits
  • Perhaps we withdraw from others because we don’t want to be witnessed doing something that isn’t in our best interest.

Or we turn to a combination of all of these possibilities.

How to Reduce Your Phone Use

The good news is, there are several mechanisms that bring us back to strong mental health and habits that serve us. Instead of white-knuckling it and making what’s been fun all of sudden forbidden or massively restricted, it’s really helpful to look at the root of our phone use.

The first step of changing any habit is to create self-awareness around what’s really going on. When you know what is motivating you to zone out, plus get clarity around how it’s actually impacting your life, then you are empowered and motivated to change. [More on this subject: “How to Stay Motivated”]

Here’s are some examples of the types of questions I ask my life coaching clients to help them crack into what’s really going on with their phone use:

  • What is enticing you to disappear into your phone, to go unconscious, to numb out?
  • What do you want your life to look like? How much phone use feels healthy to you?
  • What needs do you have that you’re attempting to fill through your phone? Connection? Stimulation? Meaning? What would your life be like if you got those met more directly?
  • What does support and useful infrastructure look like for you as you shift your habits and create ones that you want?
  • How is your phone use affecting your relationships with your partner or children?
  • What would your life be like if you felt more connected to the here and now?
  • What would you do with all the time you’d have on your hands, if you released the grip on your phone?

Those are just a few of the questions you might ask yourself to begin making changes in this area of your life. If you’d like many of our counseling and coaching clients here at Growing Self, you might find that when you scratch the surface and turn your awareness to yourself, your feelings, your needs and your desires…. You begin to expand and grow.

When you release your grip on your phone you have time and space to begin cultivating self-awareness. You may find that phone over-use has actually been a place-holder for what you really want and need out of your life. Only then will your real journey begin: Figuring out how to design the life you want.

All to the best to you and yours this holiday season. 

Maggie Graham, M.Ed., LPC, CPC

Getting Through Hard Times, Together.

Getting Through Hard Times, Together.

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.

How To Weather The Storms of Life… Together

When you get married, or commit yourself to a long-term relationship, you’re signing on to support each other through thick and thin. If you’re fortunate, most of the time things are okay: the sun shines and you live in the benevolence of the universe. But not always.

Strong, successful couples also need to know how to whether the storms of life and cope when things get hard, as a unit. Unexpected job loss, a death in the family, serious illness or infertility — these are only some of the common issues that many (most? all?) couples are going to face together at some point or another. And unfortunately, dealing with difficulty can also result in strain, stress, complexity and even conflict in your relationship.

Don’t Let Adversity Destroy Your Marriage

Dealing with something very hard emotionally can create a double-whammy for your relationship. When you are not okay, you need your partner more than ever. If you’re going through something difficult, this is the time when you need to support each other the most. When you’re hurting, scared, or heartbroken, you want nothing more  than to be able to seek comfort in the arms of your life-partner. Being able to share your feelings, have emotional safety and support in your relationship is what we all crave when we’re dealing with something real.

However, and unfortunately, what often happens in relationships during tough times is that married couples can become more distant, angry, resentful or hurt. Research into marriage and relationships shows a strong correlation with things like grief, illness, and job loss can precipitate a divorce. [Listen: How to Stop a Divorce and Save Your Marriage]

Why? Because when couples are scraping the bottom of the barrel emotionally, they don’t have much left over to give to each other. Furthermore, people in relationships have different ways of dealing with hard things. When partners believe that the eother should feel the same way, or manage grief or stress the way they would, it can lead to conflict.

Lastly, knowing how to provide emotional support in the way your partner needs is not always easy. It’s not easy to articulate what you need, or even allow your partner to help you sometimes. So what often happens instead is that partners miss each other’s signals, and bids for connection. This leads to “attachment wounds” to a relationship — the experience that, when you needed your partner the most, they weren’t really there for you.

That can be hard to come back from, and can lead to both pain and resentment on both sides. And, believe it or not, this can be intensified through the holiday season when you have social obligations and expectations pulling at you, and making it hard for you to heal — both as individuals and as a couple.

Learn How to Grow Together, Not Apart

It is also true that going through adversity together (successfully) can lead to a stronger and more secure relationship than ever before. When you are going through something terrible and can go to your partner for emotional support and comfort, it feels like your love transcends hardship and creates a safe harbor for both of you.

This creates a level of bonding and security that untested couples just don’t have. You come to know each other more deeply, and have the opportunity to help your partner feel loved by you when it matters most. Many couples come out the other side of these “growth moments” feeling like together, you can make it through anything.

Coping With Grief and Loss, As a Couple

So, today on the show, we’re going there and talking about how to negotiate these hard times successfully, as a couple. I’ve invited a couple of Growing Self experts to lend their expertise around how to get through hard times, together. Master marriage counselor, couples therapist, and relationship coach Meagan Terry, M.A., LMFT will be sharing her best relationship advice to help you both have greater empathy and compassion for each other when the chips are down. She’ll be discussing communication strategies you can use to stay connected through hard times, and also some tips for how to support each other as individuals around things like illness, grief, and death.

Supporting Each Other Through Infertility and Pregnancy Loss

Meagan is also sharing her insight around how to cope with infertility, as a couple. Millions of couples, across the US deal privately with the pain of infertility, miscarriage, and pregnancy loss. The stress of infertility treatment, and the grief of disappointment can take a toll on couples. Meagan speaks about how you can support each other emotionally on your journey towards building a family.

Protect Your Marriage After a Layoff

Another common issue that impacts so many couples is unwanted job loss. I’ve invited master career coach Maggie Graham, M.Ed., LPC, CPC  to share her best tips for how to cope with the stress of a layoff or job loss and stay connected with your partner as you go through it. We’ll also be discussing some tips for how partners can avoid conflict during periods of unemployment, and learn how to support each other during this financially scary time.

We hope that this discussion helps you find your way through this hard time together.

Yours sincerely,

Lisa Marie Bobby, Meagan Terry, and Maggie Graham.

PS: If this isn’t your truth right now, it’s likely that you have people in your life that are suffering. We encourage you to think about who in your life may benefit from hearing this advice and share it with them. Being seen and supported by you (especially during the holiday season when grief and loss is not on everyone’s radar) may mean more to them than you’ll ever know. xoxo, LMB

PPS: If you have thoughts or follow up questions for myself, Meagan or Maggie, ask away in the comments section below. We read them all! 🙂

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Getting Through Hard Times, Together

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

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Healthy Boundaries: The Holiday Edition

Healthy Boundaries: The Holiday Edition

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.

Healthy Boundaries = Happy Holidays

So many wonderful things are possible during the holidays: Quiet time to expand our souls, the chance to embrace generosity and good will, opportunities to enjoy the warmth of our families and friends, and be grateful for the wonderful relationships in our lives.

But many people suffer through this season, becoming increasingly frazzled, resentful, and hurt with every new disappointing interaction, extra commitment, and unrealistic expectation put on them. (And often, feeling most hurt and put-upon by the people who should love them the best). I’ve been a marriage and family therapist for a loooong time now, and there is one thing I consistently see in people who do NOT have a good time over the holidays: Bad boundaries.

When Boundaries Are a Problem Over The Holidays

  • When Boundaries Are Too Soft: When people are too passive and don’t speak up about their needs and feelings, they often wind up feeling put-upon, mistreated or disrespected by family members, children, friends or partners, and resentments brew. 
  • When Boundaries Are Too Hard: When people are too rigid and inflexible with their boundaries, they often feel tense, stressed out, and irritable by all the assaults to their preferences that this season can fling. Furthermore, friends and family members may feel put-upon, mistreated or disrespected by them — and it creates unnecessary conflict.
  • When Boundaries Are Not Considered: When people aren’t self-aware and clear about their own limits and struggle to hold healthy boundaries with themselves, they overcommit time and energy, have unrealistic expectations of themselves, over-indulge in unhealthy ways, and are prone to overspending. This leaving them feeling stressed out, overwhelmed, exhausted, and emotionally and financially depleted by the time New Year’s rolls around. Not fun at all.

Because these kinds of boundary problems are so common (and so darn avoidable, with advance planning) I thought I’d put together some holiday-specific boundary advice for you.

Listen, and learn specific, actionable tips and tools that you can use to set healthy limits with your self and others, and also be selectively flexible.

I sincerely hope that it helps you stay in a good place over the next month, and enhance all the wonderful moments that this season has to offer.

All the best to YOU this holiday season…

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Healthy Boundaries: The Holiday Edition

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

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Please rate and review the Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

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Premarital Counseling Questions To Set Your Marriage Up For Success

Premarital Counseling Questions To Set Your Marriage Up For Success

Brenda Fahn, M.A., LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist, a Prepare-enrich Certified Premarital Counselor, and a facilitator of our Lifetime of Love Premarital and Relationship Class. She provides expert premarital counseling online, as well as  in person at our Broomfield, CO office location.

Bust The Myths & Embrace The Truth About Relationships


I’ve been a marriage counselor and premarital counselor online and in person for many years. I love working with couples eager to set their marriages up for success. As I look into the faces of my premarital counseling couples, I see a myriad of emotions:  Excitement, anticipation, anxiety, fear, nervousness, and joy.  And like most important milestones in life, it’s possible to hold contradictory emotions at the same time.

Marriage is BIG.  It’s wise for couples to be asking each other essential premarital questions before they tie the knot.  I want to address many of the myths and truths about marriage that premarital couples usually bring into my office.  My hope is that if my premarital couples have a clearer understanding about what to expect and what is ‘normal’, then they can be more prepared to endure and accept and solve the challenges that will occur.

Premarital Questions to Address Before You Move Forward

Premarital Question #1:  Do we believe that if we are having issues now (as a premarital couple), and require counseling, there must be something really wrong with our relationship?

This is a myth: Every couple has issues that they bring to a relationship prior to marriage, either consciously or unconsciously.  Many of these issues exist at the beginning of any relationship and will continue to fester for years to come. All relationships have friction points like these. They are not necessarily ‘indicators’ of the success or failure of your future relationship.  However, smart couples know that it’s always better to get ahead of these relationship issues at the beginning of your journey, rather than ten years down the road. [Read: Why Premarital Counseling Can Make or Break a Marriage]

 

Premarital Question #2:  Do you believe that you need to get all of my emotional needs met by your partner?

This is another myth: Spouses can not, and should not be expected to fulfill ALL of your emotional needs. In fact the opposite is true.  Studies show that couples who have fulfilling ‘friendship’ relationships (other than their spouse) are happier in their marriage. In a healthy, happy, successful marriage, the  main goal of our partners is to provide a safe place for us, to be attuned to us and to know that there is one person in the world who has our back.  Yet, we also need close friends and authentic connections outside of our marriage to feel fulfilled.  [Read: Do You Have Unrealistic Relationship Expectations?”]

Premarital Question #3:   Do you believe that if you fight, there must be something wrong with your relationship?

Not true. Conflict is inevitable in a relationship. In short, fighting is good. You should be more concerned if you find yourself in a relationship that has no conflict.  The problem is not that there will be conflict, but how do you deal with it and process your conflict. Do you escalate quickly? Do you avoid it? Do you fight unfairly? How you fight and how you repair is much more important than if you fight.  [Read: Communication That Connects]

Premarital Question #4: Do either of you fear that if you lose your feeling of ‘being in love’, it must mean you are not meant to be together?


This is another erroneous believe that can be very damaging to your marriage. ‘Feelings’ in life are fleeting, they come and go in cycles. And the feeling of ‘being in love’ is exhilarating and intoxicating, but realistically, it’s not sustainable over time nor is it substantial.   The feeling of ‘being in love’ is what propels us into a relationship. What keeps a relationship strong is committing to the necessary ‘work’ to keep a relationship strong and lasting. Ironically that work can also keep the feelings of love alive. [Read: “How To Be in Love With Your Partner.”]

Premarital Question #5: Is one of your hoping that if you love your partner enough, they will change?

This is a very dangerous belief to base the success of your future marriage on. Always go into a relationship with ‘eyes wide open’. It is unrealistic to go into a relationship assuming that someone is going to change. It’s probably not going to happen.  This doesn’t mean that people aren’t capable and willing to change in long-term relationships, but if you think you have the magical powers to change that person and that only by doing so, you can handle the relationship, then you are deluding yourself instead of accepting reality.  The question to ask yourself, “If nothing changes about this other person, can I live with that?” [Listen: Should You Break Up or Stay Together.]

Free Advice From a Premarital Counselor:

It’s vital that you and your potential mate ask each other the premarital questions that I’ve just talked through. But if you want to have a lifetime of love together, it’s not enough to release the false beliefs you may have held about relationships. Instead, we need to replace them with truths about relationships. Here are just a few:

Relationship Truth #1:  Marriage is hard.

I am sure you have heard this mantra before.  But it’s the truth. Marriage is hard work. The work of marriage is to challenge us as people, to make us grow, to learn how to really love and be loved.   If it were easy, the results would not be that fulfilling. It’s hard on purpose, just like any growth we encounter in life. [Read: A Growth Mindset of Marriage]


Relationship Truth #2:   Expect less from your relationship and more from your life.

I thought that when I got married, I had arrived.  I could enjoy my proverbial pina colada cocktail on the beach and enjoy life.  Nothing could be further from the truth. Marriage was only the beginning of finding out how I wanted my life to unfold.   I have been fortunate to have a marriage where I feel connected (most of the time), supported (most of the time) and loved (most of the time.)  That has allowed me to feel secure and have a more full life.

Our relationships should give us a secure ‘base’ to live a full life.  If we only look to our marriage to provide for all of our emotional needs, we tend to end up feeling resentful, versus working to bring your best self to a marriage—a self that is full of life and confidence. [Listen: Becoming Empowered]

Relationship Truth #3:  You will both change and that is okay.

In a long-term relationships, you are bound to change.   You might change your opinions, your beliefs, and your interests.  A different part of you might come out. Relationships will become boring when you do not take the risk to change and do not take the risk to show that to your partner.  What is more important is staying connected regardless of what changes come up—being available and present are two of the best gifts you can give your spouse through all of life. [Listen: Finding Your Soulmate; The Truth About Relationship Compatibility]


Relationship Truth #4:  Increase the positives in your relationship.  Our focus becomes our reality.

Couples forget to focus on what is going well in their relationship.  They forget to tell their partner what they appreciate. When the focus becomes on what is going wrong, that focus becomes reality and it perpetuates more negative interactions. It can become a self-reinforcing narrative that can overwhelm your relationship.  As the famous psychologist, John Gottman, reminds us, marriages succeed if they have 5 positive interactions for every one negative interaction. Increase the positive! [Read: How to Strengthen Your Relationship]


Relationship Truth #6: Do not be afraid to ask for help when you come to an impasse in your relationship.

We all get stuck in relationships sometimes.  You can save yourself years of misery, if you seek help.  My analogy is that it’s always easier to try to lose weight when it’s 20 pounds versus 150 pounds.  The smartest, most successful couples are the ones that get themselves into marriage counseling sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, couples who wait too long may have lost their opportunity to repair their marriage. Don’t let this happen to you! [Listen: How to Stop a Divorce and Save Your Relationship, and Read: The True Cost of Marriage Counseling]


Relationship Truth #7:  Every relationship will have issues.

Decide if your partner’s issues are ones that you can live with.  Don’t go into a relationship thinking you can change or control the other person. A paradox of life is the more you accept someone, the more they will be willing to change. But if you base your satisfaction in the relationship with ‘if’ that person changes, you will be forever chasing the ‘what ifs’ and not the reality of your life.  [Read: Are You Stuck in a Codependent Relationship?]


Relationship Truth #8:  Everything in life has a balance.

“The closer you come to paradox the closer you come to truth.” — Unknown author.  

Know that two things can be true at the same time.   I remember clearly my husband saying to me, at the beginning of our marriage, “It’s crazy.  In one day I can feel like I need to get away from you and later in that same day I feel like I am so in love with you.”  We can hold two truths at the same time. You can love your spouse and yet they can drive you crazy at times.

The same is true when you both have different perspectives on the same thing. That doesn’t mean one of you is wrong. Practice getting on your partner’s side of the table, and understanding their point of view. Doing so will help you both become more tolerant, more mature, and have a stronger marriage for it. [Read: Empathy and Connection]


Relationship Truth #9:  Don’t get caught in the ‘someone else is better for me’ trap.

It’s always easy to compare the weakness of your real partner, against the unrealistic nostalgia of an ex-boyfriend or someone you know casually. These are unrealistic expectations at best, and fantasy at its worst.  

This tactic or tendency is usually based on some unconscious need to create distance between you and your partner; to pull back and disconnect.  There are many explanations as why we do this, but I have found that, in most circumstances, it has more to do with your own feelings and insecurities, than with your partner’s perceived faults.

At the same time,  it’s okay to feel that there might be parts of your partner that make it hard for you to show up, or make it hard to want to be close, but if you get into the  ‘comparison game’ you can easily feel like you are a victim. You can be tempted to feel like your life is not fair and if you only had someone different life would be amazing and you would never have to feel ‘negative’ feelings again.’ [Read: Why Your Marriage is Worth Saving]


Relationship Truth #10: There are some traits in your partner that should not be tolerated; and in these cases it’s okay to walk away.


Referring to the myth that you can magically change someone, realize that if someone has an addiction or abusive personality traits–no matter how much love and care and support you give them — they need to deal with those issues on their own.  They need to take responsibility. You cannot save them on your own and being in a relationship with an addicted or abusive partner, who isn’t willing to take personal responsibility, will not end well. [Listen: What to Do When Your Partner Has a Problem]


Get help for yourself if you struggle with an addiction, a personality disorder, anxiety or depression.  Don’t expect your partner to save you, in the process, it is too easy for both of you to drown.
It doesn’t mean our partner can’t help us heal some of our wounds from the past, but they can’t be our therapist.  You will find your relationship will be much more satisfying if you do your own work.   [Listen: Is it Depression?]

Relationship Truth #11:  It really does matter how you say something.

I remember a client, whose marriage was on the brink of divorce, said something in session to his wife that was biting and insensitive.  I suggested he try saying the same thing, but in a different tone and manner. I ‘modeled’ an alternative narrative without changing the content.   He looked at me with disdain, and in a sarcastic tone said, “Does it really matter if I change a few words?”

The answer is a resounding YES.  Marriage and family expert Dr. John Gottman has shown us, through years of research, that our negative communication habits can kill a relationship.  Those habits are criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling and contempt. If you use those techniques, work on expressing your feelings and your requests without blame or shame.  Learn how to say something to your partner in a way that they can hear it and that can mean changing only a few words sometimes. [Listen: How to Communicate When Your Partner Shuts Down, and Why Your Partner is “Always” Angry]

 

Here are some last words of advice, from an experienced premarital counselor and marriage therapist to every bright young couple on the cusp of marriage.

I have been married for 14 years and I would be lying if I said they were all blissful.  They have been challenging. They have been wonderful. They have been hard and they have been a gift.  The thing I did not expect was how much it would make me look at myself—my own weaknesses, my own strengths, my own stubbornness and my own ability to love.   

I have learned that all of us are more satisfied when we are being pushed to grow. I encourage all of you premarital couples to jump into this journey of marriage. It is a place to grow.  It is a place to choose love… and therefore a place to choose being truly alive.

With love to you on your journey of growth together,

Brenda Fahn, M.A., LMFT

 

 

   
 

 

Relationship Advice: How to Stop “Fixing” and Start Listening

Relationship Advice: How to Stop “Fixing” and Start Listening

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.

Strengthen Your Relationship, With Every Conversation

We all hate to see our partners in pain or discomfort. I know this as a marriage counselor and couples therapist, but it is certainly true for me personally too. When my husband tells me he’s unhappy with something, my mind immediately starts race towards the “fix” that will solve the problem, and make him feel better.

While my type-A solution-focused attitude certainly has led to some important, positive changes in the way we conduct day-to-day aspects of our partnership (like, we now have a Roomba!) it can also get in the way of emotional connection. He doesn’t want me to solve his problems. He wants me to listen, and care, and empathize — exactly what I want when I’m struggling with something.

When I express displeasure / annoyance / sadness about something, and he immediately goes to, “Well let’s just not do that,” or “Forget I brought it up,” it feels like a door gets slammed shut in my face. I want to talk things through. I want to hear how he feels, too. Most of all, I want to feel like I’m not alone in whatever is feeling real for me in that moment. When I just get to talk about how I’m feeling, and have that be heard, most of the time no “action” is even required — I just feel better.

Connection is key. Solutions don’t even matter that much, when you’re feeling validated.

Men often get a bad rap for being problem solvers in relationships, although plenty of women do the same. Let’s face it: When our partners have a problem (especially if they have a problem with us, right?) it’s anxiety-provoking. It feels like an unpleasant conflict that we need to resolve, or shut down, or get away from. Or fix — and as quickly as possible.

However, what I know now, both as a marriage counselor and someone who’s been very happily married for over twenty years: You have to lean into the feelings, even if they stress you out at first.

When you can manage your own anxiety and avoid scrambling to get away / shut down / fix-fix-fix whatever they’re bringing up, you can then connect emotionally with your partner. More importantly, they won’t have to fight to feel heard by you. Consequently, you will come out the other side of this conversation with a stronger relationship.

Paradoxically, when you indulge those good intentions of “helping them feel better” it will either create a fight (trust me) or it will lead them to leave the interaction with you feeling unheard, not understood, or like you don’t care. Why? Because in your helpful rush to solve their problems, you shut down their feelings and got in the way of what they really wanted and needed from you: Being heard.

Here are a few tips to help you avoid jumping the gun and going into “fixit mode.”

Know your job: When your partner is feeling something real, your only jobs — your only jobs — are to help them talk about their feelings, listen to them, help them understand that you understand, and hold the door open for them to talk all the way through. Anything else is not what they need. (Unless they specifically ask for something else.)  But unless you literally hear the words, “What do you think?” or “What would you do?” come out of their mouths, you’re the doorman: The one who keeps the space open for them to share. Not the fixer.

Validate: Embrace the power of validation. Even if you see things differently, or would handle a situation differently, simply acknowledging that someone has the right to their feelings is enormously helpful. I can’t tell you how powerful a simple, “I can understand why you would feel that way” is to hear. Confirmation, validation, and acceptance are vastly more effective in helping someone sort through a difficult situation than actual, specific advice. 

Listening: When I talk about listening, I don’t mean just “hearing.” I mean a special kind of reflective listening, which is a learned skill. Whether or not you are hearing what someone is saying doesn’t matter. What matters is if they know that you are hearing and understanding the feelings they are trying to communicate. If your number one is telling you about the super-hard day they had, listen for the feelings underneath. If you can reflect back, “That sounds really exhausting” as opposed to “You should talk to your boss about rearranging your work schedule” they may fall into your arms weeping with relief of knowing that you really and truly get them.  Just be prepared for them to get super-excited when you do this. Seriously, if you do a really good job here, they might cry.

Open-ended questions: You’re the doorman, right? How do you hold the door open in a conversation? By asking open ended questions: Questions that do not have an agenda or a specific informational answer, but are rather an invitation to say more. “How did you feel about that?” or  “Then what happened?” or “What do you make of this?” are all solid choices.

Empathize: People are different, and have different ways of thinking, feeling, behaving. We have different values and priorities. However, in order to really connect with someone, you need to understand how they are feeling by connecting to your own emotional experience. When your partner is going through a moment, scroll through your own life experiences to see if you can relate.**

Then use that awareness as an opportunity for an even deeper kind of reflection: Tentative guessing about how they feel. When your partner is telling you about their super hard day, and you reflect on how you’ve felt when your day at work has been a non-stop crap-show, you’ll be able to come back with something that rings true for them, like “I can imagine that you must be feeling really disappointed in your leadership right now.” This, again, will increase their sense of being heard and understood by you, and will help them feel connected and supported by you. More weeping with joy may ensue.

** Warning: It can be tempting and very easy to totally hijack a conversation via empathy, if you’re not careful. When you say, “I totally know how you feel. One time at band camp…” and then spend the next five minutes telling YOUR story, you’ve just turned the tables and made their moment your moment. Trust in your relationship: If you do a good job listening and holding the door open until they are all the way through, you will likely have a very appreciative partner eager to do the same for you. [Unless you are partnered with a legit narcissist. Check back for a post on this topic soon.]

Breathe: Sometimes, when you are listening to someone talk about their feelings, especially if their feelings are big, intense, dark, or worst yet — about you, it can be hard to not get emotionally reactive. When YOU start having feelings come up, or feel the need to rebuttal / correct / problem solve, you’ve just stepped out of the ring of connection. You’ve abandoned your post as the doorman. Trust in your relationship.

Breathe, be in the present, listen to the sound of their voice, look in their face, listen, reflect, ask your open ended questions, and be patient. Let them talk all the way through. It may take a whole HOUR. That is okay. Be patient, breathe, and you’ll arrive at connection eventually. Promise. (I can also promise that if you indulge any of your impulses to do otherwise you’ll very likely wind up in a fight.)

Couple’s Strategy: Ask your partner to alert you to what she is needing. It’s not fair for anyone to expect their partner to always know exactly what they need, particularly when it comes to emotional support. SO many things changed at my house, when my husband and I figured out that if one of us literally said, “I need to talk through something with you, no action is required. Please just listen?” we could immediately drop into “patient, non-reactive listening mode” rather than “oh-crap-they’re-upset-what-are-we-going-to-do” mode.

This is a strategy we also routinely teach our couples in marriage counseling here at Growing Self. Ask for what you need, and give your partner a heads up so they can do a great job at supporting you in the way you need to be supported at that moment. Because truthfully, in different situations you might need different things, right? If you’re like most people, sometimes you need a warm shoulder to cry on, sometimes you need a good listener, sometimes you need a hug, and sometimes… just sometimes… you might even want some advice.

With love,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

 

Growing Self Counseling & Coaching