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.

Real Help For Your Relationship

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

 

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

 

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

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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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Real Help For Your Relationship

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

 

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

 

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

Grow Together or Grow Apart: Podcast Transcript

.
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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Practicing Intellectual Humility to Improve Your Relationships

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Practicing Intellectual Humility to Improve Your Relationships

“I could be wrong…but…”

Recently, a buzzword in the field of psychology caught my attention: Intellectual Humility (IH). I was intrigued because humility is commonly thought to be a quality associated with emotional intelligence. An endearing quality; humble people tend to be agreeable and easy to be around.

So what does intellectual humility mean, and how might we use it to improve our relationships? Author Shane Snow describes intellectual humility as “being open and able to change your mind about important things, and being able to discern when you should.” 

The emphasis on discerning when we should change our mind is an important nuance. Intellectual humility is not simply being open to new ideas; rather, it is actively considering the validity of opinions and beliefs that differ from our own and—here’s the rub—being willing to change our view.

Perhaps you and your spouse have disagreements about parenting, or your children are challenging the values you are trying to instill in them. Maybe you have a friend or family member who holds different political views than your own. 

Given the current state of the union, being willing to consider views different than our own is essential if we are to engage in meaningful conversations and find win/win solutions to the challenges we face.

Intellectual Humility in Intimate Relationships

Our perception could either be our path to nirvana or an invisible cage that bottles us up. ~ Pawan Mishra

In my work as a marriage and family therapist, one of the main complaints I hear from couples is their inability to communicate effectively. Desperate to be able to connect with each other, they find themselves falling into a repetitive cycle of big blow ups as well as frequent, petty bickering. 

Often, each partner feels misunderstood and resentful, which makes it practically impossible to see eye to eye, never mind resolve their differences. Over time, this pattern of negative communication can erode the relationship to a point where they no longer feel a connection, at times barely recognizing even a friendship.  

One of the most important building blocks for restoring connection is for partners to begin to consider things from each other’s point of view. Often, when embroiled in an argument, each person is so busy defending themselves that they do not actually hear the other. Each thinks they have the “correct” view of the problem and are certain they know the solution, which is usually what their partner needs to do differently. In other words, how they are right; and their partner wrong. 

The distortion that can come from our biases is nicely illustrated in the Buddist parable known as “the rope in the road.” 

The story goes something like this: 

A man walks along a path at night. In the darkness, he sees something long and thin coiled in the road ahead. Believing it to be a poisonous snake he runs in the opposite direction, delaying his travels. 

The next morning, the man summons the courage to start again. In the light of day, he sees that what he thought was a snake was actually a rope. In this moment, he realizes that in the darkness, he could not see clearly, and allowed his fear to cause him to imagine the worst.

When we are locked into our own viewpoint, we are seeing the rope as a snake. We become guarded, defensive, and—in a process known as confirmation bias – seek evidence that supports our view. When immersed in conflict, this bias leads couples to assume the worst about their partner and make negative conclusions about the motives behind their behavior. They continue to build their case against each other, and as a result, the relationship continues to deteriorate. 

Back to the parable for a moment. What if the traveler, upon recognizing that it was a rope and not a snake in the road, remained hesitant to trust his eyes, in spite of his new understanding? He may have abandoned his journey out of fear, and perhaps never reached his destination.

In a similar manner, continued misunderstandings can keep couples traveling down the wrong path—away from, rather than toward each other, and keep them from reaching their desired destination of harmony and connection.

This is where a coach or therapist can help, by offering strategies that allow couples to actually hear each other, perhaps for the first time, and to consider possible alternatives to their perceptions of problems. By learning to clearly communicate what they need from each other, they can repair misunderstandings and reconnect.

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

Communicating with Intellectual Humility 

It is not what the ego says, it is how much it is believed. ~ Mooji

An exercise I often conduct with my clients is the Imago Dialogue. Partners take turns sharing their thoughts and feelings about any given topic. While one partner is sharing, the other’s job is to listen to what is being said, and simply reflect back on what they are hearing; checking in with their partner to see if they are understanding them correctly and completely. 

Many couples find this exercise difficult, because this process highlights how they are usually not hearing each other, but rather thinking of how to defend themselves. With this exercise, they are asked to actually listen, become curious, and validate not their own, but their partner’s perspective. 

This exercise fits nicely within the intellectual humility framework, in that couples are asked to suspend their own opinions or deeply held biases, and become willing to put themselves in each other’s shoes—feel what they feel, see what they see—and how things make sense from each other’s perspective. 

IH principles also align well with the work of renowned marriage researchers Dr.’s John and Julie Gottman, who provide evidence-based strategies for inviting compromise and improving relationship satisfaction. In the exercise known as “yield to win,” each partner finds ways to compromise on behalf of the relationship, rather than pursuing their own need to be right.  

The Gottmans caution that if one partner is winning an argument, the relationship is most likely losing. By yielding to win, each partner is victorious, because the relationship is championed. 

Do You Want to Be Right or Do You Want to Be Happy?

Keeping an open mind is a virtue, but… not so open that your brains fall out. ~ Carl Sagan

Intellectual humility does not ask that we roll over and let someone else’s opinion or beliefs supersede our own, or forfeit our ability to think for ourselves. Our ego serves a purpose—it is the self with which we relate to the world, and our beliefs serve as a roadmap to living our lives according to our values. These core values should not be abandoned simply to make peace. 

Rather, it is when we become so attached to our beliefs, opinions, and self-image that we become inflexible and unable to meet life with spontaneity and curiosity. We may become “set in our ways,” which can make it difficult for us to engage with others or find a compromise. 

Intellectual humility encourages us to recognize when to put our opinions and beliefs aside, and open our hearts to new ways of thinking and relating to others. Rather than tightening up in defensiveness, we are asked to open our hearts to each other, and the vulnerability we may feel. But why is this so hard to do?

Our discomfort with being wrong is grounded in our survival instinct and is at the core of our ego-identity. Think of it as our internal GPS—we want to think our radar is accurate. Often, we identify so much with our opinions and beliefs that they seem to represent “who we are.” To consider that we are wrong means to acknowledge that we have a blind spot, which can lead us to feel k and unsure of ourselves. From this perspective, it makes sense that ideas that challenge our beliefs could feel like a challenge to our very sense of self. 

Now, I know what you may be thinking: What if, in fact, I am right? What if we practice intellectual humility, consider others’ thoughts and perspectives, but in the end analysis—we still consider our own views superior?

The good news is that by opening our hearts and minds, by listening and sincerely considering the value of another’s perspective, we will have created a more collaborative and harmonious environment, in which conflicts are more easily overcome, and connection can thrive. Particularly with our loved ones, isn’t this the very definition of winning?

10 Ways to Practice Intellectual Humility in Your Relationships

Here are some practical ideas on how to incorporate intellectual humility into your day-to-day relationships and interactions:

  1. Soft Start Up. One of the most important skills I teach my clients is known as “soft start up”.  Approaching each other with kindness, stating your sincere intentions, using “I” statements, and avoiding accusations or blame will increase the likelihood that the value of your perspective will be received.

     

  2. Do not interrupt when listening to each other’s viewpoints. This is a fundamental way to show respect. Likewise, do not monopolize the conversation. Allow for a give and take of ideas.

     

  3. When sharing a strong viewpoint, acknowledge, “I could be wrong, but…”  By acknowledging the possibility you might be proven wrong, you are always half right!

     

  4. Agree to disagree. Do not put down or otherwise attack the person who has a different viewpoint than you. No one is receptive when they are being talked down to.

     

  5. Avoid black and white thinking, including absolute statements like “always, obviously, clearly.”

     

  6. Try to find something you can agree with. This is nicely reflected in the Chinese symbol of yin/yan – seek to find a bit of truth in opposing viewpoints.

     

  7. Notice if you are emotionally triggered. The purpose of stress hormones racing through our body is to aid in our self-defense, which is by design the opposite of being open. Take a pause and try again when you are in a more receptive state.

     

  8. Seek to understand the values behind the other’s viewpoint, even if you disagree with them—everybody has some reasons for what they’re doing.

     

  9. Listen to the other person’s story of how the topic at hand is impacting them. Hearing their experience without taking it personally will help you to better see their point of view.

     

  10. Play together! – Find common interests and enjoy them together. Having fun together helps build a bridge between people with opposing views.

If you are interested in learning more about Intellectual Humility, I recommend Shane Snow’s comprehensive report Intellectual Humility: The Ultimate Guide To This Timeless Virtue where you can also find a self-assessment to measure your current intellectual humility and the interactive app Open Mind, which guides the user through steps to engage more constructively across differences. 

Wishing you the best,
Roseann Pascale, M.S., LMFT 

 

Online marriage counseling new york florida online couples therapist

Roseann Pascale, M.S., LMFT is an empathetic and intuitive couples counselor, therapist and coach. Through authentic connection and a down to earth demeanor, Roseann can guide you in developing clarity and cultivating well-being. Using the practices of mindfulness and values-driven action, she helps individuals and couples overcome their challenges and create fulfillment in all aspects of life.

 

 

 

Meet a Few of Our Relationship Experts

The marriage counselor, couples therapists and premarital counselors of Growing Self have specialized training and years of experience in helping couples reconnect. We use only evidence based strategies that have been proven by research to help you restore your strong bond, and love your relationship again.

 

 

 

Roseann Pascale

Roseann Pascale

M.S., LMFT

Roseann Pascale is a marriage counselor, therapist, and life coach with years of experience in helping couples communicate more effectively, find new solutions to old problems, repair their strong bond, rebuild trust after affairs, successfully blend families, improve their sexual intimacy, and parent joyfully together.

Roseann is a former student of the legendary family therapist Salvador Minuchin, and has a strong foundation in systemic, evidence based approaches to couples and family therapy that emphasize helping you both make positive changes to your life mindfully, and create an intentional relationship that honors your deepest needs.

Roseann is licensed as a marriage and family therapist in New York and Florida, and is available for online marriage counseling and relationship coaching.

Kensington Osmond

Kensington Osmond

M.S., LAMFT, MFTC

Kensington is a relationship counselor and coach, she provides relationship counseling, relationship coaching, marriage counseling, and also pre-marital counseling. She provides clients with a safe, supportive, non-judgmental environment where they can feel understood, gain insight, and create lasting change in the most meaningful parts of their lives. 

Silas Hendrich

Silas Hendrich

M.S., MFT-C

Silas is an engaging, friendly and relatable couples counselor, therapist and life coach. He utilizes the evidence-based Gottman Method of marriage counseling with is couples, which emphasizes healthy communication skills training, restoring the strong foundation of commitment and friendship at the core of your marriage, and how to show each other love and respect in the ways that are most important to each of you. 

Silas is available to meet with you in person for marriage counseling in Broomfield, Colorado. He also provides online marriage counseling and online relationship coaching to clients across the US and internationally. 

 

Anastacia Sams

Anastacia Sams

M.A., N.C.C., LMFT-C

Anastacia's authentic, caring approach to marriage counseling and relationship coaching helps couples find each other's "noble intentions," and re-commit to showing each other love and respect. She can help you heal old hurts, improve your communication, restore trust, and work together as a team.

Georgi Chizk

Georgi Chizk

M.S., LAMFT

Georgi is an incredibly kind, compassionate marriage counselor and premarital counselor who has a knack for bringing out the best in both of you. Georgi practices evidence-based Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, which helps you restore your empathy for each other, see each other's noble intentions, and helps you create a strong, secure attachment bond of love and appreciation. Her approach focuses on helping you repair your emotional connection first, which then makes it easier solving problems and make behavioral changes.

Georgi's services are exclusively available to residents of Arkansas. She can meet with you in person for marriage counseling in Bentonville, AR or she can meet with you for couples therapy online if you live in Arkansas. 

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Learn and Grow:

The most important life lessons uncover your strengths.

“May you, every day, connect with the brilliancy of your own spirit. And may you always remember that obstacles in the path are not obstacles, they ARE the path.”

Catherine Jane Lotter

LEARN AND GROW: We all want to learn how to work on ourselves, grow and learn, and become the very best version of who we are. Sometimes, the true path of personal growth is not forcing yourself to change into some new iteration of yourself, but rather to discover and embrace the strengths and virtues you already have.

For the last several years, on the Love happiness and Success Podcast I've done experiential growth actives with my listeners in order to help them reflect on past years and set goals for their future aspirations. There's a time and place for that type of forward focus and personal challenge. If you are here seeking a goal setting experience, I invite you to check out last year's Ten Year Plan podcast and activity.

You're Already Amazing

But it's also true that there are also times when it's more helpful to rest and reflect, and embrace our strengths, life lessons, and accomplishments rather than charging forward into new goals and aspirations.

I believe that this is a time for reflection and acceptance, and this episode of the podcast is going to be a personal development podcast that walks you through an activity designed to help you do exactly that. By the end of our time together today I hope you have:

  • Greater appreciation for your strengths,
  • A sense of empowerment for all that you've already achieved,
  • Deeper clarity about your values
  • A different perspective about your obstacles
  • Receive wisdom from your dark emotions.

I have created a set of journaling prompts / exercises to help you not just follow along with the personal growth activities I describe in this episode, but to dig in!

Download the workbook that goes with this podcast (below) then scroll down to the bottom of this post to listen and follow along. Or you can listen to Learn and Grow on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you like to listen to things.

Learn and Grow

It can be easy to over-focus on constant-and-never-ending improvement, new goals, the next step, and all the things you have yet to achieve.

But the truth is that you have already grown so much, learned so much, and done so much. Sometimes it can be more empowering to slow down and respect the enormous amount of work you already have done rather than pushing yourself.

So often, personal growth can feel like chasing some idealized version of yourself. It can feel discouraging rather than inspiring, especially if you feel like you're never quite good enough. In contrast, radical, compassionate self-acceptance is the highest form of growth because from this place of self-awareness and self-love we can truly be the very best of who we are.

The love, happiness and success we seek through our efforts to “change” can sometimes be elusive. But so often, they miraculously show up on their own when you stop working so hard to change yourself, and instead focus on how strong, amazing, and accomplished you already are. (You are).

This type of self discovery process is often achieved not by charging ahead into the next level of your personal evolution, but rather by digging in to who you already are.

Important Life Lessons

It can be easy to over-focus on the things we haven't done, or the mistakes we've made, or the times that we have struggled with disappointment. But a door to powerful personal growth and self-development opens when we shift into what the hardest times revealed about our character, our values, what we're capable of, and what's truly most important.

When we have the courage to face the hard parts of life from a place of compassion and radical acceptance rather than anger, we have the opportunity to receive the hidden gifts they have to offer.

Uncover Your Strengths

It's often said that “character is revealed through adversity.” But in my experience, character is often formed through adversity. You don't know who you really are until you've experienced disappointment or hardship. Only then can you fully be aware of how strong you truly are, and what you're capable of.

Those are often moments that lead us to greater self-love, self-acceptance, and self-esteem too. It's often the personal qualities that we don't love the most about ourselves that are the most useful to us when times are hard. Recognizing and embracing these aspects of your “shadow self” can help you appreciate yourself in a whole new way. (For more on this topic I invite you to check out the “Shadow Work” episode of the podcast).

Sometimes personal growth happens when you challenge yourself to think, feel, or do things differently. But sometimes the most important growth occurs when you realize that you don't have to change or do anything in order to be good enough, strong, accomplished, and worthy of love and respect. You're already there. Your life lessons and strengths are yours to keep.

The “personal growth work” is not one of creation and effort. It's of discovery and acceptance.

Thanks for joining me today. I sincerely hope that these ideas and activities support you on your journey of growth.

With gratitude for the gift of YOU…

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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

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

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Real Help, 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.

What Men Secretly Want: Emotional Intimacy

What Men Secretly Want: Emotional Intimacy

What Men Secretly Want: Emotional Intimacy

What Men Secretly Want: Emotional Intimacy

Men Crave Emotional Connection Too…

What do men secretly want? Emotional intimacy. Despite popular belief, men have feelings too. I can tell you, as a Denver therapist, online life coach and marriage counselor specializing in emotional connection, that I've worked with many, many men, that they have just as many feelings and emotional needs as women do. Men secretly crave to talk about their feelings, men want to be understood, have their feelings be cared about, and — just like everyone else — have their feelings be important to others.  

A basic human need is to be connected to others. Connection happens when we feel genuinely known, emotionally safe, and cared for. That can't happen without our honest, authentic feelings being part of the conversation. (How else can we possibly be known?)

However, sexism and gender stereotypes negatively impacts everyone, male and female alike. We know that egalitarian relationships are healthier than ones that force couples into inflexible gender roles. But it goes further than that, when it comes to mental and emotional health. Men are oppressed by sexist forces from earliest childhood. One of the injuries they sustain is being conditioned to repress their emotions. Because of this, some men struggle to stay connected to the full range of their emotions, express their vulnerabilities to others, be it to women or their fellow men. This is the individual legacy of toxic masculinity, and — for the wellbeing of men and the people who love them — it has to stop.

In this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast, Andrew Reiner, a professor of men's studies, a frequent contributor for the New York Times and the author of Better Boys, Better Men: The New Masculinity That Creates Greater Courage and Emotional Resiliency, shares his experience of toxic masculinity and his advocacy toward enabling an open, healthy, and transparent emotional life for young boys and older men.

Tune in to this interview to get Andrew's insight into why men secretly crave emotional intimacy, why it feels so hard, and the battles men and boys must often must fight to create emotional connection in themselves and in their relationships.

Listen to “What Men Secretly Want” to . . .

  • Discover how toxic masculinity affects men.
  • Learn the importance of a well developed emotional guidance system and how to create it.
  • Learn how to cultivate healthy masculinity in order to have greater courage and emotional resiliency.
  • Realize men’s needs for emotional intimacy and enormous capacity for  emotional intelligence.
  • Understand the importance of expressing genuine emotions and empathizing with others.
  • Discover why male privilege is more of a trap than a privilege.
  • Find out how men and women can emotionally support each other.
  • And more!

You can listen to “What Men Secretly Want” on Spotify, on the Apple Podcast App, or by scrolling down to the bottom of this page to listen to it on GrowingSelf.com. (Don't forget to review, share, and subscribe!)

Or, keep reading for the highlights of this episode. You can find a full transcript of this interview at the bottom of this post.

Thanks for listening!

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

 

What Men Secretly Want: Podcast Takeaways

Overcome The Trauma of Toxic Masculinity By Pushing Back

What are we teaching our boys every time someone says, “Don't cry” or “Shake it off,” or “Hit back harder.” It’s common for kids to squabble, but no one routinely encourages girls to assert themselves through violence. We do that to boys though. Boys are expected to fight back for themselves or to get back at their enemies. If they don't, they get labeled as cowards and lose status in the eyes of others (even their parents). Anger is good. Empathy is bad. What does that do to them? 

Because of these culturally indoctrinated expectations that start at such a young age, boys engage in aggression as a way to express feelings and prove their masculinity. Andrew says, “Boys and young men, because of the lack of awareness, look for ways to prove themselves.”

At a young age, Andrew himself got into fights to prove that he was not a coward. However, by the age of 12, he realized he did not want to hurt people. He wanted to stop succumbing to the pressure to be aggressive. So he began to find a better way.

As a young teen, Andrew frequently observed boys his age during junior high. He saw the aggression, the violence, and had empathy for the pain that many of his peers were carrying underneath. He saw other boys and young men around him learning to withdraw from their emotions. He recognized that happening inside of himself, too.

“I carry that with me well into adulthood, refusing to back down and also starting to pick apart the things about masculine identity that I saw were just hurting and harming other boys,” Andrew recalls. “It wasn’t just me. I mean, I was just sitting back in junior high, just watching, and just taking note of all this, and just thinking, ‘I’ve got to find other ways to push back against this.’”

Finding an Outlet For Feelings

Andrew shares that he found emotionally saf(er) spaces in his relationships with women. He says, “It’s leaning into the place where you can feel safe with your emotional life. And that was in the research in my book, I mean, just endlessly, boys in high school talking about the friendships they have with girls not surprisingly because those are the places where they have that safe space.” 

Just like women, men also want to show and reveal their genuine emotions. However, they cannot freely express their vulnerabilities, especially with fellow men, because they tend to regard their emotional lives as feminine.

He also observed that younger men of this generation tend to push back against this perspective. This was evident in his Jericho Circle Project, where younger male inmates of a prison in Massachusetts led the discussion group and older men would follow suit.

Sexism Impacts Everyone

Andrew shared a relationship phenomena uncovered by his research, which is that some women, whether consciously or not, tend to dismiss and undermine men’s emotional lives and vulnerabilities because of a disinclination to offer more “male privilege.” However, Andrew explains that such responses are counterproductive. He says, “All the privilege that they've had so far has not really encouraged or fostered a healthy masculinity that's the thing.”

Historically speaking, Andrew recognizes men’s privilege and power. However, it is much more complex than that. This power embraced by men becomes more of a trap than a privilege, particularly when it leads to the withering of their emotional selves and to the detriment of their marriages and families. Men who were socialized out of emotional intelligence can struggle to maintain relationships, both personally and professionally. In the end, toxic masculinity can stunt men and make it difficult for them to be happy, healthy and whole.

Andrew says, “We know that when you teach men and encourage men to get in touch with their emotions beyond the happiness and the anger . . . only good, generative emotions and changes in the way that they think and see the world better arise from that. And then, of course, all women and girls are going to benefit from that, too.” However, Andrew admits that there is still a lot of work to be done to achieve this.

Healthy Masculinity

Even as the idea of masculinity evolves, both straight and gay men still struggle with being more open about their emotional lives. Fortunately, Andrew finds “[t]here is more encouragement for a different kind of masculinity in this generation.”

Here are some of Andrew's recommendations for fostering emotional health in men:

  • Women expect emotional intimacy from men. In return, however, they should also support men by welcoming various degrees of vulnerabilities.
  • Andrew recognizes that this hypercompetitive culture expects men to be fixers or problem-solvers. Thus, we should encourage men and women to be more understanding and empathizing of each other. 
  • Men can and should also start being emotionally supportive of each other.

“I think it would go a long way if men could learn to reach out in really small ways to other men. That is something that we do not encourage in this culture,” Andrew says. Men tend to isolate themselves during difficult times. However, they also need emotional support, care, love, and affection from other people.

Andrew says, “The thing that we often forget is that even though a lot of guys won’t take the help, deep down, they appreciate it.”

Resources

Andrew Reiner just shared how men can learn emotional transparency. Which part of the episode was the most helpful? Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment down below.

Did you like this interview? Subscribe to this podcast to discover how to live a life full of love, success, and happiness!

Wishing you all the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

What Men Secretly Want: Emotional Intimacy

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

Spread the Love Happiness & Success

Please Rate, Review & Share the Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

iTunes

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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.

What Men Secretly Want — Emotional Intimacy: Podcast Transcript

.
Access Episode Transcript

What Men Secretly Want: Emotional Intimacy

With Andrew Reiner

 

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

That’s a beautiful song called “Nowhere To Hide” by the singer-songwriter, Daniel Robinson. I chose it for us today because it is an excellent example of a man being incredibly emotionally transparent, and honest, and vulnerable. And that is what we’re talking about today on the podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I am the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist. I’m a licensed psychologist. I am a licensed—no wait—board certified life coach. 

And I mentioned that as the stepping stone to say, I have many years of experience in working with couples, and individuals around matters of the heart, personal growth, helping people figure out what they want, figuring out how to be more connected, and have happier, more satisfying relationships. And I don’t know that I have ever had a single client who was either a man or in a relationship with a man where it wasn’t necessary to talk about some point. The fact that men are just as emotionally alive as women are. 

Men have a very rich and real inner life, and they crave emotional intimacy and connection, and to be known, and understood, and accepted, and loved on a very deep level, just the same way that women do. And fascinatingly, but understandably, that idea is not immediately apparent to a lot of people. That is something that we need to cultivate together in our work in either a couples counselling or individual coaching to help men, and the people who love men really develop the kind of healthy satisfying relationships, and even life that they want and deserve. 

Too often, men starting as very, very young boys, toddlers are socialized out of having feelings of being vulnerable, of having emotional needs or attachment needs. And so that part of themselves can get pushed away. In a recent podcast, we talked at length about shadow sides, and this is kind of an extension of that topic, but specifically around what happens to men as a result of that kind of socialization and how it’s so necessary to help men get reconnected with how they really feel on a deep level in order to help have more satisfying relationships, and also just more connected to themselves so that they really can use all of their emotional guidance as well as their ideas about who they are and what they need to be happy. 

And I am so incredibly thrilled today to be speaking to a real expert on this subject. My guest today is Andrew Reiner. You may have seen his work recently in the New York Times. He is the author of such provocatively titled articles as It’s Not Only Women Who Want More Intimacy in Relationships. He has another amazing article about teaching men how to be emotionally honest. And he is the author of a new book called Better Boys, Better Men: The New Masculinity That Creates Greater Courage and Emotional Resiliency. 

And in addition to that, he is a professor at Towson University. He teaches writing, as well as men’s issues. His work has been featured all over the place, the Chicago Tribune and PR the CBC, and he’s here today to share his wisdom and insights with us. So, Andrew, thank you so much for coming here today to speak with me and my listeners about the emotional life of men.

 

Andrew Reiner: I’m really grateful for the invitation to be on your podcast. I really appreciate the fact that so much of the focus of the work you do is on intimacy because it’s such an important part of my own life.

 

Dr. Lisa: Mine as well, and I so appreciate you. You bringing this up and sharing lessons, and you know what, maybe we can just jump right in and talk a little bit more about that because one of my first questions for you, if it’s okay to ask, was really to learn a little bit more around, where the idea and kind of drive to write this book came from? Because I got the sense that it was very much related to a personal journey, and I’m curious to know what that is if it’s okay. 

 

Andrew: Oh, of course. Yeah, of course. So, but as I said, I’m really grateful for the opportunity to be on here and really honored. So thank you.

 

Dr. Lisa: Thank you.

 

Andrew: You’re welcome. So my own journey has been, yeah, you’re absolutely right. It’s been extremely personal. And really, it started for me, unfortunately, with well as it does in situations like this very often with kind of a—with a trauma. And so, when I was about seven or eight years old, I got into a really brutal fistfight with a neighborhood kid. And, it was just, it was unlike anything in our neighborhood that kids had ever seen before, and it really became a spectacle. Typically, in our neighborhood, we, it was the kind of neighborhood where fights ended, after a couple minutes, you got the animosity out of your system, the frustration, and you went back to playing together. 

 

This was a brutal, brutal fight. I remember a lot of the details of this fight because it was traumatizing. We were both really young. And he just, even when I would get up to run away from the fight, he would track me down, and he would just keep hitting me. So, I was just, I mean, it was just a bludgeoning fight, not the kind of fight you typically expect seven and eight-year-old boys or kids do it, adore. So what happened was, that alone was hard enough. 

 

But what happened was, later in the afternoon, I got home, and I heard my brother, my oldest brother was talking to my mother about this fight that everybody in the neighborhood was talking about it. And so I expected my brother, five years older than me, who I guess would have been 12 or 13, at the time, to be talking about, in some shape, or form, how he was going to support me in this—stick up for me, whatever it was, he was telling my mother what a coward I was, and what a black sheep in the family I was, and well I was basically, a loser, and all these things. 

 

And my mother really didn’t say anything. And that was the beginning of what became basically a smear campaign. By my brother for decades, in my family after that, I was always considered, he always made a point of shaming me as much as he could about being a coward, and it all started with this fight.

 

Dr. Lisa: That’s terrible, I’m just like personally, I am so sorry that you live through that because that’s awful, and especially in your family. I mean, that, of all the places.

 

Andrew: Yeah, well, thank you. I appreciate that. So, but the point of it was—was that that began a campaign for me. And of course, I didn’t know it at the time. But first, it began with, as so often happens with boys and men finding ways to kind of, to overcome, and to redeem yourself from the shame. And so it often happens, boys and young men, because of the lack of awareness, look for ways to prove themselves in ways that other boys and men are going to find acceptable. So for me, that was—I leaned into fighting. I fought constantly, as a young boy after that. Got into lots of fights. 

 

And I didn’t realize it, but I was basically trying to redeem myself. And at some point, I think it was in sixth grade, I just stopped. I just realized it became really clear to me that this idea of being in fistfights was, even though I was also getting hurt,  it was painful to me to be hurting other kids, other boys over such really trivial things. And it was a huge wake-up call. I mean, I actually remember this specific fight, and it was in sixth grade. And so, after that, my awareness, once I stopped fighting, everything just kind of shifted. And so because of that, I was no longer trying to prove myself through fighting. There was just kind of an awareness where I suddenly became, in junior high, really cognizant of the ways that boys just really brutalize each other.

 

Dr. Lisa: Okay, but can we just pause for one second? I mean, that just the fact that you are such a self-aware 12-year-old and also like, and I just have to ask, so there were clearly all these messages coming at you from your brother, and other societal factors around, what it meant to be a male, and all of these kind of pressures to be fighting, and aggressive. But yet you had all this empathy and the self-awareness around, “I don’t want to hurt people,” and I’m getting cultural messages that don’t feel congruent for me. I’m just like, amazed as a therapist, I have to tell you, like…

 

Andrew: Sure.

 

Dr. Lisa: …where did that come from? At that age, it’s amazing.

 

Andrew: Well, I mean, as you know, as a therapist, what often happens with people who have endured traumas at a young age, is that there’s this kind of part and parcel with that is there’s an awareness, a consciousness where it’s raising, that occurs, and you can’t really qualify it, you can’t, I’m sorry, you can’t quantify it, and it just kind of—it occurs. And what often happens with boys and men is it goes one of two ways. The most common way is that boys and boys will start to, if there is any kind of consciousness-raising, they’ll often suppress that. And they’ll say, “Well, the path of least resistance is being accepted.” And so the way to do that is to swallow back the things that other boys and men are telling me—are getting in the way for me to have my man card stamped. The other way that it can go is you go the path that I took. And you kind of, for me, it was very much still fighting, even though I wasn’t getting into fistfights anymore, it was still holding on to a fierceness, a sense of kind of like that, the fear of feeling of like I still want to be a warrior, but I’m going to put everything I have into it to fight against this. So that’s really what was going on. 

 

Dr. Lisa: That’s amazing.

 

Andrew: That’s what was going on. I refused. It was just a matter of refusing to back down. And I carry that with me well into adulthood, refusing to back down and also starting to pick apart the things about masculine identity that I saw were just hurting and harming other boys. It wasn’t just me. I mean, I was just sitting back in junior high, just watching, and just taking note of all this, and just thinking I’ve got to find other ways to push back against this. And so that consciousness after I stopped physically fighting, really started to kind of take off, and it really just burgeoned in junior high. And it wasn’t something that I was writing about. It wasn’t something I was talking about; but it was something I was observing. And I was just trying to figure out ways that I could kind of push back against it.

 

Dr. Lisa: Thank you. I mean, one thing that comes up, as I’m sure you can imagine, over and over again, is this—men who have not been exposed to those ideas, or have had a champion saying, wait, there’s more, it doesn’t have to be this way, and they don’t know that there are options, and so they really kind of fold and acquiesce to these messages about it’s not okay to have emotions—it’s certainly not okay to have vulnerable emotions. The only acceptable emotions there are for a man is happiness and anger. And what this creates is such a constriction that it becomes very difficult to have the emotional intelligence skills that are necessary to have high-quality relationships later in life. 

 

And it’s incredibly damaging on so many levels, both relationally but also in terms of their own psyche. And just to think that you have been a champion for changing this is hats off to you. I mean, I can only imagine how many people you must have come into contact with over the years in your various roles as a teacher and as a writer who have heard this different message and maybe taking it on board—men who have taken it on board as a kind of counter to this toxic masculinity narrative that takes so many good, nice, decent men down.

 

Andrew: It does. Yeah, it does. And it’s—what often happens is, what I was doing was very much typical for a lot of boys and men, so for me, it was finding outlets for my emotional life through girls and then eventually women, right? I’m sure you see that a lot in your own practices. It’s leaning into the place where you can feel safe with your emotional life, and that was in the research in my book, I mean, just endlessly, boys in high school, talking about the friendships they have with girls. Not surprisingly, because those are the places where they have that safe space. 

 

And a lot of men, of course, as you probably know, I’m sure they take that into adulthood. And you can see that the writing on the wall, the problems with that is that it becomes, men learn to still look at their emotional lives, and their emotional awareness is something as being feminine. And so the feminine is the safe place that they can put that into, we are very much at a place, and this is more true. I think with younger men today, where there is a reckoning, where these younger men are trying to find ways to reconnect, or I should say, connect with boys with young men, and they’re trying to push back against that. We’re not there yet. I mean, we’re definitely not there yet. But they are the ones who really kind of leading the charge with that. 

 

When I sat in men’s groups throughout my research, often it was the younger men that were leading the charge, and then you might have the older men, who eventually, after a lot of his inner resistance, would start to let their guard down, because they felt like, “Okay, so these guys are making it safe, where I can do this.” 

 

And one of the best examples of that was in a prison up in Massachusetts, and that was a really great experience because there were these younger inmates, younger men sitting in this giant circle in this program called Jericho Circle Project. And they were the ones that were really kind of, you could just tell they were really setting the tone. And they were the ones who are learning, they were still learning, but didn’t come easily to them, but they were more willing to see the value in this process. And then the older men would follow suit.

 

Dr. Lisa: That’s a need. The older men learning from the younger ones and thinking about just generational differences, and I just, had a thought that probably the women’s movement, and feminism and so many of the other social justice movements that have become stronger over the last few decades are now finally able to go back into the fire and maybe assist the men who came of age prior to some of those messages and who maybe hadn’t had the benefit of those ideas and those kinds of nurturing relationships prior to now. That’s amazing that… 

 

Andrew: Yeah.

 

Dr. Lisa: … that’s happening.

 

Andrew: It is, and you bring up an interesting point about that, Lisa, because one of the things that came up in the research—it was actually a bit counter to that—there are women and I found it’s a lot of older women. When I say older, I mean, more middle-aged and older, who I think are showing a lot more empathy, and encouraging men to kind of create the space, actually, and I find this in the course I teach at the university where I teach, called “The Changing Face of Masculinity.” 

 

A lot of younger women really resist and really aren’t crazy about the idea of men because they feel like, “Here are men trying to suck the oxygen out of the conversation again, here are men saying” or “Oh, we need a safe space to talk.” And “Here are men trying to say that we are the ones who need a little bit more empathy and a little bit more understanding.” And understandably, a lot of them are very resistant to this, and they get—some of them get just downright indignant. And that’s it’s something that it’s an interesting dynamic, it’s that what’s happening today, I think, with younger, a lot of younger feminists is that it’s kind of a turf war for them. And you see this on college campuses, where there have been men’s groups.

 

Dr. Lisa: That’s interesting. I didn’t know that.

 

Andrew: There’s been a lot of resistance to, for instance, when there’ve been a few groups, young men who have gone to like this, ESGA, the student governments and said, we’d like to be funded to have a safe space too, and they’ve met with a lot of resistance. There was a—what school is it? I can’t remember which it was, one university, I think it was University of Massachusetts and in the States, and there was a school in Canada, in British Columbia, where the young men who were trying to form this met with a lot of resistance from, unfortunately, a lot of female faculty members and from a lot of younger feminists. 

 

So it’s a little more complex than that, it’s, of course we know that when you teach men and encourage men to get in touch with their emotions beyond the happiness and the anger, we know that only good, generative emotions and changes in the way that they think and see the world better, arise from that. And then, of course, all women and girls are going to benefit from that, too. But we’re not there yet where I feel like we’re really not there yet in the conversation, to be honest.

 

Dr. Lisa: Well, and this is really interesting, and something that I had honestly not considered until speaking with you about it. But, and I don’t know if this is the conclusion that you came to, but it’s almost like, this group of men, who, by many standards have all of this privilege that they have been exercising for millennia and using that sometimes unfair ways that now there’s this sort of push back against men as having the opportunity to develop themselves in the same way. 

 

Like, you have all of this privilege, you don’t deserve to have this kind of safe space, you don’t need it in the same way that we do, which is maybe unintentionally creating a consequence of not having the type of growth environment that would allow men to develop the kind of empathy, and self-awareness, that is the antidote to that unconscious privilege. Is that kind of the gist of it? Or did you just discover something else?

 

Andrew: No, I think, Lisa, I think you really summed it up very well. It’s the idea that, as you said, for millennia, men have had the privilege, oh my God, I mean, historically, when have they not? Right? And then all of a sudden, that we’re in this new kind of paradigm, there’s this new epoch that we’re in. And so, and I completely understand a lot of the frustration, and the anger, and the resentment. 

 

But then, the other part of that is that if we want men to change, if we want boys and young men and even middle-aged men to potentially had that changed, all the privilege that they’ve had so far has not really encouraged or fostered a healthy masculinity, that’s the thing. That’s the crux of it. Everything that they’ve had so far has been ways of wearing and embracing power, that hasn’t always been on to use that word, again, generative, in terms of benefiting everybody else. It’s been a very one-dimensional approach to power. So, all of that privilege doesn’t really mean anything for these guys, who many of them are clueless about their deeper emotional lives. 

 

And so it’s true, absolutely, absolutely men have completely controlled and embraced all the privilege. And now that they suddenly are seeing the ascent more of girls and women, they’re not understanding why. And I think to some extent, some of the younger women aren’t really understand why that, all that privilege, really didn’t mean anything in terms of them becoming the men we want and need them to be. If they still were looking at their privilege in a way that was very one dimensional, and that wasn’t really emotionally healthy for everyone, including themselves.

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

 

Andrew: So that where that disconnect, I think, is coming in.

 

Dr. Lisa: No, that’s good, going back to that idea that racism, sexism really does impact everyone whether or not they know it. And it’s interesting to hear you talk about that, but the privilege sort of, like, was a trap in some ways. As we’re talking, though, I’m also realizing that you and I just slid so naturally into like this fascinating conversation.

 

Andrew: Yeah.

 

Dr. Lisa: Probably, it would be worth going back a little bit just to also provide an overview of your work and of your research. And so you were talking about how, from a young age, you kind of developed this the sense of mission and purpose around pushing back of some of these cultural forces related to what it means to be a man, and so you have a book coming out, quick plug, Better Boys, Better Men: The New Masculinity That Creates Greater Courage and Emotional Resiliency is coming out. 

 

And can you talk a little bit about some of the questions that you had in mind, some of the topics that you wanted to write about? And you mentioned several times, like your research process, and I’m so curious to know more about what specifically you were exploring and what you learned through that research. And of course, this will be very high-level compared to the depth and nuance that you go to in your book, but what was the high-level story of your research in the process?

 

Andrew: Yeah, sure. No, great question. So, let me start off with some of the questions, some of the questions because I, like, I can tell you’re a fan of questions.

 

Dr. Lisa: I am such a nerd, card-carrying, yes. So I love the questions.

 

Andrew: Absolutely. That’s how we learn; we learn through curiosity. Right? Okay, so some of the questions for me were, of course, the big one, what does it mean to be a man? Right? What does it mean to be a man anymore, when we’re trapped? When some of us are really doing hard work to really kind of push back against that? What is it? When so, what does it mean to be a man? And if we’re trying to change that script, what are the parameters? Does that mean that there are no parameters? Even if we could—best case scenario, change that script? Are there still parameters? Or should they be taken off? Right? Should we just say that, just like that, we don’t say be a real woman, right? Thank God, we don’t, I mean, just like, we don’t say that, even if we take away that limiting script, of what it means to “be a real man,” where do we go from there? What does that look like? 

 

And so do we still have to have limitations, because one of the things I discovered throughout my research with both men and women—not just with boys, and men—but men, and women, and girls, too, is that the vast minority of people really feel that completely taking away all those constraints of masculinity that we’re familiar with—and comfortable with—by the way, completely, taking those away, still leaves a lot of people and a lot of very progressive-minded people a little bit uncomfortable. 

 

And so, because one of the things I would hear, for instance, when I would interview some young women at the college level, for instance, was, I want guys to be able to experience more ranges of their emotion, guys shouldn’t be stuck with just, and one of the thing that they always said was always anger. And then it’s okay, so what does it look like? How do you feel if a guy gets really weepy in front of you? 

 

And I did this, one of the things I did was I did kind of a survey in a lot of the classes I taught semester in, semester out. And it came down to about 90 or 92% of them said, “That they were very uncomfortable with guys crying in front of them.” Ranging from “it just didn’t seem right” to “they just didn’t know how to respond.” And so, of course, that’s just not crying, right? Crying is just the window of vulnerability. It’s just a manifestation of that. And so that’s still something that a lot of women are so uncomfortable with. 

 

And I mean, this is something that my wife and I, I’ve had to work with her on, in our relationship. Because there have been a lot of times, I could very clearly tell she wasn’t comfortable with my own vulnerability. So it’s something that I think that’s a good example of ways that we’re—that we’re not completely there yet. To say that, “No, sorry, there still are some expectations that were that we still have for you”—even if you can, for instance, be more entitled to like—wrong word they’re entitled—but even if we’re going to give you access and encourage you to to get access to the deeper range of your emotions, there are still thresholds that we haven’t really crossed yet. There still are some limitations. 

 

Dr. Lisa: So interesting, but again, that like that women to have received these messages about who men should be, what’s okay, what’s not okay, that are really also limiting the depth, and the quality of their relationships in heterosexual relationships. It’s so fascinating because, especially as a couples counselor, I have so many women saying, but I just want to feel more emotionally connected—but don’t cry. Don’t like, actually show how you feel.

 

Andrew: Right. I hate to plug a piece of this…But I just did this piece to New York Times, and it was about…

 

Dr. Lisa: Yes.

 

Andrew: …men, there are men out there.

 

Dr. Lisa: My husband is one of them.

 

Andrew: There you go, who want more emotional intimacy, and one of the things that other researchers have found, and I mentioned this in the piece, and is that a lot of women do say, yeah I want this from you because they haven’t gotten at all that kind of emotional connection, that intimacy that they want, and what a lot of the research has shown, and then I even spoke anecdotally, to a therapist who works a lot with men, and he echoed the same thing, he said, “A lot of my male clients, I get them to the point where they will finally open up with their female romantic partners,” and then often it’s met with the women appreciated first, but then if the men keep going there, it’s, “Wow, I didn’t realize you were this needy.” So it’s and so that kind of thing—that’s what I think a lot of men are up against, and there’s been other research on that speaks to this as well. 

 

Brené Brown comes to mind in her book, Daring Greatly, right, the great Brené Brown. And she has a great passage about that, about how women are constantly begging men to be more open to create this intimacy with me. And then when men really do cross that threshold and give them—feel safe, a lot of women recoil. And so that’s what—I think that that is to give you an example, with the research I found, it really does speak to that. It’s the idea that there are still ways that we still are uncomfortable with men redefining what this healthy masculinity looks like. I’m not saying it always. But I’m saying there still are some ways that we’re still kind of holding each other back.

 

Dr. Lisa: But what a wonderful question, though, to be posing to women to say, “How do you react when your male partner expresses these vulnerable feelings to you?” Because that might be a point of self-awareness and growth around if I do want more emotional intimacy in my relationship, what am I doing to support it on the other side? 

 

And I have to ask, just to have balance here, has your research extended to same-sex couples, like I’m wondering around male couples? Were there two male partners, are these dynamics still in place? Or does it feel almost more emotionally safe, potentially, for males who have done this type of growth work? I guess this is a very awkward way of trying to frame the question that should be much easier, but I’m wondering if it feels emotionally safer for men to be partnered with a man when it comes to these expressions of emotional vulnerability? Or is it sort of the same kind of dynamic that happens no matter if it’s heterosexual or homosexual relationship? 

 

Andrew: Yeah, no, that’s a great question. I haven’t done as much extensive research in gay relationships. But when I would speak with gay men, a lot of them did. And just in anecdotally, in conversations I was having with gay friends, there still are, for a lot of gay men, there’s still, I should say, there still is a lot of resistance, in terms of that feeling of wanting to open up, of wanting to feel really safe. In fact, it’s interesting, in some ways I feel this way, and I think it’s true, I think it’s true for hetero men, and for gay men, I feel like we have actually kind of, I don’t know if evolved is the right word. But I feel like we have, in many ways, the masculinity that we have right now, or what some of us are really working to kind of unravel, is more hyper-masculine than it was in the past. 

 

Anybody who’s lived through the 70s in the 80s would know that the kind of progress that was being made, as the women’s movement was really kind of hitting its stride with that second wave of feminism. There was a lot more encouragement for a different kind of masculinity with boys and men. And so there was kind of a much more sensitive kind of masculinity. That was much more—was becoming more acceptable then.

 

Dr. Lisa: The encounter groups of the 1970s. And yes, like hairy men hugging each other, I get

  1.  

 

Andrew: But it’s interesting, if you look at for instance, if you listen to music from the 70s, if you watch TV shows, and watch movies from the 70s, I’ve kind of gone back, and just to kind of immerse myself in some of that stuff is like guys is different. And today, for younger men, especially, there’s this real kind of polarity that they’re trying to straddle, where on the one hand there’s huge degrees of body dysmorphia, with younger men, huge degrees of and it’s all—I, in the book, I even say it’s caricature-ish, it’s cartoonish, because all the guys, and this is true of a lot of gay men too. 

 

This is really inflated, buffed upper bodies. And, I mean, they’re, it’s like, that’s really kind of the norm. It’s the limitations that women have had for God knows how many hundreds of thousands of years with body image. And this is really the first time that you’ve got men really kind of succumbing to this one dimensional image of what they should look like, as men. And so that’s an example of, but and, then you look at, like, the popular culture they’re consuming. I mean, there’s still a lot of hyper-masculinity, for instance, in rap. You look at the action hero movies that are really, really big with younger guys. They are completely one-dimensional.

 

Dr. Lisa: No crying. 

 

Andrew: That’s right. The only place that you see any really, kind of, nuance in the heroes, in these action movies, is there’s a little bit of, kind of, complexity in their morality, and the morality they’re wrestling with. But when you look at the messages these guys send, they’re swaggering, they’re cocksure, they’ve got these powers that other guys would love to have. They don’t second guess themselves. They’re not really emotionally. You rarely see any kind of outpouring of anything other than anger from revenge or constantly in combative action. I mean, it’s real; it’s very hyper-masculine. You said the kinds of things when you asked about questions. 

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. 

 

Andrew: I wanted to ask guys, well, on the one hand, you say that you do once in a while, I’d like to talk to a male friend, although most of them would talk to girls. But on the other hand, how do you kind of how do you reckon that idea with wanting to kind of change that with feeling beholden to this kind of action hero? You know, thos?

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

 

Andrew: So these are the kind of things the nuanced kind of thing, just because I, one of the things I was at the outset that I was really—it was very important to me, is that I not cover all the terrain, the kind of same old, same old terrain that a lot of books have already come. I mean, even if this was ten years ago, I would have felt the exact same way. I absolutely, positively wanted to get to the crux and the contradictions, and the complexity of what this masculinity thing is today. 

 

And so I also wanted to look at this idea of fatherhood for some men—what does it mean to be a father? Because that ties in with the idea of, what does it mean to be a man today? And I feel like these are conversations that do need to be talked about. Because it’s not just all, it’s not just theory? I don’t even get into theory in the book. It’s all about questions that a lot of us wrestle with. They keep us awake at night, that stresses us out, that makes us feel uncomfortable. I wanted to really lean into the kinds of questions and the kinds of issues that we wrestle with these boys and men that really affect all of us.

 

Dr. Lisa: Well, let’s talk about that part for a second. And this is just so interesting. And you bring up that there’s this like, hyper-masculine ethos that is more present in the culture in recent years that I also hadn’t thought of before, which is very interesting. And I could see that, and you say that there is this sort of internal struggle in many men and boys around how to be connected, be whole and also sort of meet the overt or covert expectations, right? That are being given to them about, who they should be. I’m curious to know how you have seen this impact men and boys in terms of their relationships, in terms of their personal development. I mean, you mentioned body dysmorphia, which is a huge thing. But like, particularly when it comes to relationships, how does this show up? For men and boys.

 

Andrew: So a lot of them are still—they—initially when I would talk with them, a lot of them would say, and this was true for boys in high school, this is true for young men, even in the men’s groups, a lot of them would say things like, “Well I do have a friend that I can talk with, I do have a friend that I can tell things to,” and almost always the kinds of things that they were sharing, were almost always things that invited and led to advice. 

 

And so, they were looking for, they were very solution still, as a lot of guys are as they think they need to be very solution-based. And so what they were always looking for were practical steps. They were looking for basically, somebody that to basically fill the role of what we tend to think of in a very stupid, stereotypical way is kind of like a father they were looking for another father. And this was true for a lot of high school-aged guys I spoke with, and it was even true for guys who are a little bit older and men’s groups. And so they might share that, for instance, “Oh I really cared about this girl.” And that’s great that they would even share that with another guy. And then instead of it really getting to the point where there would be this kind of support, what it became was, “What should I do?” And the other guy being all too happy to step in to say, “This is what I think you need to do.” 

 

And this was true for guys even in—even sometimes in the men’s groups, and what was lacking so often was exactly what they still would do, when they would be with girls who are friends, which is saying, “I feel awful”, and wanting that other person, in this case, who is always a female, to say things like, “It’s okay, or “It’s gonna be okay,” or basically the metaphorical equivalent of crying on their shoulder. And the guys were not doing that. They were still looking for practical ways to find solutions to the problems even, they would even look for ways in the emotional relationship ends, they were still looking for solutions, but they weren’t giving each other the emotional support that they really need. And a lot of it, Oh, go ahead.

 

Dr. Lisa: I was going to say it sounds like in there that that is what they really not just needed, but also wanted, and we’re kind of craving was just that that safe place to just be, without having their feelings, “fixed,” that it was okay for them, is that it?

 

Andrew: Yeah, to lapse into that old dynamic of guys feeling like they’ve got to be the fixers all the time, completely fits into that. And it’s the idea that there’s a really deep subtext here, Lisa. And the subtext beneath a lot of this dynamic is that when boys and men are in the company of other boys and men, excuse me, that is not a place where they’re supposed to be, the full degree of their humanity is supposed to be present, and it’s supposed to be encouraged and supported. 

 

That’s the subtext; it’s the idea that you’ve got to embrace the other parts of your humanity and save it when you can be with a female because that’s the domain of the—that still is the domain of the female—the feminine is emotional literacy. It’s having the depths of your humanity embraced and accepted. And so, that’s really the deeper subtext there. 

 

And there’s so much there in terms of the way guys are taught to relate to each other at a very young age. One of the things that I’ve always—one of the things I wanted to explore, you asked, what I would explore at the outset, in the book? One of the many things was the role of competition because we don’t talk about that a lot in this culture. 

 

We are such a hyper-competitive culture. And the way that boys and men are taught to relate to each other at very young age centers around different levels of different ways of being in competition with each other. And that and so, a lot of the points of an interview would say, “Well, no, here’s a good example of us not being competitive because we help each other.” And it’s a, you do, you do give each other practical advice, but it’s about ways of still distancing that from your deeper emotional life.

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

 

Andrew: If you could take away that other layer, the fear that you’re going to be judged, which is a form of competition. If you could take away that fear of being judged, and rejected, all speaks to forms of competition, then we’re getting somewhere.

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, what a powerful message that even in cooperative behaviors, that the goal is still some variation of winning, which means sort of coming out victorious, as opposed to leaning in to the reality that they’re experiencing and figuring out how to understand that and even be okay with that. 

 

Andrew: Absolutely.

 

Dr. Lisa: That’s also wonderful.

 

Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. That really, yeah, that was really something competition that I really wanted to get into. Because it’s not something that there’s been a lot of, there’s been a lot written or talked about, and even when I kind of pushed this to some editors, I’ve worked with the different publications, they’ve been kind of cool in the idea because there’s this real resistance in our culture, to question or challenge, the idea that maybe the form of competition we have is really not that healthy?

 

Dr. Lisa: Uh-huh. 

 

Andrew: I mean, the only time we really ever start to question, the way that we compete in this culture, is when things get too far too fast. We look for instances at levels of like toxic competition in sports, for instance, and we’ll look at the ways that boys and men as examples, in certain kinds of sports, like NFL football, sometimes NHL hockey, or maybe we’ll look at guys who are in high school. And I read about this in the book a lot about the kind of toxicity of the culture of, I’m sorry, I’m like drawing a blank here. But it’s within sports of hazing, within… 

 

Dr. Lisa: Oh, yeah, I can totally see.

 

Andrew: So much of that is rural sexual assault, and at the high school age, and so until it gets that bad, it gets really off the rails, we don’t question the ways that we compete. So much about the messages about how we compete is now not about winning as much as it is about dominating. When you take it to that next level, you ratchet it up to dominating—that invites a lot of really toxic behavior. 

 

Dr. Lisa: Oh, yeah. 

 

Andrew: And so this is the kind of thing that the more that we kind of lean towards a dominating culture. It’s hard to, kind of, challenge that, unless we can say, “Oh, yeah, well, Sure. Absolutely. We’re against the sexual assault, hazing.” No, we’re against guys in football hitting each other really hard just to like take the other player to the game. Sure, we’re against that. But when we look at this in a relational level and the ways that we relate to each other, that ethos is still, to some extent going to influence the way that we relate to each other. And so it makes it even harder for guys, when they’re kind of raised in this culture of dominating, which is pretty much very much part of our zeitgeist now. 

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. 

 

Andrew: How could that not trickle into the way that you see yourself as a guy in the way that you can relate?

 

Dr. Lisa: Yes, in your intimate relationships… 

 

Andrew: Yeah.

 

Dr. Lisa: …in your parenting relationships… 

 

Andrew: Absolutely.

 

Dr. Lisa: …in your work relationships. So there is so much here, and clearly, you’ve just spent so much very thoughtful and productive time and energy into developing these ideas. And so I would encourage everyone to read Andrew Reiner’s book, which is Better Boys, Better Men: The New Masculinity That Creates Greater Courage and Emotional Resiliency

 

And also, check out his piece in The New York Times provocatively entitled, It’s Not Only Women Who Want More Intimacy in Relationships. So there’s a couple of resources where you can dive deep into Andrew’s ideas. But I’m also wondering, and I hope this isn’t too much putting you on the spot. But in the few minutes that we have left, would you mind sharing a couple of ideas with my listeners around if you want to, either as a man develop the kinds of—like not just emotional awareness, but self-compassion, we’re talking about. What are some first steps might you do with that? 

 

And for the partners of men, what are some ways that you can shift your thinking or way of interacting that kind of see and value the emotional life of men that may too often go unseen or unmet in a relationship? I know those are two giant things. We could probably talk for many hours about that.

 

Andrew: Yeah. I know.

 

Dr. Lisa: Places for people to be doing that kind of growth work in addition, of course, reading your article in your book.

 

Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. So one of the things that guys can do out there and out in the world, in their lives, is I think it would go a long way if men could learn to reach out in really small ways to other men. That is something that we do not encourage in this culture. Of course, men do that. Men may do that with their friends, with their intimates. But it doesn’t mean you’ve got to necessarily go up and hug a strange guy. But it means, for instance, if you’re in a grocery store, and you see a guy accidentally knock over a bunch of cans… 

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

 

Andrew: …go over and say, “Hey can I give you a hand?” 

 

Dr. Lisa: Uh-huh.

 

Andrew: That’s not the kind of the guy—most guys will probably say, “No, I got it, I got it, I don’t need help with this.” If you see a guy drop something, if you see a guy with his arms full coming out of the liquor store, the beer or wine store hold the door open. And it’s true that a lot of guys who are uncomfortable with their own masculine identity would probably feel comfortable for that. But it’s a way of kind of doing a very kind of harmless, very un-invasive thing, where you can start to feel like, you’re reaching out to other guys in ways that are, again, very un-invasive. But you’re taking small but really powerful steps. 

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. I see you, yeah.

 

Andrew: That’s right, where you can show, where you can practice, really experiment, practice ways to reaching out to other guys in ways that are small, but helpful. And I think, for a lot of guys, that is no small thing—holding open just a door for a guy. And there are some guys who are, have their own insecurities about their masculine identity. And they may say, “Dude, I can get my own door.” But it’s also about just doing this, as it’s a way of habituating and finding ways, to feel comfortable with reaching out to other guys. 

 

If you see a guy upset, just walk by to say, “Hey, you, okay? Is there anything? Anything I can do? Are you doing okay, man?” Or just something like that. Because the thing that we often forget very conveniently, because it’s a lot harder to do things like that. The thing that we often forget is that even though a lot of guys won’t take the help, deep down, they appreciate it. 

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. 

 

Andrew: Everybody does. Everybody appreciates being cared for, especially by strangers; knowing that you—somebody else has your back out there is a really powerful thing to be out in public. And to know that even though you may not allow yourself to be helped, knowing that somebody else was there, it feels really, really powerful. 

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. 

 

Andrew: In terms of relationships, a lot of men can never practice assertive listening enough, really listening. And something, I think a lot of men a lot of us can really benefit from, myself included, is, as we are listening when we can tell if it’s something that, for instance, our partner, we can tell, it’s really important to them, is mirroring back and saying, “Okay, so what I think I hear you saying is this,” when it’s something, really, you can tell that it’s important to them. It doesn’t matter whether we think it’s important. It’s about listening and saying, “Okay, I can tell this matters to you so let me make sure I’ve got it right. This is what I think I hear you saying.” That small thing, I think, in terms of creating intimacy, is a door-opener. 

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. It really is. 

 

Andrew: It’s only going to help our relationships.

 

Dr. Lisa: And to piggyback on those ideas, I’m also going to remind all women within the sound of my voice that men are actually just as emotional, and in need of love and connection, and affection as you are, and that I think some women buy into this myth that men somehow feel differently or care differently, and that is not at all true. Many men have been socialized away from some of this, but it’s all still there. And I think that women have a responsibility to remember that, and see that, and attend to it just in the same way that they would like to be attended to.

 

Andrew: Absolutely. That’s a great point, Lisa, because, in terms of that, one of the things I mentioned in that article with, about men and intimacy is that all men struggle differently than women do. For instance, in relationships and when relationships end the difference that women work to have support networks so that they can have these emotional needs back. And men don’t do that, and they isolate themselves. 

 

And so even though guys will cook, give us this very convincing front that a lot of times it’s very convenient because it makes it easy for us to say, “Okay, great, you take care of it.” And they’ll say, “I’m okay, I’ve got this,”—they don’t. They don’t because most men do not really have the chops and the network and the support networks they need to really kind of navigate the ups and downs of their most—of their relational lives.

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, that’s another great reminder, and because a lot of my work involves like breakup recovery, and divorce recovery, and that’s absolutely true is that men don’t have those support networks, and particularly when their primary person, that relationship ends, they can feel incredibly alone, and it is difficult to cultivate those kinds of supportive relationships with other men. I’ll also just add as a little tip: there are such things as men’s groups and supportive, kind of, therapeutic groups that are, by for, and about exactly that. And so that that may be another resource to look into potentially if you find yourself in that situation.

 

Andrew: You’re right. It’s a wonderful resource, and men’s groups are a burgeoning movement that is starting to get some traction, finally, and there are only a good things for men.

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Such a fascinating conversation. I feel like we could just talk for hours and hours, but so instead, I’m just going to read your book again.

 

Andrew: Good. Thank you.

 

Dr. Lisa: The book is called Better Boys—wait, hold on, I lost it—Better boys, Better Men: The New Masculinity That Creates Greater Courage and Emotional Resiliency. And if my listeners wanted to find out more about you or your work or find the book, where should they go? Andrew?

 

Andrew: Actually, if you google me, “Andrew Reiner with New York Times,” there’s about six or seven articles about healthy masculinity. And I’ve got another one actually coming up about, the next one I’m doing for them, which is going to run I think in late November, is going to be on this topic we’ve been talking about, about the need for men. In addition to things like men’s groups, men need this deep in their friendships, deep emotional support networks; they need to learn to create.

 

Dr. Lisa: I love it.

 

Andrew: But that you could easily find just Google Andrew Reiner.

 

Dr. Lisa: Andrew Reiner, New York Times and I’ll be on the lookout.

 

Andrew: That would be, and hopefully in the next couple of weeks, my website at some point soon.

 

Dr. Lisa: Stay in touch with me. I’ll be sure to put a link to it and the podcast.

 

Andrew: Thank you. So I’ve really enjoyed this. Thank you so much.

 

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Marriage Counseling For Couples On the Brink of Divorce

Discernment Counseling: Why the type of marriage counseling you've never heard of of is the only one that can save a marriage on the brink of divorce.

Sometimes marriage counseling fails. Why? Generally, it's because one of the partners is no longer committed to the relationship or, more often, if they're still committed in theory, they're not committed enough to do the actual work required to repair the relationship. Inexperienced marriage counselors assume that when a couple seeks help, they want the relationship to work. Couples therapists who practice discernment counseling understand that is not always the case.

What I know from years of experience as a Denver marriage counselor and online couples therapist is that many couples come in to couples counseling with “mixed agendas.” This means that one person really wants the relationship to work, and the other person is feeling ambivalent. Many times these couples are on the brink of divorce. 

At these moments, it's too late for marriage counseling. But even at this point, discernment counseling can still help save your relationship.

What is Discernment Counseling?

When couples get past a certain point, it's too late for couples therapy or conventional marriage counseling. They may say they want marriage counseling, but on the inside, they are too angry or have lost their hope. Wise, experienced marriage counselors use a type of marriage counseling called “discernment counseling” to get clarity about what's really going on before plunging ahead into misguided, conventional marriage counseling.

Through discernment counseling, a good couples counselor can help partners get clarity about their commitment and motivation for change. Once that is in place, then marriage counseling can be successful. Without the necessary prerequisite of discernment counseling, marriage counseling for couples on the brink of divorce can easily fail.

Unfortunately, discernment counseling is not widely used among marriage counselors. Many have never even heard about it. For example, here at Growing Self we work with only the highest caliber, most effective marriage counselors, and most of them have never had discernment counseling training before starting with us. (We get them up to speed fast, don't worry).

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If it feels like the fate of your relationship is hanging in the balance of marriage counseling, and divorce is on the table, discernment counseling is the one approach that can potentially turn the tide. Not conventional marriage counseling. In this episode of the podcast, I'm discussing what dynamics are at play in a relationship on the brink, why these dynamics make conventional marriage counseling for the purpose of relationship improvement a bad idea, and how you can use the principles of discernment counseling to see if there is still hope for your relationship.

You can listen to “Discernment Counseling” on Spotify, on the Apple Podcast App or scroll down to listen right here on GrowingSelf.com. If you're more of a reader I've also included cliff notes for you in this post as well as the full transcript of this episode.

Learn about Discernment Counseling and why it can make or break a marriage on this episode of the podcast. (And please share this post if you have a friend or loved one who's marriage may be failing. This information could make all the difference for them!)

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

 

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1. Different Relationships Require Different Types of Marriage Counseling: What's the state of your marriage?

There are many reasons couples seek help from a Denver marriage counselor or an online relationship coach. But generally, there are three types of couples who seek Denver couples therapy, marriage counseling online, or relationship coaching depending on their orientation to getting help and the severity of their relationship problems. Which type are you?

Proactive couples: These couples are defined by the fact that they both love each other and have generosity and goodwill in the partnership, and a willingness to take positive action to benefit the relationship. They view marriage counseling or couples therapy as a positive, valuable experience and don't hesitate to seek help as soon as they take notice of the initial signs that their relationship may be in trouble. These are strong, successful couples typically. Not that they don't ever have problems. All couples have “issues.” Strong, happy couples just take proactive steps to resolve them. Marriage counseling works for them, and usually in just a few sessions.

Frustrated but committed and motivated couples: These are the “middle-of-the-road couples.” Many couples in this space have been struggling with unresolved issues for some time, and they experience a fair amount of stress in the relationship. They are fighting or having communication problems and tend to have the same unproductive arguments or ongoing relationship issues that aren't improving. They have often been attempting to do everything they know how to do to create improvements, but have not sought effective professional support. Even though the've been putting off getting help and are feeling some frustration and resentment it's not too far gone. They still have a fundamental love and respect for each other. Both individuals are still actively committed to the relationship's success, and with the right support they can make real and lasting positive changes in their relationships. Marriage counseling works for these couples too, it just takes a little longer.

Mixed agenda couples: Mixed agenda couples develop over time, usually after many months, often years, of unresolved relationship problems. These couples tolerate relationship problems until they are no longer tolerable.The partnership has been in a downward spiral for a while, resulting from years of lost trust and respect. They are waiting on each other to change instead of exerting any genuine effort towards making the relationship work. They do not get help until one person is already halfway out the door, and divorce or a breakup is being seriously considered. Generally, when these couples arrive in marriage counseling one partner is frantic to stop a divorce and save their marriage. The other person may no longer be willing to participate in the relationship. At this point it is too late for marriage counseling. Couples in this place require discernment counseling before marriage counseling, relationship coaching or couples therapy has any hope of succeeding. If commitment, hope, and motivation are first restored through discernment counseling, then subsequent evidence-based marriage counseling may still be successful.

2. Why Relationships Fail 

Discernment counseling works when other types of marriage counseling or couples therapy fail, because it puts the predictable dynamics of a failing relationship at the front and center. Good Denver discernment counselors know that relationships don't often explode; they spiral down for a long time first. One of the first signs that a relationship is failing is that a negative relationship cycle takes hold. The sooner you notice that this is happening, and take effective action to correct it, the better.

Negative relationship cycles get going in small ways first, and then grow larger without intervention. When communication is a struggle, relationships tend to become polarized and contentious. If left unattended, it will only get worse. This may begin once you stop doing the nice small things you used to do. Or it could also start when you become outright disrespectful towards your partner. In return, they will likely feel entitled to mistreat you too. When a negative system starts taking hold, people react to each other's negative reactions. It can get pretty bad over time. 

Often, as this negative cycle continues unchecked, people can begin to feel entitled to treat each other quite badly. They can stop believing that better things are possible for their relationship. Worse, the pattern of negative experiences can make them lose trust in each other. At this point, people withdraw emotionally from a marriage. Interestingly, the person who spent years dismissing and minimizing the problems and was formerly resistant to marriage counseling is the one who's often blindsided and anguished when their partner withdraws. Even though it may have felt sudden to them, the truth is that their partner had been quietly separating (emotionally) for quite some time.

 When this truth becomes known, couples enter a crisis. A marriage counselor is often called (sometimes a divorce lawyer too). These are make-or-break moments for a marriage, and most be handled with sensitivity and expertise.

3. The Importance Of Discernment Counseling

When these “on the brink of divorce”couples land in marriage counseling, one partner “is leaning in” and the other is “leaning out.” Under these circumstances routine marriage counseling and couples therapy will not be appropriate or helpful. Honestly, jumping right into marriage counseling in these moments can actually extinguish any hope for the relationship to be repaired. Instead, discernment counseling is necessary first.

The goal of discernment counseling is to help both partners get clarity about what is possible for the relationship — and what isn't. From that point, they can either transition into evidence-based marriage counseling or couples therapy that helps them heal their bond… or separate in the healthiest way possible.

The primary goal of discernment counseling is not to improve or change the relationship. The purpose of discernment counseling is to ensure clarity about whether or not positive change is possible. Specifically, discernment counseling explores whether or not sufficient commitment and motivation exist for doing the work of couples therapy.

In most cases, couples find that there is still enough hope and commitment to try. In some cases, consciously “uncoupling” might be the best for both people involved. It can salvage a friendship or some aspects of the relationship, especially if they're co-parenting. Discernment counseling can help start this healing process.  

4. Discernment Counseling Strategies For a Mixed Agenda Relationship

If either you or your partner are unsure about whether your relationship has a future here are some crucial things you need to know. 

  1. People who are “leaning out” fantasize about what their life will be when they're out of the relationship. This may or may not be realistic. Through discernment counseling, the person leaning out can better understand and perceive the situation from a fresh perspective. It can also lead them to reflect on attachments and the implications without them.
  2. “Leaning out” partners are often emotionally beaten down after years of negative experiences with their partner in the past. They can often feel hopeless about things changing or improving. Discernment counseling can help them understand, more realistically, about what is possible and what is not. 
  3. “Leaning In” partners often feel incredibly anxious about the possibility of their relationship failing. Discernment counseling can help them regulate their emotions, and also gain accurate understanding of why their partner is half out the door. Then it becomes possible to work on changing the dynamic that led to this crisis.

How Discernment Counseling Works

First, a professional will establish if individual sessions would be best for your situation. Like all ethical and professional therapy sessions, confidentiality is crucial. Counselors will talk to the partner who's leaning out of the relationship. They will check if there's still some motivation that can be restored. This process needs to happen before deciding to “repair” the relationship. 

To the partner who's not yet willing to let go of the relationship, the work may focus on making them understand their partner's feelings more clearly. The session will focus on helping them manage their anxiety and getting them into a good place.  

Note: Discernment counseling sessions tend to be limited — generally 3-6 sessions max. If one partner is still highly ambivalent towards the relationship, and neither of you are ready to make decisions, that in itself is a decision. It allows couples to create a clearer vision of where they are, what they're willing to tolerate, and what the next steps are for the relationship… one way or the other. 

I hope that this overview of discernment counseling helped you understand the unique relationship dynamics of a failing marriage, and to use this understanding to see the path forward for yours. If your marriage is on the brink of divorce I sincerely hope you first consider discernment counseling in order to determine whether it can be saved. If it can, you may find that this was a painful, but necessary moment of reckoning for your marriage that opens the door to an incredibly satisfying new chapter for both of you. And, even if discernment counseling leads you to the conclusion that it's for the best that you separate,  you will be able to do so with the confidence that you really did do everything you possibly could have to make this work.

Wishing you all the very best on your journey of growth,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. More resources for you:

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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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Discernment Counseling: Podcast Transcript

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Discernment Counseling — The Podcast

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

That's an interesting song by an interesting band to set the mood for an interesting topic. The band is Toxic Water with this song, We've Only Just Begun. And our topic today is about something that almost no one has ever heard of. But if your relationship is in trouble, it is the only kind of couples therapy that will actually save a relationship and stop a divorce. And that's what we're talking about today on the Love Happiness and Success podcast. If this is your first time catching the show, or welcome, I'm so glad you found us.

I'm Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I'm the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. And my background is as a licensed marriage and family therapist. I'm also a licensed psychologist, and I am a board-certified life coach. And I draw from all of those different modalities in order to provide hopefully helpful and actionable advice that will help you create love, happiness, and success in your life. And so today's topic, as many areis drawn from listener questions. I have been hearing from a number of you lately, through commenting on the blog at growingself.com, through Facebook Dr. Lisa Bobby, or on Instagram at @drlisamariebobby.

Relationship Advice: “Can This Relationship Be Saved?”

And the question is if I were to paraphrase, because this has come in many, many shapes, sizes, and forms. But as some version of, “Let me tell you about all of the horrible things that have been happening in my relationship and how I'm feeling about that. And can my relationship be saved? My partner doesn't want to go to couples counseling? Is there any hope? Or I don't know if I want to keep doing this? Is there any hope for my relationship? Or should I just let it go?”

I'm also hearing questions like, “You know, my partner is stonewalling me, they have one foot out the door, is it too late to save our relationship?” And, so really hearing from many people whose relationships are in quite a bit of distress and really understandably feeling very upset and heartbroken and even desperate about what do I do to fix this? Can it be fixed?

And I wanted to create this podcast just for you. Because there are some really important things that you need to know about this particular moment. And what could possibly help you repair this relationship. But even I think more importantly, what to avoid, if your relationship feels like it's on the brink because there are a lot of things that could make it worse right now, instead of better. And there's really one thing that can make it better. And I don't mean to be overly you know, inflammatory or scary. But I mean, this is borne out by a lot of experience.

When Couples Need Discernment Counseling

And so once again, on today's show, given you the real deal. So first of all, we'll just like to orient you to where we are and what we're doing. There are generally three different situations that will bring a couple into couples counseling, marriage counseling, relationship coaching. There are certain couples who are proactive, you know, they are committed, they care about their relationship, they want it to be as good as it possibly can. Oftentimes, they've had experience with some kind of therapy or personal growth work in the past. They're like, they understand the benefits of counseling or coaching and they want to do it together. And so they are like, very proactive, and they come in for marriage counseling at the first sign of trouble, you know.

They're maybe not feeling as great about each other. They're communicating, communication is starting to feel hard. It feels like it's difficult to create agreements or get on the same page. And they're like, “You know what, I love you so much. We need to get into couples counseling and just fix this.” And so they go and they talk to somebody like me or somebody else on my team here at growing self. And you know, they come in for about four to six sessions. They do what they need to do. They walk out with tools and things that resolve and they're like, “Oh we are so much better now.” And they go on their way.

And you know, might come back in the future. Life’s paces made things feel harder again, like, you know, moving or having a baby, or something like that normal, unexpected. But they really like, believe in growth, they're reading the books. They're doing the things they're talking to me. And these couples are incredibly advantaged and they keep their relationships healthy and strong. And so this is like, you know, a couple number one, and a lot of the education that I tried to do is to connect with couples in this stage, because when they do come in for couples counseling and support, they're very easy to work with, they love each other, there's a lot of generosity and good will. And it's easy to make positive changes in a relationship that last. And it's good. So that's category number one.

Category number two, a certain percentage of couples will show up for couples counseling, marriage counseling, relationship coaching, when they're actually fairly stressed and unhappy. They have been experiencing issues in their relationship, maybe they're fighting, communication feels hard, they're feeling frustrated, sometimes even resentful. But even though it hasnobody's having a good time, there are still positive aspects of the relationship.

They're still like, basic love and respect for each other. And they're still motivated to like, work together, own their piece of the equations. “Yeah, I guess I do that.” And work on themselves for the benefit of their relationship. And there's just a lot of commitment, you know. And so these are couples whoit takes longer to repair a relationship that has sustained trauma and damage through a series of regrettable incidents. But it's not so far gone, that it's impossible, feels impossible to do it. 

You know what I mean, there's still an attachment, there's still a desire to have a better relationship with each other. And so, you know, these are kind of like the middle-of-the-road couples, and a certain percentage of couples that come into couples counseling, I think fall into that kind of category.

Now, there is a third situation, which is really, really important for you to know, particularly if your relationship has not been in a good place for a while. There is a category of couple who will only initiate any kind of marriage counseling, couples therapy, relationship coaching, when one person is like halfway out the door. These are couples who have been kind of in a downward spiral for a while, often years. And over time, they have reallylike degraded the fabric of their relationship they have lost trust, they have lost respect. And you know, often times, as they say, the path to hell is paved with good intentions. These are couples who are like, oh, it's not that bad, it'll get better or you know if we just take a vacation or do XYZ things will change, or things will be better once we move, or once we do a thing or have a kid or whatever.

And so like they're sort of waiting for something to change their relationship, as opposed to doing the work that's required to change relationship. Or they're very, very focused on that partner needing to change—maybe less involved in what they need to do to have a better relationship with each other. And so, you know, many reasons for thatcouples counseling is too expensive, there are those people. But what happens over time is that relationships tend to become more polarized, and more contentious.

If communication is already struggling, it continues to get worse because there are these negative cycles that will take over a relationship. For example, if you are annoyed with your partner, and you feel that they are being unreasonable or disrespectful, or they're not doing what they need to do. Youand by you, I mean we all of us will feel you know, somewhat entitled to kind of be a jerk to them or not talk to them very nicely, or stop doing small nice things for them that really strengthen the relationship. And so when we kind of pull back into that emotional withholding space or not being quite as nice, they very predictably again perceiving us as being under reasonable and disrespectful and not very nice, which in turn leads them to feel entitled to not treat us quite as well. 

So as you can see, there's this, there's a systemic component to relationships that I've talked about before in previous podcasts, but it's very powerful stuff. And when a negative system starts taking hold, people are reacting to each other's negative reactions. And it can get pretty bad over time.

And so this third category of couple that I'm talking about, has had that going on in their relationship. And either they have not taken effective action to try to change it, which is like, “Okay, we have to go talk to somebody, it's time to go talk to the marriage counselor.” Orand this makes me crazy, they have sought support from “couples therapist” who does not have specialized training and experience in couples and family therapy, which is like 95% of the people out there offering couples counseling. They are trained as general practitioner therapists, or they don't even have that. They're like some, you know, self-proclaimed relationship coach who has a slick website and has been married before. 

So it feels eminently qualified to shepherd other couples through their own relationship issues. And, as you can imagine, in neither of these situations, does the couple who you know, reaches out with a very sincere intention of getting help for their relationship, connect with someone who knows how to help them. And so they have, from their perspective, done couples counseling, you know. “We've done everything.” But they don't know that the help they sought was not the right kind of help to mend their relationship. It was an evidence-based couples therapy, which really does make a difference.

 Is it too late for marriage counseling? 

So, that's, I think, incredibly tragic. But anyway, so either they didn't do anything, or they sought help, you know, with good intentions, but what wasn't the right thing. And they have arrived in a space where one personsometimes both but usually, one is likeI don't want to do this with you anymore. I have stopped believing that this relationship can get better. I don't trust you anymore. Not sure if I like you. And I don't even know if I want to try to make this better with you. Because I've had so many bad experiences that I think maybe I'm just done.

And often times, the person in this position of a failing relationship is the one who for sometimes years previously, has been the one agitating for change, saying, “Why don't you talk to me? Why don't you do these things with me? Why don't we work together, you know, around parenting or responsibilities, or I really just want to feel more emotionally connected to you.” Like this person has been trying for a long time to have a better relationship, to create that connection. And over time, they've just had bad experience after bad experience. And they get to a point where they're like, “I think I haveI'm losing hope that this can be better. What am I doing?”

You know, and so they move into this emotional space. And as soon as they do, the person who prior to that, had been like, “Oh, it's not that big of a deal. No, I don't feel like talking right now. No, marriage counseling is too expensive. No, I think actually, that's your problem. That's not my problem.” But as soon as their person is like, “I think I'm probably done with you.” That galvanizes this person who had been kind of, you know, minimizing and sort of like. Yeah, I don't knowif they want to talk to you. All of a sudden, they're like, “What do you mean? Let's talk. How are you feeling? How are you feeling now? How are you feeling today? You told me how you're feeling like 10 minutes ago, but what about now?” And they get all this you know, anxious energy into, “Oh my goodness, my partner is like, done with me.”

And it turns into this huge, like threatened attachment reaction. And they're like, we are going to the best marriage counselor in Denver, today. I'm making an appointment ofspare no cost. I love you so much. And so they're the ones calling my office being like, “Can I come?” And like, “What are you doing in like an hour? Can we come in an hour?” They're like so eager to get started. And this is the context, unfortunately, of many, many people whocouples who show up for marriage counseling online, marriage counseling in person and Denver doesn't matter.

But it's like it's gotten to this point where there is a desperate like Hail Mary kind of quality to it. And the person who formerly had been resistant to this whole idea is now the one often times who is super motivated to do this. And they show up for couples counseling. Now, here's the thing that is really important, and that you must understand if you're like, resonating with any of what I'm talking about, or even if you're thinking of like somebody you know who has gotten divorced or gotten close to it, like you're probably recognizing some of the dynamics that I'm describing in this.

And I would say, probably 30% of couples we see are those proactive couples that are like, we love each other, let's communicate better. Middle 30% are couples who are stressed and frustrated, but committed and motivated. And that final 30% of couples who show up for couples counseling are in that desperate sort of space. Now, I am going to tell you a big secret. This is something that I didn't learn about in a—extremely good Master's program and couples and family therapy. I did not learn about this in a PhD program that, you know, wasn't about couples and family therapy, but we did some of it.

And I would say, you know, after having worked with many couples therapists over the years, and we probably have 40 couples therapists running around here Growing Self, and they are excellent. I mean, we are super selective about who we work with, we make them demonstrate that they will be effective for our clients. And we require them to be eligible for licensure as marriage and family therapists and you know, all kinds of specialized training and experience. And even them, I would say, probably 90 to 95% of them have never heard of what I'm about to tell you, until they start working with us.

There is an assumption that alleven highly trained couples therapists makethat when a couple shows up for that first appointment in couples therapy, the core assumption is that this couple would like to work on the relationship. They would like to have a better relationship forwith each other. And they are both willing to, you know, do the hard work that it takes on both sides to make positive changes in service of this relationship. And in service of their love for one another. That is the basic assumption of any form of couples counselingthat people are going to sit down. And they're going to talk about the problems and they're going to talk about how they're feeling. 

And then, you know, after we figure out what's going on what needs to change, you know, in the marriage counselor be like, “Okay, now that I understand what's going on, here are some things that you guys can try in order to have a different experience with each other, or here are some of the experiential things, I think, would begin to change the way that you guys feel about each other. Let's do these together.”

So it's like, the goal of couples therapy is positive change, right? And what they totally miss and what will make marriage counseling fail, even if there is like a little shred of a possibility that it could be helpful, even for the most, you know, damaged couplesI hate to use the word but it's trueis discernment counseling. Which takes a core assumption that I have two people sitting on my couch either in the actual therapy office or in the virtual therapy office. But these two people are a mixed agenda couple. They have very different feelings about this relationship. They have different goals for the relationship. They may have differing levels of commitment about whether or not they want this relationship to continue.

And what discernment counseling does is to say to this couple: couples therapy for the purpose of improving this relationship is not appropriate right now because at least one of you isn't committed enough or hasn't resolved their ambivalence about whether or not this relationship is something that you want to work on. And until you two are in agreement about whether or not you'd like to work on this relationship together, we can't do couples therapy. What I can do with you is discernment counseling. This is a totally different thing. And the goal of this process is not to necessarily improve your relationship. It is to help both of you get clarity about what you want to do, and whether or not you want to try. And this is a very different way of understanding the 30% of couples who come in where one person is like, “I don't know about you.”

 The Importance of Discernment Counseling

What happens when couples, counselorseven very experienced onesdon't have this idea in the forefront of their mind is that they jump into couples counseling with couples and they do the things that should work. If a couple is committed and motivated, that they will work if it's in that kind of likemiddle space of stressed yet motivated couples. And it doesn't work with those highly distressed like desperate couples, one person is willing to do anything. And the other person might say the right thing and couples counseling, because they don't want to be a bad guy. You know, they'll be like, “Yeah, mhmm.”

But what happens over time is that they're not following through with the things that are being discussed in couples counseling. They're not really engaging witha work. They're not displaying, like empathy for their partner, or a willingness to take responsibility to keep their own side of the street clean. And it's not because they're bad people, it's because they have had so many bad experiences in this relationship that they don't knowreally like on a deep level if they want to do it anymore.

And so here is what happens in discernment counseling and why this is so important. So if ayou're working with a couples counselor who understands and provides discernment counseling, and they get a sense that this is the dynamic happening in your relationship, the first thing that they will do is actually advise separate sessions that are balanced. So it might be one or two or three sessions with you alone. One, two, or three sessions with your partner alone. And it is not individual therapy, there are still boundaries around confidentiality.

So ethical couples, counselors do not keep secrets for two people who are coming to see them together and this would still apply. But in those separate sessions, the couple's counselor would be talking to the partner who is leaning out of the relationship emotionally, to try to get a sense of why that is. And to do some work to see if there can be motivation resurrected to actually improve the relationship or not. Because that has got to be determined before any work to repair the relationship is going to be successful.

Leaning In: Desparate To Stop a Divorce

On the other side, there is a partner who's like leaning in, and this is the person who's like, “Please, please, please save my relationship.” There's often a lot of work that needs to be done with this partner, to help them understand, first of all, why their partner probably feels the way that they do. And also a lot of coaching around, “Okay, I understand that you want this relationship to be saved. And here are somehere's a long list of things not to do right now, so that you don't make this worse. And here's some things that you can do.” Often times, we're talking about ways tolike manage anxiety, and kind of get yourself into a good place in these individual sessions.

But so, you know, the first goal is to really, almost like make a deal with a couple who has a mixed agenda to say, “Alright, I want to meet with each of you two or three times, not forever, two or three times and the goal of this is to either decide, ‘Yes, there's enough here to move forward into couples counseling. We both are committed to trying this for a period of time, like really sincerely trying for a period of time.’ The other choice is to say, ‘No, actually, after talking all the way through those I do not want to try. and then we have our answer.’ And it turns into conversations about how to, as Gwyneth says, “Consciously uncouple in the way that is highest and best for all involved.”

And then there is a certain subset of couples who, you know, don't want to do either. And they just like, well, we're just going to stay In the sort of, you know, purgatory space, after this process is done probably 50% of couples who come in and they, in a desperatelike one leaning out one leaning in kind of space, do transition into couples counseling. Probably, you know, another percentage of those maybe 30 or 40%, the other partner is, is actually done. Like, done, done!

And that's, you know, hard to hear, but in some ways good because having that clarity is worth a lot, you know, like, we can begin to grieve and take this apart and move on as opposed to remaining in purgatory with each other for another year, or three, which isn't good for anybody. And then, a small subset of couples don't do anything with it. Choose to stay in the purgatory, which is fine.

 

Leaning Out: Lost Hope

But the goal of discernment counseling is clarity. It is that clarity, and it is commitment. Right? And so, here are some things that are important to know about each other. If you and your partner are in this mixed-agenda-kind-of-situation where either you're unsure if you want to work on this, or they aren't. So people who are leaning out of a relationship will often times be fantasizing a little bit about what their life is going to be like, you know, if only they were out of the relationship. 

There's kind of this “divorce as liberation” narrative, you know. That's like freedom, you know, narrative like this marriage has held me back, tell me down. They may or may not have had an affair, they may be have a crush on someone else, or an emotional affair going on that they're kind of idealizing this new person can be part of something that happens, or they're kind of imagining this amazing future for themselves, like we know once they're not married anymore.

And having these fantasies or these other attachments can really obscure their level of desire, or commitment, or motivation to work on the relationship. And so part of something that can happen in good discernment counseling is conversation without leaning out partner to do some reality testing around. Okay, well, “What would your life actually be like if you got divorced and kind of walk all the way through some of those scenarios?” Or, you know, maybe talk a little bit more if there is an emotional attachment to someone else and see how that may be confounding thisthe situation and try to raise awareness around. You know, the fact that they might perceive the situation differently if they didn't have that emotional attachment to another person.

So that can be something that happens in discernment counseling with a leaning out partner. Another thing though, that can happen like there are someI would honestly say many people that have gotten to this place where they're like, “I don't know if I want to do this anymore.” It's not because they're fantasizing about how great their life would be if they weren't married anymore. If they were divorced, they don't want to get divorced. But it's like, they feel so emotionally beaten down and that their experiences with their partner have been so negative, and just so yucky feeling, and it feels intolerable for them. You know, they're like, “I can't handle being spoken to this way anymore. I will not continue existing in a relationship without emotional intimacy. I don't want to be in a sexless marriage.” You know, they're feeling bad about what has been happening. And understandably, they're like, I don't want to do this anymore.

But they can also be so desperate for resolution. And they can have these unrealistic ideas that a change in a relationship needs to happen fast, and it can happen fast. And so if people in this space go into couples counseling, and you know, their relationship has been spiraling down for like seven years. And I have actually had people say to me, like, “We've met with you three times, and it's not different yet.”

Well, let me just adjust your expectations because in a highly distressed relationship that has a lot of history, by session three, I'm still trying to figure out what's going on in terms of the dynamic and what happened and the attachment injuries and all this stuff. And so people who have been really suffering in a relationship can be very impatient with couples counseling, even really good evidence-based couples counseling.

They're like, “Well, you know, we've been having four or five sessions, and it's just not different yet. So I think this isn't going to work. And so I'm not going to try.” And, you know, they're angry, and they're resentful. And they don't have a lot of patience for the growth process, sometimes understandably so. But discernment counseling, and those individual sessions can help people understand there's a lot of history there and growth is a process. It took you guys seven years to get to this place. I need at least seven months to get you back out again, you know what I mean? And so there's that kind of like psycho education piece that can happen. 

But you know, through that process, they can become open to it. Because of learning, I think, what would actually be required if this relationship is going to change. And so through that awareness process, they can become more committed to trying. And really, I think, in those individual sessions, learning more about what they will need to do in order to see if this relationship can be better, or not through couples counseling.

And, you know, there's also people who really don't want to get divorced. But they don't know what else to do to resolve this, they have done everything they know how to do to improve this relationship. They have read the books, they have tried to talk to their partner. They have done all the things they have done the relationship advice, tips, and they're like, “I'm out, I don't know what else to do.” And, and I think that there's also this process that can happen in those individual sessions of discernment counseling, where again, there's like this insight that can be generated aroundhere is how relationships are actually healed. Here's what damages relationships, this is what happened to you. 

This is what I see in this dynamic. This is why it feels so bad. And here's what we will need to do in order to get out of this. Are you willing to try to give this one last chance with the information that I've provided with you around what this is really going to take? We're going to have to talk about hard things. We're going to have to make real changes. You are going to have to learn about yourself in a different way, and grow in a way that might feel uncomfortable and challenging. Are you interested in doing that with me? Those are some of the conversations that we have, you know, with partners who are really leaning out in discernment counseling.

And it's also okay for that answer to be “no” for them to say, “You know what if you'd asked me this question three years ago, I would have said, “Yes.” I would have said, “Let's do it, I will do the work. I will feel the feelings I will be challenged.” And that was three years ago. And let me tell you about what has happened since then. And, “I'm done. I don't believe it anymore. And I don't want to. I don't want to.” And that's okay, againand I hope I'm not scaring anybody by talking about thisso honestly, but I think it's always better to go into these things with honesty and open eyes instead of spending weeks and months in marriage counseling that is destined for failure, because these conversations are not being had.

And it's important. And that's why discernment counseling matters so much. If your relationship is on the brink, in my experience. Inexperienced couples counselorsor even experienced couples counselorswho haven't been exposed to the ideas that I'm sharing with you today, we'll often make the mistake of kind of like, almost falling into that relational dynamic. So the partner of the person who is leaning out is often very anxious about the relationship and really wants it to get better and is sort of pursuing the partner emotionally. And believe it or not, couples counselors can fall into that too, where they are also sort of emotionally pursuing the disengaged partner, like trying to get them to connect and engage with a work. And it tends to make this dynamic more pronounced and kind of pushes the already ambivalent partner all the way out the door when maybe they were kind of teetering on the edge previously.

Now, it's also important to know that the other side of this equation really matters. I mean, for practical purposes, the partner who is leaning out and deciding if they want to be in the relationship or not. You know, they're kind of holding all the cards in terms of whether or not this is going to work. But there are things that the person who is the leaning-in spouse also needs to understand if they want to have a fighting chance of this relationship being improved. You know, first of all, there's a reality around threatened attachment. 

Like you've heard me talk about attachment bonds on previous podcasts. We've talked about attachment styles, we've talked about anxiety in relationships. And we humans, when we are attached to someone who is pulling away from us, always experience this surge of anxious attachment anxiety, does not mean that you have an anxious attachment style. It means that you are a human being having a normal response to a threatened attachment.

And so there's a lot of anxiety about the relationship, a lot of thinking about the relationship, lots of big emotions. Sometimes it's fear, sometimes it's sadness, sometimes it's anger. Interestingly, because all of these things are coming out of theour limbic brain, which is like our emotional center, and it's kind of our monkey mind. And so when we are in pain, when we are afraid, it can have all kinds of impacts on us. And it can make us behave, let's say not like our usual selves. So, you know, it's important for someone in this space to take care not to be really pursuing. Not to be insisting that your partner have super serious conversations that they don't want to have about the status of things.

 

It's important to be able to regulate your own emotions, to the degree that you are not engaging with your ambivalent partner in a manner that makes this worse. So pursuing them for sex, pursuing them to talk to you, needing reassurance from them, getting angry with them, berating them, calling family members, and telling them to talk to that your partner to talk some sense into them. Your work if you're in this position and what you would do in discernment counseling is be talking about what you need to do individually in order to manage these feelings. And keep yourself in a good enough place so that you are bringing your best self forward and helping your partner who is already ambivalentexperience you as someone with whom there is a future.

They need to see you as being capable of changing and being a good partner for them. Because whether or not you agree with a statement, they don't trust you anymore. Because of the experiences that they've had over the years. And they're feeling done for a reasonmay not be a reason that you agree with, it may not be congruent with your perspective. But it needs to be understood from their perspective, it needs to be validated. And it requires a certain level of calmness and introspection and insight to say, “You know what, I could understand why you're ambivalent, I shut you out for years. I remember four years ago, you were begging me to go to marriage counseling with you and I blew you off. And there was that time that I hurt your feelings. And it was right after our baby was born, and you were feeling so anxious and I went golfing instead. And I can understand looking back how even though it seemed like a small thing to me at the time, it was kind of a nail in the coffin wasn't it like, and I'm not saying that you should be like chasing your partner around the house.” Like telling them these things while they're trying to avoid you because they not might not be in a space to hear it but just know that this is the work ahead of you.

These are the kinds of bonding, rebuilding experiences that will begin to repair trust. And it is through an experiential process that involves a lot of empathy, and patience, and understanding and authenticity, and making space for other people to have their real feelings and being able to validate and accept those feelings as they are. It takes a lot of emotional strength to do that. And so, your work in discernment counseling will be figuring out what you need to do in order to be an emotionally safe partner under the circumstances because that's the only possible path forward. And at the end of that it may be that your partner is so done that you don't actually ever get the opportunity to show them that you can do that, that you can understand them and have empathy for them maybe in a way that you didn't before.

But either way, you will have begun a very important growth process where you have the opportunity to reflect on what went wrong. And, you know, yes, there's part of it, how did we do this wrong together. But it's really, really powerful to be reflecting on knowing what I know now, what would I have done differently if I had a time machine. And that's not to generate regret, it's not to beat yourself up, it is to say, “Because now that I know better, I can do better in the future.” And I’m not saying that you should jump into another relationship, but it's an opportunity to understand how you relate to others. And it sets you up to have more successful relationships in the future .

 Growth Opportunities Are Possible No Matter What

It could be with a partner, certainly, but even with your children, co workers, friends, you know, if you identify patterns, like, “You know, what, I was really critical to him for years and years. And I would get mad at him and I would be withholding and punishing, and you know what, now, he's done with me. And let's take a look at why do I do that? Where did I learn to do that? Do I do that to other people in my life? You know what, I kind of do that to my sister sometimes.” And so, you know, it can turn into a growth opportunity for you to have healthier and more satisfying relationships in the future, whether or not this marriage can be repaired.

Many times it can, many times it can. The process of discernment counseling has very specific goals. And the goals are to have clarityclarity that we both want to try to do this with sincere intentions, and give it our very best for a period of time. You know, it could even be three months. But during that period of three months, we are going to do everything we possibly can and dig deep and have the talks and do the things and see what happens when we both really apply ourselves. That is the first clarity decision point that can come from discernment counseling. And again, the majority of couplesso through discernment counseling, do come into that space where they're like, “You know what let's tryreally try for three months.”

And there is also a goal of clarity, which is clarity around: There's nothing here to fix, even though I feel kind of guilty about saying this, even though I wish I did want to even though I you know, feel sad about what might happen to our family, it is actually me being honest and authentic to say, “No, I do not have it in me to try wholeheartedly to make this relationship better. And it's not fair for you, for me to keep stringing you along, hoping that I can, you know, decide that I love you again because, you know, after going through the process of discernment counseling, I feel very resolved in themy truth, which is that it’s over for me.” 

So, you know it, clearly, we'll say it out loud. And now let's talk about what we as a couple want to do with that, you know, in order to start taking things apart in a way that feels healthy for both of us. So you know, hopefully on the other side of this, we can salvage some kind of relationship or friendship, particularly if we're going to be co-parenting because that's important. So that honesty is worth a lot. 

And you know, it is also positive for both people, positive for the person who is actually done to be done, and positive for the person who may really want the relationship to continue. But to have that unambiguous knowledge that it is actually overas much as it hurts to hear that, it really jumpstarts the healing process. Because and I say this for my work as a breakup recovery therapist, a breakup recovery coach, divorce therapist, the people that wind up hurting and just being in agony for such a long time after a divorce, or have such a hard time moving on after a breakup, are the ones who are in this purgatory space of “maybe”. 

Maybe it could still work out, maybe they still care about me if we could just talk, there's still kind of really like the emotional attachment to their ex persists long after the relationship ends, which, again, sounds kind of crazy from a rational perspective. But from like a human attachment perspective, it is not crazy at all, it makes perfect sense. But even though it's hard to hear for your partner to say, “I am not in this relationship with you anymore. And I'm not going to be. And here are the reasons why.” And to kind of like, almost have those closure experiences in the room with a mediator can reallylike make the lossyes, more acute for the person whose relationship is ending when they don't want it to be. But again, jumpstarts, that healing process, because there is no bargaining, you know, you just move straight into grief. And there can be a gift in that compared to the alternative.

And then again, a very small subset of the couples, you know, because discernment counseling has to be limited, right? We can't stay in this meeting with a discernment counselor for individual sessions in perpetuity. It's going to meet with each of you three times, and we're going to get clarity, or you guys are going to stop doing discernment counseling and we're going to decide that neither of you are ready yet to fully process this or make decisions one way or the other. And so, you know, go back to your lives as it is. And just know that, in order for anything to change, we do need that clarity. And I am available to have that conversation with you again, when the time is right. But you know, we're not going to take forever to do that. Sometimes, you know, if a discernment counselor meets with each of you for two, three sessions, and there's still really a high degree of ambivalence in one partner, we have to stop discernment counseling.

And the recommendation could be, you need time and space to really get clear about what you want to do leaning out partner. And so I would recommend that you get involved in some individual, you know, sometimes therapy. But honestly, therapy in the most typical, real sense, it assumes that there's something wrong with someone you know. Therapy, psychotherapy is for the treatment of mental illness, of psychiatric conditions, right? And so for somebody to be in this life space, where they're ambivalent about a relationship, you know, to go to a therapist who wants to talk about how you're depressed, and how you're, whatever were traumatized by your father, when you were three.

Okay, fine, like go do that. But a more direct route to getting clear about how you feel, what your values are, what you want, why that makes sense, can actually be through evidence-based life coaching with someone who's really more about helping you just get that clarity, right? Like, here's what you want, here are your obstacles, what do you need to do to make that happen? Is that possible in this relationship? And you know, certainly to a degree talking about feelings and sorting through historical experiences in the relationship, but it tends to be much more positive. And just based on this assumption, that you are a strong, confident, capable person who is not making decisions out of a space of like deficit or psychopathology. But rather, that you are trying to figure out what is the best path for you, and your future, and that is congruent with yourself. 

And so in these cases, many times, life coaching can be a more positive approach, let's say. One last thought to put in your hopper before I leave you for today. If you do work with a life coach to get clarity around this. So say, for example, you are the partner leaning out and after doing discernment counseling, you're still in a space of “I don't know what I want to do about my relationship.” It can be really, really helpful to seek out the services of a life coach who does have a background in couples and family therapy, or at least relationship coaching, because in individual work, it can be very, very easy to fall into a dynamic with a therapist or a coach, where you are talking about how terrible your partner is and how they hurt your feelings.

 Individual Therapists vs Marriage and Family Therapists

These are all the mean things they've done to me and you know, your very sympathetic therapist or coach will be like, “Oh my gosh, that's terrible.” And if you have a ethical action oriented therapist or coach, particularly one that has a background in couples and family therapy, you will say, “Let me tell you about the meeting, my husband did to me.” And of course, they will be compassionate and kind to you. 

But sooner or later, they might also ask, “Why do you think your partner is reacting to you that way?” To help you get insight into your blind spots and your growth moments so that you don't unintentionally kind of fall into this victim place where your narrative about your partner becomes increasingly monster as because you don't have a therapist or coach who is either knowledgeable enough or ethical enough or active enough to challenge some of that.

And you know what, your partner could actually be a monster, and you need to get out of this relationshiplike stat! I have worked with people in toxic relationships, this is a thing.

And I would also say that out loud to a client describing that situation. But I believe that you deserve to have someone who cares about you enough and respect you enough to at least ask the questions to help you determine, you know, “Yeah, why is that happening? And do I play any role at all?” In the outcomes that I'm getting the answer again might be no. But you deserve to know if there are our blind spots or growth opportunities that you need to know about, if you're going to have a positive relationship with anyone in the future. Either this person who you may or may not decide to end the relationship with, or another one because these things don't go away.

Now, if you're on the other side of this, and the recommendation at the end of discernment counseling is for you to seek individual work, if you're the person who's feeling really upset about the relationship ending, it can kind of depend on what's going on. In my experience, it's very, very normal for people to have feelings of anxiety and depression and sadness, and sometimes grief and loss. That, again, coaching strategies can be helpful in figuring out how to develop emotional regulation skills and self-care and kind of rebuilding positive things in your life, and shifting your thoughts into ones that feel happier and healthier for you and sort of looking towards your future.

All of that is in the realm of coaching. And, again, in my experience, if you're on that upset sidethat you're the person who doesn't want the relationship to end, I would advise to work with somebody who does actually have a background and who is able to practice therapy with you. If it turns out that that's what you really do need because people can feel so bad and particularly in the early days of a relationship ending, particularly if it's an unwanted ending or traumatic ending, can really be experiencing a lot of big emotions, lots of anxiety, lots of despair. 

And it's, I think, important to work with someone who's able to help you on that level, if it turns out that that is what would be beneficial for you. So, again, not that you want to work with somebody who's going to make it all about like, “Well, the only reason that you feel as badly as you do is because you have terribly low self-esteem from the way that your mother treated you.” Like that is probably not going to be helpful, but it will be helpful to say, “Okay, this is turning into depression.” And let's talk about what you need to do in order to be well, because there's a path forward. So let's talk about that. That is what I would want for you.

Anyway, so I hope that this conversation about discernment counseling was helpful for you. And if you are in a relationship, or it's like feeling on the brink, please look for someone who is knowledgeable in discernment counseling. Look for something with an MFT after their name, which means that they are credentialed as a marriage and family therapist, so they have a background in marriage and family therapy. Ask questions, make sure it is evidence-based marriage and family therapy. And when you are interviewing prospective couples, counselors, make sure they are familiar with discernment counseling.

People who are trained in individual therapy or even couples counselors who are not trained in discernment counseling won't have insight into the dynamics that I have described to you so be an educated consumer. Of course, if you would like to do that work with Growing Self, you know where to find us. But otherwise, I hope that this conversation has prepared you to make informed choices, either for yourself or if this again is making you think of someone else in your life who is struggling in this situation. I sincerely hope that you forward this podcast on to them because it might make a big difference. Okay everybody, thank you for joining me today and I will be back in touch with you next week on another episode of the Love Happiness and Success podcast. 

 

 

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