Love is Respect

Love is Respect

HOW TO SHOW YOUR PARTNER RESPECT

Love is Respect: The happiest and most stable relationships are those in which respect is present. As a marriage counselor, I have found this to be true time and time again. 

Respect is a word that most of us hear from the time we’re very young. We are taught to respect our elders, to respect people in positions of authority, to respect people that have taught us valuable lessons, to respect our mentors. Why isn’t our partner on this list? When we respect our partner we tell them and show them that they matter to us, that we see them, that we hear them, that we value them not only as our partner but as a human being.

Love is Respect: What Does It Mean to Respect Someone?

The word respect can feel very non-romantic, especially when it’s paired with authoritative relationship dynamics. Not only that, but it can mean something a little different to each person and depending on the situation that it’s present in. 

Respect is built over time; It develops and diminishes based on the interactions or experiences that you have with another person. What makes respect special is that if lost, it can be rebuilt and repaired. It’s ever-changing and growing with the relationship. 

I think if I were to ask you if respect matters in your relationship, most would say that it does. Over my years of working with couples, I have come to notice 2 trends that may arise in regards to respect and love:

  1. Couples will express to me how much they love their partner, but how they lack respect. 
  2. Other couples will talk about the immense respect they feel for their partner, but also share that they have lost the love they once felt. 

There seems to be a disconnect in these relationships between love and respect. If couples are able to bridge the gap between respect and love, respect can be a powerful tool to enhance love within a relationship. So how can we use respect to enhance love? How can we work to increase the respect we show to our partner?

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How to Increase Respect in Your Relationship

It is not easy to identify a universal formula for respect that applies to all couples. Sometimes, the longing for respect can feel one-sided, or perhaps each partner may have a different and individualized answer of how respect in the relationship should look. 

While we are all entitled to our definition of respect, there are seven things that every couple can practice to build and encourage respect in their relationship. I’d like to share these seven things we can all do to start increasing the level of respect we show to our partner:

1. Ask for Your Partner’s Opinion

When you ask for your partner’s opinion on any given issue or event that you are dealing with, you are essentially showing your partner that you value their advice. By asking your partner for their opinion and opening up dialogue on something that you’re internally wrestling with, you are actively and intentionally asking for your partner’s help. 

This is not to say that you couldn’t figure it out on your own, but that you truly value what they have to say and what they offer the relationship – especially in times of need. 

2. Accept Your Partner’s Influence in Your Relationship

Accepting influence is about sharing power in the relationship. This can be for decisions and beliefs that impact your relationship as well as individual decisions and beliefs. When we accept influence we take our partner’s opinions and feelings into account. Accepting influence doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything your partner says or feels. By accepting influence we show that we believe our partner adds value to our life.

3. Seek to Understand Your Partner

As a marriage counselor, couples who struggle to show respect will enter our beginning sessions expressing that their partner “doesn’t understand me” or “doesn’t understand why/how this affects me” or even “doesn’t understand what I put up with.” It can be easy, especially in long-term relationships, to think that we know everything that’s going on with our partner but to never actually ASK the other person “how are feeling about this” or “what does this mean to you?” or “can you help me understand?”

As we seek to understand our partner better, there are 2 main things we can do. First, we can ask questions to better understand what it is that our partner is feeling or experiencing. 

Secondly, we can rephrase what we are understanding (“what I hear you saying is…”) rather than using the phrase, “I understand.” 

I often see couples skip the step of understanding their partner and jump to finding a solution or critiquing. I like to encourage my couples clients to take the time to slow a conversation down and work to understand what their partner thinks, feels, believes, values, etc.. In doing this, we show our partner that they’re important to us – We show them that they’re worth our time, and isn’t that the most powerful form of respect and love?

[Here's more on: Communication that Connects]

4. Express Gratitude Towards Your Partner

A powerful tool that is on the tip of your tongue is gratitude. By expressing gratitude you are acknowledging that the efforts your partner puts into the relationship has a positive impact on you and that you notice them. Expressing gratitude shows that you value their efforts. 

Instead of “Happy to see you finally took the trash out” try, “I appreciate you taking the trash out.” It doesn’t have to be a grand expression, it can be as simple as, “I appreciate you…” When your partner feels appreciated, they feel seen. Is gratitude the fix all for marital strife? Absolutely not, but it does make a lasting impression and provides encouragement through the growth process. 

5. Show Your Partner Love that is Meaningful to Them

Be intentional about how you show your partner love. When your efforts match what your partner perceives as love it will be more meaningful to them. This often requires practice because how your partner accepts love may not be what comes most naturally to you. We naturally like to give love the same way that we like to receive love, but we all receive love differently. If you are unsure of how your partner feels most loved, ask them. 

Intentionally loving your partner shows them that they matter to you, that you’re willing to think about and act in ways that are most meaningful to them. It shows that you’re willing to put in extra effort that they find meaningful.

6. Use Care and Consideration When Providing Feedback

Every relationship requires feedback from time to time. A romantic partnership though requires a level of care and consideration when providing feedback. I like to remind couples that this is the most precious relationship that they have, and it should encourage vulnerability and openness. However, when feedback is expressed in a negative, angry, or disrespectful way – that vulnerable and open relationship reacts by throwing up walls and reflecting that negative, angry, and disrespectful behavior back. This cycle can be damaging to the relationship beyond repair if not kept in check.

By expressing feedback in a caring and considerate way you’re showing that you are aware of the impact you have on your partner and your relationship and that this impact matters to you. 

When you are kind and considerate in the way you provide feedback to your partner, you are showing that you believe you are equals. When we don’t use care and consideration we create an unhealthy power dynamic in which we send the message that we believe we’re superior to our partner. Whether or not you actually believe you are, that precedent can then greatly impact your connection down the road. 

7. Tell Your Partner That You Love Them and Why

Not only is it important to tell your partner how you feel about them and your relationship, but also it’s helpful to tell them why. I often hear couples say, “Well, it goes without saying.” More often than not, a partner’s response to that statement is something along the lines of, “I had no idea!” If you ever feel that something positive about your partner goes without saying, say it anyway – they would love to hear it (as I’m sure you would too!). 

As we do these seven things we will begin to not only show more respect but also have the ability to deepen the level of love we actually feel towards our partner. Respect is something we can always work towards deepening to enhance our relationship. As we show more respect we will have happier and more stable relationships.

Warmly, 

Hunter Tolman

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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Gay and Lesbian Relationship Advice

Gay and Lesbian Relationship Advice

Gay and Lesbian Relationship Advice

LGBTQ+ Couples Therapy Questions

[social_warfare]

Relationship Advice For Gay and Lesbian Couples

Humans are built to bond fiercely to each other. Secure attachment is a constant in every healthy relationship, and this is true for same sex couples, gay and lesbian couples, opposite sex couples, non binary couples, and “gender fluid” pairings, polyamorous relationships, “throuplings” and more. If you're looking for relationship advice for lesbian and gay relationships, hear this first: Love is love, always.

As an experienced online couples therapist who's had the honor of serving all types of couples over the years, I know that virtually all relationships have their ups and downs, particularly as attachment grows and people become more important to each other. As we spiral into deeper levels of emotional intimacy and knowing, new growth areas emerge around communication, trust, love, respect, boundaries, identity and partnership. That's a given.

However, it is also true that in addition to the usual peaks and valleys every relationship weathers eventually, gay and lesbian couples have additional layers of complexity that they often have to face together. These can put unique stressors on the relationship, but they can also offer profoundly meaningful opportunities for growth and empathy on each side. Societal pressures, family of origin relationships, internal messages around identity, and unique cultural factors must be understood and honored as well.

In this episode of the podcast, my colleague here at Growing Self, Colorado and Utah-based couples therapist Kensington Osmond gives us an overview of the nuances of LGBTQ relationships, as well as special considerations when it comes to effective gay and lesbian couples therapy. You’ll learn about the unique struggles LGBTQ couples may have to go through and the reasons why. She's also taking a deep dive into the family of origin and cultural issues that can impact so many gay and lesbian couples, and how these can be stepping stones towards greater strength, resilience and empathy.

If you’re in a same-sex relationship or have a loved one that is part of the LGBTQ+ community, this episode will give you perspective into how happy, healthy gay and lesbian couples learn, grow and thrive together.

My guest Kensington has compassionate insights from her experiences as a couples therapist for gay and lesbian couples, as well as a therapist for gay and lesbian individuals on the path of personal growth and healthy identity development. She has lots of gay and lesbian relationship advice to share, as well as thoughtful insights into healthy growth for individuals too. Here's what we're discussing:

Gay and Lesbian Relationship Advice: Podcast Highlights

  • Learn about Kensington’s research on the impact of religion on gay and lesbian relationships.
  • Understand why members of the LGBTQ+ community can struggle with shame and low self esteem, and how to support them through it.
  • Discover the similarities and differences in couples therapy for same sex couples, and opposite sex couples.
  • Realize the importance of being or having a compassionate, safe space for LGBTQ+ individuals to grow.
  • Understand gender dysphoria, and what to do if you or someone you love is suffering with it.
  • Learn essential tools for becoming empowered, and fostering self-compassion.
  • Apply time-tested, evidence-based strategies of couples counseling for gay and lesbian relationships.
  • And more!

You can listen to this episode, “Gay and Lesbian Relationship Advice” on Spotify,  Apple Podcasts, or wherever else you like to listen to relationship podcasts. You can also scroll down to the bottom of this page to listen right now. Join us! (And join the conversation in the comments below!)

xoxo,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby & Kensington Osmond, M.S., MFT-C

 

Gay and Lesbian Relationship Advice: Key Takeaways

Difficulties with Religion as an LGBTQ+ Couple

One of the most challenging obstacles facing many gay and lesbian relationships is that many must learn how to work through the legacy of an unsupportive family of origin. This is often even more difficult for gay and lesbian individuals who grew up in strongly religious households that disparaged gay or lesbian sexual orientations or  i relationships.

Kensington talks openly about her experiences growing up in the LDS (Mormon) faith, and about her work as a therapist on the campus of her alma mater, Brigham Young University. During her time there, Kensington worked with many gay and lesbian individuals and couples who were struggling to reconcile their faith and their sexual orientation. She hosted support groups for members of the LGBTQ+ community on campus, and was also involved in research studies focused on understanding and assisting this population. 

Although her professors and colleagues were supportive of her research regarding the LGBTQ+ community, the school was still strictly Mormon. There were a number of unique stressors and challenges for gay and lesbian students and staff. For example, students at BYU had to sign an Honor Code, which required them to not engage in LGBTQ+ relationships. Her experiences working within this system allowed Kensington to develop a deep appreciation for the struggles and triumphs of her clients navigating the complexities of culture, religion, family and self identity that many gay and lesbian individuals and couples face on their journey of growth.

Kensington reminds us that we bring our culture and upbringing with us, and that the messages we internalized early on become part of us. We also bring these parts into our relationships — both with others, and with ourselves. Kensington speaks compassionately about the complicated and real battles that can exist inside of gay and lesbian individuals, both in the LDS faith and others:

  1. LGBTQ persons may still have strong ties with their strict, religious families.
  2. Going to a religious school might be a better option for them financially.
  3. LGBTQ persons may not have been aware of their sexual orientation in the first place.

When considering these factors, students of the LGBTQ+ community at Brigham Young tended to explore in secret. “It kind of creates an association of shame and secrecy with love and sexuality,” Kensington says. She mentioned how this tendency towards concealment can come into relationships, and says it’s one of the most significant and most harmful long-term effects of being gay or lesbian in an unaccepting culture.

Creating a Safe Space for an LGBTQ+ Loved One

It’s quite challenging for a young person to deal with the conflicts that come with being in the LGBTQ community. There aren't a lot of LGBTQ+ role models for relationships. That can make it challenging to find your identity or see what your future may look like as an LGBTQ+ couple.

So one research that Kensington has done has to do with gender dysphoria, especially in children. Gender dysphoria and its symptoms affect those who feel they are not physically in the right body. 

In talking about her research, she emphasizes the following:

  • Gender dysphoria is an official diagnostic term that refers to distress and not transgender feelings.
  • Although medical science is still advancing, one of the key takeaways for any approach is that children need a supportive and affirmative environment.
  • The “cure” isn’t about trying to change the transgender feelings but addressing the extreme distress that it can bring.

Does Your Partner Have a Same-Sex Attraction?

Kensington also talked about how it's not uncommon for people in opposite-sex relationships to suspect that their partner may have a same-sex orientation or attraction.  If you’re an adult in a relationship and suspect that your partner or spouse may be more attracted to the same sex, you want to be a safe space for them to open up. 

Kensington remarks about the desire to be your partner’s safe space and says, “I think that shows a lot of love and respect for the experiences or the feelings your partner might be having.”

Figuring out how to approach this situation may be daunting, but she says it doesn’t matter how or what you say. To have that kind of conversation, Kensington says that it’s essential to cultivate the right environment of openness, trust, and vulnerability.

Self-Acceptance in an LGBTQ+ Relationship

Everyone wants to love and be loved,” Kensington says. As someone who has worked with LGBTQ+ support groups and LGBTQ+ couples therapy, she has witnessed LGBTQ+ couples still dealing with shame in their thirties or forties.

Despite being open and free, they may be feeling leftover shame from their adolescent years. Regardless of the relationship’s nature, feelings of shame and guilt are subconsciously hurtful for both the individual and their partner.

So what are the core things or steps you want to take when addressing shame?

  1. Name the emotion. To be fully aware of the feeling, you should acknowledge its existence and then name it.
  2. Recognize when the feelings are coming up. Once you’re able to identify your feelings of shame, it’s also essential to recognize what “triggers” the emotions.
  3. Choose to do something different. When the emotion arrives, you want to address it and then choose not to act on it. Doing this makes all the difference in your journey towards acceptance.

You heal from that shame through becoming aware of it.” Sometimes, Kensington adds, you might feel ashamed for even feeling shame in the first place. Although it might be a struggle, it’s crucial to recognize that that’s completely okay.

Polyamory in LGBTQ+ Long-Term Relationships

Most non-heterosexual long-term relationships tend to happen later on in life for LGBTQ+ people compared to heterosexuals. Because of this delay, sometimes one or both individuals may want to explore. Although this might affect “expectations of fidelity,” open or polyamorous relationships have become an option for many.

In cases like these, it’s crucial to consider:

  • There is no one way to have a happy relationship. Each relationship can find its unique way of approaching things like consensual non-monogamy, as long as the foundations are there.
  • To have an open relationship requires an enormous amount of trust. As mentioned, a strong foundation is necessary when you want to venture into relationships that don’t adhere to “societal expectations.”
  • Recognize and honor your “firsts” relationship, but don’t let it hinder you. It’s easy to be attached to your first, especially if you’re in an LGBTQ+ long-term relationship. However, it’s acceptable to acknowledge that they may not be “the one.”

Kensington remarks, “I think there’s a way to honor that special attachment and connection, even if it feels like they’re not going to be my life partner.”

Resources

  • Growing Self – if you’re looking for an online LGBTQ couples therapist or a Colorado LGBTQ+ couples counselor, get in touch with us to request a free consultation session.
  • How Healthy Is Your Relationship Quiz: Take our free online how healthy is your relationship quiz to discover the strengths and growth opportunities in your relationship.

Kensington Osmond has covered some valuable points on LGBTQ+ relationships. What did you connect and relate to the most? Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment down below.

Did you like this interview? Subscribe to the podcast so you don't miss an episode. Be sure to follow up on Instagram (@Growing_Self, and also @DrLisaMarieBobby) for daily doses of inspirational personal growth and relationship advice to help you create the love, happiness and success you deserve.

 

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LBGTQ+ Relationship Advice

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.

Let's  Talk

Real Help For Your Relationship

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

 

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

 

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

Lesbian and Gay Relationship Advice: 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. 

 

The roots of electronic dance music, my friends from the year of our Lord, 1977. That is Giorgio Moroder with a song From Here to Eternity, little nod to the mastermind behind a lot of electronic dance music disco, he was one of the producers, I understand, of Donna Summers’ music. I wanted to illuminate just one of the amazing and glorious facets of gay culture that I so appreciate, and there is much more to gay culture than just parties. My goodness, personally, some of the happiest and most fun, most magical moments of my young life were spent in clubs by, for, and about gay people. We had the best time. I probably shouldn't tell you this because I was such a bad little bunny. 

 

When I was 18 years old, and I was in college, I had a college ID with a little laminated front and I lifted it up with a razor blade and changed the date of my birth with a sharpie marker. It was so bad. It was like so obvious. And it trooped up to the coolest gay club in town with my friends, all in our little baggy pants. I will never forget this incredibly merciful bouncer person who just sort of took one look at my ID and was like, “Happy birthday baby.” We went in and had the time of our lives, and just so many so many fond memories. 

 

That's not why we're here today is to hear me reminisce, what we're here to do, is to talk about gay, same sex relationships. Specifically, I don't specialize in same sex relationships, it's quite a specialty. Over the years, I've worked with a number of same sex couples and individuals, and I think we do great work. I have become aware — thanks to your feedback, frankly, that because of my own mostly heterosexual personal orientation and just what I usually do, with heterosexual couples, it's very easy for me to slide into kind of this worldview, that really talks mostly about male-female relationships. Thank you so much for those of you who have reached out recently on Instagram, on Facebook, through the website at growingself.com to say, “What about this situation? Can you please speak to my life on the podcast?” I was “You know what? you're totally right.” So I'm listening. 

 

I also though, want to say just to share my own, I think I have a sense of humility here. I don't feel like an expert on that subject. I know a fair amount about relationships. There's a lot of similarities between everybody's relationship. There are also unique, special experiences that that gay, lesbian, bisexual individuals have, that also need to be discussed and respected and prioritized. Over the years, I have actually worked, hard to try to build a really diverse team here at Growing Self, and I'm proud of what we have accomplished. 

 

Now, we have people from all walks of life, we have counselors on our team who are black, Hispanic, multiracial, identify as Hindu Muslim. I mean, that really running the gamut. Over the years, I have also been very, very open and receptive to people who have applied with us who identify as gay or lesbian, or sort of have a special orientation to that population through their work as therapists and I have not yet found my person, our person. 

 

I think it's because when we interview people to join our team, we're very, very careful to make sure that they really have the kind of education and experience that we're looking for, particularly when it comes to things like couples counseling because 98% of therapists and coaches who are conducting couples counseling really don't have the specialized training and experience that I feel that they should have to ethically and responsibly do a good job. Because of that, have not moved forward with certain candidates and even though I would have liked to, because they were lovely people and have that special insight to that population. 

 

I'm still on the hunt for my unicorn. We do have somebody on our team who, even though she does not personally identify as being gay or lesbian, has a lot of really special insight into this population, working with them as a therapist, as a couple’s counselor, and also has a really interesting, I think, like, personal life history that gives her so much relevant understanding of some of the unique pressures that LGBTQ couples, individuals and families face on a regular basis. 

 

I am so pleased to introduce you guys to my fun, wonderful colleague, Kensington Osman. She's Marriage and Family Therapist on our team. She does individual therapy and life coaching as well. And Kensington, thank you so much for joining me today.

 

Kensington Osman: Hello, thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here.

 

Dr. Lisa: Well, I'm excited to have you here with me. I just as an aside, have to say, I don't know if I've said this out loud to you, Kensington, but I'll say it now, you know in my role here at growing self, I do a number of different things. One of my favorite pieces of this is having the opportunity to connect with earlier career clinicians like yourself, who I just see as being blazingly talented and smart and committed and just so passionate about the work that you do, and have really appreciated the opportunity to get to know you. Just to be a small part of your mentoring team, I just view you as such a talent and thank you.

 

Kensington: Yeah, thank you, Lisa, that's so nice. I feel really, really blessed to be part of the Growing Self team and be part of this community.

 

Dr. Lisa: Not fast, well, good, we have a good time together. In addition to just enjoying you and getting to know you and having respect for the work that you do over the course of our time getting to know each other, I have really developed a deep appreciation for your perspective. Particularly around same sex couples, transgendered individuals, or people who are not just kind of working through matters of their sexual identity, but really doing so in a challenging context. If it's okay, I would love it if you would take just a moment and share a little bit about your background and the circumstances in which you've begun connecting with people who are dealing with these things, because I think it's really relevant.

 

Kensington: Yeah, absolutely. I'd love to. Yeah. So first of all, I'm from the Chicago area, and I was raised in an active Mormon family. I would say that within my family, it was fairly progressive, relatively speaking, when it comes to LGBTQ matters. I have some family members and loved ones who are part of that community. 

 

As a whole, right, the Mormon community has not been very progressive when it comes to LGBTQ issues. That really came into play for me when I went out to school — I went to Brigham Young University, and I got my master's degree in marriage and family therapy there. While there had the opportunity to work with a lot of clients who were part of the Mormon community, and also part of the BYU community, and who were wrestling with some of these issues of how to reconcile their sexuality or their gender identity with their community and their cultural background that they love so much. 

 

I think, it was really in, in that circumstance in that situation where I was able to understand and gain a lot of empathy for what this community, specifically, experiences when they're, yeah, trying to make sense of this type of conflict. 

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. I think that's one thing that really needs to be discussed and appreciated because we have general relationship questions come through. I think much of the relationship advice or approaches that we offer in our practice apply to all couples, right? Also true, though, that same sex individuals and couples really have challenges not even from within their relationship, but from outside of their relationship are significant stressors and family of origin. If they come from religious backgrounds that may not be affirming to their way of being it's really a lot to deal with. You have done so much work with people really in that space that I think is so valuable. 

 

I mean, if we were even to start there, so in addition to your work as a therapist and marriage counselor, and as a relationship coach, there's that piece of it. I mean, if we could even start with the fact that you've also participated in a number of research initiatives, through BYU, kind of examining some of the unique strengths and challenges of these communities. 

 

Can you tell us a little bit about some of the research projects you've been involved with and what they’ve uncovered?

 

Kensington: Yeah, absolutely. I was lucky enough while I was in my grad program at BYU to have some really, really supportive professors and mentors. I worked on three different, academic projects, that we're related to the LGBTQ community. As well as, I also helped lead a support group for BYU students, who were kind of trying to reconcile their sexual orientation or gender identity with being a BYU student. Those academic projects that I worked on. I wrote one paper that looked at how to treat a family where one of the children was struggling with gender dysphoria, and how to treat that from a systemic perspective. I also…

 

LGBTQ RELATIONSHIPS

 

Dr. Lisa: Slowing down just a little bit, can you, just for listeners who may not be familiar with that term gender dysphoria, can you talk a little bit about what that means? Also, just occurred to me that some of our listeners may not fully understand the significance of BYU as really being an institution that is by, for and about my understanding, at least people who identify as being LDS or Mormon is that a very strong faith-based institution? 

 

Kensington: Yeah, and I think that's really important context to have. Absolutely. BYU is, yeah, an institution primarily for LDS students. You can attend or be a faculty member there if you're not LDS. They do have an honor code, that everyone —  whether you work there, or you're a student there is required to commit to and sign. Part of the Honor Code is that you will not engage in same sex romantic relationship. 

 

Dr. Lisa: Really? I did not know that. Is that the same for heterosexual people, are they allowed to engage in sexual activity outside of age?

 

Kensington: Great question. This is where there's the kind of the discriminatory piece or the difference piece, because if you're in a heterosexual relationship, you're allowed to engage in that romantically. Part of the Honor Code is saving sex for marriage. Not engaging in, actual sexual intercourse while you're a student if you're not married. If you're a student who does identify as gay or lesbian or bisexual, part of the Honor Code is to not even hold hands or hug with whom you have romantic feelings for. 

 

Dr. Lisa: I didn't know that. 

 

Kensington: Yeah, yeah. So it can be a really, really difficult place to be — to put it mildly right to be an LGBT person, right? If it's found that you violate the honor code, you can actually — if you're a student — you can be expelled, diversity or if you're a faculty member, you can lose your job.

 

Dr. Lisa: Okay. I know that I asked you about your research, and I would like to hear about your research. I mean, for the benefit of our listeners, because I'm sure that so many people can identify, I think, generally in our larger culture, there can be a lot of discrimination around people who identify as LGBTQ plus or any of those things. What you're describing is sort of like this ground zero of extreme that we're at least overt described, and how would you describe the I mean, even motivation for a student who is gay or lesbian or bisexual to put themselves in that situation in the first place? Then what did you see as being some of the mental and emotionally legacy of trying to exist in that kind of environment? Can you speak to that a little bit?

 

Kensington: Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah. I think the first part, right of why would you go to BYU, if you are part of the LGBTQ plus community, right? This is a question that gets brought up quite a bit within the Mormon community, right, kind of this idea of, well, if you don't like it, then don't come here. 

 

I think part of what that discussion really misses is that a lot of the time these students are coming from these really strong Mormon families, right. There can be a lot of family pressure to go to BYU. BYU, also, academically, it's a great school, and the tuition is highly subsidized if you're a member of the church. It is a really affordable option, as well financially. Also, I think there's a lot of students who come to BYU, who maybe have some thoughts that maybe they might identify as gay or lesbian or bisexual, but haven't fully realized that yet, or kind of accepted it. 

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, that makes sense because they’re so young. They're 18, 19 years old, and really just having the opportunity to be in college to kind of discover themselves. That makes sense. So much.

 

Kensington: Yeah, and so I think that there's a lot of really valid reasons why someone who does identify as LGBTQ plus would find themselves being a student in BYU. 

 

Dr. Lisa: That makes perfect sense.

 

I'm wondering if you could talk a little bit more about what you've learned about their inner experience. I think that it is probably if I were to put myself in that space of empathetically, sort of an intense kind of condensed version of what many people experience even outside of that kind of environment in terms of the conflict.

 

Kensington: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. I had the pleasure of working with quite a few students who were at BYU, right, who did identify as part of that community. I mean, across the board, there was just a lot of anxiety and feelings of being conflicted. Right? On the one hand, they're so grateful to be at BYU, right? It's a wonderful school and a lot of respect. Also wrestling with, like, the religious belief piece, right? How do I reconcile how I feel, and what I believe my religion is telling me about how I feel? Right? 

 

I think as well, part of what I've seen with students, kind of like the long-term effects, right of this type of environment, is that naturally a lot of students who identify as LGBTQ plus wow, they are at the university will kind of in secret, right, want to explore some of their sexuality, which is normal and make sense, right? Really, it kind of creates this association of shame and secrecy with love and sexuality. 

 

I think that's one of the biggest, long term harmful effects that I've seen is really like this association of shame and needing to keep things secret with what could be such a beautiful, wonderful, meaningful thing, right, sexuality and partnership.

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, yeah. I am certain that everyone who has had that experience of recognizing that inside of themselves and coming out unless they have the privilege to have been born in an unusually supportive family and community can really relate to that. That sort of sense of shame or secrecy, that that gets indoctrinated when people are attempting to be who they are in the context of a culture that is, that is not as supportive as it should be. Really.

 

Kensington: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And I think the other piece, and I think this applies not only to LGBTQ individuals and couples within Mormonism, but within our culture as a whole, right? There's just not a lot of representation, or, l role models, really, of elderly couples, who have had this wonderful, beautiful life together, who are part of this community, right? I think that when you're young, and when you're struggling with trying to figure out your path and your identity, it can be really difficult to create a vision of your future when there's not a lot of things that you can a lot of examples who you can look to. 

 

Dr. Lisa: Right, right. Well, I could totally see that and could imagine that perhaps part of the work that you've done and kind of building people up on the inside who are experiencing that conflict, is perhaps beginning to introduce them to other ways of being, or role models, or examples of like long term, gay couples who have had a beautiful life and long happy fulfilling relationships and families that that could be very healing for them. 

 

Kensington: Absolutely, yeah, I think that having hope and having excitement for the future, and like, believes that the future is going to be positive. I think that's something that every human being really needs to thrive, right? Certainly I think that that has been really helpful for some of my clients in these situations. Right?

 

Dr. Lisa: Well, thank you for taking that little detour with me. You're also about to start talking about some other research that you've done, particularly around gender dysphoria and young people and kind of family systems approach to help them. Can you talk a little bit more about what gender dysphoria means?

 

Kensington: Yeah, I'd be happy to. Yeah, gender dysphoria, it's like the official diagnostic term for when somebody not only identifies as being transgender, but also experiences a significant level of distress that impacts their social or their occupational functioning. 

 

It’s really got kind of those two pieces of number one, you feel that you're not in the right body. That it's causing you really significant distress as well. That's what gender dysphoria means, right. That's a diagnosis that that is given to people who experience those symptoms. 

 

What my research focused on was children who are experiencing gender dysphoria, and how to help their families know how to support them through that process. And this is an issue that can be a little bit tricky, right? Science is still advancing and medicine is still advancing, and there's not just one approach that has been deemed, like the best course of action to treat this disorder in children and to support their families. 

 

That kind of the scientific consensus right now is around kind of just creating a supportive family environment for the child to continue to grow and explore and have that affirmation and that support. Once they are older, right, and are able to make the decision for themselves, they're able to do so.

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Yeah. Well, and also, and just wanting to be clear that the disordered piece of this is not that they really think of themselves and feels a different sex than their body is. The disordered part is that there's a lot of negative emotion around that. It's how do we help them feel better being stuck in the body that doesn't feel like the right one for them.  That you're saying that the path really that supported by research, is to have an emotionally safe environment where they're accepted for who and what they are and how they feel is okay. Really kind of coaching parents around how to respond affirmatively and supportively to their child, but that creating that safe place to have those feelings is ultimately the — air quote — “cure.” I love it. 

 

Kensington: Right. Yeah, absolutely. That the cure isn't about trying to change the transgendered feeling or anything of that nature. It's really about, yes, like you said, addressing the extreme distress, that can often come along with having those. Having that.

 

Gay Relationship Advice

 

Dr. Lisa: Well, and you know what, this is probably a nice segue into something that I did want to speak with you about today, which is, and perhaps some of your other research could come into play here. Is the fact that what we know is that when it comes to same sex relationships, specifically, is that their relationships in exactly the same way that all relationships are. That the fundamental principles of having a healthy relationship and a solid connection, and good communication are the same no matter who you love. Certainly, there are some differences and unique challenges, we could talk about those as well. What has become your understanding of what those fundamental, elemental, just truths of all relationships are? Both from your professional experience, but also your research?

 

Kensington: Yeah, absolutely. Well, and I think, right here, right, it's really that it comes down to that everyone really wants to love and to be loved. To have a safe place to grow and explore. That is, really, I think, the core universal truth of all relationships, regardless of right, gender identity or expression, right, regardless of sexual orientation. We really just all we want the same thing. We want love and companionship and partnership.

 

I think that's really like the core truth, the core similarity. Even in an application, like in some of the some of the themes that I work on with couples in therapy, really are similar as well between straight couples as well as same sex couple. Good communication, every couple needs that, right? The skills that I teach to my straight couples are the same as the skills that I teach to my same sex couples. In addition to attachment, and I, I know that you've talked a little bit about attachment on your podcast before, right? 

 

Dr. Lisa: Never hurts to do it again. How do you understand attachment?

 

Kensington: Yeah. Well, and I understand attachment as our desire and comfort with closeness and distance or like autonomy in a relationship, right. That's something that comes into play again, regardless of your gender identity, or your sexual orientation or those of your partners. I really think a lot of the, I said, a lot of the themes that come up in couples therapy are the same, regardless of if a couple is straight, or if they're gay, right. It, it doesn't matter. I think the differences that are maybe just some of the more contextual.

 

Dr. Lisa: For every couple that those core themes always come up. It’s really at the core of “relationship problems”, air quotes again, but it's that, “Do you love me? Do I trust you? Are you an emotionally safe person for me to be close to open up to? Do I feel understood by you and do you feel understood by me? Do you feel safe with me? Do you feel loved with me?” At the root of it, those are always things that we're helping couples figure out and the content of those conversations can take many forms around — unloading the dishwasher, or having sex or finances or how we talk to each other. That's the fabric of every relationship. That's always true.

 

LGBTQ Couples Therapy

 

Dr. Lisa: You're saying, though, that with same sex couples, that there's a contextual piece, and maybe even a cultural piece. It can be different. How do you understand those?

 

Kensington: Absolutely. Well, I think, just as when you're working with a couple that comes from any community, there's going to be certain cultural or contextual pieces that are a little bit different. Whether it's a couple that is international and it's from a very different culture, or a couple where both partners are members of the LGBTQ+ community. Some of those things, and we've touched on this a little bit. A lot of the time, it tends to revolve around family of origin stuff. One of the one of the unique challenges that LGBTQ+ couples have to face is coming out, that's something that straight people don't have to worry about — coming out as straight. That's something that definitely can come up in therapy, whether both partners are out who they're out to, and what their coming out experiences were like — what kinds of responses they received, and how safe they feel, with their family after those experiences.

 

Dr. Lisa: I wondered, thinking through this, if you found that imagining a young adolescent being either in a family that isn't supportive to their way of being, or that the adolescent fears that their family might not be supportive, or feeling kind of discrimination in the community, found that with same sex couples, some of that sort of insensible self-preservation instincts to kind of conceal or hide certain aspects of themselves, does that carry over with them into adulthood and into their relationships with their partners? Or does that just vary by individual? Would you say?

 

Kensington: Yeah, that's a great question. I think in my experience, it's a little bit of both, right? I think that when we're young and we, we feel that there's something that's wrong with us, right? Or we feel that there's something that we have to hide, then I think that that can become a pattern  into adulthood of feeling that maybe there's always going to be something wrong with us, or always something that we need to hide or keep in from our partner, or from others around us in order to feel loved and accepted. I have seen that in some of my couples before. I do think that it varies by individual. 

 

Dr. Lisa: Sure. Hey, that's true for heterosexual people in heterosexual relationships, too. That we can take all kinds of things with us. I didn't know if it was something that you saw more of. Maybe sometimes, yes, and sometimes, no, we can't make sweeping statements about populations of people that we're all individuals.

 

Kensington: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I think that that is, again, and even if people experience that in adolescence and kind of feel that they've worked through that. I think that there's still the fact that that shame was experienced when we were adolescents does carry a lasting impact, right? I've absolutely worked with couples who are in their 30s or their 40s or older, and they're out to everybody, and they feel generally accepted, right and feel generally secure in their relationship. There's still that shame piece. Deep inside that comes from when they were in their adolescence. We're feeling a lot of these fears. I think that the way that I've seen that have the most lasting impact is just through carrying that feeling of shame — that ultimately there, there might be something wrong with me, even if I'm not sure exactly what it is.

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. How I mean, I think in my experience, that kind of toxic shame can be really insidious. It's only powerful, I think, when we're not fully conscious that it's happening, there's a sort of like, reflexive feeling. Just sort of like shine a light in the direction of hope that I have also seen that when people understand that they do feel that way sometimes, and that there's a reason for it. They sort of like be consciously aware of, “Oops, my shame just got triggered. And I don't need to believe that and I'm going to take a chance and say how I feel and trust that I'm going to be loved for who and what I am anyway.” That it can be overcome. That it can be a process. 

 

Kensington: Right. Absolutely. Well, and I think exactly like you said. The way that I've seen people grow from that and heal from that shame is through becoming aware of it and naming it right. I think there can even be shame sometimes in the fact that people still carry some of that shame, right?

 

Dr. Lisa: I feel ashamed for feeling ashamed.  

 

Kensington: I’m coming out, I'm proud, right? Why do I still have this little sense inside of me that is familiar, that I've, that I've felt since I was younger? Really, it's normal. Right? It's, I think, understanding it’s there, understanding that it doesn't make you a bad person that it’s still there. Being able to name it and recognize it when it's coming up. Those are all the big steps to then being able to say, “Okay, it's here, and I'm choosing to do something different.” 

 

Dr. Lisa: I'm so glad that we're talking about this, this is the theme of the year, as far as I'm concerned for, like 2021 It is like radical self-acceptance. There's just been so much energy that people put into changing certain aspects of themselves. I just love what you're saying that it's actually okay, if you still feel shame flare ups, it’s okay. Thank you just for mentioning that.

 

As you kind of reflect on it. I's more specific, maybe to some of the couples that you've worked with same sex couples. Are there other things that you've noticed that feel maybe more like unique challenges for them, not that they don't exist in heterosexual couples, but maybe more commonly exist in same sex couples?

 

Kensington: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I think part of it as well is or one thing that I've seen is a lot of the time heterosexual individuals will have a lot of their kind of sexual awakening experiences and really formative experiences in their teens. People who are part of the LGBTQ+ community will tend to have some of those experiences a little bit later, at least for right now, while it still remains kind of difficult to come out when you're young. 

 

One thing that I've seen is with some of my, some of my couples, is just this feeling of wanting to do more exploration. Especially with my couples who are maybe in their 20s, they're kind of learning things about their sexuality and, their sexual preferences, that maybe their heterosexual counterparts learned at a younger age. There's a lot of sexual exploration that I have worked with and seen happen. The wonderful thing about being in a relationship that feels safe, and where you feel trusted and know is that you can feel safe to have those experiences and really explore your sexuality. That's something that I would say I've worked with quite a bit in addition to like the family of origin pieces and shame pieces that come up.

 

Dr. Lisa: Well, because I don't think that I have the level of experience that you do in working with a specific population, and over the years, I have had a number of same sex couples. When I think about some of their pain points for younger couples, specifically. I hear what you're saying that, because people couldn't maybe explore the way a 15 year old street kid, cause, they're finally like, “Alright”, when they're 25, and that this can create friction in a couple. 

 

What I have seen, and what I think you're also alluding to is what can happen in a couple around sort of expectations of fidelity, and being kind of in a committed monogamous relationship, where perhaps one person in the couple is wanting that more than the other person who may love their partner very much. Many aspects of the relationship, but who is still in that space of figuring themselves out and who maybe isn't ready to have the same commitment to never sleeping with another person, besides you, again. That can be a real stressor and pain point it when there's differences of hopes or needs or expectations in a couple. Is that what you've seen also? 

 

Kensington: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I think I've seen this the most in couples where maybe one person was out before the other person, right? And so maybe had more chances or more opportunities to experiment sexually. That that's definitely a kind of a unique pain point that I've seen it with my same sex couples. I've also seen them figure out how to navigate this in really beautiful, wonderful, unique ways. 

 

I think that's one of the wonderful things about relationships today, is that it's becoming more accepted that people can create the stories for their own relationships, and create their own expectations. Kind of throwing off some of these societal ideals of like, “I'm committed to you. And that means X, Y, and Z for the rest of my life”, there's a little bit more flexibility.

 

Dr. Lisa: I think I hear you sort of alluding to things like open relationships or sort of different configurations. I want to have you back on the show maybe to talk about that more like no, because I think that that's important, too, is that there isn't any one way to have a healthy happy relationship. It is also true that to have a healthy, high quality, open relationship or polyamorous relationship, potentially, it requires an enormous amount of trust and communication. So many foundational things that I think are worth discussing at more length. I'm glad that you just brought up that there are so many different ways of being and that maybe they're all okay, and for a couple to have the time and space to figure out what that looks like for them. I love that.

 

Kensington: Yeah, absolutely. I think exactly like you said, and I, I'd love to talk about this more in detail on another podcast. I think that, really, yeah, that communication piece and that trust piece, it's what's essential in every relationship. Right? Especially in relationships where you're considering, like consensual non monogamy. That’s okay. That communication and that trust are things that can be built and that can be developed, right?

 

Dr. Lisa: Thank you for talking about that. And then I know that — gosh, I could just talk to you all day, Kensington. You’re a joy. And if it’s okay, we have had a couple of specific questions come through our Instagram page, actually, if anybody would like to ask you a question down @drlisamariebobby or @growing_self on Instagram. 

 

One of our followers, I think, brought up a really interesting point where they were sort of saying that they feel a special kind of attachment or sort of weight attached to the very first relationship that they had after coming out. I think their point was, I think part of the question was, a) is this a thing, but also like, how I think confusing it can be if the very first relationship that you have after coming out, like, there are so many things, it's like, sort of finally, I get to be myself and this is the person that I get to do it with. There are so many firsts. 

 

It can also be true that it isn't ultimately your life partner that you're doing that with and sort of how to negotiate that really profound attachment on the one hand with also the reality that it's important to have different relationships, and not every person you date is going to be the one and I wonder how you would speak to that situation?

 

Kensington: Yeah, absolutely. I'm so glad someone asked this question. I think it's a great question. First of all, I would say, super normal to feel this really special connection, right? With the person who you are first with after coming out, because not only is it a reflection of, finally” I get to be with this person who I'm really attracted to and really have feelings for.” I think part of that attachment also comes from the fact that you are finally being feeling free to live authentically. I think that feeling that intensity, right, feeling that intense connection, totally is normal, and totally makes sense and is the thing that a lot of people in a similar situation experience. 

 

I also think that it's important to, like you said, balance that with knowing that, “Okay, this might not be your life partner. That is okay. Wonderful if they are, it's also okay, if they're not, right?” I think that doesn't mean that the relationship has to feel less special, right? There always going to be the first person who you experienced a lot of firsts with and the first person who you were able to be with in a really authentic, open, non-secretive way. I think that there's a way to honor that special attachment and connection, even if it feels like maybe they're not going to be my life partner forever. Right? 

 

Dr. Lisa: Well, I love it. Just again, how affirming, that they can be so special and important and wonderful. That maybe we come together for a reason. It's okay to just celebrate and it doesn't diminish the specialness or the love. 

 

Kensington: Absolutely.

 

Dr. Lisa: Okay. All right. One more question. I believe this one also came through Instagram. This is actually a question that has come up a few different times. I've even seen this in the comment section of the blog at growingself.com, which is a person and a couple is a heterosexual couple, who suspects that their partner may have tendencies or desires to be with a person of the same sex. 

 

I've heard I've had this actually come up a few times that either the partner that they're with has a history of same sex relationships, so maybe they identify more as bisexual. But I've also even heard it married couples with kids, where one of ours sort of has the suspicion that their spouse may have more same sex attractions. I think the question is, how do I bring that up in a safe way that doesn't make them feel bad or shamed or blamed or accused, but also sort of fosters the kind of authenticity and transparency that we probably need to have in our relationship? Do you have any thoughts about that? 

 

Kensington: Yeah, well, I think I think that's a great question too. Kudos to anyone who's able to ask this question, in the spirit of, “I want to be a safe person.” Right. I think that shows a lot of love and respect, right for the experiences or the feelings that your partner might be having. I don't have a magic phrase to use. I do think that it's important that when we bring this up with our partner, it's done with all of those intentions in mind, right? Of, “I'm asking this question, because I love this person. And I want to know the truth. I want them to feel safe to be authentic with me. Right?”

 

Cultivating right and environment in the relationship of a vulnerability, and openness and trust. I think those things are really important precursors to being able to have this conversation.

 

Dr. Lisa: Well, what a good reminder and I love what you're saying that the words don't matter. Specifically what you say, or how you say it, doesn't matter nearly as much as being in an emotional state of like, passion and empathy, and love. Because no matter what you say, if you're in that space emotionally, that's what people will feel. That's what they'll receive. A good reminder that to be able to manage anxiety about what it might mean for your relationship. Be aware of whether that is coming up and how you're managing that so that you can stay in that space of like, genuine compassion and authenticity with your partner. If you're in that space, it's golden. You're good.

 

Kensington: Yeah, absolutely, Well and one final thing I'll say about them, too, because I think if you are experiencing anxiety about what does this mean, for my relationship? That's normal. And that makes sense. I don't think that that makes you any less loving or compassionate for feeling some of those things. I wouldn't have the conversation when you're in the height of feeling emotion. Right?

 

Dr. Lisa:  Good advice. For all of us. Good advice. 

 

Kensington: Absolutely. Yeah.

 

Dr. Lisa: Oh, well, this has been such a wonderful conversation. I have to tell you, as we've been talking, I've been kind of making a mental list of things that I would like to speak with you more about. We already have, what should we call, non-traditional relationship structures on leg things to talk about? Also, as we were talking, I was thinking that when, and I don't think we have time to get into this today, excuse me, but like, I would love to maybe have you come back and share your insight on both for LGBTQ people who have to figure out how to reconcile their way of being — their like essential selves with their faith traditions. 

 

I think even more generally, I think that squaring what you/we have been taught to believe, and the messages that come from religions or faith institutions, as we emerge into adulthood, sometimes we have a lot of things to figure out there. I've certainly experienced that in my own life, but working with people to who even as adults have recognized that some of their earlier experiences growing up in religions are very, like, strict faith communities where we're not to their benefit and really having a lot of work to do. 

 

I know that we don't have really time to go into that topic fully today, but I would love for you to come back sometime and we'll go there because I think that would be really helpful to a lot of our listeners.

 

Kensington: Yeah, absolutely. I'd love to come back and talk about some of those things.

 

Dr. Lisa: Well, thank you for doing this with me today. This was wonderful.

 

Kensington Osmond everyone. If you'd like to learn more about Kensington or her practice you can learn more about her at growingself.com. Kensington is currently licensed as a marriage and family therapist candidate both in Utah and in Colorado. And she also does a lot of relationship coaching and individual coaching to people all over the place. So, thank you so much, Kensington. It's been a pleasure. I really appreciate your time.

 

Kensington: Yeah, thank you, Lisa.

 

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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
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  • 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. 

Let's Talk. Schedule a Free Consultation Today.

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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Grow Together, or Grow Apart:

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

Grow Together, or Grow Apart

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

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

Relationships Under Stress

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

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

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

Healthy vs Unhealthy Relationships

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

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

Marriage Falling Apart?

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

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

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

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Grow Together, or Grow Apart: Episode Highlights

Our Need for Connection 

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

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

Feeling Failed by a Loved One 

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

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

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

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

Happy and Successful Couples

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

Psychological Flexibility 

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

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

Kindness and Generosity

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

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

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

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

Empathy

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

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

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

Courageous Conversations

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

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

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

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

Emotional Intelligence

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

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

Emotional intelligence is powerful. It allows us to: 

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

Respecting the Fact That Relationships Are Systems

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

Steps to Grow

How can you start taking steps to grow your relationship?

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

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

More Resources 

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

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

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

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

Wishing you all the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

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.

Let's  Talk

Real Help For Your Relationship

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

 

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

 

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

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

Practicing Intellectual Humility to Improve Your Relationships

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.

Let's Talk. Schedule a Free Consultation Today.

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.

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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 P.

Roseann P.

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 O.

Kensington O.

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. 

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Meagan T.

M.A., LMFT

Meagan Terry is a relationship specialist. She is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with over nine years of experience in helping couples reconnect, and enjoy each other again. She uses effective, evidence based forms of marriage counseling including Emotionally-Focused Couples Therapy and The Gottman Method. In addition to working one-on-one with couples, she teaches our Lifetime of Love premarital and relationship class.

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Silas H.

M.S., MFT-C

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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. 

 

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Georgi C.

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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

Learn and Grow

Learn and Grow

Learn and Grow:

The most important life lessons uncover your strengths.

[social_warfare]

“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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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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