What to Do When Your Partner Has a Problem.

What to Do When Your Partner Has a Problem.

What to Do When Your Partner Has a Problem.

Can You Help Someone Who Won’t Help Themselves?

What to Do When Your Partner Has a Problem.

Does Your Partner Have a Problem?

It is agonizing to be in a relationship with someone you love very much, but who has a serious — and untreated — problem. If your partner is struggling with something like depression, anxiety, alcoholism, drug addiction, pornography addiction, ADHD or PTSD it can wreak absolute havoc in your relationship, not to mention make you (both) miserable. And it can be hard to tell when “being supportive” slides into “being codependent.” If the problem has been going on for a long time, it may even make you question whether you should continue to support and help your partner… or whether it’s time to cut your losses and end the relationship.

This topic has been on my mind lately, as I’ve recently had a number of listeners of my Love, Happiness and Success Podcast ask me these questions:

  • How do I help my partner who is depressed (or anxious / ADHD / addicted to something) and refuses to get help?
  • What are signs your partner will get their act together, and what are signs you should break up?
  • How do I help my husband who is suffering from PTSD, and won’t talk to anyone?
  • How many chances should I give my alcoholic / addicted partner?
  • I promised, “For better or for worse,” but it wrong of me to bail on this marriage if my spouse is not holding up their end of the bargain?
  • Is my boyfriend ever going to be cured of his pornography addiction?
  • Should I feel guilty for ending this relationship, even if I feel like I need to save myself?

These are big, serious questions. But you, my dear listener, told me this is what is important to you… and I’m listening to you. We’re going there on this episode of the Love, Happiness & Success Podcast. I hope that this discussion helps you find your way through this dark time, and back into clarity and inner peace.

All the best to you,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

 

 

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What To Do When Your Partner Has a Problem

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

Music Credits: Lorelle Meets The Obsolete, with “Waitin’ For The Orange Sunshine”

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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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Fight Racism, Part 2: Becoming Antiracist

Fight Racism, Part 2: Becoming Antiracist

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby dives into Helm’s White racial identity development model and has an honest conversation about what the stages are really like. She shares what the work involves, the obstacles and opportunities in each stage of growth, and resources to support you in your antiracist development on this episode of The Love, Happiness and Success Podcast.

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Fight Racism, Part 1: Hope, Healing and Empowerment

Fight Racism, Part 1: Hope, Healing and Empowerment

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Fight Racism, Part 2: Becoming Antiracist

Fight Racism, Part 2: Becoming Antiracist

Fight Racism, Part 2: Becoming Antiracist

Authentic Antiracist Action Starts With You.

BECOMING ANTIRACIST: Many people around the country and around the world are feeling a renewed sense of hope that making much-needed societal changes to fight racism may be possible. People are protesting, showing support of the Black Lives Matter movement, speaking out about social injustice, taking antiracist action, and feeling very motivated to be a part of the solution.

This is a great thing. It also needs to be said that true, meaningful change will require us to go much deeper than saying nice things or taking superficial action. True change will require all Americans — and specifically, White Americans — to take this fight on as their own. In order for lasting, systemic change to happen, White Americans need to take on the emotional burden of racism, break the silence of complicity, refuse to accept the status quo, and shine the light of inquiry into all the spaces that racism hides and festers. It is vital for White people to do this work because…. going to say it… White people are actually the problem. Not all White people, but enough White people are collectively involved in systemic racist policies and institutions to make these systems very difficult for people of color to change from the outside in.

This is an inside job. White people need to be looking around themselves (and inside themselves) to see what’s causing so much harm to others and take meaningful antiracist action to change what they can change. This sounds simple, but in reality, it’s much harder to do.

Becoming Antiracist

Well-meaning white people are often eager to leap into action for the antiracist but do so without first having done the foundational personal growth work that allows them to genuinely understand racism, and be confident activists in pursuit of change. Instead, White people often feel intense feelings of guilt and for the abuse that people of color experience, shame for their own White privilege, and intense feelings of anxiety about doing or saying “the wrong thing.” While these feelings are all understandable, not knowing how to work through them and get past them can stop a White person from being the effective agent-of-change that the world so desperately needs.

Before meaningful change and social activism are possible, there needs to be a growth process of self-awareness and healing. This is hard to do, and there are not many sign-posts to guide you in this work. Most White families never talk about race, much less provide their children with a roadmap to develop a healthy, White racial identity. As such, White Americans struggle to cope with the emotional reality of racism and injustice. Defensiveness, silence, denial, tone-deaf “action,” and / or paralysis can ensue.

(Healthy) White Racial Identity Development

The good news is that while White culture does not generally speak of such things openly, there actually is a map. In the ’90s psychologist and researcher Janet Helms built on the work of William Cross (racial identity development in people of color) and Derald W Sue (Counseling the Culturally Diverse) to develop a White racial identity development model that outlines the process through which White people can shift away from color-blindness and denial, work through paralyzing shame and guilt, take responsibility for understanding racism, and then use their authentic awareness to be part of the meaningful solution.

Until White people do this necessary personal growth work, it is difficult for them to be reliable partners in the fight against racism. However, the internal work of growing in their own racial identity and awareness lays the foundation for authentic anti-racist action that is motivated by a genuine desire for positive change, and a sense that the problem of racism is their problem too. In that emotional space, White Americans can shift away from being (even unconsciously) part of the problem, and into being part of the solution.

The Antiracist Personal Growth Process

In that spirit, on this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast, I’m diving into Helm’s White racial identity development model, and having an honest conversation about what the stages are really like. (Because I have lived them all!) We’ll talk about what the work involves, the obstacles and opportunities in each stage of development, and resources to support you in your anti-racist development. Specifically, we’ll address:

  • Why “color-blindness” happens, and why something so prevalent (and seemingly well-intentioned) is so destructive.
  • Why White people often feel so much guilt and shame when confronting race, and how to not let those feelings stop you from moving forward.
  • How to avoid the mental and emotional pitfalls that can derail the anti-racist growth process.
  • Why anti-racist action stemming from anxiety about “being a good White person” can be more harmful than helpful.
  • How to dig into the realities of racism, the impact of racial discrimination, and the fact of White privilege in a constructive way that facilitates growth and healing.
  • How White parents can raise anti-racist children.

 

Antiracist Resources

In addition to all of the above, in this episode, I mention a number of resources that have been personally helpful to me in my own journey of anti-racist growth. These are just a tiny drop in the bucket; a big part of the work of stage five is to read / watch / listen / attend / learn from anything and everything that adds another piece to the ever-evolving puzzle of your own understanding and empathy. A few resources mentioned in the podcast (know there are MANY more):

Antiracist Resources For Kids (Toddlers to Tweens!):

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

Fight Racism, Part 2: Becoming Antiracist

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

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Please Rate, Review & Share 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

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Fight Racism, Part 1: Hope, Healing and Empowerment

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Fight Racism, Part 1: Hope, Healing and Empowerment

Fight Racism, Part 1: Hope, Healing and Empowerment

Fight Racism, Part 1: Hope, Healing and Empowerment

How to Stay Mentally and Emotionally Well in an Unsafe World

We are living in historic times. In the midst of a global pandemic, our country is also fighting another battle: One that seeks to shine a light on injustice and systemic racism, end abuse and discrimination of Black Americans and other people of color and begin the hard work of healing.

Many people are connecting with strong emotions as they actively confront pervasive problems in our culture. Some are sitting with sadness, some are giving a voice to long-unspoken anger, and others are feeling hopeful — even exhilarated — that racism is being acknowledged and addressed openly.

While this is a time of hope and possibility, it is also a time of reckoning and recognition for the hurt, pain, and damage that has long been suffered by Black Americans in the United States. As old wounds are re-opened, and the horrors of systematic terrorism against Black people are dragged out into the light, it’s vital that we are also talking about the mental health and emotional wellness of people of color in our country.

Being the target of oppression, and the victim of unjust racist policies takes a toll. This reality brings up questions that need to be answered:

  • How can a person of color cope with feelings of anger and pain due to being directly impacted by (or bearing witness to) racial injustice in our society?
  • What are some strategies that Black Americans can use to stay empowered in their relationships, and to make informed, affirming decisions that honor their needs and rights?
  • Where do you turn for safety, support, and understanding in a divided and uncertain world?
  • How can people of color honor the reality of the past and present, and also remain hopeful about the future?

Growing Self therapists Teresa Thomas, M.A., AP, and Zachary Gaiter, M.S., LPCC tackle these questions and more, on this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast.

 

 

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Fight Racism, Part I: Hope, Healing & Empowerment

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

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Online marriage counseling charlotte NC couples therapy online life coach charlotte therapist

Teresa Thomas, M.A., AP is a positive, strengths-based therapist, marriage counselor, and life coach with a knack for helping people get to the root of their issues so that they can establish strong foundations for long-term change. She helps couples, families and individuals heal, grow, and feel good again.

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Fight Racism, Part 1: Hope, Healing and Empowerment

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Many people are connecting with strong emotions as they actively confront pervasive problems in our culture. Some are sitting with sadness, some are giving a voice to long-unspoken anger, and others are feeling hopeful — even exhilarated — that racism is being acknowledged and addressed openly. Today on the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is speaking with online therapists Teresa Thomas, M.A., A.P, and Zachary Gaiter, M.S., LPCC about Hope, Healing and Empowerment.

How to Repair Your Self Esteem After a Breakup

How to Repair Your Self Esteem After a Breakup

How to Repair Your Self Esteem After a Breakup

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.

Has Your Breakup or Divorce Shattered Your Self Esteem?

Hands down, one of the most horrible parts about going through a bad breakup or divorce is the way it mangles your self-esteem. I know from so many years as a therapist and life coach, that many people experience post-divorce depression (or post-breakup depression). There are many parts to this experience: Grief and loss, or feeling overwhelmed by all the practical aspects of putting your life back together.

However, for most people, the most terrible depression after a breakup comes when it damages your self-esteem and makes you start to feel bad about yourself.

If you’ve been feeling down on yourself since your relationship ended I want you to know something right off the bat, feeling this way does not mean that you’re actually “less than.”

I talk to a LOT of people about the most vulnerable parts of their life. I know for a fact that even the most gorgeous, amazing, successful people second-guess themselves after a divorce or breakup. Even the most naturally confident, strong, and reasonable among us — in the throes of a devastating break up — still have these types of horrible, torturous conversations with themselves in their darkest moments:

  • Anxious Thought: “Why did this relationship fail?” Self-Esteem Crushing Answer: Because of all your personal shortcomings and the mistakes you made in this marriage or relationship.
  • Anxious Thought: “Why doesn’t the person I love more than anything want to be with me anymore?” Self Esteem Crushing Answer: Because you aren’t interesting / fun / sexy / smart / successful enough.
  • Anxious Thought: “Why didn’t my Ex care enough about me to treat me better while we were together?” Self Esteem Crushing Answer: Because you’re just not that worthy or lovable.
  • Anxious Thought: “Why did my Ex cheat on me or get together with someone new?” Self Esteem Crushing Answer: Because that someone new is much more interesting, attractive, worthy of love and respect. Basically, they’re just a better person than you.

If you’re going through a bad breakup, chances are you’re probably nodding to yourself as you see this self-destructive internal dialogue put to paper. You’ve probably been being tortured by these ideas too.

And it’s making you feel terrible about yourself.

But, believe it or not, as bad as that is…. that’s not even the most toxic, ruinous thing that can happen to your already fragile self-esteem in the aftermath of a traumatic break-up.

The most terrible thing is not when your Ex betrays you or mistreats you. It’s not even when you blame yourself for why it didn’t work out, or torture yourself with ongoing commentary about all of your shortcomings and failures.

The Most Destructive Part of a Breakup: Breaking Your Trust in Yourself

Yes, your self-esteem gets throttled when you feel rejected, or blame yourself for what went wrong. But it gets ground up into sausage and squished into the dirt when you betray or mistreat yourself in the aftermath of a terrible breakup:

  • When you fail to protect yourself from a toxic or abusive Ex.
  • When you do things that you’re ashamed of… all in desperate efforts to even briefly escape the pain of heartbreak, and reconnect with your Ex.
  • When you keep contacting or spying on your Ex through social media, even when you know you shouldn’t.
  • When you are still sleeping or hooking up with your Ex, even when you feel more devastated afterward.
  • When your mental and emotional energy is still completely focused on your Ex, and your mood for the entire day (not to mention your worth as a person) depends on what they are doing or not doing.
  • When you are compromising your ethics, morals, and self-respect in efforts to regain the love and approval of your Ex.

This darkness is not something that usually gets discussed openly. But it’s very real and very destructive to your long term health, your happiness, and your self-worth. And as you know only too well if you’re going through it, you need support and compassion on your path of healing and recovery.

I have spent years helping broken-hearted people with divorce and break-up recovery counseling and coaching, and poured through oceans of research to write my book, “Exaholics: Breaking your addiction to an Ex Love.” I’ve spent years helping my private clients heal their self-esteem in the aftermath of a bad breakup, and now we’re addressing it today on this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast.

On today’s show, I’m going to help you understand how your self-esteem was damaged, and how to develop new compassion and empathy for yourself. We’re also going to discuss the five steps to healing your self-esteem after a breakup so that you can start putting yourself back together again.

I hope that this helps support you on your journey of growth and healing.

xoxo, Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

PS: In this podcast, we discuss a number of resources. Here are links to all the breakup recovery resources I shared:

My private Online Breakup Support Group on Facebook. (It’s a hidden group, so you have to request access).
Exaholics.com
Online Breakup Recovery Program: www.breakup-recovery.com
Book: Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to An Ex Love

PJ Harvey: To Bring You My Love, and book (poetry collection) The Hollow Of The Hand

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How To Repair Your Self Esteem After a Breakup

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

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How To Love Yourself

How To Love Yourself

How To Love Yourself

Yes, you really do have to love yourself first.

Here’s why… and how.

How to Love Yourself

++ Note: Learning how to love yourself is such an important, core topic that I decided to post this both as a written article and a podcast so that you can access the info in whichever format is most helpful to you. (Scroll down for the podcast link). I sincerely hope this information helps you cultivate the love and compassion for yourself that you deserve. With love — LMB ++

“You have to love yourself first.”

For many years, I would hear that and wonder — what does that even mean? I would hear the words, and think “Yup, that sounds like a good idea,” but how to actually create this state of self love was a total mystery.

I didn’t feel a lot of love for myself. And on some level I thought that it sounded sort of selfish and weird to think about being deeply in love with one’s self.

I imagined Narcissus cooing at his reflection in the glassy water of the river bank, and think, “People keep telling me I need to love myself. But how exactly is that supposed to improve my life or my relationships?”

I didn’t get it. I do now.

Here’s what I’ve learned on my journey of growth, and what I teach my online therapy and life coaching clients now about what self love is, why it’s important, and how to love yourself.

But first, let’s talk for a moment about what self love is NOT, and the traps people often fall into when they want to love themselves but don’t know how.

Malignant Self Love

This skepticism around “self-love” I originally had was not helped by my journey into becoming a therapist. I’d hear that phrase, “You have to love yourself first” get tossed around by therapy clients using it to  — quite frankly — justify all kinds of unhealthy things in the name of “self-love.”

People can use, “But I have to love myself!” to rationalize the worst kinds of self indulgence, refusal to accept responsibility, breaking of commitments, abandoning of values, displacement of blame, or breathtakingly insensitive actions towards other people. (“Yes, I stole the money and lied about it, but I deserve to be happy! I love myself!”)

This is not healthy self love. Healthy self love does not make your needs, rights or feelings more important than those of other people. Just the opposite: Healthy self love makes you more empathetic and compassionate. More on that in a moment…

Using “Self Love” as Another Way To Judge Yourself

Here’s another thing that self-love is absolutely not: Judgment. Ironically, people will find ways to use the idea of self love against themselves. I can’t tell you how many times in therapy or life coaching sessions I’ve see lovely, beautiful people welling up with tears as they spoke their truth and said things like:

“I don’t love myself. I don’t like myself. The only love that matters is the love I get from other people. But I know I should love myself. And the fact that I don’t love myself is one more reason for me to hate myself.”

Looking at the level of self love you have and using that as just another way to beat yourself up, judge yourself, and feel like you’re failing.

I have therapy and coaching clients with the expectation that they should love themselves,  and that they didn’t feel that way was only more evidence that there was something terribly wrong with them. Is that true for you?

It is okay if you don’t feel like you love yourself. Being able to accept yourself — with compassion, as you are — is self-love. Bashing yourself for not being good enough or because you don’t feel like you love yourself is the opposite of self love.

Understanding Love: Love For Yourself, and Love For Others

But over many years as a therapist, a marriage counselor, a wife, a mother, and a person on her own even-winding journey of growth, I feel that the true nature of love is starting to become clearer to me.

Love does not hurt. Real love is never an excuse to do bad things to other people, and it’s definitely not anything that should result in more self-criticism or self loathing.

What I’m realizing about self love or love for others is that you don’t have to feel love to have love, and you don’t have to feel like you love yourself or that you love others.

Love is much, much bigger than any of the feelings that blow through us on a given day. Striving to have a feeling of love is not how love works.

People who love themselves may not feel the emotion of having love for themselves.

Here’s a secret: Love is not actually a feeling. Love certainly can be a feeling. Love can be a felt emotion. But love is really something that we do. Love is an action. Love is a choice.

Choosing to have tolerance, compassion, and acceptance for yourself as you are — even if you don’t feel like you love yourself — is, paradoxically, what self love actually is. 

Every once in awhile we might have the wonderful treat of feeling self love, but that’s just a warm patch of sunlight on a path that’s dappled with the subtle lights and darks of the emotion we walk though every day.

True Love, real love, is more like a state of grace that we can choose to live in: The energy that prioritizes the well-being of people over everything else. Love is compassion, empathy, support, hope, and help that is extended for the benefit of others… And that includes us, too.

True Love For Others

True love allows us to set our self-focus and ego aside and do what needs to be done for the benefit of others. Have you ever stayed up late to do laundry or gone to the grocery store in the middle of the night because your kid needed clean clothes or lunch for school the next day, even though you were tired? That’s the kind of true love I’m talking about. Simple prioritization for the wellbeing of another.

In that state of everyday grace, it doesn’t really matter what you’re thinking or feeling or wanting: You’re simply understanding what someone else is feeling and needing, and being of service to them.

Throwing someone else over the wall is the height of heroism. Good parents do that for their children without even thinking of it. And through our relationships we all get the chance to practice softening ourselves, choosing compassion over criticism, and showing others that their feelings are as important to use as our own.

That is how we love others. We may or may not have the feeling of love as we do what love requires. The fact that we do it anyway is evidence of the power of the love we have. It’s easy to do what you feel like doing. True love does the hard stuff, even when you don’t feel like it. That is the definition of love.

True Love For Yourself

But how do you love yourself? It’s easier to see how you can be compassionate, and tolerant, and generous with other people – but towards yourself? “Isn’t that the opposite of True Love?” You might be thinking. Or, “If love is about doing things for the benefit of others, and to help, support and lift up others, isn’t it taking away from them if I turn that compassionate energy towards ME? Isn’t that SELFISH???”

Loving yourself is not selfish. Loving yourself is the foundation of wellbeing that supports you in your ability to love others. Loving yourself means treating yourself with the same kind of compassion, support, encouragement and devotion to your health and genuine best interests that you give to other people.

What I’m learning is that being a healthy person who is able to give love to others means that you are having a “true love” kind of relationship with yourself first. Because if you refuse to love yourself you will be too unwell physically, mentally, and emotionally to be of benefit for others.

Note that I just said, “If you refuse to love yourself,” rather than, “If you can’t love yourself.” Remember, love is not something you have to feel. You cannot actually make yourself feel like you love yourself (or anyone else for that matter.) And you don’t have to feel that. You just have to do it. And that is 100% within your ability, all the time.

Here’s how it works:

Think of loving yourself is treating yourself as you would parent a cherished child:

1) You can choose to be an emotionally safe person, and speak to yourself kindly, compassionately, and wisely. You can offer yourself guidance, reassurance and emotional support instead of criticizing yourself, scaring yourself, or being negative towards yourself.

If you wouldn’t say it to a small child who needs help and support, it’s not good enough for you either.

2) Setting firm limits that support your health and wellness. Good parents who love their children help them stay healthy by going to bed at a reasonable hour, eating nutritious foods, getting some exercise, and and taking care of their health. Even when they don’t  feel like it.

You paying attention to what you need in order to be physically safe and healthy, and then making sure you get that, is self love in action.

3) Directing yourself to make choices that demonstrate your commitment to your own well being. Self love is self protection. Pay attention to what feels hurtful or toxic to you, and take steps to protect yourself. This might involve setting boundaries with others, listening to your inner wisdom, and avoiding harmful situations. Self love is also shown by taking positive action to create positive things for yourself, and going after things that you know will bring out the best in you (and staying away from the things that will harm you in the long run).

Loving yourself isn’t a feeling. It’s a commitment.

The key here is that, just like you don’t have to be overwhelmed with feelings of love in order to be a good parent, you don’t have to feel “love” in order to love yourself.

Your commitment to loving others is much bigger than anything you feel.

  • You can feel totally frustrated with your kid and still be kind and responsible.
  • You can be annoyed with your partner and still control yourself and be generous.
  • And you can not feel like exercising, or like beating yourself up mercilessly, and still decide to act lovingly towards yourself: Taking yourself for a walk, or shifting into more compassionate, self supporting language.

Why Loving Yourself Matters

Think about a child who is being mistreated by their parents: Verbally and emotionally abused (or worse), given junk food, encouraged to watch TV, chaotic or overly strict routines, no support with academics or friendships….

What would you expect from that kid in terms of his ability to maintain emotional stability and be a good partner or friend to someone else? Not a lot? Yeah. When you’re not loving yourself, not giving yourself what you need, not meeting your basic needs for health, self-care, nurturing, acceptance and compassion, you are basically abusing yourself from the inside out. When any of us are being abused, we are simply not going to be well. If you are abusing and neglecting yourself, you won’t have much to offer others either. How could you?

If you’re reading the above line and it resonates, let’s use this moment as one of self-compassion and self-acceptance instead of self-recrimination and another way to make yourself feel bad. Try this instead:

“Of course I haven’t been well and have not been at my best. How could I possibly be? I have not been treating myself with the love and respect I deserve. I’d like to do a better job of that, and I’m committed to learning how.” 

That language is accepting. It’s compassionate. It’s understanding. It’s also hopeful, and leading you towards something better.

Choosing to have a good, nurturing, responsible and compassionate relationship with yourself is what it means to love yourself. To behave in the way that supports your highest and best… even when you don’t feel like it.

Figure out what kind of support you really need, and then decide to give it to yourself. No matter what.

Also, know that learning how to love yourself is a process, and one that takes a long time. It’s also very hard to do alone. An enormous act of self love can be reaching out for help and guidance to learn how to treat yourself better. Everyone needs support, and sometimes before you can support yourself from the inside, you need to be supported and build up from the outside through a healing relationship with a compassionate therapist or coach who is devoted to your personal growth.

I hope these ideas help you find your way forward. For even more on the important subject of how to love yourself, I hope you listen to this podcast episode too.

With love,

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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Constructive Conflict: Arguments That Help Your Relationship Grow

Why Constructive Conflict is Vital to Every Relationship

Having conflict in a relationship is often viewed as a negative thing. In reality, having disagreements is not just inevitable — successfully working through differences is what leads to health and growth in a relationship. Constructive conflict allows you to talk about the most important things, and find positive resolution for both of you. 

Literally, all couples will have different expectations, preferences or hopes around certain things. This causes friction, AND this is normal and expected — not a sign that there is anything wrong with your relationship.

The Difference Between Constructive Conflict and DEstructive Conflict

DE-structive conflict occurs (ironically) when people try to avoid conflict, and let things build up to the point where they’re angry, hurt, or explosively reactive. Generally, this happens between two people who love each other, don’t want to rock the boat, or who don’t know how to talk about their feelings in the moment. 

They tend to NOT engage in conflict until their feelings build up to the point that they are feeling really hurt, resentful or angry. Then they lash out or act out in ways that lead to unproductive conflict that often makes things worse instead of better.

Learning the keys to constructive conflict can help you avoid this.

Learning How to Talk Through Differences Constructively and Compassionately

The first key of constructive conflict is changing your internal beliefs about what “conflict” is. Try this on for size: 

  1. Conflict is NORMAL: Two people will of course have differences of opinion, different needs, different expectations or different wants. All “conflict” is, is discussing those things openly for the purpose of finding compromise and solutions. That’s all! 
  2. Constructive Conflict is GOOD: Talking through differences constructively will not just resolve the issues, these conversations are the vehicle for partners to understand each other more deeply, strengthen their bond, and develop a more satisfying and functional relationship for both people. In this way, “conflict” (at least, constructive conflict) leads to deeper connection.
  3. Not Addressing Conflict is BAD: In contrast, couples who don’t talk through problems openly and honestly will instead often begin to ruminate about unresolved issues, feel increasingly resentful, and feel more hopeless about the relationship itself. Particularly when people have negative beliefs about “conflict,” they may find it difficult to explicitly express moments when they feel hurt, disappointed, or frustrated. Instead, they stuff their feelings, don’t talk about it… and then it festers like an infected wound.
  4. Avoiding Conflict Damages Your Relationship: When “festering” happens, people become reactive. They are walking around feeling low-grade annoyed and resentful much of the time, and when they have a new (even fairly neutral) interaction with their partner, the anger and hurt feelings they’ve been holding on to often come out sideways. People will be snappy, critical, snarky, or cold.
  5. Avoiding Conflict Creates a Toxic Dynamic: Often the reactions seem out of proportion to the current situation because they are the buildup of unresolved feelings that are (ironically) created by attempting to avoid conflict in the first place. But — here’s the hard part — because in their partner’s eyes they’re behaving jerkily, without obvious cause, their partner will react negatively to them. That’s when an actual fight starts.

Avoiding Conflict Perpetuates Problems

Couples who are not able to learn how to communicate with each other and talk through problems constructively will often have repeated nasty feeling fights about the same issues over and over again. Arguments that never end in increased understanding or positive change, but rather partners feeling increasingly distant and alone. Over time, this rots a relationship from the inside out. 

Couples who have been bashing at each other unsuccessfully for years will get to a point where they don’t fight anymore. That’s when couples are on the brink of divorce: They’ve stopped engaging with each other because they have given up believing that change is possible for their relationship. They are emotionally withdrawing from the relationship. It’s only a matter of time before it ends. 

There Are a Number of Crucial Conversations that Every Couple Should Have

On an ongoing basis as the relationship and life circumstances continue to evolve “going there,” and talking about points of potential conflict as soon as you and your partner feel out of alignment with each other will help you both get back on track, understand each other’s perspective, find solutions, and build bridges to the center. These conversations don’t just solve problems and reduce conflict; they are the engine of growth for a relationship. 

Talking About Expectations in a Relationship

Couples (hopefully!) come from different families. Every family has a culture; a way of doing things, and a set of unspoken expectations about what “should” happen that is transmitted to their children — sometimes explicitly, but often not. When two people come together to form a new family they each carry with them a set of subconscious beliefs about what their partner should be doing or not doing as they build their life together. 

These expectations will often lead to conflict sooner or later, as each partner does what feels normal to them — unintentionally ruffling the feathers of their spouse. This is especially true for partners whose families differed in the way that love was shown or the way that people communicated. It’s critical that partners have self-awareness about their own beliefs, and understand that their expectations are simply a byproduct of their own family of origin experience, not necessarily “correct.” 

Being able to talk through their beliefs openly and honestly can help a couple understand each other’s perspective, gain empathy for why the other person behaves the way they do, and find ways of meeting each partner’s needs. Ideally, in doing so, they explicitly create a new family culture together; one that they both feel good about.

Talking About The Way You Talk

Couples will always have to talk about the way they talk to each other. As described above, when people don’t know how to lean into hard conversations constructively, negativity in a relationship increases. Then, when topics do come to a head, there is often a lot of negative energy around them. People then begin fighting with each other about the way they’re communicating, rather than about the problem itself. Learning how to stay calm and listen non-defensively is a core skill that is often hard-won for many couples. 

Furthermore, because people come from different places, they carry with them different expectations about how to communicate. One partner may be more conflict-averse, believing that “if we’re not fighting we are okay.” They may seem distant and uncommunicative to their partner, which is problematic. Another person may come from a high conflict family with an aggressive communication style, and their “normal” may be perceived as threatening or hostile. Still others may come from families where things are not addressed directly, but rather through behaviors. They may feel very frustrated when their partner is “not understanding them” when they are, in fact, not actually saying how they feel, or what they need out loud.

The variations of these differences are endless. But without an open discussion of them, and a willingness to learn new skills and bend in each other’s direction, these types of communication issues can cripple a relationship. 

Talking About Teamwork

When you’re dating, and in the early stages of a romantic relationship, your connection centers around being companions and finding novel ways to have a good time. As you enter into a committed partnership and begin building a life together, each partner needs to be putting time, energy, and work in creating and maintaining that life. 

As we all know, “adulting” is actually a lot of work: Jobs must be worked, homes must be cleaned, meals must be prepared, finances must be managed, yards and cars must be maintained. Throw a few kids and pets into the mix, and very quickly, life becomes a lot of care-taking.

All couples will encounter bumps in the road as their partnership evolves into one of increasing responsibility due to each of their expectations about what should be happening. Frequently one partner will begin to feel that their shared responsibilities are out of balance and that their partner is not contributing enough or in the way that they would like them to. [More on this: How to Create a More Egalitarian Partnership] Sometimes this is as a result of subconscious family of origin expectations or gendered roles that overly burden one partner (often the female, in heterosexual relationships).

This is not bad; it’s normal. All it means is that conversations are required to discuss how you’re each feeling, create new agreements, and find new routines that work for both of you. When this happens, and both people step up and follow through, balance and harmony are regained.

Leaning Into The Three “Touchy” Topics of All Relationships

How to Talk About MONEY

Most couples have conflict about money, sooner or later. This too is inevitable; money means very different things to different people. Each individual in a couple has a different relationship with money, different approaches to handling it, and different expectations about what should be done with it. In nearly all relationships, one person will have a more conservative approach to money (the “saver”), and the other person will be a bit more liberal (the “spender.”)

Again this is completely normal. All couples need to build a bridge to the center and create agreements around what “we” are doing with money that feel good for both partners. Many couples clash and fight about this topic, which is simply a sign that they’ve not yet come to agreements and learned how to work together as financial partners. Having constructive conflict where they each feel heard and understood by the other allows them to create a shared vision for their financial lives, as well as a plan for how to work together financially to achieve their goals. 

How to Talk About SEX 

Sexuality is another emotionally charged topic for many couples. Over the course of a long term partnership, most couples will experience ebbs and flows in their sex life. Sometimes people become disconnected sexually when they have a lot of unresolved conflict in their relationship, or their emotional needs are not being met by their partner. This is especially true for women. Other times, life circumstances such as job stress or having children make it difficult for partners to have the time and energy for a healthy sex life. 

While it’s normal for all couples to go through a “dry spell,” losing your sexual relationship can start to erode the foundation of what makes you a couple (rather than roommates, or friends). Because sexuality can be so strongly linked to attachment needs, body image, and self-esteem issues, people are often hurt or angered by the experiences they have (or don’t have!) with each other sexually. Conversations about this topic can feel extremely tense, uncomfortable, and even hurtful. Many couples find this subject more comfortable to avoid than to address, but avoiding it only leads to increasing distance.

It’s vital for couples to talk with each other about how they are feeling about their sex life so that they can reconnect with each other in the bedroom. Over the course of a long-term relationship, as the road of life twists and turns, this conversation may need to happen over and over again as you both evolve physically and as your family structure changes.

How to Talk About PARENTING

The parenting of children is another area in which couples will always have differences that need to be addressed and agreed upon. This is largely due to our family of origin experiences; we all subconsciously parent the way we were parented. (Or we parent as a conscious decision to NOT parent the way we were parented if coming from a patently abusive or neglectful background). 

There is a spectrum of approaches to parenting that range from more authoritarian to more easygoing. The problem is that couples may have highly negative reactions to the way the other person is interacting with or caring for their shared children if things are happening that are different from the way they think parenting “should” be. This is also an extremely triggering topic for people because of the deep love they have for their kids. When they see their partner doing (or not doing) something that they view as having a negative impact on the children, it’s completely understandable that people get emotional. 

The path to resolution is being able to respectfully talk through each of your feelings, perspectives, and preferences and find ways of parenting together that feel good (enough) for both of you. Remembering that there is no “right” way to parent is often extremely helpful for couples attempting to find unity in this area. 

Remember, addressing conflict openly, authentically, and compassionately IS The Path to a strong healthy relationship. (NOT the symptom of a problem!)

Differences are normal and expected. After all, you’re not marrying your clone! Getting married is an event. Becoming married is a process. All couples need to have a series of conversations as they do the work of coming together and creating agreements for how they communicate, how they show each other love and respect, how they work together as a team, manage money, and parent children. These conversations are critical, not just to resolve problems, but to grow together as a couple. Healthy, productive conflict is absolutely necessary for couples to flourish. Lean in!

All the best to you both,
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

 

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.

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