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Do You Need Therapy or Life Coaching?

Do You Need Therapy or Life Coaching?

Which Path is Right For You?

THERAPY OR COACHING? If you’re seriously considering getting involved in some personal growth work, you may have wondered whether therapy or life coaching would be the best path for you. There is a lot of confusion about the differences between therapy and life coaching. In all honesty, there is a great deal of overlap. There are also important differences between them. Educating yourself about the similarities and differences can help you choose the path that will be most genuinely helpful for you in accomplishing your personal goals.

Advice From a Therapist Who is Also a Life Coach

 I have both a Master’s Degree and a Doctorate in counseling, and have been a therapist and marriage counselor in Denver for over a decade. About five years ago I also went through a life coaching program and became a board certified life coach too. These days, I practice both therapy and life coaching, (as well as couples therapy and relationship coaching) and have spent a lot of time educating people about the similarities, and the difference between the two approaches. [Read all about “The Difference Between Counseling and Coaching.”]

First, let’s talk about the similarities between counseling and coaching.

The Similarities Between Therapy and Life Coaching

Therapy / Counseling (generally interchangeable terms) and life coaching have many things in common. The success of either therapy or life coaching are largely dependent on having a positive, strong relationship with your coach or therapist. Both therapy and coaching create a safe place for you to discuss your concerns, and your hopes for your life. 

Whether you’re in therapy or coaching (with a well trained coach, at least) you’ll experience:

  • Focused attention on you and your concerns, and time and space to talk through your thoughts and feelings in order to achieve clarity and new awarenesses about yourself
  • The opportunity to discover new ways of thinking and behaving that will help you grow
  • Encouragement, and the positive regard of your therapist or your coach

Both approaches can be very effective in helping people get unstuck, and move forward in their lives. However, there are also many differences between therapy and life coaching. While both of them can be helpful, both approaches can have serious limitations for helping people with certain kinds of issues and goals.

The Problem With Therapy

For example, while therapy can be an extremely powerful and life changing experience for some people, therapy can be a huge waste of time and money for others. In fact, “therapy refugees” come into our practice all the time feeling incredibly frustrated and put-off by their previous experiences in traditional therapy.

Specifically, many mental health therapists are extremely “non-directive” meaning that they do not guide the sessions, offer specific input or challenge clients; rather, they allow clients the time and space to talk (and talk, and talk) confident that, eventually, people will arrive at their own conclusions about the right answers for them. Under the surface, traditionally trained therapists believe that people are being healed through the experience of having a positive relationship with their non-judgmental therapist, and by having the opportunity to make contact with and express their feelings. This type of therapy can be extremely helpful to people who have had traumatic life experiences, and who have been abused.

All of this is wonderful, under the right circumstances (and certainly, exploring thoughts and feelings is part of great coaching as well). However, many people seeking meaningful personal growth work don’t need someone to “hold their space,” re-parent them emotionally, or help them “work through feelings.” Life coaching clients generally already have positive relationships with friends, loving parents, and supportive people in their lives. They don’t have deep trauma to work through. They are ready to make actual, positive changes in their lives, and looking for answers and action. They want guidance, they want tools, they want strategies, and they want to take action and get different results in their lives and their relationships.  Life coaching will give them that.

Traditional talk therapy is, by design, gentle and slow. This is a good thing for people who are hurting, and in need of a safe space to work through hard things. But for people who could benefit more from coaching, traditional therapists often seem kind of checked out. A traditional therapist may not challenge you or offer any feedback or guidance, and will wait for you to “find your own answers.” This can feel so annoying for people who are ready to dig in and take action.

People seeking life coaching are not looking for a new best friend. They want the personal growth equivalent of a car-mechanic who can tell them what’s not working, and how to get better results in their lives and in their relationships. For these people, therapy is often an expensive, unproductive waste of time. For people seeking positive change, life coaching, career coaching, or relationship coaching will be a much more satisfying experience. 

Furthermore, “psychotherapy” is behavioral healthcare. Therapy (the kind that is covered by health insurance) is seen by the medical community as medically necessary treatment for a mental health diagnosis. When you’re in “therapy” the assumption is that you’re dealing with a disorder that you’re seeking treatment for: Anxiety, depression, PTSD, bipolar, etc. If you’ve ever used insurance to cover the costs of therapy, your therapist has given you a diagnosis and then submitted medical claims saying that they are treating you for a psychiatric condition. That’s how health insurance works.

In contrast, many many people (our clients, anyway) who are looking for “therapy” aren’t reaching out because they have a mental health condition. They don’t have anxiety, they don’t have depression, and they’re not seeking to heal from a difficult past. They just want to evolve, grow personally, improve their relationships, gain self-awareness and self-confidence, and feel like they’re growing into the person they want to be… not “recover.”

If you’re trying to do this work with a traditional therapist who’s framing your normal personal growth work as evidence of a “disordered,” it’s demoralizing and not helpful. When you’re trying to simply improve yourself, have better relationships, and feel happier, last thing you need is to connect with a therapist who makes you feel like (and believes) that there is something wrong with you. In contrast, life coaching and relationship coaching assumes that you’re simply a normal person having normal life experiences, hoping to attain goals or get different outcomes for yourself and your relationships. You’re not sick, you’re not disordered, you’re simply dissatisfied and wanting more for yourself.

Coaching provides feedback, guidance, new ideas, and always guides you towards action. The first stage of great coaching involves creating clarity about what you want. Then we identify the obstacles (internal and external) standing in between you and your desired reality. Then you develop strategies and an action plan to begin having new experiences and creating positive change. Your coach is your accountability partner, your cheerleader, your guide and your co-collaborator. Together, you’ll look at what’s working, what isn’t, and where to fine tune your process as you go. Over time you’ll not just learn and grow, but create real-world changes that you can feel great about.

The Problem With Coaching

Life coaching, career coaching and relationship coaching are fantastic, effective vehicles for personal growth and positive change, for people who are able to make use of them. However, coaching isn’t always a great strategy, especially when deeper things need to be addressed and resolved first.

In fact, coaching strategies are not going to be helpful at all for people who need to heal and grow before they can start making big changes in their lives. If you attempt life coaching when you have more serious underlying issues, life coaching can actually make you feel worse. Why? Because when you have depression, anxiety, PTSD, substance use problems, or other underlying mental health issues, you cannot make good use of coaching strategies. The feelings are too strong; they’re like a tidal wave wiping out your good intentions. 

In order for action oriented positive change to occur, you must first heal from these conditions. This takes time, and specialized skills and experience of an excellent therapist who knows how to help you resolve the underlying mental health conditions that will always sabotage your attempts to take positive action. 

For example, we often have people reach out to us interested in life coaching. However, sometimes, through our interviewing process and assessment process (and because of the fact that all our life coaches are mental health professionals, and know enough to tell the difference) we become aware that the issues they’re describing are actually consistent with a mental health condition like anxiety, depression or PTSD. People really want to make positive changes, but life coaching strategies are not going to be enough to move the needle. They’re feeling so badly on the inside, that they just can’t follow through. In these cases, we suggest that they engage in therapy in order to heal first, and then come back into life coaching when they’re ready to move forward.

And really, mental health issues are common. National statistics show that at any given time one in five Americans are struggling with mild to moderate mental health symptoms. One in twenty-five American adults, annually, will experience a mental illness episode that is severe enough to impact daily functioning. Over their lifetime, nearly half of all Americans will meet criteria for a diagnosable mental health condition.

Mental health issues are real. They are common. They are treatable. However, it requires specialized education, training and experience to identify and correctly diagnose mental health symptoms (as different from dissatisfaction due to life circumstances). There are also very specific types of evidence-based therapy that work best for different conditions. Many mental health practitioners spend years and years educating themselves, attending trainings and seeking out consultation with other mental health experts to ensure they are providing the highest quality treatment in their area of expertise, like trauma, depression, anxiety disorders and more. 

Because of this, the biggest risk of coaching is to get involved with someone who is simply a life coach, who does not have the education, training or experience to recognize when mental health issues will sabotage coaching. (Much less the ability to help you resolve these foundational issues first). At best, a “life coach” may have attended a 1 to 9 month certificate program… maybe. If you’re lucky.

Not-so-fun-fact: Life coaching is not a recognized, regulated or licensed profession. There are zero educational requirements to be a life coach and absolutely anyone can roll out of bed one day, decide to be a life coach, and start taking clients. There is no required education to be a life coach. You don’t need a high school diploma, you don’t need to meet ethical standards, and there is no regulatory agency overseeing life coaches. You just start introducing yourself as a life coach.

Your weird next door neighbor who’s always offering unsolicited advice might decide that he’s really smart and has lots of great life experience and wisdom, and that he’d be a great life coach.  He can put together a little website one afternoon and be in business. 

As a mental health professional as well as a board certified coach who actually did go through a very involved, accredited coach training program (which was offered online, and which I zoomed through in about 6 weeks), I find this thought to be extremely frightening. Imagine that a person with legitimate clinical issues such as depressionanxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, etc. reaches out to a random, completely untrained “life coach” for help? At best, they risk wasting months and years of ever-worsening (and sometimes life-threatening) symptoms without the effective treatments that will set them free. At worst, it ends tragically.

While mental health conditions are treatable, if left untreated they can become life-threatening. They can also ruin relationships, destroy families, and tank careers. If you have a mental health condition it is vital that you get involved in evidence-based therapy with someone who has the skill and experience to help you. 

Relationship coaches are often times even more dubious, in my experience. Really: Someone can say, “Well I’m smart and I’ve been married five times so I know a lot about relationships and I can help people with theirs!” They set up a website and start taking clients.

In contrast, a licensed marriage and family therapist will spend years in graduate school learning about general counseling and mental health, PLUS many courses on family systems and assessment, relational dynamics, family therapies, methods and theory into couples and fa therapy. THEN they have supervised practicums, internships, and generally spend several years post-graduation working under the supervision of a licensed marriage and family therapist. THEN they have to accumulate thousands of clinical hours and pass a difficult national exam. Only then will they be a licensed marriage and family therapist themselves.

And even for licensed marriage and family therapists with all that education and experience… couples counseling can still be extremely challenging. What we know from research into couples and family therapy is that couples often delay couples counseling or relationship coaching until their relationships are feeling very difficult — they may even be on the brink of divorce.

Imagine some poor couple, who is on the brink of divorce, reaching out to a self-proclaimed “relationship coach” who doesn’t even know enough to know what they don’t know about how to help? That couple will likely wind up divorcing, thinking “Welp, we did everything we could do — we even tried a relationship coach, so our relationship must have been beyond repair!”  How sad to think that that same couple, if working with a true relationship expert, could have had a very different outcome. 

However, the general consumer doesn’t know this. That is why I’m taking the time to explain these differences to you! As a licensed marriage and family therapist and a licensed psychologist who also happens to be a certified coach and a relationship coach, I feel that it is my obligation to educate the public around these types of things so that you can make educated, well informed decisions about the best option for you. 

I’d also like to add that, when you’re feeling frustrated with your life and hoping for change, it can be difficult to know which path is the right one for you. Many people ask, “Do I need life coaching or therapy?” Unless you have a master’s degree in counseling and can spot the difference between a mental health condition and a personal growth issue, it can be very challenging to know which approach is going to work for you. To help cut through the confusion I’ve put together a free, online quiz. Take it by clicking the link below and answering a few questions.

I hope that it helps you learn about yourself, and which option will be most effective in helping you move forward.

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Do You Need Therapy, or Life Coaching? Take the Quiz.

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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How To Enhance Your Listening Skills & Improve Your Relationship

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How to Make Real and Lasting Change, Right Now.

How to Make Real and Lasting Change, Right Now.

The Season of Transformation

Did you know that right now is possibly the best time you’ll have all year to make real and lasting change in your life? That’s not hyperbole. In my experience as a therapist, life coach, marriage counselor, and fellow traveler on this journey of life, I have noticed that this season — the annual transition from summer to fall — is often when people are feeling most intrinsically motivated, and most able to make real and lasting change in their lives.

Perhaps it’s a natural itch to get back to work after the languid summer season, particularly if you’ve done a good job of relaxing well. Perhaps it’s a lifetime of major life transitions in the form of back to school experiences. For whatever reason, now is the time when you’re ready to cultivate fresh new energy in your life and plant the seeds of a new chapter. Whether it’s your career, your clutter, your personal habits, or your how you spend your time that is begging for re-evaluation, the time is ripe to sweep out the old and usher in the new.

On this episode of The Love, Happiness and Success Podcast, I’m going to be teaching you four crucial steps to practice as you harness the natural, transformational power of this season and use it to affect real and lasting change in your life. You’ll learn how to access your self awareness, create intentional change, get deeper access to your core values, and make changes that last.

Here’s to your liberation!

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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Are You A Good Listener?

Listening with intent and genuine interest is a skill that, unfortunately, most of us are not born with. This skill is what ultimately builds connection and develops a reassurance in our relationships (romantic, platonic, and professional!). Did you know that most toxic relationship issues (no matter what the topic) come from a disconnect in communication? It’s true! As a Couples Counselor, I have worked with many couples who are going through these exact same disconnects in their relationship, and I want to offer you practical listening skills that you can practice to become a better, more effective listener.

The wonderful thing about diversity is that we all come from unique backgrounds. These different backgrounds make up different cultures, values, and ideals we hold as individuals. However, when you bring two (often very different) people together, there sometimes is a sort of tug-of-war into whose values are more authentic and which ideals the relationship will hold. Since we all have distinct and very personal views of “right and wrong”, this makes hearing other opinions often challenging.

Listening to your partner without judgment is essential to building connection, rebuilding trust, and fostering an environment where a relationship can grow and thrive! We all want to be heard, and when we aren’t we feel as though our emotions and needs are often overlooked. Not listening to your partner can result in power struggles, negative behaviors, resentment, and ultimately…separation.

You don’t want to wait for things to “just get better” in your relationship, because they won’t without intentionally taking the steps for improvement (both personally and as a couple). The good news is, you can start today! Here are six practical and mindful ways that you can improve your listening skills while making yourself a more responsive and connected partner.

TAKE BEING RIGHT OR WRONG OUT OF THE EQUATION

Your values are no better or worse than your partner’s values. An active listener will work hard not to judge his or her partner’s emotions.

Needs and emotions are never “correct” or “incorrect” they simply just are. Discussions that lead to black and white thinking, right or wrong, are usually about asserting control. Control then leads to blame, anger, and resentment, not connection. A partner who feels judged or is “wrong” in an argument will feel invalidated and unheard. A listener’s job is to listen, not judge. If a listener intends to hear and not control, then the result is better connection.

YOU DON’T HAVE TO AGREE ALL THE TIME

Our culture has taught us the fallacy that a healthy couple never disagrees or gets into arguments. In reality, many healthy couples disagree about important topics regarding their relationship, and no couple will ever agree entirely about everything.

Authentic listening comes from hearing and validating ideas you don’t agree with, as this shows respect for your partner. The goal is to listen and accept, and not necessarily agree, which can lead to the compromise that’s needed for couples to navigate difficult times and topics together.

REMOVE DISTRACTIONS FROM THE CONVERSATION

For most of us, this means putting the cell phone down, turning off the TV, or walking away from the computer screen. Non-verbal cues are incredibly important as a listener. If you are distracted and disengaged, then clearly you cannot validate your partner (who may feel they’re talking to a figurative wall).

To get even more real with your partner, use non-verbal cues such as touch, eye contact, and body language(as well as the verbal cue of vocal tone). These cues are what babies learn in their early development to feel safe. These same cues will calm an adult’s limbic system – allowing more safety in sharing emotions and needs. Your non-verbal cues of acceptance and security are not just a crucial listening skill, but also a critical skill for building any relationship.

CONTINUALLY PRACTICE EMPATHY

Empathy is being able to understand another person’s experience, and it’s the opposite of judgment. Your partner’s emotions and needs are real and often come from painful, deep experiences. Just as you have your own needs and emotions based off of your experiences, so does your partner.

Try putting yourself in your partner’s shoes to feel and understand their pain, or access your pain and examine how you’ve dealt with it. Everyone at some point will experience a difficult situation or circumstance, your partner included, and showing empathy and understanding will allow for more in-depth conversations and connection between the two of you.

LISTEN FULLY BEFORE FORMULATING A RESPONSE

Few behaviors invalidate more quickly than interrupting. Interrupting usually involves fear or a lack of emotional safety on the listener’s part. This behavior, however, will cause your partner to believe that you feel your opinion has more validity than theirs. Try not to rehearse a response in your head while your partner is sharing, as that disengages you from empathy and feeling what your partner is trying to share with you. Let the conversation happen organically and without distraction or interruption of preplanned responses (that could ultimately cause more pain than healing).

VALIDATE YOUR PARTNER

Many of my clients in couple’s counseling have revealed to me that feeling unheard is one of their biggest triggers to pain and anger.  So how do you show your partner that you genuinely have heard their emotions and needs?

One way that has been proven to be effective is to repeat (in your own words) what you think you heard your partner say to you, and to ask if you heard them correctly. Be careful not to infer your interpretations into what your partner said, as those may be incorrect and invalidating – simply repeat what you heard. If you don’t get everything, that’s okay! You can ask your partner to repeat what you may have missed. This is even more effective when using your non-verbal cues for safety.

IT TAKES PRACTICE…

Listening can be a difficult skill to learn, and you won’t perfect this skill in just one conversation. If you continue to practice these six steps to improve your listening skills you will see improvement overtime (and it will get easier and more natural too!).

Self-care and general happiness are also tied to helping with the development of listening skills, as well as therapeutic techniques such as thought stopping and grounding activities. However, those who have suffered from trauma may have difficulty accessing these skills, and individual therapy to process and heal from the trauma may be needed to listen safely and with compassion. It’s true, listening can be difficult, but the rewards of being able to do so are numerous: clarity, understanding, emotional honesty, and better connection. You have the power to make changes with your listening skills and to show your partner that you can take that next step and truly hear them with empathy and understanding!

All the best,
Seth Bender, M.A., LMFTC

Seth Bender, M.A., LMFTC is a marriage counselor, therapist, and life coach who helps people create deeper relationships, heal from difficult life experiences, and increase their confidence. His warm, non-judgmental approach makes it safe to discover new things about yourself, and take positive action to change your life.

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How to Love Yourself, Unconditionally

How to Love Yourself, Unconditionally

Can You Love Yourself, No Matter What?

Self-love is much harder for many people than it is for them to be unconditionally loving and compassionate with others. It is much easier to pick yourself apart, ruthlessly, for all your failures and imperfections than it is to be your own ally, your own cheerleader, and your own source of strength and compassion.

Why is it so hard to love yourself? Often, it’s due to a deep and enduring core narrative that is rooted in shame and criticism, particularly early in life. Over the years as a therapist and life coach, and talking with hundreds of people about this issue, (and making this topic a primary focus of The Happiness Class) I have come to the conclusion that difficulty with self-love, and harboring feelings of unworthiness are largely due to the negative automatic thoughts, and the negative “stories” that people started to tell themselves about themselves as children and teens.

Why It’s So Hard To Love Yourself

The proclivity we all have to beat ourselves up is often simply an unhappy byproduct of the psychology of children. Children are, inherently, narcissistic in the sense that they only know their own experience and have limited insight into why other people behave the way they do, or the larger context of situations. Because of this, when kids experience shaming, criticism, rejection or hostility from peers or parents (but especially peers) it boils down to one central takeaway: “I’m bad / wrong / unlovable / unlikeable” and they carry that message into adulthood with them.

Can you relate?

How Difficulty Loving Yourself Impacts Your Life

If you, like many, have a hard time accepting yourself and feeling generally good about who you are, it may negatively impact many areas of your life.  Not being able to love yourself is damaging to your other relationships is because when you struggle with beliefs of low self-worth you don’t feel okay inside of yourself. This makes you look to other people for affirmation and acceptance in order to feel good about you. Or, you might start linking your intrinsic “goodness” to other things, like what you achieve, how you look, how much money you earn, what you weigh, etc.

This can turn into a roller coaster of chasing perfection that you can never quite attain. You might work so hard to do everything “right,” and drive yourself into exhaustion attempting to prove to yourself and others that you really are good enough as evidenced by all the amazing things you’re doing. [For more on this, read “The Problem With Perfectionism”]

The truth is that life doesn’t always go the way we want it to. If you strive, you will fail sometimes. As a fellow human, you are just as imperfect as the rest of us. Not everyone will like you, much less love you. A lot of living is not really that fabulous, just the day-to-day slog of adulting, interspersed by peak moments that may feel long in between. You will occasionally make bad decisions. You might even get fired or laid off. Time will come for you, too, changing your body, the way you look, and eventually, your mind.

Life is a mixed bag, and things are going to happen. But when your feelings of self worth hinge upon achievements and how you’re viewed in the eyes of others (because you struggle do it yourself) it puts you in a precarious position, emotionally and psychologically.

How Difficulty Loving Yourself Impacts Your Relationships

While struggling to love yourself seems like it would only impact the primary target (you), it does impact others too. Here’s why: As we have discussed, people who really, fundamentally don’t feel good about themselves on the inside must look to others for affirmation, acceptance, and positive regard to regulate themselves. They often need a constant stream of praise and validation from other people in order to feel okay about themselves.

When their partners turn out to be fellow humans who also have complex needs, rights and feelings, (and complaints! and get upset sometimes too!) people who struggle with low self-worth often feel anxious, criticized, and unloved. When their partner can’t always be kind and patient and overtly loving and approving of them, they tend to fall apart and get pretty anxious and even angry.

Because they are unable to support themselves emotionally from the inside out when their partners are upset with them or needing something from them, their partner not being okay feels very threatening to them. It is not uncommon for people who struggle to love themselves to be emotionally reactive, lashing out at their partners, or withdrawing emotionally from relationships as a form of self protection.

Furthermore, because people with low self-worth will often twist themselves into knots to be pleasing if not perfect, they can struggle with authenticity and vulnerability. Because they struggle to love themselves, and worry they’re not good enough, they fear that if people really get to know them they will be rejected. This can make them withhold their true thoughts and feelings from others, and make them feel like they need to maintain a “perfect” facade that, while helping them feel safer, truthfully deprives them of the ability to connect on a deep level with others.

In other, even sadder situations, people who struggle to love themselves can find themselves in bad relationships with people who do not treat them well at all. People with low self-worth may wind up staying in these toxic relationships for too long, because the criticism, shaming, and bullying they experience with their partner matches the abusive inner dialogue they have inside of themselves. It’s difficult for them to believe that they deserve better, and they have a hard time leaving the toxic relationship they feel stuck in. [More on this: “How to Leave a Toxic Relationship, With Dignity”]

How to Love Yourself Unconditionally

Healing these wounds and developing authentic self-love and self-worth is a process, not a decision or an event.

People are damaged by experiences and in relationships with others, and they are healed by experiences and in relationships with others. The first step in being able to love yourself is often to cultivate a supportive, unconditionally positive relationship with a great therapist who is able to be emotionally safe and affirming. This emotionally safe relationship creates the crucible whereby the person who struggles with low self worth can finally feel safe and accepted enough to begin revealing their true selves and the old core beliefs about themselves that they’ve been carrying.

Over the months, sometimes years, this precious, fragile person and their therapist can begin to question some of those beliefs (carefully, so as not to trigger too much self criticism and shame) and explore — from an adult perspective — the fact that there may have been other explanations for their life experiences besides their being inherently bad and unworthy of love. They can begin to create a new narrative about themselves and new core beliefs that include a deep sense of security, rooted in the fact that they are actually good people, worthy of love and respect… and they always have been.

Self Love = Emotional Strength

Over time, healing happens. People working through low self-worth often need to process a great deal of anger and pain in later stages of healing. But in doing so, they begin the process of learning how to validate themselves. They begin unhooking their sense of self-worth from how other people view them, as well as their achievements. They acquire the ability to decide, for themselves, that they deserve to be angry when mistreated, and that they have the right to set boundaries.

Most importantly, they develop the ability to internalize a self-supporting inner dialogue that coaches them through challenging moments and reminds them of their inherent worthiness even when other people are upset with them, when they fail, or are not as perfect as they’d like to be. Through the development of this self-supporting adult core, they become able to finally feel okay about themselves and emotionally stable no matter what is going on around them. They develop self-compassion, the ability to forgive themselves, and often start practicing good self-care. They become able to assertively advocate for themselves, make healthy decisions, and not fall apart when other people aren’t mirroring admiration back at them.

As they become more self-stabilizing, their relationships stabilize. Over time, this creates a positive spiral up where they start feeling good about themselves, and genuinely have a great life and healthy relationships — all of which supports the new narrative they internalize that says, “See? You are worthy of love and respect.”

The path is long and hard, but so, so worth it.

If my sharing this perspective has resonated with you, I sincerely hope that you seek the support of a great therapist who can be a safe person for you as you embark upon this journey of growth and healing. You deserve it.

xoxo,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Ps: When you read this article it may have made you think not of yourself, but of someone else in your life. If so, I hope you share this with them so that these words might provide them with clarity and direction, as well as hope and affirmation. On behalf of them, thank you for supporting their growth and personal evolution…. LMB

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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Over time in a long term committed relationship it can be easy for couples to lose sight of the underlying friendship aspects of their relationship. Research has found that being friends with your partner is actually fundamental to a couples’ overall success and satisfaction with the relationship. Unfortunately, it’s easy lose sight of that over time.

Creating A Strong Foundation

When thinking about how to strengthen your friendship with your partner, it might be helpful to think of the qualities you admire in your closest friendships. These friendship “ingredients” may include fostering underlying trust, respect, teamwork and a sense that the other person is on your side or “has your back” at the end of the day. These qualities can also include sharing simple connecting moments like having inside jokes with one another or talking about how your day went in the evening with your significant other. 

As a couples counselor and marriage therapist I have had the opportunity to work with many couples who desire to not only build this foundation of friendship with their partner, but also maintain it. Here are a few practical tips that you can use in your own relationship today! 

Three Practical Tips For Restoring and Maintaining Friendship With Your Partner

Intentionality is Key 

As previously mentioned, with the busyness and demands of life, it can be easy for couples to lose sight of these necessary friendship qualities to a relationship (balancing a Career and Relationship sound familiar?). Couples may also find it difficult to set aside intentional time for maintaining a friendship. Phone conversations, for example, may become limited to shorthand speak about what time dinner will be and did you remember to pick the kids up from soccer practice today?   

Even setting an intentional date night can sometimes miss the mark in maintaining friendship between couples. For example, there may be a lot of pressure to make date night grand and romantic or spending the majority of time together finding activities to do rather than simply connecting with one another. While doing fun things together is also important, it may not provide couples with the opportunity to connect in a way that fosters true intimacy and sharing with one another the way you might when having coffee with a close friend, for example.

One suggestion to avoid this pitfall is rather than setting a routine “date night” couples might focus on one time during the week that they set aside for connecting or “checking-in” with one another. Maybe you meet at your favorite coffee shop or simply have “couch time” one evening a week where you talk about how you’ve been feeling individually in addition to how you’re feeling about the relationship. This can be a great opportunity to share things that feel really great about the relationship or ways that you wish things might be going differently between you. [For more ideas on how you can set aside time with your partner, read: “How To Fall In Love Again”]

Honest Communication 

Another important component to maintaining friendship between couples is honest communication about what’s going well in the relationship and what isn’t. Part of this communication means giving honest feedback to one another on a regular basis. It can be easy to jump into defense mode when receiving feedback from your partner. Additionally, giving feedback to your partner can feel anxiety provoking and built-up resentment can make delivering feedback to your partner in a caring way difficult. 

One way couples might reduce anxiety around giving and receiving feedback to one another is imagining what it would be like to give or receive the same feedback to a close friend. How would you want the feedback delivered? What would be most important to communicate to the other person? What do you ultimately need from this person in the relationship? Sometimes imagining the conversation in this way can take some of the pressure and steam off the conversation with a romantic partner when the stakes often feel much higher and more emotionally loaded than in a platonic friendship. 

Mutual Respect 

The importance of mutual respect in a couple relationship cannot be underestimated. Mutual respect also means that there is a shared sense of equality in the partnership; that both members of the couple know that the other takes their needs seriously and cares about making the other feel cared for and important. In a friendship, this component is often easy because without it, you wouldn’t have much of a foundation upon which to build a friendship. 

One big way that couples lose a sense of mutual respect for one another is the way that conflict gets resolved in the relationship. An example of how this might play out is with grand romantic gestures. For example, a couple gets into a fight and one member of the couple buys the other a bouquet of flowers that gets delivered to the office the next day as an apology. Often times, while well-intentioned, grand romantic gestures disclude the fundamental component of mutual respect which is talking and communicating about what happened during the fight in a meaningful way. 

This involves a conversation where both members of the couple take responsibility for and convey understanding of any hurt feelings to one another. These conversations allow couples the opportunity to truly move on from an argument in addition to turning conflict into an opportunity to foster intimacy, honesty and connection in the relationship while grand romantic gestures tend to sweep things under the rug temporarily.

Most couples in long-term, committed relationships struggle to maintain these aspects of the relationship that are so important to overall relationship satisfaction. So know that you are not alone. I do hope you found this article has a helpful jumping off point to thinking about overarching ways friendship might be maintained within the context of a romantic relationship. Share with me your thoughts in the comments below!

Warmly, 

Dr. Chelsea Twiss, PhD, LP-C

 

Dr. Chelsea Twiss is a couples counselor, individual therapist, life coach and creativity coach. She specializes in helping couples restore emotional and sexual intimacy, individuals move past heartbreak and into healthy relationships, and creatives find their voice.

Let’s  Talk

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WHEN YOUR PARTNER WON’T GO TO MARRIAGE COUNSELING | It can feel really discouraging when you are eager to work on your relationship, but your partner is less than enthused about going to marriage counseling or relationship coaching with you. But know this: Every couple who gets to marriage counseling does so because one of the partners initiates it. In your relationship, that person might need to be you. And that is okay.

I’m glad you’re still thinking about how to get your partner to come to couples therapy or marriage counseling with you, even if they say they won’t go. Many times, the reason why people won’t go to couples counseling is because they are feeling anxious about it. When you know how to alleviate their fears about marriage counseling, it really helps.

Furthermore, even though it can feel disheartening to be the one who is pushing for couples therapy, it’s worth it because great things can happen once you get them in the door.

The truth is that even the most reluctant partner will often open up in the first marriage counseling session. Why? Because a competent, expert marriage counselor is going to help them feel safe, heard and understood. They might have the opportunity to say things they’ve been holding in for a looonnng time, and it feels good. Having a productive conversation with a marriage counselor about issues that have been hard to talk about makes people feel hopeful and excited about the future of their relationship. It can be an incredibly positive, validating and reassuring experience for them — as well as for you.

It’s been my experience that often the initiating partner is blown away by how much their formerly “anti” partner winds up sharing in the first meeting. We’re both bemused to see the person who had their arms crossed and a frowny-face at the start of the session hanging onto the door-knob eager to tell me “one last thing” before we have to end.

But the tricky part can be getting them into the office in the first place.

Why People Are Reluctant To Go To Marriage Counseling

First of all, please set aside any stereotypes you may be holding on to about this being a “man thing.” At least 50% of the people who call us for a free consultation are men, eager to get their wives in to marriage counseling with them. Women can be reluctant to go to marriage counseling too.

Whether men or women, the root cause of marriage counseling reluctance is that people often have preconceived ideas about marriage counseling that hold them back from taking the plunge. (They may also have already decided what is and is not possible for your relationship in advance of the first meeting, regrettably. But that is the subject of a different podcast).

THIS episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast is all about understanding the common anxieties and misperceptions at work in people who are reluctant to try marriage counseling.

Listen, and get insight and new understanding for a partner who says things like:

I’ll be helping you understand your partner in a new way, so that you can speak to their concerns. I hope this advice helps you help YOUR partner take the first step forward with you, and start growing back together again.

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

PS: One of the resources I encourage people to use is our free “How Healthy is Your Relationship Quiz.” You can take this quiz with your partner (or take it first and send them an invite) and use the experience as a safe feeling, low-key starting point to discuss your relationship and how to make positive changes. If you submit your email (below) we can send you a link to the quiz. LMB

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When Your Partner Refuses To Go To Couples Counseling

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

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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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