How to Feel More Secure in Your Relationship

How to Feel More Secure in Your Relationship

How to Feel More Secure in Your Relationship

Let Yourself Feel Loved

OVERCOMING INSECURITY | It's not uncommon for both women and men to feel insecure in a relationship from time to time. We often see emotional insecurity as an underlying issue to address with couples who come to us for marriage counseling, couples therapy, premarital counseling and relationship coaching. After all, when couples don't feel completely emotionally safe and secure with each other it tends to create conflict and problems in many other areas of their partnership. [For more on the importance of emotional safety and how it may be impacting YOUR relationship, access our free “How Healthy is Your Relationship” Quiz and my mini-couples coaching follow up video series.]

It's especially true for people in new relationships to have some anxiety, but even people in long-term relationships can worry about their partner's feelings for them sometimes. While very common, feeling insecure in your relationship can create problems — for both of you. 

Root Causes of Insecurity

If insecurity is an issue in your relationship — either for you, or your partner — you might be speculating about the root causes of insecurity and how to heal them. People can struggle to feel emotionally safe with their partner for a variety of reasons — sometimes due to their life experiences, but sometimes, due to things that have happened in the current relationship itself. 

Insecurity After Infidelity: Certainly being let down or betrayed by your partner in the past can lead you to struggle with trust in the present moment. Insecurity after infidelity or an emotional affair is very common. In these cases, the path to healing can be a long one. The person who did the betraying often needs to work very hard, for a long time, to show (not tell, but show) their partners that they can trust them.

Anxiety After Being Let Down Repeatedly: However, insecurities can also start to emerge after less dramatic betrayals and disappointments. Even feeling that your partner has not been emotionally available for you, has not been consistently reliable, or was there for you in a time of need, it can lead you to question the strength of their commitment and love. Trust is fragile: If your relationship has weathered storms, learning how to repair your sense of trust and security can be a vital part of healing. Often, couples need to go back into the past to discuss the emotional wounds they experienced with each other in order to truly restore the bond of safety and security. These conversations can be challenging, but necessary.

Insecurity Due to Having Been Hurt in the Past: Sometimes people who have had negative experiences in past relationships can feel insecure, due to having been traumatized by others. For some people, their very first relationships were with untrustworthy or inconsistent parents and that led to the development of insecure attachment styles. This can lead them to feel apprehensive or protective with anyone who gets close. However, even people with loving parents and happy childhoods can carry scars of past relationships, particularly if they lived through a toxic relationship at some point in their lives. It's completely understandable: Having been burned by an Ex can make it harder to trust a new partner, due to fears of being hurt again.

Long Distance Relationships: Certain types of relationships can lead people to feel less secure than they'd like to, simply due to the circumstances of the relationship itself. For example, you might feel more insecure if you're in a long-distance relationship.  Not being able to connect with your partner or see them in person all the time can take a toll on even the strongest relationship. Couples in long-distance relationships should expect that they will have to work a little harder than couples who are together day-to-day, in order to help each person to feel secure and loved. In these cases, carefully listening to each other about what both of you are needing to feel secure and loved is vital, as is being intentionally reliable and consistent.

Feeling Insecure When You're Dating Someone New: And, as we all know, early-stage romantic love is a uniquely vulnerable experience and often fraught with anxiety. Dating someone new is exciting, but it can also be intensely anxiety-provoking. In new (or new-ish) relationships where a commitment has not been established, not fully knowing where you stand with a new person that you really like is emotionally intense. If you're dating, or involved in a new relationship, you may need to deliberately cultivate good self-soothing and calming skills in order to manage the emotional roller coaster that new love can unleash. 

Feeling Insecure With a Withdrawn Partner: Interestingly, different types of relationship dynamics can lead to differences in how secure people feel. The same person can feel very secure and trusting in one relationship, but with a different person, feel suspicious, worried, and on pins and needles. Often this has to do with the relational dynamic of the couple.

For example, in relationships where one person has a tendency to withdraw, be less communicative, or is not good at verbalizing their feelings it can lead their partner to feel worried about what's really going on inside of them. This can turn into a pursue-withdraw dynamic that intensifies over time; one person becoming increasingly anxious and agitated about not being able to get through to their partner, and the withdrawn person clamping down like a clam under assault by a hungry seagull. However, when communication improves and couples learn how to show each other love and respect in the way they both need to feel safe and secure, trust is strengthened and emotional security is achieved.

Types of Insecurities

Emotional security (or lack of) is complex. In addition to having a variety of root causes, there are also different ways that insecurity manifests in people —and they all have an impact on your relationship. As has been discussed in past articles on this blog, people who struggle with low self esteem may find it hard to feel safe in relationships because they are anticipating rejection. The “insecure overachiever” may similarly struggle to feel secure in relationships if they're not getting the validation and praise they thrive on. 

For others, insecurity is linked to an overall struggle with vulnerability and perfectionism. People who feel like they need to be perfect in order to be loved can — subconsciously or not — try to hide their flaws. But, on a deep level, they know they're not perfect (no one is) and so that knowledge can lead to feelings of apprehension when they let other people get close to them. In these cases, learning how to lean into authentic vulnerability can be the path of healing. [More on this: “The Problem With Perfectionism”]

Sometimes people who are going through a particularly hard time in other parts of their lives can start to feel apprehensive about their standing in their relationship. For example, people who aren't feeling great about their career can often feel insecure when they're around people who they perceive as being more successful or accomplished than they are. This insecurity is heightened in the case of a layoff or unexpected job loss. If one partner in a relationship is killing it, and the other is feeling under-employed or like they're still finding their way, it can lead the person who feels dissatisfied with their current level of achievement to worry that their partner is dissatisfied with them too. 

Insecurities can take many forms, and emerge for a variety of reasons. However, when insecurity is running rampant the biggest toll it takes is often on a relationship. 

How Insecurity Can Ruin a Relationship

To be clear: Having feelings is 100% okay. Nothing bad is going to happen to you, or your relationship, or anyone else because you have feelings of anxiety or insecurity. The only time relationship problems occur as a result of feelings is when your feelings turn into behaviors.

If people who feel insecure, anxious, jealous or threatened don't have strategies to soothe themselves and address their feelings openly with their partner (and have those conversations lead to positive changes in the relationship), the feelings can lead to behaviors that can harm the relationship. Some people lash out in anger when they perceive themselves to be in emotional danger, or that their partner is being hurtful to them.  Often, people who feel insecure will attempt to control their partner's behaviors in efforts to reduce their own anxiety. Many insecure people will hound their partners for information about the situations they feel worried about. Still others will withdraw, pre-emptively, as a way of protecting themselves from the rejection they anticipate.

While all of these strategies are adaptive when you are in a situation where hurtful things are happening, (more on toxic relationships here) problems occur when these defensive responses flare up in a neutral situation. A common example of this is the scenario where one person repeatedly asks their partner if they're cheating on them because they feel anxious, when their partner is actually 100% faithful to them and has done nothing wrong. The insecure person might question their partner, attack their partner, check up on their partner, or be cold and distant due to their worries about being cheated on or betrayed — when nothing bad is actually happening. This leaves the person on the other side feeling hurt, controlled, rejected, vilified… or simply exhausted. 

If feelings of insecurity are leading to problematic behaviors in a relationship, over time, if unresolved, it can erode the foundation of your partnership. 

How to Help Someone Feel More Secure

It's not uncommon for partners of insecure people to seek support through therapy or life coaching, or couples counseling either for themselves or with their partners. They ask, “How do I help my wife feel more secure,” or “How do I help my husband feel more secure.” This is a great question; too often partners put the blame and responsibility for insecure feelings squarely on the shoulders of their already-anxious spouse or partner. This, as you can imagine, only makes things worse. 

While creating trust in a relationship is a two-way street, taking deliberate and intentional action to help your partner feel emotionally safe with you in the ways that are most important to him or her is the cornerstone of helping your insecure girlfriend, insecure boyfriend, or insecure spouse feel confident in your love for them. The key here is consistency, and being willing to do things to help them feel emotionally secure even if you don't totally get it. This is especially true of the origins of your partner's worry stem from early experiences of being hurt or betrayed by someone else. 

Tips to help your spouse feel more secure: 

  • Ask them what they need from you to feel emotionally safe and loved by you
  • Give that to them (over and over again, without being asked every time)
  • Rinse and repeat

How to Stop Being Insecure

Of course, it's very frustrating to partners who feel like they're not just true-blue, but doing everything they feel they can to help someone feel safe and secure… and yet insecurities persist. While partners of anxious people do need to try a little harder to help them feel secure, the person who struggles with insecurity needs to also take responsibility for their feelings and learn how to manage them effectively. Note: This doesn't mean not ever having worried or insecure feelings (feelings happen y'all), but rather, learning how to have feelings that don't turn into relationship-damaging behaviors.

Without the ability to soothe yourself, become grounded in the here and now, and get your emotional needs met by your partner (or yourself), unbridled insecurity can put a major strain on a relationship. But how? How do you manage insecurity? That's the million-dollar question, and that's why I've made it the topic of the latest episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast! 

If you're struggling with insecurity in your relationship — either as the person who worries, or the one who's trying to reassure them — you'll definitely want to join me and my colleague Georgi Chizk, an Arkansas-based marriage counselor and family therapist who specializes in attachment therapy as we discuss this topic. We're going deep into the topic of insecurity in relationships, and how to overcome it. Listen and learn more about:

  • The root causes of insecurity
  • The surprising ways insecurity can impact a relationship
  • Practical strategies to help someone else feel more secure
  • Actionable advice to help yourself feel less insecure
  • How trust and security are healed and strengthened
  • Concrete tools couples can use to banish insecurity from their relationship

We hope that this discussion helps you both overcome insecurity, and create the strong, happy relationship you deserve.

With love and respect, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby & Georgi Chizk, M.S., LAMFT

P.S. Pro Tip: Once you listen to this podcast, consider sharing it with your partner. Doing so can be an easy, low-key way to start an important, and necessary conversation about how to increase the emotional safety and security you both feel in your relationship. xo, LMB

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How to Feel More Secure in Your Relationship

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

Music Credits: Juniore, “Panique”

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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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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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Types of Intimacy

Types of Intimacy

Types of Intimacy

What are the 4 Types of Intimacy?

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Previously, I thought that intimacy was just a polite way to refer to sex, but in reality, that type of physical connection is really just one type of intimacy. Intimacy is the concept of fully knowing another person and loving them as they truly are. A level of transparency that requires you to be your most vulnerable self and connect with your partner both in and out of the bedroom. Intimacy describes the closeness and vulnerability we offer one another in relationships. Intimacy is much more than a physical connection, it includes physical, spiritual, intellectual, and emotional aspects. Let’s talk about the different types of intimacy in more detail. 

Intellectual Intimacy

Intellectual intimacy is sharing thoughts, interests, and activities in common. It is human nature to desire spending time with people whom we can share ideas and projects, those who see the world as we do and share the same passions. Dating couples eagerly discover the interests they share in common and often try to learn to like new things. Doing interesting things together over time remains a key part of successful relationships. As we share life and discuss ideas with one another, we grow our intellectual intimacy. Having an intellectual connection can be fostered by simply having meaningful conversations daily. 

Below Are Seven Questions That Will Begin to Help You and Your Partner Develop a Deeper Level of Intellectual Intimacy:

  1. What challenges have you had in your life that you are grateful for?
  2. What is one thing about me that you discovered, that you love about me? One thing you dislike?
  3. What is a major investment or goal you would like to accomplish this year? 
  4. What is better than amazing, mind-blowing, passionate, and satisfying sex?
  5. What makes your partner attractive to you – physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually?
  6. What brings you the most joy in our relationship?
  7. What would you do if I changed my religious beliefs? 

[Looking for more conversation starters? Check out How To Fall Back In Love With Your Spouse]

Emotional Intimacy

Emotional intimacy is the intimacy that comes from being heard. When someone listens to the pain in our hearts, we develop a connectedness. Emotional intimacy grows when we feel that someone has taken the time to understand us. Which can easily become neglected amidst our busy lives. Our closest relationships are built on a foundation of having our emotions validated. 

5 Ways To Enhance Emotional Intimacy:

  1. Share your successes and struggles
  2. Write your partner a love letter
  3. Start weekly gratitude journaling together
  4. Create and complete a “bucket list” together
  5. Get comfortable being uncomfortable (vulnerability)

Spiritual Intimacy

Spiritual intimacy is the intimacy that comes from sharing spiritual practices like prayer, meditation, and worship. Our hearts become strongly knit together when we join together in shared spiritual beliefs. Spiritual intimacy has been shown to be a powerful indicator of successful marriages. A deeper bond is formed that shows that we are working together on the same team following spiritual leadership.

5 Ways To Enhance Spiritual Intimacy:

  1. Pray or meditate together
  2. Share the character lessons you are each learning from your sacred text
  3. Talk about the history of your beliefs, or any specific religion
  4. Get involved/volunteer together 
  5. Read devotionals together 
  1.  

Physical Intimacy

Physical intimacy is all forms of touching, from a handshake, hug, a kiss, or even sexual intercourse. Physical intimacy grows in a relationship as couples grow in their love for one another. Physical intimacy thrives within the boundaries of a committed relationship; too much touch beyond the scope of the relationship brings heartache. Relationships need boundaries around physical intimacy so that godly limits are observed. Physical intimacy is normally essential to a healthy marriage–too little touch and the relationship suffers. 

[Looking to “heat things up” check out: How to Keep Stress From Tanking Your Sex Life]

5 Ways To Enhance Physical Intimacy

  1. Enjoy a nice make-out session
  2. Lots of foreplay 
  3. Explore the body through massage
  4. Have sex in another room
  5. Conscious Sensuality 
  1.  

These four types of intimacy aspects are all connected; they move and grow together. As you strengthen one area it naturally builds on the others. However, neglecting an area can also have damaging effects. Intimacy allows you to preserve the emotional or sexual connection and excitement (the butterflies) you had when you first met. As you know, maintaining a strong and intimate connection is critical to the success of your relationship. We have a responsibility to invest in opening and closing doors of intimacy in the right places with the right people. You can build your relationships by getting intentional about developing all layers of intimacy together!

So, if you desire to strengthen the intimacy with your partner, I highly encourage you to immediately put what you have learned to good use, starting today. Some say, “easier said than done” and I agree. However, many couples can benefit from the support of a great marriage counselor or relationship coach to assist with strengthening the intimacy in the relationship for a deeper connection. If this feels true for you, please know that help is here!

Wishing you all the best, 
Tomauro Veasley, M.A., MFTC, CLC

tennessee online marriage counseling tennessee online therapy

Tomauro Veasley, M.A., MMFT, CLC,  is an experienced marriage counselor, family therapist and relationship coach, as well as a certified life coach and individual therapist. She specializes in helping you create understanding, purpose and strength in yourself and your relationships in order to promote healing and growth in the most important parts of your life.

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Stages Of Getting Back Together With Your Ex

Stages Of Getting Back Together With Your Ex

Stages Of Getting Back Together With Your Ex

Is This Relationship For You?

When you and an ex have broken up, it’s completely normal to find yourself wondering whether you’ve made a mistake! When someone who used to be a large part of your daily life suddenly isn’t, it makes sense that you will experience sadness and miss the wonderful parts of your former relationship. However, sadness and missing your ex doesn’t necessarily mean you should get back together. Couples break up for a reason, and the sadness of missing a former partner can sometimes impact our ability to see and remember those reasons clearly.

As an online breakup recovery coach and Utah couples counselor – I want to explore with you questions that I find are helpful for my clients when figuring out whether “working it out” with an ex and getting back together is the best thing for them, or whether it’s time to move on. 

Why Did The Relationship End?

This question is important, layered, and may actually be different from the “official” reason for why you broke up! For example, if one of you was unfaithful in the relationship, that may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. While there is no excuse for betraying your partner when you’ve both committed to a monogamous relationship, these types of events typically don’t happen in isolation. What else was happening in the relationship that contributed to its downfall?

When working through the stage of “should we get back together” it’s important to view your relationship as a whole. It’s very easy to push aside the negative or uncomfortable memories and focus on the good and warm memories that are most likely drawing you back to your ex in the first place (or making it incredibly difficult to get over them). With every relationship though, there are good and bad times and habits. To truly care for yourself and your ex, you must weigh the good and the bad before moving forward in your decision to get back together. 

What’s Different This Time Around?

The things that caused the end of your relationship, have they changed? If not, are the things that caused the end of your relationship resolvable or acceptable? Think about the different factors that contributed to the end of your relationship. For example, if you struggled with communicating openly about your emotions, have you since worked on your ability to do this? If not, are you willing to? 

Depending on the nature of the things that ended your relationship, some may be more changeable than others. For example, behavioral changes like improving communication, learning patience, or even learning to be less messy can be changed and learned. 

However, character qualities and core values are often less changeable, meaning that you need to consider whether acceptance is a viable option. For example, if you and your ex support different political parties, is this something you will both be able to accept?

While compromise is a necessary ingredient to any successful relationship, sometimes the change required to meet that compromise is just not doable and that’s okay. Being honest with yourself and with your ex is the only way to move towards a happier, healthier future – whether it’s with your ex or not.

What Level Of Responsibility Are You Willing To Accept?

Okay, so you broke up for a reason and you’ve contemplated the good and the bad of your relationship. You’ve come to a personal understanding of what it means to compromise in your relationship, and you’re ready to give this a go, again. However, forgiving your ex for the wrong or pain they’ve caused you will not set your heart free – it will not lay the foundation for a better and brighter future together. You must be willing to accept responsibility for the part that you played in the relationship’s past. 

Do you each recognize your own part in the problems of your relationship? Think back to the last time you and your ex communicated about the end of your relationship. What did they attribute it to? Are you both capable of taking responsibility for your part in the problems that led to the problems you experienced?

If you both just “move past” the relationship as it was, hoping to enter into a new and shiny place together – you’ll find that a lot of what wasn’t working before is still not going to work for either of you. Accepting responsibility for your own part of the problems (and your partner doing the same) will help to strengthen your bond and trust in one another. Without that acceptance, your relationship problems are ultimately doomed to repeat themselves.

Let's Talk. Schedule a Free Consultation Today.

Why Do You Want To Get Back Together With Your Ex?

There are many different reasons why you might want to get back together with your ex, and it is important to honestly examine all of them so you can decide whether getting back together would be healthy for you. 

Some of the best reasons to consider getting back together include believing that you have both grown in ways that would make you good partners for each other and believing that you could have a healthy relationship if you both put the work in. 

There are also less healthy reasons to consider getting back together. While it is normal to experience some of these, on their own, they may not be good enough justification for pursuing someone as your life partner. 

Some of these reasons include: feeling lonely, missing the good parts of your relationship, feeling afraid that you may not find someone else, and missing the familiarity of your old relationship. If you find that you are primarily experiencing this second set of reasons for wanting to get back together, it may be a sign that personal growth work with a therapist or coach would be helpful for you.

Remember, these moments of honesty with yourself will lead you to a happier and healthier future.

Does Your Ex Want To Get Back Together With You?

This may be an obvious question, but it’s an important one to consider! Ultimately, we all deserve to be with someone who wants to be with us. If your ex has moved on and is not interested in exploring reunification, you owe it to yourself to do the same.

If you and your ex have decided that you both want to give things another shot, as tempting as it can be to jump right back in where things left off, it’s often a good idea to start off slow. As eager as you might be to start posting pictures together again or jump right back into your sexual relationship, try to treat the early stages of getting back together as a provisional period of exploration when you can learn how you have each changed during your time apart, figure out what you both want and need from the relationship, and test out whether you’re each willing and able to make necessary changes.

Depending on how long it’s been since your relationship ended, there may be more or less for you and your former partner to catch up on during this exploration phase. Here are some helpful questions to discuss with your ex as you explore what getting back together might look like for you:

  • What are some of the insights you’ve had about why our relationship didn’t work out before? What do you think were some of my and some of your contributions to the problem?
  • What are some of the important experiences you’ve had and lessons you’ve learned since we were last together?
  • What would you want to be different in our relationship this time around?
  • How do you think we could make sure those things would be different?

Discussing these questions with your ex can help you each figure out whether you’re looking for the same things as well as how successful giving your relationship another go is likely to be. For example, if your ex has a hard time taking responsibility for their contribution to what went wrong in your relationship or if the things they have learned about what they value in a relationship seem fundamentally different from what you are looking for, these may be signs that giving things another go won’t be as successful. 

However, if they are able to engage in an insightful conversation about some of these questions and express a willingness to take concrete steps such as participating in relationship counseling or coaching, these may be signs that your relationship can be more successful this time around.

Red Flags That Getting Back Together With Your Ex Is NOT A Good Idea

As you move through the provisional exploration phase of getting back together with your ex, here are some additional warning signs that the relationship may not be headed for success:

  • When it comes to making things better, it’s all talk and no walk. It’s always easier to talk about the things that need to change in order for the relationship to improve than to actually do them. If you realize that the promise of getting back together was so alluring to either you or your ex that one or both of you committed to making more changes than you were ready to (like committing to doing couples counseling but then complaining about going), it’s a sign that you may need to re-evaluate getting back together.
  • You realize that the fantasy of being back together is better than the reality. Often when we have a break-up, we conveniently forget all of the bad stuff about our former relationship and instead fantasize about how wonderful it would be to get back together. If you find that, once you are back together, the fantasy was better than reality, you may need to re-visit questions about what is solvable and what you are willing to accept.
  • You or your partner keep bringing up past mistakes. Relationships end for a reason, and it’s likely that you and your ex hurt each other’s feelings in the past. If you find that you or your partner keeps bringing up mistakes from when you were together previously, it’s likely that those past mistakes haven’t been completely forgiven. Re-evaluate whether you have each fully apologized to each other for past hurts and whether you believe that full forgiveness will be possible in your situation.

Signs That Getting Back Together With Your Ex IS A Good Idea

On the opposite side, here are some additional “green lights,” or signs that your relationship is on the right track and is changing for the better:

  • You and your partner have been able to identify specific goals to improve your relationship and are actively working towards achieving them. For example, if one problem you experienced in your prior relationship was feeling as though you were never on the same page, one new habit you might be developing together is eating together at mealtimes without any distractions such as phones or the TV.
  • For the issues that you know you would like to improve but are having a hard time handling on your own, you have found a relationship therapist or coach and are actively working with them. Having a hard time making changes on your own doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed–we all need an outside professional opinion sometimes. As a relationship therapist, I often have couples come to me who have the right intentions but need a little help gaining insight and finding personalized strategies and action plans that work for them.
  • You are both actively working towards your own personal growth. The healthiest relationships are ones where both partners are actively working towards personal growth in order to become better partners rather than casting the responsibility for change and improvement on one person. 

Getting Back Together With Your Ex: Moving Forward In The Relationship

Once you both feel confident that your relationship is heading in a healthy new direction, the provisional exploration phase is over. Communicate openly and regularly with your partner about when you each feel ready to shift from “trying things out” to “making it official.” You don’t need to wait until the relationship is perfect, but should wait until you each understand and agree on what went wrong the first time around, what each of your contributions to the problems was, what you want to be different this time, and are taking concrete steps individually and as a couple to make those changes.

Making the decision about whether to get back together with an ex can be difficult, but through open self-reflection and honest conversation, you have the power to make a decision that will be healthy for you. Also, remember that it can be very worthwhile to ask for help from a professional. Whether you are deciding whether to get back together with your ex and want to bounce your ideas and feelings off of someone or you and your ex have decided to give it another go and want help creating an action plan for change, don’t be afraid to seek out help.

Warmly,
Kensington

Dr. Rachel Merlin, DMFT, LMFT, M.S.Ed.

With compassionate understanding and unique insights, Kensington Osmond, M.S., LAMFT, MFTC helps you improve the most meaningful parts of your life, from your emotional well-being to your relationships.

 

 

Real Help, To Move You Forward

 

Everyone experiences challenges, but only some people recognize these moments as opportunities for growth and positive change.

 

 

Working with an expert therapist or life coach can help you understand yourself more deeply, get a fresh perspective, grow as a person, and become empowered to create positive change in yourself, your relationships and your life.

 

 

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

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12 Effective Ways to Destroy Your Relationship

12 Effective Ways to Destroy Your Relationship

What Will Ruin Your Relationship, and Fast

Are you unknowingly making the biggest relationship mistakes? I often speak, write and podcast about all the positive, effective ways that you can improve your relationship. I talk about communication skills, developing empathy, how to work together as a team, ways to get on the same page with regards to parenting, and all the things that couples can do to create a strong, satisfying relationship and a lifetime of love.

Avoid The Biggest Relationship Mistakes!

So, today… I'm mixing it up. I decided to put together a very straightforward list of what NOT to do if you want to have a great relationship. In fact I decided to discuss the twelve biggest relationship mistakes you can make in hopes of helping you avoid the biggest relationship pitfalls.

While this is a tongue-in-cheek bit of satire (mostly) I'm also shining a light on the relationship-ruining behaviors that we can all engage in. (We all do them sometimes, myself included). However, self-awareness and personal responsibility are some of the most important relationship skills that any of us have at our disposal, and I do hope that this exploration helps you (and possibly your partner) gain understanding about the things you might be doing to inadvertently damage your relationship.

Positive, Direct Relationship Coaching

While I did outline some of the biggest relationship mistakes you can make…. my natural inclination to positivity prevailed. I went back through the list of relationship-damaging behaviors and discussed their positive relationship corollaries. 

I hope that this very honest discussion helps you create the strong, happy relationship you want and deserve.

All the best, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

PS: Have you taken my “How Healthy is Your Relationship” Quiz yet? I mentioned it on the podcast as a resource to help you take a snapshot of how your relationship is currently doing in all the areas I described. Take the relationship quiz here.

 

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12 Effective Ways to Destroy a Relationship

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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Mindful Self Compassion

Mindful Self Compassion

Mindful Self Compassion

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.

Mindful Self Compassion

MINDFUL SELF COMPASSION: As you may know, in addition to my work here as a therapist, couples counselor and life coach, I love addressing listener questions on the Love Happiness and Success Podcast (not to mention the wonderful questions that you guys leave for me on our blog). A while ago, one brave listener reached out with a heartfelt email, sharing a bit about her life, and asking how to handle some really difficult things, like: “How do I forgive myself when I've hurt someone?” “How do I break my old patterns so that I don't do harmful things again?” “How do I stay emotionally available when I fear being hurt?” These are important questions that many people wrestle with, and I decided to tackle them on the show. We'll be discussing:

How to Forgive Yourself When You've Hurt Someone

While so many resources are there to help you if you've been hurt by someone else, or need to forgive someone who has betrayed you, or how to rebuild trust in a relationship, few resources exist to help those suffering with feelings of guilt, regret and remorse. This is unfortunate, because who among us hasn't done something they regret? The worst is when you've hurt someone you've loved, and maybe lost a relationship as a result of it. We'll discuss how to apply self-awareness and mindful self-compassion to this situation in order to find forgiveness for yourself, by putting your actions in context of both your life experience and your inner experience. We'll talk about how to practice self-compassion, and also some self-compassion exercises to help you develop this skill. Resources: Here's the link to the attachment styles article I mentoned. One of the other resources I discuss here is our “What's Holding You Back” quiz to help you gain self-awareness (here's the link if you want to check it out).

How Do I Break My Old Patterns?

The crux of any personal growth process is using your self-awareness and your feelings to get clearer about your values, help you guide your future behavior and future choices. But all we have is the present moment. We'll talk about how to combine compassion for yourself, empathy for others, and mindfulness skills to manage yourself in the moment so that you create better outcomes in the future. Resource: Mindfulness, For People Who Hate to Meditate

How Do I Stay Emotionally Available in Relationships?

When you're feeling fragile and emotionally reactive, it's hard to have healthy relationships. Instead, we usually fall into either losing ourselves and being dependent on another for our feelings of self-worth. (Which too often leads to emotional enmeshment and codependency). Or, we swing into self-protection, lashing out, shutting down, or breaking off relationships. The key to finding a middle path — connection, and confidence — is through loving yourself and strengthening yourself. Resource: Here's the link to the Self-Love article I mentioned. Also, an article about cultivating healthy vulnerability in relationships. At the heart of all the ideas, skills and strategies here for forgiving yourself, and using your mistakes as a launch pad for growth is the concept of mindful self-compassion. I hope you keep that idea with you, on your journey of growth and healing. Your fellow traveler, Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Mindful Self Compassion: How to Forgive Yourself

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

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Unhealthy Relationships

Unhealthy Relationships

When to Save a Distressed Relationship

Unhealthy Relationships: All couples go through a rocky period in their relationship. They may grow distant from each other and encounter problems that seem to be impossible to overcome. It is agonizing to decide whether or not to save a relationship because we never know the possibilities. How will we know when our relationship is worth saving?

In this episode, marriage and family therapist Brittany S., will touch on healthy versus unhealthy relationships. We talk about what a normal distressed relationship looks like and how to deal with it. You will also discover the different markers of an unhealthy relationship. Knowing the difference between the two will help make the big decision whether to save your relationship or knowing when it’s time to let go. 

Tune in to the podcast to learn more about the role of attunement, responsiveness, and vulnerability in cultivating an ideal, healthy, and loving relationship!

In This Episode: Unhealthy Relationships

  • Find out what a distressed healthy relationship is versus an unhealthy one.
  • Understand the pursue-withdraw cycle in distressed relationships.
  • Recognize the general markers of an unhealthy relationship.
  • Know where to start and what steps to undertake in couples counseling.
  • Identify when growth is and is not possible in a relationship.
  • Understand the importance of having aligned expectations for the future.
  • Know the importance of attunement as the fundamental heart of every relationship.

Episode Highlights

“Is My Relationship Healthy?”

Brittany shares with us today that a “good” relationship ultimately depends on what you think of yourself and your experience within the relationship itself. She suggests asking three main questions when identifying the health of your relationship:

  • What is the overall quality of the relationship?
  • Do I feel good about myself in the relationship?
  • Do I feel like the relationship benefits and serves me well?

How We See Ourselves

How we see ourselves is affected by the people who surround us. Usually, when you begin feeling like you need to change yourself, you are not enough, or you need to be better for your partner to treat you well, is a sign that the relationship may be unhealthy. 

When we start to believe we are unworthy of love, connection, and belonging, the foundation of the relationship begins to fall away (if there even was one to start with). 

Because of this pessimistic view, we begin to feel more angry, aggressive, and hostile towards ourselves. Brittany shares that most of her clients that are struggling with this dynamic will internalize feeling unworthy, “I have done something that makes me inherently unlovable or unworthy of having this healthy relationship or healing.” 

Fixing the Negative Subconscious Belief

The issue here is that people who find themselves in an unhealthy relationship begin to believe they are the sole problem. To address this, we need to be aware of what stories we are telling ourselves. Fixing the negative subconscious belief requires challenging these stories. To do this, challenge these stories by:

  • Identifying if there is evidence that there is some truth to the story; and
  • Cracking the narrative and expressing it

When working with couples, Brittany shares that partners often blame each other for their unhappiness or unwillingness to show up for their partner how their partner may need. Partner responses can tell so much about the health of the relationship.

If our partner is willing to comfort us and offer help, it provides some reassurance that we are in a healthy situation. But if the partner lacks comfort and responsiveness, it is a sign to take a deeper look into the relationship. 

What does this mean? It means that by challenging the stories that we tell ourselves (I’m unworthy of love…) and getting to the root of why we feel these ways, we can better understand whether or not it is something we can work on and grow through, or if it’s a sign that this relationship really isn’t good for us after all.

Is a Distressed Relationship Normal?

According to Brittany, “When people are in distressed relationships, it impacts each other. Both people are impacted in such a way that they both stop being the best version of themselves.” A distressing situation creates reactions in each person that can be hurtful and support the negative pursue-withdraw cycle

The pursue-withdraw cycle is characterized by:

  • One partner who is demanding, critical, and demands reassurance, comfort, or engagement from the other; and
  • The other partner feeling overwhelmed by these demands and, in turn, withdrawing

The more one partner shuts down, the more the other demands and becomes more aggressive, thus feeding the cycle. The cycle is normal in distressed relationships but requires a path of healing. 

Brittany relays that this cycle propagates because “there's usually a need for comfort or safety or connection or a vulnerable attachment—a need that isn't being met, and we're just scared to ask for it in that way.”

The General Markers of an Unhealthy Relationship

It is important to assess early on in counseling if the relationship is in a distressing situation or more problematic. Some questions to ask yourself if you find you are in an unhealthy relationship are:

  • Is there essential responsiveness
  • Can somebody take accountability and responsibility for their actions in the relationship? 
  • Can they identify their part in the distress?
  • Is there a desire to control or to have power over our partner? 
  • Are there elements of shaming and severe criticism present in the relationship?
  • Is there manipulation happening? 
  • Is one partner trying to isolate the other?
  • Is one partner threatening the other? 
  • Is verbal abuse happening?

According to Brittany, it's common to blame each other. However, partners should step back and realize their part in the problem. If one partner is insistent on blaming the other and claiming no-fault, then it becomes unhealthy.

Brittany recommends seeking individual therapy from a trained professional in domestic violence cases, a professional who has the background to help you keep safe. She also advises seeking domestic violence support.

Starting the Process of Healing

When starting the process of healing, Brittany refers to this time between her couples as a dance. Brittany begins by asking her clients to map out their dance and identify their part in the relationship. It is critical to be aware of:

  • What is happening to your body
  • What emotions you are feeling; and
  • Is there any judgment happening

Partners should become intimate with their dance and tell each other about it. The more open and willing to connect with your partner at this time, the higher likelihood of healing taking place. 

It is essential to identify emotions, bodily sensations, and the stories we tell ourselves. By learning how to communicate better with your partner, you can begin to break the pursue-withdraw cycle. If you find that your partnership needs help better communicating, Brittany suggests seeking the help of a relationship specialist.

Brittany says that when there is growth possible in the relationship, a healthy couple will be able to engage in their dance, self-reflective, and talk about their emotions.

Is Growth Possible?

Healing is a process; being aware of each other's roles and emotions takes time. It may be more challenging for some people to express themselves due to their previous experiences. 

However, having a hard time at first does not mean that the relationship is horrible or will not survive. Brittany emphasizes that her role as a couple's counselor is to help people grow and go through the transformational process. It's normal to have a hard time because the process takes vulnerability. 

However, if you cannot establish vulnerability and safety, consider individual counseling to heal from childhood trauma or past relationships. 

“Couples can do this work together because I really do believe that we heal best in trusted relationships with others,” Brittany says. If the wounds run too deep that you cannot show up in your relationship, that is a sign to work on yourself. 

Keys to a Healthy Relationship: Can This Relationship Be Saved?

If you have been working on fixing your relationship and have been in counseling for months, but nothing has changed, then you can use that valuable information to decide whether the relationship can be saved. 

Responsiveness is an essential factor in the survivorship of a relationship. We have to express what we need and see how someone responds to that. 

Healing requires vulnerability and baseline safety. If your partner disagrees, you may consider the possibility that they are not suited for you.

“It's okay to mess up and make mistakes, but there has to be a motivation to work on things, grow, and stay in it together,” says Brittany.

Pushing for the Future

It's part of our culture to encounter difficulties in being present and focusing on what's happening now. We often look forward, believing that the future will be better.

However, it’s important to look at your situation and relationship in the present. We must focus on:

  • What the relationship feels like now 
  • What is and what isn't serving us
  • What needs work; and 
  • Our willingness to put in that work towards the future we are desiring

Make sure that you and your partner have the same desires and expectations for the future. Evaluate and reflect if a compromise on healthy relationship expectations is needed. 

Attunement: The Heart of a Relationship

Attunement is the process of being present with our partner. Attunement is the goal; it is the entire heart of every relationship. It involves engaging in emotional responsiveness and vulnerability. 

If you feel disconnected, think about how you can find your way back to each other and if both of you are willing to take part in that process. It's critical to have that responsiveness, reciprocity, and respect in a relationship.

“You won't have attunement in a distressed relationship, but you can intentionally create it if both people are engaged in that process.”, says Brittany.

Resources

Brittany has shared invaluable advice on dealing with a distressed relationship and differentiating it from an unhealthy one. What did you connect and relate with the most? Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment down below.

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

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Unhealthy Relationships

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

Music Credits: The Black Pine, “The Morning After She Left”

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

That is The Black Pine with a song The Morning After She Left. When I listened to that song, I think about someone who has belatedly realized that maybe they made some mistakes in a relationship that it is now too late to repair. And that kind of regret is what can happen when people, over time, realize that the relationship that they've been in, or the series of relationships that they've been in, have not always been the healthiest or best for them. I think sometimes their partners feel that regret more than they do. 

What we see our clients here at Growing Self describe is this feeling often of newfound liberation, when they decide to stop engaging in relationships that are not good for them, and begin, instead, prioritizing their own health and happiness and well-being. And it's such a joy to be part of. 

It's an important topic, and one that I wanted to talk about on today's show because we see a ton of people here at Growing Self. A lot of relational work, we do couples counseling, relationship coaching, but we also help a lot of individual clients who are trying to get clear about their relationships and about themselves. Sometimes they're coming for help fixing a relationship, maybe with a partner who doesn't want to come to couples counseling. So they feel like they have to do it on their own. But sometimes it's from people who aren't quite sure if they're in a relationship, that they should spend a lot of time and energy on fixing. Somebody who's been in a relationship, that for five years, they're not married. It's kind of a mixed bag relationship. There are things that they're not really happy with, and the relationship is stalled. It's not moving forward, and they're coming to us for help around. “How hard should I try to make it work with this person?” And when do I just say, “You know what? I need to let this go, and move on, and find a better situation for myself?” That is a tough situation to be in, but one that I think is worth exploring and so that's what we're doing today on this episode of the podcast is talking about what a healthy relationship is, what a healthy foundation looks like. What is a sign that there's growth and opportunity possible, and what is a sign that there might not be growth and opportunity possible? 

To help me with those, I have invited my dear colleague. My colleague, Brittany Stewart, is a marriage and family therapist on our team here at Growing Self. She has a lot of experience working with people around this issue, both individuals and couples. Thank you, Brittany, so much for being here with me today.

Brittany Stewart: Oh, of course. Thank you so much for having me, Lisa. I'm really looking forward to having this conversation with you.

Dr. Lisa: Oh. Well, me too. It's one—I mean, I see you in our consultation groups and in our meetings. This is a topic that is clearly just such a passion for you. And that I see and I've always admired about you because it's not just enough for you to help people, like improve their relationships. You're always sort of listening to “How healthy is this relationship?” “Is this relationship good for both people in the relationship?” because those things really matter a lot. Sometimes, even if we can teach people how to communicate and do the skills, if there's not a healthy relationship structure underneath,  we need to have that on our radar. 

To jump into this topic, I mean, can you just talk a little bit about what are some of the things that you first notice or listen for? If you're working with—and we could take it one at a time but like a couple or an individual that might make you think, “Is this really a good situation fundamentally?” And we're not talking about capital A abuse. That is a different animal. But just like that sort of what's going on here?

Characteristics of a Healthy Relationship

Brittany: Yeah, that's a great question. I think the first thing that I'm always looking at is, “What is someone's experience of themselves and their partner in a relationship?” Like, what is the overall quality? Do they feel good about themselves in the relationship? Do they feel like the relationship benefits them, and serves them, and functions while in their life? Do they give their partner the benefit of the doubt? Right? 

When I start to hear that partners believe that their partner is ill-intentioned, or malicious, or doesn't have their best interests at heart, I can really hear that there's just been a lot of erosion in the relationship. That really affects how we see ourselves too. If we're not trusting our partner to be—to have our best intentions at heart, or to really hold us in their hearts in a positive and meaningful way, then that completely impacts how we see ourselves and how we function in the world.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Well, how we see ourselves—let's talk a little bit more about that. I heard you say that when someone believes that their partner is almost out to get them, or is hostile towards them, or is doing things maliciously, how does that begin to change the way someone feels about themselves?

Brittany: I think that can change a few different things about how we might see ourselves. Right? One might be that we start to believe that we're less worthy of experiencing love, and connection, and belonging. Even though, my hope is always that people know that's just inherent, and that doesn't change even with the status of our relationships or the quality of them. But it does impact that belief around ourselves. 

I think the other way it shows up is we might start to experience more anger, or we might start to be more hostile ourselves, or defensive, or aggressive. I think that it kind of forces us to take a look at how we're showing up in the world, and then feel really difficult, and murky to show up with those kinds of behaviors and emotions, and not know what to do with them.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, yeah. Oh, my goodness. The shame of regret that comes when somebody in an unhealthy relationship begins to—themselves show signs of that, like anger, or hostility, or shows up in weird ways. And then they think, “Oh my God, what am I doing? I'm not being a good partner. I'm not being a good mom,” or whatever it is that they internalize that. 

But then I've also heard you say, at the same time, they can be internalizing these messages from their partner that—I mean, I think what we both hear a lot is, “If you were better and if I loved you more, then I wouldn't treat you this way.” But it plays into that self-doubt, that “I'm not good enough,” that “The reason my partner is saying these things to me or not giving me the love that I need is because I'm not quite good enough. And if I were better, they would be behaving differently. They would be better to me, if I worked on myself.” Is that the trick that people get sucked into?

Brittany: Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, I think I see that a lot, especially, I mean, I would say I see it with people of all genders. Right? That they have this belief over time, whether it's through failed relationships, or chronic on again-off again, or just a long term relationship that has a lot of wounds in it that have never been healed. They really internalize this thought of like, “I have done something that makes me inherently unlovable or unworthy of having this healthy relationship or, have this healing.” And it's really difficult to sit in that. And my hope, again, is always that people know that's not true.

Dr. Lisa: Well, I'm glad that we're talking about this, though, because I think that what we're just putting our finger on right here is the—almost like subconscious core belief of people who come—will come in for help with their relationships is like, “Can this be fixed? Should I work on that?” Sometimes I think the place where we need to go to is what they're telling themselves about the relationship. If for example, they believe that their partner could be much different with a different person who was better than them, and if they just worked on themselves and became the person that their partner wants, then they could be loved. To talk about how, what if that isn't actually what is happening? What if this is how the person you're partnered with would show up, whether or not they were with a different person or a better version of you? That can be a big step sometimes, because I think that people really believe that they're the problem. 

First of all, let's just say for everybody within the sound of our voice, this is a process. There is not anything that Brittany or I am going to say. There is no piece of advice or wisdom that is going to help you jump over that mountain. But Brittany, when you're working with a client who is stuck in that place, where they've gotten tricked into believing bad things about themselves, where do you even begin? If somebody's listening to this right now who probably needs to do some of that work, where would they start?

Unhealthy Relationships

Brittany: Yeah. Well, I think that's a complicated question because I would approach it differently, right, if I'm just working with one person or been working with a couple. But I think the first step for any change is always just being really aware of what stories were even telling ourselves. And I love Brené Brown’s work. In her Netflix series, or in her Netflix special, when she says “The story I'm telling myself is…” Right. And so I always encourage clients to identify, “What is that story that we're telling ourselves?”

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. 

Brittany: And just to name it, and so if I'm sitting with an individual, can they just get really clear on what is that story they're telling themselves? Or if I'm working with a couple, can they just share with each other in a really disarming way? Like, “This is the story in my head.” Right? It may not be true, but it feels very real. And can they just get it out there and name it so that we can work with it? Then of course, it's really identifying like, “Can we challenge that?” “Is there really evidence that this… that the story you're telling yourself is true?” “Is it based in any sort of fact or reality, or is it just some emotion that's coming up, and we're trying to make sense of it, and the story is the best way that we're doing that?”

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Yeah. I get it. Just kind of cracking into that narrative and bringing it out into the open, and then just sort of looking at it together. Yeah.

Brittany: Yeah, and then I think, if I'm working with a couple, what can be really powerful about this, right, is we often don't share the story that's in our head in a disarming way. Usually, we're sharing it in a blaming way with our partner. We can tell so much about the health of a relationship and the ability of our partner to really be in it with us when we share that story just based on their response. Right? 

So if we share this awful story or this painful story we're telling ourselves, and our partner is able to move toward us and comfort us, and say, “Oh, my gosh. That's the story in your head? Let me help you with that. Right. That's not how I see it. That's not what I'm feeling.” That can be really powerful. Right? To help offer that reassurance. Or if there is that lack of comfort and responsiveness. And maybe that story gets reinforced, then that's a—I would say—that's a sign. Right? Or something else to look at deeper. Maybe that story is based in some truth about the relationship. Yeah.

Dr. Lisa: No, that's a great way of looking at this. So on that note too, so you—like all of the marriage counselors on the team here at Growing Self—practice evidence-based forms of couples counseling, and one of the things that the approaches that you've really focused on is one called emotionally-focused couples therapy that takes a closer look at the attachment needs of two people in a relationship. What we know from research into emotionally-focused therapy is that when people are in distressed relationships, it impacts—and because relationships are a system—I mean, people impact each other. Right? But what we see is that both people are impacted in such a way that they both stop—how do I say this?—being the best version of themselves. I mean, being in a distressed relationship creates reactions in each person that can be hurtful, and can sort of support that negative cycle.

I think it's important to talk about that because we expect that in a distressed relationship. Just because that's happening doesn't necessarily mean that it is a fundamentally unhealthy relationship. It's just that we need to do that work of healing. So let's just even start there. I mean, when you're working with a couple who has not been in a great place for a year or three—I mean, for a lot of couples, it takes a while to show up in our office. But what would you expect to see that would be normal?

Brittany: Oh, yeah. So usually, right? EFT, or emotionally-focused couples therapy talks about—we get into this dance with our partner, and every one of us has a dance in our relationship. It's totally normal, and it's part of being in an attachment relationship. So what I might see that is really normal, I would say the most common thing I see is what we call like the pursuer-distancer or the pursuer-withdrawer. This looks like when partners are in distress, and one partner might like protest, as Sue Johnson calls it.And they might start to demand, or criticize, or try to get any sort of engagement from their partner. Right? They're just seeking some sort of reassurance or comfort, but it comes out in a way that might be kind of critical or…

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Angry.

Brittany: …and distressing to their partner. When that happens, their partner then gets overwhelmed, and kind of withdraws, or shuts down. It kind of reinforces the cycle over and over again. The more one person shuts down, the bigger one person gets. The more the other partner shuts down, and so on, and so forth. I would say that's the most common thing I see and it's really, really normal or common. I guess, I would say, it's really, really common. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. 

Brittany: There's a lot we can do with that, because really what we know underneath, right?  When there's basic safety there, right? This isn't an abusive relationship. Again, this is a healthy relationship overall, is that we normalize that distress, and we try to identify what's really happening underneath that. Right? There's usually some core attachment need for comfort, or safety, or connection, or anything like that. Just really vulnerable attachment need that isn't being met, and we're just scared to ask for it in that way. 

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Relationships

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, yeah. I'm so glad that you said all that. I think it's important to put that out there because I think that's part of what can get confusing for people who are like, “Is this a bad relationship? Is this an unhealthy relationship?” Because if you're in a distressed relationship with someone who is engaging with you in a way that makes you sort of feel like withdrawing, and avoiding conversations. The perception from that position is that you're living with somebody who's critical, and judgmental, and never quite happy with you, and always complaining about something, and who wants you to be something that you're not. I mean, that is the inner experience. Right? On the other side of it, the person is experiencing their partner's being withdrawn or avoided. “They never talk to me. They shut me out. They ignore me.” It doesn't matter. They just don't like…

Brittany: They don't care. 

Dr. Lisa: They’re emotionally checked out. They don't care. Right. When somebody comes into our office and is like, “This is what's happening at home. They don't care, they're checked out, they'd make me feel like watching ESPN is more important than our marriage.” That's how it feels. We also need to talk about the fact that this is normal in a distressed relationship, and that this—because this is happening doesn't mean that you're in a bad relationship necessarily. But it does require a path of healing, where you can start in a safe place talking about the things that are important. Kind of get reconnected. And I also just want to say, again, that is not a like, “Do these two easy things, and it'll be all better.” This is a process that requires…

Brittany: Absolutely.

Dr. Lisa: …probably months of, “How do we find this?” So there's setting everybody's expectations. Okay, so there's that. That is normal and expected distressed relationship. How would you say that is different from somebody who is in a relationship, that may feel in some ways similarly, but is actually not a healthy relationship? Do you think that there are sort of like markers that we can look at, or think about that would indicate what is this? Or does it really require that assessment process? Do you have to start doing the work to try to fix it, and then see what happens? How do you begin to sort that out?

Brittany: Yeah. I mean, sometimes, I think that we assess very early on so it can kind of become apparent very quickly. If there is just this common distress happening, and we can work with that. Or if it's actually that there's something unhealthy, or problematic, or unsafe happening in the relationship. I think general markers. right? Like the thing I'm always looking for is, “Is there like basic responsiveness?” “Can somebody take accountability and responsibility for their actions in the relationship?” “Can they identify their part and the distress?” And if not, right? I think, again, it's common to experience where we get caught in blaming each other. But usually, we're able to eventually step back and say, “Oh, I can see that I do have a part in this.” If we're just really inherent, or really set on blaming our partner and absolving ourselves of any part of the distress, I think that that's problematic. 

Then looking for things like, is there a desire to control or to have power over our partner? Is there—are there elements of shaming, and just really deep criticism present in the relationship? Is there manipulation happening? Is there—is one partner trying to isolate their partner? Are they threatening their partner? Is there verbal abuse happening? Those are some markers that I think are indicative of there being a bigger problem in a relationship, beyond just common distress. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, I get that. Just to say out loud, what you're also talking about are markers that we would associate with domestic violence, or intimate partner violence like the power, and control, the isolation, manipulation. Just to say very, very clearly, it is never appropriate for an ethical couples counselor to attempt any kind of couples counseling in the presence of actual domestic violence or intimate partner violence. It is just a no-go situation. We would not do that because it's not safe ever. That's not what we're talking about here. 

In those situations Brittany, if somebody was listening to this and being like, “Oh, no. It's actually violent.” Just for the record, what should they do?

Brittany: Oh, absolutely. I would always recommend they both go seek individual therapy, right? Is there something that can be done to help both partners, or at least a safety plan, or do something that really will establish safety for both partners, especially the victims.

Dr. Lisa: There's a wonderful national resource, it's called thehotline.org. Day and night, you can call or chat with one of their representatives, who can help you either on the spot if it's an emergency or also provide you access to all kinds of resources through community mental health agencies, like safe houses, that kind of thing. So if you're really in trouble, go thehotline.org. Brittany's recommendation is to get involved in individual therapy, ideally with someone who has that background to help you get safe. So that is not what we're talking about. 

But Brittany, so what we're talking about is sort of the—if there's a spectrum of basic safety in a relationship, and it's starting to get to this link, I don't know, sort of area. As a couples counselor, if you've determined that it's okay to continue working with a couple, it's not that bad that you are going to pull the plug… what are some of the things that you would want to be talking about with that couple? The things that you're seeing the patterns? Again, it's not a process. It's not information all necessarily. It's a process. But where would you hope to take that process and what would you expect to come from it?

Brittany: Yeah. I always start by helping couples what we call like mapping their dance. Right? So they're each identifying what moves are they both making in the dance? Are they doing different dances with each other? How are they showing up? And will actually map it out and say, “This is what I'm doing.” And part of the things that they're becoming more aware of—are some of the things they're becoming more aware of—are what's happening in their body. Right? Because we know that emotion shows up in our bodies first. 

So usually, even if it's subconscious, or even if we're not really aware of it, there's probably some somatic sensation happening in our body that were triggered by, that's telling us that distress is happening, or there's a loss of connection happening. It kind of sets the stance in motion. So I'm asking each partner to identify, “What's happening in your body?” “Can you just check in and notice what's happening?” “What emotions are coming up for you?” Can they name, right? Are they experiencing anger? Are they having… experiencing sadness? Is there judgment happening? What are they thinking right now? What emotions are coming up? 

Then I ask them to name a story they're telling themselves, and this includes the story about themselves, about their partners, about their relationship. Right? So these might be the like, “I'm not worthy. They don't love me. Our relationship is broken.” Whatever story they're telling themselves, and they name it, and then identify what do they do with that. Right? 

Because usually those three things: the emotions, and the sensations in our body, and the stories we're telling ourselves become too much. And so then we kind of.. we react. How we all handle that distress is going to be different. That's when we might protest, and become critical, or it might become too much, and we might completely shut down and say, “I'm going to go ahead and move into self preservation and shut down.” So it's really important that the couples just become really intimate with what is their dance? Can they map it? Can they tell each other about it? Can they do this together—most importantly, versus… it's me versus you. It's—this is our dance, and we're going to talk about it, and figure it out together. And so the first step is really just naming it, getting really familiar with this. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. So that's what you—what sounds like the place where you would always star. And I think what I'm hearing is that with a couple where there was growth possible, they would be able to engage in that, and be self-reflective, and talk about, “Yeah. This is how I feel. And when you do this, I do that.” And kind of that awareness. How would you contrast that with a couple, maybe that you started working with where you started to think, “Yeah, I don't know if how much growth is possible here.” How would it be different?

Brittany: Yeah. I mean, I always try to give it a little bit of time, right? Because this attachment work can be really deep. And sometimes it's harder for people, depending on experiences they've already had in their life. If they never have experienced a secure attachment, it might take them a little bit of time. We might have to map it over and over and over again, and give them kind of homework to “go and just see what you notice.” If they can't really identify, so that's one thing that might come up.

Building Relationships

Dr. Lisa: Thank you for saying that. Yeah. Because that's really important. Because just if that—if it's not easy to do at first, doesn't mean that it's a horrible relationship that needs to end. It means that there is a therapeutic component involved. And that's why we're here is to help people grow, and go through that transformational process.

Brittany: Absolutely.

Dr. Lisa: And so at the beginning, it's normal that it's not easy to do that. Okay. Thank you. Yeah. 

Brittany: Oh, yeah. Yeah, this is—it takes vulnerability. This process is really vulnerable. And we have to ease into that. But if beyond that, right? If we're not ever able to kind of establish that safety to feel vulnerable, and to do this work, then there might come a point, right? Where I might suggest that someone does some individual work around some emotional intelligence, or if they maybe have some attachment stuff to heal from their childhoods, or past relationships, or whatever it might be that's coming up for them. 

I do—I hope as always, that couples can do this work together because I really do believe that we heal best, and trust that relationships with others. And sometimes we need some individual work just to support us, and identifying what's happening for us, before we share it with our partner, or therapists in the couple setting.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, to work on yourself. If the wounds run so deep, that you're really not able to show up in a healthy way in your relationship, that's a sign that you need to work on yourself a little bit. I would imagine that for someone who will be very unlikely to be able to have a healthy relationship, they would reject that idea, and they would not want to do individual work. So that would be a sign. I would think that it's probably not going to work out, at least in a healthy way for you. 

Brittany: Yeah, right. Absolutely. I think that at that point, it's up to everyone to decide, “Is this something that I'm willing to kind of wade out, and hope that my partner changed their mind?” Or yeah, changes their mind? Or, “Do I really have to kind of accept that they're not in a place to do this growth work right now?”

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Completely.

Brittany: “Maybe that's not going to serve either of us or this relationship?”

Is My Relationship Healthy?

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Well, this is really clarifying because I think a lot of people that are stuck in this conundrum, are in a place where they're trying to figure out, “Is this relationship healthy?” “Can this relationship be saved?” “How much do I want to invest in this relationship?” before having had the opportunity to do the kind of work that you're talking about Brittany?” So they're attempting to make these major life decisions without having the information that they need because after four months of working with Brittany, and there's no movement, and Brittany is recommending that your partner go to individual therapy, and they're refusing— that is good information upon which you could make a life decision. But before you've done that, it's like you don't even know what's possible or not and that is what feels so paralyzing.

Brittany: Yeah, yeah. I think, something that I see with—even people in the dating-coaching world, right? Who are seeking relationships, and also individuals, and people in relationships, is they're just hoping that they can read the mind of whoever they're dating, or their partner, and just know what's going to be possible, or if it's going to be a functional, healthy relationship. Really, I think that responsiveness is just so important. We have to be able to express what we're needing, what we're wanting, what our core needs are, and see how someone responds to that. Which really does require that vulnerability and baseline safety to do that. But how does somebody respond to us, right? When we say that we really want this type of relationship, we want a secure attachment, we want to be able to express emotions, how does somebody respond to that? And if it's—they're pushing back on it, or that's not what they believe in a relationship, then maybe that partner is not suited for us. Or are they interested in doing that, and they want to do that work, and are we willing to allow space for that growth to happen?

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, yeah. Well—and that's, that's a wonderful way, and certainly for people who are maybe single and in that dating coaching realm, because we often work with a lot of individual clients who are interested in creating healthy relationships. I think what I have certainly experienced are, oftentimes, people who have become aware that their last several relationships haven't really been great for them. So they come to us for help with, “Okay, what do I need to do differently this time to connect from the get go with somebody who will be a better fit for me? How am I showing up in relationships?” So that's an important area of growth work. 

What I'm hearing you say is that one of the keys to that is, as you're developing a new relationship with someone, just to be really observant. “How is this person responding to me over and over and over again?” And from that, begin to figure out, “Okay, can they respond to me?” But it's so hard, though, because at the same time, if your core narrative is, “But if I were more lovable, they would be nicer to me,” or whatever it was. And if they're saying, “Well, if you were just not X, Y, Z, then I wouldn't be so snappy with you.” It can be so hard as an individual to figure this out and sort it out. It’s complicated.

Brittany: Complicated. Yeah. It really is. Which is why I think responsiveness also includes like, “This is hard for me. I don't know what to do with this. But I want to be in this with you.” 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Right.

Brittany: “I want us to figure it out together.” It's okay not to have the answers. It's okay to mess up and make mistakes and not get it right. We're all not going to get it right sometimes in our relationships. But where's that motivation to work on things, and to grow, and to stay in it together?

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. And yeah, so you're saying that in a healthy relationship, you should be hearing some version of that from a partner who has the capacity to be responsive to you? 

Brittany: Yeah. 

Dr. Lisa: Could grow with you? 

Brittany: Yeah. 

Being Present in Relationships

Dr. Lisa: Okay. So now one last aspect of this I want to run past you. I think another trap that people can fall into, particularly women, although I see this happen with men too. When they've been in a relationship, and maybe for the last couple of years, it's a long distance relationship. Or maybe they've been dating, but they're not living together and one person is, “I really—I want to live with you. I don't want to be long distance anymore. I want to get married.” In their mind, there is the sometimes subconscious core belief that goes, “Because if we weren't long distance, this experience would be different. Or when we get married, this experience will be different than it is right now.” 

That is what they're sort of holding—so they're really pushing for this future thing. But that—what they may be missing is like warning signs of an unhealthy relationship that they have interpreted, as well, “When we get married, this won't happen anymore.” Have you noticed that? And could you speak to that?

Brittany: Yeah. I mean, I think I noticed that in both unhealthy relationships and also just relationships that might be healthy but are having some distress. 

Dr. Lisa: Okay. 

Brittany: I think it's just part of our culture that it's really hard for us to be present and focus on what's happening now. Right? And so we, of course, we create this idea in our head that the future will be better, and there's like that hope which is positive, and the future might be better. The only thing that changes with time is what we do with it. So it's really important that we focus on what does the relationship feel like now? What's serving us? What isn't serving us? What needs work, and are we willing to put in that work so that we can have that ideal future we're thinking of?

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. 

Brittany: Or we're thinking, it won’t be present in the future, or this dynamic will be different in the future. What are we both going to do now…

Dr. Lisa: Right.

Brittany: …to help that be a reality? Or is there something actually happening now that is really unhealthy, and i just need to be really aware of it, and name it?

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

Brittany: And maybe walk away from something that isn't serving me anymore.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. To differentiate, “Will it actually be better once we're married or whatever?” Or “Is this the way this—is this actually the relationship?” And Brittany, what you're saying again is there needs to be effort on both sides to—okay, “How do you imagine it would be once we are married or whatever, and how close to that can we get before this?” Because that's kind of the sign that it would actually be different once you are married, or once you were living in the same town, or whatever, in terms of the emotional responsiveness and the empathy. Is that it?

Brittany: Absolutely. Do you both have the same expectations? Right?

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. 

Brittany: What I am—and this is part of like naming that story again—is what I'm naming, “Is that true for you as well?” Right? Or “Do we have the same expectations, the same hope for our future?” “Are we both hoping that this dynamic is different in the future?” Or “Is this maybe uncomfortable, or painful, or difficult for me, and to you it feels fine?” 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

Brittany: If so, that's a conversation that we need to talk about and see. Are there some—is there a compromise that needs to happen? Is there something that actually does need to be addressed and healed? Or is this something that's going to cause a really big rupture, and maybe the relationship is not going to work long-term?

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. What a great point because if this feels intolerable to me and it's perfectly fine for you—how close—how can we close that gap at all? If the answer is no, or there's not willingness on one side to have it be different, that's important information that is worth listening to.

Brittany: Yeah. Absolutely.

Dr. Lisa: Wow. What a great conversation about such an important topic. I know we need to wrap things up here in a second. But do you have anything else to add on that question around healthy relationships versus unhealthy relationships, and how to tell the difference?

Brittany: Yeah. I think, really, what it comes down to—I tell every couple of this that I work with, “My hope is that you can walk away with what we call attunement, and know how to practice attunement.” Attunement is really just like a process of being present with our partners. It's where we engage in that emotional response—responsiveness, where we can turn to our partner, we feel like we can be vulnerable. Even if something is difficult, or painful, or uncomfortable, we really trust that our partner is going to be in it with us. 

So I encourage partners, “If you're feeling disconnected, or you're feeling like you're not in attunement, that's okay. But how can you find your way back to each other and do you both take part in that process?” I think it's just so, so critical to have that responsiveness and reciprocity in relationships.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. I love that, especially with the idea that you were talking about earlier, That in a distressed relationship you won't have that attunement because of that pursue-withdraw cycle. Yet it is something that can be intentionally created if both people are engaged in that process. so that that's the goal, though, is that attunement. That's really the fundamental heart of every relationship is that emotional connection, emotional intimacy, feeling of emotional safety. That’s the goal, and that's what is present in healthy relationships and what feels you know fundamentally not possible, even with work in relationships that aren't healthy. Is that a good way to summarize it?

Brittany: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.

Dr. Lisa: Well, Brittany,  thank you again so much for your time and meeting with me today. This was wonderful. Thank you.

Brittany: Oh, of course. Thanks so much for having me, Lisa.

Dr. Lisa: You can learn more about Brittany and her work as a marriage counselor, a couples therapist, an online relationship coach at growingself.com. While you're there, you can also take our free, “How Healthy Is Your Relationship?” online quiz. You can take it yourself, you can share it with your partner, and then you can compare results. It's an easy kind of lowkey way to get a snapshot of your relationship with its opportunities for growth, as well as its strength. So you can check all that out and more at growingself.com and I will be back in touch next week with another episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast.


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