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Practical Tips For Nourishing Friendship With Your Partner

Practical Tips For Nourishing Friendship With Your Partner

Be Friends, First

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.

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How To Avoid Unrealistic Expectations

Do You Find Yourself Feeling Dissatisfied In Your Relationship? Couples counselor and therapist Georgi Chizk, M.S., LAMFT shares how you can avoid unrealistic expectations in your relationship with insight into where our unrealistic expectations come from and how to transform them into a healthy relationship. Read More

Office Romance Pros and Cons

Office Romance Pros and Cons

Is Dating a Coworker a Bad Idea?

Click here for the full article by journalist Annie Taylor on the pros and cons of office romance.

This interview with Annie was a fun overview of the pros and cons of an office romance. I’m so glad she’s raising awareness around this important issue: if you’re considering getting romantically involved with a coworker there is a lot to consider! Here at Growing Self, we do quite a bit of career coaching, as well as dating coaching. Sometimes career coaching and dating coaching converge, as our clients grapple with the pros and cons of an office romance.

Are you developing feelings for a coworker? We spend so much time at work that it’s only natural to have our workplaces be one of the primary points of contact for meeting new people. If you’re single, chances are that sooner or later you might find yourself with a crush on a coworker. While office romances are not uncommon, relationships that start at work can present unique challenges and, frankly, hazards. “Fishing in the company pond” can be risky, both personally and professionally. If you are considering getting involved romantically with a coworker, here are some things to consider…

Dating in the Workplace: Pros and Cons

Although office romance can be fraught with challenges, these relationships do have advantages as well.

Pros of dating in the workplace:

Opportunity: Modern dating can feel like an endless parade of possible partners, all a swipe or scroll away. [Check out “The New Rules for Dating”]. For many singles, constantly vetting new people, engaging in text-based banter, and going out on dates to nowhere gets really old, really fast. Many people start to feel discouraged and overwhelmed by the prospect of finding “The One” through online dating or chatting up random strangers.

At work, however, you’re afforded with natural opportunities to meet new people organically and spend time with them on neutral ground before potentially moving further into friendship or romance. You’re also more likely to come into contact with people you already have similarities with in terms of education, interests, and shared life experiences. All these things make it easier to have natural conversations that generally feel much less pressured and fraught than awkward first dates.

Starting As Friends: Another upside to meeting new people on the job is the opportunity to develop a friendly relationship that starts slowly and develops over time. We know from research into couples and family therapy that the strongest, most enduring romantic relationships are ones built on a solid foundation of friendship and respect. Unlike starting a relationship with immediate romantic intentions, an office romance often blooms after months or even years of getting to know each other first as coworkers, and then as friends. This foundation can be an asset to your relationship if you become long-term partners.

Getting to Know Character: Perhaps most importantly, when you get to know people on the job, you usually have many opportunities to observe them in different — often stressful — situations. When you work with people you have a front row seat for how they manage stress, how they communicate, their level of emotional intelligence, how they handle challenging circumstances, whether they are courageous or avoidant, whether or not they follow through with things, how they are regarded by others, how they manage their time and priorities, whether they generally have their crap together, and much more.

This is in contrast to typical dating relationships where people tend to be on best behavior for the first weeks or months of an early romance, sometimes concealing or downplaying more difficult aspects of their character in order to be as attractive as possible. In these situations, couples often find themselves having to work through differences and disappointments as they become more genuine and authentic with each other.

Character Is Revealed Over Time, and in the way people handle themselves under stressful or challenging conditions. If you get romantically involved with a co-worker it’s generally after a significant period of time when you’ve been able to get to know them from the sidelines, and have gotten a sense of who they are and how they handle themselves before moving into a romantic relationship. This too can be a significant advantage to a positive future relationship, as well as a great opportunity to know ahead of time whether you may have fundamental compatibility issues or mismatched values (and avoid getting involved altogether).

Cons of dating in the workplace:

While dating a coworker can have some advantages, there are also many challenges and risks that you don’t have if you resist mixing the personal with the professional.

The Office Romance Dumpster Fire — Misunderstandings, Affairs and… Sexual Harassment: When office romances go wrong, they can go spectacularly wrong and with severe consequences to all involved.

Having an Affair With a Coworker

First of all, the most common place for people to become entangled in an affair or infidelity situation that can destroy a marriage and break apart a family is through an office romance. Why? It’s very common to develop a crush on a coworker, even if you’re married, or your coworker is married, or otherwise involved. Normal people in good relationships can develop transient attractions for other people — it happens all the time. [More on this, check out “What to Do if You’re Married With a Crush On Someone Else.]

However, if people don’t practice a lot of self-awareness, self-restraint, and put their commitments first, they can easily become intoxicated by romantic feelings with someone (Someone they see every day! And go on business trips with!). Romantic infatuations can lead people to do regrettable things that can create huge messes and sometimes irreparable damage to the most important relationships in their lives.

Romantic Rejection By a Coworker

Less tragically, but more embarrassingly, if you develop or have a crush on a coworker, you will almost invariably take the other person’s professional interest, friendliness, and responsiveness as a sign that your coworker has a crush on you, too. This can embolden you to ask them out, or proclaim your feelings, and have it land with an awkward thud. Not only will you feel rejected romantically, but you may have damaged a once easy professional relationship. The other person may feel uncomfortable around you, and it may impact your professional performance, as well as your emotions.

Sexual Harassment: The Risk is Real

Of course, if your advances land with a thud and you don’t have the humility to apologize and let it go, but rather continue expressing your romantic interest, complimenting them on their appearance, or God forbid, making sexual or suggestive comments, this can very quickly degenerate into a situation where you are committing sexual harassment. This can land you in hot water with HR, damage your professional reputation, or even put you at risk for a lawsuit.

This is especially true if there is any type of power imbalance in your professional relationship, which there almost always is. Even if you’re not in a direct supervising role or the boss of someone you have a crush on, you may have more power in the workplace than they do by virtue of your tenure, professional relationships, or role in relation to them. In these cases, your romantic overtures may create extreme stress and anxiety for someone who fears that upsetting you or rejecting may put their career at risk.

Really: They may smile, laugh at your jokes, and sidestep your advances in an indirect way that feels encouraging, but understand that they are trying to protect themselves while appeasing you. Trust me on this: I’ve worked with many people who have spent many, many coaching sessions trying to figure out how to survive this type of toxic workplace environment that unwanted advances create. You don’t want to be that person!

Takeaway: If you want to test the waters to see if your romantic feelings are reciprocated by a coworker, do so with extreme caution and understand that anything less than a clear and enthusiastic response means “No.” Say it once then stop. If they’re interested, they know where to find you.

While indulging in any romantic feelings for a coworker can lead to unwanted consequences, you might also consider the potential risks and pitfalls of an office romance if this does turn into a real relationship.

Impact on Job Performance: Couples fight. They get upset with each other, and need to work through things that are often very emotionally triggering. When you’re feeling emotionally activated, it can be very challenging to work with your partner around necessary professional things. Frosty silences, snarky comments, passive-aggressive jabs — you know. We’ve all been there, but imagine it happening in a team meeting, or in front of other colleagues. It will damage your ability to perform your job, but it can also impact morale, communication, and feelings of emotional safety for everyone on the team. This is especially true if you’re in a leadership position and carrying on with an employee.

Boredom: Part of having a healthy, long-term relationship is having diversity and growth in both people. When two people have different interests, work experiences, friend groups and more, it creates new experiences, new things to talk about, and the opportunity to learn and grow with each other.

Couples who ride in the same car to work together, interact with all the same people, know exactly what happens during the day, and ride home together at night often find themselves feeling like their relationships get stagnant quickly. If you and your partner work together, make it a point to at least pursue other hobbies or friendships during your off-work hours, or find novel experiences to do together so your relationship continues to feel fresh.

Breaking Up When You Work Together: As a breakup recovery expert I am often approached by people who feel genuinely trapped in the most heart wrenching of circumstances: breaking up with someone they work with. Breakups can be tremendously painful, anxiety provoking, and downright gutting under the best of circumstances.

But when you have to see your Ex every day at work, and can’t avoid contact with them, it makes the suffering and pain so much more intense. When you work with your Ex, it also makes it very difficult to get the distance you need to recover and move on after heartbreak. A significant percentage of people find the experience of working with their Ex so painful that they feel they must leave their job. In this way, a failed office romance can have devastating consequences not just personally, but on their professional trajectory as well.

Best Practices For Dating a Coworker

I hope this discussion of the pros and cons of an office romance have helped you get clarity about how (or if) to proceed. If you do, please think through all the possible pitfalls — there are many! As always, being committed to living with intention, practicing a high degree of self-awareness, staying true to your values, and mindfully approaching situations with a genuine desire for the health and wellbeing of all involved will help you make good choices.

All the best to you,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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

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When Your Wife or Husband Refuses Marriage Counseling…

When Your Wife or Husband Refuses Marriage Counseling…

Saving Your Relationship, Single-Handedly

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

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

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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When Your Wife or Husband Refuses Marriage Counseling…

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How To Avoid Unrealistic Expectations

Do You Find Yourself Feeling Dissatisfied In Your Relationship? Couples counselor and therapist Georgi Chizk, M.S., LAMFT shares how you can avoid unrealistic expectations in your relationship with insight into where our unrealistic expectations come from and how to transform them into a healthy relationship. Read More

How To Avoid Unrealistic Expectations

How To Avoid Unrealistic Expectations

Do You Find Yourself Feeling Dissatisfied In Your Relationship?

Sometimes in couples counseling, I see that my clients’ dissatisfaction can be fueled by disappointment when their partner doesn’t meet their expectations or when they feel like they can’t possibly meet their partner’s expectations either. And sometimes the expectations they put on their relationships are simply unrealistic. These unrealistic expectations can be dangerous to the relationship, however, they can also be used to help strengthen the relationship when we begin to understand what these expectations actually mean and what to do with them!

Where Do Our Expectations Come From?

Expectations can come from previous relationships or couples we’ve looked up to in the past, but often times they can come from what we see in the media. Hollywood seems to be a breeding-ground for relationship expectations: the guy who suddenly appears at your window with a boombox ready to serenade you, the girl who friend-zoned you for years finally declaring her love and commitment for you, the ultimate happily ever after. Even as children, young girls see prince charming coming in for the rescue at exactly the right moment, and boys see a princess willing and ready to be swept off her feet. So, what are these scenes telling us? What are they doing to our relationships? How dangerous are unrealistic expectations, really?

The Danger in Unrealistic Expectations

In my experience as a therapist, I’ve noticed two main dangers in maintaining these unrealistic expectations. First, unrealistic expectations can set the relationship up for failure. The images of perfect relationships in the media can create a romanticized view of romance, leaving couples to expect the perfect fairy tale ending after every conflict. Real-life relationships, however, are much more complicated than a romantic comedy. Until we can appreciate the complexity, we will always be dissatisfied.

 

Second, my clients have expressed how unrealistic expectations can create distance and distrust in the relationship. The emotional rollercoaster of hopeful expectation and disheveling disappointment is taxing. After a while, it can feel like you or your partner may never come through. The worst part is that you both might be working extremely hard to satisfy each other, but the expectations put on yourself or your partner are distracting you from a deeper connection.

 

In the end, it may sound like we should do away with expectations all together, but actually, expectations can be helpful for a healthy relationship.

 

Expectations Aren’t Always a Bad Thing!

Ultimately, there are two things you should know about having unrealistic expectations: First, this is normal.  Even therapists can be unrealistic with what we expect of our partners! And second, these expectations come from a good place, a place that tells us what we need in our relationships: to feel valued, loved and cared for.  So how can we use expectations to help our relationships grow?

 

The Secret to a Real-Life Happily Ever After

  1. Be honest with yourself… what is this expectation really about? When working with my clients on this topic, I encourage them to identify what their primary need is behind the expectation. The truth is, what we expect from our partner can tell us what we need most from them. For example, if I expect my partner to take me on a fancy date once a week, I may actually be telling him that I need to feel valued. It goes much deeper than expecting a nice date night, it’s expecting a gesture that tells me my partner loves and values me.
  2. Don’t settle, communicate! Having unrealistic expectations doesn’t always mean we have to settle for less, it simply means we should evaluate what we need and effectively communicate that need to our partner. I encourage couples to communicate clearly what they expect and need from each other. Sometimes we can re-adjust our expectations so that they are attainable, but sometimes we need only tell our partner the primary need behind an expectation so that they have a fair shot at coming through!
  3. Acknowledge and celebrate the small stuff. So maybe your partner doesn’t defeat a dragon and defend your honor, but helping out with dishes is just as good. Try to appreciate even the smallest gestures and you’ll be surprised how much your partner cares.

 

Having fair expectations that effectively communicate our needs is essential for a satisfying relationship, so maybe it’s time to explore expectations with your partner. After all, you may not be the star of a Cinderella story, but you still deserve a happily ever after.

Here’s to Healthy Expectations!
Georgi Chizk, M.S., LAMFT

Georgi Chizk, M.S., LAMFT is a warm, compassionate marriage counselor, individual therapist and family therapist who creates a safe and supportive space for you to find meaning in your struggles, realize your self-worth, and cultivate healthy connections with the most important people in your life.

Let’s  Talk

Men, Women and Housework: How to Create a More Egalitarian Relationship

Men, Women and Housework: How to Create a More Egalitarian Relationship

Sharing The Load…

According to research, women are still bearing the majority of the burden when it comes to household chores like cooking, cleaning, getting kids ready for school, despite the fact that, in many cases, they work as much outside of the home as their partners do. This dynamic brings many couples into marriage counseling or couples therapy, because it creates relationship problems.

This imbalance understandably leads to many women feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, not to mention frustrated. When couples aren’t working together as a team, it creates conflict and resentment. Many couples struggle with figuring out how to create a more balanced, egalitarian partnership.

But why? In our modern era, shouldn’t we be past this? The roots of gender inequality in family roles goes deeper than having good intentions. Creating a more balanced partnership requires self-awareness, mindfulness, and open communication. By understanding the subconscious belief systems that both men and women may still be holding, you can begin to break old patterns and start creating a more egalitarian relationship.

Why Gender Division of Labor Problems Still Occur

The reason that traditional gender roles still play out in many modern families (families who intellectually know that a more egalitarian family structure would be healthier for all) has to do with two psychological principles:

1) Without a high degree of self-awareness and intentional living, we humans tend to subconsciously create dynamics that mirror what was happening in our families of origin.

Whether we like it or not, old, deep, subconscious expectations about who does what are baked into us by the time we hit junior high. It is easy to forget that many of the woman’s rights issues we take for granted today have only come to pass in recent decades. (Side-note: I once met a highly successful female entrepreneur who was not able to get a bank loan without her husband’s consent in 1985.) While male and female feminists have been successful in working to change the roles of women both in the home and in the workforce, the emotional and psychological expectations of gender roles we all carry are much harder to change than public policy.

Today’s parents were parented by men and women (who themselves were raised by men and women) who were the products of a socio-political zeitgeist that emphasized home-making and childrearing for women, and breadwinning for men. As such, today’s adult parents as children absorbed powerful meta-messages about gender roles from observing their own moms cooking, cleaning, doing the laundry, scheduling the social activities, and dad going to work and mowing the lawn. Both men and women often feel (not think, but feel) that the tasks they observed their same-sex parent doing are theirs, and that their partner should do what their opposite-sex parent did.

This is often played out even when people believe that each gender is both competent to do more, and bears a responsibility to do more. Women often feel vaguely guilty when “their” job needs to be done, and many men (bless their hearts) simply do not see “women’s work” as something that needs to be done at all.

Though no fault of their own, many men were raised in homes where magic elves (aka, mom) simply took care of things. These well-meaning women inadvertently created adult men who put a carton of milk with half-an-inch left in the bottom back in the refrigerator and do not think to make a mental note to pick more up at the store.

In order to create an egalitarian relationship, men must address their subconscious expectations plus get deeply acquainted with the reality of all the small, daily tasks involved in maintaining a functional home.

2) Families are systems, and systems are powerful.

Whenever even one partner in a relationship has an expectation about the way roles should be carried out, they do their half of the “dance” they expect their partner to engage with them in. It’s like leaving space for the other person to do their thing. This creates pressure in the system that pulls the partner into the role that their partner expects them to fulfill.

For example, my husband will run the laundry through the washer and dryer but he expects me to do the folding and putting away. His half of the “dance” cumulates in a laundry basket of clean clothes left on the bed. Then I dance in and (with great satisfaction, actually) fold things into obsessive little squares the way Mari-Kondo taught me and squirrel them away in to drawers. Our “dance” in this area feels balanced and it works for us.

What does not work is when one person’s “dance” ends substantially further away from the middle point, leaving the other person having to come all the way over and do everything. This is what happens in out-of-balance partnerships.

In families where partners are not living with a high degree of self-awareness and intention, even if one person (usually the female partner) would like a more balanced relationship in terms of housework, childcare, or home-management, the system may create pressure on her to do more than she wants to, or should. I have certainly experienced this in the past, in my own marriage.

For example, in the past (before we worked on this as a couple) if my husband did not recognize that tasks that need to be done (or did not perceive them as needing to be done by him, or did them but not the way that I thought they should be done, or didn’t do them quickly enough) I would often feel pressure to step in and do them because I felt they are important and they were not happening.

However, when I “just did it” I was inadvertently contributing to a dynamic where my husband was lulled into a familiar dynamic (as a son raised by another woman who handled things for the family) where there was an unspoken rule in the home that I would do things. So he never thought of them as his responsibility.

In short: The harder and faster and more I “danced”  the less he had to. I was overwhelmed, and he was confused about why I was low-grade angry all the time and always tired.

Sound familiar?

How to Create a More Egalitarian Relationship

Changing both ingrained expectations and family systems require a high degree of self-awareness, communication, and intentional living. However, it can be done and it should be done. (Trust me, it feels SO much better).

Egalitarian families are generally happier, less stressed, have lower conflict, and are fairer to working women. Furthermore, modern parents who work together to model a more egalitarian family system for their children break the cycle of rigid gender roles of previous generations.

Here’s an example of how couples create more balanced gender roles:

Jane and John are a millennial couple with two kids, and they both work. Both Jane and John grew up in homes where mom (who worked too!) did all the inside housework except watering the flowers and dad did all the outside home-tending except taking out the trash.

Now, in their own family, Jane is struggling with resentment as she feels overly burdened with working, childcare, doing the lions share of meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, bill paying, organizing activities, and the general mental energy that many women exert on behalf of their families that men often do not feel.

The couple is fighting. Jane is feeling resentful and exhausted. John tries to help out around the house, but she seems annoyed with him when he does because he’s making the bed wrong, or bringing home the wrong brand of mayonnaise, or not doing things fast enough to please her. So he stops trying.

He does what he thinks he should be doing: Going to work every day, bringing home a paycheck, shoveling the snow, and getting the oil changed at regular intervals. John is frustrated because he experiences Jane as not affectionate or fun, nor interested in sex, and kind of naggy, and he doesn’t know what else to do.

Through couples counseling, the couple learns how to work as a team. First they start by talking about how each of their early experiences in their own family of origin shaped their expectations for themselves and each other in their own family. Then, they negotiate a plan where each of them agrees to take on specific responsibilities around the house in a distribution that feels equitable to both of them.

In implementing that plan, Jane needs to restrain herself from stepping in to do things that are John’s job (or to correct John, or nag John). In doing so, she is creating pressure in the system for John to not just step up, but to develop the homemaking skills that he may be new to him.

For his part, John needs to learn a very different way of thinking that women are often groomed for (and most men are not) which is considering both what currently needs to be done, and what will need to be done, and taking the initiative to do those things. (No magic elves to the rescue).

Changing both subconscious expectations and family systems are challenging, however, the rewards are immense and meaningful. Trust me: As a woman who is married to a man who now — without being asked! — does the dishes when he sees they are dirty, sweeps the floor when it needs to be swept, and goes to the grocery store to buy food of his own volition… it feels so much better.

Similarly, I see the same shifts occur in the couples we work with for marriage counseling and couples therapy: They reorganize their responsibilities in a way that feels fair and balanced to both. Squabbling stops, things get done, and most importantly — they start enjoying each other again. 

You deserve the same, and I hope this relationship advice helps you create it!

xo, Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

 

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

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How to Keep Your Relationship Strong After Having a Baby

How to Keep Your Relationship Strong After Having a Baby

Becoming Parents, Together.

Welcoming a new baby into the world can be one of the most exciting and joyful times for a couple… and also one of the hardest. It’s unfortunately very common to have marriage problems after baby. As marriage counselors and family therapists we often see that most couples spend so much time and energy preparing for the birth, and how to take care of their newborn, they neglect to think about how they’ll keep their relationship strong after baby.

The relationship issues they experience after having a baby can therefore catch them by surprise, and feel all the more challenging to resolve in the stressful weeks and months following the birth of a child.

Just like we encourage couples getting married to get premarital counseling to prevent future problems, we encourage pregnant couples to proactively prepare their relationships for life-after baby. Today, we’re here to help provide some guidance for preventing relationship problems after having a baby, or for healing your relationship if it feels like things have gotten harder since becoming parents together.

Common Marriage Problems After Baby

Many couples report relationship issues after baby. Why? It’s because having a new child to care for together is uniquely stressful, and it requires you two to work together as a couple in a different way than you ever had before. Furthermore, you’re likely both feeling depleted, sleep deprived, and overwhelmed. Plus, when your baby needs something, it feels like an emergency!

In this emotional, hormonal, and circumstantial pressure-cooker frustrations flare, and resentments simmer, particularly when things are feeling out of balance between you and unspoken expectations are going unmet.

Many women report feeling disconnected from their husband after having a baby, often due to feeling overwhelmed, overburdened, and because it’s difficult for their partners to know how to support them — physically, emotionally, and in terms of practical help. Men too can experience disconnection from their partners after the birth of a child, often due to feeling suddenly secondary to this new little being who needs so much care and attention.

Having a new baby requires couples to renegotiate boundaries, establish new ways of doing things, and enter brand new emotional territory together — all while sleep-deprived and stressed. It’s a a new chapter that involves a great deal of personal growth work, both for each partner individually, and as a couple. It’s no wonder that many couples struggle as they make their way forward, together.

Relationship Changes After Baby

In addition to the new challenges couples face around how to work as a team to care for their baby, they may temporarily lose many of the fun bonding activities they once shared. Many couples need to rebuild their sexual relationship (slowly!) after the birth of a child. It’s also generally much more difficult to spend time alone doing fun things than it was in the past. (You’ll find very few brand new parents at a weekend-music festival, for example).

However, strong couples learn how to find new things to enjoy together. While having time alone is still important (date night, anyone?) it’s extremely helpful to find ways of having fun and connecting around your parenting role too.

Building a Strong, Happy Family  — Together

The good news is that through preparation and communication, couples can not just avert marriage problems after baby but enter a new era of strength and satisfaction in their relationship. Yes, things change, but many couples report feeling more deeply committed to each other and their new life as a family together in the months and years after their first child.

The early stages of new parenthood require working out kinks, and learning how to work as a team in a whole new way. Having a happy marriage after parenthood means learning new ways of communicating, connecting, and enjoying life together.

Because this transition to parenthood can feel so challenging for many couples, we’re devoting a whole episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast to supporting you through it. Marriage and family therapist and parenting coach Jessica Small will be sharing her tips for how to not just keep your relationship strong after baby, but set yourself up for success in the years to come.

Listen now to get Jessica’s advice for how to:

  • Prepare your relationship for a baby
  • Have crucial conversations that will help you work through issues as they come up
  • How to support each other emotionally after having a baby
  • Practice practical strategies to make things easier for both of you
  • Keep a compassionate mindset
  • Create a happy new chapter for your marriage

We hope that this information helps you successfully transition from being a happy couple to a happy family!

Sincerely,

Jessica Small, M.A., LMFT and Lisa Marie Bobby, PhD, LMFT

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How to Keep Your Relationship Strong, After Baby

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

Music Credits: Twinkle Twinkle Little Rock Star,   “Blister in the Sun” (New Wave Lullabies Vol. 1,)

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Jessica Small, M.A., LMFT is a couples counselor, premarital counselor, therapist, and life coach who is passionate about helping individuals, families & couples create more fulfilling lives and relationships, and to function at an optimum level of health and happiness.

In addition to working with private clients, Jessica leads our Online Postpartum Support Group.

Learn More About Jessica

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