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Getting Through Hard Times, Together.

Getting Through Hard Times, Together.

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.

How To Weather The Storms of Life… Together

When you get married, or commit yourself to a long-term relationship, you’re signing on to support each other through thick and thin. If you’re fortunate, most of the time things are okay: the sun shines and you live in the benevolence of the universe. But not always.

Strong, successful couples also need to know how to whether the storms of life and cope when things get hard, as a unit. Unexpected job loss, a death in the family, serious illness or infertility — these are only some of the common issues that many (most? all?) couples are going to face together at some point or another. And unfortunately, dealing with difficulty can also result in strain, stress, complexity and even conflict in your relationship.

Don’t Let Adversity Destroy Your Marriage

Dealing with something very hard emotionally can create a double-whammy for your relationship. When you are not okay, you need your partner more than ever. If you’re going through something difficult, this is the time when you need to support each other the most. When you’re hurting, scared, or heartbroken, you want nothing more  than to be able to seek comfort in the arms of your life-partner. Being able to share your feelings, have emotional safety and support in your relationship is what we all crave when we’re dealing with something real.

However, and unfortunately, what often happens in relationships during tough times is that married couples can become more distant, angry, resentful or hurt. Research into marriage and relationships shows a strong correlation with things like grief, illness, and job loss can precipitate a divorce. [Listen: How to Stop a Divorce and Save Your Marriage]

Why? Because when couples are scraping the bottom of the barrel emotionally, they don’t have much left over to give to each other. Furthermore, people in relationships have different ways of dealing with hard things. When partners believe that the eother should feel the same way, or manage grief or stress the way they would, it can lead to conflict.

Lastly, knowing how to provide emotional support in the way your partner needs is not always easy. It’s not easy to articulate what you need, or even allow your partner to help you sometimes. So what often happens instead is that partners miss each other’s signals, and bids for connection. This leads to “attachment wounds” to a relationship — the experience that, when you needed your partner the most, they weren’t really there for you.

That can be hard to come back from, and can lead to both pain and resentment on both sides. And, believe it or not, this can be intensified through the holiday season when you have social obligations and expectations pulling at you, and making it hard for you to heal — both as individuals and as a couple.

Learn How to Grow Together, Not Apart

It is also true that going through adversity together (successfully) can lead to a stronger and more secure relationship than ever before. When you are going through something terrible and can go to your partner for emotional support and comfort, it feels like your love transcends hardship and creates a safe harbor for both of you.

This creates a level of bonding and security that untested couples just don’t have. You come to know each other more deeply, and have the opportunity to help your partner feel loved by you when it matters most. Many couples come out the other side of these “growth moments” feeling like together, you can make it through anything.

Coping With Grief and Loss, As a Couple

So, today on the show, we’re going there and talking about how to negotiate these hard times successfully, as a couple. I’ve invited a couple of Growing Self experts to lend their expertise around how to get through hard times, together. Master marriage counselor, couples therapist, and relationship coach Meagan Terry, M.A., LMFT will be sharing her best relationship advice to help you both have greater empathy and compassion for each other when the chips are down. She’ll be discussing communication strategies you can use to stay connected through hard times, and also some tips for how to support each other as individuals around things like illness, grief, and death.

Supporting Each Other Through Infertility and Pregnancy Loss

Meagan is also sharing her insight around how to cope with infertility, as a couple. Millions of couples, across the US deal privately with the pain of infertility, miscarriage, and pregnancy loss. The stress of infertility treatment, and the grief of disappointment can take a toll on couples. Meagan speaks about how you can support each other emotionally on your journey towards building a family.

Protect Your Marriage After a Layoff

Another common issue that impacts so many couples is unwanted job loss. I’ve invited master career coach Maggie Graham, M.Ed., LPC, CPC  to share her best tips for how to cope with the stress of a layoff or job loss and stay connected with your partner as you go through it. We’ll also be discussing some tips for how partners can avoid conflict during periods of unemployment, and learn how to support each other during this financially scary time.

We hope that this discussion helps you find your way through this hard time together.

Yours sincerely,

Lisa Marie Bobby, Meagan Terry, and Maggie Graham.

PS: If this isn’t your truth right now, it’s likely that you have people in your life that are suffering. We encourage you to think about who in your life may benefit from hearing this advice and share it with them. Being seen and supported by you (especially during the holiday season when grief and loss is not on everyone’s radar) may mean more to them than you’ll ever know. xoxo, LMB

PPS: If you have thoughts or follow up questions for myself, Meagan or Maggie, ask away in the comments section below. We read them all! 🙂

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Getting Through Hard Times, Together

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

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Healthy Boundaries: The Holiday Edition

Healthy Boundaries: The Holiday Edition

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.

Healthy Boundaries = Happy Holidays

So many wonderful things are possible during the holidays: Quiet time to expand our souls, the chance to embrace generosity and good will, opportunities to enjoy the warmth of our families and friends, and be grateful for the wonderful relationships in our lives.

But many people suffer through this season, becoming increasingly frazzled, resentful, and hurt with every new disappointing interaction, extra commitment, and unrealistic expectation put on them. (And often, feeling most hurt and put-upon by the people who should love them the best). I’ve been a marriage and family therapist for a loooong time now, and there is one thing I consistently see in people who do NOT have a good time over the holidays: Bad boundaries.

When Boundaries Are a Problem Over The Holidays

  • When Boundaries Are Too Soft: When people are too passive and don’t speak up about their needs and feelings, they often wind up feeling put-upon, mistreated or disrespected by family members, children, friends or partners, and resentments brew. 
  • When Boundaries Are Too Hard: When people are too rigid and inflexible with their boundaries, they often feel tense, stressed out, and irritable by all the assaults to their preferences that this season can fling. Furthermore, friends and family members may feel put-upon, mistreated or disrespected by them — and it creates unnecessary conflict.
  • When Boundaries Are Not Considered: When people aren’t self-aware and clear about their own limits and struggle to hold healthy boundaries with themselves, they overcommit time and energy, have unrealistic expectations of themselves, over-indulge in unhealthy ways, and are prone to overspending. This leaving them feeling stressed out, overwhelmed, exhausted, and emotionally and financially depleted by the time New Year’s rolls around. Not fun at all.

Because these kinds of boundary problems are so common (and so darn avoidable, with advance planning) I thought I’d put together some holiday-specific boundary advice for you.

Listen, and learn specific, actionable tips and tools that you can use to set healthy limits with your self and others, and also be selectively flexible.

I sincerely hope that it helps you stay in a good place over the next month, and enhance all the wonderful moments that this season has to offer.

All the best to YOU this holiday season…

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Healthy Boundaries: The Holiday Edition

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

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Please rate and review the Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

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Premarital Counseling Questions To Set Your Marriage Up For Success

Premarital Counseling Questions To Set Your Marriage Up For Success

Brenda Fahn, M.A., LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist, a Prepare-enrich Certified Premarital Counselor, and a facilitator of our Lifetime of Love Premarital and Relationship Class. She provides expert premarital counseling online, as well as  in person at our Broomfield, CO office location.

Bust The Myths & Embrace The Truth About Relationships


I’ve been a marriage counselor and premarital counselor online and in person for many years. I love working with couples eager to set their marriages up for success. As I look into the faces of my premarital counseling couples, I see a myriad of emotions:  Excitement, anticipation, anxiety, fear, nervousness, and joy.  And like most important milestones in life, it’s possible to hold contradictory emotions at the same time.

Marriage is BIG.  It’s wise for couples to be asking each other essential premarital questions before they tie the knot.  I want to address many of the myths and truths about marriage that premarital couples usually bring into my office.  My hope is that if my premarital couples have a clearer understanding about what to expect and what is ‘normal’, then they can be more prepared to endure and accept and solve the challenges that will occur.

Premarital Questions to Address Before You Move Forward

Premarital Question #1:  Do we believe that if we are having issues now (as a premarital couple), and require counseling, there must be something really wrong with our relationship?

This is a myth: Every couple has issues that they bring to a relationship prior to marriage, either consciously or unconsciously.  Many of these issues exist at the beginning of any relationship and will continue to fester for years to come. All relationships have friction points like these. They are not necessarily ‘indicators’ of the success or failure of your future relationship.  However, smart couples know that it’s always better to get ahead of these relationship issues at the beginning of your journey, rather than ten years down the road. [Read: Why Premarital Counseling Can Make or Break a Marriage]

 

Premarital Question #2:  Do you believe that you need to get all of my emotional needs met by your partner?

This is another myth: Spouses can not, and should not be expected to fulfill ALL of your emotional needs. In fact the opposite is true.  Studies show that couples who have fulfilling ‘friendship’ relationships (other than their spouse) are happier in their marriage. In a healthy, happy, successful marriage, the  main goal of our partners is to provide a safe place for us, to be attuned to us and to know that there is one person in the world who has our back.  Yet, we also need close friends and authentic connections outside of our marriage to feel fulfilled.  [Read: Do You Have Unrealistic Relationship Expectations?”]

Premarital Question #3:   Do you believe that if you fight, there must be something wrong with your relationship?

Not true. Conflict is inevitable in a relationship. In short, fighting is good. You should be more concerned if you find yourself in a relationship that has no conflict.  The problem is not that there will be conflict, but how do you deal with it and process your conflict. Do you escalate quickly? Do you avoid it? Do you fight unfairly? How you fight and how you repair is much more important than if you fight.  [Read: Communication That Connects]

Premarital Question #4: Do either of you fear that if you lose your feeling of ‘being in love’, it must mean you are not meant to be together?


This is another erroneous believe that can be very damaging to your marriage. ‘Feelings’ in life are fleeting, they come and go in cycles. And the feeling of ‘being in love’ is exhilarating and intoxicating, but realistically, it’s not sustainable over time nor is it substantial.   The feeling of ‘being in love’ is what propels us into a relationship. What keeps a relationship strong is committing to the necessary ‘work’ to keep a relationship strong and lasting. Ironically that work can also keep the feelings of love alive. [Read: “How To Be in Love With Your Partner.”]

Premarital Question #5: Is one of your hoping that if you love your partner enough, they will change?

This is a very dangerous belief to base the success of your future marriage on. Always go into a relationship with ‘eyes wide open’. It is unrealistic to go into a relationship assuming that someone is going to change. It’s probably not going to happen.  This doesn’t mean that people aren’t capable and willing to change in long-term relationships, but if you think you have the magical powers to change that person and that only by doing so, you can handle the relationship, then you are deluding yourself instead of accepting reality.  The question to ask yourself, “If nothing changes about this other person, can I live with that?” [Listen: Should You Break Up or Stay Together.]

Free Advice From a Premarital Counselor:

It’s vital that you and your potential mate ask each other the premarital questions that I’ve just talked through. But if you want to have a lifetime of love together, it’s not enough to release the false beliefs you may have held about relationships. Instead, we need to replace them with truths about relationships. Here are just a few:

Relationship Truth #1:  Marriage is hard.

I am sure you have heard this mantra before.  But it’s the truth. Marriage is hard work. The work of marriage is to challenge us as people, to make us grow, to learn how to really love and be loved.   If it were easy, the results would not be that fulfilling. It’s hard on purpose, just like any growth we encounter in life. [Read: A Growth Mindset of Marriage]


Relationship Truth #2:   Expect less from your relationship and more from your life.

I thought that when I got married, I had arrived.  I could enjoy my proverbial pina colada cocktail on the beach and enjoy life.  Nothing could be further from the truth. Marriage was only the beginning of finding out how I wanted my life to unfold.   I have been fortunate to have a marriage where I feel connected (most of the time), supported (most of the time) and loved (most of the time.)  That has allowed me to feel secure and have a more full life.

Our relationships should give us a secure ‘base’ to live a full life.  If we only look to our marriage to provide for all of our emotional needs, we tend to end up feeling resentful, versus working to bring your best self to a marriage—a self that is full of life and confidence. [Listen: Becoming Empowered]

Relationship Truth #3:  You will both change and that is okay.

In a long-term relationships, you are bound to change.   You might change your opinions, your beliefs, and your interests.  A different part of you might come out. Relationships will become boring when you do not take the risk to change and do not take the risk to show that to your partner.  What is more important is staying connected regardless of what changes come up—being available and present are two of the best gifts you can give your spouse through all of life. [Listen: Finding Your Soulmate; The Truth About Relationship Compatibility]


Relationship Truth #4:  Increase the positives in your relationship.  Our focus becomes our reality.

Couples forget to focus on what is going well in their relationship.  They forget to tell their partner what they appreciate. When the focus becomes on what is going wrong, that focus becomes reality and it perpetuates more negative interactions. It can become a self-reinforcing narrative that can overwhelm your relationship.  As the famous psychologist, John Gottman, reminds us, marriages succeed if they have 5 positive interactions for every one negative interaction. Increase the positive! [Read: How to Strengthen Your Relationship]


Relationship Truth #6: Do not be afraid to ask for help when you come to an impasse in your relationship.

We all get stuck in relationships sometimes.  You can save yourself years of misery, if you seek help.  My analogy is that it’s always easier to try to lose weight when it’s 20 pounds versus 150 pounds.  The smartest, most successful couples are the ones that get themselves into marriage counseling sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, couples who wait too long may have lost their opportunity to repair their marriage. Don’t let this happen to you! [Listen: How to Stop a Divorce and Save Your Relationship, and Read: The True Cost of Marriage Counseling]


Relationship Truth #7:  Every relationship will have issues.

Decide if your partner’s issues are ones that you can live with.  Don’t go into a relationship thinking you can change or control the other person. A paradox of life is the more you accept someone, the more they will be willing to change. But if you base your satisfaction in the relationship with ‘if’ that person changes, you will be forever chasing the ‘what ifs’ and not the reality of your life.  [Read: Are You Stuck in a Codependent Relationship?]


Relationship Truth #8:  Everything in life has a balance.

“The closer you come to paradox the closer you come to truth.” — Unknown author.  

Know that two things can be true at the same time.   I remember clearly my husband saying to me, at the beginning of our marriage, “It’s crazy.  In one day I can feel like I need to get away from you and later in that same day I feel like I am so in love with you.”  We can hold two truths at the same time. You can love your spouse and yet they can drive you crazy at times.

The same is true when you both have different perspectives on the same thing. That doesn’t mean one of you is wrong. Practice getting on your partner’s side of the table, and understanding their point of view. Doing so will help you both become more tolerant, more mature, and have a stronger marriage for it. [Read: Empathy and Connection]


Relationship Truth #9:  Don’t get caught in the ‘someone else is better for me’ trap.

It’s always easy to compare the weakness of your real partner, against the unrealistic nostalgia of an ex-boyfriend or someone you know casually. These are unrealistic expectations at best, and fantasy at its worst.  

This tactic or tendency is usually based on some unconscious need to create distance between you and your partner; to pull back and disconnect.  There are many explanations as why we do this, but I have found that, in most circumstances, it has more to do with your own feelings and insecurities, than with your partner’s perceived faults.

At the same time,  it’s okay to feel that there might be parts of your partner that make it hard for you to show up, or make it hard to want to be close, but if you get into the  ‘comparison game’ you can easily feel like you are a victim. You can be tempted to feel like your life is not fair and if you only had someone different life would be amazing and you would never have to feel ‘negative’ feelings again.’ [Read: Why Your Marriage is Worth Saving]


Relationship Truth #10: There are some traits in your partner that should not be tolerated; and in these cases it’s okay to walk away.


Referring to the myth that you can magically change someone, realize that if someone has an addiction or abusive personality traits–no matter how much love and care and support you give them — they need to deal with those issues on their own.  They need to take responsibility. You cannot save them on your own and being in a relationship with an addicted or abusive partner, who isn’t willing to take personal responsibility, will not end well. [Listen: What to Do When Your Partner Has a Problem]


Get help for yourself if you struggle with an addiction, a personality disorder, anxiety or depression.  Don’t expect your partner to save you, in the process, it is too easy for both of you to drown.
It doesn’t mean our partner can’t help us heal some of our wounds from the past, but they can’t be our therapist.  You will find your relationship will be much more satisfying if you do your own work.   [Listen: Is it Depression?]

Relationship Truth #11:  It really does matter how you say something.

I remember a client, whose marriage was on the brink of divorce, said something in session to his wife that was biting and insensitive.  I suggested he try saying the same thing, but in a different tone and manner. I ‘modeled’ an alternative narrative without changing the content.   He looked at me with disdain, and in a sarcastic tone said, “Does it really matter if I change a few words?”

The answer is a resounding YES.  Marriage and family expert Dr. John Gottman has shown us, through years of research, that our negative communication habits can kill a relationship.  Those habits are criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling and contempt. If you use those techniques, work on expressing your feelings and your requests without blame or shame.  Learn how to say something to your partner in a way that they can hear it and that can mean changing only a few words sometimes. [Listen: How to Communicate When Your Partner Shuts Down, and Why Your Partner is “Always” Angry]

 

Here are some last words of advice, from an experienced premarital counselor and marriage therapist to every bright young couple on the cusp of marriage.

I have been married for 14 years and I would be lying if I said they were all blissful.  They have been challenging. They have been wonderful. They have been hard and they have been a gift.  The thing I did not expect was how much it would make me look at myself—my own weaknesses, my own strengths, my own stubbornness and my own ability to love.   

I have learned that all of us are more satisfied when we are being pushed to grow. I encourage all of you premarital couples to jump into this journey of marriage. It is a place to grow.  It is a place to choose love… and therefore a place to choose being truly alive.

With love to you on your journey of growth together,

Brenda Fahn, M.A., LMFT

 

 

   
 

 

Relationship Advice: How to Stop “Fixing” and Start Listening

Relationship Advice: How to Stop “Fixing” and Start Listening

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.

Strengthen Your Relationship, With Every Conversation

We all hate to see our partners in pain or discomfort. I know this as a marriage counselor and couples therapist, but it is certainly true for me personally too. When my husband tells me he’s unhappy with something, my mind immediately starts race towards the “fix” that will solve the problem, and make him feel better.

While my type-A solution-focused attitude certainly has led to some important, positive changes in the way we conduct day-to-day aspects of our partnership (like, we now have a Roomba!) it can also get in the way of emotional connection. He doesn’t want me to solve his problems. He wants me to listen, and care, and empathize — exactly what I want when I’m struggling with something.

When I express displeasure / annoyance / sadness about something, and he immediately goes to, “Well let’s just not do that,” or “Forget I brought it up,” it feels like a door gets slammed shut in my face. I want to talk things through. I want to hear how he feels, too. Most of all, I want to feel like I’m not alone in whatever is feeling real for me in that moment. When I just get to talk about how I’m feeling, and have that be heard, most of the time no “action” is even required — I just feel better.

Connection is key. Solutions don’t even matter that much, when you’re feeling validated.

Men often get a bad rap for being problem solvers in relationships, although plenty of women do the same. Let’s face it: When our partners have a problem (especially if they have a problem with us, right?) it’s anxiety-provoking. It feels like an unpleasant conflict that we need to resolve, or shut down, or get away from. Or fix — and as quickly as possible.

However, what I know now, both as a marriage counselor and someone who’s been very happily married for over twenty years: You have to lean into the feelings, even if they stress you out at first.

When you can manage your own anxiety and avoid scrambling to get away / shut down / fix-fix-fix whatever they’re bringing up, you can then connect emotionally with your partner. More importantly, they won’t have to fight to feel heard by you. Consequently, you will come out the other side of this conversation with a stronger relationship.

Paradoxically, when you indulge those good intentions of “helping them feel better” it will either create a fight (trust me) or it will lead them to leave the interaction with you feeling unheard, not understood, or like you don’t care. Why? Because in your helpful rush to solve their problems, you shut down their feelings and got in the way of what they really wanted and needed from you: Being heard.

Here are a few tips to help you avoid jumping the gun and going into “fixit mode.”

Know your job: When your partner is feeling something real, your only jobs — your only jobs — are to help them talk about their feelings, listen to them, help them understand that you understand, and hold the door open for them to talk all the way through. Anything else is not what they need. (Unless they specifically ask for something else.)  But unless you literally hear the words, “What do you think?” or “What would you do?” come out of their mouths, you’re the doorman: The one who keeps the space open for them to share. Not the fixer.

Validate: Embrace the power of validation. Even if you see things differently, or would handle a situation differently, simply acknowledging that someone has the right to their feelings is enormously helpful. I can’t tell you how powerful a simple, “I can understand why you would feel that way” is to hear. Confirmation, validation, and acceptance are vastly more effective in helping someone sort through a difficult situation than actual, specific advice. 

Listening: When I talk about listening, I don’t mean just “hearing.” I mean a special kind of reflective listening, which is a learned skill. Whether or not you are hearing what someone is saying doesn’t matter. What matters is if they know that you are hearing and understanding the feelings they are trying to communicate. If your number one is telling you about the super-hard day they had, listen for the feelings underneath. If you can reflect back, “That sounds really exhausting” as opposed to “You should talk to your boss about rearranging your work schedule” they may fall into your arms weeping with relief of knowing that you really and truly get them.  Just be prepared for them to get super-excited when you do this. Seriously, if you do a really good job here, they might cry.

Open-ended questions: You’re the doorman, right? How do you hold the door open in a conversation? By asking open ended questions: Questions that do not have an agenda or a specific informational answer, but are rather an invitation to say more. “How did you feel about that?” or  “Then what happened?” or “What do you make of this?” are all solid choices.

Empathize: People are different, and have different ways of thinking, feeling, behaving. We have different values and priorities. However, in order to really connect with someone, you need to understand how they are feeling by connecting to your own emotional experience. When your partner is going through a moment, scroll through your own life experiences to see if you can relate.**

Then use that awareness as an opportunity for an even deeper kind of reflection: Tentative guessing about how they feel. When your partner is telling you about their super hard day, and you reflect on how you’ve felt when your day at work has been a non-stop crap-show, you’ll be able to come back with something that rings true for them, like “I can imagine that you must be feeling really disappointed in your leadership right now.” This, again, will increase their sense of being heard and understood by you, and will help them feel connected and supported by you. More weeping with joy may ensue.

** Warning: It can be tempting and very easy to totally hijack a conversation via empathy, if you’re not careful. When you say, “I totally know how you feel. One time at band camp…” and then spend the next five minutes telling YOUR story, you’ve just turned the tables and made their moment your moment. Trust in your relationship: If you do a good job listening and holding the door open until they are all the way through, you will likely have a very appreciative partner eager to do the same for you. [Unless you are partnered with a legit narcissist. Check back for a post on this topic soon.]

Breathe: Sometimes, when you are listening to someone talk about their feelings, especially if their feelings are big, intense, dark, or worst yet — about you, it can be hard to not get emotionally reactive. When YOU start having feelings come up, or feel the need to rebuttal / correct / problem solve, you’ve just stepped out of the ring of connection. You’ve abandoned your post as the doorman. Trust in your relationship.

Breathe, be in the present, listen to the sound of their voice, look in their face, listen, reflect, ask your open ended questions, and be patient. Let them talk all the way through. It may take a whole HOUR. That is okay. Be patient, breathe, and you’ll arrive at connection eventually. Promise. (I can also promise that if you indulge any of your impulses to do otherwise you’ll very likely wind up in a fight.)

Couple’s Strategy: Ask your partner to alert you to what she is needing. It’s not fair for anyone to expect their partner to always know exactly what they need, particularly when it comes to emotional support. SO many things changed at my house, when my husband and I figured out that if one of us literally said, “I need to talk through something with you, no action is required. Please just listen?” we could immediately drop into “patient, non-reactive listening mode” rather than “oh-crap-they’re-upset-what-are-we-going-to-do” mode.

This is a strategy we also routinely teach our couples in marriage counseling here at Growing Self. Ask for what you need, and give your partner a heads up so they can do a great job at supporting you in the way you need to be supported at that moment. Because truthfully, in different situations you might need different things, right? If you’re like most people, sometimes you need a warm shoulder to cry on, sometimes you need a good listener, sometimes you need a hug, and sometimes… just sometimes… you might even want some advice.

With love,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

 

Feeling Invalidated By Your Partner?

Feeling Invalidated By Your Partner?

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.

How to Stop Invalidating Your Partner in Three Easy Steps

Hi there. Are you reading this article because your partner just forwarded it to you, as a way of saying they have been feeling invalidated by you and would like that to change? First of all, sorry, but second of all… never fear. I’m the couples therapist in your corner. This one is going to boomerang nicely, and wind up working out in your favor. Promise.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret that your partner — possibly not having read this article themselves before texting it to you on the headline alone — might not know yet: We all invalidate our partners accidentally. I’ll bet you a cookie that you probably feel invalidated by them from time to time too. Am I right? Yes? Welcome to relationships.

How do I know this is happening to you, too? First of all, I’ve been a marriage counselor for a long time. It is extremely rare to find a couple where one person has *actually* been exclusively responsible for all the hurt feelings. (Except in the tiny percentage of couples counseling cases that I could count on one hand where the hurt-inducing partner has been a diagnosable sociopath. But I will save that tale for another day).

Secondly, I’ve also been married for a long time to someone I adore and would never want to hurt on purpose. And I’m a marriage counselor!  I should know better! And To. This. day. I still do things that accidentally invalidate my husband and make him feel bad.

But I’m working on it, and it’s better than it used to be. You can do the same. Here’s how:

Step One: Understanding “Invalidation”

First of all, let’s talk a little about what “invalidation”  means. When you invalidate someone, you basically make them feel like you a) don’t understand them or their feelings or b) if you do understand, you don’t care.

In order to improve invalidation you need to be self-aware of when it’s happening, and what you’re doing to cause it. Invalidation comes in many flavors, and can happen in both subtle and dramatic ways. Let’s review.

Types of Invalidating Behaviors

Inattentive Invalidators: These types of invalidators don’t pay attention when their partner is talking about something important. (C’est moi!)

Example of Inattentive Invalidation in Action:

Them: “I had a really hard day at work today. I think I might be getting sick.”

You (And by “you” I mean “me”): “I was just thinking that it would be fun to go to Canada this summer. Or Newfoundland. What do you think?” [Picks up phone to start checking flight prices]

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Belligerent Invalidators: Their M.O. is to rebuttal rather than listen, and put their energy into making their own case instead of seeing things from their partner’s perspective.

Example of Belligerent Invalidation in Action:

Them: “I feel like you were rude to my friend.”

You: “Your friend is an annoying idiot who drinks too much and if you want to avoid these problems you should stop inviting him over.”

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Controlling invalidators:  These types of invalidators are extremely confident that their way of doing things is right and just, and will either intervene or undo things that their partner does in efforts to correct, (i.e. “help”) them. This happens in many situations including parenting, housekeeping, social situations, and more. (If I’m not careful, I actually have a tendency towards this one too).

Example of Controlling Invalidation in Action:

Them: “No, Timmy, you can’t go out to play because you have to take shower and clean your room.”

You: “Be back before dinner.”

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Judgmental Invalidators: These types of invalidators minimize the importance of things that they do not personally feel are interesting or important to them, in a way that creates disconnection in their relationships.

Example of Judgmental Invalidation in Action:

Them: “What should we do this weekend? So many fun things! Do you want to go to the farmer’s market / prepper expo / rv show / rodeo?”

You: “Pfft. NO. I have to spend the weekend finishing my Fortnite challenges. Wanna watch? No? Okay see you later.”

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Emotional Invalidators: Then of course there is the stereotypical, garden-variety Emotional Invalidator, who feels entitled to “disagree” with other people’s feelings, or argue that other’s feelings are not reasonable, or to talk them out of their feelings.

Example of Emotional Invalidation in Action:

Them: “Crying”

You: “You shouldn’t be sad. At least we have one healthy child already….”

You some more: “….That’s not what I meant. We can try again next month. You’re overreacting.”

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Fixit Invalidators: Lastly, there is the “Fixit” Invalidator, who would prefer to leap over messy feelings entirely and go straight to helpful solutions.

Example of Fixit invalidation in Action:

Them: “I am heartbroken about my argument with my sister. I feel really bad about what happened.”

You: “She’s just a drama queen. Forget about it. You should make plans with some of your other friends. I’ll see if Jenny and Phil want to come over on Friday.”

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There are so, so many ways to invalidate someone. Not sure what kind of invalidator you might be? Ask your partner. I’m sure they’d be happy to tell you.

Step Two: Understand The Importance of Validation

While the first step in learning how to stop accidentally invalidating your partner is to figure out what kinds of invalidation you are prone to, the second step is to learn what it means to be validating and why it’s so important.

So: What is “validation?” To validate someone means that you help them feel understood, accepted, and cared for by you. Like you really get how they see things, and that you support them in their perspective.

This is super important in relationships because validation is a cornerstone of emotional safety. And emotional safety — feeling like you are accepted and valued for who you are, like your thoughts and feelings and preferences are important to your partner, and that your relationship is loving and supportive — is the foundation of a healthy, happy relationship.

Just consider how wonderful it feels to hear these words, “I can understand why you would feel that way.” No matter what’s going on, when you hear that it feels like you’re accepted by the person you’re with and that it’s okay for you to feel the way you feel. That right there is the strong foundation from which you can then find your own way forward. (And in your own time).

Also, if we were to dissect pretty much any basic argument that a couple can have, 98% of the time, arguments start with one person feeling invalidated by the other. When anyone feels invalidated the natural response is to then escalate their efforts to be understood. Which can sound like yelling. Then if the invalidator doubles down on defending their invalidating behaviors in response, it can get pretty ugly pretty quick. As I’m sure you know.

So if you work towards being more validating you will not just stop pretty much any argument in its tracks, your partner will feel emotionally safe and accepted by you, and you will have a much stronger, happier relationship. Win, win, win.

Step Three: Intentionally Practice Validating Behaviors

The real problem with changing your (our) tendency to be accidentally invalidating is that it can be really hard to wrap your (our) brains around the fact that we really are hurting the people we love without meaning to. In none of the examples of “types of invalidators” was I describing anyone who was trying to be hurtful. They were just failing to understand their partner’s perspective or needs or feelings, and prioritizing their own instead. 

Human beings are generally self-focused, unless they put purposeful effort into being other-focused. Sad but true.

The good news is that it’s not hard to be more other-focused if you decide that it’s important enough to make it a priority. It just takes intention and practice, and a genuine desire to want your partner to feel more cared for by you.

Here’s what that looks like at my house:

My husband is telling me something but I’m not really connecting with what he is saying. He’s talking about his day at work, and how he’s not feeling great. And now he’s going on and on about this guy he works with who’s super annoying, and incompetent, and how he’s thinking about taking the day off tomorrow, and…

….I’ve zoned out, and am now following the spark of ideas that whatever he just said to me has just ignited into being, through the chambers of my own mind.  Day off… Netflix…. Nature documentary…. Camera lenses…. Majestic landscape photos…. I want to go somewhere beautiful… Catherine said good things about Quebec…. He’s still talking but I’m now having an entirely internal experience. I know he’s still there, but it’s the muffled, “Wa-wa-wa” like the adult in the old Charlie Brown cartoons.

Sometimes he can tell when I’m not there anymore, but most of the time neither of us realize what is happening until I say something apparently out of the blue, like “I was just thinking that it would be fun to go to Canada this summer. Or Newfoundland. What do you think?” [Picks up phone to start researching flight prices]. Then I look up from my phone to see his shoulders slump a little and this look cross his face like, “Do you even care about what I’m saying?” He’s annoyed. He should be.

Because in that moment, my lack of attention left him feeling invalidated in our conversation. He was left feeling like he wasn’t important or interesting enough for me to pay attention to, or worse, like I just hijacked the conversation to talk about whatever I was thinking of instead of what he was bringing up. Which I totally did.

But like you, I didn’t mean to hurt his feelings. It just happened because I wasn’t making him a priority in that moment, but indulging my own self-absorption.

In contrast, when I remind myself of my intention to be a good friend to him, to help him feel cared for and validated by me, it’s a totally different experience. I will myself to focus on what he is saying. I look in his eyes. When I feel my mind starting to slide towards something other than what he is talking about, I bring it back to him by very deliberately reflecting something I heard him say. Or I ask open-ended questions to help him say more about what is going on for him, but also as a strategy to keep myself engaged.

I try really hard to stay present, and stay on topic. Sometimes I am more successful than others, but I know he sees me trying. We know each other well enough now and we can even laugh about it, as we do when I glaze and he just stops talking and makes a face at me. Humor helps.

Every flavor of invalidation has a validating antidote that’s a little different. I could go into great detail about what the antidote for each involves, but then this would be an actual self-help book rather than a blog post. But, briefly:

  • Inattentive invalidators need to stay present and use mindfulness skills to focus.
  • Belligerent invalidators need to find compromises that honor their partner’s feelings, too.
  • We controlling invalidators need to manage our anxiety, and trust in the competence of others.
  • Judgmental invalidators need to work on acceptance and generosity.
  • Emotional invalidators need to work on empathy and emotional intelligence skills.
  • Fixit Invalidators must make peace with the fact that feelings are valuable, even dark ones.

I hope that this discussion of how you may be accidentally invalidating your partner was helpful to you, and gives you clarity about how to shift the emotional climate of your relationship just by making your partner’s feelings and perspective as important to you as your own .

Now, please send this post back to your partner.

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

When To Call It Quits In a Marriage

When To Call It Quits In a Marriage

Sonya Jensen is a marriage counselor, premarital counselor, relationship coach, and breakup recovery counselor with Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. Her practical, positive approach helps couples succeed, and individuals create positive changes in their lives.

When To Call It Quits In A Marriage?

I picked up the phone to reach out to a potential new client for couples counseling. After introducing myself, the clients first question for me was, “When do you know to call it quits in a marriage?”

This question didn’t catch me off guard because it’s the same question many couples ask me at the beginning of marriage counseling or couples therapy.

With these couples, communication problems, lack of sex, and emotional intimacy have been going on for quite some time. Attempts to fix these issues with or without professional help can leave couples feeling exhausted and hopeless.

I’m the biggest cheerleader for relationships. The investment both partners have made to keep a relationship going isn’t worth throwing away at the drop of a hat. However, there are some key signs to look for when trying to decide if continued investment in the relationship is worth it for both partners.

Top Signs You Should Call It Quits In A Marriage:

Unwillingness to Communicate

No matter how hard you try to engage your partner it doesn’t seem to work. You try the nice voice and the sweet thoughts. You try the yelling and the threatening. It doesn’t matter. You get little to no response. [More: “How to Communicate When Your Partner Shuts Down”, and “Are You Trapped in a Codependent Relationship?”]

Consistent Negativity

You don’t seem to communicate outside of what is necessary and even then the content remains negative. Most of the things you say to each other reflect black and white thinking, “You never” or “I always”. At this point you probably can’t make decisions on seemingly insignificant options like where to go for dinner or who is picking up the kids.

You Feel in Your Heart the Relationship is Unhealthy

You’ve tried everything you know to do to improve your relationship. Talked to your friends and read too many relationship books. In your heart you know that you can’t keep going on like this. You can feel the energy between the two of you isn’t getting any better, in fact its either the same or worse. [More: “Are You Addicted to a Toxic Relationship?“]

Unwillingness to Change

It takes two to tango. You’re not perfect, neither is your partner. You both see areas in yourselves that need to change in order to make the relationship work. However, neither of you seems to have the motivation to make those changes.

Won’t Seek Help

You’ve begged your partner to see a counselor. Maybe you’ve gone to one or two appointments without much buy-in from your partner. Overall, you feel a strong resistance personally or from your partner to engaging in counseling.

Maybe you can identify with some or all of these red flags. You may be asking yourself, “What do I do next?” Every couple is different but if you see these things in your relationship, things have to change. The relationship problems won’t resolve on their own. Here’s what to do next:

Get support

Even if your partner won’t come with you, reach out to a couples counselor or relationship coach. Whether you stay or leave this relationship you need help to process your emotions, set healthy boundaries and expectations, and take steps forward. There are divorce and break up recovery groups online and maybe in your area. Do your research.

Get informed

I know its scary to think about all that will change and if you’re even up for it. Gain as much information as possible from an attorney or research the state laws. The more information you have the better decisions you can make about your future.

Take your time

Don’t rush a decision. If you don’t know what to do about your situation, then seek support until you find clarity. For many couples the problems have been ongoing for years. A few more weeks or months won’t change anything. Take this at your pace. There is a lot to grieve, process, and plan.

Every couple is different, as well as every situation. I believe that if both partners are willing to work towards a healthier relationship, there is hope, and there are tools. [More: How to Stop a Divorce and Save Your Marriage] Exhaust your options, arm yourself with knowledge, and have accountability. No matter how little the step, its still moving forward. You don’t have to stay stuck.

Warmly,

Sonya Jensen, M.A., LMFT