Financial Therapy For Couples

Financial Therapy For Couples

Financial Therapy For Couples

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 Fighting About Money

For many couples entering couples therapy or marriage counseling, differences around money are a significant source of conflict in their relationship. And of course, money fights are common, because money is one of those things that means different things to different people.

For some, money a stand-in for love and connection, and for others money means security. Some people view spending money on things they enjoy as what gives life meaning, and others view accumulating money to pass on to the next generation as the purpose of life itself

Other people view money as freedom, and still others see it as a tool. People can also have negative associations around money, including guilt or fear. Other people can even tie their sense of self-worth to the money they have in the bank, or to outward displays of wealth.

Money is, in short, a loaded topic.

So it's only natural that all couples usually have at least some differences around money, because they're different people. Even if a couple is in basic agreement about their values around money, there will still be differences. In general, financial values exist on a spectrum between “spending” and “saving.”

Why Couples Fight About Money: Savers vs Spenders

In every relationship, there is a person who has a “saver” orientation and a person who has a “spender” orientation. This is even true between two people who are freer with their money than other couples, or within a couple who generally saves more than other couples. They, as a unit, may appear aligned around what they're doing with money, and yet still find things to squabble about between themselves.

Saver fights: “I thought we agreed to put $1500 into the retirement account and bump the mortgage payment by $500 from now on. We can totally live on a $300 a month grocery budget — you eat too much anyway. Don't you want to have the house paid off in three years???”

Spender fights: “No, I'm excited about Rekyvic and Dublin and Amsterdam, but I really had my heart set on Prague too. I mean, if we're going anyway shouldn't we embrace it? We'll pay it off! We can use the line of credit from the condo in Vail, it's appreciating like crazy. Why are you such a kill-joy?”

Of course, in couples who are even further apart on the spender / saver continuum than these examples, you can only imagine how intense fights about money in a marriage can get. This is never more true than around the holiday season, when budgets get blown faster than you can say “Fa-la-la.”

As we speed toward the holidays, life can become a twinkly blur of get-togethers and activities. The internal, sometimes even sub-conscious drive to have a “nice holiday” can drive us to spend way more money than we intended. In some couples, holiday spending can even be hidden between partners, creating a rupture of trust when it's disclosed in the sober grey light of January.

Yes, “financial infidelity” is a real thing, and it causes real trauma to relationships. When couples are frequently fighting about money to the point where it feels like it's impossible to communicate about finances, people will begin to hide spending, hide debt, or get overly controlling or even aggressive about money. This can lead to splitting up finances, which is often a symptom of avoidance in a relationship.

When it feels impossible to come to agreements about money, when communication about money always turns into a fight, where there is a lack of financial trust, or vastly different values around money, couples move towards separate bank accounts… and sometimes, sadly, eventually separate lives.

Financial Therapy For Couple

By the time couples arrive in marriage counseling to discuss the ongoing conflict about money, it has often evolved into a bigger deal than can be solved by simply making a budget together, or getting scolded by a financial planner. Feelings have been hurt. Trust may have been broken. Even worse, couples can start to fear that they are too far apart in their basic values around life and money to even be compatible.

This can be a scary time for couples. I remember how it was in my own marriage when money was the number one thing my husband and I were fighting about.

I felt like we barely had enough money to get by, and was frantic in my efforts to conserve our resources — even if it meant wearing second-hand clothes from thrift stores and packing PB&J for lunch every day.

My husband, on the other hand, felt stifled, unhappy, and constrained when I attempted to squash the flow of money through our life. He felt that without having anything to enjoy or look forward to, life felt empty and burdensome.

At the time, of course, neither of us realized that we were both right, and so we fought endlessly over who's perspective was more true and noble. I'd give him hell for spending $4 on a latte at a bookstore (or god-forbid, buying one of his fancy art-magazines), and he'd make crappy comments about how gross it was to buy used shoes.

We finally got into marriage counseling, and only then, learned how to listen and understand. We no longer have conflict around money. We have conversations about money. It's good. You can do this too.

Marriage Counseling Around Finances

It can be hard for a couple, particularly a couple in distress, to see through their own anger, fear, and moral judgment to see the other person's perspective about money for what it usually is: A deeply held personal value, often related to core emotional and psychological needs.

However, without a high level of understanding and empathy, it's very hard for couples to get on the same page about money. That's where great marriage counseling, financial therapy, and relationship coaching come in: They can all help you stay calm enough to talk through your thoughts and feelings in a way that fosters understanding and empathy about money, and what it means to each of you.

For example, when I put down my shining sword of virtue and justice long enough to hear what my husband was actually trying to communicate, I learned that his less-privileged background led him to view money as something to be pounced upon and enjoyed while it was there (before it evaporated again), as opposed to accumulating it and cultivating it. I understood him more deeply, and had empathy for what money represented to him: Pleasure and meaning in the moment, and not anything that could be counted upon.

Over time, I also came to understand that being open to his perspective was good for me, too: Because of him, I've had more fun, more  interesting adventures, and, frankly, better furniture and clothing than I ever would when left to my own devices.

And as the conflict between us diffused into curiosity and openness, he learned that I inherited a deep anxiety around money from my immigrant family, who fled Europe after the second world war when Stalin appeared to be the next maniac drumming on the horizon. As a first-generation-American who grew up watching her Belgian father save scraps of wire, unbend pulled nails for a second use (stored in glass baby jars he'd saved from my earliest months), and literally cut off the moldy parts of the cheese before proclaiming it perfectly fine, I had a deeply ingrained survival instinct to conserve money.

I'm pleased to report that my perspective influenced my husband too. He now tolerates my budgets and squirreling, and seems to like the fact that we have a financial buffer between us and disaster, as well as a plan for the future.

We no longer fight about money. However — and this is the important part — our alignment about finances is NOT because either of us have changed who we are. He is not exactly like me, and he never will be. He still thinks it's perfectly acceptable to spend $900 on a BMX bike, and on the rare occasions I shop for clothes, it's usually at consignment stores.

But he understands me, and accepts that saving money and avoiding debt as much as possible is a wise way to live. And I understand him, and have accepted the fact that it's important to be generous, and that nice things and meaningful life experiences are worth paying for.

That level of acceptance and understanding is always my hope for the couples who come to us for help in getting on the same page around money. If fighting about money feels like it's destroying your relationship, please know that it doesn't have to be this way.

Particularly during this time of year — the holidays, and their aftermath — you have lots of opportunities to talk about finances. This year, I hope you consider giving each other the gift of listening with the intention to understand. Ask your partner what money means to them, and try to get on their side of the table. Don't have a conflict. Have a conversation.

If you want to solve your financial disagreements for once and for all, the answer is not controlling or changing each other. It lies in developing empathy, understanding, and a sense of common purpose that unites you as a couple and as a family. Hard to do, but so, so worth it.

With love and respect to you both,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

 

Love Without Borders: Cross Cultural Relationships

Love Without Borders: Cross Cultural Relationships

Love Without Borders: Cross Cultural Relationships

Is There a Culture-Clash in Your Relationship?

How to Deal With Cultural Differences in a Relationship

As a marriage counselor and couples therapist l know that all relationships bring a variety of challenges and opportunities for growth. At the same time, some couples  — particularly those in cross-cultural relationships — feel that they have further to go in bridging the gap. Cross-cultural couples can have vastly different relationship expectations regarding gender roles in the home, the role of extended family, how to communicate, and so much more. While, ultimately, the diversity of their union can lead to an enormously strong and healthy relationship, couples from very different cultural or racial backgrounds sometimes need to work harder to create understanding and compromise.

Cross-Cultural Relationships

For the record, it is important to note that everyone comes into a relationship from a different family of origin that had its own values, belief system, internal culture and way of doing things. Even individuals who may, on a surface level, appear to be of similar backgrounds may have had entirely different “family cultures” that are influencing their expectations in their relationship with their partner. (This is the underlying reason why financial therapy for couples is so necessary!)

One big strength for interracial couples and international couples is an overt awareness that they need to openly discuss and respect these differences in order to achieve congruence. In contrast, couples who make the mistake of assuming that their partner’s life experiences were similar to their own run the risk of having unspoken assumptions and expectations lead to conflict and hurt feelings. Knowing from the outset that you both have perspectives, values and expectations that are simultaneously both different and equally valuable is a huge asset.

Navigating Cultural Differences in a Relationship

It’s very easy for couples to get entrenched in conflict rooted in a core belief of “right and wrong” when it comes to how to approach various aspects of their shared life. This can be especially true around hot-button issues such as:

These are points of conflict for many couples. However, if a couple in a bicultural marriage or with a multicultural family background has very different life experiences that they each wish to replicate in their marriage with each other… the battles can get fierce and even nasty. In contrast, cross-cultural couples who approach each other from a place of sensitivity and openness to understanding have the opportunity to learn and grow, celebrate their differences, and take the highest and best from both of their backgrounds in order to create a unique, beautiful blended culture in their new family, together.

Relationship Advice From Cross Cultural Marriage Counselors

To tackle these questions, and provide some direction for how to begin bridging the gap and building bridges to the center, I’ve asked some multicultural relationship experts to join me for this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast. Relationship coach Dr. Georgiana Spradling, MFT, Tania Chikhani, M.A, and Teresa Thomas, M.A., are marriage counselors who often work with cross-cultural couples and interracial couples, and have great relationship advice for how to create peace and harmony in your gloriously diverse family.

Specifically, we’ll discuss:

  • Why cross-cultural couples often get into power struggles about various aspects of their shared life.
  • The shift in perspective that can help you restore the empathy in your relationship and understand each other more deeply.
  • How to find ways of creating agreement, while simultaneously honoring and appreciating your differences.
  • How couples with different expectations of extended family roles can find balance between boundaries and togetherness.
  • How interracial couples can become a united front in understanding and confronting racial injustice, together.

Whether you're in an interracial relationship, blending a multicultural family, or simply coming to terms that you and your seemingly-similar partner are actually coming into your relationship with very different perspectives, the perspective of marriage counseling experts Dr. Georgiana, Teresa and Tania can help. I hope you join us — click the player below to listen to the conversation!

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Love Without Borders: Cross-Cultural Relationships

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

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online life coach arabic speaking therapist online life coach arabic speaking life coach career coach dating coach relationship coach

Tania Chikhani is a Relationship and Career Specialist with an M.A. in Clinical Psychology, and an MBA in Global Business and Marketing. She has specific training in marriage and family therapy and relationship coaching, as well as mindfulness coaching, career coaching, executive coaching, and life coaching.

Her specialty is helping you create happiness and success in all areas of your life. Her work is focused on enabling you to create and maintain passionate and fulfilling relationships while continuing to thrive in your career. She is known for seeing the love and joy that’s possible for you, and for your relationships, even through your darkest days. Read Tania’s full bio…

Let's  Talk

Real Help For Your Relationship

Lots of couples go through challenging times, but the ones who turn "rough-patches" into "growth moments" can come out the other side stronger and happier than ever before.

 

Working with an expert couples counselor can help you create understanding, empathy and open communication that felt impossible before.

 

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

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How to Recover From a Horrible Fight.

How to Recover From a Horrible Fight.

How to Recover From a Horrible Fight.

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.

Is your head spinning after a terrible fight? Here’s how to get your relationship back on track…

We’ve all been there. The sanest, most intelligent, reasonable, successful people — brilliant CEOs, steady-handed surgeons, unflappable news anchors, and uber-rational captains of industry can all become unhinged in the heat of the moment. Before I became a marriage counselor, the adventure husband and I spent a good deal of the 90's trying to knock the corners off each other too. So I understand what this feels like.

I also know (now) that intense fights are not necessary. Fighting is not a productive or effective way to solve the issues in your relationship. However, what is much more important than whether or not fights happen is how they end. When you can come back together afterwards to solve problems together, your relationship is strengthened as a result. Here's how to reconnect…

The Anatomy of a Fight

To mend a fight, you first need to understand what made it so awful in the first place. It doesn’t even matter what started it — the reasons can range from someone taking a sharp tone with the kids, to coming home with the wrong brand of salsa, to staying out all night. But it always starts with someone feeling anger, hurt or fear, and then attempting to communicate about it. And it goes badly.

You try to say how you feel — reasonably, and with good intentions — but somehow it quickly disintegrates. You get triggered. They get triggered. And suddenly awful things start happening. You may find yourself defensively attempting to protect yourself from the insults and accusations hurling through the air. You may find yourself screeching like a crazy person at your partner’s wooden face. [Read: How to Communicate With a Withdrawn Partner]. You may find yourself doing or saying things that you would never do, otherwise. It is shocking what can happen during a bad argument.

There is a “point of no return” for everyone. We can keep our cool and behave rationally even when we are upset, until our rage-o-meter gets up to about a five or six on a ten scale. But once we push the needle past a 7 or so, we enter the “red zone” of anger.

We actually know, from research, that when people get into this elevated fight-or-flight state they literally cease to think coherently, and the part of their brain that encodes ideas into language stops functioning well. We enter a primal state where our feelings are expressed through our actions — dishes are thrown, doors are slammed, or we screech off dramatically in cars to convey what our words no longer can. We disintegrate into inarticulate screaming, or lash out with insults intended to wound. [Read: Why Your Partner is Angry]. It can get intense, and scary.

And in the aftermath, you are shaky, your heart feels broken, and your mind is understandably flooded with questions. Namely, “What the hell just happened?”

You replay events to understand where the wheels came off the bus. If you’re like most people, you walk back through the timeline to reassure yourself that your intentions were good and that you did your best. As your rational mind slowly comes back online you might be left feeling shocked and raw by the things you just experienced with your partner. Maybe you are embarrassed and ashamed by the things you said and did in the heat of the moment.

You’re probably also feeling worried about what this means about your relationship, how to come back from this, and most importantly, how to make sure this never happens again.

Four Tips To Get Back on Track After a Terrible Fight

1) Give it some time. Know how grandmothers and pop-psych gurus like to talk about “never going to bed angry?” That is complete and total crap. People vary in the amount of time it takes to calm down after a terrible fight. You might be ready to talk rationally fifteen minutes later. Your partner might need a few days to calm down. Do NOT try to make them talk to you if they aren’t there yet. Leave them alone, and they’ll show back up when they are ready to talk about what happened. Forcing the issue will only lead to round two of the horribleness.

2) Never underestimate the power of a good repair attempt. Reach out and apologize. Do the dishes. Make a joke (at your own expense, if you want to live). Come back with a peace offering, or at least a wry smile and a hug. Show your partner that you are sorry about what happened and that you still love them. It may still be too fragile to talk about it, but at least you are showing them that you are available to make it better when they are.

3) Own your stuff. It is very easy to fixate on your partner’s problems, and how they were responsible for the fight. We all think about how, “If they’d only done something differently / been more responsible / followed through / used a different tone none of this would have happened.” I get it, and I agree that your partner probably does have some things to work on. And you and I also know that you are not perfect, and could have done some things differently too. If you want to mend your relationship and have the opportunity to work on things together, it would be much more effective for you to take ownership for your stuff. At the very least, your setting a good example will help your partner take ownership for their parts of the conflict too.

4) Solve the problem. No relationship problems are ever actually solved during a fight. When people are shouting, no one is listening. But after the dust settles and everyone is calm again — that is the time to address the underlying problems that caused the fight in the first place. Remember, it’s never about the salsa. Look deeper, and see if you can identify the bigger issues underneath, like trust, security, love, partnership, values, or connection. When you work on that level, the real issues are addressed and your connection is healed.

And remember, if it keeps exploding in your face (or going nowhere) every time you try to talk about it, that is a good sign that you could benefit from marriage counseling. A great marriage counselor can help you talk about tender things productively, and help you and / or your partner take ownership for (or even see) how they are contributing to the issues. They can teach you both the skills you need to head off yucky arguments and simply solve problems together without all the drama. But most importantly, they can help you strengthen your secure attachment and deepen your connection — which makes hurt, fear, and anger much more likely to bubble up in the first place.

We're always here to talk if you ever need us. Just schedule your free consultation session, in person or online. 

All the best to you both,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Real Help For Your Relationship

Lots of couples go through challenging times, but the ones who turn "rough-patches" into "growth moments" can come out the other side stronger and happier than ever before.

 

Working with an expert couples counselor can help you create understanding, empathy and open communication that felt impossible before.

 

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

How to Fix a Relationship After a Fight

How to Fix a Relationship After a Fight

How to Fix a Relationship After a Fight

Don't Break Up. Break Through.

 

How to fix your relationship after a bad fight. All couples fight, sometimes. This is not a bad thing: Conflict can lead to constructive conversations and deeper connection. And… some fights are just toxic and unproductive.

Here at Growing Self we offer a lot of relationship geared towards helping you proactively solve problems, avoid conflict, turn conflict into connection, and use communication skills to have productive conflict… but that doesn't always happen. Sometimes, couples just have a terrible fight where they both say mean things to each other and feel like they damaged their relationship in the process.

Has this just happened in your relationship? Have you just had a nasty fight, and now you're looking for help to get your relationship back on track? 

You're in the right place: Real help for your relationship is here. Read on for actionable tips, PLUS a video, a quiz, and even a podcast — all here to help you mend your relationship. 

Fix Your Relationship After a Fight

First of all, if you're actively looking for help to fix your relationship after a fight, that in itself is a great sign. It means that you care enough about your relationship to work on it, and to put your time, energy and effort into healing after a fight.

As a marriage counselor and couples therapist, I work with couples all the time who are concerned about the level of fighting in their relationship and want to heal their bond. Here are some of my top tips for how to not just fix your relationship after a fight — as in a “Let's slap a band-aid on this and forget it ever happened” — but really and truly, use the experience you both had to move forward and develop the amazing relationship you both want and deserve.

5 Tips To Repair Your Bond After a Fight

Here's some from the heart advice from a professional marriage counselor to help you fix your relationship after a fight, and use this as an opportunity to start a new chapter of growth and closeness in your relationship.

  1. Do not catastrophize. If you've just had a bad fight, you might be feeling worried about your relationship, wondering if you're compatible, or even if this is the beginning of the end. Let's stop: All couples fight. If you get too worried about the fight itself, it might lead you to withdraw emotionally and that's never helpful. Here's a reframe: : Fighting is actually a good sign — it means that you both still care enough to tangle with each other, try to be understood, and attempt to create change in your relationship. When couples are really in trouble, like on the brink of divorce, fighting often stops. People have given up. (More on this: “How to Stop a Divorce and Save Your Marriage.” But not you two! You are still fighting for your relationship.
  2. Take a break. Do NOT try to fix your relationship after a fight in the heat of the moment. Really. Neither of you are thinking clearly, and it's best to let it go until you can both calm down. Leave it until the morning, or go take a walk, and don't even try to repair your relationship until you're really and truly feeling calm. How will you know that you've calmed down enough to mend things? When you can shift gears from your perspective to theirs. (Listen to the podcast below for a much more detailed explanation of this!)
  3. Remember: fighting happens because people are trying to be heard and understood… but feeling invalidated by their partner. The quickest and most effective way to repair your relationship after a fight is to — deep breath here — let go of your agenda for a little while, and put your energy into understanding your partners feelings, hopes, desires and perspective. Hard? Yes. Effective? Double-yes. This doesn't mean that you need to agree with or acquiesce to their feelings (at the expense of yours), but when you listen with the intention of understanding it immediately calms conflict and starts rebuilding trust, empathy and compassion.
  4. Don't be afraid to apologize. It's not unusual at all for people to say or do really regrettable things in the heat of the moment. Yelling, stomping, slamming doors, even name calling. When you get flooded with emotion it really does turn off the part of your brain that is thoughtful, articulate and can anticipate cause-and-effect. Basically, when you get angry it unleashes your inner toddler who does a smash-and-grab job on the emotional safety of your relationship. (Or one who “punishes” by silence, rejection or weird passive-aggressive things which is not cool either). We all have the potential to do this. It can be tempting to reach for blame in these moments (i.e., “Well I only burned the toast to teach him how it feels to be uncared for,” etc) but that just perpetuates disconnection. Instead, try saying, “I didn't behave well during our fight and I'm sorry for that. You deserve to be treated with respect no matter how upset I get and I'll try better next time.”
  5. Use this as an opportunity to learn and grow. Fighting in a relationship can actually be extremely productive and helpful when it results in couples talking about important things they don't usually talk about, learning new things about each other, and finding new solutions to old problems. Relationships stagnate when people walk around holding in their feelings, not wanting to rock the boat, or doing anything that will upset the other. While this sounds virtuous and noble, it's actually a recipe for resentment and growing disconnection. Healthy, strong couples talk about things that bother them and work together to find solutions that feel better for both of them. Is having a drag-out fight the very best way to do this? Well, no, BUT even the worst fight can be the doorway to creating new understanding and solutions in your relationship IF you're willing to listen to each other, acknowledge the validity of each other's perspective, and agree that you both deserve to feel loved and respected in this relationship. You do!

Relationship Resources To Help You Heal and Grow, Together

I hope that those tips help you fix your relationship after a fight. Ideally, if you take this relationship advice to heart you'll not just repair your relationship after this one fight, but you'll head off the next fight before it starts! Now, that said: Sometimes, couples can fall into negative cycles of interaction where fighting, negativity, resentment and bad feelings have been growing for a while. If that is the case, you might find that it's a lot harder to bounce back after an EPIC fight because of all the water under the bridge previously.

There is still hope, and there is still help. Consider enlisting the support of an expert marriage counselor or couples therapist to help you set aside your differences so that you can address the deeper issues in your relationship and reconnect with your compassion and love for each other. Having a great couples therapist or relationship coach can help you have constructive conflict that grows your relationship (rather than negative, unproductive conflict that destroys it).

If you'd like to get started with positive, effective, and evidence based couples therapy, marriage counseling or relationship coaching we invite you to schedule a free consultation with one of the amazing therapists and coaches on the team here at Growing Self.

Wishing all the best for you both,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

PS: Because SO many couples start looking for resources, relationship advice,  and start looking for ways to fix their relationship after a big fight, I have even MORE resources for you. Please check out the podcast  (and video) that I recorded on this topic, just to help you in this moment. (Both are available below). I know it feels like a crisis right now, but trust me — this can be the start of an amazing new chapter in your relationship. Your partner in growth, LMB

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How to Fix Your Relationship After a Fight

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

Music Credit: Derek Clegg, “Hanging By a String

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How to Fix Your Relationship After A Fight

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

Let's  Talk

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How To Enhance Your Listening Skills & Improve Your Relationship

How To Enhance Your Listening Skills & Improve Your Relationship

How To Enhance Your Listening Skills & Improve Your Relationship

Are You A Good Listener?

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

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

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

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

TAKE BEING RIGHT OR WRONG OUT OF THE EQUATION

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

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

YOU DON’T HAVE TO AGREE ALL THE TIME

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

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

REMOVE DISTRACTIONS FROM THE CONVERSATION

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

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

CONTINUALLY PRACTICE EMPATHY

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

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

LISTEN FULLY BEFORE FORMULATING A RESPONSE

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

VALIDATE YOUR PARTNER

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

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

IT TAKES PRACTICE…

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

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

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

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

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