Power Struggle In Relationships

Power Struggle In Relationships

Power Struggle In Relationships

Power Struggle In Relationships: How to Break Through Gridlock


Power Struggle In Relationships

Marriage Power Struggle… Solutions

What is a power struggle in relationships? Relationship power struggles grind into being when two people have very strong, opposing opinions, or conflicting desires about a particular outcome and cannot find a compromise. Both partners hold on tightly to their position, becoming more polarized and un-budging. Compromise feels impossible, empathy plummets, and frustration spikes. Not fun!

Also, what I know from years of experience as a Denver marriage counselor, and online relationship coach is that power struggle in marriage are so, so common. Problems — even perpetual problems — and arguments in a romantic relationship are inevitable. As we've discussed in previous episodes of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast, many times productive conflict can be really healthy.  But power struggles that become gridlock issues that feel unsolvable need to be managed with care, before they erode the emotional safety of your relationship.

That's why I'm putting on my “relationship coach” hat today, and why we're devoting an entire episode of the podcast to marriage power struggle solutions, as well as how to avoid power struggles in the first place.

If you're finding yourself stuck in a battle of the wills and unable to move past a relationship hurdle, this relationship podcast episode is packed full of tips, advice, and help. You can work together to resolve your differences — even ones that feel big. I'm going to walk you through some steps that can help resolve gridlocked conflicts and power struggles in romantic relationships.

I discuss what they are, why they exist, and an example illustrating gridlocked conflicts. Additionally, I touch on personality differences between couples and why they can affect relationship dynamics and ultimately lead to power struggles.

If you and your partner often have unproductive conflicts that feel like they turn into a fight to the death about who's way is “right” … this episode is for you.

Let's Talk. Schedule a Free Consultation Today.

Understanding Power Struggles

First, we'll start by digging in to what power struggles are, why power struggles happen, and what types of things you can do to start breaking down the walls.

  1. Discover the factors that may lead to gridlocked conflicts in a relationship.
  2. Learn how you and your partner can brainstorm productively to reach a solution.
  3. Know about personality differences that may cause power struggles in a relationship.

Episode Highlights

Gridlocked Conflicts in Romantic Relationships

  • Gridlocked issues happen when a couple argues and is unable to compromise.
  • These issues are common in romantic relationships.
  • It is vital to address these issues so that they don’t create too much negativity and resentment between the partners.
  • Sometimes it is difficult to get out of a gridlocked conflict that has turned into a power struggle.
  • Knowing what gridlock and power struggles are and how to walk them back and avoid them are essential relationship skills.

When Conflicts Start to Polarize, and Power Struggles Start

  • When you are not in agreement with your partner, you tend to dig more deeply.
  • Couples are pushed further apart when conflicts intensify.
  • It’s like struggling to untie a knot but you end up tightening it unintentionally.
  • One example of conflict is when parents have to make the decision to send their child to school despite the ongoing health crisis.
  • When couples campaign more actively for the other person to understand their side, they are unintentionally creating a dynamic where they will less likely resolve the conflict.

Overcoming Gridlocked Conflicts & Power Struggle in Relationships

While understanding why power struggles in relationships can happen in the first place (and how to, hopefully, avoid them) is an incredibly important relationship skill, it's also necessary to understand how to resolve power struggles once they begin. This is because sooner or later, all couples encounter this. Knowing how to successfully work through a gridlock conflict without damaging the trust and goodwill in your relationship is vital.

Listen to this episode to learn more about how. Specifically: 

  • Communication strategies that allow you to find a path forward together and stay connected as a couple, even when you see things differently.
  • Why stepping away can paradoxically help you move forward.
  • How resolving power struggles can actually help you deepen the love, understanding, trust and compassion in your relationship.
  • Ways to utilize power struggles and gridlock conflict to increase the creativity and possibilities in your shared life together.

Real Help For Your Relationship

I share SO many new ideas, strategies and relationship advice in this episode, but the key to making it all work is by having productive, emotionally safe conversations with your partner that connect you rather than pushing you further apart.

If this is feeling hard right now, a structured activity like my free, online  “How Healthy is Your Relationship” Quiz can be a starting place to have a productive conversation about how you're both feeling, and what you're each needing to improve your communication, feel more loved and respected, and get on the same page so you can work together as a team.

Enjoy this Relationship Podcast?

We discussed so many things in todays episode related to power struggles in relationships, how to avoid power struggles, and solutions for power struggles. I hope they help you. You can listen to the full episode using the player below.

If you enjoyed today’s episode of the Love, Success, and Happiness Podcast, then hit subscribe and share it with your friends!

Thanks for listening! 

Wishing you both all the best on your journey of growth, together.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Power Struggles In Relationships

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

Music Credits: The Coathangers, “Down Down”

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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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Power Struggle in Relationships

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


New topic, today we're talking about power struggles and gridlock conflict. That was The Coathangers with the song Down Down, setting the mood for us today because downward spiral is basically what happens, in summary, when couples get stuck in these power struggles, gridlock issues. They're butting heads, no one is compromising. No one is budging. And it's a stalemate. Not a fun place to be in, but a very common situation in relationships. And believe it or not, a solvable problem. 


And one that I've been hearing a lot of you are struggling with lately. I've been hearing from your comments on the blog at growingself.com on Instagram at @drlisamariebobby that this is turning into a pretty major pain point in your relationship. So we are talking about this today on the show. And I hope by the end of our time together, you have some clarity, and some direction and maybe even some new ideas for things to try to break through the impasse and cultivate compromise and agreement with the one you love most. 


If this is your first time listening today, hello, I am Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I am the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. And this is the Love, Happiness & Success Podcast. Every week we tackle topics that are important to you and that are helpful in your quest for love and exciting, happy, fulfilling relationshipsboth romantic and platonic. Happiness, meaning that you are feeling good about yourself and your life, and also success that you are being who you were put here to be and creating success according to your own definition. So, every week we are talking about something related to that often based on your questions. So if you have a question for me, leave it on the blog at growingself.com, or get in touch on Instagram at @drlisamariebobby or on Facebook at Dr. Lisa Bobby


And I really wanted to tackle this subject of gridlock issues today because, oh, you guys, it's been coming up so much. And let me tell you where this has been coming up in particular, lately it is related to couples who are not on the same page about how to handle issues related to Coronavirus. Now, certainly gridlock issues are nothing new. I have been a marriage counselor, a relationship coach and a psychologist for a long time and frequently work with couples or individuals in relationships where there is just, both people have dug in around their individual positions. And it is often around a black and white issue. That's kind of the definition of a gridlock conflict. One person wants to have a baby, the other does not. One person needs to live by the ocean, the other one needs to live in the mountains. Or they really want to live with their family of origin, back in the small town in Mississippi, and the other person must live in New York or they're going to die. I mean, it's like things that are difficult to compromise around. Yes or no. Black or white. This or that. 


And I wanted to address it because gridlock conflict is one of these things that almost all couples face at some point or anothervery commonagain. But it's also one of those things that if you don't have a plan to get through it, it will create so much negativity and hostility and conflict and resentment. And the relationship over time it can really, again, begin to eat away at the fabric of your positive partnership. And it's very easy to get into a good gridlock conflict, we'll certainly talk about why it is hard to get out of a gridlock conflict that has turned into a power struggle. But there is a path forward. 


So first of all, let's talk about what happens to every couple when they get into a power struggle around a gridlock conflict where it feels like one person is going to win, and one person is going to lose. And each person starts fighting to the death to have their way of seeing things prevail and be accepted by their partner. And so, if you will, just enter into this mindset with me, right? Because we've all been there. I have done this, you have done this,  we've all done this. It feels like when things like this come up that are very important to you, it feels like you're right. And you know, you're right. You have 197 reasons why you are right, and why your partner is wrong. And if they could just see things from your perspective, and hear what you're saying and like let it in, then they too would be able to understand the truth. And they would change their mind, their opinions would be swayed. And not only would they agree with you, they would get into alignment with what you want this to look like going forward. And not only that, but when they did, they would be so happy they did. Because as soon as they did, they would really understand even more deeply that your perspective was the right one all along. They will have great sorrow and remorse for fighting you tooth and nail. They'll say, “You know what? You were right. It really is better this way. We did the right thing.” And you will smooch, and the credits will come on at the end of the sitcom and you will live happily ever after. If only they would listen, right? 


Okay, maybe not the credits part but that's kind of how it feels when you are in this situation with your partner. I mean, they're just being unreasonable, right? They are not taking in the facts, the truth. They just need to listen. And so we put all of our energy into explaining to them why we're right and they are wrong. It may involve charts, graphs, pictures, outside sources, scientific journal articles. Exhibit A. They need to talk to your Uncle Joe, who is going to tell you the same thing that you're telling them. It turns into a campaign, right? 


And as you are probably experiencing in your own life, what happens is that they seem to dig in even more deeply. And the more you try to explain to them why they're wrong and why you're right, they argue with you. They don't listen. They even start avoiding and it just turns into this whole thing. Or they try to tell you why you're wrong, and then you have to argue with them why they're telling you that you're wrong is actually wrong. And, right? It is a spiral down and it tends to intensify. And it tends to polarize, meaning that it pushes couples further apart. And both people dig in deeper, and over time, it starts to feel increasingly hopeless. Not fun, not fun for anyone. 


And I'll tell you what, I actually, a lot of this is coming up as I mentioned around coronavirus. I met with a journalist for an interview recently as I sometimes do, and her question was, “Dr. Lisa, what do you do with a couple who, for example, Parent A really wants their kids to go to school this fall, doesn't feel that the risk is that big, we can manage it, it's going to be okay. And the benefits to the child of being in school, or the benefits to our family of the child being in school outweighs the risks of them getting sick or anybody else getting sick. So they should go to school. And Parent B is like, no, the risk is too high. The consequences are too severe. I am not willing to risk the health and safety of our child, of ourselves, of our community. And even if it's gonna be hard on us, we will figure it out.”


That is real quickly turning into a big gridlock battle for a lot of couples in, you know, school is one thing but it can also be like, “Should we or shouldn't we go into the grocery store versus online delivery? Is it okay to go over to our friends’ houses? Is it alright for our child to have playdates?” And sort of this like, “How are we as a couple managing the risk of coronavirus?” And oftentimes when a person perceives the threat as being more serious and real than the other, it can turn into big gridlock issues. But again, gridlock can happen around many, many different kinds of thingsfrom parenting to finances, to how we spend our time together, to major life decisions about what we are doing with our family, having more children. 


And so knowing what gridlock is, and what power struggles are, and how to not just walk them back but ideally avoid them is a very necessary and important relationship skill. So we might be talking about coronavirus stuff today, but please know that these are all very generalizable skills. 


And so one thing to know about gridlock conflict, it's like, I think maybe a good metaphor here, it's like struggling to untie a knot and you indirectly and unintentionally tighten the knot. The more that you like to try to untie it, something gets increasingly snarled. And this is a really good way of understanding what happens in power struggles and what to not do. 


When couples begin to fight with each other more vigorously and more actively campaign for the other person to listen and understand and respect their side, they are unintentionally creating a dynamic where it is less likely that the conflict will be satisfactorily resolved. And instead, it intensifies the power struggle underlying the conflict. And this is a hard one because it feels natural to fight. It feels natural to advocate for your position. And in this situation, it is the least helpful approach. 


Again, going back to the words of Dr. John Gottman, who is a researcher in the field of marriage and family therapy. He's probably the most famous and well-founded researcher in the field of marriage and family therapy. His words of wisdom, which are hard to take in. Because I don't want to get into a power struggle with you, my friend, but so I'm just gonna say this out loud and let you marinate on this for a second is thatsome problems are actually unsolvable in the sense that there will always be major differences between you, in the way that you see some things, in the way that you prefer things to be done in your values, in the way that you, I don’t know, the hierarchy of information and the way that you process things. There will always be these differences in a relationship. And again, this is hard to let in if you feel like, especially if you feel like a decision must be made, that the path through it is an indirect one. It is, let's see, what is Dr. Gottman’s quote. He says, “Your purpose is not to solve the conflict completely. It will never go away completely. The goal is to ‘declaw’ the issue and try to remove the hurt so that the problem stops being a source of great pain.”


I know that is probably not what you wanted me to say right now. You wanted me to tell you, “Okay, here's a communication technique that you can use to get your partner to actually hear you this time so that they can let in what you're saying. And then finally agree with you so that you can both move on.” That is actually, again, not the goal. The goal is to take away the pain, to accept unsolvable problems, and find a path together that allows you to stay connected as a couple. And let's talk a little bit more deeply about what achieving that looks like in practice. Because if you're thinking, “I can't do that, that's hard.” It is hard, it is hard. And it's unnecessary. 


So the first thing to do, instead of fighting, if you find yourself getting into a power struggle with your partner, is to very intentionally and deliberately step away from trying to find resolution. Stop trying to solve the unsolvable problem. And instead put all of your energy and attention into seeking to understand where your partner is coming from. Your only job in the first stages of this is towith your full attention and insincerity, no ulterior motives hereis to put yourself in their shoes. Seek to understand how they're thinking, and how they're feeling in a very respectful and authentic way. 


And I do mean this. It has to be sincere, it cannot be, “Well, if I understand them and I make them understand that I get it, then they will be able to understand where I'm coming from. And will finally see my point of view, and we can just do it my way and move on.” That can't be the intention, it really has to be, “No. My job right now is to understand the person that I love and their point of view.” So what that looks like is saying, “We're going around and around in circles about this, we are not coming to an agreement. And you know what? I think we've been going about this the wrong way. Let's instead really put our full attention and just understand each other instead of fighting with each other. I'm going to go first, tell me more about how you're feeling and how you see this.” And really, I mean over a series of conversations, ask your partner, “Tell me more.” 


When you think about the costs outweigh the benefits of our child going to school, what comes up in your mind? What do you imagine could happen if we do it the way that I'm advocating? And really make it an emotionally safe place for your partner to talk about their fears, their values, their concerns, their feelings, what it's attached to in terms of their orientation to the world. And really help them know that you understand. 


And so you might hear someone saying things like, “Well, we don't know anyone that's gotten sick from coronavirus. And, when I think about how hard it's been for our family this past summer, and kids are watching way too much TV. And I really feel very afraid of them falling behind academically. I worry that they're missing big foundational things academically that will be very difficult for them to make up, and that they might struggle later in life as a result of this. I worry that our 12-year-old is at a crucial moment in terms of their social development. And if they don't have kind of normal experiences with other kids, it's really going to change the way they show up in relationships well into adulthood. Those things make me feel afraid. And so when I am digging my heels in about, ‘No, I think that kids should go to school,’ it's really because I'm worried about what will happen to them if we don't. And I also think, we're strong, we're healthy, we don’t have underlying health conditions.” I mean, it could be all kinds of things. 


And for someone who feels differently about this, this can be a very triggering conversation. As you sit with your partner and really, they're talking about things that you don't agree with, your job in these moments is to calm down. If your heart rate starts to go up, and you feel like you're going into fight-or-flight trigger mode, you will not be able to hear anything they're saying. And your job is to calm yourself back down, take a break if you have to. And really just remember that your only job right now is to listen to them and understand them, and in a respectful and sincere way. 


And it takes time to do that, particularly if you're feeling triggered and flooded. And the things that they're saying are scaring you to death, frankly. And, of course, then, once your partner's feelings are really heard and respected and understood, the other step is to then give you the opportunity to have the same experience with themwhere they settle into understanding you. And you get to talk about your perspective around, “People are dying and even people who don't die sometimes have severe and persistent health consequences. And yeah, maybe kids don't get as sick as adults but they do get sick. And here's what can happen if they do. And think about what might happen to us in our family if you and I get this. And what would happen to our children if you and I are incapacitated or hospitalized or not able to work or function as a result of being sick. And what could this mean.” And it could be anything from your point of view, and I'm again talking about coronavirus. 


It could be like, “This is what having another child means to me and this is what I hope about the experience. And what I'm afraid of is if we don't…” I mean, like really unpack it. It doesn't certainly have to be specific to this but really go deeply, deeply into it. And again, simply with a goal of understanding, we are not here to solve problems. We are just here to understand each other's hopes and dreams, and fears, and values, and perspectives. And help each other feel heard and respected and understood.


And couples can absolutely do this on their own, particularly if they're good at staying calm and shifting away from their own perspective to the degree that they can allow in their partners. If you find that it feels impossible to do this, that you can't actually just let their partner talk about the way they feel without wanting to interrupt them or tell them why they're wrong, or if they're not able to do that for you and it just is turning into a conflict, and listening and understanding isn't possible to happen—that is a great sign that you actually do need the support of a marriage counselor or relationship coach. Somebody who can keep you from getting into a fight and instead simply hold the door open to allow both of you to understand each other on a very, very deep level. 


And what you will often find when you do is that when you're able to dig deeply down into core values, core feelings, and away from “what are we going to do to solve this problem” part, you'll find that at the core, there are many more similarities and commonalities than there are differences. You both love your children. You both want to have a happy, satisfying life together. You both want meaning and purpose and joy and freedom and security, and all of these things. Like, there's a lot of alignment at the foundational level. And coming into that place and reconnecting with all of the commonalities that you guys do have, in the context of feeling secure with each other—respected by each other, understood, really gotten on a deep level—then allows you to have the opportunity to begin crafting a middle path that is very deliberately taking into consideration, and prioritizing both of your hopes, both of your fears, and it turns into an entirely different conversation. 


And the other thing that's really neat is that when people get into power struggles and gridlock conflicts, it really does feel like a fight. And all of your energy is going into why you're right and why they're wrong, and, you know, if only they were just XYZ, which makes each of you really entrenched in one particular worldview. Like the more you kind of tell yourself why you're right and why they're wrong, and the more often you try to explain to them what your perspective makes the most sense, you're selling yourself on your view of the world. And also, unintentionally, limiting your ability to expand your thinking into creative problem solving. It’s impossible to be really creative and come up with novel ideas and solutions, and the playfulness that's required to get really creative feels absolutely inaccessible when you're stuck in a conflict. 


But when you can come back to a place of emotional safety and listening and understanding and respecting, you can generate novel ideas, be creative. You can play with each other. You can say, “Let's play a game. If we were going to do this, and it was absolutely without any of the risks that we've identified as being a concern here, well, what could it look like?” And along those lines, being able to shift away from your fear, your concern, your hopes into “our fear,” “our hopes,” that you both take ownership for the perspective that each of you hold. And that it doesn't become your partner's fear, it becomes “our concern.” Because your partner's feelings and perspectives in the stage of healing do actually need to be just as important as yours are. And when you use language like “our concerns,” “our hopes,” it communicates on many levels that whatever we ultimately decided to do about this is going to honor and prioritize your feelings as part of the solution, or we're not going to do it. And that needs to happen both ways. 


But if that becomes the truth, that both of your feelings are actually equally as valid as important, and you're tasked with finding a solution that respects both of those priorities, what could that look like? And the answer is often a final “solution” that may be very different than the one that either of you were campaigning for in the very beginning. It could look like all kinds of different things. I mean, there are 100 different ways that schooling and socializing a child can actually look like in the time of a pandemic, that may or may not involve them setting a foot in a school building, and may or may not involve them sitting in front of a computer all day. I mean, I won't go into the dozens and dozens of plausible ways to educate and socialize children that are actually at all of our disposal because that's for you to figure out, and be creative around, and dream, and brainstorm. 


And also, let me just—a little tip here. When you are brainstorming, it is very important to throw out any and all ideas specifically and especially the ones that seem absolutely ridiculous and not like anything anyone would ever do. Because when you allow yourself that kind of disinhibition and just creative kind of spelunking and splashing around, you'll be amazed at what can come out of each of your head. And yes, 90% of it is going to be total rubbish and nothing that anybody would ever do, but there can be little diamonds and gems hidden away in all the mud and rubble. And your job is to create an environment of emotional safety and collaborative problem solving that is respectful, and that's prioritizing each other's feelings, and see what happens. Is this a fast process? No. It is usually going to take many days of intentional conversation and sincere efforts to understand each other first before we can change the emotional tone of a relationship enough to get into this nice place of collaborative understanding. And that can create anxiety for people, particularly if they feel that a deadline is looming. 


I will also say that—I think we've talked about this on other shows—there is a personality feature that's pretty common, but that can be very different between people in a couple. So without going into way too much information, there are different facets of personality, and sort of the way that you measure in different domains essentially creates your personality as a whole. One way of getting into it is through a personality assessment called the “Big Five of Personality.” I think that Myers-Briggs has some utility, which looks at personality along four different basic dimensions. But one of the most prominent ones that can come to play when it comes to gridlock issues and power struggles is a personality difference, where some individuals really like to be thinking ahead, and planning, and problem-solving, and anticipating problems, and proactively solving problems that may happen in the future and like trying to figure out what is going to happen, and they have a very future orientation. These are the people who have all of the weekends of their summer vacations scheduled by mid-May. They know they are going camping on the weekend of August the 27th with John and Carla. They like to have stuff figured out mentally and kind of put into place. And there can be other personality characteristics that kind of cluster with this basic orientation. But you know, they're planners, right? 


And at the other end of the spectrum is a personality type that is much more comfortable with leaving things open, with things being ambiguous. The personality tends to be confident that we'll be able to solve whatever problems come up in the moment, and we don't actually have to think about too far ahead because we'll deal with it when it gets there. And they tend to be slower to arrive at solutions, and they also just have a much lower need to know what is going to happen. And they also can feel stressed when they're kind of forced to be making decisions about things that maybe they don't have all the information they feel like they need. That, in itself, can create anxiety, and it can also create resistance. And what it can look like in a relationship is somebody saying, “I don't know. I don't want to talk about this right now. It's all gonna work out.” You know, which can be, as you can imagine, extremely frustrating to somebody who has more planning orientation who's like, “No, we need to figure this out today. I need to know what we are doing when school starts three weeks from now because I can't stop thinking about it.” And the other side of this, people with a planning orientation tend to feel a lot of anxiety when it feels like there are loose ends, when they don't know what is going to happen. 


So this is a common dynamic that can also be at the core level of a lot of power struggles in relationships is people with differences in their decision-making style and their planning style. And so, also being able to have conversations about the way you make decisions and your anxiety level about leaving things open versus anxiety around making specific plans that may or may not be based in reality because it feels better just to have a plan. A plan—doesn't matter. For a couple to be talking about those differences can also go a long way and just decreasing the overall level of annoyance because you're understanding why your partner is the way that they are. And it can add a kind of context for the conversations and help you both be respectful of what each other is needing. And also, potentially, both of you, maybe as individuals, taking efforts inside of yourself to come a little bit more to the center. So maybe if you have a strong planning orientation, getting more comfortable with the idea that, “I don't actually know what this is gonna look like a couple months from now. And so maybe we do need to take this a little bit more day by day, week by week.” And for somebody who has a more open-ended orientation to be able to come back to the middle and say, “We do actually need to figure out, generally speaking, what we would like this to look like. Let's find out the best situation. You know, it may change in the future, but we do need to have some conversations around what we're going to do.” Because the default in any power struggle is that the person who is digging their heels in and not doing anything often wins by default because it blocks action from taking place.


So anyway, I'm probably getting way more into the weeds about some of the psychological dynamics at the root of our conflicts than any of you care to listen to. But these can be some of the obstacles in the path of couples seeking to create alignment and just things for you to be keeping in the back of your mind. And again, I am talking about this like it's easy—it is not. As a marriage counselor, as a relationship coach, I often have to spend a long time with couples over many conversations as we unwind all of this stuff. You know, talking about different ways of thinking, different values, different messages from one's family of origin, about the way things should be, and goes into, “Why am I the way I am? Why are you the way you are.” And again, this is necessary pre-work and really is the work in many ways of successfully unwinding a power struggle, and eventually creating alignment and collaborative problem-solving. But it feels very, very indirect while you're doing it because the goal is not to solve the problem, it's to understand. Again, hard to do. 


For many couples, it requires support to be able to hold this space with each other, especially when it feels like you do need to make a decision, and you know, we also need to be respectful of external pressures. If you are a 38, 39-year-old woman who is married to someone who still isn't totally sure if they want to have a baby, you guys actually do need to figure that out pretty quick because, you know, that clock runs out. And if you're figuring out what are we going to do with the kids in two weeks when school is open, or we need to make a decision, and what's that going to look like, that is a thing that does need to be figured out. 


And so, it is also okay to do an intensive when it comes to how we need to understand each other. And also, brainstorming and finding solutions that prioritize each other's feelings, and being open to the possibility that the final outcome may actually look very different than what both of you had imagined it would look like going into it because the ultimate goal really is not to have this be exactly your way. The ultimate goal is to have a strong, healthy, happy relationship with someone who loves you and understands you, and respects you, and feels that your needs and rights and feelings are just as important to them as they are to you, and vice versa. 


And when you're able to create that emotional space with your partner and have a relationship that is infused with respect and gratitude, and not just tolerance for your differences, but an actual like appreciation for your differences, all of a sudden, the big looming problems don't seem like problems anymore. And it can be surprisingly effortless to work together, to create a new reality for each other, for yourselves that feels good for both of you. 


I know that it sounds a little crazy if you're stuck in a power struggle. I know it's so hard to think about letting go of your side and embracing the other. But what are your choices? I mean really, like, because this, continuing to fight, and campaign, and harass your partner into changing clearly doesn't work. And if you wind up taking a unilateral decision that is made for both of you over their wishes, it can create massive damage and betrayal and can be a big emotional trauma that can be difficult to repair. 


So you might want to be arguing with me right now, but try it. Let me know what happens. If you have follow-up questions or comments, leave them for me on the blog at growingself.com, Instagram at @drlisamariebobby, Facebook at Dr. Lisa Bobby


And also, again, just with all of this with the understanding—that if it feels unnecessarily hard, if it is disintegrating into unproductive conflict, or if you need to arrive at a workable decision quickly, those are all signs that you may really benefit from enlisting the support of mediator who can help you create understanding and respect and collaborative solutions much more quickly. So just keep that in the back of your mind as a possibility and good luck with things. I know these are harrowing times, and there's a lot of stuff to hash out together, but I do hope that these strategies help you create alignment and agreement in your relationship. That's all for today. 


I'll be back in touch next week with another episode of the Love, Happiness & Success Podcast. And in the meantime, let's listen to some more Coathangers.


How To Communicate With Someone Who Shuts Down

How To Communicate With Someone Who Shuts Down

How To Communicate With Someone Who Shuts Down

How Do I Communicate With a Husband Who Won't Talk?


“He tells me whatever I want to hear so that we can stop talking about it as soon as possible,” Mary says, huffily, arranging the pillows of the Marriage Counseling Couch behind her. “I bring up anything, and he immediately gets defensive. It's impossible to get him to talk about his feelings. It’s like talking to a wall.” She goes on. “If I really, really push it and go after him sometimes he’ll react and we’ll finally address something, but it’s like I have to totally freak out to get him to go there with me. It’s so frustrating. I don’t want to be that person, but I feel like it’s the only way to get him to listen.

Can you relate to what Mary is saying? If so, you’re not alone. It’s incredibly common to have one person in a relationship shutting down during conflict, which increases the frustration and loneliness (and often the volume) of the other. You might be tempted to think that this is a “man thing.” Not true: a significant portion of relationships have women who withdraw in tense moments, and male partners who pursue. This dynamic also happens in same sex relationships with both men and women.

Whether you're trying to get through to your guy or your girl it can feel like the harder you try to communicate, the harder they try to avoid. Sometimes they defend themselves — invalidating what you’re saying in the process — and sometimes they simply refuse to participate in the conversation.

All you want to do is for them to listen to you. Hear you. Respond to you. But whenever you try to communicate, they clamp down like a clam under assault. You try harder: Raising the volume, raising the intensity, and getting more passionate. But the harder you try to connect, the harder they work to block you.

If this communication style turns into a pattern, you might stop believing that you'll ever get though. You might eventually give up on trying to connect. And that is a very serious problem. Because relationships fail when people stop believing that their partner can be who they want or need them to be.


Let's Talk. Schedule a Free Consultation Today.

Here are some new ideas to consider if you want to get your withdrawn partner to open up:

1) Stop Being Scary

I say this a bit humorously, but seriously: It's often the case that “pursuing” partners can get… intense. (I know I certainly can when I'm not able to get my point across). And it's totally understandable — when you're feeling frustrated, shut out, unheard, and uncared for it hurts. It's the most natural thing in the world to get more intense and “passionate” in efforts to make yourself be heard. But consider how you may appear when you get that way.

It may be difficult for others to come towards you, and maintain soft, caring feelings about you, or fully appreciate your needs when you're yelling at them. Interacting with obviously angry people feels threatening. The louder you get, the less people can hear you. Take a breath, tone it down, and you'll get better results.

The louder you get, the less people can hear you

2) Practice Vulnerability

Help your partner move towards you by allowing them to see your pain. Dig under the anger and connect with the hurt or fear that is fueling it. When you can express to your partner that you are feeling lonely and miss them, that you are feeling overwhelmed and need their help, or that you're feeling frightened and need to know that they care — they will see you as softer and more approachable. It mobilizes their love for you, rather than their survival instinct.

3) Be Diplomatic

People like to be praised. Focus on the positive exceptions, and encourage more of what you want. If you must address something you don't like, sandwich it in at least two positive comments and make sure it's a “request” and not a “criticism.” Does this skill feel challenging when you're angry? Consider your options when you're feeling annoyed that your partner is checking out and not following through with household tasks (for example):

  • Option A: “I need to tell you want an inconsiderate a**hole you are, and I want you to sit here and agree with me.”  [Not going to end well.]
  • Option B: “I really appreciate everything you do around here, and I especially liked the way you took out the trash this morning. Would you mind helping me with dinner tonight to? That way we'll have more time to hang out tonight. I like it when we can just enjoy each other and relax in the evenings.”

Which option would go over better with you?

4) Focus on Solutions

Grinding away at complaints about things you don't like makes people feel overwhelmed, and defensive. When you get clear about what you DO want before coming into a conversation, and ask for that in a positive way your partner will be much better able to hear you. Furthermore, when they know what you want, they can give it to you.

5) Get Support

Sometimes, no matter how kind and gentle you are with your partner, they will still shut down, avoid and defend. This is especially true if a negative cycle has overtaken your relationship. Even if you are changing, they still expect you to be the same (and react to you accordingly).

It may also be the case that they are engaging in old, entrenched ways of relating that existed long before you came along. If you suspect that either of these things are happening, it may be wise to get both of you in front of a good marriage counselor or relationship coach who can help you untangle the impact of past relationship patterns, and focus on how to relate in a healthy way going forward.

I hope these ideas help you reconnect, if you're in a relationship with someone who avoids conflict, and shuts down. For more detailed, in-depth advice on how to communicate with a withdrawn partner and get things back on track, check out my communication podcasts:

• Improve The Communication in Your Relationship

• How to Communicate With a Withdrawn Partner (Without Pushing Them Further Away)

How to Communicate With a Partner Who is Upset (This one can really help your withdrawn partner understand YOU, and what happens to you emotionally when they refuse to talk or engage with you).

Wishing you all the best on your journey of growth together…

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

PS: One fantastic, low-key, low-anxiety way to begin opening up lines of communication is to do it without actually talking. (Really!) Take our free “How Healthy is Your Relationship” Quiz and send it to your partner to take too. (It's set up so you can send them an email invitation from within the quiz). Then you can share your results with each other.

Just be prepared to learn new things about how your partner has been feeling about your relationship! Pro tip: Even if you learn that there are aspects of your relationship that don't feel good for them right now, it's a positive thing because they are giving you the chance to learn and grow together.

If you respond to their disclosures with empathy, curiosity, and responsiveness it might start to restore emotional safety and begin turning things around. Here's the link to get access to the quiz. xoxo, LMB

Expert Relationship Advice: Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She's a licensed marriage and family therapist, licensed psychologist, and board certified coach. Dr. Bobby is the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

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.

Or, Get More Expert Relationship Advice On The Blog

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Persistent feelings of insecurity can tank a relationship. Learn how to strengthen your sense of trust and the emotional security of your partnership, on this edition of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast.

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She's here to share her story, and her wise advice for how to heal through grief, how to rebuild your life after setbacks, and most importantly, how to love after loss.

Join Us,
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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.

Related Post

When To Call It Quits In a Marriage

When To Call It Quits In a Marriage

When To Call It Quits In a Marriage

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.

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.

Is Your Partner “Always” Upset?

Is Your Partner “Always” Upset?

Is Your Partner “Always” Upset?

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.

Are you always walking on eggshells around your emotional, irritable, powder-keg of a partner?

Is your partner “always angry?” Does it feel like you're walking on eggshells in your relationship? This is a difficult communication dynamic that brings many couples to the online marriage counselor's office, for sure.

If you're dealing with this relationship problem, you've probably become more careful and guarded around your partner over time. You love them, and want them to be happy, but it seems like you can never do anything right. Or, at least, not for long. Then something happens and they're mad at you again.

All you want is peace and harmony, but it can start to feel impossible when you're living with someone who seems to always be upset about something. If it's been going on for a while, you might feel increasingly helpless about how to make things better between you.

Or, if this has been going on for a REALLY long time, you might have begun to think that your partner is just a cranky, overly emotional, possibly irrational, chronically unhappy person for whom nothing will ever be good enough. You may even be wondering if it's time to call it quits in this relationship. If that's the case, I'm very happy that you've found this podcast — we have no time to waste!

The Pursue / Withdrawal Relationship Dynamic

First of all, you should know that having one partner in a relationship that “pursues” and one who “withdraws” is a very common communication dynamic, and one that experienced marriage counselors can help you with. (Particularly those who are well-versed in evidence based forms of marriage counseling such as the Gottman Method, or Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy.

Even though it feels so hard when you're going through this kind of communication problem, it is something that many couples resolve successfully. There is no reason why you can't do it too — and when you do, your relationship can be stronger than ever before. But like all relationship problems, it is unlikely to resolve on its own. You need some knowledge and basic skills before it will get better.

And that's what we're going to work on today: In part two of our “Communication Problems, and How to Fix Them” mini-podcast series, we're going be talking about how to tame the tiger glaring at you from across the living room, and bring the peace back into your home. If you haven't already, please listen to the first podcast in this series (posted last week) to learn about some of the basic concepts that we'll be building on today. Then, we'll talk about:

  1. Why your partner seems angry, irritable, critical, or hostile.
  2. What this dynamic does to your relationship, and the damage it can do unless you take action to stop it.
  3. What you can do to restore the emotional trust in your relationship, and start having conversations again — instead of fights.

I sincerely hope that this communication advice helps the two of you, and makes it easier for you to talk to each other.

With love and respect,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. One easy, low key way to start creating positive change in your relationship is to do relationship building activities with your partner. You can listen to this podcast together, or invite them to take our “How Healthy is Your Relationship Quiz” with you, to get the conversational ball rolling.

P.P.S. Of course, trying to talk with your partner about their anger issues may or may not be a good idea. As I discuss in this podcast, while the ideas, tools and techniques I offer are very effective for helping resolve garden-variety communication problems there are situations in which it is not appropriate for you to try these out. For example, there is a big difference between “angry,” and “abusive.” If you are in a relationship where you or someone in your home is experiencing verbal, emotional, physical or sexual abuse you don't need a podcast — you need professional help. Please visit my “emergency resources” page to get started in finding a competent mental health professional in your community. Xo, LMB


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Communication Problems and How to Fix Them, Part 2: The Angry Partner

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

Music Credits: “Violet,” by Hole

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