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How to Strengthen Your Relationship

How to Strengthen Your Relationship

Rachel is an expert couples counselor, therapist and life coach with Growing Self Counseling & Coaching who specializes in helping you find passion and joy in yourself and your relationships. She supports you in creating meaning and happiness, and not only facing your challenges — but triumphantly overcoming them.

Want a Fantastic Relationship? You Can Bank On It.

In my couples therapy and marriage counseling sessions, I often hear couples talk about times when they had so much fun with one another and felt incredibly connected, and moments where problems felt smaller, and arguments were more manageable. Couples in these situations often wonder, “How did this happen?” but more importantly “How do we get that back? I want to have fun with my partner again; I’m so sick of arguing all the time!” If any of this feels remotely familiar to you, then you might want to take a look at your emotional bank account.

Now before we do that, let me back up and give you a little more information.

Strategies To Strengthen Your Relationship

The Research: Dr. John Gottman is one of the premier researchers in the field of evidence based marriage and family therapy. Through decades of research into what makes relationships work (and what ruins them) he’s found that it’s not enough to ONLY address conflict resolution; we also need to look at friendship and shared meaning in order to truly strengthen our partnerships.

Conflict resolution, friendship and shared meaning: These three relational areas have a bi-directional influence on one another- meaning if we look at strategies to strengthen the friendship between you and your partner, we’re also likely to improve your ability to resolve conflict (and vice versa). You might wonder, why is that?

Well, let’s look at it this way — think of your very best friend (this might even be your partner); now think of a friend who you have an “ok but not terribly strong” relationship with. Which person do you think you’d be able to resolve conflict with more effectively?
Most likely, the individual you feel closer to and have a stronger friendship with — you have a greater baseline understanding of one another, there’s investment in that relationship,etc.

Investing In Your Relationship

Why It Matters: Now here’s why this matters- you have a shared bank account with your partner (and no, I’m not talking about your actual checking account). What I’m talking about is your emotional bank account. This is a shared account between you and your partner. When you and your partner have positive interactions, you make deposits into this account. When you and your partner have negative interactions, you make withdrawals from the account. Like any bank account, the goal is to keep the balance high.

However, there is a curveball in this whole situation. The ratio of withdrawals to deposits is not even. We require five positive interactions (deposits) to outweigh one negative interaction (withdrawals). This means it’s really important to stock up so you can handle withdrawals, without going into the negative. You might wonder, how do we stock up our account?

Double Down On The Positive in Your Relationship

What You Can Do About It: Well, let’s piece this all together! The reason I blather on about the importance of friendship and shared meaning in the relationship, is because we can foster these areas on a daily basis, thus making DEPOSITS AND MORE DEPOSITS.

So what is a “positive” interaction? It can range from noticing your partner’s bids for connection, asking your partner about their day, a quick kiss, or even giving them a compliment. Take a moment to reflect on what might make your partner feel loved and supported on a daily basis and show this through your daily interactions.

Research indicates that small, positive, and consistent daily interactions are more effective instrengthening the relationship than the occasional grand gesture. The key is to notice when your partner is investing in the relationship and to make an active effort to do the same.

So, if you maintain a high balance in your bank account (at least 5:1), you will be able to more effectively resolve conflict (your account will not go into the “negative” every time there’s an argument). With all this being said, you should take the time to develop strategies to resolve conflict effectively, but don’t forget fostering fun and friendship within your relationship are just as important. And you can take that to the bank!

Sincerely,

Rachel Harder, M.A., LMFT-C

4 Common Relationship Issues That Drive Couples To Seek Couples Counseling

4 Common Relationship Issues That Drive Couples To Seek Couples Counseling

Teena Evert is a licensed marriage and family therapist, licensed addictions counselor, and certified coach with Growing Self Counseling & Coaching.  She specializes in helping people live wholeheartedly, and create empowered lives and relationships. She can help you connect with your true self, and cultivate thriving relationships with others.

When Is It Time For Marriage Counseling?

If you’re in a committed relationship and experiencing issues with your spouse or significant other, you’re not alone. It’s very common to have challenges in your relationship from time-to-time, as there is no perfect relationship. With that said, it’s important to learn how to work through these relationship challenges as they come up, so they don’t grow into bigger issues later.

As a couples therapist and life coach, I’ve worked with hundreds of distressed couples who have come to me for support and guidance due to challenges in their relationship that they have not been able to resolve on their own. The good news is that many of these relationship issues are solvable.

In my experience there are four main challenges that drive couples to seek marriage counseling or couples therapy:

Needing to Be Heard, Understood, and Respected

The first is a desire to have more clarity about your needs and how to get them met within the relationship. Whether we are aware of them or not, we all have needs in a relationship. A sure sign that your needs aren’t being met in your relationship is irritation and frustration that often builds into chronic resentment.

Many people grew up believing that it wasn’t okay to have needs. As a result, they become hyper-focused on their partner’s needs to the point that they neglect their own. This pattern doesn’t lead to lasting happiness and fulfillment.

Therefore, getting clear about what you need in your relationship to feel loved and cared for is how you learn to express your emotional needs with one another. Understanding how to work in partnership in life, regarding simple daily tasks and expectations addresses the functional needs of a relationship. We need both our functional and emotional needs to be met in order for the relationship to be harmonious and resilient enough to survive challenging times.

Wanting to Be Closer To Your Partner

The second is wanting an emotional connection and greater intimacy with each other. Feeling out of sync and disconnected from your partner is what can break down the intimacy in a relationship. Your emotional connection is necessary to experience true intimacy with your partner. [Read: “How to Connect With Your Partner“]

Emotional intimacy allows your relationship to provide more of a sense of relaxation, expansion and joy, rather than a state of chronic stress, contraction and fear. If you get out of sync with your partner,  it’s essential that you learn how to get back into sync as quickly as possible, so that any missteps can be repaired and the confidence in your connection can be strengthened.

Working As a Team With Each Other

The third is how to work as a team to manage life stress that comes with aging parents, raising a family or becoming empty nesters. We are stronger when we work together as a team, rather than in opposition to one another. Being in opposition will only create more stress and friction in an already difficult situation.

Major transitions in life often lead to stress that will test our resilience. This is a time that not only requires strong communication skills, but also an ability to empathize and to put others immediate needs before your own. As I mentioned earlier, relationship needs are important, however managing certain life stressors particularly related to big life transitions, will also require us to make certain sacrifices that we often can’t anticipate or prepare for until they’re happening in the moment. Working together as a united front will help you successfully navigate and manage these inevitable life events.

Improving The Communication in Your Relationship

The fourth is ineffective communication and feeling a lack of support and understanding from one another. When we can’t communicate well with our partner we often feel misunderstood and there’s a lack of support that’s felt almost immediately. This can become not only exhausting over time, but we can also feel defeated inside.

This leads to feeling stuck, stagnant, and stressed, which does not serve to foster a close connection with your partner. Communication breakdown is the primary culprit to feeling discontent and inadequate in your ability to be happy or feel satisfied in your relationship. Communication problems to not get better on their own, and if communication issues do not get resolved the harmony in the relationship will suffer to the point where hostility is the norm.

Real Help For Your Relationship

I give my clients hope that these issues can be resolved, but I also let them know they must be willing to be responsible and accountable for their part in the challenge. It doesn’t have to take a long time to feel relief, but it does require both partners to prioritize their relationship and be open to learning and applying new relationship and life skills to improve their situation long-term.

If you are experiencing challenges in your relationship, I encourage you to seek professional couples therapy or marriage counseling sooner than later. Most of these issues can be resolved fairly quickly when you invest in the right support and have a strong desire to improve your relationship and the life you share together.

Warmly,

Teena Evert, M.A., LAC, LMFT

 

How to Be in Love With Your Partner

How to Be in Love With Your Partner

Brenda Fahn, M.A., LMFT is a marriage counselor, therapist and life coach with over fifteen years of experience in helping couples and individuals create lives full of meaning, fulfillment, balance, and joy.

Real Relationship Advice:
The Secret to Love That Lasts

In the last 15 years of working with couples as a marriage counselor, premarital counselor, and couples therapist, I have heard a similar version of the same theme. It goes something like this….

“We don’t feel in love anymore”
“We feel like roommates”
“Sometimes I can’t stand being around my partner.”

The certainty of their original feelings and commitments, embodied in the ‘emotional high’ of being in love at the beginning of a marriage, inevitably gives way to uncertainty, and in some cases, outright disdain for their partners. Underneath the fear, apathy or anger, most couples long to recapture those magical feelings of being ‘in love’ with their partner. They want to feel the energy of love again. However, the feelings of ‘falling in love’ that initially got us into a relationship are not the same feelings that sustain a relationship over the long term. True love is a ‘work-in-progress’ over a lifetime and requires a lot of intentional hard work.

My parents have a Snoopy refrigerator magnet holding a sign that says, ‘Love is a Decision.” What Snoopy is trying to tell us is that love doesn’t just happen. It must be cultivated and nurtured over time. And this is the crucial piece of information that couples don’t realize when they are busy ‘falling in love’. Love is a verb. It is the result of our actions and behaviors towards our partner that keeps love going. The feelings follow the behavior. As my husband likes to say, love is a lot like poker, it takes 15 minutes to learn, but a lifetime to master.

So now that you know this little secret, here are 12 tips you need to put into practice, on a consistent basis, if you want to bring the love back into your marriage.

1. Practice Kindness. One of the most underrated acts one person can bestow upon another is kindness. Research has shown us that acts of kindness are a critical and necessary component of a successful marriage. Additionally, being kind to another isn’t just about making the other feel good. Choosing kindness also fundamentally alters the character of the giver. Being respectful to another is adhering to socially appropriate behavior, but expressing kindness fills the giver with oxytocin, the same bonding hormone women have when they breastfeed. So, in addition to forming closer bonds with the person we are showing kindness, there is the added, and incidental benefit, of making ourselves into better human beings.

2. Love your partner in the way that satisfies ‘their’ needs to feel loved. I see a lot of couples that give love to their partner in the way that satisfies their own needs, rather than the needs of their partners. When that happens it is like pouring water into a bucket that has a hole in the bottom. Find out what makes your partner feel loved and simply do it…even it is difficult and uncomfortable. If you fell in love with someone who did not speak English, you would want to learn their native language to be able to communicate effectively. In short, learn how to speak your partner’s love language.

3. Take responsibility, and keep your side of the street clean. Simple as that. Don’t make excuses. Don’t use the word, “but”. Just own it. Defensiveness slowly destroys connection in a relationship and many times arguments and hurt could be avoided if one person owned what they said or did.

4. Foster empathy. If empathy does not come easily for you, here are some concrete ways to help you increase your empathy. A. Focus on staying aware of your own emotions. Doing so helps you be more attuned to the other person’s emotions. B. Make eye contact when talking to your partner. Doing so fosters intimacy and connection. C. Be a good listener. Suspend your own judgment or disbelief, even for the moment. Doing so allows you to see the situation from your partner’s point of view. D. Pay attention to the non-verbal clues your partner is sending you, and E. Don’t interrupt. Use reflective listening to try to understand the emotions behind your partner’s words.

5. Show vulnerability. Disclose parts of yourself you have not shown anyone else. Be vulnerable (I know, easier said than done). When I hear couples complain about becoming bored, I usually try and assess if they are at an impasse because they refuse to become vulnerable in order to remain on safe and familiar ground. They have only shown the parts of themselves that they think will not cause anxiety for the other person or for the relationship. When you do that, you are only showing a small portion of your ‘color wheel’, and choosing not to show the whole palette. As humans, we have an inherent need to grow. It less important as to where we end up, as much as the striving that keeps us content. Many couples are afraid to reveal that growth to their partner for fear of acceptance. If you don’t dare to make that choice, then you are settling for mediocrity and the mundane. In doing so, you are unconsciously choosing to keep things monotonous as a way to contain your own anxiety. Yet, at times we need to feel anxious if we want our relationship to grow.

6. Let the best part of you show up (happy, confident, joyful, interesting, healthy.) Couples have this illusion that their partner should just ‘accept them as they are.’ Is there anywhere else in life where that holds true? School? Work? Why would it be any different in love relationships? The belief that ‘if someone truly loves me they will all love all parts of me’ is a myth that needs to be let go of. Both partners need to work on bringing their best selves to the table. It is reasonable to have expectations of your partner. One caveat though. It is easier for partners to bring their best selves to the relationship when they feel safe and loved.

7. Be generous with your judgment. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt more often than not. Realize that a lot of times their overreactions are from their past (their parents, an ex, their own insecurities.). The key ingredient in this process is to not overreact to your partner’s overreaction.

8. Be curious. Instead of attacking your partner before you fully understand the situation, be curious. Ask questions to understand what is happening with your partner. Try and determine what ‘triggered’ the incident, before you react. Put on your Sherlock Holmes hat, and try and solve the situation, before it becomes a confrontation that spirals out of control.

9. Contain your own anxiety. Managing your anxiety is not your partner’s job. Learn and practice coping strategies to deal with your own stress and anxiety.

10. Expect less. Always expect less from the relationship and expect more from your life. Don’t expect your relationship to be your whole world. If you do, you are putting too much pressure on your partner, and this will only squeeze the ‘life’ out of the relationship. Have a life outside the relationship that will allow you to feel more fulfilled and a more interesting person to bring to the relationship.

11. Make repairs quickly. When one partner has been injured–a core injury of not feeling loved or worthy in a relationship, make sure that repair happens as quickly as possible. Otherwise the pain and hurt can fester, and by doing so the wound becomes harder to heal. The longer you wait, the more potential for lasting damage.

12. Don’t push love away. This might seem like an obvious one, but it happens more than you’d think. And when it does, typically you don’t even know it’s happening. The culprit is usually one’s own fears and insecurities. Ask yourself, “Do you want to work at accepting love now?”

I remember going to my own marriage therapist when our children were young. I was complaining that my husband had a short temper with me and it made me not want to be close to him. I fully expected to be vindicated by my therapist. Instead, I encountered a rude awakening. My lack of emotional availability was a contributing factor to the intensity of my husband’s outbursts. He did not come home wanting to turn into a raving jerk. He was just having a bad day. All he was looking for was connection and empathy from me. Instead he was confronted with resistance and fear. He felt like he was with someone who always had one foot in and one foot out of the relationship. Relationships can be hard, and I wasn’t ready to embrace ‘the hard’ with my husband. The therapist looked me in the eye and said, “I know how much love and affection you give your children. I know that you can give that to your husband too.” In between my tears, I said I didn’t know if I could. I was scared. But that’s where commitment to the relationship kicks in.

There is no magic bullet. My ability to show love took time. Lot’s of time. When my husband was able to create a safe place, it allowed me to open up and be vulnerable. Over the years I have learned how to express my love better than I did 15 years ago. That does not mean that some days I still ask myself if the risk of loving someone else is worth it. I have decided most days it is.
I have learned that love is the outcome and the reward of all the behaviors we put into a relationship. It is not a feeling that magically pops into our life; it comes about by how we treat the person who means the most to us in life. And just like the little Snoopy magnet proclaims, love truly is a decision, one that requires consistent work and attention. I just never realized how hard it would be. The quest to be loved and to love is definitely worth it. No question about that.

Brenda Fahn, M.A., LMFT

Relationship Lost Its “Spark?” Here’s How to Create Long-Lasting “Sizzle!”

Relationship Lost Its “Spark?” Here’s How to Create Long-Lasting “Sizzle!”

How to Keep Romance Alive…

Everyone loves the feeling of being in love and why wouldn’t we? It’s exciting, fun, and full of potential. There might be romance, spontaneity, not to mention our brains are releasing all kinds of chemicals that make us feel really good. Well, what happens when that slows down as inevitably happens in long-term relationships? How do we work to hold onto that elusive “spark?”

In working with couples, for marriage counseling, couples therapy, and premarital counseling, we often talk through the struggle to maintain chemistry and connection, especially within long-term relationships. It can be hard to keep romance alive. Now, there are a lot of reasons for this (one being it’s tough work, and life somehow has a way of becoming extraordinarily busy and complex!). However, I find there are a few common misconceptions that couples are often holding onto, that can hold them back from bringing some of that sizzle back into their relationship.

Misconception One: I know everything about my partner, and things feel boring!

The Reality: We as humans are typically excited by “new” things. It makes sense that as the “newness” wears off and we shift into a more comfortable pattern of being with our partner, it becomes more challenging to hold onto the excitement. Here’s the thing- You may know A LOT about your partner, but challenge yourself a little…do you really know everything? We’re constantly changing and so is our partner. This means we can make room to get to know our partner as they continue to grow and change.

Try This: Approach your partner with genuine curiosity and no, I’m not just talking about asking them how their day was (although this is a good place to start). What I mean by this is practice deepening conversations and place assumptions about how your partner might respond to the side. In doing this, you make room to experience your partner differently. This, in turn, might put a little excitement back into your relationship.

Misconception Two: If romance were going to happen, it just should, organically.

The Reality: It’s easy for romance and spontaneity to become lumped together. Often newness and surprise illicit feelings (and even hormones) we’d associate with “the spark.” Here’s the thing, romance can be planned and it doesn’t have to take a whole lot of time. For many people, life becomes so busy and it can feel “awkward” to schedule time for the relationship. However, actively creating time and space to connect with your partner is critical. It’s nearly impossible to reconnect if you don’t make time to do it.

Try This: Create a schedule and routine that will be conducive to spending meaningful time together. For example, schedule 10 minutes to check-in with your partner at the end of the day. Reflect on what has created romance in the past and actively seek ways to re-integrate this into your current circumstances. Remember: romance does not have to be equated with spontaneity or be something totally elaborate — make romance work for you!

Misconception Three: They should just know (what I want/need/feel).

The Reality: This is probably one of the most common statements I hear in working with couples counseling clients. Of course, we’d love for our partner to be so well attuned to us, they automatically know what we think, feel, and need. Here’s the kicker that really throws a wrench in that expectation — no one is a mind reader. Your partner will not inherently know your needs (as much as we’d like them to).

Try This: First, think about what can you control? What you can control is yourself. This means you have a couple options. You can either continue to communicate as you are (i.e., not communicate) and hope your partner will eventually catch on OR you can directly communicate to your partner about what you need whether that’s a date night or a kiss goodnight. Think about what makes you feel loved and let your partner in on the secret!

When giving your partner feedback try to provide specific, action-oriented feedback (e.g. “When you take time to check-in with me, I feel connected to you. Can we work together to make that happen more often?”). Reframe this as an opportunity to teach your partner how to love you, in a way that’s meaningful.

The “spark” that ignited your relationship, although exciting, often tends to flicker in and out and requires minimal work to maintain. What does require work is to maintain the flame that erupted because of that spark. My hope is that in dispelling some of these misconceptions you can begin to work toward throwing some kindling on that flame and reignite the enthusiasm and excitement in your relationship.

Yours truely,

Rachel Harder, M.A., LMFT-C

Free Advice From a Marriage Counselor: Get Your Relationship Back on Track, Today

Free Advice From a Marriage Counselor: Get Your Relationship Back on Track, Today

Real Help For Your Relationship

As a marriage counselor and couples therapist, whether at my office in Denver or with online marriage counseling clients I see all over the world through online video, I often meet with couples who love each other but who want to make their relationship better. They want to release frustration and resentment. They want better communication. They want things to feel easier, and happier between them. They want to enjoy each other again.

Sometimes, the couples we see for marriage counseling here at Growing Self are surprised to learn that the two  “magic ingredients” that can help them create the joyful, effortless partnership they crave are already right under their nose. In fact, there are really just two simple strategies that anyone can do, anytime, to change their relationship for the better. While these things seem small and simple, in practice they can mean the difference between a thriving, happy relationship, or a marriage that ends tragically.

Because I so passionately believe that YOU deserve to be happy and fulfilled in your relationship, I’m sharing the “two big secrets” with you, in hopes that it helps you make positive changes to your relationship — today.

With love and respect,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

The Two Keys To An Amazing Relationship: Watch Now

Growing Self Counseling & Coaching