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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

 

Getting Through Hard Times, Together.

Getting Through Hard Times, Together.

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

How To Weather The Storms of Life… Together

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

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

Don’t Let Adversity Destroy Your Marriage

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

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

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

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

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

Learn How to Grow Together, Not Apart

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

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

Coping With Grief and Loss, As a Couple

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

Supporting Each Other Through Infertility and Pregnancy Loss

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

Protect Your Marriage After a Layoff

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

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

Yours sincerely,

Lisa Marie Bobby, Meagan Terry, and Maggie Graham.

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

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

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Getting Through Hard Times, Together

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

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

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

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

Strengthen Your Relationship, With Every Conversation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With love,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

 

Should We Break Up or Stay Together?

Should We Break Up or Stay Together?

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

Can This Relationship Be Saved?

Break up or stay together? Who hasn’t wondered the same, during a seriously difficult time in their relationship? Or, entertained an even bigger question: Should you try to save a relationship? Especially a relationship that has been feeling really hard and unsatisfying for a long time? How do you know when it’s time to call it quits?

I’ve been an online couples therapist for years, a Denver marriage counselor for over a decade, and a married person for even longer than that. I can say, with confidence, that all relationships go through hard times.

Strong, healthy couples with a lifetime of love ahead of them can have weeks, months, or longer where they do not feel good about their partnership. Communication is hard, they’re upsetting each other, and one or both people can even start to wonder if they’re compatible after all.

This is normal. Couples go through this and can come through the other side having grown as people and having stronger relationships than ever before. I’ve seen it happen, and it’s happened in my own marriage. Not getting along for a spell is does not neccesarily mean you should break up.

Break Up or Stay Together: How to Tell

Yet there are situations where relationships are too far gone to be salvaged. There are partnerships where partners are fundamentally incompatible. And there are toxic, unhealthy relationships that aren’t good for anyone. Sometimes, breaking up is the best thing for both of you.

It is very difficult to know sometimes what is “normal” relationship turbulence and what are signs that you should break up. The dilemma about whether to break up or stay together can be even more pronounced if you have complicating factors, like shared children. Other cases of whether a relationship can be saved seem more clear-cut, but even then people wonder if they’re doing the right thing by ending the relationship or if they should give their relationship another it one more chance.

Because deciding whether to break up or stay together is such a hard decision, we have many questions come through from clients, listeners of our podcast, and readers of our blog wanting help in deciding if their relationship can be saved, or if it’s time to throw in the towel. They want to know things like:

  • “How long should it take to see improvement in my relationship?”
  • “In my heart, I don’t want to be married to this person anymore. Will it ever come back?”
  • “Is what I’m seeing solvable, or is this a sign we should break up?”
  • “Once a cheater, always a cheater? Or can you have a good relationship after infidelity?”
  • “I’m not being treated well by my boyfriend. Can this change?”
  • “How do I know if I’ve tried hard enough to save my relationship?”

If you’ve been going through a hard time in your relationship that has led you to have doubts, I hope that this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast can help shed some light on signs that it’s time to break up, or whether your relationship can be saved.

Sincerely,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. We discussed a number of resources on this show. Here are the links for more information if you want to check any of them out:

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Should We Break Up or Stay Together?

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

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Do You Have Overly High Expectations For Your Relationship?

Do You Have Overly High Expectations For Your Relationship?

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 Love The Relationship You Have

Everyone wants their relationship to be the best it can be, and it’s a good thing when both of you are striving to be good partners for each other. Having a great relationship takes two people working to make it so.

And yet, it’s also possible to have too high of expectations for a relationship, and this can cause its own set of problems. One of the things I’ve learned as a marriage counselor, couples therapist and dating coach is that when people have unrealistic ideas about what their relationship “should” be like it can both sabotage new relationships before they get a chance to grow into something great, and it can also sink long-term relationships.

Unrealistic relationship expectations are often rooted in core beliefs about relationships that just aren’t true. Here are some of the most common misperceptions that many people have about what relationships “should” be, and why it can lead to relationship problems when you buy into them.

Relationship Misperception #1: “Chemistry” Is The Most Important Thing

Of course, you deserve to have a relationship where you feel attracted to your partner, you click intellectually, you feel compatible, you have fun together, and there’s a spark between you. However, successful long-term relationships require other things too, including trust, loyalty, commitment, communication, emotional maturity, team work, empathy, and much, much more. We all know this intellectually, but still, many people will overlook these other positive relationship attributes if they’re not feeling the “chemistry” they expect to feel. 

This is unfortunate because feelings of “chemistry” (which is often simply a cocktail of sexual interest plus anxiety) generally has nothing to do with whether or not someone is compatible with you, or of good character, or is going to be a good choice for a long-term partner. As we all know, it’s possible to feel intense chemistry for a person who would make a terrible partner. Yet the belief that one needs to feel “chemistry” or “butterflies” in a good relationship persists… and creates enormous problems in relationships.

Overprioritizing chemistry can lead to people to become emotionally entangled with romantic interests who may not be compatible, reliable, or trustworthy — just exciting. Many people on a quest for chemistry have found themselves terribly hurt when the partners who they felt intense chemistry with wound up not being even remotely close to who they really wanted or needed to have in a healthy, long-term relationship.

For married or committed couples, a nasty consequence of getting stuck on “chemistry” (or lack of) is when people in long-term relationships don’t feel angsty butterflies for each other anymore… and take that to mean something is wrong with their relationship.

The Fix: 

Actively remind yourself of all the positive qualities you want in a partner, above and beyond “the feels.” Especially if you’re dating, when you meet someone who’s kind, considerate, thoughtful, interesting and emotionally mature — but who maybe doesn’t inflame your passions — consider slowing down, and giving them a chance to grow on you. (I’ll have some advice for you committed couples in a moment — keep reading.)

Relationship Misperception #2: Imagining That Other Couples Are Happier Than You Are

Another misperception that can easily damage a relationship believing that you should be feeling happier and more satisfied in your relationship — and that other couples are having that experience. In our image-driven age, it’s very easy to scroll through Instagram and see posts about the peak moments that other couples are having: The vacations, flowers, gifts, and spontaneous declarations of love for each other look so great, don’t they?

No one posts selfies of themselves locked in the bathroom crying after a terrible fight, of their partners drinking too much and playing video-games until the wee hours, or failing to follow through on promises of unloading the dishwasher. [For more on this subject check out,  “Stop Comparing Yourself To Others.“]

It’s therefore easy to imagine that other couples are always happy, in love, and doing interesting things together. Combined with what we’re led to believe good relationships should be through movies and shows, it distorts one’s sense of what the reality of a normal relationship is.

I recently met with a couple who I asked to rate their sense of how healthy and strong their relationship currently was. They both rated it as a “7.” I smiled and said, “that’s great!” They both looked at me like I was crazy. They said, “A seven? Isn’t that bad?” That led to an important conversation about their expectations for how their relationship should feel, as compared to the reality of what a healthy, happy, long-term relationship actually feels like when you’re living in it day-to-day.

What is true about all relationships is that they’re a mixed bag. Yes, a healthy relationship should have its share of positive, enjoyable moments and happy memories. And it’s also true that the day-to-day reality of a long-term relationship or marriage is largely based around the stuff of life: Running errands, schlepping kids around, making dinner, dealing with the stress of work, managing a home, and trying to fit fun into whatever time is left over. No couple is having meaningful, magical moments with each other all day every day. But if it’s pretty good, most of the time, that’s worth celebrating.

It’s also true that inevitably — even in fantastic relationships — there will be things about our partners that will be disappointing. There is conflict in all relationships. There are moments when you needed something and your partner doesn’t respond to you the way you want them to. There may be times when you feel bored, or annoyed. Your partner will fail you sometimes… and you will fail and disappoint them. You’re two imperfect humans, prone to moods, quirks, and your own baggage, both trying to have a relationship with each other. 

But imagining that other couples don’t deal with the same things that you do can lead to feelings of dissatisfaction and anxiety about your relationship, and that can have a negative impact on your partnership. 

The Fix:

A much better strategy is to turn your attention to all that is right in your relationship. Be generous with your praise, and actively appreciative of all the ways that your partner makes you happy. Recognize that you’re both human, and release the idea that either of you are going to be perfectly perfect all of the time. Also, don’t get tricked into believing that anyone else’s life or relationship is better than yours. Instead, remind yourself that there’s always more to the story than what you see on the surface.

Relationship Misperception # 3: Using Your Feelings As a Barometer Of The Relationship

I cannot tell you how many couples I’ve talked to who have arrived in couples counseling with this one chief complaint: “We don’t feel ‘in love’ anymore.” These are often people in 10+ year marriages who believe that something has gone terribly wrong because they do not the excited, tingly feelings they used to. (See “chemistry” above).  

What many couples don’t understand is that early stage romantic love is a transient experience that usually lasts about a year or two. This is often experienced as a craving to be with your beloved, thinking about them all the time, seeing them in the best possible light, and feeling happy and excited when they are around.

Believe it or not, there is a biological basis for the “crazy about you” feeling. When romantic love does its job, it serves to bring people close enough together for a long enough time for a deeper kind of love known as “attachment” to grow.

Attachment is a more mature, enduring kind of love. It’s a secure, tranquil, peaceful experience that is characterized by a general sense of affection and a good feeling when you’re around each other. But secure attachment also makes it okay to be apart. A securely attached couple can have their own lives, and still be profoundly attached to each other.

The problems occur when people begin neglecting their relationship because they don’t feel the way the used to. Over time they can come to believe that they’ve grown apart, they have nothing in common, and that it’s never going to feel like it used to. Those beliefs can get in the way of couples rekindling the spark in their relationship, and creating pleasure, fun, and enjoyment with each other again.

The Fix:

Wise couples know that feelings of love come and go, and that the intense feelings of romantic love they felt in the first couple of years of their relationship are unique to that time of life. They don’t make the mistake of believing that because they don’t feel the way they did in the early stages of their relationship that something has gone wrong; they view it as evidence of a more mature, enduring type of relationship.

Understanding that allows wise, happy long-term couples to focus on the truth: That true love is not a feeling at all, but a choice. We don’t passively feel love. We act with love. And, paradoxically, our active, intentional acts of love can increase the positive feelings our partners have for us and vice versa.

Putting energy into your relationship, and finding ways of connecting meaningfully with your partner can help you both start enjoying each other again. Being generous and finding ways of actively showing your love are key. Doing new things together helps. Many couples also benefit from strengthening their long-term relationship by constantly finding ways to improve their communication, enhance their partnership, and most importantly, resolving hurt feelings misunderstandings quickly, before they evolve into resentments. That’s why you find the strongest, most successful couples have often had a course or two of couples counseling over the years.

Also, as you both evolve over the years, you might consider introducing yourselves to each other again by sharing your thoughts, your feelings and your world. Remember that over time, you’re not the same person that you used to be — and getting to know the new you can make things feel exciting all over again. [For more on this check out, “How to Feel In Love With Your Partner“]

Misperception # 4: Believing That Your Partner Should Be Your “Everything”

Another thing that can create problems in a relationship is having a belief that your partner should serve perfectly (or close to it) in many relational domains.

For example, we want our partners to be witty, pleasant and entertaining; emotionally mature; reliable and loving parents; good listeners; the best friend who always has our back and who will talk to us for hours; our charismatic, attractive and fun social partners; our enthusiastic traveling companions; motivators and accountability partners; excellent managers of time and money; to enjoy the same hobbies and activities that we do; our number one fan and supporter; always on top of things around the house; good providers and hard workers; perhaps our business partners; oh and intense and erotic lovers too.

No pressure, right?

These expectations can put a major strain on a relationship. When our partners fail to be what we believe they should be in one or more of these domains, as they invariably will, it can lead to perceptions that “something is wrong.” What is often the truth is that our partners will (and should) meet our needs in some, possibly even many, of these areas… but rarely all of them. 

For example, I recently met with a couple who has so many strengths and a great relationship overall. And yet the female partner was unhappy that her husband was introverted in social situations and not more talkative and outgoing. They had many fights about this, and it was damaging to their relationship.

However, our discussion led to a productive conversation about how to shift away from focusing on how they were being “failed” by the other person, and instead, focusing on having love and respect for the person that their partners were instead of who they wanted them to be.

For her, it also led to an important shift away from, “What are you doing for me?” towards, “What does it feel like for you to be with me?” This allowed her to refocus on how she could be loving and supportive of her husband during social situations that were anxiety provoking for him. (Which, paradoxically, enabled him to feel more confident and safe in these situations… which helped him to open up and be more engaging socially!)

The Fix:

Considering that we’re all mere mortals, and it’s unrealistic for any of us to expect that our partner should be all things, a much better alternative is to instead put our energy into appreciating the unique strengths and gifts our partners bring to the relationship. This makes it easier to downplay some of the things that maybe your partner is not as gifted with.

Adopting an attitude of tolerance and acceptance towards them (as opposed to criticism) will help you build the kind of positive, mutually appreciative relationship that you want. It will also help you make emotional deposits that increase the likelihood that your partner will be more accepting of you, too. [For more on this, check out “How to Strengthen Your Relationship.“]

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I hope that you experiment with some of the “fixes” I’ve shared with you in this article. Doing so will allow you to take some of the pressure off yourself and your partner so that you can both get more enjoyment from your relationship.

If you try any of these ideas, let me know how it goes!

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

 

Growing Self Counseling & Coaching