How to Be More Vulnerable in Relationships

How to Be More Vulnerable in Relationships

How to Be More Vulnerable in Relationships

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

Is It Time To Let Down Your Walls?

Not too long ago I shared some advice on Bustle.com about “What to do if you’re having a hard time being vulnerable in a relationship.” I thought this was such a great topic, and one that so many people struggle with, that I should share more advice on how to use the power of vulnerability to transform your relationships here too.

It’s easy to think of “vulnerability” in negative terms, because it conjures images of being open to hurt. However, what I know from many years as a couples therapist and marriage counselor, is that when it comes to your relationships, vulnerability is (paradoxically) the key to having closer, more intimate, and ultimately more satisfying connections with other people. Conversely, if you keep your guard up all the time, you’ll be missing out on having truly meaningful and authentic connections with the most important people in your life.

What does it mean to be vulnerable in your relationships? 

As Brene Brown discusses in her amazing TED Talk about the power of vulnerability: Being vulnerable means sharing the most important, authentic parts of yourself with someone who matters to you — and risking rejection.  Being vulnerable means “being seen” for who and what you are, and exposing yourself to the potential for hurt. While this may sound intimidating, the alternative is often worse: Being closed off can lead to loneliness, and feeling unseen, and unknown by others.

Do You Keep Your Guard Up in Relationships?

If so, it’s understandable. It is much safer, emotionally, to manage your image, keep the mask on, and not let yourself care. Particularly in the hyper-curated era of social media, there’s a strong pull to only show what is perfect or enviable about your life. But being vulnerable means showing someone else that maybe you’re not perfect, maybe you’re not always okay, and maybe you do have some worries, insecurities, or pain.

The scariest thing about vulnerability for many people boils down to this: When you really, really care about someone else, and want them to love you as much as you love them, it can be terrifying to allow yourself to be truly seen by them. Because… what if they don’t want you anymore, after they know the whole truth? Or what if you allow yourself to lean on someone else emotionally, and they fail you, or reject you?

Being vulnerable does mean exposing yourself to the potential for hurt or rejection. And, at the same time, risking vulnerability is also opening the door to the kind of relationship you long for: One built on authenticity, emotional intimacy, and a deep connection.

Why It’s Important To Open Up To Your Partner

Another thing to consider, in addition to YOUR feelings of closeness and connection, are those of your partner. As a marriage counselor and couples therapist, one of the relationship issues I most often hear about from couples having problems is that at least one person feels that their partner is closed off, and uncommunicative. They want to understand how their partner feels, what they think about, what they care about, and their hopes and dreams… and yet feel cut off from that.

I can tell you that many, if not most, relationship fights are really not about the things that people are fighting about, like how much money was spent, or whether or not someone wants to have sex, or “the tone” being used, or whether or not someone followed through with whatever they said they were going to do. Relationship fights are about not feeling cared for, feeling unheard, feeling disrespected, and feeling disconnected.

When couples are emotionally intimate and feel close to each other, they are much more resilient, more tolerant of each other, and generally kinder and more respectful. When true, deep connection is present, there’s just nothing to fight about. (Instead, you can have constructive conversations about how to get on the same page and solve problems together).

That’s the power of vulnerability in relationships.

On the other hand, when people are not able to be vulnerable in relationships and trust themselves and their partners enough to allow themselves to truly be seen, relationships remain superficial. Yes, you may have a companion and a social partner, but the core of your relationship — emotional intimacy, empathy, and responsiveness — feels barren.

Over time, these types of relationships tend to become stagnant. Or, if people have feelings inside of themselves that they are not communicating about vulnerably (and consequently, the needs they have are not getting acknowledged or met) they can also start to believe that the relationship itself is not sustainable.

It’s such a bind: On the one hand, in order to have a better relationship, you need to talk about how you feel and take emotional risks with your partner. That feels scary, and many people avoid it. On the other hand, not saying things out loud feels safer in the moment, but in the absence of communication, relationships grow strained and fights start brewing under the surface… which makes it feel less safe to talk about your truth in a vulnerable way.

The Consequences of Keeping Emotional Walls Up

Over time, in the absence of vulnerability and emotional intimacy, relationships become increasingly dissatisfying for both partners. This makes it less likely that either person will feel safe and secure enough to have heartfelt conversations that will bring them back together again. Instead, people make cutting side comments or show each other their distress through behaviors. (Behaviors and comments that are often angering or unattractive to their partner, pushing them further away as opposed to drawing them closer).

One of the primary benefits of marriage counseling or couples therapy is that the presence of a compassionate, knowledgeable couples counselor creates a “safe space” where people can be more vulnerable and open. With a third party holding open the door to communication, and shielding both parties from the emotional reactivity that will turn a heartfelt conversation into a vicious fight in a matter of seconds, couples can start seeing each other, hearing each other, and understanding each other at a deeper level.

By moving back into a space of vulnerability and authenticity (or for some couples, creating that kind of emotional intimacy for the first time) partners can then establish a stronger connection, empathy, and emotional safety that will help them solve problems together and increase their love for each other.

6 Tips To Help You Be More Vulnerable In Your Relationships

1: Self Awareness. The most important first step in creating a more emotionally intimate relationship, based on authenticity and vulnerability, is knowing yourself. You cannot communicate your truth if you yourself don’t know what it is. It sounds odd, but many people are awash in nebulous feelings or have core beliefs or automatic thoughts that never fully enter their consciousness as coherent thoughts. They just react. Understanding how you really feel is a prerequisite for being able to communicate it to others.

2: Clarity.  Until you have language for your inner experience, it remains unknown — even to you. If your relationship is currently in a space where it feels fragile, it may not feel safe enough to talk through your feelings with your partner until you arrive at the truth. In these cases, you might consider journaling, letter writing, or talking with a counselor or coach until you’re clear about how you’re feeling. Then, you can express it to your partner in a way that they can hear.

3: Timing. If you are already clear about how you’re feeling and what you want to express, the next most important step in helping yourself be vulnerable is, believe it or not, timing. Too many people experiment with vulnerability at a time when their partner is not expecting it, in the same mindset, or even in a place where they are present enough to be responsive. For example, someone might see their spouse in the kitchen, alone, unloading the dishwasher, and take that opportunity to start talking about something really important to them (often to their back). The preoccupied spouse may not understand the importance of this disclosure, or respond in a thoughtful way. Consequently, many people feel rejected and hurt, and come away thinking that their “vulnerability experiment” was a bad idea.

4: Be Explicit. If you want to talk about something important, make it known. Invite your partner to sit down with you, without distractions, and then let them know that you want to talk about some important things. Let them know that you feel apprehensive about being vulnerable before you start sharing. Talk out loud about your emotional process, and how important it is to you to feel emotionally safe with them. Say things like, “Just the fact that you’re sitting here looking into my eyes while I’m talking to you means the world to me,” so they know how to be present with you in a way that feels good to you.

5: Fight The Fear. If you start feeling apprehensive or like shutting down when you’re talking about your feelings, you can say that out loud too. Remind yourself (and perhaps, even your partner) that as hard as it can be to “go there” it is also the path to a deeper, more intimate connection. Be brave and honest. You might even consider saying out loud that what you’re saying feels scary or hard. Even disclosing that to your partner can make you feel less alone, and help them help you be more vulnerable.

6: Help Your Partner Be a Good Listener.  Most importantly, ask for what you need. (As much as we’d like to wish that our partners could or should “just know” how to respond to us perfectly… they won’t unless you tell them.) When you share your feelings, let your partner know that you don’t need to be “fixed” or have your problems solved. The goal is not resolution, but connection. Communicating openly with your partner about what helps you feel safer to share will pave the way for easier, more heartfelt communication and the emotional security that you both desire.

How To Get Your Partner To Open Up To You

Sometimes in relationships, you’re not the one that needs to open up. Instead, you’re feeling frustrated because your partner feels closed off to you. You try to get them to talk to you about important things, or share their feelings… and it’s like talking to a wall. Here are a couple of tips to help your partner feel safer and more comfortable to talk authentically to you. [Also read: How to Communicate With a Withdrawn Partner]

If someone isn’t “opening up” with you, one of two things is typically happening:

1: They don’t feel emotionally safe with you. This is a hard one to consider, but it’s easy to unintentionally come across as an emotionally unsafe person, especially if you’ve been feeling frustrated or hurt by your relationship. When your partner does tell you about things that are true for them, are you meeting their disclosures with caring and empathy? Or is there a chance that you are judging them, and imposing your values on them? (This can be true if their truth is something that you disagree with, or wish were different.) Show your partner that they are safe with you, by accepting them for who they are.

2: Their inner experience is not the same as yours. People differ in their personalities, in their emotional awareness, in their desire for emotional intimacy, and propensity for psychological-mindedness. Not to bring gender into this, but many times women feel frustrated with partners who they perceive as “not opening up.” When truthfully, men don’t relate the same way women do. Women establish an emotional connection in relationships by deepening, reciprocal layers of personal disclosure. Men don’t always do that. [More info: “Understanding Men,” on the Love, Happiness & Success Podcast]

Furthermore, many men are socialized out of having feelings and thinking too deeply about their emotional process. They may therefore, genuinely, not have as much to say about their inner experience. They may be happy and content in “doing” life rather than talking about it. In order to have an emotionally safe relationship, that needs to be okay too. Emotional intimacy and vulnerability can be expressed in many ways besides face-to-face conversations. Sexuality, sharing finances, making sacrifices for each other, developing shared priorities, and committing to your partnership are also all expressions of vulnerability — many times, even more powerful than vulnerabilities disclosed in words.

When you practice tolerance and acceptance for the way your partner shows vulnerability and intimacy, it increases the emotional safety in your relationship. Emotional safety creates an environment that cultivates vulnerability and intimacy, helping you continually grow closer and more connected.

I hope these ideas help you and your partner create the kind of strong, satisfying relationship that you both crave.

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Denver Marriage Counselor Denver Life Coach Denver Therapist

Lisa Marie Bobby, PhD, LMFT, BCC

"Hi, I'm Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. For over a decade, I've been helping people all over the world create Love, Happiness and Success in their lives through positive, compassionate and effective Marriage Counseling, Therapy and Life Coaching. I'm so pleased to be able to help you, too. There is help for you here, and I'm glad you've found us.

This website is devoted to your wellbeing, and offers loads of free information and actionable advice that you can start using today to create positive change in your life. Browse around to meet our experts, get free advice on our blog, listen to a podcast, or take our "How Healthy is Your Relationship" quiz. Or, if the time is right, you can schedule a free consultation with any of us to talk about your situation -- and, most importantly -- your hopes for your future." -- Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Emotional Safety

Emotional Safety

Emotional Safety

The Most Important Part of a Healthy Relationship

EMOTIONAL SAFETY: Here’s some real-deal, bottom-line relationship advice from an experienced marriage counselor:  If you want to feel more connected, improve your communication, have more emotional and physical intimacy, and create a secure, satisfying relationship, there’s one irreplaceable ingredient that you must have for everything else to fall into place…. Emotional Safety.

Emotional safety is so important that it’s the foundational goal of one of the most widely researched, effective evidence-based forms of marriage counseling and couples therapy, called “Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy.” Here at Growing Self, most of the Denver marriage counselors, online couples therapists, and relationship coaches on our team use Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy to guide their work with couples… because it works.

The easiest way to understand the importance of emotional safety is to reflect on what happens between you and your partner when you don’t have it: If you’re feeling angry, hurt, frustrated or disrespected… you’re not going to behave well with your partner. Even if you know, intellectually, what you should do to show them love and respect… you don’t. And understandably! Until you feel emotionally safe, and learn how to help your partner feel emotionally safe with you, conflict and miscommunication is inevitable.

This is exactly the reason why many attempts at marriage counseling and couples therapy doesn’t work — is because the majority of couples counselors out there aren’t trained in evidence based forms of couples counseling like EFCT. Consequently they don’t know how to help their couples focus on their foundation of emotional safety first, before attempting to make bigger changes in their relationship. Without that, couples counseling doesn’t work. Couples try to make changes, and they don’t stick. Couples can’t make real and lasting change when they’re not focusing on what really matters: Emotional Safety.

How to Create Emotional Safety in Your Relationship

YOU deserve better. You deserve real relationship advice, that will help you improve your relationship, and that’s what you’re getting on this episode the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast. I’m putting on my marriage counselor hat, and I’m sharing the secrets behind how to create emotional safety in your relationship. We’ll be discussing:

  • What is emotional safety, and why it’s important
  • How to determine if your relationship is emotionally safe or not
  • How to begin increasing emotional safety in your relationship
  • The emotional intelligence skills that will help you increase emotional safety
  • Using the principles of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy to improve your relationship
  • The emotional-safety crushing behaviors to absolutely avoid
  • The most important things YOU can do to transform your relationship

This episode is my very special Valentine’s Day gift for YOU. I hope you listen, and that it helps you love your relationship.

xoxo, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

PS: One of the “conversation starting” tools I mentioned in this episode is my free “How Healthy is Your Relationship Quiz.” If you’d like to take this, alone or with your partner, you can get the link here. 

 

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

How to Create Emotional Safety

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

Music Credits: The Days, “Make My Love Your Home”

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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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How To Develop a Healthy Money Mindset

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What’s YOUR Money Mindset?

HOW TO DEVELOP A HEALTHY MONEY MINDSET | One of the biggest goals for many people at this time of year (who are we kidding — at all times of year) is to feel more in control and empowered with regards to their finances. They want to save more, spend less, attain their financial goals, and feel like they’re being compensated fairly for their valuable time and energy. Sounds like a straightforward solvable problem, right? Just budget! Save more! Spend less! Start packing your lunch! No big deal!

Why Financial Therapy is Important

Except… when you peek underneath the mental and emotional hood, people are actually having a complex, and often subconscious way of relating to money that impacts the way they behave to a much more significant degree than their good intentions to conscientiously meal prep and use a budgeting app. What we know from the emerging field of financial therapy is that we are all carrying old, deep, and often subconscious thoughts, feelings and core beliefs about money and our relationship to money — often stemming from our experiences in our families of origin.

Until you have the opportunity to dig into your subconscious core beliefs and feelings about money, it can be very difficult to implement lasting behavioral changes to the way you handle your money. Financial therapy often involves helping you develop the kind of healthy “money mindset” that will allow you to feel in control of your financial future.

Financial Therapy For Couples

Our relationship to money impacts the way we handle our individual finances, but it can also have a significant impact on our marriages. Money fights are one of the most common pain points for couples. When two people come together to form a marriage and family, and who are (of course) both carrying their own subconscious ways of relating to money that may be at odds with each other’s, it can become highly conflictual.

Most couples need to do intentional and meaningful personal growth work around getting on the same page with regards to their finances. This work needs to go deeper than band-aid quick-fixes, like admonishments to make a budget. It needs to help couples understand each other’s experiences that shaped their values around money, and the core needs that are being met through their relationships to money. Only with that level of empathy and understanding are couples able to achieve real and lasting change around their financial partnership.

Develop a Healthy Money Mindset

To help YOU begin to understand your relationship with money, I’ve invited financial therapist Jennifer Dunkle, M.A., LPC to join me on this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast. Jennifer specializes in financial therapy, and provides financial therapy for couples as well as individuals. Listen (or watch) and get Jennifer’s tips for how to:

  • Uncover your subconscious beliefs and feelings about money
  • Understand how your family of origin experiences may be impacting the way you handle money
  • How to get a handle on impulsive spending
  • How to manage financial anxiety
  • The types of money issues couples deal with, and how to resolve them
  • How to heal from financial infidelity in marriage
  • How to spot (and stop) financial abuse in a relationship
  • How to handle power and control issues around money in a relationship
  • Practical strategies and resources to help you develop a healthy money mindset

I hope that this discussion helps YOU get insight into yourself and your relationship with money, so that you can create a money mindset that helps you achieve your financial goals.

Wishing you all the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

How to Develop a Healthy Money Mindset

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

Music Credits: Jeremy Allingham, “Money Gods”

Spread the Love Happiness & Success

Please Rate, Review & SHARE the Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

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

Let’s  Talk

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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.

Relationship Advice From a Divorce Lawyer

Relationship Advice From a Divorce Lawyer

Relationship Advice From a Divorce Lawyer

How to Stop a Divorce… And Have a Happy, Healthy Marriage

As a marriage counselor, couples therapist and premarital counselor I’ve had a few interesting observations about January. Two types of couples tend to show up: Sparkly-eyed premarital couples who got engaged over the holidays and how are eager for premarital counseling to set their marriages up for success, and…. couples who are on the absolute brink of divorce.

The latter are often couples who did NOT do meaningful premarital counseling, and who have had hurts, resentments, and issues simmering underneath the surface for a long time. They’ve often put off getting real relationship help for years, until it’s turned into a full-blown relationship crisis, and someone files for divorce. It’s true: divorce filings spike in January. There are many reasons for the rationale behind the timing. Holiday stress can certainly be one, but in my experience as a marriage counselor and couples therapist, a more common reason that people file for divorce in January is the simple fact that they’ve been keeping a lid on things until after the holidays are over, and are eager to start a new chapter of their live that coincides with the new year.

Whether you’re reading this with the intention of learning how to prevent a divorce and keep your marriage strong, or possibly looking for advice for how to stop a divorce and save your marriage — I’ve got you covered!

How to Keep Your Relationship Strong, and Prevent a Divorce

On this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast I have a special gift for both premarital couples AND couples on the brink of divorce: A special interview with Jim Sexton, author of “How to Stay in Love.” Jim has a unique perspective — he has spent years working as a divorce lawyer and has sat with countless couples who are in the process of ending their marriage. Through these experiences he gained insight into the biggest mistakes couples can make, the most important things you can do to prevent a divorce, and key things that couples can do to keep their relationship healthy and strong.

Relationship Advice For Premarital Couples: If you’re a premarital couple getting ready for the adventure of marriage, I hope you listen and get some great, practical advice for how to prevent future problems.

Relationship Advice For Couples In Crisis: If you are considering divorce, or trying to stop a divorce, I also hope you listen. Gaining new understanding of why couples get divorced can give you a roadmap for healing in your relationship.

And saving a marriage from divorce is possible. I’ve seen it! While divorce can seem like “the final solution” to relationship problems that couples don’t know how else to solve, sometimes one person threatening (or even filing for) divorce can be a powerful opportunity to create real and lasting positive change in your marriage. Saying “I want a divorce” can mean “I am so hurt and angry and I don’t know how else to make this better.” Understanding that for what it is, a statement of pain and a plea for understanding, can launch a new era of compassion and connection in a relationship. This podcast (and some of the other resources I share within) can help you repair your marriage.

Relationship Advice From a Divorce Lawyer

Listen and learn:

  • Things premarital couples should consider prior to marriage that will help lessen the chances of future divorce
  • The subtle “fork in the road” moments that many couples miss that will lead towards increased connection… or increased disconnection
  • The crucial conversations every premarital (and married) couple should have
  • Why marriages end, and simple, daily things you can do to keep YOUR marriage healthy and strong
  • Specific things you can do to pull your relationship back from the brink
  • How to protect your relationship from an affair (especially a “Facebook affair.”)
  • If you must get divorced, how to go about it in the best way possible

 

I hope this episode helps you understand your marriage in a new way, and provides some direction for how to keep it healthy and strong.

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

PS: In addition to speaking with Jim about his wonderful perspective and relationship advice, I mentioned some other resources as well. Here’s a link to a past podcast, “How to Stop a Divorce and Save Your Marriage” with lots of specific tips for what to do if your spouse is moving towards divorce. Also here’s a link to the “How Healthy Is Your Relationship Quiz” I mentioned. This quiz can be a doorway to having meaningful and important conversations with your partner, especially if your relationship has been struggling. — LMB

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Relationship Advice From a Divorce Lawyer

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

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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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