Long Distance Relationship Questions

Long Distance Relationship Questions

Long Distance Relationship Questions

Love From a Distance: Making it Work.

[social_warfare]

Love From a Distance: Long Distance Relationship Questions

Since we do so much online marriage counseling, online couples therapy, and online relationship coaching here at Growing Self it's only natural that we routinely work with couples in long-distance relationships seeking long-distance couple's therapy online. Over the years, I've learned a lot as an online marriage counselor specializing in long distance relationships about the special strengths and vulnerabilities unique to long distance couples.

For starters, long distance couples have so many strengths! Most people see a long-distance relationship as a challenge or not an ideal situation. However, when you have strategies to make your long-distance relationship strong and successful, a good long distance relationship actually offers many opportunities and positive aspects that a typical relationship does not.

With the right formula and a strong foundation, love can bridge any gap. Distance, after all, makes the heart grow fonder.

Questions About Long Distance Relationships, Answered.

In this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast, I'm answering questions about long distance relationships and how to make them work. Despite the downside of physical absence, there are many unique opportunities for growth that a long-distance relationship can provide. While it has its challenges, it also has advantages. I am ecstatic to bring this topic to the table and share some insights and best practices to help long-distance couples get through the bouts of doubt. 

Tune in to this episode to learn more about what makes a long-distance relationship work. 

Long Distance Relationship Questions: The Podcast

If you're in a long distance relationship, here's what you'll get from tuning in today:

  1. Learn the different kinds of long-distance relationships.
  2. Discover actionable strategies that successful long-distance couples use to deepen their relationship.
  3. Learn how to manage anxiety and feel secure in a long distance relationship.
  4. Understand some vital long distance relationship questions that you and your partner need to be asking each other, if you have long term intentions.

So much great information for long distance couples in this episode. Listen right now to “Long Distance Relationship Questions” on Spotify, on the Podcast App, or scroll down to the bottom of this post to listen to this episode.

If you're a reader, you can scroll through the highlights and / or access the full transcript of this episode below.

 

Long Distance Couples Therapy Online

Let's get a super-basic long distance couple's therapy question out of the way first: “Do you provide long distance couples therapy by three way video?”

We get this question all the time, and the answer is Yes! Our experienced relationship experts routinely work with long distance couples for online relationship therapy and online relationship coaching via secure, three way video.

For more common questions about our therapy and coaching services you are officially invited to our FAQ / Help Center page or you can also spend some time with our chatbot. (Lower right). Now that one is out of the way, so we can move on…

Kinds of Long-Distance Relationships 

Did you know that there are different kinds of long distance relationships? And that depending on the kind you're in, you'll have different things you'll need to think about and do to make it strong?

For example:

  • One kind of long-distance relationship is when a long term, married, or committed couple who lived together is now living apart. It can be a temporary separation, usually due to work or military deployment. 
  • Some couples have a more permanent or semi-permanent long-distance relationship, and that’s just the kind of way they operate. 
  • Another type of long-distance relationship is when a couple becomes a long-distance couple during the early stages of relationship development or dating. 
  • There are also long-distance relationships that develop from meeting once in person, sometimes while on vacation. 
  • The last kind of long-distance relationship is when people meet online and don't physically interact — all their interactions are over the internet. This kind of relationship is happening more frequently due to the pandemic.

Advantages of Long-Distance Relationships

Long distance relationships can work. Long distance relationships can flourish! Here's why:

  • Long-distance relationships can give a different kind of individual growth. 
  • There are many opportunities for personal growth that are sometimes hard to achieve when couples are together every day. 
  • A long-distance relationship challenges people to change and evolve to keep the relationship strong and healthy despite the distance. 
  • The independence and individuality that long-distance relationships bring about can keep the relationship vibrant, novel, and engaging. 

How to Nurture a Long-Distance Relationship

The secret to having a healthy, strong, and satisfying long distance relationship is to very deliberately find ways of maintaining your connection so that you both feel loved and cared for despite the miles between you. Here are some things to think about:

  • Long-distance relationships have mostly conversation-based interactions: this is a huge strength.
  • Invest in conversations to deepen the connection. Remember, your partner needs to hear from you even if you don't feel like talking. 
  • You have to manage your expectations regarding who you think your partner is and what kind of person they are, especially when your day-to-day interactions are limited. There might be some things about your long-distance partner that you haven't seen yet.
  • Work on emotional responsiveness and open communication in order to keep your connection strong.

Questions For Long Distance Couples

Part of the “success strategy for long distance couples” needs to be making sure that you're on the same page about what you're doing. (You may need to have this conversation periodically!)

Part of what our relationship experts do when providing long distance couples therapy online is a comprehensive assessment to understand the strengths and growth opportunities of your relationship, including a couple's most important long term goals, values, and hopes.

Here are a few long distance relationship questions to get this ball rolling:

  • What are your long-term goals as a couple? 

  • Is the relationship feeling good for the both of you? If it stops feeling good, what will you do?

  • What are your values? What is important to you?
  • How do you maintain your connection as a couple? 
  • What would you consider to be a deal-breaker in a relationship?

For even more, we invite you and your partner to take our “How Healthy Is Your Relationship Quiz” to get insight into your relationship's strengths and growth opportunities. This is a low-key way to have  connecting conversations about how to grow your relationship together. 

And, free advice from a marriage counselor:  If you are not able to have productive conversations about these (or other) essential topics, that is a sign that it might be time for couple's therapy or relationship coaching.

Enlisting the support of a relationship expert can help you improve your communication, connect on a deeper level, learn how to show each other love and respect in the way that you need it, and get on the same page about your long term needs and goals. If you'd like to get involved in long distance relationship therapy online, the first step is to schedule a free consultation session. 

Understanding The Needs of Long-Distance Relationships

It's additionally important to consider the unique needs of long distance relationships. Here are just a few things to think about:

  • Knowing each other’s love languages can help maintain the connection amid the distance.
  • One of the biggest challenges for long distance couples is that or both partners may experience heightened anxiety or insecurity, which requires responsiveness, reassurance, contact, and information. Here's more info about “How to Feel More Secure in Your Relationship”
  • The lack of physical presence can be a point of conflict. 
  • Couples therapy or relationship coaching can support in creating conversations between a long-distance couple. 

Advice for Long-Distance Couples About to Cohabitate

Many long distance couples long for the day when they'll be together again. The challenges they face when moving in together can therefore surprise them.

  • Couples have to plan and handle their reintegration carefully when they reunite.
  • There is an opportunity for growth in conflict. Welcome it and deal with it constructively. 
  • Find ways to get to know each other on a deep and realistic level. 
  • There are many opportunities to be emotionally available and to be vulnerable with each other. 
  • Do not get attached to any particular outcome, especially for long-distance couples in the early stages of dating. 

5 Powerful Quotes From This Episode

“And so one of the biggest stress points for long-distance committed couples that are having a temporary separation is that they have to reconfigure all of those roles so quickly. And it can be challenging to do that.”

“There is also a neat opportunity for a healthy interdependence, and opportunities for individual growth that are sometimes more challenging to achieve when long term couples are, you know, breathing each other’s air every single day and sort of doing the same thing.”

“And so, you know, it's almost like a fire that needs some air to breathe. relationships can be like that too.”

“But again, even just having those conversations with each other can be the opportunity to really learn so much about each other- long term goals, values, hopes and dreams. Also the way people operate in terms of their willingness to bend on your behalf.” 

“Conflict in a relationship is always simply a sign that there are things that need to be discussed and worked out. All conflict is an opportunity for connection. It is not a bad thing to have conflict in a relationship. That is an opportunity for growth.”

Enjoy this Podcast?

Learning how you could create love, happiness, and success for yourself has never been this easy. If you enjoyed today's episode of the Love, Success, and Happiness Podcast, I hope you subscribe where ever you listen to podcasts. (And consider leaving a review!)

Post a review and share it! Did this podcast help you? Or did it make you think of someone else who could really benefit from having this information? If so please share this with your family and friends so they can discover how to handle long-distance relationships. 

Have any questions? You can contact me through our website or find me on Instagram or Facebook. You may also reach out to us and inquire about online therapy and life coaching. Growing Self is also on Instagram and Facebook.

Wishing you all the best, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

Long Distance Relationship Questions

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

Spread the Love Happiness & Success

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

iTunes

Stitcher

Spotify

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

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.

Long Distance Relationship Questions: Podcast Transcript

.
Access Episode Transcript

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby and you're listening to the Love, Happiness & Success podcast. This is another one from the band, An Eagle In Your Mind, a band that I am slightly obsessed with right now, doing good stuff. This particular song is called “If You Open The Door” and I thought it was a great mood setter for us today.

Today we're talking about love at a distance, long-distance relationships, and how to make them work. I really wanted to speak about this topic, because we have been getting, I think, even more couples than usual and long-distance relationships here at our practice at Growing Self. More questions from long-distance couples coming through on the blog at www.growingself.com, through Facebook, through Instagram

And understandably so, because long-distance couples really do have unique challenges and also unique strengths, but really need to approach different aspects of their relationship differently than real life couples do. And so we're getting so many requests for long-distance couples. 

And I have to tell you the funniest thing. Recently, we started noticing long-distance couples reaching out and saying, “Do you guys do couples counseling for long-distance couples through three-way video?” And, like, yes, we see so many long-distance couples, and we did prior to the whole pandemic situation. I think we're probably even doing more of that now. But it's like how else would we do couples counseling for long-distance couples if not through a three-way video call? So the answer is an absolute yes. If you would like to do long-distance couples counseling with us, we have two of you in different places and a couples counselor in the middle. 

And now under normal circumstances, certainly we have had some long-distance couples, like fly in for a weekend and do like couples counseling intensives. But we're not doing any of that right now. Maybe in 2021. We'll see how it goes. But what we do have tons of experience with, of course, is working with long-distance couples. And so I am going to be talking today about long-distance relationships and best practices to make them not just work but work really well. And let's just dive right in, shall we? 

Actually wait, no. I do want to mention that I'm going to be talking about different variables related to long-distance relationships in this episode. And in addition to this episode, I did another podcast on this topic. I think it's been a couple of years, but also really good stuff. I interviewed a marriage counselor on our team who had a lot of experience with long-distance couples, as many of our counselors do. But anyway, so you'll want to look back on the podcast feed to find that one if you would like to hear more. 

And then in addition, on the blog, at www.growingself.com, we have several articles around long-distance relationships and couples counseling for long-distance relationships with different perspectives besides just mine. I have a number of colleagues with a great deal of expertise on this subject. And so you'll want to cruise on over to the blog at www.growingself.com, and do a little search in the search bar for long-distance relationships or three-way couples counseling for long-distance couples, and you'll see all kinds of information there. So I wanted to mention that just to resource you.

But for today, one of the things we're going to talk about first is the fact that believe it or not there are different kinds of long-distance relationships. And depending on what kind of long-distance relationship you're in, there are different practices and ways of handling certain situations that will improve your relationship, but you have to take into consideration what kind of long-distance relationship is this. Because otherwise, it won't be the right approach for you and your unique situation. 

So with that in mind, one kind of long-distance relationship is when there are married or like long-term committed couples in long-distance relationships. Two variables here. Many times, it is a couple that has been together for a long time prior to living apart and usually the reason why they moved away from each other. Sometimes, work obligations is the most common. Certainly, military families going through a deployment kind of situation will experience this sooner or later. But that's what I have most often seen. Sometimes people need to live apart, in the event that somebody has to like be with another family member, like caretaking for a parent who is in a different state. So there are all kinds of reasons why. But it is a long-term married or committed couple who lived together, and did a relationship for a long time, and is now living separately, either for usually a temporary period of time, but sometimes not. 

Now, there are also long-term married or committed couples who have permanent long-distance relationships or semi-permanent long-distance relationships. And that's not a temporary thing due to a job or deployment. But that's just kind of the way they operate. And those typically work really well for both people if they are using the best practices that I'm going to be sharing with you today. 

I think it can be generally harder and more stressful for couples who are circumstantially long distance when prior to that, they lived together for a long time, because it's very disruptive. All couples and all families create roles, and responsibilities, and kind of organizational systems in order to manage their shared lives together that depend on both people participating. And so one of the biggest stress points for long-distance committed couples that are having a temporary separation is that they have to reconfigure all of those roles so quickly. And it can be challenging to do that, but then also to reintegrate once a couple comes back together again, that can be a stress point that we'll talk a little bit more about. 

Now, another different kind of long-distance relationship is one where a couple has become a long distance couple at a much earlier stage in their relationship development. So sometimes, they had been dating for a while or either talk, maybe talking, about marriage at some point, but like, they are not in the same kind of stage of development as a long-term married or committed couple. Their relationship is newer, I guess. 

And sometimes, that can be the same sort of thing, like somebody has to leave for a job, or work, or school, and for whatever reason that the relationship just wasn't quite in the place that it needed to be in order for it to make sense for somebody to pack up their life and move to Indiana with the guy they've been seeing for three months or whatever. But there's a lot of interest, and excitement, and people want to be together, and care about each other. But the relation just hasn't evolved to the point where it made sense to move together. 

And in this situation, one of the primary challenges and obstacles is how do we continue to deepen our relationship, and get to know each other, and have our relationship progress and evolve as it might if we were in the same town continuing to see each other multiple times a week and do sort of a normal relationship path? And so there's that, like how do we progress as a couple? 

And also in this situation, there can be a lot of anxiety, and like insecurity, and worry for partners on each side, because their contact with each other can be much more limited and not being able to be together on a more regular basis in person. And that in itself when people are in that kind of anxious or insecure feeling place, particularly in a new relationship can lead people to behave in ways that are different than they would if they were together in real life. And those ways of coping with the anxiety and the things that people might need to have from the person that they're dating can be different to the degree that in itself can put stress on the relationship and create its own set of problems. So we need to talk about that.

Now, there is another. We're not done. There is another kind of long-distance relationship that happens surprisingly commonly. I have talked to so many clients, usually individual therapy or coaching clients that I see who will come bouncing back in after a vacation or something and say, “I met the most amazing person while I was in Cancún or whatever.” I’m like, “Great! That's exciting.” And my client lives in Denver and their love interest lives in Chicago. And now we have to figure that out. 

And so, that's getting to know someone who, from the very beginning, they may have only met, met once in person. And so again, how do we continue progressing in the relationship and from the very get go? How do you get to know a person in a way that is boundaried, and healthy, and slow enough to be appropriately cautious, but also giving you opportunities to really get a clear sense of who someone is and figure out whether or not you would like to pursue a relationship with them? Because you know, you can't just meet up for a cocktail on a Thursday night with somebody who lives in Chicago when you live in Denver. That is different. So lots, lots to talk about there.

And then lastly, another kind of relationship that is a whole other animal is a phenomenon that occurs when people meet online and do not have any interactions with each other in real life. IRL, as the kids say. Their entire early-stage relationship is conducted exclusively online. And in the context of this pandemic situation that we are all enjoying so much, this is happening more and more. Like even people in the same town will have first, second, fifth dates by video conference, or FaceTime, or Zoom, and get to know each other that way. 

And because the online dating, so not just online dating apps, but literally online dating has so many different variables, and opportunities, but also potential pitfalls. I have actually created a podcast that will be airing in a few weeks on this specifically as a separate thing. I think we're entitling it something like “Pandemic Dating.” But even prior to the pandemic, more and more frequently, people might meet online through social media, or friends of friends, and be in different states, and have that whole getting to know you process online. And there can really be a unique set of pitfalls and perils when you begin a relationship from the outset through that medium. So that deserves its own separate podcast and that will be coming out for you soon.

But today's discussion is going to be focused on the three primary kinds of long distance relationships that I've discussed. So committed couples who are now living apart. And then couples who date and are then disrupted. And then also couples who randomly meet each other and then want to figure out how to establish a relationship with a long-distance situation.

So there are, believe it or not, as well as challenges in long-distance relationships, there are also some advantages that many couples enjoy. Like we think of a long-distance relationship as being non-ideal and it certainly is for some couples. But for many of them, it can really be a very interesting, and growth promoting, and satisfying way of life, particularly for established, committed couples. 

While there are certainly the challenges that I described at the outset of this podcast around roles and responsibilities I mean, certainly when children are involved there is also a really neat opportunity for a healthy interdependence, and opportunities for individual growth that are sometimes more challenging to achieve when long term-couples are breathing each other's air every single day and sort of doing the same thing. People in long-term relationships always have to grow, and change, and evolve within the relationship in order for that relationship to be a really genuinely healthy, and satisfying, and vibrant relationship over the decades. And so, it's almost like a fire that needs some air to breathe. Relationships can be like that, too. And so in a long-distance situation with an established couple, they're doing different things. They're having, maybe time and energy to pursue other hobbies, or hang out with other friends, or go other places, or be around other people, and just have different life experiences that will grow and change them independently. 

And so the neat thing can be when they do come back together again, or have opportunities to talk and hang out, there is, I mean at a basic level, more to talk about sometimes than when you're doing the same thing as the other person every single day and watching the same TV shows, right? So there's like, novelty, and interest, and conversation, and just interesting things. And it can really also be a neat way to put each other in a position where you can learn about different aspects of each other or grow in different ways. And that is the kind of energy that keeps a long-distance relationship, I mean, a long-term relationship interesting over many years are opportunities to do that. So if you're a long-distance couple, you have that built in which can really be to your relationship’s advantage. 

And also, in addition to that, when you are in a long distance-relationship, a committed long-distance relationship, it requires a couple to have conversations around, “What are we doing? What do we want? We need to talk about this. And do we want to be doing this two or three years from now? What are our long term goals as a couple? What do you want? What do I want? How do we get that into alignment?” 

And having like, kind of deeper, in some ways, more meaningful conversations than couples who are just kind of like falling into the same rut and just sort of doing the same thing over and over again without thinking about it too much or talking about it too explicitly. In order to have a satisfying, healthy, long-distance relationship, you have to be doing that, and talking about plans, and coordinating things. So lots of opportunities there. 

Now, what is I think true for all long-distance couples are also, the question that comes up around, “How do we stay emotionally connected as a couple? How do we remain each other's friends? What are the rituals that we need to have in place to stay connected, to stay emotionally and even physically intimate with each other?” Because, again, there aren't natural opportunities to do that day-to-day if you're living apart. And so the building of those, the intentional building of those is very important.

So when it comes to the second kind of long-distance relationships, where people have been developing a relationship and that relationship development has been disrupted because of a move or a separation, the question is really more around: how do we continue to develop our relationship, and get to know each other, and learn to love and trust and connect with each other in the context of this long-distance situation? 

Again, there are real opportunities here. When you are dating someone long distance, the opportunities to connect are almost exclusively around talking with each other, either on the phone, or through text, or through video calls, but it's very conversation-based. So I can't remember the last time I sat on the phone talking to my husband for an hour-and-a-half about things, right? Certainly, we talk about things, but a lot of times it's in 10-minute increments in between childcare duties, right? But with this situation, you really have the opportunity to invest a lot of time into conversation-based interactions. And in doing so, you really can have the opportunity to get to know someone even more quickly and on a deeper level. 

So conversations around who are you and what's important to you? And where did you come from? And what do you want? And tell me a story about your life. Or tell me a story about your day. These are all doorways to getting to know someone and to deepening connection. 

I think that one of the big challenges here is the possible I won't say possible. I will say frequent experience, which is very common in long-distance relationships, which is sometimes the difference between our ideas about who someone is versus the reality of who someone is. Like the whole story. And so, what we humans always do is that when we have little bits of information, we tend to extrapolate many other things from those little bits of information that are reality based. 

And our constructions are pretty much always in alignment with what we want things to be, right? And particularly when we're very excited about someone in an early-stage romantic relationship, we tend to have all kinds of highly optimistic ideas about who someone is and what they really like. And when you're talking with someone, periodically on the phone or on a video call, or maybe you get to spend a weekend together once a month or two, there can be limited opportunities to gather enough information about how people really are when they're stressed, when they're disappointed, when they don't feel like talking. How do they handle conflict? How do they solve problems? How do they load the dishwasher? Like, those kinds of things can be absolutely missed, when you're spending not that much time with each other, or when your opportunities for kind of day-to-day interaction are limited. 

And even if you are spending time together in person, that time is often a short-term couple of things and it oftentimes feels more like a vacation. You're getting together, and it's like we're gonna go do these fun things, and we're so excited to be together. And people are behaving and feeling differently than they do when you live together day-to-day. I mean, it's just a different experience. 

And not that it can't be fun, and wonderful, and all good things, and you can certainly deepen a relationship. Just always keep in mind that there are going to be new things that you will learn about this person, as you get to know them and spend more time with them, which, you know, can vary in terms of their importance. 

I personally have worked with couples who spent most of their relationship like a one to three year long relationship long distance and just loved each other to pieces. “We’re having the best time.” And then, they decided eventually to move in together or get married and had all kinds of things that surprised them. And that would, maybe not deal breakers, but we're creating conflict and disappointment, and that really needed to be worked through constructively, and that they had not been aware of prior to living with each other or getting married. So just keep that in the back of your mind. 

And it can be really helpful to figure out, how can I get to know this person as they really are? So don't try to keep it necessarily light and fun. I mean, super early stage of relationship, fine. Keep it light and fun. But if you're really considering this person for long distance or long-term relationship potential, figure out what you need to know. Like what is actually super important to me? What is a deal breaker? Let me hear about a bad day or also noticing how they operate when they are maybe busy or stressed. How emotionally responsive are they? Are they able to answer your bids for connection? Are they giving what you what you need, even in the context of a long-distance situation? 

And I'll just share; it may be a big mistake to assume that relationship issues that you're experiencing in a long-distance situation are just because it is a long distance-situation. It is also worth considering that if someone isn't emotionally responsive or isn't available when you want them to be in the context of a long-distance situation, it may be that that could be the way that they actually are, and that it is not likely to improve if you were together day-to-day. 

And that may not be true. Some people just aren't great technological communicators. But don't make too many excuses or blame too many things about the relationship on it being long distance, because people tend to be consistent in the way that they behave in many different situations. Of course, long-distance situations do, again, present their unique set of challenges. So there's that. But it can be hard to figure out what is ultimately the truth. 

And it's also, I think, a stressful situation for many couples who are developing their relationships and getting closer and closer together to figure out, “When should we move in together or be in the same town together? What do I need to be seeing or experiencing with you from a distance in order for me potentially or you to feel comfortable with packing up our lives and moving to Omaha to be together?” Particularly, if you're still in a phase of our relationship where it would be prudent to live close to each other and see how it goes. And I think it's wonderful to be cultivating a relationship with someone where it seems like there's enough opportunity there to find out whether or not it is a good long-term match. But that can be a hard decision to make if your relationship has been long distance exclusively prior to that. 

And then, there's also all kinds of conversations around who's going to move? And what is that going to look like? And should we move in together? And is that okay? Do I have a backup plan if that doesn't work out? There are so many things to consider. But again, even just having those conversations with each other can be the opportunity to really learn so much about each other long-term goals, values, hopes, and dreams. Also the way people operate in terms of their willingness to bend on your behalf. That in itself can be a very important, I hate to use the word metric, but let's do it as a data point, when it comes to evaluating whether or not this is the person for you. So there's this. 

And I think that this dynamic is even more pronounced for couples who meet each other in a long-distance kind of context and have to, from the very get go, figure out how to do all of this from the very beginning. And whether it's orchestrating time together or regular calls and routines or dates. Like what does that look like online? So those are things to be thinking about. 

And now, some of the things that we have found to be super, super helpful for long-distance couples are really like, and just to say this out loud. Just like with any relationship situation, there are very rarely like hard and fast rules. Like if you want a good relationship, do this, not that. I mean, there are some things that are easy to generalize, but every person is unique. Every couple is unique. And there are so many “correct” ways to have a really high-quality, long-distance relationship. 

So it is not the job of a couples therapist to tell you what to do. It is our job to help you as a couple create systems, and ideas, and practices that work for you and your unique needs. But I will just share some of the questions that a good long-distance couples therapist would always be asking you and encouraging you to be thinking about and talking about. And I just offer these so you could have some of these conversations on your own if you'd like to, but certainly conversations related to what are our long-term goals as a couple. How do we feel about this long-distance situation? Is one of us okay with it and the other person not okay? What do we do with that if there's conflict around it? Is this feeling good for both of us? And also, what how are we going to handle this if it stops feeling good for both of us?

And relatedly, I think that there's always an important conversation to be had around, what are your values? What is actually more important to you? Is it more important for you to live in Omaha than it is for you to be in the same location with this person you're in a relationship with? Or is your pursuit of this career goal more important to you than being with your partner in person? And is that true just for now? Or will that always be true? 

And helping people get clarity around what they want and what their priorities are in life, not just for their own benefit but for the benefit of their partner, who can then to have all the information, make informed choices about what they want to do long term. Because if you're in a relationship with someone who is always actually going to prioritize their career goals over their connection with you and your family together, you should know that, particularly before you invest a whole lot of time, and energy, and years, and have children with this person, right? So those kinds of conversations are really, really important. 

Secondarily to that, many couples can experience challenge and friction in long-distance relationships when it comes to, “How do we maintain our connection as a couple? How do we feel close to each other day-to-day when we live apart? How do we not just maintain but strengthen our attachment to each other?”

And this can often involve developing different aspects of a relationship. It can involve building a new sort of way of being friends and partners to each other. Lots of opportunities to increase your emotional intimacy. And beautiful things can come of it in terms of rituals, of connection, and things that you do with and for each other in order to help each other, not just know intellectually, but experience, to feel that you are just as important as you always were, even if they're not able to show you day to day through small things. 

People who tend to have like a love language that's oriented around conversation, and emotional connection, and words of appreciation. For those types of people, this maintaining connection can feel much easier in the context of a long-distance relationship. People who really need a lot of like physical connection — hand holding, hugs, things like that. Or acts of service — doing things around the house for each other can feel like a little bit of a crisis. But if you're in a relationship where those things are not really possible in the same way, a couple has to get creative. How do we make it possible or more possible? It requires effort, but it is definitely achievable. 

And also, for many couples in long-distance relationships, sooner or later, there will be a, most of the time, for one, sometimes both partners, to experience a little bit more anxiety or insecurity than they would in a relationship, because it's a long-distance relationship. So it's, “We were supposed to talk at eight, but you weren't – where were you? You weren't home? Who were you with?” Like those kinds of things. Or you know when people seem less emotionally available or kind of distracted. That's like more fraught than it would be many times if you're living together. 

And in these situations, people need more overt, like, reassurance, maybe more contact. There needs to be more information. And that often needs to be really freely given. There has to be a lot of priority around, “How do I show this person that they're important to me, that I am their partner, that I care about them, that they can trust me, they can count on me, that this is a stable situation in the absence of my physical presence and my ability to be there with them day to day in real life?”

So that can be a point of conflict for many couples. And again, as I mentioned at the beginning of this podcast, when people are anxious or feeling insecure, it can create a pursue-withdraw dynamic in a relationship, as I have discussed on many past podcasts. I will refer you back to those for more information. You could listen to the communication podcasts I've done. 

But there needs to be a lot of sensitivity to that and what anxiety is doing to you. Or also, if somebody is wanting more from you. If you experience yourself kind of withdrawing from that, to be just real conscious of that, and how it may be impacting the relationship situation in even more dramatic ways than it would if you were together in real life. Because if you don't have that much time together, your interactions in those small moments become the majority of what people have to understand you. So there can be a lot there that's worth discussing. 

And I will say on that note, I think that is probably the reason why the majority of long-distance couples decide to pursue couples therapy or relationship coaching in a long-distance context is because when they try to have these conversations, it feels very difficult, or it winds up feeling frustrating, or it turns into a conflict, or they're not getting their needs met from each other despite having conversations around that. And if you have these conversations and have that experience, that can be a real good indication that it might be time to have some more support and helping you really kind of figure this stuff out if communication is feeling hard or if you're asking for change and change isn't happening. Those can be signs that it's time to get some support.

So those are things to be considering and to be doing for long-distance couples. In addition to those points of conversation, it's really important to have deliberate, intentional conversations, particularly for that first type of long-distance relationship a married or committed longer term couple who has been living apart that is now anticipating reintegration and to be planning in advance for that reintegration process. 

Certainly, for military couples and families where one person is active duty and has been on deployment and is now coming home, that needs to be handled thoughtfully. Because, in the meantime, it is highly likely that his or her partner has established all kinds of new routines, and rhythms, and ways of doing things. And then for you to walk in the door, and throw down your coat, and start messing around, and doing things, and touching stuff, and moving things around, like that may or may not be welcome or helpful. Just talk about this. 

And also for the person on the other side. If you have hopes or expectations that your partner is going to walk in the door, and throw down their coat, and start doing laundry, like to be talking about that at the very least to help them understand what those expectations are and how they can be helpful to you. And just together, as a couple, figure out what that's going to look like and expect that there will be friction, which is good conflict in a relationship, is always simply a sign that there are things that need to be discussed and worked out. 

All conflict is the opportunity for connection. It is not a bad thing to have conflict in a relationship. That is an opportunity for growth. So expect it. Welcome it and have a plan for how you're going to deal with that constructively. Because it's constructive. It's always constructive. When you handle conflict productively, it is constructive. 

For people in a newer relationship, last words of advice for you would be to be really deliberately considering and actively participating in ways that you can really get to know each other on a deep level and on a realistic level, so that you can make informed choices about the potential for a future with each other. And there are so many opportunities again, to be emotionally available, to be vulnerable with each other, to be emotionally responsive to each other, particularly if one of you is feeling anxious about something. So many opportunities to show each other who you really are. 

And also very, very helpful to if/when the time is right to potentially move in or move closer to each other, find ways of doing so where you can mitigate the risk to each other, in the event that you know either it's different than you were hoping it was or if, for some reason, it doesn't work out. Be thinking about how you can get to know each other be in the same place without it being this like do or die, life or death, like super pressure-y situation. Because that in itself can add like a weird and difficult pressure to a relationship that a relationship doesn't typically experience when people are getting to know each other who do live in the same town. That would be absent of that kind of pressure. And so just to be thoughtful about that.

And then, while it is so difficult to do this when you are really excited about someone, and you're in love, and really hopeful about your future together, I always caution clients in my work as a dating coach is to not get attached to any particular outcome and really be kind of focusing on, how am I feeling in this relationship? Does this feel good to me? Is this working for me? Is my long-term happiness and satisfaction dependent on this person and making all kinds of changes and then I will feel happier and better about the situation? So like, just being really clear and honest with yourself about those things.

And I think approaching it with an attitude of cautious optimism that, “They seem really great and I'm really enjoying this so far. And I'm really looking forward to getting to know them better.” Before really like making major life decisions on your experiences of them so far. 

Because everybody is a mixed bag. Every relationship has aspects about it that are wonderful, and aspects of it that are challenging. And the key to having a really happy, healthy, enjoyable long-term relationship is not finding your perfectly compatible, perfect soulmate who does not have any issues, because everybody does. It's finding a person that has 75-80% of the things about them you really like and appreciate. And those things outweigh the 20-25% of them that is actually non-ideal, possibly annoying. That's always going to be there. That part doesn't matter. Does the good outweigh the bad significantly enough? And just know that that bad is there. You just may or may not know what it is yet. And so the point of dating is to figure out what that is, and if it is stuff that you can live with. So just keep that in mind unsolicited advice from a jaded dating coach.

So I hope that these ideas were helpful to you. I hope it kind of opened the window into some of what we do with long-distance couples that we see for couples therapy online or the work that we do as dating coaches, and just kind of like giving you some of the questions and strategies and things to think about, so that you can use them in your own life and make good decisions about it.

And of course, if you are in a long-distance relationship and would like to pursue couples counseling through a video or if you're in a dating situation and would like to do some dating coaching about how to handle long-distance relationships, we are always here for you. Come on over to www.growingself.com. You can schedule a free consultation, and we can talk get to know more about your situation, and how we may be able to help. 

Or otherwise come over to www.growingself.com and browse around all the other articles and podcasts that we have just for you around long-distance relationships, about strengthening your connection and your strong bond, about communication strategies. It is all there for you, so I hope you come take advantage of it. And I will be back in touch with you next week for another episode of Love, Happiness & Success.

 

More Love, Happiness & Success Advice

Embracing Your Cultural Identity

Feeling connected to your cultural identity can be an important part of life satisfaction for many people, and it can be a large part of one’s identity as a whole. Online therapist, Josephine M., shares more here…

read more
How to Let Go of Anger

How to Let Go of Anger

There is a time and place for healthy anger, and getting stuck in anger can keep you anchored to a painful past. Learn how to release anger and reclaim yourself, on this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast.

read more

How to be Successful Online Dating

The online dating world can be a jungle. Online therapist and dating coach Jessica Small, M.A., LMFT shares her top tips for online dating. From creating your profile, avoiding red flags and disappointment, to setting yourself up for success!

read more
How to Feel More Secure in Your Relationship

How to Feel More Secure in Your Relationship

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

read more

How to Stop Being Codependent

How to Stop Being Codependent

How to Stop Being Codependent

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

How To Stop Being Codependent

Overcome Codependency and Get Your Life Back

[social_warfare]

If you're in a codependent relationship, it's time to stop. But how? How do you stop being codependent?? Today's relationship podcast is going to show you how to spot the signs of codependence, understand why codependent relationship dynamics take hold, and then offer real-world strategies to stop the madness and cultivate healthy interdependence. Really!

I know as a Denver marriage counselor and online couples therapist who's spent years helping couples get unsnarled from emotional enmeshment, that many couples struggle with codependent relationships. Codependent cycles drag everyone down, and relationships feel miserable when they're happening.

I know from firsthand experience as a marriage counselor that codependency recovery is possible, but it takes a lot of self awareness to spot it — much less break free from a codependent cycle. It's hard work, but it's the only thing that can stop feeling angry and frustrated with your partner, and start feeling good about yourself and your life again.

Here's a quick rundown of what we're discussing on the podcast today. (To skip the commentary and just listen to the episode, scroll down to find the podcast player.) Or, here's the link to listen to How To Stop Being Codependent on Spotify, and here it is on Apple Podcast. Subscribe to the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast while you're there!

Onward!

What is Codependence, Anyway?

“Codependence” is a pop-psychology term that was birthed in the Al-Anon movement. Back in the mid-century era, counselors who treated patients with substance use disorders began to notice common elements in their partners. They were often completely anxious, often angry, and absolutely hyper-focused on what their alcoholic partner was (doing or not doing) at the expense of their own wellness. They were over functioning in response to their partner's under functioning, and were mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted as a result.

They were termed “codependent,” and the Al-anon movement was launched in efforts to help the “partners of people with a problem” get emotionally un-fused from their spouses in order to not just feel better and more in control of their lives, but stop trying to “fix” their partners. (So that their partners could have the space to do the work of recovery, or fail.)

Nowadays, the term “codependence” is tossed around like popcorn at the movies in our popular culture as a short-hand way of describing everything from feeling highly attuned to another, to financially dependent on another, to simply being reactive in relationships.

But when marriage and family therapists like myself talk about “codependence” and what it means, we're actually referring to something much more specific: Codependence is a problematic level of over-involvement and enmeshment in a couple or family that leads to anger, anxiety, and — usually — a great deal of frustration.

In a codependent relationship one person is usually working really hard to try to control, “help,” manage, monitor, coach, or assist the other into acting they way they want them to. As you can imagine, these efforts are not just unproductive, they lead to a really problematic “parent / adolescent” type of dynamic in a couple. In the language of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, a pursue / withdraw relationship cycle predictably ensues with the “helping” spouse becoming increasingly frustrated with their non-compliant partner, who in turn, views their spouse as unnecessarily controlling and hostile (and becomes defensive and avoidant as a result). Not fun for anyone.

If a codependent relationship dynamic has been happening for a long time, it can take the assistance of a really good marriage counselor to help a couple get unfused and achieve healthy interdependence again. Ideally, you can nip it in the bud!

The Problem With Codependent Behavior

Here's the sneaky thing about codependent relationships that is easy to miss: When you become codependent, you feel like you're “helping” or “protecting” your partner, or trying to get them to be the person you want and need them to be in order to have a good relationship with them. But over time, often unintentionally, your happiness becomes almost entirely reliant on their actions or behaviors. Maybe you think your partner isn't doing enough or that your lives will fall apart if you don't do everything you feel needs to be done. Whatever the case, codependency will drain you of your energy and take away your sense of empowerment for your happiness.

Furthermore (oh, the irony) when codependent relationship dynamics are happening, it makes it less likely that the “under functioning” person is less likely to change and grow. Crazy, but true. (I will explain to you all about why that is in the podcast, promise!)

In this episode, I define what codependency is and paint a picture of how and why it manifests in our relationships. I will be explaining how to shift away from codependency so that you and your partner can flourish together. Through this episode, I hope you can enter a space of healthy interdependence with your partner.

Codependency Recovery Stages

In order to empower YOU to make positive changes in your relationship and learn how to stop being codependent, in this episode I'm covering information that will help you:

  1. Understand what makes a relationship codependent.
  2. I'll ask you some of the same “codependency quiz” questions I ask my clients to help determine if their relationship is codependent
  3. Learn how to become more self aware around codependent relationship characteristics (so you can stop participating in them!)
  4. Discover the importance (and methods) of taking back your power, either in codependence therapy, or on your own.
  5. Learn about the steps you can take toward recovering from codependency as a couple.
  6. I offer some examples of what codependency recovery stages look like in action, so you have a  roadmap for YOUR relationship.

Thanks for joining me in the How to Stop Being Codependent podcast today. I hope it helps you, and that you subscribe to the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast on Spotify (or wherever you listen) to take full advantage of all the resources, tips, and info I create to support your journey of growth each and every week. It's all there for you!

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. Did learning about codependence and “how to stop being codependent” is making you think of someone you know is struggling with this situation, I hope that you share this information with them.

P.P.S. If that person you're thinking of is your spouse or partner, and you're fearing that you two may be in a codependent dynamic together, a super low-key thing to do to begin creating change is to simply listen to this podcast together and discuss it. If you want to take your DIY, kitchen-table couple's therapy session to the next level, here's the link to take our “How Healthy Is Your Relationship” quiz together too. Establishing open communication is always the first step to creating positive change! — LMB

[social_warfare]

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

How to Stop Being Codependent

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

Music Credits: Les Hayden, “Ophelia”

Spread the Love Happiness & Success

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

iTunes

Stitcher

Spotify

How to Stop Being Codependent: Podcast Transcript

.
Access Episode Transcript

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

That song is called Ophelia. The artist is Les Hayden and I chose that song for us today, not for his lyrics so much but because of the tone of the song, I think, but also to have the opportunity to speak with you about the lesson of Ophelia. If you remember from your high school Shakespeare days, Ophelia was a character who was so overly involved in her relationships with other people, that when those relationships were disrupted, it absolutely ruined her. And I know that's kind of heavy, but I thought it was an appropriate kind of symbol for our time together today because today we're going to be talking about something that has that impact on people, might even be impacting you, and your life, and your relationships—and the term for it is codependence. 

When we talk about codependence, we're talking about being so focused on what other people are doing or not doing, particularly our romantic partners, and feeling like unless and until they can get it together, you cannot be at peace, or happy, or satisfied with your life. And so, so much energy goes into trying to help another person function at the level that you want them to function to, that in the meantime, you yourself are just awash in stress and anxiety and anger and all kinds of negative emotions that takes such a toll on you. 

So on this episode of the podcast, I wanted to explore this topic with you in particular, so that you can understand what it is and how it shows up in relationships and kind of think about whether or not it might be happening in yours. But also, I'm going to be leaving you with some ideas that you can use to begin shifting this dynamic so that you can feel happier and more at peace and more in control and, paradoxically, create positive change in your relationship without all of the drama and stress and pain that you might be experiencing now. I know that sounds crazy when you let go you have more opportunity for change, but it's so often the case, particularly when it comes to relational dynamics. So lots of exciting stuff planned for us today. 

And if this is your first time listening to the podcast, I'm so glad you're here. I'm again Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, I'm the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching, and I am a licensed marriage and family therapist. I'm also a licensed psychologist. I am a board-certified coach. And I am here with you every week sharing love, happiness, and success tips and strategies and insights that are all designed to help you and also to be responsive to what it is that you are needing. 

So today, we are talking about codependence, and I also have all kinds of podcasts ready and available for you—anything from communication and improving your communication and your relationship to understanding how to handle different situations and your relationship with your partner. If you haven't yet, please subscribe to this on iTunes, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, wherever you like to listen and scroll back. I had years worth of podcasts, and they're all available for you, and every single one of them hopefully has an actionable takeaway that can help you improve some area of your life, your relationship, your career. So I hope you take advantage of all of it. 

And also, it's not just me, in my practice growingself.com we have over, I think, 40 at this point therapists, couples counselors, coaches who I work with all of them very closely. And in addition to me and this podcast that I do, they are always putting together blogs and articles and answering listener questions. And so, anytime you want, cruise on over to the blog at growingself.com and you can see not just my thoughts but all kinds of expert advice and take advantage of it because it is all there for you. 

How to Stop Being Codependent

Alright. So let's talk about this situation. Let's talk about codependence and why this is so important. And as you know, if you listen to this podcast, I always try to design shows around your needs and what I'm hearing from you guys about what's important. And lately, I've been getting so many questions coming through the blog at growingself.com, Facebook, Instagram, that are all some variation of, “Dr. Lisa, how do I get my partner to do XYZ? Or to stop doing

XYZ? Let me tell you about this terrible thing that my partner is doing or not doing and how upset I am about it. How do I get them to change?” That's the gist of a lot of the questions, and in honesty, like I think that that is the energy that drives a lot of people into couples counseling is that the perception is that they are having unhappiness and distress in their relationship because of the things that their partner is doing that is making them absolutely crazy. And they're just beside themselves, they do not know how to get them to change or improve the situation, and there's lots of fights around this, and it's just so exhausting. 

And so we hear about this a lot, and I think even more so lately, like so in addition to me, I get this podcast and other things for our practice, and I also see my own clients, certainly. But I also am at this point in a supervisory role, and so every week, I'm in multiple consultation groups with other counselors and coaches on our team, talking about different cases, not people's names or anything—it's all de-identified—but part of what responsible, ethical therapists do in order to be as effective as possible is case consultation with other professionals in order to say, “Here is a situation. How would you guys handle it?” In order to make sure that we're always handling things really appropriately, and doing the very best we can to make sure that the work is always effective for our clients. 

And in so many consultation groups lately, I've also been hearing about my colleagues, working with couples who are struggling with these codependent dynamics that are very entrenched and very powerful and hard to change. And the reason why it's so important for us to be talking about is because until it changes, it is really impossible to, paradoxically, effect the change that you would like to see in your relationship. 

What is Codependence

So the first thing I want to talk with you about is just a little bit more about what codependence is and what it refers to. And just to be perfectly transparent, the term “codependence” is not a psychological term. It is not in the DSM. It is very much like a self-help pop psychology kind of term that came to be through the recovery movement, like AA. And you know that, essentially, back in the day, alcoholics were the focus of treatment. They would go to groups, they would have sponsors, they would have their meetings, they would have their work. And it became clear over time that it wasn't just the alcoholics that needed help—their partners and their families were also really struggling. And what counselors in the recovery movement observed is that the partners, the spouses in particular of alcoholics, would be a mess. They would be so angry, and they had characteristics in common. They were often very high in anxiety, they were often very angry, and they were often spending a lot of time and energy trying to control or police or supervise or improve or protect their alcoholic spouses at the expense of themselves, and also, really unsuccessfully. 

And so because of that, there was a whole separate wing that was created which you've probably heard of called Al-Anon, which is a separate type of support group and growth process specifically for the partners of people in recovery. And that movement is designed to help people become un-enmeshed and un-codependent from their partners and really just start focusing on themselves and their own happiness and well being again, which paradoxically, for reasons that we will discuss, changes the dynamic of the relationship system and makes it even more likely that their alcoholic partners will heal and grow in addition to helping to helping the codependent person feel a little bit better.

So that is where this came from. And so certainly, codependence, the term itself is often heard or found in, in those sorts of circles. In my experience, yes, that is absolutely one of the applications of it in our counseling practice. But there are also different ways that it shows up in relational systems that are not necessarily specific to addiction, recovery, and addiction recovery stuff is really not what I am talking about here on the show. If you are in a relationship with someone who has a substance use disorder, I would encourage you to get involved with addiction specific treatment because that will be more helpful to you. And if you would like to look into Al-Anon, you can just google Al-Anon meetings. They're all over the world, and they're free, and I'm sure they're online at this point. So very easy to get involved with if you'd like to do that. 

But outside of addiction's recovery, people will throw around the term codependent all the time, and it means really different things to different people. And so when somebody comes into the office and says, I am codependent, and I want to talk about that, or whatever, that my very first question is, what does that word mean to you, just to be sure that we're kind of on the same page. Because here's what it means to me when people talk about codependence or what it means generally. It means that they need their partner or someone else, a family member, sister, brother, whatever, to behave in a certain way, or be a certain way, in order for them to feel a certain way; they are essentially trying to regulate their emotions through someone else's behaviors. I know that sounds a little bit weird, but they ‘re—so that's why there's all this energy going into trying to control other people because they are attempting to regulate their own anxiety or sense of safety through the behaviors of another person as opposed to what they feel in control of. 

And so this can take a few different forms, there is a kind of codependence that I actually think of is more like an emotional enmeshment. And that happens when someone cannot feel happy if their partner is upset for whatever reason, angry, sad, stressed, whatever, that they're so sort of enmeshed together, that they will put all kinds of energy and effort into trying to get their partner to cheer up or feel better, or be happy again. And until their partner does feel better, the person who's attempting to upgrade that change feels really bad and anxious, and it's like they cannot be okay if their partner is not okay. Or if their partner like, gets angry or upset, they kind of fall apart or feel super angry and upset in response. Like there's this emotional enmeshment within a system that almost prevents people from being able to behave independently of each other. And that creates a lot of reactivity and problems in relationships. 

Another aspect of codependence is people who tend to feel like really anxious or unsettled or not. I don't want to use the word unsafe and like a literal physical unsafety but like, kind of insecure or not at ease, or not calm or relaxed unless their partner is doing certain things or saying certain things or behaving in a certain way. And that when their partner doesn't do what they need or want them to do, they feel very agitated and anxious. And again, it turns into efforts to control their partner and try to get their partner to be different in order for them to feel secure and well. And then, of course, there's the addictions recovery aspect of this where this sort of dynamic is often very pronounced. 

But what I see more often in our practice is kind of like a functional codependence. So it's either somebody who doesn't like the way their partner behaves or doesn't like the way their partner communicates or doesn't like the way their partner prioritizes time or feels unhappy that the partner isn't like more of a team player in their home. And just to be very clear, that it's absolutely okay to be upset about any of those things, I mean, nobody likes that, right? But the difference with a codependent dynamic is that there is this like, hyper-focus around what is my partner doing or not doing. And I'm going to try to control them, change them, police them, monitor them because unless they change, nothing is ever going to be different. So there's like this exclusive focus on changing of the partner trying to get the partner to be different. And unless and until that happens, I am going to be so unhappy and upset.

And again, it's this like, external locus of control, because when a codependent person goes into that place, they are absolutely dependent on what another person is doing for their own sense of happiness, or security, which as you can imagine, puts them really into a place of powerlessness and dependence because they are unable to feel okay, independently. Hence, the term dependence. They're dependent on their partner for their own sense of well being, and attempting to change the way they feel by controlling someone else's behavior. And of course, as you can imagine, because it is essentially impossible to control someone else or change someone else, people who have a codependent orientation to relationships usually feel absolutely exhausted and depleted, and resentful, and angry, and so incredibly frustrated because they feel so, so powerless, and they're putting so much energy into trying to get their partner to change so they can be okay, and it's not working. So it's a really difficult space to be in.

And so, first of all, the very, very, very first thing that we always do with codependent dynamics is, first of all, we have to raise awareness in either the couple if people are coming in together, or if it's an individual person who's coming in for help on their own to talk about how incredibly distressed they are about what's happening in their relationship, which also happens. The first thing we have to do is get clarity around what's going on, and helping people, if this is what it is, but helping people figure out how much of their power and time and energy and mental energy, emotional energy are they giving away to this codependent dynamic without even realizing it. 

Codependency Quiz

So let me ask you some of the questions that I often ask clients who are grappling with this. Question one would be: Do you persistently feel frustrated, upset, or angry at your partner’s inability to make changes? You're kind of always annoyed that you really want them to be doing something different, and they're not, they're going to keep doing it over and over again. That would be a clear one that there's a codependent dynamic at work. And particularly if that question number one is yes, and it is also coupled with a true answer on this question, do you believe that your relationship problems and like even life problems would be resolved if only your partner would change in some way?

And then thirdly, do you personally feel like it's hard for you to be happy? Or you feel good about yourself in your life because of things that your partner is doing or not doing? And so if you answered yes to all three of those questions on my little mini codependence quiz, you may be struggling with a codependent dynamic in your relationship. And if so, I have a lot of empathy for that because you are likely feeling really annoyed and stressed and like even hyper-vigilant a lot of the time, it's a very difficult place to be in. And so that's why I wanted to talk about this today, in order to give you some, some clarity and some strategies. 

So I feel like we're kind of talking about this in theoretical terms right now, and sometimes I think it's easier to illustrate examples by telling you stories instead. So one example that immediately comes to mind to illustrate this, and I think so many of us can relate to, is one couple who is kind of a mishmash of many couples, but if we were to distill it all down coming in, and one person is sitting on the couch, or in the video session, and just like vibrating with anger and annoyance about all the things that their partner is doing, and can't wait to tell me about it. And legitimate things like, “I found another beer bottle in the trash can when he said that he wasn't going to drink on school nights,” or “He said he was going to mow the lawn, and he didn't,” or “She came home late again, and I can't make plans, and I feel like she's always leaving me holding the bag with housework, or kids or whatever, going out with her friends,” like they're the type of complaints can be endless, and they vary.

 And just to say this, what I'm talking about in this podcast here with you is going to be in the spectrum of like garden variety codependent dynamics. And if you had the unfortunate circumstance of being in a relationship where there's really serious stuff going on with your partner like substance abuse problems or serious like mental health issues that are untreated, you're probably going to resonate with some of what I'm talking about, but the strategies won't work as well in that situation because it's a different animal. And I would refer you to other podcasts that I have created on related topics, I think one was called, What to Do When Your Partner Has a Problem, and I think I also did a podcast a while back around, you know how to get somebody else to change if they have really serious stuff. So scroll back through the episodes, and you'll find them. 

But this situation that we're talking about is a couple where one person is absolutely so frustrated, so angry, and also oftentimes feeling very, like self-righteous in their anger, really feeling like their partner is behaving so badly, and that they just can't stand it anymore. And they're starting to, many times, like lose respect for their partner, but really just putting so much energy into trying to get their partner to change, and sometimes it's nagging, and sometimes it's arguing, and sometimes it's just doing things for them, but sort of resentfully. I mean, it can take all sorts of different forms. And that is the sort of operating emotional space that the partner who's like really wishing the other person could be different days and all the time. 

And then on the other side of this, the person who is the “changee”, that is the person in the relationship that has been identified as the one who has all the problems that need to be changed, is often feeling incredibly resentful, sullen, withdrawn, often puts just as much energy into minimizing their partner's feelings. “Oh, it's not that big of a deal. You need to lighten up, it's not that bad. It's fine.” That is often this dynamic, and it becomes a very well-developed and entrenched relational dynamic where one partner is pursuing the other, in efforts to get them to change, respond, listen, do something differently. And the other person in response is withdrawing and becoming less emotionally available, less responsive, less often considerate, and thoughtful. And so then what that leads to is an increase in the anger and resentment and kind of pursuing of partner number one. And so as you can imagine, this gets more and more intense over time. 

And I think we can all relate to this experience, probably even on both sides. I mean, I think everybody who's been in a relationship over five years has at least at some point had well-developed ideas about what their partner should do in order to make things better. So following my partner, exercise more, drink less, eat healthier foods, or took antidepressants, or stop playing so much video games, you know, I mean, whatever, “Then it would be better for us.” And on the other side of that, I think many of us can also relate to being the recipient of that kind of criticism, and that constant like feeling like you're never doing anything, right, and that you're not quite good enough the way that you are, and how bad that feels.

So, that's the dynamic on both sides. And so that's many times where people start when they come to us for couples counseling. And I just, I wanted to kind of like bring that to life a little bit more to see if any of those things are things that you could relate to. And the problem is, really, that what happens is that over time, couples become more and more polarized and to each of these positions. The partner who is righteously indignant, is becoming more and more convinced that they have the answers, and their partner needs to do XYZ, and every time they don't do XYZ, it is more information that their partner can't meet their needs, or be a good partner, or that they're ever going to have the kind of relationship or like that they want, and kind of falling into this despair. And also, it creates a dynamic where the person who is really like in that codependent place, will oftentimes become extremely hyper-vigilant to notice. “What is he doing? Did he clean the kitchen? Did he take out the trash? Did he drink too much? What is going on? Or…” 

I don't want to make it very gender-y. It happens with both ways with men and women that happens, same-sex relationships, but there's this like constant on edge of, I have to monitor and police and nag and almost like supervise my partner to make sure they are doing the things that they need to be doing. In order for us to have a good life together. It's like, I need to make my partner be the person that I need them to be. Because the person as they are, I don't totally like them. I don't trust them. I doubt their competence. I don't think they make good decisions. And I feel like if I wasn't making them do what they needed to do and be who they needed to be. Our lives would fall apart. Important things wouldn't get done. bills would go unpaid, things would bounce, we wouldn't have groceries, we wouldn't get places on time the kids wouldn't get their needs met.

And as you can imagine, to be in this space where it feels like you are the one that has to be the policeman or policewoman of everything and like always kind of on guard to make sure that things are happening the way they are, or should be rather, it is absolutely exhausting. It is so stressful. It feels like you can never let your guard down, you can't relax. 

And I just wanted to say this to kind of like, bring some empathy into this because I think that there's like a caricature stereotype. A naggy person or controlling? We'd like to throw the word controlling around, “Do it this way. Do it that way. Why didn't you blah, blah, blah?” It's very easy to see a person who is inhabiting in that space as being overbearing, or overly, what's the word, controlling, I think, is the one that comes up most often. And can we all just agree, though, that the emotional experience of people who are behaving that way, is one of anxiety and fear.

I have personally never met anyone who is behaving in ways that are controlling who has not, when I help them talk about what's going on, shared that they have this overwhelming sense of like fear and anxiety about what would happen if they stopped being “controlling” if they just let things go and stopped paying attention to what's happening and what should be happening and who's doing what things would actually fall apart. 

And also, I don't think I've ever met a “controlling” person who has not wished and longed on a very deep level, to relax and to be in a safe place with a person that they trusted to just handle things for them so that they could finally rest and feel taken care of and supported and not have to be worried and on eggshells that if they aren't vigilant for five minutes, something terrible is going to happen. 

People who are in this space are over functioning. And they are overly alert and overly active in a relationship, because it feels like they have to be. So if you are listening to this podcast, and you are in a relationship with someone, and you feel like they are nagging at you and criticizing you and being overly controlling, and like why don't you do this, you should be more like, I would invite you to consider why that might make sense from their perspective, and that you have a lot of power to change the system because they will step back in direct proportion to their experience of you stepping forward, they would love nothing more than to say, great, you cook dinner, I'll be over here and they would love to do that. But they might not trust you to do that. 

So there's that to consider. It's really important to think about systemic dynamics in these situations. Because the alternative is that if we're not aware of the systemic dynamics, the alternative is to develop a narrative about your partner and the type of person they are and that leads to all sorts of things. 

So for example, if you label your partner's being controlling and unreasonable, and that's just the way they are, that's like their character, their personality, where do you go from there, right? And it's usually not true, there's always a reason why people are the way they are. And a reason that is very understandable. And that we can work with that you have to see your partner with empathy. So I wanted to leave you with that.

Now, let's talk about this from the other side. So if you are the one who has been really just putting in so much energy to try to get your partner to understand and to change, you may have noticed that it's not that effective. I mean, really, like, most people who are doing this and engaging in these kinds of codependent behaviors are trying over and over again, to get their partner to be different and listen to them and respond to them and do things a different way. Or they give up and just start doing everything for their partner because they have lost confidence in their partner's ability to follow through. And it takes such a toll on you. And the thing that can be hard to see when you're doing this is that when you put so much energy and effort and take so much responsibility on yourself, for things, you actually make it less likely that the other person is going to step up and do things differently in response to you. And I know that's incredibly frustrating because it feels like you're trying to make things happen and you're trying to protect yourself and the family and even them by doing all that you do. But paradoxically it leads on a systemic level, to a persistence of the problem that you are seeking to change and I mean, reflect on this, if you will. 

Is it true that the more you care about change and what your partner is doing or not doing, it seems like the less they care, or the more they fight you on it, or the more they tend to minimize and dismiss what you're saying. That is what happens over time it creates this power imbalance and even though it may feel like the person who is doing the running around and being upset and trying to get things to be different, feels like the dominant personality in the relationship, in truth and in practice, you actually become disempowered and have much less power. Then you're kind of passive partner as the months and years progress because you are killing yourself and putting in all this energy and effort. And they're like watching you around, run around like a crazy person. Like you need to relax. Just chill out. And so that doesn't work.

Stages of Codependency Recovery For Couples

And now that we've kind of talked about the dynamics of codependent relationships, I'd like to turn our attention to the emotional kind of underpinnings and what can change it. And so the thing that is really important to understand, and the part that gets missed for many couples in this dynamic is that people get so focused on what is happening, or isn’t happening or what the partner is doing or not doing, the attention is much less about their internal experience and about the feelings underneath all of this on both sides than it is about the signals or the behaviors or the communication patterns. And so I think it's really important for people who are in the active side of a codependent relationship, to really make contact with the level of fear they have around what could happen if they stopped, and to really get a handle on how much of their own personal power and their own happiness and their own satisfaction with their life is really so highly dependent on what their partner is doing and on the relationship itself. Because that in itself can be just a huge awakening, like, “Oh my gosh, I am spending most of my time being anxious and upset about this, what this person is doing or how they're behaving and I can't live like that anymore.” And it's in that kind of moment of recognition that that power gets taken back. 

And now I'm talking about this as usual, like, it's an easy thing, people often don't arrive to this place without a lot of growth and work that is achieved through either individual therapy or coaching or through couples work is where people can move into the space where they're like, you know what? This whole control thing has been an illusion anyway, even though I am managing my anxiety because I feel like I am in control of the situation. I am really quite objectively not in control of the situation because these things keep happening. And you know what? I don't want to do this anymore. This is not good for me and there's also an increase in anxiety when that happens. Because you know, if somebody stops being the police person, your partner might drink too much or spend too much money or not follow through with things or ruin their health with junk food or waste their lives playing video games. But can we just agree that they're basically doing that anyway, with or without your hyper-vigilance, they're just like trying to hide it from you and fighting with you about it. 

And so what is a much more productive space to go into, is this idea and this new recognition that for many people, the core of the anxiety is around the practical matters, certainly, but when you really dig down into it, there's almost this like, existential crisis that comes out around, “Can I be with this person? Can I maintain my marriage and my family with this person? Because it feels like I can't. What is happening now feels unsustainable to me. And so I am twisting myself into pretzels trying to get my partner to be a partner with me so that we can have a nice life together. And I'm so afraid that if they won't do it, I will have to go.” And that's like this, this core like fear that many people make contact with when they begin grappling with this. It's very, very powerful, and can be very interesting to make contact with and share in a vulnerable way with the partner who has been creating so much pain, that you feel has been creating so much pain because it really turns it into being less about them, and more about you and what you can tolerate and what you can't and what your options are in the situation. 

So, many times, what this kind of exploration leads to are productive conversations between two people where there's like a new recognition of why the struggle is happening and that really powerful and understandable like noble intentions and attachment needs, both people are bringing to the table. Many times on the other side of this, people who have been functioning in a manner that is different than how their partner would like them to be sometimes is feeling very withdrawn because they feel like they're going to be rejected anyway, whatever they do is wrong. So why even try, or they feel like there isn't space for them to bring their own way of doing things to the table in the relationship, like, and so they really feel minimized and diminished, so they kind of give up and stop trying in some ways. 

But they're also underneath of that can be a very real experience where, believe it or not, some people have arrived in adulthood, without having the same set of skills around getting things done. Prioritizing activities, managing time I mean, to be very, like task-oriented, and a planner, and like, executive functioning skills, if I do this, then this will happen. I shouldn't stay up too late playing video games, because I have to get up for work in the morning. And, it is not that unusual, like, well, it doesn't happen all the time. But sometimes when I'm working with couples who have this kind of dynamic, we discover that the partner, who has been maybe struggling to do some things that is creating a lot of anxiety and stress for their spouse, has undiagnosed ADHD that has never been recognized or dealt with or treated. And so they're behaving in a way that isn't actually consistent with adult success, and it's driving their partner insane. But they really legitimately do not know how else to be because they've never talked about it before. They've never considered it before. 

And sometimes couples work turns into almost coaching around; how do you keep track of what needs to be done throughout the week? So that your partner doesn't have to be the one who's always managing the time and the activities for everybody. How do we begin to develop those skills? So that you can do these things. So I just want to float to the possibility that it isn't always that a partner won't do these things, because they're being contrary and an obstructionist, it may actually be that they don't know how to do these things, as well as you do. It can also be true sometimes that partners have different values or expectations around things that are related to how things were done in their family of origin. If you grew up in a family, where there were very kind of well-defined gender roles, and your partner wants you to be doing things that were not done by people of your gender in your home, it's going to create confusion. And that in itself can lead to these kinds of dynamics in a relationship. 

But regardless of the reason why, the first step in resolving this dynamic is getting to the bottom of why it's happening, to see if anything can be done to change the functioning itself. Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes the answer is no, and changing the functioning of the partner who may be under-functioning in the relationship, but also maybe doing some work around the expectations and values of the partner who believes that all of these things need to be happening to ask some questions in a safe, compassionate, non-judgmental space around, “Why do you believe that we need to have a protein, a fruit, and a starch warmed up at breakfast every morning, or else you're both failing as parents? Some people eat cereal most of the time, and they're okay.” So let's talk about where some of these ideas about what breakfast should look like, came from. I mean, that's a more trivial example. Right? But I mean, you'd be amazed at what I think we all take as being the truth from our family of words and experience, and then apply that truth to other people.

We are measuring our partners by our own yardstick without even being aware that we are carrying a yardstick and holding it up to other people and say, “No, we cannot have a granola bar for breakfast, that is not sufficient, it needs to be an egg or a waffle.” So I mean, it's like, we all carry that. And many times, there's a period in couples counseling or relationship coaching, where we have to do a deep dive into what those things are. Because there are blind spots, we do not know what we are expecting or projecting on other people at a subconscious, until we do this type of focused growth work, which can be incredibly productive and opens so many doors. So that's kind of phase two of recovering from a codependent dynamic. 

Now, phase three can happen in addition to sometimes instead of phase two, and this is where the person who has been trying to be the change agent in the relationship and feeling really bad and anxious and angry and stressed a lot of the time may arrive in a place again, where they have decided that they don't want to feel that way anymore. And it may be that their partner is not able or willing to work with them on creating the dynamic to step forward a little bit more so that they can step back. And in this case, stage three, you need to take your power back through your own volition and what this means is almost like repeating this mantra to yourself of, “I am only in charge of me, I can only control myself, I am responsible for my own happiness, I am responsible for the quality of my life, I am in charge of me and my outcomes.”

And when this happens when the formerly codependent person stops trying to control other people and instead really shifts into taking responsibility for themselves, and the quality of their life independent from what their partner is going to do or not do, they will feel happier and more confident and more at peace, they will also have to work through some anxiety that will immediately spike around what will happen if I just start focusing on me and stop being so concerned about what my partner is doing or not doing that we do also have to deal with but it can be achieved, I think, through a very deliberate intentional growth period where you start thinking a little bit more about what you need, and how else you can get it if you're not getting it currently from your partner and from this relationship. 

So many times people might say “I have them working my tail off to create this set of circumstances in my home and I haven't done anything fun for myself. And I don't even know how long, I can't remember the last time I got some exercise or spent time with my friends. And I feel like I'm always so angry and what feels positive and good to me. Where can I get my energy replenished and nourished if this particular well is currently dry?” And so sometimes this turns into, you know, spending more time doing other things and taking care of what you can. And in doing so you are helped to kind of manage your own anxiety and feel happier and more content and it's like less dependent on your partner for your sense of well-being. 

So going back to that idea codependent when you're a codependent your sense of self and safety and security and happiness is entirely dependent on your partner and we're going to shift that so that you can be okay, no matter what they decide to do.

And so, oftentimes what happens here in practice is that when people are getting their needs met and just going about their lives as they wish to and not thinking quite as much about their partner, they feel better. They often stop nagging, they stop caring as much about what their partner is doing or not doing and, there's like this new dynamic where the partner who had been withdrawn and kind of like, fighting for their independence, and, “No, you can't control me and tell me what to do.” When that stops, they're sort of like, “Oh, nobody's telling me to stop playing video games at 2 am. So I'm gonna stay here till 5 am and play video games” and just they're being themselves. And what happens is that scary as it may be, they begin to experience natural consequences for their own decisions, they have hangovers, they miss work meetings, they start to have overdraft fees on their checking account because they forgot to pay the bill. 

 

And instead of their over-functioning partner, getting angry about it, or rescuing them, or berating them into behaving, all of a sudden, it is really on them. And they are experiencing the consequences for their problems, and it is on them to figure out how to fix it. And in doing so, two things happen, it sends a lot of clear messages to both people in this dynamic, the over-functioning person moves into the space of, “I deserve to be happy, and I know what I need to be happy, and I am not sure if you can be part of my life if I am actually going to be happy because this is not currently working for me.” And it is not a threat, it's this truth of, “I don't know that I can tolerate this, and I'm not going to tolerate it. So let me know if you would like to work on this with me. I'll be over here.”

So the fighting kind of stops. And what also happens is that it can be very easy in this type of dynamic for the under-functioning partner, to have a lot of like, almost passive aggressive hostility towards their spouse, and like kind of secretly blaming their partner for being so controlling and naggy and critical and when they begin experiencing consequences for their own actions, there is this new sense of clarity that what they are doing is actually not working for them. And it raises their anxiety enormously because it sort of turns into this existential crisis of, “If I am going to, nobody's coming to save me and if I am going to maintain my relationship with this person, and my family and have the life I want, I have to figure out how to do these things. Because before it was my partner's problem, they were the ones that were stressed out and anxious about it, but they're not anymore. Now, it is my problem and I need to get stressed and anxious about it and figure out how to change it or not, and accept the consequence of that outcome, potentially.”

But the power dynamic completely shifts, when you decide to take your power back. Because if someone wants to be a good partner for you, they will be, but it is up to them to be a good partner, you cannot make them be a good partner. And this is almost like a crisis that couples walk into and I would really advise you if any of this is resonating for you that you do this with the support of a marriage counselor to make sure that it is productive. 

But to walk through these stages together and reshift the power dynamics in a relationship, what often emerges is that both of you are doing the best you can you are both lovely, well-intentioned people, many times and this is particularly true for men that I've worked with in relationships, who were occupying this space of kind of the belligerent teenager in their relationship and their wife was kind of turning into this angry mommy lady like because of these, these power dynamics and when we're able to shift this and get people sort of like pulled apart and functioning more independently. We can see that people like under-functioning partners are often very nice people who love their partners very much and don't actually like the way that they had been functioning themselves but didn't almost have the space to figure out how to make those changes on his own. Because when we're focused on another person criticizing us, the natural reaction to that is to defend yourself. 

I have all these reasons why it made sense. But in the absence of that, when somebody isn't criticizing you, then you have the emotional space to connect with “I don't actually feel good when I drink too much in the evening, or I don't feel good when I don't get enough sleep or exercise, or I don't feel good when the house is a mess. I don't like that.” And so again, we're moving away from codependence and back to independence where someone can say, “I like feeling like my partner is happy with me. I like how I feel when we get things done, or when we can work together as a team.” And so what happens is a shift back into intrinsic motivation on the partner, who had been getting harassed into changing previously, when the harassing stops, only then intrinsic motivation, their desire to change and grow, can emerge.

And the other neat thing, so that's kind of like stage, what are we at? Stage four of all of this? It’s space where people kind of separate from each other not literally separating, although sometimes, but really, it more of that, like emotional separating around, I'm going to do me, and you're going to do you, and let's see who we each are in the absence of this codependent power struggle that we had been engaging in, previously.

So when this happens, and people begin focusing on themselves, and what makes them feel happy and fulfilled, it can go a few different ways. That way I always root for is what's really neat is that when people stop focusing on who and what their partner isn't, and take responsibility for their own happiness and own well being, they can then reconnect with their partner as they are. Because at the end of the day, and I say this as someone who has been married now for a really long time, that I truly believe in my heart of hearts, and as a long-married person, also as a marriage counselor that true love and genuinely happy relationships certainly require both people trying in attempting to be their best selves and taking responsibility for themselves in the way they're showing up, certainly.

And in addition to that, they require a high degree of acceptance and appreciation for who and what your partner is, and how their gifts and their differences can enhance your life and the experience of your family. And it's a really interesting, like emotional shift that occurs when we work through codependence and help people become independent, then we can come back together into healthy interdependence where people are relying on each other for the things that each partner can give freely and that is appreciated and cherished. 

So for example, many times in the classic, codependent relationship where there's the I mean, I hate to genderize again, but kind of angry controlling wife and a sort of juvenile under-functioning husband, a lot of times, what can really happen is that when people come into this place, take responsibility for themselves. We can come back together again, and appreciate the differences. 

So for example perhaps in a classic example, the wife begins to realize that her partner's a lot of fun, and that he's funny, and that he likes to do fun things and it's a gift to her to have him in her life because you know what, he is different from her and he's the one who will pry the mop out of her hands on a Saturday morning and say, “Let's go do something fun today put down the mop. Come on, let's go do XYZ, right?” And in contrast, I mean, instead of feeling resentful about the, “controlling partners,” always making them do things that they doesn't want to do, being able to move into the space of appreciation for the gifts and talents and intelligence and planning and competence that many people who are often in the disempowered place and in a codependent relationship of the ones who have just the weight of the world on their shoulders, they're often naturally strong, competent, capable people, and can do so many things.

And a real shift occurs when the partner who perhaps had viewed them as being aggressive or rejecting, can see them for the person they really are, which is someone who also needs support and understanding and a soft place to fall because even though they are so strong and so competent, and so smart, they also do need to rest and just be loved and cared for to and it helps people kind of move towards each other, and see each other through much more compassionate and forgiving and appreciative lenses when that happens. 

Now, it is also sometimes true that when couples go through this whole process of exploration and growth, they may discover that they are intrinsically very, very different from each other. Relationships are formed for all kinds of reasons and as we have talked about at length on many podcasts, the early stages of romantic love, create almost intoxicating kind of experience that can weld people together emotionally, people who may or may not be compatible in many ways, or as easily compatible, I should say. And so then you can decide is, who and what this person is, and always will be, “Can I be happy with who and what they are? Can I accept them as they are, and have enough left here to be satisfied and fulfilled with what I can get out of this relationship or not?” And that answer can always be a complex one to resolve.

And can also I think, sometimes test our notions of what relationships should be, there is no one right way to have a relationship. I am actually not a huge believer in fundamental compatibility. I will absolutely agree that some combinations and pairings are easier than others couples who are further apart from each other and their basic needs and desires and value systems and the things that are important to them will have more to work through and more challenges in order to be good partners for each other, they will have to be more accommodating, and more flexible, and more compassionate, and more generous, and figure out a way to respect, not just a respect, but help their partner create a life that is genuinely meaningful and satisfying to them that both people will have to do that. And it will be a further reach to find a bridge to the center when there are bigger differences, which sometimes at the root of a codependent dynamic you will discover. 

And it is also true that every couple has differences that in the experience of a codependent dynamic become quite polarized, and people become more different because they are fighting about those differences than they actually are in reality. And that when we can move back into a space of healthy interdependence, many couples discover that they have a lot more in common. And they're a lot more of a cooperative, collaborative complimentary couple than maybe they had known previously. 

So I hope that this discussion has helped you. If you are one of the people that has reached out through Facebook or on the blog at growingself.com or Instagram with a, “How do I get my partner to XYZ?” type of question. This is why I didn't shoot back some kind of two sentence answer, is because there's not a two-sentence solution. It's a process. And so that's why I wanted to make this podcast for you is to kind of walk you through what that process is, so that you can develop just a clarity of understanding of what lies ahead and that there's no secret trick to getting your partner to do what you want them to if you can only phrase it this way or use this little trick, as, with so many things related to relationships, it is a process of growth. That is not for the faint-hearted. It takes so much courage to do the kind of work that I'm describing to you, we have to walk into fear around, “What will happen if I let go of the control? Or what will happen if my partner stops trying to make me XYZ? Can I take responsibility? Who am I without someone else telling me what to do? What do I really want for my life? And how do I take responsibility for creating that?” It is as frustrating as it is, it is much safer, emotionally, to blame other people for our problems than it is to turn that back on ourselves and say, “How did I get here? And what do I want? And what am I going to do to change it?” 

And as scary as it is, that's the kind of conversation that will ultimately create change, it's a little bit of a trust fall. And again, that's why getting the support of a really good therapist or relationship coach to help you, almost like stay in that challenging, not scary place, but like to help you feel confident that this is the path forward can be really essential. Because many times when people get scared, they just sort of collapse back into doing what they know or trying to create change in a way that feels safer, or that makes more sense logically. And as we've discussed here today, the real path forward is not one of logic. It's one of emotion and deep understanding both of yourself and your partner. 

So I hope that this conversation has been helpful to you and let me know if there are other things you would like to hear about, you can get in touch with me, growingself.com, you could always leave a follow-up question for me on this topic or any other through the post for this podcast. And I'll see, you can track me down on Facebook, Dr. Lisa Bobby on Facebook or @drlisamariebobby on Instagram. And I'll be back in touch next week with another episode of the Love, Happiness, and Success podcast.

 

More Love, Happiness & Success Advice

How to Let Go of Anger

How to Let Go of Anger

There is a time and place for healthy anger, and getting stuck in anger can keep you anchored to a painful past. Learn how to release anger and reclaim yourself, on this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast.

read more

How to be Successful Online Dating

The online dating world can be a jungle. Online therapist and dating coach Jessica Small, M.A., LMFT shares her top tips for online dating. From creating your profile, avoiding red flags and disappointment, to setting yourself up for success!

read more
How to Feel More Secure in Your Relationship

How to Feel More Secure in Your Relationship

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

read more

Types of Intimacy

There's more to intimacy than sex. Looking to reconnect, strengthen, or build a better bond with your partner? Online Marriage Counselor and Relationship Coach, Tomauro Veasley discusses the 4 types of intimacy that are imperative to a lasting, healthy relationship.

read more

Stages Of Getting Back Together With Your Ex

Getting back together with your ex means weighing the good and bad of your previous relationship together. Utah Couples Therapist and Online Breakup Recovery Coach, Kensington Osmond shares how to navigate the stages of getting back together.

read more
12 Effective Ways to Destroy Your Relationship

12 Effective Ways to Destroy Your Relationship

Are you unknowingly making serious relationship mistakes that are damaging the health of your partnership? Learn the most important things to avoid (and what to do instead!) in order to have a fantastic relationship on this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast.

read more
Mindful Self Compassion

Mindful Self Compassion

How do you forgive yourself when you've hurt someone? How do you gain self awareness, master your emotions, and break destructive old patterns? Mindful self compassion can help you make peace with the past, and move forward. Here's how…

read more

Unhealthy Relationships

Can you spot unhealthy relationships? Learn more about whether it's a growing moment or time move on, here on the Love, Happiness and Success podcast!

read more

Keeping the Romance Alive

Keeping the romance alive, easier said than done? Relationship + Intimacy Expert, Dori Bagi, M.S., SAS, MACA shares practical tips for rekindling your flame.

read more

How to Avoid Miscommunication in Relationships

How to Avoid Miscommunication in Relationships

How to Avoid Miscommunication in Relationships

Are You “Mind Reading” Your Relationship?

[social_warfare]

Miscommunication in Relationships: Can you recall the last time you felt confused in your relationship because you couldn’t find an explanation for the behavior of your partner? The last time you felt worried that things might not be going well because something happened that seemed like a bad sign? 

Miscommunication in relationships is more common than you might think. When there isn't an open and honest conversation around what you're feeling, expecting, or needing from your partner, miscommunication is bound to happen. Maybe you’ve even found yourself wrestling with some thoughts like these:

If she hasn’t returned my text message in the past three hours, she must be upset with me. 

If he isn’t very talkative during dinner, he must be wondering if we should keep seeing each other. 

It’s been a long time since we’ve been intimate. He must not find me attractive anymore. Or maybe he’s seeing someone else? 

In each of these scenarios, there is one piece of information that is clearly missing – the thoughts of our partners. Our own effort to fill in those gaps with what we assume they must be thinking is indicative of something therapists sometimes refer to as mind reading. And while that’s technically a superpower, it can be a major hindrance to our relationships, leading to severe miscommunication. 

Communication is Key in a Relationship

In my experience as a relationship coach, I would argue that some level of mind reading happens in every relationship. At its most basic level, it is simply the belief that we know what another person must be thinking or feeling at a given moment. This miscommunication in relationships comes from an innate tendency we have as people to fill in the gaps around things we don’t fully understand. Unfortunately, most of us have a bent toward filling in those gaps with the worst-case scenarios. We assume the worst so that we’re surprised when that’s not the case, rather than assuming the best and being disappointed when reality doesn’t measure up. 

While the impulse to do this is perfectly normal, the consequences of it can be incredibly harmful to our relationships. We end up in fights over problems that don’t exist. We attack the character of the person we love most because we misinterpreted an event. We assume that the worst-case scenario simply has to be true so that we can guard against being hurt

The impacts of these beliefs in our relationships are real because something is real if it is real in its consequences. It doesn’t ultimately matter if they are actually true or not. If we believe that our partner meant to hurt us when they truly didn’t, we will still treat them like they did. The impact on the relationship is real.  

This is where communication is key in a relationship: having healthy communication that connects you to your partner vs. assuming you already know what they are thinking.

Assume the Best of Your Partner

What if we didn’t fill in the gaps with the worst possible version of events? What if we made the intentional choice to assume the best about a situation when the information was missing? What if we went a step further and actually asked our partners to tell us what they mean rather than trying to read their minds? 

Here are three guidelines that I teach my online couples coaching clients that can help you and your partner do this on a routine basis. 

Couples Counseling Communication Tips to Avoid Miscommunication in Relationships

#1 Assume the best about what your partner means in a given interaction.

We are all guilty of running the instant replay in our heads after a conversation with our partner. Questions flood our minds as we reflect on what was said. What did he mean when he said this? Was she implying that I was responsible for all of this? This tendency to overanalyze leads us to walk away from interactions and only later decide that something happened that we should be upset by. When we find ourselves reflecting on a conversation and this happens, instead of believing that our partner’s comments or actions were meant to hurt us, we can choose instead to assume that they care about us and did not mean to cause any harm

#2 If you are hurt by an interaction, ask your partner (directly) to clarify what they meant.

We often want our partners to fully understand us, but it takes more effort on our part to invest the time needed to make sure we fully understand them. When we find ourselves hurt, we can allow the hurt to serve as an invitation to deeper understanding. We can reach for our partners and ask if they meant to be hurtful in what they did. This gives our partners the chance to tell us what they were thinking or feeling when something happened, providing additional clarity as we determine whether or not the injury was intentional, accidental, or simply the result of an unfortunate misunderstanding. 

#3 Ask yourself if there might be other explanations for something your partner did that might give them the benefit of the doubt.

Sometimes, we are short with those closest to us because we feel animosity toward them. Oftentimes, we are short with those closest to us because we feel hangry. Could there be a more benevolent explanation for the interaction that has upset us? None of this is a denial of our right to tell someone that something they did hurt us; this is simply an invitation to not assume that our partner was being malicious toward us when it happened. Sometimes a text gets missed because it was opened in a meeting and they haven’t had a chance to respond – it doesn’t have to mean we’re being ignored on purpose. 

Create Space for Intentional Communication

The space we create for our partners to share their intentions with us is critically important. When we create internal narratives around what another person must have meant without actually asking them to share their intentions or perspective with us, we run the risk of expending valuable emotional energy being upset with them over something that is largely the creation of our own imagination. 

We would do well to leave the power of mind-reading on the shelf and instead choose to utilize one of the simplest but hardest to execute powers in our relationships – open and honest communication.

Warmly,
Benjamin Jones, M.S.

online life coaching online couples therapy online relationship coach

Ben Jones, M.S., is a life and relationship coach who helps couples and individuals activate their inner strengths in pursuit of their goals and passions. His collaborative, friendly style makes him easy to talk to. He can help you get unstuck, achieve new understanding, and create deeper connections.

Let's  Talk

Real Help For Your Relationship

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

 

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

 

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

Related Post

Dating During Coronavirus

Dating is always complicated, but the pandemic adds an extra layer of complexity. For many single people, that hasn’t necessarily been a bad thing. Join us for a conversation about dating during coronavirus, and the modern dating insights that will help you find real, authentic love.

Sex After Infidelity

Sex after infidelity can stir up a surprising swirl of complicated feelings for both partners. A sex therapist shares how to re-establish intimacy in the aftermath of an affair, on this episode of the podcast.

Getting Back With An Ex

Considering getting back with an Ex? Thinking of being friends with an Ex? Learn when reconnecting with an Ex works (and when it doesn’t) on this episode of the podcast.

How to Read People

Do you wish you knew what’s really going on in your partner’s head or how your coworkers actually feel about you? This episode of the podcast is all about learning how to read people, so that you can pick up on the things that aren’t being said.

Power Struggle In Relationships

Power Struggle In Relationships

Power Struggle In Relationships

Power Struggle In Relationships: How to Break Through Gridlock

[social_warfare]

Power Struggle In Relationships

Marriage Power Struggle… Solutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let's Talk. Schedule a Free Consultation Today.

Understanding Power Struggles

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

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

Episode Highlights

Gridlocked Conflicts in Romantic Relationships

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

When Conflicts Start to Polarize, and Power Struggles Start

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

Overcoming Gridlocked Conflicts & Power Struggle in Relationships

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

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

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

Real Help For Your Relationship

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

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

Enjoy this Relationship Podcast?

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

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

Thanks for listening! 

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

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

Power Struggles In Relationships

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

Music Credits: The Coathangers, “Down Down”

Spread the Love Happiness & Success

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

iTunes

Stitcher

Google Play

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

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.

More Love, Happiness & Success Advice

Dating During Coronavirus

Dating is always complicated, but the pandemic adds an extra layer of complexity. For many single people, that hasn’t necessarily been a bad thing. Join us for a conversation about dating during coronavirus, and the modern dating insights that will help you find real, authentic love.

read more
Keystone Habits: The Key To Changing Everything

Keystone Habits: The Key To Changing Everything

If you're ready for change, don't waste your time on resolutions. Instead, focus your energy on cultivating the one keystone habit that will transform everything. Learn how, on this episode of the Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

read more

Power Struggle in Relationships

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

How To Communicate With Someone Who Shuts Down

How To Communicate With Someone Who Shuts Down

How To Communicate With Someone Who Shuts Down

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

[social_warfare]

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

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

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

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

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

 

Let's Talk. Schedule a Free Consultation Today.

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

1) Stop Being Scary

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

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

The louder you get, the less people can hear you

2) Practice Vulnerability

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

3) Be Diplomatic

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

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

Which option would go over better with you?

4) Focus on Solutions

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

5) Get Support

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

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

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

• Improve The Communication in Your Relationship

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

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

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

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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

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

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

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

Real Help For Your Relationship

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

 

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

 

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

Or, Get More Expert Relationship Advice On The Blog

How to Let Go of Anger

How to Let Go of Anger

There is a time and place for healthy anger, and getting stuck in anger can keep you anchored to a painful past. Learn how to release anger and reclaim yourself, on this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast.

read more

How to be Successful Online Dating

The online dating world can be a jungle. Online therapist and dating coach Jessica Small, M.A., LMFT shares her top tips for online dating. From creating your profile, avoiding red flags and disappointment, to setting yourself up for success!

read more
How to Feel More Secure in Your Relationship

How to Feel More Secure in Your Relationship

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

read more

Types of Intimacy

There's more to intimacy than sex. Looking to reconnect, strengthen, or build a better bond with your partner? Online Marriage Counselor and Relationship Coach, Tomauro Veasley discusses the 4 types of intimacy that are imperative to a lasting, healthy relationship.

read more

Stages Of Getting Back Together With Your Ex

Getting back together with your ex means weighing the good and bad of your previous relationship together. Utah Couples Therapist and Online Breakup Recovery Coach, Kensington Osmond shares how to navigate the stages of getting back together.

read more
12 Effective Ways to Destroy Your Relationship

12 Effective Ways to Destroy Your Relationship

Are you unknowingly making serious relationship mistakes that are damaging the health of your partnership? Learn the most important things to avoid (and what to do instead!) in order to have a fantastic relationship on this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast.

read more
Mindful Self Compassion

Mindful Self Compassion

How do you forgive yourself when you've hurt someone? How do you gain self awareness, master your emotions, and break destructive old patterns? Mindful self compassion can help you make peace with the past, and move forward. Here's how…

read more

Unhealthy Relationships

Can you spot unhealthy relationships? Learn more about whether it's a growing moment or time move on, here on the Love, Happiness and Success podcast!

read more

Keeping the Romance Alive

Keeping the romance alive, easier said than done? Relationship + Intimacy Expert, Dori Bagi, M.S., SAS, MACA shares practical tips for rekindling your flame.

read more

Love After Loss

We have all been through so much this past year, and are hopefully on the cusp of rebuilding. My guest today is author Eileen Hamra, who has a powerful message reminding us that within every loss are the seeds of renewal and rebirth.

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

Join Us,
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

read more

Loading...