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Real Relationship Advice: The Key to a Healthy, Happy Marriage

Real Relationship Advice: The Key to a Healthy, Happy Marriage

Everyone Wants “The Key” to An Amazing Relationship…

I’ve been marriage counselor and premarital counselor for over a decade now, and so I often have people ask me for relationship advice. I was recently on a short road trip in the mountains here in Colorado with my husband, our 1 year-old daughter, our close friend Greg (the best man at our wedding), and his new girlfriend of 6 months. As we were driving home together the new couple asked me to give them my best advice as a marriage counselor and premarital counselor about what they “needed to know” if they get married. “What’s the key to a great relationship?” they asked.

Thankfully my 1 year old was zonked out in her carseat, so I had the chance to tell them the real truth.

As a couples counselor, I hear this question frequently. “What is the key?” The key to the fairytale, the everlasting passion-filled love story romance? What is the key that makes love last? What is the key to keeping couples together?

So I told them the real truth. And halfway through my answer this question, Greg said sarcastically, “Wow, you really know how to sell it!” and laughed awkwardly at my candid but true response. You see, I didn’t sugar-coat it. I was honest.

And I’ll be honest with you, too.


Amazing, Beautiful Relationships Are Not Perfect Relationships

Here’s the truth: The key to everlasting love isn’t that you must find the perfect person to live the perfect life. Instead, finding the person who will fight through the hard times, work through the rough spots, and stay committed is absolutely important. The key is that you will marry someone who will be your partner, and you will go through life together – all of its messy and joyous moments.

Dr. Sue Johnson, couples theorist and the founder of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, said, “Life isn’t the way it is supposed to be, life is the way it is. It is our response that matters.” Very hard, difficult, and trying times will affect each and every couple. There will be transgressions, hurt, loss and pain. The key, the ticket, the magic, is finding someone who is willing to work at it with you and who is open to finding help through it. The key is having someone who fights for you as a couple when life’s confusing, complicated and and chaotic circumstances undoubtedly happen to you, your partner, or you both as a couple.

Awareness that you will have ups and downs as a couple, and that you’re committed to get through them together is vital. But every happy, healthy couple is also usually surrounded by people who help them hold their marriage together during the hardest times.  I often tell my clients, it takes a village! Yes, it takes one to raise a child, but it also takes a village to support a couple and help them be happy and healthy, whether or not they have children.

The thing is, our culture typically doesn’t give new couples the honest truth about the difficulties that lie ahead. At the start of a new marriage, couples are more often than not focused intensely on planning a wedding. This is-super fun (and stressful), but it is not going to prepare you for a lifetime of love. Honestly, nothing will prepare you for it all. Indeed, couples are often surrounded by community during easy times, including weddings and baby-showers. And yet, couples are often quite isolated and alone during the hard times, such as months that define infertility or grief and loss.

In these hard times, you need your community. You need people in your life who can remind you that most important part of this whole thing called love is to remember, you are human! (And so is your partner). You both have so many beautiful strengths and accomplishments that you bring to a relationship. You both also make mistakes. You both also have baggage and behaviors that will make a relationship beautifully complex and challenging. You need people in your life to remind you that no relationship is perfectly easy all the time, but that you can get through it and out the other side stronger than ever with the right support. 

“Love has an immense ability to help heal the devastating wounds that life sometimes deals us. Love also enhances our sense of connection to the larger world. Loving responsiveness is the foundation of a truly compassionate, civilized society.”

― Dr. Sue Johnson

Founder of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, and author of Hold Me Tight: Your Guide to the Most Successful Approach to Building Loving Relationships

Healthy Relationships Have Support

Whether you talk with friends who can relate or parents that are able to provide you with wisdom, or put a good relationship book in your hand at the right time, it is so important that you find support along the way for your relationship. Great relationships don’t just happen; we all have to work at it, intentionally. I personally strongly encourage couples counseling for everyone as a way of ensuring that your relationship stays strong and healthy, and that you both know how to navigate the inevitable bumps in the road when they come up. They don’t teach you how to have a great relationship in school! They really should but that is a soap box I’ll stand on another day.

I also encourage couples to check in with a counselor if they are thinking about having kids, or if there has been a death in the family or financial strains, job loss or even if they’re in a little bit of a slump with each other. One of the biggest relationship mistakes you can make is to wait until you are really struggling to get support. There are so many things a good marriage counselor can teach you to help you navigate all the highs and lows of life, so that it never gets as bad as it can get. (And as a marriage counselor who works with too many unfortunate couples who did wait until they were on the brink of divorce before they came to counseling, it can get very, very bad.)

So here are the real keys to a great relationship:

  • Know that all relationships take work, and none of us humans do them perfectly.
  • Find a partner who is committed to sticking with you through the ups and downs.
  • And get support for your marriage, and use it to learn, grow, and work through the hard times together.

So, back to Greg and his new relationship: he says he’s is so excited for this love he now has and he believes he has found a person he wants to fight for and with far into the future. We are thrilled for him and can’t wait to see all that life has to throw at the two of them. There’s no doubt they will have support from us and the many good friends, family that surround them. And I’ve also already given them a referral for a great couples counselor… for when they’re ready. 

All the best,

Meagan Terry, M.A., LMFT

Solve The Biggest Problem In Your Relationship: Communication

Solve The Biggest Problem In Your Relationship: Communication

Marriage Counseling

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

Are “Communication Issues” wrecking your relationship?

“We can’t communicate with each other” is probably the number-one complaint of most couples coming in for marriage counseling or couples therapy. The underlying issue can be about anything: Parenting, sex, money, priorities. But the result is the same — tense, frustrating moments for both of you. Many couples don’t even remember what half the fights are even about, just that communicating with their partner feels impossible.

Communication problems in relationships make even the simplest moments feel difficult, and like a new fight is always simmering under the surface. Even the most banal question, like “what do you want to do for dinner?” can turn into a conflict when you’re having a negative reaction to your partner’s tone of voice, or the way they respond to you (or don’t respond to you), or the assumptions they make, or the fact that there are unresolved hurts and resentments piling up between you.

Because communication difficulties are such a major problem for so many couples, and I’ve been getting SO many questions about it from podcast listeners, I’ve decided to help you solve this problem by creating a three-part podcast “mini-series” on the subject of how to improve the communication in your relationship.

In today’s first episode I’ll be introducing some main ideas that can help you understand why conflicts happen, and what YOU can do to improve communication in your relationship starting today.

Next week we’ll be talking about how to handle things if you have a partner who seems angry, snappish, or emotionally reactive.

And then in the following episode we’ll be talking about how to communicate with a partner who shuts down.

I sincerely hope that these ideas help you both find your way back together again.

xoxo, Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Ps. Do YOU have specific questions you’d like me to answer on an upcoming podcast? Record your question for me using the “voice recording” widget on this page, or leave a question in the comments! LMB

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

Communication Problems, and How To Fix Them

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

Music Credit: Eyes Behind, “Talk to Me”

Enjoy the Podcast?

Please rate and review the Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

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Telltale Signs of an Emotional Affair

Telltale Signs of an Emotional Affair

Is Emotional Infidelity Cheating?

I recently authored a guest post on Emotional Infidelity for hitched.com, and it’s such an important topic I thought I’d share my thoughts on the subject here on the Love, Happiness and Success blog, too.

Emotional infidelity, jealousy, and trust are common issues for couples we see in couples therapy or marriage counseling. I know from many years of experience as a “relationship expert” that the first step in healing for many couples is having good information to help you understand what’s going on, and what needs to change.

It is incredibly anxiety provoking when your partner has connected with someone new. It’s especially difficult when you are not feeling confident about your own relationship. And if that “someone new” happens to be attractive it can trigger massive amounts of insecurity and jealousy.

But the hardest part about emotional affairs is that they often feel very innocent to the people engaging in them. So, for example, if you share your anxious feelings with their partner they are likely to get defensive, tell you “they’re just friends” and make you feel like you’re being unreasonable. (Which of course only adds to your anxiety).

If your partner maintains their relationship with the attractive person you’re worried about, and are continuously unresponsive to your escalating anxiety, it can create huge problems in your relationship. Namely, that you start looking like the crazy irrational person…. and their new “special friend” is seeming ever more attractive in comparison.

As I’m sure you know if you’ve lived this, that “anxiety > defensiveness > more anxiety > more defensiveness” loop starts to create a very yucky dynamic that can be difficult to unwind.

Because first of all, stopping it requires acknowledgement from your partner that they currently have an inappropriate attachment to another person. Why is it inappropriate? Why is it not okay for “them to have friends?” Because their primary commitment is to you, and you feel uncomfortable with it.

Furthermore, unless they started in response to some gross Craigslist sex-ad or ashleymadison.com profile ALL AFFAIRS begin as platonic emotional entanglements. Hardly anyone sets about to have an affair, destroy their marriage, blow their family apart, and live in the aftermath of the financial and emotional destruction that causes. [Listen to my podcast about affairs, if you want to learn more about the sad reality.] Instead, they begin… appreciating their time with a new person. And attraction grows until it’s a wildfire that only the cold shock of discovery and divorce can drown.

Understanding Emotional Infidelity

Emotional infidelity is a problem because when your partner is getting their emotional needs met by another person they are, by definition, not sharing them with you. Even if it is on Facebook. Check out my article, “Telltale Signs of an Emotional Affair” for an in-depth description of how emotional affairs start, and why they become so dangerous.

Signs of an Emotional Affair

There are very specific signs of an emotional affair that I share in my hitched.com article. Signs that can help you flush out the presence of an emotional affair. For example (and this one may surprise you) if you have been having conflict and disagreement in your relationship, and that tension suddenly fades – without other resolution – it may indicate the presence of a new emotional outlet in your partner’s life.

If your spouse suddenly seems more cheerful, more secretive about their phone, or stops telling you about their day-to-day life it may also point to a new, increasingly important, relationship.

The reason why these new attachments are so problematic for your relationship is that when your partner is going to someone else with their thoughts, hopes, fears, concerns, and emotional needs they are not giving you the opportunity to share them, or meet them.

Believe it or not, the biggest “danger signal” for a relationship is not fighting. People fight when they still care about a relationship and want to change things. A relationship is in real trouble when fighting stops, because people lose hope. People break up because they lose hope that change is possible. And if your partner is sharing all their important stuff with someone else, it’s a sign that they are withdrawing their emotional trust in you. Over time, they may stop believing that your relationship is worth fighting for.

Healing From Emotional Infidelity

There are many things that you and your partner can do together to ease your anxiety and strengthen your trust and security in them. (If your trust has already been broken, you might listen to my podcast: “Sorry’s Not Good Enough: Repairing Trust in Your Relationship”).

For example, if your partner wants to maintain their new friendship, they need to help you feel safe with it. That might mean planning activities where you are included, cc’ing you on correspondence, and having boundaries around the other relationship. If they are not willing to do that, it’s a sign that their attachment to that person may be as important to them as their attachment to you.

For my full advice on recovering from an emotional affair, read the full article on www.hitched.com. If you’re struggling with emotional infidelity, jealousy, and trust issues in your relationship I sincerely hope that the advice I shared in this article, and others, helps you both find your way back together.

All the best,
Lisa Marie Bobby

Wisdom From a Denver Marriage Counseling Office

Wisdom From a Denver Marriage Counseling Office

Wisdom From a Denver Marriage Counseling Office

I’ve been practicing Marriage Counseling in Denver for a decade. I’ve now been with my husband for 21 years this October. (I got married very young, and people used to be surprised by the longevity of my marriage. The creeping crinkles around my eyes now make my jokes about being a child bride less funny than they were a few years ago.)

Both married life and my career in marriage counseling in Denver has taught me a thing or two about relationships, and especially how to have a successful marriage. What I’ve learned is that having a wonderful relationship is both extremely simple, and profoundly challenging in practice.

The big secret to having a happy marriage?

Stop focusing on what your partner is or isn’t doing, and start seriously focusing on yourself.

When I begin a marriage counseling session in my Denver office, I generally have two people sitting on my counseling couch, each almost vibrating with eagerness to tell me about how horrible and insensitive the other person has been to them. They can tick off dozens of transgressions. The big, appalling, devastating hurts, peppered with everyday acts of selfishness and callousness, spill out of them. They’ve been storing up the stories, and simmering in their hurts and resentments for months — sometimes years. In the safe environment a marriage counseling office provides, the stories usually come rushing out.

Does this sound familiar?

I know both of you are in pain. Both of you are longing for love and connection, and so desperately want each other to understand how badly you’ve been hurting. You want compassion, validation, and empathy. You can’t get that from each other, but you can get it from me. And I give it to both of you.

The art and craft of my marriage counseling work comes from my ability to have understanding and empathy for each of you. That’s how I can help you understand and empathize with each other. I have to step in to your marriage and take each of your hands, and then slowly, gently, bring them together so that you’re holding hands with each other again.

But in order to do this, I have to help you lay down your personal agenda and start hearing (and caring about) what your partner is feeling.

Ladies: I have to block you from tearing into your partner during a vulnerable moment when he’s finally sharing his truth. I have to protect him from your criticism; so he doesn’t retreat into his stony shell again.

Guys: I have to help you understand that what your wife is saying isn’t “irrational” at all, but an understandable protest — an expression of her distress around feeling so disconnected from you. I have to help you hear and understand what she is saying, and teach you how to show her that you care about her.

I know it’s so hard to muster up compassion for the feelings of someone who has been hurting you. (Trust me, after so many years of marriage I completely understand). But continuing to be frustrated, upset, critical or dismissive of what your partner is doing (or not doing!) to hurt your feelings creates an emotional environment where it is impossible to understand why they might be acting the way they are. And I will guarantee that if you can listen to them, you will come to understand the way they are behaving makes perfect sense in light of who they are, where they come from, and how they are experiencing YOU.

Every once in a great while during my marriage counseling work, I do meet with a Denver couple where one person is a sociopath, or an addict, or struggling with an emotional problem that prevents them from being able to give and receive love. But almost all of the time, I’m simply meeting with two people who are in great pain, and who are both longing to be loved by the other. And they try to communicate this pain and longing by saying, “Understand me, understand me, understand me” through their words and actions. But when both people are desperate to be understood, shouting louder, becoming more dramatic in their efforts to show their pain… both leave empty and alone.

In order for this situation to change, you’ll need to stop focusing on how to make your partner understand how you are feeling, and what they are or aren’t doing, and how much that hurts you…. and start focusing on yourself.
How well do you listen? How do you demonstrate your love and affection? What “ingredients” are you putting into the marriage? Can you be generous, kind and compassionate — even when you don’t feel like it?

Marriage counseling can help enormously for Denver individuals having a lot of trouble looking at the marriage from their partner’s side of the table. You might need the support of a marriage counselor like me to feel safe enough to do that. But don’t underestimate the healing power of empathy, and your ability to bring love back into your marriage through enacting love: showing that you understand the world through your partner’s eyes — even just for a few minutes.

It feels like flying into the storm, I know. But your courage to listen and understand without judgment or selfishness can unlock a reciprocal door of compassion and generosity inside of your partner.  The bravery it takes to start showing love in the face of anger, and understanding in response to rejection can be the catalyst that begins the back and forth flow of generosity that happy marriages have.

How to start? Remember that you love them. Then simply focus on how you handle yourself in emotionally-charged situations. Decide to be an emotionally safe person for your partner. Decide to understand them. Decide to show them that you love them, even when (especially when) you don’t feel like it.


Because True Love is much bigger than a fickle emotion.True Love is a choice.

Growing Self Counseling & Coaching
Growing Self