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How to Solve Relationship Problems Without Breaking Up

How to Solve Relationship Problems Without Breaking Up

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.

Every Couple Goes Through Hard Times.

 

 

Has your relationship been feeling hard lately? Arguing, bickering, sullen silences, critical comments, and rampant invalidation? If so, you’re not alone. Virtually every couple has gone through rough patches like these where things feel challenging: Frustrating, hurtful, angering, and stressful.

 

When your relationship is in a fragile place, even the most innocent comments or situations can trigger a conflict and it feels like a new fight is always simmering just under the surface. Even when you try to have fun together, it quickly goes off the rails. You might even start avoiding each other in order to prevent a new disagreement.

 

Relationship problems like these are exhausting, but mentally and emotionally draining too. Your relationship should be a source of comfort and support, not one of stress and anxiety. If you’re normal, at a certain point, it starts to feel unsustainable to keep going as you have been, and start searching for solutions. You may even start entertaining the “final solution” of breaking up or getting divorced.

 

Can This Relationship Be Saved?

 

If your relationship has been having problems for a while, you may be feeling helpless about how to save your relationship, and worried that things might not work out between the two of you. It is normal to wonder if this relationship can be saved. Of course, this is a scary place to be in, particularly if you really want a relationship to work. But it’s true: When you’ve been trying over and over again to communicate and solve the problems in your relationship and it’s not working… everyone starts to wonder if this is the end of the road for their relationship.

 

When relationship problems persist and nothing seems to help, it’s normal to start to doubt your compatibility, or think that you and your partner are just too different in your values or personalities. You may be wondering if your partner CAN learn how to communicate, or whether they are even willing to work with you to make the marriage or relationship better. You might think about trying marriage counseling or couples therapy, but then think, “How would a marriage counselor saying what I’ve been saying have any impact at all? What’s the point of marriage counseling when they refuse to change?”

 

While this mindset is absolutely normal and natural, if it’s indulged for too long it’s likely to end in divorce or a break up. Why? Because you’re convincing yourself that nothing can be done, and in doing so, may be closing yourself off to solutions. I’m here to tell you that you may have more options than you currently realize.

 

Thinking About Leaving Your Relationship? Not So Fast…

 

If you’ve been feeling badly in your relationship for a while, you might even be harboring escape fantasies: Browsing online for apartments, thinking about what you’d say to the kids, and what your life might look like if you’re finally free of the relationship that’s been feeling so frustrating and hurtful. It can start to seem like divorce or leaving is the only option.

But that is rarely the case. Just because what you have been doing hasn’t worked, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a path forward that will work. (It just might look different than you were anticipating).

 

As a marriage counselor, I know first hand that some relationships cannot be saved. However, many more can. And, sadly, most of the time people get divorced because they don’t know how to resolve the problems in their relationship, and lose hope that things can ever get better. However, it is very rare that evidence-based couples counseling doesn’t work when two people care enough about their relationship to try (and are given the right tools and supports to be successful).

 

Consider this: Even if you do divorce, and form a new relationship with a new person, chances are that sooner or later you’ll arrive in a similar place — feeling frustrated by your relationship, and at a cross roads where you either grow together or grow apart. (Read: Why Your Relationship is Worth Saving)

 

It’s easy to start creating a narrative about how “things shouldn’t be this hard” or “this is not normal.” The truth is that unless this is a genuinely toxic or abusive relationship, all normal couples go through times just like this. You’re normal. I dare you to find one person who’s been married or partnered for more than about 4 years who has not, at some point, felt exactly the way you do.

 

There is hope for your relationship: Couples, with the right support, can grow together and not just resolve their problems but come out the other side being stronger, happier and genuinely more satisfied with their relationships — not in spite of going through the hard times, but because of them.

 

Learning How to Grow, Together

 

When couples inevitably get to the point where communication has broken down, and resentments build up… they have the opportunity to do some serious growth work together. Through this process, you have the chance to be understood, cared for, heard, and respected by each other. You also get the chance to solve problems together as a couple, and work together to build the type of life and relationship that you want.

Without going through the hard times, you wouldn’t have the opportunity or motivation to get really real and embrace the challenge of growth that your marriage requires.

 

How to Save Your Relationship, When It Feels Like It’s On The Brink

 

There is a path forward, that can bring you two back together again. It’s actually fairly simple (but not easy).

Listen to this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast for advice from a marriage counselor for how you can get your relationship back on track.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

xo, Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

 

 

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How to Save Your Relationship Without Breaking Up

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

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Financial Therapy For Couples

Financial Therapy For Couples

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

How to Stop Fighting About Money

For many couples entering couples therapy or marriage counseling, differences around money are a significant source of conflict in their relationship. And of course, money fights are common, because money is one of those things that means different things to different people.

For some, money a stand-in for love and connection, and for others money means security. Some people view spending money on things they enjoy as what gives life meaning, and others view accumulating money to pass on to the next generation as the purpose of life itself

Other people view money as freedom, and still others see it as a tool. People can also have negative associations around money, including guilt or fear. Other people can even tie their sense of self-worth to the money they have in the bank, or to outward displays of wealth.

Money is, in short, a loaded topic.

So it’s only natural that all couples usually have at least some differences around money, because they’re different people. Even if a couple is in basic agreement about their values around money, there will still be differences. In general, financial values exist on a spectrum between “spending” and “saving.”

Why Couples Fight About Money: Savers vs Spenders

In every relationship, there is a person who has a “saver” orientation and a person who has a “spender” orientation. This is even true between two people who are freer with their money than other couples, or within a couple who generally saves more than other couples. They, as a unit, may appear aligned around what they’re doing with money, and yet still find things to squabble about between themselves.

Saver fights: “I thought we agreed to put $1500 into the retirement account and bump the mortgage payment by $500 from now on. We can totally live on a $300 a month grocery budget — you eat too much anyway. Don’t you want to have the house paid off in three years???”

Spender fights: “No, I’m excited about Rekyvic and Dublin and Amsterdam, but I really had my heart set on Prague too. I mean, if we’re going anyway shouldn’t we embrace it? We’ll pay it off! We can use the line of credit from the condo in Vail, it’s appreciating like crazy. Why are you such a kill-joy?”

Of course, in couples who are even further apart on the spender / saver continuum than these examples, you can only imagine how intense fights about money in a marriage can get. This is never more true than around the holiday season, when budgets get blown faster than you can say “Fa-la-la.”

As we speed toward the holidays, life can become a twinkly blur of get-togethers and activities. The internal, sometimes even sub-conscious drive to have a “nice holiday” can drive us to spend way more money than we intended. In some couples, holiday spending can even be hidden between partners, creating a rupture of trust when it’s disclosed in the sober grey light of January.

Yes, “financial infidelity” is a real thing, and it causes real trauma to relationships. When couples are frequently fighting about money to the point where it feels like it’s impossible to communicate about finances, people will begin to hide spending, hide debt, or get overly controlling or even aggressive about money. This can lead to splitting up finances, which is often a symptom of avoidance in a relationship.

When it feels impossible to come to agreements about money, when communication about money always turns into a fight, where there is a lack of financial trust, or vastly different values around money, couples move towards separate bank accounts… and sometimes, sadly, eventually separate lives.

Financial Therapy For Couple

By the time couples arrive in marriage counseling to discuss the ongoing conflict about money, it has often evolved into a bigger deal than can be solved by simply making a budget together, or getting scolded by a financial planner. Feelings have been hurt. Trust may have been broken. Even worse, couples can start to fear that they are too far apart in their basic values around life and money to even be compatible.

This can be a scary time for couples. I remember how it was in my own marriage when money was the number one thing my husband and I were fighting about.

I felt like we barely had enough money to get by, and was frantic in my efforts to conserve our resources — even if it meant wearing second-hand clothes from thrift stores and packing PB&J for lunch every day.

My husband, on the other hand, felt stifled, unhappy, and constrained when I attempted to squash the flow of money through our life. He felt that without having anything to enjoy or look forward to, life felt empty and burdensome.

At the time, of course, neither of us realized that we were both right, and so we fought endlessly over who’s perspective was more true and noble. I’d give him hell for spending $4 on a latte at a bookstore (or god-forbid, buying one of his fancy art-magazines), and he’d make crappy comments about how gross it was to buy used shoes.

We finally got into marriage counseling, and only then, learned how to listen and understand. We no longer have conflict around money. We have conversations about money. It’s good. You can do this too.

Marriage Counseling Around Finances

It can be hard for a couple, particularly a couple in distress, to see through their own anger, fear, and moral judgment to see the other person’s perspective about money for what it usually is: A deeply held personal value, often related to core emotional and psychological needs.

However, without a high level of understanding and empathy, it’s very hard for couples to get on the same page about money. That’s where great marriage counseling, financial therapy, and relationship coaching come in: They can all help you stay calm enough to talk through your thoughts and feelings in a way that fosters understanding and empathy about money, and what it means to each of you.

For example, when I put down my shining sword of virtue and justice long enough to hear what my husband was actually trying to communicate, I learned that his less-privileged background led him to view money as something to be pounced upon and enjoyed while it was there (before it evaporated again), as opposed to accumulating it and cultivating it. I understood him more deeply, and had empathy for what money represented to him: Pleasure and meaning in the moment, and not anything that could be counted upon.

Over time, I also came to understand that being open to his perspective was good for me, too: Because of him, I’ve had more fun, more  interesting adventures, and, frankly, better furniture and clothing than I ever would when left to my own devices.

And as the conflict between us diffused into curiosity and openness, he learned that I inherited a deep anxiety around money from my immigrant family, who fled Europe after the second world war when Stalin appeared to be the next maniac drumming on the horizon. As a first-generation-American who grew up watching her Belgian father save scraps of wire, unbend pulled nails for a second use (stored in glass baby jars he’d saved from my earliest months), and literally cut off the moldy parts of the cheese before proclaiming it perfectly fine, I had a deeply ingrained survival instinct to conserve money.

I’m pleased to report that my perspective influenced my husband too. He now tolerates my budgets and squirreling, and seems to like the fact that we have a financial buffer between us and disaster, as well as a plan for the future.

We no longer fight about money. However — and this is the important part — our alignment about finances is NOT because either of us have changed who we are. He is not exactly like me, and he never will be. He still thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to spend $900 on a BMX bike, and on the rare occasions I shop for clothes, it’s usually at consignment stores.

But he understands me, and accepts that saving money and avoiding debt as much as possible is a wise way to live. And I understand him, and have accepted the fact that it’s important to be generous, and that nice things and meaningful life experiences are worth paying for.

That level of acceptance and understanding is always my hope for the couples who come to us for help in getting on the same page around money. If fighting about money feels like it’s destroying your relationship, please know that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Particularly during this time of year — the holidays, and their aftermath — you have lots of opportunities to talk about finances. This year, I hope you consider giving each other the gift of listening with the intention to understand. Ask your partner what money means to them, and try to get on their side of the table. Don’t have a conflict. Have a conversation.

If you want to solve your financial disagreements for once and for all, the answer is not controlling or changing each other. It lies in developing empathy, understanding, and a sense of common purpose that unites you as a couple and as a family. Hard to do, but so, so worth it.

With love and respect to you both,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

 

Getting Through Hard Times, Together.

Getting Through Hard Times, Together.

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

How To Weather The Storms of Life… Together

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

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

Don’t Let Adversity Destroy Your Marriage

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

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

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

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

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

Learn How to Grow Together, Not Apart

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

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

Coping With Grief and Loss, As a Couple

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

Supporting Each Other Through Infertility and Pregnancy Loss

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

Protect Your Marriage After a Layoff

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

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

Yours sincerely,

Lisa Marie Bobby, Meagan Terry, and Maggie Graham.

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

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

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

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Expectations in a Relationship: Three to Avoid

Expectations in a Relationship: Three to Avoid

Anastacia Sams, M.A., LMFTC is a kind, compassionate marriage counselor, therapist and coach here to help you create your very best life. Ana specializes in helping couples create healthy, happy partnerships, and assisting individuals to heal from past hurts so they can create fulfillment and joy in their lives.

What Are Your Expectations In a Relationship?

Avoid The Three Relationship Expectations That Will Always Mess Things Up

Even before I became a Denver marriage counselor and online couples therapist, I would have described myself as being a “hopeless romantic” and had grand expectations in a relationship. Growing up, I loved the idea of love. To me, the movies I watched made relationships seem easy. You know, the ones where both partners overcome some kind of obstacle to finally realize their need for the other, they confess their undying love then live happily ever after.

I loved this idea growing up, because it just seemed so natural. It seemed like such a stark difference from the real-world relationships that were falling apart all around me. I realized that my idolization of relationships in the movies led me to develop some unrealistic expectations about relationships in my own definition of what a healthy relationship looks like.

Here are some of the biggest expectations in a relationship that may prevent you from experiencing fulfillment with your partner:

Unrealistic Relationship Expectation #1: “I have to be perfect.”  

Have you ever felt that you can’t let your partner see your faults or weaknesses?

As a couples therapist, I work with many couples who feel this pressure to be perfect for their partner, oftentimes stating their fear that sharing their weaknesses will somehow diminish the quality of their relationship.

These feelings of insecurity often leads to one or both partners tip-toeing around each other, neglecting to share their needs or fears, forfeiting the opportunity to experience a true, genuine connection with each other.

The myth of perfection is detrimental because it assumes that humans are faultless beings. Which we are not. Furthermore, perfectionism results in unsatisfactory relationships because there is a lack of depth and meaning when you are only sharing what you believe to be the best parts of you. In fact, vulnerability connects. 

A partnership is about giving each other the benefit of the doubt, it’s about sharing life together.  To share life with another person is to offer them your whole heart with the hope that you are both able and willing to accept and love each other fully — accepting the good with the bad.

When this kind of intimacy happens, it creates a true partnership, a bond full of depth and meaning with a person who you feel safe to rely on, through both the difficulties of life and the joys.

Tip: Try making a list of your top three insecurities and sharing them with your partner, while allowing space to validate each other’s vulnerabilities.

Unrealistic Relationship Expectation #2: “This relationship is about meeting MY needs.”

Living in an individualistic society, we can often place more emphasis on what I can get out of a relationship, or where our partner is failing to meet my needs.  

What I so often see as a marriage counselor and couples therapist is that both partners have needs. It is important for partners to understand how to meet each other’s needs in a way that provides safety and security in the relationship. I also believe that we can be so focused on what OUR needs are, that we fail to see what our partners are needing from us and wind up neglecting them.

Partnership requires togetherness. Togetherness requires the courage to see beyond yourself into another person’s world. Consider your partner’s perspective, what they need, and how you can fulfill them. Doing this can create a community dynamic in your relationship, where you know that you and your partner are looking out for one another, that you’re not in this alone.

Tip: Try spending a day focusing on filling your partner’s “love tank” by doing what makes them feel most loved without expecting anything in return.

Unrealistic Expectation #3: “You should be my everything.”

In my role as a marriage counselor and couples therapist, I’ve noticed this narrative increasing in the couples I’ve seen: a relationship expectation that their partner needs to be their everything.

This unrealistic expectation often leads to someone feeling lonely and hurt when their partner is unable to meet their every need. This mindset also puts an intense pressure on both partners to become something that is often unattainable.

I believe that, much like the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” it takes a community to keep a strong partnership. Having more people in your life besides just your partner, and a shared community where both partners’ feel safe and supported by a number of people, helps to lessen the pressure that you both have to be everything.  Having a community creates an environment for your partnership to flourish as you realize that it does not have to be just the two of you against the world.

Tip: Try spending time with friends both as a couple and individually to build up your community.

Have you had some expectations in a relationship, like the ones I talk about here, that have gotten in your way of having the kind of happy relationship you want? I hope that this article helped shed some light on them, and offered you some tips for how to break free of some unrealistic relationship expectations.

If I can do anything else to support you in creating a great relationship, you know where to find me!

Warmly,

Anastacia Sams, M.A., LMFTC

Should We Break Up or Stay Together?

Should We Break Up or Stay Together?

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

Can This Relationship Be Saved?

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

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

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

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

Break Up or Stay Together: How to Tell

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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

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Should We Break Up or Stay Together?

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

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