Walking on Eggshells

Walking on Eggshells

Walking on Eggshells

Heal Your Relationship

​Have you ever felt like you were walking on eggshells around your partner? Like no matter what you say, it is taken as a criticism and erupts in defensiveness or walking away? Or do you feel you have to be really careful or you’re going to get “in trouble” for doing something the wrong way and get blamed and nagged by your partner? In my work as a marriage and family therapist, it’s common for couples to begin counseling because of similar feelings like the ones above. Typically, one partner will feel like they are constantly having to “be careful” while the other partner has no idea they feel this way.

I see couples all of the time who say, “I feel like I have to walk on eggshells.”   

Walking on eggshells is usually a misguided attempt at preserving a relationship. In other words, partners are afraid of expressing their more vulnerable thoughts and feelings out of fear that they won’t be heard or understood and that it will somehow cause conflict or arguing in the relationship. The good news is that this is a pattern that many couples face and it can be worked through. The bad news is that if walking on eggshells becomes a pervasive pattern in your relationship it leaves both partners feeling alone and misunderstood. 

Prioritize Emotional Connection

It’s sad when partners feel like they walk on eggshells because it usually means that they aren’t connecting emotionally. If you constantly watch what you say to avoid offending your partner, it is usually because what you say strikes a nerve deep within them. The nerve may have developed when they were younger or it may be from a past relationship. Perhaps they perceive what you’re saying as criticism and it strikes their nerve of “i’m not good enough.” That shame quickly turns into anger and they get defensive or simply give in to what you say without really hearing you. Even something as simple as “Will you please put the crackers on the bottom shelf next time?” can land as a criticism and can start the reactions. Maybe your partner checks out emotionally or leaves the room by the end of the argument.

While this may make you feel misunderstood and angry, your partner shutting down or leaving is an attempt at preserving the relationship. They may feel they need to leave in order to avoid further conflict or avoid saying something they don’t mean.

Chances are the reasons you feel anxious and angry is because you actually care about your partner and you long to connect with them better. There is a fear that you might lose them. If you didn’t care about them, it probably wouldn’t bring up these types of emotions. 

There are some things you can do on your end if you play the role of this partner in your relationship. Instead of worrying about where your partner puts things in the fridge or how they pack the kids’ lunches for school, try to recognize your need for emotional connection with your partner and prioritize that.

Grow, Together.

Before we sought help from you, I was at a point in my relationship that I had really given up on hope... you have changed our lives.

— Couples Counseling Client

You Control How You React

If you feel you need to walk on eggshells or your partner will find fault in something you do, nag you, criticize you, or blame you, you are not alone. Maybe you’re even aware that the nagging, criticizing and blaming not only makes you angry, but makes you feel inadequate or that you’re falling short. You probably find yourself shutting down emotionally or physically leaving the scene either to avoid getting into a bigger conflict or simply as an act of self-preservation.  These are natural reactions to this common occurrence in relationships.

However, the problem is, your partner is trying to reach you for emotional connection. I know it sounds strange, but it’s true. The nagging, criticizing, and even the blaming is an attempt to reach you emotionally. (I didn’t say it was a good attempt, but it is an attempt nonetheless.) So, when you leave, that strikes fear deep in the heart of your partner such as “I can’t count on him,” or  “What if I lose her?”

Once you can access these thoughts and feelings, you will immediately have more control over them. You can decide how you will react.  

Access Vulnerability in Your Relationship

Sometimes when we approach our partners about sensitive topics we are defensive or upset.  This almost always leaves the other person feeling blamed. But when we come from a more vulnerable place, when we’ve accessed those tender feelings beneath the surface and we are able to express those to our partner, they can usually hear us.  

Learning How to Be More Vulnerable in Relationships is an important step in any relationship and a relationship-saving tool that you and your partner can work on together.

See the Argument Through a Different Lens

Try and see the argument through a different lens. Is the argument really about where to put the crackers on the shelf, or is someone feeling a lack of connection? Is the argument really about the kids or is someone looking for reassurance and safety? If you can work with your partner on filling in the blanks below, you will be on your way to a solid foundation, rather than those fragile eggshells.

  • This is what I yearn for in the relationship (security, a sense of belonging, to matter)
  • When the thing I yearn for is not happening, I feel (loneliness, shame, danger)
  • When the above feeling is too difficult or vulnerable, I feel (Angry, frustrated, confused)
  • What I think about myself is (I’ve got this wrong, I’m not enough, I can only take care of myself)
  • What I think about my partner is (He doesn’t care, she doesn’t listen, he’s so irresponsible)
  • So I try to take care of myself by (controlling, blaming, walking away, zoning out) and this triggers my partner. And we go back to the beginning.

See how it works?    

Sue Johnson, the developer of Emotionally Focused Couples therapy called this “The Dance.”  All couples have a dance they do and when couples are caught in this negative cycle it leaves people feeling bad and alone, and like they are walking on eggshells to avoid fighting.

If you feel like you and your partner can work together to change this dance, there are great tools out there for couples. My favorite book to recommend to my friends and family is “Hold Me Tight” by Sue Johnson. It teaches couples about how and why they are walking on eggshells and provides powerful exercises and talking points to explore this with your partner and improve emotional connection.

If you feel like you’re too stuck and the thought of bringing up any of this with your partner feels like it will end in a major battle, find a trained couples therapist who will help you get unstuck!

Wishing you happiness,
Stephanie Oliver, M.A., UKCP

Online Therapist UK Relationship Counselling Online

Stephanie Oliver, M.A., UKCP Family and Systemic Therapist is an active, engaged, and down to earth counselor who takes great interest in your overall well-being. She works with couples, families, and individuals to help them reach their full potential in life and their relationships.

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.

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Pre-Engagement Counseling

If you are in a long-term relationship and you are looking for ways to set your relationship up for success, Utah couples therapist and online premarital counselor, Kensington Osmond shares the importance of pre-engagement counseling here!

Walking on Eggshells

Walking on Eggshells

Have you ever felt like you were walking on eggshells around your partner? Like no matter what you say, it is taken as a criticism and erupts in defensiveness or walking away? Stephanie Oliver, M.A., UKCP Family and Systemic Therapist, shares why this feeling is so common in relationships and what you and your partner can do to heal your relationship.

Infidelity Recovery Stages: Healing Your Relationship

Infidelity Recovery Stages: Healing Your Relationship

Healing After Infidelity

The Pain of Infidelity

Is it true that the pain of infidelity never goes away? Is it possible to get over infidelity pain? What does the road to healing look like after infidelity? As a Florida Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Relationship Coach, I have couples come to me looking for help through the process of healing after infidelity. They often ask questions similar to above – and it’s true – infidelity recovery is a long road, but for couples who put the work into the relationship it can be healed. 

It is NOT true that pain caused by infidelity never goes away. Like with any trauma, it has an impact on someone’s life, and regardless of whether the relationship is repaired or not, healing from the trauma is absolutely doable [see more on Post Traumatic Growth here]. 

To move past infidelity pain, it is important to talk through and process the event. For couples who choose to repair and rebuild the relationship, it is important for them to understand that their previous relationship needs to be grieved because the relationship as they once knew it no longer exists after such a significant breach of trust. 

Couples often wish they could “go back to the way things used to be,” but I always like to remind couples that “the way things used to be” actually didn’t work for them. Instead, through couples counseling work, you can create a new, more effective, healthy, and satisfying relationship. Most couples who successfully achieve healing after an affair report that their relationship is stronger and more connected than it ever was before the affair took place. 

The work that is done during the affair healing process allows couples to evaluate all areas of their relationship and to pull what worked into their “new” relationship, and to address and “fix” the areas that were not as effective. 

Falling Out of Love After Infidelity

But what do you do if the trauma of infidelity has impacted your relationship to what feels like the point of no return? Or, what if the affair itself has brought to light major discrepancies in your relationship that has completely changed your outlook on your partnership? In my work with individual therapy clients, clients who have experienced an affair in their partnership have questions like, “I don’t think I’m in love with my partner anymore – is it possible to forgive them/myself and recover what we once had?” And,  “When do I know it’s time to move on?”

A great way to know when it’s time to move on is if your partner is unwilling to be patient and participate in this process. It isn’t easy, but it is possible and requires both partners to be invested in the healing process. It is absolutely normal for either couple to experience frustration and even hopelessness at times during the healing process because it can feel like a never-ending issue. At times, it can be very difficult for the spouses to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and the healing process requires that couples trust their therapist to guide them through it. 

What you may be feeling right now is completely and totally okay, and the only way to move forward together is to process these emotions and work through healing together. As I mentioned above, many couples who successfully achieve healing after an affair report that their relationship is stronger and more connected than ever before. 

Grow, Together.

Before we sought help from you, I was at a point in my relationship that I had really given up on hope... you have changed our lives.

— Couples Counseling Client

Infidelity and Divorce

Should divorce be the route a couple decides to take, there are less damaging options for divorce than the traditional litigation route, such as the Collaborative Process. The Collaborative Process is an alternative dispute resolution method in which two attorneys, and in most cases, a financial professional and a mental health professional, work together as a team to help a couple separate legally, financially, and emotionally. 

Alternatively, couples can explore mediation, which allows couples to find resolution with the help of a third-party mediator. Both of these alternatives to traditional litigation allow the couple to stay out of court, which is beneficial to the family for a number of reasons, and they grant the couple more autonomy in creating marital settlement agreements that are specific to their unique family needs. 

[If you would like to read more on your options when it comes to divorce, read: Considering Divorce? Or Is There Still Hope?]

Infidelity Recovery Stages

So what does the road to recovery look like after infidelity? What can you and your partner expect in couples counseling and throughout the healing process? Typically, the partner who has been cheated on has many questions, and it is important for them to grasp the entire situation and have all of their questions answered. The healing process requires that the person who has been unfaithful to answer all of their spouse’s questions with the exception of details about sexual encounters. 

The spouse who has been cheated on needs to feel like their pain and experience is thoroughly heard and understood by their partner. Inevitably, frustrations occur during this time because the person who cheated is eager to move past the situation, and oftentimes, the same questions or triggers need to be addressed over and over again. 

After the spouse who has been cheated on feels completely understood by their partner, it is time to switch roles and hear from the spouse who has cheated. There are often concrete reasons that led to the infidelity, and it is during this time that many of the areas in need of “fixing” come up so that this issue can be prevented in the future. 

Finally, the couple develops new rules so that the relationship can function better. For example, one spouse might ask the other to change their phone number/email address so that there is no way for the affair partner to contact the spouse. They also might decide that they will carve out time for a date once a week and make the appropriate arrangements, like for childcare, to support that new rule.

Ultimately, it is up to each spouse to determine whether they want to repair the relationship and whether they are willing to put in the effort that is required to accomplish that goal. Healing is possible, regardless of the path the relationship takes. 

Wishing you the best, 
Rachel Merlin, DMFT, LMFT, M.S.Ed

For more on Daring to Trust again after a breakup or divorce, see: Daring to Trust Again

Dr. Rachel Merlin, DMFT, LMFT, M.S.Ed.

Rachel Merlin, DMFT, LMFT, M.S.Ed, is a relationship coach and marriage and family therapist who assists couples and individuals in transforming their lives by creating more satisfying relationships.

Real Help For Your Relationship

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Types of Intimacy

Types of Intimacy

Types of Intimacy

What are the 4 Types of Intimacy?

Previously, I thought that intimacy was just a polite way to refer to sex, but in reality, that type of physical connection is really just one type of intimacy. Intimacy is the concept of fully knowing another person and loving them as they truly are. A level of transparency that requires you to be your most vulnerable self and connect with your partner both in and out of the bedroom. Intimacy describes the closeness and vulnerability we offer one another in relationships. Intimacy is much more than a physical connection, it includes physical, spiritual, intellectual, and emotional aspects. Let’s talk about the different types of intimacy in more detail. 

Intellectual Intimacy

Intellectual intimacy is sharing thoughts, interests, and activities in common. It is human nature to desire spending time with people whom we can share ideas and projects, those who see the world as we do and share the same passions. Dating couples eagerly discover the interests they share in common and often try to learn to like new things. Doing interesting things together over time remains a key part of successful relationships. As we share life and discuss ideas with one another, we grow our intellectual intimacy. Having an intellectual connection can be fostered by simply having meaningful conversations daily. 

Below Are Seven Questions That Will Begin to Help You and Your Partner Develop a Deeper Level of Intellectual Intimacy:

  1. What challenges have you had in your life that you are grateful for?
  2. What is one thing about me that you discovered, that you love about me? One thing you dislike?
  3. What is a major investment or goal you would like to accomplish this year? 
  4. What is better than amazing, mind-blowing, passionate, and satisfying sex?
  5. What makes your partner attractive to you – physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually?
  6. What brings you the most joy in our relationship?
  7. What would you do if I changed my religious beliefs? 

[Looking for more conversation starters? Check out How To Fall Back In Love With Your Spouse]

Emotional Intimacy

Emotional intimacy is the intimacy that comes from being heard. When someone listens to the pain in our hearts, we develop a connectedness. Emotional intimacy grows when we feel that someone has taken the time to understand us. Which can easily become neglected amidst our busy lives. Our closest relationships are built on a foundation of having our emotions validated. 

5 Ways To Enhance Emotional Intimacy:

  1. Share your successes and struggles
  2. Write your partner a love letter
  3. Start weekly gratitude journaling together
  4. Create and complete a “bucket list” together
  5. Get comfortable being uncomfortable (vulnerability)

Spiritual Intimacy

Spiritual intimacy is the intimacy that comes from sharing spiritual practices like prayer, meditation, and worship. Our hearts become strongly knit together when we join together in shared spiritual beliefs. Spiritual intimacy has been shown to be a powerful indicator of successful marriages. A deeper bond is formed that shows that we are working together on the same team following spiritual leadership.

5 Ways To Enhance Spiritual Intimacy:

  1. Pray or meditate together
  2. Share the character lessons you are each learning from your sacred text
  3. Talk about the history of your beliefs, or any specific religion
  4. Get involved/volunteer together 
  5. Read devotionals together 
  1.  

Physical Intimacy

Physical intimacy is all forms of touching, from a handshake, hug, a kiss, or even sexual intercourse. Physical intimacy grows in a relationship as couples grow in their love for one another. Physical intimacy thrives within the boundaries of a committed relationship; too much touch beyond the scope of the relationship brings heartache. Relationships need boundaries around physical intimacy so that godly limits are observed. Physical intimacy is normally essential to a healthy marriage–too little touch and the relationship suffers. 

[Looking to “heat things up” check out: How to Keep Stress From Tanking Your Sex Life]

5 Ways To Enhance Physical Intimacy

  1. Enjoy a nice make-out session
  2. Lots of foreplay 
  3. Explore the body through massage
  4. Have sex in another room
  5. Conscious Sensuality 
  1.  

These four types of intimacy aspects are all connected; they move and grow together. As you strengthen one area it naturally builds on the others. However, neglecting an area can also have damaging effects. Intimacy allows you to preserve the emotional or sexual connection and excitement (the butterflies) you had when you first met. As you know, maintaining a strong and intimate connection is critical to the success of your relationship. We have a responsibility to invest in opening and closing doors of intimacy in the right places with the right people. You can build your relationships by getting intentional about developing all layers of intimacy together!

So, if you desire to strengthen the intimacy with your partner, I highly encourage you to immediately put what you have learned to good use, starting today. Some say, “easier said than done” and I agree. However, many couples can benefit from the support of a great marriage counselor or relationship coach to assist with strengthening the intimacy in the relationship for a deeper connection. If this feels true for you, please know that help is here!

Wishing you all the best, 
Tomauro Veasley, M.A., MFTC, CLC

tennessee online marriage counseling tennessee online therapy

Tomauro Veasley, M.A., MMFT, CLC,  is an experienced marriage counselor, family therapist and relationship coach, as well as a certified life coach and individual therapist. She specializes in helping you create understanding, purpose and strength in yourself and your relationships in order to promote healing and growth in the most important parts of your life.

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.

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How to be Successful Online Dating

How to be Successful Online Dating

How to be Successful Online Dating

Dating Profiles, First Messages, and Red Flags

As a relationship therapist and dating coach, many of my single clients who are looking for that forever love, come to me asking, “What am I doing wrong?” expressing feelings of confusion, hurt, and even outrage at the current state of the dating world. Today I want to share with you dating tips to navigate the online dating pool of uncertainty and discomfort so that you can enter the dating world with confidence and assuredness that you’re not alone in feeling this way. 

It’s Not You…It’s Your Dating Platform

Okay, you’ve decided to jump in – to try out this online approach to dating, and what better time than now when social distancing is in full swing? It’s not like you can go to the bar or join a club to meet someone new these days, you have to get a little more creative and with SO many people circulating on and through dating apps and websites…where do you even begin?

When it comes to online dating, there are apps and websites galore for you to choose from. The biggest difference between using an app like Tinder vs. a website like OkCupid is that dating sites that require a questionnaire (or a financial commitment) tend to attract people that are more serious about looking for a relationship. Where it is more common to find people that are looking for a relationship as well as causal hookup up on swipe apps. 

Using an app or website is not necessarily better than the other but it may be helpful to think about what you are looking for and to choose a site or an app depending on the type of person that particular platform attracts. I often recommend that people join more than one platform to increase their pool of people.

Don’t Believe Everything You Read

Dating profiles are intimidating – they’re intimidating to create and they’re even intimidating to read. Dating clients will ask me, “How can I trust that this is real?” And it is true…people have a tendency to answer personal questionnaires as they would like to be, not as they really are. 

We all want to put our best foot forward, especially when it comes to meeting someone new. So, it’s likely that there will be embellishments on dating profiles. Consider the profile similar to a first impression – while you aren’t getting the full impression of the person, you are seeing (typically) who they want to be or believe they can be if they aren’t that person already.

My advice here is to not jump to conclusions. Don’t assume that what you read in the profile is completely true, but don’t discount what the profile says because it seems to good to be true. So while the personality questionnaire may not be 100 percent accurate they may at least give some idea of who that person is or at least who they aspire to be.

Use the dating profile as a jumping-off point to get to know the person, not to judge who they are or aren’t based on the answers they filled out. 

Finding Your Perfect Match: More than a Questionnaire 

For many online dating sites, the questionnaire will allow you to connect with similarly minded people – those who have a high percentage of matching with you based on the answers that you filled out. 

The truth is, there is no foolproof way to succeed in finding the perfect match but there are definitely things that will increase your chances such as having a great profile, clarifying for yourself what you are looking for in a partner and how to assess others for that quality, having a positive mindset about dating, having a positive mindset about yourself, identifying your shortcoming when it comes to dating and taking steps to improve those things, and obviously being willing to go on lots of dates!

Don’t discount a potential match because your “match rating” is lower than others. Dating requires getting to know people – talking, listening, and seeing where your compatibility is outside of the questionnaire answers you both filled out. 

Your Dating Profile IS Your First Impression

You may get the opportunity to turn your matches into real-life dates, but the relationship ultimately starts from your profile. As mentioned before, dating profiles (creating and reading) are intimidating! Some of my tips for creating a standout dating profile are: 

  • Include good quality and thoughtfully chosen pictures. The pictures may be the only thing someone looks at – each picture should have a purpose that gives information about you (no selfie bathroom shots!!!!). It should also be easy to identify who you are in the photo (keep it simple, don’t include a bunch of group photos). For more tips on taking outstanding dating profile pictures, see: Denver Dating Coach: How to Get The Best Online Dating Profile Photo
  • Share something unique, interesting, and important. Give people enough interesting information in your profile that they have something for a conversation starter. Saying “I like dogs and beach volleyball” might be an easy way to plan that first date, but ultimately doesn’t share anything about who you are.
  • Don’t complain. I cannot stress this enough, don’t complain and especially don’t talk about how much you hate online dating in your profile (you’d be surprised at how often this happens). 

When you find a match – or someone you’re interested in getting to know a little more, you may have the opportunity to send them a message. When messaging others, ask a specific question or comment about their profile, don’t ever a start a conversation with nothing but a “hey.”

Avoid Appearing Desperate

Dating apps are often used for casual hookups and brief interactions – and when you are looking for more than just a one-night stand it can be hard to come off as fun and flirty when you know that ultimately what you want may not be what 99% of your matches are looking for. 

Be honest about what you are looking for in your profile, and then behave in ways that are consistent with what you want. If you want a serious relationship then don’t engage in behavior that is consistent with hook up culture – meeting up late at night, texting when drinking, etc.. Also remember that the main purpose of a first or second date is only to see if you’re interested in a second or third date. Relax and enjoy getting to know people without interrogating them about future plans on the first date to avoid coming off as desperate. Be patient, these things take time.

Beware of the Bright Red Flag 

The biggest red flag is someone that waits extended periods of time between responses (days to weeks). People that are committed to this process tend to be responsive and make themself available. People that are looking for a partner are not wanting a pen pal. Limit your messaging to a couple of days and then find a time to meet in person (in public), that way you don’t waste time messaging someone for weeks only to find out that there is no real connection when face to face.

Dealbreakers – What Matters Most

Dealbreakers are specific to each person. You need to decide what are YOUR dealbreakers are before you begin dating. Some people feel like a difference in politics is a dealbreaker where that is totally fine for someone else. Be thoughtful about what you are ok with and what will end up destroying a relationship in the long run. 

If you are looking for a serious relationship, a long-term commitment, you have to be honest with yourself about what works and doesn’t work for you. To say, “Oh, I can grow to love that about them,” or “It’s not that big of deal, really” will only hurt you in the long run. 

Dating More Than One Person at a Time

Your matches are lining up, you’re feeling pretty good about your prospects and the conversations that are unfolding – but is it okay to date more than one person at a time? How many people you choose to date at a time needs to be dependent on each person. If you tend to jump into relationships quickly and put all your eggs in one basket, you’re better off dating multiple people at once. If you tend to struggle to commit, and dating lots of people supports that avoidance, try dating one person at a time. 

Ultimately, there is no right or wrong way to go about online dating – show up as yourself and be honest with yourself throughout the process. When things start to feel like “too much” know it’s okay to walk away, and if things start to “fit” then move forward. The wonderful thing about dating is you get to choose how you’ll move forward or when you’ll walk away based on your wants and needs. 

Here’s to you and your online dating adventures!
Jessica Small, M.A., LMFT

 

Online Marriage Counselor Denver Couples Therapy Premarital Counseling Online Family Therapy Postpartum Perinatal Denver Tech Center Therapist

Jessica Small, M.A., LMFT is a couples counselor, premarital counselor, therapist, and life coach who is passionate about helping individuals, families & couples create more fulfilling lives and relationships, and to function at an optimum level of health and happiness.

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Everyone experiences challenges, but only some people recognize these moments as opportunities for growth and positive change.

 

 

Working with an expert therapist or life coach can help you understand yourself more deeply, get a fresh perspective, grow as a person, and become empowered to create positive change in yourself, your relationships and your life.

 

 

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

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When To Call It Quits In a Relationship

When To Call It Quits In a Relationship

When To Call It Quits In a Relationship

When To Call It Quits In a Relationship

As a Denver marriage counseling and online couples therapy “relationship expert” I often speak to people seeking relationship advice about matters of the heart. Knowing when keep trying, or when to call it quits in a relationship is always confusing. Even in a fundamentally strong relationship, when your relationship has been feeling hard it’s absolutely normal to have doubts and wonder when to end a relationship. You might wonder whether you’re compatible with your partner, or whether your relationship can be saved.

But if your relationship has been feeling frustrating, painful and unsatisfying for a long time — to the point where the relationship problems are starting to feel permanent fixtures — you might start asking yourself things like, “When is it time to break up?” Or, “When is it time to divorce?” Figuring out whether your relationship can improve or when it’s time to call it quits in a relationship is often the first step in knowing what to do, one way or another.

On this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast we’re taking a deep dive into the different situations that lead couples and individuals to wonder whether it’s time to throw in the towel and get a divorce, or if not, how to begin the long road of repair. Skip to the bottom of this post to access the podcast player and comments section, or scroll through for a few more insights and tips that may resonate with you if you’re trying to figure out how to know when it’s time to break up. — LMB

“Is My Relationship Over?”

All couples, even the most happy, fundamentally healthy and compatible couples will always be confronted by things that challenge them to grow as people. Most of the time, these opportunities first emerge as “relationship conflict.” Deep down, these moments are simply an chance to reflect on who you are, whether or not your current relationship skill set is working for you, and how you can make positive changes that benefit you, your partner and your family.

But these opportunities do not look like inviting “growth moments” that are framed so clearly. No. What they usually look and feel like are ongoing, sometimes even nasty and hurtful conflict between you and your partner. 

Most people are not aware of their “relationship growth opportunities” as they start butting heads with their partner, and getting feedback about things that are being perceived as hurtful or unloving. Instead they feel angry, defensive, attacked, or hurt. (And often express that, passionately). It is not obvious or intuitive in these moments that the frustration, hurt and annoyance can be a doorway to growth.

In reality, most couples can’t calm down enough and shift into a space of intentional understanding when they’re feeling triggered and upset. Not on their own anyway. They just go round and round, until someone eventually withdraws. [Read more about the joys of “Emotional Flooding.”] But if a couple can get involved in meaningful growth work together, ideally, an evidence-based form of couples therapy conducted by a legitimate relationship expert, all of a sudden that constant conflict reveals a treasure of new awarenesses, unhelpful old patterns just begging to be released, the chance to heal old wounds, new experiences that help you understand each other on a whole new level, and motivation to learn new communication skills and emotional intelligence strategies that will empower you in every aspect of your life — including your most important relationship. 

There is so much opportunity. But couples only have this aspect of conflict revealed to them when they are in a safe space and being guided by a skillful and knowledgeable marriage counseling or couples therapy expert who knows what they are doing. (Sadly, most don’t.)

But most relationships fail without ever having had the chance to do this kind of meaningful growth work together. They never get to learn and grow. They never get instruction and support around how to do things differently. Instead, couples fall into predictable, increasingly negative patterns of relationship conflict and then wind up making decisions about when to call it quits in a relationship because they haven’t been able to make positive changes on their own. They don’t see the path forward so they assume that the only solution to their relationship problems is the “final solution” of divorce or breaking up. And that’s really too bad.

So if you are asking yourself questions like, “When is it time to break up?” or “When to call it quits on a relationship” because of ongoing unresolved relationship conflict, and feeling stuck in a “pro and con” list, or feeling anxious about whether to get divorced, try this instead: Ask yourself a different question. Ask, “Is meaningful growth and change possible for us?”

Also, remember that it’s absolutely normal and expected for couples in distressed relationships to be (any combination of) hostile, emotionally unavailable, withdrawn, blaming, avoidant, passive-aggressive, not following through with household obligations, not meeting expectations, and generally being hurtful and annoying. People in distressed relationships do all of these things because their relationships are distressed.

So then the question next question becomes not “Should I end my relationship based on what is happening right now?” but rather, “If we were both feeling loved and respected in this relationship, and learned how to communicate, manage expectations, work as a team, etc., how could our relationship be different?”

If you’re like many people the immediate answer is, “NO! Not possible. I’ve told him 500 times how I feel and he always gets defensive and it never changes so we cannot grow. No.” That is often a reflexive answer based on the experiences you’ve had to-date, and often based on how your partner is functioning in the context of a distressed relationship. (i.e., Not their best selves!)

When I sit with my Denver therapy or online life coaching clients and really unpack this with them the true answer is more like,

“I don’t really know yet whether or not growth is possible for us. We are angry with each other. I haven’t been my best self either. We’ve never been in a situation where we worked with a relationship expert who used an evidence-based model to help us understand each other and ourselves, and who taught us new skills and strategies, and who held us accountable for making changes.”

If that is the case for you, too, the first step in getting clarity about whether you should call it quits is to find out for sure whether or not change is possible. Then you will be able to move forward with clarity and confidence, one way or the other.

When To Give Up On a Relationship

Of course, for some couples, growth and change is not possible. How do you know for sure if it’s time to break up, or when it’s time to divorce? Your answer lies in the action.

  • When you make a sincere effort to get you and your partner into a meaningful growth opportunity…. and they refuse to go.
  • Or, even if you meet with an effective, evidence-based online marriage counselor or Denver couples therapist together, your partner will not participate in a deep level. They might show up for the appointments but they may continue to blame you, engage in gaslighting, and deny any responsibility for the issues.
  • When the marriage counselor invites them to share their perceptions of the problem, your partner may give voice to a perspective grounded in an absolute lack of empathy for yours.
  • They may flatly reject any efforts of the couples therapist to help them unpack their feelings, or make links between what they learned in their families of origin, and how they are showing up in their relationship.
  • Furthermore, they may not be coachable, meaning that they are not open to learning new skills or trying to do things differently for the benefit of the relationship.
  • They may show you, through their behaviors, that they are more committed to continuing their own negative patterns than they are to staying married to you.

As frustrating as this is, it’s also okay. Positive, even. Because then you know for sure that this relationship is over. There is no hope. Nothing can change. It may not be the answer you wanted, but it’s an answer you can use to find solid ground and make a new plan for your life. You are free to go and find peace, love, and understanding elsewhere.

When To End a Relationship Vs. When To Grow?

Of course, when considering when to call it quits in a relationship there are additional complexities above and beyond the need to figure out whether or not growth is possible. For example, if you are married with a crush on someone else (or having an affair) it can cast a lot of doubt and confusion on your relationship. It would be to your benefit (and to the benefit of your spouse, honestly) for YOU to get involved in individual therapy or effective life coaching in order to get clarity about your next steps. Only if you’re committed to your relationship will any change be possible, and if you have an emotional attachment to someone else, it makes it really hard to work on your relationship.

When You’re Feeling Trapped In a Relationship

Another reality for many people is the experience of feeling trapped in a relationship due to practical circumstances, like co-parenting, financial inequities, or concerns about housing. If you want to leave your marriage but feel that you can’t due to concerns about how you’ll make it on your own, or if you have concerns for your children that lead you to stay, it’s important that you enlist the support of a professional therapist, life coach, or career coach to help you set meaningful goals and make a sustainable plan to move forward. (Even if it’s a long-term plan.)

When To Call It Quits In a Relationship… Or Not

Because all of these questions are often complicated and difficult to sort through, they’re worthy of exploration and discussion. If you’ve been twisting yourself into knots trying to figure out when to call it quits in a relationship, I hope you find some comfort in the knowledge that its extremely difficult to find a clear “stay or go” answer in the context of a messy, multifaceted situation. The answer to the question of whether to break up or stay together is often, honestly, “it depends.” 

Whether or not to end a relationship often depends on whether growth is possible (or not), for your partner. But it may also depend on whether or not growth is possible for you, too. It also often depends on what external or internal factors are creating barriers that make you feel forced to stay in an unhappy relationship. There may also be emotional factors at play that make you feel like you should stay in the relationship… even though in your heart of hearts you might not want to.

No matter what you ultimately decide, whether to end your relationship or whether to attempt a new chapter, the path forward is always first getting clarity about what is possible… and what is not. Only with that clarity can you have the confidence to take action — action that feels like it’s connected with your highest values and personal integrity — one way or the other. The process of getting this clarity can take weeks, months, sometimes even years. It may involve you and your partner working together to get this clarity. It may involve just you educating yourself, and giving yourself the time and space to do some individual growth work.

To help you get clarity on the variables that may impact your decision about whether to call it quits in a relationship, or whether to try to foster a relationship growth experience, I’ve devoted an entire episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast on the topic of how to figure out when to break up or stay together.

I’ll be addressing specific questions to help you figure out whether you should end your relationship, or keep trying like:

  • How can you tell whether growth is possible for your relationship, or whether it really needs to end?
  • Why do couples wind up breaking up prematurely, without knowing or not whether growth was actually possible?
  • What are specific indications that your partner, if given meaningful and effective opportunities to change, is able or willing to do so?
  • What are the signs that there is no hope for this relationship, and that is time to divorce or break up?
  • What are the sneaky, toxic relationship signs that can lead you to stay stuck in a relationship that is fundamentally not good for you, and unlikely to change?
  • What are the growth opportunities that YOU might need to engage in, in order to feel more clear and confident about your commitment to your current relationship…. Or more clear and confident that it’s time to end your relationship?
  • What if you want to break up or divorce, but are stuck because you feel guilty about it?
  • How do you handle leaving a relationship if your partner has a problem like a mental health issue, substance use disorder, or other issues?
  • What to do if you’re unhappy in your relationship and would like to divorce, but are facing practical realities such as co-parenting concerns or financial consequences if you separate?

All that, plus more insights, thought provoking questions, and actionable advice to support your path forward, whether it’s time to reach for hope and growth… or time to call it quits.

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

PS: Resources discussed on this episode include a link to my online “How Healthy Is Your Relationship Quiz” as well as www.thehotline.org.

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When To Call It Quits In a Relationship

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

Music Credits: Brick Fields, “This Time Coming Soon”

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

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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.

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