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Men, Women and Housework: How to Create a More Egalitarian Relationship

Men, Women and Housework: How to Create a More Egalitarian Relationship

Sharing The Load…

According to research, women are still bearing the majority of the burden when it comes to household chores like cooking, cleaning, getting kids ready for school, despite the fact that, in many cases, they work as much outside of the home as their partners do. This dynamic brings many couples into marriage counseling or couples therapy, because it creates relationship problems.

This imbalance understandably leads to many women feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, not to mention frustrated. When couples aren’t working together as a team, it creates conflict and resentment. Many couples struggle with figuring out how to create a more balanced, egalitarian partnership.

But why? In our modern era, shouldn’t we be past this? The roots of gender inequality in family roles goes deeper than having good intentions. Creating a more balanced partnership requires self-awareness, mindfulness, and open communication. By understanding the subconscious belief systems that both men and women may still be holding, you can begin to break old patterns and start creating a more egalitarian relationship.

Why Gender Division of Labor Problems Still Occur

The reason that traditional gender roles still play out in many modern families (families who intellectually know that a more egalitarian family structure would be healthier for all) has to do with two psychological principles:

1) Without a high degree of self-awareness and intentional living, we humans tend to subconsciously create dynamics that mirror what was happening in our families of origin.

Whether we like it or not, old, deep, subconscious expectations about who does what are baked into us by the time we hit junior high. It is easy to forget that many of the woman’s rights issues we take for granted today have only come to pass in recent decades. (Side-note: I once met a highly successful female entrepreneur who was not able to get a bank loan without her husband’s consent in 1985.) While male and female feminists have been successful in working to change the roles of women both in the home and in the workforce, the emotional and psychological expectations of gender roles we all carry are much harder to change than public policy.

Today’s parents were parented by men and women (who themselves were raised by men and women) who were the products of a socio-political zeitgeist that emphasized home-making and childrearing for women, and breadwinning for men. As such, today’s adult parents as children absorbed powerful meta-messages about gender roles from observing their own moms cooking, cleaning, doing the laundry, scheduling the social activities, and dad going to work and mowing the lawn. Both men and women often feel (not think, but feel) that the tasks they observed their same-sex parent doing are theirs, and that their partner should do what their opposite-sex parent did.

This is often played out even when people believe that each gender is both competent to do more, and bears a responsibility to do more. Women often feel vaguely guilty when “their” job needs to be done, and many men (bless their hearts) simply do not see “women’s work” as something that needs to be done at all.

Though no fault of their own, many men were raised in homes where magic elves (aka, mom) simply took care of things. These well-meaning women inadvertently created adult men who put a carton of milk with half-an-inch left in the bottom back in the refrigerator and do not think to make a mental note to pick more up at the store.

In order to create an egalitarian relationship, men must address their subconscious expectations plus get deeply acquainted with the reality of all the small, daily tasks involved in maintaining a functional home.

2) Families are systems, and systems are powerful.

Whenever even one partner in a relationship has an expectation about the way roles should be carried out, they do their half of the “dance” they expect their partner to engage with them in. It’s like leaving space for the other person to do their thing. This creates pressure in the system that pulls the partner into the role that their partner expects them to fulfill.

For example, my husband will run the laundry through the washer and dryer but he expects me to do the folding and putting away. His half of the “dance” cumulates in a laundry basket of clean clothes left on the bed. Then I dance in and (with great satisfaction, actually) fold things into obsessive little squares the way Mari-Kondo taught me and squirrel them away in to drawers. Our “dance” in this area feels balanced and it works for us.

What does not work is when one person’s “dance” ends substantially further away from the middle point, leaving the other person having to come all the way over and do everything. This is what happens in out-of-balance partnerships.

In families where partners are not living with a high degree of self-awareness and intention, even if one person (usually the female partner) would like a more balanced relationship in terms of housework, childcare, or home-management, the system may create pressure on her to do more than she wants to, or should. I have certainly experienced this in the past, in my own marriage.

For example, in the past (before we worked on this as a couple) if my husband did not recognize that tasks that need to be done (or did not perceive them as needing to be done by him, or did them but not the way that I thought they should be done, or didn’t do them quickly enough) I would often feel pressure to step in and do them because I felt they are important and they were not happening.

However, when I “just did it” I was inadvertently contributing to a dynamic where my husband was lulled into a familiar dynamic (as a son raised by another woman who handled things for the family) where there was an unspoken rule in the home that I would do things. So he never thought of them as his responsibility.

In short: The harder and faster and more I “danced”  the less he had to. I was overwhelmed, and he was confused about why I was low-grade angry all the time and always tired.

Sound familiar?

How to Create a More Egalitarian Relationship

Changing both ingrained expectations and family systems require a high degree of self-awareness, communication, and intentional living. However, it can be done and it should be done. (Trust me, it feels SO much better).

Egalitarian families are generally happier, less stressed, have lower conflict, and are fairer to working women. Furthermore, modern parents who work together to model a more egalitarian family system for their children break the cycle of rigid gender roles of previous generations.

Here’s an example of how couples create more balanced gender roles:

Jane and John are a millennial couple with two kids, and they both work. Both Jane and John grew up in homes where mom (who worked too!) did all the inside housework except watering the flowers and dad did all the outside home-tending except taking out the trash.

Now, in their own family, Jane is struggling with resentment as she feels overly burdened with working, childcare, doing the lions share of meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, bill paying, organizing activities, and the general mental energy that many women exert on behalf of their families that men often do not feel.

The couple is fighting. Jane is feeling resentful and exhausted. John tries to help out around the house, but she seems annoyed with him when he does because he’s making the bed wrong, or bringing home the wrong brand of mayonnaise, or not doing things fast enough to please her. So he stops trying.

He does what he thinks he should be doing: Going to work every day, bringing home a paycheck, shoveling the snow, and getting the oil changed at regular intervals. John is frustrated because he experiences Jane as not affectionate or fun, nor interested in sex, and kind of naggy, and he doesn’t know what else to do.

Through couples counseling, the couple learns how to work as a team. First they start by talking about how each of their early experiences in their own family of origin shaped their expectations for themselves and each other in their own family. Then, they negotiate a plan where each of them agrees to take on specific responsibilities around the house in a distribution that feels equitable to both of them.

In implementing that plan, Jane needs to restrain herself from stepping in to do things that are John’s job (or to correct John, or nag John). In doing so, she is creating pressure in the system for John to not just step up, but to develop the homemaking skills that he may be new to him.

For his part, John needs to learn a very different way of thinking that women are often groomed for (and most men are not) which is considering both what currently needs to be done, and what will need to be done, and taking the initiative to do those things. (No magic elves to the rescue).

Changing both subconscious expectations and family systems are challenging, however, the rewards are immense and meaningful. Trust me: As a woman who is married to a man who now — without being asked! — does the dishes when he sees they are dirty, sweeps the floor when it needs to be swept, and goes to the grocery store to buy food of his own volition… it feels so much better.

Similarly, I see the same shifts occur in the couples we work with for marriage counseling and couples therapy: They reorganize their responsibilities in a way that feels fair and balanced to both. Squabbling stops, things get done, and most importantly — they start enjoying each other again. 

You deserve the same, and I hope this relationship advice helps you create it!

xo, Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

 

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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Are You Compatible?

Are You Compatible?

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 You With “The One?”

Are you compatible? How do you know if you’re with the right person? If your relationship is good but not perfect, is that okay?

These are questions that bedevil many, especially in this modern era where a brand new potential relationship is always just a swipe away. Are you truly compatible with your partner? Is this a good relationship, even if you have points of conflict? How good is good enough? These questions certainly com up when you’re dating, but also for people in long-term relationships. Should you stay with this person, and invest in the relationship for the long-term — go to couples counseling, work on your communication, etc — or should you cut your losses and move on?

So. Many. Questions.

Relationship FOMO is a Thing.

It’s easy to compare the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of our own relationship to what people choose to share about their own on social media. Even though we all know, rationally, that there’s more to the story of every relationship than the gigantic flower bouquets and super-fun moments people choose to share on social media, it’s still normal to have a twinge when you get a peek into what other people are doing.

In reality, all relationships are a mixed bag: We partner with other imperfect human beings who have quirks, personalities, annoying traits, and who are never going to meet all of our needs perfectly. (Although there are things you can do to increase the odds: Check out “How to Get Your Needs Met in a Relationship.”)

At the same time, it can be hard to figure out what is good enough when it comes to relationship compatibility. How do you know if this is as good as it’s going to get? Or if you’re settling for less than you could have if you kept looking for the right partner. Even worse, how much time do you want to spend in this relationship, and on this person, if you’re only going to break up or divorce in the end.

Fear of Commitment

This uncertainty about a relationship becomes especially fraught when people are beginning to think about marriage. We toss around the term “afraid of commitment,” but after years of talking to commitment-phobic people as a life coach and therapist, I’ve found that at the root of their anxiety are the same questions: Is this it? Is there a better relationship for me? How do I know if I’m settling?

When people begin considering marriage, these relationship questions become a siren in their mind to the point where it can cause a great deal of anxiety. And for good reason! There are very few choices that will impact the trajectory of your life as the choice of a life-partner.

This angst was captured perfectly by a recent question that someone asked on our Growing Self Facebook page:

Hello! I have been listening to your podcast for years and it’s helped me so much. For the first time I’ve built a healthy, long-term relationship with a guy and I’m so happy. I had a question I’d love you to answer in a podcast or blog: how do you know if you should marry the guy?

I’m in my mid twenties and loads of my friends are facing this question, as am I. You’ve been with them a couple years, it’s good but not perfect … Do you break up and look for more or is he the one?

- A Podcast Listener

Are You Compatible?

There are so many different aspects of compatibility: Personality, values, the way you communicate, the things you want for your life, and more. Furthermore, we know from the work of Dr. John Gottman that the bulk of relationship issues couples face are not things that are “solvable problems.” They are issues of compatibility — based on things that are intrinsic to who you each are, and will likely never change much.

There are other aspects of relationships that can be changed, through excellent premarital counseling, couples therapy, and relationship coaching. In my experience, all of us have room to go and improve in the way we relate. (Relationship skills group, anyone?) People can learn and grow. Communication can improve. Priorities can change. People mature. Most importantly, people often learn how to show each other love and respect, and kindness and generosity over time. These are all skills, and they are coachable skills — particularly when you’re motivated to have a great relationship.

However, it’s also true that there is not a human being alive who you will be in perfect alignment with all the time. So a big piece of figuring out compatibility in a relationship is identifying your own boundaries: what you can accept, what you can appreciate, and what is a deal-breaker for you.

A Relationship Expert’s Take on Compatibility

Because the subject of relationship compatibility is so complex, I decided to ask my colleague Dr. Georgiana (who is also a licensed marriage and family therapist) to share her insight on the subject. Listen to our interview for Dr. G’s surprising advice for how to

  • Determine if you and your partner are compatible
  • The most important compatibility factors for a successful relationship
  • The least important factors for determining relationship compatibility (that most people mistakenly look to, btw)
  • How to determine your “deal breakers “
  • Signs that your normal, imperfect relationship is worth working on (or letting go of)
  • How much change is possible for each person in a long-term relationship
  • Things to consider if you’re thinking about breaking up or staying together
  • When to focus on acceptance and appreciation for the person your partner is vs. when to push for growth and change

Dr. G and I both have years of experience as dating coaches, premarital counselors and marriage counselors, and we’re tackling all these questions for you on this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast.

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Are You Compatible?

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

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Are You Compatible?

All relationships are a mixed bag, and it can be hard to tell if you're with "the one" or if there's a better match for you. On this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast we're talking about what matters (and what doesn't) when it comes to relationship compatibility. Read More
are you compatible How do you know if you're with the right person you settling dating advice premarital advice relationship advice denver premarital counseling online

Premarital Counseling Questions To Set Your Marriage Up For Success

Premarital Counseling Questions To Set Your Marriage Up For Success

Brenda Fahn, M.A., LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist, a Prepare-enrich Certified Premarital Counselor, and a facilitator of our Lifetime of Love Premarital and Relationship Class. She provides expert premarital counseling online, as well as  in person at our Broomfield, CO office location.

Bust The Myths & Embrace The Truth About Relationships


I’ve been a marriage counselor and premarital counselor online and in person for many years. I love working with couples eager to set their marriages up for success. As I look into the faces of my premarital counseling couples, I see a myriad of emotions:  Excitement, anticipation, anxiety, fear, nervousness, and joy.  And like most important milestones in life, it’s possible to hold contradictory emotions at the same time.

Marriage is BIG.  It’s wise for couples to be asking each other essential premarital questions before they tie the knot.  I want to address many of the myths and truths about marriage that premarital couples usually bring into my office.  My hope is that if my premarital couples have a clearer understanding about what to expect and what is ‘normal’, then they can be more prepared to endure and accept and solve the challenges that will occur.

Premarital Questions to Address Before You Move Forward

Premarital Question #1:  Do we believe that if we are having issues now (as a premarital couple), and require counseling, there must be something really wrong with our relationship?

This is a myth: Every couple has issues that they bring to a relationship prior to marriage, either consciously or unconsciously.  Many of these issues exist at the beginning of any relationship and will continue to fester for years to come. All relationships have friction points like these. They are not necessarily ‘indicators’ of the success or failure of your future relationship.  However, smart couples know that it’s always better to get ahead of these relationship issues at the beginning of your journey, rather than ten years down the road. [Read: Why Premarital Counseling Can Make or Break a Marriage]

 

Premarital Question #2:  Do you believe that you need to get all of my emotional needs met by your partner?

This is another myth: Spouses can not, and should not be expected to fulfill ALL of your emotional needs. In fact the opposite is true.  Studies show that couples who have fulfilling ‘friendship’ relationships (other than their spouse) are happier in their marriage. In a healthy, happy, successful marriage, the  main goal of our partners is to provide a safe place for us, to be attuned to us and to know that there is one person in the world who has our back.  Yet, we also need close friends and authentic connections outside of our marriage to feel fulfilled.  [Read: Do You Have Unrealistic Relationship Expectations?”]

Premarital Question #3:   Do you believe that if you fight, there must be something wrong with your relationship?

Not true. Conflict is inevitable in a relationship. In short, fighting is good. You should be more concerned if you find yourself in a relationship that has no conflict.  The problem is not that there will be conflict, but how do you deal with it and process your conflict. Do you escalate quickly? Do you avoid it? Do you fight unfairly? How you fight and how you repair is much more important than if you fight.  [Read: Communication That Connects]

Premarital Question #4: Do either of you fear that if you lose your feeling of ‘being in love’, it must mean you are not meant to be together?


This is another erroneous believe that can be very damaging to your marriage. ‘Feelings’ in life are fleeting, they come and go in cycles. And the feeling of ‘being in love’ is exhilarating and intoxicating, but realistically, it’s not sustainable over time nor is it substantial.   The feeling of ‘being in love’ is what propels us into a relationship. What keeps a relationship strong is committing to the necessary ‘work’ to keep a relationship strong and lasting. Ironically that work can also keep the feelings of love alive. [Read: “How To Be in Love With Your Partner.”]

Premarital Question #5: Is one of your hoping that if you love your partner enough, they will change?

This is a very dangerous belief to base the success of your future marriage on. Always go into a relationship with ‘eyes wide open’. It is unrealistic to go into a relationship assuming that someone is going to change. It’s probably not going to happen.  This doesn’t mean that people aren’t capable and willing to change in long-term relationships, but if you think you have the magical powers to change that person and that only by doing so, you can handle the relationship, then you are deluding yourself instead of accepting reality.  The question to ask yourself, “If nothing changes about this other person, can I live with that?” [Listen: Should You Break Up or Stay Together.]

Free Advice From a Premarital Counselor:

It’s vital that you and your potential mate ask each other the premarital questions that I’ve just talked through. But if you want to have a lifetime of love together, it’s not enough to release the false beliefs you may have held about relationships. Instead, we need to replace them with truths about relationships. Here are just a few:

Relationship Truth #1:  Marriage is hard.

I am sure you have heard this mantra before.  But it’s the truth. Marriage is hard work. The work of marriage is to challenge us as people, to make us grow, to learn how to really love and be loved.   If it were easy, the results would not be that fulfilling. It’s hard on purpose, just like any growth we encounter in life. [Read: A Growth Mindset of Marriage]


Relationship Truth #2:   Expect less from your relationship and more from your life.

I thought that when I got married, I had arrived.  I could enjoy my proverbial pina colada cocktail on the beach and enjoy life.  Nothing could be further from the truth. Marriage was only the beginning of finding out how I wanted my life to unfold.   I have been fortunate to have a marriage where I feel connected (most of the time), supported (most of the time) and loved (most of the time.)  That has allowed me to feel secure and have a more full life.

Our relationships should give us a secure ‘base’ to live a full life.  If we only look to our marriage to provide for all of our emotional needs, we tend to end up feeling resentful, versus working to bring your best self to a marriage—a self that is full of life and confidence. [Listen: Becoming Empowered]

Relationship Truth #3:  You will both change and that is okay.

In a long-term relationships, you are bound to change.   You might change your opinions, your beliefs, and your interests.  A different part of you might come out. Relationships will become boring when you do not take the risk to change and do not take the risk to show that to your partner.  What is more important is staying connected regardless of what changes come up—being available and present are two of the best gifts you can give your spouse through all of life. [Listen: Finding Your Soulmate; The Truth About Relationship Compatibility]


Relationship Truth #4:  Increase the positives in your relationship.  Our focus becomes our reality.

Couples forget to focus on what is going well in their relationship.  They forget to tell their partner what they appreciate. When the focus becomes on what is going wrong, that focus becomes reality and it perpetuates more negative interactions. It can become a self-reinforcing narrative that can overwhelm your relationship.  As the famous psychologist, John Gottman, reminds us, marriages succeed if they have 5 positive interactions for every one negative interaction. Increase the positive! [Read: How to Strengthen Your Relationship]


Relationship Truth #6: Do not be afraid to ask for help when you come to an impasse in your relationship.

We all get stuck in relationships sometimes.  You can save yourself years of misery, if you seek help.  My analogy is that it’s always easier to try to lose weight when it’s 20 pounds versus 150 pounds.  The smartest, most successful couples are the ones that get themselves into marriage counseling sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, couples who wait too long may have lost their opportunity to repair their marriage. Don’t let this happen to you! [Listen: How to Stop a Divorce and Save Your Relationship, and Read: The True Cost of Marriage Counseling]


Relationship Truth #7:  Every relationship will have issues.

Decide if your partner’s issues are ones that you can live with.  Don’t go into a relationship thinking you can change or control the other person. A paradox of life is the more you accept someone, the more they will be willing to change. But if you base your satisfaction in the relationship with ‘if’ that person changes, you will be forever chasing the ‘what ifs’ and not the reality of your life.  [Read: Are You Stuck in a Codependent Relationship?]


Relationship Truth #8:  Everything in life has a balance.

“The closer you come to paradox the closer you come to truth.” — Unknown author.  

Know that two things can be true at the same time.   I remember clearly my husband saying to me, at the beginning of our marriage, “It’s crazy.  In one day I can feel like I need to get away from you and later in that same day I feel like I am so in love with you.”  We can hold two truths at the same time. You can love your spouse and yet they can drive you crazy at times.

The same is true when you both have different perspectives on the same thing. That doesn’t mean one of you is wrong. Practice getting on your partner’s side of the table, and understanding their point of view. Doing so will help you both become more tolerant, more mature, and have a stronger marriage for it. [Read: Empathy and Connection]


Relationship Truth #9:  Don’t get caught in the ‘someone else is better for me’ trap.

It’s always easy to compare the weakness of your real partner, against the unrealistic nostalgia of an ex-boyfriend or someone you know casually. These are unrealistic expectations at best, and fantasy at its worst.  

This tactic or tendency is usually based on some unconscious need to create distance between you and your partner; to pull back and disconnect.  There are many explanations as why we do this, but I have found that, in most circumstances, it has more to do with your own feelings and insecurities, than with your partner’s perceived faults.

At the same time,  it’s okay to feel that there might be parts of your partner that make it hard for you to show up, or make it hard to want to be close, but if you get into the  ‘comparison game’ you can easily feel like you are a victim. You can be tempted to feel like your life is not fair and if you only had someone different life would be amazing and you would never have to feel ‘negative’ feelings again.’ [Read: Why Your Marriage is Worth Saving]


Relationship Truth #10: There are some traits in your partner that should not be tolerated; and in these cases it’s okay to walk away.


Referring to the myth that you can magically change someone, realize that if someone has an addiction or abusive personality traits–no matter how much love and care and support you give them — they need to deal with those issues on their own.  They need to take responsibility. You cannot save them on your own and being in a relationship with an addicted or abusive partner, who isn’t willing to take personal responsibility, will not end well. [Listen: What to Do When Your Partner Has a Problem]


Get help for yourself if you struggle with an addiction, a personality disorder, anxiety or depression.  Don’t expect your partner to save you, in the process, it is too easy for both of you to drown.
It doesn’t mean our partner can’t help us heal some of our wounds from the past, but they can’t be our therapist.  You will find your relationship will be much more satisfying if you do your own work.   [Listen: Is it Depression?]

Relationship Truth #11:  It really does matter how you say something.

I remember a client, whose marriage was on the brink of divorce, said something in session to his wife that was biting and insensitive.  I suggested he try saying the same thing, but in a different tone and manner. I ‘modeled’ an alternative narrative without changing the content.   He looked at me with disdain, and in a sarcastic tone said, “Does it really matter if I change a few words?”

The answer is a resounding YES.  Marriage and family expert Dr. John Gottman has shown us, through years of research, that our negative communication habits can kill a relationship.  Those habits are criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling and contempt. If you use those techniques, work on expressing your feelings and your requests without blame or shame.  Learn how to say something to your partner in a way that they can hear it and that can mean changing only a few words sometimes. [Listen: How to Communicate When Your Partner Shuts Down, and Why Your Partner is “Always” Angry]

 

Here are some last words of advice, from an experienced premarital counselor and marriage therapist to every bright young couple on the cusp of marriage.

I have been married for 14 years and I would be lying if I said they were all blissful.  They have been challenging. They have been wonderful. They have been hard and they have been a gift.  The thing I did not expect was how much it would make me look at myself—my own weaknesses, my own strengths, my own stubbornness and my own ability to love.   

I have learned that all of us are more satisfied when we are being pushed to grow. I encourage all of you premarital couples to jump into this journey of marriage. It is a place to grow.  It is a place to choose love… and therefore a place to choose being truly alive.

With love to you on your journey of growth together,

Brenda Fahn, M.A., LMFT

 

 

  
 

 

Relationship Lost Its “Spark?” Here’s How to Create Long-Lasting “Sizzle!”

Relationship Lost Its “Spark?” Here’s How to Create Long-Lasting “Sizzle!”

How to Keep Romance Alive…

Everyone loves the feeling of being in love and why wouldn’t we? It’s exciting, fun, and full of potential. There might be romance, spontaneity, not to mention our brains are releasing all kinds of chemicals that make us feel really good. Well, what happens when that slows down as inevitably happens in long-term relationships? How do we work to hold onto that elusive “spark?”

In working with couples, for marriage counseling, couples therapy, and premarital counseling, we often talk through the struggle to maintain chemistry and connection, especially within long-term relationships. It can be hard to keep romance alive. Now, there are a lot of reasons for this (one being it’s tough work, and life somehow has a way of becoming extraordinarily busy and complex!). However, I find there are a few common misconceptions that couples are often holding onto, that can hold them back from bringing some of that sizzle back into their relationship.

Misconception One: I know everything about my partner, and things feel boring!

The Reality: We as humans are typically excited by “new” things. It makes sense that as the “newness” wears off and we shift into a more comfortable pattern of being with our partner, it becomes more challenging to hold onto the excitement. Here’s the thing- You may know A LOT about your partner, but challenge yourself a little…do you really know everything? We’re constantly changing and so is our partner. This means we can make room to get to know our partner as they continue to grow and change.

Try This: Approach your partner with genuine curiosity and no, I’m not just talking about asking them how their day was (although this is a good place to start). What I mean by this is practice deepening conversations and place assumptions about how your partner might respond to the side. In doing this, you make room to experience your partner differently. This, in turn, might put a little excitement back into your relationship.

Misconception Two: If romance were going to happen, it just should, organically.

The Reality: It’s easy for romance and spontaneity to become lumped together. Often newness and surprise illicit feelings (and even hormones) we’d associate with “the spark.” Here’s the thing, romance can be planned and it doesn’t have to take a whole lot of time. For many people, life becomes so busy and it can feel “awkward” to schedule time for the relationship. However, actively creating time and space to connect with your partner is critical. It’s nearly impossible to reconnect if you don’t make time to do it.

Try This: Create a schedule and routine that will be conducive to spending meaningful time together. For example, schedule 10 minutes to check-in with your partner at the end of the day. Reflect on what has created romance in the past and actively seek ways to re-integrate this into your current circumstances. Remember: romance does not have to be equated with spontaneity or be something totally elaborate — make romance work for you!

Misconception Three: They should just know (what I want/need/feel).

The Reality: This is probably one of the most common statements I hear in working with couples counseling clients. Of course, we’d love for our partner to be so well attuned to us, they automatically know what we think, feel, and need. Here’s the kicker that really throws a wrench in that expectation — no one is a mind reader. Your partner will not inherently know your needs (as much as we’d like them to).

Try This: First, think about what can you control? What you can control is yourself. This means you have a couple options. You can either continue to communicate as you are (i.e., not communicate) and hope your partner will eventually catch on OR you can directly communicate to your partner about what you need whether that’s a date night or a kiss goodnight. Think about what makes you feel loved and let your partner in on the secret!

When giving your partner feedback try to provide specific, action-oriented feedback (e.g. “When you take time to check-in with me, I feel connected to you. Can we work together to make that happen more often?”). Reframe this as an opportunity to teach your partner how to love you, in a way that’s meaningful.

The “spark” that ignited your relationship, although exciting, often tends to flicker in and out and requires minimal work to maintain. What does require work is to maintain the flame that erupted because of that spark. My hope is that in dispelling some of these misconceptions you can begin to work toward throwing some kindling on that flame and reignite the enthusiasm and excitement in your relationship.

Yours truely,

Rachel Harder, M.A., LMFT-C

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

Growing Self Counseling & Coaching
Growing Self
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