Premarital Counseling: Conversations for Commitment

Premarital Counseling: Conversations for Commitment

Premarital Counseling: Conversations for Commitment

What to Know Before Marriage

Imagine you and your partner want to go on a big trip together, you know you want to do this together, but what else do you plan for? Are you going somewhere sunny and beachy? Or somewhere where you can go skiing? What does your budget look like for this trip? Do you want to go big on where you’re staying or on food and experiences? Does one of you organize the activities or do you decide on them together? 

These questions might come naturally to some, and maybe to others they’d rather point to a place on the map, throw caution to the wind, and have an adventure. They all have something in common though; they highlight beliefs and expectations we each bring into big decisions about our future and what we would like it to look like. What’s even crazier, we might not even be aware of certain expectations until you catch yourself feeling disappointed or frustrated over something that didn’t cross your mind to talk about ahead of time. 

For example, you get to your warm and sunny beach vacation and your partner DID NOT pack the sunscreen. You might think, “Why wouldn’t they think to do that, we’re going to the beach!” A question to ask yourself in this situation might be, why did you expect them to pack the sunscreen? 

We each have lenses through which we view the world that have been shaped by our own subjective experiences, messages we get from families, teachers, and society that lead us to having certain beliefs and expectations. Sometimes we can forget that and get caught thinking, “well I would’ve definitely remembered putting the sunscreen in the suitcase first because we’re going to the beach,” but our partner might not have that thought due to their unique beliefs and expectations. 

 

Premarital Counseling: The Road Map to a Successful Marriage

 

Expectations, both conscious and unconscious ones, can be really important to discuss ahead of making big life decisions, like deciding to get married. This is where premarital counseling can be so helpful. Talking about these expectations ahead of time, before you find yourself wondering why the heck your partner didn’t pack the sunscreen, can be helpful in understanding more of what to expect from each other in marriage. 

What is helpful to me when working with premarital couples is having a sort of roadmap ahead of starting our work together, another way I’ve described this to couples is “let’s do a relationship check-up”. Maybe you’re a really strong couple, or maybe there are areas you are both struggling, a check-up can be helpful in both scenarios. 

In order to stay healthy, we don’t just go to the doctor when something is really hurting or broken, we go in annually to make sure everything is working the way it should. This is how I like to view premarital counseling as well as counseling or therapy in general. 

 

Topics of Discussion in Premarital Counseling

 

So, what does this “check-up” look like? We can assess common areas that couples may have mismatched expectations, such as managing family relationships, finances, sex, deciding whether or not you want to have children, etc. These are great topics to go into to give each partner time to describe their beliefs, expectations, and meanings of these topics in their future together. 

A few examples of questions that might come up are shown below.

Finance Examples

  • When we get married will we merge our finances? What will that look like – will we share access to all accounts or just some?
  • What are beliefs about money that impact the way you spend, save, or invest? Where did those beliefs come from?
  • What are our shared financial goals? How can we come up with a plan to reach those goals? What does that timeline look like?

Extended Family Examples

  • How involved do we want each side of our families to have in our decisions as a couple? How involved would we want them in the lives of our children if/when we have them?
  • What boundaries already exist between your partner and their family, are they healthy? 
  • What is the meaning of family to each of you? Is it different? How might that impact your expectations around spending time with or making decisions about family in the future?

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

 

Exploring Relationship Strengths and Weaknesses in Premarital Counseling

 

In addition to exploring expectations and beliefs around topics such as these, part of our “check-up” is assessing areas of strength and weakness in your relationship. 

Maybe you both have an incredible friendship and agree on a lot of things, but a disagreement ends in yelling, defensiveness, and anger. Or maybe you find it hard to talk openly about certain topics and might need more tools to feel confident in having that conversation and feeling heard by your partner

These seemingly “small” things might feel like things you’ll both just figure out in time or things that don’t matter as much because you both really love each other, but why not have a place to explore them with someone who could give you tools, help you both gain clarity, or even just share a different perspective?

Things we might “check-up” on in your relationship include:

  • What does your friendship look like? How well do you know and attempt to learn about your partner’s world?
  • What does trust and commitment look like in your relationship?
  • How are you both supporting each other’s goals and dreams?
  • How is your communication with your partner? Do you feel heard and validated? Are there often misunderstandings?
  • Do you see your partner in a generally positive way? Or do you catch yourself seeing your partner more negatively, maybe in the form of past mistakes?
  • What does conflict look like in your relationship? What does resolution look like?
  • Are there past hurts from previous relationships that keep coming up in your relationship and causing stress or conflict?

As you’re reading this you might be thinking, “My partner and I have such a strong relationship and we’ve talked about so much ahead of this decision, I don’t think we need to consider something like this.” Maybe you’re right and your relationship is super solid, AND I bet there are still things you might uncover in this work that you didn’t even know to ask or didn’t know about your partner. 

 

Preparing to Go the Distance

 

I think of premarital counseling more like training ahead of a race. Maybe I feel confident that I’ve taken the necessary steps in preparing, but I haven’t run this race before so I might get some training tips from someone who coaches or who has expertise in how to get me ready for something like this. Regardless of the state of your relationship, premarital counseling or this relationship check-up, can help celebrate and bolster the strengths you already possess, give assistance and tools in areas of weakness, and give space to conversations that might have layers of beliefs, expectations, and meanings associated with them. 

 

What to Expect in Premarital Counseling

 

A couple of questions might still be coming up for you as you read this. I think a common question I hear when a couple starts premarital counseling is, “so how long do you think this will take?” and I love this question. I think it really depends on the couple. 

Generally, going through this work together can take time, so I like to understand what expectations my clients are coming into premarital counseling with. Are there time or budget restrictions that I should be aware of that might impact how long we are able to work together? 

I like to start with an assessment of the relationship that covers a lot of the topics and areas mentioned above, to have an idea of what we’re needing to make space for in session. Then I bring this to the couple and highlight areas of strength and areas and topics that might need further discussion. If there are restrictions on our time together, maybe we prioritize the most important topics or areas for you, and I get you connected to supplementary resources that could help outside of session for the topics we don’t get to. It’s possible to spend a few sessions on a topic, or discuss it in one, it all depends on what you both need out of it and if there is clarity at the conclusion of that topic. 

Another question that typically comes up after this is, “well what if we work together and find that we have some deeper issues going on somewhere in the relationship?” There is no shame in this. You’re actually in the perfect place to process deeper issues if they do come up. 

If we assess areas of strengths and areas for growth, and during our work, come across something that needs more time and processing, we can work together to reexamine our goals to accommodate what is most pressing at that time. 

Premarital counseling is beneficial to any couple wanting to get a relationship check-up ahead of a big decision such as marriage. It doesn’t have to be reserved for religion or couples that are struggling, it can be a helpful space for assessing strengths and weaknesses and identifying topics and expectations that could use more discussion. 

Wishing you all the best,
Kara

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

Kara Castells M.S., MFTC is a couples counselor, life coach, and individual therapist who creates an accepting and supportive environment for you to find clarity in your personal life and relationships. She is skillful at applying systemic and evidence-based approaches to create lasting change. Kara can help you and your partner prepare for a happy life together through premarital counseling and couples therapy. 

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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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

Pre-Engagement Counseling

Pre-Engagement Counseling

Pre-Engagement Counseling

Strengthen Your Bond

Pre-engagement counseling, who is it for? As an Utah couples therapist and online relationship coach I have couples come to me in all different stages of their relationships. One of the most common types of couples that I work with are couples who are in a serious, long-term relationship but not yet engaged. These couples are typically looking to build a strong foundation or looking for guidance through communication issues, conflict, or big-picture plans. 

I love working with pre-engagement couples because there is no better time to build your bond, strengthen your relationship skillset, and find ways to work together! Many couples who come to couples counseling or marriage counseling are typically doing so because they feel like the relationship is already too far gone – however, being proactive (like getting your annual wellness and physical at the doctors) can help establish healthy habits and strong, positive relationships.

Today, I want to share with you some couples therapy insights to pre-engagement counseling and answer your top questions!

Growing Together: Better Communication

It’s completely normal to have some areas in your relationship that aren’t perfect. Having a wonderful partnership is a continual work-in-progress rather than a destination that we “arrive” at one day. 

One great working goal to have prior to getting engaged or married is to improve your communication, both in the day to day, as well as during conflict. When thinking about your day to day communication, you might consider asking yourself the following:

Do my partner and I check in with each other on a daily basis?
Do we get at least 15 minutes of conversation every day either face to face or on the phone (not text)?
Do we get daily communication without distractions (phones away, TV off)?

Simply spending more time having undistracted conversations with your partner on a daily basis is a great way to make sure that the communication channels stay open.

Communication is a foundational skill, and if you can establish good communication between you and your partner earlier in your relationship, it will make the difficult times easier to navigate. Think of communication like a rudder and your relationship is the boat. Without the rudder, the boat will have no true sense of direction – the waves and wind will push and pull it in whatever direction they wish. Communication, much like a rudder, can help guide your relationship through the good and the bad times. The stronger your communication, the easier it is to stay the path you’ve prepared together. 

Working Together: Growth Through Conflict

Another area that many couples work through in pre-engagement counseling is how to grow closer together through conflict. Much like communication, the ability to work together as a team through conflict is a vital skill to the health and longevity of your relationship. 

Improving communication patterns during conflict is one of the most common goals that the couples I see in therapy want help with, and for good reason! Conflict is normal, but learning how to have conflict in a way that feels healthy, safe, and productive is a key part of creating a lasting relationship. Working with a professional relationship therapist or coach can be very helpful in understanding where unhelpful conflict patterns stem from and creating a personalized plan for your relationship, but here are some general tips that can help all couples have better conflict:

  • Don’t be afraid to take breaks. If conflict feels overwhelming or you can sense yourself becoming heated, taking a break can be great! Breaks can give you a chance to calm down and collect your bearings so that when you do return to the conflict at hand, you are able to express yourself more clearly and actually hear what your partner is trying to say.
  • When you take breaks, don’t get caught up in rumination. As helpful as taking a break can be, it’s only helpful if you take the time to calm yourself down rather than stewing and ruminating. Consider taking a walk or doing some breathing exercises during this time.
  • Say how you feel. Often during conflict, we get caught up in saying what we think instead of how we feel. Both are important, but expressing our feelings can help our partner better understand where we are coming from. Try to expand your expression beyond words like “angry” or “frustrated” (examples could include “hurt,” “afraid,” and “unimportant”).
  • Consider how you bring things up. The way we start a difficult conversation can have a big impact on the direction things go! One helpful tip for bringing up the hard stuff is to try to use “I” statements and talk about how you feel as opposed to “you” statements that include blaming.

Conflict is normal, but learning how to have conflict in a way that feels healthy, safe, and productive is a key part of creating a lasting relationship.

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

Strengthen Your Foundation: Friendship

Another great area of your relationship to focus on is to strengthen the foundation of your relationship: your friendship. When we become comfortable with a partner, it can be easy to get into a routine that no longer involves trying new things, having fun together, and continuing to learn about each other. 

I always like to remind my couples clients of the importance of making daily conversations and connection a priority, and taking the time to do something fun or special together every week. This is especially important during quarantine, when, if you live together, you may be together more often than normal. Some COVID-friendly date ideas include:

  • Making a new meal or treat together
  • Enjoying a candlelight dinner with your favorite takeout
  • Buying a new game and learning to play together
  • Going on a picnic to a new park

By focusing on your friendship, you build trust and security in one another.

Pre-Engagement Counseling: How Does it Work?

I believe that counseling is a great option for everyone, including couples who feel that their relationship has a strong foundation! In this situation, the purpose of counseling would be to strengthen all of the good things that you and your partner have developed, as well as discover some new areas for growth and discussion.

I believe that there are always ways we can become better communicators, and working with a therapist can help you fine-tune things and figure out what about your communication is working well for you (and areas of communication growth!).

As a premarital and pre-engagement therapist who works with many happy and compatible couples, one of my favorite things to do is have couples take a relationship assessment. The relationship assessment that I use covers a wide range of topics that couples may not realize they are neglecting to talk about.

My happy couples clients have often said that taking the assessment helps them to realize how well-prepared they are for the rest of their lives together while also giving them ideas for a few areas of growth that would be helpful to cover in therapy.

[Want to take an assessment on your own? Try the How Healthy is Your Relationship: Free Relationship Quiz]

Another huge benefit of participating in counseling prior to marriage (even if you do not have concerns about your relationship) is that it makes participating in couples therapy less scary, which can be extremely helpful if your relationship encounters bumps in the road in the future. 

Common reasons why couples will often wait to try therapy until an issue feels very pressing include not knowing what to expect from therapy and not knowing how to contact a therapist. By participating in couples therapy at the beginning of your relationship, you know what couples therapy will be like and also have a therapist you can reach out to for help or referrals.

When attending pre-engagement couples counseling, it’s important to work with a counselor that you and your partner are comfortable with, as well as someone who is experienced in working through your desired goals. Your success in couples counseling starts with finding the right fit for your relationship and generally would involve a free couples consultation with a couples counselor or relationship coach of your choice. 

In your consultation you can discuss your relationship goals, struggles, and strengths to set up a plan that will work well for you and your partner. Often then, you will take a relationship assessment so that you and your partner can see your areas of strength and areas of growth. 

Many couples that are coming to couples therapy for proactive sessions typically meet with a counselor or coach for less than 10 sessions!

Help! Are They “The One?”

If you find yourself asking questions like, “How do I know if my partner is the “one” for me?” Or, “If we have areas where we don’t see eye to eye or struggle to understand one another, does that mean it’s doomed?” You may be feeling a sense of anxiety around your future together. Even if you know that you love your partner and want a future together, but still find yourself worried – you are completely normal. 

Even when partners are highly compatible, it’s perfectly normal to have some areas of disagreement! In fact, being aware of the areas where there is room for growth or improvement shows that you are not shying away from talking about the hard things. This is a situation where it would be great to work with a professional relationship therapist or coach. 

Here are some things to consider and that a therapist can help you work through if you find yourself in this situation:

  • What are the things that you disagree on? Are they things that are possible to accept or compromise on, or are they deal breakers for either partner? The areas that partners may be willing to accept and compromise on or not vary from couple to couple, and may even be different between partners. Some common areas of concern for couples include political views, religion/spirituality, and wanting to have children.
  • What have you already tried to resolve your differences? To what extent have those attempts been helpful or unhelpful? In my experience, when couples have differences, learning new communication skills can often help them to understand each other’s perspectives and come to a place of acceptance or compromise. Because we all come into relationships with our own personal histories and communication patterns, we often don’t recognize the ways that our communication styles may be ineffective. Working with a therapist can help you gain new insights and skills around your communication and facilitate meaningful conversations to help you and your partner work through your differences.

In my experience as a therapist, when it comes to making it work with someone we love but are having a hard time getting on the same page with, the qualities that make it most likely that couples will be able to enjoy a healthy, long-lasting relationship include:

  • Level of commitment to the relationship 
  • Willingness to compromise and change
  • Respect for your partner’s opinions and beliefs
  • Willingness to apologize
  • Having a growth mindset. 

When partners have these qualities, I have seen that, with some work and professional guidance, they are able to create happy partnerships.

Dating and Personal Growth: Being the Best Version of Yourself

As you think about what you want in a partner, think about the people you have gotten to know. What qualities do you like in others? What do you dislike? What would it be like to be life partners with each of these people? Some of these questions can give you hints about the qualities that you may prefer in a partner. 

Here are some other questions that are important to reflect on when considering what it would be like to be partners with someone:

  • What are their core values and goals for their lives? Are these compatible with your core values and goals?
  • How do they treat you and others around them (including friends, family members, coworkers, and service providers)?
  • What do they do when they’re upset or angry? Do they feel comfortable discussing emotions? 
  • How much time do they like to spend with friends and family? How much time do they like to spend with you? How much time do they like to spend alone? Are these compatible with how you like to spend your time?
  • Do you like being around them?

As you prepare to be a great partner, you can ask yourself many of these same questions. A large part of being a great partner is knowing yourself and being able to express your emotions, values, beliefs, and preferences clearly to others.

If you have friendly and safe relationships with people you used to be in relationships with, it may be a good idea to ask them for their perspective. What were their favorite parts about being in a relationship with you? What things were hard? You may also consider reading evidence-based relationship books, such as “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” by Dr. John Gottman. 

Regardless of whether you feel 100% compatible with your partner, have a few concerns, or simply want to work on yourself in preparation for a future relationship, consulting with a professional relationship therapist or coach is always a great idea to help you resolve concerns, gain skills, and create a strong foundation for a lifetime of meaningful love and connection.

Warmly,
Kensington

 

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

With compassionate understanding and unique insights, Kensington Osmond M.S., LAMFT, MFTC, helps you improve the most meaningful parts of your life, from your emotional well-being to your 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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Men, Women and Housework: How to Create a More Egalitarian Relationship

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, etc.. Despite the fact that, in many cases, they work as much outside of the home as their partners do. This dynamic is bringing many couples into online marriage counseling or online couples therapy because it creates relationship problems.

Even now with more couples staying at home together and others just beginning to enter back into the workplace slowly, questions and expectations around sharing the load continue to leave partnerships entangled in unequal expectations and confusion around “who does what.”

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 relationship.

But why? In our modern era shouldn’t we be past this? The roots of gender inequality in family roles go 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 still hold, 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 relationship and family structure is 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 is 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 successfully work 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 childbearing 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 doing 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” accumulates 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 into 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, egalitarian 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 the tasks that need doing (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 relationship and 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: 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 new homemaking skills.

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 doing, 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

 

P.S. Want to know more about online couples therapy? Have questions about teletherapy in general? Here’s an article to answer all your questions: Online Therapy: What You Should Know About Teletherapy

 

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

Let’s  Talk

Real Help For Your Relationship

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

 

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

 

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

How To Develop a Healthy Money Mindset

How To Develop a Healthy Money Mindset

How To Develop a Healthy Money Mindset

What’s YOUR Money Mindset?

HOW TO DEVELOP A HEALTHY MONEY MINDSET | One of the biggest goals for many people at this time of year (who are we kidding — at all times of year) is to feel more in control and empowered with regards to their finances. They want to save more, spend less, attain their financial goals, and feel like they’re being compensated fairly for their valuable time and energy. Sounds like a straightforward solvable problem, right? Just budget! Save more! Spend less! Start packing your lunch! No big deal!

Why Financial Therapy is Important

Except… when you peek underneath the mental and emotional hood, people are actually having a complex, and often subconscious way of relating to money that impacts the way they behave to a much more significant degree than their good intentions to conscientiously meal prep and use a budgeting app. What we know from the emerging field of financial therapy is that we are all carrying old, deep, and often subconscious thoughts, feelings and core beliefs about money and our relationship to money — often stemming from our experiences in our families of origin.

Until you have the opportunity to dig into your subconscious core beliefs and feelings about money, it can be very difficult to implement lasting behavioral changes to the way you handle your money. Financial therapy often involves helping you develop the kind of healthy “money mindset” that will allow you to feel in control of your financial future.

Financial Therapy For Couples

Our relationship to money impacts the way we handle our individual finances, but it can also have a significant impact on our marriages. Money fights are one of the most common pain points for couples. When two people come together to form a marriage and family, and who are (of course) both carrying their own subconscious ways of relating to money that may be at odds with each other’s, it can become highly conflictual.

Most couples need to do intentional and meaningful personal growth work around getting on the same page with regards to their finances. This work needs to go deeper than band-aid quick-fixes, like admonishments to make a budget. It needs to help couples understand each other’s experiences that shaped their values around money, and the core needs that are being met through their relationships to money. Only with that level of empathy and understanding are couples able to achieve real and lasting change around their financial partnership.

Develop a Healthy Money Mindset

To help YOU begin to understand your relationship with money, I’ve invited financial therapist Jennifer Dunkle, M.A., LPC to join me on this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast. Jennifer specializes in financial therapy, and provides financial therapy for couples as well as individuals. Listen (or watch) and get Jennifer’s tips for how to:

  • Uncover your subconscious beliefs and feelings about money
  • Understand how your family of origin experiences may be impacting the way you handle money
  • How to get a handle on impulsive spending
  • How to manage financial anxiety
  • The types of money issues couples deal with, and how to resolve them
  • How to heal from financial infidelity in marriage
  • How to spot (and stop) financial abuse in a relationship
  • How to handle power and control issues around money in a relationship
  • Practical strategies and resources to help you develop a healthy money mindset

I hope that this discussion helps YOU get insight into yourself and your relationship with money, so that you can create a money mindset that helps you achieve your financial goals.

Wishing you all the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

How to Develop a Healthy Money Mindset

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

Music Credits: Jeremy Allingham, “Money Gods”

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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.

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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