Emotional Safety

Emotional Safety

Emotional Safety

The Most Important Part of a Healthy Relationship

EMOTIONAL SAFETY: Here’s some real-deal, bottom-line relationship advice from an experienced marriage counselor:  If you want to feel more connected, improve your communication, have more emotional and physical intimacy, and create a secure, satisfying relationship, there’s one irreplaceable ingredient that you must have for everything else to fall into place…. Emotional Safety.

Emotional safety is so important that it’s the foundational goal of one of the most widely researched, effective evidence-based forms of marriage counseling and couples therapy, called “Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy.” Here at Growing Self, most of the Denver marriage counselors, online couples therapists, and relationship coaches on our team use Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy to guide their work with couples… because it works.

The easiest way to understand the importance of emotional safety is to reflect on what happens between you and your partner when you don’t have it: If you’re feeling angry, hurt, frustrated or disrespected… you’re not going to behave well with your partner. Even if you know, intellectually, what you should do to show them love and respect… you don’t. And understandably! Until you feel emotionally safe, and learn how to help your partner feel emotionally safe with you, conflict and miscommunication is inevitable.

This is exactly the reason why many attempts at marriage counseling and couples therapy doesn’t work — is because the majority of couples counselors out there aren’t trained in evidence based forms of couples counseling like EFCT. Consequently they don’t know how to help their couples focus on their foundation of emotional safety first, before attempting to make bigger changes in their relationship. Without that, couples counseling doesn’t work. Couples try to make changes, and they don’t stick. Couples can’t make real and lasting change when they’re not focusing on what really matters: Emotional Safety.

How to Create Emotional Safety in Your Relationship

YOU deserve better. You deserve real relationship advice, that will help you improve your relationship, and that’s what you’re getting on this episode the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast. I’m putting on my marriage counselor hat, and I’m sharing the secrets behind how to create emotional safety in your relationship. We’ll be discussing:

  • What is emotional safety, and why it’s important
  • How to determine if your relationship is emotionally safe or not
  • How to begin increasing emotional safety in your relationship
  • The emotional intelligence skills that will help you increase emotional safety
  • Using the principles of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy to improve your relationship
  • The emotional-safety crushing behaviors to absolutely avoid
  • The most important things YOU can do to transform your relationship

This episode is my very special Valentine’s Day gift for YOU. I hope you listen, and that it helps you love your relationship.

xoxo, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

PS: One of the “conversation starting” tools I mentioned in this episode is my free “How Healthy is Your Relationship Quiz.” If you’d like to take this, alone or with your partner, you can get the link here. 

 

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How to Create Emotional Safety

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

Music Credits: The Days, “Make My Love Your Home”

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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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Feeling Invalidated By Your Partner?

Feeling Invalidated By Your Partner?

Feeling Invalidated By Your Partner?

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

How to Stop Invalidating Your Partner in Three Easy Steps

Hi there. Are you reading this article because your partner just forwarded it to you, as a way of saying they have been feeling invalidated by you and would like that to change? First of all, sorry, but second of all… never fear. I’m the couples therapist in your corner. This one is going to boomerang nicely, and wind up working out in your favor. Promise.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret that your partner — possibly not having read this article themselves before texting it to you on the headline alone — might not know yet: We all invalidate our partners accidentally. I’ll bet you a cookie that you probably feel invalidated by them from time to time too. Am I right? Yes? Welcome to relationships.

How do I know this is happening to you, too? First of all, I’ve been a marriage counselor for a long time. It is extremely rare to find a couple where one person has *actually* been exclusively responsible for all the hurt feelings. (Except in the tiny percentage of couples counseling cases that I could count on one hand where the hurt-inducing partner has been a diagnosable sociopath. But I will save that tale for another day).

Secondly, I’ve also been married for a long time to someone I adore and would never want to hurt on purpose. And I’m a marriage counselor!  I should know better! And To. This. day. I still do things that accidentally invalidate my husband and make him feel bad.

But I’m working on it, and it’s better than it used to be. You can do the same. Here’s how:

Step One: Understanding “Invalidation”

First of all, let’s talk a little about what “invalidation”  means. When you invalidate someone, you basically make them feel like you a) don’t understand them or their feelings or b) if you do understand, you don’t care.

In order to improve invalidation you need to be self-aware of when it’s happening, and what you’re doing to cause it. Invalidation comes in many flavors, and can happen in both subtle and dramatic ways. Let’s review.

Types of Invalidating Behaviors

Inattentive Invalidators: These types of invalidators don’t pay attention when their partner is talking about something important. (C’est moi!)

Example of Inattentive Invalidation in Action:

Them: “I had a really hard day at work today. I think I might be getting sick.”

You (And by “you” I mean “me”): “I was just thinking that it would be fun to go to Canada this summer. Or Newfoundland. What do you think?” [Picks up phone to start checking flight prices]

_________________________________

Belligerent Invalidators: Their M.O. is to rebuttal rather than listen, and put their energy into making their own case instead of seeing things from their partner’s perspective.

Example of Belligerent Invalidation in Action:

Them: “I feel like you were rude to my friend.”

You: “Your friend is an annoying idiot who drinks too much and if you want to avoid these problems you should stop inviting him over.”

_________________________________

Controlling invalidators:  These types of invalidators are extremely confident that their way of doing things is right and just, and will either intervene or undo things that their partner does in efforts to correct, (i.e. “help”) them. This happens in many situations including parenting, housekeeping, social situations, and more. (If I’m not careful, I actually have a tendency towards this one too).

Example of Controlling Invalidation in Action:

Them: “No, Timmy, you can’t go out to play because you have to take a shower and clean your room.”

You: “Be back before dinner.”

_________________________________

Judgmental Invalidators: These types of invalidators minimize the importance of things that they do not personally feel are interesting or important to them, in a way that creates disconnection in their relationships.

Example of Judgmental Invalidation in Action:

Them: “What should we do this weekend? So many fun things! Do you want to go to the farmer’s market / prepper expo / rv show / rodeo?”

You: “Pfft. NO. I have to spend the weekend finishing my Fortnite challenges. Wanna watch? No? Okay see you later.”

_________________________________

Emotional Invalidators: Then of course there is the stereotypical, garden-variety Emotional Invalidator, who feels entitled to “disagree” with other people’s feelings, or argue that other’s feelings are not reasonable, or to talk them out of their feelings.

Example of Emotional Invalidation in Action:

Them: “Crying”

You: “You shouldn’t be sad. At least we have one healthy child already….”

You some more: “….That’s not what I meant. We can try again next month. You’re overreacting.”

_________________________________

Fixit Invalidators: Lastly, there is the “Fixit” Invalidator, who would prefer to leap over messy feelings entirely and go straight to helpful solutions.

Example of Fixit invalidation in Action:

Them: “I am heartbroken about my argument with my sister. I feel really bad about what happened.”

You: “She’s just a drama queen. Forget about it. You should make plans with some of your other friends. I’ll see if Jenny and Phil want to come over on Friday.”

_________________________________

There are so, so many ways to invalidate someone. Not sure what kind of invalidator you might be? Ask your partner. I’m sure they’d be happy to tell you.

Step Two: Understand The Importance of Validation

While the first step in learning how to stop accidentally invalidating your partner is to figure out what kinds of invalidation you are prone to, the second step is to learn what it means to be validating and why it’s so important.

So: What is “validation?” To validate someone means that you help them feel understood, accepted, and cared for by you. Like you really get how they see things, and that you support them in their perspective.

This is super important in relationships because validation is a cornerstone of emotional safety. And emotional safety — feeling like you are accepted and valued for who you are, like your thoughts, feelings, and preferences are important to your partner, and that your relationship is loving and supportive — is the foundation of a healthy, happy relationship.

Just consider how wonderful it feels to hear these words, “I can understand why you would feel that way.” No matter what’s going on, when you hear that it feels like you’re accepted by the person you’re with and that it’s okay for you to feel the way you feel. That right there is the strong foundation from which you can then find your own way forward. (And in your own time).

Also, if we were to dissect pretty much any basic argument that a couple can have, 98% of the time, arguments start with one person feeling invalidated by the other. When anyone feels invalidated the natural response is to then escalate their efforts to be understood. Which can sound like yelling. Then if the invalidator doubles down on defending their invalidating behaviors in response, it can get pretty ugly pretty quick. As I’m sure you know.

So if you work towards being more validating you will not just stop pretty much any argument in its tracks but your partner will feel emotionally safe and accepted by you, and you will have a much stronger, happier relationship. Win, win, win.

Step Three: Intentionally Practice Validating Behaviors

The real problem with changing your (our) tendency to be accidentally invalidating is that it can be really hard to wrap your (our) brains around the fact that we really are hurting the people we love without meaning to. In none of the examples of “types of invalidators” was I describing anyone who was trying to be hurtful. They were just failing to understand their partner’s perspective or needs or feelings, and prioritizing their own instead. 

Human beings are generally self-focused, unless they put purposeful effort into being other-focused. Sad but true.

The good news is that it’s not hard to be more other-focused if you decide that it’s important enough to make it a priority. It just takes intention and practice, and a genuine desire to want your partner to feel more cared for by you.

Here’s what that looks like at my house:

My husband is telling me something but I’m not really connecting with what he is saying. He’s talking about his day at work, and how he’s not feeling great. And now he’s going on and on about this guy he works with who’s super annoying, and incompetent, and how he’s thinking about taking the day off tomorrow, and…

….I’ve zoned out, and am now following the spark of ideas that whatever he just said to me has just ignited into being, through the chambers of my own mind.  Day off… Netflix…. Nature documentary…. Camera lenses…. Majestic landscape photos…. I want to go somewhere beautiful… Catherine said good things about Quebec…. He’s still talking but I’m now having an entirely internal experience. I know he’s still there, but it’s the muffled, “Wa-wa-wa” like the adult in the old Charlie Brown cartoons.

Sometimes he can tell when I’m not there anymore, but most of the time neither of us realize what is happening until I say something apparently out of the blue, like “I was just thinking that it would be fun to go to Canada this summer. Or Newfoundland. What do you think?” [Picks up phone to start researching flight prices]. Then I look up from my phone to see his shoulders slump a little and this look cross his face like, “Do you even care about what I’m saying?” He’s annoyed. He should be.

Because in that moment, my lack of attention left him feeling invalidated in our conversation. He was left feeling like he wasn’t important or interesting enough for me to pay attention to, or worse, like I just hijacked the conversation to talk about whatever I was thinking of instead of what he was bringing up. Which I totally did.

But like you, I didn’t mean to hurt his feelings. It just happened because I wasn’t making him a priority in that moment, but indulging my own self-absorption.

In contrast, when I remind myself of my intention to be a good friend to him, to help him feel cared for and validated by me, it’s a totally different experience. I will myself to focus on what he is saying. I look in his eyes. When I feel my mind starting to slide towards something other than what he is talking about, I bring it back to him by very deliberately reflecting something I heard him say. Or I ask open-ended questions to help him say more about what is going on for him, but also as a strategy to keep myself engaged.

I try really hard to stay present, and stay on topic. Sometimes I am more successful than others, but I know he sees me trying. We know each other well enough now and we can even laugh about it, as we do when I glaze and he just stops talking and makes a face at me. Humor helps.

Every flavor of invalidation has a validating antidote that’s a little different. I could go into great detail about what the antidote for each involves, but then this would be an actual self-help book rather than a blog post. But, briefly:

  • Inattentive invalidators need to stay present and use mindfulness skills to focus.
  • Belligerent invalidators need to find compromises that honor their partner’s feelings, too.
  • We controlling invalidators need to manage our anxiety, and trust in the competence of others.
  • Judgmental invalidators need to work on acceptance and generosity.
  • Emotional invalidators need to work on empathy and emotional intelligence skills.
  • Fixit Invalidators must make peace with the fact that feelings are valuable, even dark ones.

I hope that this discussion of how you may be accidentally invalidating your partner was helpful to you, and gives you clarity about how to shift the emotional climate of your relationship just by making your partner’s feelings and perspective as important to you as your own .

Now, please send this post back to your partner.

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Let’s Talk!

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How To Fall Back In Love With Your Spouse

How To Fall Back In Love With Your Spouse

How To Fall Back In Love With Your Spouse

New Beginnings Together

I had known Mary for several years. I had gone to 7 years of schooling with her. We had spent countless days and nights together. We were best friends. Then we started dating, and I thought that I knew her very well but within those first few dates I found both of us having to take a step back to ask some “get to know you questions.” While this feels fairly common for a new relationship, we can forget how important these conversations are to our long-term relationships as well.

Through this foundational relationship conversation, we talked about our family histories, what we wanted for our future, what are our fears, our pet peeves – we even talked about our favorite colors and foods. In that moment, Mary and I had a new beginning. It wasn’t the beginning of our story, but we started anew. This event changed our pathway and set us on a path together rather than two separate people walking next to each other. We were unified.

As a Relationship Coach and Marriage Counselor, it’s not uncommon for couples to come into our sessions feeling stagnant in the relationship with their long-term partner. With large events, new beginnings come naturally. Things like moving, new jobs, having a baby. It is an obvious time to re-adjust and re-align as a couple. But what about those times when everything stays as it is? For weeks, months or years? That is when it becomes vital to your relationship to create moments for new beginnings.

Now having been married for several years, Mary and I continue to have new beginnings and I want to share with you today a simple tool for falling back in love with your spouse.

Creating Time to Grow Together

We as individuals are constantly evolving and changing. It is imperative that we continually ensure that we know our partner and can find ways to be unified in our relationships. Just as you continue to grow and change, so does your partner. Their favorite band 5 years ago may be completely irrelevant to them now. It’s so important to create time together (even amongst busy work/career/social schedules) to sit down and spend quality time talking, listening, and encouraging one another through personal and relational growth.

For you, this may look like a weekly date night, lunch break, coffee together, or the coveted hours of the evening once the kids are put to bed. Whatever this time looks like for you, make it a priority.

Questions That Inspire Intimacy

In my sessions with couples I like to encourage my clients to begin asking each other questions that are both new to the relationship and reruns from years past. You don’t have to have a Quizlet setup in order for this to be effective. You can begin by covering some of the more natural areas of conversation (e.g. what’s your favorite part of your day?), and you may be surprised by the level of intimacy that can grow from these simple conversations.

Some other conversation starters for you and your partner might include:

  • Do you want children? When? How many?
  • What type of parent do you want to be?
  • How do you view the role of each partner in the relationship?
  • How do you want to handle finances together?
  • What is your biggest physical fear (i.e. sharks, heights, snakes, etc.)? What is your biggest emotional fear (i.e. being unloved, failing, etc.)?
  • What makes you happy?
  • What makes you sad?
  • Where do you see your life 10 years from now?
  • What are your ambitions? How can I help you accomplish your goals?
  • What do you feel the role of extended family is in our relationship?
  • What are your top priorities for how you spend your time?
  • What are your spiritual/religious beliefs and what role do they play in your life?
  • What do you consider your core values?
  • What are some of your biggest stressors?
  • If you could change something about yourself what would it be?
  • What are some things you do well?
  • How do you show love? How do you want me to show love?
  • What are your goals for this week, month, or year?
  • Where do you want to live or raise our family?
  • What is the role of sex in our relationship?

Guide the Conversation with Curiosity and Sincerity

Approach each of these questions with a curious mindset. Ask follow-up questions, ask about experiences your partner has had that has helped develop their answer, ask anything that comes to mind after your partner answers the initial question.

Too many times I have worked with couples that have been in a committed relationship with each other for years and are not able to answer these questions. Many couples have never asked these questions or any other similar questions. In those situations, we start from the beginning and ask deeper “get to know you” questions. It may feel like we are going backwards but we are truly building a stronger foundation for that couple to move forward together.

Be sincere in your interest, and show you’re listening by engaging in the conversation as it moves forward. This isn’t a game of 20-Questions, so take your time. You already know your partner, now you’re meeting them at a deeper level.

Be Honest and True to the Relationship and Your Partner

Sometimes you may find as a couple that answering these questions confirms that your relationship can succeed and flourish, that you align in many key aspects of life. Sometimes you may find that your answers are drastically different and you are looking for different things from life. If this is the case, you may decide that you can make it work despite the differences or you may find that there are too many differences to reconcile. Either way, it is important to understand your partner on this level, and can sometimes offer the clarity you are looking for.

New Beginnings = Budding Romance (even for you long-termers out there)

Take this new year as a time to find new beginnings in your relationship. Whether you have been dating for a week or married for decades, there are new things to discover! Doing this will only strengthen what you already have. I challenge you and your partner to take time within the next week to do 2 things:

  1. Make a list of any questions you would add to the 20 I listed above.
  2. Schedule quality time together to ask each of these questions and understand one another on a deeper level all over again.

Taking the time to get to know your partner in a deeper way can be a powerful way to build a more meaningful connection and strengthen the love you feel for each other.

Wishing you all the best,
Hunter Tolman, M.S., MFTC

Hunter Tolman, M.S., MFTC specializes in helping people just like you reach their highest potential both individually, and in their most important relationships. He provides couples counseling, family therapy, individual therapy, and life coaching that focuses on creating understanding and fostering strong connections that support healing and compassion.

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Premarital Counseling: Set Your Marriage Up For Success

Premarital Counseling: Set Your Marriage Up For Success

Premarital Counseling: Set Your Marriage Up For Success

On The Fence About Premarital Counseling?

Wedding season is upon us, so I thought it would be a good idea to talk about the benefits of premarital counseling, and why so many marriage counselors and couples believe it’s such a good investment for a relationship. Here are some FAQs that couples often have when deciding if premarital counseling is right for them:

We have a great relationship and don’t have any issues. How can premarital counseling help us?

Even the best relationships could use improvements in conflict resolution and communication. There may be “blind spots” that you’re unaware of that could potentially become an issue later on in your relationship. Premarital counseling allows couples to be proactive about these issues before they even arise.

How does premarital counseling differ from couples therapy?

In general, premarital counseling is much more structured than traditional couples therapy, particularly if you do a structured premarital program or a premarital class. Many couples enter into premarital counseling without an agenda, or unsure of even what to talk about. An experienced marriage therapist will be able to structure sessions around topics that are common issues that couples tend to come to marriage counseling for later. Typically, premarital counseling is less in depth than couples therapy.

What can I expect in a typical session?

Sessions can be as structured as needed, depending upon the couple. Some couples come into premarital counseling already with an idea of what they would like to focus on, while others enter into the process without an agenda. Premarital counseling can be effective in both of these situations. A good therapist will tailor your sessions to your unique needs.

How many sessions do you recommend?

I’ve found the average number of sessions for premarital couples to be 5-7; sometimes more, sometimes less. This totally depends on what couples would like to focus on, and how in depth they’d like to go.

There is a lot of information and talking points that we’ve found on the internet on what to talk about before getting married. Why should I pay for premarital counseling?

Private coaching or therapy gives couples the opportunity to focus on the unique needs of their relationship, and to practice new ways of interacting with each other. Additionally, having an objective marriage expert by your side could help you prevent some pitfalls that you may not even be aware of.

Many couples find it helpful to develop a relationship with a therapist so that they can easily come in for maintenance. Similar to finding a good mechanic for your car, having a trusted person to go to for a “tune up” of your relationship is a great benefit.

More questions about pre-marital counseling? We have answers…

What to expect in premarital counseling?

How much does premarital counseling cost?

Can we do premarital counseling online?

Is premarital counseling really necessary?

I hope this information about pre-marital counseling helps you both decide if it’s the right decision for you!

xo, 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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When To Call It Quits In a Marriage

When To Call It Quits In a Marriage

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When To Call It Quits In A Marriage?

I picked up the phone to reach out to a potential new client for couples counseling. After introducing myself, the clients first question for me was, “When do you know to call it quits in a marriage?”

This question didn’t catch me off guard because it’s the same question many couples ask me at the beginning of marriage counseling or couples therapy.

With these couples, communication problems, lack of sex, and emotional intimacy have been going on for quite some time. Attempts to fix these issues with or without professional help can leave couples feeling exhausted and hopeless.

I’m the biggest cheerleader for relationships. The investment both partners have made to keep a relationship going isn’t worth throwing away at the drop of a hat. However, there are some key signs to look for when trying to decide if continued investment in the relationship is worth it for both partners.

Top Signs You Should Call It Quits In A Marriage:

Unwillingness to Communicate

No matter how hard you try to engage your partner it doesn’t seem to work. You try the nice voice and the sweet thoughts. You try the yelling and the threatening. It doesn’t matter. You get little to no response. [More: “How to Communicate When Your Partner Shuts Down”, and “Are You Trapped in a Codependent Relationship?”]

Consistent Negativity

You don’t seem to communicate outside of what is necessary and even then the content remains negative. Most of the things you say to each other reflect black and white thinking, “You never” or “I always”. At this point you probably can’t make decisions on seemingly insignificant options like where to go for dinner or who is picking up the kids.

You Feel in Your Heart the Relationship is Unhealthy

You’ve tried everything you know to do to improve your relationship. Talked to your friends and read too many relationship books. In your heart you know that you can’t keep going on like this. You can feel the energy between the two of you isn’t getting any better, in fact its either the same or worse. [More: “Are You Addicted to a Toxic Relationship?“]

Unwillingness to Change

It takes two to tango. You’re not perfect, neither is your partner. You both see areas in yourselves that need to change in order to make the relationship work. However, neither of you seems to have the motivation to make those changes.

Won’t Seek Help

You’ve begged your partner to see a counselor. Maybe you’ve gone to one or two appointments without much buy-in from your partner. Overall, you feel a strong resistance personally or from your partner to engaging in counseling.

Maybe you can identify with some or all of these red flags. You may be asking yourself, “What do I do next?” Every couple is different but if you see these things in your relationship, things have to change. The relationship problems won’t resolve on their own. Here’s what to do next:

Get support

Even if your partner won’t come with you, reach out to a couples counselor or relationship coach. Whether you stay or leave this relationship you need help to process your emotions, set healthy boundaries and expectations, and take steps forward. There are divorce and break up recovery groups online and maybe in your area. Do your research.

Get informed

I know its scary to think about all that will change and if you’re even up for it. Gain as much information as possible from an attorney or research the state laws. The more information you have the better decisions you can make about your future.

Take your time

Don’t rush a decision. If you don’t know what to do about your situation, then seek support until you find clarity. For many couples the problems have been ongoing for years. A few more weeks or months won’t change anything. Take this at your pace. There is a lot to grieve, process, and plan.

Every couple is different, as well as every situation. I believe that if both partners are willing to work towards a healthier relationship, there is hope, and there are tools. [More: How to Stop a Divorce and Save Your Marriage] Exhaust your options, arm yourself with knowledge, and have accountability. No matter how little the step, its still moving forward. You don’t have to stay stuck.

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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