How to Deal With Trust Issues

How to Deal With Trust Issues

How to Deal With Trust Issues

How to Deal With Trust Issues

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Trust Issues In Your Relationship? Here's What to Do…

HOW TO DEAL WITH TRUST ISSUES: If you've ever felt insecure in a relationship or found it difficult to trust your partner, and thought to yourself, “I think I have trust issues…” today's episode of the podcast is for you.

Listen: I know from years of experience as a Denver therapist, marriage counselor and relationship coach that being wary of others after being hurt is normal and healthy — at least to a degree.

In my opinion, having “trust issues” can be a good thing. It takes a long time to get to know people, and not all people are trustworthy. Part of having healthy boundaries is practicing discernment: figuring out who is emotionally safe for you (and who isn't) and then acting accordingly.

If you've been burned in the past, it's normal to feel twinges of anxiety as you become increasingly vulnerable with a new person. You're still getting to know them and figuring out whether or not they're trustworthy. Let's not label healthy apprehension as problematic “trust issues” that need to be eradicated. It's your emotional guidance system's way of being protective of you, and telling you to slow down and take your time to get to know people.

How to Deal With Trust Issues

Particularly if you've been hurt in past relationships, it's absolutely normal to have “trust issues” that need to be worked on in your new relationship.

But here's the thing to know: There is a difference between healthy caution and strong boundaries, and persistently feeling anxious about your relationship even after your partner is showing you they are trustworthy and emotionally safe.

If you are in a relationship with someone who is (generally, if not perfectly) kind, emotionally safe, and consistent, and you're still watching their every move, feeling like an over-caffeinated feral cat ready to run for your life at the slightest twitch… you might have trust issues.

What are trust issues? Having trust issues means that the source of your mistrust and feelings of insecurity are not due to what's happening in the relationship, but are stemming from unresolved wounds you experienced in past relationships. If you have been hurt in the past (particularly if you've survived a toxic relationship) and never really worked through it, you could be with the most honest and trustworthy person in the world and still struggle to trust them fully. Because your feelings of mistrust have nothing to do with them, specifically. You'd carry armloads of anxiety with you into every relationship.

If you're reading this and thinking, “Yep, that's me.” [Raising hand] “Right here. I have trust issues.” I'd like you to know that it's really important that you work on trust issues and not blow them off or live with them for too long.

The reason is that if you have unresolved trust issues in a relationship that run rampant, they can wind up harming your relationships. Even sabotaging them. And as your unresolved trust issues implode your relationships, one after another, it will only create more hurtful experiences and increasingly entrenched “trust issues” for you to work through down the road.

If you've become aware that you might have trust issues, especially trust issues in relationships, it's important to take action to resolve them.

How to Get Over Trust Issues

That's why  on this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast, we're talking all about how to overcome trust issues. I'll be answering questions like,

“What are trust issues?”

“What causes trust issues?

“Why do I have trust issues?”

And most importantly: “How to get over trust issues?”

I will share with you the signs of trust issues. You will also learn how a lack of trust can hurt you, your partner, and your relationship. As a licensed psychologist and relationship coach, I will discuss how you can start overcoming trust issues and start feeling more secure in your most important relationships.

Tune in to the full interview to learn how you can let go of your trust issues to:

  • Learn how to overcome trust issues that create problems for your relationship.
  • Find out the causes of trust issues.
  • Learn how to manage feelings of anxiety in relationships
  • Understand how and why you should take responsibility for your emotions and response.
  • Know the effects of trust issues on your relationship and partner.

Ready to start? You can listen to this “How to Deal With Trust Issues” podcast on Spotify, on the Apple Podcast App, or scroll down to the bottom of this page to listen to it on GrowingSelf.com. (Or anywhere else you like to listen to podcasts.) While you're listening to this episode, don't forget to subscribe to the podcast!

If you're more of a reader than a listener, keep reading to learn more about about “how to deal with trust issues” and get an overview of what I'm discussing in today's show…

What Are Trust Issues?

You might think that that people have “trust issues” related to a partner who has betrayed them in the past. This a reasonable assumption: many people wouldn’t trust someone after they've been betrayed and their trust has been damaged. 

However, having “trust issues” in a relationship where trust has been broken is not an “issue.” It's a normal, healthy response to be suspicious of someone who may not be trustworthy. (As evidenced by past experiences.) Repairing trust in a relationship is an entirely different thing than having “trust issues” that you carry around with you. 

Please check out “Sorry's just not good enough: How to repair trust,” and “Repairing Trust After Infidelity” for more on this topic.

There's a distinction between broken trust and the trust issues I’m going to talk about today. In this episode, I will talk about feeling mistrustful or not feeling safe in a relationship even if nothing terrible has happened.

Learning how to deal with trust issues and insecurities in a relationship in which nothing bad has happened is challenging. Having these types of trust issues are also really common.

Signs of Trust Issues

These are the signs you should watch out for to recognize whether or not you have some trust issues to work on:

  • You've been hurt or betrayed by people in the past.
  • You doubt your partner despite the absence of betrayal.
  • You often question if your partner is trustworthy or is telling the truth.
  • You are extra-vigilant for any signs of lying, cheating, and concealing.
  • You perpetually feel anxiety or insecurity about your relationship.

People With Trust Issues…

Someone with trust issues will often have feelings of anxiety, worry or doubt about their relationship.  This can result in big feelings, and attempts to get more information from your partner (which can wind up feeling to them like they're being accused of something they didn't do).  For example, a mistrustful person might ask for additional evidence regarding their partner's whereabouts or what they were doing… but have a hard time believing what ever their partner says.

If their partner can explain their whereabouts, or provide reassurance, that additional information might temporarily soothe the anxiety or insecurity, but it's a trap — it doesn't resolve the underlying cause of trust issues. Even if, in the moment, the explanation or reassurance helps, its only a matter of time before you start to worry again. 

It's exhausting.

Unfortunately, the constant cycle of worry – requests for information / reassurance – temporary soothing – more worry is exhausting for your partner too. If you have trust issues it feels like you're always asking for reassurance that you're emotionally safe. But your partner may feel like nothing is ever enough, and that they are not emotionally safe with you. It turns into a negative pursue / withdrawal relationship cycle that just keeps spiraling down.

Trust Issues in a Relationship

Trust issues — if not dealt with and worked through — will eventually damage a relationship. Someone with trust issues will be worried most, if not all, of the time, which will place a great deal of pressure and strain on the relationship. This negatively impacts communication and emotional safety for both partners.

If you're in a relationship with someone who has trust issues you may feel like: 

Over time, if your partner has unresolved trust issues you may begin to view them as being excessively needy or demanding. The problem is that without lots of reassurance, the mistrustful person might think that you don't love them, or that you're doing something behind their back, or that you are angry with them.

If you are in a relationship with someone who is always thinking bad things about you, you aren’t going to feel loved, respected, or trusted. The relationship will stop feeling emotionally safe for you as a result.

Over time, you will feel yourself withdrawing emotionally — a self-fulfilling prophecy of your anxious partner's worst nightmare come true!

How to Fix Trust Issues

Trust issues will not heal or go away on their own. You need to actively address them. The first step is to recognize that unresolved trust issues are damaging your relationship. Therapy for trust issues is particularly useful if you become aware of longstanding patterns of feeling anxious or insecure in your relationships.

If you decide to pursue therapy to resolve trust issues, you should be sure that your therapist knows how to handle this type of relationship problem. Ask your prospective therapist these questions:

  • Why do you think people have trust issues?
  • What is your process for helping someone overcome trust issues?

Your therapist should provide you with a coherent answer and explain it in ways that make sense to you. In particular, a therapist with a background in attachment theory, emotionally focused couples therapy and / or cognitive behavioral therapy can help.

Relational Trauma + Attachment Styles

Sometimes people develop trust issues after having had bad experiences in past relationships. It can be helpful to understand these past experiences as a “little t trauma” that needs to be resolved and healed.

Other times, particularly if trust issues are longstanding, you may discover over the course of therapy that the cause has more to do with your attachment style than with one specific “relationship trauma.”

What are attachment styles?

Attachment styles are the ways we relate to others that we developed through our early life experiences.

Most people are generally secure in their attachments to others. They trust people until given a reason not to do so. However, people who's earliest relationships were not always safe or consistent can develop “protective” attachment styles.

  1. Avoidant Attachment Style — You can become overly critical of others or actively reject other people. Avoidant people don't trust anyone enough to get close to them and think they don't need anyone.
  2. Anxious Attachment Style  — People with an anxious attachment style feel insecure and doubtful of their romantic partners and may need extra reassurance. They might also unconsciously anticipate rejection. This anticipation isn't something they consciously do.

Even people who are generally or were formerly secure in their relationships can exhibit qualities of the above attachment styles after having experienced a relationship trauma, which is wholly natural and valid. Particularly after ending a toxic relationship, you may need to heal and recover to feel safe in your relationships again going forward.

“Why Do I Have Trust Issues?”

If you're reading this and beating yourself up because you may have trust issues, it's time to stop. Having self-compassion and understanding that there is a reason you feel the way you do is the first step of healing.

Being compassionate with yourself cultivates healthy self awareness, and this is vital. Without awareness of your trust issues, you may find yourself becoming hyper-vigilant and suspicious of your partner. Instead, the work ahead of you is learning how to provide yourself with soothing and reassurance to manage your anxiety in relationships.

Healing Trust Issues

To heal trust issues, you need an understanding of what's going on inside your head, self-awareness, and compassion for yourself. People with trust issues have experienced relational trauma, and it would help both partners if they understood that these feelings are real and normal. However, their feelings are not related to the current relationship.

If you have trust issues, you need to learn how to manage your anxiety and respond to your triggers effectively. Having individual therapy or relationship counseling can be helpful. Be kind to yourself, your partner, and your relationship by taking responsibility for your feelings.

Tips to Overcome Trust Issues

Here are a few resources that can support your work to overcome trust issues.

  • Go through a process of evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy with someone who understands relational trauma and attachment styles.
  • Take online courses, such as our Happiness Class. It will not explicitly resolve your trust issues, but it will set your expectations. 

By undergoing therapy, you can reprocess your relational trauma, learn how to handle your anxiety, and know your triggers. These things will lead to a healthier relationship and set you on the path to healing.

Just remember, that this type of healing can be quite slow. It's important to be committed to the process of therapy. Especially if you've had trust issues for a long time (or trust issues that stem from early life experiences) this is not going to go away overnight.

But you can learn to understand them, manage them, and cultivate safety and security in your most important relationships.

Wishing you all the very best on your journey of growth and healing…

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

 

 

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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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How to Deal With Trust Issues: Podcast Transcript

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Access Episode Transcript

How to Deal With Trust Issues — The Podcast

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you're listening to the Love, Happiness & Success Podcast. 

Could there even be a more perfect song to set the tone for a conversation about trust issues? I don't think so. What we're listening to right now is a band called Monk Turner + Fascinoma with a song “Trust (Is Just A Word)” from their album Emergency Songs. I don't know about emergency songs, but they're all fantastic songs, so you should check out Monk Turner + Fascinoma if you want to learn more about what they're up to. 

But in the meantime, we are here today to talk about trust issues and how to deal with trust issues and insecurities, particularly when it comes to relationships. And the reason why we're talking about this today is because I get this question a lot. And if you are one who's reached out to me through Instagram or Facebook or on the blog at growingself.com with questions like, “how do I trust again after I've been hurt in the past?” or one of the many, you know, variations of that question. I want you to know that I have been listening and collecting your questions and this show is for you. Today we're going to be talking about why people have trust issues and things that you can do to overcome the trust issues so that your relationship is no longer stressed, strained, or damaged by trust issues because that can happen. And we'll talk about why.

Now, if you have a question for me, or would also like to pose a topic for an upcoming podcast, I hope you get in touch with me. You can always track me down on Instagram at @drlisamariebobby, Facebook at Dr. Lisa Bobby, or of course jump into the fray. You can cruise over to growingself.com and join the vibrant community of commenters and questioners and discussers. That is often found at the bottom of blog posts that you're interested in. So enough about that. Let's jump in to today's topic.

Today, we are talking about trust issues. And I want to make a very careful and deliberate distinction. People often have trouble trusting their partners after they have experienced a damage in trust. So in past podcasts, I've talked a lot about how to repair trust in a relationship after betrayal has occurred. I've talked about how to restore trust after an affair as a separate topic. And those situations are different than what we're talking about today. We're not talking about that. Because there's a difference in having trust issues in a relationship after an actual betrayal or breaking of trust, like an affair like financial infidelity, like someone had a substance use disorder and there was all kinds of broken trust and lies and betrayals that happened, you know, over the course of their disease. And so, when couples are setting about to repair trust that has been broken in the context of a relationship, it requires a very special process to do that. And also, I don't see that kind of mistrust as necessarily being problematic.

In fact, I view that as being a normal, expected, and actually quite healthy response to not fully trust someone who has demonstrated that they are not trustworthy unless and until you go through that process of repair and healing that takes time and effort on both sides, and is a very special special kind of work. So if you are listening to this podcast hopeful that that is what I'm going to be talking about, I would actually refer you back to those previous podcasts I've done. You can scroll back through the podcast feed of the Love, Happiness, and Success podcast to find them. Or you can also go to the blog at growingself.com and onlet's see what are we calling itin the main nav there's like an expert advice tab. Click on that and then you'll see a search bar in addition to like the most recent articles and podcasts, not just for myself, but from other experts on our team. But in the search bar, you could just type the word ‘trust’ and you will see all kinds of articles as well as links to those past podcasts about how to repair trust after betrayal. And I hope you do check those out because that's a hard path and people doing that often require a lot of support. But hopefully the information you find there will give you a head start.

Trust Issues: Not the Same Thing as Broken Trust

So, that is not what we're talking about today. Today, what we are talking about are trust issues that happen when you don't feel safe in a relationship where nothing bad has happened. It means not feeling safe or secure with your partner, even if, as far as you know, you are actually emotionally safe with them. So when you have more broad trust issues that you're carrying around with you, you could be in a relationship with the most honest, trustworthy, committed person in the world and in a relationship where nothing bad or weird has ever happened and still think, “I don't know about you,” or “I'm not totally sure that I can believe this,” or “ what if something is actually happening that I just don't know about yet?” 

So when we have trust issues that are our trust issues that we're bringing in places with us, those are the kinds of things that can be happening on the inside, even in a great relationship. And to kind of go into this just a little bit deeper, here are some signs of trust issues just to kind of help you reflect on whether or not you resonate with any of these experiences. So generally speaking, people with trust issues, in the absence of a betrayal in that particular relationship, will often worry about whether or not their partner is being trustworthy, whether they're being told the truth, whether there's something going on behind the scenes that will sooner or later come out and hurt them. And so because they sort of have this kind of, you know, running fear in the back of their mind that something could happen or something is happening, I just don't know yet. They're oftentimes very, very vigilant for any signs that their partner might be lying or cheating or concealing things. So they're like looking for signs that they're not quite safe. 

Signs of Trust Issues

And also, another sign of trust issuespeople with trust issues aresince they're always kind of like simmering in this broth of ambient anxiety or feelings of insecurity about their relationshipbecause of that sort of inner emotional state, they often have a lot of just like general insecurity. So if they don't have a great deal of overt reassurance and signs that they are loved and cherished, they will start to feel scared that they're not that important, that they're not loved, and that means that sooner or later they will be rejected or hurt. So it's not just a vigilance for like, signs of lying or cheating, it's also thisin the absence of really like being lavished with love and attention and affection, they fear that they aren't loved. So like neutral things can lead them to feel a lot of anxiety and to be kind of reactive, even when nothing is happening. 

So it's as you can imagine a really hard situation for both people, you know, someone with trust issues is really feeling worried a lot of the time. And because this anxiety makes them feel so reactive in relationships, it can create a lot of stress and strain and pressure on the relationship and, you know, lead to damaging the relationship over time. So it's super important to be aware of any trust issues that we are carrying around. And also really learn how to overcome trust issues because if you don't, the trust issues themselves will begin to create problems in a relationship, and then you'll really have something to worry about. So we need to understand trust issues. 

And so, you know, what I often see in my work as a, you know—in Growing Self I do marriage counseling, couples counseling, relationship coaching, also dating coaching, but additionally, like individual therapy, life coaching, and I have had trust issue conversations in the context of all of these different situations. But particularly in couples work, if one person in a relationship has trust issues, and they are, you know, doing that hyper vigilant thing where they're like looking for signs that the other person is hiding things or lying or not being completely honest, or if they are really like needing these over-the-top-expressions of love and adoration, and without that they feel worried that they're not loved.

What that does, and I say this with love and respect, but understandably, because people feel upset and anxious, they can become sometimes really demanding of their partners, for their partners to do certain things or say certain things or “treat them a certain way so that they feel less anxious,” or if they're not, you know, talking about it, they can just go into this really like sad place and really feel bad and jump to a lot of negative conclusions about the relationship when they're not getting what they feel they need to manage their anxiety. And then they start to withdraw from the relationship assuming that a breakup is right around the corner. 

Trust Issues in a Relationship

And so as you can imagine, either of these things becomes really exhausting for the partner of someone with trust issues. It leads to that partner feeling like they're always walking on eggshells, or feeling like their partner is always upset with them, or finding them lacking, or not loving them the right way, or that their partner doesn't respect them enough to trust them, that their partner doesn't think well enough of them to trust them, or doubts their character. And that feels really bad, you know, to the person who is in a relationship with someone who has trust issues. And again, this kind of dynamic can really damage a relationship and, you know, paradoxically create the situation that the person with the trust issues is most worried about, which is that over time, their partner will begin to view them as being unreasonably needy or demanding, and will in fact withdraw from the relationship or start to feel ambivalent about the relationship, which of course, as you can imagine, sends someone who has trust issues anyway through the roof with anxiety because they can see that their partner is maybe concealing things or withdrawing or feeling a little bit more ambivalent.

I'm not saying this to be scary, I'm saying this to be real and to help create an understanding of why it is so important to be taking responsibility for trust issues that we are carrying around with us. And to do something about it, we can't just like, you know, hope it gets better. This is not one of these things that just kind of gets better over time. We really need to be like working on it intentionally in order to make a change. And the other thing that I routinely see as a marriage counselor or relationship coach is that people with trust issues, they often as we discussed, feel sort of suspicious of their partner, and have a tendency to jump to negative conclusions about their partner's motivations or things their partner is doing or how their partner feels.

And because it's sort of fear-fueled, they feel that those things are true because they feel afraid. And what that fear does is it leads to this kind of heightened emotionality where people with trust issues will also often become quite like accusatory, attacking, you know, like kind of ambushing their partner with like, “what about this thing?” And really, you know, like demanding answers, demanding information, demanding explanations, and because their fears are not really reality based, it turns into this thing where nothing their partner says or does will quell this anxiety, or at least not for long, like even if they say, “Yes, I was with Tim. Here is a text fromhere's a screenshot of my text with Tim.” Or you know, whatever it is that the person is wanting more information about like, it might soothe anxiety in that moment, but because that anxiety is kind of bubbling around inside of them all the time, it's kind of like that whack-a-mole thing. Like, it'll come up in a different situation where they will again be potentially accusatory or attacking or suspicious. 

And, you know, if you're in a relationship with someone who is routinely accusing you of various nefarious things, various nefarious, I can't believe I just said those two words next to each other, but I did. You were here. Anyway, but nefarious things. You know, if you're in a relationship with someone who is accusing you ofkind of all the time of bad things being partnered with someone who has unresolved trust issues. So, you know, over time, what happens in couples is that there's this emerging sense of, you know, it will lead to a relational dynamic where you actually do start hiding or concealing things from your partner because you feel like it will upset them. So whatever it is, so it's better that they don't know.

And also, if you are in a relationship with someone who has major trust issues, and is always thinking bad things about you, you aren't going to feel loved or respected, or trusted, or that they hold you in high esteem. And the relationship will stop feeling emotionally safe for you as a result. And so again, you do see that withdrawal, and ambivalence start to happen because of being partnered with someone who has unresolved trust issues. So, you know, over time, what happens in couples is that there's this emerging sense of, you know, one partnerthe partner with a trust issuesreally believes that if only their spouse or their partner would do things differently, or say things differently, or finally provide them with all the information that they need to feel safe, their anxiety would go away, which is not true.

But there's, you know, frantic efforts to try to get those things from, you know, an increasingly tired partner. And the person who is partnered with someone with trust issues will begin over time to feel that their partner with the anxiety is just this, like, black hole of insecurity and anxiety, and no matter what they say or do, it's never going to be enough to touch that inner anxiety. So they stop trying, you know, and then of course, the relationship dynamic intensifies, with the already anxious person even becoming more anxious, and the already kind of detached person who's kind of backing up a little bit will start doing that more explicitly. 

So that is a real risk to any relationship you are in. If you are a person who has your little suitcases packed full of trust issues that you're bringing around from one relationship to the next, and if any of what I just shared resonates with you and sounds familiar, it sounds like these trust issues really are impacting your relationship or your relationships, if there's a string of them that have that have, you know, experienced this kind of dynamic. And so it's time to work on them. And I just want to say too that knowledge is power. And I could sort of understand why me being so just like, transparent and honest about like, you know, “Okay, here's the deal,” could feel worrisome and, you know, might make you think, “Oh, geez,” but I would like to just reconceptualize the feeling as motivation for change. You know, anytime people grow and change and do things differently, it is because they are motivated by not wanting to have, you know, the experience that they have been having. Not wanting to feel anxious anymore, not wanting their relationship to be damaged by trust issues. That is fabulous. And we need to be motivated in order to grow. So I'm okay if you're not feeling great about thinking about trust issues in this way because that is the energy that is going to mobilize you and lead to healing and wellness, if you do something productive with it. So we have to be real. 

I will also say that therapy for trust issues is very effective provided that you are doing evidence-based therapy with someone who really understands kind of the underpinnings of trust issues and why they happen. I'm going to outline some of this for you so that you can be an educated consumer. But you know, also if you do decide to pursue therapy for trust issues to improve this, as you are interviewing prospective therapists to find the right person, I would encourage you to be asking questions around, you know, “why do you think people have trust issues? What is your process for helping someone overcome trust issues?” And if whatever therapists you are talking to cannot provide you with a coherent answer that makes sense to you, they might not really know how to help you in an organized kind of effective way. So just stick that one in your back pocket.

But to provide you with more information, so you know more about what kinds of questions to ask, and so you can kind of organize what's happening inside of you, you know, for the purpose of changing it. It's important to understand what causes trust issues in the first place. But very briefly and simply, trust issues in relationships are created by relational trauma of some kind. So when I work with clients and in therapy, or in some cases coaching, but it's really more of a therapy thing—when I work with clients in therapy who are seeking to get over trust issues, I find it really helpful to conceptualize their experience as a kind of subclinical PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder, and to set up our conversation here is a very quick and dirty PTSD lesson so you can understand what I mean by this. 

Very briefly: whenever we humans live through something that is highly traumatic, we subjectively experience terror. So like this hugely physiological fear response, you've heard of the fight, flight, freeze response. That’s what I’m talking about. And it is evolutionarily adaptive, and our brains basically save us by changing our physiology in the moments when we're going through something that's super traumatic. You know, our heart races, our breathing shallows, our circulatory system changes, our digestive system changes, our immune system changes, and it's all response of, you know, our body's way of like, saving your life in that terrifying, dangerous moment. And when we are put in this physiological space, it changes the way our brains work. 

And here's the punchline, it changes the way that our brains encode the memories of the traumatic events. When you have experienced a trauma you will not remember it as a normal memory, you know, like, birthday party, junior high dance, like, high school graduation, it is not that kind of memory. It is a traumatic memory. It lives in a totally different part of your brain than normal memories do. And it sort of like lives there and hangs out. And whenever someone who has been traumatized is exposed to anything that is similar to that past like life threatening experience, this huge traumatic stress response will be triggered, and they will essentially re-experience the terror and the horror and the paralysis of the original traumatic experience. And so, then what happens is that people who have this like intrusive flooding, terror, re-experiencing thing start working really hard to avoid that triggering and not re-experiencing because it's horrible. 

So the classic example would be, you know, the combat vet who comes back from Iraq or something, and you know, almost died and had people around him die and will hear a car backfire down the street and like disassociate into this like state where they're completely flooded and like, you know, having big flashbacks, and so that happens periodically to this vet, so that vet, you know, quite understandably develop a very serious substance use disorder in efforts to anesthetize themselves and protect themselves from having that experience, which you know, isserves them well in one respect, but of course, it creates serious consequences and another. A sexual assault survivor, same thing you know, in a sexually intimate situation he or she can re-experience all this kind of flooding intrusive thoughts, feelings of terror, have nightmares about it, which leads them to avoid, you know, situations of sexual intimacy or develop substance use disorders that are kind of compensatory. So that's my little PTSD mini lesson. 

And I also just want to say very, very explicitly, I, while I am a licensed psychologist, I am a licensed marriage and family therapist, I do not specialize or treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and no one in our practice here at Growing Self specializes in this particular disorder. So if you have lived through a, you know, life endangering experience, or you know, saw someone else being victimized violently, and if you listen to my little description, and you know, think, “Yeah, I might actually have that post traumatic stress disorder.” You require specialized trauma-focused therapy with someone who has significant training and experience and specialization in those disorders. That is not what I do.

There are people out there who do that type of work, it's wonderful work. So I just wanted to mention that because if you've lived through that, and you're experiencing symptoms of like, ‘capital T’ trauma, post traumatic stress disorder, you can absolutely heal, and you deserve to have effective treatment. So look for evidence-based forms of trauma informed cognitive behavioral therapy. There is experiential reprocessing kinds of therapies that work. There's some evidence to support a type of work called EMDR. And so I would look for those. So that was my little public service announcement to just, you know, educate you around things and what you might look for if you want to seek treatment for that, or if you know, somebody who does require treatment for that sort of thing. But again, that is not what I do. And that is not what this podcast is about. 

However, I wanted to talk about the “big T” trauma, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder response because it's relevant. There is also “little T” trauma. There are difficult, unpleasant life experiences that we live through that also leave a stain on us emotionally and psychologically unless and until we deliberately resolve them. And I believe that relational trauma falls into this category and can have a similar impact on people as full blown PTSD, but not nearly to the degree of PTSD. But in some ways it is sort of similar. So going through a terrible breakup, or being in a relationship with someone who betrayed you, or cheated on you, or abandoned you can create this relational trauma. I think that “little T” relational trauma is super common and this is something that I often work with, and that we often see here with our clients at Growing Self. People who have sustained “little t” relational trauma, and that trauma shows up aswait for ittrust issues in relationships. They have lived through something hard and scary. And they went through this experience, and now, when they are in slightly similar relational situations, they are experiencing this similar type of triggering, and flooding, and anxiety that needs to be soothed and resolved. And so it can lead to, you know, hypervigilance, safety seeking, which in the context of relationships is always, you know, demanding information or evidence. But you know, it's related. 

Now, another really important thing for us to be considering is to also, and again, this is so far beyond the scope of a podcast, but in my efforts to be like fully just real and transparent and honest with you, I also want to fully inform you, and so to talk about this other aspect of trust issues I think is important. When I am meeting with someone who shows up or a couple where I can see that trust issues are impacting relationship negatively, a big part of my process is to do a really careful assessment to understand like why this makes sense. And also just sort of get a sense of where this is coming from. 

Now, you may have also heard me talk on past podcasts about something called attachment styles. So brieflyattachment styles are very general ways of relating to others that we developed often through our early life experiences, either in our family of origin or in, you know, childhood or preteen kind of social or romantic experiences can also impact attachment styles. And most people are generally secure, meaning that they tend to think well of themselves and others, and generally trust people unless they have a reason not to. And, I will also just say that even someone with a very secure attachment, who comes from a perfectly lovely family with good enough parents, and nothing bad ever happened to them, they can also become anxious in relationships or even avoidant in relationships, depending on what's going on in the relationship itself. So there's no, you know, even securely attached people can exhibit some of the other stuff that I'm going to talk about. 

But for people who had, you know, significant relational trauma early in life, like, you know, really inconsistent parenting, or parents they couldn't totally trust, parents who weren't emotionally safe, maybe not physically abusive, verbally, or emotionally abusive, or parents who are rejecting, or maybe addicted to substances that, you know, impaired them—having these kinds of early life experiences can lead someone to have an anxious attachment style, where they anticipate rejection, they anticipate not being able to trust people, and it's not like a conscious thing, it's sort of just like a baked in feeling that they can't trust people. And people with an anxious attachment style often need a lot of reassurance and feel insecure and doubtful of their romantic partners. So it can look like somebody having trust issues can actually be an anxious attachment style, which needs to be handled differently in therapy.

So that's why it's important to think aboutor, you know, another attachment style that is also relatively common is if people have had experiences with, you know, caregivers early on that weren't safe, that they felt like they needed to protect themselves from or were failed by over and over again, they may develop an avoidant attachment style where they become kind of super critical and rejecting of other people, and they don't really trust anyone enough to get close to them. Sort of this, “I don't need you, I don't need anybody,” kind of emotional space, which can also really impact relationships. 

Again, totally beyond the scope of this one particular podcast, but an important variable to consider. I would, if you'd like more on this subject, would refer you back to the blog at growingself.com. You can go to that search bar on the blog page, type in the word ‘attachment’ and you will see past podcasts I've done specifically on the subject of attachment styles, as well as a number of articles that I have had colleagues write on the site of growingself.com. There are also marriage and family therapists just to provide insight into attachment styles and how they can impact you and what to do to manage them. If you are not securebut again, healthy, securely attached people will become or appear avoidant or anxious in certain relational situations, certainly in conflictual relationships. And in relational dynamics, like the ones I was talking about at the beginning of this episode, you know, a perfectly secure person who is in a relationship with a very anxious person who has a lot of trust issues, or even an anxious attachment style, will over time become increasingly avoidant in efforts to protect themselves. Also, you can take a perfectly secure person and put them in a relationship with someone who is really critical and avoidant and rejecting and they will very predictably become anxious in response. So these things are fluid and dependent on what's happening in the relationship too. So it's never that simple. Never that simple in my field, is it?

Anyway, so it is important to think about where these trust issues are coming from. And also, I always like to kind of come at this with the primary orientation of, and how does this make sense. You know, again, even if you weren't, you know, in a family where you developed compensatory attachment styles to survive, but have simply lived through difficult life experiences, have had relational trauma with past romantic partners, somebody who hurt you, or betrayed you. I mean, if you were in a relationship with someone who cheated on you, or turned out to be a sociopath, it is totally normal that you would feel anxious and afraid the next time you're in a relationship with a new person, even if he or she has done absolutely nothing wrong because you've lived through something that was really, really scary and very real.

And so that fear, and that ‘little T’ trauma response is absolutely valid. It is normal, it is expected, and it doesn't mean that you're a bad person, or that you've done anything wrong because you're having that experience. It's just like your body's emotional guidance system saying this happened, and that you need a process of healing and recovery in order to feel safe in your relationships again. But I think it's important to keep these things in mind because, again, unless you have a lot of self-awareness and can like, say, “Oh, I am getting triggered right now. This is a trauma trigger.” It can be easy to, like, point to things that are happening or not happening in your relationship as being the source of your anxiety as opposed to having that self-aware understanding of, “Oh, this is my trauma trigger that's happening right now.” And without that self-awareness, it's really easy to go into that space of vigilance and suspiciousness and being attacking, or really needing like a ton of reassurance in order to feel safe, and over time, that will hurt your relationship. 

So, again, I hope that that just provides a foundation of understanding. And again, if you are in a relationship where patently bad things have happened, and your trust has been brokenif you're in a relationship or your partner had an affair, or there's financial infidelity, substance use, it requires a different healing process. But, if you have, or are, you know, over the course of our conversation recognizing that you are having trust issues that are related to traumas of relational traumas in past relationshipsthat is something that you will need to take responsibility for and do something about in order to overcome them. And the reason again why this is important and is hard is because when we are experiencing a really intense, emotional experience to saylet's see how many times I can use the word experience in one sentence. When we're having a really intense emotional experience, particularly if it's a fearful or anxious emotion, we will feel scared, and we will look around, we will scan our environment for things that support that fear, and you will always find them. If you are feeling anxious and scared, you will always find them. 

I mean, think about it. You know, I have worked with people who had trust issues and had relational anxiety and it could be literally something like, “He didn't put the cereal box away. I wonder why he didn't put the cereal box away. He must have been distracted. Why was he distracted? Was he texting with someone? Is that why he didn’t put the cereal away? Was he messaging someone on Facebook? Maybe it was just thinking about her? Who was he messaging? Who would he message? That pretty girl he went to high school with? The oneI saw her she liked the photo that he posted about our vacation. Oh my god, what if she's been sending him her vacation photos? And I bet there's pictures of her in a bikini and she's probably liking them.” And then this, you know, the person with anxiety, is showing us full lot of anxiety and can easily spend like the next three hours ruminating and feeling so anxious and like coming up with all these different scenarios in their head. And then their boyfriend or husband or whatever walks in the door four hours later, and it's like, “Were you going to tell me about Kimberly?” You know, and this person's like, “What is going what did I just walk into?”

But there are just these very well developed ideas that have bloomed inside of her head about all these things that could be happening that were you know, triggered by a cereal box not getting put away. And then it turns into, you know, this back and forth like, “Who's Kimberly? I don't know a Kimberly.” And then the person with anxiety is like, “Don't lie. Kimberly is the woman that you went to Facebook or went to high school with that you’re Facebook friends with. You've been messaging with her,” and like, “No, I haven't.” And then you could say, “I saw her like your vacation photo, you're totally lying to me right now.” 

I mean, you know, some people are like nodding their heads in recognition of arguments that may have happened at their house. And I know it seems kind of funny when you talk about it sort of out of context like this, but this is the sort of thing that trust issues and relationships can easily turn into if you're not really conscious of the impact of fear on you, and how it makes you think, and how it makes you feel, and what it makes you do. And that is honestly the first step. Because, you know, what we're talking about this people are always like, “Okay, well, how do I get over trust issues? What do I do to overcome my trust issues?” And what's important to know is that while the first key step in healing trust issues is understanding what's going on inside of them, and having that self-awareness, and also having compassion for themselves because, you know, the people with trust issues have experienced relational trauma, it's helpful to understand that their their feelings are very real, they're happening for a reason. But those feelings are not in alignment with their current life experience. They are out of proportion to what is happening in objective reality. And that right there is really, really hard. 

How to Fix Trust Issues

I will spend weeks with a client, months with a client, on that one thing, you know, “Is this out of proportion to my experience? Or is something actually scary happening right now that I should be worried about?” People with trust issues have a very difficult time differentiating whether or not they're safe in relationships because even if there's no evidence that they're not safe, it is so easy for their traumatized minds to say, “Well, but, what about this?” or, “Maybe I just don't know yet.” And also the fact that they feel unsafe, even if there's nothing bad happening, and this is really difficult to unwind if someone has been in a relationship where there was relational trauma in the past, and that there were periods in that relationship that felt very safe for them. So like, you know, somebody say, “I never suspected anything with my ex-boyfriend, either. He was so wonderful and so loving and communicative and affectionate. And then one day he drained my bank account and vanished. But before that he was perfect, too.” So then when they're in a relationship with someone who is perfectly nice, that in itself can feel like a trauma trigger because their abusive, horrible ex was also very nice sometimes, too. 

And so this is why it's really, really important to get into good therapy for trust issues, evidence-based therapy for trust issues, like CBT can help you figure out what part of your fears and worries are coming from inside of you that are related to relational trauma. What is that “little T” relational trauma response doing, and differentiating that from what is a valid concern about something happening in your relationship that you should be talking about with your partner. People who have been traumatized in relationships have a lot of trouble figuring that out, and that is a core skill that must be achieved is figuring out how to like manage anxiety and stay in a good place, and figure out what is actually a problem vs. what is my trauma response? And also, how do I manage my feelings of anxiety independently of whether or not my partner is doing something or saying something the way that I imagined would make me feel better? Because that's a really important piece of this puzzle too. So that clarity is super vital. And so individual therapy for trust issues is definitely important. 

And I will also say that it can also be super helpful to do couples counseling or relationship coaching if you have trust issues, and it is not a couples therapy to try to make your partner say or do all the things so that you don't feel anxious anymore because no one else can change the way you feel on the inside except for you. And so if you are, if you're like, “But what if he did this, I might feel better.” You possibly temporarily you would feel better, but really, that's like you have to take responsibility for the anxiety first. And so if you are currently attempting to manage your anxiety by controlling your partner's behaviors, I would encourage you to listen to a podcast that I recently did about codependence and relationships. And you can find out more on that topic again, on the blog at growingself.com. Type ‘codependence’ into the search bar and you'll see articles to help understand why, what I'm talking about there. 

But, sowhile you should manage your expectations that couples therapy isn't going to get your partner to change so that you don't feel anxious anymore, what it can do is help both you and your partner understand together what happens for you on the inside when you feel scared, and why that makes sense based on your life experiences. And by talking about this openly with your partner in a safe space, your partner can begin to have more empathy for what you're going through because it really is hard, and it is very, very real. But they can have more empathy for you in these moments. And they can also stop taking your anxiety personally and like as a statement that you're upset with them, you know, and that can help them stay emotionally closer to you instead of withdrawing. And also good couples therapy can help you two figure out ways of turning towards each other in these moments. And so I would recommend what—and being able to turn towards each other and connect and really like feel loved and supported and connected in these moments when you're feeling scared can be enormously soothing. You know, there's a real benefit to secure attachment with someone who loves you. And to beto feel scared and be able to say to someone, “I feel really scared right now,” and have them be appropriately responsive to you, give you a hug, tell you they love you can be enormously soothing, you know, so that could be really, really helpful.

And so to find a good marriage counselor to help you with that, I would recommend looking for a marriage counselor or a couple therapist, again, who understands relational trauma, and who practices either The Gottman Method of marriage counseling or emotionally-focused couples therapy, those are both evidence-based forms of couples counseling that can be really effective for this kind of thing. So that can help your relationship. And also a side benefit is by talking about these things openly in couples therapy, your partner will also I think feel encouraged to be understanding what's happening and also see you be taking responsibility for the anxious responses that you're having in certain situations, and see the work that you're doing to change that, you know, particularly if you're working with a therapist who's encouraging you to take responsibility for those moments, to manage your anxiety, and to provide you with accountability for doing that. And also working with you to develop solid cognitive and behavioral strategies for managing that anxiety. That can be really helpful and healing for your relationship too. 

So, you know, what those specific cognitive behavioral therapy strategies are is obviously, again, beyond the scope of any podcast. It is not a here's, you know, three quick tips to totally overcome all of the historical trust issues that you have for a reason, like there's nothing I'm going to say in this podcast, you're like, “Oh, I feel better now.” But to go through a process of evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy with someone who understands relational trauma will help you understand what's happening inside of yourself, and help you develop both cognitive and behavioral strategies for soothing yourself and manage your anxiety in those moments. So that not just you know, you feel better, but also that you are more in control of what you're doing in your relationship so that you're not, you know, inadvertently behaving in ways that are damaging to your relationship as a result of your anxiety. So, you know, again, I would recommend looking for a therapist who does evidence-based therapy, who understands relational trauma. 

Other resources for youthere are online CBT courses which if you don't feel quite up for, you know, therapy with a person, which honestly, in this situation, I would really encourage because when you've been traumatized in a relationship, and when you're carrying around these kinds of trust issues, it can be really difficult to kind of gain that self-awareness that you need. And also like the feedback, you know, the perspective to figure out when you're safe and when you're not safe, and sort of make sense of the past experiences vs. make sense of the present experiences, so certainly online CBT courses, like, you know, the happiness class that we have here at growingself.com can provide a foundation of some of those specific CBT skills. They're not going to be specific to resolving trust issues, and that type of work—again, just to set your expectations—it’s a process I mean, you know, progress is usually measured in months, sometimes longer when you're doing therapy for trust issue because there's a lot of kind of unwinding, and figuring out what happened, and reprocessing of trauma, learning how to manage anxiety, learning what your triggers are, learning how to appropriately kind of turn towards your partner in those moments, and also to have like a sounding board for, you know, to have somebody who knows you and cares about you. So you can come into our sessions and say, “My husband didn't put this cereal away. Do you think he's having an affair with Kimberly?” And your therapist will be like, “Let's break that down a little bit,” as opposed to, you know, these automatic assumptions and associations that can very easily happen when you have trust issues. 

So, you know, to have somebody just to bounce things off or, you know, to be able to say, “Yeah, you know, he's been coming home really late a lot and he isn't returning my calls. And I went past his work and he said he was going to be at work and he wasn't there. And then he told me that he, you know, had a flat tire on the way home.” And you know, for therapists to be like, “Yeah, that actually sounds like something that we should probably figure out. I'm glad we're talking about this.” You know, so just figuring out like whenthat we need to listen to anxiety vs. when it is an artifact of old relational trauma. 

Anyway, there's a lot of information here in this podcast. As always, I hope I didn't overwhelm you. But I also hope that me kind of just being super honest with you, and going into depth about all the different things to think about when it comes to resolving trust issues helps you, you know, understand the cause of trust issues, what you can do to overcome trust issues, and also provides you with that motivation and kind of direction for your next steps. You know, if this is the thing for you, and you want to change it, with the goal being to create a situation where you feel more secure and confident in your relationships because you deserve that. And also, so that you can create really healthy and enduring relationships with people who, you know, deserve to be loved and respected by you, too. So I hope this helps and I will be back in touch with you soon for another episode of the Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast. Bye-bye.

 

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How to Have Difficult Conversations

How to Have Difficult Conversations

How to Have Difficult Conversations

How to Have Difficult Conversations

The hardest conversations to have are the most critical conversations for a relationship…

“People almost never change without first feeling understood.”

― Douglas Stone

[social_warfare]

HOW TO HAVE DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS: “I don't want to talk about it right now.” “It's not going to change anything.” “It will just start a fight.” “I'm just going to keep my mouth shut and my head down.” “I don't want to hurt their feelings.”  We have all, myself included, used these kinds of mental excuses to avoid having difficult conversations. We all have “trigger topic” conversations we’d rather avoid — from opening up to your partner about sex, to having different opinions on politics, having an issue with someone's parenting styles, or gently pointing out subconscious bias in gender roles or racist stereotypes. These tough conversations are hard to have.

While there is something to be said for knowing when to mind your own business and respect the healthy boundaries of others, it's also true that if you're avoiding having conversations about things that are really, really important to you it will eventually damage your relationship — whether or not you address it directly.

Having unresolved, unspoken differences that feel vast, and “un-discussable” will lead to disconnection. But the sad irony is that it's often people's hope to protect their relationship that leads them to avoid difficult but necessary conversations in the first place. 

Crucial Conversations Training

Crucial conversations are essential. But once you embrace that new idea, “Yes, we do actually really need to talk about this,” then what? Unless you've already gone through communication skills training, relationship coaching, or emotional intelligence coaching, you might not know how to have a difficult conversation productively. That lack of skills and know-how is one of the biggest reasons why most people tend to tiptoe around difficult conversations, OR — on the flip side — engage too aggressively around triggering topics, both of which can damage a relationship.  

Now, more than ever, I believe that we all need to learn and intentionally practice compassionate communication skills that can help us understand each other and build bridges to the center of shared meaning. In this episode of the podcast, I'm shining a light on what it really takes to courageously engage in difficult (and necessary, and respectful, and healing) conversations with the people you care the most about.

Having Difficult Conversations

I hope that this episode leaves you with some actionable ideas for how to increase your confidence in high-stakes conversations, and provides you with strategies for increasing your emotional intelligence and communication skills in the process. You can use these strategies with your partner, kids, friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, and more. I hope you do! 

In this episode:

  • Discover how refusing to have difficult conversations damages relationships.
  • Learn essential skills in having constructive and productive conversations. 
  • Gain a deeper awareness of your own feelings and motivations.    
  • Identify relationships where it’s worth having these conversations and those that require clearer boundaries. 
  • Embrace the discomfort of having difficult conversations.
  • Avoid common pitfalls and knee-jerk reactions in difficult conversations. 
  • Learn to listen with compassion, respect, and empathy. 
  • Find out how to reciprocate openness and willingness to exchange ideas. 

Listen right now to “How to Have Difficult Conversations” on Spotify, or on the Podcast App, or by scrolling down to podcast player on the bottom of the page. If you're more of a reader, you can skim through the show notes and / or find a full transcript at the bottom. 

Thanks for taking the time to listen to this episode and triple-thanks if you're one of the courageously kind, heart-centered people in the world committed to having respectful, difficult conversations that heal. The world needs you!

“How to Have Difficult Conversations” Episode Highlights:

How People Usually Respond to Tough Conversations:

When faced with a difficult conversation, most people respond in two ways.

  1. The first type demands understanding from the other party, stating their beliefs but refusing to hear the other person. As a result, it becomes a one-way discussion that usually ends up in a fight.  
  2. On the other hand, some people avoid having the conversation at all. This may come from their fear of conflict or not being able to handle the situation once it blows up.

Either way, we risk damaging the relationship when we fail to approach difficult conversations healthily. 

Courage and Emotional Intelligence

These two skills are useful in having difficult conversations and achieving the best outcome. 

  1. Courage — If the other person is avoiding the topic, you have to take the initiative and broach the subject. We have to be brave and be the ones who bring difficult things out into the light with the people we love so that we can have relationships that are based on authenticity, respect, vulnerability, compassion and connection.
  2. Emotional Intelligence — If you can understand your feelings and underlying motivations, you can have more productive conversations instead of full-blown confrontations. Having high emotional intelligence means you can step back from an emotionally charged situation and assess the steps you need to take. 

Ask yourself these questions to build and strengthen your emotional intelligence:

  • How am I feeling?
  • What are the thoughts behind these feelings? 
  • What do I need to do right now to shift my thoughts back into a constructive and compassionate mindset? 
  • What do I need to do to bring myself back down emotionally so that I am in a place where I can speak respectfully?
  • What are my intentions for this conversation? 
  • How would I like this conversation to end? 
  • Who do I need to be right now to make that happen?

That said, you don’t have to have difficult conversations with everyone. Identify key people in your life and let the rest go. When a relationship becomes toxic or abusive, set clear boundaries. Having difficult conversations is an investment in the people you want to have a future with. Thus, you need to focus on people worth doing this hard emotional work. 

Creating Connections Through Difficult Conversations

Once you’ve identified the people who are worth the emotional investment, the next step is to embrace the discomfort that comes with these conversations. Disrupting the status quo is the only way for you to grow as a person and for the relationship to evolve.

We grow through difficult moments. When the alternative of staying the same is ultimately less comfortable than the discomfort of growth, the only choice is to change. We can do hard things when we're motivated to do so.

The goal of having difficult conversations is not to have the same conclusion. Rather, it’s about appreciating the other’s point of view, going beyond your motivations, and trying to understand why they think the way they do. We need a sense of mutual understanding to look at a situation through the lens, beliefs, experiences, values, and expectations of another. 

Keeping Your Emotions in Check

Before you start a difficult conversation, you need to understand how your brain processes emotions.

When we are overwhelmed, a part of our brain tends to shut down to protect itself. This part, where empathy is housed, becomes inaccessible during emotionally charged situations and confrontations. 

Thus, you need to develop social and emotional awareness to bring yourself back into a better headspace and continue difficult conversations. At the same time, you have to be aware if the person you’re talking to is emotionally flooded as well. When you notice that either or both of you are at your limits, take a break to calm down. 

The Difficult Conversation “Pre-Game Checklist” 

Before engaging in a difficult conversation, mentally prepare yourself through clarifying your thoughts and intentions. You can try talking out loud or journaling so that you enter into the conversation without too much negative energy. 

Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • How do I feel about the situation? Why do I think that way?
  • Why is this important to me? 
  • How is the situation impacting me? 
  • What would I like to communicate? 
  • What is my desired outcome? What would I do if that doesn’t happen? 
  • Do I want something to change or just to feel understood?

The Importance of Empathy in Difficult Conversations

After you’ve gone through your “difficult conversation pre-game checklist,” the next step is to move past your internal narrative and run a mile in the other person’s shoes.

Here are some key points to help you in empathizing with others:

  • What are the core values of this person?
  • Where are they coming from?
  • What do they need to hear from me so that they feel respected and understood, even if we have some differences? 
  • What do I need to say for them to understand that they are valuable to me?

It’s not about achieving your desired outcome but looking at the situation from their perspective and understanding why it makes sense. When you really listen to another person with compassion, respect, and empathy, they do make sense.

What to Avoid in Difficult Conversations

These are some habits you should avoid when you’re in a difficult conversation. 

  • Refrain from the fundamental attribution error. It’s when you ascribe a person’s bad choices to character defects instead of considering the unique set of circumstances that led them to that choice. 
  • Avoid going into conversations seeking only to persuade someone or change their perspective. 
  • Keep away from judgmental and self-righteous lines like, “If you only knew what I knew . . .”
  • Be aware of micro-habits like eye-rolling or scoffing.   
  • Don’t go into a space of judgment and blame. Avoid interrupting and take the time to ask open-ended questions, listen, and understand. 

If you refrain from these lines of thinking and habits, the other person will feel heard and respected. Since they feel emotionally safe in your presence, you can have more productive conversations, and they will be just as likely to extend the same grace to listen to your side.   

Remember: If you are in a healthy relationship with someone who loves you and cares about you as much as you love and care about them, it turns into an openness and willingness to exchange ideas. And if you have done a really good job of listening and understanding, that will be reciprocated

More Resources

I sincerely hope that this discussion about how to have difficult conversations has provided you with not just an understanding of why tough conversations are so critical to have, but also some concrete pointers about how to have those hard conversations go well.

To continue learning and growing in this area, here are a few more resources for you:

  • We have so many articles and podcasts featuring expert advice both from myself and my amazing colleagues on the subjects of communication skills, empathy, emotional intelligence and more. Use the search bar below to enter the term you'd like to learn more about to view and access them. Here are a few of my favorites: 

I hoped this episode provided a roadmap for having difficult conversations that strengthen connection and understanding in your most important relationships. 

Wishing you and yours all the very best in these perilous times…

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. Speaking of difficult conversations, I'd love to hear from YOU. Which part of the episode was the most helpful? (Least helpful?) If you try any of these ideas I'd love to hear how they went. Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment down below.

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

How to Have Difficult Conversations

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

How to Handle Difficult Conversations

We all have conversations we’d rather avoid — from opening up to your partner about sex to having different opinions on politics or parenting styles. The reality is, most people tend to tiptoe around difficult conversations or engage too aggressively, both of which can damage a relationship.  

In this episode, I identify what it takes to engage in difficult conversations and explain how to look inward and recognize the other person. I also emphasize that the goal of difficult conversations is not to come to the same conclusion but to reach a place of mutual understanding and respect despite your opposing views. 

Tune in to the full interview to learn how you can engage in difficult conversations effectively and compassionately.

In This Episode, You Will . . .

  • Discover how refusing to have difficult conversations damages relationships.
  • Learn essential skills in having constructive and productive conversations. 
  • Gain a deeper awareness of your own feelings and motivations.    
  • Identify relationships where it’s worth having these conversations and those that require clearer boundaries. 
  • Embrace the discomfort of having difficult conversations.
  • Avoid common pitfalls and knee-jerk reactions in difficult conversations. 
  • Learn to listen with compassion, respect, and empathy. 
  • Find out how to reciprocate openness and willingness to exchange ideas. 

Episode Highlights

How People Usually Respond

When faced with a difficult conversation, most people respond in two ways.

  1. The first type demands understanding from the other party, stating their beliefs but refusing to hear the other person. As a result, it becomes a one-way discussion that usually ends up in a fight.  
  2. On the other hand, some people avoid having the conversation at all. This may come from their fear of conflict or not being able to handle the situation once it blows up.

Either way, we risk damaging the relationship when we fail to approach difficult conversations healthily. 

Courage and Emotional Intelligence

These two skills are useful in having difficult conversations and achieving the best outcome. 

  1. Courage — If the other person is avoiding the topic, you have to take the initiative and broach the subject. We have to be brave and be the ones who bring difficult things out into the light with the people we love so that we can have relationships that are based on authenticity, respect, vulnerability, and compassion and connection.
  2. Emotional Intelligence — If you can understand your feelings and underlying motivations, you can have more productive conversations instead of full-blown confrontations. Having high emotional intelligence means you can step back from an emotionally charged situation and assess the steps you need to take. 

Ask yourself these questions to build and strengthen your emotional intelligence:

  • How am I feeling?
  • What are the thoughts behind these feelings? 
  • What do I need to do right now to shift my thoughts back into a constructive and compassionate mindset? 
  • What do I need to do to bring myself back down emotionally so that I am in a place where I can speak respectfully?
  • What are my intentions for this conversation? 
  • How would I like this conversation to end? 
  • Who do I need to be right now to make that happen?

That said, you don’t have to have difficult conversations with everyone. Identify key people in your life and let the rest go. When a relationship becomes toxic or abusive, set clear boundaries. Having difficult conversations is an investment in the people you want to have a future with. Thus, you need to focus on people worth doing this hard emotional work. 

Creating Connections Through Difficult Conversations

Once you’ve identified the people who are worth the emotional investment, the next step is to embrace the discomfort that comes with these conversations. Disrupting the status quo is the only way for you to grow as a person and for the relationship to evolve.

We grow through difficult moments. When the alternative of staying the same is ultimately less comfortable than the discomfort of growth, the only choice is to change. We can do hard things when we're motivated to do so.

The goal of having difficult conversations is not to have the same conclusion. Rather, it’s about appreciating the other’s point of view, going beyond your motivations, and trying to understand why they think the way they do. We need a sense of mutual understanding to look at a situation through the lens, beliefs, experiences, values, and expectations of another. 

Keeping Your Emotions in Check

Before you start a difficult conversation, you need to understand how your brain processes emotions.

When we are overwhelmed, a part of our brain tends to shut down to protect itself. This part, where empathy is housed, becomes inaccessible during emotionally charged situations and confrontations. 

Thus, you need to develop social and emotional awareness to bring yourself back into a better headspace and continue difficult conversations. At the same time, you have to be aware if the person you’re talking to is emotionally flooded as well. When you notice that either or both of you are at your limits, take a break to calm down. 

The Pregame Checklist 

Before engaging in a difficult conversation, mentally prepare yourself through clarifying your thoughts and intentions. You can try talking out loud or journaling so that you enter into the conversation without too much negative energy. 

Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • How do I feel about the situation? Why do I think that way?
  • Why is this important to me? 
  • How is the situation impacting me? 
  • What would I like to communicate? 
  • What is my desired outcome? What would I do if that doesn’t happen? 
  • Do I want something to change or just to feel understood?

The Importance of Empathy 

After you’ve gone through your pregame checklist, the next step is to move past your internal narrative and run a mile in the other person’s shoes.

Here are some key points to help you in empathizing with others:

  • What are the core values of this person?
  • Where are they coming from?
  • What do they need to hear from me so that they feel respected and understood, even if we have some differences? 
  • What do I need to say for them to understand that they are valuable to me?

It’s not about achieving your desired outcome but looking at the situation from their perspective and understanding why it makes sense. When you really listen to another person with compassion, respect, and empathy, they do make sense.

What to Avoid in Difficult Conversations

These are some habits you should avoid when you’re in a difficult conversation. 

  • Refrain from the fundamental attribution error. It’s when you ascribe a person’s bad choices to character defects instead of considering the unique set of circumstances that led them to that choice. 
  • Avoid going into conversations seeking only to persuade someone or change their perspective. 
  • Keep away from judgmental and self-righteous lines like, “If you only knew what I knew . . .”
  • Be aware of micro-habits like eye-rolling or scoffing.   
  • Don’t go into a space of judgment and blame. Avoid interrupting and take the time to ask open-ended questions, listen, and understand. 

If you refrain from these lines of thinking and habits, the other person will feel heard and respected. Since they feel emotionally safe in your presence, you can have more productive conversations, and they will be just as likely to extend the same grace to listen to your side.   

If you are in a healthy relationship with someone who loves you and cares about you as much as you love and care about them, it turns into an openness and willingness to exchange ideas. And if you have done a really good job of listening and understanding, that will be reciprocated

Resources

I hoped this episode provided a roadmap for having difficult conversations that strengthen connection and understanding in your most important relationships. Which part of the episode was the most helpful? Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment down below.

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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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How to Have Difficult Conversations: Podcast Transcript

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Access Episode Transcript

 

How to Have Difficult Conversations

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you're listening to the Love, Happiness and Success podcast.

[playing Plastic and Glass by Keshco]

Dr. Lisa: The band is Keshco with a song that Plastic and Glass—I thought a nice mood setter for our topic today. Today, we are talking about how to tackle difficult conversations in such a way that they go as well as possible.

It is important for us to talk about this topic because there are a lot of difficult conversations to be had lately. Particularly as we are heading into the holiday season in the midst of a contentious political season and with so many stressors and strains and angst and very real issues that people are facing. There is tough stuff to talk about with friends, with family, with partners, with siblings, with ourselves. And how you handle a tough conversation has a lot to do with the results you get.

So today we are going to be talking about why conversations feel so hard sometimes and strategies that you can use to face those moments not just courageously, but also with confidence and a sense of competence. And understanding some basic do's and don'ts that will allow you to talk about important things we don't want to hide, but do so in a way that helps you create the ideal outcome, which I think for many of us is to strengthen your relationships, increase connection and understanding and have it be a positive thing for all involved, as opposed to an unproductive conflict, because I think we've had enough of that in our lives. Right? So that's what we're doing today.

And if today is your first time listening to the show, I'm so glad that you are here. I am Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I am the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. My background is as a licensed marriage and family therapist. Also, I’m a licensed psychologist, and I am a board-certified life coach. And I am here with you every week to talk about different facets of the life experience and offer you ideas and strategies and support that help you create the love, happiness, and success that you deserve in all the parts of your life.

And so today's topic, we are going to be talking about a number, a number of things. We're going to be, certainly, a lot of relational issues when it comes to difficult conversations, but also I think a lot of intrapersonal issues. You know. I mean, we have to get ourselves in the right kind of headspace, an emotional space, in order to handle these moments effectively. And also, I’m going to put on my life coach hat and offer up some specific strategies as well. So hopefully you leave our time together today with a plan.

Difficult Conversations: Why They're So Important

So, jumping right in. Why do some conversations feel so hard? Think about the conversations in your life that you would maybe rather not have. Right? Think about what those are. Having conversations with your partner about some aspect of your sex life that you would like to have be different. Considering a necessary conversation with an employer or an employee around, “I don't like what is happening here and we need to figure out a way to handle this differently together in order for this relationship to continue.” Right?

Many times, there’s, you know, married couples or partner couples, particularly with children. There are so many crucial conversations to have around parenting—“You can't talk to me or the children that way, this is not going to work.” Or, I mean, my goodness, people who have very well-developed and sometimes even aggressive opinions about politics, social justice, issues around racism, and how to handle those moments in a constructive way.

It is very easy, when we're faced with these kinds of moments, to fall into a way of communicating that can be very almost ultimatum-y. “This is what I want. This is what has to happen. And you're going to hear what I have to say right now, whether you like it or not.” And that often doesn't end well. That is a quick path to a fight, in all honesty. And there's a way to handle this constructively that creates not just communication, not just collaboration, but, really, authentic connection. And that's what we're doing on this show today.

I am going to be loading you up with all kinds of resources today. So, either grab a pencil and notebook or open up a note app. Or you can also, if you haven't already, bookmark the blog at growingself.com, because a lot of the resources that I'm going to be giving you is kind of follow ups. So here's where you go to learn more, are already on the blog there. In addition to these podcasts that I make for you, I have so many people, therapists and coaches on my team with me at Growing Self who are always cranking out articles and advice and tips on our blog at growingself.com. And there's so much around how to be a better listener, tips to communicate more effectively, how to manage your emotions when you're starting to feel angry or stressed out. So, so much there. I just wanted to mention that as the go-to resource so that I don't have to say it 150 times over the course of this podcast. 

But now that we've gotten that out of the way, when we think generally about what are the things that feel particularly difficult to talk about constructively, the things that we might even want to avoid or fear talking about, those are often the things that feel the most important. Those are the things that really need to be attended to, or resolved, or at least addressed. Because without that honest and courageous reckoning, our relationships will be fractured, and distance will grow. And unfortunately, that will happen whether or not we talk about it.

Avoidance Leads To Disconnection in Relationships

Many people avoid having difficult conversations because they are afraid of conflict. They don't want to get into a fight. They don't want to have an ugly interaction with someone that turns into a throwdown and wisely so—that is not ever helpful. And they don't know how to handle the situation so that it won't turn into a yucky feeling fight. So, they try to protect their relationships by not talking about hard things.

But the other side of this is that when you don't talk about hard things that are bothering you, it will increase feelings of resentment, emotional distance. There becomes this feeling of separation and disconnection in your relationships—the relationships that you're trying to protect by not talking about things. So, either way, there is a risk to your relationship, either through unproductive conflict or through avoidance.

It happens all the time. I can't tell you how many clients I speak with, especially lately, who have perhaps a family member with a very vocal social media presence that is kind of diametrically opposed to their own political views. And say this family member is putting out lots of information that is incredibly triggering to say my client. And they feel like they can't talk about it because it will create this conflict. It will turn into a bad conflictual moment. So, they don't, and instead, they avoid their family member. They make up reasons to not go down for a visit. They mute them on social media so they don't have to see what they're saying, which actually, just between me and you, may be a helpful strategy in this day and age. But they feel like they can't talk about who they are and what's important to them and kind of know and be known.

And so there's this distance and avoidance and it will atrophy relationships in a very real way, especially for couples, too. If there's issues going on in your relationship that you're not talking about because you want to avoid the conflict. Those will breed resentment and this feeling of hopelessness and helplessness and, “Well, it'll never be different.” And all of these kind of narratives around, “Well, that's just the way they are.” That is incredibly destructive to a relationship.

So, I just mentioned all of these because when it comes to difficult conversations, the number one thing that we need, first of all, is courage. We have to be courageous and brave and be the ones that bring difficult things out into the light with the people that we love so that we can have healthier, more connected relationships—relationships that are based on authenticity and respect and vulnerability and compassion and connection. And it's hard to do. It's hard to do.

One of the reasons I have found that people often avoid confrontation. Well, first of all, what I mentioned is having, like, assumptions that it will turn into a conflict. They doubt their own competence to handle the conflict. They, and sometimes rightly so, believe that it'll just disintegrate into an argument because they don't know what to do to make it not be an argument.

So, let me talk about that for a second. There are ways of communicating with other people that will very predictably lead to an argument. For example, when you communicate with another person in such a way that is perceived as attacking or critical. The other person, just like the sun rises in the east, they will become defensive with you and they will start coming up with all the reasons why you're wrong. It is very, very, very difficult for anyone to stay in the ring and have a constructive conversation when they feel attacked. And so, one of the things that's really important to think about in these moments is how you are bringing up topics and how you might be perceived by others.

And so as so often the case in so many of our conversations here on the Love, Happiness and Success podcast, one of the most important skills that you can cultivate to have constructive conversations is the skill of self-awareness, particularly as it relates to emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence means understanding, first of all, how you are feeling and what is going on inside of you that is leading you to feel that particular way.

So, for example, if you are high in emotional intelligence, you have more constructive conversations because you will be self-aware of the fact that, “Ooh. I’m feeling kind of angry right now.” And “I'm feeling a little bit upset. I am feeling morally justified in telling this person exactly what I think about them for all of these different reasons.” And you will be able to have that kind of meta awareness around, “Oh, my heart is starting to pound. I can feel even a little shaky. I am having all of these thoughts about why I'm right and why they're wrong. And I know that I need to get myself into a better place before I attempt to have a productive conversation. Because if I go into it the way I'm feeling right now, the way that I'm thinking right now, it is not going to end well.”

And so, the core skills of emotional intelligence are being able to recognize: how am I feeling? What are the thoughts that are creating those feelings inside of me? And what do I need to do right now to shift my thoughts back into a constructive, compassionate sort of mindset? And what do I need to do to bring myself back down emotionally so that I am in a place where I can speak, not just speak respectfully, but also really genuinely maintain my ability to have compassion and empathy for the human that I am attempting to connect with right now, who is important to me? And coming back to, “What are my intentions for this conversation? How would I like it to end? And who do I need to be right now in order to make that happen?”

All of those are very deliberate things that people who are good at difficult conversations do very deliberately to keep themselves calm and kind of soft and centered and emotionally safe, even, to have constructive, connecting conflict—constructive conflict, believe it or not, is the thing. 

And I would also like to add that this is hard. It takes a lot of work on yourself in order to be able to get into this place and learn how to do these things. And you don't have to do this with everyone. You might decide that there are some relationships in your life that are actually easier for you or even healthier for you to set boundaries around and go ahead and let that distance grow. As opposed to wading into this kind of emotional space with someone who is not going to reciprocate with you.

I wanted to bring that up because we're talking about having difficult conversations with people and in relational contexts that are important enough and that you care enough about to do this kind of hard work, and those are the relationships that you want to invest in. That's your family, your spouse, your child, a colleague or an employee or a boss who you really want to have a future with. These kinds of conversations, this kind of emotional work is an investment in your future—an investment in the future, in the well-being of others.

Healthy Relationships Are Mutually Respectful

And I just would like to say that it is important to use discernment in your life and in your relationships to kind of assess where do you need to invest and work harder to understand, to be compassionate and connect. And where is it actually, not just appropriate, but important to set very real and firm boundaries with people and protect yourself.

So, for example, if you are with someone who is being overtly racist to you or others or who is using abusive language or treating you badly, you can go ahead and leave. You do not have to tell them why. You can just be done saying no. “No,” is a complete sentence. You don't have to explain yourself, and you don't have to do anything to make that person feel better about it. It's your responsibility as a healthy person to protect yourself from toxic people, abusive situations, and to do what you can to protect other people who need protection from toxic, damaging, and abusive situations.

And so, I just want to say that out loud, because sometimes I will write things in the blog about how to be a better listener or how to have more empathic communication or situations like this, how to have difficult and important conversations. And we'll get a comment on the blog about “Well, what about a narcissist who does these horrible things to me.” And it’s like no, that is a person who you need to set very firm, clear limits with. That is not a situation that is likely to be mended no matter what you do. And to be able to develop kind of the judgment to know the difference.

If you would like resources on boundaries, how to set boundaries, how to have healthy boundaries and still have friends, how to set boundaries with family members, how to avoid unhealthy guilt when you've set appropriate boundaries, again, I would refer you back to the blog at growingself.com for podcasts and articles on all of those topics.

But this, this is how do we create connection through difficult conversations. So, we want to be courageous, but not indiscriminately courageous and putting ourselves into bad, bad situations. One of the things that I have found when it comes to these moments, when a relationship is worth investing in, it's important to me and I know that I have to be brave and talk about something hard, I have found a thought that helps me, and it might help you, too. So, I'll mention it. The idea that this is how we grow. We grow through difficult moments. We grow when we are challenged to grow. We grow when the other alternative of staying the same is ultimately less comfortable than the discomfort of growth. We grow, we change, we do hard things when we're motivated to do so. And so I just want to offer that as an idea to you, that embracing the discomfort of these moments and breathing through it and reminding yourself that this is what growth and connection feels like is being authentic, being vulnerable, feeling hard feelings and doing the right thing anyway. This is the path of growth.

And also, I think sometimes reminding myself, if I want to have a high-quality relationship with this person, this is what I need to do. We have to talk because I know that if I don't talk, I will withdraw. That's something that I need to remind myself of personally. And I see a lot of my clients struggling with that. The tendency to avoid and withdraw can be pretty significant and to just be very explicitly reminding yourself, “No, this is important, I have to do this. If we don't talk, we will become distant.” Those are ideas that can help you find the courage to do it.

Another idea I'd like to share that is really helpful for many of my clients, both individual clients and also a lot of the couples counseling clients that we work with, is that the goal of any of these conversations is not necessarily agreement. We do not have to agree with each other about the solution or the perspective or what is the truth with a capital T. What we do need is a sense of mutual understanding, to be able to say, “When I look at the situation through your lens, through your belief system, through your set of life experiences, through your values, through your expectations, I can understand why you would feel the way that you do. That makes sense to me.” And for you to feel the same. That even if someone doesn't come to the same conclusions that you do about the same situation, that you feel that your perspective is understood and respected as being valid because it is. That ultimately is the goal. 

If we want to take that a step further and get bonus points, we could even move in to a space of appreciation that it's not just “Yes, I can see why you would feel that way.” It is “You know what? I appreciate the values and the perspectives that lead you to feel that way. Thank you for sharing those with me.” Appreciation is even more, I think, affirming and conducive to emotional safety and constructive conversations.

And then, in addition to these ideas that can sort of help you grapple with conceptually what needs to happen in these moments of difficult conversations, a lot of my clients, either life coaching clients, relationship coaching clients, therapy clients, often find that it is much easier for them to have difficult conversations and be appropriately assertive when they've gotten really good at managing their emotions and going back to the emotional intelligence skills that we talked about in the beginning.

And so being able to have strategies in place to help you manage your emotions, understand what kinds of thinking or behaviors lead you to feel anxious or angry, and having a little toolbox of skills and strategies in place to help you feel calm is half the battle. If you can stay calm in a difficult conversation, chances are very good that it will be a productive one. Resources for you in that, I mean aside— you’re always welcome to do individual counseling or coaching. But if you have found that those are, let's say, growth opportunities for you, I would refer you to the Happiness Class on growingself.com, which is essentially an online cognitive behavioral skills training course that teaches you what are the kinds of thoughts that will make you feel angry, sad, or anxious. How do you shift those into more productive ways of thinking? What do you do with big feelings so that you don't always have to be reactive or withdraw in these moments? 

So, to kind of boost up your skill set for being able to do that, because it's really, really important when anyone gets flooded—you, me, everyone we know—gets emotionally flooded and begins experiencing intense feelings of anger, pain, fear, anxiety, what happens is that their brains, our brains, change in the way that they function, like literally. When you are flooded emotionally, you go into a fight or flight space that is very much prioritizing your personal protection. And what it looks like is that people will withdraw and not be able to talk anymore, or they go into attack mode.

Interestingly, the way that your brain changes in these moments is that the most highly evolved and most human parts of our brains—the newest parts of our brain structure, the neocortex—the part where we're able to have empathy for others, the part where our language skills are housed, the part that allows us to take a big picture perspective or do any kind of if-this-then map kind of advanced planning, our executive functioning skills. All of that in very literal ways, shuts down and becomes inaccessible to you. And so, it's incredibly important to be able to regulate your emotions during difficult conversations so that your brain doesn't turn off and you turn into some sort of like crazed defensive or hostile, like lizard brain activated person. Because that sounds crazy, but that is actually what happens.

Beware of Emotional Flooding

You see it all the time in couples counseling. A partner will say something that is clearly very triggering for their spouse, and that spouse will not— it's like they just freeze. They can't even continue in the conversation. In addition to managing your own feelings in these moments so that you don't become flooded, it is incredibly important to develop the social and emotional awareness skills to notice when the person that you're talking to is becoming flooded because they won't be able to have a constructive conversation with you if they kind of go past a point of no return.

Some people, it's pretty obvious when they become flooded. Their little faces get red. They might even start like shaking. But interestingly, men often become flooded and you would never know to look at them. They just kind of shut down. If you put a pulse monitor on their finger in that moment, it would be going at like 110 beats a minute. But to just look at them sitting in a chair, nothing has changed. You can't tell the internal experience that they're having. And that that is certainly true for many women as well. But being aware of when people are getting flooded and noticing that and having a plan in place to attend to it and help bring everybody back down is another incredibly important concrete skill to have in your toolbox when you are wading into difficult conversations. And being able to say, “You know what, I think we're both getting tense. Let's take a break. I'm glad that we started talking about this. I hope to continue the conversation with you. But I think, yeah, let's go get a lemonade. Come on. Let's go get ice cream.” Or something like that. Just kind of like shift away and let everybody calm back down again.

For more on that subject, the growingself.com blog has a fabulous article written by one of my colleagues, another family therapist named Lisa Jordan, who has written an article on emotional flooding and has even more strategies for what to do in those moments when you become flooded or when your conversation partner becomes flooded.

So, there is a lot of pre-work to do to prepare yourself to have a difficult conversation. The pre-work involves the emotional intelligence skills we've been talking about and being able to regulate yourself, keep your thoughts in a good place, have the most noble intentions in the forefront of your mind, and also have a lot of empathy for the person that you're talking with and an awareness for them. But also, I think when a conversation is really important, it's always a good idea to do a little bit of almost pregame pre-work around, “Okay. How do I feel about the situation? Why do I feel the way that I do about the situation? Why is this important for me? How is the situation impacting me?” and get really clear around what's going on inside of you and what it is that you would like to communicate to the person that you would like to communicate to.

It sounds so silly, but thinking through this stuff in advance will help you be able to not just communicate your truth effectively, but take some of the emotional energy out of it so that when you say, “I'm feeling really hurt and disappointed that we haven't had sex in three months, and I miss you, and I would like to be with you.” If you've kind of written through what's going on with you, why it's important, what you want, when you say that out loud, it will be often like just a more gentle kind of way that is more understandable to the person that you're speaking with. If you wade into a difficult conversation without getting clarity around that in advance, it is very likely that the energy and intensity that goes along with saying those kinds of things for the first time will be perceived by the other person as critical, blaming, or even hostile or attacking.

That is one of the reasons why talking about what you want to talk about in advance with a coach or a therapist can be so helpful. And that is not the only way. You can also certainly do journaling and get this clarity on your own. But if you've said it a time or two to someone, then you can go into the real conversation just from a space of calmness. And since the intensity is already less, it sets you up to be in a position to be a much more receptive listener, I think, because that's hugely important.

So, doing some pre-work around, what do I feel? Why is that? What do I want? And getting really clear, too, around what is my desired outcome when we are done talking about this, what would I like to have be different? Would I like something to change? Would I like to feel understood? Would I like to have more understanding of this other person? Would I like just to feel more connected and like we're not tiptoeing around each other or not talking about the elephant in the room? Is that my goal? It's all okay. But to get clear about that ahead of time.

Now, you think that's hard? Let's talk about what's really hard because the other critical piece of having an effective, constructive, difficult conversation means moving past what's going on with you and how you're feeling and what you would like to talk about, and what is your desired outcome, and setting that aside. And before you even get to that conversation, doing some very serious work around, what do they feel? This person that I want to talk to about these things that are bothering me, what's probably bothering them? Why do they feel the way that they feel? What are their core values? Where is this coming from? What kind of relationship do they want to have with me? What did they need to be hearing from me in order to feel respected and understood and validated and valued and that they're important to me? And what do I need to be doing, and not just saying, in order to show them that I care about them and that I love them and appreciate them, even if we have some differences.

And that, my friends, is hard work, it really is. It requires a lot of not just compassion and good intentions but also really accurate empathy to be thinking about how someone else probably feels and their thought process and in a way that allows you to make sense of it. This, I think, is particularly important in this day and age when there's so much polarization around political kinds of things. It's also very, very easy for couples to get incredibly polarized around who's right, who's wrong, what should we be doing. And it's difficult to get on to the other person's side of the table, and that is also a crucial skill and well worth your time doing some soul searching around in advance.

In my therapy and coaching sessions lately with clients, there's been a lot of discussion around either both with couples who have different perspectives and belief systems or individuals around how do I maintain a relationship with someone who has a very, very, very different belief system than I do and one that I might even find morally offensive and just absolutely wrong? That feels like an affront to what I believe people should be. How do I stay connected to this person? And I would invite you to go into a compassionate, empathetic stance that allows you to understand the noble intentions and the highest and best of the belief systems that create the outcomes that you see, even if those outcomes are in practice, sometimes really damaging, damaging to others.

So, for example, and I do not want this to turn into a political conversation at all, but I just wanted to provide you with a model just for ideas to think about. A stereotypical Republican say, kind of belief system at the highest and best says something like, “I am a hardworking, responsible person who I have tried really hard to make good choices and I have a pretty good life because of it. I believe there's a right way to live. And if people take the hard and narrow path, they usually have good outcomes. And that I believe in my belief system and I think other people should too. And I think that when I look around and see other people having bad outcomes, it's often because of their own doing. And I shouldn't have to pay for it or have government swipe half my paycheck in order to support the bad behavior and poor choices of others. I think they can do better. And I think I have the right to defend myself against people who want to take advantage of me. And if I work hard and make good choices, I should be rewarded. And I have all these other belief systems that place value around life and family.” All these other things that when you go into it, noble intentions, noble intentions. And to be thinking about how does this make sense from this person's perspective?

And on the other side, the same person on the other side of the couch, who maybe has a more progressive orientation would say, “I believe that human beings have inherent worth and that there are many different perspectives and ways of being that are all worthy of respect and appreciation. I don't think any of us have a monopoly on the way, you know, ‘the way things should be’ or who is valuable in our society and who isn't, because there is a bias and a hierarchy of value that is often based on race or socioeconomic status. There's an unequal playing field. And the people with enormous privilege have a much easier time and often take credit for things that are handed to them. They think it's about their character and their hard work, when they're actually standing on a platform already.” Progressive people would say, “I think it's the responsibility of an ethical community to provide support and assistance to those less fortunate in order to help build a large and fairer body of productive and valued members of our community. And that when we invest in people and things like education and health care, mental health and social services and firemen and police and roads and schools, everyone is lifted up. And that I'm willing to participate in that and help create that.”

So that's one little example. And me just kind of like shifting from one side of that argument to the other. But in doing so, the hope is simply to share what the internal working narrative of people is often who are on different sides of this divide. And how when you look at the same situation from each point of view, it does make sense, even if you don't agree with a belief system or the outcomes or the values. When you really listen to another person with compassion and respect and empathy, they do make sense, they always make sense. And I personally believe that we all could benefit from having intentional conversations with the goal of understanding those perspectives and seeing the good and the humanity in everyone, as opposed to reinforcing our ideas about why I'm right and you're wrong.

Same thing for relationships. And as a couple’s counselor, I can assure you that when I am working with a couple and each person on opposite sides of the couch is feeling victimized and mistreated and hurt and uncared for by their partner, when you walk into their perspective, you can understand why. You can absolutely understand why and that none of us has a monopoly on the truth. And that it's very, very easy for us as individuals to get caught up into our perspective and our way of seeing things. And there's a very well-documented bias in social psychology where when we see other people doing “bad things” or making “bad choices,” or experiencing difficulty, we view it as because of character flaws, bad choices. It's very easy to judge others.

When we make mistakes and have consequences or negative outcomes, the tendency is to say, “Well, but I was tired.” “Well, yes, but here's the situation that led me to react that way.” We have all kinds of reasons why we do the things that we do because of the context of what was going on, the circumstances that made us feel that way, all of the reasons why we did what we did. And I think it would be to everyone's benefit in this day and age to bestow the same grace to others that other people who are saying things or doing things that you disagree with have reasons and have a context and have feelings that make those actions or ideas make a lot of sense to them. And our role in difficult conversations is to learn what those are. Not have the focus on necessarily being understood, but putting the emphasis on understanding.

I know this sounds paradoxical because often the thing that motivates us to have difficult conversations in the first place is the hope that we could be understood, that we could change somebody's perspective, that we could have a different outcome for the benefit of ourselves. And while that is certainly valid and generally the motivation that leads us to have courage and wade into these conversations, I would like to offer you a perspective that is much more likely to help the situation end well and lead to all of those desired outcomes. And that is putting your attention and effort on understanding the perspective and feelings of another person. Asking open ended questions where you invite them to talk more about their perspective, without being ready to be like, “Okay, well, thank you, because that's why this is wrong.” And arguing with them or blaming someone else for the way that you feel or this one conversational strategy I often see, which is taking the sort of pedantic tone, which is that “If they knew what I knew, then they would change the way that they believe and, you know, all this stuff would stop. They would finally see the light.”

But again, like coming into that with a sort of judgmental and self-righteous idea, which is “My way of seeing things is better than yours and so, you should be more like me.” And this is true for everyone. It is true for progressives who really want to talk about diversity and inclusion, unless you're an evangelical Christian, because that is not okay, right? And on the other side of this, for people to be absolutely resistant to any ideas about social justice issues or race or culture and the very real impact on people because of that and how they, by virtue of their own privilege, are participating in those things, whether or not they know it consciously, shutting all that down. It's when we get very, very polarized and like, “No, I will not tolerate this point of view. I will not let in what you're saying.” That is when conversations just go down the tubes.

And so, to be very, again, self-aware of how when you were having a difficult conversation and feel yourself going into that sort of space of judgment or blame or criticism or “let me rebuttal your idea,” would encourage you to move into a space of listening and understanding, open ended questions that are really focused on helping the other person feel heard and respected and cared for by you so that they feel emotionally safe with you and are able to talk about who they are, what they believe, the things that are important to them, and finally be moving into a place of what kind of relationship they would like to have with you.

Practice Emotional Safety Skills

And also in that space of compassion and emotional safety that you create, it creates an environment where if you are in a healthy relationship with someone who loves you and cares about you as much as you love and care about them, it turns into this openness and willingness to exchange ideas. That if you have done a really good job of listening and understanding that in a healthy relationship, that will be reciprocated. To be able to say, “Thank you so much for telling me how you feel when I see it from your point of view, I understand why that makes sense. Is it okay if I share with you how I have been viewing this and what my values are and why this sometimes feels distressing for me when these things are happening, particularly in the context of our relationship, which I care very much about, by the way.” It's hard to have someone be like, and rare, I will say, to have someone say like, “No, uh-huh. Nope. I have just told you how I feel and what's important to me, but I will not actually be reciprocating that.” That is very, very rare.

And if it actually is happening in your relationship, I would invite you to consider how mutually respectful and healthy that relationship actually is because relationships should not be one way. And if you are going into interactions with people with very not just sincere intentions, but strategies and skills like the ones we've been talking about today, you have the right to be respected and to also be heard, not necessarily agreed with, but understood. There needs to be reciprocity there.

So, there are so many other little micro-skills that I'd love to give you. And it's beyond the scope of this podcast. But go back to the blog at growingself.com and look— communication strategies and you'll find all kinds of podcasts, articles, little things that you might not even notice there. Like, are you making little faces when other people are talking? Are you rolling your eyes without even realizing it?

You would be amazed at how many times in a couple’s counseling sessions, I have to say to one partner, “What are you doing with the faces? Come on, let's stop that.” And really, they're not even aware that they're doing it, but making little faces or the eye rolls their partners being like, “Never mind, I'm done. They're not listening to me. Why even bother?”

So, it's these little micro-moments. And again, it requires so much self-awareness to stay in a good place, stay open, stay receptive, not make the faces. You know what I'm talking about. Certainly, things like interrupting, jumping to conclusions, rushing to defense. I mean, there's so much. There's so much. If you are in a relationship that is very important to you and you are trying really hard to have constructive, productive conversations, and it is just not going well over and over again, that would be an indication. It's probably time to get some professional help so you can be sitting with a relationship coach who's saying to either of you, like, “Stop with the faces, what's going on?” And help with some of the core beliefs or jumping to conclusions or helping around, like listening skills, developing empathy for each other. If that's feeling super-duper hard to do on your own, always okay to reach out for help.

And also be generous with other people who may not have had the benefit of listening to this podcast or doing the kind of personal growth work that you are so clearly invested in. Just the fact that you're listening to this right now and thinking about how to have difficult conversations with courage and competence just says so much about you and realizing that I think when you grow in this area, it becomes really obvious when you see other people struggling in these moments. You can see them becoming flooded. You can see them becoming defensive or shutting down or feeling blamed, not knowing how to calm themselves down or switch back into more noble or empathetic thoughts. So these skills are hard one, but yay to you for doing them. I know there's so much more that we could talk about on this topic and maybe I will record another podcast along these lines again in the future.

But if you have been someone who has recently emailed me or gotten in touch through Facebook or on the blog at growingself.com or Instagram with a question about how do I handle talking to my elderly white aunt about her sort of internalized racism? How do I have a very difficult conversation with my boss or my best friend about something that is really bothering me and feels like it could tank our relationship? Or how do I broach a very important subject with my partner who I love very much, but about a situation that feels kind of unsustainable for me in our relationship?

I just want you to know that I have heard your questions and considered them very carefully. And I hope that the information that I shared with you today has provided a roadmap for how you can have the kind of conversation that you want and have it go well and lead to increased connection and understanding in some of your most important relationships.

And to thank you so much for listening today, if you have questions for me or anything that I can help you with, you are welcome to get in touch with me on the blog at growingself.com. You can also track me down on Facebook, facebook.com/drlisabobby, Instagram, @drlisamariebobby.

I would love to hear from you so that I can make a podcast for you. That's all for today. And I'll be back in touch next week with another episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast.

[playing Plastic and Glass by Keshco]

 

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Financial Therapy For Couples

Financial Therapy For Couples

Financial Therapy For Couples

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

How to Stop Fighting About Money

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

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

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

Money is, in short, a loaded topic.

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

Why Couples Fight About Money: Savers vs Spenders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Financial Therapy For Couple

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marriage Counseling Around Finances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With love and respect to you both,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

 

How to Leave a Toxic Relationship, With Dignity

How to Leave a Toxic Relationship, With Dignity

How to Leave a Toxic Relationship, With Dignity

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.

Letting Go Of a Toxic Relationship

We're approaching a new year, and as such, you may be thinking about changes you want to make in your life. If you've been stuck in a relationship with someone who is not treating you well, and who is causing you hurt, anxiety, pain and frustration, now is a wonderful time to consider leaving your toxic relationship behind… and creating a new year full of healing, health and happiness for yourself.

Toxic Relationship Warning Signs

Letting go of a toxic relationship can be one of the hardest things for anyone to do. In my work as a life coach, therapist, and couples counselor, I have had the privilege of walking with many people through the experience of first recognizing that their relationship is toxic, then ending a hurtful relationship, and then healing after the “toxic relationship experience.” Toxic relationships take a toll on you, at every level. And every step of this journey is hard. (Necessary, meaningful, and empowering… but hard). I know, I've been there personally too.

Letting of a toxic relationship often starts with people working to improve their relationships.  At this stage they often believe that if only their partner could make changes, then they'd finally get the love, respect, and consideration they deserve. They come in to life coaching or even drag their partner in to couples therapy, hopeful that they can make improvements. (And I will say that almost all the time when two people are both committed to a relationship and willing to make changes, relationships can be transformed).

However, if your relationship is truly toxic, it is unlikely to be healed in marriage counseling or couples therapy. Instead, you'll continue to feel frustrated, hurt, angry… and then elated when it seems like your partner is finally hearing you and caring about your feelings… only to be crushed when they disappoint you again. [Read: “Are You Addicted To a Toxic Relationship?”]

But in many genuinely toxic relationships, the biggest “warning sign” of all is when your partner routinely shows a lack of interest or follow-through in changing anything about the relationship. Instead, you when you bring up your feelings you get yelled at, blamed, rejected, or made to feel that the problems are all your fault.

Characteristics of a Toxic Relationship

In these situations of course, attempts at couples counseling often end badly. Most of the time, since their partners are unwilling to work on things with them, people in toxic relationships wind up entering empowering life coaching or effective therapy on their own.

Only over time (and often through deep personal growth work) do they then learn how to spot the characteristics of a toxic relationship, and come to terms with the fact that the only way to improve their situation is to take their power back and move on.

But until then, people in toxic relationships often struggle. They struggle with the mixed signals they get from their partner, because sometimes they are loving. They're told that things will improve, and maybe they do for a little while. Many people believe that if THEY work harder at the relationship, are more loving, are more generous, and more patient that their partner will eventually change. (Because often, their partner is telling them in both overt and covert ways that the relationship problems are their fault).

Over time, a genuinely toxic relationship will destroy your self-esteem, interfere with your other relationships, make it hard to focus on positive areas of your life, and consume all of your time and attention. But through self-reflection, self-love, self-compassion (and sometimes excellent therapy or life coaching) you can begin to see that you have become attached to a profoundly unhealthy partner who is never going to give you the love and respect they deserve.

Then you can work to create positive, empowering changes: Like insisting that you are treated well, and setting firm, clear boundaries with anyone who doesn't — especially the one who's supposed to love them the most.

Can a Toxic Relationship Be Healed?

Ending any relationship is hard, and even people who are addicted to profoundly toxic relationships can hold on hope that the relationship can improve, sometimes for years. Many people (understandably) need to know if their toxic relationships can be healed before ending them permanently.

In fact, I get many, many relationship questions on the Growing Self blog about this very subject. Of course the writers of the questions are not labeling their relationships as toxic. They are instead describing extremely frustrating, hurtful, even crazy-making relationship experiences and then asking, what should I do? (Usually phrased as, “How do I get this person I love very much to stop treating me badly?”

If a relationship is truly toxic, it is unlikely to change no matter how hard YOU work at it. Why? Because it lacks the fundamental building blocks of a healthy relationship: Empathy, commitment, personal responsibility, and true love.

Your toxic relationship will finally be changed forever, when YOU decide that you're not going to participate in it anymore. When you commit to yourself that you are worthy of love and respect, when you recognize your toxic relationship addiction for what it is, and when you learn how to cultivate the type of healing mindset that will set you free, you can end your toxic relationship for once and for all.

Letting Go of a Toxic Relationship

Because so many people have been reaching out for relationship advice on how to deal with these types of toxic relationship situations, I decided to devote an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast to this subject. On this episode we're going to be talking all about toxic relationships, including:

  • How to identify toxic relationships. I'll be sharing the top 5 signs that you're in a toxic relationship. Listen and give yourself the mini, “toxic relationship quiz” to find out if your relationship is actually toxic, or just temporarily frustrating.
  • Why toxic relationships are so addictive. Instead of beating yourself up for remaining in a bad relationship, learn why you're biologically predisposed to developing intense attachments to others and why toxic relationships are actually MORE addictive than healthy relationships.
  • The difference between healthy vs toxic relationships. Just because your relationship feels hard and frustrating does not mean it's toxic and irredeemable. Learn the difference between toxic and healthy relationships, and get access to some relationship resources to help you determine whether you should keep working at this, or move on.
  • How to leave a toxic relationship with your dignity intact. Too many toxic relationships end with, ironically, the person who was caring, trying, and hurting getting broken up with. If you're in a toxic relationship, don't continue to dangle on this string, waiting and hoping it will get better until they end it. Take your power back, and decide for yourself to be done. If you're realizing that it's time for you to pick up your self respect and move on from a toxic relationship, we'll talk about how. We'll discuss how to cultivate  self-compassion, self-respect. and the ability to stop depending on an unreliable, hurtful person to love you, and instead, learn how to love yourself.

 

You might be listening to this podcast at the cusp of a new year (or other major life change) and ready to leave this relationship for good. You might be just starting to explore whether or not the relationship you're in is salvageable. You might be realizing that your relationship is toxic, but still in love and not sure how to end things. You may be caught in a toxic relationship cycle of breaking up and getting back together again. Or, you might be sitting in the pain, anger and heartbreak of just having been hurt again for the dozenth time, and looking for answers.

This podcast is for YOU.

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Ps: One of the tools I mentioned if you're still in that “can this relationship be saved” space is my relationship quiz that can help you learn whether your relationship is fundamentally strong, or fundamentally toxic. Here's the sign up box in case you'd like to take it. xo, LMB

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How to Leave a Toxic Relationship, With Dignity

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

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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

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