Three Practical Tips for Productive Communication (when you are both stressed)

Three Practical Tips for Productive Communication (when you are both stressed)

Three Practical Tips for Productive Communication (when you are both stressed)

Couples Communication Tips

Have you noticed a difference in your communication with your partner over these last several months? Maybe being around each other more often has led to greater opportunities for discussing both positive and negative aspects of your relationship, selves, and life goals. Productive Communication is essential for any relationship – but when faced with something like, say, a pandemic, your ability to communicate through the current change could ultimately make or break your relationship. 

As an online marriage counselor and relationship coach, I have been working with my couples clients lately around productive communication in stressful times. Not only are many of my couples clients experiencing a new kind of stress in their individual lives (careers, goals, hobbies, friendships), but they are also experiencing a new type of stress in their partnerships.

It’s not uncommon for couples to experience an uptick in stress when what felt like a relatively regular routine gets flipped on its side…we can probably all relate to this, right? When your entire life changes (working from home, transitioning to a new way of managing your day-to-day tasks, spending more family time, even homeschooling for many families), your relationship can feel like it’s on the backburner. In doing so, new anxiety, confusion, and stress can be brought to the surface surrounding you and your partner. 

I first want to tell you; you are not alone. We are all in this same boat together. It’s difficult enough to manage a regular life, relationship, and family structure but throw in constant change and the unknowing of tomorrow, and you have a whole new stress-mess to work through that can feel overwhelming and often lonely.

Today I want to share three practical tips for productive communication with you when you and your partner are both stressed and ultimately doing the best you can! 

#1 Name It: Call it what it is…

The first tip is to acknowledge to yourself and your partner that you are stressed. Life has recently thrown many things at us, and it is very common to go into problem-solving mode. We are wired to prioritize our responsibilities first and think of ourselves last. You may feel the need to be strong for everyone around you, or it can be hard to admit when things get to you. Take some time every day to check in with yourself. Name your feelings, tell your partner what they are. 

A quick way to do this is to identify your stress level on a scale, say from 1 to 5. This allows you both to be aware that your stress may be impacting how you interact with one another. It is also essential to be aware when you need additional support and skills to deal with your stress. 

If you find that your stress is consistently interfering with daily responsibilities or changing the way you see yourself and your partner, seeking an individual or couples counselor can do wonders. Take advantage of the increasing flexibility and availability of online counseling to get quick and direct support. 

Now more than ever, it is crucial that you increase your ability to manage stress.  If we don’t acknowledge how we are doing, it is easy for us to take things personally. This can turn us away from one another when we need the support of each other the most. 

#2 Give The Conversation A Purpose

The next tip is about coming to the conversations you have with a specific purpose. Before you begin talking about a difficult topic or when stress is at its highest, think about what you want to get out of the conversation. Are you looking for space to vent about what is going on? Would you like your partner to give you their advice or opinion about something? Maybe you need reassurance and encouragement. 

If you give the conversation a specific purpose and relay that to each other beforehand, you will have a better chance of being understood. Your partner also has a better idea of what they can do to contribute productively to the conversation. Stress can make it difficult to know how to help each other, and having a specific purpose will keep you both connected and on the same page.

#3 Stay On One Topic At A Time

When stress creeps in, there can be a rush of thoughts and emotions that overwhelm you. Your mind could be running a mile a minute. This has a way of interfering with how we communicate. 

Have you ever started talking about one thing, and then you are on a totally different topic a few minutes later? That is usually because our emotions have taken over the conversation, and we are now focusing on them instead of the issue at hand. 

If you find that your conversations are bouncing from topic to topic, try to catch each distraction and redirect back to the original topic and purpose. You may say something like, ‘I noticed we have gotten off track, let’s refocus.’ Then go back to the original topic. This can slow down the pace of the conversation and help you resolve one thing at a time. 

Practice Productive Communication

It’s true; you’re not going to have this figured out after one conversation (not even one really productive conversation) because the truth is, it takes time. You and your partner may have to work a little extra to create the time that you both need for productive communication. However, with practice and persistence, what can feel like an overwhelming or confusing conversation can ultimately start to grow into another beautiful chapter of your life. 

Here’s to productive communication!

Warmly,
Teresa Thomas, M.A., AP

 

Teresa Thomas Marriage Counseling Online Charlotte marriage Counseling black therapist online therapist charlotte NC

Teresa Thomas, M.A., AP is a positive, strengths-based therapist, marriage counselor, and life coach with a knack for helping people get to the root of their issues so that they can establish strong foundations for long-term change. She helps couples, families and individuals heal, grow, and feel good again.

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

 

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When To Call It Quits In a Relationship

When To Call It Quits In a Relationship

When To Call It Quits In a Relationship

When To Call It Quits In a Relationship

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

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

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

“Is My Relationship Over?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When To Give Up On a Relationship

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

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

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

When To End a Relationship Vs. When To Grow?

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

When You’re Feeling Trapped In a Relationship

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

When To Call It Quits In a Relationship… Or Not

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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

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When To Call It Quits In a Relationship

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

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

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

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What Every Couple Needs to Know About Emotional Flooding

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What to Do When Your Partner Has a Problem.

What to Do When Your Partner Has a Problem.

What to Do When Your Partner Has a Problem.

Can You Help Someone Who Won’t Help Themselves?

What to Do When Your Partner Has a Problem.

Does Your Partner Have a Problem?

It is agonizing to be in a relationship with someone you love very much, but who has a serious — and untreated — problem. If your partner is struggling with something like depression, anxiety, alcoholism, drug addiction, pornography addiction, ADHD or PTSD it can wreak absolute havoc in your relationship, not to mention make you (both) miserable. And it can be hard to tell when “being supportive” slides into “being codependent.” If the problem has been going on for a long time, it may even make you question whether you should continue to support and help your partner… or whether it’s time to cut your losses and end the relationship.

This topic has been on my mind lately, as I’ve recently had a number of listeners of my Love, Happiness and Success Podcast ask me these questions:

  • How do I help my partner who is depressed (or anxious / ADHD / addicted to something) and refuses to get help?
  • What are signs your partner will get their act together, and what are signs you should break up?
  • How do I help my husband who is suffering from PTSD, and won’t talk to anyone?
  • How many chances should I give my alcoholic / addicted partner?
  • I promised, “For better or for worse,” but it wrong of me to bail on this marriage if my spouse is not holding up their end of the bargain?
  • Is my boyfriend ever going to be cured of his pornography addiction?
  • Should I feel guilty for ending this relationship, even if I feel like I need to save myself?

These are big, serious questions. But you, my dear listener, told me this is what is important to you… and I’m listening to you. We’re going there on this episode of the Love, Happiness & Success Podcast. I hope that this discussion helps you find your way through this dark time, and back into clarity and inner peace.

All the best to you,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

 

 

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What To Do When Your Partner Has a Problem

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

Music Credits: Lorelle Meets The Obsolete, with “Waitin’ For The Orange Sunshine”

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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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Love Without Borders: Cross Cultural Relationships

Love Without Borders: Cross Cultural Relationships

Love Without Borders: Cross Cultural Relationships

Is There a Culture-Clash in Your Relationship?

How to Deal With Cultural Differences in a Relationship

As a marriage counselor and couples therapist l know that all relationships bring a variety of challenges and opportunities for growth. At the same time, some couples  — particularly those in cross-cultural relationships — feel that they have further to go in bridging the gap. Cross-cultural couples can have vastly different relationship expectations regarding gender roles in the home, the role of extended family, how to communicate, and so much more. While, ultimately, the diversity of their union can lead to an enormously strong and healthy relationship, couples from very different cultural or racial backgrounds sometimes need to work harder to create understanding and compromise.

Cross-Cultural Relationships

For the record, it is important to note that everyone comes into a relationship from a different family of origin that had its own values, belief system, internal culture and way of doing things. Even individuals who may, on a surface level, appear to be of similar backgrounds may have had entirely different “family cultures” that are influencing their expectations in their relationship with their partner. (This is the underlying reason why financial therapy for couples is so necessary!)

One big strength for interracial couples and international couples is an overt awareness that they need to openly discuss and respect these differences in order to achieve congruence. In contrast, couples who make the mistake of assuming that their partner’s life experiences were similar to their own run the risk of having unspoken assumptions and expectations lead to conflict and hurt feelings. Knowing from the outset that you both have perspectives, values and expectations that are simultaneously both different and equally valuable is a huge asset.

Navigating Cultural Differences in a Relationship

It’s very easy for couples to get entrenched in conflict rooted in a core belief of “right and wrong” when it comes to how to approach various aspects of their shared life. This can be especially true around hot-button issues such as:

These are points of conflict for many couples. However, if a couple in a bicultural marriage or with a multicultural family background has very different life experiences that they each wish to replicate in their marriage with each other… the battles can get fierce and even nasty. In contrast, cross-cultural couples who approach each other from a place of sensitivity and openness to understanding have the opportunity to learn and grow, celebrate their differences, and take the highest and best from both of their backgrounds in order to create a unique, beautiful blended culture in their new family, together.

Relationship Advice From Cross Cultural Marriage Counselors

To tackle these questions, and provide some direction for how to begin bridging the gap and building bridges to the center, I’ve asked some multicultural relationship experts to join me for this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast. Relationship coach Dr. Georgiana Spradling, MFT, Tania Chikhani, M.A, and Teresa Thomas, M.A., are marriage counselors who often work with cross-cultural couples and interracial couples, and have great relationship advice for how to create peace and harmony in your gloriously diverse family.

Specifically, we’ll discuss:

  • Why cross-cultural couples often get into power struggles about various aspects of their shared life.
  • The shift in perspective that can help you restore the empathy in your relationship and understand each other more deeply.
  • How to find ways of creating agreement, while simultaneously honoring and appreciating your differences.
  • How couples with different expectations of extended family roles can find balance between boundaries and togetherness.
  • How interracial couples can become a united front in understanding and confronting racial injustice, together.

Whether you’re in an interracial relationship, blending a multicultural family, or simply coming to terms that you and your seemingly-similar partner are actually coming into your relationship with very different perspectives, the perspective of marriage counseling experts Dr. Georgiana, Teresa and Tania can help. I hope you join us — click the player below to listen to the conversation!

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Love Without Borders: Cross-Cultural Relationships

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

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online life coach arabic speaking therapist online life coach arabic speaking life coach career coach dating coach relationship coach

Tania Chikhani is a Relationship and Career Specialist with an M.A. in Clinical Psychology, and an MBA in Global Business and Marketing. She has specific training in marriage and family therapy and relationship coaching, as well as mindfulness coaching, career coaching, executive coaching, and life coaching.

Her specialty is helping you create happiness and success in all areas of your life. Her work is focused on enabling you to create and maintain passionate and fulfilling relationships while continuing to thrive in your career. She is known for seeing the love and joy that’s possible for you, and for your relationships, even through your darkest days. Read Tania’s full bio…

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Stuck at home & looking for that next career move? Online Therapist and Certified Emotional Intelligence Coach, Linda Pounds, M.A., LMFT shares practical ways for working on your success by building your Emotional Intelligence through Resilience, Perseverance, Empathy and more. Read here…

Constructive Conflict: Arguments That Help Your Relationship Grow

Constructive Conflict: Arguments That Help Your Relationship Grow

Constructive Conflict: Arguments That Help Your Relationship Grow

Why Constructive Conflict is Vital to Every Relationship

Having conflict in a relationship is often viewed as a negative thing. In reality, having disagreements is not just inevitable — successfully working through differences is what leads to health and growth in a relationship. Constructive conflict allows you to talk about the most important things, and find positive resolution for both of you. 

Literally, all couples will have different expectations, preferences or hopes around certain things. This causes friction, AND this is normal and expected — not a sign that there is anything wrong with your relationship.

The Difference Between Constructive Conflict and DEstructive Conflict

DE-structive conflict occurs (ironically) when people try to avoid conflict, and let things build up to the point where they’re angry, hurt, or explosively reactive. Generally, this happens between two people who love each other, don’t want to rock the boat, or who don’t know how to talk about their feelings in the moment. 

They tend to NOT engage in conflict until their feelings build up to the point that they are feeling really hurt, resentful or angry. Then they lash out or act out in ways that lead to unproductive conflict that often makes things worse instead of better.

Learning the keys to constructive conflict can help you avoid this.

Learning How to Talk Through Differences Constructively and Compassionately

The first key of constructive conflict is changing your internal beliefs about what “conflict” is. Try this on for size: 

  1. Conflict is NORMAL: Two people will of course have differences of opinion, different needs, different expectations or different wants. All “conflict” is, is discussing those things openly for the purpose of finding compromise and solutions. That’s all! 
  2. Constructive Conflict is GOOD: Talking through differences constructively will not just resolve the issues, these conversations are the vehicle for partners to understand each other more deeply, strengthen their bond, and develop a more satisfying and functional relationship for both people. In this way, “conflict” (at least, constructive conflict) leads to deeper connection.
  3. Not Addressing Conflict is BAD: In contrast, couples who don’t talk through problems openly and honestly will instead often begin to ruminate about unresolved issues, feel increasingly resentful, and feel more hopeless about the relationship itself. Particularly when people have negative beliefs about “conflict,” they may find it difficult to explicitly express moments when they feel hurt, disappointed, or frustrated. Instead, they stuff their feelings, don’t talk about it… and then it festers like an infected wound.
  4. Avoiding Conflict Damages Your Relationship: When “festering” happens, people become reactive. They are walking around feeling low-grade annoyed and resentful much of the time, and when they have a new (even fairly neutral) interaction with their partner, the anger and hurt feelings they’ve been holding on to often come out sideways. People will be snappy, critical, snarky, or cold.
  5. Avoiding Conflict Creates a Toxic Dynamic: Often the reactions seem out of proportion to the current situation because they are the buildup of unresolved feelings that are (ironically) created by attempting to avoid conflict in the first place. But — here’s the hard part — because in their partner’s eyes they’re behaving jerkily, without obvious cause, their partner will react negatively to them. That’s when an actual fight starts.

Avoiding Conflict Perpetuates Problems

Couples who are not able to learn how to communicate with each other and talk through problems constructively will often have repeated nasty feeling fights about the same issues over and over again. Arguments that never end in increased understanding or positive change, but rather partners feeling increasingly distant and alone. Over time, this rots a relationship from the inside out. 

Couples who have been bashing at each other unsuccessfully for years will get to a point where they don’t fight anymore. That’s when couples are on the brink of divorce: They’ve stopped engaging with each other because they have given up believing that change is possible for their relationship. They are emotionally withdrawing from the relationship. It’s only a matter of time before it ends. 

There Are a Number of Crucial Conversations that Every Couple Should Have

On an ongoing basis as the relationship and life circumstances continue to evolve “going there,” and talking about points of potential conflict as soon as you and your partner feel out of alignment with each other will help you both get back on track, understand each other’s perspective, find solutions, and build bridges to the center. These conversations don’t just solve problems and reduce conflict; they are the engine of growth for a relationship. 

Talking About Expectations in a Relationship

Couples (hopefully!) come from different families. Every family has a culture; a way of doing things, and a set of unspoken expectations about what “should” happen that is transmitted to their children — sometimes explicitly, but often not. When two people come together to form a new family they each carry with them a set of subconscious beliefs about what their partner should be doing or not doing as they build their life together. 

These expectations will often lead to conflict sooner or later, as each partner does what feels normal to them — unintentionally ruffling the feathers of their spouse. This is especially true for partners whose families differed in the way that love was shown or the way that people communicated. It’s critical that partners have self-awareness about their own beliefs, and understand that their expectations are simply a byproduct of their own family of origin experience, not necessarily “correct.” 

Being able to talk through their beliefs openly and honestly can help a couple understand each other’s perspective, gain empathy for why the other person behaves the way they do, and find ways of meeting each partner’s needs. Ideally, in doing so, they explicitly create a new family culture together; one that they both feel good about.

Talking About The Way You Talk

Couples will always have to talk about the way they talk to each other. As described above, when people don’t know how to lean into hard conversations constructively, negativity in a relationship increases. Then, when topics do come to a head, there is often a lot of negative energy around them. People then begin fighting with each other about the way they’re communicating, rather than about the problem itself. Learning how to stay calm and listen non-defensively is a core skill that is often hard-won for many couples. 

Furthermore, because people come from different places, they carry with them different expectations about how to communicate. One partner may be more conflict-averse, believing that “if we’re not fighting we are okay.” They may seem distant and uncommunicative to their partner, which is problematic. Another person may come from a high conflict family with an aggressive communication style, and their “normal” may be perceived as threatening or hostile. Still others may come from families where things are not addressed directly, but rather through behaviors. They may feel very frustrated when their partner is “not understanding them” when they are, in fact, not actually saying how they feel, or what they need out loud.

The variations of these differences are endless. But without an open discussion of them, and a willingness to learn new skills and bend in each other’s direction, these types of communication issues can cripple a relationship. 

Talking About Teamwork

When you’re dating, and in the early stages of a romantic relationship, your connection centers around being companions and finding novel ways to have a good time. As you enter into a committed partnership and begin building a life together, each partner needs to be putting time, energy, and work in creating and maintaining that life. 

As we all know, “adulting” is actually a lot of work: Jobs must be worked, homes must be cleaned, meals must be prepared, finances must be managed, yards and cars must be maintained. Throw a few kids and pets into the mix, and very quickly, life becomes a lot of care-taking.

All couples will encounter bumps in the road as their partnership evolves into one of increasing responsibility due to each of their expectations about what should be happening. Frequently one partner will begin to feel that their shared responsibilities are out of balance and that their partner is not contributing enough or in the way that they would like them to. [More on this: How to Create a More Egalitarian Partnership] Sometimes this is as a result of subconscious family of origin expectations or gendered roles that overly burden one partner (often the female, in heterosexual relationships).

This is not bad; it’s normal. All it means is that conversations are required to discuss how you’re each feeling, create new agreements, and find new routines that work for both of you. When this happens, and both people step up and follow through, balance and harmony are regained.

Leaning Into The Three “Touchy” Topics of All Relationships

How to Talk About MONEY

Most couples have conflict about money, sooner or later. This too is inevitable; money means very different things to different people. Each individual in a couple has a different relationship with money, different approaches to handling it, and different expectations about what should be done with it. In nearly all relationships, one person will have a more conservative approach to money (the “saver”), and the other person will be a bit more liberal (the “spender.”)

Again this is completely normal. All couples need to build a bridge to the center and create agreements around what “we” are doing with money that feel good for both partners. Many couples clash and fight about this topic, which is simply a sign that they’ve not yet come to agreements and learned how to work together as financial partners. Having constructive conflict where they each feel heard and understood by the other allows them to create a shared vision for their financial lives, as well as a plan for how to work together financially to achieve their goals. 

How to Talk About SEX 

Sexuality is another emotionally charged topic for many couples. Over the course of a long term partnership, most couples will experience ebbs and flows in their sex life. Sometimes people become disconnected sexually when they have a lot of unresolved conflict in their relationship, or their emotional needs are not being met by their partner. This is especially true for women. Other times, life circumstances such as job stress or having children make it difficult for partners to have the time and energy for a healthy sex life. 

While it’s normal for all couples to go through a “dry spell,” losing your sexual relationship can start to erode the foundation of what makes you a couple (rather than roommates, or friends). Because sexuality can be so strongly linked to attachment needs, body image, and self-esteem issues, people are often hurt or angered by the experiences they have (or don’t have!) with each other sexually. Conversations about this topic can feel extremely tense, uncomfortable, and even hurtful. Many couples find this subject more comfortable to avoid than to address, but avoiding it only leads to increasing distance.

It’s vital for couples to talk with each other about how they are feeling about their sex life so that they can reconnect with each other in the bedroom. Over the course of a long-term relationship, as the road of life twists and turns, this conversation may need to happen over and over again as you both evolve physically and as your family structure changes.

How to Talk About PARENTING

The parenting of children is another area in which couples will always have differences that need to be addressed and agreed upon. This is largely due to our family of origin experiences; we all subconsciously parent the way we were parented. (Or we parent as a conscious decision to NOT parent the way we were parented if coming from a patently abusive or neglectful background). 

There is a spectrum of approaches to parenting that range from more authoritarian to more easygoing. The problem is that couples may have highly negative reactions to the way the other person is interacting with or caring for their shared children if things are happening that are different from the way they think parenting “should” be. This is also an extremely triggering topic for people because of the deep love they have for their kids. When they see their partner doing (or not doing) something that they view as having a negative impact on the children, it’s completely understandable that people get emotional. 

The path to resolution is being able to respectfully talk through each of your feelings, perspectives, and preferences and find ways of parenting together that feel good (enough) for both of you. Remembering that there is no “right” way to parent is often extremely helpful for couples attempting to find unity in this area. 

Remember, addressing conflict openly, authentically, and compassionately IS The Path to a strong healthy relationship. (NOT the symptom of a problem!)

Differences are normal and expected. After all, you’re not marrying your clone! Getting married is an event. Becoming married is a process. All couples need to have a series of conversations as they do the work of coming together and creating agreements for how they communicate, how they show each other love and respect, how they work together as a team, manage money, and parent children. These conversations are critical, not just to resolve problems, but to grow together as a couple. Healthy, productive conflict is absolutely necessary for couples to flourish. Lean in!

All the best to you both,
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

 

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

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