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How To Avoid Unrealistic Expectations

How To Avoid Unrealistic Expectations

Always Feeling a Little Dissatisfied With Your Relationship?

Sometimes in couples counseling, I see that my clients’ dissatisfaction can be fueled by disappointment when their partner doesn’t meet their expectations or when they feel like they can’t possibly meet their partner’s expectations either. And sometimes the expectations they put on their relationships are simply unrealistic. These unrealistic expectations can be dangerous to the relationship, however, they can also be used to help strengthen the relationship when we begin to understand what these expectations actually mean and what to do with them!

Where Do Our Expectations Come From?

Expectations can come from previous relationships or couples we’ve looked up to in the past, but often times they can come from what we see in the media. Hollywood seems to be a breeding-ground for relationship expectations: the guy who suddenly appears at your window with a boombox ready to serenade you, the girl who friend-zoned you for years finally declaring her love and commitment for you, the ultimate happily ever after. Even as children, young girls see prince charming coming in for the rescue at exactly the right moment, and boys see a princess willing and ready to be swept off her feet. So, what are these scenes telling us? What are they doing to our relationships? How dangerous are unrealistic expectations, really?

The Danger in Unrealistic Expectations

In my experience as a therapist, I’ve noticed two main dangers in maintaining these unrealistic expectations. First, unrealistic expectations can set the relationship up for failure. The images of perfect relationships in the media can create a romanticized view of romance, leaving couples to expect the perfect fairy tale ending after every conflict. Real-life relationships, however, are much more complicated than a romantic comedy. Until we can appreciate the complexity, we will always be dissatisfied.

 

Second, my clients have expressed how unrealistic expectations can create distance and distrust in the relationship. The emotional rollercoaster of hopeful expectation and disheveling disappointment is taxing. After a while, it can feel like you or your partner may never come through. The worst part is that you both might be working extremely hard to satisfy each other, but the expectations put on yourself or your partner are distracting you from a deeper connection.

 

In the end, it may sound like we should do away with expectations all together, but actually, expectations can be helpful for a healthy relationship.

 

Expectations Aren’t Always a Bad Thing!

Ultimately, there are two things you should know about having unrealistic expectations: First, this is normal.  Even therapists can be unrealistic with what we expect of our partners! And second, these expectations come from a good place, a place that tells us what we need in our relationships: to feel valued, loved and cared for.  So how can we use expectations to help our relationships grow?

 

The Secret to a Real-Life Happily Ever After

  1. Be honest with yourself… what is this expectation really about? When working with my clients on this topic, I encourage them to identify what their primary need is behind the expectation. The truth is, what we expect from our partner can tell us what we need most from them. For example, if I expect my partner to take me on a fancy date once a week, I may actually be telling him that I need to feel valued. It goes much deeper than expecting a nice date night, it’s expecting a gesture that tells me my partner loves and values me.
  2. Don’t settle, communicate! Having unrealistic expectations doesn’t always mean we have to settle for less, it simply means we should evaluate what we need and effectively communicate that need to our partner. I encourage couples to communicate clearly what they expect and need from each other. Sometimes we can re-adjust our expectations so that they are attainable, but sometimes we need only tell our partner the primary need behind an expectation so that they have a fair shot at coming through!
  3. Acknowledge and celebrate the small stuff. So maybe your partner doesn’t defeat a dragon and defend your honor, but helping out with dishes is just as good. Try to appreciate even the smallest gestures and you’ll be surprised how much your partner cares.

 

Having fair expectations that effectively communicate our needs is essential for a satisfying relationship, so maybe it’s time to explore expectations with your partner. After all, you may not be the star of a Cinderella story, but you still deserve a happily ever after.

Here’s to Healthy Expectations!
Georgi Chizk, M.S., LAMFT

Georgi Chizk, M.S., LAMFT is a warm, compassionate marriage counselor, individual therapist and family therapist who creates a safe and supportive space for you to find meaning in your struggles, realize your self-worth, and cultivate healthy connections with the most important people in your life.

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What To Do When You Don’t Want To Be Touched

What To Do When You Don’t Want To Be Touched

Do You Avoid Being Touched by Your Partner?

Touch comes before sight, before speech. It is the first language, and the last, and it always tells the truth. – Margaret Atwood

Many of our marriage counseling, couples therapy, relationship coaching and sex therapy clients come in with one primary complaint: One partner simply does not want to be touched, and it’s creating stress and pain in the relationship. (Not to mention creating issues around sexual intimacy).

Touch is a highly important need of humanity. It is essential for our healthy emotional and physical development, and it is also the very first sense which we all develop.

Most of us are aware of this significance, however, along the way somewhere we forget about the importance of touch, especially in our romantic relationships.

What are some situations where people don’t want to be touched by their partner?

I frequently work with couples in couples counseling or marriage counseling where one partner (mostly but not always female) feels that they are not as open to their lover’s touch as they once were. Here, I am not referring to couples with history of sexual trauma: while these couples may also struggle with touch the path of their healing is different than the one I’m describing in this article.

Often when couples are in a place where that intimate and close connection they once had has diminished, physical affection can become problematic. One of the most common themes behind this issue is that the ‘initiation ritual’ transformed from an exciting and romantic experience into a pressured and negative one. This is most typical for couples who have been together for a number of years and even more common where children are present.

After a while, one partner (often the male) starts to express non-sexual physical affection a little less and starts expressing physical affection mostly when they have a desire to engage in a sexual encounter with their partner. Which leads to one of the most common phrases I hear from my female clients: “Every time he touches me I think he just wants sex.”

Women subconsciously make a connection that physical affection will most likely lead to sex, and if their mind or their body doesn’t feel up to it, it feels safer to avoid all physical connection all together. This can also feel like pressure. Pressure to be intimate, pressure to perform/act/look/sound/move a certain way, which is very difficult if we don’t feel up for it. Essentially, pressure (of any kind) is the biggest enemy of intimacy.

What causes someone to avoid being touched by their partner?

This ‘shut down’ phenomenon has quite a few possible causes, and the list below resembles the ones I most frequently encounter with my clients.  

  1. Feeling touched out – This can be primarily experienced by mothers of young children. Having a child in your arms for hours, or being covered in all kinds of bodily fluids can be a very rewarding experience, but unfortunately, for some, it can result in feeling ‘touched out’ by the end of the day. By the time the little ones are in bed, all mum wants to do is enjoy her personal space.
  2. Lack of connection between partners – When we feel disconnected from our partner on an emotional level, it is very difficult to connect on a physical level. If someone makes sexual advances during a disconnected period, it can seem like ‘sex is all they are interested in’ and result in feeling even more disconnected.
  3. Pain/discomfort during intercourse – If someone experiences pain or discomfort during sexual intercourse, they would (often subconsciously) try to avoid not only the intercourse but anything that can lead to that as well.
  4. Other reasons why one partner may begin to avoid being touched by the other – If they are not experiencing much pleasure from coupled sex, they worry that it will lead to a fight, or if they have body image or self-confidence issues.

How does not wanting to be touched impact a relationship?

This ‘shut down’ dynamic often leaves both partners confused about what is happening as this isn’t necessarily a conscious or straight forward process. One partner feels they have shut down and the other feels rejected and lost. After this cycle repeats a few times, both partners sexual safety is damaged. This leads to a place where neither of them wants to or are able to talk about it, which quite literally ends up in an emotional and physical stand still.

How can couples restore a desire to be touched?

The first and most important thing a couple can and needs to do is communicate. By this I mean honest, open, and judgment-free communication about what each of the partners are feeling, thinking and experiencing regarding their intimacy. The only way this concern will be resolved is if both partners truly understand each other. In order to achieve this, a couple will need to be able to reconnect on an emotional level.

The second change a couple can implement goes hand in hand with the first one, and it is only possible when communication feels comfortable. The partner who avoids physical affection needs to regain control in a positive way.

One exercise that can work well is by learning how to have control during hugs. First, they should try to learn what kind of hugs they enjoy. For instance, do they like long or short hugs, gentle or firm hugs, chest to chest or shoulder to shoulder hugs, etc.

Secondly, they should try to communicate this to their partner by describing it in as much detail as possible and also demonstrating it.

Third, they practice hugging the way they enjoy hugging and get comfortable with this form of physical affection on their terms, no matter how long it takes.

Fourth, if at any point the hug becomes overwhelming, or too much (or not enough) they should be able to verbalize that to their partner.

Lastly, after the hugging is concluded, reflect on how it felt, and what thoughts and feelings came up during the encounter. The hug ends on their term. It is important to know that this and any other physical encounter does not have to go any further unless both partners REALLY want them to.

What this quite simple, light, and controlled exercise will achieve helps a couple establish trust around physical affection, which is crucial. Trust is an essential part of regaining physical intimacy as the person who avoids physical touch should be able to completely trust that their partner will respect their process, their wishes, and their boundaries. They also need to learn, discuss, and explore boundaries; What is ok, what is not, what they can put up with, and what they can’t when it comes to affection. This controlled setting also helps with the elimination of pressure to go any further, which is often the root of avoidance.

Ideally, with open and honest communication, trust building and the elimination of pressure, the person who ‘shut down’ before would learn that non-sexual physical affection does not need to lead to anywhere, therefore they will be able to not only participate but also initiate these encounters. This re-established comfort, communication, and trust quite often ultimately translates into the realm of sexual intimacy as well.

Kindly, 
Dori Bagi, M.S., SAS, ASORC

Dori Bagi, M.S., SAS, ASORC is a kind, empathetic couples counselor, individual therapist, and life coach who specializes in sex therapy. Her friendly style makes it safe to talk about anything, and her solution-focused approach helps you move past the past, and into a bright new future of intimacy and connection.

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More Relationship Advice From Dori…

How To Fall In Love Again

How To Fall In Love Again

Let’s Talk About Date Night

If you’re in a long-term relationship the time will come when that burning flame of romance and passion dims to a comfortable warmth, it’s inevitable. This doesn’t mean that the romance and passion are over, it’s a new era of your relationship. If you welcome this era with an open mind and a willingness to experience this stage with your partner – you will find that this warmth is not only sustaining to your relationship but welcoming.

I know it can feel discouraging to think back on how alive and in love you once were before the chaos of life, work, and family obligations became primary conversations at the dinner table. Maybe you’re even asking yourself “can it ever be like it once was?”

The truth is, if you’re both willing to put in the effort to keep your relationship “lit” then YES you can have those rekindling experiences in your relationship! In fact, research by love gurus Dr. John and Julie Gottman has even shown that couples on the road to separation were able to rekindle the flame in their relationship. So what’s the secret? You guessed it…date night.

How To Get The Most Out Of Date Night

It’s easy enough to go on a date if time and circumstance allow. However, it can feel like there’s just not enough time in the day for dating, and if you are like most of my couples clients you have a lot going on. It can feel like your only conversations together happen in passing after a long day at work or at the dinner table with the kids. This means that you have to be intentional about date night, and you need to get the most out of your time together (yes, I’m talking quality over quantity).

So, How Do You Do This?

First, it’s important to choose a time that works for both of you. It might feel silly scheduling each other in, but I promise if you schedule your date together you’re both more likely to make it work. So sit down, get those phones out (or paper agendas, whatever works for you!) and pick a time where you are either both free or available to move your schedule around. This might mean getting a babysitter, rearranging less important plans, or simply saying “no” to lesser obligations. But remember, you don’t have to force a date for the sake of dating. Sometimes an hour at the nearby coffee shop can be just as fun — do what works best for you!

Next, be deliberate about the activity you choose to do together. Since time is limited, what you do with that time is important. Try to orchestrate a date that is both fun and meaningful for both of you! The more thought you put into the date, the more you’ll get out of it. Before this starts sounding like a chore, I’m not talking about an itinerary that has every little moment planned out. Think about what you both like to do? Where do you like to go? What have you done in the past you’d like to do again? What are some new places, food, or experiences you would like to try?

Number one rule – make this time about the two of you. You don’t have to stick to any version of a date that isn’t appealing to you. However, the more time you spend together, the easier dating becomes. If this means staying home and watching a movie together, sitting on the balcony with a glass of wine, going out to an upscale restaurant, or checking out the “hottest” club – do what’s right for the both of you.

Looking for some great date night suggestions? Take a look at these simple to elaborate ideas you can implement into your new date night routine.

Fun Simple Suggestions:

  1. Pizza & A Movie Marathon— whether you like the DIY method of making your own homemade pizza or you like someone else to do the work for you (aka…ordering delivery), this is a staple date night. You can choose a movie that has a special meaning to the two of you, or maybe even take turns showing your current or childhood favorites.
  2. Build A Fort or “Camp” Indoors—sometimes laying down together in a new place can be exciting and spark some old feelings you thought were lost!
  3. Go On A Long Walk Together—use this time to hold hands, talk about life, or even get to know each other more. Did you know that exercise helps release brain chemicals that can make you feel happier? So by simply doing something active together can create positive feelings between you and your partner.
  4. Desserts and Discovery—make your favorite desserts together and ask one another questions to get to know each other again. There are various apps that supply questions to ask your partner (I recommend the “Gottman Card Decks” app). You could even get creative and use this desserts and discovery date to spark some sexual intimacy as well!

More Elaborate Suggestions:

  1. Surprise Date Night—if you and your partner have similar schedules, surprise your partner with a spontaneous date (to a restaurant, bowling alley, movies, etc). The excitement of the surprise may spark some long-awaited affection.
  2. A Mini-Vacay—find a babysitter and book a hotel room for the night! A night away from home can be especially rejuvenating for a relationship, especially if you have children.
  3. Take A Class Together—some communities offer classes to the public. Register for a local class together such as art, culinary, dancing, or exercise classes. Some classes may even be free!
  4. Recreate Your First Date—think about your very first date together and recreate it.  Reminiscing on the past may help reignite passion in the present. It can also be helpful to talk through all of the obstacles you have overcome as a couple over the years and take time to appreciate how your partner has contributed to the strengths in your relationship.

Date night can be a helpful tool for relationship health. Whether you’re wanting to stick to something simple or splurge on an elaborate night out, there are many exciting ways to get to know your partner and rediscover the excitement in your relationship. Try some of these suggestions and share your experience with me below in the comments section!

Wishing you the best on your date,
Georgi Chizk, M.S., LAMFT

Georgi Chizk, M.S., LAMFT is a warm, compassionate marriage counselor, individual therapist and family therapist who creates a safe and supportive space for you to find meaning in your struggles, realize your self-worth, and cultivate healthy connections with the most important people in your life.

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How to Empower Your Relationship

How to Empower Your Relationship

Teresa Thomas, M.A., AP is a marriage counselor, couples therapist, and life coach. Her approach is warm, positive, solution-focused, and all about helping you get to the core issues so that you can grow and move forward confidently. Teresa works with her marriage and couples clients to help them build a positive foundation and experience empowered relationships.

Cultivating positive growth

There comes a time in many relationships when the experiences you are having together make you feel less hopeful about the future of your partnership. Maybe you have been arguing more than you want, or you have been feeling disconnected for some time. When the relationship is no longer something you feel positive about, I suggest taking these steps to empower your relationship and revive the hope you once had. I encourage my clients in marriage and couples counseling to use these skills when beginning the journey of reconnecting and building a better relationship with their partner. 

Set Intentions of Change

The first essential step to empower your relationship is setting your intentions of change. When you feel like things have gotten to a point that you no longer feel satisfied it can be easy to begin the process of acceptance. I encourage my clients to resist accepting any part of life and relationships that they want to be different. Setting your intentions begins with refocusing your mind toward creating change. Start thinking about the things you want to be different. Sit down and start having loving conversations about each of your perspectives so that you are clear and on the same page about what changes you would like to make together.

Keep Communication Positive

I understand that when your relationship is needing some care it can be difficult to communicate with your partner. Many of us lose our cool and engage in negative communication when we feel stuck in the dynamic of the relationship. It is discouraging and sometimes painful to not be fulfilled in your relationship. So, when you are feeling stuck and it is hard to be hopeful, it is important to keep communication positive. Even when you are discussing the changes you want to make, try balancing out the conversation with the things you enjoy and want to stay the same. I encourage you to begin acknowledging your partner’s effort to change, as well as the small successes you have along the way. Consistently tell your partner what you love about them. Positive communication helps you stay motivated and willing to work through setbacks.

Establish & Evaluate Your Relationship Values & Principles

Empowerment will help you find motivation and purpose in your relationship. When you have set your intentions of change and made positive communication a priority, evaluating the values and principles of your relationship is a great next step. We all have personal values and principles that we live by. Relationships should also be based on a foundation of shared values between partners. Some examples are honesty, loyalty, open communication, and spontaneity. Begin thinking and talking about the values that you share with your partner. I suggest writing them down and putting them somewhere visible and accessible for you both to reference and add to the list.

Create Action-Oriented Plans

The last essential step to empowering your relationship is to focus on action-oriented plans. In order to move forward and create lasting change in your relationship, it is important to identify the behaviors and actions that go along with the values you set in place. For example, if one of your values is trust, actions like telling the truth even when it is hard and allowing your partner to have healthy friendships outside of your relationship, communicate and support the value of trust. So for each of your values talk about the ways you put them into action. This way you are both aware of the expectations and how you can communicate your intention of love and support for each other and the relationship.

These first steps to empowerment will allow your hope to return and jump-start the positive changes. 

 

Warmly,

Teresa

 

How to Heal a Relationship After a Fight

How to Heal a Relationship After a Fight

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.

Recover from a Fight

As a relationship therapist, I have had the opportunity to work with many couples who come looking for answers for their communication woes. How many of us have experienced that gut-wrenching feeling after a fight with our partner? Maybe you don’t feel heard, perhaps you feel like what you have to say about the topic is being misconstrued, or maybe you don’t know how to get your feelings across properly. Many couples who decide to engage in couples counseling are often doing so because they are experiencing unproductive communication, or they are at a loss as to how to resolve the conflict.

What you should know is that there is a better way to communicate, and out of better communication will come resolution to the conflict. Using positive communication skills can also help you find a path forward, and make-up after a fight.

How to Heal a Relationship After a Fight

Turning conflict into connection can seem like a merely unattainable relationship goal. You might be thinking that it’s not worth the effort to try and even communicate about the conflict because it will just encourage another argument – but it doesn’t have to be that way. You can choose to consciously practice (and I say practice because it can take time) a form of better communication. Not only will it help you recover after a fight, but also strengthen your relationship.

This week on The Love, Happiness and Success blog I am sharing what positive communication steps you can take to heal your relationship after a fight and turn your conflict into connection.

 

 

Growing Self Counseling & Coaching
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