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How Jenny and Greg Fixed Their Relationship

How Jenny and Greg Fixed Their Relationship

Want to save your relationship? This is how it’s done.

As a Denver marriage counselor, getting a call from someone around town wanting help for their relationship is not unusual for me. But this situation was different: It was a call to help repair the relationship between two morning talk show hosts of a local radio station. (92.5 The Wolf, Denver’s Modern Country, in case you’re curious.) Of course, I was totally intrigued.

I learned that the hosts of the Wolf Wakeup Show, Jenny and Greg, had been personal, platonic friends for over 11 years. They called themselves “work husband and work wife.” While their sassy on-air banter made for great radio, underneath the surface their real relationship was actually struggling. But because they cared about each other so much, and wanted their relationship to be successful, they were open to getting professional help.

Our On-Air Relationship Coaching Session

I got to the radio studio before 6am, coffee in-hand, to do some on-air relationship coaching. As with all couples we work with, the first place to start was with a relationship assessment to figure out what the heck was going on. Here’s the story that unfolded:

Jenny and Greg, in addition to hosting their morning show, often did live events together to promote different artists and mingle with their listeners. However, Jenny often felt that Greg “took over” during these events, and told her what to do. At these times she felt more like his assistant than his partner, and it hurt her feelings and angered her.  When this happened she experienced Greg as self-focused and controlling. When Jenny felt this way, she shut down to avoid confrontation leaving Greg feeling confused about why she was upset.

From Greg’s point of view, he experienced Jenny as mysteriously moody and irrationally angry. He had lots of experience doing live events, and knew exactly what needed to be done. He also wanted to help Jenny, who was pregnant and often feeling tired or ill. When there was a job to do Greg went into his “getting things done” zone, but then felt confused and frustrated when Jenny would get angry with him for doing things that just made sense to do.  When Jenny finally told him what was bothering her, Greg often felt defensive and unfairly attacked. In his defensiveness he often minimized or dismissed her complaints.

As I listened to their story from each of their perspectives I saw patterns that are so common in the couples we see in our practice: Different personalities, different strengths, different ways of giving and receiving love, and communication strategies that created more problems rather than solving them. Just like almost all the couples we see for marriage counseling or relationship coaching, Jenny and Greg were two good people both wanting the same thing: to love and be loved.

Relationship Repair Strategies

I’ll share with you what we did on the air, in hopes that you too can use some of these same tools and strategies in your own relationship.

1) I gave them a personality assessment. Dr. Helen Fisher has developed a fantastic tool to help couples discover their primary relational types. It’s called The Anatomy of Love Personality Test, and here’s the link if you want to take it for yourself. As I suspected, Greg turned out to be a “Director” – a personality type that is task oriented, goal directed, and very direct. Jenny was clearly a “Negotiator” with the type of personality that prioritizes connection and closeness. I helped them understand that their personality types are fundamentally compatible, provided they could understand and accept each other.

When Jenny learned that Greg’s natural way of being was not selfish or controlling, but rather a strength that allowed him to be extremely productive and competent, it felt less like a personal slight of her, and more like a strength she could lean on.

When Greg learned how important it was for Jenny wanted to feel included by him, and like his partner, he could slow down and intentionally ask for her input and ideas. Doing so helped her feel like they were a team and that her feelings were important to him.

2) We talked about love languages. When I told Greg that I suspected he was the type of guy that was out at 5am scraping the ice off his girlfriend’s windshield so that she would be safe on her way to work, his jaw dropped. “How did you know that?” he said. By framing his action-oriented style as the way he showed love, Jenny was able to see his “controlling” behavior as his way of trying to take care of her.

I also helped Jenny talk about how conversation was the primary vehicle for her to feel connection. Greg learned that when he did things without talking to her about it, it made Jenny feel alone. By giving her the opportunity to talk through ideas with him before taking action, it strengthened her feelings of connection and partnership.

3) We did communication coaching. Jenny had good intentions. When she started to feel angry and upset, she became quiet because she didn’t want to create a scene or have a nasty argument. But she also didn’t realize that the absence of information made it difficult for Greg to understand her or meet her needs. We talked about ways she could help him understand how she was feeling, and communicate what she needed in a non-confrontational way that felt safer for her to try, and easier for Greg to hear.

Because, in the past, Greg only heard about how Jenny felt after she was super-upset and feeling fed up, he’d gotten an earful about how he’d been “mistreating” her. Because his intentions were genuinely good, he’d felt like he’d had to defend himself from her accusations. But in doing so, he also made Jenny feel like he was invalidating her feelings, dismissing her concerns, and making it harder for her to talk to him. I helped Greg learn how to listen to Jenny’s feelings and respond to them more sensitively instead of becoming defensive.

We talked about how, in their pain, both Jenny and Greg were accidentally engaging in some toxic communication patterns that created more problems between them. In learning how to communicate more effectively, they could prevent much of the hurt feelings and misunderstandings that had been making it hard to stay positive with each other.

Though we didn’t have much time together in the context of one morning radio show, Jenny and Greg still learned new ideas that helped them understand each other differently and take concrete steps to improve their relationship with each other.

There is Hope For Your Relationship

I wanted to share their story with you, so that you can learn more about how marriage counseling and relationship coaching actually work. Jenny and Greg had major strengths in their relationship, and as people: They cared enough about each other to work on their relationship AND they were both coachable and open to new ideas.

If that is true for you and your partner, great things are possible for your marriage too…

With love to you both,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

 

Listen to Jenny and Greg’s On-Air Relationship Coaching Session

P.S. Thanks so much to Jenny and Greg for letting me share their story. In most situations confidentiality prevents me from disclosing details about what actually happens in the counseling room. In being so open with their “growth process” Jenny and Greg allowed their listeners (and you!) to peek through the window of something that’s usually very private, and demystify the process.

P.P.S. Greg wanted me to make sure you know that he was right. 😉

Why Your Marriage is Worth Saving

Why Your Marriage is Worth Saving

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.

Are You Having Doubts About Your Marriage?

We’ve all been there. I’ve been a marriage counselor for over a decade, but I’ve also been married for nearly two decades. (Yep, I’m that old). In addition to successfully working through rough patches in my own marriage, I’ve sat in the marriage counseling office with literally hundreds of hurt and angry couples over the years. One thing I’ve learned is this: It’s common to have moments of doubt. After weeks of nasty exchanges and hurt feelings, why shouldn’t you start to wonder if you’re really compatible? After a series of bitter fights with no resolution, why shouldn’t you start to feel a little hopeless? It’s reasonable to wonder.

It can be very difficult to remain optimistic about your relationship when you’ve been having bad experiences with each other. But here’s the thing: When you’re feeling hurt, angry, frustrated or afraid it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture, and the opportunities that lie beyond the struggles. Because it can be so hard to think straight when you’re mad and hurt, I’m going to hold the hope for you and share my long-term perspective with you.

Four Reasons Why Your Marriage is Worth Fighting For

One: This is NORMAL.

All couples go through challenging times together, on the road to becoming stronger. It’s one thing to get married. (Having a ceremony and party is a piece of cake. Pun intended). It’s quite another thing to become married. The process of becoming married doesn’t start until the honeymoon phase is over, because, unfortunately, we don’t even know where we need to learn and grow until we have a conflict about it.

Stepping on each other’s toes, getting upset with your partner (or having them get mad at you) is how we learn where we need to make changes. Those skirmishes outline the current boundaries. Becoming married is the process of redrawing those boundaries. Becoming married usually involves learning how to communicate with each other, learning how to show each other love, learning how to work together as a team around household tasks / parenting / finances, learning how to respect and honor each other’s boundaries, learning how to prioritize your relationship, learning about your own “growth opportunities,” and learning how to accept each other — faults and all. (Listen to “Cultivating Unconditional Love.”) This is a lot of work, and is often, regrettably, hashed out over many, many fights and tense exchanges. Reflect upon how many months you spent planning your wedding? Plan on it taking much longer to successfully become married. FYI, many couples put this work off, not fully “becoming married” until many (often long) years after the actual wedding occurred.

Two: It Gets Better

Sadly, many couples crash and burn during this normal growth process when they think that the relational turbulence they’re experiencing means that something is intrinsically wrong with their relationship. It isn’t. Becoming married is challenging for everyone. It’s tragic to me when couples bail on their relationship without giving themselves and each other the chance to grow together.

Because when you successfully get to the other side of this it gets much, much easier. Imagine what your like will be like when this is resolved: Communication is easy, you have a set of agreements that you’re both on board with, you have systems in place that allow your life to run smoothly, you’re not constantly triggering each other’s anger or anxiety, you’re supporting each other’s hopes and dreams, you’re both feeling loved and respected, and you’re having a good time together. (And even having sex!)

I believe this is possible for you, but like all couples there is work to be done between here and there. Start by revising your expectations that this “should be easy.”  To give you a timeline, I think my husband and I began to figure all this stuff out around year five at our house. (And that was actually about 8 sessions into our marriage counseling process). It could have happened a lot faster, in retrospect, had we gotten help sooner.

Three: This Will Follow You

Even if you do ultimately choose to end this marriage, you’re going to take your patterns and unexplored growth opportunities (aka, “issues”) with you into your next relationship. If you want to be successfully married to anyone, sooner or later you’re going to have to work on your ability to communicate, show love, work together, respect boundaries, etc.

The research shows very a clear and dramatic relationship between the number of marriages people attempt, and the success rates. Despite common misconceptions about high divorce rates (read “Why Divorce Rates are Down”), most couples in first time marriages who come into marriage from a place of strength in terms of their age, education, socioeconomic status (read, “What’s The Best Age To Get Married?”) can make it work. However, second marriages have a much higher divorce rate. Second marriage with children involved are not for the faint of heart. Third+ marriages are frequently troubled, and haunted by ghosts of the past.

The punchline: No matter how many partners you churn through, your patterns in relationships are unlikely to change until you do.

You’ve already made the vows — why not double down on your commitment and do the work right here? If you do that, your very worst case scenario is that 1) You’ll grow into a stronger, healthier person more capable of having a high quality relationship and 2) If you ultimately decide to leave, you’ll do so knowing you did your very best.

And the best possible outcome? You’ll create an amazing, satisfying, intimate and happy marriage that lasts a lifetime. Win-win!

Four: This Stopped Being About You When You Had Kids

Disclaimer: Although I am very much pro-marriage, I’m not necessarily “anti-divorce.” In fact, sometimes ending a relationship is the most responsible thing to do if two people have discovered they are really, intrinsically incompatible AND that they aren’t committed enough to make the changes necessary to have a healthy marriage with each other. (Read, “Can This Marriage Be Saved?”) This is particularly true for dating couples, childless couples, empty-nesters, or younger couples who are still  in the process of developing an adult identity.

However, if you already have kids together…. I believe that you owe it to them to fight as hard as you can to make this work. Of course there are rare times when it is better for the children if you live apart, particularly if one parent is not safe for them to be around (like in cases of domestic violence, physical, verbal and emotional abuse, substance abuse situations). However, in less extreme circumstances, even when divorce is handled as  sensitively as possible it is very difficult on kids.

The chaos of getting shuttled around to different homes (and the potentially different rules and expectations in each), dealing with suddenly single parents who are distracted, overworked or dating, negotiating step parent / step sibling relationships, and coping with the grief of their lost family is an awful lot for kids to handle. It frequently overwhelms their ability to cope, and may be either externalized (showing up as behavior or emotional issues) or internalized (trying to be “perfect” and not have feelings). Neither is good for developing little minds and hearts.

Some people believe that it’s bad for kids to be around fighting and conflict. This is certainly true when toxic, scary fighting is happening, like name calling, abusive language, things getting thrown, or people being hit. However, kids learn how to resolve conflict in healthy ways when you model it for them. They also learn that normal, healthy relationships still have conflict and friction, but more importantly they learn how to successfully work through it. That way they won’t feel worried that something is terribly wrong with their own marriage when it’s time for them do the work of “becoming married” too.

I know it can feel hopeless sometimes, especially when you feel like you’ve tried everything. Divorce can seem like the only reasonable solution when you have no idea what else you could possibly do, and when your partner seems dead-set against changing. But just because YOU don’t know what to do, doesn’t mean there isn’t a path forward. Getting expert help and guidance can open new doors that you didn’t even know were there. Is it hard work to pull a marriage back from the brink of divorce, and save a family? Yep. But imagine how relieved you’ll feel when you’re on the other side of this, with an intact family and a happy home.

Having a strong, healthy marriage is the greatest gift you can give your children. It’s worth the work.

Main Points:

  1. This is normal
  2. It gets better
  3. This is a growth opportunity for you, either way
  4. If you have kids, this is bigger than you

I hope these ideas help you keep your head up, and remain hopeful about your future together… even when times are hard. Keep fighting for love, my friend!

xoxo, Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

A Funny Marriage is a Happy Marriage

A Funny Marriage is a Happy Marriage

Use This Simple Trick to Transform Conflict into Connection

Friction and annoyances are inevitable in every relationship. But you don’t have to fight. In fact, there’s a simple strategy that you can use to turn moments of potential conflict… into a stronger connection.

The first telltale sign that I’m getting upset with my husband is my clenching jaw. What’s the trigger? Any one of a dozen things, but all having the common core: He did not do something the way that I thought he should have. The scene of an errand undone, or of a small pale face burnished by sunburn will tighten my face and harden my eyes in annoyance. I start rehearsing my self-righteous (and entirely justified!) lecture in my mind.

But then my husband, a marvelously funny man, will peer, wide-eyed and blinking, into my face, cock his head like a parrot, and start singing a little song about me and the reason that I’m mad — usually to the tune of some 80’s rock anthem. He’s so good it usually even rhymes. By the end I can’t help but giggling at his silliness, and my amusement has chased away my frustration. I swat him with a dishtowel and he runs away, playfully, and then peeks his head around the corner in exaggerated fear. All is forgiven, and our evening rolls on.

In contrast, when my husband is upset about something, he tends to rant. Over the twenty years of our marriage I have learned that if I just listen to him and nod appreciatively, he’ll pick up steam, like a train chugging ever faster down a track, and eventually his rant will turn into a full-on stand-up comedy routine about his irritations — complete with ficticious embellishments and dramatic re-enactments. It’s hilarious. His recent tirade about some annoyances eventually had me laughing so hard I literally could not speak. We’d just moved into a new house and then realized, to our new neighbors, his bellowing and my sobbing with laughter probably sounded like some kind of crazy domestic violence situation. The idea that they might call the cops on us sent us into a new round of hilarity.

A Funny Marriage is a Happy Marriage

There are things about my husband that I sometimes wish were different, and I’m sure that he could provide you a very long list of all the ways I disappoint him. But the fact that he is funny, and I am easily amused, has saved our marriage from the many things that could have sunk it.

[tweetthis]Laugh together. Laugh at each other. Just laugh. #advicefromamarriagecounselor[/tweetthis]

Stop A Fight: Use Humor

All relationships have natural friction points. Differences between partner’s opinions, personalities, hopes, and expectations all create hurt and frustration. This is true for every couple, even the happiest. Research into relationships conducted by Dr. John Gottman of The Gottman Institute, in Seattle Washington, estimates that up to 80% of the problems that all couples have are due to these intrinsic differences. These are therefore “unsolvable problems” that are never going to change. You may be surprised to learn that happy couples have just as many differences and circumstantial hardships as an unhappy couples, yet they are thriving anyway. Why? One thing that happy couples often have that struggling couples don’t, is humor.

Going for a giggle in a tense moment sounds simplistic, but reaching for humor instead of anger, defensiveness or judgment during a friction point does four extremely important things to strengthen your relationship:

1) It creates a “repair attempt”

The happiest, most successful couples are able to stop an argument in it’s tracks by attempting to repair the impending rift before it gets too wide. Reaching out to an angry, upset, or hurt partner in efforts to close the gap and restore peace (and then having that olive branch accepted) is a “repair attempt.” When the thunder and lightning of a bad fight are rumbling on the horizon and one partner is able to crack a joke that makes the other person smile, the sun peeks through the ominous clouds. Moods lift, the problem seems less serious, and it’s easier to reconnect.

2) It breaks a negative mood state

Negative moods like anger, resentment, or hurt tend to reinforce themselves, and get stronger over time. When you are upset about something, you ruminate about it — turning it over and over in your mind, like a cow chewing it’s cud. The more you think about all the horrible ways in which your partner has disappointed or offended you, the worse you feel. But when someone throws a cold splash of unexpected humor into the face of self-righteous anger, it breaks the pattern. Getting knocked off keel by something funny shifts the trajectory of a bad mood, allowing positive feelings to flow back into an otherwise unhappy outcome.

3) It creates emotional safety

Nobody behaves well when they are feeling attacked, threatened or shut out. I guarantee you, that when you aggressively confront your partner about something it will nearly always provoke them to feel offended and defensive. Likewise, if you coldly dismiss your partner’s complaints you are inviting them to get more angry and hostile. But responding with humor will nearly always get a more positive response. Why? Because it restores emotional safety. When you are funny, unexpected, and lighthearted you are communicating, “I’m not really that mad. You’re safe with me.” Defensiveness is diffused, and aggressiveness wanes: Connection has been achieved. All of a sudden, whatever you are in conflict about seems more manageable, and easier to deal with.

4) It emphasizes the positive aspects of your relationship

Some people are wary about being lighthearted with relationship problems that seem serious to them, saying, “But won’t it minimize my feelings?” Or, “But if we just joke about it, things will never change!” So they insist on grinding away at their differences, and becoming increasingly unhappy when things stay the same. Newsflash: You and your partner will always be different people. They will never change into exactly who and what you think they should be. Focusing on the negative aspects of your relationship will make those differences more pronounced and will change the emotional climate of your marriage for the worse.

In contrast, enjoying your partner and having fun with them, and appreciating the good things about them will help you have a better relationship. And the grand paradox is that when people feel safe, accepted, and cherished for who they are, it is actually easier for them to change for the better. When you use humor to communicate to your partner that you enjoy them, they will be more eager to please you and less inclined to fight with you.

So the next time things start to feel hard between you and your partner, do something unexpected and funny. Crack a joke. Sing a silly song. Make a face. Emphasize the funny parts of your disagreement. Have a good time. And if the neighbors call the cops on you — blame me.

Was there a time that something funny saved you and your partner from a fight? Do share! Tell us in the comments below…

Advice From a Denver Marriage Counselor: Six Signs Your Relationship is in Trouble

Advice From a Denver Marriage Counselor: Six Signs Your Relationship is in Trouble

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 do you know if you’re having normal relationship ups and downs, or that it’s time to call a marriage counselor?

After a decade as a Denver marriage counselor, and nearly two of being married myself, I’ve come to the conclusion that being in a relationship is a little like doing yoga: If it feels really easy all the time, you’re probably not doing it right. (Meaning that couples who never EVER fight are usually not talking about all things that they should be talking about.) Having a little friction, some differences of opinion, and yes — even conflict, is an entirely natural, normal and healthy part of the marriage / relationship experience.

However, there are some situations that are more concerning than others. There are dark patterns and cycles of negative reactivity that can take hold of your marriage in subtle ways, like toxic black mold that blooms unseen in the walls of your house — and that will likely get worse over time.

Unfortunately, there does come a point when it’s too late. Marriages can be broken beyond repair. When trust, empathy and commitment is damaged past a certain point, the best marriage counselor in the world cannot help you put the pieces back together again.

It’s therefore important to tell the difference between “normal relational friction” and more serious problems that require intervention. Here are six signs “toxic mold” is growing in your marriage, and that it’s time to get some professional help:

1. Resentments linger.

You talked about it, everybody said “Sorry” but deep down you don’t feel like the problem has been solved. You don’t feel heard, or fully understood. You still feel bad about what happened, and you don’t trust that it won’t happen again. When you’re filled with unresolved resentment and mistrust, it’s hard to feel like the loving person that you’d like to be towards your partner.

2. You can’t communicate productively.

Every time something comes up, voices get raised and it turns into a street fight — not a productive (if intense) conversation. You get mean with each other and intentionally try to hurt each other. It feels impossible to solve problems and hear each other, because one or both of you are either focused on “winning.” Or, disagreement leads to someone freaking out, shutting down, or falling apart instead of listening and communicating effectively.

3. You expect negative reactions from each other.

Your trust in the emotional safety of your relationship is eroding. You anticipate that your partner will get mad at you, or be mean to you, or will be emotionally unresponsive to you. You start to feel anxious about being around them, and feel like you’re walking on eggshells.

4. You’re not talking…. To each other.

If your best friend / mother / sister knows more about how you feel about your relationship than your partner does, that is a problem. While it’s much more comfortable to talk to a third party about your feelings, it doesn’t do anything to resolve the issues. If you think your partner “must know how you feel” because of all the non-verbal hints and things you’re doing to show them how you feel, but you’re not actually saying the words out loud, it is likely that you need the support of a marriage counselor to learn how to address problems directly, and productively.

5) The “Four Horsemen” are present.

Dr. John Gottman, a researcher in the field of marriage counseling, has done wonderful research into the dynamics of relationships. He is able to predict whether a marriage will fail by the presence of four specific behaviors that are so toxic he’s nicknamed them “The Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse.” These are: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Avoidance. So if you feel like telling your partner why they are wrong for feeling the way they do, rolling your eyes, or leaving the room every time they talk, you need to get into marriage counseling — quick.

6) One person is loosing hope that things can change.

When relationships finally end, it is almost always because one person has lost hope that things can be better. They have tried to talk, tried to change, and tried to get their partner to understand them — sometimes for a very long time. It has not worked. At a certain point, they simply loose hope that their partner can love them in the way that they need to be loved. “It doesn’t matter anyway” are the lyrics to the funeral dirge of a marriage. If this is happening it is vital that you get into high quality marriage counseling before it’s too late to save your marriage.

If you’re reading these warning signs, and they feel familiar, don’t wait to get into marriage counseling. You CAN wait too long. If the trust and good will between you have eroded too far, the best marriage counselor in the world can’t help you put it back together again. But if you both still want to try, there is always hope.

— Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Growing Self Counseling & Coaching