Navigating a Quarter Life Crisis

Navigating a Quarter Life Crisis

Navigating a Quarter-Life Crisis

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

Music in this episode is from Lone Elm with “okaynowwhat.”

Navigating a Quarter-Life Crisis

Your friends are sending out wedding invites, but you’re still swiping. Your college roommate just updated her LinkedIn with a plum promotion, and you’re wondering whether you want to start over in a new career entirely. By this age, your parents had a mortgage and an infant, and you’re not feeling settled enough to adopt a dog. 

Does this sound like your life? If so, you may be experiencing a quarter-life crisis, or at least flirting with one. A quarter-life crisis happens when we realize we’re not where we think we “should” be in life — or when we realize that the goals we set for ourselves as very young adults don’t match up with the people we’ve become by our late 20s or early 30s. 

A quarter-life crisis, like its midlife counterpart, leaves you feeling stuck and uncertain. But there is a path forward, and following it can bring about a personal growth spurt that will serve you for the rest of your life. 

That’s what we’re discussing in today’s episode of the podcast, which I’m so excited to share with you. My guest is Megan R., a career counselor and coach here at Growing Self. Megan often works with clients navigating this important life phase, helping them find clarity not only about their career paths but about every area of their lives. She’s sharing tips on how to find the right career for you, how to use your internal guidance system to make big, life-changing decisions, and how to ride the waves of doubt and uncertainty that a quarter-life crisis can bring. 

This is a challenging season, but it’s also one that’s teeming with possibility. I hope this conversation helps you see the opportunity in your quarter-life crisis, so you can emerge clearer and stronger than ever before. Some day, you may just look back and think your quarter-life crisis was the best thing that ever happened to you. 

I think you might. 

With love, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Navigating a Quarter-Life Crisis

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

Music in this episode is from Lone Elm with “okaynowwhat.”

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Navigating a Quarter-Life Crisis: Episode Highlights

We all like to feel confident about where we’re headed in life. When we realize we’re not so sure — that, in fact, we may be totally lost — it feels scary. 

But a quarter-life crisis doesn’t have to be a catastrophe. It can be a powerful springboard for growth, if you know how to use it. 

What is a Quarter-Life Crisis? 

Many people in their late 20s or early 30s arrive in counseling or coaching in soul-searching mode. They’ve often started asking themselves big, life-shaping questions, like: 

Am I on the right career path? 

Is my partner “The One?”

Do I want to have kids? 

Should I go back to school?

Do I want to move across the country and start over somewhere new? 

The popular term for this period of uncertainty is a “quarter-life crisis,” and while it’s not a phrase you’re going to find in the DSM, it is a real experience shared by many young adults. 

As the name implies, a quarter-life crisis is uncomfortable. But it’s also an opportunity to gain clarity about who you are and what matters to you most, and then use that insight to move yourself closer to the life you want.

Signs of a Quarter-Life Crisis

No two quarter-life crises look exactly the same. 

Yours might manifest as a feeling of stuckness in an uninspired career, or in a relationship that you know isn’t right for you, but that feels difficult to end. 

It might show up as feelings of regret or despair over not being where you wanted or expected to be at this point in your life, and painful comparisons with your peers who seem to be. 

Or, you may have realized that, even though you have accomplished the goals you set out to accomplish, you don’t feel the way you expected to feel. 

Since many of us define ourselves by our jobs, relationships, and life goals, a quarter-life crisis can strike at the very core of your identity, making it a deeply unsettling experience. Working with a good coach or counselor can help you find the courage to look for answers and then act on them with intention to change your life — without having a full-on breakdown. 

Comparison: The Thief of Joy

Many people in the midst of a quarter-life crisis feel left behind. They may be RSVP’ing to wedding after wedding, without a significant other to mark down as a plus-one. They may be scrolling through Instagram feeds populated by new homes, new engagement rings, and new babies, while feeling mired in a less-established life phase themselves. 

In previous generations, people got married, bought homes, and had children at younger ages, because they were living in an economic and social context that no longer exists. Still, young people today who haven’t reached these milestones may be comparing themselves to their parents and wondering if they ever will. 

Teddy Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” and that certainly applies to anyone experiencing a quarter-life crisis. By resisting the temptation to compare yourself to others, you can empower yourself to carve out your own life path, embrace your growth process, and feel better about your life. 

Navigating a Quarter-Life Crisis

You can emerge from a quarter-life crisis more confident about who you are and what you want, if you use the experience to make positive changes in your life. 

Here are some steps you can take if you’re in the midst of a quarter-life crisis to feel confident about the future, and at peace in the present: 

Explore your Values

Spend some time reflecting on what matters to you the most. It could be family, financial success, independence, partnership, creativity, community, or any number of other important pieces of life. When you have clarity about what you really value, you’ll feel more confident making choices about your future. 

Forgive Yourself

You might be experiencing a lot of regret. Maybe you feel that your education was a waste, given that you’re now contemplating a career change. Or maybe you regret spending time in dead-end relationships, and worrying that you’ll never find a life partner. 

In reality, nothing in your past was a waste. It can all be made useful if you’ll use it to guide your future. Practice forgiving yourself and moving from regret to self-compassion. Make meaning out of where you’ve been, and incorporate that meaning into the story of where you’re going. 

Listen to Your Internal Guidance System

Most feelings have a purpose, even the painful ones. If you’re having a quarter-life crisis, your feelings are alerting you that it’s time to grow. Listen to them. 

You can take good care of yourself emotionally, without stuffing those feelings down or avoiding the big changes that they’re pushing you to make. A good coach or counselor can help you take wisdom from the uncertainty, fear, or hopelessness accompanying your quarter-life crisis, and use those feelings to begin writing your next chapter

Episode Show Notes:

[2:42] What Is A Quarter-Life Crisis?

  • Many coaching and counseling clients in their late 20s or early 30s feel unhappy and unsure about what they want. 
  • To begin probing your own quarter-life crisis, ask yourself: What's going differently from what you expected?

[06:01] The Beginnings Of A Quarter-Life Crisis

  • We choose our careers early in our lives, before we have a clear sense of who we are and what would make us happy. 
  • By age 25 or 30, we often define our lives by our skills and careers.
  • When we realize our careers — or our relationships, or any other major life area — aren’t what we want, it can spark a period of soul searching. 

[09:15] Signs of a Quarter Life Crisis 

  • You may feel stuck or aimless. 
  • It's also common to feel despair, anxiety, and regret.
  • You may be comparing yourself to your peers and feeling that you fall short. 

[15:45] Quarter-Life Crisis: A Generational Curse

  • People in a quarter-life crisis tend to feel left behind.
  • We are not in the same economic or social context that our parents were. 
  • Comparing yourself to others is a surefire way to feel inadequate and unhappy. 

[30:48] Seeking Solace In A Quarter-Life Crisis

  • Make meaning out of where you've come from. 
  • Strengthen your “why.”
  • Share your vulnerabilities with your closest support system, and reach out to a qualified coach or counselor if you need help.

Music in this episode is from Lone Elm with “okaynowwhat.”

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: I am so excited for today's episode because, today, we're talking about how to navigate a quarter-life crisis. Now, “quarter-life crisis” is not a clinical term, and you're not going to find it in the DSM. People are usually not literally freaking out and falling apart. But this is kind of an existential crisis that we do actually often see with clients at a certain phase of life, here at Growing Self.

It's often people in their late 20s, early 30s, who are showing up in counseling, coaching, because they've started asking themselves some big questions. Often for the first time, they're thinking about where they are in their lives, in their careers and their relationships, how they got here, and kind of contrasting that with where they had wanted to be or where they had expected to be in this point in life, or even how they imagined it would feel to be at this point in life.

There's a disconnect there that helps them recognize that maybe they're not doing what ultimately they would like to be, but they didn't realize that without having some life experience first. This can all be a very uncomfortable experience, but also ultimately, a very positive one because it opens the door for some really meaningful self-reflection that generates a lot of positive change.

If any of this is sounding familiar to you, I am so glad that you're here with us today. We're talking about how you can use this crisis as a springboard for growth and come out of it to be more clear, more confident, and ready for the next chapter. With me today to talk all about this, is my colleague, Megan R.

Megan R.: Hello, good to see you.

Lisa: We're leaving our options open, Megan. Quick introduction — Megan is a career counselor, career coach on our team. Just before we started recording, she was sharing with me — Megan, if I may mention this. Is this okay?

Megan: Absolutely.

Lisa: Recently got married. Maiden name is Rankin, married name is Riley. Still a little bit up in the air which way that one's going to fall, so you shall be known as Megan R.

Megan: You know what? It works. When I got my email at Growing Self, I was like, “No matter what I choose, I’m set as Megan R.” Maybe this is part of my quarter-life crisis.

Lisa: It could be.

Megan: It’s trying to determine what is my new identity?

Lisa: What is my name? 

Megan: How do I name myself?

Realizing You’re Having A Quarter-Life Crisis

Lisa: How very appropriate. Well, thank you so much for being here with me today, and sharing your wisdom and insight on this phenomenon of the quarter-life crisis because I know that so many people come to you for help in exactly this situation. Maybe, we could just start with your understanding of what's going on with people when they're like, “Wait a minute, this is different than I thought it would be. Maybe I'm not doing the right thing.” What is that about in your view?

Megan: Absolutely. But quarter-life crisis, it's a newer term, right? We've got mid-life crisis. A lot of people are more familiar with that one. We are seeing a trend towards it happening potentially earlier. It's doesn't get rid of our mid-life crisis, but it's happening sooner for some folks, and it presents in career most.

A lot of times, once clients do come in, they're walking in the door, saying, “Oh, it's my job. I'm not happy with my job.” That's part of it, and I'm glad that that's what gets them on in. But as we get deeper and deeper, we do realize that the quarter-life goes pretty far outside of career. It is relationships, it is where are you living, it's your social group.

Developmentally, in that stage of life, a lot of things are transitioning, and your career is usually the most obvious one. You come on in and you're like, “I'm miserable. I don't know what to do.” We're going to talk about what is going wrong, what isn't going right, what wants to come with you. I loved when you had said, “How is it different?” Because you do hit a point in your career, even in your relationships in your life, that you say, “I had some of this going differently in my mind. Didn’t I?”

Lisa: “That did not turn out the way I planned.”

Megan: It's frustrating, it's scary, it can be disheartening. A lot of people come in and they're like, “I'm not happy with myself. I thought I would do it differently.” There's stuff to unpack there, but the crisis, thankfully, isn't a full-blown crisis.

I don't often get people in meltdown mode, but you are close to that. You are in so much stress and despair that a crisis could feel like the next step for you. It's, unfortunately, a more common experience. COVID has only exacerbated the rates of it and the experience of it, and I'm sure we'll get into a little bit more of that. But it's pretty common at this point.

Lisa: Well, I can see why. I'm saying this as somebody who is much older than you are, but I think I went through a quarter-life crisis in my late 20s. But now, from my perch as a psychologist, what I know now that I didn't know then it's just a huge amount of growth that people experience in that life. I mean, you're a very, very different person in your early 20s. 

When you're making, unfortunately, career decisions like, “What am I going to major in?”, the internships, the first positions right out of school — you are not the same person by the time you're 30, and there's a lot of evolution there. Is that what you see as being the, “How did this happen?” part for yourself, or do you think there are other things? A lot of kids get railroaded into majors and career paths, and they're like 18 years old.

Quarter Life Crisis at 25/30 years old

Megan: Well, I was going to say, I think it starts even earlier than your 20s — these long-term decisions that we're making. You're in high school, and they're asking you about, “What is that elective course you want to take?”, “What's the classic option — business or psychology?” While those are fabulous things to test out, it's only two things in this giant world of career.

Even, pretty much prior to our knowledge, or even conscious awareness, we are beginning a track for ourselves. I find, a lot of times, it's an outside pressure, but it's also an inside lack of resources, which sounds horrible, but it's what's happening.

If you think about 25, 30, when this transition happens, usually the reason you're feeling stuck is because you do lack skills and resources to think critically about what's going on. You know something's wrong, but you're having a trouble putting a name to it, knowing where to go with it, how to get yourself out of that stuckness, that's usually because you have a lack of reflective skills or a lack of career skills.

Lisa: Okay.

Megan: It’s super normal. It's a bummer, but it's totally normal. Think back when you were in middle school, high school, even if you did go to higher education, people are just saying, “What are you going to do,” not, “How did you figure that out? What are you interested in? How does this fit for you? What is the long term?” It's just, “What are you going to do?”

Once you start doing it and doing it's not working, you don't know how to ask the other questions of yourself. It's a little bit of the education system selecting it, almost, for you. You've got those decisions in your majors, you're moving forward with that career, you pick the next entry-level job, but it's also a lack of resources internally that can help you unwind some of that track-setting that happened so early on.

Lisa: That is such a cool perspective. I've never thought about it that way, but you're so right. I think that people have this need to categorize other people, and that's what actually happens. People are asking you, “What's your major?” It's like there's this pressure to define yourself by this whatever it is, and it's not any reflection around, “What is that?”

Megan: I know. Think about, right? We live in a society that has — western culture specifically — identity is so tied to career. We do say things like, “Who are you? What are you doing with your life?” Very strong statements about your career. For some folks, when you do hit 25,30, and you're not identifying — your identity doesn't line up with how you answer that question, that's why it's hitting so deep because it's striking at your identity core.

It's not just what you're doing for a paycheck. This is, “Oh my word. Who am I? What have I become?” Because we think, “If this is what you choose in school, and this is your job, this is who you are.” We don't open up the conversation to, “Are you only your job? Do you have other things going on in your world? Is your identity comprised of multiple pieces?” Let's think about some of those aspects to dig ourselves out of this.

Quarter Life Crisis Signs/Symptoms

Lisa: Taking a much more holistic approach like, “You are not your job”, first of all. But this pressure that people feel to define themselves through those terms? Stifling.

In your experience, and also for the benefit of somebody listening to this, what would you say are some signs — the internal experiences, how people feel when this awareness of mismatch is beginning to emerge? How does it feel for people?

Megan: Absolutely. I would say the first characteristic, at least what folks come in and tell me most, “I feel stuck. I'm just stuck. I don't know where to go. I don't know where I could go if I wanted to change. I don't know how I got here. I'm stuck in thinking patterns.” I would say stuckness is really sort of the first feeling.

The second feeling often too is actually hopelessness. Just this idea that, “I don't even know where I need to go in general. Not just with my career.” This quarter-life crisis we're establishing is outside of just our career, but hopelessness of, “What is next?”, and, “Do I have any control over what's next?”

I see a lot of, almost, signs or symptoms of lack of control, lack of intention. They're 32 years old, they've been in marketing their whole life, and they're like, “I can't even really tell you how I got here. I had no control,” or, “It felt like I had no control over my career. Now, I believe I don't have any control over my next steps. I need intentionality.” Those feelings, they're uncomfortable, they're disheartening, they're isolating. That's also a really big mark of this.

Comparison seems to happen a lot around this age. Developmentally, we're establishing intimacy versus isolation if we wanted to go into a development model, “Are you going to live in this world alone and go at it by yourself? Do you go out and develop…” Typically, it's romantic relationships, but not always. We now are opening that to social relationships. In that, the developing and establishment of relationships, comparison is really natural. You're looking around and, “How is everybody else doing it?”

Another sign of, “Oh my gosh, maybe I'm at that crisis point”, is looking around and saying, ”How the heck are they doing it, and how have I not got there? How have I not figured it out?” I heard a great quote the other day, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Lisa: That's a good one.

Megan: Oh, it's beautiful, and it captures, I think, the quarter-life crisis because there is this idea, “I'll look at someone's LinkedIn”, “I'll look at someone’s Instagram”, I'll look at someone’s social media platforms to see how they're engaging with the world at our age. “Oh my gosh, they seem to be doing it so much better than I am.”

Feelings of stuckness, feelings of hopelessness, comparison — it's, unfortunately, pretty easy to spot for me, not so much for the folks that are experiencing that.

Lisa: Well, that's why I wanted to ask you because I think, sometimes, half the battle is just that self-awareness of, “Oh, I'm going through this thing, and there's a name for it, and there's something that can be done to help.”

Quarter-Life Crisis: A Generational Curse

Lisa: Can I ask you about one part of this — and I'm not sure the degree to which this part is in your wheelhouse because I know you're a therapist, and you're a career counselor, and that's your specialization, and I know that you do very holistic work, so people talk to you about, well, all kinds of things. I have more of a relational perspective.

One of the things that I very often hear from my clients at this phase is, particularly, around the sense of — they use the term “being left behind”. Their friends are getting married, they're buying houses, they're starting to have babies or think about it. That piece creates such an enormous amount of anxiety. When they see other people their age, at least, looking like they're moving into these other phases of life that they're not, do you have insight into that aspect of it too?

Megan: Minimal. Just because relationships isn't the direction I had, but absolutely. As I shared, you'll come in for career concerns — that's how it presents originally. We dig deeper, and we realize it is a dissatisfaction with life, with your social relationships, with your financial status even. That’s a big concern for folks is, “Financially, I don't feel stable or independent like I thought I might at this age.”

A lot of it is because they're looking around, and other folks are hitting some milestones that we see in this age group. What I would add to that, and from my personal experience with clients, there's also a reflecting back on the generation prior to us, “What did my parents do? What did my aunts and uncles do?” Just the generation right above us, comparison happens within that too.

Well, by the time my parents were 28 years old, they were married with three kids, and they got a house and a mortgage, and were investing in another property. Someone's 32 saying, “I don't have that just yet.” I noticed, or what I hopefully share with people is think about the context in which those generations grew up in, and accomplished some of those milestones that you're reaching for.

That context is not the same context we're living in now. COVID, a big, big, big, obvious one that has shifted a lot of things. But think about the state of our economy right now, think about our housing market. There are larger societal contexts that make some of those milestones more challenging to meet for folks in this developmental period. Comparisons happening to even the generations above us, not just the generation that we are currently growing up with.

Lisa: That's a really good point. How validating to consider that it's not necessarily your personal shortcomings that you haven't been able to achieve these things that your parents had done. Actually, legitimately, the bar is higher. The cost of entry to even buy a property is so much more than it was even 5 or 10 years ago. Thank you for bringing that up.

Megan: 100%. To swing it back to career, to keep in my wheelhouse here, we've also seen a shift contextually about how jobs line up. The generations prior to us, there was a little more of a linear path — you started with one company, you worked your way up that ladder, you retired from that company.

I giggle with clients to keep it light-hearted. I say, “Find me someone, nowadays, that does that, that starts with the same company and retired from the same company. I'd like to shake their hand and congratulate them on being one of the only unicorns in the world that do that”, 

because we don't follow that same start-to-finish trajectory.

If that's not matching — your parents had that experience, and your experience now looks a little bit more chaotic, your resume has a lot of jumps in it, and you're thinking to yourself, “I'm failing.” No, the job market’s totally different. It's entirely different. It's not going to benefit you to stay in one company from start to finish anymore. You get to change your mind around that context too because it is very, very different.

Lisa: That's a good point. Although, privately, selfishly, I'm sitting here thinking, “I sure hope you're not going to leave Growing Self, Megan”, because I'll miss you so much if you do.

Megan: No, I’m not going anywhere. It’s too early in my career.

Lisa: I have a gift for turning everything we talk about on this podcast to make it a bit about me. There, we've done it, now we can move on.

Okay, another thing that I did want to ask you about. You said, earlier in our conversation, that one of the things you feel are contributing to this experience, that I wanted to learn more about, you said a lack of critical thinking skills. Can you talk a little bit more about that because I'm feeling that that might be an exit door. If people are feeling trapped, I'm imagining this, “In case of emergency, go through this door,” and there’s “critical thinking” written on it. What does that mean, though? What do you do with that?

Megan: Sure. Critical thinking — what a funny phrase that we toss around because I think it does have a very educational connotation to it. But we forget to take those critical thinking skills and apply it to more abstract things: our lives, our trajectories, where we want to go, our hopes, our goals. We could point fingers all we wanted, but it's not necessarily built into our educational system, our work system.

We don't necessarily take the time to pause and have critical thinking moments as it relates to our future, our career. I've got a colleague that I used to work with in higher education who actually brought that to my attention. She shared, “When I'm looking at folks, and I'm trying to get to the root of where this dissatisfaction is coming from or this lack of direction, it, a lot of times, stems from an inability to reflect.”

All these skills are like muscles. If we don't have strong muscles, it's not going to be our reflex to use those muscles. What we get to do, instead, is say, “Hey, let's build up a reflection muscle. Let's see if we can develop your ability to examine a situation, and try to make some sense out of it.” That's why career work works, is because I help you develop those reflexes and those reflection skills.

Some really easy questions, just to start with, it's exactly what we had began with, “What was your original model, or goal, or vision for where you wanted to go, and how is it different?” It doesn't have to be this really scholarly critical thinking. It's just assessing what's happening, and how is that different than what you thought.

Sometimes, just identifying where the changes occurred, that's relief in itself, because we're like, “Oh, no wonder I'm feeling so lost. None of this worked out the way I thought it did.” It opened up space to move into some problem-solving or planning because you've almost diagnosed yourself. “Oh, I am totally in a different field”, and that's okay, “Maybe, I want to get back to my original field, or maybe I don't. Maybe, I'm learning that my vision did change for a really great reason.” Again, through reflecting, it's, “Well, this new vision fits me better.”

I had a life event occur, and I can't go back to that original vision. I take care of my parents now. I had a kid. I didn't finish my educational program. There's a lot of different things that can change a path, but giving notice or meaning to that, saying, “It's okay that it changed.” That's really helpful. I always recommend, start with the reflection question of, “What's different?” Then, assess what's happening presently. “What do you like right now? What is going well?” 

I would even give that as a recommendation before you jump into your reflection and your critical thinking, “What is going well?”, because there's a chance that there are some things that's going well, and it's a practice of gratitude. It's getting your brain into, hopefully, a more positive space. We're pulling from positive psychology here and saying, “What am I doing well?”

It's a strength-based approach. That, even still, is like, “Okay, now, I'm more willing to face critically what's not going right because I know what is going right, and I feel I have a platform to stand on.” It can be a little easier to bring up or begin to strengthen those critical thinking reflection skills when you start with, “I'm doing okay, but I can do better.”

Lisa: I'm so glad you're bringing that up because I think it's so easy for all of us to get very myopically focused on the things that we don't like, and that aren't going the way that we want them to. That's such a good reminder to not forget all of the strengths and abilities you do have, and to be able to keep those in mind as you begin that reflective process.

You know what I'm actually thinking of right now? I'll tell you this. I have been — it's time, Megan, for us to find an internal bookkeeper person for our growth. I have been spending a lot of time lately talking to financial people, which has been fascinating. I usually talk to therapists all the time, so like, “Ooh, this is — they communicate in spreadsheets. What are we doing here?” 

Anyway, I'm always so interested in people's stories, and with talking with these candidates like, “How did you get into this line of work?” It's been so interesting because for a lot of them, it was, “Well, my dad was an accountant, and he suggested that this would be a stable career”, or, “Well, I just kind of XYZ.” But for a lot of them, you can hear through the lines that their passion was somewhere else, that they had wanted to be doing something else.

I remember speaking with this one young woman who had been doing accounting for outside pressures, as opposed to an internal passion for numbers, which is… As I was speaking with her, I was reflecting to myself that this young woman was an excellent communicator. She was clearly very warm and compassionate. I was thinking about that when you were sharing that just a minute ago.

I could see that person being kind of bummed because, maybe, her career isn't going in the direction that she wanted in bookkeeping, but to use those skills in an HR kind of role, or in a mentorship, or something where she gets to work more with people — to be able to be thinking about that and reminding yourself of the strengths, even if they're not totally a fit with a profession you're in currently. I can see that.

Megan: Well, to add to that, that would be a really nice example of values conflict where, maybe, when she did begin her career, stability, family satisfaction, she had those values for her career. Going into accounting, because that's what mom did, that's what uncle did, whatever it is, that was a value for her.

At the time, what critical thinking and reflection also does, at different stages, is that it says, “You're going to change, and you're going to need to assess, ‘You know what, this is in direct opposition to my values now. My values are different, and that's okay. Maybe, I do want to be in a space where being warm, and friendly, and relational is the priority over numbers and spreadsheets.’” And that's okay.

That's not because you are poor at your job, or chose wrong the first time. You have a values change and, quite honestly, I hope you do, because it means you're changing and adapting and you're having experiences that are shaping you. Again, that reflection can almost validate. “I’m not crazy. I didn't do this wrong the first time, I did it for what was right at that time, and that time’s not here anymore. What is right for this time?”

I also heard another great quote. Rich Feller talks about your career, “It's a series of transitions.” That's the best we can we describe it. Not jobs, but transitions because, sometimes, it's a transition out of a job, it’s a transition into a part-time job. You will continue to have these mismatch conversations with yourself all the way up until you retire, you go back into the workforce, whatever it is, because your job is a series of transitions.

If you can remind yourself, “Hey, that's not serving me now, but that doesn't mean it didn't serve me at one point.” You give yourself a little grace. It’s like, “Hey, self, you did the best you could, let's do that again. I know that in a couple years’ time, we're going to reevaluate and make a different choice, and that's great because it's going to serve us in that moment of our lives.”

Lisa: That's very reassuring. Another question related to this, what would you say to someone in this life space who went down a career path, launched her trajectory and got a few years into it, and realized that they do not enjoy the experience of this particular profession — either their values have changed or it feels different than they thought that it would. 

But they are feeling an enormous amount of guilt, or, sometimes, even fear because of the expense it took to get the degree that allowed them to be an attorney or whatever. There's this — I'm not sure if guilt is the right word, but they’re feeling trapped. Maybe they even have student loan debt or if their parents helped them get this degree and they’re like, “Actually…” I'm sure that that's a familiar conversation with you. Do you know what I'm talking about?

Megan: 100%. It's almost an obligation. I’m with you in that…

Lisa: Obligation. There you go.

Megan: But it's not full guilt. It doesn't sit as deeply as guilt can, but it's an obligation, a sense of — I hear this a lot: “I owe it to fill-in-the-blank. I owe it to my parents to try this out. I owe it to my degree to try it out. I owe it to my boss — my boss stuck their neck out for me to be in this position. I need to tough it out”

So the obligation? Absolutely. It, now, contributes to that stuckness. It's not only, “I don't know, really, where I'm headed and how I got here,” it's, “The way out affects other people. Can I actually make this transition?” I think starting with a conversation about how you got into this field, and what it served at that time is important.

I would always start there because I do want to validate, “It has not been a waste of your time, it has not been a waste of other people's times, it's not been a waste of resources in this field. It's just time to transition.” So we start there. Let's make some meaning out of the decisions you did make, and how you got into this field. Validate it.

Then, understanding how you want to transition and what that's going to look like for you. It sounds silly, but it often alleviates the obligation. When you explore values, when you explore strengths, when you explore skills, when you explore interests, identifying the next step, the next direction, it can feel so personal.

I've got folks that say, “Well, I don't really know why I'm here, but I'm going to make this transition,” and they select a different field, and then begin whatever process to get into that field. When it's such a fit, and it's so personal, because it is based on values and skills and experiences and interests, the obligation has a funny way of dissipating.

When you do engage in those conversations with mom and dad who footed that student bill, and you need to explain that you're changing, the idea of not going in this next direction, it's just not an option. You come to mom and dad, and say, “I am so grateful, and I want you to know how that experience that you paid for has set me up to move into this new transition.”

Added from a very personal stance, a leveraging experience happens — that's the second big question I get, “How the heck am I going to become an attorney after I've been a firefighter for all these years? Those skills don't make sense.” Believe it or not, almost every job has transferable skills. That is the beauty of this age that we live in. A lot of jobs have things that we can bring over.

When we go at it from a personal experience, we make meaning out of where you came from, what you've been up to, what you've been building — that lets you also transition into this field with gusto because you're like, “Look, Mom and Dad, if I had not taken that one class, I would never have known I did have this latent excitement for this new field”, “If I hadn't pursued my CPA exam…”

Oh my gosh, that exam right now is the hot topic. I don't know what's going on. I've had more clients come in to me about the CPA exam that's going on. But when they do come on in, and they're getting ready and gearing up to transition, they say, “But you know what, I can use Excel. No one else can use Excel now, and this new field that I'm heading into, it's critical.”

It's not a direct, “You went here, so now you're going into this job.” I did a little meandering, but those skills were direct links. It's a complicated process because it's very individualized. But when we do start with, “Where did you come from? How did you get here? Who are you, and where do you want to go,” the obligation, it will lessen just naturally. Very naturally.

Seeking Solace In A Quarter-Life Crisis

Lisa: I hear what you say. It's like you have to have this really powerful, exciting “why”. You have to have clarity about what you want to move forward to. Then, that last part sort of releases… But you know what, I'm also thinking right now — you know our colleague, Dr. Lisa? Another fabulous career counselor that I've had the privilege of speaking to.

She talks a lot about your narrative — the story that you tell yourself, and I'm just hearing that and what you're saying too, and it's like changing the story to, ”Actually, you have to have different life experiences and learn about different things in order to create clarity.”

To learn from that is how it actually works, as opposed to beating yourself up that you're changing your mind. That's the story. Actually, you have to do that. Is that what I'm hearing?

Megan: 100%. Those varied experiences contributed to your feelings of stuckness, contributed to this desire to change, and will contribute to your success in your next role, in your next educational endeavor, in your long-term career. That's why starting with, “How did you get here?”, has to be square, circle, number zero. Otherwise, we're going to learn about you, and that's great, and we're going to move you into the next path with intention and very personalized information, but you're right, the “why” doesn't feel as strong.

It can feel like an untold part of your story. I have all of my clients that they come on in and we're going to do any sort of job searching, whatever they come in for — I start with their story. There's a lot of benefits to it, but it's ownership of that story, of that narrative, being able to tell it, not only clearly.

It's an interview skill, it's a resume skill, it's going to help you at job searching. It’s also going to allow you to release yourself and say, “That was critical for me to take that odd job that doesn't fit on my resume anymore. But do you remember that one colleague I met? They’re how I know I need to be in a different field.” Making meaning out of where you've come from, it strengthens your “why”. Absolutely.

Lisa: I love that. Making meaning from where you come from strengthens your “why”. That's so good.

I know we don't have a ton of time left together, but I am curious to know. For the benefit of somebody listening to this right now, and who has been feeling that stuckness, maybe who has been feeling dissatisfied, but also beating themselves up because they don't know what else to do. What would your advice be to them for how to get started in moving forward?

I'm hearing you say that it is very much a process — that asking yourself why. But what are some easy first steps that somebody could do, either on their own or with a career counselor like yourself?

Megan: Absolutely. Step one: Nice, big, deep breath, and acknowledging, like we had started, knowing there's a name for this experience. That in and of itself can be relieving. Take a second to pause and say, “I am going through something, and it makes sense that I'm going through something.” Give that some time to chew on. Big deep breath to start.

I would say, and this could even happen prior to your reflection questions or critical thinking that you're going through, reach out to your network. It is the top thing that gets missed in job searching because we do it in a vacuum. Even folks that are coming in to me, I'm your support network. That's fabulous. I don't know you the way mom and dad does, cousin does, roommate does, partner does, spouse does, grandparents do.

They have a very intimate view, often, into your life, and can speak to some of the dissatisfaction. They can remind you of, “Do you remember when you did make that choice to move into that career? This was going on?” “Grandma, you're totally right. Thanks for reminding me that.”

Always if you can, start with your support network to just pour back into yourself and feel, “People do know me, they love me, they support me.” It normalizes not just, “Hey, I am a person going through this.” A lot of times people are like, “Oh my gosh, me, too.”

Lisa: I was just thinking. This experience is so common, but everybody else seems like they have it all figured out, they seem like they have clarity. Why don't people talk about this more? Megan, what is that about?

Megan: Because these realizations happen at midnight when you're laying in bed, scrolling on social media, and you're like, “Who am I going to call?” No, I’m just joking. But it can be like this obligation that we're talking about, those feelings of guilt, maybe.

Lisa: Like ashamed almost, is that it?

Megan: That's exactly where my brain was going. There's shame around, “I don't have this figured out, I don't know where I'm going.” We are a very curious set of people in the States, and that's great, but how often do we say, “Where are you going with your job? What do you do with work? Are you liking it? Are you having fun?” When you don't have answers to those questions, avoid the questions, avoid the situations you would have those questions —  the holidays.

Lisa: Maintain the facade.

Megan: “I am doing well, I'm fine. Everything is great”, and in reality, you're cracking under all of this. It’s shame-filled to share a lot of that stuff. That's why I say start with your support network because those are people who can hold that shame with you, who are safe, and you can be vulnerable and be like, “This isn't going well.”

Your vulnerability is going to lead to their vulnerability often, and they're going to share, “You know what? I had the same thing happen. You know what? I am currently experiencing that now.” That's the best-case scenario. Like, “You too? Let’s see if we can figure this out.”

Starting with your support network — validating, encouraging. Also, it's going to set you up for job search success because, now, other people, not necessarily in your professional network, but your personal network, know that you're potentially job searching. That is your best tool in networking, is telling as many people as possible that you are looking for a new job because now you're on their brain.

When something comes up in their company, when they see a job posting, they're like, “Oh my gosh, Megan and I just had a conversation about this. She's looking for a job. Maybe, I could pass this on to her.” You begin to leverage other people's networks when you invite them into your own network. It's a really cool — not even a trick of the trade. I know a lot of folks that do that, but we forget that because we are so stuck.

It's shame and guilt-ridden, and we're not feeling great. We don't want to reach out, we don't want to talk to other people and share that experience. Yet, when we do, all these benefits seem to unwind or unravel. I always recommend: take a big, old, deep breath. Start with your support system, see how they can help you. Then, jump into some of your reflection, if you can.

When I look into quarter-life crisis — I was curious how it was being talked about in the media right now. Every article I came across had reflection questions to ask yourself. “Here's what to consider if you do want to make a change, if you are in this quarter-life spot.” You don't even have to come up with the reflection questions on your own, they're all on Google.

Lisa: You can Google them.

Megan: You can Google everything. One day, my job is going to be obsolete because Google will be me, and they will ask all the questions. Spend some time journaling, writing it out.

Lisa: Well, no because I want to bring something up because one of the things — I am all about a good journaling question. I know from my own experience and others’, here's what I think is important: We have blind spots. There are things about us that we don't know, and that's why I think having a relationship, either a trusted friend, a counselor, or a coach, because they can ask you questions or reflect things back to you that you would literally not connect.

Megan: 100%.

Lisa: But I also know that a lot of people, unfortunately, don't have access to an amazing counselor, or a coach like yourself, to be shining that spotlight on, “Okay, but what about this?” To take the personal reflection questions, are there any tricks or tips that you have for people to help themselves get past what they know and access new information about themselves through these questions, or is that just —

Megan: Yes. It's not as easy. It is hard. It's why a counseling or a coaching relationship can be so beneficial, and expedite this process. I have, again, Rich Feller, a colleague that I'm working with — we're talking a lot about unknowns, hidden things, blind spots that need to be resolved. Typically, those blind spots are what keep you from success or moving forward.

A good indicator or a place to maybe uncover that: What are your self-doubts? What are your concerns? What are insecurities? Blind spots often show up in those, and that is something — our self-talk As much as we would like to avoid it, we all know our own insecurities, we all know our shortcomings, we all know our doubts. How to answer those questions — that's a nice place to open up a blind spot.

I'll give an example here. I see this blind spot — I don't know if how I come across in that meeting is effective or non-effective. That's a blind spot. That's probably an insecurity for someone. I don't know how I show up in this space. I'm really concerned that I don't show up well. Start with what your concerns are about yourself. That's a pretty good indicator that might be an area where you could do some work, do some self-exploration, and uncover, hopefully, some of the unknown about yourself.

Lisa: That is such good advice, and I'm so glad that you're talking about this right now. I do say this as a grizzled Gen X-er who is deeply suspicious of many things happening on social media, but it's like there's this sort of, “Rah, rah, positive thinking, girl boss, take no prisoners, you got to manifest,” you know what I'm talking about.

What you're saying is that, actually, the door to cracking into a lot of this stuff is giving yourself permission to tap into the darkness, and go there, and write about that stuff — the part that maybe you're a little bit afraid of. That's really where you can make contact with these. Thank you. I'm so glad we're talking about this. You are a force of good in the world, Megan.

Megan: Thank you. Hey, I'm just here to help. Again, open those blind spots for you. If I can expedite that process at all by saying, “What is troubling you?”, let's go there. Sometimes, it is easier to have those conversations with somebody else because it is scary when you're alone with that journal, and you're kind of having to take a look in the mirror.

Sometimes, having someone that you trust in a coaching or counseling relationship to guide you through that conversation, that's just the little extra support that we do need. Some folks, they're like, “Forget it. I got it. I can do this on my own.” Awesome. Other folks, come on in if it's not feeling like, “This is something I can tackle and resolve on my own.”

Lisa: Well, thank you so much. I'm very grateful, though, that you shared so much actionable advice for people who really do — if I were listening to this, I would have like, “Okay, these are a list of questions I need to think about. I am going to resist this toxic positivity and actually tap into this other stuff”, and really giving people a roadmap if they've been dealing with this. There’s so many people are — for how to begin to move forward again.

Thank you so much, Megan — from me, but also on behalf of our listeners today. This was a lot of fun.


Megan: Thanks for having me on. This is a subject that's pretty near and dear to my heart, considering my personal age, but also just what we're noticing in career trends. Always grateful that someone's willing to listen to me babble about what I'm excited about. So thank you.

Seizing the Opportunity of the Great Resignation

Seizing the Opportunity of the Great Resignation

Seizing the Opportunity of the Great Resignation

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

Music in this episode is by Love, with the song “Red Telephone.” 

Seizing the Opportunity of the Great Resignation

If you’ve tuned into the news over the past year or so, I’m guessing you’ve heard about “The Great Resignation.” Here’s the gist of it, just in case: So many workers have left their jobs and forged new career paths over the course of the pandemic that employers in nearly every field are struggling to fill positions and keep their operations up and running. 

Among our career counseling and coaching clients, there are so many reasons for this, from difficulty finding child care, to burnout, to working conditions that feel unsafe. But for many, the pandemic has brought something else into focus: awareness about what’s actually important to them, what they want to be doing with their time, and how they really feel about their work. 

I believe this is an expression of post-traumatic growth, and it’s one of the few silver linings of the past two years. When we live through traumatic events, we tend to emerge with new clarity about what really matters, and we can use that insight to change our lives for the better. And your career is an excellent place to start — we spend an enormous chunk of our lives at work, and I hope that you’ll do everything you can to choose work that feels meaningful, rewarding, and worthwhile to you. 

If the pandemic has inspired you to consider a big career change, this episode of the podcast is for you. My guest is Dr. Lisa S., a past president of the National Career Development Association, former director of career services at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and a career counselor and coach here at Growing Self. 

We’re talking about what the Great Resignation means for you, and how you can use this moment as a springboard for radical, positive career growth. I hope you’ll tune in, on this page, Spotify, Apple podcasts, or wherever you listen. 

All the best, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Seizing the Opportunity of the Great Resignation

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

Music in this episode is by Love, with the song “Red Telephone.” 

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Seizing the Opportunity of the Great Resignation: Episode Highlights

If the pandemic has you questioning whether you’d be happier in a different job, or on a different career path entirely, you may be an excellent candidate to join the Great Resignation — or benefit from it, whether or not you actually quit your job. 

Millions of American workers have left their jobs over the course of the pandemic, and this reshuffling of the workforce has created new opportunities for job seekers in many fields. If you’re considering a big career change, the Great Resignation may be your moment. 

What is the Great Resignation? 

Since the onset of the pandemic, an unprecedented number of workers have voluntarily left their jobs. Career experts call this phenomenon the Great Resignation, AKA the “Big Quit,” and say it signals a major shift in our attitudes toward work. 

One of the few silver linings of the pandemic may be this time to reflect on what’s most important to us, and how we’d really like to be spending our time. If you’re considering a career change amidst the Great Resignation, you’re in great company — and your timing is impeccable. 

Great Resignation Statistics

Nearly four million workers quit their jobs every month in 2021, the highest monthly average since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started keeping records in 2000. The trend peaked in November with 4.5 million quits — a staggering three percent of the total American workforce. 

This produces a great climate for job seekers, who will find many open positions and many employers willing to make concessions on salary, location, and other conditions in order to attract workers. 

Reasons for the Great Resignation

Why are so many people quitting their jobs en masse? 

No one can say for sure what’s driving the Great Resignation. But many people have arrived in career counseling because, after a period of introspection during the pandemic, they’re starting to see their careers through a new lens — and to question whether they’re really content with their “life’s work” such as it is. There’s data to back up this observation too; a survey by Indeed found that 92 percent of Great Resigners say “Life is Too Short to Stay in a Job You’re Not Passionate About.” 

In the midst of a public health crisis, people are not only sacrificing their time for work, but also in many cases their safety, which calls into question whether or not the tradeoff is really worth it. If you’re not doing what you love, chances are it’s not. 

Seizing the Opportunity of the Great Resignation 

The news is full of headlines about workers leaving their jobs and employers struggling to fill positions. For any worker who’s not totally content where they are, this moment presents an opportunity to get unstuck and find something better. 

If you’re not paid what you should be, not happy with what you’re doing, or you’re feeling stuck in a toxic workplace, this could be the time to make your move. During a labor shortage, workers have the upper hand, and your chances of getting hired elsewhere are good. 

Finding Meaning Through Work

Many people have quit their jobs not just because of the pay or working conditions, but because they’ve realized their work isn’t really their passion. Ultimately, it’s hard to feel passionate about anything that’s not attached to any greater meaning for you. 

So, how can you find work that feels meaningful, if you’re currently in a career that feels pointless, uninteresting, or empty? Getting in touch with your core values is a great place to start. Maybe you value creativity, or service to others, or teamwork, and there’s a career out there that would allow you to live out those values more closely. Find out what you value, and you’ll find out what motivates you and ultimately what makes work feel meaningful. 

Making the Great Resignation Work for You

If you have goals for your career, it’s important to be proactive about them. Wandering from one job to another without a clear outcome in mind is unlikely to lead you where you’d like to go. 

The Great Resignation and the labor market it’s created is an opportunity to reflect on the current state of your career, reimagine what’s possible, and make a bold, strategic move that sets you up for a bright career future.  

Episode Show Notes:

[02:53] The Great Resignation of 2021

  • The pandemic has produced an overwhelming workforce turnover, with 4.5 million workers resigning from their jobs in November 2021 alone.
  • Many employees who left their jobs say they feel life is too short for work they aren’t passionate about.
  • With so many ways to earn income, people don’t need to settle for jobs they dislike.

[10:34] Developing Your Passion

  • A sense of mastery arises when you're good at what you do. This can be incredibly rewarding. 
  • The silver lining of the pandemic is that people have found time to reflect on their ideal pursuits. 

[31:37] Growth Opportunities in Leadership

  • Some employers choose to just reassign their employees instead of firing them.
  • Recurring self-doubt makes it hard to pursue your career goals. Counseling can help. 
  • If you desire positive outcomes in your career, you need to be proactive about seeking them out.

Music in this episode is by Love, with the song “Red Telephone.” 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: On this episode of the podcast, we are talking about the great resignation, and more importantly, what it means for you and how to use this moment as an opportunity to maybe reevaluate what you have been doing in your own career, and talk about where you might want to go next. To join me in this conversation, once again, I'm visiting with my colleague, Dr. Lisa S.. 

Dr. Lisa is an expert career counselor. She's a past president of the National Career Development Association and a past president of the Colorado Career Development Association. She was the Director of Career Services at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She is the author of numerous book chapters on the subject of career counseling. Today, she's here to share her wisdom with you to understand what is going on in the world around us as it relates to career. 

I think both of our goals for today's conversation is for you to listen to this episode and hopefully leave it with some new ideas, and at least even new questions to be asking yourself to help you get clarity on what you really want to be doing with your career — and by extension, your life. Dr. Lisa, thank you so much for joining me again today.

Dr. Lisa S.: Oh, thank you. It's my pleasure.

Lisa Marie Bobby: Well, I really appreciate your time. I have to tell you, I got so much wonderful feedback from the last podcast that you and I recorded together a while ago on your thoughts about how to use narrative techniques to get clarity around starting a new chapter. That was just so helpful to many of my listeners, so thank you.

Lisa S.: Thank you. That was a lot of fun. I've heard from a lot of people as well. That's always wonderful to get that feedback.

Lisa Marie Bobby: Well, you have a lot of great wisdom to share. I invited you back, of course, to talk about today. As you know, there's so much in the news lately —- this idea about the great resignation they're calling it, which is people leaving their jobs in pursuit of we hope something better, something more meaningful. 

It's like a reshuffling of the deck. There are people leaving positions, but also a lot of people coming into new ones, just as an extension of that. First of all, as a career counselor, you're sitting with people day in and day out as they're sort of grappling with these big, “What do I do with my life?”, kinds of questions. What do you make of this?

Lisa S.: It's definitely been interesting. The word I use most often with clients is, “The job market’s just really weird right now.” I should probably come up with something much more wise.

The Great Resignation of 2021

Lisa Marie Bobby: But seriously, in all seriousness, you've been a career counselor for a long time. How is this weird or different than historically what you have experienced?

Lisa S.: Just as a marker if you will, I'm very curious to see what the total 2021 numbers are. They're not quite out yet from the Department of Labor. But in November, 4.5 million workers quit their job. A million of those were in leisure and hospitality — your quintessential customer service roles. That's 3% of the whole workforce in terms of turnover and why recruiters and other folks who hire going kind of nuts — 3% of the entire workforce. That's just amazing. Assuming that the trend continued into December, those are records.

Lisa Marie Bobby: I mean, forgive me. I'm so ignorant here. I don't even have a frame of reference. What's typical?

Lisa S.: That's a really good question.

Lisa Marie Bobby: I have to cite statistics… significantly more than —

Lisa S.: Absolutely. Unemployment tends to hang around 5—6%. Depending on where you are in the country, that may vary greatly. But 3% of the whole workforce turning over is just amazing. Yeah. I don't know if you're the same, but just anecdotally — walking around, or trying to order things online, or trying to go to your restaurant that's closed, or changed hours — nobody has the help that they need right now. It is an interesting piece. 

I think a huge part of that is reading a survey that Indeed did have the workers that take part in their social media/professional website with job seekers, and they did one back in March, and 92% of the respondents said the pandemic made them feel life is too short to stay in a job they weren't passionate about. To me, that was huge. Because oftentimes — I can remember when you were talking about sort of historically where does this fit. 

I remember back in 2005, 2006. I was working at the university at the time. That was when the recession hit. People were having a very difficult time finding jobs. The first thing that every article said was, “If you're unemployed, contact your alma mater.” Being at an alma mater, none of us were prepared for that. For the most part, we didn't work with alums. That was a huge shift in terms of helping people to find jobs. 

But it was nothing like this — which is not just about high-level of unemployment, or inflation, and those kinds of pieces to me. There's been a shift in terms of, “Not only am I going to give you my time, but I may be sacrificing my safety.” There may be other things that are going on, like childcare that's really hard. People have — I think, that part is really key in terms of, “I have to really want to do this, or I'm not going to”, which was, I think, very rare before and is becoming more and more common.

Lisa Marie Bobby: Well, that's one of my big takeaways from our last conversation is your observations about this trend towards empowerment that people do feel this greater sense of agency and choice. I think this idea that is really coming back into the collective consciousness that our careers are — I don't mean this in a hyperbolic way — truly are our life's work in many ways. I know some people have careers that are supporting other aspects of their life. 

They are actually just earning a paycheck so that they can do what is meaningful in other parts of their life. But I think for a lot of people, and I'm included in this, it is our life's work, and to find that meaning, and passion, and value in that. Do you feel like that is a newer thing in the sense that people almost have permission to do this in a way that they didn't before? Or is it because of that introspective period from the pandemic?

Lisa S.: It's very interesting. I think it's a combination, of course, of a lot of different things that are all happening concurrently. But I do think that underlying piece of — at this point, it has to be more. It has to be more than a paycheck, especially as people have become creative about how they do income, how they earn income, and those kind of pieces that they don't necessarily have to settle anymore. So, why are they going to? 

In our culture, especially, but I think it's true in a lot of places. Work is the way we connect with the world. We even talk about it as that “work-life balance: as if those are two very separate, very different things. The pandemic that sent everybody home, and the estimate is about half of us then worked from home, and about half of the careers out there are not careers you can do from home. That shifted. 

It would be very interesting to see how it's going to shift back if and when we return to some different — people say “return to normal”. I'm not sure normal is really the goal, but whatever — it looks like moving forward and to see what that looks like. Again, if we do have this sort of stronger mingling of home and work that the pandemic has brought about, what is that going to look like moving forward? How do we build in those things that we're passionate about and where that comes from? 

I mean, I think in terms of that — we got to a place and it seems like natural progression where we got to a place where work really consumed us and was kind of unbalanced in terms of the role it took in our life.

Lisa Marie Bobby: Glorified even in the culture, really.

Lisa S.: Then, when other things came up, people are worried about getting COVID, of course — especially before vaccines. But even now, that's not a universal thing that people do, so it stays with us. Childcare is nuts. I don't have kids. I know you do. That's a piece — it's crazy. When paying for childcare became more expensive than what you were able to earn, that was so crazy. Of course, then — that left, and that's still a challenge. 

I think that the competition for workers, as he said, “If you go to restaurants now, and you have to wait. There's open tables, but they don't have enough servers.” That people are leaving because people feel confident that they're going to be able to find something better now. It's all out there in the news. Everybody's leaving their jobs. Well, if I think my job is is pretty bad, I'm pretty sure I can find a better one. 

If you don't pay well, and you don't have good working conditions, people are out of there — which I see as a silver lining in terms of outcomes from this particular job market that it's equalizing salaries and working conditions, especially in low wage working opportunities. That's fabulous. I really hope that that sticks with us.

Developing Your Passion

Lisa Marie Bobby: That would be such a positive thing. But it's interesting what you were saying, too. It's like people are leaving. But I think for many people — who aren't in low-wage situations who are just seeking better opportunities. There are also a lot of people who are leaving jobs in search of meaning, in search of that passion. 

Can you say more in your experience? If somebody is listening to this and has been feeling their chosen career has been lacking in that meaning that passion — in your experience, where do people find meaning in their work, passion in their work? What is it about work? 

I guess, what I'm asking is — is it certain kinds of jobs, or careers, or industries that are more meaningful than others? Or, is it sometimes mindset that helps create meaning in the work that you do? Where does that sense of meaning come from in your experience?

Lisa S.: It's a great question. I would say in terms of the clients that I've worked with, some have had that experience of having a job. It's interesting because oftentimes, as early on in their career, and it wasn't a particularly prestigious position, or a big title, or a huge paycheck — but they have that sense of flow. When you're in a job, and you're kind of moving between tasks, and you feel that sense of expertness, “I actually know what I'm doing. I can do this.” 

That passion, then, comes from that. Or, they're working for a particular cause that they're passionate about. I always think of that with me. I feel so lucky to be able to do this work because I love hearing people's stories. If I can be helpful in some way in that time, it just feels so good. You're completely in that flow. If a client has had that experience, then we can kind of unpack all that and figure out where it came from.

If you're not experiencing that now, why? What's happened in the meantime? Life kind of happens — there's career trauma, and there's great supervisors, and there's bad supervisors. Sometimes, you can promote yourself right out of being happy and dying yourself in a position where you're a little bit trapped. The money's good, the title’s good, the prestige is good — yet, you're not doing the things that you really enjoy doing. 

That's one set is to sort of recreate the environment in which that happen. For some people, they've never felt that. Work has always been a struggle. They've never felt that kind of passion. I think of it kind of as a blank slate. “Let's go back to the beginning. If it hasn't been worked, find other examples of when you've had that experience in your life and what you can bring forward.” 

I do think that this wacky time period in our collective history of the pandemic has, as you said, given people permission to say, “You know what? I don't like this at all.” Whether it's a refocus on, “I want to bring something to the world. I want it to be meaningful — the work that I've done instead of just moving things from one side to another. I really want to build something.” Whatever the case may be. 

I do think that it's been a time of great reflection, and people have really thought about, “Alright, I'm giving this my time, and potentially my health exposure and my family, and all of those pieces — it's got to be worth it.” Again, I feel like that's kind of a silver lining of the time period because people are — they're stressed up to here. If there's something that they can do to make a change, to really bleed into all of those other pieces of their life — that they're taking the time to do that. I think it's a wonderful — again, weird outcome of this time period.

Lisa Marie Bobby: Weird, but maybe understandable. As we're talking, I'm thinking right now this idea of post-traumatic growth. I don't know if you're familiar with that — that might be more of a psychology term than a career term. But this thing that we see oftentimes is — we think of post-traumatic trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, that something bad happens or scary happens, and that there's this, “Never the same!” 

Actually, the moral of the truth is that when people do live through really hard, awful things, there's often a lot of like growth and personal reflection, like making contact with core values and sort of a reset of priorities that on the other side of those traumatic life experiences. There's an enormous amount of growth and positive change that sometimes never would have happened had that person not gone through that.

I was just sort of thinking the same thing like that kind of collective trauma, especially when it was really intense like shutdowns, people are looking at this existential like, “Am I going to die if I leave the house without a mask on?” Like that whole thing — and just how reflective that makes you. The connection that I'm hearing you say too — that meaning and happiness in work, that sometimes it can come from mastery, feeling just really good like you're surfing on top of the wave and know exactly what to do in that flow experience. 

But that the other piece of meaning that you talked about was very much attached to that, like core personal value. For you, you were saying, “It's around that helping value.” For others, that might be the building value. I've talked to so many creative people — and for many of them, it's just the opportunity to create things, to have had ideas and sort of actualized them, that the act of creation is very meaningful. 

That's what I'm hearing you say is that to either figure out what that is based on your historical experiences — or if it is a blank slate, try to find that basic value, that pillar of meaning. Then, you can start to design a career around what would allow you to be helpful — what would allow you to build something; what would allow you to create. Is that what I'm hearing you say? 

Lisa S.: Absolutely. That's why to me, the narrative work fits so well because it is designed around identifying what those themes are. I think this time period, in addition to the fact that people just did have more time on their hands because we weren't supposed to do things, especially in big groups and those types of things. But also, again, that that sense of reflection, I really do think that that sort of theme around — we all now feel like life is short. 

Before, we kind of had become somewhat complacent about what that looks like, “I really don't like my job. I'm playing the lottery most weeks. So, I'm trying to find something new. But it's fine, it pays the bills.” We kind of do get stuck in that. This whole period of time has been a major shake-up of those kinds of things, like, “Do I even like what I'm doing anymore? Do I like the people that I work with? Am I feeling positive?” 

I think about is that most jobs are stressful, but it isn't the type of stress that you actually want to engage in and find a challenge, and is sort of thrilling stress versus the, “I don't want to get up this morning. I feel a little nauseous Sunday nights because I don't want to go to work on Monday.” If it's given us permission in a way to kind of step back and say, again, “Life is short. I want to enjoy what it is that I'm doing.” 

For a lot of people, that's been retirement, which has been sort of interesting too like, “I want to do it on my own terms. I'm not so sure I can do it through work, I'll do it through volunteering or when we are allowed to, again, traveling.” Those types of pieces., “To me, it's not worth it anymore. If my plan was to retire in 10 years — hey, maybe I do that now.” 

I think it's not only the great resignation — not only people moving from job to job, but I think there are some that are like, “You know what? I think I'm good. I'm out.” So that's been interesting too.

Lisa Marie Bobby: That is interesting that it isn't always people leaving one situation and moving into another, but really just sort of questioning the idea of working for compensation entirely — that I'm going to expend my energy doing things just because I want to do them.

Lisa S.: Absolutely. I think that's been some changes well, which is a little bit different. We haven't quite touched on it yet. But there are certainly patterns in terms of where people are leaving as well. I mean, I mentioned leisure and hospitality — certainly, the customer service angle. For some people, there are a lot of really kind-hearted and generous people out there who started tipping three times as much as they had before and really recognize.  

There are other people who have taken their own personal stress out on other people. I think in leisure and hospitality, that's been a big piece. But also, obviously, with people traveling less frequently, and those types of issues — there's also been downsizing in those fields as well. But some of the other ones like health care and teaching, I really can’t. 

I have a number of teachers that I'm working with right now. Their lives have just been nuts over the last few years — totally changing the way that they teach from in-person to online, managing what that looks like, seeing directly into kids’ homes and what that looks like… Just the level of change, and again, putting their own health and safety at risk. That piece that used to be a great sense of accomplishment for them and sense of purpose and meaning, and now is just the frustration has overwhelmed all of that. 

I think, again, in health care and teaching, and then hospitality and customer service, there are also folks that are like, “I've done what I can do, but I can't take it anymore and I'm ready to move on to whatever is next.” It's been interesting to hear people's stories talk about your career trauma. For a lot of people, that's been really difficult. 

Leadership Systems at Work

Lisa Marie Bobby: Because that was something, in the last podcast, that we sort of touched on and didn't really have time to fully explore. But that the idea of career trauma is so real. I think it doesn't get enough acknowledgment or like airtime just in the general zeitgeist. But like, when you were just talking about people in the health care professions or educators — there's the work itself, but they're also, in some ways, battling these very large systems that are in place around — 

Certainly, public education or large hospital systems. I'm curious to know, when you talk to people who are really coming out of positions or careers that were traumatizing for them, is that sort of a pattern in what you see? Are there big systems? Or, is it more really toxic relationships with leaders or supervisors? What have you noticed with that over the years?

Lisa S.: That's a great question. I think the answer is both. I mean, certainly, absolutely — now, you can hear the systemic pieces. I’ve talked to people who actually are on the East Coast, so they're in a position where they can work in, say three different states, depending on where they live. They'll change because of the leadership in that state. They'll look for a job in another because the system is so different. 

The Department of Education, even just the governor's office looks really different from everything — from mask mandates to vaccines, and everything else. The systemic stuff, absolutely, is a problem for folks, and how that looks like, what it looks like, how it plays out. It’s very interesting. There's also, as you mentioned, the relationship piece. 

I hear all the time people are being basically bullied at work by supervisors and peers. There's a power dynamic there as there is in systems too, of course. But individually, a power dynamic where something's going on, and there can be a bazillion underlying reasons: bosses who feel threatened, bosses who really are incompetent, they take that out on their supervisees — there's a lot — and just people who are naturally bullies. 

There's still not a whole lot people can do about it. There are more and more systems put in place for sexual harassment, which is great. Still, I think not necessarily all that helpful. If you're in a bad situation where you're going to work every day and somebody, usually not literally, is beating you down, that's something you need to get out of. Absolutely, there are parallels with relationship work — friendships, families, partners, like all of the above. Sometimes, there's some things that you can try to help it be better. But oftentimes, it's just leaving. 

You can get HR involved in those sorts of things, but oftentimes that ends up making a situation — maybe it helps improve the system a little bit. We'll cross our fingers and hope that's true. But this situation by then is so uncomfortable that really the only way you can handle it is to move to something better. It's balancing that out. I always kind of tread lightly in terms of that because I want to help someone fight the fight if that's what they want to do. 

Absolutely, how can I support you in doing that? Also support people who are like, “I just got to get out of here.” Fine. Let's do that. Sometimes, that's parallel work. But I think if you've got someone with a little bit of work experience and ask them about, “What has been your best situation at work? What has been the worst?” Everybody has horror stories about people they've worked with, or systems they've worked in — exactly, as you said, supervisors that have been terrible — everybody has stories. 

Just like as in any other kind of trauma, how do you integrate that into your story moving forward is so important. Does that become energy for moving forward? Does it make you a better supervisor because you now know what not to do in terms of your own clients? How can you build on that and integrate it in so that it's not dragging on you moving forward, but becomes part of your growth? 

Exactly, as you said — it's an interesting challenge, but most people, I think, get excited about that idea, “Hold on, this doesn't necessarily just need to be baggage I carry with me for the rest of my life — but I can find a place for it, learn from it if I can, and then move on without it.” I think ultimately, that's the goal. But certainly, yeah… 

Just reading the news about stories over the last few years. Again, you can read great stories about the wonderful things that happened, and just awful stories, especially in healthcare and teaching, and customer service, and all kinds of areas.

Lisa Marie Bobby: Well, let me ask you this, though. Because I don't specialize in career work the same way that you do because I think careers are such a large part of everybody's life. I do often, when I'm working with my private clients — we do talk about, sometimes, the things that they're experiencing in their jobs. 

Oftentimes, it is, “I like what I'm doing but there's the supervisor who has unreasonable expectations.” Or, like you say, beating people down — a lot of negativity, even like aggression, not physical aggression, but like that sort of emotional aggression. It can be hard to change jobs. It's not an easy thing to do. Sometimes, it's not as black and white. People might have other reasons for wanting to stay and work it out like go into a relationship. 

I guess, I'm curious to know — have you ever seen it get better for people who are in a situation where they have an aggressive, weirdo supervisor, and they have been able to either do something or have a courageous conversation or affect positive change so that it gets better? Or, are you always with people like, “Just pull the ripcord. Just get out of there.”? What do you say to that?

Lisa S.: Just to be real. It is rare if you have that situation. It's rare. I think people stick around for a number of different reasons. Again, not unlike many relationships. One, you can look at somebody's history, especially within a company, and it could be they'll move along. Sometimes, people stay because they're sort of waiting it out, especially if it's a supervisor who's kind of bounced around to different areas. That is a strategy that people have to kind of wait. 

Lisa Marie Bobby: Last man standing. 

Lisa S.: Some of that, again, is values-based because I think a lot of people are incredibly dedicated to their jobs, their clients, their co-workers, the actual content of the work that's being done. I think there's the sense — and I totally get this of, “I don't want to let all those people down because of this jackass.” But at the same time, I do think that it's worth having a conversation because generally, it doesn't really make it worse of just sharing with a supervisor — and I've practiced this with clients quite a bit of how to have that conversation. 

Like not from a place of, “You need to change. But I can tell you, I will be more productive and would thrive if we could talk about this.” Or, “If you could share feedback this way.” Or, whatever the conduct is to kind of take it into a place. For example, someone who calls you out in a meeting for something that you've done, and chastises you in public in front of other people and those kinds of things. To be able to talk about that — I've had experienced that in the past, and I can tell you, it is not helpful. 

Having that conversation and sort of thinking about it. Sometimes, it works. Sometimes, it works for a period of time, and then oftentimes goes back. But then you can remind people, if it's a small organization, and someone knows the supervisor’s supervisor, or there's actually a process in HR for making a complaint, that is a strategy as well. At least it goes on the record so that if you do end up leaving but three co-workers down the line, HR finally sees a pattern. 

That may be helpful. But generally, it makes the person more angry because they feel like you've gone around behind their back. I do think the best strategy is to go but to somehow provide that feedback at some point, even if it's in an exit interview of, “I love everything about this organization or this company, but I'm leaving because of this person.”

Lisa Marie Bobby: Kevin.

Lisa S.: Exactly. I know people don't like to burn bridges, and all of those kinds of pieces. But again, patterns are important. If nobody's saying anything, it could be everybody's having the same experience with Kevin, but nobody's saying anything. That's kind of a problem too.

Growth Opportunities in Leadership

Lisa Marie Bobby: Well, and a growth opportunity because I think too — many, many people in leadership positions are very focused on the work itself and pressure that is coming maybe from higher-ups on them. In my experience, they do not have a ton of awareness about how they are making other people feel. 

I think that's why, especially in our practice here on Growing Self over the years, we've started doing so much emotional intelligence coaching for leaders and managers because people — Kevin — shows up and is like, “I've had four people leave, and they're telling this is the feedback, and I don't even know what they're talking about. So can you help me with this?” 

Says like, “Yes!” Then, we can kind of dig it, and it turns into a very positive growth experience. Maybe, not for the people who leave, but the people who come after because I think a lot of leaders and managers do really have personal growth work to do. They don't unless somebody says something, they really, legitimately do not know that it's about them.

Lisa S.: I absolutely agree because I think that's huge. I mean, obviously, some people are just jerks, and they've gotten — whether their contact… Maybe they’re content experts — I don't know. But they continue. The other thing is that, unfortunately, there's this weird thing, as you're talking about systems, where one way to get rid of someone without firing them is to promote them or move them to another place… 

Lisa Marie Bobby: I never thought about that. 

Lisa S.: Oh, my goodness! It's definitely — it's an issue. I can solve my own problem by moving Kevin elsewhere. But he gets promoted, and now he's supervising other people. It looks like he's phenomenal because he's had all these promotional opportunities when really, it's just people trying to get rid of him. 

I think that happens in systems all the time — like kind of wary about this, “Are you that good? Or, are you getting shuffled?” So that is an interesting thing. Again, there's nothing that a subordinate can do about that. It's got to come from the system, or from that person recognizing, or somebody’s supervisor recognizing that they really need to do some work.

I agree. I think not everybody, of course. But most people are open to that in terms of that work because sometimes they're given feedback in they go, “What? What do you mean bully? I’m not a bully.” Let me align your behavior. It's an interesting process, but it's just so hard to be in that position where that's happening to you. There's not a whole lot you can do to make this situation better. You really just need to take what amazing things that you have to offer and find someone who can appreciate them.

Lisa Marie Bobby: Well, I agree with you. Maybe, you could speak to this piece of this. I think it takes a fair amount of confidence and connection with your own self worth to say, ”I am going to take all my gifts and things that I've learned, and take this to somebody who will appreciate me.” Because in my experience sometimes, especially for people who tend to struggle a little bit with depression or anxiety anyway, will — just like being in a toxic romantic relationship or with a parent or a friend. 

When they do live through a toxic occupational relationship with Kevin, they come out the other side feeling like they've done something wrong, or, “If I were better, if I was more talented, if I were a better communicator, I could have made it work with Kevin.” It damages their self-esteem. It makes them doubt themselves. Do you know what I'm talking about?

Lisa S.: Absolutely. That's why I like the coaching mode so much because when people think about career stuff, they think about sort of strategy, and job titles, and resumes, and interviewing, and all of those kind of concrete pieces. But so many people that I work for, I look at their credentials and think, “Oh, my God. This is fantastic. You have such a unique set of skills.” And what people see instead is, “Okay, but I don't match the criteria that somebody is posted as preferred qualifications.” I think that's because they don't know that you're out there. 

There's so many pieces that are about that. But when you add in — so I do focus a lot on self-esteem and getting rid of the recurring messages of self-doubt, not, “I'll never get this job. I'm not good enough.” Absolutely, you never apply, you're never going to get that job. You're right. That's the way that it works. 

But I do think that tie up the anxiety and depression that I’m really unpacking a little bit — how much of that is tied to the current work situation, versus I struggle with that in every aspect of my life, and this is how it's showing up at work. Those things are really difficult to untie, but it's so important to focus on because if you're having that horrible, toxic environment at work, you're going to bring that home. 

Again, right now, half the people are working from home, so you're in it — in your own house, and it's impacting your other relationships, your relationships with your kids, all of that. Who has energy when they're having all of their energy sucked by a work situation? Figuring out kind of where all of those pieces come from, and how to best address it: 

“Is it really situational and contextual, and being caused by this work problem? Or, is it something underlying that I need really some help in working through more consistently because it's showing up everywhere? It’s showing up at work, and showing up at home, and it's really become, for me, kind of a systemic thing that I really then need to go a little bit deeper, and figure out kind of the core of those, and hopefully — high tide raises all boats — all of those situations then get a little bit better.

Lisa Marie Bobby: I hear what you're saying. It sounds like it's kind of a chicken and an egg thing that there are some situations… Like if you're in a toxic relationship with your boss, Kevin, and it is making you feel bad, it is making you feel bad about yourself, it's making you question yourself — you're saying that one strategy is to kind of look at the context, and that can be a way to recenter yourself if you're able to say: 

“Actually, it's really specific to this relationship. I didn't feel this way about myself until I started working here, and being able to identify the source of that is a way to understand these feelings are coming from these external circumstances.” 

Maybe, not a sweeping statement about your self-worth. That could be one point of strength. But then the other thing that I'm hearing you say is that if there are predispositions to things like anxiety and depression — and then I think this is probably we're saying out loud because I think that maybe many people don't really understand that the way that we feel changes the way that we think and the way that we perceive things — because I think that it's very easy for we humans to sort of make a causal, “Well, this thing happened, therefore I feel bad.” Whereas what's true in depression and anxiety — you feel down or you feel scared, and therefore, you find reasons to support that feeling. It's kind of like that internal versus external piece — what you're saying, Dr. Lisa is that if it's more like a global thing, and you feel this way in many areas of your life, that would be an indication that maybe it is actually depression or anxiety. Instead of trying to jump out of a job or break up with your boss or something, maybe the more valuable work would be to manage those feelings, and then see how you feel about your job once you're in a better place overall.

Lisa S.: Sometimes that healing process is impossible in a current situation. Then, it's a matter of resources. 

Lisa Marie Bobby: What do you mean? 

Lisa S.: I'm thinking, if you're in a really toxic work environment, even if it is a more global struggles with anxiety and depression that you're dealing with, you still may need to get out if it's a kind of an emergency situation like, “It's pulling me down to the point where I may be thinking about hurting myself.” Or, any of those kinds of pieces. You have to figure out the resources that you need to actually just leave as you would in a toxic — in any kind of toxic relationship. 

I often ask people — when just in the course of conversation, somebody says something that's fairly negative about themselves, or their credentials for a job, or any of that kind of piece. I asked people, “Alright, whose voice was that?” Because whatever that statement was, “I'm not good enough”, “I can't do my job” — like those kinds of pieces. Oftentimes, it is the boss, “Well, Kevin tells me that every day.” Kevin — set up camp in there. 

Part of that, as you said, that sense of empowerment is you need to stop listening to Kevin. It's been long enough. Who knows where those voices come from? If you've been in job searches before, there's a whole lot of rejection that goes along with that, right? Everybody's talking about how great the job market is right now, how people are desperate for employees, but you could still send out hundreds of applications and never hear a thing, or a lot of rejection. You just have to kind of power through some of those things. 

But thinking about certain messages that now you've internalized of how to shut those off. They could be your fifth-grade English teacher who told you you couldn't write, or — those voices come from so many places. Unfortunately, not all of them are positive. Interrupting that pattern can be really helpful. That self-doubt, “Oh, no. They're not going to want me.” “Wait a second. Whose voice is that? Is it yours? Is it your depression? Your anxiety working against you? 

If you want positive things to happen, you need to be proactive about them. But you also need to think about — you just reinforced that message. It was planted by somebody else, but you're now repeating it. How can we interrupt that process? It’s a huge part of the job search process. I find that a lot of people who make an appointment with me, and they don't really know what they want to do. 

But when you start having a conversation, they know exactly what they want to do, but they don't have the confidence or the logistical understanding, or there’s some obstacle that’s standing in their way. That's kind of an interesting process like, “Hmm, sounds like you kind of do.” The question is, “How to make it happen?” Let's go from there. That can be really fun too. But how many of us are our own worst enemies when it comes to those sorts of thoughts? It's kind of amazing. 

Lisa Marie Bobby: That's the hard part, isn't it? 

Lisa S.: When I was working as a recruiter, my favorite question to ask people is — if it's somebody who has various workers, “What would your last supervisor say about you?” Because it has people to sort of put their own like, “I'm not supposed to talk about myself”, and really think from a lens of other people. It's sad that somehow we can advocate better for ourselves in the third person. 

But it was a question that kind of got at that for people. People, “Oh, they can rely on me. I'm always on time.” And all those things. If you were to say that right off the bat, it would feel uncomfortable. But when I'm thinking about, “What would Anne say about me?” Somehow, that's an easier question. Working through some of those pieces to help people be strong advocates for themselves the way they would with anybody else, and do that for themselves. It's amazing to me how hard that is.

Lisa Marie Bobby: What a wonderful idea, though. Just an easy, almost a hack to build up your confidence around, especially career stuff, especially if you have been feeling a little low lately, “What would Anne say about you?” Just to kind of reconnect with that because, yes — so many opportunities right now for people because of the great resignation and all the spaces it’s opened up. 

But I think my main takeaway from our conversation is that that also requires, not just clarity about what you want, what is meaningful for you, but also that confidence piece — that there are other opportunities for you, and you are worth it.

Lisa S.: Absolutely. That worth and deserving. It's interesting to kind of unpack what those obstacles are, and some of them are new like, “Okay, I haven't gotten out of my yoga pants in three weeks. How am I going to get in my suit for an interview?” Those types of pieces are just funny and really particular to the pandemic? But I did — I had a client that talked to me after one of their interviews, and they said, “At first, it was really awkward and hard. Then, all of a sudden, it was kind of like, ‘Hey, I do know what I'm talking about. I am good at this.’” 

How do we get that sense back into people, especially if they've had a lot of shuffling around in the last couple of years or have been fairly disconnected because of unemployment, or work structure and what that looks like, and the interviewing process is such a social process of how to get people kind of up and ready for that again. 

Embracing that piece of, “They're lucky to have me. I hope this interview goes well because I can really make a difference for that organization.” We want everybody going into their interviews and life in general — but specifically interviews with that sense of, “I have something to offer, and we'll see who gets to take advantage of that.”

Lisa Marie Bobby: Yes. What a beautiful idea for us to end on. They're lucky to have you. You could do so much for them who is going to win the prize of getting to work with you. 

Lisa S.: Absolutely, that's the goal.

Lisa Marie Bobby: What an inspiring conversation, Dr. Lisa. Thank you so much for doing this with me. This was wonderful.

Lisa S.: My pleasure, always. Thank you.

Feeling Emotionally Invalidated By Your Partner?

Emotional Invalidation

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

Feeling Invalidated

Hi there. Are you reading this “advice from a marriage counselor” article because your partner just forwarded it to you, as a way of attempting to communicate that you invalidate feelings or they feel emotional invalidation and that they would like this to change? First of all, sorry, but second of all… never fear. I'm the couples therapist in your corner. This one is going to boomerang nicely and wind up working out in your favor. Promise.

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

Emotional Invalidation

How do I know that you're feeling emotionally invalidated sometimes too? First of all, I've been a marriage counselor and relationship coach for a long time. It is extremely rare to find a couple where one person has *actually* been exclusively responsible for all the hurt feelings and conflict. (Except in the tiny percentage of couples counseling cases that I could count on one hand where the hurt-inducing partner has actually been a diagnosable sociopath and/or narcissist. But I will save that tale for another day.)

Secondly, I've also been married for a long time to someone I adore and would never want to hurt on purpose. And I'm a marriage counselor! I should know better! And To. This. Day. I still do things that accidentally invalidate my husband and make him feel bad. More than once I have had to apologize for making him feel like I don't care, despite the fact that I love him very much. 

But I'm working on it and it's better than it used to be. You can do the same. On today's episode, I'm talking all about emotional invalidation and what to do when you're feeling invalidated to make it stop. Listen below or scroll down for show notes and a full transcript of today's episode.


Emotional Invalidation

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

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Emotional Invalidation: Episode Highlights

Step One: Let's Define “Invalidate”

First of all, let's talk a little about what “invalidation” means. When you invalidate someone, you basically make them feel like you (a) don't understand them or their feelings or (b) if you do understand, you don't care. The impact of this original invalidation will then generally make your partner swing one of two ways, towards either hostility or withdrawal and emotional shut down. Neither of those are good.

In order to not invalidate feelings anymore you need to be self-aware of when it's happening, and what you're doing to cause it. This is the hard part, because almost nobody is intentionally trying to make their partner feel diminished or unimportant when it happens. If you call an invalidating person on it in the moment, they usually get really defensive and start sputtering about how “that's not what I meant” and protesting that their intentions were good. 

Again, except in the case of narcissists (see link above) this is true. Emotional invalidation is generally unintentional. So, no need to beat yourself up if you've been unintentionally hurting someone you love. But you do need to take responsibility for how our actions impact others. We all do.

So let's get familiar with what invalidation actually looks like so that you can become more self aware. Emotional invalidation comes in many flavors, and can happen in both subtle and dramatic ways. 

Let's review.

“It wasn't that bad. You're Overreacting.”

Types of Emotional Invalidation

Now, take a deep breath and non-defensively read through the following descriptions of “emotional invalidators” and see if you can spot yourself. 

See if you can spot the invalidating behaviors your partner uses. (They are in there, I'm sure). 

But again, the hard part is recognizing your own. Bonus points if you can think of other ways you might be invalidating sometimes that I haven't put down here. The possibilities are limitless!

But here are some of the “usual suspects.”

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

Example of Inattentive Invalidation in Action:

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

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

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

Example of Belligerent Invalidation in Action:

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

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

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Controlling invalidators:  These types of invalidators are extremely confident that their way of doing things is right and just, and will either intervene or undo things that their partner does in efforts to correct, (i.e. “help”) them. This happens in many situations including parenting, housekeeping, social situations, and more. 

Example of Controlling Invalidation in Action:

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

You: “You need exercise, Timmy. Be back before dinner.”

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

Example of Judgmental Invalidation in Action:

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

You: “Pfft. NO. That is so boring, why would anyone want to do that? Personally, I'm busy anyway. I have to spend the weekend finishing my Fortnite challenges. Wanna watch? No? Okay see you later.”

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

Example of Emotional Invalidation in Action:

Them: “Crying”

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

You some more: “….That's not what I meant. We can try again next month. The doctor said that this could happen for the first time….”

If this conversation sounds even remotely familiar… I'm glad we're here right now!

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Fixit Invalidators: Then, there is the “Fixit” Invalidator, who would prefer to leap over messy feelings entirely and go straight to helpful solutions — having zero idea they are making things infinitely worse by doing so.

Example of Fixit invalidation in Action:

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

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

Does this sound like something you might say?

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Owner of the Truth Invalidators: Lastly, there are the reflexive “that's not what happened” invalidators who pride themselves on being rational and who sincerely believe that their subjective experience is the yardstick of all others. If it didn't happen to them, it is not a thing. A kissing-cousin of codependency, this type of invalidator will often follow up their original invalidation by explaining to you how you, actually, are the one with the problem.

Example of a Truth Owner in Action:

Them: “I am feeling really invalidated by you right now.”

You: “I am not invalidating you. You were just telling me that your day was hard and you're feeling overwhelmed, and I know for a fact that you shouldn't be feeling that way because it wasn't that bad. You just need to get more organized. You're overreacting.”

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Good times, right? Yes, there are so, so many ways to invalidate someone. This is just a small sample of the many ways, shapes, and forms emotional invalidation shows up in relationships. There are many more. Not sure what kind of invalidator you might be? Ask your partner. I'm sure they'd be happy to tell you.

Next, now that we've “cultivated self awareness,” as we say in the shrink-biz, we're going to talk about how to stop doing that, and start helping your partner feel validated instead.

Step Two: Understand The Importance of Validation

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

What is “Validation” Anyway?

So, what is “validation?” To validate someone means that you help them feel understood, accepted, and cared for by you. It requires empathy. Empathy happens when you really get how others see things, and that you support them in their perspective — even if you do not share their perspective. 

Because empathy is such a foundational skill in so many areas of Love, Happiness and Success, the development of empathy is often a big part of what is happening in emotional intelligence coaching, personal growth work, as well as couples counseling. Empathy requires intention, but it's incredibly powerful when you start really getting it.

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

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

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

As I'm sure you know. Incidentally, if you have been feeling like your partner is emotionally reactive and unnecessarily hostile towards you, it can actually be an important clue that you've been making them feel invalidated without realizing it. (Read, “Twelve Effective Ways to Destroy Your Relationship” for more on this and other common relationship mistakes.)

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

Step Three: Validate Feelings Intentionally, Through Practice

The real problem with changing your (our) tendency to be accidentally invalidating is that it can be really hard to wrap your (our) brains around the fact that we really are hurting the people we love without meaning to. 

In none of the examples of “types of invalidators” was I describing anyone who was trying to be hurtful. They were just failing to understand their partner's perspective or needs or feelings, and prioritizing their own instead. 

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

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

Here's what my perspective of me being invalidating (and then trying to practice validation) looks like at my house:

My husband is telling me something but I'm not really connecting with what he is saying. He's talking about his day at work, and how he's not feeling great. And now he's going on and on about this guy he works with who's super annoying, and incompetent, and how he's thinking about taking the day off tomorrow to go take photos and how he might drive out towards the mountains, and now he's talking about this new video game that he started playing with our son, and how there are these avatars that build sawmills and jump over sharks and there are dances (or something) and …

….I've now officially zoned out, and am now following the spark of ideas that whatever he just said to me has just ignited into being, through the chambers of my own mind.  Day off… Mountains…. Nature documentary…. Camera lenses…. Majestic landscape photos…. I want to go somewhere beautiful… Catherine said good things about Quebec…. He's still talking but I'm now having an entirely internal experience. I know he's still there, but it's the muffled, “Wa-wa-wa” like the adult in the old Charlie Brown cartoons. I am now entirely absorbed by my own thoughts rather than what he is saying, but not on purpose.

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

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

But like you, I didn't mean to hurt his feelings. It just happened because I wasn't making him a priority at that moment, but indulging my own self-absorbed thoughts instead of really deliberately tracking what he was saying to me. (If you, too, have a tendency towards adult ADHD, I'm sure you can relate.)

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

I try really hard to stay present, and stay on topic. Sometimes I am more successful than others, but I know he sees me trying. We know each other well enough now and we can even laugh about it, as we do when I glaze and he just stops talking and makes a face at me. Humor helps. So does managing your expectations that your partner can or should be perfectly perfect at validating your feelings all of the time.

But truthfully, if you want to stop making someone else feel invalidated it requires a certain level of courage and humility. It's hard to think about, “What's it like to live with me” and really allow yourself to understand, deeply, what you do and how it makes your partner feel. I think that embracing personal responsibility without being defensive is one of the hardest things to do in a marriage, and helping other people move into this receptive, honestly reflective space is often the hardest thing for me to do as a marriage counselor. That's why I wanted to model this for you.

How to Validate Someone's Feelings

Every flavor of invalidation has an antidote that's a little different. Just as there are infinite ways to invalidate feelings, there are many strategies for how to validate someone's feelings too. I could go into great detail about what the antidote for each involves, but then this would be an actual self-help book rather than a blog post. But, briefly, here are some pointers:

I hope that this discussion of how you may be accidentally invalidating your partner was helpful to you, and gives you clarity about how to shift the emotional climate of your relationship just by making your partner's feelings and perspective as important to you as your own. Not easy to do. It requires emotional strength, the ability to be honest with yourself, and the willingness to grow in service of your relationship. But it is so worth it.

Now, please send this post and episode back to your partner so they can think about what THEY need to be working on in order to help you feel more heard, valued, and understood by them. 

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

The music in this episode is “Dive” by Beach House from their album “7”. You can support them and their work by visiting their website or on Bandcamp. Each portion of the music used in this episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act. Please refer to copyright.gov for more information.

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[Intro music: “Dive” by Beach House, from their album “7”]

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Hey friends. Today, on the show, we're going to be talking about something that we need to talk about. It is a silent killer of many relationships. You may be experiencing this on your own. It's feeling invalidated. Either you might be listening to this because you are feeling routinely invalidated by your partner, which is hard, or perhaps you are listening to this because your partner is telling you that you are making them feel invalidated. 

This is a really significant issue and one that we need to address together. So that's going to be the focus of our time together today, is talking about what invalidation is, why it happens, and most importantly, what you can do to either feel heard and understood by your partner in your relationship or potentially do a better job of helping your partner feel validated and respected by you. 

If this is your first time listening to the podcast, I'm so glad you found us. I am Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I am your host. I am also the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling & Coaching. I am a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. I'm a licensed psychologist. I am a board-certified coach. But what I love doing more than anything else is helping people improve their relationships. I am very married. I've been married for a long time. I've also just worked as a counselor and a coach for so many years. 

Just one of, I think, my main takeaways from all of this life experience is that truly, our wellness, our happiness, our health comes from the quality of our relationships largely. That's why so often on this podcast, I want to talk about things that can help you improve your relationships. Because when our relationships feel strong and successful, everything just feels so much easier in our lives. We feel better emotionally. We have more fun. We have a nicer time. We have a strong foundation from which to launch off and do amazing things. So I am a relationship person. 

That's what we're talking about today is in the love quadrant: what you can do to increase the emotional safety in your relationship. I think that that's one of the things that happens when invalidation is present in a relationship is that it really erodes the emotional safety between you and your partner. And ugly things can start happening in a relationship when people aren't feeling safe, and respected, and heard, and understood. That's what happens when invalidation is a frequent issue in a relationship. 

What Is Validation?

To just dive into our topic today, first of all, allow me to just take a couple of minutes to orient you to validation, what it means, why it's important, to set the stage. When I am talking about either validation or invalidation, to validate someone, it means that you're helping them feel understood by you, that you get whatever they're sharing, you are accepting what they are telling you about how they feel. In that space, also, helping them feel cared for by you, that they're not just saying something and dropping a stone into a well. 

There's this response. You get them. You understand how they see things. You can see the situation through their eyes. Also, there's the sense that their perspective is supported by you. I also want to say that in a truly healthy, vibrant relationship, there is always some diversity of thought. We're not partnered with clones of ourselves, right? People can have different perspectives, different opinions. But there's this sense of fundamental respect for each other's perspectives, even if it is different from yours. It's like this: “Yeah, you know when I look at it that way, I can see why that makes sense.” 

Just think about it. When somebody says that to you, “I can understand why you would feel that way.” I've had friends in my life just naturally say things like that to me in conversation, and it's the relational equivalent of somebody just walking up to you and just folding a warm, soft blanket around your shoulders. “Yes, that makes sense. You make sense. Your feelings make sense. I can see why you feel that way. I would feel that way too if I were in that situation.” It's just like this, “Ah, thank you so much for saying that.” It's just such a nice experience to have.

I think that we all crave that from our partners from time to time. Again, that's a cornerstone of emotional safety. Now, if the phrase emotional safety is a new one for you, I would encourage you to scroll back through my podcast archive. I have done a podcast episode on emotional safety, specifically, where I talked a lot about that concept and how important it is in healthy relationships, and would encourage you to check out that episode if you'd like to explore more about all the different elements of emotional safety. Keep in mind that to be able to validate someone's feelings is an incredibly important part of that. 

When we're creating emotionally safe relationships, and when we are validating people that we love, it is, again, it's like this experience that people are having with us, that we accept them, that we value them, we respect them for who they are. We think that their thoughts, and feelings, and preferences are important. They're important to us, right? In that context, over communicating that regularly, through the way we're communicating and the way that we're interacting with our loved ones, it just creates this very loving and supportive relationship. That's a foundational component. 

How Does Emotional Invalidation Happen?

I have to tell you, as a marriage counselor, 95% of the time, when a new couple drops into the practice, and they’re, “We'd like to work on our relationship.” “Okay, great. What's going on?” 95% of the time, it is some variation of communication. “We're not communicating as well as we'd like to. Communication feels hard.” When you dig into that, like, “Okay, what about communication is feeling hard right now,” invariably, one, often both partners are not feeling validated. It's not that the words coming out of each other's mouths are not terribly problematic in and of themselves. 

It's that they're not getting a validating response from their partner. The problem with communication is that they are not feeling like their partner hears them or understands them. They're feeling like their partner is misinterpreting their intentions. They say something well-intentioned, well-meaning, their partner takes it the wrong way. Here's something that they are trying to say that is interpreted very negatively, that is responded to in an angry way. Or they're feeling like their partner just doesn't have empathy for their perspective, or slaps whatever they're trying to share out of their hands, or making them feel uncared for, or that their feelings or perspectives aren't important in that moment. 

That is very much about a validation issue. Because validation, really, at its core, is around having empathy for the other person. Being able to accurately understand their feelings, understand their intentions, and then reflecting back to that person: “Yeah, I can understand that. I'm not sure that I see it exactly the same way. But when I look through it, at the situation through your lens, I can understand that. Also, I understand that this is important to you. And I understand that you are actually feeling this way.” 

I think the other big meta message within that is “I love you, and this, whatever this is, is important to you. You care a lot about this. This is making you feel a certain way. Because you are important to me, I care about it too because I care about you.” Again, it's just this whole experience of being cherished when we're talking about validation and how impactful it is. So many arguments, again, start this way. If we were to dissect pretty much any basic argument that a couple can have, almost all of the time, these arguments begin with one person feeling invalidated by the other. 

When that happens, when anyone feels invalidated, the natural response to this is to escalate your efforts to be understood, which often sounds like yelling, am I right? If you say, “Yeah, I feel this way,” and the response you get from your partner's like, “That's wrong.” Right? “That didn't happen, or no, it's not that big of a deal.” That, I think, makes all of us say, “No, you don't understand. No, this is true. This is happening.” All of a sudden, we're really fighting to be understood, aren't we? We are not fighting to win. We are not fighting to control. We are fighting to be heard and to feel like we're cared about, to feel like we're important. 

So the other thing that happens, so one person feels invalidated, and then they escalate, “No, I really need you to understand this.” Then, what also happens is that the invalidator, the person who originally came out with a less than ideal response, will double down on defending their position and will defend their invalidating behaviors. “No, that's not what I said. That's not what I meant. Why are you making such a big deal out of this? This always happens when we talk about your mom or your job,” or whatever it is, right? 

How Fighting to be Heard is Invalidation

When this starts to happen, one person is like, “No, I really need you to understand how I'm feeling right now.” The other person is like, “That's dumb.” It can get extremely ugly, so fast. I think everybody within the sound of my voice right now has had this experience at one point or another in their relationship. I know that I certainly have. Truth be told, if we're all going to move towards healthy humility here, I think that our partners have probably felt this way with us from time to time. 

I think that when we are fighting to be heard, we are experiencing invalidation. We're not getting the response that we want. We are really looking for comfort, or connection, or reassurance, and when that isn't what we're getting, right? It feels bad. I think it is very, very easy to miss the moments that we are accidentally and unintentionally making other people feel that way with us. Because I have to tell you, it is so easy to do. When I sit with a couple in marriage counseling, or couples therapy, or whatever it is, and unpack all of this at the core, I do not find narcissists. I do not find sociopaths. I do not find people who are irredeemable and incapable of having healthy relationships. 

What I find are people who are simply unaware of the impact that they are having on others just because they're in a different place, or they're not fully understanding how important that particular moment is. It's just all these missed opportunities to connect. I have been so guilty of that in my own life. I think that chances are, if we are going to be humble and with healthy humility here together, you could probably reflect on some moments in your own life when you have unintentionally done the same. 

The reason why I want to talk about this part for a second is because one of the easiest ways to just melt away all that defensiveness, and restore emotional safety, and increase love and validation all around, is when we can be humble and reflect on our own process because it helps us be more emotionally safe. It helps us be more validating and responsive to our partners, and I think it also helps us handle the moments when we are feeling invalidated by someone else. 

It helps us handle those moments so much more effectively because we can shift away from that automatic response of, “You just totally invalidated me. I'm going to be mad at you.” “No, that's not what I said. I'm going to start fighting to be heard.” We can shift out of that and into a much more helpful and respectful way of getting our emotional needs met in that moment when we are able to stay soft, and empathetic, and emotionally generous with our partners, and make an effective repair attempt, which is, “You know, let me try that again. I feel like maybe you didn't fully understand what I was trying to communicate to you in this moment and how important it is for me right now just to feel heard by you, and respected by you, and understood by you. So I'm going to have a redo.”

Particularly, if you and your partner have had the opportunity to work on some of this stuff together in couples counseling, or relationship coaching, like it's not the first time they've had this conversation with you, it immediately orients them back to, “Oh, this is one of those moments when you're not looking for me to do anything. You are not attacking me. You are not presenting me with a problem that I need to solve. I don't have to be defensive right now. This is one of these moments when you're just trying to connect with me emotionally. I can do that. So thank you for giving me another go at this so that I can be a better partner for you right now. Because I love you, and you're important to me, and that is what I want to do. Okay? Okay, so let's do this again.”

Then, you can literally have a redo with your partner, where there is a different outcome. That outcome is one where you feel loved, and cared for, and respected, and supportive, and have had the opportunity to share your feelings about something that's on your mind, and not have it turned into an argument. It turns into a conversation where you just get to share and be heard. Maybe that is 100% the goal. That's fantastic. No other action is required. We do not have to change anything. We do not have to fix anything. You got to say it. It was received, and we're done. That's fantastic. 

Other times, I think another component of validation can be attached to, “I'm feeling this way, and I would like to find a solution to this problem because I'm feeling bothered by the situation. I'd like to have a productive conversation with you where we could maybe just talk about different ways of handling this because I don't like feeling the way that I'm feeling right now. So I'm just hoping that we can sort through this.” When there is validation happening on both sides, it isn't just you saying, “I have a problem, and we need to fix that because I'm not okay, right now.” 

It turns into, “Let me tell you about how I'm experiencing this situation and help me feel like you understand what I'm saying. Now tell me how you are feeling in this situation and what you see is the ideal outcome or different options here.” Because when you are being intentionally validating, and respectful, and supportive, you start asking your partner questions like that. “I'm not the only one in this relationship. You might have a totally different perspective here. Tell me more about how you see this, or how you've been feeling in these situations. How are you experiencing me when this stuff happens?”

Because in that space of emotional safety, when you are able to validate your partner and help them feel really understood and cared for by you, they will tell you how they're feeling because they trust you. You're not going to freak out when they tell you how they're actually feeling. But if there isn't that trust in your relationship, they won't tell you. The trust has been broken to the point that people do not feel safe enough to share how they are really feeling with each other. 

Overcoming Emotional Invalidation

We think of trust many times as something that is broken through betrayal. There's an affair or there's some catastrophic lying going on in a relationship, and that can certainly damage trust. But there are many more subtle kinds of betrayals of trust that I think people don't fully recognize or understand the significance of because they're subtle, and a betrayal of trust that happens all the time. 

Unintentionally, nobody's doing this on purpose. But when someone tells you how they really feel, or what they need, or what their hopes are, or what is upsetting them even, and when that is invalidated, or dismissed, or rejected, or reacted to with hostility or contempt, it is a betrayal of trust. The message that people receive is, “I don't care about how you feel. I disrespect your experience right now. I reject this.” What happens is, they're like, “Okay, cool, noted. I am never doing that again. The next time you ask me how I'm feeling, I don't think I want to enter into that ring of emotional intimacy with you because I don't trust you enough to tell you how I really feel right now.” 

This is hard. This is, I think, a place where I find with many couples, I often need to stay for a fairly significant period of time in couples counseling or in relationship coaching, because people really do not understand the impact that they are having on each other. Again, and I say this as someone who has done exactly the same thing, we all get so focused on our own perspective, our own needs, and whether or not they are being met in a relationship, and whether or not we are feeling validated, or getting the response that we want. 

We get very hyper-focused on what is happening in that regard and really miss the systemic nature of relationships, which is, “When I'm feeling that way, what do I do? How do I approach my partner? How do I engage with them?” Because especially people who perceive themselves as really fighting for their relationships, fighting to have greater emotional intimacy or greater connection, have no idea how scary or emotionally unsafe or even threatening they themselves are being in these moments when they feel like they're seeking emotional intimacy. 

I'm going to do a whole other podcast on that topic, that concept, specifically, around emotional intimacy and what to do when we're feeling lonely and disconnected in a relationship. So more on that topic to come soon. Just that one takeaway from today would be to ask yourself: Are you validating your partner? Are they feeling invalidated by you in those moments? Or has trust been broken in the past that accidentally trained them to hide from you, and to not communicate with you, and to not tell you how they're really, really feeling even though you want them to, but something has happened, where they feel like they can't? 

That's a really, really common thing that happens in relationships. It is frequently due to that primary issue of people feeling invalidated or rejected by each other in these potentially tender moments of connection. 

What Does Emotional Invalidation Look Like in Action?

With that in mind, I would really like to turn this conversation to talking a little bit about understanding what invalidation looks like in action so that we ourselves can be more conscious of the times that we're doing it and then, also have a little bit more empathy or understanding for the times when our partners may be doing that to us without fully realizing it. Because empathy is so key. 

To begin, when invalidation is happening, what we are communicating, what is happening is that people feel like we don't understand them. We are misinterpreting them. We are taking what they are saying, and then running it through our own filter of meaning, and coming up with something different than what they were trying to communicate to us that they don't feel understood. Or that if we do understand what they're saying conceptually, we don't care about their feelings. Not that we don't care, but that we are rejecting it, and it can be very, very subtle, you guys.

It could be like, “I'm sure they didn't mean that when they said X, Y, Z. You're probably just overreacting.” Those kinds of things, which might be true. I don't know. But the truth of what is happening or not happening is so insignificant that the truth of what's happening is that your partner is actually trying to tell you how they are feeling, emotionally, in this present moment. You have just been offered the gift of trust and emotional intimacy. What are you going to do with that? 

Are you going to make them feel like you don't understand, or they're stupid, or their feelings are ridiculous or not important, or they're being overreactive, or they're just not thinking about this the right way? Because that doesn't feel good. We all know how that feels, right? It is not good. Or are they going to be leaving whatever interaction they just had with you feeling like, “I love them so much because they love me.” Just feeling loved. In order to improve this experience, we need to be self-aware of when it's happening and what we are potentially doing to cause it.

Types of Invalidating Behaviors

There are different flavors of invalidation. We all have our unique styles, I think. When I am being invalidating to my husband, I'm usually doing it in one of a couple of ways. So let me just run through these types of invalidating behaviors. See if you can see yourself in any of these and maybe if some of these are true for your partner. 

Inattentive Invalidators

One, and I think this is probably the most common, and this is the one that I am so guilty of, is an inattentive invalidator. These types of invalidators, they're just not paying attention when their partner is talking about something important. Oh my gosh, I can so easily do this, because I don't know what you're like. Me, I'm just kind of usually zooming along at 900 miles an hour. I am a habitual multitasker. I know it's not good to do that. But I am doing the dishes while I'm on the phone with somebody, and I'm thinking about five things that are happening.

Sometimes in these moments, this is when my husband wants to tell me about something. What happens is, they will say, “Oh, I had such a day. I'm not feeling good. I think I might be getting sick.” Then, you might say — by you I mean me — you’d be like, “You know what, I was just thinking that we should go on a trip to Canada.” Or, “Oh did I tell you that Julie called. She was thinking that we might go camping this… Would you want to do that?” So, I am now picking up my phone and researching campsites or travel reservations. 

My husband just said something totally unrelated to that. He was trying to tell me something about how he felt. It triggered an idea in my mind, or I wasn't really paying attention to the impact of what he was trying to say. Because there can be emotional connotations to certain things that people say. They're very easy to miss unless we're really paying attention. So he, in that moment, felt like I was totally disconnected from what he was trying to communicate, which I was. It's just because I wasn't fully present. 

I was kind of thinking about something, and he said something, and I had a random thought in my head and just sort of impulsively acted on it. I'm nowhere near where he is in terms of what he's trying to communicate or what he is needing for me in that moment. It’s not intentional. It’s not like I'm trying to harm him in those moments. I'm not mad at him. It's just really a simple lack of attention. I, in order to be a better partner, need to slow down sometimes. Also, one of the things that I have found over the years, and I see this routinely with the couples that I work with too, is to be able to set some boundaries or guidelines around these conversations. 

When I can tell that he is trying to communicate about something that might be more important, and I am not in a headspace where I can do that. I have a crisis situation at work that I'm thinking about or needing to deal with and that maybe he doesn't know about that, right? So he's trying to talk to me all of a sudden, and I have learned to say, “I want to hear all about this. Can you give me 15 minutes? I need to take care of this. I need to X, Y, Z or whatever.” Then, 15 minutes later, I am like, “Tell me more,” blink, blink, and I’m looking in his eyes asking appropriate questions. I'm all there. 

But I need to communicate to him when I can't be present. Because if he doesn't know that, he's going to try to communicate with me and not have a good experience. I think we've learned a lot about each other over the years. He's like, “I would like to talk to you about something important. Is now a good time? Or when can we talk about this?” That conversation right there has been a game-changer, I think, in our relationship. But for so many couples that I work with, particularly, in relationship coaching, people come in, and they have been feeling so badly with each other, and it's just felt so hard. 

When we unpack it and when we dial down into it, sometimes, you guys, the answer is as easy as that. “Tell me what is going on in the moments that you're trying to communicate, and it's not going well, or it's feeling frustrating. Literally, where are you?” It could be, sometimes, people are telling me, “It was during dinner, and our three-year-old was having a meltdown, and X, Y, Z.” They start talking about all of these different circumstances. When we're able to identify the practices that people are using, the boundaries that they're setting around their communication, and how they are communicating their needs in those moments to each other, it's so much easier. 

It was actually not this big, horrible, catastrophic thing. We don't have to spend nine months in therapy talking about, “Yes, your mother was an alcoholic, and all of these big things about why you can't communicate.” No, it's actually learning how to say, “Is this a good time to talk?” to your partner. Not always. Sometimes, there are old things, and it goes deeper. But, you'd be amazed at the impact of making these small procedural changes can make on the way that everything unfolds. So I just wanted to share that. If inattentive invalidation is a thing at your house, just try it. Let me know what happens. 

Belligerent Invalidators

Now, there are other kinds of invalidating behaviors that we should talk about. Another common one is a belligerent invalidator. The MO of a belligerent invalidator is to rebut rather than listen and put their energy into making their own case, instead of seeing things from their partner’s perspective. 

Example, somebody, either you or your partner, is talking about, “I didn't feel good about that situation. That person was being rude, or that felt uncomfortable.” A belligerent invalidator will basically tell you why you're wrong for feeling that way. Or say, “Yeah, well, this is what was actually going on.” 

What's happening in those moments, and again, it's not on purpose. It's not intentional. But it's like they are replacing your perspective or whatever you just shared with their own perspective. They are not trying to be hostile or belligerent. But it really feels that way. Because it was like you just put something out there, and then, they just steamrolled over it with their concept of reality. 

This, again, is super common. I think it is very easy to identify people or situations when we have felt that way. Less easy to identify when we ourselves are accidentally doing that. Somebody shares something, and it's very easy to say, “Oh, no, that's not what happened. Let me tell you what really happened.” Sometimes, when you do that to people, they'll fight back and it'll turn into an argument, which in some ways is great. It's healthier in some ways, and it’s like, “ No, I need you to listen to me right now.” 

Other times, you will do that to someone. You'll say, “No, no, no. That's not what happened. Let me tell you what actually happened.” People will just take it, and you will have made them feel really bad, and uncared for, and disrespected. They just kind of go inwards. You just steamrolled right over them and broke their trust in you. You're not emotionally safe. But they're like, “Okay.” We'll exit that. You might not ever know what just happened. You'll feel fine because you were just telling them what you thought. What's the harm? You're just calling it like you see it right? You’ll never know that that was actually a real wound. 

That's another thing about relationships. We've all heard that saying, “Death by a thousand cuts.” These micro-moments? Those are cuts, and if you're with someone who isn't real assertive in telling you how you're making them feel, you can just keep cutting, and cutting, and cutting, and they'll just eventually be done with you, and you will not have known why. That is a terrible thing to consider, and it is a reality of relationships. So, belligerent invalidation. Please keep that one on your radar. 

The next time somebody tells you something, particularly, if it has anything to do with how they felt, or perceived something, or reacted to something, is just to keep in mind, they are telling you how they feel right now. Their truth is how they feel. Your job as a partner, or a friend, is to help them feel understood by you, not corrected by you. Nobody's asking you for that. So, again, I'm being direct. I am being your friend right now. Because the alternative when you're doing that to people and not fully aware of it can be really bad for relationships, and it's very easy to do. 

Controlling Invalidators

Another very common kind of invalidating behavior are the controlling invalidators. These types of invalidators are often extremely confident, which is a good thing in many situations. But they are very confident that their way of doing things is right and just, and will either intervene or undo things that their partner does in efforts to correct it. 

Now, I have also been guilty of this in my relationship. Again, I think it's more due to impulsivity than ill will, right? When someone is invalidating in a controlling way, they often feel like they're helping. They are stepping in. They're going to manage something. They're going to prevent a possible problem that they foresee in the future and that maybe their partner doesn't. But this happens in so many situations, including parenting, housekeeping, social situations around finances. 

One example would be, one partner saying, “No little Timmy, you can't go out to play because you have to take a shower and clean your room.” The other partner is, “Oh, yeah, Jim's mom called and wants you to play. Just be back before dinner.” So it's this really subtle and common kind of invalidation that happens when one person's preferences or things that they are trying to create or do are, again, just undone by someone else. 

This can happen in very small ways, too, around someone's preferences for how you do things. I think, for many couples, teamwork can feel hard. One aspect of every successful relationship is just being able to work together as a team, right? Like the most banal things. Who does laundry? Who folds the laundry? Does laundry get put away in the drawer? Or does it stay in the laundry basket even if it's clean? Who gets the mail? Who opens the mail? How often does this happen? Who pays the bills? 

These little procedural things, even around cleaning, cleaning the house, or making the bed, or cooking a meal that people who have a tendency towards this controlling kind of invalidation, they wind up taking over for a lot of different things because they have stronger opinions about the way that things should be done. The message that is sent to their partner is, “You're not doing it right. Your way of doing things is wrong, and I am taking this away from you.” 

The experience on the other side, again, can be very subtle. People may or may not be talking about this, but it leads to a lot of withdrawal in relationships. It's like this: “Okay, I tried. It wasn't good enough. Fine. You do it.” It is this sense of being, sometimes micromanaged, but just disrespected. “My preferences, my ways of doing things, my feelings in the situation are not important to you.” It's like, “This is your show. This isn't my show.” 

It comes through these small interactions and through these very subtle and seemingly insignificant, controlling kinds of invalidating behaviors that many of us are not aware of. Because, again, our intentions are not bad. We're not trying to make our partners feel micromanaged or disrespected. It's that we maybe have done this before, maybe we have our preferences; we already have a system. “No, the bread goes here,” that kind of thing. But again, what it leads to, particularly, if it's a pattern in the relationship is the other person withdrawing and just feeling like there's not space for them. 

I do not want to genderify this because these patterns can exist for both men and women and in same-sex relationships, certainly. But usually, controlling invalidators, in my experience, tend to be women. Not always, but many, many times. So just check in with yourself. “Am I doing this?” See if you can notice it in yourself. Again, notice, too, that when this is happening, you're not trying to be disrespectful. You're not trying to be damaging. You are not trying to communicate contempt. But that's how it can still be received. 

Again, I'm not saying these things to make you feel bad. When we shine the light on ourselves and understand how easy it is to accidentally make other people feel this way, we can become much more gentle and compassionate when we are experiencing invalidation from others. We can see the other person not as this invalidating enemy who is trying to hurt me emotionally. It's, “Oh, they don't understand what's happening right now.” Because I, sometimes, don't understand the small things that I do make other people feel a certain way. 

When we can move into that space of compassion and collaborative understanding. It's so much easier to talk about that authentically and have grace for the other person to say, “Let's have a redo. This is one of the things that we've been working on. We've been talking to Lisa about this or whatever.” It softens it. It makes it much more likely to have your needs met when you can have empathy for the noble intentions of your partner, noble intentions much of the time. 

Judgmental Invalidators

One other thing, a couple other kinds of invalidating behaviors, there is also such a thing as a judgmental invalidator. These kinds of validators, again, in my experience, they are truly trying to be helpful. But what they do in action is that they are minimizing the importance of things that they don't personally feel are interesting, or important, or significant that their other person sees. They do so in a way that creates disconnection in their relationships. 

An example of judgmental invalidation would be somebody saying, “What should we do this weekend? There are so many fun things. Do you want to go to the farmers market? Do you want to go to the RV show, rodeo, anything? It could literally be brunch with my friends.” The judgmental invalidator would say, “No, that's boring. I want to spend this time playing video games with my friend. Or I am not even remotely interested in brunch or your friends. Why would I want to do that?” 

Again, they probably feel like they're being authentic, right? They're telling you how they really feel. Also, a judgmental invalidator can also communicate this way about emotionally laden things. “That's, again, the wrong way of looking at it.” Or “Why would you think that?” What they're doing is, they're so entrenched in their little perspective of the world, their own little fiefdom of reality, that it is very difficult for them to look over the wall and understand that other people have other interests. 

They have other cognitive filters. They have other expectations of relationshipse. They are interpreting the world differently. They have different motivations. They have different tastes. They're just, again, so stuck in their own one worldview. It's like they're just looking down at their feet. This is the way things are. To have that acknowledgment of the diversity of all humans, they struggle with that. But again, they're not doing it out of maliciousness. They are simply being authentic. 

They’re like, “Why would I do that? I've never gone to a rodeo. I don't really get it. No, I don't want to do that.” Again, what happens is that it sends this message of what you are interested in doing, what you like, what you might want to try, “First of all, I don't understand that, and I will not participate in that with you. That isn't important to me, so I won't do it.” 

Again, it can be very subtle. But I tell you what, I have seen so many relationships break apart on those rocks, I can't even tell you. Because what happens is that the person on the other side feels like if they want to maintain a connection with this individual, they have to enter their world. They have to be into what they are into. They need to hang out with their friends. They need to participate in their interests because their partner is not coming over the line onto their side of things. 

Now, just to state this very plainly, and clearly, it is also true that in vibrant, healthy relationships, partners have different interests. It is 100%, okay, to have hobbies, or sports, or activities that you are into that your partner is not into. You don't have to be doing all the same things together all of the time. I think, in some ways, to have that kind of diversity in a relationship is quite healthy because you have this sort of interdependence. You can have your separate lives and separate friend groups. 

I think that makes for a more interesting relationship, right? You can go do something fun with your friends, and your partner can go through a different thing. Then, you can come back together and have an interesting conversation because you have stories to tell and things to share. It's great, right? So that's how people grow and evolve. All of those things are healthy. 

But I think when there is this, almost absolute refusal to enter into someone's worldview ever, what is experienced is a lot of judgment. Because, again, I think people are not intended to come across this way. But the meta-message is that “Well, that's dumb. Why would you want to do that? Ew, no, that's boring.” For whatever it is. That feels really bad. It feels really bad to be partnered with someone who is judgmental of who you are and what you're into. 

I think that the lesson we can take here is that even if you are not into the things that your partner is into, it is okay to help support their interests by talking to them about it or doing things with them sometimes. You don't have to spend every weekend of your life doing the thing. But, what we want to communicate is that “Your interests are important to you. Therefore, they are important to me.” 

Listen, you guys, I have a 13-year-old who is super into video games right now. Candy Crush stresses me out. That's all I can take, right? Not only am I not interested in playing video games, I do not really care that much. But my 13-year-old is super interested in this. So, I will be a video-game spectator. I will watch him play. He's telling me about all these different missiles, and guns, and squads, and things, and whatever. He is so excited. 

To connect with him, I am not being judgmental and rejecting of the things that are important to him because it would be so easy for me to do that. Because inside my head sometimes I'm like, “Why would you want to, anyway?” But in those moments, my role is to like, “Tell me more. What do you like about this game? Or tell me about what happened when X, Y, Z. Or who's your favorite character? Or what do you like about? Tell me about the plotline.” 

Asking questions being engaged, because the alternative is to subtly communicate judgment, and rejection, and invalidation in a way that can create a lot of disconnection in a relationship and sends a message, “You're not important to me. What you're into is dumb. I think you're dumb. I don't care about this.” It feels like “I don't care about you.” We don't want to do that for the people that we love. Again, easy to do. Easy to do. 

Emotional Invalidators

Now, there are a couple of other kinds of invalidators that I'm going to talk about really briefly. One of the most important, and this, oftentimes, I think, is a very obvious one is the emotional invalidator. How many times have we encountered these people in our lives? This is the stereotypical garden-variety emotional invalidator who disagrees with other people's feelings, or argues that other people's feelings are not reasonable, or tries to talk them out of their feelings.

For example, if you have ever been crying for some random reason, and your partner wanders in and says, “You shouldn't be sad about that.” Or “It wasn't that big of a deal.” Or doesn't even acknowledge the fact that you are in the grips of a big emotion, or tries to cheer you up. Again, these responses to emotion often come from — this is hard to even say out loud, but it's so true — they are honestly well-intentioned. 

Somebody thinks that they're trying to make you feel better. “Look on the bright side. Or at least, X, Y, Z.” Or, “You know? Forget about that. Let's go do something fun. Let me distract you from your feelings.” Oftentimes, people are trying to help you because they perceive emotions as being problematic, dark emotions as being something negative that need to be avoided. They themselves are often not that great in noticing how they feel or being able to stay engaged with their own negative emotions, which is a core component of emotional intelligence. It's hard to do. 

Again, not to genderify, but many men, as we've talked about on this podcast previously, are not socialized to have a really deep relationship with their own feelings. So many little boys to this day get yelled at for crying or punished for having “negative,” I prefer to call them, dark emotions. There's a lot of negative connotations around those. Emotional invalidators often will see someone in the grips of a negative emotion and be like, “Oh, no, I have to get them out of there because that's not good,” not recognizing that it is so positive and so important for all of us to really be in those fully present spaces sometimes. 

Like, “I am having an authentic experience right now. I am feeling really, really sad about this situation.” Or “My feelings were hurt.” Or “I just feel really bad about this situation that happened at work. I don't know what to do.” Or “I'm feeling so overwhelmed” Or… Whatever it is, in order for us to grow and to be genuinely healthy, we need to go into those spaces, and stay there, and process our feelings, and take wisdom from those feelings. 

The best thing that any of us can do when our partner is in that space is to say, “Tell me more about what's going on.” Open-ended questions. “When did you start feeling this way? What were the triggers? What happens to you in these moments?” Or to say nothing at all, just to sit there with somebody and allow them the luxury of having their feelings validated in your presence. Because just to simply be present with someone when they're not okay is such a gift. It's so emotionally intimate. We don't show everyone in the world that side of us. 

But in our most intimate relationships, we are extending this treasure of, “This is how I really feel. This is who I really am. This is what is true for me.” To simply have that be acknowledged, and accepted, and not argued with, and not to have someone try to change it or do something about it, is the greatest gift that we can ever give. That really is how to connect with someone. Anything else leads them to feel like, “They don't care about how I'm feeling. My feelings are not important to them. My feelings are making them uncomfortable. So I need to fix myself back up again because they can't handle it.” 

Do you want somebody to feel that way with you? I don't. So just to be aware of that in those moments. Even just a hug, or “I hear you,” or “Yeah, that is a really hard situation. That is legitimately so hard. I'm so sorry that that is happening. I know that there is nothing that I can do, and I'm just so grateful that you're sharing these feelings with me right now. Because I appreciate that we have that kind of relationship where you let me into this.” Just even saying simple things like that can be just the most amazing thing you could possibly do.

Mr./Ms. Fix-It 

A close cousin of this emotional invalidation, somebody who's very uncomfortable with dark emotions, is the other well-intentioned person that is a Mr. Fix It or Ms. Fix It in those moments of, somebody is struggling with something hard and what they're trying to do, honestly and legitimately, is saying, “I love you so much. I'm going to solve this problem. Let's fix it because I don't want you to feel bad about this. Let's fix it.” So it is, “I'll pick the kids up tomorrow.” Or “Let me. It's okay. Here's what we should do instead,” and jumping right into solutions.”

Hey, I am all about solutions. Yes, all couples need to solve actual problems together. There are so many moments of opportunity for productive, collaborative problem solving that do actually make changes in the way you do things, where you talk to each other, the way you handle things, related to parenting, or finances, or boundaries. So much stuff. There is a time and place to actually focus on making specific changes. 

What often happens to the detriment of relationships is when people jump into that problem-solving space at the expense of the emotional-connection space. Again, it is so well-intentioned, but I can't even tell you how many couples I've worked with in couples therapy or relationship coaching, where we had to stay awhile on helping people understand how those efforts are actually received on an emotional level by their partner. 

Because when someone says, “I'm just feeling so overwhelmed by the situation, right now. I'm feeling so frustrated.” And somebody is like, “Okay, well, let's just do this. And then, it'll never happen again,” they don't experience that as being helpful. The message it sends is, “I don't want to hear about it. We need to just fix this immediately, stop talking about this. I don't want to know how you're feeling about it. I am going to shut the door of emotion. We'll fix this, so we can never talk about it again.” It's kind of how it's experienced.

Again, noble intentions, problem-solving is good. But without the space of being able to connect and really talk about the feelings and help your partner feel genuinely validated in that moment, it does the opposite of what is often intended, which is to fix something. What it actually does is create emotional disconnection in the relationship. It turns into, “Well, she doesn't want to hear about it, or she's just going to tell me to do this thing differently. So, whatever.” It creates withdrawal. It makes people feel uncared for and they're not truly known by their partner, which over time leads to serious disconnection in a relationship. 

Again, we'll talk more about that emotional intimacy in upcoming podcast episodes. But be aware if this is something that you tend to do in relationships is that rushing in to fix or trying to talk people out of their feelings. I will bet you a cookie that subjectively, you feel in those moments like you're trying to be helpful. You're trying to make them feel better. You're trying to look for solutions, all positive things. But there is a whole other dimension of relationships. 

We must make space for the authentic emotional experience of our partners, and help them feel understood, and respected, and affirmed, and validated by us. Because even if we're fixing things, and trying to keep things positive, our relationships, over time, become really hollowed out when that emotional connection, emotional safety, emotional trust, emotional intimacy is eroded. That is what happens when people are invalidating each other. 

The Arc of Change is Experiential

Lastly, just want to share that these patterns are often entrenched in relationships. They can be difficult for all of us to see when we are doing them because our intentions are often good in those moments. I would just like to float the idea that your partner probably experiences those moments similarly. They struggle to understand how their responses may be impacting you. So, certainly, would invite you to get them to listen to this podcast if that would be helpful, just to raise some awareness. 

Also, these things are hard. I spend, easily, several sessions with couples, helping them gain self-awareness about these interactions, in these small moments that invalidation is happening in order to help them recognize them and do something different instead. So I always feel bad in some ways. I love making these podcasts for you. I hope that you find the information in them to be helpful. But I also just want to say out loud that the process of creating change in these areas is not just about getting information, listening to a podcast, and being like, “Okay, cool, I'm gonna do this instead.” 

The actual arc of change is experiential. It occurs over time. So I just want to say that because I always worry that people will hear one of these podcasts and then assume that they should be able to do all of this stuff now that they've heard this, or even worse, that their partner listens to this podcast and should be able to do this stuff differently because of having benefited from this information. Personal growth does not work that way. Personal growth is never an event. It is a process that starts with maybe information. But then, it has to turn into self-awareness and recognition. That is very experiential in nature. 

I just wanted to offer that so that you are gentle with yourself if this is a growth opportunity for you. Also, so that you are gentle with your partner. I hope that if you take nothing else away from our discussion today, please do take away this idea that if you are feeling invalidated in your relationship, as is so common, to take away that the fact that when people are engaging in behaviors that are experienced as invalidating, they are not intending to hurt you. There is a huge lack of awareness around the impact of these behaviors. 

To be gentle and compassionate with your partner, and shift into a more effective stance of “Let's work on this. Let me help you understand what's happening in these moments. Let's try this again. Here's what I'm looking for you. I'm looking for emotional intimacy right now. I'd love to feel more of this with you. When these things happen, I don't feel emotionally connected to you. I'd like that to change.” 

Having those kinds of conversations are just so much more helpful in the long run than having it just turn into a fight or being really critical with your partner because they maybe don't have the self-awareness or the skills yet to help you feel validated in those moments. Because we all engage in invalidating behaviors, sometimes, it's so easy to do, and I hope that we can all have grace with each other and help each other grow and evolve. That is my intention for us today. 

I hope that you took something away from this podcast. Hey, if you did, as a favor to me and your fellow travelers on this journey of growth, if you could, trot over to wherever you're listening to this podcast, and leave a review. That helps this podcast reach more people. As you probably know, we don't do any advertising. This is not a mercenary thing. 

This is me trying to help people who are probably never going to be my clients but to take hopefully valuable little bits of information away that will help them have more happy, and loving, and stable, honestly, relationships, and marriages, and families, and homes that can improve their lives, also the lives of their children, for kids to grow up in a home where there is an emotionally safe relationship happening with them, and their parents. To witness that in their partners, that is what lasts for generations. 

So help other people find this show. Review it. Share it on social media, this episode and others. I would really appreciate it not just for myself, but for everybody that can benefit from hearing this message, too. So thank you again for being here today. I will be back in touch next week with another episode of the Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast. Bye-bye.

Withdrawn Partner? Stop Pushing Them Further Away…

Withdrawn Partner? Stop Pushing Them Further Away…

Withdrawn Partner? Stop Pushing Them Further Away…

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 trying to have a relationship with a partner who avoids, defends or worse… refuses to talk at all?

Few things are as frustrating, or as hurtful as trying to engage a disengaged partner. It's hard NOT to get upset and angry when you're feeling rejected, unloved, or uncared for. The problem is that many people who clam up as a defensive strategy when things get tense don't understand how destructive their behaviors can be to your relationship.

But there is help, and there is hope. Because these types of communication problems are so common, I thought it might be helpful to you if I put together a “Communication Problems” podcast-mini series.

“Communication Issues” is the single most common presenting issue that brings couples to marriage counseling. The first thing to know about communication problems: Absolutely ALL couples struggle to communicate with each other from time to time. Just because it's happening in your relationship does not spell doom. Truthfully, by making a few positive changes in the way you interact with each other, you can avoid many communication problems — and start enjoying each other again.

In episode 1, “Communication Problems and How To Fix Them” we discussed the most important and empowering things you can remain mindful of if you want to improve the communication in your relationship: Systems theory, and your own empowerment to affect positive change.

In episode 2, “Dealing With an Angry Partner” we addressed the oh-so-common “pursue / withdraw” dynamic that so many couples can fall in to. This idea is at the core of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy — one of the most well researched and scientifically supported approaches to couples counseling. (And what we practice here at Growing Self!)

Specifically in episode 2, we looked at this communication pattern from the perspective of the “withdrawer” (i.e. the person in the relationship who might be perceiving their “pursuing partner” as angry or even hostile). In that episode I gave you some tips to help get back into the ring with your partner, some insight into why they may be so angry, and things that you can do to help soothe their anger and bring the peace back into your home.

In the third and final episode of our “Communication Problems” series, “Dealing With a Withdrawn Partner” we'll be looking at this from the perspective of the partner who pursues — the one who is attempting to engage with a partner who seems emotionally distant, avoidant, and unresponsive.

If you've been feeling frustrated or angry because your partner refuses to talk to you, this one is for you. In this episode I'm talking about what may be leading your partner to seem emotionally withdrawn, as well as things that you can do to help your partner come closer to you emotionally, and start opening up again.

We're discussing:

I sincerely hope that this series helps you understand what may be happening at the root of your communication problems, as well as some real-world tips for things that can help you improve your relationship.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

www.growingself.com

 

P.S. One fantastic, low-key strategy to start a dialogue with your partner is by taking our “How Healthy is Your Relationship” quiz together. You can send your results to each other, which opens the door to talk about how you're both feeling — with out an anxiety-provoking conversation for your conflict-avoidant partner. Just be ready to learn some things you didn't know! Here's the link to get the relationship quiz. xoxo, LMB

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

Communication Problems and How To Fix Them, Part 3: When Your Partner Refuses to Talk

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

Music Credits: Nick Drake, “The Time of No Reply”

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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.

 

Working with an expert couples counselor can help you create understanding, empathy and open communication that felt impossible before.

 

Start your journey of growth together by scheduling a free consultation.

Long Distance Relationship Questions

Long Distance Relationship Questions

Long Distance Relationship Questions

Love From a Distance: Making it Work.

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Love From a Distance: Long Distance Relationship Questions

Since we do so much online marriage counseling, online couples therapy, and online relationship coaching here at Growing Self it's only natural that we routinely work with couples in long-distance relationships seeking long-distance couple's therapy online. Over the years, I've learned a lot as an online marriage counselor specializing in long distance relationships about the special strengths and vulnerabilities unique to long distance couples.

For starters, long distance couples have so many strengths! Most people see a long-distance relationship as a challenge or not an ideal situation. However, when you have strategies to make your long-distance relationship strong and successful, a good long distance relationship actually offers many opportunities and positive aspects that a typical relationship does not.

With the right formula and a strong foundation, love can bridge any gap. Distance, after all, makes the heart grow fonder.

Questions About Long Distance Relationships, Answered.

In this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast, I'm answering questions about long distance relationships and how to make them work. Despite the downside of physical absence, there are many unique opportunities for growth that a long-distance relationship can provide. While it has its challenges, it also has advantages. I am ecstatic to bring this topic to the table and share some insights and best practices to help long-distance couples get through the bouts of doubt. 

Tune in to this episode to learn more about what makes a long-distance relationship work. 

Long Distance Relationship Questions: The Podcast

If you're in a long distance relationship, here's what you'll get from tuning in today:

  1. Learn the different kinds of long-distance relationships.
  2. Discover actionable strategies that successful long-distance couples use to deepen their relationship.
  3. Learn how to manage anxiety and feel secure in a long distance relationship.
  4. Understand some vital long distance relationship questions that you and your partner need to be asking each other, if you have long term intentions.

So much great information for long distance couples in this episode. Listen right now to “Long Distance Relationship Questions” on Spotify, on the Podcast App, or scroll down to the bottom of this post to listen to this episode.

If you're a reader, you can scroll through the highlights and / or access the full transcript of this episode below.

 

Long Distance Couples Therapy Online

Let's get a super-basic long distance couple's therapy question out of the way first: “Do you provide long distance couples therapy by three way video?”

We get this question all the time, and the answer is Yes! Our experienced relationship experts routinely work with long distance couples for online relationship therapy and online relationship coaching via secure, three way video.

For more common questions about our therapy and coaching services you are officially invited to our FAQ / Help Center page or you can also spend some time with our chatbot. (Lower right). Now that one is out of the way, so we can move on…

Kinds of Long-Distance Relationships 

Did you know that there are different kinds of long distance relationships? And that depending on the kind you're in, you'll have different things you'll need to think about and do to make it strong?

For example:

  • One kind of long-distance relationship is when a long term, married, or committed couple who lived together is now living apart. It can be a temporary separation, usually due to work or military deployment. 
  • Some couples have a more permanent or semi-permanent long-distance relationship, and that’s just the kind of way they operate. 
  • Another type of long-distance relationship is when a couple becomes a long-distance couple during the early stages of relationship development or dating. 
  • There are also long-distance relationships that develop from meeting once in person, sometimes while on vacation. 
  • The last kind of long-distance relationship is when people meet online and don't physically interact — all their interactions are over the internet. This kind of relationship is happening more frequently due to the pandemic.

Advantages of Long-Distance Relationships

Long distance relationships can work. Long distance relationships can flourish! Here's why:

  • Long-distance relationships can give a different kind of individual growth. 
  • There are many opportunities for personal growth that are sometimes hard to achieve when couples are together every day. 
  • A long-distance relationship challenges people to change and evolve to keep the relationship strong and healthy despite the distance. 
  • The independence and individuality that long-distance relationships bring about can keep the relationship vibrant, novel, and engaging. 

How to Nurture a Long-Distance Relationship

The secret to having a healthy, strong, and satisfying long distance relationship is to very deliberately find ways of maintaining your connection so that you both feel loved and cared for despite the miles between you. Here are some things to think about:

  • Long-distance relationships have mostly conversation-based interactions: this is a huge strength.
  • Invest in conversations to deepen the connection. Remember, your partner needs to hear from you even if you don't feel like talking. 
  • You have to manage your expectations regarding who you think your partner is and what kind of person they are, especially when your day-to-day interactions are limited. There might be some things about your long-distance partner that you haven't seen yet.
  • Work on emotional responsiveness and open communication in order to keep your connection strong.

Questions For Long Distance Couples

Part of the “success strategy for long distance couples” needs to be making sure that you're on the same page about what you're doing. (You may need to have this conversation periodically!)

Part of what our relationship experts do when providing long distance couples therapy online is a comprehensive assessment to understand the strengths and growth opportunities of your relationship, including a couple's most important long term goals, values, and hopes.

Here are a few long distance relationship questions to get this ball rolling:

  • What are your long-term goals as a couple? 

  • Is the relationship feeling good for the both of you? If it stops feeling good, what will you do?

  • What are your values? What is important to you?
  • How do you maintain your connection as a couple? 
  • What would you consider to be a deal-breaker in a relationship?

For even more, we invite you and your partner to take our “How Healthy Is Your Relationship Quiz” to get insight into your relationship's strengths and growth opportunities. This is a low-key way to have  connecting conversations about how to grow your relationship together. 

And, free advice from a marriage counselor:  If you are not able to have productive conversations about these (or other) essential topics, that is a sign that it might be time for couple's therapy or relationship coaching.

Enlisting the support of a relationship expert can help you improve your communication, connect on a deeper level, learn how to show each other love and respect in the way that you need it, and get on the same page about your long term needs and goals. If you'd like to get involved in long distance relationship therapy online, the first step is to schedule a free consultation session. 

Understanding The Needs of Long-Distance Relationships

It's additionally important to consider the unique needs of long distance relationships. Here are just a few things to think about:

  • Knowing each other’s love languages can help maintain the connection amid the distance.
  • One of the biggest challenges for long distance couples is that or both partners may experience heightened anxiety or insecurity, which requires responsiveness, reassurance, contact, and information. Here's more info about “How to Feel More Secure in Your Relationship”
  • The lack of physical presence can be a point of conflict. 
  • Couples therapy or relationship coaching can support in creating conversations between a long-distance couple. 

Advice for Long-Distance Couples About to Cohabitate

Many long distance couples long for the day when they'll be together again. The challenges they face when moving in together can therefore surprise them.

  • Couples have to plan and handle their reintegration carefully when they reunite.
  • There is an opportunity for growth in conflict. Welcome it and deal with it constructively. 
  • Find ways to get to know each other on a deep and realistic level. 
  • There are many opportunities to be emotionally available and to be vulnerable with each other. 
  • Do not get attached to any particular outcome, especially for long-distance couples in the early stages of dating. 

5 Powerful Quotes From This Episode

“And so one of the biggest stress points for long-distance committed couples that are having a temporary separation is that they have to reconfigure all of those roles so quickly. And it can be challenging to do that.”

“There is also a neat opportunity for a healthy interdependence, and opportunities for individual growth that are sometimes more challenging to achieve when long term couples are, you know, breathing each other’s air every single day and sort of doing the same thing.”

“And so, you know, it's almost like a fire that needs some air to breathe. relationships can be like that too.”

“But again, even just having those conversations with each other can be the opportunity to really learn so much about each other- long term goals, values, hopes and dreams. Also the way people operate in terms of their willingness to bend on your behalf.” 

“Conflict in a relationship is always simply a sign that there are things that need to be discussed and worked out. All conflict is an opportunity for connection. It is not a bad thing to have conflict in a relationship. That is an opportunity for growth.”

Enjoy this Podcast?

Learning how you could create love, happiness, and success for yourself has never been this easy. If you enjoyed today's episode of the Love, Success, and Happiness Podcast, I hope you subscribe where ever you listen to podcasts. (And consider leaving a review!)

Post a review and share it! Did this podcast help you? Or did it make you think of someone else who could really benefit from having this information? If so please share this with your family and friends so they can discover how to handle long-distance relationships. 

Have any questions? You can contact me through our website or find me on Instagram or Facebook. You may also reach out to us and inquire about online therapy and life coaching. Growing Self is also on Instagram and Facebook.

Wishing you all the best, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Long Distance Relationship Questions

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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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Real Help For Your Relationship

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

 

Working with an expert couples counselor can help you create understanding, empathy and open communication that felt impossible before.

 

Start your journey of growth together by scheduling a free consultation.

Long Distance Relationship Questions: Podcast Transcript

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Access Episode Transcript

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby and you're listening to the Love, Happiness & Success podcast. This is another one from the band, An Eagle In Your Mind, a band that I am slightly obsessed with right now, doing good stuff. This particular song is called “If You Open The Door” and I thought it was a great mood setter for us today.

Today we're talking about love at a distance, long-distance relationships, and how to make them work. I really wanted to speak about this topic, because we have been getting, I think, even more couples than usual and long-distance relationships here at our practice at Growing Self. More questions from long-distance couples coming through on the blog at www.growingself.com, through Facebook, through Instagram

And understandably so, because long-distance couples really do have unique challenges and also unique strengths, but really need to approach different aspects of their relationship differently than real life couples do. And so we're getting so many requests for long-distance couples. 

And I have to tell you the funniest thing. Recently, we started noticing long-distance couples reaching out and saying, “Do you guys do couples counseling for long-distance couples through three-way video?” And, like, yes, we see so many long-distance couples, and we did prior to the whole pandemic situation. I think we're probably even doing more of that now. But it's like how else would we do couples counseling for long-distance couples if not through a three-way video call? So the answer is an absolute yes. If you would like to do long-distance couples counseling with us, we have two of you in different places and a couples counselor in the middle. 

And now under normal circumstances, certainly we have had some long-distance couples, like fly in for a weekend and do like couples counseling intensives. But we're not doing any of that right now. Maybe in 2021. We'll see how it goes. But what we do have tons of experience with, of course, is working with long-distance couples. And so I am going to be talking today about long-distance relationships and best practices to make them not just work but work really well. And let's just dive right in, shall we? 

Actually wait, no. I do want to mention that I'm going to be talking about different variables related to long-distance relationships in this episode. And in addition to this episode, I did another podcast on this topic. I think it's been a couple of years, but also really good stuff. I interviewed a marriage counselor on our team who had a lot of experience with long-distance couples, as many of our counselors do. But anyway, so you'll want to look back on the podcast feed to find that one if you would like to hear more. 

And then in addition, on the blog, at www.growingself.com, we have several articles around long-distance relationships and couples counseling for long-distance relationships with different perspectives besides just mine. I have a number of colleagues with a great deal of expertise on this subject. And so you'll want to cruise on over to the blog at www.growingself.com, and do a little search in the search bar for long-distance relationships or three-way couples counseling for long-distance couples, and you'll see all kinds of information there. So I wanted to mention that just to resource you.

But for today, one of the things we're going to talk about first is the fact that believe it or not there are different kinds of long-distance relationships. And depending on what kind of long-distance relationship you're in, there are different practices and ways of handling certain situations that will improve your relationship, but you have to take into consideration what kind of long-distance relationship is this. Because otherwise, it won't be the right approach for you and your unique situation. 

So with that in mind, one kind of long-distance relationship is when there are married or like long-term committed couples in long-distance relationships. Two variables here. Many times, it is a couple that has been together for a long time prior to living apart and usually the reason why they moved away from each other. Sometimes, work obligations is the most common. Certainly, military families going through a deployment kind of situation will experience this sooner or later. But that's what I have most often seen. Sometimes people need to live apart, in the event that somebody has to like be with another family member, like caretaking for a parent who is in a different state. So there are all kinds of reasons why. But it is a long-term married or committed couple who lived together, and did a relationship for a long time, and is now living separately, either for usually a temporary period of time, but sometimes not. 

Now, there are also long-term married or committed couples who have permanent long-distance relationships or semi-permanent long-distance relationships. And that's not a temporary thing due to a job or deployment. But that's just kind of the way they operate. And those typically work really well for both people if they are using the best practices that I'm going to be sharing with you today. 

I think it can be generally harder and more stressful for couples who are circumstantially long distance when prior to that, they lived together for a long time, because it's very disruptive. All couples and all families create roles, and responsibilities, and kind of organizational systems in order to manage their shared lives together that depend on both people participating. And so one of the biggest stress points for long-distance committed couples that are having a temporary separation is that they have to reconfigure all of those roles so quickly. And it can be challenging to do that, but then also to reintegrate once a couple comes back together again, that can be a stress point that we'll talk a little bit more about. 

Now, another different kind of long-distance relationship is one where a couple has become a long distance couple at a much earlier stage in their relationship development. So sometimes, they had been dating for a while or either talk, maybe talking, about marriage at some point, but like, they are not in the same kind of stage of development as a long-term married or committed couple. Their relationship is newer, I guess. 

And sometimes, that can be the same sort of thing, like somebody has to leave for a job, or work, or school, and for whatever reason that the relationship just wasn't quite in the place that it needed to be in order for it to make sense for somebody to pack up their life and move to Indiana with the guy they've been seeing for three months or whatever. But there's a lot of interest, and excitement, and people want to be together, and care about each other. But the relation just hasn't evolved to the point where it made sense to move together. 

And in this situation, one of the primary challenges and obstacles is how do we continue to deepen our relationship, and get to know each other, and have our relationship progress and evolve as it might if we were in the same town continuing to see each other multiple times a week and do sort of a normal relationship path? And so there's that, like how do we progress as a couple? 

And also in this situation, there can be a lot of anxiety, and like insecurity, and worry for partners on each side, because their contact with each other can be much more limited and not being able to be together on a more regular basis in person. And that in itself when people are in that kind of anxious or insecure feeling place, particularly in a new relationship can lead people to behave in ways that are different than they would if they were together in real life. And those ways of coping with the anxiety and the things that people might need to have from the person that they're dating can be different to the degree that in itself can put stress on the relationship and create its own set of problems. So we need to talk about that.

Now, there is another. We're not done. There is another kind of long-distance relationship that happens surprisingly commonly. I have talked to so many clients, usually individual therapy or coaching clients that I see who will come bouncing back in after a vacation or something and say, “I met the most amazing person while I was in Cancún or whatever.” I’m like, “Great! That's exciting.” And my client lives in Denver and their love interest lives in Chicago. And now we have to figure that out. 

And so, that's getting to know someone who, from the very beginning, they may have only met, met once in person. And so again, how do we continue progressing in the relationship and from the very get go? How do you get to know a person in a way that is boundaried, and healthy, and slow enough to be appropriately cautious, but also giving you opportunities to really get a clear sense of who someone is and figure out whether or not you would like to pursue a relationship with them? Because you know, you can't just meet up for a cocktail on a Thursday night with somebody who lives in Chicago when you live in Denver. That is different. So lots, lots to talk about there.

And then lastly, another kind of relationship that is a whole other animal is a phenomenon that occurs when people meet online and do not have any interactions with each other in real life. IRL, as the kids say. Their entire early-stage relationship is conducted exclusively online. And in the context of this pandemic situation that we are all enjoying so much, this is happening more and more. Like even people in the same town will have first, second, fifth dates by video conference, or FaceTime, or Zoom, and get to know each other that way. 

And because the online dating, so not just online dating apps, but literally online dating has so many different variables, and opportunities, but also potential pitfalls. I have actually created a podcast that will be airing in a few weeks on this specifically as a separate thing. I think we're entitling it something like “Pandemic Dating.” But even prior to the pandemic, more and more frequently, people might meet online through social media, or friends of friends, and be in different states, and have that whole getting to know you process online. And there can really be a unique set of pitfalls and perils when you begin a relationship from the outset through that medium. So that deserves its own separate podcast and that will be coming out for you soon.

But today's discussion is going to be focused on the three primary kinds of long distance relationships that I've discussed. So committed couples who are now living apart. And then couples who date and are then disrupted. And then also couples who randomly meet each other and then want to figure out how to establish a relationship with a long-distance situation.

So there are, believe it or not, as well as challenges in long-distance relationships, there are also some advantages that many couples enjoy. Like we think of a long-distance relationship as being non-ideal and it certainly is for some couples. But for many of them, it can really be a very interesting, and growth promoting, and satisfying way of life, particularly for established, committed couples. 

While there are certainly the challenges that I described at the outset of this podcast around roles and responsibilities I mean, certainly when children are involved there is also a really neat opportunity for a healthy interdependence, and opportunities for individual growth that are sometimes more challenging to achieve when long term-couples are breathing each other's air every single day and sort of doing the same thing. People in long-term relationships always have to grow, and change, and evolve within the relationship in order for that relationship to be a really genuinely healthy, and satisfying, and vibrant relationship over the decades. And so, it's almost like a fire that needs some air to breathe. Relationships can be like that, too. And so in a long-distance situation with an established couple, they're doing different things. They're having, maybe time and energy to pursue other hobbies, or hang out with other friends, or go other places, or be around other people, and just have different life experiences that will grow and change them independently. 

And so the neat thing can be when they do come back together again, or have opportunities to talk and hang out, there is, I mean at a basic level, more to talk about sometimes than when you're doing the same thing as the other person every single day and watching the same TV shows, right? So there's like, novelty, and interest, and conversation, and just interesting things. And it can really also be a neat way to put each other in a position where you can learn about different aspects of each other or grow in different ways. And that is the kind of energy that keeps a long-distance relationship, I mean, a long-term relationship interesting over many years are opportunities to do that. So if you're a long-distance couple, you have that built in which can really be to your relationship’s advantage. 

And also, in addition to that, when you are in a long distance-relationship, a committed long-distance relationship, it requires a couple to have conversations around, “What are we doing? What do we want? We need to talk about this. And do we want to be doing this two or three years from now? What are our long term goals as a couple? What do you want? What do I want? How do we get that into alignment?” 

And having like, kind of deeper, in some ways, more meaningful conversations than couples who are just kind of like falling into the same rut and just sort of doing the same thing over and over again without thinking about it too much or talking about it too explicitly. In order to have a satisfying, healthy, long-distance relationship, you have to be doing that, and talking about plans, and coordinating things. So lots of opportunities there. 

Now, what is I think true for all long-distance couples are also, the question that comes up around, “How do we stay emotionally connected as a couple? How do we remain each other's friends? What are the rituals that we need to have in place to stay connected, to stay emotionally and even physically intimate with each other?” Because, again, there aren't natural opportunities to do that day-to-day if you're living apart. And so the building of those, the intentional building of those is very important.

So when it comes to the second kind of long-distance relationships, where people have been developing a relationship and that relationship development has been disrupted because of a move or a separation, the question is really more around: how do we continue to develop our relationship, and get to know each other, and learn to love and trust and connect with each other in the context of this long-distance situation? 

Again, there are real opportunities here. When you are dating someone long distance, the opportunities to connect are almost exclusively around talking with each other, either on the phone, or through text, or through video calls, but it's very conversation-based. So I can't remember the last time I sat on the phone talking to my husband for an hour-and-a-half about things, right? Certainly, we talk about things, but a lot of times it's in 10-minute increments in between childcare duties, right? But with this situation, you really have the opportunity to invest a lot of time into conversation-based interactions. And in doing so, you really can have the opportunity to get to know someone even more quickly and on a deeper level. 

So conversations around who are you and what's important to you? And where did you come from? And what do you want? And tell me a story about your life. Or tell me a story about your day. These are all doorways to getting to know someone and to deepening connection. 

I think that one of the big challenges here is the possible I won't say possible. I will say frequent experience, which is very common in long-distance relationships, which is sometimes the difference between our ideas about who someone is versus the reality of who someone is. Like the whole story. And so, what we humans always do is that when we have little bits of information, we tend to extrapolate many other things from those little bits of information that are reality based. 

And our constructions are pretty much always in alignment with what we want things to be, right? And particularly when we're very excited about someone in an early-stage romantic relationship, we tend to have all kinds of highly optimistic ideas about who someone is and what they really like. And when you're talking with someone, periodically on the phone or on a video call, or maybe you get to spend a weekend together once a month or two, there can be limited opportunities to gather enough information about how people really are when they're stressed, when they're disappointed, when they don't feel like talking. How do they handle conflict? How do they solve problems? How do they load the dishwasher? Like, those kinds of things can be absolutely missed, when you're spending not that much time with each other, or when your opportunities for kind of day-to-day interaction are limited. 

And even if you are spending time together in person, that time is often a short-term couple of things and it oftentimes feels more like a vacation. You're getting together, and it's like we're gonna go do these fun things, and we're so excited to be together. And people are behaving and feeling differently than they do when you live together day-to-day. I mean, it's just a different experience. 

And not that it can't be fun, and wonderful, and all good things, and you can certainly deepen a relationship. Just always keep in mind that there are going to be new things that you will learn about this person, as you get to know them and spend more time with them, which, you know, can vary in terms of their importance. 

I personally have worked with couples who spent most of their relationship like a one to three year long relationship long distance and just loved each other to pieces. “We’re having the best time.” And then, they decided eventually to move in together or get married and had all kinds of things that surprised them. And that would, maybe not deal breakers, but we're creating conflict and disappointment, and that really needed to be worked through constructively, and that they had not been aware of prior to living with each other or getting married. So just keep that in the back of your mind. 

And it can be really helpful to figure out, how can I get to know this person as they really are? So don't try to keep it necessarily light and fun. I mean, super early stage of relationship, fine. Keep it light and fun. But if you're really considering this person for long distance or long-term relationship potential, figure out what you need to know. Like what is actually super important to me? What is a deal breaker? Let me hear about a bad day or also noticing how they operate when they are maybe busy or stressed. How emotionally responsive are they? Are they able to answer your bids for connection? Are they giving what you what you need, even in the context of a long-distance situation? 

And I'll just share; it may be a big mistake to assume that relationship issues that you're experiencing in a long-distance situation are just because it is a long distance-situation. It is also worth considering that if someone isn't emotionally responsive or isn't available when you want them to be in the context of a long-distance situation, it may be that that could be the way that they actually are, and that it is not likely to improve if you were together day-to-day. 

And that may not be true. Some people just aren't great technological communicators. But don't make too many excuses or blame too many things about the relationship on it being long distance, because people tend to be consistent in the way that they behave in many different situations. Of course, long-distance situations do, again, present their unique set of challenges. So there's that. But it can be hard to figure out what is ultimately the truth. 

And it's also, I think, a stressful situation for many couples who are developing their relationships and getting closer and closer together to figure out, “When should we move in together or be in the same town together? What do I need to be seeing or experiencing with you from a distance in order for me potentially or you to feel comfortable with packing up our lives and moving to Omaha to be together?” Particularly, if you're still in a phase of our relationship where it would be prudent to live close to each other and see how it goes. And I think it's wonderful to be cultivating a relationship with someone where it seems like there's enough opportunity there to find out whether or not it is a good long-term match. But that can be a hard decision to make if your relationship has been long distance exclusively prior to that. 

And then, there's also all kinds of conversations around who's going to move? And what is that going to look like? And should we move in together? And is that okay? Do I have a backup plan if that doesn't work out? There are so many things to consider. But again, even just having those conversations with each other can be the opportunity to really learn so much about each other long-term goals, values, hopes, and dreams. Also the way people operate in terms of their willingness to bend on your behalf. That in itself can be a very important, I hate to use the word metric, but let's do it as a data point, when it comes to evaluating whether or not this is the person for you. So there's this. 

And I think that this dynamic is even more pronounced for couples who meet each other in a long-distance kind of context and have to, from the very get go, figure out how to do all of this from the very beginning. And whether it's orchestrating time together or regular calls and routines or dates. Like what does that look like online? So those are things to be thinking about. 

And now, some of the things that we have found to be super, super helpful for long-distance couples are really like, and just to say this out loud. Just like with any relationship situation, there are very rarely like hard and fast rules. Like if you want a good relationship, do this, not that. I mean, there are some things that are easy to generalize, but every person is unique. Every couple is unique. And there are so many “correct” ways to have a really high-quality, long-distance relationship. 

So it is not the job of a couples therapist to tell you what to do. It is our job to help you as a couple create systems, and ideas, and practices that work for you and your unique needs. But I will just share some of the questions that a good long-distance couples therapist would always be asking you and encouraging you to be thinking about and talking about. And I just offer these so you could have some of these conversations on your own if you'd like to, but certainly conversations related to what are our long-term goals as a couple. How do we feel about this long-distance situation? Is one of us okay with it and the other person not okay? What do we do with that if there's conflict around it? Is this feeling good for both of us? And also, what how are we going to handle this if it stops feeling good for both of us?

And relatedly, I think that there's always an important conversation to be had around, what are your values? What is actually more important to you? Is it more important for you to live in Omaha than it is for you to be in the same location with this person you're in a relationship with? Or is your pursuit of this career goal more important to you than being with your partner in person? And is that true just for now? Or will that always be true? 

And helping people get clarity around what they want and what their priorities are in life, not just for their own benefit but for the benefit of their partner, who can then to have all the information, make informed choices about what they want to do long term. Because if you're in a relationship with someone who is always actually going to prioritize their career goals over their connection with you and your family together, you should know that, particularly before you invest a whole lot of time, and energy, and years, and have children with this person, right? So those kinds of conversations are really, really important. 

Secondarily to that, many couples can experience challenge and friction in long-distance relationships when it comes to, “How do we maintain our connection as a couple? How do we feel close to each other day-to-day when we live apart? How do we not just maintain but strengthen our attachment to each other?”

And this can often involve developing different aspects of a relationship. It can involve building a new sort of way of being friends and partners to each other. Lots of opportunities to increase your emotional intimacy. And beautiful things can come of it in terms of rituals, of connection, and things that you do with and for each other in order to help each other, not just know intellectually, but experience, to feel that you are just as important as you always were, even if they're not able to show you day to day through small things. 

People who tend to have like a love language that's oriented around conversation, and emotional connection, and words of appreciation. For those types of people, this maintaining connection can feel much easier in the context of a long-distance relationship. People who really need a lot of like physical connection — hand holding, hugs, things like that. Or acts of service — doing things around the house for each other can feel like a little bit of a crisis. But if you're in a relationship where those things are not really possible in the same way, a couple has to get creative. How do we make it possible or more possible? It requires effort, but it is definitely achievable. 

And also, for many couples in long-distance relationships, sooner or later, there will be a, most of the time, for one, sometimes both partners, to experience a little bit more anxiety or insecurity than they would in a relationship, because it's a long-distance relationship. So it's, “We were supposed to talk at eight, but you weren't – where were you? You weren't home? Who were you with?” Like those kinds of things. Or you know when people seem less emotionally available or kind of distracted. That's like more fraught than it would be many times if you're living together. 

And in these situations, people need more overt, like, reassurance, maybe more contact. There needs to be more information. And that often needs to be really freely given. There has to be a lot of priority around, “How do I show this person that they're important to me, that I am their partner, that I care about them, that they can trust me, they can count on me, that this is a stable situation in the absence of my physical presence and my ability to be there with them day to day in real life?”

So that can be a point of conflict for many couples. And again, as I mentioned at the beginning of this podcast, when people are anxious or feeling insecure, it can create a pursue-withdraw dynamic in a relationship, as I have discussed on many past podcasts. I will refer you back to those for more information. You could listen to the communication podcasts I've done. 

But there needs to be a lot of sensitivity to that and what anxiety is doing to you. Or also, if somebody is wanting more from you. If you experience yourself kind of withdrawing from that, to be just real conscious of that, and how it may be impacting the relationship situation in even more dramatic ways than it would if you were together in real life. Because if you don't have that much time together, your interactions in those small moments become the majority of what people have to understand you. So there can be a lot there that's worth discussing. 

And I will say on that note, I think that is probably the reason why the majority of long-distance couples decide to pursue couples therapy or relationship coaching in a long-distance context is because when they try to have these conversations, it feels very difficult, or it winds up feeling frustrating, or it turns into a conflict, or they're not getting their needs met from each other despite having conversations around that. And if you have these conversations and have that experience, that can be a real good indication that it might be time to have some more support and helping you really kind of figure this stuff out if communication is feeling hard or if you're asking for change and change isn't happening. Those can be signs that it's time to get some support.

So those are things to be considering and to be doing for long-distance couples. In addition to those points of conversation, it's really important to have deliberate, intentional conversations, particularly for that first type of long-distance relationship a married or committed longer term couple who has been living apart that is now anticipating reintegration and to be planning in advance for that reintegration process. 

Certainly, for military couples and families where one person is active duty and has been on deployment and is now coming home, that needs to be handled thoughtfully. Because, in the meantime, it is highly likely that his or her partner has established all kinds of new routines, and rhythms, and ways of doing things. And then for you to walk in the door, and throw down your coat, and start messing around, and doing things, and touching stuff, and moving things around, like that may or may not be welcome or helpful. Just talk about this. 

And also for the person on the other side. If you have hopes or expectations that your partner is going to walk in the door, and throw down their coat, and start doing laundry, like to be talking about that at the very least to help them understand what those expectations are and how they can be helpful to you. And just together, as a couple, figure out what that's going to look like and expect that there will be friction, which is good conflict in a relationship, is always simply a sign that there are things that need to be discussed and worked out. 

All conflict is the opportunity for connection. It is not a bad thing to have conflict in a relationship. That is an opportunity for growth. So expect it. Welcome it and have a plan for how you're going to deal with that constructively. Because it's constructive. It's always constructive. When you handle conflict productively, it is constructive. 

For people in a newer relationship, last words of advice for you would be to be really deliberately considering and actively participating in ways that you can really get to know each other on a deep level and on a realistic level, so that you can make informed choices about the potential for a future with each other. And there are so many opportunities again, to be emotionally available, to be vulnerable with each other, to be emotionally responsive to each other, particularly if one of you is feeling anxious about something. So many opportunities to show each other who you really are. 

And also very, very helpful to if/when the time is right to potentially move in or move closer to each other, find ways of doing so where you can mitigate the risk to each other, in the event that you know either it's different than you were hoping it was or if, for some reason, it doesn't work out. Be thinking about how you can get to know each other be in the same place without it being this like do or die, life or death, like super pressure-y situation. Because that in itself can add like a weird and difficult pressure to a relationship that a relationship doesn't typically experience when people are getting to know each other who do live in the same town. That would be absent of that kind of pressure. And so just to be thoughtful about that.

And then, while it is so difficult to do this when you are really excited about someone, and you're in love, and really hopeful about your future together, I always caution clients in my work as a dating coach is to not get attached to any particular outcome and really be kind of focusing on, how am I feeling in this relationship? Does this feel good to me? Is this working for me? Is my long-term happiness and satisfaction dependent on this person and making all kinds of changes and then I will feel happier and better about the situation? So like, just being really clear and honest with yourself about those things.

And I think approaching it with an attitude of cautious optimism that, “They seem really great and I'm really enjoying this so far. And I'm really looking forward to getting to know them better.” Before really like making major life decisions on your experiences of them so far. 

Because everybody is a mixed bag. Every relationship has aspects about it that are wonderful, and aspects of it that are challenging. And the key to having a really happy, healthy, enjoyable long-term relationship is not finding your perfectly compatible, perfect soulmate who does not have any issues, because everybody does. It's finding a person that has 75-80% of the things about them you really like and appreciate. And those things outweigh the 20-25% of them that is actually non-ideal, possibly annoying. That's always going to be there. That part doesn't matter. Does the good outweigh the bad significantly enough? And just know that that bad is there. You just may or may not know what it is yet. And so the point of dating is to figure out what that is, and if it is stuff that you can live with. So just keep that in mind unsolicited advice from a jaded dating coach.

So I hope that these ideas were helpful to you. I hope it kind of opened the window into some of what we do with long-distance couples that we see for couples therapy online or the work that we do as dating coaches, and just kind of like giving you some of the questions and strategies and things to think about, so that you can use them in your own life and make good decisions about it.

And of course, if you are in a long-distance relationship and would like to pursue couples counseling through a video or if you're in a dating situation and would like to do some dating coaching about how to handle long-distance relationships, we are always here for you. Come on over to www.growingself.com. You can schedule a free consultation, and we can talk get to know more about your situation, and how we may be able to help. 

Or otherwise come over to www.growingself.com and browse around all the other articles and podcasts that we have just for you around long-distance relationships, about strengthening your connection and your strong bond, about communication strategies. It is all there for you, so I hope you come take advantage of it. And I will be back in touch with you next week for another episode of Love, Happiness & Success.

 

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