Relationships

Misconceptions

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Let’s be honest: there are a ton of misconceptions about what therapy actually entails. And Hollywood has had a field day with their portrayals of what a therapy session looks like.  The most common visual shown, is of a client laying on a couch, looking at the ceiling and talking about whatever comes to mind.

In reality, though, therapy doesn’t always resemble its Hollywood portrayal. The result of the Hollywoodification of therapy has been loads of misconceptions about what people who are seeking help perceive therapy to be.

In my own practice, I see a lot of misconceptions, but especially as they relate to couples’ therapy. Today, I want to dispel a few common misconceptions of couples therapy that I see quite frequently.

Couples’ Therapy Doesn’t have to be “Last Ditch Effort”

By the time many couples enter my office, it’s a “last ditch effort.” In other words, they’ve tried working through marital issues on their own, devoured every Self Help book or blog they can get their hands on, and their gas tanks are nearly empty.

First off, there’s nothing wrong in trying to work through issues together without the help of a professional or reading books or blogs to get educated on the various schools of thought in couples’ therapy.  However, when it comes to making strides in your relationship, however, having an unbiased third party can work wonders.

Far from a last-ditch effort, couples’ therapy can be extremely useful at various stages of any relationship. If one or both sides are struggling with finding fulfillment or are experiencing frustration or betrayal, couples’ therapy can be extremely helpful.  Whether you’re just getting the initial inklings of something being “off” in your relationship or you’re weeks away from separating, couples’ therapy has been proven to help bridge the divide that has entered your relationship.

Learning to Listen

One observation I commonly see when couples are in my office is a lot of talking at one another and very little listening.

Instead of waiting for the other person to finish to get their own point across, I encourage couples to actively listen to their partner. Active listening manifests itself in a number of ways, but I try and ask my patients to repeat parts of what their partner said back to them to ensure understanding. From there, I ask each partner how these issues make them feel before having the other person respond with what has been bothering them.

This act of back-and-forth listening can help build compassion and empathy for both partners in a way that simple “getting things off the chest” doesn’t do.

No One-Size-Fits-All Solution

I like to let people know that therapy is unique to each couple since everyone brings in their own unique histories and perspectives. Not to mention that some couples have children while others don’t, and this factor alone drastically changes the way I approach couples’ therapy.

I believe in the power of couples’ therapy, because of the intimate nature of the sessions. While people can learn different techniques from a book or blog, having a licensed therapist who is actively helping to introduce new skills for communication etc., can be incredibly valuable. And while couples’ therapy doesn’t always result in salvaging a relationship, it often does.  In my experience, regardless of the outcome- both partners come out the other side with more insight and clarity.

When In Doubt, Reach out

If you and your partner are going through a rough patch, consider reaching out to a couples’ therapist.  Just starting the conversation can actually be quite beneficial. And once you decide to seek therapy, I suggest that you ask lots of questions- nothing is off limits. This initial dialogue is a great way to dispel any preconceived notions or misconceptions you may have about couples’ therapy.  Please feel free to be in touch if I can be helpful in finding you a therapist or therapy resources!

Working Through Insecurity

working through relationship insecurities

Lately my practice has been presenting with couples who have a lot of insecurity issues.  Why is this? Both partners are very successful, emotionally aware and appear to be great parents!

As much as I know that self-doubt and insecurity affect people in a variety of ways, and for a number of reasons; as a clinician, when a couple walks into the room with insecurity issues, I still wonder where the root of the issues lie.

Here’s what I see: when it comes to insecurity in a relationship, it can feel incredibly jarring and is emotionally unsettling when one partner is behaving in a way or acting out for some reason. But what causes such anxiety in these relationships? And if the causes are known, what can be done to lessen the feeling of insecurity people feel in their relationships with their partners?

If you’re feeling insecure in your relationship, there are definitely ways in which you and your partner can build or regain confidence that may be missing right now. I’ll outline them below.

Anxiety and Insecurity in Romantic Relationships

Feeling anxious and insecure in a relationship is more common that people think. In fact, hundreds of studies have been commissioned to understand why this feeling is so prevalent. One of the leading theories behind this is called Attachment Theory. To paraphrase the premise of attachment theory:

Attachment theory is the proposition that affectional bonds between individuals and patterns of early life interactions between caregivers and children produce internal working models that serve as templates guiding interpersonal expectations and behaviors in later relationships. Caregivers who are stable, consistent, and predictable tend to encourage the development of internal working models of the self as valued and others as trustworthy and reliable sources of nurturance. Unstable, inconsistent, or unpredictable caregiving in early life can produce maladaptive internal working models that are reflected in insecurity and anxious forms of attachment.(1)

In other words, there is a direct link in how people approach their adult relationships, and it is usually tied with their upbringing. People brought up with predictable caregivers tend to view adult partners in the same way: with positive, unconditional regard. On the other hand, people who have unstable or inconsistent upbringings may bring more insecurity to their adult relationships. Of course, neither upbringing is a guarantee that someone will have anxiety in a relationship or not, so it’s important to have compassion either way!

What to Do to Feel More Secure

When one or both partners in a relationship feel insecure or anxious, it’s important to know that no one is alone.  Typically, both people are experiencing similar feelings and are just acting out in different ways.  A few ideas to consider:

Open Communication

Clear lines of communication come easier for some than others. Having an open and honest discussion about relationship insecurities can often be the quickest route to feeling more confident and secure. When feelings are discussed openly and respectfully, root issues can be identified quickly and (ideally) actively worked through in therapy.

For instance, if one partner feels inadequate in their partner’s eyes, simply bringing it up may help the partner realize that their actions are contributing to this anxiety.  In other words, “normal” behavior for one partner may unknowingly be exacerbating insecurity in their partner. By addressing this together, one partner may be able to change small aspects of their behavior, which in turns builds confidence and security in the relationship.

Step Out of the Comfort Zone

If a relationship is approaching--or is already in--the zone of insecurity, sometimes doing something out of the ordinary can be helpful. When couples find an activity they can share where both people need to step out of their comfort zone, it can actually help with the feeling of insecurity. When both partners are out of their comfort zone, it can open the lines of communication and in turn; that vulnerability can help with the insecurity, too.

Be Kind +  Be Strong

Bottom line: working through insecurity takes trust, strength and patience. However, finding ways to talk about relationship insecurity with your partner is a step in the right direction.  And from what I’ve seen; with time, it is possible for partners to rekindle that spark that led them together in the first place.

Sources:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3330635/


Managing Divorce when Kids are Involved

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For many couples, few days are as special as their wedding day. Surrounded by family and friends, the newly married couple often feels as if they have the whole world ahead of them. For some, however, that joy is short-lived or fleeting. In fact, current research posits that 40-50% of marriages end in divorce (and 2nd and 3rd marriages have a higher rate than that).1 And while divorce is never easy on those who are separating, when children are involved it can be even more difficult.

Going through a separation can be emotionally taxing any time of the year, but the holidays can be especially trying on everyone involved. Sometimes, there is an urge to keep up appearances, whether it be holiday cards, social media posts, or any number of other things.

If you find yourself in a position where you and your spouse contemplating divorce and children are involved, below are some tips I give my clients who are going through this challenging time.

Little Ears are Listening

Some marriages end amicably, but that isn’t the case for everyone. When confronted with the tough reality that a relationship isn’t going to last, it is easy for soon-to-be exes to argue frequently.

While conflict is bound to happen in any relationship — especially those that are falling apart — it is important that you and your partner be mindful of where and when these arguments or disagreements take place.

Arguing in front of your kids should be avoided at all costs. When parents argue, it’s natural for kids to think they’re somehow to blame for the discord in the household. Even if you have young children who you don’t think “understand” what’s going on, it is still important to be mindful of your tone when having disagreements.

If you and your partner are trying to do what’s best for your children, consider seeing a therapist who specializes in co-parenting after divorce. Marriage therapists are great for troubled marriages, but if you and your spouse have settled on a divorce, a co-parenting therapist is a more appropriate venue to air grievances regarding visitation, parenting philosophies, and so on. These environments are not only conducive to helping you and your ex co-parent better, but it also provides your child the freedom from not over-hearing mommy and daddy arguing.

Educate Yourself as Co-Parents

This idea of co-parenting while being in different households is hard to grasp for many families. However, if you and your ex are committed to making the transition as easy as possible for your children, consider taking a parent education course in order to help your little ones best cope with the transition.

Studies show that children who grow up in a “happy home” are more likely to have fewer mental, physical, and educational issues than those who grow up in homes with unhealthy marital relationships.(1)

Parent education classes provide an unbiased perspective and offer support, while keeping the children’s best interest in mind.  Additionally, these sorts of programs have been shown to improve the way children cope with their parents’ divorce not only immediately after the divorce, but for subsequent years, too.(2)

In essence, when parents present a united front, the kids pick up on that. When Mom and Dad are working together,  being consistent in rules, parenting, and so on, it is easier for kids to focus on just being kids rather than being brought into Mom and Dad’s relationship problems.

It Still Takes a Village

Even after you and your spouse separate, if you’re both dedicated to raising your children to be as happy and healthy as they can be, it is possible for your communication to improve over time. While you may not be in-love anymore, the shared love for your children can serve as a guiding light to put your differences aside in the best interest of the kids.



Sources

  1. https://www.apa.org/topics/divorce/

  2. Velez, C.E., Wolchick, S.A., Tein, J.Y., and Sandler, I. (2011).  “Protecting children from the consequences of divorce: A longitudinal study of the effects of parenting on children’s coping processes.” Child Development, 82 (1):244-257.


Sex and relationships? Let’s talk.

shelby castile love and relationships.jpg

Sex is a major component of intimate relationships, whether you’re married or in a committed partnership… intimacy problems among couples happen more than you think.

If you and your partner are experiencing intimacy issues, you’re not alone. In fact, “positive intimate functioning contributes approximately 15-20% to a marriage, while problematic intimacy holds much more weight, approximately 50-75%.(1)” Simply put, this means that couples who reported positive intimate relationships with their partner say their sexual relationship only contributed 15-20% of their overall happiness, whereas couples who reported problematic intimate relationships say their sexual relationships contribute 50-75% of their overall unhappiness. That’s a big difference.

I recently worked with a couple that reported having intimacy problems. The wife felt that her sexual needs weren’t being met, while the husband said he was often too tired at the end of the day to engage in sex. After discussing the situation with the couple, I was able to provide them a few suggestions that could improve their intimacy, which I will share with you.

Putting “Me” Before “We”

Intimacy — and sex — is a two-way street. While it may seem obvious, if partners are out of sync with one another, it can lead to intimacy issues. If your partner is frustrated by the lack of intimacy in your relationship, is it because they’re wanting “too much” intimacy as far as you’re concerned or are you desiring less intimacy? It could also be something in the middle, too. Regardless, when each individual reflects on their role in an intimate relationship, that can serve as the springboard for a larger conversation about what “we” want or view as a healthy intimate relationship as a couple.

Talk is Important

Intimacy is different for every person, and by extension, every couple. When a couple comes to me with intimacy issues, one of the first questions I ask is “Have you talked about it?” I find that couples frequently say “Yes,” but when we explore those conversations further, it turns out that they’re often talking “at” one another rather than engaging in a constructive dialog.

Talking about intimacy and sex can be difficult for couples. “Sex” is loaded with other factors like self-esteem, confidence, and love, to name a few. So talking about this topic-head on isn’t always easy.

But nonetheless, it is important. When couples actually talk about their intimacy, sexual needs and desires, they often learn something new about their partner. I’ve seen instances where one partner feels deep satisfaction after a snuggling session, while the other spouse felt frustration at the end of the same snuggling session because it was lacking a sexual component.

There are plenty of self-help books and resources out there. If you don’t feel comfortable bringing the subject up to your partner, you could always bookmark articles that speak to you. After your partner reads them, you could then discuss it in context of the resource first and then your relationship.

Only when you and your partner can talk openly and free of judgement can you begin to discover the right balance of intimacy in your relationship.

Keep it Physical

Even when I see couples struggling with intimacy issues, I encourage them to not stop being physically intimate with one another. This doesn’t always mean sex, either. It could be as simple as holding hands or kissing, or giving one another massages.

This type of contact and expression is vital in order for you to keep your physical and emotional bonds. As people grow and evolve, so too does their relationship with intimacy. Sex drives change over time, as do preferences for physical contact.

It’s crucial to be honest with each other as your tastes and preferences change. Neglecting these types of conversations can lead to tension, frustration, and further relationship issues if they’re ignored.

Striking the right balance in any relationship is a constantly moving target. But like many things that are worth doing, it takes practice. It also takes a willingness to make the situation better, and by talking about it and remaining physically intimate with one another, intimacy issues can get better and improve the overall relationship with your loved one.

 

Sources

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3807599/

Nurturing Relationships

shelby castile

Summer days used to last forever...or so it seemed. These days, it seems like summer is never long enough. Weekends quickly get booked up with events with friends and family, and the demands of work are ever-present.

With so many things competing for time and attention during the summer, setting aside time to focus on relationships and spending time with one another is vital to a healthy relationship. Relationships need constant care and attention, hello!?!

Let’s face it, every relationship goes through highs and lows. They can be tough times or even just times when one or both people are just going through the motions. Wanting change? Easier said than done.

Try Something New can be a great starting point.

At a certain point in a relationship, it is easy to fall into routine. There’s nothing wrong with routine, but every now and again, it's necessary to get out of that routine and try something different.

This looks different for everyone. For some, getting out of a comfort zone could mean trying a new restaurant their partner heard about. For others, it could mean going to a foreign country where neither of them speak the native language.

Sharing these experiences with a loved one can help reignite the spark.

Time for Two & growing together.

Having kids—and sharing the bond of parenthood—can be an amazing thing! However, it’s so easy to get caught up in the daily details of running a household, dropping the kids off at school-practice-recital-games, and working {to name a few} that finding spare moments to nurture a relationship can be hard. Trust me, I get it.

That’s why scheduling time to work on the relationship is so vitally important. This can take on many forms. Sometimes it just means taking a day off and finding a sitter for the kids. For some people, it can be finding a summer camp where the kids can thrive while every night transforms into date night for Mom and Dad… Hoorray!

However the time is made, it will be time well-spent.  

In the end, growing together is a critical element of a strong relationship. It takes time and effort, but nurturing the relationship is most always, rewarding and bountiful.

Relationships + Change

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As humans we are constantly evolving, growing, and changing. As couples, we’re constantly evolving, growing, and changing, too. This growth and evolution can be great for couples, but what happens when this growth and evolution moves in opposite directions within a relationship?

There’s no question that the person you are today is different than the person you were years ago when you met your partner. Even when you started your relationship, you were a different person then than you are now...and the same is true for your partner. And with all of this change, there is bound to be some tension and tough times, but learning to accept your partner for who they are now--and who they will become--is the foundation of the next stage in your relationship.

Observing and Understanding Change:

There are times when change seemingly happens overnight, but those times are generally infrequent. Instead, change happens slowly over time, almost invisibly. If too much time goes by without addressing small changes, before you know it, these gradual changes have warped into giant chasms between you and your partner.

Whenever possible, attempt to (delicately) bring up these perceived changes with your partner. Ideally, this conversation isn’t confrontational in nature. Instead, it is more of an observational conversation. You may wish to approach your partner and state a few facts that you perceive have changed. If these are changes you’re observing in your partner (rather than your own changes), it is important to be supportive of your partner as you bring this conversation up. Depending on how you approach it, your partner may get offended or defensive, which has the potential to end the conversation before it even begins.

An idea:

You may want to start out by telling your partner about your love for them, and share a few fun, uplifting, loving memories from years ago. This will remind your partner about times when you were both deeply in love and in sync. Then, you can gently bring up some of the changes you’ve seen in your partner. During the course of this conversation, it’s important to be open to the fact that you have changed, too. If your partner wants to talk about those changes, it is important that you listen to them completely, and hear them out.

Relationships are a lot of work, and taking the time {together} to actively talk about your relationship and love for one another is important.

Where Do You Go From Here?

Well, it depends! If your conversation(s) went well, it's important to keep them going. Remember: part of the reason you had to have the “big” conversation in the first place is because you didn’t address the small changes until they became so big they were too hard to ignore.

So, now that you’ve had the talk, what can you do is schedule time where the two of you spend time with one another on a weekly basis. Turn off your phones and other distractions, and just be together. You can participate in each other’s hobbies, relive fun moments from your past, or just talk about your dreams and aspirations as a couple. These moments, though small, can really be beneficial for you and your partner in the long run.

If, however, your earlier conversation highlighted some larger rifts in your relationship that need mending, consider reaching out to family, friends, or a licensed professional for help. Sometimes, having someone with an outside perspective can be a huge benefit. If you’re not comfortable reaching out to family or friends, a licensed professional might be the best bet. Not only are we trained to help couples sort through these changes, but we’re also an unbiased third party, who has no agenda other than to help you as best as we can.

No matter what, remember that you both deserve to feel joy and happiness in your lives. Please reach out to me directly here if I can be of benefit.

Expressing Gratitude

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With Halloween behind us, it is natural for us to start looking ahead and begin to think about the upcoming holiday season. Thanksgiving will be here in no time, and with it the stress and frenzy that often accompanies it. Whether you’re traveling to see family or friends or you are hosting people at your home, Thanksgiving can be incredibly stressful. However, as much as possible, this season especially is a time to practice being thankful and showing gratitude.

As Thanksgiving approaches, try to be present with your partner, and even when the pressures of the season are at their peak, do your best to show your partner gratitude. By following some of the examples below, you will be amazed at the difference expressing and showing gratitude to your partner not only does to improve their mood and outlook, but yours, too.

Count the Little Things

Gratitude shouldn’t be reserved for the “Grand Gestures” in our life. If that was the case, our expressions of gratitude would probably be few and far between. Instead, find the little reasons to show gratitude on a daily basis to your partner.

There are times when partners surprise you: they clear the dishes without being prompted; they surprise you with flowers; or they draw a warm bath for you after a particularly grueling day. These are obvious events where expressing your gratitude goes a long way. These gestures show that they care and that they are in-tune with many of the things that make the modern relationship “work.”

But don’t forget about the other events where gratitude is appreciated and goes a long way. Every now and again, your partner may need a gentle prod or reminder to sweep the floors or put their laundry away. Even if you politely prompt them to do something, once they do it, thank them. Sure, they needed reminding, but when you go out of your way to acknowledge them, chances are they’ll be more inclined in the future to do things without being prompted.

Work Together to Prioritize

One of the key factors of stress between couples during Thanksgiving and the holiday season comes from a lack of communicating priorities. In other words, one partner may view a clean house and neatly trimmed yard as the top priority, whereas the other may feel like having a stocked refrigerator and clean sheets on the beds are the top priority. While each of these are important in their own right, if partners aren’t communicating well with each other about what they view to be a priority, there is a lot of room for assumptions and unmet expectations.

One way to avoid this is by sitting down with your partner and making a list together of all of the “To Dos” you think you need to get done. Once you have the list, you can sit down with each other and discuss the merits and priorities of each. That way, you can both be on the same page about what should be done, by when, and by whom.

While this may not necessarily be an outward form of expressing gratitude to your partner, there is intrinsic value in letting your partner know that you care about their well-being, especially during the holidays, and when you’re on the same page, you’re telling them that you care. In turn, they’ll be grateful to be able to talk through competing priorities with you. And, a little quality time together making a list can be a lot of fun, too!

Communicate Your Way

Every couple has their own spoken and unspoken language. For some, an unexpected hug after an argument says “I’m sorry” in ways that the words never could. On the flip side, other couples may need to hear those words as they work towards forgiveness.

Gratitude happens in much the same way. The go-to method of showing gratitude for one couple may seem incomprehensible to another couple. Also, understand how your partner prefers to be shown gratitude. If your partner is shy, for example, he may not be particularly pleased if you single him out to thank him during the Thanksgiving dinner toast! Instead, he may be thrilled with a sticky note on the bathroom mirror before bed at night.

Finding “your” language to express gratitude is a special exercise and may require some introspective thinking. There is beauty in this, though, because it helps you think and consider the various ways in which gratitude can be shown, and by its own right, that is something to be grateful for.

Wherever you find yourself this Thanksgiving, remember to be thankful. Thank everyone from your family to your colleagues to the tellers in the grocery store. In a busy world, a “Thank You” still goes a very long way.

Wishing you and yours a very happy Thanksgiving!

Let Love Grow

Let’s face it: Relationships require work. Sometimes, really hard work. All too often, the longer you and your partner have been together, the more work your relationship requires. That seems kind of counter-intuitive, right? After all, the longer you’ve been with someone, the better you should know them. And the better you know someone, the less conflict you should have, right? If only it were that easy! As relationships go on, other stressors and factors enter the picture that may not have been there when the relationship was just starting to blossom. Busy careers, bills, kids, kids’ activities...all of these can cause couples to drift apart. Sound familiar? If it does, don’t worry! There are ways you and your partner can reconnect, bicker less, and grow stronger in your relationship.

Let love grow Shelby Castile.jpg

Bickering

Every couple bickers from time to time. Occasionally, that bickering morphs into full-fledged arguments, complete with yelling and exasperated sighs, and migraines. Bickering can actually be really healthy for relationships, as long as it is done respectfully. “Huh?” I’m sure you’re saying. Stay with me! 

Bickering and arguing can be healthy when you’re not just waiting for your turn to speak but when you just shut up and listen to what your partner is saying. Often, the causes of arguments are small things that have built up over a period of time, but which have never been expressly communicated. So, the next time your spouse gets on your case about not cleaning the toilet, listen to what they’re saying. They may not be mad about the toilet; perhaps you’re not taking initiative on cleaning in general.

In the heat of the moment, people can say things they don’t mean or that they instantly regret. Avoid this if possible! The best way to do this is to hit pause. When you recognize that the argument is not yielding anything productive, put it on hold. Whether you both need to walk away and get some fresh air, or (contrary to popular belief) go to bed angry, just give each other some space. These moments of reflection help calm emotions and allow our more rational sides to come back to us. When sufficient time has passed, talk about your argument calmly with one another. Chances are you’ll both find a little humor in what you were arguing about, too.

Sometimes, couples that argue are in healthier relationships than those who don’t bicker at all, because those who aren’t bickering about anything have (sometimes) given up on the relationship without knowing it. When people aren’t bickering and aren’t blissfully in love with their partner, they’re like ships passing in the night. They know the other is there, but they’re not seeing them.

When this happens, what can you do? Sometimes, the easiest thing to do is just talk. Let your partner know what you are feeling, and see if they feel the same way, too. Go into this conversation with an open mind and open heart, and really listen to what your partner has to say. This type of dialogue is essential to growing together as a couple. If you are uncomfortable having this type of conversation or you feel like it has gone beyond the point where simply talking one-on-one with your spouse will work, seek professional guidance from a therapist or marriage counselor.

Reconnect

Relationships are breeding grounds for stress. There is constant pressure from your career; you want to make sure you’re providing the best life you can for your kids; and the result of this is that your relationship with your partner can unintentionally take a backseat. When this happens, it is easier to justify disagreements or, worse, accepting and living in a situation that seems stagnant and doomed.

One way some couples can reconnect and reignite the spark is to either get away or spend some quality Adult Time together. Whether this is a relaxing vacation with just the two of you or sending the kids to the grandparents’ or summer camp for a bit, these moments together can work wonders on a relationship.

Vacations are a great way to hit “reset” and forget about the worries of the real world (just make sure you’re not checking your work email incessantly!). Sitting on a beach with a fruity drink and a trashy novel (followed by some passionate love making in the room) can be just what the doctor ordered. Vacations also get us out of our normal routines and inspire spontaneity that is absent in our day-to-day.

For couples who have the means to do so, sending your kids to summer camp can be an incredible way to fall in love with your partner all over again. This is a great option, because camp offers kids a wonderful opportunity to make new friends and grow into themselves, so you don’t have the same type of guilt that may accompany a parents-only vacation! On top of that, you and your partner can still do your normal career things, but you can enjoy extended happy hours or more frequent date nights without having to worry about getting back in time for the baby sitter.

No matter how long you’ve been with your partner, there is always a way to grow and mature in your love for one another. Sometimes, the monotony of everyday life can grate on us, and our relationships are the first to suffer. Be proactive when you can. But if you find yourself bickering or looking across the dinner table wondering, “Who is this person I’m living with?”, give each other a chance. Talk, communicate, hold one another tightly, and ask for help if you need it! 

Relationship Refresh

Intimate, loving relationships are one of the most amazing things in the world. Finding a partner with whom you can share life’s adventures, tragedies, and joys is an incredibly wonderful gift. Like anything worthwhile, though, relationships require constant work, communication, and ongoing attention in order to thrive.

What do you do when your relationship begins to show signs of wear or is fraying a bit at the edges? Every relationship has its problems, so understanding ways in which you can identify problems and work towards a resolution is of paramount importance if your relationship is to survive and grow.

In this post, we’ll explore 3 common relationship problems and possible solutions.

Recognize and overcome relationship problems

Regain Balance

We often hear that relationships are a balancing act, requiring ongoing repositioning and adapting to our partners’ cues in order to maintain a healthy symbiosis. There is a lot of truth to this, but relationships also have ability to become lopsided and imbalanced.

But what does it mean to really be “balanced,” and how do we get from a place of imbalance to balance? For our answer, we need to understand how our emotions, and the actions that impact those emotions in relationship, are regulated by our bodies.

Our bodies produce and release all sorts of chemicals depending on what a situation calls for. When we work out or push our bodies physically, the body releases endorphins, which lessen the pain from these strenuous activities and leave us feeling good. Afterall, if the body didn’t release those feel-good endorphins after a killer spin class, why would we ever want to go back!?

From the relationship aspect, though, in order to understand why a relationship may be off kilter, it is important to realize that the way the body reacts chemically to certain situations may be at the root of relationship problems. Consider the fact that other feel-good brain chemicals such as oxytocin (aka the “trust” hormone), serotonin (an antidepressant), and dopamine (a “reward” chemical) all have the potential to play significant roles in our, and our partners’ behavior.

Think of the phrase “having too much of a good thing” and how it may ring true in relationships. “Feel good” chemicals also have the potential to serve as a crutch when we’re feeling low or stagnant in our relationships. The release of dopamine, for instance, feels good and is rewarding, but those same characteristics can make it more addictive. In other words, the actions you or your partner take to get that rush of emotion may actually be harming your relationship, but the addictiveness of the feeling may make it harder to stop the behavior that is causing the body to release those feel-good chemicals.

When you recognize that you or your partner may be seeking “too much of a good thing” in terms of these chemical releases, you’re on the right path to fixing a broken part of your relationship. However, it is important not to impose this on your partner: they may feel attacked and emotionally vulnerable if you do, which may actually encourage more of the behavior that you’re trying to solve!

Look Inward

When you’re trying to find your balance with your partner, you may be wondering, “If we’re hard-wired to release these chemicals, then what can we do to break the addictive nature and regain balance with our partners?”

The first thing that we can each do is to look inward. All of us are in control of our own selves and emotions. When we are able to take emotional stock of our actions, behavior, and feelings, we gain a clearer understanding of how that may affect our relationships. For example, if we recognize that we’re constantly engaging in behavior that has a negative impact on our partner, the question then becomes: what can I do to change my behavior?

Similarly, it is equally important that your partner take the same emotional inventory. Often in relationships, bad (or if not bad, damaging) habits form early on but don’t manifest until much later, because one partner or the other shrugs it off thinking it isn’t a big deal or that it will end soon.

By talking with your partner about your own process you can encourage them to evaluate themselves. This relationship “work” has the potential to bring you closer together during tough phases of your time together. When your partner recognizes not only your emotional vulnerability and confidence in expressing these emotions in a self-aware way, you may just give them the confidence they need to start their own inward journey.

Stay Strong

We won’t be so naive to think that every relationship can be fixed by finding balance and looking inward. The unfortunate truth is that some relationships are just toxic, or even downright dangerous. Understanding the difference between a relationship needing “work” and a relationship that is causing emotional or physical harm is paramount.

However, sometimes you do need to seek balance and look inward to recognize you’re in a toxic relationship. If you come to this realization, understand this: you are not alone. Seek the guidance of trusted friends or family.

Our friends and family (and, if necessary, professional help) often see our strengths even if we cannot. Their support, love, and encouragement in times of struggle are often the boost we need to confidently recognize the impact unhealthy relationships can have on our lives.

Toxic relationships can be saved if the other partner is truly willing to make the necessary changes, but having the strength to recognize that your partner isn’t letting you be the Best You is a giant step towards a healthy Self.

No matter where you are in your relationship with your partner, never be afraid to seek the guidance of friends, family, or professionals. Alone, it is hard to see the forest for the trees or to recognize patterns that others may see immediately. Give yourself time to look internally to understand yourself. Trying to mend fraying or broken relationships is never easy, but it is possible, and it starts with you.

Reignite the Spark

It will probably come as no surprise to you, but relationships take a lot of time and work in order to grow and ultimately be successful. I often see clients who are in a relationship standstill or rut. They’ve been with their partner for years and each can anticipate what the other will say before they even say it!

When you get to that point, or feel like you’re teetering on the edge of it, what can you do to reignite the spark that brought you together in the first place? This post explores many of the ways in which you can bring some spice back into your love life.

Reignite the Marriage Spark

AppreciatE

If we were to believe all of the Hollywood date-night movies, Love (with a capital L) would always be outwardly displayed by some grandiose gesture, hot air balloon rides, and endless candlelit dinners surrounded by rose petals. But those of us who live in the real world know that love is a combination of lots of little things: holding the door open for your spouse, emptying the dishwasher, waking up in the middle of the night to clean urine-stained sheets from your little ones. Every day, our partners do little things for us because they care. Are you making sure to appreciate and acknowledge the little things your partner does for you? One way to practice appreciation is to keep daily list, either on paper or in your head, and at the end of each day, tell your partner one of the things you are appreciative of from earlier in the day. This little gesture can go a long way. And who knows...maybe they’ll start their own list of “appreciations” and begin the practice, too!

Acknowledge

Similar to sharing the little things you appreciate about your partner and what they do for you, I also encourage my clients to talk about the small things. What are the “small things?” Well, there’s always the classic example of a man leaving the toilet seat up. Maybe she takes spoonfuls of peanut butter right out of the jar to eat, and it kind of grosses you out. Whatever it is, it won’t do either of you any good if you bottle up those little annoyances. Gently bring these small annoyances up to your partner. Don’t be accusatory (because remember: there are probably a few things that you do that annoy your partner!) but let them know that some certain behaviors or actions are a bit annoying to you. Opening up this line of direct, thoughtful dialog tells them that you want to be honest with them and that hopefully by talking about it, the two of you can come to an understanding or agreement about these annoyances.

That said, there is also virtue in letting some of these small annoyances go. Really. Some things may just not be worth bringing up, especially if it is a lifelong habit of your spouse, or you know that they truly get a lot of joy from whatever action it is that annoys you. The trick here, though, is to actually let it go. Do what you need to do to get over it and not let it bother you any more.

Talk, Talk, Talk!

Notice a theme in the first few tips to a healthy relationship? Communication is King. Small things, big things, middle-of-the-road things. No one wants to be that couple who eats an entire meal together in silence because they have nothing to talk about any more. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been together for 4 or 40 years, keeping your dialog open, fresh, and fun is one of the keys to relationship longevity.

What to talk about? Anything! Talk about your partner’s hopes, dreams, even disappointments. Is there anything that they’ve done that they regret? Perhaps there are things you can talk about that bring new ideas to light that are energizing and invigorating to your mate. Talk about doing something together that may be out of both of your comfort zones. Again, don’t let things fester in silence. Bring things up into the open and have honest, thoughtful conversations.

spend time together

If you and your partner share a lot of the same interests, one thing that can reignite the spark and take you both a bit out of your comfort zones is taking a class together. Find something that interests you both, but that neither of you considers “a strong suit.” For example, if you find yourselves eating out a lot, try signing up for a cooking class. There are tons of options out there ranging from cooking basics to region-based fare (think Mediterranean, Chinese, Mexican, etc) that are designed for couples to learn together.

Another option is taking classes in outdoors activities such as sailing or rock climbing. Perhaps this is something you’ve both wanted to do for a long time, but things like work, kids, time, etc have gotten in the way. Don’t put it off any longer! When you both learn something together, you’re creating new memories and often, the playfulness, the joking, and the fun that sparked your relationship in the first place bubbles back up to the surface.

No matter what you end up doing, relationships take work. But like all things that come with hard work, the rewards are incredibly valuable. When you and your partner overcome relationship hurdles together, you forge stronger, more enduring bonds that will take you years into the future together.

Nurturing your Relationship

build better communication as a couple

Relationships are very, very challenging- but they can also be so wonderful and fulfilling. Quite possibly, the most important relationship in many of our lives is with our significant other. Unfortunately, this relationship often doesn’t get the nourishment and focus that it needs to grow and thrive. Why is this?

The business of life seems to get in the way and everything else seems more pressing.   Let’s face it- work demands, family obligations and dealing with children’s needs are all taxing. It’s easy to let life take precedence over love and not give the relationship with our partner attention. Intimacy can become challenging and growth halted as communication falls to the wayside. However, a relationship can be fostered and flourish through some simple actions.

Below, I will outline four tips to help communicate better with your loved one:

  1. Check In – Once a week, find a time and way to check in with each other, whether it’s a date night out, an evening in, or any other activity that is just the two of you. Hold each other accountable for this time together and make it a priority it to show up for it.
  2. Little Things – Simple, thoughtful gestures can make a big impact. Something as small as a sweet text message to let your partner know you’re thinking of them, or a sweet hand written note can go a long way in aiding better communication.
  3. Tune In – Keep electronics OUT of the bedroom. Date your partner NOT your phone. When you’re out for a dinner, make sure to keep phones and other electronics tucked away so that you can focus on each other and really tune in to your partner. Even when you’re at home, take time without your phones, iPads, computers and televisions to just focus on one another.
  4. Plan something – Having a big event or trip to look forward to as a couple is important. Whether it be a weekend trip or a night away, special time blocked off is a space in which to reconnect as a couple. When you’re away, your roles at home (Mom, Dad, Boss, etc.) are set aside and you become a different person. Relaxation helps let barriers down and can provide the space needed to further communication.
Communication with your partner

Remember, no relationship is perfect and all relationships take work. You’re not alone.  I hope these tips are helpful reminders. As always, if you or someone you know is looking for relationship advice or counseling, please reach out! I’m here to help.

Spring Forward or Spring Back?

How to build and receive love

Remember back when the toughest decision you had to make was choosing between the jungle gym and the slide during recess? Fast-forward to your adult years, and chances are you’ve encountered some pretty trying road blocks in life, for some, lots of them.

Your 7-year-old self didn’t have to think about paying bills; about getting along with a boss; about the difficulties of conceiving; about choosing the right parenting techniques; about watching your cholesterol; or about transitioning to a new job or career. You weren’t concerned with any of these things, and you certainly weren’t concerned with overcoming these obstacles with a partner. By now, it’s likely that playground seemed like a much simpler time – you may even kick yourself for ever wanting to grow up too fast.

The truth is these are just a small sampling of life’s road blocks. We’re faced with obstacles every day that not only challenge us as individuals, but also challenge us in our relationships, particularly our romantic ones. If we aren’t careful, our relationships can suffer. We can’t always control the road blocks themselves, but we can (in many cases) control how we deal with them, so that a detour doesn’t become a relationship dead-end.

Amidst the season where we spring forward, here are three simple practices to help you stay ahead of the obstacles without having to spring back in time to that playground.

Communicate.

Simply put, talk to each other! It seems obvious, but sometimes we let life take priority over having a face-to-face conversation with our partner. NOT through emojis; NOT through texts; NOT through email; NOT on their Facebook wall. In person.

I highly encourage you to set aside uninterrupted time with your partner every day to simply talk to them – no TV, no phone, no tablet, no laptop. How are they doing? How are they feeling? If you can’t communicate during the less challenging times, how will you be able to communicate during the really challenging ones?

Acknowledge obstacles head on.

I hear many couples tell me they don’t want to burden their partner with something they are dealing with. However, it’s important to remember that even your personal road blocks can have a great impact on your partner. If it’s burdening you, that burden’s likely to carry over to your partner indirectly. Practice acknowledging these obstacles right away, no matter how small they seem.

Discuss both sides of the situation – how it makes each of you feel, the potential complications and outcomes, and how you can work together to deal with the issue head on. Maybe this is something you’re always going to have to deal with, maybe it’s something that will go away next week. Either way – so long as it’s affecting one of you, you need to communicate about it.

Recognize how you best give love and how you best receive love.

Perhaps most importantly of all, your partner needs to know that you love and support them, and that you appreciate them. To effectively communicate that, you must first know how your partner prefers to receive love and support; and how they prefer to give love and support. Is it through acts of kindness, is it through verbal words, is it physically, is it through all of these things? Your answers to this question might be different – and that’s okay as long as you recognize your communication styles.

Maybe you prefer to receive love through verbal words, in which case your partner should learn how to effectively (and consistently) tell you they love and support you. Maybe you prefer to receive love through acts of thoughtfulness, such as a surprise dinner, tickets to your favorite sports team or singer, or doing the dishes. Whatever the case may be, if your partner isn’t feeling the love, you better fix something, and quick!

We might not be able to go back to a simpler time on that playground – but why would we want to when we can come out even stronger on the other side.