Kat Mindenhall, LCSW

Relationship Problems and Women: Can You See Your Part?

balancing relationship problemsWhat Makes it Hard for Women to See Their Part in Relationship Problems?

When you feel like you do everything for everyone and get no consideration in return, it’s hard to have sympathy for your spouse’s complaints about relationship problems. Maybe you can’t see anything but how you are being taken for granted. When you are struggling for years in not being heard, or having your emotional needs met, it makes you deaf to the needs of your spouse. Relationship problems seem like they happen despite all of your efforts.

If you are miserable, it hardens you. If you are trying to get through to your spouse to do more, care more, listen more, the anger can put you into a position of doing a lot of yelling, criticizing, and nagging. You feel justified. You’re angry and exasperated, and that’s what happens when you aren’t getting a response from your partner. This can happen to either a man or a woman experiencing relationship problems, but women are often the ones who are more emotionally dissatisfied  in a relationship. Add in the feeling that you are doing more than your fair share, and you have an understandable recipe for resentment and blame:

“So what if he’s hurting, I’ve been hurting for a long time.”

“Maybe if he hurts now, he’ll understand how I feel.”

“If he really cared, he’d do more and he wouldn’t turn me into this nagging, yelling monster.”

But, there’s a price to this.

If you are in so much pain that you can’t see your contribution to your relationship problems, you’ll both be very stuck. I see a lot of women who bring their husbands or partners to therapy hoping that it will make them change. Do more to help. Be more respectful. Listen and care.

Women have a lot on their plates, and maybe you do too. They are often responsible for the lion share of what goes on in a household or family. Career (or not), children, housework, shopping, it all adds up. Factor in your partner’s need for physical intimacy and you may just feel like you are going to scream.

Burnout has a price: When it comes to solving relationship problems, there can be so much anger that you can’t feel empathy for your partner. You can’t take your share of the responsibility for the state of the relationship. 

This leaves you feeling alone and taken advantage of in the relationship.  If your partner didn’t care, why would you try very hard to meet their needs?  This makes for a vicious cycle that blinds you to your own contributions to these relationship problems.

I would never pin all of the blame for unhappiness on one partner in non-abusive relationships. What I’m suggesting is that if you think that all of the problems in your relationship are your partner’s fault, there’s more to the story. You may feel like this partly because of being overloaded and burned out.  Understanding this, catch yourself when you are feeling like the victim. Notice what your mind is telling you about the story here. Even if you aren’t sure of a way out of the patterns you have created together, remember that you have created them together. This can go a long way toward paving a path for you to get your needs met.

It’s tempting to think that if your partner would “just stop being an emotional cripple” that your life would suddenly improve, but believe me, it’s not that simple. Recognizing that things like burnout or overwork can make you less friendly toward your partner’s needs or complaints is a good first step toward avoiding the pitfall of being unable to take any ownership of what’s going on in your relationship.

If your mind is saying, “It’s because I’m burned out that this makes me so mad that my partner can’t clearly see what’s going on with me,” then couples therapy can really help with this. We specialize in helping you get through to each other in new ways that are totally different from what you are used to.

Next, I’ll be writing a post on why some men can’t see their contribution to the problems in their relationship, so stay tuned! In the meantime, let’s meet for a free consultation with one of our excellent Denver couples therapists.

Do I Want to End My Relationship?

How Can I Tell if I want to End My Relationship? Am I just Exhausted and Burned end my relationshipOut? What’s the Difference Between the Two?

Entering couples therapy can feel like starting a marathon when you are tired of running. Most of the time, a couple comes in and they aren’t even sure how to know if the relationship is fixable or not. Often, you ask yourself, “Do I want to end my relationship, or am I just burned out?” There are no guarantees, but the couples therapist usually has a pretty good handle on how folks come in feeling pretty hopeless, burned out, and unsure of how things are going to work.

Relationship Burn Out can occur when one person, usually the one who feels like they have been trying to save the relationship, gets exhausted. It can start to feel like you’re numb. You’re resigned to the way things are always going to be. You want things to get better, but you don’t know how much more effort you can muster. It feels dangerous to hope. It feels like you’ve given it your all, and you wonder if you’re done. 

This can be confusing – are you done with the relationship, or done with the struggle?

When you are in couples therapy, the best route to take is to act as if things are fixable, and act as if you have the belief that they can be, even if you aren’t sure what that looks like. I wrote a post on it here. On the surface, this can sometimes be tough for the couples therapist and the client to figure out. It’s pretty convincing when someone says that they just can’t care right now. So how would you know?

If you imagine that your relationship suddenly became what you wanted it to be, how does that make you feel? Really imagine it. Let yourself believe it.

Does it spark anything? Hope? Joy? Relief? Slightly guarded disbelief that wants to believe?

Now try this: Think about your struggle in this relationship. The hardship you’ve faced trying to change things. What do you feel? Do you feel a knot, angst, sorrow? Anything at all? Or do you just feel like you’re thinking about something that you’ve gone through and are out of, removed from?

As a couples therapist, if I can tap into any kind of feeling, positive or negative, about the relationship, then I know I’m on to something. People who are done don’t give a crap. They don’t tear up when they talk about how hard they’ve tried and how exhausted they are. Because they don’t feel helpless or hopeless, they feel removed. They fight is over. The bond is broken. And they get much more joy from imagining life without the person than angst.

This isn’t to say that people who still feel something never get divorced. Quite the opposite – I think that a lot of divorces happen because people are burned out and trying to escape the misery, not because they suddenly woke up and felt nothing for their partner.

So, do you get anything from the thought that things could be better? Even if you feel too exhausted to entertain the notion, would you get hopeful if it were indeed possible? Does your heart still break at the thought of losing this person?

It’s not always easy to tell, but being burned out because it means so much to you and you’ve tried so hard is different from being done because there is no longer any kind of bond or relationship there. It might be really hard to decipher this on your own. If you need help figuring this out, we can help. Just know that it’s totally OK to feel numb and done and tired and all of that, and it still isn’t the last nail in the coffin of your relationship.

In fact, it’s pretty darn common to feel this way, which is a sign that a couples therapist could really help.

Relationship Change: I’ll Try When You Try

“I’ll become more (loving/open/etc) when I see some relationship change from my spouse.”relationship change

I get it. Really, I do.

Allow me to illustrate how this isn’t going to change anything…

There is a great parable that relates to relationship change. I have no idea if there is an original version, so if you’ve heard this and it’s slightly different drop me a comment!

In a romantic relationship, we often feel like we’d be able to make a positive change if the other person went first and gave us something to work with. Sometimes this is because we feel slighted and want them to show up a little more. Sometimes we want them to prove something, take a turn trying. Sometimes we are just exhausted or frozen, wary of trying too hard if the other person isn’t going to do anything on their part for relationship change.

Here’s the Parable

There once was a guy in a very cold little yurt up in the mountains. There was an awesome wood burning stove there, and the guy was freezing to death. The guy was really upset that the stove wasn’t warming him, and he asked the stove to warm him so that he could make it through the night.

The stove replied, “I would love to warm you, but you have to supply me with firewood. I can’t warm you if I don’t have any.”

The guy says, “Well, I can’t go out in the freezing snow to get the wood on the porch until you give me some heat!

You see where this is going. The dude froze to death. 

We rely on each other to meet our needs in the relationship, but it’s not realistic to expect your needs to be met if the other person is freezing or running on empty. Paradoxically, we have to give something even if we are running on empty or freezing.

This is the catch-22 that people find themselves in, and I always say that it’s a gradual process. We can’t just snap into fully being there for someone who isn’t there for us. And we can’t expect that from our partners. With the help of a couples therapist, you can learn how to take small steps toward relationship that actually get you somewhere, and ultimately be able to really get what you need from the relationship. If  you feel stuck in this kind of catch-22, let us help you untangle the mess so you don’t freeze!

WATCH: Why Angry Outbursts & Shut-Down Happen in Relationships

stop angry outburstsHow do you stop angry outbursts or total shut-down from happening in your relationship?

How do you repair things after there has been a total meltdown?

To most couples, it’s a mystery why seemingly small issues often result in angry outbursts, or totally tuning out and shutting down.

Dr. Sue Johnson, has released what I think is a fantastic video to help us understand in a nutshell why we can’t just have a rational conversation about anything, and how to fix that. Dr. Johnson is a renowned researcher in field of couples therapy and professional mentor to those of us who practice the science-based method for solving couples issues – Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy.

In the following video, you’ll see:

  1. The 5 Basic Core Moves in any love bond – the ingredients for a good loving bond, or a total angry blow-up and stone cold tune-out.

  2. Watch a couple completely derail

  3. Then watch them fix it

I love this because it’s something we all experience – that moment when the crap hits the fan, and we somehow end up in a fight or feeling totally distant, or both. Please watch and enjoy.

Love Sense Video

Another reason I love this video is that it gives you a glimpse of one of the ways that a couples therapist can help if angry outbursts are a part of your relationship. We don’t have to be stuck in always having the same end every time we even try to bring anything up. I love working with this, this is what we do. If you’d like a consultation to discuss how your relationship can be free from the trap of angry outbursts and total shut-down, hop over to our calendar and pick any time.

Is My Relationship Healthy? 8 Uncomfortable Feelings That Actually Indicate Your Relationship Is On The Right Path

Everyone knows that relationship aren’t easy. When you have discomfort in a relationship, it can signal problems, but not always. If you are is my relationship healthywondering, “Is My Relationship Healthy?” Here are 8 uncomfortable feelings that actually indicate your relationship is on the right path.  There are no universal rules, so the absence of these feelings doesn’t mean you are on the wrong path. And having these feelings also isn’t a guarantee that you are in a great relationship, either. We just need to be able to recognize things that are uncomfortable precisely because they are new and more healthy ways of relating. Confused yet?

Let’s just dig in. This isn’t exhaustive, it’s just off the top of my head. Please comment about what you would add to this list!

  1. Having the Fear of Losing Your Partner

    This is not about paranoia or clinging. But having a healthy awareness that losing your partner is a possibility, and that it would really hurt, is vital to having a healthy relationship. Much of what we do is in reaction to this fear, actually, a whole lot of what we do is. When we can see where this stuff is coming from, it means that we are in touch with what’s at stake and better able to have insight into what we are doing.

  2. Feeling Hurt By Your Partner’s Behavior

    As strange as this sounds, many people cover up feeling hurt so well that they don’t even recognize it anymore. All they feel is anger, or numb, or anything other than the vulnerable feeling of hurt. When you are able to identify this, it means you are putting your finger more directly on the dial of what’s going on. And then you can talk more directly about it. And that’s the right path to be on.

  3. Feeling Weak, Embarrassed, Lame, Needy, With Your Partner

    No one like to feel weak. When these feelings are coming from genuinely exposing your softer side, the side of you that needs love and actually tells the other person about it, then you are being vulnerable. A relationship where vulnerability is present is on the right path.

  4. Worrying About What Your Partner Thinks of Your Behavior

    In our culture, we like to give a big middle finger to what people think of us, and we don’t like to be told what to do. If you are worried about what your partner thinks of your behavior, chances are, you might be thinking about their experience of you in the relationship. Their experience of how you treat them. In a good relationship we think about what the other person might be experiencing thanks to us. If this is uncomfortable, it may mean you are looking at your own stuff more critically. Good job.

  5. Being Scared of How Close You Feel To Your Partner

    True intimacy is much deeper than sex. It’s having someone truly know you, and it opens you up to feeling very vulnerable. If this closeness feels good, warm, right, and scary in its intensity as something you’ve never felt before, you may be onto something.

  6. Not Feeling Very Independent When Things Are Tough

    We have this bootstrap mentality in our culture. If you aren’t strong on your own, you aren’t strong. You could even be (gasp!) ‘codependent.’ If you draw strength from your partner in times of need, that’s a good sign. If you are going into a stressful job interview and the thought of your loved one telling you “Good Luck” is what helps you through, then awesome. We aren’t lone wolves. Wolves themselves aren’t even Lone Wolves. It’s healthy and vital to be able to turn toward your partner for comfort.

  7. The Urge to Be Honest About What’s Happening With You

    In sensitive situations, such as with sex, being honest about what’s going on can be scary. We may want to avoid conflict or are embarrassed. The thought of saying that you aren’t turned on by what’s going on, or your feelings are hurt, can be tough. There are some areas that we tend to be conflict avoidant, and this can lead down the wrong path. If your urge to be honest about your experience overrides your fear that you’ll start a fight or say the wrong thing, this can be a good thing.

  8. Lots of Needs and Fears

    There are many things that, just like #1, can be very deep and scary. We also have deep longings in relationships. We want to know that we won’t be rejected. Ever. That we’re lovable no matter how we perform or look or whatever. That our partner deeply cares. That they won’t abandon us. These things are heavy and scary, and most people aren’t aware that they even feel this way. So if you are one of the lucky ones that can get in touch with one of these big feelings, congratulations. You could be on the right track to being able to get those needs met.

One striking thing is that the awareness of these negative or uncomfortable feelings is often a healthy sign. When you ask yourself “Is My Relationship Healthy?” you shouldn’t think that feeling some discomfort is a sign that it’s not. They are signals of needs we have. They are signals that we are stretching ourselves outside of our comfort zone into true vulnerability. The irony is that most of these can yield incredible feelings of security, contentment, warmth, stability, and trust if we know how to navigate ourselves into getting that. This is where we come in, it’s what we do. Let us know if you would like us to help you navigate through the discomfort and into the light in your relationship!

Many uncomfortable feelings could be present in a toxic way, such as in a domestically violent, emotionally abusive, or otherwise unhealthy relationship. Please seek professional assistance if you are concerned that your relationship could have these issues, and never tell yourself it’s OK to feel like crap in a relationship, because that is not true.

How Often Should We Come to Couples Counseling?

“How often should we come to couples counseling?”

On every initial phone call with a couple interested in couples counseling, I get asked this same question. I recommend weekly sessions for the first 4-6 weeks, and then re-evaluate after that. That isn’t a requirement, but there are several good reasons to consider doing this when you are wondering how often you should come to couples counseling:

    1. You want your couples therapist to get through the assessment period quickly.

      If you come to couples counseling every two weeks in the beginning, it will feel like it’s taking forever for your couples counselor to really dig in.  A good couples therapist takes the time to really understand each of you and what’s going on from a clinical perspective. And, it’s more complicated than “I yell and he shuts down.” It can take a few sessions, and at the rate of twice a month, this can feel like forever.

    2. You want to get the most out of the momentum of being new and fresh in therapy.

      Sort of like starting a new exercise routine, there can be a great motivation in the beginning of therapy that can really help you set up a strong foundation for how the rest of your couples therapy goes. If you are motivated to get in shape and only go to the gym once a month, you won’t see changes and you won’t feel committed the way that you do if you get a running start to your endeavor.

    3. Coming in less frequently may feel like you are starting over each time.

      While this is less of a concern with a therapist experienced in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, if it’s hard for each of you to remember what you talked about in the previous session, it will be hard for the therapist to help you build on any gains that were made. If so much happens in your life between sessions that you have to update the therapist on several key things before getting started, you are wasting a lot of time and money in giving the therapist a rundown of what they’ve missed in your life. Depending on how good the therapist is in directing traffic, you could be wasting a large portion of your session.

    4. Gains are deeper and more powerful when they can immediately follow from a previous experience.

      Following from the previous reason, if you are able to string your experiences together, you will be getting to the heart of the matter and sticking to it. No more sweeping things under the rug and wondering whether you’ll ever get back to resolving that one issue.

    5. You’ll be able to accurately determine whether to step down to twice a month with a perspective on how it feels to have more frequent visits.

      If stepping down is the right thing for you to do, you’ll want to know how to tell. Being able to compare what kind of progress you made at once a week with twice per month is vital to being able to accurately determine what’s best for you.

    6. My personal belief is that it makes your vulnerable to dropping out prematurely, or adds sessions to the overall number you attend.

      This isn’t backed by research, but I’ve seen it a lot and it makes total sense. Given all of the above, it’s not unreasonable to think that adding barriers to your progress could add sessions, money, and time to your journey in healing a relationship. The majority of the people I’ve seen who drop out of therapy before resolving the things that brought them in were twice per week folks. Not all of them, but enough for me to believe in a correlation. The rest of them took more sessions to graduate.

These questions are great, and they usually come from wanting to know what’s going to make you better, faster. And though money isn’t something that should drive your decisions, it’s really important. From a financial perspective, twice a month seems like it may be better, but the overall cost may be greater when you consider adding sessions and/or losing your momentum and progress in therapy and ultimately dropping out before you have lasting change. That’s probably the biggest danger, and though I can’t make these decisions for you, I’m a firm believer in people having all the info they need to make the best decision for them.

If twice per month therapy is all you can do, it will benefit you to be aware of these issues and watch for them cropping up. Communication with your couples therapist is key. Feeling stagnant in couples therapy, unmotivated, etc. are big red flags that your couples therapist can only address if it’s being talked about.

To have a free half hour consultation with one of our Denver Couples Counselors, book online here.

You may also like:

Your Free Therapy Consultation: 5 Ways to Prepare

What to do When Your Partners Won’t Come to Therapy

Read More About Emotionally Focused Therapy