Couples

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.

 

Your Spouse Always Thinks You’re Trying to Start a Fight

Your Spouse Always Thinks You're Trying to Start a FightSo, what do you do if your spouse always thinks you’re trying to start a fight?

Defensiveness can seem like a huge brick wall. It feels like you are damned if you do, damned if you don’t. It’s pretty common for one partner to complain that they have been pretty clear about their needs in the relationship, but their spouse either gets defensive or ignores them. Why is it that sometimes it feels like no matter what you say, it seems like your spouse always thinks you’re trying to start a fight?

One telltale way that I uncover what’s going on is that I’ll ask each person how they let their partner know that they need something.

Most of the time, at least one person will say something like:

“I’ve said over and over that I don’t like __________.”

“When he/she does something good, which is the opposite of how they usually act, I make sure to tell them that if they would just do more of this and not ever do that other stuff, I’d be happier.”

“I shouldn’t have to tell him/her. If he/she really cared, they’d know what to do based on how many times we’ve had this conversation.”

“I’ve told him/her that I need her to be more ________.”

Can you spot the common thread in all of these approaches? They all include criticism. Implied or outright criticism.

When you are trying to get through to your partner, if there is even a hint of criticism in there, it can turn the whole interaction sour. It’s like when I was pregnant and would sniff everything before I ate it to see if it had gone bad. My sense of smell was so keen that things just smelled bad, and it made me paranoid. If I caught a whiff of something that could be off, I couldn’t eat it. It didn’t matter if I was half way through, if others were happily chowing down, it was over.

Criticism is the same way. And over time, you start to think that everything is going to be sour, so you don’t even give it a chance. Your partner hears criticism where it isn’t. You end up stuck. 

There are often good reasons for criticism. But our actual needs in the relationship get lost in the message. Most of the time, we are trying to convey ourselves, be understood, spark change. But it backfires. It feels naked and weak to make nice when we’re hurt. Lots of times, we don’t even know we are hurting, we’re just pissed. Maybe you used to be careful about criticism and it never got you anywhere. Maybe you’re fed up. It would be understandable if you were.

So, if you are thinking that stopping criticism is easier said than done, you’d be right.

If your spouse always thinks that you are always trying to start a fight, they might shut down and not want to discuss anything at all. Or, they might get defensive and attack before you realize you are in a fight. These patterns are complicated and are never, ever down to just one person always doing this or never doing that. But, one thing is usually true – if you feel like simple requests turn into a fight, check to see how much (thinly) veiled criticism is going on there. 

If you are unsure how to get out of being defensive and communicate in a way that gets your needs met, schedule a time for us to call you. This is what we do.

Why Relationship Advice Doesn’t Work

Why Relationship Advice Doesn't WorkWhy Relationship Advice Doesn’t Work

The danger behind being seduced by relationship advice, tips, and tricks.

Don’t you just wish that someone would tell you how to fix relationship problems? How many billions of dollars a year are spent in the self-help section, promising the solution to our most complicated issues? Unfortunately, there are real reasons why relationship advice doesn’t work, and why a good couples therapist would steer clear.

Most normal people assume that fixing relationship problems means first understanding what the problem is and where it came from, which should lead to a solution. How to fix it. Knowing what to do. Making a plan. Do This, Don’t Do That.

Humans Like Easy Answers

We are human, and our brains evolved to solve problems. From building fires to hunting, our survival has hinged on making the outside world better. This is called the Problem Solving Mind. It tries hard to help, the only way it knows how: Logic! Determination! Fix it!

The Problem Solving Mind isn’t great at solving problems that have to do with our emotions and our relationships. It wants to make us believe that it can help, but it actually causes more harm than good. The main job of the Problem Solving Mind is to keep you feeling like you are on the right track. You are going to solve this. This isn’t out of your control. You don’t have to be miserable.

All you need is some quick advice and you’ll be OK. But that’s not true. 

It’s Scary When We Have No Quick Fix Solutions to Relationship Problems

Relationships aren’t like machines that you can take apart and tweak here and there to fix. The only way to solve relationship problems is by working through them, not around them.

Relationships are hard. We don’t have control over how people act, how we react, and whether we could lose each other. The stakes are SO HIGH. We want to get it right, we don’t want to mess things up. We don’t want to have problems, hurt and heartache. No wonder we want quick answers! Who wouldn’t?

When the Problem Solving Mind asks for magic bullets, quick answers, easy tools and instructions on how exactly to fix something, therapists sometimes feel pressure to oblige. We want you to feel hopeful and effective! A good therapist is full of ways to help you, and that may include something you can do right now. But, a good therapist does not dole out relationship advice like french fries at the drive-through. Relationship advice doesn’t work. 

Magic Bullets: Solutions or Quick Tips for Relationships

Magic Bullets are a type of relationship advice that doesn’t work. It may work for a little while, but then they stop working and you are sometimes worse off. Let’s use the Five Love Languages as an example. While the actual ideas in the book aren’t bad, couples routinely come in feeling defeated that they have been doing Acts of Service or saying Words of Affirmation for three months, and for some reason, their partner still doesn’t feel loved enough. What’s the issue?

The tool gets sucked up into the problem itself. The tool starts to feel like it’s not working. It feels forced, it isn’t coming from your experience and you can’t keep it up.

People fall into a bartering system. “I will do what you need if you do what I need. You haven’t done what I need, so I’m not budging.”

Things feel better and different for a while, but the actual core issues aren’t resolved. There isn’t more trust. People don’t feel secure in the relationship.

It starts to feel like your partner is just doing those things because they have to, not because it comes from their spontaneous love and intuition on what would make you happy.

If your partner isn’t doing the thing at all, then it’s evidence that they are terrible.

You blame each other and feel hopeless. 

 

When things fall apart it confirms your original story about why things aren’t working.

“You don’t care about me.”

“You don’t even try.”

“We aren’t compatible.”

“You aren’t capable of sustaining change.”

“Nothing ever pleases you, it’s not enough.”

“You don’t know what you want, because I’m doing this perfectly and you still aren’t happy with us.”

The result? You are back at square one, only now you failed and you guys suck. You feel worse about the relationship.

What Would A Real Couples Therapist Do Instead?

You are trying to climb a mountain as a couple, to the top, where your relationship problems are conquered and you feel trust and security, and love. You are hiring the couples therapist to guide you. You want them to just tell you what to do.

A real guide is not going to stand in the parking lot and say:

Good luck on the way up. Let me tell you, it can get really windy. All you need to do is duck. I know you’ve never climbed this mountain, or any mountain, but if you just duck every time the wind blows, you should be prepared for any and all kinds of obstacles up there. Ice, hunger, low visibility. You’ll be fine. If it doesn’t work, you have yourselves and each other to blame, because that’s a sure-fire solution I’m telling you. But, I’m going to hang back here at the trail head and make sure I can see you through my binoculars! That’s what you pay me for. Good Luck!!

NOPE. You might leave the session feeling like you have a plan. But you will not make it to the top of that mountain.

A good couples therapist would say:

Let’s suit up. It gets really windy, so I’ll be guiding you and taking care of you both. Sometimes I’ll lead the way, and as we go over the terrain and the rock, and get knocked around by the wind, just focus on letting me know how you are doing. I can’t predict exactly what we’ll find, but I can promise you that I’ll help you through whatever we run into and you won’t fall to your death because I’m right there with the rope. As you climb, you’ll get stronger and more confident in your footing, and you’ll start finding your way with all that you’ve experienced and learned. By the time we get to the top, I’ll barely be helping. Until then, we have to meet every unique challenge together.

And then, they’d blaze the trail. Can you see the difference between Magic Bullets and real help? 

As I began writing this, I really just wanted to talk about why Magic Bullets don’t work, but it’s really a deeper thing. It’s about what really makes successful change (experiences) versus what we wish would make successful change (Book Learning). If you find that your Problem Solving Mind is mounting a pretty convincing argument for the easy solution, please do yourself a favor and at least read a good book that won’t set you up for failure: Love Sense by Dr. Sue Johnson, or reach out for a free consultation to get an idea of what having someone climb the mountain with you would feel like.