Tag Archives: couples

What Did You Say?

6 Skills for More Effective Communication

Communication is one of the top concerns that brings our couples to our therapy offices. The good news is that with a few skills, you can make a positive impact in this key area of your relationship. Here are 6 of them to help:

Effective Communication

  1. Soften your start up.

How a conversation starts is inevitably how it’ll end. In fact, the first 3 minutes of a conversation are crucial. Be gentle and avoid criticizing or blaming. Strive to frame your complaints as requests if possible. For example, instead of, “You never touch me,” try “I loved it when you kissed me in the kitchen the other day. You’re a great kisser. Let’s do that more often.”

  1. Listen to understand.

You’re two different people and so it’s impossible to agree on everything. A goal of a conversation can be to understand your partner’s perspective without agreeing. To do this, ask open ended questions and be genuinely curious about why your partner believes and feels the way that they do. A common complaint of our clients is that they don’t feel heard. Truly honor and respect your partner’s reality, even when it differs from your own.

  1. Accept influence.

Accepting influence means sharing power and decision making. You take your partner’s feelings and viewpoints into consideration and this also means that you don’t just do what you want. You won’t just go out and buy a new car because you think, “I can do whatever I want. It’s MY money.” Instead you ask your partner their thoughts about such a purchase and you weigh their perspective into your decision. You do this in little and big ways, whether you’re discussing relocating, taking on a promotion, or not accepting an invitation until you’ve discussed it with your partner. Accepting influence conveys honor and respect for your partner.

  1. Become pros at de-escalation.

Sometimes a communication problem is really an emotional management problem. Learn to sooth yourself and each other, especially during a conflict discussion. You can practice deep breathing exercises, counting to 10 before responding (one of our clients says, “Can I have a pause?”), or taking a time out with a distraction. Experiment with what brings your heart rate down and makes you feel calm to prevent feeling overwhelmed.

  1. Make and accept repairs.

A repair attempt is any statement or action that prevents negativity from escalating out of control. Whether it’s silly or serious, the action lets your partner know that you want to deescalate the tension during a conflict discussion. They’re important because they decrease stress levels and help prevent feeling flooded. Some repairs include sticking out your tongue, asking for a kiss, saying “Can you rephrase that more gently?” or “Give me a moment.” Use them often and recognize when your partner is making a repair. They have to be accepted to work.

  1. Compromise.

The above 5 steps set the stage for effective compromise. You can’t reach a compromise without understanding each other’s perspective. Try to see the reasonable part of your partner’s request and where you can be flexible. Compromise won’t always feel perfect, but it’s a necessary part for a win-win feeling in your relationship.

These behaviors might take a lot of effort and intention. Changing a pattern won’t happen overnight, and the goal is not to avoid conflict altogether. But making small changes daily will help you and your partner communicate more effectively.



37920142 - breakup of a couple with a sad man in the background and the girlfriend leaving him in the foreground

I received a question from a reader:

Dear Anita,

I’m in a 5-month relationship with my boyfriend. Things were great in the beginning but it’s been rocky the last couple of months. We’ve been arguing more and I don’t hear from him as often as I used to. I thought he was “The One” but now I’m not so sure. How do I know when to give up? Should I break up with him?

Dating is about taking the time to figure out if the person that you’re with is a good fit for you. Sometimes we believe so strongly that we have met our future partner – in the beginning of a relationship. But as time goes on, we can be plagued with doubts.

It takes time for patterns to develop, and at 5 months you’re around the point in your relationship where some of the infatuation fades and you can see your partner more realistically.

I commonly find that my clients stay in relationships longer than they should. A few questions you can answer to determine if you should stay or go:

1. Are you compromising your non-negotiables?

Do you find yourself rationalizing or justifying your boyfriend’s behaviors – or your own – that go against your non-negotiables? These can be things such as he wants to live in the suburbs but you don’t, or he doesn’t want to raise his children with a certain religion but you do. Whatever they are, if you find that you’re talking yourself out of your non-negotiables to keep your relationship, it’s not a good sign.

2. Are your needs being met?

If you’re considering breaking up, you’re unhappy to some degree. It’s difficult to feel fulfilled if your needs aren’t getting met. Think of what you find yourself complaining about or what brings you disappointment in your relationship – this can help you pinpoint your needs. For example, you want more communication but you’re not getting it – is this an important need for you?

3. Have you spoken up for what you want/need?

Some people think their partner should “just know” what they want. In the beginning of a relationship, you’re still learning about each other. It takes time to be so attuned to your partner that you can anticipate his needs, and 5 months may not be long enough for either of you to know what the other person wants. It’s better to speak up for what’s essential to you in a relationship.

4. Is there effort?

Relationships take work. They require conscious effort to not only consider your own needs, but also that of your partner’s. If your boyfriend isn’t demonstrating effort – or even if you find yourself without motivation – to make your relationship better, things probably won’t improve the longer you stay together.

5. Are you able to negotiate your differences?

Differences are inevitable. Are you and your boyfriend able to find win-win solutions to the things that you disagree on? Can you live with the differences if you can’t find mutually agreeable solutions? If not, you may have to find someone who is more naturally compatible with you.

Although there are no “one size fits all” answers, these questions can help guide you in making your decision of whether there is long-term success with your boyfriend.

I’m excited to announce that my book, FIRST COMES US: The Busy Couple’s Guide to Lasting Love, is officially published!


This 365-day tip book offers practical, insightful, and quick tips to help a couple stay connected to each other and make their love last. I am reminded daily with my clients and friends how useful FIRST COMES US can be for a couple, and so I am asking you to share the book with your clients, especially if they struggle to find daily time to connect with their partner. And there’s no better time than the New Year for a couple to focus on their relationship.

For a sneak peek at this daily guide, click here. To buy the book on Amazon, click here.

Use the hashtag #FirstComesUs to share your experiences and the book on social media. Thank you for your support and cheers to strong, healthy, and passionate relationships in 2017 and for a lifetime!

You probably spend a lot of time talking about men with your girlfriends. You get support, but why not add the knowledge of a dating & relationship coach?

In this 2 hour event, you’ll have the same feeling of a girls’ night but with guidance and tips from Anita’s expertise. Your Night In is customized to fit the needs of you and your girlfriends. Every woman will receive a questionnaire prior to the event to ensure you get the most of your evening together.

Do you wonder why you’re not attracting the right guy? Do you worry you’ll be alone forever? Can’t seem to communicate well with your man? Whether you and your girlfriends are dating or in a relationship, you’ll receive practical advice and tools to get the kind of love life you want.

Contact Anita at anita@relationshipreality312.com or 312.399.1635 to reserve your spot. Drinks and snacks will be provided.

A blog about why marriages don’t work by Anthony D’Ambrosio has been popping up in my social media news feed over the last couple of days. You can read it here. His stance is that nowadays people are not equipped to handle marriages. While that may be true for some couples, it doesn’t mean that marriage as a whole doesn’t work. I’m a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and my practice is solely devoted to love – from helping singles find it to helping couples keep it (and make it awesome!).


Anthony has a limited perspective, almost an all-or-nothing take on relationships. It’s not as simple as falling in love and sharing your life with someone (if that were the case, I’d be out of a job). One of the messages I make clear to my clients is that love is not enough to sustain a relationship. If it was, the divorce rate wouldn’t be as high as it still is. My couples do love each other, so why isn’t that enough?


I’m a huge advocate of marriage education and teaching couples the skills they need to make their relationships the best they can be. More and more research shows that marriages can last, and they can remain passionate and intimate – and not miserable and phony as Anthony thinks. People need knowledge and skills to be better equipped to handle the current stressors battling modern marriages. I often ask my clients, “Who taught you how to have a healthy marriage? Your parents? Hollywood?” We all don’t have stellar examples or role models, but we can learn things to be a better partner, a better communicator, and have better intimacy.


Anthony’s points can be addressed and worked through, especially with some solid marriage counseling, research-based self-help books, marital workshops, etc:


  • When working with couples, sex comes up a lot in my line of work. Yes, Anthony’s point is right that it is an important component and can be one of the most intimate things a couple can share. I’ve worked with sexless marriages and it’s not as simple as his take that couples simply neglect it; there are so many reasons couples don’t have sex. I often see mistaken beliefs that the passion is supposed to last without effort, you should only have sex when you’re in the mood, or you should never schedule sex. Some of my clients who are parents are scared that their child will walk in on them – something a lock on the door can fix. For other people, there is a lack of an emotional connection, which couples have to work on every day, even if for brief moments, since our busy, stressful lives get in the way of that. Some partners stop asking for sex because of the fear of rejection; it’s not that they deliberately want to neglect it. And if you think it’s easy, ask your partner for sex every time you want it and see how deeply vulnerable it makes you.
  • With his point about finances, yes they can be a major stressor. Fighting about money, such as disagreeing to what degree money should be spent or how it should be spent, can slowly chip away at positive feelings and cause disconnection. But money and the stress around it can be managed to protect positive feelings and keep a couple connected – it’s what I frequently help my couples with. And you don’t have to spend a lot of money on gifts or vacations to feel loved and cherished. It’s not always about the money but about being thoughtful. I’ve worked with a lot of women who have said, “Anita, he could buy me a single rose and make me the happiest woman in the world. Just knowing he was about me is what matters.” What’s the cost of a single rose? $2.99? Have one less Starbucks latte and you’re good to go.
  • For some of my couples, technology keeps them more connected to their partner. Being able to text throughout the day and stay updated on each other’s lives deepens their connection. For others, Anthony makes a solid point about feeling disconnected; my clients do tell me that they feel neglected and alone because their partner’s phone seems to be an extension of their arm. This can be worked through. I frequently talk with my couples about the importance of being intentional in their relationship or marriage. I encourage them to set aside time to talk with each other every day, to plan date nights and celebrate special moments in their lives. It can even be as simple as making the bedroom an “electronics-free zone” to carve out time for each other. If it’s not intentional, it’s easy to get caught up in family demands, work deadlines, general fatigue or other obligations.
  • Social media is here to stay, and posting on Facebook or Instagram doesn’t mean you’re craving fame, that you won’t be satisfied with attention from only one person, or that your marriage can’t be sacred because everyone sees what you had for breakfast. I think we all look for validation, don’t we? And who doesn’t expect to get some kind of validation from their partner? He or she is the most important person in our life! But if we look to social media for that instead of asking or getting it from our partner, that potentially could be a problem. However it’s up to each person to decide the impact social media has on them and their relationship, to determine what’s healthy and what’s not, what works and what doesn’t. We’re all impacted in different ways, and that’s where effective communication is important, which can be learned if it’s a problem in your relationship. And as for keeping your marriage sacred, you can still post your photos while on vacation, where let’s say….you are renewing your wedding vows. What a hopeful thing for the world to see.

Love isn’t something that is self-sustaining. It has to be nurtured. It’s ok to get stuck and ask for help – whether from each other or a professional. We are wired to connect with a special someone. We want a loving bond full of trust, commitment and an intimacy that differentiates it from other relationships. And that, my readers, is something that is attainable for each and every one of you. Sometimes we’ll just need to get some extra knowledge and tools to get that, but marriages today absolutely work.

Featured in the Chicago edition of Attorney at Law Magazine:

When I argue with my spouse, she complains I am treating her like a witness I am cross-examining. She gets defensive and the tension escalates. Nothing ever fully resolves and we both shut down. I feel like we now avoid arguments rather than solve them. What can we do?

Having communication issues is one of the main problems couples face. In order to minimize getting trapped in the cycle you described, there are two main points to keep in mind.

First, although I don’t have specifics about what you and your wife disagree about, from my experience getting to the point of shutting down and not resolving anything is over perpetual issues. These types of issues include how money should be saved or spent, degrees of cleanliness and organization, how to discipline children, etc. They account for about 70% of the conflict that couples have. Perhaps surprisingly, they aren’t solvable because they are rooted in fundamental differences between people based on factors such as backgrounds, personality, experiences, and life goals and dreams. The good news is that you don’t have to expect to fully resolve most disagreements with your wife.

Instead, these kinds of problems need to reach a compromise. Managing the inevitable differences between you and your wife in this way will be key to your marital happiness.

Some couples believe they have to see eye-to-eye with their spouse, but this is unrealistic. We each have subjective realities and as I tell most of my clients, you’re probably both right. You want the focus to be on deepening your understanding of your wife’s reality instead of supporting your own case (and hopefully she will do likewise).

Since you’ve gotten to the point of not dealing with an issue to avoid an argument, I recommend that you try to listen without aiming to solve anything. Make a conscious effort to find out why your wife’s stance is important to her. No judging or criticizing, but truly getting an understanding of why that is her position – maybe a particular need, value, want or dream makes this especially significant to her. She also has to work on doing the same. The point is not necessarily to agree with each other’s view, but instead to understand it. Once this takes place, you are much more likely to reach a workable compromise. Respecting each other’s perspective and seeing its value can help you break out of your current cycle.

The second thing to consider when communicating is the timing of your talk. Getting to that point of shutting down is dangerous for a relationship and needs to be avoided. Once you hit that moment, rational thought is next to impossible. As your disagreement escalates, you stop hearing what the other person is saying. Your mind refuses to let you listen because instead it focuses on potential warning signs and escaping the situation. You’re also unable to understand your wife’s perspective or empathize. Bottom line is that it leads to the inability to access the necessary tools to effectively communicate.

It’s important to stop the argument before either of you shuts down, so call a time-out when you start feeling overwhelmed. Take at least 20 minutes, do something that calms you down, and resume the conversation once you’ve both cooled off.

Conflict should not be about who’s right and who’s wrong, who wins and who loses. It should center on respecting each other’s different points of view, to find an understanding on what you both need and compromising. In this way, your marriage can always win.

He’s someone I work with. I didn’t think much of him at first. We talked a little but mostly just went out for lunch with other coworkers. After awhile we broke off from the group and the two of us starting going out to lunch together. Then we started talking outside of work, mostly just text and email. He was a good listener and I could tell him anything. I didn’t think anything of it, he was just a friend.

As a relationship coach and therapist, I regularly help couples who are dealing with issues of infidelity. The workplace is one of the top places where cheating happens, and the above scenario is one I repeatedly hear. This type of affair is the sexless affair, also known as the emotional affair. The boundaries between it and a friendship can be blurry, so how do you know the difference?

Here are four questions to ask yourself to determine if your connection with someone else could really be a sexless affair or merely a friendship:

1. Is there little to no transparency? Your partner should know about your friendship. Most of my clients say that their partner either didn’t know this person existed or to what extent their communication was! Transparency also means you don’t discourage your partner’s questions about what’s going on. Another aspect to consider is whether you share more of what’s going on in your life with your friend than you do with your partner.

2. Would there be discomfort? If your partner asked to see the communication exchanges between you and your friend, do you think your partner would feel uncomfortable? Would you feel embarrassed if your partner stood next to you during any texts, emails or conversations?

3. Have boundaries been violated? If your partner asked you to stop doing things with your friend because it makes them feel uneasy, but you haven’t stopped, that’s a boundary violation. Although you and your partner may need to find a workable compromise, something to consider is why maintaining your friendship has become more important than respecting the wishes of your partner.

4. Are there fantasies? Every relationship has its ups and downs, but do you find yourself fantasizing about your friend when your relationship has hit a tough spot? Do you start comparing your current partner negatively to your friend, thinking life would be better with the other person instead?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, chances are your friendship is too intimate.

It’s important to communicate with your partner. Start a dialogue: What guidelines do you want for your relationship? One couple has a rule that they don’t have drinks alone with an opposite sex friend after dark. Another couple decided to delete their exes from their Facebook friends list. Some couples have the passcodes and passwords to each other’s phone and email. These may seem like good guidelines for some but for others it might feel like they are policing their partner. What works for one couple may not work for you, but start a conversation to figure out what works best for both of you.

A note about irrational jealousy or controlling behavior. Some of you reading this really will have nothing going on with your friend, but your partner may make demands or exhibit irrational jealousy and try to control you. It is beyond the scope of this blog to address this behavior, and instead I recommend seeking the guidance of a professional therapist to help.

What starts out as an innocent friendship can turn into a sexless affair. By considering the questions above and communicating with your partner, you can protect your relationship.