Tag Archives: relationship advice

One evening my boyfriend came over, and stopped at Chipotle on his way to bring me some dinner. He texted me to see what I wanted. My brief responses of “chicken taco” and “you know what I want” apparently didn’t help him too much, because he didn’t get my order right. I wondered, “How could he not know that I prefer corn over flour tortillas, and that I love sour cream with my Mexican food?!? We’ve been dating for almost 8 months!” When I asked him, he then threw down the gauntlet – “What do I like at Chipotle?” Without missing a beat I recited his usual order and he replied by putting his hands up in the air and saying, “Ok ok, you proved your point.”

 

I wasn’t upset with him that he didn’t know my order because, well…it’s something I’m highly aware of because of what I do for a living. As a relationship therapist, I work with my clients on the importance of increasing attentiveness to their partner and being attuned to what’s going on in their world. It’s what happy couples do since it increases feelings of closeness and security and it feels good knowing that your partner “gets you.”

 

And it goes beyond knowing your partner’s favorite foods. What are your partner’s current stressors? What do they worry about most? Who do they admire most? What are they sensitive about? How has their childhood and past relationships influenced who they are today? The more you know about your partner and vice versa, the deeper your friendship will get. A strong friendship is a necessary component to a lasting relationship – it’s a buffer against disconnection that plagues couples and is a leading cause of divorce.

 

The good news for you is that you don’t have to be a relationship therapist to turn this into a positive habit as well. Through practice it’s become second nature for me to file information that my boyfriend shares with me that I’ll use later to brighten his day, or show him how much he means to me. It’s not “work” for me, it’s a habit. Maintaining feelings of connection doesn’t happen automatically because you love each other. It takes effort and a conscious awareness of your partner and their world and then following through with actions, whether it’s planning a surprise, just listening or being present in the moment.

 

You can also strengthen your connection with your partner by sharing your opinion and being open. Sometimes people want to appease their partner or “go with the flow,” or don’t want to bring up hurtful past experiences, but you miss out on prime opportunities for your partner to learn more about you and use this information to strengthen your bond. For example, if you’re sensitive to feeling excluded because of a childhood experience and your partner is aware of this, they can make that extra effort to have you feel like you belong at parties or events by including you in conversations, introducing you to people and telling you how much it means to them that you came with them. These are small acts that can make a big difference.

 

The daily stuff matters, too. When your partner asks, “What’s wrong?” don’t say, “I’m fine” when you’re not. Again, you’re preventing the opportunity for your partner to know what’s going on in your life. Although my boyfriend didn’t know my Chipotle order to a T, he is very attuned to my emotional states. He can always tell when something bothers me or if I’m feeling “off,” and asks about it so that he knows what’s going on. It shows me that he not only pays attention, but that he cares about my well-being, so I make sure to open up to him. Talking to him about stressful things and having his support and understanding increases feelings of trust and safety for me. Talk with your partner about what it does for you.

 

The more details you know about each other, from the silly to the serious, the more likely you’ll make your relationship last.

 

And the next time my boyfriend brought over Chipotle, he didn’t forget the sour cream.

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.

A common problem presented to me is, “Anita, I love my partner, but I’m just not in love with them anymore.” Usually my clients don’t realize that they were active participants in falling out of love by the choices they made over the course of their relationship. Frequent pitfalls they seem to experience include:

 

  1. Keep making negative comparisons. You not only spend more time thinking about what your partner is doing wrong than right, but you also think someone else would be better for you. Perhaps you start thinking that someone else would appreciate you more, understand you more fully, and that your life overall would be happier with someone else. Negatively comparing your partner and your relationship to others primes you to slowly chip away at your positive feelings.

 

  1. Don’t speak up for your needs/wants. A fast way to let disappointment and resentment build up is to not speak up for what you need and want in your relationship. Although your partner should stay attuned to your needs, it’s also important to be direct with your partner when you feel they are not being met. When you don’t openly express this, you increase the likelihood that you won’t feel as satisfied or happy in your relationship, and again open the door for more negativity.

 

  1. Pull back emotionally. Love can be scary. When you put yourself out there with your deepest desires, you can get rejected and hurt. It takes courage to keep being vulnerable with your partner. But if you don’t, you won’t feel as connected. Many of my clients talk about lacking that in love feeling with their partner, and they stopped being vulnerable a long time ago.

 

  1. Don’t prioritize your partner. Relationships require both partners to be active participants. Too often I see couples placing their relationships on the bottom of the list, after children, work demands and family obligations. You have to continually reignite the passion and connection by focusing on your relationship. You won’t feel in love if you don’t take the necessary time to continually cultivate those feelings.

Sometimes falling out of love comes down to the choices you make. If you’re struggling with your feelings but make an effort to avoid these pitfalls, you can begin to change the course of your relationship to feelings that are more positive and loving.

Ok ladies, ‘fess up. Have you been on a great date with a nice guy but he just didn’t do anything for you emotionally? He called when he said he would, confirmed plans, was a gentleman…but nothing in the feelings department. Nada. Zero. Zilch.

 

So you dump the nice guy and move on. You meet someone else, but this new guy gives you mixed signals. He calls, but takes his time doing so. He shows you that he’s interested in you, but you’re not exclusive since he’s still playing the field. You start to doubt his attraction to you, and you wonder if your relationship is even going anywhere.

 

But then he takes you on a date or compliments you, and you get butterflies. Your heart races and you’re happy, telling yourself that he’s interested and there’s a chance at a future together after all. But these feelings don’t last very long. He pulls back, he’s unpredictable with contact, but gives you just enough attention to keep you hooked. You may think, “If he just sees how awesome I am, he’ll want to be with me.” The uncertainty keeps you thinking about the guy all of the time, and your mood fluctuates based on whether you’ve heard from him or if he’s given you attention. You feel like you overanalyze everything.

 

If you’ve been on this emotional roller coaster often, chances are that you’ve mistaken your anxiety and uncertainty about the relationship as butterflies and chemistry (or for some, even love). This can be risky because you may be with a partner who’s not well suited for you. If you have a lot of anxiety, feeling calm with your date (like with a nice guy) may not be a bad thing. You seek closeness, want to be reassured and to know where you stand in a relationship. You may think you’re needy or clingy for wanting intimacy and reassurance, but in fact these are healthy for a relationship.

 

Intimacy and connection happen in a lot of ways, but one of them is by being vulnerable with our partner. In order to be able to share your hopes and dreams and fears openly, you need to feel secure with your partner. A nice guy who is consistent with his attention to you is much more likely to create and provide this security than the guys who leave you guessing about their interest in you.

 

As you date, pay attention if you find yourself feeling insecure and analyzing your date’s every action, and feeling bliss every once in awhile. Be aware that this may be your anxiety acting up because of his inconsistent actions, and not chemistry or passion.

 

So give the nice guy a chance, and you may get what you’re looking for and need to have a happy and fulfilling relationship.

 

I can’t believe I’m married to such an idiot.

You finished one thing on the list. Do you want an award for being ‘Partner of the Year’?

You call that picking up after yourself? Can’t you do anything right?

You always spend too much money. Why are you so irresponsible? Can you be any more selfish?

Do you have interactions between you and your partner where you feel your partner is mean and even downright cruel, or vice versa? Do you feel like your partner is disgusted by you, or maybe you’re disgusted by your partner? If so, you’re in dangerous relationship territory.

Contemptuous exchanges like those above are the most toxic behaviors for a relationship. Contempt shows a lack of respect for your partner, and you think you’re better than them. You put your partner down and show them they are worthless. Contempt comes in many forms – mockery, insults, name-calling, eye-rolling, sighs of disgust and even sarcasm. I meet a lot of people who are proud of their sarcastic sense of humor. Because it is a form of contempt, be careful how you use it with your partner!

Contempt doesn’t appear in a relationship overnight. It usually develops because you’ve allowed negative thoughts about your partner to simmer over a long time. You’re more likely to have such thoughts if you haven’t resolved your differences. For example, maybe you think your partner is doing things the wrong way, and your ways are better. Your partner probably thinks they’re doing things the right way, and thus you have a stand-off without a resolution. As the conflict continues, you get more and more fed up, and simple disagreements can turn to contemptuous exchanges over time.

Contempt is so toxic that research shows it is the biggest predictor of divorce. It must be eliminated. And if you’re thinking that’s impossible, research shows that among happy couples, the frequency of contempt is almost zero. Happy couples convey admiration and respect for their partner, and it’s never too late for you to do that with your partner.

To counteract contempt you can do three things:

1. Consistently practice sharing fondness and admiration with your partner. To get you started, think about the following: What are your partner’s strengths? What are your top three favorite traits about them? Why did you fall in love with your partner in the first place? How can you compliment your partner today? You have to create a positive mindset about your partner and go a step further by expressing it to them. Be genuine and give yourself time for praise and admiration to seem more natural, especially if it hasn’t been a part of your relationship for a long time.

2. Complain (as opposed to attacking your partner’s character). Think before you speak. Instead of, “Why didn’t you clean the kitchen like you said you would? You’re so lazy, I have to do everything!” you can say, “You said you would clean the kitchen but you didn’t. I’m very upset by this.” You want to focus on the behavior without the character assault.

3. Understand your partner. As I frequently tell my clients, the goal is not necessarily to agree with your partner, but to understand where they are coming from. Does their perspective make sense? You can both be right, and that can go a long way toward repairing the damage of contempt.

Although contempt is the most toxic relationship behavior, you do have the power to eliminate it. If it’s been present in your relationship for a long time, it may take some time to feel comfortable with the new positive and affirming behaviors. But if you want your relationship to have a fighting chance, contempt absolutely must be eliminated.

Are you not seeing eye-to-eye with your partner? Is there hot conflict or icy distance? Do you want your partner to change, but he or she wants you to change?

You may have tried to make your relationship better – and sometimes it works, but then you both revert back to your old ways. You discuss getting professional help, but it may not be easy to trust your relationship to a stranger. Your relationship with your therapist will be important, so how do you pick a good couples therapist? Here are some tips to consider:

1. Your therapist is proactive. Marital researchers have been able to identify behaviors and ways of interacting that can keep your relationship stable and happy. You can get the kind of relationship you’ve always wanted – with some key information and new skills. You can ask your therapist if you will get homework to practice between sessions – the answer should be “Yes.”

2. Your therapist holds you both accountable. My own clients have shared stories where their previous therapists blamed one partner for their problems, even berating them in session. In my years of working as a therapist, I have yet to find a couple where all their relationship problems are solely one partner’s fault. It is important to see how you both play a role in your relationship in order to move it forward.

3. Check their credentials & caseload. Ask specifically about coursework and certifications related to couples work. A Master’s degree in counseling doesn’t mean that your therapist received training in couples therapy. You can also ask what percentage of their caseload deals with couples – it should be at least 30 percent.

4. Shop around. Other factors such as personality, gender, age of the therapist or their cultural background may be important to you. If any of these will help you be more comfortable and open in sessions, then take them into consideration. Don’t be afraid to interview therapists or meet with them for one session until you find a good fit.

When your relationship is at stake, be picky. A good couples therapist can help you achieve your goals and make your relationship better than ever – it is possible.

 

You meet someone new. You think about them all the time and can’t wait until the moment when you see them next. You can’t eat, sleep or concentrate. You check your phone a hundred times a day to see if you missed their call or text. You feel energized like never before, you have butterflies, feel nervous and worry about what you do or say when you’re with this new person. You’re in the romantic love stage of a relationship and it feels so wonderful and magical and you want it to last forever.

 

But it doesn’t. The spark faded, the thrill is gone. Now what?

 

You may panic, wondering if you made a mistake or if you’re not meant to be together. You should always have those feelings for someone if you’re in love, right? Research says no. For every relationship, it’s natural and normal for the I-can’t-stop-thinking-about-you feelings of romantic love to fade over time. In fact, on average, it only lasts about 18 months.

 

The couples I work with commonly talk about dampened desire, getting too comfortable and being bored. It’s easy for a relationship to feel stuck in a rut. It may sound unromantic to have to create the conditions to reignite passion with your partner, but it can be achieved:

 

  1. Give each other space. When you initially met, you probably didn’t know what your partner was doing every day. You fantasized about what they were up to during your time apart, eagerly awaiting the time you could be together again. Now that you’re in a relationship, you spend more time in each other’s company. Although that’s important for you to maintain a connection, you also need time apart. As the Poet Kahlil Gibran recommended, “Let there be spaces in your togetherness.” You need some degree of separateness from your partner in order to maintain passion and desire from them. When a reward (the reward being your sexy self) is delayed, it increases brain chemicals that help stimulate romantic passion. Take different classes, engage in different hobbies or take a night off to do your own thing. Missing each other is a good thing.
  1. Get out of routine. Some of my couples call each other at the same time every day, or have date night the same night of the week. With routine comes boredom or a sense of obligation – “It’s that time, I have to call her….” It can be tough to feel hot and heavy for your partner when you also feel bored. Mix it up! Go to a comedy show on a weeknight or take a Ferris Bueller Day and play hooky with your partner. Variety is key to keeping things fresh. Do a boredom check – studies show that boredom predicted declines in relationship satisfaction over time. If one of you is bored, brainstorm what you can change up.
  1. Do novel things together. Do you ever wonder if the Bachelor and Bachelorette contestants really mean it when they profess love to each other so quickly? Believe it! Studies show that exciting experiences not only enhance attraction, but couples who do thrilling things together feel more satisfied in their relationship. Develop a variety of interests, especially those that both of you would find exhilarating. For some of you it may be skydiving or a day riding roller coasters, but even going to an event last-minute or playing tourist in your own city can work, too. Add some fun challenges to your relationship. Do you and your partner root for opposing sports teams? Place bets and loser gives winner a massage or makes dinner. Just remember to keep it light and playful!

The bottom line is that effort is required to maintain passion. Giving your relationship space to miss each other, adding variety and sharing in new experiences can all boost your relationship out of any rut.