Tag Archives: relationship advice

Dear Anita,

I was dating this guy for almost a year and he just dumped me. It took me by surprise and now I’m struggling. I think my friends are tired of hearing about him. It’s been three months since the breakup but I can’t get over it. Can you give me some tips to get over him please?

– Julia in Chicago


Hi Julia,

Being dumped by surprise can be one of the worst feelings. You can’t focus at work or school, you become obsessed with memories of your ex, and you lose your appetite. When my clients come to me in these kinds of situations, I find that tips with specific actions are extremely helpful. Here are a few to get you started:


  1. Date. I know it’s sometimes the last thing people want to do after a breakup, but there are so many men out there for you to go out and have fun with without the expectation of a serious relationship. Just be upfront about your intentions. You can tell your potential dates that you’re casually dating or wanting to explore the city, but aren’t looking for anything serious. Those who have similar intentions will stay in the game.
  1. Fill your time. If you used to make dinner with your ex every Sunday night, plan an activity that you’ll look forward to until the pain of Sunday nights subsides. Get together with your friends, volunteer, take a class, or catch up on your favorite shows. Fill that time that you used to spend with him doing something fun or productive. Some of my clients know when they’ll have idle time so they ask their friends to hang out – and promise not to bring up the ex!
  1. Plan for weak moments. You’ll have your weak moments when you may want to contact your ex. Have a go-to plan in place – exercise, call a friend, distract yourself with work, pick up a book, etc. And whatever you do, don’t cyber-stalk! You’ll be upset if you see something you don’t like or can’t explain – “Who is that girl in that photo with him?” Even better, unfriend him on Facebook if you haven’t already done so and if necessary, block him so you won’t sneak a peek. Also, allow your friends to take your phone away at times of weakness.
  1. Keep count. If you’re an “out of sight, out of mind” person this won’t work. But if you’re not, use a calendar to keep track of the days you’ve gone without contact. Having a visual reminder can also keep you from reaching out.
  1. Remember why you broke up. Visual reminders can be extremely helpful. Keep a list or use sticky notes with the reasons why you broke up in the first place. Leave them in your purse, put them on your nightstand or hang them on your fridge. Were there any red flags that you missed? Write those down and look at them often. If you had friends who disliked your ex, this would be a good time for them to remind you how much they disliked him.
  1. Avoid your relationship haunts.It’s ok to avoid your usual hangouts until you feel better. It doesn’t mean your ex has power over you, it means you’re paying attention to your emotions and doing what’s best for you in the moment.
  1. Get out of routine. Getting out of routine can elevate mood. Whether it’s taking up a new hobby, trying different restaurants, or taking a trip to a place you’ve never been, these little and big ways can make you feel happier, which can also give you hope that you can happily move on.

Although time can heal all wounds, it’s what you do with that time that can be a key difference to you healing more quickly.


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.

I know, I know…some of you are rolling your eyes at the title of my blog. Seriously, what can The Bachelor teach us about love? When the first season aired in 2002, I too thought, What are these women thinking? Where’s their self-respect? But when I watched this season’s episodes, I had a different take on the show. It’s not because it’s any different now than 13 years ago, but because I’m different. In 2002 I was still in college. Now, I’m a dating and relationship coach who has spent the last several years specializing in love and researching what makes relationships work. It’s been my job to help my clients figure out why they act like they do when it comes to love. Are people truly crazy and irrational, or can behaviors actually make sense? In the context of love and our need to connect with a person, the bachelorettes’ behaviors seem pretty reasonable. Here are 4 lessons from The Bachelor that can be applied to your love life:

  1. The need to feel special.

During one of his guest appearances, Jimmy Kimmel made a joke about how many times the word “amazing” was uttered this season. But really the key word should’ve been “special.” Every woman on the show wants to feel special. It’s what the rose symbolizes–I choose you, you are different than the others.

Britt, after getting a rose on the stage of a Big & Rich concert, was sure feeling pretty special to Chris. But in the next episode she confronts Chris when Kaitlyn gets the rose over her. Britt wanted to know that she’s his top choice and said she literally asked and begged Chris for validation. She added that she doesn’t want her husband to see her as a second, third or fourth choice. We all want to feel special, to know our date or partner only wants us. We may focus on behaviors that show we’re unique, like how much time we spend together or the compliments and affection we receive. But how did social media spin Britt’s desire for this feeling? That she has a “meltdown” and “breakdown.” Although she could have picked a better time to be vocal, knowing the rules of The Bachelor isn’t enough to stop the heart from wanting what it wants.

  1. The importance of security.

During every episode I love to read the Twitter feed about the show. One word that pops up a lot is “crazy.” In the context of the need of feeling secure, the women’s behavior makes sense. The women do what they can to increase their feelings of security with the Bachelor–they pull him away from other women, sneak time with him, ask him where they stand, wondering if he reciprocates their feelings, etc. There’s nothing crazy about this. We all have the need to feel secure with the object of our desire.

Maybe you’ve had times in your love life when you haven’t been as sure that your date or partner likes and cares for you as much as you do. Maybe you’ve wondered about exclusivity with your partner–wondered about what the next step is, felt anxious about it and the uncertainty of not knowing. All of this is perfectly normal and to be expected. My female clients sometimes tell me that the man they’re dating or in a relationship with calls her “crazy.” Some women worry that they’ll come across as being too needy or desperate if they ask for reassurance about the relationship or seek affirmation of his feelings. But we all have the need to feel secure, and the more we feel this security with our partner, the stronger our relationship.

  1. The need to be vulnerable.

When Chris dismissed some of the bachelorettes, he said that things just hadn’t progressed as far as with the other women. I believe it. The women have mentioned having their guards up and not wanting to be hurt. In the episode when Kaitlyn was let go, she stated that the feeling of profound hurt she was experiencing was exactly what she had wanted to avoid. But being hurt is inevitable–none of us can avoid that. And being vulnerable is scary but a necessity in order to get your date or partner to truly know who you are as a person. Hopes, dreams, fears, the skeletons in our closet–when we share these things and get acceptance and support from our partner, it makes us feel closer. You have to take the risk. Without risk, deep intimacy is harder to come by.

  1. There’s more than one good match.

When there were 3 women remaining, Kaitlyn, Becca and Whitney, the Bachelor told the host Chris Harrison, “I’m down to three really excellent women that I can see myself spending the rest of my life with.” And he probably could make a lifetime work with each of them. The Bachelor has often said that a lot of the women on the show have various qualities that he would like in his future wife. The thing is, for all of us, we have to pick which ones are more important and be able to accept and work with the rest. Looking for “The One” can keep you single. There’s no way you can meet someone who sees eye-to-eye with you on everything. Many people can be a good fit, but you have to believe that in order to make it work with one person.


Happy Valentine’s Day!

Some thoughts from Karen Washington, AMFT, Sex Therapist:

Following all of the recent hype around the release of the 50 Shades of Grey movie, and its related products (i.e. OPI released the 50 Shades of Grey nail color line, Sephora has a few 50 Shades of Grey makeup packages, your local sex shop has a variety of toys and accessories as seen in the book/movie), I got to thinking about Valentine’s Day – about couples, intimacy, and sex. 50 Shades had women (and probably some men) all over the world contemplating their current sex lives, and the sex they were reading about. I wonder – Why not go one step deeper this year?

Media and retail tell the same story every year at this time – chocolates, dinner, and lingerie. It is all very basic. I can be a huge fan of the basics, as they provide a great foundation. However, this Valentine’s Day, I would like to challenge our readers to venture behind the veil of their current sexual play and explore new levels of intimacy.

Have you or your partner ever expressed sexual desires or fantasies that have yet to be attempted? Have you or your partner been promising to do something sexually, but it just keeps getting postponed? If you answered yes, then this is for you… Why not this time? Think of it this way – if you try it for a holiday and it doesn’t work out so well, you at least tried it and have broken the proverbial ice for future endeavors. While not everything is for everyone, sometimes, practice just makes perfect. Let this Valentine’s Day be a chance for experimentation to see what you can add to your sexual repertoire.

Here are three suggestions to help you and your partner step beyond the norm and add a new twist. Some are going to be more beginner level, some will be a step into new territory, and for others this just may be a reminder of ways to spice things up.


Instead of hitting Victoria’s Secret up this year for another teddy or garter skirt/corset combo, have you considered dressing up for role play? A very naughty chef/server serving dinner, or a man in uniform delivering flowers could be a great way to introduce a little role play fun into your life. Maybe you both want to be in character – explore some of your fantasies and find some overlap, or a scenario that you both don’t mind participating in and see what happens. Or, perhaps you could pretend to be strangers at a bar meeting for the first time all over again.

Dining out versus Staying In

I take inspiration from all sorts of places. If you happen to want to stay in but want to add some flair to the meal, try one of these two scenes. #1. Pretty Woman – Julia Roberts had room service waiting wearing nothing but a tie she picked out for him and stilettos. ‘Nuff said. #2. In the Book of the Courtesans, there was an excerpt about a woman – she had dessert prepared on her body, and was wheeled out to the dinner table to her man. He was provided no utensils. While you may not have the funds to have a chef prepare dessert on top of you and then staff to wheel you on a serving tray to the dinner table, you can be creative here. Turn yourself into a small buffet. No utensils necessary… just hands and mouth.


Kink is defined as a person’s sexual tastes; a taste for sexual behavior that is considered unusual. I firmly believe in kink being accessible to all levels of people’s sexuality. Again, not everything is for everyone. However, different levels or varieties of kink can appeal to most people. While I would never encourage my readership to go so far outside their realm of comfort that he/she can no longer find it enjoyable, I do ask you all to challenge yourself just a bit. You never know what you might find enjoyable…. I am saying that if you two like toys, or have maybe had some exposure to them, perhaps you can try out a new couple’s toy for the holiday. Lelo makes a Bluetooth capable vibrator that works wonderfully for couples. The vibrator slips inside a pocket in the included underwear, and it can be controlled from any smart phone with Bluetooth. Great for staying in and playing around the house…. Or for the more advanced couple, perhaps wearing it out to dinner to increase anticipation until you two return home might be more fun.

For more sex toy ideas, visit: http://www.kinkly.com/sex-toys/couples

Whatever your hearts’ desire, whether it be new positions, enacting fantasies or a new toy – Make this Valentine’s Day about actually trying new things to take your intimacy to the next level.

– Karen Washington, AMFT

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.