Did You Marry Your Parent?

It doesn’t happen literally; that would be illegal in most states, I think. But, it can happen in spirit – and more often than many people think: actually being in a relationship with someone who has certain physical or personality traits similar to one of their parents. The qualities usually favor one parent over the other, not a combination of both.

  • A woman might seek out a partner whose looks or behavior are reminiscent of her father, while a man may look for a partner with characteristics that resemble his mother.
  • One can also “marry” their same sex parent regardless of their sexual orientation. Often, the quality of the dominant parent will stand out in what you are looking for in a partner.

This phenomenon might seem logical if one comes from a healthy family upbringing, where a loving, close relationship existed with one’s parents. Mirroring our early experiences in this way actually does make some sense. The most basic explanation is that we are attracted to, and want to be with, people who are familiar and comfortable to us. The common sentiment, “I feel like I’ve known you for years/all my life,” early on in a relationship is a good reflection of this aforementioned familiarity and comfort.

Interestingly, even when someone has a dysfunctional or even traumatic relationship with one or both parents, seeking a partner with a consistent dysfunctional dynamic occurs as well, and perhaps even more often. When we have a difficult relationship with a parent, we are pulled, usually unconsciously, into this painful dynamic again in order to try to correct or master the situation.

Being exposed and pulled back into dysfunctional relationships can become cyclical — it can occur repeatedly. For example, someone with an alcoholic parent will end up with a partner who has some type of addiction. Stereotypically, girls with an absent or emotionally distant father often marry a partner who doesn’t prioritize them, and children raised with emotional or physical abuse will marry an abusive partner. The less obvious explanation for reenacting our past is that it’s a psychological compulsion whose purpose is to work through, gain power over, or heal the previous wound.

An important point to remember is that regardless of our family background, the less conscious we are of its influence on our partner selection, the greater the potential for the relationship to be unhealthy.

Here are some general guidelines to promote a healthier relationship, and to help reflect on how our parental relationships may have influenced our choice of partner:

  • Don’t foolishly commit to a relationship before real-life situations are experienced in resolving conflict. Is there healthy conflict?
  • Discuss important life issues early in the relationship, rather than after the fact. Do you both want kids? Handle finances the same? Are you ignoring red flags?
  • Try to get to know each other’s family and friends as well as possible. Look at the dynamics in the relationships. Is there pain or dysfunction that you can identify? How is conflict handled? If one is aware of unhealthy relationships with parents, then it becomes more critical to be aware of unhealthy traits, and it’s very important to be on the lookout for them.

For couples who are already married, it is helpful to examine some of the sensitivities each partner brings to the relationship. If one area or issue is a frequent sensitive spot, consider: Does our difficulty here have to do with my upbringing/relationship to my parents? Closer introspection might reveal “Oh, this topic/my reaction reminds me of when my mother/father did this…” Some couples can navigate a sensitive issue and it’s not too big a deal; for others, the impact can be significant.

While “marrying a parent” is not always problematic, take a look at problem areas in your relationship and evaluate whether the cause could possibly be tied to memorable qualities you recognize in your parents.

Category: Individuals In Relationship · Tags:

Do Long Distance Relationships Work?

The short and fairly obvious answer to this question is: Yes, they can; but there are lots of potential traps and pitfalls.

What is a Long Distance Relationship?

A long-distance relationship typically means living far enough apart that the couple maintains separate residences. The frequency that long-distance couples are able to see each other can vary a great deal. Some may be able to meet every weekend, while others may have to wait much longer – even up to a few months per visit. Financial resources and distance apart are often the key factors that determine this frequency.

Why Do They Happen in the First Place?

Long-distance relationships are generally caused by career, employment, or school choices when a couple decides that one partner’s opportunity should be pursued despite the geographic challenges it can cause in their relationship. Sometimes pressing family matters, such as caregiving, an illness, or death, can also create long-distance relationships. However, these normally don’t last an extended amount of time.

In general, the longer a relationship has been in place, the better the chance of having a successful long-distance relationship. A couple’s level of commitment is key.

Helpful Hints to Make Long Distance Relationships Work:

  1. Make sure you have a plan: How long will this go on? Is there an end point? What is the understanding of each partner?

  2. Ensure there is clear communication: What are the goals of the relationship? Are expectations the same? What are the parameters of the relationship and what is the plan for the future?

  3. Both partners must prioritize their relationship, and agree on the quality of other relationships. How do opposite sex friendships fit in? Trust issues can quickly doom a long-distance relationship.

  4. Regular communication (calls, texts, email, and Skype) is essential! In addition, plan on “doing things together while apart.” This might include watching the same television show or movie, reading the same books, or engaging in any shared activity simultaneously (that can be done long distance) and discuss it afterward.

  5. There has to be an understanding about the frequency of in-person visits. It can be costly and time consuming, but visits need to be regular and planned. Anticipation of being together can greatly enhance the relationship!

  6. Share with each other your “local life,” your day-to-day world. Keep each other up to date about what’s happening with your work and fellow cohorts, talk about your daily routine, and share something funny that happened. It’s the little things that often help you feel and stay connected.

A major pitfall for couples who stop sharing with one another is that they start becoming gradually more and more disconnected. Sometimes, this disconnection can lead to trust issues and a weakening commitment, which are both recipes for trouble. Instead of breaking up, some couples choose to stay together, while living separately. This allows them to avoid the painful emotional fallout of a permanent breakup. Other couples avoid ending their long-distance relationship simply for convenience or financial reasons.

Ideally, couples should have a game plan before one partner’s career, school, or family changes necessitate embarking on a long-distance relationship. If you’re not feeling comfortable before you begin living apart, there’s a good chance you’ll experience some rough seas ahead while navigating the above long-distance relationship challenges. Therefore, if either partner has some uncertainty or discomfort, it’s a wise idea to get some counseling to help put a plan in place before you actually make separate residential arrangements. A skilled therapist can address all of these issues, help you prepare for potential problems ahead, and ease the transition toward living in a healthy long-distance relationship.

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Trouble Staying Connected after Baby?

While the rewards and joys of parenthood can be immensely satisfying and deeply meaningful, those who cling to an unrealistic and romanticized vision of having a child may be set up for a very rude awakening. Having a baby, especially that first baby, not only turns any parent’s world upside down, but it also causes a dramatic paradigm shift in a couple’s relationship.

Almost overnight, partners experience a significant change in their relationship dynamics. They instantaneously are no longer simply lovers, they are now parents — mothers and fathers who, at least initially, must function in a sleep-deprived state. Their relationship inevitably takes a back seat to the responsibility of caring for a newborn baby. If the couple hasn’t prepared in advance or somehow acquired a realistic understanding of what to expect, their relationship is destined to suffer. Even couples who have prepared struggle to escape the fallout from the sudden change. Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, the divorce rate is quite high for couples with young children which only reinforces how difficult this phase in a relationship can be.

The importance of having a good support system in place, as well as being financially and educationally prepared for this life-changing event cannot be overstated. Just in case it’s not already evident, clearly “having a baby to save a marriage” is worse than a bad idea, it may ensure the relationship ends in short order. A relationship without a previous solid connection will not be improved with the additional stress and increased responsibility of parenthood.

While it takes a lot of effort to stay connected as a couple, doing so with a new baby is far more challenging. Additionally, even couples who had a strong connection before having a child, will struggle to maintain their connection. Viewing the struggle as a temporary situation may make it seem easier to manage, particularly at first. Some couples efficiently function as a “partnership,” raising the kids and living together as a family, but not otherwise connecting with each other for years. These are typically the people who find they no longer have anything in common, and experience “empty nest” syndrome most severely after the children grow up and leave home.

Keeping connected as a couple takes lots of time, energy, and commitment. It’s hard, but doable — if both parties commit to what is needed and follow through to make it happen. Here are some suggestions that will help you and your partner stay connected after your baby arrives:

1) Have the “how to stay connected” conversation well before your baby is born. Ideally, discuss this even before the pregnancy.

2) Remember that the relationship is a priority in addition to the baby. Don’t let caring for the baby’s needs always take precedence over the needs of the couple. The longer your needs or the needs of your partner are put on hold, the more difficult it is to reconnect down the line.

3) Schedule time alone with your partner either as an actual date night or just simply connecting for 10-15 minutes at home during the baby’s nap. Use the opportunity to talk about something other than your new infant.

4) Divide the chores. Nothing can create resentment faster than one partner feeling like the other is not doing their share of the household work. Both partners need to come to an agreement and understand the need to split chores or switch them around after the baby comes. Ideally, again, this conversation should occur even before having a baby. Don’t wait until after the fact to find out your partner won’t change diapers!

5) Schedule solo time for each partner, agreeing as a couple on how much and how often. Staying connected with friends and personal interests is necessary for individual well-being, as well as the strength of the relationship.

6) Don’t stop doing little things for each other: That greeting or goodbye kiss, quick text, or phone call just to say “I’m thinking of you” truly means a lot, and goes a long way to staying connected with your partner, with or without baby.

Go ahead and try the above tips. If you are still struggling to reconnect, it is important to not wait to reach out for professional support.

Category: Couples · Tags:

Is Depression in Your Relationship Dragging it Down?

Unfortunately, depression is very common – ten percent of adults in the United States are struggling with some level of depression at any given time, according to recent statistics. That means even if only one-quarter of depressed adults are in a relationship, a high percentage of people are affected one way or another.

Which Came First?

Although not talked about very much, depression can not only dramatically affect someone’s life, it can eventually devastate a relationship. A tricky part of dealing with the problem is that often the non-depressed, or “healthy” partner, may not be aware of what’s happening. They may notice that their significant other is distant, or showing other depressive symptoms, but not sure why. Are problems in the relationship causing the depression, or is the depression negatively impacting the relationship? Or is it some combination of the two?

Depression can clearly make relationship problems worse, but also makes it hard for an intervening therapist to figure out exactly what’s going on. Sadness, irritability, anger, decreased libido, and decreased motivation, along with being critical and argumentative, are all symptoms partners may exhibit when depressed and/or experiencing problems in the relationship. A lack of communication and general withdrawal from life and their significant other, are concurrent signs of both individual and partnership trouble.

Gender Differences

There are also characteristic gender differences in depressive symptoms. Men tend to act out more, either in angry outbursts or other abusive behavior (physically or verbally). Women have a tendency to turn inward when depressed, sinking into despair or otherwise internalizing their emotions.

Gender differences surface in counseling as well. Men are often reluctant to acknowledge and talk about their problems. Stereotypically, they struggle with exposing any vulnerability. The hesitancy to ask for assistance means that depressed men are more likely to go untreated, and this is often the case regarding their physical as well as mental health. Women are generally more open to discussing problem issues, and are more likely to seek professional help. They may already be in individual therapy and/or under medical care for their symptoms prior to seeing a marriage counselor. Severe depression, for both sexes, is usually best treated with a combination of antidepressant drugs and psychotherapy.

Couples Counseling

When in couples counseling, the first step is to identify if one partner is depressed. When the depressed partner readily acknowledges his or her mood, communication in the relationship can improve. This can be challenging, however, when the depression is not recognized and discussed by either or both partners. It’s also important to not assume that depression is the main cause of the relationship problems. Even if one partner is significantly depressed, both partners in the relationship are contributing to their relationship issues.

After the problem is identified, it is important to formulate a plan together on how to deal with the depression. The couple needs to determine both individual as well as a relational plans to restore their connection.

Helping Your Depressed Partner

Often it is important that the depressed partner attend individual counseling. Also, it is usually a good idea for them to schedule an appointment with their family physician for a complete exam, to rule out any physical factors that could possibly be causing or contributing to their symptoms. A family doctor may also prescribe an antidepressant (or refer the partner to a psychiatrist) if the depression is severe.

In addition, it is important that the non-depressed partner begin educating him or  herself about depression and its symptoms. Please see the following resource on depression. In couples therapy, it is important for the non-depressed partner to learn how his or her behavior may be exacerbating the situation and contributing to the relationship difficulties.

Although it can be daunting and even feel hopeless at times, with open and honest communication, well-formulated plans of action, and a therapist’s guidance, the ability to recover from a partner’s depression in a relationship is an achievable goal.

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How to Avoid a Sexless Marriage

The very short answer would be to start having lots of sex!

It’s not that easy. According to Newsweek magazine, 15 to 20% of all marriages in America are considered “sexless.” What exactly is a sexless marriage?

What Is a Sexless Marriage?

A sexless marriage may not literally equate to zero sex, but it is a relationship in which sex does not play a regular role, perhaps occurring only once every couple of months or less. Some consider 10 or fewer occasions per year as “sexless.”

Whether infrequent sex is considered an issue or not is actually relative to each couple. If both partners are satisfied with the amount of sexual contact, be it twice a year or twice a week, they are in balance. It becomes a problem when the partners disagree on the frequency, leaving one feeling needy and the other feeling put upon. It’s important to note that without a healthy sex life, couples are often challenged to find other ways to become connected and intimate with each other non-sexually.

Sexual disagreements are one of the most frequent areas of conflict in a marriage, on par with financially-related conflict, and more frequent than parenting and extended family issues.

Causes of a Sexless Marriage

There’s an old joke that asks, “What food will take away 95% of someone’s sex drive?” The witty answer is “Wedding cake.” The topic of why marriage often destroys a couple’s sex drive merits its own article, but one answer is that by the time many couples get married, the honeymoon phase starts to wear off, causing their libidos to recede. In addition, as the relationship becomes more routine, a couple’s differences surface and their closeness and intimacy can be affected.

Another contributing factor is that in this country both partners in a household typically work outside the home. After a full day at the job, followed by running errands, helping the kids with homework, preparing dinner, and doing other household chores, sex is the last thing on their minds when a couple finally crawls into bed — late and exhausted, with another work day ahead. Too often, this describes the female role, which plays into the paradox: Men usually feel closer by having sex, and women often need to feel close to be interested in being sexually intimate. It’s hard to feel close or sexy if you’re stressed, fatigued and/or angry about your partner not pulling his weight.

As the cycle continues, more distance between the couple equates to less sex. A disparity in libido can also contribute to feelings of rejection and resentment. A wall begins to build between the partners, and a sexless marriage develops.

Health

Health issues can impact sexual frequency. Physical and mental illnesses, including erectile dysfunction, dyspareunia(painful intercourse), and depression, can all play a significant role in a couples’ level of sexual intimacy. Seeking appropriate professional help is critical.

History

A couples’ early history can also play a role. How people are raised, or previous negative sexual experiences, can affect attitudes about sex. If sex was considered evil, wrong, or dirty; or if sexual or physical abuse occurred in the past, having sex is likely to be avoided (though it can cause some people to become hypersexual). Counseling may be necessary to work through these issues.

Regardless of the reason, problems between a couple impact the quality and quantity of their sex life. As time goes by and the lack of communication and distance between them grows, it no longer feels okay or safe to try to initiate sex.

Prevention and Repair

Couples should be careful not to let a few sexless months turn into a few years. Over time, the issues only intensify. After a prolonged period of little or no sex, it’s important for them to try to address the issues and determine why. They should be honest with each other and identify the main contributing factors. There are usually past and present resentments and issues to uncover.

Partners should keep in mind that complaining or whining about a lack of sex will typically not get them very far. Both partners need to learn to express their needs in a respectful and proactive way. Couples may need to reflect on the beginning of their relationship and start “dating” again in order to rekindle the attraction and sexual connection to one other that existed originally.

One way to start is by recreating past pleasurable experiences and shared positive memories that originally drew them close to one another. Then they can begin to shake things up by finding new creative activities and interests that are mutually enjoyable.

Finally, while not spontaneous or appealing to all couples, scheduling sex dates can help. It may seem forced or awkward at first, but for many busy working couples with children, it’s often the only realistic way to make it happen.

Couples — go ahead and try some of the above suggestions. If you and your partner both make a real effort, you can have a more active sex life! If you get stuck along the way, or the issues appear to be overwhelming on your own, be sure to seek out professional help.

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