The Other Kind of Trust Issue

The most common kind of trust issue I see in my practice doesn’t involve infidelity. While I do see many couples and individuals who are recovering from betrayal, the most common trust issue showing up in my practice involves the lack of faith partners have in one another.

Unfortunately, it’s an all-too-common situation. Partners are left doubting that their partner will be there for them when push comes to shove. Or, they have no faith that they will have each other’s back. The hidden reality is that even couples that have never managed any type of affair or relationship betrayal still struggle frequently with trust issues. It goes without saying that couples who have dealt with physical and/or emotional infidelity experience a lack this type of faith in each another too.

Under the Surface

Dr. Sue Johnson, who developed emotionally focused therapy, very effectively addresses this topic. She points out that the lack of trust in a relationship is not really about the “little issues.” Instead, underneath the surface, is where the fundamental sources of trust (or lack of trust) lie. For example:

  • Do they feel secure in their emotional bond with each other?  
  • Is she truly there for me?
  • Can he put me first?  

Without feeling secure in their shared emotional bond, unhealthy and unproductive conflict can grow. Dr. Johnson refers to these unproductive interactions as “Demon Dialogues.”

What are “Demon Dialogues?”

Dr. Johnson describes them this way: 

[when] partners get stuck in spirals of negative emotions and wind up shutting down and shutting their partner out.”

Once stuck in this spiral, it’s very difficult to get out. Each partner experiences hurt feelings and emotional pain that negatively impacts the next encounter. This leads to bot distrust between partners, which, in turn, inflicts further damage on the relationship.

EFT and the Demon Dialogues

In emotionally focused therapy (EFT) the goal is for the couple to eliminate the Demon Dialogues and create a more trusting bond with each other. This connection can foster healthier and deeper level conversations. Dr. Johnson refers to these discussions as “Hold Me Tight” conversations.  For example couples spend time

  • Talking about how one’s actions affect the relationship.
  • Expressing remorse for their part in hurtful discussions.
  • Sharing how they care about each other.
  • Showing forgiveness.
  • Acknowledging their own shortcomings.

A common problem is that many couples never even begin these productive conversations because their Demon Dialogues get in the way. They may have some desire to talk about these issues, but instead, get caught up in those negative cycles. Why? Because sharing their feelings is too scary and feels too vulnerable to even bring to the surface.

Becoming More Emotionally Secure

When couples do begin to have these productive dialogues, their external issues often fade into the background and become mostly insignificant. If you are angry over how money is spent or you are unhappy with your sex life, but at the same time you know your partner fundamentally has your back, you are likely to feel more comfortable discussing these issues in depth. As a result, you are both less likely to let these conversations turn into Demon Dialogues. Then you are more likely to feel secure enough to have Hold Me Tight discussions. Such emotional security is essential in order to have a satisfying and healthy relationship.  

If you and your partner find yourselves getting dragged down by Demon Dialogues too often, it is highly recommended you consider attending couples counseling. While working with a therapist, you both can learn how to eliminate hurtful surface-level issues and get to the real, deeper issues in your relationship. One you both develop trust and faith in one another, counseling can teach you how to communicate effectively so that you rarely find yourselves getting caught up in the downward spiral of the Demon Dialogues.

Relationships require constant work and attention. Yet, it’s more difficult to be with your partner when neither of you has the emotional security where you can truly count on one another. Through couples counseling, you can both learn to avoid the Demon Dialogues and begin to create a foundation of trust that will lead to more Hold Me Tight conversations.

 

Category: Couples · Tags:

It’s Not Just Your Imagination – Your Exes are Really Similar

Many of us realize that we are attracted to certain physical and personality traits in a partner. Being drawn to potential partners with blonde hair, a sense of humor, and who are physically active are some examples. Intuitively, we have a sense that we are drawn to certain types of people over and over again. If this is true, it means our exes have a lot in common. Recent research actually confirms this.

You Do Have a “Type”

Researchers from the University of California-Davis studied this issue of common traits in romantic partners through three separate but related studies. They compared over 1,000 heterosexual relationships by conducting interviews and tracking social media. The results showed that people actually do have a “type” of preferred partner. Also, the study indicated that people are drawn to partners with similar physical qualities for both short-term and long-term relationships. In other words, we’re attracted to a similar physical type, regardless of whether the person is ready/wanting a life-long relationship or a casual interaction.

Location Does Matter

One of the studies, conducted with young adults, looked at whether partners had similar qualities beyond physical attractiveness (such as intelligence and religious affiliation). The conclusion was yes, but it’s often because of the physical location where these young people interacted. In their case, it was at a school or college, where you often find like-minded people of similar intelligence.  Also, if you attend a church, synagogue, or other house of worship, you will meet people whom you have common ground and potentially meet a partner.

Attractiveness

Interestingly, when it comes to physical attraction these attributes remain similar regardless of short-term flings or committed relationships. People still selected partners who had common physical characteristics, such as hair color or body type. Of course, it’s a challenge to determine how to measure attractiveness since this quality is very subjective. However, attractiveness was likely determined by participants’ self-reporting methods.

So What Does All This Mean?

Overall, the research indicates that our chances of finding a partner are determined where we live and also physical desirability. However, the researchers didn’t address the more complex issue of people who are repeatedly attracted to the same personality dynamic. Essentially, this means that many people who are repeatedly attracted to certain personality characteristics are often attracted to unhealthy characteristics. For instance:

  • Relationships that are controlling.
  • Relationships that create a codependency between both partners.
  • Relationships that involve drug or alcohol use/abuse.
  • Relationships that reinforce negative childhood experiences or unhealthy parent/child dynamics.

Unfortunately, not everyone realizes they are stuck in these relationship patterns or dysfunctional cycles. It often takes professional intervention to help you identify and understand the repeated themes at work in your relationship.

How Can I Tell If I am In an Unhealthy Relationship?

Oftentimes we don’t recognize these patterns ourselves, which means we blindly go from one unhealthy relationship to the next. This causes us to become stuck in relationships that are either unhealthy, unsatisfying or both. Working with a therapist can help uncover these unhealthy dynamics and identify the desirable qualities that you’ve been seeking in relationships. Once you have the insight, you are then able to take proactive steps towards changing those patterns to healthier ones. You then are able to seek loving and caring connections and avoid destructive and unhealthy partnerships.

It’s one thing to notice your exes all have the same physical appearance.  However, if you have consistently ended up in unhealthy relationships, working with a therapist can help you uncover any dysfunctional patterns. Then you will know which traits to look for in a prospective partner. In addition, you’ll  know which characteristics to avoid!

 

7 Warning Signs That Your Friendship May Have Already Turned into an Emotional Affair

So you’ve become friendly with a work colleague and have begun meeting outside of work. Perhaps even going out to lunch a few times. Maybe you even text one another outside of work hours. Or, you have become reacquainted with an old high school friend and have enjoyed catching up on old times. So what makes one friendship harmless and innocent and the next relationship problematic and unhealthy? How do you know if you’re at risk of having an emotional affair? Here are seven warning signs that could mean you have crossed the line.

Warning Sign #1: You get excited when you see this person and look forward to contacting them again.

This feeling actually mirrors the “high” many feel when beginning a new romantic relationship. You feel energized and you’re experiencing a neurochemical high as your brain is lighting up from dopamine and those “feel-good” chemicals are releasing.

Warning Sign #2: You reveal personal information to this person before telling your own partner.

Or, you avoid telling your partner altogether. This is dangerous for your relationship, as you are no longer communicating openly with your partner.
Hint: When you are sharing emotional content with this “friend,” you are now, by definition, emotionally involved!

Warning Sign #3: You start spending time with this person during non-work hours.

Also, the amount of time that you spend with this person is increasing. This could have started off with something innocent, such as going out with coworkers for drinks. However, you are now beginning to spend more time alone together.

Warning Sign #4: You start to complain about your romantic partner to your new “friend.”

This is another telltale sign that you might be beginning to have an emotional affair with this new person.

Warning Sign #5: You hide your new friendship from your partner.

When asked where you are going or whom you are with, you give a vague response or simply lie. You also hide that you are texting, messaging, or emailing your friend because you don’t want to admit (to your partner and sometimes even to yourself) that you are beginning to develop an emotional affair with this person.

Warning Sign #6: You start to daydream and fantasize sexually about your friend.

In fact, your partner may have already noticed that you seem distracted and asks what you’re thinking about. Embarrassed, you make up something instead of telling the truth.

Warning Sign #7: You begin to pay for expenses when with this person, or you buy them gifts.

Again, this may have begun innocently enough, such as picking up the check for a meal. Then it progresses to something simple, such as flowers and turns into more expensive gifts. You then conceal these expenses from your romantic partner.

What Can I Do?

Begin by being completely honest with yourself. Are you spending time with this person because you simply enjoy their friendship, or because you have developed deeper feelings for them? Only you can answer this, but if it’s the latter and your friend is reciprocating those feelings, it would be a good idea to seek individual counseling. Although difficult, be honest with your partner too, and it will likely be necessary to participate in couples counseling to help the two of you work through this situation.

Overall, it’s important to be honest with yourself that your romantic relationship is being strained and harmed by your behavior. Unfortunately, if you are currently in the midst of an emotional affair, you may not be motivated to take any healthy steps for yourself and your relationship. This new person is making you feel darn good and you’re experiencing that neurochemical “high’ discussed above. Thus, you are less likely to want to stop and evaluate your behavior. However, if and when you are genuinely interested in making a change, being honest with yourself and your partner is the healthiest place to start.

Category: Individuals In Relationship · Tags:

5 Ways to Avoid the Pitfalls of Remarriage

Although about half of all marriages end in divorce, the challenges for second marriages are greater. According to the National Center For Family and Marriage at Bowling Green State University, research shows that 60% of second marriages end in divorce. The divorce rate for third marriages is even higher at 65%. So why does remarrying present so many challenges for couples?

Remarrying presents the following significant hurdles for couples to overcome in order to have a satisfying relationship:

Pitfall #1: Baggage

Issues from prior marriages don’t just go away after the divorce is finalized. Dysfunctional dynamics are tendencies that will likely persist and reoccur in future relationships.

Tip: Instead of rushing into marriage make sure that you understand your relationship behavioral patterns. Do you have a thorough sense of how you contributed to the problems in your previous relationships? This often necessitates learning to understand yourself in counseling so that you know you are in a healthy place for any new relationship.

Pitfall #2: Increased Financial Stress

Typically, financial pressure increases after a marriage ends. Money is often owed to one’s ex in in form of alimony payments, child support, and any assets acquired that need to be divided. Financial conflict is already the biggest issue couples struggle with, which often leads to divorce. How will you handle this extra financial pressure?

Tip: Meet with your partner before marrying to communicate all aspects of your financial situation. Discuss and agree on realistic expectations before getting remarried. It is highly recommended to meet with a financial advisor and/or a couples counselor to ensure the two of you are on the same page.

Pitfall #3: Moving Too Fast

Remarrying couples often act too hastily and marry too quickly. They don’t take the time to make sure that their relationship is healthy and determine whether or not they are truly ready to take the next step.

Tip: It’s important to slow down and make sure that your relationship is in the right place before marriage. If there is any uncertainty it would be foolish not to attend premarital counseling.

Pitfall #4: It’s Easier to Give Up

When things get tough it’s easier to “throw in the towel” with a second marriage. Couples typically don’t have as much fear of the relationship ending when they’ve already faced “the end” in a past relationship. Also, commitment is less likely. And willingness to do the hard work necessary for a successful marriage lessens when conflict ensues. Ironically, having been through a separation or divorce once before helps to make the process a little easier the second or third time around because it’s a familiar path.

Tip: Prepare for conflict in your marriage. Recognize it’s an inevitable part of any relationship and acquire the skills to handle it. Premarital counseling can help provide the tools you both need when conflict arises. Learning conflict resolution skills is essential!

Pitfall#5: Blended Family Chaos

First marriages rarely begin with the stress of children. Remarrying though often does involve children. Couples have to now divert their attention away from each other and towards their own children and stepchildren. This makes resentment and jealousy a probable reality. Combined with brand new step-parenting adjustments, the risk of misunderstandings and conflict, unfortunately, is sky high.

Tip: It helps to have a clear understanding of expectations before the blending of families begins. Preparation through premarital and family counseling can help to better facilitate the blending process. It also helps when stepparents are able to gradually develop a solid relationship with any stepchildren before assuming parental authority and disciplinary practices. Even when attending counseling, newly blended families require having a high level of patience to handle the stress and tremendous overall adjustment.

The challenges of remarrying are great. There are many potential pitfalls that can lead couples towards another divorce. However, you can reduce the risk of encountering these pitfalls. Preparation, slowing things down, developing communication tools, and seeking out premarital and family counseling are key. Together, you can take the important steps above to maximize the chances that your second marriage is a lasting success.

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7 Ways to Rekindle the Passion in Your Relationship

Has your relationship hit a plateau or is it in need of a spark? It’s not uncommon for most of us in long-term relationships to feel uninspired or stuck in some form of a relationship rut. Too many people mistakenly conclude that we will always feel the magical passion that exists at the beginning of a relationship and that no work is needed to maintain that passionate connection. However, nothing could be further from the truth!

All relationships need hard work to keep the passion alive.

Here are 7 tips to help rediscover the spark in your relationship:

First:  Decide on the Level of Investment You Want to Make

I think it’s very important to take stock in how invested we are in our relationships and examine how much effort we are putting into them. Of course, it takes two people to determine relationship quality. Each partner’s actions make a big difference in how satisfied you both are.  However, it’s easy to fall into the trap where you stop putting effort into your relationship because you believe that your partner isn’t putting forward any effort. As Gandhi says:  “Be the change you wish to see…”

Second:  Communicate

Have a frank talk with your partner about how connected you feel and what level of closeness is ideal. Make sure that your partner understands that you want to shake things up in order to improve the passion in the relationship. This also helps to ensure that you are both on board and are also in agreement that you’d like things to improve.

Third:  Take Ownership of Your Part

Take responsibility for your own contribution to the less-than-ideal current state of affairs in your relationship. Ask yourself how your actions have kept things stagnant or perhaps have even somewhat damaged the relationship? Don’t ignore these realizations. Use them to begin making more positive choices to enhance the health of your relationship.

Fourth:  Commit to Finding Gratitude

When we lose sight of the positive things in our relationships, our satisfaction level with our partners takes a dramatic hit. Far too often we overlook the positive things in life (including our relationships) and become hyper-focused on the negative. Take the time to appreciate the good things about your relationship and learn to experience an attitude of gratitude.

Fifth:  Take Action

Instead of focusing on what’s missing look for opportunities to improve your relationship. For example, if you are noticing a lack of affection from your partner, take the initiative and be the one to express that affection. Don’t wait to show that you care!

Sixth:  Old and New

To initially gain some positive momentum, initiate activities and experiences that you and your partner shared at the beginning (and during more passion-filled stages) of your relationship. Then, in order to build on this momentum, try to add new shared activities with your partner to create fresh experiences and memories together. This can increase relationship satisfaction and reignite the passion between the two of you. For instance, if you both have enjoyed hiking together, continue to go hiking. However, why not also try a new sport or activity together?

Seventh:  Focus on the Little Things

The little things are those things you both did naturally at the beginning of your relationship but faded over time. One little act may not make that much of a big difference. But, over time, those little acts really do add up and make a significant difference in sparking the passion in your relationship. Here are a few examples:

  • Write a loving note to your partner.
  • Call/text your partner during the work day.
  • Take every opportunity to thank or compliment your partner.
  • Create an appreciation list for your partner.

These little things truly do add up and help create a feeling of closeness and intimacy.

Almost every couple in long-term relationships experiences plateaus. But it’s a mistake to think you have no power to change things for the better. Commit to following these simple steps discussed above, and you may be amazed at the progress you made in rekindling the passion and connection with your partner. Don’t wait another day to get that spark back!

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