How Realistic is it to Fall Back in Love?

I often see couples who, for one reason or another, have fallen out of love. They are hoping to fall back in love, under the magic spell of couple’s therapy, in order to return to the “high” they experienced at the start of their relationship. But how realistic is it for couples to fall back in love and bring back that spark? While it may not be realistic for all couples, for those willing to do the work, there are often ways to gradually fall back in love.

Step 1:  Couples Need to Learn to “Like” Each Other Again

What does “liking” each other mean? It means starting over again from scratch and learning how to enjoy the presence of each other’s company. This is not necessarily easy. Both partners must be able to work at this together, with possibly one person needing to put in significantly more effort. They often need to learn how to communicate better and listen to one another. This is where therapy can be really helpful, especially if couples are struggling to communicate effectively on their own.

Step 2:  Focus on Being Kind to One Another

Relationships are not just built on communication. They are rooted in foundations of mutual understanding and affection for one another, including kindness. Again, both partners must be willing to be kind to one another. Perhaps this is an area where one partner struggles.  The other partner can coach them on efforts they can make.  For instance:

  • Providing a compliment.
  • Being appreciative.
  • Showing affection.
  • Being thoughtful, such as bringing home flowers or leaving a kind note.
  • Being present when talking to one another.

Step 3:  Rediscover Shared Interests

Relationships often start over a mutual interest. This could be a sport, hobby, music, etc. You can begin to gradually incorporate activities that helped you become close in the first place. One reason that couples drift apart is because they no longer participate in these activities together. Make it a priority to have a regular  “date night” where you can rediscover these mutual interests together.

Step 4:  Prioritize Distraction-Free Time Together

When spending time together, make it a priority to turn off the screens and phones. These distractions only divert our attention away from our partners. They also send a message that says, “I don’t have your back” and “I’m not really connected to you.” In order to fall back in love, it’s necessary that couples create time where the only focus is on each other.

Step 5:  Focus on the Little Things

Falling back in love doesn’t require big declarations of love! What really matters are the little things that couples can do to show their appreciation for each other. These don’t have to be gifts. Instead, focus on giving each other a compliment at least once a day, doing something thoughtful that the other partner will appreciate, or even sending a kind text message.

Step 6:  Exercise Together

Exercising has a lot of benefits.  Of course, it’s important for staying healthy, but it’s also one of those shared activities that you can experience together. Additionally, the chemicals released during exercise can have a positive effect on our mood, which also impacts your partner.

Hold Off on Sex until You’re Ready

Sometimes couples may too quickly “jump the gun,” thinking sexual intimacy will, by itself, magically solve everything. However, you should hold off on re-establishing your sex life. At least until you’ve reached a point where you “like” each other again.  

These steps can help couples that have drifted apart rediscover connection, and, hopefully, love again. If couples are still feeling stuck, attending couples counseling is highly recommended. If you both are willing to commit to making a consistent effort, you can once again find the spark that originally brought you together.

Category: Couples · Tags:

How Uncontrolled Anger Destroys Relationships

Anger is a normal emotion. It stems from feeling hurt, anxious, shame, or powerlessness. Although it’s a natural emotion, it is often seen as a problem, even evil, bad, or wrong. However, it’s important to remember that feeling anger is an internal experience.  How anger is expressed is an external issue that can affect others, including those who are close to us and who we love the most. Without control, anger can destroy our closest relationships.

Holding in Anger vs Lashing Out

Of course, some people never express anger at all and hold it in. It’s a short-term strategy that doesn’t work for very long. That’s because, when someone holds in all their emotion and doesn’t express it appropriately, it will eventually bubble up and turn into “last straw” experiences. Then, it is explosively and inappropriately let out. Sometimes those who’ve experienced an angry or abusive parent can follow this ineffective approach. As a child, one who learned to keep their anger inside in order to avoid the wrath of that parent. Of course, this can lead to a host of problems as an adult that are just as serious. The key to remember in both cases is that there are productive and destructive ways to express anger and all negative emotions.

Helping vs. Hurting Relationships

When we attack or yell at our partner constantly we are slowly destroying our relationship. No one likes being attacked, physically or verbally. Using anger as a way of attacking our partner only leads to them feeling:

  • Less physically and emotionally safe.
  • More reluctant to be vulnerable and open.
  • Less likely to trust their partner.

However, when we express anger productively without attacking our partner, those emotions can actually contribute to having a productive dialogue. To get an idea of how to express yourself appropriately with your partner, go here.

Research into Anger and Relationships

The Gottman Institute in Seattle, WA has done research on the topic of anger and relationships. They investigated what happens when couples get really worked up and angry with each other.

They discovered when you are angry enough- which they define as emotion that causes your heart rate to rise above 100 beats per minute –   (they refer to this as being emotionally flooded) – you cannot process information effectively. Being emotionally flooded means you become so overwhelmed with your feelings that you simply can’t process everything around you. You become less able to look at things objectively and make good decisions. I tell couples that when you are emotionally flooded you can easily express (usually yell) your side of the argument, but you can’t understand them. It’s as if they are speaking a foreign language.  

When this happens there is that breakdown in communication that damages or destroys relationships. Yet there are ways that couples can calm down and self-soothe to ensure their anger doesn’t become destructive.

Ideas to Avoid Uncontrolled Anger

Couples who struggle with anger have several options available to keep things under control. These include:

  • Rescheduling the argument for another time. Being specific when picking out a day or time.  The sooner the better, if possible.
  • Learn to be more mindful and aware of your emotional state.
  • If you get too upset, don’t continue. Go back to step 1 and reschedule! Keep things from getting too heated. Otherwise, it becomes impossible to take back things you regret saying or doing.
  • Learn self-management and emotional soothing strategies. Besides mindfulness, learn relaxation techniques, listening skills, and being able to see things from the other person’s perspective.

If you or your partner is still struggling with anger that negatively impacts your relationship, then you need to see a therapist and possibly participate in an anger management program.

Although anger is a natural, human emotion, it can be the source of a lot of pain and anguish in relationships. All too often anger when left unchecked leads to hurt feelings, a lack of understanding, and in the worst cases physical and emotional harm. Yet, it doesn’t have to be that way!

By learning some simple coping strategies combined with therapy, couples can experience anger without having to act on those rage-filled feelings. This means less destructive relationships and better communication between partners.

Category: Couples · Tags:

It Takes Work to Rebuild Trust – Are You Ready to Do the Work?

Various forms of trust issues are always present in most relationships. When couples come to see me, trust almost always shows up in one way or another. Most couples – even healthy ones – have some sort of trust issue present, even if it’s a relatively small issue. These issues aren’t necessarily connected to affairs or related to any type of infidelity. But they often can indicate how emotionally close couples are and can potentially cause disconnection in a relationship.

Kinds of Trust Issues

Besides affairs/infidelity, other kinds of trust issues include:

  • Dishonest behavior: not telling the truth or at least the whole truth.
  • Degrees of unfaithfulness: such as flirting behavior.
  • Financial infidelity: making a significant purchase without telling your partner.

Trust issues aren’t confined to the above categories. Any aspect of  your life and relationship involving a lack of trust can become problematic for you and your partner.

Trust and Emotional Security

Another, more fundamental, way that a lack of trust impacts a relationship is when one or both partners is not able to be reliably emotionally present for the other. For example, one partner may not have faith that their partner will be emotionally available for them during difficult or stressful times.  In other words, you may not have any confidence that your partner truly “has your back.” When someone is emotionally unavailable during vulnerable times, it can seriously damage your partnership. It destroys confidence that your partner will be there for you when most needed.  Although this situation may not be as damaging as an actual affair, this kind of emotional abandonment is a recipe for having a very distant and unsatisfying relationship.

More Than a Quick-Fix

Couples struggling with trust issues may go to couples counseling for help. This is certainly an opportunity to learn communication tools and discover why trust has been lost.  However, far too often, couples mistakenly conclude that all they need to do is attend a few sessions and presto! They are back on track with their relationship!

The reality is, that with significant trust issues, a “quick-fix” isn’t going to cut it. It does not exist. Both partners need to understand why trust was lost, learn to be truly present to each other’s pain, and gradually rebuild the relationship. The rebuilding process will take time, lots of patience, and effort for trust to be earned again.

Typically, it is really hard for couples to understand that this is a lengthy, in-depth process. The effort required is really significant, especially when the offending partner struggles to “get it.” They may think that apologizing is all that’s necessary and that everything is now OK. Nothing could be further from the truth!  Rebuilding trust isn’t magic. It isn’t accomplished with a few apologetic statements.  A sincere apology is an important start, however, it’s only one small step in a long journey. 

What’s Necessary to Rebuild Trust?

To rebuild trust, break the process down into types of behaviors. Those that require either a high-cost level of effort or a low-cost level of effort.  

High Cost:  Requires a greater investment of time and effort on the part of the offending partner. This requires altering significant behaviors or making different life choices.

Here are some examples:

  • Finding a new job
  • Ending a friendship
  • Getting treatment for substance abuse problems
  • Ending a porn addiction
  • Sharing phone, text, and emails in an effort to be transparent with your partner
  • Being patient, open to scrutiny, and answering identical questions repeatedly

Low Cost:  These are behaviors that aren’t hard to do every day and require less effort. They are also helpful when both partners participate in them.

Some examples:

  • Complimenting your partner
  • Showing your appreciation
  • Being fully present when you have a discussion
  • Initiating an activity you can do together, such as going for a walk or date night
  • Showing affection toward each other

I would recommend that the offending person consult with their partner and choose some high-cost behaviors. In addition, both partners can engage in ongoing low-cost behaviors for 3-4 weeks. At that point, the two of you can decide to either add or subtract behaviors from either category. If your connection to one another doesn’t seem to be improving, it would be a good idea to attend couples counseling.  

It doesn’t take much for trust to start to erode in a relationship. In fact, it can happen in the blink of an eye. However, it can take months, or in some cases, even years of work to regain that trust. If there is a noticeable trust issue in your relationship, ask yourself if you are willing to do the necessary work to reconnect fully with your partner. With a combination of professional support, concrete action, and lots of patience, you can rebuild the trust in your relationship.

Category: Couples · Tags:

Is Exercise Better than Counseling?

Most of us know the benefits of exercising for both the mind and body. Exercise helps improve our mood, lowers our stress level, and is important for physical fitness. However, there may also be additional benefits, especially if you exercise together as a couple. In fact, exercising as a couple is another way to help strengthen your relationship.

A Stronger Sense of Connection

There are several ways exercise creates a stronger sense of connection between you and your partner. For example:

  • Enjoyment of a shared activity. This means you’re not only doing something together but participating in an activity you both enjoy. Also, adding a certain level of challenge helps too!
  • Exercise benefits your cardiovascular system, builds muscle, and maintains flexibility. In addition, it contributes to a physiological arousal too. The elevated heart rate, increased respiratory rate, and a flood of endorphins all play a role.
  • Working out together contributes to overall satisfaction in the relationship. This is especially true if the activity is challenging.

Overall, exercising fosters a closer sense of connection, both physically and mentally.

Creating Motivation

Another way exercise benefits relationships is by providing motivation. When exercising, your partner can help you with sticking to your workout routine, as well as create fitness goals. In fact, researchers who studied heterosexual couples found that men who were average-weight worked out more when their wives offered encouragement.

Working Out and Your Sex Life

As mentioned earlier, the physiological benefits of exercise contribute to physical arousal. While working out, couples may experience increased sexual arousal and  mutual attraction. Also,the emotional bond between partners increases as a result of the shared experience.

Get Outside to Strengthen Your Relationship

Now, imagine combining the advantages of exercising together with being outside.  Participating in vigorous physical activity outdoors can:

  • require just as much physiological benefit as working out indoors.
  • present an opportunity to accomplish something challenging together
  • mean trusting your partner. For activities that require technical skill or risk like rock climbing, couples not only need to work together, they rely on each other for their safety. 
  • help you get away from electronic distractions. You can focus on each other and be fully present, something that can’t even happen at the gym.
  • encourage participation in outdoor activities, leading you and your partner create memorable experiences that strengthen your emotional bonds.

One Warning for Exercising as a Couple

There is one thing that could actually be harmful to your relationship: situations in which one partner has more skill or expertise in a particular activity than the other.

For instance, let’s say you both decide you want to go skiing as a couple. Great! That’s a fun physical activity for you both to experience together. However, if one of you wants to ski black diamond slopes and the other wants to stick to the easy green runs, that can be a problem. Your goals aren’t aligned as your skill levels are widely different.

There are three different options here:

1. Ski different runs, which would satisfy the need to ski, but is not helpful to the relationship.

2. The more experienced skier decides to ski the easier run with the other partner. This can actually show you are willing to compromise!  

3. Try a new sport together. That way, both of you are at the same level of learning. You can grow together while enjoying a new activity as a couple.

Overall, working out together can have many benefits for couples looking to create stronger emotional bonds as well as increase their physical health. Exercising outdoors is beneficial too. Although it may not eliminate couples counseling altogether, exercising is a helpful way for couples to build trust, work together, and communicate. These achievements are, of course, important qualities for any successful relationship!

Category: News · Tags:

5 Tips on Dealing with Mother-in-Law Madness!

While it’s a common joke that a mother-in-law may act like a “monster-in-law,” there is a grain of truth to it as well. An overbearing mother-in-law can exact a heavy toll on a relationship, causing significant stress affecting everyone involved. However, there are steps that couples can take to manage the situation and to prevent damage to their relationship.

Some Statistics about Mothers-in-Law

According to Yvonne K. Fulbright, Ph.D. in an article for Psychology Today, “one in four daughter’s-in-law despise their mother-in-law.” They reported that their mothers-in-law were “controlling.” One out of 10 women wanted to get farther away from their in-laws. Also, almost 25% of respondents referred to their mother-in-law as either “terrible” or “bad.” Fulbright refers these moms as a “monsters-in-law.”

How Do These Relationships Get Started?

Some thoughts on how these unhealthy relationships get started include:

  • Some mothers-in-law oversteps the boundaries and interfere with their sons’ relationships. This also includes getting involved in parenting issues and pushing their own agendas.  
  • Some mothers-in-law often suggest that the daughters-in-law are not good enough for their sons. They can be judgmental and consistently interfere in the couples’ lives.

It’s important to note that one shouldn’t assign all responsibility to the mother-in-law. Relationships are a two-way street. The daughter-in-law may also be an instigator. Daughters-in-law can exacerbate situations too, and become overly protective of their relationships.

What Happens in These Situations?

When the relationship is strained, it can cause a tremendous amount of stress on the couple while dealing with the mother-in-law. The daughter-in-law, in particular, may experience a lot of stress, which can cause the relationship to unravel. 

What Can Be Done With “Monsters-in-Law?”

Here are some tips to follow:

1. Try to understand and empathize with what your mother-in-law is likely experiencing.

Recognize that your mother-in-law is not evil (hopefully!) and has issues that are getting in the way of having a healthier relationship with you. Some common issues she might be struggling with: relinquishing control over their son, feeling jealous that her daughter-in-law is now the recipient of her son’s attention, and struggles to let go now that her role has changed (as a less involved parent).

2. Get on the same page with your partner.

Come to an understanding about the difficulties of dealing with the mother-in-law so that both of you are in agreement with how to handle the challenging issues and situations with all in-laws.

3. Husbands need to find a healthy balance when in the middle.

On the one hand, husbands should absolutely not blindly defend their mother (a recipe for relationship disaster), but on the other hand they need to avoid taking on their wife’s battles as their own. It’s unhealthy for the husband to take up 100% (or even the majority) of the fight. This only causes a triangulation to occur between the husband, wife, and mother-in-law, which is unhealthy and makes the situation very messy! The daughter-in-law should communicate directly with the mother-in-law most of the time. 

It’s critically important for the daughter-in-law to set firm boundaries and assert herself. Don’t sweep concerns under the rug. However, finding the right balance can be a challenge, especially knowing when to let the little stuff go and share other issues that truly matter to you.

4. Critique your mother-in-law’s behaviors or words, NOT her character.  

Character assassinations will set you up for a long, unfortunate war you’re not looking for!  (This also clearly applies to your intimate relationships too.)

Getting Professional Help

If your mother-in-law is causing significant stress in your relationship, don’t hesitate to seek professional help as soon as possible. This support can be invaluable. Productively expressing your feelings about the “monster-in-law” situation helps determine how to deal with your situation together. Without finding common ground, it will be next to impossible to establish a working relationship with your mother-in-law.

 

It is definitely important to avoid letting an unhealthy mother-in-law situation fester. Don’t let the situation between yourself, your partner, and your mother-in-law become a disaster. Be sure you and your partner communicate. Find ways to get on the same page. Consider professional help if difficulties persist. Otherwise, you will likely deal with the “monster-in-law” madness for a very long time. In the process, you may seriously risk damaging your intimate relationship.

Category: News · Tags: