Why Moving In with Your Partner Sometimes Leads to a Less than Satisfying Marriage

Cohabitating, or living with your partner before marriage, is sometimes regarded as a bad idea. There is even research that shows couples who live together and then marry actually have higher rates of divorce. However, how people decide to move in together can make a huge difference in the success or failure of their future marriage.

The Rising Trend of Living Together Before Marriage

The data shows that the number of unwed couples who live together has risen greatly. There were about 450,000 couples who were not married but living together in 1960. Today that number has grown by a whopping 1,500 percent to about 7.5 million couples. There are several reasons why this is occurring (other than increased total population), including:

  • The availability of contraception.
  • Ease of sharing expenses.
  • The belief that living together first helps determine whether you and your partner will be a good fit in marriage.

Research shows that two-thirds of young people believe that living together first helps couples avoid facing divorce later on. However, the opposite is sometimes true, and for a very specific reason.

Sliding vs. Deciding

Often, at the start of a relationship, the couple begins sleeping over at each other’s apartment or home. At some point, they then decide it is more practical to just move in together. This situation is called sliding, which is the opposite of deciding.

When a couple “slides” into living together, there is no formal discussion made by the couple and no mention that living together has any particular meaning for them. Additionally, sliding couples don’t reaffirm their love for each other nor do they talk about the significance of this decision. In fact, the decision to live together often happens without any consideration for the future of the relationship at all.

Differences Between Men and Women

The choice to move in together tends to be different for men and women. Women tend to view moving it as a step towards marriage. Men usually view it less seriously than women do. They often even consider it a testing ground to see if they like living with their partner. This can create a relationship mismatch for heterosexual couples, which can lead to negative consequences for the future of their relationship.

As a result, the couple’s commitment level to one another is very low.  Even if they eventually do get married, this mismatch regarding individual perception of the relationship will continue in the marriage.

It’s Harder to Get Out than Get In

Once in a sliding relationship, it is often harder to get out of it than it was to get in. Why?

  • It’s often cheaper to live together and split the bills.
  • Couples buy house items together, such as furniture or a television.
  • They become part of a common group of friends and social networks.

So how do you decide whether or not to move in together before marriage? While it’s not an easy decision, it’s clear that having thoughtful discussions with your partner before moving in and making an intentional choice (or “deciding”) about the direction of your relationship will positively impact both of your lives and your relationship.

How Should We Have “The Talk?”

If you and your partner are planning to move in together, consider these tips:

1. Each of you should discuss your motivations for moving in. Is it because it’s convenient or because both of you are ready to take the next step in the relationship?

2. What is your level of commitment to one another? If there is a mismatch, you need to know and proceed cautiously.

3. If there is any uncertainty, don’t hesitate to seek therapy to help.

Moving in together is a big step and signals that both of you are willing to make a deeper commitment to each other both in terms of the relationship and also financially. Make sure that this is the right decision for both of you, and avoid doing so out of convenience (unless you both clearly feel the same way after a thorough discussion).

Be sure not to avoid this important dialogue with your partner, and if there are any lingering questions be sure to consult with a therapist for help.

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9 Critical Conversations to Ensure a Happy Marriage

It’s well established now how frequently couples get divorced. Although many couples in the glow of their honeymoon phase think everything will be perfect, it often winds up not being the case. Here are nine critical premarital conversations to have before making this important step in life in order to ensure a happy marriage.

Critical Conversation #1:  If You Only…Changed.

Let’s face it; most couples are not too fond of a few their partner’s character traits.  These traits are often ignored during the honeymoon phase and can stay uncovered until years later. It’s important for couples to have discussions early on so these issues they don’t creep up on them in the future. For example:

  • Your partner spends too much time playing video games.
  • Your partner hangs out too much with friends.
  • You are frustrated because you think your partner is nagging you.
  • Your partner has that one annoying habit.

Critical Conversation #2:  Finances

Money differences are probably the most frequent reason why couples find themselves divorced. Different financial philosophies and expectations of one another can drive couples apart. It is important for couples to have these financial conversations beforehand. For example:

  • What are your values surrounding money?  
  • Should we have a joint account or separate accounts?
  • How should bills be divided between us?
  • Should we save every penny or spend everything we earn in order to travel/have fun?

Not being on the same page financially is a recipe for disaster.

Critical Conversation #3:  How Do We Spend our Free Time?

In the honeymoon phase most couples spend most of their free time together, but over time that can change. Talk about how you can balance time together and apart. This can vary between couples, but if there is a mismatch it can become a problem.

Critical Conversation #4:  Children

It’s important for each of you to be crystal clear about each other’s feelings regarding having kids. If having children is desirable to you, share exactly how important it is to one another. What often tends to happen is that one partner is ambivalent about having children, and sometimes that can be dangerous. It is important for this partner to clarify with themselves and their partner how they truly feel.

Critical Conversation #5:  If Yes, How Will You Parent?

If the both partners want children, how exactly do you want to parent? Share with each other stories from your own childhood about what your upbringing was like. What are qualities you would like to emulate and which would you rather discard?

Critical Conversation #6:  Family Values and Traditions?

These include whether or not you want to participate in a religion or faith tradition as a family. What are your own values and which values do you want to pass down to your children?  

Critical Conversation #7:  Sex

How each of you views sex-related matters is important. Is there a libido differential between the two of you? Any differences can be harder to see at the start of a relationship, but over time can become difficult to overcome. An imbalance can lead to problems later on.

Critical Conversation #8:  Resolving Conflict

How each of you handles conflict is important for the longevity of your relationship. We are not born knowing how to de-escalate and resolve conflict! It is a skill that we learn and practice over our lifetimes. Learning these skills now can help you handle disagreements and arguments effectively for the rest of your life.

Critical Conversations #9:  The Perfect Relationship

What do you and your partner think is important in a perfect relationship? Is it traveling the world together or owning a business? Having an idea what each of you ultimately wants in this lifelong journey can pave the way for a successful marriage.

If you get stuck when having these conversations, don’t hesitate to seek the help of an experienced relationship therapist in order to assist you in navigating these potential relationship pitfalls. Working through these important issues as early as possible can help ensure that you will have a satisfying marriage.

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Your Relationship Ended. Does That Make You a Failure?

In my practice, it is unfortunately common for clients to end up blaming themselves when their relationship ends. This is especially true after a breakup when they sometimes will even consider themselves a failure. For some clients with depressive tendencies, the breakup can trigger a negative thinking spiral where they become hyper-focused on their faults and inadequacies.

If you can avoid becoming stuck in a self-critical loop and learn from what happened in the relationship, you are much more likely to have a healthy relationship in the future.

How These Clients See Themselves

When a relationship ends, some clients see themselves not just as failures but also tend to have deeply flawed self-perceptions. For example they

  • Think that there is something fundamentally wrong with them.
  • Think that they are unlovable.
  • Think that they will never be able to find a partner or spouse.

One helpful place to start for these self-critical clients is to first re-evaluate what should be considered a “successful relationship.” Is the one that ends in wedding bells the only kind of successful relationship? Different people will have different answers, but a relationship requires continuous hard work. There is always a risk that a relationship won’t last forever. However, these self-critical people often they believe they are 100% responsible for the end of their relationship.

Generalizing the Blame

People who have depressive tendencies or who are already depressed are going to mostly focus on the negative side of life and apply that outlook to most situations in their life. They also tend to generalize where they take one negative event and apply it broadly in their life.

For example:

  • (after a breakup) “I must not be good at relationships.”
  • (after a negative interaction) “I am doing something wrong.”
  • (after a relationship ends) “Something must be wrong with me – I can’t make relationships work.”

Yet there are many reasons why a relationship ends. There could be a mismatch of personalities, styles, or financial goals. It is never the case that one person deserves 100% responsibility when a relationship ends. One overlooked reason for the end of many relationships is that two partners are simply not compatible. After all, it takes two people to make any relationship succeed.

Not too long ago, one of my clients made the mistake of piecing together events and drawing the wrong conclusions. This client had recently ended his relationship and was spending time out with friends. However, a conflict ensued between him and others in his group, which caused him to focus on the negative things. He wound up thinking, “something must be wrong with me.”

This was specifically problematic with regards to his perceived lack of appeal to the opposite sex. The event confirmed his negative beliefs about himself and unfortunately reinforced his self-doubts. It was only by discussing and logically examining his situation that was he able to realize there had been a lack of compatibility between him and his partner.

So Are You a Failure or Not?

However you end a relationship, it is important for you to learn from the experience. Some questions to consider:

  • What did new information did I learn about myself or qualities that I did not realize before?
  • What worked and what did not work in the relationship?
  • How did I approach conflict or problems in the relationship?
  • Was there anything I could have done differently?
  • Is there something about my past that contributed to my attraction to a partner that in the end was the wrong fit for me?

It can be fairly challenging to do this kind of self-assessment. However, the alternative is not very desirable! Do you really want to end up stuck in similar unhealthy relationships with the same results? I hope not! 

From my perspective, the only failure that comes from ending a relationship is not learning from the experience. If you are struggling and can’t seem to stop blaming yourself for these failed relationships, consider getting professional help. A skilled therapist can help you re-balance your negative thinking patterns and assist you in your self-discovery so that you can find a satisfying relationship in the future.

 

The Risk of Going to Bed Before Resolving Your Argument

The old adage, “never go to bed angry,” may have more meaning than originally thought.  Recent research from Ohio University examined couples mood, sleep, and overall health.  

They discovered that those who went to bed angry had a higher chance of developing problems such as heart disease and even Alzheimer’s.

How Does This Happen?

Going to bed angry definitely has negative effects on your health. Poor sleep causes inflammation, which is tied to many serious diseases. Couples who have an unresolved heated argument before bed has a 10% increased risk of developing inflammation.

The Research Into Arguing, Sleep, and Health

In this study, couples were told to intentionally discuss a difficult topic associated with their relationship. Their blood was measured before and after the argument. What they found was that those couples who had an argument experienced elevated indicators for inflammation in their blood. Couples who made up or resolved the argument before bed did not have any increase of inflammation in their blood levels.  

Dr. Janice Kiecolt-Glaser of Ohio University said that:

“What we worry about in a study like this is having even a relatively modest change in inflammation, but persistent over time. So, going to bed after one argument may not lead to any significant health issues. However, experiencing unresolved conflict over time can lead to elevated inflammation and susceptibility to health problems.”

The Impact on Your Health

If you experience inflammation for a long period of time you could be putting yourself at risk for:

  • Heart disease.
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Type 2 Diabetes.
  • Osteoporosis
  • Arthritis

Other research shows that inflammation negatively impacts our blood vessels, which increases our heart attack risk. This inflammation unfortunately also affects our brain. In fact, studies on mice have shown that by lowering the rate of inflammation in the brain we can actually stop the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Questions that Arise for Couples

Some questions from this research that couples should consider include:

  • Can the argument wait until the next day rather than having it right before bedtime?

 

  • Are you already worked up about the issue? Conversely, do you want to get your partner worked up about the issue as well?

 

  • Do you and your partner have the skill set to resolve the issue now?

If you and your partner feel that you are about to get into an argument it is important to be mindful of these issues to hopefully avoid the increased inflammation.

Tips for Couples Who are Still Arguing

If you and your partner continue to find yourselves arguing at night consider these ideas:

  • Take a look at the timing, is it right? It doesn’t make sense to bring up a red-hot topic right before bedtime.

 

  • Can you agree to at least table, or pause, the topic for a later time? This could help both of you remain calm, rested, and have a better capacity to hold the discussion at a later time.  Can you at least agree to disagree for now?

 

  • Can you own your part in the argument and apologize to your partner for your role in the conflict?

 

  • Have you learned the skills to self-soothe and calm down? This is important not just for quality sleep, but also to productively respond to your partner in a calm and reasonable manner.

If you are still struggling with having arguments before bedtime, consider finding a couples counselor for help. A therapist can help you resolve reoccurring arguments, as well as teach you effective conflict resolution skills and self-soothing tools. Then, when you are at home, you can resolve and even skillfully avoid arguments altogether. Most of all, you will not only improve the health of your relationship but your physical health as well.

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Trying to Rediscover that Spark? How Puppies can Save Your Relationship

Couples face many hurdles and challenges, especially early on in their relationship. After marriage, trying to juggle jobs, kids, and financial stress can cause couples to lose their spark and personal connection to one another. Instead of falling out of “love” they often fall out of “liking” one another.

Researchers from Florida State University wanted to understand this phenomenon and learn what might help fix the problem other than simply going to couples counseling.

Automatic Associations

The researchers studied families of military personnel who were on deployment overseas.  They were especially interested in “automatic associations.” An automatic association occurs when our brain connects two unrelated things together simply by the fact that they happened at the same time. For example, if you see a nature scene and an image of your neighborhood, that connection could influence how you perceive your community. The FSU researchers hypothesized that our feelings about our partners can be influenced by simultaneously thinking about something else that makes us happy.

Breaking Down the Research

During the study, the researchers surveyed 144 military couples regarding their marital satisfaction and asked for quick replies about the attitudes each had for one another. Then, they began displaying images of puppies and bunny rabbits along with pictures of their partners. They also included affirming words with the images. For the control group, pictures of their partners were paired with neutral images. These pairings occurred for six weeks.

The Results

The results of this research are not surprising. People who saw pictures of their partners with positive reinforcing images saw an increase in the number of automatic reactions about their partners that were positive compared to the control group. In addition, the positive image group exhibited better results in the same marriage satisfaction questionnaire after the six-week session was complete.

What Does This Mean for Couples?

The bottom line is that this research suggests associating positive images along with partners can help improve how you perceive your loved one. You don’t have to buy puppies or bunny rabbits to do this, but you can work to better cultivate gratitude and positive connections with your partner at home. You can accomplish this by:

  • Having a date night each week with just the two of you.
  • Participating in activities that both of you enjoy.
  • Learning something new together by taking a class or seminar.
  • Exercising together.
  • Being intimate with each other.
  • Spending time in nature, such as taking a hike.
  • Laughing together.
  • Sharing your appreciations for one another regularly.
  • Visiting someplace new, whether it is a day trip in your area or a travel adventure.
  • Playing games together.
  • Writing each other affectionate notes.
  • Doing something kind for your partner.

There are lots of other ways that you can create positive associations with one another to strengthen the bonds of your relationship and facilitate positive feelings for one another.  Do some research into what is available in your area and reflect on what your partner would like to do too!

But What if You Are Still Struggling?

If you and your partner are still struggling with creating positive associations to have a more satisfying relationship, then it is time for couple’s counseling. A counselor can work with you to help you better understand each other. They can also develop strategies that improve your connection to one another. It does mean making a commitment to do the work, but the results can mean greater relationship satisfaction.

Having positive automatic associations is just another tool that couples can utilize to improve their perceptions of one another, and, in turn, strengthen their relationship. However, if you are still trying to rediscover that spark and finding that it isn’t working, consider options like couple’s counseling.

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