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Don Laird

How Healthy Is Your Relationship?

By Don Laird, NCC, LPC, DCC

As a therapist and relationship coach, I all too often watch couples fighting against their relationship instead of for it. The reality is we often fall short when trying to communicate our needs and wants to others. Instead, couples waste energy and time focused on each other’s flaws rather than ways they can repair or foster their relationship. Indeed, if you are waiting for the other person to change then you better pull up a chair, grab a snack and settle in for a very long wait. Rather than giving up on your relationship, why not focus your time and energy on getting it back on track by trying something different?

If you don’t take some new and different approach on your own behalf, no one else will. For example, instead of pointing out your significant other’s flaws, why not try some positive reinforcement? Highlight your partner’s positive qualities and things you appreciate about them. It’s not a way to avoid issues in your relationship, but an effective way of starting the healing process. Keep this thought in mind, “Change begins with me.

Here a few key items to try when working on your relationship:       

  1. Remain present and focused: Don’t allow your emotions to steer the ship. Above all, avoid name-calling and personal attacks. Remember anger is a symptom of hurt, fear, and frustration. It’s never about the dishes or trash or being late. It’s about being heard and understood. Do healthy things to deal with your anger such as physical exercise, yoga, creative endeavors, or meditation.
  2. Don’t blame your partner: Concern is fine, but criticism is damaging to a relationship. It’s okay to express a specific complaint such as, “I was worried when I couldn’t reach you by phone and it was getting so late. We had agreed to contact each other if one of us was running late.”  Verses “You never call or text me, you’re always so selfish and uncaring.”  Also, using the word “I” is much more effective than using the word “You.” It’s about communicating what you need versus what you don’t need in your relationship. This is a great first step toward a healthier partnership.
  3. Unplug: Look at your partner, not your phone or other devices. The table and bed should always be device free areas. In fact, your bedroom is designed for two things: sleep and sex. So check your devices at the door. Try new activities that you both find interesting and pleasurable. You fell in love with this person without the device, why allow it to divide you when you could be using that time to strengthen your bond?
  4. Increase touch: Studies show that physical contact always helps in a relationship. Holding hands, hugging and touching can release chemicals in the body that cause us to be calmer, connected, and more attentive. Whether through touching or the act of sex, physical affection also reduces stress hormones – such as cortisol.
  5. Compliment your partner: Express your positive feelings out loud every day and say something kind about your partner. Don’t reserve these niceties exclusively for birthdays, anniversaries or holidays. Practice flirting with your partner. Let them know that you desire them through both your words and actions.
  6. Be vulnerable: In other words, don’t hold your hurt inside. Be open about your thoughts, feelings, and wishes in a respectful and constructive way. Resentment and frustration build when couples avoid communicating, so don’t bury those negative feelings. Make sure to use those “I” statements and not the “You” word.
  7. Take responsibility:  The old saying holds true, real change starts with you. Own your feelings without pointing out your partner’s flaws or going on the attack. To be ready for love you must become the person you want your partner to be.

Most importantly, do your best to remember why you fell in love with your partner. Instead of focusing on her or his flaws when you have an argument, examine your own words; check your own body language. Focus on repairing hurt feelings and creating a relationship worth being in. Breaking the cycle of an unhappy relationship requires you to make a shift in your mindset. It starts with you.

If you would like to continue the conversation about your relationship or marriage contact me to schedule an appointment or free phone consultation today.

In Good Health,
Don

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The 10 Month Challenge

by Aurora Starr

They’re out there. You just haven’t been lucky or blessed or mindful enough to find her or him. Ms. or Mr. Right is waiting out there  – a kindred spirit so forged in your mind that only their heart and soul could ever possibly fit with yours. Then there’s reality – good old-fashioned, hard-knocks, buzz-kill reality. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a real sucker when it comes to romance, trashy novels, dating shows, Hallmark Channel, RomComs and the belief that he will call for a second date when he says he will. You meet someone new and the air on Mt. Olympus turns stale faster than the magic of a one night stand at 4 am.

A few months in and you realize that this mere mortal who sits like a clueless slug on the sofa next to you is fallible, not as attractive as they once were, and not quite as emotionally mature or balanced as everyone – including you – thought. Well someone lied and, dammit, you bought into it, and even helped facilitate the façade.

Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching. Unless it’s your first Valentine’s Day with someone new, then you know what that means. Once you’ve hit three or four years of a Hallmark Holiday you begin to search for gifts and cards that reflect your true sentiments, “I love you more today than yesterday, but less than last week when you ate my last double-fudge brownie.”

Move passed all the clichéd metaphors about romance and you suddenly realize that love is less like a delicate flower and more like a nicely designed chore list with some occasional fun stickers and perks. The time and space where you used to swoon over your better half is now spent thinking about pushing that same person into the snow.

Yet, you punch the clock every morning, slap on your best game face, and head into the relationship factory with a smile and a wave until you realize that your soul mate failed to replace the toilet paper roll…again. Months will go by and you will find that you are intrigued and attracted to new people. You will tell yourself that it’s a betrayal and you need to stay in your familiar little rut, but betrayal also includes intent. So unless your intent is to cheat or shop around, then finding others attractive or fun is not such a negative thing. As long as there are clear boundaries, it could even strengthen your stagnant relationship at home.

A toxic mix of guessing and projecting as to why your significant other thought this and not that or why they did this and not that thing turns you into some half-assed psychic. Mind reading to outwit and outlast the other becomes the only way to win an argument. Because, let’s face it, you’ve convinced yourself that you know the inside of their head better than they ever could.

You watch couples argue and fight in movies and on TV and then they make up with hot sex. Then there’s your fights. Instead of mind-blowing orgasms you’re left with resentment and an empty wine glass until cooler minds prevail. You don’t fight because of housework or missed moments, you fight because this person just doesn’t hear or understand you anymore. Somewhere in the depths of your heart there’s this hope that this wouldn’t always happen if love were just real…like it used to be.

And so, I guess this is my stop, where I momentarily dismount my soapbox and say that love is real. It’s there; it just stays hidden sometimes by our unrealistic expectations and confusion over the ideas of love and romance. If I’ve learned one thing from Alison Sweeney or Candace Cameron or any of the other staples in the Hallmark Channel canon is that hope and love make for strange bedfellows. So, now I am going to eat the double-fudge brownie I have so masterfully hidden and think about how this Valentine’s Day might just be different this year.

Shine brightly,
Aurora

Please note: The opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily the views of eTalkTherapy. Aurora Starr is a freelance writer, NOT a therapist, and her views, thoughts and opinions are her own.