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Relationship Skills

Relationship Buyer's Remorse Phase

All couples at some point reach the relationship buyer’s remorse phase. This is the point where one or both start to wonder or question. They may think things like this is not what I signed up for or why should this be so hard. They have probably bumped up against issues and problems and been unwilling or unable to resolve them. They have probably been hurt and may have developed patterns of reacting to each other that make things worse rather than better. Many couples get stuck in negative patterns of arguing and fighting or withdrawing and withholding. In order for things to improve they need to break these patterns. They need to choose to do something different.

An interesting finding from marriage research is that many people who reported being unhappy in their marriage but chose to stay together, later report being very happy in that same marriage. It may pay to be patient and to see the buyer’s remorse phase as a signal to choose to grow and develop as a person and as a couple.

Relationship buyer's remorse
Relationship buyer's remorse

There are some strategies to help get unstuck:

Stop talking about your relationship

I recognize that ignoring problems is not the way to solve them. But I have found that couples in the buyer’s remorse phase of their relationship are not able to have a conversation about their relationship without it escalating to unpleasantness and way worse. So for the first while stop talking about your relationship.

Put positive energy back in your relationship

Smile at each other. Find reasons to feel grateful and to compliment each other. Pretend that you like each other if that is what it takes.

Get helpful help

Avoid simply venting to your friends and family, especially if this turns into relationship or partner bashing. Helpful help is the kind that supports and validates you and at the same time helps you consider how you might be contributing to the problems. Talk to someone you can trust to not blame you or your partner.

Talk with each other

Once you have put some positive energy back in your relationship and you feel you can talk to each other without falling into the same old negative patterns of reacting, create some regular time to talk through your issues. You may need some help with this step. It can be advantageous to have a neutral third party present; you may want to consider a counsellor, mediator or ecclesiastical leader. As you start this process remember that you need to listen twice as much as you talk. Always take time to validate and acknowledge what you partner has said before you jump into making your point.

As you choose to interrupt your negative patterns of reacting, focus on the good in your relationship, feel and express gratitude and actively listen to your partner your relationship should start to feel a little more comfortable. Give yourselves time for healing and growth. Be gentle and patient with yourselves and with each other.

Sometimes it is time to get out

In cases of abuse the above advice does not apply. Call the police or go to a shelter. If you are in danger in your relationship, find a way to get out.

Wife vs Husband Does It Have To Be A Competition?

Most people enjoy succeeding or winning. But having to be right or constantly competing with your partner is detrimental to your relationship. Too frequently score keeping leads to hard feelings. It increases tension and fear and reduces trust. Choosing to relax and enjoy the journey together makes for a more harmonious home.

Couples compete on many points: who apologizes the most; who makes more money; who does more at home; who has the better job; who does more at the church or in the community; who is more involved with the kids; who has better friends. The possibilities are endless. Underneath it all the source of competition can be insecurity and the need for validation or approval from others. Some use being right or best as a way to get validation and boost their sense of self.

Does it have to be a competition? Consider the following questions:

  1. Do I have to have the last word? Do I have to prove that I am right?
  2. Am I gleeful when I can prove my partner wrong? Am I watching for ways that my partner missteps or stumbles so I can point it out?
  3. How am I inviting competition into our relationship? What could I say, do or think differently that might help?
  4. Do I express gratitude to and about my partner? Could I do this more often?

To stop the competition begins with you. You cannot control what your partner says or does, but you can start to make different choices for yourself.

  • Make the choice to cooperate rather than compete in your relationship. Recognize that when you both win your joy is doubled. If you have to win; you make it so your partner has to lose.
  • Learn to enjoy your partner’s accomplishments. Become each other’s best cheer section.
  • Try competing with yourself instead of with your partner. Perhaps you can find little ways that you can be better each day. Challenge yourself to find your personal best. Stop comparing yourself to your partner or to others.
  • Take responsibility for self-validation. Do not allow your self worth be determined by whether you are always right. Letting go of having to win all the time, may make your life more enjoyable.

If you want to stop competing as a couple start by making different choices yourself. You can then invite your partner to talk things through. Remember to listen twice as much as you talk. Consider ending the competition between you and look more toward becoming a team, cooperating as you win together.

Changing Perspective - Put Yourself In Your Partner's Shoes

You may think that it is positive to try to see things from your partner’s perspective. The danger comes if you think that you know what your partner is thinking or how they are feeling. I have had clients who are so convinced that they know their partner better than their partner knows themselves. They will argue with their partner about what their partner thinks or how they feel.

It is helpful to remember that we are not seeing things as they are; we are seeing things as we are. No matter how hard we try to imagine our partner reactions, thoughts or feeling, we are still looking through our own lens. Changing perspective can be difficult; putting yourself in your partner's shoes may not be as easy as you think.

I have also witness in couples counseling clients who refuse to accept that their partner thinks or feels a certain way, because they would never feel or think that way. Their partner’s pleadings, “How would you feel if I did that to you.” fall on deaf ears. The response, “It wouldn’t bother me.” The assumption is that their partner should respond the same way they would respond. Jerry Belson accurately penned, “Never assume, because when you ASSUME, you make an ASS of U and ME.”

To avoid the assumption trap, you can begin by practicing curiosity. Don’t immediately discard your partner’s view or label it wrong. You can choose to be compassionate toward yourself and toward your partner. Can you take a step back and be open to influence from your partner? To hear their perspective from them, make your best effort to understand and validate their position? Always remembering that validation does not necessarily mean agreement. You can hear your partner and accept their thoughts, opinions and feelings without agreeing with them. Recognize that it is okay for the two of you to have different opinions. You do not have to feel threatened if they do not agree with you, or do not think or feel the same way you do.

Sometimes it is difficult to listen to what your partner has to say because you may feel criticized. It is helpful to look for the request or the unmet need under the criticism. If your partner says something like, “Why can’t you come home from work earlier.” Instead of launching into your defense, it helps to pause and hear the request, “please spend more time with me.” Or the unmet need, “I need to feel important and you spending time with me helps me feel important.” Focusing on the request or need may soften your response.

A wonderful relationship skill is the ability to hear from your partner their perspective, do your best to look through their lens and then rethink your position while remembering their position and make a decision that considers the needs of both.

The most important part of trying to see things from your partner’s perspective is to clarify your assumptions with them. Ask them and listen to accept, learn and validate.

Resilient Relationships

The key to developing resilient relationships begins with the relationship that you have with your self. Other than the relationship you have with God or your higher power, your most important relationship is the one you have with yourself. All your relationships will reflect and be influenced by this relationship. If you are struggling to love and accept yourself, it will be difficult for you to trust or feel the love offered by your partner.

Resilience
Resilience

It is the personal insecurities that often erode relationships. A lack of self-love or confidence may manifest as indecision in your relationship. You may fear that your ideas or suggestions may be rejected. It may also keep you in a relationship that is toxic or abusive. You may fear being alone, or feel that you do not deserve better.

A healthy foundation of respect and love for your self will make your relationship more resilient. You will also be able to bounce back quicker, when self-doubt starts to creep in.

Research has shown that some people seem to be naturally resilient. It has also shown that resilient behaviors can be learned. Resilient behaviors include being optimistic, practicing healthy self-care, cultivating spirituality or a sense of purpose, using positive self-talk, reaching out to others, goal setting and creative problem solving. Most importantly, simply practicing these skills will help you be more resilient.

Here are some ideas to help you create a resilient relationship:

  1. Give yourself permission to ask for what you need and want.
  2. Be open to what your partner needs and wants.
  3. Choose to believe that you deserve to be treated respectfully.
  4. Choose to consistently treat your partner with respect and caring.
  5. Choose to believe that you deserve happiness, abundance and joy in your life.
  6. Forgive others and yourself.
  7. Let go of resentment and negative self-talk.
  8. Focus on what is great and wonderful in your relationship and your life.
  9. Bring awareness to your negative beliefs about yourself.
  10. Choose to replace those negative beliefs with positive affirmations.
  11. Feel and express gratitude.
  12. Set healthy boundaries.
  13. Give yourself permission to say ‘no’ to things that are detrimental.
  14. Stand tall and act confident, until you feel it.

Resilient relationships are not something that you either have or do not have. Resilient relationships are the result of people taking care of themselves and each other. Begin by taking responsibility for improving your relationship with your self; and move toward creating a more resilient relationship.

Relationship Tune Up

Most people know that waiting for the red flashing check engine light, is not the best way to maintain their car. Regular attention to little things like fluid levels can lengthen the life of a car. Likewise relationships benefit from regular attention to the little things. A regular relationship tune up is more important that regular maintenance of your car.

 Image by Krzysztof Szkurlatowski

Image by Krzysztof Szkurlatowski

Creating healthy relationship habits can help prevent wear and tear on your relationship and possibly avoid major problems. Let’s face it; we are all going to fall into ruts. The majority of what we do in life is routine or done by habit. We can, however take advantage of this fact by developing and encouraging healthy habits and entrenching ourselves in good ruts, that enhance rather than erode our relationship. Think of this as putting gas in the tank, watching fluid levels and changing the oil.

Healthy Relationship Habits:

  • Think lovingly of your partner every day
  • Express gratitude
  • Positive leaving and returning routines; look each other in the eye, hug, kiss, smile
  • Protect couple time
  • Use the sandwich approach when dealing with concerns (Start with something positive, express your concern and end with something positive)
  • Create a safe place to share your thoughts
  • Make seeing what is good the priority
  • Practice acceptance, rather than judgment

Your relationship does not come with standard warning lights or a maintenance manual to point out areas of concern. The following could be used as a maintenance checklist:

Yearly Check In At least once a year have a check in. Create complete safety so that each of you can be honest at this time. Take whatever your partner says as feedback, not criticism. Rate each other as partners, from 1 – 10 (where 10 means everything is perfect). Whatever the response, ask what would it take to make it a 10? (unless it already is).

Self-Assess Your Resentment Gauge Ask yourself, on a scale from 1 – 10, how resentful do I feel toward my partner? Anything over a 3 indicates that maintenance is needed. Allowing your resentment level to continue to rise is extremely damaging to the relationship. Sometimes resentment builds up because someone has a difficult time saying “no” or someone has a difficult time hearing “no.” Boundaries may need to be set, firmly and consistently and forgiveness may need to happen.

Check Your Fun Gauge Ask yourselves: When was the last time that we went on a date, just the two of us? When was the last time we got away for a couple’s weekend or holiday, again just the two of us? What do we do for fun together? And sitting in front of the TV or gaming does not count. Having fun together only counts if you are making eye contact and smiling.

Check The Fulfillment Gauge How fulfilling are you finding your relationship? To increase your sense of fulfilling try learning something new together, or finding a way to contribute outside of yourselves, together. Try doing something new together regularly.

Check The Connection Level How connected are you feeling to each other? If you are feeling less that connected try reaching out in different ways to let the other know that you care. Do your best to learn what helps your partner feel loved and do it. Think about the kind and caring looks, the gestures, the touches and verbal expressions of love and appreciation. In these cases the small stuff is the big stuff.

Check the Dream Gauge Do you know what your partner’s dreams are? What are your couple dreams? Try getting past the acquisition of stuff, kind of dreams. Think about when your relationship feels the best? And brainstorm ways to create more of that.

Regularly checking to see how your relationship is doing can allow you to fix problems when they are small. If the check engine light of your relationship is flashing. If you are noticing that you may be in need of some major repairs, take immediate action. It may be time to reach out for some help.

Make Marriage Worth Committing - Avoid The Four Horsemen

  When Dr. John Gottman was working to discover the predictors of divorce, he discovered dangerous patterns of relating that he labeled the four horsemen of the apocalypse. These negative patterns were, Criticism, Stonewalling, Defensiveness and Contempt. The four horsemen represent the punishing behavior patterns that contribute to the demise of many relationships.

Happy-Couple-2.jpg

Punishing behavior creates a lack of safety in a relationship. When there safety is lacking in the relationship, couples tend to pull back, lose trust and become less willing to be vulnerable with each other. This lack of trust and vulnerability in the relationship erodes their sense of connection. Without a sense of connection it is difficult to be fully invested in the relationship. And so the downward spiral begins.

However at any moment in time, couples can begin to change the direction of that spiral, by infusing their relationship with some positive energy. Positive energy, compliments, noticing each other’s strengths, focusing on what is going right and smiling, helps to return safety to the relationship. When they are feeling safe in the relationship, they will be much more willing to be vulnerable with each other. Their sense of connection will start to return. And the upward spiral will begin.

Couples can begin moving toward joy, rather than misery in their relationship, by simply changing these patterns. It may be simple, but it not necessarily easy. It may mean getting out of your own way. It is possible that negative habits are strongly entrenched in your relationship.

I have been witnessed couples completely turn their relationship around; sometimes they begin by pretending that they like each other. To reduce the effect of the four horsemen on your relationship, try actively replacing the negative pattern with a more positive approach.

Try replacing criticism with sincere compliments. It helps to change the focus from what is wrong with my partner and my relationship to what is great about my partner and our relationship.

Replace stonewalling with vulnerability. Being vulnerable can be a scary proposition for many. Try using active listening, validation and expressing thoughts, feelings and opinions assertively and respectfully.

Replace defensiveness with curiosity. Curiosity means trying to understand, rather than taking offense or taking turns throwing blame.

Replace contempt with acceptance. Accept that there are two of you and that each is unique and that is great. Accept that differences are growth opportunities. All people deserve to have their thoughts, feelings and opinions respected.

Taking the four horsemen out of your relationship greatly increases your chance of having a relationship worth committing to.

Overreacting? Pause And Consider

We are all guilty of overreacting in anger or at times being more irritable than usual. At times our partner may take the brunt our foul mood. It would be most helpful to remember to pause before acting in these situations. Taking time to pause and consider could prevent us from saying something that we can never take back. Before tearing into our partner, I suggest we pause. Check in with our self:

  • Am I hungry?
  • Am I tired?
  • Am I upset with someone or something else?

We may also be able to help our partner do the same thing. Especially if we first bring it to their attention when they are not snapping at us.

The, “You’re not you when you’re hungry” slogan for Snickers Candy Bar makes a valid point. Low blood sugar may make us crankier. Hangry is the term used to describe anger that show up when we are hungry.

Being tired can also make it more difficult to manage our emotions and to handle difficult situations. It is amazing how a good nights sleep can make a problem seem more manageable. Perhaps it has something to do with being able to think more clearly, when we are well rested.

Bad moods tend to be contagious. All too often our partner makes a convenient target for our frustration with a co-worker, boss or situation. When we are stressed or overwhelmed, hurt or upset we will be less tolerant of our partner’s requests or actions.

Before you say something to your partner that you may regret, PAUSE and consider if  you are hungry, tired or upset with someone or something else.

Keep the following in mind:

Pick the time. Choosing a time when you are both well rested will improve the chances of a positive outcome.

Make sure you have both eaten. Starting the discussion on an empty stomach could lead to increased conflict.

Allow each other time to decompress. If either of you is dealing with stress at work or from another source, take some time to validate and support the other, before diving into your issue.

Why Is This So Hard - Unfulfilled Expectations

It Is Not Supposed To Be This Way

Unfulfilled expectations can lead to disappointment and disillusionment. Focusing on the thoughts, “it is not supposed to be this way” or “it shouldn’t be this hard” bring pain. All relationships in some ways fail to meet expectations. Most couples at some point reach a “commitment remorse” stage in their relationship, where they start to wonder, “What have I got myself into?”

Acceptance
Acceptance

Maybe there is too much fighting. Maybe that sense of closeness is gone. Maybe resentment has been building. Maybe there is a lack of respect. Maybe they have had thoughts like, “I love you, but I am not in love with you any more”. Maybe a co-worker is starting to look more appealing than they should.

Taking the stance that it is not supposed to be this way, leads to resistance and fighting. We can end up throwing blame, justifying bad behavior and feeling like a victim. Acceptance of what is and gratitude for the experience brings us peace. We are more able to focus on what is my part and what could I do to help make things better.

Expectations put the neediness in dreams. When I have a vision, hope or dream for my life, it can help pull me forward. When I get sidetracked with ideas like: I should already be there, what is wrong with me? My partner should be more attentive or less pushy, what is wrong with them? We should be seeing eye-to-eye, what is wrong with us? then I find more and more reasons to be dissatisfied. When I start adding the shoulds, I lose sight of my vision in the judgments and criticism.

We can become completely dissatisfied with our life if we keep telling our self that it is not supposed to be this way. We can start to focus too much on that feeling of lack and worry too much about what am I getting out of this relationship. The more we focus on what is lacking the less we feel love toward our partner. Those feelings of love can return when we turn our focus to loving our partner, rather than feeling unloved by them. Joseph Goldstein said, “You can’t stop the wave, but you can learn to surf.” Acceptance can allow us to learn to surf in our relationship, rising above the challenges and difficulties. Rather than feeling like we are drowning as the waves pummel us. Acceptance does not mean that there is no need for change. It does mean that there is no energy wasted on grumbling about how things are not as expected.

The greatest gift that you can offer yourself and your partner is the gift of unconditional love and acceptance. Offer it first to yourself and you will be better able to offer it to your partner.

Too Much Of A Good Thing

Have you wondered why the very traits that attracted you to your partner in the first place, can become the traits that drive you crazy? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that often your biggest strengths are also your biggest weakness. Without balance, your strength may become your downfall.

Too Much Of A Good Thing
Too Much Of A Good Thing

I have a fondness for good quality chocolate. I thought that I would greatly enjoy the all you can eat chocolate buffet. What I discovered was that after the third delicious chocolate dessert, chocolate became less and less appealing. Soon I was searching for anything that was not chocolate. It is possible to have too much of a good thing. Too much of even something wonderful, can become off-putting. In relationships, the wonderful quirkiness that drew your partner to you, can become the irritant that pushes you apart.

Having high standards and striving for excellence can start to feel like perfectionism and faultfinding. Your partner may feel that no matter what they will never get it right. The bar is set so high in your relationship that they are constantly disappointing you. To balance your amazing quality of striving for excellence, try being a little more accepting.

Being easy going may end up looking like abdication of responsibility. Your partner may feel that you are unwilling to express your preferences. They may get tired of making all the decisions. To balance your accepting and agreeable nature, try adding a little assertiveness.

The desire to keep things fair may turn into obsessive scorekeeping. Your partner may feel your relationship is more a competition than a love affair. Try balancing the desire for fairness with being more collaborative.

A strong desire to be a team player may end up feeling like dependence and clinginess. Your partner may feel smothered or start pushing for time to themselves. Try balancing the desire for collaboration with time for independent thought.

An independent nature may begin to feel like aloofness and distancing. Your partner may feel excluded and unappreciated. Try adding some collaboration to your relationship.

Being the life of the party, fun and talkative, may end up feeling impulsive and erratic. Your partner may have a difficult time feeling heard. Try pausing to listen more.

Being quiet and thoughtful could begin to look like withdrawal and secrecy. Your partner may feel left out and that you take life too seriously. Try consciously choosing to share your thoughts and feelings with your partner.

To make the best of your strengths and keep them from turning into weaknesses requires courage. The courage to choose to stretch and grow. You can recognize where your strengths begin to work against rather than for you. Think in terms of moderation in your relationship. Just like reasonable portions of chocolate each day, taste so much better than overdoing it. Balancing your strengths so that they do not become irritating will make your relationship healthier.

Open To Influence From Your Partner

When we are open to influence from our partner, we validate them in a substantial way. We help them feel loved, valued and important all at the same time. This ability to listen to and accept our partner, especially when we disagree is an important element of lasting, happy relationships.

Open to Influence

Are You Open To Influence From Your Partner? When couples refuse to allow their partner to have a voice in the relationship or to weigh in on decisions the relationship slowly or sometimes quickly deteriorates. As with other harmful relationship habits, awareness is the place to begin rectifying the problem. I have included a short quiz to help you identify your strength or weakness in this area.

Do not think about how you wish you were or how you want people to think you are; carefully consider your actual behavior in the relationship. Be completely honest with yourself and answer the following questions True or False:

  1. I can accept my partner’s opinion; it is okay if we disagree.
  2. My partner is too irrational; I cannot take him/her seriously when discussing issues.
  3. I want to hear and understand my partner opinions.
  4. Even if we disagree, I appreciate my partner’s insights.
  5. I believe there must be a give and take to our discussions.
  6. My partner comes up with good ideas.
  7. If I don’t make major decisions, no one does in this relationship.
  8. My partner is too often overly emotional.
  9. I want my partner to know that his/her opinions are important to me.
  10. Usually I find it easy to agree with at least part of what my partner says.
  11. I get tired of listening to my partner after a while, or I tune my partner out at times.
  12. Usually I can listen and be respectful, even when I disagree with my partner.
  13. I am very convincing and win more than my share of arguments with my partner.
  14. I feel my opinion matters, when we make decisions.
  15. My partner completely lacks common sense.

For questions 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 12, 14, score one point for each true answer.

For questions 2, 7, 8, 11, 13, 15 score one point for each false answer.

If you scored 13 or more, then being open to your partner’s influence is a solid part of your relationship.

If you did not score high, it does not mean that you cannot have a great relationship, but it does mean that you could benefit from working to become more accepting of and open to your partner. Strive to be more respectful of your partner’s thought and opinions. It is possible that you may have to give up the need to be right and practice allowing your partner to enjoy that opportunity now and again.

Can You Be Too Nice?

It is an interesting question - can you be too nice? Is it possible that being too nice can harm your relationship? The answer could surprise you. Have you ever said or heard your partner say: “I’m done with this, I don’t want to do anything for anybody ever.” “I am sick of having to make all the decisions. You won’t tell me what you want to do. All you says is whatever I want.” “I get no respect. We always have to do things your way.”

Too Nice

Tensions may arise in your relationship from a surprising source. The things that you think are helping your relationship may not be helping. People, who are too nice in their relationship, in time, tend to feel like they have disappeared into the relationship and may end up feeling that they have to remove themselves from the relationship to re-establish their identity. You can prevent yourself from being swallowed up in your relationship by recognizing when you are being too nice and choosing to be true to yourself in your relationship.

You can be too nice if you consistently do for your partner what they could and should be doing for them self. You can be too nice, if you rescue your partner from the consequences of their actions. You can be too nice if you constantly sacrifice your wants and needs to accommodate your partner’s wants and needs. You can be too nice by tiptoeing around your partner to avoid conflict.

People who are extremely conflict-avoidant and overly concerned with keeping others happy often give up being themselves to be in their relationships. They are afraid to express their thoughts and opinions for fear of upsetting their partner. They refuse to bring up difficult subjects because that might lead to conflict or at minimum an uncomfortable exchange.

They get burned out in their relationship because they are constantly pleasing everyone else, hoping that someone will give back to them. They are frequently disappointed because they refuse to set boundaries around what they are willing and able to do and around how they want to be treated.

Initially the partner may think it is great to have a partner who is constantly giving them what they want and need. In time that partner may become frustrated because they cannot seem to coax an opinion out of their people-pleasing partner. There will definitely be confusion when their people-pleasing partner begins to express their resentment. When people-pleasers gets seriously burned-out, their behavior usually drastically changes from constantly pleasing their partner, to being obnoxious and refusing to do anything for anybody.

We absolutely need to be caring, generous and kind in our relationships. But when being nice prevents healthy open communication, means constantly discounting your own wants and needs, means taking responsibility for your partner’s behavior, you have crossed over into being too nice. Being too nice will build resentment within you and frustration within your partner. In the long run, being too nice will harm your relationship.

Can you be too nice in your relationship? The answer is that as long as you have a backbone and equally respect yourself, you can never be too nice. Be nice, but recognize your limits and set your boundaries accordingly. Be honest with your partner, communicate openly, respect your wants and needs as well as your parrtner’s, allow your partner to experience the consequences of their behavior and expect and allow your partner to contribute meaningfully to the relationship.

Love Yourself, Love Your Partner

Far too often in counseling sessions I have heard things like: I don’t feel like s/he loves me, I feel like I come second, third or fourth, I feel put aside, I feel unappreciated. Statements like these are often followed by, “I love him (her), but I am not in love with him (her).” When people’s needs are not being met in their relationship there is a tendency to withdraw and withhold, creating an even larger wedge between partners.

Love

Our unsatisfied needs move us to action. When we are feeling that our partner does not love us or that we are not important to them, we will do things to try and reassure ourselves that we are loved and important to our partner. Too often the action that we take moves us farther away, rather than closer to getting our needs met. Consider the wife who feels neglected because her husband is frequently staying late at work. When he does finally get home she is sullen, hurt and angry. What she needs is to feel loved and like he values and wants to spend time with her. However, her behavior ends up pushing him farther away and the time that they do spend together is unsatisfying to both.

For each of us, it is ultimately our own responsibility to meet our own needs. That being said, it feels amazing when our partner helps us to get our needs met. We cannot control what our partner does. We cannot make them behave as if they love us or as if we are important to them. But we can control our thoughts and actions. We can behave as though we love them and they are important to us. Feeling that our needs are not being met can at times make us blind to the needs of those around us.

Before you can jump in and work at meeting your partner’s needs, it is vitally important to first take some time to work on meeting your own needs. Give yourself the gift of loving and accepting yourself. Give yourself the gift of acknowledging and knowing that you are important and that you are worth it. Self-sooth. Find ways to strengthen and energize yourself. Love yourself first, then offer love to your partner.

When you come at trying to help your partner feel loved and important, from a place of knowing that you are loved and important by and to yourself, then your feelings will be more those of giving rather than resenting. When your partner’s needs are met, it is more likely that they will be more aware of your needs and behave in ways that helps you get your needs met. As you can see from the example above, unmet needs too often lead to behavior that is counter-productive. At those times, it takes skill to recognize the need underneath your partner’s behavior.

You can choose to deal with what you can control and decide to reach out to your partner and focus on giving, rather than worrying about what you are not getting. Be aware of the human tendency to give love in ways that feel loving to you. It is extremely important to know your partner and to learn what it is that feels loving to them. Giving gifts of love can feel like a credit or deposit in their emotional bank account. But as Stephen Covey pointed out, “Nothing you do is a deposit unless the other person perceived it as such. “

If you do not know your partner and do not give in ways that are meaningful and feel loving to them then your sacrifices and gifts of love will not be recognized as such. When we focus on giving love, rather than focusing on what we are not getting, we will feel more loving toward our partner and hopefully they, as their emotional bank account fills up, will start behaving and feeling more loving in return.

Boundaries Protect Relationships

Setting boundaries is an important relationship skill. Good boundaries protect relationships. Many people find it difficult to ask for what they want. They go through life giving to and pleasing their partner, hoping that some day their partner will return the favor. Resentment and frustration can build until the pendulum swings too far and those who for years have been bending over backwards to please others, suddenly become obnoxiously insistent that things go their way for a change. Finding the balance between being too passive and too aggressive can be a challenge.

The following 4 tips can help you achieve an assertive balance when setting your boundaries.

Boundaries

1. Know Yourself In order to be assertive, you first need to know your values, preferences, and limits. It is important to recognize the difference between your principles and values, and your preferences. Once you are clear on who you are and what is really important to you, it becomes easier to share this with your partner.

2. Set Boundaries Share your expectation with your partner. When setting boundaries, be honest, direct and specific. Try to create boundaries based on your values and principles, rather than preferences. Cleanliness is a value; the color of the towels in the bathroom is a preference. Try to remain open and flexible about preference; and firm and consistent about values. The more we stay true to our values the better we feel in our life. Persistence is key when setting boundaries. It becomes easier with practice and it is freeing to be open about your needs and desires.

3. Open Your Mouth Your partner cannot read your mind. If you want your needs to be met, the best way to help that happen is to open your mouth. You can start small by expressing your preferences for shows to watch, places to eat, and things to do for fun. It can be easier to start by talking about how you felt about things that happened in the past and what you would have preferred and work up to expressing how you feel about what is happening as it is happening.

4. Be The Example Of What You Want Respecting your partner’s boundaries sets an excellent example for your partner. If he wants you to call if you are going to be home late, then call. If she wants you to keep the clutter off the bedroom dresser, then do so. The small choices we make every day, speak volumes to our partner. You can also check in with your partner to see if what you are expecting and asking seems like a reasonable request to them. Your partner may be more willing to respect your boundaries if they feel respected in return.

If you have clearly set your boundaries, you are being respectful and consistent in setting or maintaining your boundaries and your partner still refuses to respect you and your boundaries, it may be time to consider seeking professional help.

Finding Your Sense of Humor In Your Relationship

Smile

Humor can be a great stress releaser. It can improve your health and your enjoyment of life. Playfulness helps you stay feeling younger. Improving your sense of humor will make it less likely that you will overreact to each other. A healthy sense of humor may help keep you from getting offended easily over little things. Sharing humor in your relationship will not only help you connect as a couple, but also make your time together more pleasurable. Take the challenge to increase your sense of humor by completing one item from the list below each day for the next 20 days.

Some ideas for adding humor to your relationship:

1. Reminisce about funny memories; make sure that you are not laughing at each other. Unless you are both laughing, it is not funny.

2. Focus on what is great about your life. Spend a few moments each day appreciating what was great about the day. Express your gratitude to each other.

3. Share ‘the funniest thing that happened today’ stories.

4. Do not take yourself too seriously; be willing to find the humor in your mistakes. A healthy sense of humor can help dissipate the sense of shame that sometimes accompanies being less than perfect.

5. Laugh daily. Even if to start with you simply have to choose to pretend to laugh, find ways to laugh every day.

6. Bring humor into your life. Watch a funny movie, spend time with friends who love to laugh, look for humor in unexpected places.

7. Enjoy playing with your pet. Pets have a way of getting you to relax and laugh at their antics. If you do not have a pet, youtube has a great collection of funny pet videos.

8. Spend time playing with children. Children tend to laugh spontaneously and spending time playing with a child may be just what you need to get you smiling and laughing along with them.

9. Find the humor in difficult situations. Often years later you can see the humor, the challenge is to look for the humor sooner.

10. Smile. Smile at each other. Smile at others and watch most of them smile back at you.

Improving your sense of humor in your relationship will help you as a couple to feel closer to each other, be more creative in solving problems and increase your enjoyment of not only your time together, but will most likely have spill-over effects in all areas of your life.

Goal Setting For Couples

Setting goals as a couple may help you revitalize and increase your relationship satisfaction. Standing water stagnates, moving water remains fresh. The difference between standing water and running water is motion. Setting and working towards goals helps you add motion to your relationship as you consciously work toward and create the life you want for yourselves.

Goal setting for couples:

When setting your couple goals, you may want to consider these areas: mental, emotional, physical, family, social and spiritual. You can have goals for personal and couple growth, finances, vacations, and a myriad of other things. Your couple goals need to align with both of your values and they should be something that you can both get excited about working together to accomplish.

Having a sense of purpose in life tends to increase your happiness. Making and working toward goals can increase that sense of purpose. Make goals that are attainable, but not too easy. You want to aim for something that will make you stretch. Remember to celebrate the little successes along the way and celebrate achieving your goal.

10 Steps To Achieving Your Couple Goals:

1. Brainstorm ideas—at this point there is no judgment or poo pooing allowed. Write down every suggestion.

2. Talk about your ideas—look at this as a way to get to know your partner better. Spend an evening talking, replace the inclination to judge or discourage with curiosity.

3. Each of you choose your top three goals. If you happen to have overlapping goals, great, you have a place to start. If you don't have overlapping goals then each of you choose one goal from your partner's list of top three goals to work on as a couple.

4. Record either the overlapping goals or the two choices from the other's list of three goals. Remember to review your goals frequently. You may want to post them somewhere you will see them often.

5. Decide on the first step that will move you toward reaching your goal and proceed to work on it. Remember couple goals means working together.

6. Choose a time to sit down together to evaluate your progress.

7. Decide on the next step to take toward reaching your goal and do it.

8. Repeat steps 6 and 7 until your have accomplished your goal.

9. Celebrate! Don't forget to enjoy the process.

10. Choose new goals and repeat the process from step 1 (you could use your original brainstorming list or you could create a new list).

Achieving goals is great, but remember the process of working together is equally or more important than the results. The process of setting and working together to achieve common goals will strengthen your bond to each other and make your relationship a more vibrant and satisfying place to be.

What's Good About Your Partner's Annoying Characteristics?

It is ironic that the very things that attracted us to our partner in the first place, over time often turn into our pet peeves about them. He was calm and quiet, turns into he never shows his feelings. She was the life of the party and so much fun, turns into she is loud and obnoxious. She was independent, now she is stubborn and controlling. He was laid back and fun, now he is irresponsible and childish.

Those cute quirks that seemed attractive at the beginning of the relationship can end up grating on our nerves. They become the annoying characteristics that begin to fray our nerves.  These things become annoying over time partly because we spend so much time together and partly because the rose colored glasses come off and reality sets in.

It is important to recognize that it is not how our partner is that annoys us. This is clear, because mostly in the beginning we either appreciated that quality or easily overlooked it. What annoys us is the judgment that we put on what they are doing. It is the thoughts that we think about how they are or what they are doing. When we identify our partner as irresponsible rather than laid back; stubborn rather than independent, or unfeeling rather than calm, simply by the language we are using, we greatly increase our annoyance factor.

When we try to find the positive side of our partner's annoying characteristics and we reframe what we are saying to ourselves, we may find that our annoyance level drops. Try thinking of the worst opposite you possibly can to your partner’s annoying characteristic. For example, if your partner is stubborn, try thinking, “Well at least they are not completely wishy washy and can never make a decision.” If they happen to be wishy washy and can never make a decision try thinking, “Well at least they do not make rash decision.”

Besides giving us the opportunity to increase our patience and tolerance, our partner's annoying characteristics teach us about ourselves. Partly because what annoys us most in others is usually something that we do not like about ourself. And partly because if we look closely enough we will discover that we are redirecting our frustration by pointing out their flaws. We may find it difficult to honestly talk with our partner about problems in our relationship and as the resentment build up it becomes more and more difficult to overlook their annoying quirks.

We have the opportunity to stop focusing on our partner's flaws and do some soul searching, to examine and learn our own flaws. This gives us the chance to grow as a person. We also have the opportunity to practice being open, honest and assertive with our partner so that our relationship can be healthier and their characteristic can again become more endearing than annoying.

Recharge Your Relationship

Everyday, most people, especially young people, are constantly on electronic devices, phones, ipads, computers and a myriad of others. These devices all have batteries and usually give a warning when the battery is running low and they must be plugged in or they will die. Similarly our relationships require recharging if they are to have a long life. Is your relationship running on reserve power? Is it limping along and near the breaking point? Is it time to recharge your relationship? Your phone or computer are not very useful or fun when they are dead.

Relationships are extremely stressful when they are dying. If your partner has tried to communicate to you that there is something missing in your relationship, then you want to pay attention. This important information is indicating that your relationship could benefit from recharging. And just as the reminders to recharge your phone will run out and your phone will die. Your partner will at some point give up asking for what they need and your relationship may end.

Although it can be tempting for those who want to avoid conflict to deny, ignore or put their heads in the sand, when relationship problems begin, this approach generally leads to further relationship deterioration. Many hope that if they just carry on somehow things will resolve themselves, but this usually ends in frustration and disappoint.

When was the last time you recharged your relationship battery? Recharging your relationship is not quite as simple as plugging a cord into the wall, but it is relatively easy. However unlike electronic devices which you run until they warn you to charge them, relationships respond best when you form habits of recharging regularly.

Consistently making your relationship a priority and creating time for each other may be the most important way to put life back in your relationship. Go on a date at least once a week, talk to each other everyday about more than the kids or what needs to be done and most of all smile at each other. Practice focusing on what is great about your relationship and about your partner, rather than nit picking at each other's faults. Expressing gratitude and acceptance are also great ways to recharge your relationship.

Each time you plug in your computer, phone or other electronic device, let it remind you to also put your time and effort into recharging your relationship.

Rebuilding Trust

Rebuild Trust

Trust builds naturally in the beginning of a relationship. But once that trust is broken, whether it is through lying or infidelity, it takes time and effort to rebuild. Too often partners who are conflict-avoidant will choose to lie to avoid upsetting their partner. The problem with this strategy for avoiding conflict is that it actually leads to more conflict down the road. The lies are eventually discovered and then mistrust is heaped on top of other feelings. Trust can be rebuilt if you are willing to invest time and energy in the process. There are some specific things that each of you can do to help move you toward a happy future together.

If you have broken trust:

  • Recognize that it will take time to rebuild the trust.
  • Accept that you must change your behavior to rebuild trust (stop lying or cut off contact with other man or woman).
  • Accept responsibility for your actions and make a heartfelt apology.
  • Be patient with your partner.
  • Avoid saying things like: “It is in the past,” or “Get over it already”.
  • Listen to your partner's hurt, anger and frustration.
  • Validate your partner's feelings.
  • Accept that your partner has reason to mistrust you and that you must be consistent in re-earning their trust.
  • Share your concerns about problems in the relationship, not as an excuse for your behavior, but to improve your relationship.
  • Focus on the postives in your relationship.
  • Choose to think about, speak to and behave lovingly toward your partner.

If your trust has been broken:

  • Recognize that it will take time to trust your partner again.
  • Express your anger and frustration is constructive ways—do not attack your partner physically or verbally.
  • Be patient with your partner
  • Do not blame yourself for your partner's behavior, they are 100% responsible for their choices
  • Examine your own contribution to relationship problems
  • Listen to your partner's concerns about problems in the relationship
  • Validate your partner's feelings
  • Share your concerns about problems in the relationship
  • Focus on the positives in your relationship
  • Choose to think about, speak to and behave lovingly toward your partner

Rebuilding trust can be extremely challenging. It can be difficult to break the cycle of hurting and anger. Seeking professional help may be beneficial.

Relationship Myths = Unrealistic Expectations

Unmet expectations are probably the biggest cause of frustration in marriage. When expectations are constantly being dashed, we at first become disappointed, later discouraged and finally disillusioned. We can end up believing that it is impossible for our partner to make us happy or perhaps that we were not meant for each other. When we feel this kind of disappointment and discouragement in our relationship it is important to stop and take a look at our expectations. We could probably benefit from considering some of the relationship myths surrounding marriage and taking time to evaluate whether or not our expectations are realistic.

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Exploding some of the relationship myths surrounding marriage could lead to accepting more realistic expectations. Perhaps we would set ourselves up for satisfaction rather than disappointment. The following are relationship myths that can lead to frustration in marriage and the corresponding realities:

1. Myth: A “good” marriage will always be romantic.

There will be ups and down. Reality sometimes gets in the way of romantic feelings. There will be times when you do not feel very in love, if at those times you choose to behave lovingly, the loving feelings will return. Love is a verb; action is required.

2. Myth: Feeling or expressing jealousy shows that we care and love each other.

Jealousy reveals insecurities rather than love.

3. Myth: Marriage will make me happy.

True happiness comes from within; no one can make you happy. Happiness is a choice.

4. Myth: If we really love each other, nothing else will matter.

Marriage needs nurturing. Little daily interactions are the big things in relationships. Treating each other with love and respect at all times is vital.

5. Myth: My partner should intuitively know my needs; if I have to ask it does not count.

Mind reading is impossible. Give yourself permission to ask for what you want. At the same time recognize that your partner may not be able to or willing to give you everything that you ask for and that is okay. Recognize that the ultimate responsibility for meeting your own needs belongs to you.

6. Myth: Conflict means that we do not love each other.

Conflict is inevitable, but it does not have to damage your relationship. Learn to listen to each other first, to disagree agreeably and to fight fair. Conflict is not the problem, the problem comes from how you handle the conflict.

7. Myth: Men and women get over conflict in the same way.

Women tend to be more concerned with analyzing the state of their relationships and will often take longer to feel that a conflict has been resolved. They frequently cannot release a conflict until it has been talked through. Men are better at compartmentalizing and will seldom bring up a conflict after the fact, to talk it through.

8. Myth: Once trust is broken, we can never trust again.

It takes time and effort to rebuild trust. It require patience and commitment to spend the time necessary to rebuild trust, but it is entirely possible when both partners are willing.

9. Myth: We are not getting along, having a baby will make things better.

Having a child will bring more stress to an already stressed relationship. Having children gives parents an opportunity to stretch and grow themselves, sometimes a painful process.

10. Myth: To have a good relationship we need to frequently talk about issues and problems.

Being problem focused will tend to lead to seeing more and more problems. It is important to communicate about issues and concerns; however it is far more important to talk frequently about what is going right in the relationship.

We can avoid unnecessary frustrations by examining our expectations and by bringing our expectation more in line with reality. When we let go of the myths we free ourselves of those unrealistic expectations and the resulting disappointments and frustrations.

Making A Good Marriage Great

Whether you are just beginning your relationship or you have had many years together, you can benefit from implementing the following suggestions on making a good marriage great. Marriage is like a living entity and it is either nurtured and growing or it is neglected and crumbling. Hopefully, like mutual funds, over time the trend will be upward. Unfortunately in marriage you do not get to coast for long. The good news is that making your marriage great is simple, not to be confused with easy.

  • Be more concerned about we than me. Selfishness is a relationship killer. Taking your partner's thoughts and feelings into consideration at all times helps you make choices that benefit both of you.
  • Be realistic about expectations. Romance novels are not a good source for relationship templates. What expectation are realistic for your relationship, is something the two of you need to agree upon. Your relationship is unique and needs to work for both of you.
  • Reduce stress. Finding ways to reduce work and other stress can improve your marriage; a happy marriage also makes the rest of your life easier as well.
  • Reminisce. Spend time now and then talking about how we met, started dating, fell in love. Don't worry if your story is not overly dramatic or romantic. Enjoy the fact that it is your story.
  • Live now. Don't get stuck ruminating about your wedding day, good or bad, focus on making your life together. Be present now, enjoy each day you have together and plan for your future.
  • Pay attention to the little things. Daily acts of kindness and consideration are the live-blood of any extraordinary relationship.
  • Solve the solvable problems. Address the minor issues, so they don't build up.
  • Keep or find your sense of humor. There is a quote that says, “Parenting without a sense of humor, is like being an accountant who sucks at math.” This applies doubly to marriage.
  • Focus on the positive. Enough said.
  • Be the change you want in your relationship. Take ownership of your contributions to problems and control what you can control, your words and behavior.
  • Be empathetic. Be willing to see things from your partner's point of view.
  • Make time for each other NOW. Consistency is the key, no matter what else is going on in your life, make time for each other. There may be occasions when it may not be a lot of time, but when making time for each other is your habit, you will know that you can count on each other.