Rules for Our Relationships

Making rules to govern a relationship sounds like something kids would do, but what if a set of rules helps couples treat each other.  Would you follow a few guidelines then?  We all learn to follow rules when we are little.  Rules show us right from wrong.  Rules keep us safe, coloring within the lines, or in other words, they keep us grounded.

As a couples specialist I wouldn’t say anyone really needs rules, but sometimes partners treat each other so poorly rules might actually help.

I work with many different kinds of couples.  Some partners speak kindly to each other, but many do not.  By the time couples enter counseling they have probably spent a lot of time saying mean things to their partners.  In some cases those mean things can even include swear words and degrading remarks.   Most couples that swear at each other know they should not be hollering at their partners and yet they do it anyway, most likely when an argument occurs.  It might even become a well worn pattern developed over time.

So how do couples learn to be nicer to each other?  Why not make a rule? NO SWEARING AT EACH OTHER.  Why not create an environment with a cuss free zone?

It’s likely you don’t cuss at work or call your boss names.  It’s probably safe to say you wouldn’t holler and yell these phrases at your parents or your children, so why not outlaw swearing because it’s something you shouldn’t do to your mate either?

You say you love your partner.  Show them by refraining from calling them names.  This conveys respect, and often in relationships that’s what’s missing.  It may be hard to break a habit if this has been ongoing for a while, but you and your partner can do this.  Just make a rule.  You made promises to each other when you first got together.  Make this another promise.  “I promise to not swear at you any more.”  Say this to each other, and mean it.  Practice it.  Maybe you put a jar in the kitchen and every time you slip you put in a quarter, or a dollar.  Make a game of it.  Just do something different to change how you talk to each other.

Both of you probably want to feel better in your relationship.  Speaking nicer to your mate is a great way to start.  If you are interested in another step, how about doing one nice thing for your partner every week?  This is a change from not doing anything nice for your partner to doing something nice for them.  Most of the couples I work with tell me they are waiting for their mate to do something for them.  Sometimes this wait goes on for a long time.  Doing something for the partner you are mad at is very different then waiting for them to be nice to you.

Imagine what it would be like in your home if the one you are at odds with actually does something special just for you?  Now think how he or she would feel if you did something special for him or her. You are trying on new behaviors.  When you do something different you get something different in exchange.  Maybe it will be a thank you.  Maybe it will be astonishment.  Maybe you will get a laugh.  It may be an improvement.

And isn’t this what you are after, something new, something different, something hopeful?

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Relationships 101

As a couples specialist I know that every couple I counsel has a unique set of issues.  Even so, I can say with confidence that every couple has at least one thing in common:  they want to feel better in the relationship. So if two people love each other, why do they have such difficulty?

To put it simply, we don’t learn how to be in relationships when we couple, we just hope that things will work out.Couples want to be happy. They want to feel supported, understood, admired and loved.  So why do the couples I counsel all say they don’t feel that?  The reason has nothing to do with intent. I believe people who get together in relationships want to build something special together.

The problem is that people haven’t learned what qualities make a good relationship. Without knowing how to listen to each other, ask for what you need, or resolve disagreements without a fight, most couples knock into each other on a regular basis and get pretty bruised in the process. They end up angry and resentful, and/or disappointed and sad.  It’s a terrible state to live in with someone you love.

So why does this happen? We learn a lot in our life. We learn how to be a student in school. We learn as a child how to relate to our parents. We learn how to follow rules.  We learn how to exist in our world. We understand that we are entitled to a good life. We are also taught that when we meet the right person we will be happy, and everyone wants to be happy.

Here’s the problem, and it usually starts when we are young. Some of us see dysfunction in the families we grew up in and we make a vow to ourselves that we will not repeat the mistakes of our parents. We have good intentions to live better, more peacefully. But all the intentions in the world can not teach us how to be in a relationship. These are not skills you can learn in one class.  No one learns new behaviors in a day. It takes time to understand how to be a good partner and it takes practice to become one.

A good place to start is by answering the following questions. How do you speak to your partner?  Are you kind and loving?  Are you curt and angry? Do you resent your mate and show it by rolling your eyes and shrugging your shoulders? This is the first thing to notice. This is step one in Relationship 101. Be nice to your partner, period. You may be mad about something and want something resolved with him or her. This is a different matter. The first step to being in a good relationship is treating your partner with love, and that means speaking with kindness, all the time.

Step two involves learning how to resolve difficulties before they become fights. Maybe your parents modeled good resolution skills and you do this automatically. When issues arise you speak about them with your mate. You tell your side, you listen to your partner, you discuss the matter and you come to an understanding. Unless you learned how to do this as a child growing up, you probably exhibit very different behaviors when you get upset.  Maybe you yell. Maybe you get quiet and sulk. Maybe you leave the room. If you do any of these, you could benefit from learning how to resolve issues more effectively.

Step three is about asking for what you need.  Something happens to us when we fall in love.  There’s this little, secret place where we feel really vulnerable and we believe our partner knows us so well that they will take care of all our needs, wants and desires that are kept hidden there.  Of course they will, we tell ourselves; they know us intimately, they love us, they would never do anything to hurt us. This is a wonderful belief. Many people feel this way without being aware of it.  Most people don’t talk about this with their partner. But that doesn’t prevent them from believing it and expecting their mate to solve all their problems and make life wonderful.

But this is a fantasy. People, even people who love us, don’t automatically know what we need deep down inside our soul. No one will ever know this unless you tell them. This may be one of the most difficult parts of learning how to be happy in a relationship. You must learn what you need, want and desire, and you must be able to ask your partner for it. No one can read your mind, even someone who loves you.

In couples counseling I help people understand the state of their relationship.  Then we begin to implement new behaviors, paving the way for something better.  This is one way to improve a relationship, and isn’t that what you want, too?

©Copyright 2010 by Linda Nusbaum, M.A., M.F.T. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to This article was solely written and edited by the author named above.

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How Problems Begin in a Relationship

As a couples counselor I’m sometimes asked if there are common themes among the couples I treat.  I usually answer this question with a no because I believe every individual is unique, and that difference contributes to the special qualities of each couple.  No two couples are the same.

But lately I’ve begun to realize that couples with difficulties do share a common theme.  They all experience some sort of misunderstanding.  When people don’t feel understood they can feel left out.  Sometimes they get angry or experience isolation from their partner.  And if these misunderstandings just get swept under the rug without receiving appropriate attention, a couple may be headed toward difficulty.  Unresolved misunderstandings are the beginning signs that a relationship could use some help.

You might be saying to yourself, it can’t be that simple.  Misunderstandings can’t be the culprit alone, right?  You are right, it’s not just the misunderstandings, it’s what follows.  When one person feels like the other person did not understand or “get” them, they feel like they were not seen by their mate.  They feel like their partner who is supposed to know them doesn’t understand them.  This is the beginning of feeling misunderstood by the person who is your partner.  If the one who feels misunderstood continues to try and explain and this still doesn’t work, hurt feelings may result.  If those hurt feelings don’t get attention and understanding, they can build into something harder, like anger or resentment.

Feeling understood by your partner is not only essential for your relationship, it’s necessary for you as a person to feel good in the world.  Humans are hardwired to connect to other humans.  When we reach out and we can’t get that connection we feel let down, and sad.  This can even lead to withdrawal.

Maybe you’ve noticed your partner withdrawing after a disagreement.  He or she may be feeling misunderstood, and that can lead to feelings of loneliness and a belief that you are unlovable.  Not every disagreement will evoke these emotions, but chances are if you and your partner spend a lot of time misunderstanding each other it’s likely both of you feel pretty lousy about yourself and your relationship.   You might even feel angry at your mate because you believe he or she is supposed to “get” you no matter what.  And if your partner doesn’t get you, you might tell yourself it’s because they are just too stubborn to care.  Those thoughts lead to even more separation between two people.

Sometimes in relationships when couples aren’t getting what they need from their partners they can start to blame the other.  “It’s his fault.”  “It’s her fault.”  “He makes me feel…”  “She always complains that I…”  What drives the complaint is how we feel.  If those feelings had words they might sound like, “I’m unhappy here.  I wish you could just understand me.”

Some couples go years without ever feeling understood by their partner.  If this is your life it may mean you are essentially living alone inside yourself, without having an ally or best friend to share your thoughts and feelings with.  Imagine a relationship where you always feel understood, and you could share your thoughts and feelings with your best friend who wanted to share them. Now that makes a great relationship.  I believe everyone can learn new skills to communicate with their partner.  Like learning how to listen to the other person and how to ask for what you need, essential tools to avoid misunderstandings.

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When You Stay Mad at Your Partner

Getting into disagreements with our mate is not only part of being in a relationship; it’s also a part of life.  Staying mad at your partner because you haven’t resolved issues is also pretty common, only this condition takes a toll on everyone.  Do you stay mad at your partner?

If you are holding a grudge against him or her you are not alone.  As a couples counselor I see couples in all stages of the relationship.  Sometimes they come in and they are really mad at the other person.  Sometimes it’s one person who does the yelling or scolding while the other just smolders and steams.

Both are not resolving their issues with the other and both end up suffering as a result.  The one who gets angry and yells releases energy, but having to scream at your mate to make a point doesn’t do much for your body.  You get all filled with rage and this puts stress on too many organs to mention.  If you are the one who holds everything in take the next moment to realize what you are doing to your body.  That’s right; all your rage is held inside, and your organs aren’t very happy either.

Both of you are suffering. Your bodies are in a constant state of battle readiness, waiting for the next round.  We haven’t even talked about what happens to your feelings yet either.  They get worked out too.  When you feel terrible about your relationship you might tell yourself things like, “I have to get out of here,” or  “I would be so much happier if he or she would only do…”  In other words, you might spend a lot of time talking to yourself under your breath about what your partner isn’t doing and how much you resent where you are.  This is a difficult place to live, and some couples I counsel spend their lives right here.

If I meet a couple in this state the first thing I like to do is listen.  I am not interested in any particular argument, not yet anyway.  What I want to do is hear from each person separately.  I want to know from each person how they see what is wrong.  This is an important step for me and the relationship.  I get to hear what each person thinks, feels and needs.  I also get to understand what each person feels is missing. This is not only a benefit for me as their counselor; it can also be a heavy dose of awareness as each partner listens to their mate.

Often this is a new experience for the couple and it can be an eye opening one.  In their usual way of relating, one person says his or her piece and the other will counter with what he or she needs.  No one is doing any listening.  Both are just trying to be heard by the other and no one is hearing anybody.

That’s why counseling works.  Each person gets to have their say.  Partners begin to understand their mates.  People develop ways of allowing each other to have differences.  Both people begin to get what they want in the relationship; love, support, and respect.  It may feel like there’s a big gap from where you are now and where you would like to be.  Sometimes it takes just a few steps to feel better.  And that’s what people who live angry at their mate are after isn’t it, to feel better?

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Treating Overweight Couples

Overweight couples may suffer in their relationships.  If both people in a couple are overweight there may be some bonding and support from each other, and this can be nuturing.  If you stay isolated from the rest of the world this would probably be O.K.  But we all live in some sort of community and overweight people are often subjected to taunts, discrimination and rejection.  These issues can lead to feelings of low self esteem, shame and depression.

Overweight couples may also suffer from feelings of failure.  It’s likely both people have tried to lose weight in the past.  Maybe they have and recall a time when they felt good about themselves.  Now that picture, or time in the past, can become the enemy as they hold it up to themselves as a measure for their happiness. “If I could only be that size again, my life would be O.K.”  When we struggle to attain a desired weight, or look, we suffer with feelings of sadness and disappointment if we don’t succeed.  We might even get annoyed or angry at ourselves for not being able to complete a goal.

Often, eating is a way to soothe hurt feelings.  Food tastes good.  Eating feels good.  Sometimes people eat when they are sad.  People also might find themselves eating out of boredom.  Maybe you are angry.  This is another feeling that could lead to overeating.

Once you get to a point where you would like to make some changes in your life, why not consider investigating your situation from a different angle.  An important step to understanding your eating habits might begin with a therapist.  In a therapy session it’s possible to uncover deep feelings we hold about ourselves.  Often it’s these feelings tied to messages we tell ourselves that guide us to food and overeating.  Understanding how we think about ourselves is a great place to start as you travel on your road of health.

People who suffer with food issues may want to live differently.  Looking inside ones’ thoughts and feelings for answers is one way to shift a person’s thinking.  As individuals we all share the capacity for introspection.  Why not give yourself a chance for a new you?  You are worth it.

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