When One Partner Seems Too Needy And the Other Feels Overwhelmed

Couples, no matter how long they have been together, can find themselves in situations that feel oppressive.  Both people are looking for relief from the other person but instead of finding relief they can become frustrated.  The longer they stay locked in this system of frustration, the more they feel exhausted and drained.

Some couples stay in challenging situations with the hope that they will get better on their own.  Sometimes they do.  Many times they don’t and people go from feeling overwhelmed and exhausted to becoming angry and resentful.

Once they have reached this stage they might even begin to think that the relationship is doomed, hopelessly broken and they have to break up. The relationship is broken, but I don’t think it’s hopeless.

As a couples counselor I see possibilities.  The couple may feel the system of relating can’t be changed, but I know that with awareness it could actually be softened and improved.  Unfortunately what some couples can’t seem to find though, is the idea that they could feel better.  They remember the good times when they fell in love and they just can’t fathom how they could ever get back to that place again.

When couples do come in for counseling, despite how negative they might seem about whether they could ever feel better, I know just coming in for therapy is a step toward preserving and improving the relationship.

During the first session I help the couple find their way back to something meaningful between them again. I begin by helping couples understand their current situation.  When each person can recognize how their behavior impacts the other, they get awareness of why they feel so hopeless, and maybe why their partner gets upset with them.

Once they have that awareness it’s easier to make changes in behavior, because each person gets clued in on how new or different behaviors will impact their partner, and it’s usually for the better.  Each person begins to understand that when their partner feels good, they feel good.  And that’s what everyone wants; to feel better.

Understanding the dynamics of the situation is a lot like stepping outside the system and taking a look at it.  Once observed, couples can become more energized just thinking about the possibility of the system changing with just a few alterations.  Once a couple can witness their system of failure, making any changes might even feel exhilarating.

The good news is that couples counseling works.  If two people are willing to take a step toward being happier together, counseling will work.  If people are still blaming their partner for making them feel miserable, counseling will not.  Loving your mate starts with you, not your partner.

Send your comments to linda@lindanusbaum.com

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But We Love Each Other – Why Can’t We Get Along?

Sometimes couples will come in for counseling and the first thing they tell me is how much they love each other.  I believe them.  They say it with such great emotion.  I know they mean it.  I also get to see their angst, because they are in such a quandary and feeling frustrated because they can’t figure out how to make the relationship work.  They wonder aloud and say, “We love each other.  Why can’t we get along?”

How does this happen?  When you meet the right person, why doesn’t it just magically work out?  It feels so great.  It feels as if everything is just going to be perfect.  Why doesn’t it work out that way?

Here’s what I see; two people who want to make the relationship work.  I also see two people who don’t know how to listen to each other without feeling attacked, blamed, dismissed, disrespected or cutoff.  Each partner gets frustrated with the other because neither feels as if they are really being heard by the other person.  The more they try to explain, the more the other person gets upset.  It feels like a never-ending cycle and neither knows how to change it.

As a counselor the first thing I like to do is pull the couple apart; not physically, but emotionally.  I want to hear from each, without the aid of the other.  I want to treat each person as if I am alone with just them in the room, while the other one listens.  This is helpful for a couple of reasons.  When I begin with a couple I am a newcomer to their issues. When I hear the problems, I do not have a reserve of judgment built up, and I am not going to react the same way as the mate.  This listening moment does two things; it models another way for the mate to listen, a non-responsive way.  It also allows the person who is sharing to really feel as if they are heard.  As I listen I am able to hear what the person is longing for, and most of the time it’s to feel understood by their mate.

I take what I’ve heard, summarize the substance and explain it to the partner.  Most of the time it’s not the content of what is being said, it’s the way people say things, surrounded with heavy emotions, that prevents partners from really listening to each other.  If a person is always sad when they speak to their mate, the mate might feel responsible for the sadness and feel bad.  This gets in the way of communication.  I help couples say what needs to be said.  I help them understand what emotions they are carrying and then help each person figure out what they need and maybe show them how to ask their partner for it.

This is not hard work, especially when two people love each other and want to make things better.  And it doesn’t take that long.  Most couples feel better after one or two sessions.  It does take courage though, courage to look inside you, and acknowledge what you long for and need.  Then all you have to do is learn how to talk with your partner, learn how to listen to your mate, understand what you need and ask for it.  These are all the communication skills you need.  It’s a retooling of how you used to do things.  That’s all it is.  And it’s a fix that can last a lifetime.

Send your comments to linda@lindanusbaum.com

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A New Year; Is It Time For Meaningful Changes?

We all do it, assess where we are each year and vow to improve in the coming one.  Many of us are probably having the conversation with ourselves right now. We might even be thinking about how to improve our relationships, and maybe we are thinking of how we can be a better partner to our mate. Whatever you may be considering, let’s look at the changes differently this year. Why not make 2011 your breakout year, and your best yet?

I’m talking about making meaningful changes. I want to tell you about an old friend. His name is Bill Clark and he made significant changes for himself yearly, and he started it off with a ritual. Bill took stock of his life every New Years day. He would begin the year with an early morning run. It would always be a number of miles somewhere around ten, more than he usually ran during the year. He would tell me about doing this before the day arrived, as if to make sure he would really do it. And he always did.

Now when I think about making changes, or as a couples counselor helping other people make changes, I am reminded of Bill and I’m glad. He reminds me to value a tradition, doing something with vigor because it’s important. Beginning again, no matter how big or small deserves to be celebrated. We all deserve to be celebrated. That’s what I get from Bill’s devotion to new beginnings. He would challenge himself with a physical act, but what he was giving himself was the gift of new beginnings.

For Bill, accomplishing a big endeavor was just what he needed. This was his wakeup call and a reminder to him that he had the ability to change his life. He did it with a big reminder. The rest of us can do it by just telling ourselves we want to.

You may not be a runner, and even though I put in a few miles ever week there is no way I will be running ten miles, but I may do something else. I may decide to make a statement in another way. I might make a vow to myself, and I may tell others. It could go something like this, “I plan to have a year of being more loving to_______.”  There’s something significant about saying something like this to ourselves. There is also value is saying it to others.

Maybe your relationships aren’t as great as you would like them to be. Maybe you dream of being in a more nurturing relationship with your spouse. Why not take it upon yourself and do something different for 2011. You have the power to change you. You have the ability to decide you want to treat your partner differently. You can create the environment you wish to live in. Yes, you.

Maybe your partner loves it when you make them coffee in the morning, or wash the dishes. Tell yourself this is the year I will pick something that pleases her and do it for her. Do this because it will make your partner feel good. Do this and I promise you, you will feel good too.

New Years resolutions can be difficult. Some of us have tried for years to; lose weight, get into shape, stay in touch with friends, travel, save money etc. There are lots of ways we think we can do better. I like to think of this time of year as a fresh start. Your new beginning and you can make it anything you want. It’s like we all get to begin again, if we want to. And who doesn’t want a clean slate?

If you are in a relationship with complex issues that keep you from feeling connected, just pick one thing that you can do to make something between you easier. Don’t try and fix the whole lot, that’s too much work and might require the assistance of a counselor. But you can decide not to call her that name, the one she hates, the one that makes her mad. You can decide not to use it and try to keep from using it for all of 2011. Make it a goal. Maybe it could be something like making his favorite food, on a regular basis, not because he deserves it or was nice, but because you decide this will be something you can do. He will love you in the instant you do this. You will feel good. Resign yourself to do this without prompting because it is your change for 2011.

You know your particulars in your relationship better than anyone. Look at what you can do to make your partner happy. Find one thing. Decide it will be your one thing for 2011.  Begin again, fresh start, new life; it’s all there for us. Just step into it.

Send your comments to linda@lindanusbaum.com

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