What Went Wrong?

I often work with couples who impress upon me how they just don’t know what went wrong in their relationship.  They started out so loving and happy and then they woke up somewhere down the road, years later and they just don’t have that happy feeling anymore and they don’t know why.

They tell me it’s because they may have fallen out of love for their partner.  They also tell me they are not sure if they can get “it” back.

The “it” is the feeling couples experienced when they first got together, that loving, wonderful state that makes us believe we will always feel fantastic with our person.

We sign up for the relationship and believe that we will always feel this way with the person we have chosen.  Only we don’t.  We start to notice things about them that we don’t’ like.  They start to nag us or complain, or ignore us and we don’t like that.

These are the normal patterns that set in when a couple moves beyond the first phase of bliss.  It’s what we do about these differences that determine how the relationship survives.

If we have some experience in relationships we might have some communication skills to speak about our feelings with our beloved.  If we are fairly young in the relationship world we might just be beginning to discover ourselves and what we want and need for happiness, so we may not know how to communicate those things yet.

Each person brings their habits from their singlehood; how they took care of themselves, how they communicated with others, how they feed themselves and clean up after themselves.  These are habits people bring into a relationship that were most likely formed in their childhood.  Each person in a couple brings their own set of comforts around these issues.

When we are in a blissful state of loving our partner, no one thinks about the socks left on the floor.  Such a little detail would be meaningless and laughable in this state of love.  But just wait a few years after one of the partners has been picking up dirty socks for the other and is so tired of doing it they will scream if they have to pick up one more dirty sock from the floor.

Then the couple comes in to counseling and tells me they just fell out of love with their mate and they don’t know why.

It is my belief as a Marriage and Family Counselor that couples have more  to become good at a lot of jobs in order to have a successful relationship.

In no particular order except that they are all equally important, each person in the relationship has to become aware of their own feelings and reactions to their mate.  Each person must also become an expert in their partner’s feelings and learn how to attend them.  Both people in a relationship have to be conscious of how they communicate with their beloved.

If you were talking to a hurt child you would be kind, caring and compassionate.  Regardless of how mad you may get at your mate, you can not throw up your anger on them.  Unless you are truly with a terrible person, it’s almost always the case that what ever the perceived hurt you may have felt, it was not done intentionally.

You picked a good person.  You picked the right person.  Your job is to learn how to be the best mate you can be and to take care of the person you are sharing your life with as your partner will do for you.  Now that is a great relationship, where no one gets blindsided.

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Listening, one of the Keys to a Good Relationship

One of the biggest issues I hear couples complain about is communication.  They often tell me they “just don’t know how to communicate” with each other.   I hear the desperation in their voices.  I know they each have been trying to get understanding from the other person for a long time and they just haven’t been successful.  Usually due to exasperation the couple comes in and informs me they just can’t communicate, and they are desperate to find help.

I know that when people categorize their issues with the word “communication”, there is likely a lot more going on then just the phrasing of words.  I know that what’s missing is a very vital part of communication and one of the most basic human needs; and that’s the need to be heard.

Often times when couples begin therapy they have no problem expressing their individual points of view to me.  What they have a hard time doing however, is getting their partner to actually listen to what they are saying.

When two people have been trying to get understanding from each other for a period of time without success, it’s possible they might become angry or resentful trying yet again one more time to make their point.  It’s usually after years of dismissing the importance of being heard that a couple might decide to try counseling as a “last ditch effort” to fix the relationship.

And that’s when I can begin to help.  It starts by giving the couple awareness.  No one signs up to be mean to their partner.  No one starts out being indifferent, resentful or angry toward their mate.  These stances come after trying over and over to get one’s point across and failing.  So the first phase of improving communication is helping each person learn how to listen.

But before anyone can develop the patience and understanding to be a good listener they must be HEARD, because that’s what has been missing in their relationship.  They have not felt heard or listened to.  That’s where my job begins and I provide it for each person; I listen, hear, understand, help if needed, I am available and present.  This provides a release to the person expressing, and it models for the partner how to do it.

After the exercise it’s not surprising to feel a lot of tension leave the room.  It’s so simple, and so important.  As humans we require some basics; to feel safe, to feel loved, and to feel like we matter.  When we listen to our partners, I mean really listen, we give them exactly what they need.

Be sure and watch Feel Better Live, our show about relationships, live on the web, Thursdays at 6:00PM.

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But I’m Right! Why Can’t My Partner See That?

I really empathize with couples that begin a session with one person telling me something like this, “Why doesn’t my partner realize I am right?” Immediately I know that the pair sitting in front of me is in despair. I know that to live in a relationship where one person professes to have the right in the relationship while seeing the other as wrong puts both at a disadvantage. I know that both people may be feeling exhausted and sad.

Unfortunately this pattern often repeats itself; arguments unfold where one person insists he/she is right while the other feels inadequate or blamed. This person may feel right too, but it’s likely he/she has given up trying to have his/her voice heard and might be depressed. And it’s not uncommon for two people to point the finger at one another and say he, or she is to blame. In this scenario both people have to be right and everyone loses.

It may be the way we were raised, where blame had to be affixed to a problem. If this is what we experienced as a young person we might bring this aspect of how to relate to others into our own adult relationship. When there is a problem, look for the culprit. Identify the culprit, get the culprit to accept responsibility and force them to agree to learn from the mistake and not make it again.

Some people parent or train people this way. It’s designed to help people become accountable for their actions. This method has a place, but I believe it blows up the idea of mutual respect in a relationship if you use it with your mate. It allows one person to be in the position of knowing, while the other person is placed in the position of being taught. These positions are not equal and they make one or both people feel pretty unsatisfied.

The one who needs to be right can’t get relief because the other won’t listen. The one who is being told they are wrong resists because no one wants to feel blamed or bad. This kind of pattern usually leaves couples in a stalemate. Both want something from the other person. Both are not sure how to get it. It’s possible that the one who has to be right just wants to be listened too. It’s also possible that the one who is being blamed just wants to feel valued, and not persecuted.

Couples with this pattern may grow exhausted with each other. It takes a lot of energy defending your position all the time. It also takes a lot of energy tuning out your mate. Why not discover a way to use that energy in a more productive way; getting your needs met so you feel better?

When I work with couples with this type of interaction, I like to begin the process of helping each person understand his or her behaviors. The beginning part of dismantling this kind of system is understanding how we interact with our mate. Partners begin to get an idea of how they communicate with each other. This then leads to awareness of how the communication impacts the partner.

Helping couples understand the weight of their words is some of the early work. Also important is figuring out what each person needs. It’s possible that the person who has to be right just wants to feel valued and important. The more she stresses that she is right the harder she tries to feel valued and important.

The one who is being blamed could also benefit from becoming aware of how he responds. Maybe he tunes out his partner when he hears her insist she is right. Maybe he rolls his eyes or just shakes his head. What ever he is doing is important to look at during a counseling session. Understanding that his reaction has an impact on her is also important. And what are his needs that aren’t being met? Maybe he wants to feel valued too. Maybe he wants to have his voice heard as well.

In my experience that’s usually what two people in a relationship want: to be heard, to feel listened to, and acceptance. When these basic needs are fulfilled, couples flourish. They can even begin to experience a deeper connection with each other, one that may include making the other person happy, and when couples reach that level both people feel they are in a relationship worth having.

Send your comments to linda@lindanusbaum.com

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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?

Send your comments to linda@lindanusbaum.com

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When Partners Swear at Each Other

Sometimes we want to make a point.  Sometimes we have to make that point so clearly we use specific words that will drive the point home.  Sometimes those words are swear words and sometimes we say them to people we love.

This is not a place that couples go willingly.  No one starts a relationship with the notion that at some point they will be swearing and cursing at their partner, and yet I work with some couples who are in this very state and dumbfounded how they got there.

So how does this happen to a couple that starts off loving each other?  In any relationship there are misunderstandings and hurt feelings.  These incidents are going to happen.  Sometimes one person will do something that hurts the other and vice versa, sometimes inadvertently, sometimes on purpose.

If you feel attacked by your mate, or left out by your partner you may feel deeply wounded.  Sometimes in a painful place people will lash out at the person who hurt them, often their partner.  When people are deeply wounded they have to stop the pain, and swearing at their mate let’s them know of the depth of the pain.

I know there is a tremendous amount of suffering that leads a person to yell F*** you at their loved one.  I believe that the person who is doing the cursing is trying to stop the unbearable pain inside them, and the only way they can do that is to fire back in the loudest most crushing way possible.  This behavior immediately changes the situation and adds excitement, energy and anger.  These changes then become the focus instead of exploring the original hurt that started the incident in the first place.  That part gets lost in the venom.

The receiver on the other hand has options.  He or she can fight fire with fire and yell back.  They can walk away.  They can leave.

Usually when the anger dies down, about a half an hour later, some couples can talk about the argument.  Maybe there is even an apology from the person who swore.  If a couple can engage like this, there is plenty of hope for the relationship.

But if two people just stay mad at each other and go days without speaking they are cementing a wall between them.  The wall will probably become harder and harder, making it more difficult to dismantle, even with counseling.  This state can also lead to resentment, where two people are just so tired of the other they begin to resent everything they do.

If you are in a relationship and you swear and curse at each other, try to realize your words do hurt the other.  Take ownership of the harm your words create.  Say you are sorry, make amends.  This can be the beginning of resolution and healing for both of you.

In a relationship where couples swear at each other there is plenty of hurt.  What’s missing is a chance to have your partner understand your pain and for you to understand theirs.  This leads to true bonding, and that’s one thing most couples crave.


Send your comments to linda@lindanusbaum.com

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Research shows it’s not the fight that hurts the relationship…It’s how you fight that determines lasting effects

According to The New York Times Magazine, April 18, 2010, in an article that ponders the question, “Is marriage good for your health?” surprising studies show that people who fight are not in danger.  The research shows it’s not the fight that determines whether the marriage is good for you and your partner. It doesn’t matter how difficult the argument or how angry the fight, what matters is whether the people fighting stay connected.  That’s right, you have to tell you partner right in the middle of a fight that you still love them.  You have to find a way to grab their hand or call him or her a pet name, and you have to do this right in the middle of the argument or fight.

If you can do this you will have a happy heart and not suffer from stress.  When we argue without connection to our partner we put stress on our hearts and other parts of our body.  We get all keyed up and mad, sometimes we even get hateful.  The key, according to research, is to find a way to make a connection with the person we are fighting with, during the argument. 

Usually couples will have it out with each other and then they’ll have to wait until all the energy inside them dies down so they can talk to each other again, talk about what happened and start some sort of repair process to reconnect.  Research shows  us that if you can find a way to get out of the anger for just a second and make an overture to your partner, a small gesture or a couple of loving words are all that’s needed, you will keep yourself from getting into that mad zone that takes so long to come back from.

Going there, the mad place, and staying there, is one of the most harmful things you can do to your body.  Your body is now dealing with enormous amounts of energy.  It’s all stored up inside each of you and it has to go somewhere.  Maybe some of it get’s released through loud words said to each other, but chances are if you are yelling at the other person you are pretty amped up and those feelings are going to take some time to dissipate.  It’s this period that has the most negative impact on your body; elevated stress hormones, elevated risk of diabetes, elevated risk of heart disease, immune system weakens, increased risk of depression, nasty stuff to keep inside yourself.

Why not think of this now, before the next blow up. Talk with your partner, spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend and discuss the damage you each are doing to yourselves when you get in prolonged arguments.  Gain an understanding of the toxicity that fighting without connecting can produce.

Maybe you can come up with your special way of connecting before the argument begins.  Why not create a safe word or a funny phrase, a physical gesture or make a silly face.  Anything will work, as long as it brings the two of you close.  The idea isn’t to end the argument or fight.  The technique is designed to give the two of you a place away from the war zone.  It doesn’t even have to last a long time.  It just has to last a moment.  If you can do this the research says you will be served by your relationship, instead of it feeling like a weight.

Send your comments to Linda at linda@lindanusbaum.com

Learn more about Linda at www.lindanusbaum.com


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