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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When Your Partner Lies To You

We’ve all told lies in our lives; little ones and maybe big ones.  We’ve all learned the consequences of getting caught.  Many of us realize it’s better to tell the truth the first time around than worry about the lie we told and wonder if the truth will emerge eventually.

When we tell lies we hold secrets from the ones we love.  We might even think we are protecting them from something that will hurt them.  We figure in our mind that not telling them is probably better.  Telling them would cause them pain and we don’t want to hurt them because we really care about their feelings.  Or maybe we’re just afraid of what will happen to us if we tell the truth about something difficult.  Maybe we’re worried that we will be in trouble and people will get angry with us.

Not telling the truth takes skill, and thought.  The person telling the lie has to think about making up a story where all the pieces are plausible.  They have to make sure there are no holes an insightful person could see through.  It can be stressful on the lie teller.  He or she also has to remember the lie, and the details, and not forget what order he or she put them in.  That’s stressful too.

So that’s one side, the person telling the lie.  But what about the person who is lied to?  What happens there?

The one who is told the lie may feel angry, betrayed and ridicules, like they’ve been made a fool of.  It can be belittling and crazy making.  Some people believe that a lie, no matter how small, is a broken trust.  Many people believe that trust is one of the cornerstones in a relationship and when trust is broken they are shaken to the core because what they had believed about their relationship as fundamental is now crumbling underneath them.  They believed there would be truth between each other.  When there is a lie, that truth becomes a joke.

So how do couples heal when there are lies that sit between them?

First, each person deserves to explain and have the other person listen to his and her feelings.  It feels terrible to have been lied to.  It feels terrible to hold secrets and lie to your partner.  Both positions need understanding and compassion.  The one who lied has to become aware of the pain he or she caused the other.  That doesn’t mean you have to fall on your sword and grovel for the next year.  The liars’ job is to realize that his or her actions caused pain.  Once they realize this then he or she should begin to cultivate compassion for their mate by understanding the hurt they caused.  An apology is part of healing, but it’s more than saying I’m sorry.  Without understanding the depth of the injury; the loss of trust, the embarrassment and the anger, an apology can feel meaningless.

When the injured is heard he or she can feel validated by the partner because the partner really gets the pain he or she caused.  At that time the injured person may want to try and understand what led the partner to tell the lie in the first place.  They may discover that the partner was trying to protect them, only the lie turned out to be a clumsy attempt.

What can develop is true communication, connection between the couple.  Lies are an indication that there’s room for improvement.  In most cases when there is a lie people react by turning away from their partner.  It’s natural to protect yourself when hurt.  But turning toward your partner with understanding and compassion could just bring you exactly what you are after… real closeness and truth.

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