Relationship Goals to Maintain Long-Lasting Affection

You’ve probably heard the term “relationship goals” being thrown about here and there.  Social media has definitely helped promote this to a new level.  Urban Dictionary defines the term as “A couple with such a perfect relationship that other people aspire to them, the “goal” being to have a relationship like the one that the couple has.   

But what exactly are relationship goals?  While showing affection by hugging, holding hands, kissing, or referring to each other as bae can be something that expresses loving feelings, relationship goals are not necessarily confined to public displays of sweet togetherness. 

Don’t get me wrong, the affection is wonderful and can help you feel connected to your partner.  But, these are the aftereffects of hard work from working the goals.  The real relationship goals help you receive and maintain those strong feelings of affection. 

Here are a few goals to explore to strengthen your relationship: 

Spend quality time together.  Couples are so busy nowadays.  With careers and raising children, it can be difficult to figure out when there is time to be alone together.  Digging deep for your creativity in planning for date night comes in handy here.  But the keyword to keep in mind is QUALITY.  It’s not about how much time is spent but instead how connected you feel to your partner in the amount of time you do get to share. 

Learn how to meet each other’s needs. Funny thing is, we naturally tend to give to our partner’s the way we like to receive. Unfortunately, most couples don’t always line up in this department. “If my partner cared, shouldn’t they just know what to do? This way of thinking will only set you up for disappointment. While some couples get lucky and match each other perfectly, the rest of us have to ask, inform, or share our preferences in order to learn the best ways to meet our partner’s needs. Try taking the Five Love Languages Quiz developed by Gary Chapman to learn yours! 

Create personal goals together.  What are some common goals the two of you share?  Maybe it’s learning a new language, taking a trip to a foreign country, or saving up to buy a home.  Or maybe you’re thinking about starting a family.  It’s good to have some common goals in which each of you plays a role in attaining the goal.  At the same time, it’s great to show support for each partner’s individual goals.  Our desires may not always match up, and that’s okay. One partner may really find it exhilarating to skydive while the other partner thinks “hell no!”  We can’t always join our partners in their journeys, but we can show support from a distance.  And for skydiving, that’s a really, really great distance!

Have fun together.  Work on finding ways to laugh more with each other.  Playfulness is the best tool to keep a relationship fresh and exciting.  Most couples begin with lots of fun and laughter.  However, over time, as they build a life together, things get more serious.  Try remembering how the relationship was early on.  Tap into those activities that brought the two of you joy and closeness.  And if some of those activities do not fit into your lifestyles anymore, find new ones!  Think… if you were planning to ask your partner on a first date, what would that look like?

Work through conflict with respect and kindness.  Conflict is natural and expected in a relationship.  “We never fight,” is bullshit.  Seriously, if you never argue, then there is not enough honesty going on in the relationship.  Getting into arguments with each other can be uncomfortable and distressing, however it’s more about how you choose to communicate with each other during the conflict that matters most.  Take turns in sharing and listening.  Active listening is way more important than talking.  This can help reduce and manage the conflict.

Goals for one couple may not be the same for another.   Each couple is unique and so it is wise to avoid using comparisons to assess one’s relationship.  A big problem that does exist is we get too wrapped up in what social media tells us relationships should look like that we lose the ability to perceive it realistically.  You know what you want from your relationship! So go out and get it!

More Couples Therapy for Your Buck!

February Special

Extended Couples Therapy Session

Valentine’s Day is almost here!  And guess what!  I’m offering a February special for all my couples - new and existing.  My couples have the opportunity of receiving an extended counseling session (1 hr. 20 min.) for the same price of a regular counseling session (50 min.). 

So, what does this do for you?  Well, some couples find that it takes a little bit of time to get to the nitty gritty of their issues.  Just as you seem to be getting somewhere, time is up! Then we have to pick up where we left off the next time around.  An extended session offers you the chance to arrive at the problem without feeling rushed.

Another convenience with longer counseling sessions is the chance to participate in couples’ activities.  A majority of session is typically talk therapy, however, activities and games during session can help couples alleviate tension, increase playfulness, and promote closeness. 

Remember ALL sessions booked as a couple pay only $75 instead of the extended therapy session rate of $120.  This is only good through the month of February. And, since these sessions take more time, appointments are limited. If you are interested in booking an extended couples’ session, please email or call to reserve your spot!

To a Fresh Start: Three Ways to Help You Reach Your Goals

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As we kickoff another New Year, we are reminded to begin new habits, behaviors, or traditions.  Each new year marks an opportunity for a new beginning, a fresh start.   We make decisions that influence our health, our financial status, and even relationships with others.  And while we have good intentions in making changes to increase positivity in our lives, we are often met with challenges or complications that keep us from meeting our goals.  Most of us find that we lose momentum days, weeks, or months (bless you strong-willed ones!) into the new routines we set for ourselves. 

Here are three things to keep in mind as you navigate your way through new experiences and transformations:

Embrace failure. 

It is quite natural to have setbacks as we build toward new habits.  Failure is part of the process as we grow and change.  The meaning we give to failure is that it is negative. Imagine as a toddler, if you had given up learning to walk after a few falls, what a tragedy that would have been!  But because the juvenile mind could not perceive failure as a bad thing, we were allowed to keep trying.  We didn’t worry about being judged or criticized. Falling and stumbling was seen as a natural progression to walking smoothly and with confidence. It is through our challenges that we learn about ourselves, how strong we are, how resilient we can be, and what is important to us. 

I absolutely love what Sara Blakely, founder and CEO of Spanx, had to say about failing.  Her dad gets uber kudos from me for reframing her idea of failure! 

Focus on the process. 

To be successful in whatever challenge you choose, Jeff Haden, author of The Motivation Myth, suggests you focus on a small series of successes rather than the end goal.  Each small victory propels you to make more efforts. He adds that motivation is not something that exists within the individual but, rather yet, needs to be created and cultivated.  It is through the repetition of smaller, attainable processes that motivate you to keep going. 

Now I’m not here to tell you what your process should look like or what it needs to include.  You can pick up a copy of The Motivation Myth or turn to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, to learn more about the right kind of processes or systems for your goal.  However, I do encourage you to focus more on the process than your goal.  When we are goal-oriented, we tend to judge our progress unfairly and it make us feel worse about ourselves which, in turn, leads us to give up. Goals take time to achieve and can leave us feeling discouraged.  But by paying more attention to our process, we learn to appreciate our efforts and skills and even gain enjoyment from working through our process.  This drives us to staying on a path toward our desired outcome.

Recognize past efforts. 

Take a moment to reflect back on all the things that you’ve experienced over the year.  What has been joyful?  What have you endured?  Have there been challenges you went through that have altered you? 

While we look forward to a new year and all the potential there is for a fresh start, it is also important to acknowledge the strengths and tenacity you gained from your past.  Looking back and acknowledging our gains and losses helps us appreciate how much we’ve learned or grown from those experiences.  We often don’t give ourselves enough credit for the efforts we’ve made throughout the year.  How many times did you manage to make it to work on time?  How many books did you finish reading?  How much writing did you accomplish? What vacations did you take?  What have you learned from your challenges? 

Making an honest assessment about past accomplishments and failures helps us move forward with a greater awareness of what we need in order to achieve new behaviors or habits. Even when you believe you fell short on a goal or resolution, there is something to learn from that struggle. Trying is how we get better!

So this year, make it a good one!  Take your time to reflect on the past.  Learn from what you have already done.  Engage in the process and care less about the goal outcome.  And most of all, be brave! Welcome failures as they come.  It means you are trying!

Best of luck to you!

Being Responsible Communicators: Three Skills to Manage Couples Conflict

When a partner presents conflict, how is that information given and how is it received? 

What might you say?  You’re such a slob!  Why can’t you ever pick up after yourself?!

How do you respond?  Shut up!  You’re always on my ass about stupid shit! 

When conflict arises, the responsibility to communicate effectively resides with both persons.  Yes both!  It does not matter who started the argument.  If you enter into a fight with the attitude that “I’m going to win” then chances are you’re going to have many arguments in your relationship that will leave you both feeling hopeless and exhausted.  Pointing fingers and throwing blame will not make either of you winners.  Bowing out and avoiding also does not do anyone any favors.

How we speak and listen to our partners during times of conflict expresses how much or how little we respect them.  Over time, partners get a sense of what to expect in future arguments which often leads to a communication cycle or pattern.  In some relationships, one can learn to expect their partner to become disengaged, defensive, or even combative during conflict.  In others, partners might learn that their counterpart is accepting of differing views which make them feel at ease with talking about difficult problems.  The pattern you want to create is up to you.

Here are three tips for building trust and responsibility with conflict:

Speak Gently

When telling your partner that something bothers you, try wording it as an observation.  Avoid starting with “you did this” or “you did that.”  I statements are a great way to express yourself and minimize defensiveness.  When you can present information clearly without accusations or blame, people are more receptive to working toward a solution.  The listening partner can ask for clarification: “I believe what I hear you saying is…” and ask “Was that accurate?”  This expresses to your partner that you have a desire to understand and accept. 

Perspective Taking

When discussing conflict, it is good practice to try to understand how the other person feels.  Mind reading or basing your prediction of your partner’s actions on past history does not help to see your partner accurately, fairly, or provide opportunities for positive change.  Instead, be curious about your partner’s feelings and thoughts.  Respond with, “I see you feel strongly about this.  How come?”  Ask questions like, “What makes you feel this certain way?” or “How long have you felt like this?” to gain clarification.

Provide Validation

Validation does not mean you have to agree with your partner, instead it is about expressing your acceptance of your partner’s differing thoughts and feelings.  Saying something like, “I can see how that would make you feel hurt” can go a long way.  People naturally want to feel understood and connected with others. By accepting your partner’s point of view, it helps them feel secure and valued.

Psychologist Carl Rogers explained it best, “When someone really hears you without passing judgment on you, without trying to take responsibility for you, without trying to mold you, it feels damn good!”

Essentially, trust needs to exist on both sides.  Trust to bring and share concerns that need to be addressed.  Trust to listen and respond respectfully.  When both partners are doing their part to work through conflict, they are essentially creating healthy and secure communication patterns for future disagreements.  You have the power, the responsibility, and the choice to set the stage for conflict between you and your partner. So what will you choose?

Time Outs: Not Just For Kids

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How do most arguments with your partner play out for you?  Do you tend to listen and share cooperatively?  Do you take your time when things get heated?  Do you break bread, shake hands at the end and go on happily with your day? 

If this is you then YAY!  But for some couples and some arguments this isn’t always the case. 

What I tend to see is that some conflict runs deeper and may need to be handled with more sensitivity and care than others.  Some partners have differing responses to conflict.  Maybe one partner shuts down and the other continues trying to get to the bottom of the problem.  While wanting to take care of issues as they appear is ideal, it is not always necessary or helpful. 

In many couples, there tends to be one partner, the Pursuer, who prefers to deal with problems promptly.  He or she will want to keep talking about the conflict until it is fully resolved.  However, the other person, the Distancer, might feel overwhelmed, become increasingly angry, or stops listening altogether.  This person just wants it to stop.  This is when it is helpful to take a time out. 

If we wait too long to take a time out we run the risk of saying something hurtful to our partner which only adds more work for us (you as a couple and me as a therapist) in the future.  When we are met with too much conflict, we lose the ability to think clearly and rationally.  By continuing to argue, we are unable to be fully heard and understood.  We also lessen the chance of coming to a healthy compromise. 

In some cases, the Pursuer is motivated to be persistent in seeking a solution in order to maintain balance in the relationship.  Sitting with negative feelings doesn’t feel good and it is human nature to find ways to relieve ourselves of the discomfort.  However, being too pushy to find all the right answers at one given moment might be too much pressure for the Distancer partner.  That’s not to say the issue must be avoided or forgotten. 

So, what do you do?  Take a time out.  Just like kids, adults need them too!  When you begin to find yourself bringing up old problems from the past or thinking hurtful comments in your head that you’re ready to unleash on your partner – Take a Time Out!!!  If you’re unable to think clearly and find yourself tuning out – Take a Time Out!!! 

Nevertheless, it is important that you communicate with each other how much of a break is appropriate.  This can mean 20 minutes (at least!), 2 hours, or the next day.  Whatever timeline you decide just make sure it’s mutually understood. And in the meantime, try to go about your normal routine or do something relaxing.  Continue to treat each other with kindness and respect.  Just because you have a disagreement does not mean it’s okay to be hurtful to one another.

By waiting, we allow ourselves to cool down, reflect on the problem, and sometimes we may even have a change of heart.  Not all problems need to be addressed quickly.  And that’s okay.