Relationship Q&A

What should I never say when arguing with my significant other?

The largest problem in arguments between significant other is the ultimate goal to change the other person, or to at least have them see things your way. The likelihood of this happening is quite slim because we all experience the world through a variety of filters that are unique to us. The things that affect the way we see the world are the accuracy of our five senses, the information we know and experiences we have had, and the values we choose to guide our lives. If couples could simply accept each other as they are without trying to change the other, we wouldn’t have arguments. We would work to negotiate the differences, because it would be interesting, not problematic, that we would have differences.

When we are trying to change one another, some things that might be used to coerce each other are:

  1. Complaining about the person to try to get them to do things differently. This frequently takes the form of you “always” or you “never.” It might involve bringing up things from the past that would be better left in the past.
  1. Blaming the person for some perceived slight or situation that creates challenges for you. The solution to this is to realize that everyone is doing the best they can to get what they want at that point in time with the information available to them. It’s not personal! Stop blaming, accept, and move forward.
  1. Criticizing is problematic when the criticism is geared toward getting your partner to do what he or she doesn’t want to do. It is not our job to make our partner a better person. It is our job to support them to be the person they want to be.
  1. It is not uncommon to resort to threats when arguing. These threats sound like, “If you do _________________, then I’m going to ___________________.” (Hurt you in some way.) Threatening may temporarily get you what you want, but it could win the battle at the risk of losing the war. 
  1. And if you’ve threatened without success, everyone knows you must follow through on the threat, so punishment ensues. This typically does not involve words, but rather actions such as withdrawing affection and/or attention.

None of these behaviors have a legitimate place in disagreements between two people who care for each other. Of course, you can choose to use them but just remember, when you do, it is akin to taking a sledgehammer to the foundation of your relationship. If your relationship is strong and healthy, it can likely withstand a good bit of pounding on the foundation. But at some point, there will be a chip, and that chip will become a crack. And when that crack becomes big enough, the foundation crumbles.  

When arguing, ask yourself, “Is what I’m about to do or say going to bring us closer, or pull us further apart?” If the former, stop, wait, or walk away until you think of something to do or say that won’t jeopardize the relationship.

How can I learn to be content and happy in my life?

Check in with yourself when you are feeling dissatisfied and ask, “Do I really want this or is it something I was told I should want by someone else?” If it’s something you personally don’t care about, then let it go by acknowledging the fact that you were trying to please someone else rather than yourself. If it is something you wanted, then ascertain what you did or failed to do that cost you what you wanted and make improvements/adjustments for next time. Comparing oneself to others doesn’t help. The only reason to compare yourself to someone else is if you are looking at what did they do that allowed them to do better so you can do it too.

Why is couples counseling helpful?

Couples counseling is helpful because people struggling with each other rarely understand where the other is coming from, often assigning nefarious motives that simply aren’t there. A good couples’ counselor is able to objectively see the couple and where their struggles lie. The counselor is able to help couples join together to correct the errors in their perceptions or the habits they have developed for trying to change the other person. These are things that are difficult to see when you are in the midst of conflict. The signs I think couples should watch for are times when one or both of them wish their partner were different and are applying pressure for them to change. Asking for what you want is wise but continuing to badger the person who isn’t changing is destructive for relationships. I believe there are many things a couple can learn in counseling that can be preventative, however, couples often seek counseling when they are on the brink of divorce and sometimes the damage has been so great, counseling doesn’t help.

What are some of the characteristics of truly happy couples?

When I wrote my book, Secrets of Happy Couples, I researched responses from 100 happy couples I surveyed. Out of 20 self-reported characteristics, there were four that stood out.

  1. Effective Communication– All couples have communication, but not all couples know how to effectively  Truly happy couples express what they want and need without blaming each other. They also know that not all communication is verbal. They are aware of their body language and avoid hurting each other, while using touch to communicate their love and support for each other.
  2. No longer trying to change one another– Many couples have things about their partners they wish were different. They spend a lot of time trying to change each other through their dissatisfaction. Truly happy couples have learned to graciously accept each other and have let go of the need to change the other. In fact, they may have even discovered how that trait benefits them.
  3. Being accountable to something bigger than themselves.– Couples often forget they are a couple and insist on getting their own way. The truly happy couples reported an accountability to something bigger than themselves. (It’s important to note here that I did not recruit people for my survey from religious institutions to prevent this bias.) And yet, happy couples reported that when they wanted something for themselves personally, they often ask the questions, “What would my Higher Power want me to do here?” or “What would be best for our relationship?” This enables individuals to subjugate their personal needs for something more important.
  4. Monogamy – The truly happy couples also reported being monogamous. I believe this enables couples to have a greater degree of trust and commitment which takes their relationship to deeper levels. 

If interested, I’d be happy to send you the list of 20 characteristics but you asked for 3-4 so I’m sticking to what’s above. Good luck with your article.

What are some ways to stop settling for less in your relationships?
  1. Learn to be OK being alone.
  2. Become clear about your non-negotiables – your personal deal breakers in relationships – and when one is violated, end the relationship.
  3. Give up the idea that if you love him enough, he will change.
  4. Ask yourself, “What if this relationship never changes . . . is this the relationship I want to have?”
  5. Don’t expect your man to meet all your needs for you. You are responsible for meeting your needs.
  6. Be sure to have a support network that listens to and supports you.
  7. Mostly learn to love yourself so you don’t feel like you’re missing something when a man doesn’t love you the way you want him to.
  8. Check to see if the problem is your expectations. Kyle Cease says, “No one ever broke your heart . . . they broke your expectations.”
How do you learn to love yourself?

As the author of the forthcoming book, Choosing Me Now, and award-winning bestselling author of Secrets of Happy Couples, there is not a one-size-fits-all version of loving yourself. People speak about exercise, eating right, getting enough sleep and enjoying alone time, but it is more complicated than that. We are each born with five basic needs – safety & security, connection, significance, freedom and joy. Everyone has these five needs but the strength of each is different, depending on our genetic instructions. I happen to have a high need for connection and freedom. Someone else may have a high need for significance, while another person could have a high need for survival. In order for a person to establish a healthy, loving relationship with Self, they would first need to know themselves and understand how their needs-strengths exhibit in their lives. This involves examining your values and beliefs to determine if they are truly yours or if they were instilled in you by others. Then looking at your needs, figuring out if there are any that need attention. For example, do you feel safe enough, healthy enough and financially independent? Do you have enough meaningful connections in your life? How significant are you feeling? Are you free, independent, and creative? Do you have sufficient choices in your life? Do you have enough joy – play, relaxation and fun in your life? And in each of those categories, it’s possible you have more than you need, also causing you to feel out of sorts. To create a healthy, loving relationship with Self, you will want to look at each of your needs, starting with the strongest, and see if you can get enough without going over what you need. This is the true blueprint for developing a loving relationship with yourself.

What are signs that one is a helicopter parent and how to stop?

The biggest sign you are a helicopter parent is an inability to tolerate your child experiencing any negative emotion such as pain, disappointment or frustration. A large portion of your life is spent protecting your child to be sure nothing “bad” or “unfair” happens to him or her, and when it does correcting any perceived wrong that happened to your child. While the parenting instinct instructs parents to protect their children, a helicopter parent takes this instruction to extremes. For example, if your child is criticized by an adult, you will go to that adult and order them to “take it back.” If your child isn’t first clarinet in the school band, you will demand to know why. If your child is sitting on the bench more than other team members, you will argue with the coach for more playing time for your child.

The best way to stop is to recognize the value of pain, disappointment and frustration. Emotions that create discomfort are designed to help us engage different behavior to get away from the pain. If you, as the parent, are the one who is engaging adults on your child’s behalf, you are robbing your child of the learning opportunity to develop new skills and to tolerate disappointment.  You think you are protecting your children but in actuality, your child is at greater risk for those times when you can’t be present. When they leave your home, they are ill equipped to stand up for themselves, problem solve and tolerate uncomfortable emotions.

I am an expert in Choice Theory, which has application to parenting. I have created a 25-hour parenting curriculum for Cook County’s court-mandated parents called, Empowerment Parenting and I am a licensed counselor and certified coach who works with parents on improving their relationships with their children and any age.

What are some habits that can ruin a new relationship before it even begins?
  1. Diving into soon. Rearranging one’s life to accommodate a relationship in early stages can be scary to the other person. Take your time. Relax. Get to know the other person before you change your life to be more in sync with them.
  1. Parenting. I think women tend to mother their boyfriends and men can tend to be overprotective of their girlfriends. We know parenting behaviors by watching her parents and experiencing them ourselves sometimes we generalize these behaviors to our intimate relationships to our detriment. Taking a parental role with someone in a new relationship can imply criticism or at strong desire to change to the other person is. This is the kiss of death in any relationship– trying to control each other.
  1. Gameplaying. Early in a relationship the temptation is to pretend to be something different then who or what you really are. You may try to make the other person jealous by showing interest in someone else. You may pretend to be busy when you’re really not or available but playing hard to get. In some cases, gameplaying does increase interest but it sets the tone for disingenuous relationship dynamics.

In the beginning of a relationship, be yourself. Be honest with the other person and trust them to be honest with you. In taking your time, you’ll be able to discover if this person actually is honest and worthy of your time in a more serious relationship. Always be the person you want to be regardless of how that other person is with you. If you find you are compatible and enjoy each other’s company, increase your time together. If you find you are in conflict and not compatible, cut your losses and move on.

What's the difference between accepting & tolerating your partner?

When we tolerate behavior, we are still angry, frustrated and resentful about it. When we get to acceptance, all the negativity falls away. There is no frustration, anger or resentment. Acceptance implies a serenity or inner peace. “I accept this thing is a small part of the bigger package that is you. I realize it is working for you and I accept it as an integral part of who you are and I don’t want you to change it.”

You didn’t ask this part, but I teach a level above acceptance. It’s called appreciation. When a person can get to look at the behavior that they were tolerating and understand how it provides them something positive, then the couple can actually go beyond accepting to appreciating that behavior. It’s a high bar to reach for, but it truly is possible. For example, a couple where one is a spender; the other a saver – the toleration of the saver is their partner’s spontaneous, irresponsible spending, while the toleration of the spender is their partner’s stinginess and inability to do anything spontaneously. 

Once they get to acceptance, I like to ask the couple if they would like to try to reach appreciation. This is when each person looks at what they complain about in their partner and works toward actually appreciating that behavior. The spender comes to appreciate their partner’s saving for the future and concern for security, while the saver appreciates their partner’s spontaneity and enjoyment of life.

How do I know if I am in a relationship with a narcissist?

I get concerned when people start talking about narcissists, because there is a diagnosable personality disorder for Narcissism but I don’t think that is what you are referring to. You are basically asking about people who may be dating someone who is very self-centered. If this is what you are looking for, I would say this:

The biggest question to ask in a relationship is whether you are getting what you want from the relationship. When you are, there is a natural inclination to give things to your partner so they are also getting more of what they want from the relationship. Narcissists take much more that they give, often leaving their partners feeling completely inadequate, wondering where they went wrong.

  1. Narcissists have a need to feel constantly admired by their partner. They have an exaggerated sense of their own importance and a strong sense of entitlement.
  1. They are completely focused on what they want and need, with little to no attention to what you might need.
  1. They insist on having the best of everything and look down on anyone who has less.
  1. They will monopolize conversations and look down on those who they deem as unworthy.

Being in a relationship with someone with these traits will have you second-guessing yourself. You will start to believe you are so fortunate to have this person in your life, even though he or she doesn’t do anything to support you. Before you know it, you are completely dependent on this person and yet are in the relationship all alone. If you are satisfied in this relationship, stay. Perhaps you don’t need a lot of attention and are emotionally unavailable yourself. But if you find as a result of your relationship, you feel worse about yourself, you may want to consider getting away from this toxic person before you believe you are completely worthless. When you do, be sure to spend your time with people who love you as you detox from this addictive relationship.

Difference between healthy and unhealthy ultimatum?

As a licensed counselor and author of Secrets of Happy Couples, I say ultimatums are never healthy in relationships. My definition of an ultimatum is a threat that sounds like some version of, “If you don’t do what I want, then something bad is going to happen.” It is the curse that exists in many relationships where one person thinks they have the right to force another person to be the person they want them to be. I do, however, believe in setting healthy boundaries but the difference is in setting a boundary, you are not trying to get the other person to change, You are simply stating a non-negotiable for yourself and the other person can decide to meet it or not. You are not trying to get the other person to change or stop to please you. You are simply saying what is not ok for you in a relationship. You will leave the relationship when a non-negotiable is violated. You accept the other person for who they are, want them to be happy, and yet, you know that you cannot be happy with them if the behavior continues. You are setting the boundary for you, taking care of yourself. In an ultimatum, you are trying to force your partner to do something to please you that they are not doing. A subtle, but important, difference. An example would be, “I know you enjoy drinking and often get drunk. It’s not for me to say that you have a problem but I can’t stay in a relationship with you while you are self-destructing in my opinion. I love you but I am going to need to love you from a distance because staying is too painful for me.” The person my continue drinking, may drink even more or may get into treatment for addiction. You are not leaving to get them to do anything particular. You are leaving to protect yourself. This is what makes it healthy, not destructive.

How do I combat feelings of loneliness on romantic holidays like Valentine's Day?
  1. Companionship – think of someone else you know who may be alone and plan to do something special together. If you know enough people alone, then plan a singles party. It can be a mixed audience or girls only.
  2. Gift Yourself – Imagine what you would like to receive from a romantic partner on Valentine’s Day and get it for yourself. If you want flowers, get some. If you want chocolate, buy some. If you want to go out to dinner, do that or maybe order take out. If you want a romantic getaway, choose a place and go, either alone or with a friend.
  3. Gratitude – the best V-day I ever had was about three years after my husband died and I was tired of feeling sorry for myself for being alone. I spent my entire Valentine’s day writing thank you notes to the people who had helped me raise my sons during the past three years. Focusing on the things you are grateful for is the perfect antidote for sadness, loneliness, anger, frustration, anxiety, etc. You cannot hold gratitude and those other emotions simultaneously. 

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