Couples Accountability Check – Why You Need to Own Your Role!

Life is essentially all about relationships. The relationship we have with ourselves, our partner, family, friends, and essentially all things! I became an LMFT in order to support people with creating and sustaining happy, healthy, ever evolving relationships while living authentically. I have come to understand that when reflecting on my own relationships, there is of course that one common denominator, ME! When there are themes I find less than appealing in my relationship, although it would be great to be able to put all the blame on my partner, I get to ask myself, “what have YOU done to co-create this relationship dynamic?”

The same with you my friend. YOU are the common denominator in your relationships. I have some questions for you, how do you feel about the current state of your romantic relationship? Is it passionate? Does it excite you? Does it lack depth? Are you too busy to maintain it? Do you even want to? Now the big question…

WHAT HAS YOUR CONTRIBUTION BEEN TO THE CURRENT STATE OF YOUR RELATIONSHIP?

While the tendency for most is to blame the other person when the relationship is stressed/strained, there still does exist the partner that takes on too much ownership and ends up feeling like they are always apologizing. I have had countless clients over the years share that they are consistently taking the one down, validating, and apologizing to their partner when they believe they have done nothing wrong. Clients share that they get tired of feeling like they are doing most of the work during conflict and either end up apologizing for all of it (over accountability) or they decide to stop validating all together and take no accountability or shut down (which usually leads to more conflict). Do you fall in either one of the two extremes? If so, which one?

Over accountability – You are owning too much (your role and theirs). Apologizing for the entire miscommunication and invalidating your own feelings. You may be bought into an old narrative that it is always your fault. Sometimes people will refer to an “empath” as a person who can over identify with the other person and absorb a disproportionate amount of the blame. Taking too much responsibility can also be a sign of a person who has fear of being alone (abandonment) and/or fear of conflict (conflict avoidant).

Under accountability – You are not owning your role (you are placing a majority of the blame on your partner). You point the finger at them, you blame them, and you are bought into a story that it is usually their fault. Sometimes people who do not own their role are considered selfish, they may lack self awareness, sometimes you can find that characteristic in a person who has narcissistic personality disorder, and they may use tactics such as gaslighting to make their partner feel like they have done something wrong. (Side note, just because someone struggles with owning their role does not automatically mean that they are a narcissist)

Just good ol’ Accountability – Both partners get to take accountability for their role in the conflict. We ALL get to accept responsibility for our actions and acknowledge how our actions impact the people we love. Emotional maturity means being able to be less ruled by emotions and having the ability to own our role without placing blame on others. It is much easier to blame, finger pointing is something that comes naturally for most. However, two people continuing to blame and point the finger of shame at one another are equally contributing to an unsafe/hostile environment. Instead of pointing your finger, use that hand to pick up a mirror and SEE YOURSELF!

WHAT IF WE AS INDIVIDUALS DID OUR WORK?

Work? Work meaning, what if we mean what we say and say what we mean? What if we stopped making assumptions about what our partners are thinking and what if we stopped assuming that we know how they feel? What if we stopped making everything about us as if they are out to get us and what if we STOP TAKING THINGS PERSONALLY? What if we were to show up as the best version of ourselves (highest selves) for each interaction and every conversation? What would that mean?

The book “The Four Agreements,” by Don Miquel Ruiz, addresses these topics directly. The book was recommended to me by a loved one when I first started my private practice and I recommend it to everyone. The Four Agreements being 1) Be Impeccable with your word 2) Don’t make assumptions 3) Don’t take anything personally 4) Always do your best. What if we were to “work” on focusing on those 4 things? What would happen is…

We would have more connecting relationships.

We would have less conflict.

We would live consciously.

We would engage in less negative self talk.

We would ask more questions.

We would no longer spiral with anxious thoughts and rumination would cease.

We would be more compassionate towards others.

We would be more compassionate towards self.

We would trust ourselves and other’s would be more likely to trust us.

We would be the best versions of ourselves/our highest selves.

We would be open and curious and attract more abundance.

We would be able to hold space for the people we love as well as humanity.

WE WOULD LEAD MORE AUTHENTIC LIVES, CREATE MORE FULFILLING RELATIONSHIPS, AND PROBABLY BE A HECK OF A LOT HAPPIER!

The fact of the matter is, that the longer I practice individual and couples therapy, the clearer and clearer it becomes that the two people in the relationship need to do their individual work in order for the relationship to reach its full potential. Self-awareness is necessary. HOWEVER, CHANGE HAPPENS VIA ACTION. Action steps are necessary.

ACTION STEPS: SLOW DOWN, OWN YOUR ROLE, REGULATE YOUR EMOTIONS and VALIDATE YOUR PARTNER!

Slow down during the conversation, take a time out if necessary (length of time predetermined, usually 30 minutes, try to keep it to the same day) until you are ready to resume the conversation leading with a STATEMENT OF ACCOUNTABILITY. What is a statement of accountability? When the two of you come back together to resolve the conflict, you both resume prepared to share what you identified as something YOU could have done differently to experience/contribute to a more positive outcome.

Example:

Partner 1: “I am sorry I did not call you when I realized I was going to be late. I know that makes you feel disrespected and taken for granted. I recognize that you probably would not have started yelling when I came home if I would have called you and kept you in the loop. Regardless of what the circumstances were around my inability to call, the fact of the matter is that I didn’t call and that upset you.”

Partner 2: “I really appreciate you saying that. I didn’t realize you understood what was happening for me and your apology matters. I also recognize that you have a lot going on at work and forgot to call. I know that you not calling is not indicative of you taking me for granted and at the time I took it personally. The fact that I was triggered is still no excuse for raising my voice and cursing. I apologize because you do not deserve to be spoken to that way and I could have handled that better. I take accountability for my role and triggering you. I apologize for my role in our conversation turning into an argument.

STOP BLAMING..START OWNING!

When two people enter in to a conversation taking accountability/owning their role and validating the other person’s emotions, it creates a safe environment for both of them. Emotional safety is necessary for transparent and vulnerable conversations to take place. You have to be willing to do your part and not get sucked into engaging in an unhealthy or maladaptive dynamic. “My partner made me do it,” means someone is struggling with seeing their part in an interaction.

When we begin to accept that we do things because WE DECIDE TO DO THEM, we can feel motivated and empowered to learn to respond to our triggers differently. You hold the key!

When we get triggered we tend to say things to hurt the other person, or we say things to protect ourselves. The bottom line is that we say things that may not be our truth. If YOU are reactive, that’s a YOU THING! We do not get to blame the other person for our choice of reaction and inability to self-soothe/regulate our emotions . We can respond differently, we can respond respectfully, and we can respond from a place of love once we learn how to manage our responses. You get to learn how to hold yourself accountable in your relationship!

I want to be clear that this does not mean that you do not show up for/support one another. I do believe that if you decide to be in a committed relationship, you get to both be clear around what you need/want support to look like for your unique relationship. Also, under no circumstances should a person stay in a relationship that is abusive. If you believe you are in a physically or emotionally abusive relationship, I encourage you to get immediate support. A client of mine has the mantra, “I can conquer anything with communication” – DF. You can indeed conquer anything with communication, just be sure to speak your truth with warmth and own your role when you do! When we come from a non-judgmental place, when we own our role, and when we lead with love, there is nothing we can not discuss. The goal is to be able to create an emotionally safe and authentic relationship. It starts with self. Remember, inner peace can not come from your partner, it comes from within and is the determinant of creating peace within your relationship!

Wishing you and your relationship love and peace always,

Tamara

TRIGGERED! The Unhealed Wound: Couples Only Survive when Individuals Do Their Work! 7 Steps to Help…

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Do you sometimes feel as if your partner’s main objective in life is to piss you off? Do you find that the harder you try to get along, the more you find yourself getting triggered? Do you think about ending the relationship once and for all  just because you are so frustrated and feel as if you can not take it anymore?

The trigger conversation comes up often in couples work and the question of “why is my partner always triggering me?” has a simple, yet layered answer. There are many who wonder why the partner they love more than anything is the one that hurts them the most. Conflict usually arises when one partner is triggered and reacts/responds with their default coping strategy/defense mechanism (by the way and for the record, that default coping mechanism is usually not your truth). It is often a way to protect yourself that you discovered/created in early childhood or adolescence for survival and although once useful, has probably run its course and is no longer healthy or appropriate.

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So your partner has triggered you, now what? The tendency is to turn to our partner and blame them for hurting us, for bringing up uncomfortable feelings, for our increased anxiety, and/or our inability to move forward. We blame them for our insecurities, the fact that we won’t go to the gym, the fact that our career is not where we want it to be, the fact that we are unhappy. Sometimes we react with a counter punch to shut them down and shut them up or we may become withholding, close off, and turn away, depending on what our coping strategy/defense mechanisms are. We then point the finger and become the innocent victims of our partners cruelty, usually failing to take accountability for our role or how we blew up or shut down once we were triggered. Sharing stories with our friends, family, co-workers, and therapist around how our partner pushes all of the right buttons that cause us to react and act out of character. It is clearly their fault!

Being triggered hurts more from some people than others for a reason, usually because we have higher expectations and hopes of the people we open our hearts to and when those people say or do things that hurt our feelings (even when it is unintentional),the harder the fall…the deeper the wound. Although the wound may be deepening, it is not new and even though they might have said something hurtful, the wound of origin was not caused by them.

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The current trigger activates an old wound and not just any wound, a wound we have not fully healed from and may not be aware of. The wound of origin. That first wound that made you feel alone, abandoned, unworthy, unsafe, etc. Sometimes, our partners unintentionally trigger us, yet we make them wrong and leave no room for explanation, we tell ourselves the same narrative that we have carried around for years. When we are bought into our own negative thought patterns, we learn to extract all the information we feel will support our negative narrative, the one where our partner does not love us, is inconsiderate, is selfish and end up struggling to see all of the positive attributes our partners possess, all the ways they show love, and all the things they are presently doing “right.”

7 Things to do when your Partner Triggers you:

  1. So you have been hurt, something that your partner has done (or didn’t do), said (or didn’t say) has brought about an uncomfortable emotion. As soon as you recognize that you have been triggered, STOP (visualizing a Stop sign may help).
  2. Remind yourself that you are working towards having more self-awareness. Your goal is to respond, not react. You are working towards gaining emotional maturity.
  3. Turn towards your partner and share that you have been triggered, let them know what triggered you and the thoughts and feelings coming up for you around that trigger. If you are unsure of what you are feeling (go to step 5), ask for a few minutes to process what is coming up for you.
  4. Give your partner an opportunity to show up for you and the relationship. Give them a chance to validate your feelings and in turn, thank and validate them.
  5. Take a time out. Give yourself a few minutes to process what just happened. Usually the conversation escalates quickly after the trigger, slow down. Sit with yourself and identify what emotion is coming up for you and think back to your earliest memory of experiencing that emotion. Think about the thoughts that came up for you. What did that experience tell you about the world around you? and who you are in this world?
  6. Share with your partner what you learned about yourself and together you can work towards finding ways to work through the trigger when it arises. Discuss what they did or said that had a negative impact on you and share how it relates/links to a past wound.
  7. Acknowledge for yourself that you did it! You did something different, you just had a “win” because you handled being triggered differently! You are on the road to putting the pieces together, having an increased level of self awareness, and becoming less reactive when you are triggered by your partner.

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Everyone gets triggered it’s what you do in those moments that matter. The awareness and understanding of what is happening for you in the moment and why, will decrease reactivity. Return to the wound of origin, nurture your inner child, provide the support for yourself you wish you would have received at that time, the support you need now. HEAL. Only you have the ability to heal your heart, to provide the safety, compassion, and acceptance to all the parts of yourself. If you look to your partner to do it for you, they will fail.

If you truly want to connect with your partner and move past difficult conversations, you have to do your work. 

The trigger is an opportunity, it is a road-map to the place in your heart that is wounded.

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New Response – When triggered, rather than getting lost in the anger, practice appreciation for the fact that you now have information that will support you with finding, healing and releasing the wound of origin. If you do not do this work, you will continue to be triggered, you will continue to blame your partner, you will continue to have conflict, you will continue to be guarded, you will continue to be fearful, you will continue to be stuck and what causes the most danger to a relationship, is having unfair and unrealistic expectations around your partner’s role/responsibility in “making” you happy. 

Each of us has been wounded, no one comes out of childhood unscarred. The “work” is about knowing what those wounds are and how they are showing up in your life right now, present day, in this moment. You have the ability to create a more fulfilling life and a more fulfilling relationship. Yes, in a partnership you get to love and support one another however you can not do all the work for another person and they can not do all the work for you. It is impossible to grow together if one partner is stuck. Once you become emotionally mature you can make clear/rational decisions about your relationship. 

Avoidance, fear and denial will attempt to keep you stuck and blaming others. Awareness, acceptance, self-compassion and courage will provide the positive energy, clarity, and light that will set you free! Turn inward, identify, process, release, heal and share your journey with your partner every step of the way.  The key to a couple growing together is the acceptance that during the couple journey, there will be times in which you have to travel part of the way on your own and trusting that once you do, you will come back to one another with an increased awareness of self and more connected to one another.

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Wishing you effective conversations, peaceful resolutions, and the ability to take ownership of your emotions. All couples disagree at times, learning how to move past the disagreement and come out stronger is the best gift you can give to one another and to yourself. You’ve got this!

  • If you feel you may be in an abusive (mentally, physically, or emotionally) relationship, do not blame yourself, seek the help of a licensed professional who can support you with determining if you are a victim of abuse. 

Connect with Yourself, Grow Together!

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“Connected, side by side, you and I, as we are “we” yet, you and me, existing simultaneously independently” – TF

Couples usually enter into the therapeutic process hoping to:

  1. Communicate more effectively (in other words, argue less, talk openly, stop blaming, learn to reach a resolution)
  2. Get their partner to understand their perspective, or at least show up differently (around various issues from finances, to family planning, to parenting, shared time, etc.)
  3. Increase intimacy (which means different things to different people, i.e. sex,  hand holding, deep conversations, enjoyable one on one time, activities, etc)

When two people enter into couples therapy, there is often an expectation around what that will look like and a hope that the process will improve (sometimes “save”) the relationship. Couples therapy can be extremely helpful, it is crucial that couples understand that the power already exists between the two of them and that therapy is a support to their process. A process which requires growth.

What about growth? How do couples grow together? How do they evolve, transform, and adjust when life changes? Do they morph into one another and become one? and if so, does that mean that they sacrifice themselves or completely lose their autonomy?

In this age of transformation, the journey to true self, meditative practices, understanding and recognizing purpose, many are turning inward and evolving. While that is positive because it brings with it a deepened level of self-awareness, it is having an impact on relationships. What that impact is looks different depending on the couple. How this is impacting couples is showing up, “In the Room.”

In the Room:

Trust – In order for a couple to grow, openness and vulnerability must exist within their relationship. The trust that your partner does not want to hurt you, the trust that you and your partner are equally invested, the trust that you will be okay regardless of what lurks around the corner. Practicing trust is just that, a practice. Trust of self is primary, trust of self is necessary. If a person is struggling to trust themselves, they may be struggling to connect with themselves, and if they are unable to connect with themselves, it will be challenging, if not impossible for them to be able to connect with their partner.

In order to grow together, it is imperative that the individuals within the couple are able to communicate around their personal journey’s, goals, and around their connection with self. If one partner partakes on a journey to discover their true self without engaging their counterpart in the process, a feeling of disconnection can arise. It is inevitable that people change over time, and when doing any transformative work, the process of change is accelerated. For the individual, this can be extremely positive as they feel more connected to self, and life, they may be responding to things differently,becoming reflective, decreasing reactivity, recognizing and eliminating co-dependent behaviors, practicing appreciation, which are all very meaningful and powerful changes. However, the impact on the couple relationship can be vastly different.

For the couple when one is on this journey to discover and understand true self, and the other is not, they can experience their partner as selfish, they can become insecure, they no longer know their “role” in the relationship, they are struggling to recognize their partner, often making comments such as, “you’ve changed” and “I don’t know you anymore.”While one partner is recognizing their triggers and unhealthy thought patterns, the other partner may still be seeking to engage in the old dynamic and are no longer getting what they needed (or thought they needed) from the relationship, especially if it was a co-dependent relationship.

Steps to Connect with Yourself and Grow with your Partner:

  1. Have a conversation with your partner around their relationship with themselves. What are you currently doing in life that brings you happiness? when do you feel most yourself? What do you feel connected to? What are you each doing around self-care? How are you taking ownership around what is presently happening in your life? What are some things you would like to change? What do you feel your strengths are? Where are the opportunities for growth?
  2. Share your discoveries with one another, each of you practicing awareness around your thoughts and actions and then sharing them with one another.     What have you learned about yourself this week? What positive changes have you made? When did you recognize you were triggered? and what did you do?
  3. Share your observations of your partner, with your partner. Let your partner know how you are experiencing them in a positive and strength focused way. Perhaps they reacted to something differently, they joined a new class, they did something around self-care, they did something you appreciated. Share what you notice, appreciate, recognize, in a validating way. Being able to link what you observed to what they have previously shared was a possible area/opportunity for growth.
  4. Recap around how the changes you are each making are impacting your couple relationship. This can look like a decrease in frequency around conflict, increased intimacy, an increase in satisfaction in the couple relationship, more shared time, feeling understood, less tension, and can be as simple as just enjoying one another’s company more.

Loving yourself, identifying your true self, and living authentically does not have to drive a wedge between you and your partner. When supported by your partner, and when given air and space to grow, you are able to grow simultaneously and create a connectedness centered around self-love and trust, which extends outward and shows up in a positive way in your relationship with others, primarily your relationship with your partner. It is possible to create the relationship you desire at any time, as long as both partners are committed to growing, taking accountability, validating their partners experiences, and practicing trust. Trust in self, trust in your partner, and trust in the process.

May you continue to connect with yourself, grow with your partner, connect with your partner, and create the relationship you desire!