“Remember, US?” Wake Up, Your Relationship Needs You! 5 Tools to Help…

Hey, the world is changing (newsflash, it always is) and it is hard to feel grounded in times of so much uncertainty. I get that you are stressed…and confused. I know you are battling with your own challenges, and work is probably CRAZY right now, that’s if you are lucky enough to be working right now. Right now? Let’s be honest, it has probably been crazy. If it is not one stressor, it is another, and another, most definitely another. One thing I have learned personally is that, there will always be ANOTHER FREAKIN’ STRESSOR! We can not help all that happens in this world, but we can learn how to manage how we deal with it and how we treat the people we care about in the process. So you need “me” time, “self-care” time, “alone” time. You need time to decompress, relax, connect with others, and of course connect with self. When you are doing those things, when you are deep in thought and giving yourself permission to be selfish, do you think about how that impacts the person you decided to be in a relationship with? While it is crucial that you take time to connect with/understand self, I have a question for you…

What about your relationship?

The world is indeed in flux right now. We have all been impacted in one way or another. Whether we have been directly impacted or we have been impacted in relation to others, we have been impacted because our world has been impacted. What does that mean? It means you have been impacted. What else does this mean? It means your relationships have inevitably been impacted. It is tough, it is different, why not turn to your partner and team up. Turn towards your partner and get through it together.

Whether you categorize the impact as “good” or “bad” I am not here to support you with putting a value on the perceived current state of your relationship. Perhaps you found this blog because you are looking to save your relationship, fall back in love, or simply feel more connected. The purpose of this post is to remind you that if you have a partner, someone you care about, a boyfriend, a girlfriend, or a spouse, etc. Your relationship has been impacted by life events (baby, marriage, death, infidelity) and world events(politics, racism, pandemics, unemployment). As you change, your relationship shifts, and in order to move through those ebbs and flows together, you have to talk.

While I highlight the need to take care of yourself quite frequently in my blog posts and affirmations, I have an internal obligation which compels me to share (just in case it has been off your radar) your relationship with your romantic partner needs attention and relationship-care as well.

In December of 2019, I wrote a blog called, “Remember, “ME,” in which I talked about getting to know yourself fully, intimately, and unconditionally. The message of the blog is important and is always relevant. Self-love is necessary to fully love another person free of co-dependency and wounds. Today I right a blog entitled, “Remember, US.” Us, being your chosen romantic partner. The person you decided to be in some kind of relationship with, spend time with, share life with, marry, be entangled with, have children with, live with…

Your relationship needs you. We are all quick to point the finger at our partner when we are unhappy. We blame them, we resent them, we vilify them. My question to you is, WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR CONTRIBUTION TO THE CURRENT STATE OF YOUR RELATIONSHIP?

Whether it is smooth sailing right now or the two of you are contemplating separation, you share in the present state as well as the outcome. You contributed to the current state of your relationship. What is your vision for tomorrow? What do you want for your relationship?

Begin to envision the relationship you want. Do not try to make it how it was. Think about what you want to create for your relationship moving forward. If you want a more loving, warm, and supportive relationship then envision yourself being warmer, being supportive, and being loving. Ask your partner to join you on this quest for a happier and healthier relationship. Are you both invested? Again, IF YOU ARE BOTH INVESTED, you can create the amazing relationship you both deserve.

Even if there has been hurt, infidelity, and/or breach of trust, you can work towards creating a deeper level of understanding and connectedness moving forward. Sometimes, that is not possible. Sometimes, relationships end. If you do not want your relationship to end AND your partner shares the same goal, you still may have a chance to not only save your relationship but also be happy within your relationship! I encourage you to seek couples and/or individual therapy if one or both partners have emotionally checked out and are struggling to engage in the tools section of this post.

5 TOOLS TO BEGIN RELATIONSHIP-CARE:

  1. Identify your strengths as a couple. Question: What do I consider our relationship strengths? (Examples: we are both family oriented, we are supportive of one another, we have shared goals, we have great sex and are satisfied with our current sex life, we have stimulating conversations, we are both neat, we value friendships, we are both independent, we share the same spiritual/religious/political beliefs, we both like to exercise, we are both vegans, we are in a similar/same profession, we love pets, we both respect one another’s alone time, we both take on problems head on, etc…). When you know your strengths, you can use them in other areas of your relationship. It helps when you can remind yourselves that there are ways in which the two of you navigate that are unique strengths that you can build upon.
  2. Ask yourself, what type of relationship do I want? (examples are, how much time you spend together, what do you want to do when you are together, how you show compassion to one another, how you listen to one another, activities you want to try together, how you appreciate being supported, how you enjoy supporting your partner). Schedule time to SHARE your answers with one another, explore what your partner shares, gather information to learn how your partner feels, validate and listen to understand. Remember, in order to create the relationship you both want, you each have to be willing to do your part!
  3. Assess: Are there things you may need to let go of in order to create a relationship you are both happy with? Are there negative narratives about yourself/your partner’s habits, personality, and/or activities they enjoy? Identify what those narratives/stories are, the stories about your partner and the stories about your couple dynamic (examples are: she is closed off and cold, he never listens, we are just not that type of couple, we are a couple that likes to argue, we don’t need all that time together, he/she/they will never change, etc.) Are you willing to let go of past stories? What about your own self limiting beliefs about who you are? You have to be willing to create a new story for yourself as well. You have to be willing to let the old viewpoints go. It doesn’t mean being ignorant of past behavior. It means giving each of you and your relationship room to grow and see things differently.
  4. What are some new things you would like to practice/embrace? The two of you can check in with one another around any ideas you have for new, concrete practices. (Examples: the use of terms of endearment, date night/sacred time, more tender/adventurous/playful/spontaneous/scheduled sex, cooking together, more communication throughout the day, a spiritual practice, an exercise regimen, going for a walk holding hands, taking a class together, more time with other couples, etc…). Step #2 talks about sharing what you want to create, this step puts those ideas into tangible and concrete practices you can take action to achieve. Once you create a plan together, step 5 will support you both with staying consistent and continuing to have connecting conversations.
  5. Action: Create a plan and designate a day to check in with one another. It can be a weekly check in over coffee/tea/wine or a monthly check in. Figure out the time and activity together, considering each of your individual schedules. Holding yourself accountable is crucial. You want to come together as a team and see how each of you are feeling about the relationship. Go into the conversation with a positive/proactive approach, one in which you are taking accountability and are giving your partner the benefit of the doubt. You both get to create an emotionally safe environment for one another. No blaming. No shaming. No name calling. Remember to validate before you share, and navigate from a place of love. If you need additional support, it may be time to get the support of a relationship counselor/therapist.

The above questions and outline can support getting you started and beginning important conversations that can lead to relationship transformation. Relationships take work, they require time, and commitment. Oftentimes, we take our relationships for granted, we do not take the time to support them with growth and expansion and then we get frustrated when they are not thriving. Your relationship is not separate from you. You are part of your relationship. Do you want to feel differently about the relationship? Show up differently and build on the strengths your relationship already has. As a couples therapist it has been my experience that in order for healing and rebuilding to take place, BOTH partners have to be willing to challenge themselves to grow and be fully invested in the process.

I have two other blogs, “Validation Do’s and Don’ts for Couples” and “Talk to Me, 6 Ways to Create Emotional Safety in your Relationship,” that can support each of you with additional tools for tough conversations.

Wishing you the very best and hoping that you find the courage and inner strength to identify what it is that you want, and then do your part to create it!

As always, with love, Tamara

If you are or believe you may be a victim of Domestic Abuse, please see the following links for support:

In New York City: https://www1.nyc.gov/site/hra/help/domestic-violence-support.page

In New York State: https://opdv.ny.gov/help/dvhotlines.html

National Hotlines: https://victimconnect.org/resources/national-hotlines/

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. 

Talk to Me! 6 Ways to Create Emotional Safety in your Relationship

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“Why didn’t you tell me?” “You never share with me!” “How come you are so quiet when I try to talk to you?” “Answer me!” “You’re so secretive!” “You never talk!” “Why don’t you ever tell me how you’re feeling?”

Have you said those things to your partner? Has your partner said any of the above to you?

How about when you do decide to share and the other person reacts defensively (yells, cries, criticizes) leaving you to make comments such as:

“That’s why I don’t tell you anything!”
“I can’t talk to you!”
“That’s not what I meant”
“I should’ve just kept my mouth shut!”

If the comments above sound familiar, if you’ve heard them or said them, chances are…at least one of you, probably both of you, do not feel safe in your relationship.

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When working with a new couple, one of the standard questions I ask is, “do you feel safe in your relationship?”

When talking about safety in a relationship, physical safety is what licensed professionals are trained to screen for during an initial couples session, however physical safety is not the only form of safety needed in a healthy relationship. When I ask if each partner in the couple relationship feels safe, I am also referring to emotional safety which include some of the following:

*Safe to express themselves fully and authentically
*Safe to share dissatisfaction about something their partner did
*Safe to share sexual desires, displeasure, and fantasies
*Safe to share their personal insecurities and fears
*Safe to have a conversation without it escalating to a full blown argument

Safe to share meaning that they can say any of the above without being met with yelling, name calling, blaming, shaming, exit language, and/or rejection.

According to the merriam-webster dictionary the definition of safety is “freedom from harm or danger : the state of being safe. : the state of not being dangerous or harmful. : a place that is free from harm or danger : a safe place.”

A safe place requires that you do not feel as if you are at risk of harm or danger and with emotional safety it means knowing that you will not be criticized, blamed, rejected, invalidated or dismissed by your partner.

Maslow believed that people’s behaviors are motivated through different stages of five needs. The second stage of the hierarchy of needs being safety and security (emotional safety included), the third love and belonging, and the forth being esteem (accepted and valued by others).

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As you move through stage 2 through stage 4, there is a strong connection to feeling emotionally safe, loved and connected, and valued by others. If we think about that in the context of our romantic relationships, it seems reasonable to believe that if we are not having those needs met, it will show up in our behavior in a negative or maladaptive way. If those needs are being met, the behavior will probably be more loving, trusting, and positive.

If your partner does not share with you, if your partner shuts down, if your partner finds it easier to talk to other people than to talk to you, instead of engaging in name calling and blaming and saying things such as “you’re secretive,” “you don’t know how to express yourself,” “you never talk,” “you’re such a coward,” “you don’t respect me,” etc, Turn inward and ask yourself:

  • What am I doing or not doing that is causing my partner to not feel comfortable sharing with me?
  • What can I do to show my partner that I am interested in what they want to share and I am committed to holding a safe space for them to express themselves fully?
While we can not take full ownership of another person’s feelings, what we can do is acknowledge and hold ourselves accountable for how we are showing up in the relationship. What are you doing to create safety for yourself and for your partner?
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6 WAYS TO CREATE EMOTIONAL SAFETY IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP

1Listen non-defensively – listen to understand the emotions and feelings coming up for your partner and validate them. Having empathy is important, however even if you are struggling with feeling empathy you can still practice validation. Usually, when people do not share it is rooted in fear of being misunderstood or dismissed. Vulnerability is nakedness, and most people do not feel comfortable being vulnerable with someone they feel is a potential threat. If you want your partner to open up, create a space in which they will be able to do so.

Damage is done when you: get defensive, tell your partner not to feel the way they do, name call and/or blame, dismiss what they are feeling/sharing, change the subject, do not acknowledge or speak to their feelings, make overall invalidating comments.

Safety is created when youvalidate their feelings, when you empathize with what they are sharing, when you listen non-judgmentally, when you do not internalize and make it about you, focus on trying to understand your partners feelings.

 
2) Let go of toxic thoughts about your partner
. Rather than holding them to old labels you may have for your partner (overly sensitive, stubborn, combative, weak), open yourself to seeing them differently. Extend a tabula rasa aka clean slate. Challenge your old thought patterns and narratives about your partner and about the relationship, and instead of thinking “She feels like this because she is overly sensitive” practice not labeling who she is or her emotions. If you hear your husband share his feelings, try not to jump to “of course he’s feeling this way, he never sees anyone else’s point of view” challenge yourself to ask questions rooted in what feelings are coming up for him. As soon as you realize you are labeling your partner, identify it as a toxic thought, and make the decision to change it!

Damage is done when you: hold your partner to old negative labels of who they are, are bought into the belief that they will never change, struggle to give your partner the benefit of the doubt.

Safety is created when you: give your partner an opportunity to show you something different, shift any negative/toxic thoughts to positive and loving thoughts, enter into the conversation open to experiencing them in a more positive light, practice trust.

 
3) Body language and Touch matter
. Body language matters a great deal in creating a safe space. Research shows that over 55% of communication is non-verbal. While there is some controversy around the actual percentage, current research tells us that it’s anywhere between 55% – 90%, in other words, it is pretty important. While words matter, body language matters just as much, if not more.

Damage is done when you: turn your back, roll your eyes, walk away, fold your arms, stand/sit at a distance, have a tense facial expression, sigh, etc

Safety is created when you: turn towards your partner, give them eye contact, make facial expressions that show them they have your attention, sit/stand in close proximity, touch their hand. In other words, join them where they are.

4) Emphasize and Reinforce your commitment. The most damaging reactions a partner can have is using exit language (I want out of this relationship, maybe we should break up, I think you should move out, I want a divorce), or shutting down/withdrawing emotionally. These two behaviors are extremely damaging as they lead the partner to feel unsafe, insecure, and may trigger old wounds/fear of abandonment. If you want to create a safe space, reminding yourself and your partner that you are in this together and committed to figuring things out is imperative to creating a safe space. Statements such as “we really need to figure this out” “we are better than this” “we’ve got this” “I’m not going anywhere” “I may be feeling hurt right now, but that doesn’t mean we are breaking up” all support reinforcing the fact that you are committed to your partner.

Damage is done when you: use exit language (break up, divorce, moving out, etc.), withdraw/shut down emotionally, and/or give your attention to other people.

Safety is created when you: make “we” statements around resolutions, talk about future hopes and goals for the relationship, speak to the commitment such as “we will get through this,” and comments/statements to let your partner know that you are committed to figuring things out and continuing to work on the relationship.

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5) Thank Them – whenever your partner shares with you, regardless of the content and how it made you feel, thank your partner for opening up. Thank them for trusting you, thank them for being vulnerable in front of you, let them know that you appreciate learning more about them. It does not matter if you do not see eye to eye, what matters is that you trust one another enough to have the conversation.

Damage is done when you: do not acknowledge when your partner is vulnerable and has the courage to share something with you that may have been difficult to share and/or you make negative/dismissive comments about what they share.

Safety is created when you: acknowledge that being vulnerable is not easy, thank them for trusting you enough to share their feelings, validate what they have shared with you, and encourage them to continue to open up and know that they will be met with love and understanding.

6) Be Consistent – with your words and actions. Consistency builds trust, because you know what to expect, words and actions are aligned, you learn you can count on your partner. Be consistent with your partner, if you say you are going to do something, do it. If your behaviors and your words are not consistent with one another, it will be hard for your partner to trust you. If you are consistently inconsistent, you are ultimately sending a message to your partner that you can not be trusted.

Damage is done when you: make promises that you do not keep, treat your partner lovingly and shower them with attention one day, and then have limited interaction with them the next day for what feels to them like no reason, you tell your partner that they can call you anytime and you will be there for them and when they call you are not available/do not pick up. Damage is done when you commit to do something and do not follow through. Inconsistency and unpredictability cause people to be constantly on guard which is a major cause of anxiety and stress, making it nearly impossible for someone to feel safe.

Safety is created when you: follow through on what you say you are going to do, keep your word, establish trust by being consistent. Be yourself at all times and if you put your best foot forward in the beginning of the relationship, then put your best foot forward throughout your relationship. Consistency sends a message to others that you can be trusted.

Remember, you are part of a couple relationship and if either you or your partner does not feel safe in any capacity, then you both play a part in what has been created. When emotional safety is created, conversations are smoother, trust is established, connection feels stronger, and sex is better! The great news is that at any point, the two of you can make a decision to create safety in your relationship, as long as you are both committed to the process and take ownership of your individual roles.

 

As always, best of luck creating the relationship you desire!