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

“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.