Your eyes meet and your heart melts. You get butterflies when you hear that voice. You like the same things. This is the person you want to spend your time with… and maybe forever. You’re in a relationship!
Those early days of a relationship are easy and fun and carefree. Everything seems perfect and the idea of relationship problems is foreign. Not us!
The reality is that every relationship has bumps in the road. This is true even for serious and long-term relationships. Once “you” and “I” become a “we”, the dynamic changes and suddenly, this new partnership has to accommodate two individuals with separate personalities, needs, wants, desires and yes, issues. (We all have them.) Sometimes, blending into a couple is relatively smooth. Other times, it is like a cement mixer. Some issues are on the surface and relatively easy to address. Others may run much deeper.
Problems don’t mean that a relationship is doomed. What they do mean is that the couple has work to do. Identifying and working through problems strengthens the bond and can take the relationship to a deeper level. Left unaddressed, problems can grow and affect trust, communication, intimacy and possibly, the relationship itself. The most successful couples are the ones who learn how to work through and are able to manage the issues that may arise.
While every relationship is different, some problems are fairly common. Let’s look at some of the most common relationship problems and some ideas for working through them.
Issues over money and finances are among the most frequent complaints heard in couples counseling. Money woes can wreak havoc on an otherwise healthy relationship. It’s easy to fall into the “yours” and “mine” when it comes to money and struggle with the “ours” and the sharing of expenses.
Money is such a powerful catalyst because money goes beyond being just currency. Money has meaning. It means different things to different people. For some, money can mean power, security, safety, status, freedom and more. Sharing it, spending it, losing it or saving it carries meaning. Unfortunately, money is usually not discussed or it explodes in to a problem when something triggers a conflict.
Ideally, couples should have the discussion about money early on and before any blending of finances takes place. Doing this will give each person a chance to share their feelings and needs about money. From there, the couple can make informed decisions about how to manage their finances.
If money has already become a flashpoint, it’s time for an intervention. Set aside some time to sit down together to assess the situation. Identify clear expectations about what to do moving forward. How will we spend our money? What are our priorities and goals? Knowing the plan will help to bring a sense of purpose and control back to a situation that can feel out of control. Check in with each other at least once a month to see where you are and if adjustments can be made. Finally, allow for some variance and know that special occasions or an unexpected repair might alter the plan a bit. The important thing is to keep talking and working together.
Communication, or lack thereof, is one of the main reasons couples seek counseling. It is the foundation of all relationships and how we connect to others. Communication is how our partner knows who we are, what we want, what we need and how we learn these things about them.
One would think that being in a relationship with someone means that we are communicating. Well, yes and no. We might be talking but are we meaningfully connecting and sharing? Communication is actually a complex process that sometimes we are really good at and sometimes not so much. Sometimes we start out communicating well and over time, the connection begins to break down. Left unchecked, partners can begin to feel isolated, unheard and frustrated. Feeling distant or disconnected from our partner is a good indicator that communication may be breaking down. It might be time to talk. Schedule some time with your partner.
One of the key elements of good communication is being present. This means listening and responding meaningfully to your partner without distraction. Words are only part of the communication equation. Nonverbal communication comprises a whopping 55% of how we communicate with others. Knowing this, be sure that when you do talk to your partner, you give them your full attention. Texting or checking the game scores while trying to talk sends a powerful message that you are not fully present. Even more important, you will likely miss part of what your partner is sharing.
Consider going somewhere that you and your partner will feel comfortable. A favorite coffee spot, the park or a quiet restaurant offer a familiar and neutral place to talk. If communication has been especially tense at home, going to a pleasant and neutral place is less likely to re-trigger those feelings associated with the scene of the battle.
Share your feelings and needs openly and honestly. It’s important to keep the conversation positive and nonjudgmental. A good way to share how you’re feeling is to use “I statements”. These are statements that communicate your feelings and needs without arousing the defenses of the other person. For example, “I feel happy when you tell me how your day was.” The important thing here is to no assign blame. The focus is on repairing and encouraging communication.
When communication has been lacking, we sometimes feel urgency to say everything at once. It’s important to allow our partner time to share his or her feelings as well. Some couples use a timer or take turns or designate a set amount of time for each to speak before discussing. Try different ways of sharing and see what works best for your relationship needs.
Keep in mind that rebuilding communication takes time and won’t change overnight. Consider making these check-ins a regular part of the relationship and practice good communication skills whenever possible. Sometimes just putting the phone down and turning off the TV turns into some of the best conversation ever.
Intimacy issues are another common reason for couples seeking counseling but not always the stated reason for seeking help. Intimacy is an intensely emotional, personal topic and not easily discussed. It is also an essential aspect of health relationships.
When we think of intimacy, we often think of sex. In fact, intimacy is more than just a physical closeness. Intimacy is also about being emotionally close and willing to risk being open to the other person. Some couples struggle more with physical intimacy. Others struggle more with the emotional side. Healthy intimacy includes a physical closeness, feelings of trust, security and confidence and seeking ways to express love and inspire romance.
In the beginning of a relationship, everything is new and interesting and fun. Attraction is strong. Over time, sexual and sensual needs change. Life, kids, work, hormones and social demand can get in the way. We get into a routine and one of the things that often suffers is intimacy. This can be especially true for couples who have been together a long time.
Rekindling intimacy is about reconnecting. If you’re feeling the lack of intimacy, chances are your partner is too. It’s important to talk to your partner about your feelings and needs. Intimacy is a difficult topic but it’s vital that your partner understand what you want and need. Be open and nonjudgmental to what your partner shares. This is a time for sharing and understanding each other’s feelings and needs.
Another great way to reconnect and rekindle those early feelings of romance is to go on a date. When was the last time you asked your partner out on a date? A real date? If you don’t remember, then it has been too long. A date reminds us of those early days and can be a powerful reminder of why we fell in love with our partner. The important takeaway here is to spend time with your partner, just the two of you.
Kind gestures also fan the flames. Hand holding, kisses and hugs, opening doors, snuggling in front of the fire, kind words and sincere compliments communicate love and respect. It’s the little things that we do every day that let our partner know that we care for them and increase that feeling of closeness and emotional connection.
If you’ve tried to work things out and still need help, seeing a couples therapist may be helpful. They are specially trained to work with couples to repair and strengthen their bonds. Sometimes having someone objective to sort through issues can provide new insight and solutions.
As fabulous as relationships are, they take work to nurture and sustain them. A little talking and a lot of listening go a long way in keeping a relationship healthy.
As a therapist-coach, Dr. Ferrara specializes in personal and lifestyle coaching with special interest in Stress Management and Weight Loss/Fitness. She is an ACE-certified Health Coach and a licensed mental health clinician (LPC & LMFT). Her practice is currently limited to personal and wellness coaching.
Dr. Ferrara is a workshop presenter, blogger and author. She is available for speaking engagements as her schedule permits. To read more and for information about speaking availability, please contact Dr. Ferrara at her website.
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