The #1 Issue That Ruins Relationships: Ineffective Communication

The #1 Issue That Ruins Relationships: Ineffective Communication

People always ask me, “what is the #1 reason couples seek out your help?” Without a doubt, the answer is problems with communication. So how much of an impact does being bad at communication actually have on a relationship? As it turns out, quite a lot.

We’ve all heard that the key to a healthy relationship is good, honest communication, right? That sounds simple enough…until you actually try it. 

The truth is that when two people come together to form a bond, they aren’t just bringing themselves to the table. They are also bringing all of their past hurts, traumas, and negative experiences as well. 

It’s these latent explosives that can wreak havoc on an otherwise easy conversation and cause communication issues in a relationship. When it comes to things that ruin relationships, bad communication is definitely at the top of the list.

That’s why one of the first things I work on with all couples in session is communication. Because if you’re bad at communication, then we need to tackle that first before we can start to examine other relationship challenges.

Bad At Communication? Here’s A Way Out

So, how can you improve communication issues in a relationship? There are many different techniques that can be used in couples therapy, but at Couples Learn we use a communication technique called the Imago Dialogue.

The Imago Dialogue is from Dr. Harville Hendrix’s best-selling book “Getting The Love You Want.” Much of our work with couples is based on techniques from Dr. Hendrix’s therapeutic framework called Imago Therapy

Imago therapy really helps us to get to the core of communication issues right away, so that couples who feel they are bad at communication can start making real progress in healing their relationship. By now, you’re probably saying, “Imago…what the heck is that?”

Two women who are bad at communication talk to each other after an argument

What Is Imago Therapy for Couples?

The term “Imago,” refers to an internalized, yet, unconscious image of your ideal mate. Your “Imago” is a conglomeration of traits (good and bad) from individuals that played important roles in your childhood (i.e. parents, siblings, grandparents, babysitters, etc.).

The idea behind Imago Therapy for couples is that we have all been deeply affected by our upbringing, and that most of us have internalized this “perfect” vision of who we want for our partner without even realizing it. You go through life unconsciously searching for your Imago…the person that feels like home.

When you meet that special someone, you are ecstatic. Your conscious and unconscious minds are singing with joy at having found someone that truly makes you feel safe and complete. But after a while, you start to project your own unconscious wishes and past hurts from childhood onto your lover and that’s where your communication troubles begin. 

So, to prevent your unconscious needs from becoming one of the things that ruin relationships, you have to practice talking to your partner on a conscious level, where you can keep your intentions clear and differentiate between your past and present needs.

If you feel like you’re already bad at communication, then the practices of Imago Therapy probably sound complicated. And the truth is, this is deep work. 

That’s why it’s great to have a skilled couples therapist guide you through this process and help you really tease out what unconscious hurts and needs are affecting your relationship. 

How The Imago Dialogue Can Help if You’re Bad at Communication

While the best step toward learning how to communicate effectively in relationships is to work with a couples therapist, you can start this work at home. 

If you feel like you and your partner are bad at communication, then the best place to start is with a specific three-step communication technique called the “Imago Dialogue Process.”

Click here to watch a video of a real couple using the Imago Dialogue to talk about an issue.
A couple who thinks they are bad at communication talks using an imago therapy script

Here’s how it works.

The Imago Dialogue

Before you start, decide who will be the sender and who will be the receiver. After completing all three steps in this imago dialogue script, you will switch roles and take the opposite stance.

It’s best to choose an issue that is not very emotional to practice with at first so you can focus more on learning the process than what you are talking about. It’s easy to get off track fast if you begin with a heated debate. 

The steps proceed as follows:

Imago Dialogue Step One: Mirroring

The sender tells the receiver how she feels about something using “I statements,” which focus on how she feels, without shaming or blaming anyone. Try to keep your communication short – 30 seconds to a minute at the most. 

The receiver then paraphrases the sender’s statements by saying something like, “Let me see if I understand what you are saying. You said that you feel hurt when I interrupt your sentences. Is that right?” 

The sender can then correct the receiver if necessary, and the receiver can ask, “Is there more to that?” until the entire message is understood. 

Do not move onto step 2 until the receiver has correctly paraphrased and understood everything the sender said.

Imago Dialogue Step Two: Validation

In this part of the process, the receiver lets the sender know that she is making sense to him. He can use phrases like, “What you said makes sense,” or “I can understand what you are saying, given that you were interrupted so often as a child.” 

In this way, the receiver is conveying his comprehension of the sender’s message and validating that what she says makes sense and is valid. 

Note: It’s not necessary for the receiver to agree with the sender here! All that is required is a sense of understanding and validation. 

You can agree that a point makes sense without sharing the same point of view (many times when a couple feels they are bad at communication, this is actually one of the core issues at play!).

Imago Dialogue Step Three: Empathy

This is where the receiver gets the opportunity to show the sender that he gets what she is feeling. He might say something like, “I imagine that you must be feeling hurt. Is that right?” And the sender can agree or correct the feeling offered.

Click here to watch a video of a real couple using the Imago Dialogue to talk about an issue.
A couple who thought they were bad at communication sips coffee together and has a good conversation

Why Imago Therapy Helps When You’re Bad at Communication

While these imago dialogue exercises might feel a little formal, especially for people who have likely seen each other pee, they are incredibly helpful. 

In the beginning it’s helpful to have the imago dialogue script and a structure to follow because these skills are not in most couples normal repertoire. If you’re feeling like you’re bad at communication, then chances are this kind of conversation is going to feel a little challenging at first.

The goal, through practice, is to make validation and empathy a natural part of your everyday dialogue to the point where you don’t need the script anymore.

Remember, when talking to your partner, you are dealing with a host of unseen forces that can affect your behavior. Putting structure and direction around sticky topics can be just the buffer you and your loved one need in order to hear each other more effectively and fix ineffective communication in your relationship.

Once you’ve figured out how to communicate effectively in relationships, then you can focus on the really important things, like who gets to use the bathroom first!

If you try this exercise at home and decide you would like more information on how to improve you and your partner’s communication skills, contact Couples Learn to set up a free consultation today!

Our Imago therapists would love to help you overcome ineffective communication through couples therapy so you can stop feeling like you’re bad at communication and start feeling confident when managing conflict with your partner.

Click here to watch a video of a real couple using the Imago Dialogue to talk about an issue.
Venting About Your Relationship: Helpful or Harmful?

Venting About Your Relationship: Helpful or Harmful?

Imagine this: your spouse or partner does something that really makes you angry. What is your next move? Well, hopefully you talk to your partner about it. But if you’re like a lot of people, you may also start venting to friends about relationship troubles.

Venting about your relationship is a common way of coping with anger, resentment or even simple annoyances. But is it ok to vent to your friends about your relationship? That’s exactly what we’re going to explore today.

While complaining in a relationship is normal, venting to friends is typically more common among women. One thing that makes female friendships different from male friendships is that females tend to talk about everything

While men are more likely to bond over watching sports or playing video-games, women bond by discussing thoughts, feelings, and actions we took in response to our thoughts or feelings.

So, given that women share the inner workings of their minds with each other, it’s only natural that relationship talk will become part of the conversation with close friends. 

The question is, how much relationship talk, if any, is healthy for your relationship? Can venting to friends about relationship issues actually make those issues worse? Let’s dig into this question a little further.

Is Venting to Friends About Relationship Issues Bad?

On the one hand, it’s wonderful to have people to vent or gush to about your relationship, especially if you’ve been spending all of your time with your significant other.

Having an outside perspective when dealing with relationship issues can be extremely helpful, and since it’s your friend, she will probably have your back.

Still, there are dangers to spilling about your latest lover’s quarrel, and there’s definitely such a thing as complaining too much in a relationship. And when venting becomes toxic, it has the potential to do more harm than good.

So, how much is too much when it comes to venting to friends about relationship challenges? Here’s some things to consider.

4 Things to Consider Before Venting to Friends About Relationship Issues

Two women sitting on a couch and venting to friends about relationship issues.

1. The Jury Is Stacked

Your friends will probably be on your side regardless of what happened between you and your partner. While it is always nice to feel validated, that is not always the most helpful thing, especially if you are in the wrong. 

Sure, you probably have that one friend that always tells you the truth even when it’s hard to hear, but when you are angry, she’s probably not the one you’ll go to when you’re venting to friends about relationship challenges. Am I right? 

Instead, you’ll most likely opt for the friend who will tell you how horrible he is, and how angelic you are. While this is nice to hear, it might not be great for the future of your relationship. 

If you truly want to repair your relationship and heal whatever hurt has been done, consider how unconditional validation of your anger might make that harder.

2. The Plot Is Skewed

Without even realizing it, you will probably end up telling more of the bad stuff about your relationship to your friends than the good. Maybe you don’t want to feel like you are bragging or make them jealous by sharing all of his sweet gestures. Or perhaps you simply consider his loving texts and gestures private.

But when venting about your spouse or partner becomes the bulk of what you share about your relationship, you are painting a skewed picture of your partner. 

This can make it hard for your friends to forgive him or see him in a positive light when the two of you make up. You may even find that your friends remember his flaws long after you’ve forgotten why you were fighting in the first place!

Unfortunately, venting to friends about relationship issues can lead to trouble between you and your friends down the road or awkward feelings between your friends and your partner. 

You want your friends to like your partner and they do too! So think twice before you tell them every negative and annoying quality he has.

3. Advice Is Easier Said Than Taken

Well-meaning friends want the best for you and they hate to see you hurt. As such, they might be quick to tell you to break-up with your love to avoid pain and heartache – especially if you’ve been doing a lot of venting about your relationship. 

Clearly, that’s easier said than done and they aren’t the ones that will have to deal with the consequences of that decision. Only you can decide what the best course of action is, and that’s best achieved when you have calmed down and had a rational discussion with your partner (not your friends).

4. Is All Fair In Love And War?

Regardless of how angry you are with your partner right now, you still want to act in a way that you can be proud of in the morning. Will you be happy with yourself if you share all of his shortcomings with your friends? Would you be okay if he did the same to you? 

Part of being in an adult relationship means showing respect for your partner, even when you are angry with each other. Sometimes, that means venting to friends about relationship challenges is not always the best idea.

Two women sit on the grass outside venting to friends about relationship challenges.

What To Do When Venting Becomes Toxic

Are you worried you might be venting about your relationship a little too much now that you know how complaining affects relationships? Even if you want to vent less, it can be hard to know what to do instead.

After all, you have to talk to someone when you are fighting with your boo because how are you supposed to make any decisions without outside input? 

First and foremost, learn to look within and trust your intuition. You are the expert on you but sometimes you need some help turning up the volume on that little wise voice that resides within you. 

Second, there is someone that you can vent to with wild abandon without having to worry about the consequences…a therapist!

Whether you try couples counseling or individual therapy for relationship issues, talking to a therapist about your partner is not the same as venting to friends about relationship issues.

Your therapist has no personal stake or connection to your partner or the outcome of your relationship. 

Instead, a good therapist will help you connect with your intuition to figure out what you really want – and then help you communicate those needs with your partner. All the more reason to reach out to a skilled therapist today 😉

If you’re ready to stop venting about your relationship and start doing something constructive with that anger or hurt, then contact Couples Learn to explore our online therapy services.

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The Forbidden Five: Five Of The Worst Things To Say To Your Partner

The Forbidden Five: Five Of The Worst Things To Say To Your Partner

If you are in a long-term relationship, chances are, you’ve said some things you wish you could take back. We all have. But there are some things you should never say to your spouse or partner.

In the heat of an argument, it can be extremely difficult to hold back, especially if your partner really knows how to push your buttons. When you’re feeling angry, hurt or betrayed, it can feel good in the moment to sling an insult at your partner. But some words hurt more than others, and can even have a lasting impact on your relationship.

If you want to learn how to fight better and improve your communication with your partner, it’s important to explore what not to say in an argument – or ever.

5 Things You Should Never Say to Your Spouse or Partner

No matter how heated things get between you and your partner, the absolute worst things to say in a relationship are these five forbidden phrases.

A couple sitting on a couch and arguing, saying things you should never say to your spouse

1. I Hate You

This is at the top of the list for things you should never say to your spouse – and for good reason! Hate is a very strong word, and by telling your partner that you hate him, you are saying that you hate his whole being, not just something that he did. I don’t know if anyone has ever told you that he or she hates you, but, trust me, it’s not something that is easily forgotten. You can hate war, poverty, or childhood illnesses, but, it’s just not a word that should be used on your partner – no matter how angry or hurt you may feel.

2. You Never…

This is another one of the worst things to say to your wife, husband or partner. If you tell your partner that she never listens to you, you are probably taking one instance and generalizing her behavior from there. This kind of generalization feels very unfair, and, again, focuses on your partner as a person, rather than something that she did. 

In my work with couples, I find that people rarely do the same things ALL the time, so telling your partner that she NEVER does something is probably just not true. While this can be difficult in the heat of the moment, try to stick to the moment at hand rather than bringing up every past transgression.

3. You Always…

Similar to “you never,” “you always” is another generalizing term, and another thing you should never say to your spouse. If you tell your significant other that he always makes a fool of himself in public, he is likely to get defensive and try to find examples of times that he acted like a perfect gentleman. 

And because he’ll be so busy pointing out all the times when he wasn’t a fool, he’ll probably miss the point of what you are trying to tell him, while needlessly angering the two of you in the meantime. Anything that doesn’t directly focus on the issue at hand is a big part of what not to say in an argument, so do your best to keep your mind – and your words – on the here and now.

4. I Don’t Need You

This is a particularly hurtful example of one of the things you should never say to your spouse or partner. We all want to feel needed by the ones that we love. Telling your significant other that you don’t need her could even trigger feelings of abandonment because we often fear that if we are no longer needed, we will be left, or replaced with someone new.

Instead of blurting this forbidden phrase out during an argument, try to dig deep and think about what might be making you feel this way. Are you trying to assert a bit more independence in the relationship, perhaps? Or are you overcompensating for some feelings of codependency? Consider what’s really going on instead of using this phrase during an argument.

5. You Are Worthless

Of course, any insult, like stupid, ridiculous, or weak could be hurtful, but, worthless, in my opinion, tops the list of things you should never say to your spouse or significant other. This is because calling someone worthless not only puts down who they are as a person but it also calls into question their whole purpose in life. You don’t want to crush your partner’s soul, do you?

Okay, maybe if you are angry, you might be down for a little soul-crushing, but, deep down, (like, way deep), I know that’s not what you really want!

Two women are arguing and saying things you should never say to your spouse

Need More Help Communicating with Your Partner?

No matter how much you study this list of things you should never say to your spouse, actually following this advice is sometimes easier said than done. If you’re struggling with what not to say in an argument or need some help knowing how to communicate more effectively with your partner, then let’s chat.

Online couples counseling and even online individual therapy can help boost your communication with your partner and improve your relationship. Contact Couples Learn today to get started. We’re here to help.

The Real Reasons (That Nobody Tells You) About Why Therapists Don’t Accept Insurance

The Real Reasons (That Nobody Tells You) About Why Therapists Don’t Accept Insurance

Should I Use My Insurance Plan To Pay For Therapy?

Deciding to start therapy is a huge milestone in life. I’d even say it’s as big as getting married or starting a new job. I mean, think about it. What could be more important than committing to work on yourself and become the best version of you? Who you are and who you become influences every part of your life.

That’s why choosing the right therapist is SO important. It’s essential you and your therapist are a good fit and that the person you choose has the experience and expertise to get you to the next level in life, whether you’re working on career goals, relationships, self-exploration or all of the above.

One of the considerations you might take into account when looking for a therapist is whether that therapist accepts your insurance. For many people, this is a deciding factor when choosing someone.

After all, you’re paying a premium every month for your insurance so why wouldn’t you want to use it? It can save you money on your session costs and it can help you narrow down your search by ruling out therapists who don’t accept your plan. You use your insurance for all other doctors so why not do the same for therapy, right?

New therapy seekers with this belief are often confused and frustrated by the number of therapists they find that do not accept insurance. It can be really difficult to find someone that specializes in your area of need, is close to home, fits your personality, and accepts your insurance.

But why is it so hard? Why are there so many therapists out there that don’t accept insurance?

Many consumers don’t realize that there are several downsides for both therapists and clients when using insurance to pay for therapy.

So what do private pay clients who are shelling out big bucks for therapy know that you don’t?

Here are 4 reasons why you should not use insurance to pay for therapy:

1. Less Confidentiality

Everyone knows that what happens in therapy stays in therapy. Your therapist is required to keep everything you say confidential no matter what, right? Wrong! When you use insurance to pay for therapy, your therapist is required to provide your diagnosis and treatment notes to your insurance company in order to get paid. This undermines the basic premise of therapy and also gives a lot more people access to private health information about you. If this is news to you, you’re not alone. It’s all written into the HIPAA document you get when you start therapy (or go to any doctor’s office) but most people don’t read all the fine print.

2. Higher Insurance Premiums

Even if you’re okay with your information being shared with your insurance company from a confidentiality standpoint, you probably didn’t realize that sharing this information can have unintended consequences in the future.

As mentioned above, your therapist has to provide your insurance company with your diagnosis to get paid. But what if you don’t have a mental illness? After all, many people seek therapy for personal growth and exploration, not because they are depressed or anxious or have a serious mental illness.

In the eyes of your insurance company, these are not valid reasons for seeking therapy on their dime. If you don’t have an actual diagnosis, they aren’t interested in paying for your sessions and will not continue to authorize future sessions.

This puts your therapist in an awkward and ethically challenging position if you don’t meet criteria for a mental illness. He or she is left with choosing between 3 options.

  1.  Assign a diagnosis you don’t meet criteria for so that your insurance company will continue authorizing sessions.
  2.  Discontinue therapy.
  3.  Continue to work with you without assigning a diagnosis but risk having claims denied and not getting paid for the work.

At this point, you are probably starting to understand why so many therapists don’t accept insurance.

Ok, so you might be wondering how this all relates to increased premiums for you.

Let’s say your therapist opts for option 1 and assigns you a diagnosis so that your insurance company will authorize future sessions. Maybe you meet criteria for a diagnosis, maybe you don’t. Either way, you now have a diagnosis on record with your insurance company.

When it comes time to renew your insurance or switch plans, your premiums could rise as a result of your “pre-existing condition.” In addition, you may be required to share your diagnosis in future job interviews, which is awkward, to say the least. I would like to add that it’s rare to have to disclose something like that for a job but it can happen in security, government, and some other professions.

3. Insurance-Driven Treatment Plan

When therapists take insurance, they are required to use treatment methods that are covered by your plan. This means they have less say in how to treat you based on your specific and individual needs. Ironically, the people who work in your insurance company and decide which methods of therapy can be used, are usually not even therapists! And they certainly haven’t met and assessed you personally like your therapist has.

This leads me to my next point…

Psychiatric Help 5 cents!

4. Questionable Quality

Let me preface this by saying that there are some fantastic therapists who take insurance. Sometimes highly skilled therapists accept insurance clients as a way to “give back” to society and offer high-quality services to those that wouldn’t be able to afford it any other way. If you don’t know anything about insurance payouts (and why would you if you’re not a therapist or a doctor?), this last statement probably doesn’t make sense. Bear with me while I help clear that up and give you some rarely discussed insider info from the therapist’s perspective.

The going rate for a great therapist in most major cities is between $150-$350 per session. Most insurance companies pay therapists between $40-$90 per session. This is a fraction of what therapists receive from private pay clients and it requires a lot more paperwork and time to get paid by insurance companies. Submitting insurance claims is time-consuming and confusing as is getting approved to be on insurance panels in the first place. Many therapists have to hire a billing professional to help them manage insurance claims and make sure they actually get paid.

So why would any therapist ever take insurance if they get paid less and have to jump through paperwork hoops to get paid?

The answer is because they have to.

Again, something that is rarely discussed with consumers is the fact that insurance companies provide a steady flow of referrals to therapists. Let’s take a moment to think about who might need a steady flow of referrals to their practice and would be willing to take a major pay cut for said referrals.

  • New therapists just starting a private practice. Therapists who just graduated usually have some serious student loans to pay off and they need to start making money fast. It can take time to build up a positive reputation in a community so getting referrals from insurance panels (even if it means making significantly less per client) is a great way to get started. Often, therapists who opt for this route will start phasing out insurance clients as their reputation grows and they start getting more organic referrals from satisfied customers.
  • Therapists who don’t want to market themselves: Sometimes therapists get and stay on insurance panels for the bulk of their career because they prefer the safety of knowing they will always have referrals. Perhaps they don’t know how to market themselves, don’t want to invest in marketing, or are risk-averse and can’t or don’t want to risk having fewer clients when they are getting started as private pay. Working with insurance long-term is more likely to lead a therapist to burnout because they are doing double the work for half the pay. There is a higher chance that this therapist will be overworked and less passionate about their work as a result.
  • Therapists in low-income areas. If there are very few clients that can pay full price for sessions in the area, therapists in private practice may opt to accept insurance or move to a community where there are more affluent people. For this reason, lower income communities do not have a lot of therapists in private practice but they do have more government subsidized community treatment centers where people can get help. This is a sad truth about the systemic issues and barriers that limit low- to moderate-income folks when seeking mental health care. If insurance companies paid therapists rates commensurate with the amount they have to spend on their education, many more therapists would opt to be in-network and many more people would have easily affordable therapy.
  • Therapists who do not have a lot of satisfied customers. As a therapist myself, this is a delicate situation for me to discuss and I suspect it will upset some of my colleagues. That said, the ones it offends are probably the ones who fall into this category. Many therapists who accept insurance do so because they are not good enough at what they do to facilitate referrals and command a higher fee.

Yep, I said it.

Satisfied customers talk. They leave positive reviews online. They tell their friends and family how happy they are with their therapist and they refer the people they love. They build their therapist’s practice for them by becoming walking billboards. Their friends and family start to notice positive changes in their personality and ask them what they are doing…and they tell them about their therapist.

Not only do satisfied customers refer to skilled therapists, other professionals do too. Medical doctors hear from their patients that they got great results working with a therapist and they send more patients. Other therapists who get asked by friends and family for referrals, send them to other skilled therapists in the community.

Therapists who don’t take insurance have to be really good in order to create and maintain a thriving practice. With therapy, you usually get what you pay for and if someone is charging a high fee, it’s usually because they are worth it.

Speaking of that price tag, I know it can feel scary to drop a couple hundred dollars on a therapy session every week, especially if you don’t have a ton of disposable income. However, what I’ve seen in my practice (and in many other settings besides therapy) is that those who pay the full fee and make a substantial investment, are actually more committed to doing the work than those who pay less.

Think about it. If you paid $20 for a meal or $200, would there be a difference in how you treated it? Would you rush through the $200 meal and then throw half of it away if you didn’t feel like eating anymore? I’m guessing not. You would savor that meal and ask to take anything you couldn’t eat home with you to enjoy later.

People who pay more for therapy are literally and figuratively more invested and it shows in their results. They make the most of every session, they do their homework, and they get great results. In my opinion, there is nothing worth more than your personal growth. If you take the work seriously, you will see your investment pay off in every area of your life. By the way, this is coming from someone who has spent a lot of money on personal growth and I truly feel it’s been worth every penny.

Ok, but what if you literally CANNOT afford to pay the full fee but you also want to make sure you get a great therapist? Fortunately, there is sometimes an in-between option.

Depending on your insurance, you may be able to get reimbursed for out of network benefits, which can mean a savings of up to 20-60%. This is typically available with PPO plans. To find out, call the number on the back of your insurance card and ask how much your plan pays for out of network therapists.

Then, if you do have out of network benefits, ask your therapist if they can provide a superbill for you to submit to your insurance for reimbursement. You will pay your therapist for the sessions up front but your insurance company will reimburse you for some of the session fees. Your therapist will still have to provide a diagnosis on your superbill in order for you to get reimbursed. Not every insurance plan has this benefit but it’s definitely worth a phone call to ask!

The other option is that you can use your health savings account (HSA) or flexible spending account (FSA) to pay for therapy. This allows you to save money because you are paying with pre-tax dollars.

So there you have it. That is the good, the bad and the ugly of using your insurance to pay for therapy as I see it. I’d love to hear from you. Have you used insurance to pay for therapy in the past? If so, how did it go for you? Let me know in the comments on this Facebook post.

Keeping Your Space Sacred: How To Maintain Your Sense of Self In a Relationship

Keeping Your Space Sacred: How To Maintain Your Sense of Self In a Relationship

When it comes to relationships, one of the hardest things to accomplish is that perfect balance between togetherness and time alone. Sometimes, when you are single, all you want is someone to hold your hand, go with you to movies, and lie in bed with you on rainy days. Yet, once you have that someone, you might start longing for independence, down-time, and the sweet sound of silence.

So, what’s a person to do? How can you maintain your sense of self while in a relationship?

The answer is by setting boundaries. We talked about boundaries in a previous post, but, as a reminder, they are those invisible lines between people that dictate how we treat each other. Boundaries are a wonderful tool to help you get the space and independence you need but sometimes, setting them can feel rude or hurtful. That’s why I’m here to help!

Let’s say that you are in a relationship with a person who falls on the needy side. Maybe they are even a bit codependent. This person relies on you for everything, including his or her self-esteem. He wants to hang out constantly, he doesn’t have many hobbies or interests outside of you and the relationship, and he doesn’t have many close supportive friendships so he relies on you for all of his emotional support. He doesn’t like doing things alone and always wants to come along with you when you hang out with your friends and family.

You love him and you love spending time with him but you also would love some alone time. How can you tell him that you need more space without hurting his feelings? Consider what will happen if you don’t say anything.

He will keep intruding on your space (unknowingly), and your resentment will grow until one day you might blow up at him and say what you have been thinking in a hurtful way. This is sure to end in him feeling hurt and you feeling guilty and I know neither of you wants that.

The other alternative is that you say nothing but start coming up with excuses for why he can’t come or maybe even lying about your plans to get some alone time. Eventually, he may get the feeling that you are hiding something or intentionally avoiding him. Without knowing the real reason for your evasiveness he’s likely to imagine the worst-case scenario and this could lead to serious trust issues in your relationship.

By setting boundaries in a calm and compassionate manner, you are protecting his ego and the future of your relationship. Asserting your needs may seem selfish and hurtful at first but as you saw from these 2 possible outcomes, open communication is essential to maintaining a healthy relationship and lack of communication often leads to more serious issues that are harder to solve.

What to Do If Your Partner is Needy

Now that you are clear on the need to be open and honest about your feelings and need for independence, let’s talk about some compassionate and loving ways to express these feelings. Try saying something like:

“Can I talk to you about something? I love how close we are and I love spending time with you. My friends and family love you too and it’s so fun to have you around when we are all hanging out. And, at the same time, I feel like I also need more time for myself to continue being the happiest and healthiest version of me. I read somewhere (bringing in the experts always helps) that it’s good for each person in a couple to have his or her own interests, alone time with friends, and time to be their individual self vs always being a couple. I think in my case it would help if I had more time to (insert personal need here). This doesn’t mean I don’t love you or that I am trying to pump the brakes on our relationship or anything like that. I’m actually telling you this because I want our relationship to last and I know for me to be happy long term, I need to have a balance of alone time, time with friends, and time with you. You are the most important person in the world to me and this is going to help me bring a better version of myself to our relationship.”

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Keep the focus on yourself and what you need and let him know that you are having this conversation with him because you care about him so much, not because you want to push him away. It’s very easy to feel very rejected during a conversation like this so holding your partner’s hand, maintaining eye contact, and speaking in a loving and compassionate tone are all important here.

What to Do If Your Partner Has Trust and Control Issues

Ok so that is how to deal with the need for more space but what if you have a partner with trust issues and you need to set a boundary regarding privacy? If you have given your partner good reason to mistrust you (i.e. you cheated or lied), it’s important to understand your partner’s need for reassurance and transparency and to work with them to formulate a plan that will help your partner feel more comfortable and rebuild trust. This plan might include checking in with your partner regularly when you are not together, accounting for your whereabouts at all times, and even showing your partner your phone and emails for some amount of time until he or she is able to trust you again.

However, let’s say your significant other has trust issues and you have not given them good reason to mistrust you. Maybe her ex cheated on her or she knows you cheated on your ex and out of fear, she did something that violated your boundaries. Then you might proceed as follows:

“I noticed that you went through my phone earlier. It’s not that I have anything to hide, but I do consider my phone to be private. If you would like to see something on my phone, you need to ask me first. That said, what are you worried about and how can I help reassure you?”

This approach sets a clear boundary without being angry or overly emotional but it also ends with a compassionate and collaborative question that shows you care about the relationship. Most trust issues come from a fear that the other person doesn’t value the relationship or their partner and (if not too pathological) can be resolved by reassurance and showing that you do view the relationship and your partner as a priority.

Some people may argue that if someone doesn’t share his or her personal passwords with you, he or she has something to hide. While I acknowledge at times, this is true, there is also a level of independence that many adults like to maintain whether or not they have something to hide. If you feel that you need complete access to every screen that he or she encounters to feel safe in your relationship, that is a great indicator that you are dealing with a bigger problem and should seek help from a therapist.

If you would like to learn more about building trust, setting boundaries, or relationships in general, feel free to contact me. I’d love to help!

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