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.”


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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How to Set Healthy Boundaries In Your Relationship (Part 1)

How to Set Healthy Boundaries In Your Relationship (Part 1)

Chances are, if you’ve been to therapy, you’ve heard the word “boundaries.” We therapists LOVE to talk about boundaries and they are especially important in romantic relationships.

First, what exactly are boundaries? According to Google, who knows all, “Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave towards him or her and how he/she will respond when someone passes those limits.”

Okay, let’s look at a practical example. Let’s say you and your partner want to order carry-out from your favorite Chinese restaurant. Your partner asks you to make the phone call, but then hovers over you, reminding you of exactly what to order. “don’t forget the dumplings. Remember the egg drop soup.” Setting a boundary in this case would sound something like, “You asked me to order. I will handle it. Please don’t talk to me while I am on the phone.”

Simple, right?

Yes, but that doesn’t mean easy. Some of us have a hard time setting boundaries because we fear being rude, or hurting the other person’s feelings. What’s funny is, more feelings will get hurt if you don’t set any boundaries than if you do.

Take the couple above. What will happen if he never asks her not to talk while he’s on the phone? Chances are he will get annoyed and resentful toward her, and she won’t ever know what she did wrong. That’s not fair to either person in the relationship.

Now, let’s say he does ask her to give him space while he’s on the phone. What could happen there? Sure, she might still feel hurt, but it opens up the lines of communication so that the two of them can explore why she feels the need to control what he is doing. As for him, he may feel guilty at first, but the guilt will soon fade, and he will rest easy knowing he has been open and honest about what he needs.


Some common boundary issues in relationships are:

  • Spending too much time together
  • Invading each other’s privacy (reading texts, emails, etc.)
  • Trying to control one another’s behavior
  • Forbidding your partner to attend social activities without you
  • Not having hobbies or interests of your own
  • Not having friends of your own that you spend time with without your partner
  • Putting your partner’s needs before your own on a consistent basis (yes, that is a problem!)

People who are codependent, or addicted to relationships, usually have the hardest time setting boundaries. You may be codependent if you:

  • Blame others for your feelings
  • Need to be with your partner at all times
  • Want to control your partner’s feelings
  • Try to control the outcome of many situations
  • Don’t feel whole without the other person
  • Lack self-love
  • Grew up with an addict in your family

They say that when a codependent person sets a boundary, the guilt that she feels is similar to the withdrawal symptoms that addicts experience when they give up their substance of choice. The good news is that over time, and with practice, this feeling goes away and gives rise to healthier feelings. If you think you might be co-dependent or just want some more help with setting healthy boundaries, a great book to read is Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Beattie.

In the end, setting appropriate boundaries ends up being good for everyone in the relationship, because each partner knows exactly where he/she stands, is able to get the respect that he/she deserves, and knows how to make the other person happy.

So, the next time you are hesitant to ask for something that you need, remember that you are doing it for the good of your relationship.

If you would like to talk more about setting boundaries in relationships, contact me. I’m here to help!

P.S. Since boundary issues are so common in relationships and there is so much to talk about on this topic, I’ll be publishing another article on this topic next week. In that article, I’ll be covering the topics of trust, privacy, and the need for alone time in a relationship.

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Cognitive Distortions: Negative Thinking That Can Hurt Your Relationship

Cognitive Distortions: Negative Thinking That Can Hurt Your Relationship

Have you ever heard the term “stinking thinking”? It’s often used to describe the many ways we twist and turn different scenarios in our minds to be more negative than they really are. We psychologists call these mind twists “cognitive distortions” because they are literally distortions of thought. 

Distorted beliefs can make us feel like we are looking at the world through a fun-house mirror – which, by the way, isn’t so fun.

What Are Cognitive Distortions?

All events are neutral until we place meaning on them. How we interpret events has a lot to do with our past experiences. You can read more about that in How Your Childhood is Affecting Your Romantic Relationships.

Our brains love to make connections between thoughts, ideas, feelings and consequences, whether or not they are actually connected. And it can be surprisingly simple for the brain to create inaccurate connections between events and their meaning. 

The problem with cognitive distortions is that they seem so real to the person who is thinking them, they might never be questioned! It takes a certain level of self-awareness to realize when you are using this kind of belief system and are stuck in negative thinking patterns.

Cognitive distortions - or negative ways of thinking - can harm your relationships

Seeing a qualified online therapist can help you raise your levels of awareness so that you can function better both on your own and in your relationships. In the meantime, I’ll give you a few quick tips to get you started on how to change negative thinking.

In this blog post, I’m going to review some of the most common cognitive distortions examples I see in my private practice, along with some ideas about how to reframe this negative thinking into more positive beliefs. We call this “reframing” because it’s kind of like putting on a new pair of glasses, only these specs allow you to see the world in a better light.

Ready? Let’s put on our rose-colored lenses!

Cognitive Distortion Examples

Polarized Thinking Cognitive Distortions

With polarized thinking cognitive distortion, or black and white thinking, you can make one mistake and you feel like a total failure. You trust someone completely or not at all. You are either all bad or all good. If your partner is late once, you say something like “you are always late! I can’t rely on you for anything!” This cognitive distortion is polarizing and causes you to think about him (or yourself) in a negative light rather than as someone who just made a mistake.

A Better Way: Realize that life is full of grey areas, and that there are usually more solutions to a problem than you initially think. Also keep in mind that everyone has good qualities and bad, but that doesn’t mean that they are a good or bad person. Take a deep breath and calm your mind. This will help you move out of those rigid dimensions and make space for creative alternatives or different ways of viewing your significant other.

Overgeneralization Cognitive Distortion

Overgeneralization cognitive distortion is labeling every situation as similar to a negative one that happened in the past. “He lied to me about going out with his friends so now he can’t ever be trusted. For that matter, everyone else I meet will lie to me too.” Thinking “all men are cheaters” is another overgeneralization cognitive distortion example.

A Better Way: See that each situation in life is unique, and treat it that way. Don’t let your negative expectations become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Explore where the generalization comes from and how you might be attracting situations and people that follow the storyline you have created about the way things are. For example, just because all the men you have dated have cheated on you doesn’t mean all men are cheaters. In addition, you may be attracting men that cheat because of your own childhood wounding that hasn’t been addressed or healed.

Do you know which cognitive distortions may be harming your relationship?

Mind Reading Cognitive Distortion

Mind reading cognitive distortion is assuming that you know what the other person is thinking or believing that the other person should know what you are thinking. This is very dangerous territory in a relationship. “He should have known I was upset.” Trust me, if you don’t tell him, he doesn’t know. Or if he does know, he probably doesn’t fully understand why. 

A Better Way: Say what you mean and mean what you say. Learn to take what you hear at face value. Try not to add meaning to what is being said. If you feel that you need clarification – ask for it, and then make a conscious decision to believe what you’ve been told.

Emotional Reasoning Cognitive Distortion

Emotional reasoning cognitive distortion occurs when you believe that a feeling is a fact. For example, you believe that you are ugly because you feel ugly. Or you think he doesn’t love you anymore because you feel unloved. This kind of negative thinking can have a significant impact on your relationship.

A Better Way: Understand that your feelings are valid, but they do not constitute facts. Learn to acknowledge and have compassion for what you are feeling, without giving in to false truths. For example, instead of deciding that you are, in fact, ugly, try to determine where that feeling is coming from and work with yourself to resolve it. Knowing the real issue makes it much easier to find a solution.

Personalization Cognitive Distortion

Personalization cognitive distortion is akin to believing that you have caused all the problems in the universe. Sounds kind of self-centered, doesn’t it? “She looks angry. I must have done or said something wrong.” This is also a potential sign of codependent relationship.

A Better Way: Consider that every person you encounter has a million things going on in his or her life, many of which have nothing to do with you. Let go of the idea that you are responsible for everything. Go stand in front of the ocean, and remember how small you really are! And check in with someone about what’s going on with them before you assign yourself undue blame.

How to Stop Negative Thinking

Changing these cognitive distortions in relationships may sound simple, but it takes continuous, conscious effort. Each of these suggestions for change requires slowing down long enough to question your own thoughts, which, in itself can be a tricky process.

Now that you have identified some ways in which you might be distorting reality and explored some of the effects of negative thinking on relationships, take a moment to ask yourself if you are engaging in any of these cognitive distortions next time you are feeling upset.

And if you’re still struggling to overcome cognitive distortion, therapy could help. Learn more about online therapy for individuals or online couples therapy from Couples Learn.

Understanding cognitive distortions can make your relationship happier.

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How to Fight Fair With Your Partner (Even When You’re REALLY Angry)

How to Fight Fair With Your Partner (Even When You’re REALLY Angry)

Being in a serious relationship means that you are going to get into arguments from time to time. In fact, if you and your partner never disagree, at least one of you is likely holding your feelings inside. Avoidant couples don’t usually argue but they also tend to feel their relationship lacks depth, spark and romance. They feel more like roommates than lovers.


Fighting helps you feel more connected if you do it correctly because each person feels heard and respected after the fight and you are usually able to come to a compromise that both people feel is fair. For this reason, it’s actually healthy to fight, as long as you fight fair.


If you’re not used to it, fighting fair can take some practice and a lot of self restraint. If you tend to fly off the handle every time you disagree with your partner, give yourself some time to get used to this new way of communicating. But BY ALL MEANS get used to it because aggressive behavior is definitely detrimental to a relationship (and your own happiness) over time.


To keep it light and fun, let’s think of fighting fair like a game with specific rules to follow. In this post, I’ll go over some of the guidelines for healthy fighting, how to abide by them, and some examples of what it sounds like when you are NOT fighting fair. In keeping with the game analogy, we’ll call it a “Home Run,” when the rules are followed, and a “Foul Ball,” when they are not. Ready? Let’s play ball!



Identify The Problem:

Home Run:  Be as specific as possible, and use “I” statements. Say something like, “I feel angry because I didn’t feel that you supported me when I told your mother not to give the kids candy after 9pm.”  


Foul Play: “Why do you always side with your mother? Maybe you should have married her instead of me!”


Focus On The Issue At Hand:

Home Run: Stay on topic as much as possible. Be in the moment.


Foul Play: Bringing up every fight you’ve ever had about his mother, or any mother, for that matter. Yes, that includes Mother Earth.


Listen With An Open Mind:

Home Run: Remember that even though you may not like your partner right now, you chose him for a reason. Give him the benefit of the doubt, and honestly listen to what he is saying. Who knows, you may learn something new about him.


Foul Play: Don’t listen, or listen, but, only to give yourself time to come up with a comeback suited for the Jerry Springer show.


Treat Your Partner’s Feelings With Respect:

Home Run: You don’t have to agree with your partner to be kind and respectful toward her feelings. Statements like; “I can see why you feel that way,” or “I see how much this is hurting you,” make your loved one feel validated and safe, without forcing you to agree with anything.


Foul Play: Calling her too sensitive, putting her down, or rolling your eyes. Believe it or not, rolling your eyes at your partner and/or being condescending is one of the top predictors of divorce. Yes, I’m serious! So keep those eyes in check and play nice even when angry. You can read all about that and other behaviors that are toxic to your relationship in my post 4 Toxic Behaviors That Are Ruining Your Relationship.


Take Responsibility For Your Actions:

Home Run: If your partner has brought up something you did that bothered him, take responsibility for your part. Maybe you made a mistake, or maybe Mercury was in retrograde, but, either way, it helps if you can own your actions.


Foul Play: Make excuses, even if it means blaming the price of tea in China! Guess what? Defensiveness is another one of those 4 Toxic Behaviors That Are Ruining Your Relationship.


Be Kind:

Home Run: Speak in a calm, compassionate tone of voice. Avoid yelling. Wait until your partner finishes talking before you respond. Take a timeout if you feel yourself getting heated and setup a time to come back to the conversation once you have both calmed down.


Foul Play: Yell, throw stuff, interrupt your partner and storm out of the room slamming the door behind you. He who yells the loudest wins, right?

You and me vs the problem

Fight to Resolve the Problem:

Home Run: Remember you are on the same team in life. It’s not you vs him, it’s you and him vs the problem. The goal is to come to an agreement and enhance the relationship, not to prove you are right.


Foul Play: Do everything you can to prove you are right. Disqualify everything he says and find a way to prove him wrong. It’s times like these you remind yourself of what a great lawyer you would have made.


So, there you have it. You have just been through a crash course of Relationship Rules 101. Before you pick your next fight with your partner, make sure to glance over these rules of engagement and try a few on for size. Heck, maybe you should pick a fight tonight just so you can keep them fresh in your mind. Kidding, don’t do that!


If you would like to see some of these guidelines in action with a real live couple, check out this video. In my private practice, I teach couples how to fight fair using a communication technique called the Imago Dialogue.


Click here to watch a video of a real couple using the Imago Dialogue to talk about an issue.

If you want some personalized help on how to communicate more effectively with your partner, contact me. I’m happy to referee!


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Want A Healthy Relationship? Learn To Dump Your Assumptions!

Want A Healthy Relationship? Learn To Dump Your Assumptions!

As a couple’s therapist, one of the things that always amazes me, is how two different people can experience the same situation in completely unrelated ways. When I ask a couple to tell me about something that happened, sometimes it seems impossible that both partners were at the same event, given the opposite nature of their stories. This reminds me that so much of what we experience comes from our own viewpoint, made up of our unique thoughts and feelings, which, in turn, color our world.


One type of thought that can wreak havoc in relationships is an assumption. An assumption is a belief that one person thinks is true, but really has not been proven. We make assumptions all the time. When we meet someone new, our first impression of that person is a series of assumptions we form based on her appearance. How is she dressed? Does she make eye-contact? Did she smile? It only takes a minute for our brains to answer these questions and form opinions.


In relationships, assumptions work much the same way. Say, for example, your partner tells you he’ll be working late one night. What is your first thought? If you grew up in a family where “working late,” was code for being unfaithful, then you might assume that your partner is lying. Even if he hasn’t given you any prior reason not to trust him, you still might assume the worst, because of your own past and the assumptions you created as a result. Do you see how this could ruin a perfectly good relationship?


In order to manage your assumptions and prevent them from ruining your relationship, you need you to be willing to take a good look at your own beliefs. Where do they come from? How are they helping or hurting you? Do they hold up to questioning? What is the evidence that supports that belief? The evidence against it? Could there be another way of looking at things or an alternate explanation? By asking yourself these questions, you can better understand your personal assumptions and the effect that they are having on your relationship.


Now that you are aware that some of your beliefs may not be true, I’m going to tell you something that will make you feel better. Your partner’s beliefs are no better!


Both you and your partner are likely making assumptions about the other and the world in general. What seems like “the” answer or “the” situation to you, is just 1 of many viewpoints on the same situation. Thus, the best thing to do is to make it a habit to check in with each other to be sure that you are not assuming something incorrectly.

Marriage Tip

But, how do you know when it’s time to check in? Anytime that you and your partner are having an argument where something doesn’t quite click or where his reaction to what you said seems really off, it’s probably a good time to ask him what he is thinking or whether he may be reacting based on an assumption (in a nice, non-threatening tone of course).


For example, if you tell your significant other that you want to go to the mall and he responds by immediately faking the flu, you might want to look into that a little further. You could say something like: “It seems that what I said is having an effect on you. Could you tell me what you think I meant?” He might then say, “I know what going to “The Mall” means. You want me to buy you a ring!”


Well, now you know why he was faking the flu, but, clearly the two of you have some other issues to discuss!


I’m going to assume, (see what I did there?) that reading this article has brought up some feelings about your own relationship. If so, contact me. I would love to help!


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