If you are like most people, the first thing that comes to mind when you decide to improve your relationship is something that you can do for your partner.
You start to think about getting him tickets to a playoff game, or cooking her your famous lasagna. You might even start researching unique ways to improve your relationship.
Let’s be clear, those things are great. However, the real key to improving your relationship is to start with numero uno. That’s you, by the way.
You’ve heard the saying, “You can’t love anyone else until you love yourself.” Well, it’s true. Loving yourself in a relationship is one of the best things you can do to improve and strengthen your relationship.
Before we get into some strategies you can use to love yourself more, let’s explore why loving yourself is important and what happens when you start loving yourself.
Why Loving Yourself Is Important In a Relationship
There are many reasons why it’s important to love yourself in a relationship. But one of the biggest reasons self-love has an impact on the quality of your partner relationship is because of a psychological term called “projection.”
Projection occurs when you have negative or uncomfortable feelings about yourself that are hard to accept. So, you unconsciously project those feelings onto someone else.
Let’s take a look at what this looks like in the real world. If you don’t love yourself or feel like you’re unworthy of love, then you might feel like your partner doesn’t love you. You may interpret their behavior as proof that they don’t love you.
As you can imagine, all of this can have a pretty significant impact on your relationship. If you’re working to improve your relationship, then it’s important to make loving yourself the first step on your to-do list.
How To Love Yourself & Improve Your Relationship
So, if you’re convinced that self-love is an important part of improving your relationship, how can you go about actually doing it? Use these 5 tips to make loving yourself in a relationship easier.
1. Don’t Be Afraid To Grow
I get it. You finally found someone who you love spending time with, and you don’t want to risk changing, because what if that ruins the relationship?
The thing is, one of the biggest markers of a solid relationship is the ability of both partners to reach their highest potential, while together. If one or both partners feels like they are being held back, the relationship will likely fail. In other words, growing and changing as an individual can actually help improve your relationship.
Allow yourself the space to develop to your fullest potential. Live fully and take chances. If the relationship is meant to be, it will grow right along with you.
2. Establish Who You Are Outside Of The Relationship
Relationships that bring together two whole people are much healthier than relationships made of two half people trying to be who the other wants them to be.
Do you like swimming or skiing? Are you interested in drawing, painting, or poetry? Whatever your interests are, make time to indulge in them outside of the relationship. Not only will this brighten your step, but it will also give you something new to talk about when you see your partner again, which can help improve your relationship.
3. Realize That You Did Not Marry Your Mother/Father
I can’t tell you how often people, unconsciously, make this mistake. If you find yourself acting like a child around your partner, it may be that you have some unfinished business with one of your parents.
Therapy can help with this, but, sometimes, all you need is a reminder that you are an adult and your spouse is not your parent (even if he/she may act like it sometimes). Keeping this in mind is one of the simplest ways to improve your relationship.
4. Keep A Gratitude Journal
Numerous studies have shown the far-reaching positive effects of gratitude. Everything from your stress-level to your overall happiness is affected by being grateful. Not surprisingly, this practice can help improve your relationship too.
By keeping a gratitude journal, you are reminding yourself of all of the reasons that you have to be happy, and this happiness will naturally leak out onto your relationship. Try to write 3 things per day that you are grateful for and make at least 1 of them about your partner or relationship.
5. Follow Your Dreams
Happy couples support each other’s hopes and dreams. If you’ve always wanted to learn French, do it! Or, maybe your goal is to race a triathlon.
Whatever it is that you’ve been dreaming of, now is the time to make it happen. Either your relationship will become stronger for it, or you’ll realize he or she wasn’t the one for you. Either way, you win when you start loving yourself.
Improve Your Relationship Even More
If these tips don’t seem like enough to help improve your relationship with your partner or yourself, then you might need a little help in the self-love and happiness department.
If that’s the case, an experienced couples therapist or individual therapist could help you learn to start loving yourself and improve your relationship.
Contact Couples Learn to book a free 30-minute consultation and get started today.
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
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.
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.
There are few things in life harder to face than the loss of a close friend or family member. And even when you are not the one facing a loss, it can be challenging to know how to help a friend in grief.
As an individual and couples therapist team, we get a lot of questions about what to say to a grieving friend. Just as often, we get questions about what not to say to someone who is grieving.
We all want to help our loved ones and provide the support they need during hard times. But if we’ve never faced a similar loss – or we just don’t feel comfortable with such heart wrenching emotions – it can be easier said than done.
To help you determine the best way to comfort a grieving friend, we’re answering the most common questions our team at Couples Learn gets about supporting someone through grief.
How to Help a Friend in Grief
What are things you should say to a friend who is grieving the death of a friend or family member?
One important thing to keep in mind when figuring out how to help a friend in grief is that everyone grieves differently. There is no “normal” reaction to grief, so the most helpful thing you can do is normalize their feelings and let them know you are there for them.
If you’re wondering what to say to a grieving friend, things like “I am so sorry you are going through this.” or “I know this is really hard” or “I wish I could make this all go away so that you wouldn’t be feeling this pain” are often helpful.
Many people find it uncomfortable to just sit with someone who is in pain, so they try to make the sad feelings go away by saying things like “cheer up” or “think of the bright side.” But these are great examples of what not to say to a grieving friend.
What they really need is for you to just be with them in sadness and allow them to feel what they are feeling.
Is there such a thing as saying something too soon?
No. People always appreciate knowing that they have your support even if they don’t want it in the moment. Don’t be pushy about being there if they seem to need space, but let them know you are there if they want to talk.
Oftentimes, the best way to comfort a grieving friend is to simply let them know you are there for them – whenever and however they need you.
What are some activities you can do with a friend grieving a death that could be a helpful distraction?
Wondering how to help a friend in grief by doing something with them? Any normal activity they might enjoy is probably a good choice. Go for a walk, see a movie, watch your favorite TV shows together, do an arts and crafts project, go to a workout class…anything where you spend quality time together is great.
Just being present is enough most of the time. If your friend has unfinished business with the deceased, you can recommend he/she write a letter to that person saying everything they would want to say if that person were still alive. Offer to listen to the letter and respond in a loving way.
But remember – don’t push activities and outings if what your friend really needs is more time to simply sit in their sadness.
Are there comments that should be avoided?
We all want to be careful about what not to say to someone who is grieving. While some of this is personal to the person you’re hoping to comfort, there are some common things to avoid.
For example, try to avoid religious comments if you know the person grieving does not believe in God or religion. People don’t want to feel like you are pushing your beliefs on them, especially in times of grief.
Also avoid saying “everything happens for a reason.” This is NOT a comforting thought after losing a loved one even if it is something you know that person believes to be true in other situations.
Lastly, avoid telling the person to cheer up or feel better. Let them be sad and just sit with them in their sadness.
How to Help a Friend in Grief? Understand The Stages of Grief
Grief is like a roller coaster. It comes and goes, often at the most unexpected and inopportune times. Many times when someone is alone in the shower or in the car, grief will hit them hard and they will start crying uncontrollably.
Everyone is different and everyone goes through the process in their own unique way. That being said, there are 5 stages of grief that most people experience. The stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
When you’re trying to figure out what to say to a grieving friend – or what not to say – it’s important to understand these stages.
When first informed of a loved one’s death, most people go through a phase where they deny that it has actually happened. They may say things like “this can’t be happening. It just doesn’t feel real.” This is a defense mechanism that helps them get through the initial shock of the loss. It’s often at this stage that people feel particularly lost when it comes to how to help a friend in grief.
This can manifest as anger towards God, towards those responsible for the death, towards oneself for not acting differently, or even towards the lost loved one for causing them pain. Anger is an easier emotion to handle than sadness thus it can help your loved one ease the pain of the loss and feel less vulnerable for a time.
During the bargaining stage your friend might say things like “I would give anything to get him back” or “I wish it were me instead” or “if only we got him medical attention sooner.” He or she might even try to make deals with God or a higher power in order to ease the pain or reverse what has been done.
When your friend is ready, he/she will start to feel the pain of the loss. Depression can vary in intensity and often manifests itself through crying, sadness, loss of interest in things he/she used to enjoy, lack of energy, and changes in appetite (eating more or less than usual).
In this stage, your friend will start to return to a more normal state. They will be able to talk about the loss or memories of their loved one without experiencing extreme anguish and they will begin to move on with their life. As mentioned above, everyone grieves differently so there is no right or wrong amount of time that it takes someone to reach this stage.
Though it used to be thought that these stages are experienced in a specific order, it is now known that people go in and out of each stage with little to no rhyme or reason. This is important to remember when figuring out how to help a friend in grief.
Your friend may experience depression one day, anger the next, and be bargaining with God just minutes later. The best thing you can do is normalize their feelings throughout the process and provide a loving, non-judgmental space for them to express what they are going through.
How to Help a Friend in Grief When Your Comfort Is Not Enough
When we see a friend who is grieving, we all wish there were ways we could help. But even with the advice outlined in this post, there may be times when our love, our words and our comfort are just not enough.
One of the best ways to comfort a grieving friend is to help them get the help they need. If your friend expresses interest in finding a therapist, offer them encouragement to find a professional who can help them.
And if you or someone you love is looking for virtual therapy, be sure to contact Couples Learn to book a free consultation and discover how our individual therapy services could help.
If you’re the New Years Resolution type, you might be busy getting your resolution ducks in a row. Maybe you’re hoping to read more in 2022 or finally write that novel you’ve been dreaming about. Perhaps you want to get to the gym five days a week or start meditating consistently. But have you considered any New Year’s resolutions for couples?
In 2022, in addition to making promises to yourself, you may also want to consider making them to your partner and your relationship.
The New Year is a great time to review your personal accomplishments and goals. But it’s also the perfect time to take stock of how the past year went for you and your significant other and to see what, if anything, you’d like to change. (And don’t forget to celebrate everything that went right in your relationship, too!)
So what makes for good New Year’s resolutions for couples? You want something that will help you make a shift or improvement in your partnership, but one that is also manageable and realistic.
The best way to make relationship resolutions is to sit down together as a couple and discuss your goals. Use the couple resolutions below for inspiration.
4 New Year’s Resolutions for Couples
1. Power Down, Together
Between work, managing kids or other family obligations and also staying in touch with family and friends, it can be hard to give your partner your undivided attention. Throw your favorite TV series, social media app or smartphone game into the mix and you have even less time to spend with your special someone.
In 2022, commit to taking some time each day to focus only on your partner. Put away all electronic devices and pretend you are back in the 80’s. (Leg warmers optional). This is one of the most impactful (and simple!) New Year’s resolutions for couples that you can make.
Instead of staring at your phones together, practice empathic listening when you talk to each other. Focus on hearing and understanding your partner without being distracted. Avoid formulating your response while they are talking and instead focus on reflecting back what he/she is saying to you to make sure you fully understand their point of view.
Need something to talk about? Download our free guide below for more than 80 conversation starters you can use right now.
Click Here to Download 82 Fun Questions That Will Help Deepen Your Connection
2. Employ An Attitude Of Gratitude
All kinds of research shows that being grateful for your partner helps to improve your relationship. But of course, this is sometimes easier said than done. After all, it may be difficult to feel grateful to your husband for taking out the trash if he walked in dirty shoes across your freshly cleaned floor to get it done.
But if you think about it, having an attitude of gratitude is one of the best New Year’s resolutions for couples. Of course you will feel better about your spouse if you focus on what you appreciate about them. In turn, it will also make them happier with you, and it will make it easier for them to accept constructive criticism if you’ve already showered them with the good stuff. It’s a win-win!
This year, find ways to not just feel more gratitude for your partnership, but to express that gratitude, too. Maybe you make it part of your nightly routine to express gratitude for something that happened during the day. Maybe you keep a gratitude journal together to read and reflect on what your partner shares.
No matter how you use this couples resolution, it’s sure to help you bring a little more contentment into your life.
3. Paint The Town
You didn’t get into a relationship to stare at a TV set together, did you? Try bursting past your comfort zones, at least once a month.
Maybe you want to get out and move with each other by trying a new hiking trail or playing some ping pong? Or, maybe you want to cross some things off your bucket list like zip-lining or white-water rafting? Doing active and adventurous things as a couple will strengthen your bond, and definitely give you something to talk about over dinner!
Doing new things together is one of the best New Year’s resolutions for couples because it not only helps you have fun together (remember fun?!)It also gives you a chance to develop new interests and hobbies that you can enjoy together for years to come.
To make this relationship resolution sustainable, keep things realistic. Don’t commit to a full weekend away every month if you know a date night is much more likely to happen. Don’t stress about trying something overly adventurous if your partner is terrified of heights or gets terrible motion sickness.
Want this resolution to have an even bigger impact? Take turns choosing an activity and planning the date. This will ensure no one is taking on more of the burden of planning outings and helps ensure each person gets to try things they truly enjoy.
Need more ideas? Download our best date night ideas below.
One area that often needs help in relationships is the way in which each partner expresses intimacy. What is intimacy? Basically, it’s our feeling of connection and willingness to be vulnerable with our partners.
This type of connection can be sexual, romantic, or purely platonic. The key is finding out which type of intimacy your partner enjoys and being willing to offer more of that. It also means understanding what your own needs are, and expressing those needs clearly.
Improving your intimate connection with your partner takes time, and requires trust, but doing it will give you all the warm fuzzies! That’s why improving intimacy is one of our favorite New Year’s resolutions for couples.
So, which one of these ideas sound doable to you? Could you commit to writing little notes of appreciation for your partner? Or, perhaps take Tai Chi classes with your love? Maybe you want to try some new techniques to spice things up in the bedroom.
Whatever intimacy means to you (both of you!), try to incorporate more of that into your regular lives. This is one example of couple resolutions that you definitely won’t regret!
How to Stick to New Year’s Resolutions for Couples
If you’ve ever had a gym membership, you’ve probably noticed how most “New Year’s Resolutioners,” give up by March. Don’t let that be you with your New Year’s resolutions for couples! Make small, manageable goals for the best results.
If you need help finding ways to incorporate these new habits into your relationship – or you want to make a big investment toward improving your partnership – then you might want to add couples therapy to your list of 2022 relationship resolutions.
A couples therapist can help you set – and stick to – relationship goals for the new year, and help you turn your couple resolutions into actual change.
Ready to make your 2022 resolutions? Contact us if you’d like some help getting back on track. We’d love to help you brainstorm new ideas for refreshing your relationship in the New Year!
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?”
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.
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.
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.