Relationship Strengths

When going through a difficult time in your relationship, it can be challenging to remember all of the positive aspects of it. If you and your partner are dealing with conflict, communication issues, or other challenges, it is easy to become focused on the negatives and to overlook the strengths of the relationship. Zooming out and taking the full picture of the relationship into consideration can be helpful in refocusing on all of the things that are working as opposed to all of the things that are not working. Tuning into the strengths of your relationship can be a helpful step in getting back on track and improving overall relationship satisfaction.

What were some of the qualities that initially drew you to your partner? What helped you to feel connected to your partner in the beginning of your relationship? What are some of your most cherished memories with your partner? What do you admire most about your partner? Questions such as these can help you to remember why you are with your partner in the first place and to reestablish a sense of fondness and admiration for each other. It is common for partners to lose sight of all of these positive qualities when there is a buildup of resentment, mistrust, or negative sentiment within the relationship. By taking time to reflect on the positive aspects, you can gain a better understanding of your strengths as a couple and draw upon them to help improve your relationship in the long run. One strengths-based exercise is for each partner to spend some time reflecting on the positive qualities and then taking time to share your reflections with each other. You may be surprised by what your partner says and hearing them share their perspectives may help you to feel even more connected.

This blog post was written by Taryn O’Neil, LPC. To learn more about relationship strengths, reach out to one of our licensed counselors today here.

Should We Go to Couples Therapy?

Starting couples therapy for the first time with your partner can be a big step toward intentionally working on your relationship. Couples choose to go to therapy together for many different reasons. Perhaps you are seeking premarital counseling to talk through some important topics before taking that next step together, or maybe you are struggling in your relationship and trying to decide whether or not to stay together. Even if you are not currently struggling or having issues in your relationship, couples counseling is a chance to build new relationship skills and enhance your relationship even more. No matter what has you seeking therapy and what you’re looking to get out of the experience, couples counseling can be a place to get support with navigating your relationship.

Couples counseling is an opportunity for you and your partner to learn new ways to relate to each other, gain insight about your relationship, and address challenges you are facing together. Couples who are not fighting or facing difficulty can still benefit from going to couples counseling as it is a chance to grow your bond even stronger and proactively address challenges that could come up in the future. Your therapist will work with you to establish treatment goals that are relevant to your relationship. Some common goals of couples therapy include: improving communication, building conflict resolution skills, healing from past relationship traumas, increasing intimacy and affection, and improving relationship satisfaction. Remember that you can always let your counselor know if there are ways they can better support you with navigating your relationship concerns – feedback is a helpful part of the counseling process. Couples counseling can help to give you some new perspectives about your relationship, create a safe space to have difficult conversations, and provide you with new tools and strategies to put into practice.

This blog post was written by Taryn O’Neil, LPC. To take the first step toward starting couples therapy, reach out to one of our licensed counselors today here.

Shared Values

Have you taken time to reflect on your personal core values, as well as the values which you and your partner have in common? While there are many components to a happy, secure, and fulfilling relationship, one important aspect to consider is the shared values within your relationship. We all hold different values based upon our unique life experiences, and there are no “right” or “wrong” values. There are some values which are common to all healthy relationships, such as trust, respect, and safety. But in addition to those, what other values are important for you to have in your relationship? For example: connection, creativity, honesty, kindness, spirituality, romance, generosity, curiosity, mindfulness, reciprocity, and patience are all examples of values that you may desire to share with your partner. Sharing similar values with your partner will help to strengthen and cultivate a strong foundation for you as a couple.

After you have taken time to think about your shared values, practice taking it a step further by asking yourself how closely you are currently living by those values and what you can do to live more closely aligned with them. For example, if you and your partner both value adventure, what are some ways you can seek out new experiences together? Or maybe you value humor and would appreciate taking more time to be playful and laugh with your partner. If you both value fitness, perhaps you take exercise classes together or go for daily walks with each other. There are endless ways to practice living by your values, so don’t be afraid to get creative with this! You can also use your shared values in times of conflict to help remember the things that bring you and your partner closer together. Shared values can be thought of like a compass which you can use to gain a sense of direction for how you’d like to act on an ongoing basis within your relationship.

This blog post was written by Taryn O’Neil, LPC. To learn more about shared values in your relationship, reach out to one of our licensed counselors today here.

Empathizing With Your Partner

Empathy is an essential aspect of building connection and emotional intimacy with your partner. Empathy refers to the ability to share in another person’s emotional experience, and it is different from sympathy, which means to recognize another person’s feelings. The key difference is that with empathy, you are actually entering into the emotional experience of the other person, whereas sympathy is cognitive acknowledgement of their feelings. Providing empathy to your partner will help them to feel supported and will also help to increase your emotional connection.

There is no one-size-fits-all way to be an empathetic partner, so give yourself permission to learn and grow as you strengthen this ability. Active listening is one of the main components of empathy. Instead of listening to respond, focus on listening to understand. Try to tune in fully to what your partner is saying and feel free to ask clarifying questions when needed. By making listening a priority, you can show your partner that you genuinely care about what they have to say and what they are feeling. Don’t worry about offering solutions or giving advice, just focus on trying to understand your partner’s emotional experience. By meeting your partner where they are at emotionally, you can show them that you are here for them and they will appreciate your willingness to share in their experience.

If you’re not sure how to best support your partner, that’s okay! You can ask your partner directly, such as by saying: how can I best support you right now? What do you need from me? How can I be here for you? The more you practice expressing empathy, the more comfortable you will become and the more you and your partner can share moments of emotional connection.

To learn more about building empathy in your relationship, reach out to one of our licensed counselors today here.

Mindfulness in Your Relationship

Practicing mindfulness has been shown to offer numerous benefits not only for individuals, but it can also help to strengthen your relationship with your partner. You can practice mindfulness anytime by tuning into your inner experience and paying attention to your feelings, thoughts, and sensations in the moment. By cultivating mindful practices for yourself, you will be better equipped to express your thoughts and feelings to your partner.

Using mindfulness techniques can help to slow things down and de-escalate conflict. When you find yourself in conflict with your partner, practice observing your emotions in the moment with nonjudgmental acceptance and curiosity. This openness can help you not only to become more accepting of your own experience, but in turn, to also become more accepting of your partner’s experience. Centering yourself will give you the chance to regulate your emotions and respond rather than react.

You can also practice mindfulness when spending quality time with your partner. Try to set aside technology and distractions so that you can be fully present in the moment with your partner and show that you value your time with them. When you press pause and focus on being fully present with them, you may notice increased gratitude for the simple moments together. This can help you to feel more emotionally connected in the moment. Mindfulness can also increase intimacy levels in your relationship, for example, you can practice paying attention to your feelings when cooking, cuddling, playing a game, or taking a walk together. Enhanced quality time and increased intimacy can help to grow your bond even stronger and increase your relationship satisfaction overall.

To learn more about practicing mindfulness in your relationship, contact one of our couples counselors by clicking here.

Strengthening Your Relationship During the Pandemic

Between a pandemic and winter months approaching, spending quality time together might look different now than it used to, and you may need to get creative when thinking of ways to enjoy time with your partner. You can brainstorm together to think of activities you can do at home that would feel meaningful and fun. Cooking together, planning a movie night, playing a board game, exercising together, redecorating the home, listening to music, crafting a project, ordering in from a new restaurant, and creating a list of future dream vacation spots are some at-home activity ideas to get you started.

Practicing new ways to show caring and affection to your partner during this time can be another way to grow your bond even stronger. Focus on pointing out the things you admire about your partner to help them feel appreciated. You can also spend time connecting with your partner without distractions and practicing mindfulness of the moment when spending quality time together. Turning your phones off and turning toward each other could be a chance for you to grow your intimacy and connection by being present in the moment.

It’s also possible that you and your partner may have different boundaries related to what are considered safe and acceptable activities during the pandemic. To navigate this effectively, it can be helpful to utilize active listening skills and try to gain insight about your partner’s perspectives to better understand their boundaries. Try to maintain an attitude of respectful curiosity and ask clarifying questions when needed to ensure that you are hearing your partner. Respecting each other’s boundaries will help to create an atmosphere of trust and safety within your relationship.

To learn more about strengthening your relationship during the pandemic, contact one of our couples counselors by clicking here.

What To Do If Your Partner is Being Defensive

There are times when may you enter into a conversation with your partner with the best of intentions–remaining calm and respectful in an attempt to collaboratively resolve your concerns.  Yet before you know what hit you, your partner has become defensive, putting up a metaphorical brick wall that all of your complaints bounce back from. When your partner takes a defensive stance, s/he is not taking responsibility for the role that s/he played in a given scenario.  

To prevent a continuous cycle of attack and defensive, here are some helpful pointers: 

  • Use “I feel” Statements. Using “I” statements places the emphasis on yourself instead of your partner.  In doing so, you are acknowledging your role in the given scenario and accessing vulnerability in place of anger.  For example “I feel hurt when you look at your phone while we’re talking” is more effective than “You’re always looking at your phone and ignoring me.”  Understandably, the second statement is more likely to cause a defensive response from your partner.  
  • Avoid sweeping statements and characters generalizations.  In the second statement in the example above, the word always is a sweeping generalization made about the partner’s phone use.  These statements are untrue (surely there are times when the phone is not in use!) and will be perceived as criticism, immediately prompting a defensive response. 
  • Take responsibility for your role in events.  Interpersonal conflict doesn’t happen inside a vacuum; you make a contribution to every discussion and argument that you have with your partner.  By taking responsibility for your role, you are setting the tone of the conversation and modeling respectful communication. “I recognize that sometimes I catch you off guard while you are answering emails on your phone” is an example of how the partner in this scenario may take responsibility for their role in the dynamic. 

While these tactics do not guarantee that your partner will not become defensive, practicing these healthy communicating skills will increase the chances of eliciting a different response from your partner.  

To learn more about managing defensiveness and other communication challenges, contact one of our couples counseling by clicking below:

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Written by Joanna Aslanian, LPC, ATR-P