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

Relationship Boundaries

Boundaries are the limitations that we set and enforce with all of the people in our lives.  Our boundaries are often shaped by our culture and the way that we were raised. When it comes to your relationship, it is important to establish and communicate your boundaries with your partner.  This will answer the question: what constitutes “crossing the line”?  

Relationship boundaries apply both to how you treat one another, as well as those around you–addressing issues such as fidelity, finances, and interactions with friends and family members.  For example, some people may feel comfortable with their friends or relatives showing up at their residence unannounced–while for others, this could feel intrusive. When you are in a partnership that includes a shared living space, having an understanding about these boundaries will prevent you from breaching them unintentionally.  In some cases, this may require both partners to compromise

Some of the most important relationship boundaries to clarify are those surrounding fidelity, or “cheating” behaviors.  While it may feel intuitive or obvious to you, everyone’s threshold for cheating behavior is different. Some individuals may feel uncomfortable with his/her partner having a close friendship with a member of the opposite sex, while others may draw the line at flirtation or intercourse. Surprisingly few couples take the opportunity to clearly spell out this boundary at the beginning of their relationship, and sometimes boundaries do not get asserted until after they have been crossed. 

For more information about exploring your own relationship boundaries, reach out to one of our couples counselors by clicking below:

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Written by Joanna Aslanian, LPC, ATR-P

We Have Nothing in Common!

There are certain attributes that initially attracted you to your partner and kept you with him or her for the duration of your relationship.  Yet some couples find that at times it feels like they have nothing in common. This can be a lack of shared interests/hobbies, incongruent views on politics, religion, or parenting philosophies (to name a few.)

Tracing your steps back to the beginning of your relationship can be a helpful reminder of your strength as a couple.  Have you or your partners’ views shifted radically during the course of your relationship, or did these differences always exist?  If these differences were present from the beginning, then there must have been other connective factors to create “positive sentiment override” – a term John Gottman coined to mean that the positive perceptions of your relationship outweigh the negative. 

Perhaps you have dramatically differing views on your standards of household cleanliness, but you have a shared love of travel and a fantastic sex life! 

While some differences may cause distress, having opinions that differ from your partner is not necessarily a bad thing.  You may be able to enjoy healthy debates that challenge one another and facilitate mutual growth, or you may play off of one another’s strengths for mutual benefit.  For instance, if you love a clean home but are poor with managing money, you can allocate the tasks that you each do best. 

As for shared interests, try out something completely new!  Join a book club, painting class, or yoga studio together. Whatever it is- just make sure that it is a novel experience that you can both encounter for the first time together. 

Written by Joanna Aslanian, LPC, ATR-P

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Polyamory and Open Relationships

Some couples prefer a traditional monogamous relationship, while others may seek out alternative options that deviate from the path of a culturally-defined “ mainstream” lifestyle.  Any of these consensual relationship arrangements can be healthy, and they can also go awry. 

As with any relationship, open communication, clear expectations, and firm boundaries are key elements to successful non-monogamous pairings. Just because the relationship is nontraditional does not mean that it is without limits; couples should set guidelines and periodically revisit these throughout their relationship.  These guidelines vary widely for each couple; for instance, one couple may only feel comfortable with their partner sleeping with a member of a specific gender, while another may require a detailed account of all interactions. 

Some couples may begin their relationship with an understanding that it is open or polyamorous, while others may choose this path down the line as their values and desires shift with age. If you are considering opening your relationship or are currently engaged in non-monogamy, a key aspect to consider is whether you are capable of experiencing compersion.  Compersion is a term that means one derives pleasure or joy from the knowledge that their partner is receiving love or pleasure from another individual.  Understanding this about yourself can assist in deciding whether or not it would be good fit to enter or sustain a polyamorous or open lifestyle. 

To learn more about maintaining a healthy relationship, reach out to one of our licensed couples counselor by clicking below:

Written by Joanna Aslanian, LPC, ATR-P

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Household Tasks

Performing household tasks- such as washing dishes and doing the laundry – are an inevitability of adult life.  Every individual has different preferences and standards for the levels of cleanliness that he/she upholds. When a couple chooses to cohabitate, they must also reconcile any differences in the performance of household tasks.  

It is not uncommon for couples to become stuck in a pattern of frustration surrounding the division or completion of menial tasks. If it goes unaddressed, what was seemingly small can- over time- feel monumental.  Here are some pieces of insight to help prevent or remedy this issue in your own relationship:

  • Keep in mind that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to divide household tasks; what works for one couple may be ineffective for another.  For example, there are some couples who may function best with a 50/50 split, while others may prefer a more fluid approach, and still others may have an arrangement where one partner completes the lion’s share of all household tasks.  All of these arrangements can work, as long as the situation is agreeable to both partners.
  • Getting help means relinquishing control. If you like tasks to be completed in a specific way, it may be challenging to allow your partner to take over.  If your partner is unfamiliar with a task, it may be appropriate to provide some amount of guidance if this can be done while maintaining a stance of mutual respect.  Once you have agreed to divvy up tasks, however, it is important that you allow your partner to have autonomy in completing his or her share; otherwise, you may be inadvertently signing up to complete more tasks than you would prefer.

To learn more about navigating household tasks with your partner, contact one of our couples counselors by clicking below:

Book an appointment with Artemis Counseling and Creative Life

Written by Joanna Aslanian, LPC, ATR-P

Creating and Maintaining Emotional Intimacy

Couples who come through our office often cite communication challenges and a lack of physical intimacy as main areas of concern.  An important third element in the relationship equation is the concept of emotional intimacy. Being able to communicate effectively and productively is a must, but it does not necessarily equate to emotional intimacy.  

So what exactly is emotional intimacy?  One could argue that a definition of this abstract feeling is highly subjective–but for the purpose of this blog, I will establish two main components:

  • An interest and in-depth understanding of each others’ internal worlds.  Effective communication is essential, but if it is only being used to discuss superficial aspects of your lives together, it will not do much to bring you closer together on an emotional level.  Asking questions and exploring one another’s passions, dreams, fears, and future aspirations are examples of topics that will lead to connection on a deeper emotional level.
  • Being vulnerable. Vulnerability precedes intimacy because it opens a pathway to your inner world that only a select few individuals are allowed to access.  By making yourself vulnerable, you are creating the opportunity for yourself to be fully known and accepted–and inviting your partner to do the same.

Both effective communication and physical closeness can exist without emotional intimacy (but rarely do!)  Without it a relationship loses its foundational strength. If you and your partner need assistance to locate or re-establish your ability to be fully present with one another, contact one of our couples counselors by clicking below:

Book an appointment with Artemis Counseling and Creative Life

Written by Joanna Aslanian, LPC, ATR-P

Mind-Reading: Why Doesn’t My Partner Just Know?

Rationally, we all know that our partner is incapable of reading our minds and anticipating our needs.  And yet, holding fast to this expectation is one of the most common blunders that we see in couples counseling.  

How can your partner know that you need more physical affection, or that you are bothered by the way she loads the dishwasher, if you never tell him/her? And what repercussions does this have on the relationship?

Here are some simple tips to improve communication and avoid this trap:

  1. If something bothers you, speak up! While few people enjoy confrontation, getting into the practice of airing your concerns in the moment will prevent both the continuation of the offense and residual resentment that builds over time.
  2. If you are looking for support, let your partner know how they can provide that.  Every person and situation is unique; sometimes you may need to talk, while other times you just need to be held.  Letting your partner know exactly what you need in the moment will ensure that your needs are being met.
  3. Catch yourself in the act.  If you find yourself feeling frustrated with your partner, ask yourself if you have done all that you can to express your needs and concerns. The more that you can recognize these mind-reading tendencies, the sooner you will be able to resolve them.

To learn more about improving communication with your partner, reach out to one of our couples counselors by clicking below:

Book an appointment with Artemis Counseling and Creative Life

Written by Joanna Aslanian, LPC, ATR-P