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

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

Book an appointment with Artemis Counseling and Creative Life