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Sometimes you might find yourself in a relationship that is not totally healthy anymore, or where you're no longer happy. Instead of taking the necessary steps to begin to leave your relationship, you stick around and just hope things will be better. When you're stuck in a rut and your partner isn't really trying to work with you, you might just be in denial about what you need to do. On the other hand, if you do still have strong feelings for your partner and hope that things could improve, it might just be time to step up and fight for your relationship. How do you know if you should stay and fight or if you're just in denial about leaving and afraid to admit the truth?
What Percentage of You is Ready to Go?
Are you 50% invested in the relationship, and 50% ready to go? Or are you 99.9% ready to leave the relationship but you're just afraid? On the one hand, even if you only have a very small percentage of your heart that is not ready to leave, you should put leaving on the shelf and talk to your partner about how to make the relationship better. This is the only way to give saving the relationship a fighting chance. But, if you have tried to put leaving on the shelf and the percentage of you that wants to go keeps growing -- you may just be in denial about what your true feelings are.
How is Your Partner Reacting?
It takes two to tango. If you are willing to fight for the relationship but your partner isn't, you can't fully recover as a couple. Whether you have past relationship wounds, or just burn out, you must both be willing to truly invest. Are you making excuses for your partner? Pretending he has a reason for why he isn't trying, or telling others that he is making strides when you don't really see any signs of effort? If your partner is not really making an effort but you continue to hold out hope for years, you might be in denial about the fact that your spouse just isn't willing to work for the relationship.
How Long Have You Thought About Leaving?
Are your thoughts about leaving fairly new, or have you been considering this action for a long time? If you have been on the fence for a long time, you need to think about what is really keeping you in the relationship. Do you really still see hope for making it work, or are you just afraid of the unknown? If you are only staying because you are afraid to be alone, it's time to step out of denial and take the jump. Your partner can probably sense that you're not truly happy, and you are wasting your time and his.
If you don't know if you're in denial about leaving or should really stay, going to counseling can help you decide what the best course of action is. EFT can help you reconnect with your partner, or come to terms with how to end the relationship.
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1. Improved Communication
Counseling will teach you how to talk to your spouse about your feelings in a way that does not come across as attacking. This is essential! If your significant other feels attacked when you approach him, he will become defensive right away and communication breaks down. By figuring out how to approach each other in a way that is not nagging or blaming, you can really start to hear each other and work together. Communication is one of the most important ways to keep your marriage in tact.
2. Creating a Safe Space
You need to feel safe in a marriage. That includes being able to open up, be yourself, and know that your partner will always be there for you. Counseling helps build a secure bond with your partner so that you both feel safe. On top of improving your communication, turning your marriage into a safe space can also eliminate jealousy and improve your trust. In counseling, you can both express what you need to happen for the marriage to feel secure and safe, and your therapist will serve as a guide to the process -- she will make sure both parties are heard.
3. Dealing With Past Hurt
Once you know how to communicate with each other and feel safe, counseling will let you deal with past hurt. Whether its infidelity in your own relationship, or trauma that you experienced outside of the relationship, dealing with past pain will let you heal and move forward in a more healthy way. Letting your partner in on your past hurt and help you move past it will bring you closer, and just might save your marriage.
Mentally Prepare Yourself
Chances are, a difficult relative isn't going to suddenly come out of the woodwork. If Aunt Ida was a challenge last Christmas, you can expect the same this year, and you know exactly they type of behavior she will pull out of her hat. Go into celebrations and family gatherings with a game plan for how you will deflect certain comments or change the subject when a particular comment or bad joke happens. You'll have a much easier time staying calm and getting out of a sticky situation if you have an idea of how you're going to handle it before hand. You can just stick to the plan as opposed to having to think on your feet.
Have a Partner in Crime
If you and your sister both share the same problem with one relative, make a mutual deal where you'll save each other from an uncomfortable conversation with that person. Knowing that someone else at the party has your back can take a lot of stress off of your shoulders. Your sister (or other designated family member) will swoop in to pull you away if they spot you being hounded about being single for the 3rd Christmas in a row, or dealing with yet another offensive joke from your cousin's husband.
Don't Contribute to the Problem
Just because someone in your family insists on being a thorn in your side doesn't mean that you have to retaliate with bad behavior of your own. While you don't need to be a doormat, don't let yourself get riled up and yell at someone -- because then you'll just look like the bad guy who ruined the Christmas party. If a family member tries to pick a fight, let her know flat out that you're not going to argue on the holiday. If someone insists on chiding you about some aspect of your life, just let him know you don't want to talk about that subject and turn the conversation to something else. Repeat yourself if necessary, or leave the room if that is the only way to diffuse a potential argument.
Try to Empathize
If someone is really negative during the holidays, they usually have something bad going on in their life or are generally an insecure or unhappy person. Try to look at your difficult family member through that lens, as difficult as that may be, and remember that they are communicating in the only way they know how given their state. They might actually be trying to connect with you even though it seems they're being critical or harsh.
Sometimes taking a few minutes alone in a private room, or going for a walk, is all you need to calm down and re-energize. These 10 to 15 minute breaks will give you a reprieve from your troublesome family members and give you a chance to consciously focus on something positive. Use this time to call a friend who is somewhere else and make jokes to get your mind back in a positive space before you return to your family.
The family members in your life might not always be the easiest pill to swallow, but just remember that in a matter of days you will return to your regular life. Try to focus on positive things about your family and turn their flaws into funny quirks in your mind.
Breaking Down Different Therapy Degrees
Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT)MFTs are licensed to work in their state and provide mental health services surrounding issues of relationships. After getting a graduate degree in marriage and family therapy, MFTs also complete 3,000 hours of an internship under the supervision of another licensed MFT where they work with real clients. A marriage and family therapist helps you get to the core of your emotional issues, and will often look at problems from the context of the relationships in your life. An MFT often works with couples, but can also provide individual counseling. Within the MFT field, counselors use different theoretical approaches. I use Emotionally Focused Therapy.
What to Consider if You're One Foot Out the Door
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Women who are unfulfilled in a relationship soon begin to live on the fence. Half invested the relationship, half completely checked out and ready to leave. When this happens, you can’t seem to find that feeling of love and feeling alive. Thoughts of stepping out of the relationship become more frequent and much more tempting. Women might feel especially torn because they don’t want to do the wrong thing, the guilt takes over, or the fear of the unknown gets overwhelming. The hardest part is when children are part of the equation; women can feel a strong sense of obligation to make it work for the kids yet they are dying inside. If you’re on the fence, look for the signs of burn out and ask yourself some big questions.
Do you feel burnt out in your relationship? No matter how hard you try to feel emotions, you just can’t seem to find a spark? Hours of the same arguments, trust issues, and feeling unheard can lead to the same burn out you experience when you spend too much time getting frustrated about anything. When you feel burnt out, you may begin to have difficulty sleeping, feel anxious often, and just be sick of dealing with your partner. At this point in the relationship is when women will often consider leaving. Before you head out the door, however, take the time to really ask yourself important questions and weigh the options.
How Much Are You On The Fence?
Having uncertainty in your relationship because your partner continues to be unfaithful is very different than being on the fence because he is needy or calls too much. One of these issues is a serious crack in the foundation of your relationship, and the other might be fixed with an honest conversation. When you are on the fence, a large part of you is already out of the relationship but a small part is hanging on and might consider staying. When you find yourself on the fence of a relationship, take a step back and imagine if there is anything he could magically change or become, would it help you consider putting a little bit of your heart back in the relationship? Will the problems you face allow you two time for recovery if he starts showing up EXACTLY how you need him to be? Or is it “too little too late?”
Are You Telling Him What You Need And Exactly Where You Are?
It’s important to ask yourself when you’re considering leaving your relationship: “Have I told him what’s bothering and the changes I need to consider working on the relationship?” If your partner is blissfully unaware that anything is wrong (or the severity of where you are) things can’t get better! Communicate how severe things are, what you need, and the ways in which you think the relationship needs to change. Then…listen! Once a dialogue is open, you might find that you start to feel more secure in the relationship and get off the fence.
Is He Willing to Work
It really does take two to make a relationship work. If you are on the fence because you have expressed what you need or want to change and your partner is unwilling to bend, you probably feel like you’re in the relationship alone. When you find yourself here, it’s time to consider seeking counseling NOW! Make sure you are ready to leave by sorting through the history of how you got to this place. You may be flirting with the idea of landing on the other side of the fence – leaving -- but make sure you have exhausted all your resources and attempts. Still, it is hard to fight for a relationship when the other person is not equally invested or willing to work on it.
Is a Third Party Involved?
If you are a woman on the fence because you are having a fling, or have feelings for someone else, the first step is to cut off communication with the third party – at least in the short term. Only once you have stopped talking to the other object of your desire can you have a clear head about whether or not you should stay or go in your current relationship. If you do decide to leave the relationship, make sure to close that door completely before you start something new.
Experiencing relationship burn out is something many women experience, and doesn’t necessarily signal the end of the relationship. If you are willing to put in work, and so is your partner, you might be able to salvage what you have. If you decide to move on, do yourself a favor and make sure one relationship is over before you start a different one – or things will only become more complicated.
I am proud to have two MFT interns in my Mission Valley practice, both of whom offer week day and weekend appointments for individuals and couples. Want to get to know them better before you book a session? That's understandable! Here is an interview with Susan Buckley, one of my interns.
When did you decide to go into Marriage and Family Therapy?
Do you have advice for someone who is considering becoming an MFT?
What would you say to someone who is nervous about setting up their first counseling session?