Why do couples argue?

Why do couples argue?

Couples often think their partner's behavior makes them upset. They believe they argue because their partner won't just do the right thing. In reality, it's not that our partner's behavior is the problem. It is the meaning we make of it, and the way we communicate about it, that causes arguments. This means that it is always a good idea to step back and ask ourselves, "What is this really about? What is my vulnerability here? Why am I arguing with my partner?"

Why do couples argue? It is all about the meaning we make.

It's not really the behavior that is upsetting; it's the meaning we attribute to it. And when we can get clear about this, and reflect on why we are upset and what meaning we are making of it, we are on our way to taking responsibility for our own feelings, and reactions.

Take for example the kitchen.

A young couple I've worked with recently has had an ongoing conflict about their division of labor. Their dynamic perfectly illustrates the conflict cycle that so many couples deal with.

Every evening, the wife (I'll call her Sally) bathes baby while the husband (let's call him Bobby) cleans up the kitchen. Routinely, Bobby forgets to wipe down the counter. Routinely, Sally enters the kitchen to find the job not done. It makes her crazy.

"Why do you always do this?," she demands. "Why can't you finish the job? Do you expect me to do everything? I can't count on you."

Unsurprisingly, Bobby takes offense. He feels defeated, like he can never do anything right -- at least in Sally's eyes. He decides her standards are too high.

"Why can't we just leave the counter alone? Why are you so picky? Your standards are unreasonable," he complains.

Unfortunately, the couple then begin to debate who has the "right" standards, who is "right" and "wrong" about wiping down the counters. She feels like she's living with another child. He feels like he's married to his boss, or his mother.

There's no romance. They are driving a wedge in their relationship and further tearing at the bond of trust that once bound them. Neither feels safe.

They are having the wrong conversation.

Instead of the chores, they need to shift to the meaning of the chores. What does the conflict about the chores represent? When they've identified the meaning behind the conflict, they can partner together to solve their problem and restore their trust and connection.

I turn to Sally. "What is the significance of the chores?," I ask. She explains that she's a feminist. Her parents had a very inegalitarian marriage and she is afraid that she'll end up like her mom. She does not want her son to grow up in such a household. Moreover, since she's explained herself to Bobby, she thinks that his carelessness is a symptom of his disregard for her and her feelings.

I turn to Bobby. "How does it feel for you to talk about this issue," I ask him. He feels shamed, helpless, hopeless. He forgot to wipe down the table, and he just knew she was going to get into an argument about it. And here they were, talking about chores for the umpteenth time.

I gently remind Sally to just listen, and not defend herself. Sally hears that Bobby feels defeated about this. Bobby hears that for Sally, chores represent something personal to her, about her.

I remind them that when they are arguing about the facts of the case, they are having the wrong conversation. This type of (typical) couples' argument pus them in a zero-sum game. They are pitting themselves against each other.

Your partner can be the person who makes you feel safe in the world, but they can't do that if you are enemies.

The conversation goes the way it starts

Sally softens, and feels some connection with Bobby after hearing about how defeated he feels about the whole situation. She turns her complaint into a request.

"Bobby," she says, "When you leave the counters dirty, I feel like you don't care about how important an equal partnership is to me. I am not saying that you actually think this, but I wonder if you care. I am grateful for all the work you do. And it would mean a lot to me if you'd wipe down the counters when you clean up the kitchen. Would you do that?"

Bobby feels relieved. It's nice to know that she doesn't think he's a total slacker. He feels respected. He says he'll wipe down the counters, and asks her to kindly remind him, and let him take care of it, if he should ever get distracted and forget.

We talk about the importance of a gentle start-up when we have an issue to raise with our partner; research shows that conversations tend to go in the same way they start. We talk about the value of making a simple request when we have a complaint; it leads to less defensiveness, and we put ourselves in problem-solver mode. We talk about the benefits that come from discussing issues like this in a neutral time, rather than in the heat of the moment.

Realizing why couples argue lets us turn it around.

If you are experiencing conflict in your relationship, try taking time for self-reflection before you talk. Ask yourself “Why exactly am I upset? What does this mean to me? What do I want to ask my partner?”


Then choose a neutral time to bring the topic up. When we ask ourselves why do couples argue, or why am I arguing with my partner, it is always a good idea to look at the meaning we make of it. You can read more about this approach to conflict here.

With practice, you can learn to make your relationship the safe harbor it can be. And both of you will be better for it!


a sense of belonging

A Sense of Belonging at the Super Bowl

This Sunday, almost 100 million people will tune in to watch the Super Bowl. Many will have too much to drink. Almost all will have too much to eat. Presumably, about half will be disappointed in the result. All will have the chance to feel a sense of belonging.

Most of the time, we watch with others who support the same team. This brings us a sense of connection and camaraderie. And woe to those who are watching with people who support the rival team. They become strangers in a strange land.

Military by proxy

The military overtones of football have always intrigued me. As spectators, we feel a kind of kinship with our would-be brothers-in-arms by proxy. I always imagine football coaches as reincarnated military generals, plotting offense and defense, anticipating the enemy's move.

In football, of course, nobody dies. We have come a long way since the ancient days of arena sports. We don't watch gladiators fight to the death. Lacrosse teams do not actually get slaughtered (only sometimes metaphorically). Yet the stakes feel incredibly high.

The thrill of the game

For those of us who tune in for the sport (not the commercials, or the halftime show), spectatorship can bring a kind of thrill. When we care about the game, our adrenaline spikes. Our team gets ahead, we have a little flow of endorphins. Our team falls behind, and cortisol surges. It's a kind of torture, willingly undertaken.

I remember shouting from the sidelines when my kids played football. Never before would I have imagined I would yell, "Get him!" about another 9-year-old. And yet, that's what I yelled. And wondered who I had become, and what had become of me?

A sense of belonging

This weekend as I settle in to watch the Super Bowl, I will relax knowing that this time, I really don't care about the result. I don't have any skin in the game. And so I will also be watching the people watching. I can feel their thrill and their pain. I know what it is like to care.

And to shout "Get him!" about another human being.

And wonder at the sense of belonging we feel when we are banded against an Other.

On Sunday, I will be glad that it is really only about football, after all.


Setting intention for the year ahead: 1/6/2020

 

The new year is often a time of reflection and intention setting. I am always inspired by the universality of the new year. Across the globe, every human is experiencing the same event. Regardless of religion, language, country, or culture, we all transition to a new year on January 1.

In this meditation, we center ourselves, and set an intention for good things to come in the year ahead. Then we move from the personal to the collective, setting an intention for a more peaceful world.

We close by returning to our own intention and sending all the good thoughts out into the world.

Meditation increases our sense of wellbeing. It has physical as well as emotional and mental benefits.

I'm offering this for free. If you like it, check out others, and share with others! If you want to join the weekly call on Mondays at 12:15, dial 515-604-9056 and enter access code 785791#.  :-)


Healing from a breakup

Healing from a breakup

Are you going through a breakup? You are not alone. The highest rate of breakups occurs during the two weeks before Christmas, and January is known as "divorce month." Of course, the holidays are hard on people who are heartbroken, even if their breakups happened months ago. No matter when you are reading this, there is no better time than right now to begin the journey to healing from a breakup.

Growing through a breakup.

As you move through the coming days, weeks, and months, it is important to heal the wounds from this relationship so you can create a life you can be excited about. Healing is possible. The saying goes, "time heals all wounds," but we know that it really takes more than time. It takes attention, intention, and courage to move through the pain and come out stronger, wiser, and more loving than before.

That means that this is a great time to consider therapy, or consider taking my course on healing from a breakup.

What about breaking up and getting back together?

It seems romantic, and it may seem tempting. However, research shows that reuniting with your ex is probably not a good idea. We once believed it may lead to more commitment and dedication over the long run. Turns out, we were wrong.

That does not mean that breaking up and getting back together, or cycling, is not unusual, however. In fact, half of couples who break up end up getting back together. Cycling is common in couples who live together: 37% of unmarried cohabitating couples and 23% of married couples have cycled, and 40% of college-age young adults are in cyclical relationships.

Over the long run, cycling relationships do not tend to be healthy. One study showed that cyclical couples have poorer relationship quality, lower commitment and satisfaction, more uncertainty in the relationship, poorer communication, more conflict than stable couples have. Moreover, the damage increases with each successive cycle.

Being in unhappy relationships is not good for us.

Practice thinking of this as a net positive. If it was a happy relationship, it would likely not have ended. This is important to consider because poor relationships are stressful. Moreover, they take more than just an emotional toll. They leave us in an almost chronic state of fight-flight-freeze. The impact on our physical health of chronic stress is clear, and poor relationships in particular lead to higher rates of metabolic syndrome (this), heart disease, and diabetes.

If you break up and get back together, it is likely you will not be in a happy relationship. And being in an unhappy relationship is not just hard on us emotionally, it takes a toll on our health. So if you are broken up, it is probably best to focus on healing and moving on, rather than trying to get your ex back.

Healing from a breakup: Learn the lesson, heal the pain.

As you do your healing work, it is important to keep things in perspective. Maybe you were insecure or afraid of being alone, so you attached yourself to an unhealthy partner.

Perhaps you became blameful, contemptuous, or resentful of your partner; maybe they did these things to you.

Did you expect your partner to understand your wants and needs without having to actually express them (this is always a mistake)? Did they do this to you?

Is it possible that one of you withdrew or "stonewalled" during conflict?

Perhaps you two just had incompatible conflict styles; this is a known predictor of divorce and breakups.

In the quiet of your own mind, reflect on what happened in your relationship. As you do your post-mortem, you will find there are important lessons for you to take away. Learning these lessons will help you to create a healthier relationship in the future.

Moving ahead.

As hard as it is to go through a breakup, it is important to remember that breakups happen for reasons, and it is really helpful for you to remember  those reasons. Additionally, remember that you will not be in pain forever; you will get over it; you will love again.

If you proceed with care, your next relationship will be healthier than the one you just lost. Part of that "care" in healing from a breakup is in doing your own personal work to make sure you learn the important lesson and heal the underlying wounds so that you don't create the same patterns again. This course can help. :)

Here's to making 2020 the best year ever!


Why do we suffer? It's universal

Why do we suffer?

Every single one of us will experience some kind of challenge during our lifetime. These challenges are inevitable. Navigating those challenges, and learning what we need to learn from them, are some of the most productive experiences we will have. When we recognize the universality of adversity in the human experience, we are able to ease up on ourselves as we struggle our way forward through these challenges. Instead of asking "why do we suffer?", we learn to ask, "what can I learn from this?"

I have been working as a therapist for over a decade, and I have seen clients struggle with the three big stressors: health crises, relationship crises, and financial crises. In every case, it is as though the Universe is bringing up issues, sometimes repeatedly, to show us where we are vulnerable. Being courageous in the face of this vulnerability is the first step to healing.

Being Courageous

This means that we take the position that our struggles are not some "unfair thing" that is happening to us; instead, we choose to believe that in overcoming our struggle, there is a tremendous opportunity for personal growth. Surely, there are unfair things that are way outside of our control that do happen to us. But placing our attention there saps our energy and removes us from our personal empowerment. By focusing instead on how we can grow from these hard experiences, we put ourselves in the driver's seat of our lives.

Fostering a sense of authorship

I have noticed a pattern so often that I am now deeply convicted of its truth: When we focus on the things that we can do something about, we feel a sense of efficacy, of authorship, over our lives. Most of life is out of our domain, but it as though we are an artist; we have been provided the canvas and the paints, but we are the ones holding the brush. It is up to us to create the best we can with what we have.

Sometimes, friends and family, books and workshops, places of worship or spiritual practices help us through our struggles. Sometimes counseling can help. If you are struggling and would like some perspective, give me a call.


The words we speak

The words we speak

Our words affect our feelings, and create our lives....

Words have power

The words we speak create the context and template for our lives. Our words have a lot of power, so it is important to use them with care. When we are precise with our words and avoid dramatic emotional language, our emotions calm down and life becomes smoother.

I am a therapist, so I have plenty of opportunities to hear how people talk to themselves, and talk about themselves. I also am a human being, and therefore I have plenty of opportunities to talk to myself, about myself! And I know, from both perspectives, that words matter.

Words matter.

The words we speak matter. They create the context and template for our lives. They drive our emotions, for better and for worse.

As you read these phrases, try to feel into them:

  • This is awful.
  • I can't handle it.
  • You make me furious.
  • This is unbearable.
  • I will never get over this.
  • I'm sick of it.
  • I'm tired of it.
  • I can't take it anymore.
  • There's something wrong with you.
  • There's something wrong with me.

All of these common phrases carry a lot of emotional weight. So much weight that they can trap us. Using words and phrases like these can pin us under our emotions.

We all experience all of the emotions, the comfortable ones and the uncomfortable ones. They are part of being human. We all experience challenging situations, heartache, and loss. These are part of the human condition.

Acceptance and grace come when we are able to strip away the emotional language. When we do this, we are left with a situation ― whatever the situation is ― that we are better able to handle.

Words work magic

The magic comes when we can identify that we are experiencing a certain uncomfortable feeling, and that the feeling is ours. This allows us to move toward a state of grace with what is.

Using simple, clear, precise language to describe our situation helps us to get into a state of acceptance, a state of grace, with what is. It is more common to resist uncomfortable situations. Our cultural myth holds that when we suffer there is something wrong. We rail against the injustices we experience and the unfairness of it all; we want things to be the way we want them to be. And that leads to emotional discomfort.

We feel better when we recognize that all this suffering is normal, and everything is changing all the time. We learn to accept that things don't go our way. People die. Couples divorce. Children leave. Lovers break up. Companies fail. Everything is temporary. We all experience loss.

Words in action

I recently talked with a client about her breakup. She said,
"I was such a mess, I drove away the one person I loved most; now he is
repulsed by me."

Ouch.

I had heard about the breakup. I had heard that theirs was his first real relationship. I also had heard that he wanted things to be "as they had been before." They were still talking on the phone twice a day. It was a complicated situation.

I had never heard that he was "repulsed" by her.

"Let's try some different language," I suggested.

I much prefer the narrative that the pressures of a long-distance relationship took their toll on this couple. They had loved; she had grown anxious about his love (an anxious attachment style is pretty common). He had grown more detached (a avoidant attachment style is also pretty common). He valued her very much and did not want her to hurt. He was new at the whole romantic relationship thing, and maybe didn't realize that feelings wax and wane, problems arise and resolve, and people are perfectly imperfect. They both learned and grew together. They parted with kindness and compassion, and on friendly terms.

And it hurts. Of course it hurts. How could it not hurt? And it passes. Everything is temporary.

Words in practice

She tried my suggestion. She re-stated the case. She did not say "he is repulsed by me." She said, "he broke up with me." She didn't say "I was such a mess." She said, "the pressure of the distant relationship took a toll on me, and on him." She felt a little better. She even smiled.

When we use big emotional language to describe our situation, we can't find our way out from under it. Yet when we use precise language to describe our situation, we get some of our power back. It does not change the situation, but it helps us feel better about the situation. And that is usually the only thing we can do anything about, anyway.


Blame vs Responsibility

The line between blame and responsibility

Blame vs. responsibility

There is a huge difference between "whose fault is it?" and "whose responsibility is it?" Learning to distinguish between the two (and learning which question to ask) is powerful and empowering.

In a therapy office, blame is often present but rarely
useful. Clients come in to deal with problems, and those problems have origins ―
and they have solutions. Many of my clients torment themselves with self-blame,
or they are caught in a loop of blaming others for the pain they are
experiencing. These ways of thinking keep us stuck. Understanding the genesis
of a problem is helpful; taking responsibility for solving it is ― well, it is everything.

Self-blame

Self-blame is like a poison, keeping us stuck in the past
and nurturing feelings of not being enough, not being worthy. It is the
antithesis to self-compassion or self-acceptance. Self-blame dims our light.
When we are stuck in a pattern of blaming ourselves, we necessarily will be blameful
of and hard on others. When we can't love and accept ourselves, we will have a
hell of a time trying to love and accept anyone else.

Blaming others

Blaming others is like fly tape. When we keep blaming those
who have wronged us, we stay stuck in the problem. The more we rail against the
unfairness of it all, the more we lash out with blame in thought or word or
deed, the more stuck in the problem we become. 

That does not mean that important childhood events don't
leave their mark on us. The trick is to tell the story in a way that sets us
free, rather than that keeps us stuck. And then, we need to move from the
problem to the solution.

For example, it is one thing to say, "I have low
self-esteem because my mother criticized me constantly; it is her fault! She
did this to me."

It is quite another to say, "I have been living with low
self-esteem for a long time, and it probably stems from the way my mother criticized
me when I was a child. She was not very skillful and was probably pretty
wounded herself."

Whose problem is it now? And who has the power to solve it?

In order to live happy, peaceful, empowered lives, we need to take the reins. Ultimately, our healing lies in our own hands. It is not possible for our critical mothers, or abusive relatives, or inept teachers, or anyone else from our past, to solve the problems they set up for us. Only we can do that.

The first step to solving the problem is to step outside of blame and into responsibility. Yes, this problem has an origin. Yes, someone did something. And yes, now we have a problem to solve.

Blame vs. responsibility: We have a problem to solve.

When we make this shift, the problem and its solution have become our responsibility, and our healing has begun.


A Case for Counseling

Why Get Counseling?

Getting therapy isn't just good for you. It's good for the people in your life.

I'm a therapist, so maybe I'm biased. From my perspective, there are benefits of counseling that are important, not just for the one getting counseling, but for everyone in their lives. Therapy is the opposite of self-indulgent. It is actually a win-win; it is pro-social. This is because of the effect we have on each other. The more we are happy and self-accepting, the better we will treat others and the more accepting of others we will be.

The whole is the sum of its parts.

Our human family is made up of seven billion individuals. Each of us makes an impact on the world― primarily in how we affect other people. Most of us yearn for a more peaceful and happier world. We can each do our part to make that happen ― one more peaceful and happier person at a time.

But today, a lot of people are unhappy. They struggle with depression and anxiety and low self-esteem. This is noteworthy because we see the world through the lens of our own wounding. Parents who are abusive, neglectful, or just oblivious to their kids' struggles, mostly because they are dealing with their own struggles, leave us feeling like we are not enough. Schoolyard bullies, who try to assert their place in a Lord of the Flies type of environment, leave wounds that are just as indelible.

We can do better, and I believe we should make a collective decision to do so. As adults, when we choose to heal our old wounds, we are less likely to inflict those wounds on others. It seems that this is a high calling. Indeed, parents can learn to be more attentive and mindful of their kids. They can even heal the wounds that lead to their abuse and neglect. Schoolchildren can learn the value of compassion; this is a hallmark call from the Dalai Lama.

Hurt people hurt people

There's an old saying, "hurt people hurt people." This is often quite true! When I work with couples, for example, I find that people are often projecting their own hurts onto their partner. Recently, I asked a husband and wife (I'll call them Bill and Susie) to tell each other what they appreciate about each other. Bill told Susie that he appreciated that she's a great, devoted mother, and that she's very loving.

I asked Susie to repeat what she'd heard Bill say. "He said he appreciates that I'm a devoted and loving mother," she replied. This led to an interesting conversation about how lovable she believes she is; where in her life the breakdown started, or the origin of the wound; and most importantly, how to begin to shift her thinking so that she can believe that she, in fact, is lovable.

Healing the wounds

Many adults in modern Western society are living with the aftermath of parenting that was less than ideal, or the impact of other children's cruelty. Unless and until they work to uncover and heal those old wounds, they move through the world feeling that they are not enough: not lovable, not worthy, not safe, not deserving. Most people agree that all human beings have worth. Believing it's true for you is one of the benefits of counseling.

Can we heal those old wounds? Can we soothe the pain and learn that we are, in fact, all worthy and deserving of love, peace, freedom, and happiness? We can, and it's not even that hard to do! Therapies working in the subconscious level are very effective in helping us achieve rapid, positive, lasting change. These therapies include EMDR, NLP, hypnotherapy, and EFT and other forms of energy psychology, and modalities that are grounded in Eastern practices, such as "heart breathing."

The yoga sutras teach us that when a negative thought is present, we should cultivate its opposite. The Dalai Lama says that we overcome negativity by cultivating positivity. Indeed, we can learn and practice self-compassion. When we do, we have more compassion to give to others. This matters, because when we have compassion, we are able to create a more peaceful world.

In order for humanity to thrive, maybe even to survive, we need to do our healing work. It is not selfish or self-indulgent to do this work. It is essential. I don't just do the work for me. You don't just do the work for you. We do the work for all of us. When we do, we are doing our little part to create a more
peaceful world, one more peaceful person at a time.


Setting Personal Boundaries

Strategies for setting healthy boundaries

Having healthy boundaries is essential for our overall well-being. It also lays the groundwork for healthy relationships. Here are tips on how to create them.


Healthy boundaries create a virtuous cycle of positive self-esteem and personal responsibility. Unhealthy boundaries, on the other hand, leave us feeling resentful, angry, and at risk of burnout. Interested in setting healthy boundaries and need more information? Read on.


What are healthy boundaries?


Personal boundaries are rules we establish for how others treat us. Healthy boundaries tend to go hand-in-hand with good self-esteem and peaceful relationships. Unhealthy ones lead to chaos.


Consider this: We are constantly teaching others how to be in relationship with us. That means that if you don't like how others are treating you, it's time to set new rules! Sounds scary? It's actually pretty simple, once you understand the lay of the land.


What do healthy and unhealthy boundaries look like?


There are real differences between healthy and unhealthy boundaries. These differences can be learned, or unlearned. Here are some of the most noticeable traits:


Signs of healthy boundaries


  • High self-esteem
  • Assertive; can say "yes" or"no" truthfully, and accept another's "no"
  • Take personal responsibility for their own happiness
  • Recognize that they are not responsible for others' happiness
  • Empowered, high sense of self-efficacy
  • Able to speak their truth clearly and directly
  • States their needs or makes requests simply and clearly


Signs of unhealthy boundaries


  • Low self-esteem; self-esteem depends on how others treat them
  • Hard time saying no; say yes when wanting to say no; expects others to just say "yes"
  • Do not understand that they create their own happiness
  • Believe they are responsible for others' happiness
  • Disempowered; tend to blame others
  • Have a hard time speaking their truth; become shut down or explode, or both
  • Over-explain; apologize


Setting healthy boundaries


When you need to set a boundary, be clear and calm, and use respectful language. You do not need to explain yourself. There is no need to apologize. There is no reason to get angry or upset. You are simply setting a boundary, letting the other party understand what you will and won't accept. You may even be their role model!


If this is a new skill, remember that it takes practice, and you are not the only one learning ― so are the people you are trying to establish the boundaries with.


Expect some resistance and discomfort at first, and don't back down. You teach your boundary through your words and actions. Unlike a "no trespassing" sign, people don't necessarily know where your boundary is without bumping into it.


What to do when someone has violated a boundary


"When are you going to get married?" "Your husband is at it again!" "Can you believe so-and-so did such-and-such?" "You are too pretty to be working so hard." The questions and comments can come unexpectedly. When we are caught off guard, it is hard to know how to handle it. A giggle, a blush, a reluctant joining do not effectively give the signal that our boundary has been crossed.


So how do you react when someone has violated a boundary? Give a simple, clear response like:


  • That kind of question is uncomfortable for me
  • Those are things I am not going to discuss
  • I'm not comfortable with that kind of comment
  • Please don't make comments about my appearance


Establishing healthy boundaries in existing relationships


What if the person habitually makes comments, and they have for a long time? Again, simply and clearly state your case.


You might choose to begin by addressing the fact that you are making a change. Say something like "I know that in the past you/we have said/done XYZ. But I'm not comfortable with that. So―


  • I'd rather not discuss whether or when I'm going to get married.
  • Let's not discuss my husband/wife/partner.
  • I'd rather not talk about him/her/them/that.
  • Please don't make comments about my appearance.


Why can it be so hard to set healthy boundaries?


Sometimes people have a hard time setting healthy boundaries. They may feel guilty or undeserving, or the whole thing might feel unnatural. This is common when


  • You we were brought up being taught that it was selfish to take care of yourself
  • Your parents or caregivers did not model healthy boundaries
  • You fear abandonment or rejection
  • You don't feel good about yourself


When people don't like your new healthy boundaries


Your responsibility is to set your boundaries. How the listener responds is their responsibility.


If they become defensive or embarrassed, keep your cool. Remember to be respectful and compassionate. If they become angry and abusive, give them time to calm down.  Perhaps you have collected people who are toxic and seek to manipulate and control you. If they won't respect your healthy boundaries, then you have the right to let them go.


If things feel awkward, don't backslide. Remember, the listener is responsible for their reaction or response, not you. As long as you are sure that you've done your best to speak respectfully and clearly, you have done your part. It might feel awkward and it might have come out a little clumsily; that's part of the learning process and it is OK!


Having healthy boundaries is a two-way street


Make sure that you return the healthy boundaries in kind: avoid gossip and refrain from making inappropriate comments yourself. 


Setting healthy boundaries creates a virtuous cycle of positive self-esteem and feeling that you are running your own show. You have aright to self-care and to respectful treatment. The people in your life benefit by seeing a happy empowered you. Hopefully, they will learn through your example.


having the same argument time and time again?

Same argument time and time again? Try this.

Often couples find themselves locked in a fruitless conversation, having the same argument time and time again, with no resolution in sight. The bad news is that this can lead both parties to feel hopeless, helpless, and misunderstood. It can create distance between you.

Stop having the same argument time and time again

The good news is that when we learn to communicate about what is truly important, going beneath the surface details to find our "pain point" and speak from there, these issues can actually help us grow closer.

It's not about the "facts of the case"

Often we think we know why we are upset. Sadly, we are wrong. "It's because he leaves his socks on the floor," "it's because she doesn't rinse the plates before filling the dishwasher." On and on it goes.

There are several problems with this approach, but the most important part is that we are having the wrong conversation. When we engage in the surface details of the argument, we are gravely missing the point. It's not the "facts of the case" that are really at issue.

It's the feelings.

Imagine it were your neighbor telling you about the socks on the floor or the dishes un-rinsed in the dishwasher. Would that make you so upset?

But, you say, these are my dishes and my floor; it creates a problem for me.

You have a point. But then again, think of all the sacrifices you have cheerfully made, the diapers you've changed, the cat boxes you've scooped, the dog poop you've bagged without question… socks and dishes aren't the very worst thing you've dealt with. So why is this issue a problem?

The art of going deeper

Beneath every uncomfortable argument, behind almost every angry feeling, is something more vulnerable. This is the feeling to identify, and the one to lead with. But often it can be difficult to figure out what is going on under the surface.

When you find yourself getting angry at your partner, take a moment to pause and reflect. Ask yourself a few questions.

  1. Why is this important to me?
  2. What feeling am I feeling?
  3. When have I felt this before? (Hint: it's almost always a life lesson, something we've been dealing with for a long time, that gets us riled up.)

Then lead with your feelings. It's much easier to be open to a request that is spoken with kindness rather than accusation, and that hinges on our vulnerability rather than a criticism of them. It goes something like

"Hey, I know you're tired at the end of the day and I appreciate how hard you work. But when I see your dirty socks on the floor, I just get caught up in this negative thinking about how I was always the one who had to help my mom with the chores… and it brings up those old feelings of being unappreciated. It would mean so much to me if you would please make an effort to put the socks in the hamper. Would you do that for me? Thank you."

Contrast that with the (eye roll, big sigh; angrily pick up socks and slam into hamper). "Why don't you ever put your socks in the hamper!?!"

There ya go. So ― go deeper. Once you know why you are upset, and you know that it is your own story grounded in your own history and vulnerability, you will be more likely to speak softly. And you will be more likely to get the response you want.