Avoiding Holiday Financial Strain In Your Marriage

Let the counselors at OC Relationship Center help you learn to communicate about finances in your relationship.Christmas is quickly approaching. In the midst of all the fun that’s to be had with putting up the lights, trimming the tree, and baking Christmas cookies, one thing is for sure – Christmas can be a very stressful time financially for some families.

In addition to the presents that need to be purchased for the children, there’s also the chore of finding money in the budget for gifts for relatives and Christmas parties. By the end of the month, a lot of couples find themselves in debt. Not to mention, many couples don’t even buy gifts for each other so that the others in their families can be taken care of.

Communication Is Key

Many of the couples we work with find that they struggle with money during the holidays because they do not discuss how much they will be spending. If you share a checking account, it might not be uncommon for you to check your account, only to find that most of your money has already been spent for the week or the month. That can cause stress during any time of the year, but during Christmas, it can be a real problem.

As you go into the Christmas season, and as you begin to plan your holiday shopping trips, sit down and talk to each other about how much money you’re going to spend on gifts. Discuss your other bills as well, and put together a strategy as to how you’re going to cover your expenses and still buy gifts for everyone on your list. The important thing is to get on the same page.

Use Cash Instead of Credit

During this time of year, those credit cards in your wallet can look pretty tempting. However, remember how much stress those bills will cause you after the holiday season is over. Whenever possible, start saving early in the year for your holiday purchases; this will make is easier to resist the urge to use credit cards as much as you can. You might even consider saving cash in a separate “Christmas Fund” envelope to pay for holiday gifts so that there is never any confusion over how much money you have available to spend.

plan ahead for Next Year – together

If you communicate with each other this year, you’ll find that your stress levels will decrease substantially. However, going forward, it’s a good idea to make a plan for next Christmas right now. When you know that you’re going to have financial concerns about Christmas every year, why not plan ahead to make things easier? Many banks offer Christmas savings clubs that deposit money from your paychecks every week automatically. That twenty dollars a week probably won’t even be missed, and when Christmas comes, you’ll have a good start on the money you’ll need to buy gifts.

Above all, remember that Christmas is supposed to be a joyful time of year. By taking the time to communicate with each other, and come up with a plan of attack together for your purchases, you can experience more of that joy as a couple. That alone can make this Christmas the best one you’ve ever had.

Common Strategies of Successful Relationships

Therapist reveals strategies used by long-term couples who have survived struggles and lived to tell the tale. Keep your relationship healthy with these tips.I talk a lot about strategies for solving common relationship problems, because nearly everyone who’s been married for more than a week knows that marriage, sadly, is rarely as easy as we wish it were. But then, is anything in life easy?

Today, though, I want to take a break from relationship problems for a moment to look at the secrets of relationship successes. Long-term couples who have survived struggles and live to tell the tale have utilized strategies that they’re willing to share if you ask. Even a casual Internet search turns up more of these “secrets” than we have room to name, so I picked just a few of my favorites

Have a “failure is not an option” mindset. Sometimes the sheer prevalence of divorce or breakups of long-term relationships—many among our close friends—makes us too trigger-happy when it comes to our own relationship. A bad fight? Skeptical friends or family? “Irreconcilable differences”? If deep down you are more prepared to pull the plug when trouble arises than put in the work that might be difficult, slow and painful to get past challenging hurdles, that doesn’t speak well for the longevity of your relationship. Instead, successful couples say that they simply try not to let their mind go there. Whatever they are facing, they do everything they can to face it, including seeing a couples counselor if that will help. And every time they successfully work through a tumultuous time, they feel more confident in their ability to conquer the next challenge that comes along.

Give more than you take. Take care of yourself, but put real dedication into showing love and understanding to your partner as often as possible. Make small, thoughtful gestures of kindness without trying to score points or expecting anything in return. Be a good listener when they’re having a bad day, without getting lost in thought about your own problems.Having a giving mentality is actually one of the secrets to personal happiness overall, so it’s no surprise that employing it in your own relationship works wonders as well.

Remember that life is short. You hope that you and your partner will both live to be 100, and maybe you will—but all we can count on for sure is the moment right in front of us, so we should appreciate it. Treating every day together as a gift can go a long way towards putting petty disagreements in perspective.

Get real. Having realistic expectations of your relationship is another secret to staving off feelings of disappointment that your life together isn’t perfect. Maybe you like to compare your relationship to those of other couples you know—those who seem to have everything in common, are always there for each other and never fight—and feel yours doesn’t measure up. But you have no idea what others’ relationships are like behind closed doors, and the chances are they face many of the same challenges you do. And those romantic movies you love to watch? Funny how they always seem to end just as the happy couples finally gets together…before they’ve had time to have their first argument over how often one plays golf or how much the other spends on shoes. It doesn’t mean your relationship has no room for growth or you shouldn’t strive to make it better when you’re feeling disappointed or experiencing other problems. It just means that if you’re looking for a fairy tale, your real life is never going to measure up.

If you spend more time looking for the good in what you have, you might find your mindset—and the state of your relationship—will shift in a fundamentally positive way.

You deserve to have a great love life.  If you’re having difficulty getting past obstacles that are hurting your relationship, a therapist can help you get things back on track. Let’s see if we can make yours better. The Orange County Relationship Center counselors look forward to connecting with you.

How Do You Pick a Good Marriage Counselor?

Marriage counseling: to help you have a healthier, more loving relationship.Effective couples counseling is a three-lane highway.  It takes cooperation by each person; you, your partner, and the counselor or therapist.  It also takes a commitment to change your thinking patterns, and possibly even your behavior.  What you can expect to achieve by going to couples counseling is help and suggestions in pinpointing where your problems lie and how to work through them for a lasting relationship. When seeking a couples’ counselor, look for a licensed therapist who:

  • Really understands your pain and concerns.  Does their website show that they understand the unique struggles to being partnered?  Do you get the feeling they truly can understand you and your concerns?
  • Specializes in couples’ counseling.  All therapists are trained to help people with their emotional struggles, but couples counseling is not like individual counseling.  In couples counseling, the relationship is actually the client (you and your partner).  You want a therapist who can see each partner’s point of view, while helping the relationship.
  • Helps couples as at least 75 percent of his or her caseload.  Working successfully with couples takes practice, training, and temperament.  Just like the best cooks or the best golfers are people who are passionate about their craft, couples therapists are usually the people who work day in and day out with couples, healing relationships.
  • Does not take sides as a rule.  If you are like most people, you want to be right.  It is easy to blame your partner for your unhappiness.  Good couples counseling involves supporting you, individually, while identifying the part that each person has in the relationship struggle.  Good couples counseling helps you find simple ways to perform actions to improve your relationship.
  • Is active in session.  Some therapists let the clients guide the session.  While there certainly is a place for that, it is important in couples counseling that you learn new skills rather than have the same argument, session after session, where the therapist acts as the referee. This means going beyond the problem and actively helping you solve it.  Our goal at the OC Relationship Center is that you leave each week with a new understanding, a new skill, or a new homework assignment to practice new skills.
  • Cares about results.  In individual therapy, the goal is often to help people feel better and get along better in their lives and in their relationships.  In couples therapy, the goal is to see how the couple can improve their interaction, gain trust, and heal the relationship.  A great couples counselor checks in with you regularly, ideally each session, to make sure that you feel respected and that the counseling approach is working for you.
  • Simply makes sense.  Of course you want a therapist who is skilled in couples therapy and can compassionately hear you and help you understand yourself and your partner.  At the same time, you want a therapist who speaks in a way that you can understand and really, really “gets you”.
  • Clearly loves his or her work.  You can see it in their smile and in their response to you.  You can see it in the way they carry themselves and in their presence in general.

If you are considering couples counseling, let the counselors at Orange County Relationship Center help you.  Call us today at 949-220-3211 or book your appointment via our online calendar.

Are Pet Conflicts Putting Strain on Your Relationship?

disgruntled with dogMuch like children, having pets brings a lot of joy into a household. Unfortunately, also like having children, pets can introduce new elements of stress. And when pet-related conflicts escalate, it can wreak havoc on your relationship.

One scenario is that a couple enters into a relationship (as many do) with “pre-existing” pets. When you meet someone you want to be with, it’s great if you adore their pet(s), too—but that’s not always the case. Let’s say Sarah, whose beloved cat she’s had since childhood, meets Joe, who has a dog he adopted a couple of years ago after he found it roaming the neighborhood, flea-ridden with no owners to be found.

Visiting each other’s apartments, they notice small things about each other’s pets that seem a little unnerving. Sarah’s aged cat is incontinent and doesn’t always make it to the litter box. Meanwhile, Joe’s dog keeps chewing up Sarah’s shoes when she visits.

In the intense early stages of a relationship, these may seem like little things.  Although he’s not a cat person anyway, Joe thinks it’s endearing that Sarah is so attached to her childhood kitty. Sarah laughs that she never liked those shoes to begin with so maybe the dog did her a favor.

You can see where this is headed. If Sarah and Joe enter into a serious relationship or even get married, those pets come with the package. And as Sarah loses her fourth pair of shoes to Joe’s dog and Joe finds the cat has missed the litter box for the umpteenth time…well, it’s not so endearing or funny anymore. And as with any tension in a relationship, you’re going to have to find a way to address each other’s concerns with respect, honesty and compromise.

Even when a couple makes a joint decision to adopt a new pet, problems can arise if they have different expectations about how to divvy up the caretaking responsibilities, deal with problem behaviors, or even how much money to spend on the pet’s care.

Common pet disputes couples report include:

  • Who should walk the dog, empty the cat’s litter box, etc.
  • Whether or not the pet should be allowed on the bed/sofa
  • What to do with the pet when you travel
  • What to do when a pet is destroying your furniture or other belongings
  • Jealousy over how much time/interest one partner pays to the pet

I can’t stress enough the importance of taking time—well before you go to check out the cute puppies and kitties at the local animal shelter—to talk through each person’s expectations about pet ownership. These conversations might not be as fun as gazing together at the doggie in the window, but establishing some ground rules and anticipating potentially difficult scenarios will pay off tenfold down the road.

Other issues, like jealousy over the pet, can be far more serious. Say Emily and Jack have a golden retriever they both love, but Emily begins to feel that Jack is paying almost more attention to Fido than her. He comes home from work and spends his first five minutes home roughhousing with Fido instead of greeting her with a kiss and asking about her day. He lets Fido horn in between them on the couch when they watch movies.

If Emily expresses her feelings about this, and Jack is open to hearing them, they may resolve the situation fairly easily. (After all, there’s plenty of room for Fido to sit on the couch without literally coming between them.) But if their communication skills are poor or the relationship has other unresolved conflicts, Fido may just be a proxy to avoid dealing with deeper problems. Is Jack focusing his attention on Fido to avoid talking with Emily, because she always seems to be criticizing him for something? Is Emily feeling insecure in the relationship and threatened by everything that takes away Jack’s attention?

If you suspect that your pet problems are becoming true relationship problems for any reason—either because there may be other issues at play, or you lack healthy dispute-resolution skills when it comes to pet ownership and other household matters—talking with a professional couples counselor can really help.

Remaining stuck in a headlock over problems like these could eventually tear at the foundations of your relationship. Seeking help before that happens could make a huge difference in the future of your relationship. Let the counselors at Orange County Relationship Center help. If you’re having pet problems in your relationship, call us today at 949-220-3211 or book your appointment via our online calendar.

Cleaning house: 4 ways to stop arguing over housework

If you and your spouse or partner regularly argue over housework responsibilities or the cleanliness of your home, you are not alone—this is one most common and stubbornly persistent topics that couples fight about. The specific grievances may differ from one couple to the next, but one commonality is that when couples fight about housework, they’re often really fighting about something else.

Are your arguing over housework?

Are your arguing over housework?

There are a lot of possible, hidden explanations for why an argument about, say, a big pile of laundry can become so emotional, or even explosive. An obvious one is that one partner has different expectations than the other about what are acceptable household standards. Maybe the site of a pile of unfolded clothes gives one partner an anxiety attack, whereas the other thinks everything’s fine so long as everyone has something clean to wear the next day (and they can close the door to the laundry room, anyway, so who cares what it looks like)?

Dig a little deeper, and you may learn that one partner grew up in a household where everything had to be spotless; now, even as an adult, spying dust bunnies under the couch evokes the angry voice of a disapproving parent. The other partner, meanwhile, may have grown up in a household that was a lot more relaxed about cleanliness, or was never expected as a child to help out around the house. Either way, the result is often the same: one person ends up feeling constantly criticized, while the other feels that his or her needs for order and cleanliness are being ignored.

When you’re struggling to get past the resentments and frustrations that seem to be ever-present when these conflicts arise, a good therapist can help you understand what’s happening and learn to work together instead of against each other. But additionally, there are a few tips that can help take the fangs out of the fights so you can start to cooperate in ways that are less emotional and infinitely more effective:

*Address the problems sooner rather than later. Fights over housework tend to get swept under the rug, because they can be so painful and seem so intractable. But just like dust bunnies, resentments swept under the rug only get bigger over time.

* Change your tone. If one of you is angry about dirty dishes in the sink and the other complains they’re being made to feel lazy or incompetent, try and change the tone of the conversation to a neutral one. Sit down with your partner, and each of you can choose one or two points of contention to address. Then brainstorm about what each of you can do to help solve them.

* Show appreciation. If you fixate on the smelly garbage that was left in the kitchen last night but fail to acknowledge that your spouse spent hours cleaning out the garage yesterday, you’re probably setting the stage for a fight that really could be avoided.

* Make it a family affair. If you have kids, establishing some age-appropriate ways for them to pitch in. I’m not suggesting they scrub the toilets or do the laundry, but they can certainly pick up their toys and toss them in a bin at the end of the day, help take dishes to the sink, etc. It reinforces the idea that you’re all in this together, and you’d be surprised how having an extra pair of hands—even small ones—can not only relieve the workload but improve morale, too.

Are you tired of having the same old argument? Our licensed counselors at Orange County Relationship Center are here to help.

What were we arguing about, again? (Making the most out of reconciliation)

When you and your partner or spouse have been fighting, there is no greater relief than that moment when the chill thaws, doors stop slamming and you can go back to talking about your plans for the weekend rather than whatever it was that started the argument.

But tempting as it is to treat reconciliation as something as easy as flipping a switch, there is a difference between “high quality” reconciliation and the cheaper brand of just sweeping your anger under the rug, offering a conciliatory hug and moving on.

The best way to achieve a healthy, effective reconciliation is to prepare for it. When you’re both so angry you can barely speak (and probably shouldn’t, lest one of you says something you’ll later regret)—it can feel like you’re going to stay angry forever. But experience has probably taught you that most arguments do come to an end, and it’s smart to think ahead of time about what you hope reconciliation will look like—and more importantly, achieve—when the moment comes.

It can be tempting to say whatever it takes in order to make peace. But if that means offering an insincere apology, or saying you were wrong to be angry about something that in truth still troubles you, nothing has really been resolved at all. And the problem will rear its ugly head all over again before you know it.

Instead, before you attempt reconciliation, use this cooling-off period—even if you’re still seething—to find some quiet time to consider what you need to feel better about what has happened. What do you wish he or she had done differently—and might do differently in the future? If a particular issue is a frequent sticking point between you—such as the amount one of you spends on toys for the kids, or the other spends on lunches with friends, or whatever it might be—ask yourself if there’s a certain amount you would be more comfortable with. Or does the issue go deeper than that? Be honest with yourself. Maybe what really bothers you about his lunches out is not the expense but the time­—if he didn’t take long lunches, maybe he’d make it home earlier from work at night. Or maybe when he complains about expensive toys you buy, he’s actually concerned that you give in too often to the children’s whims.

Now is the time to get these issues out into the open, and having thought about them ahead of time will prepare you for a more rational discussion when the time comes. Without talking the issue to death, a proper reconciliation does need to include both parties feeling that they’ve been heard, that misunderstandings have been cleared, compromises made and hurt feelings soothed.

You still might have to take it slow—especially if the argument was a big one. Light physical contact, which can naturally reduce stress and help you feel connected, is a good start. Humor helps, too. And then there are the small kindnesses that are so important even when there hasn’t been a fight, like complimenting the other’s new outfit, picking up flowers on the way home or just listening closely to how your partner or spouse’s day went.

Remember, when done well, post-fight intimacy will feel, and be, real. You can trust it. It can even bring you closer together. Before long, it might not only make reconciliation easier the next time but avoid the next argument before it starts.

Need help in making your relationships work? Our Orange County relationship counseling services can definitely help you. We look forward to connecting with you.