Trouble in Paradise – How to Deal With Intrusive In-Laws

Unsolicited Advice

Relationship Center of Orange CountyThe unity of marriage not only brings two individuals together, but it also blends families. While you and your spouse may have worked through the challenges of getting to know each other and how to coexist, your families may still be trying to figure out how to interact and be a part of your new chapter in life. There are plenty of marriages out there where one spouse and their in-laws are polar opposites, making it difficult for them to get along. It’s also not uncommon for cohabitating couples to have to deal with their parents’ dishing out wisdom from their years of marriage. Though the intent may be innocent, an in-law that is constantly offering unsolicited advice about what they think is best for your household can lead to tension in your relationship and, if left unresolved, could quite possibly lead to a family feud that lands your spouse square in the middle. So below you’ll find a few pointers on how you can keep your sanity while keeping the peace and allowing your in-laws to be a part of your family.

Talk with Your Spouse

Never, never, never, take matters into your own hands. Ultimately your spouse is the one who will have to deal with the backlash that might come from this feud and thus that should be the first person you talk to. Let them know that certain behaviors of their parents are starting to drive you crazy and that you need some form of resolution. In most cases you’d be surprised to find that your spouse agrees with you but just may not know how to tell their parents how to back off.

List the Problems

Does your mother-in-law tend to show up unexpectedly, citing she was “just in the neighborhood”? Does she constantly complain or make comments about the way your home is kept up? Maybe they always provide insight in marital problems and you want them to butt-out. Whatever your problems are with your in-laws, now is the time to list them so you can come up with a reasonable way to solve the problem.

Set Rules

Once you’ve got a list of your problems you need to come up with some rules that will keep this at bay. Be sure that you run these “rules” by your spouse to ensure that they too are on board with this. Some examples of rules you might set include:

  1. In-laws show up unannounced – request that they call before coming (or take away their spare key if they have one)
  2. In-laws don’t agree with the way you raise the children – insist that your children will follow your rules and that when they come to visit they can oblige by whatever the grandparents feel is best.
  3. In-laws criticize you to your spouse – your spouse is not to engage in those types of conversations, and remind the in-laws that though they may not like some of the things that their son or daughter-in-law may do, they need to respect your spouse AND your feelings.

Give Them Responsibilities

In most cases, in-laws are just parents that are unaware of how to let go and allow their children to become adults. One way to nip this in the bud is to make them feel valuable to your family. Give them responsibilities that might include being the official sitters when you go out on dates, or allow them to pick the children up from school a few days out of the month. This will make them feel included.

Encourage a Relationship

Sometimes parents feel “abandoned” when their children go off and live lives of their own. You can help the situation by encouraging your spouse to maintain a relationship with their parents both with the family included and also by themselves. A healthy relationship with your spouse and their parents will lighten the load of negativity the in-laws tend to throw your way.

Address Matters as Soon as They Become a Problem

Allowing intrusive behaviors to continue within your family will only create problems later on down the line. Not addressing the matter allows emotions to fester and it is usually taken out on the wrong person – your spouse. Therefore, the moment you feel something going left, pull your spouse to the side, talk it through, and then approach your in-laws.

Talk to Your In-Laws

This one might not have been what you expected but if you just talk with your in-laws you might come to find that they are unaware of their behaviors. Sometimes parents just don’t know how to not be parents anymore and believe that only they know what is best for their child. They may not mean to be invasive or mean to you, but might believe they are really helping out. Sometimes talking to them is all you need to stop the madness from occurring.

You don’t have to adore your in-laws or force a relationship that is not there, but they are your spouse’s parents and must be respected as such. By setting boundaries early on you are affirming your position within your home, and respecting their role as parents to the one you love so dear.

If you or your spouse having a hard time figuring out how to talk to the in-laws about setting boundaries, the trained counselors at the Relationship Center of Orange County can help. Give us a call today at , or schedule your appointment using our online scheduling tool. We look forward to serving you.

The First Year: Common Newlywed Relationship Issues and How to Avoid Them

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We Said “I Do”, Now Comes the Easy Part… Right?

You’ve spent your entire adult life looking for your Mr. or Ms. Right and you’ve finally met your match. While some might think that the dating process is the most challenging part of it all, you may be in for a surprise during your first year of marriage. Learning to mesh two different lives into a household of unity can be a delicate process, to say the least. Before reality becomes hazy with matrimonial bliss, take a look at these common newlywed mistakes so that you can do your best to avoid them in your own marriage.

Mistake #1: Not Talking About Finances

The leading cause of divorce is finances. Most people typically bring some form of debt into a marriage, whether it be credit card debt or student loans, yet they fail to keep their partner in the loop. When this happens the couple begins to struggle financially which causes unnecessary arguments, stress, and in some cases, the demise of the marriage altogether.

What to do: Ideally, this should be discussed before you tie the knot. But, if you haven’t already, you need to sit down with your spouse and go over all finances immediately after your honeymoon. This means talking about both of your credit histories, old debts, and any current debts that you both might have. Bill collectors now see you as a unit and so your debts have ultimately become your partner’s debts. Just as you would not want to be blindsided with a $1,000 credit card bill in the mail, your partner does not want that surprise either. Sit down, discuss your financial status and then come up with a plan to get (or keep) you both on the right path for your future.

Mistake #2: Obsessing Over Baby

The next mistake that many newlyweds make is obsessing over what they believe is the next step in their relationship – a baby. Couples may get nagged by friends and parents, or overly-focused on it themselves, which creates a very stressful “deadline” to uphold.

What to do: Kindly let everyone know that you’re just enjoying each other and being married. When the time is right for children, it will happen. Most newlyweds don’t realize what a challenge the first year can be and sometimes throwing a baby into the mix too soon can really complicate things. When sex becomes a chore it’s no longer fun, so just enjoy each other and let the rest happen in its own timing.

Mistake #3: Alienating Friends

You’re in love, you have finally found your soul mate, and all you want to do is be in their presence as much as possible. This is all very normal for newlyweds to feel. They spend so much time with each other that their friends and family members are put on the back burner.

What to do: Friends and family should be an integral part of your everyday life. It is unhealthy to seclude the rest of the world and only be with each other. In the beginning you will spend more time with your spouse; however, as time goes on, find ways to incorporate your family and friends in your married life. Invite them for dinner, go out with your friends and other couples, and continue interacting as you did before you were married. You were both complete persons before marriage, you should maintain your individual friendships as you move down life’s path with your spouse.

Mistake #4: Getting Too Comfortable

As time goes on, newlyweds begin to get “comfortable” with their spouse and their new relationship together. They might not do the things they did when they were courting. Daily life becomes routine, care toward wardrobes and physical appearance falls by the wayside, and things can get a bit boring. After all, you’ve got your soul mate…. So they should love you no matter what you look like right?

What to do: Yes in a marriage things will become pretty routine as your married life routine becomes established, but you should never stop incorporating new and exciting things into the marriage. If you went out on dates a lot or you dressed especially nice for your partner when you were courting, these are things you should continue to do in order to keep the marriage alive. Allowing the relationship to go stale creates boredom, envy and in some cases can lead to infidelity. So even if you can’t do it as much as you used to, don’t get too comfortable.

As stated before the first year of your marriage is likely the most challenging (though some will disagree). As time goes by, the blissfully “in love” feelings fade and you’re left with reality. Learning to live with and cope with another individual on a day to day basis takes time, practice, and cooperation on both sides. A lot of mistakes will be made along the way, but it is how you recover and learn from those mistakes that will make all the difference. Hopefully these few tidbits of advice will keep your marriage happy and satisfying, and allow you and your spouse to grow closer together.

Working with a trained relationship counselor is a healthy way to work through the first-year bumps, as well as learn relationship skills that can help keep your marriage healthy for the long-haul. Your marriage is your most important investment. We’d like to help you keep it that way. If you are considering couples counseling, let the counselors at the Relationship Center of Orange County help you.  Call us today at 949-220-3211 or book your appointment via our online calendar.

 

The Couple That Plays (and Plans) Together, Stays Together

The OC Relationship Center can help you rediscover what was once common ground.When life gets busy, partners are often at risk of losing site of their goals as a couple because they’re so focused on the immediate demands of their own careers and other personal obligations. Unfortunately, it’s a pattern that sets the stage for gradually growing apart. Have you ever heard of—or experienced—couples who go out to dinner and struggle to make conversation? Trust me. You don’t want to be them.

Keeping the Connection

One of my best answers for avoiding that trap is to make sure you have goals and dreams in common that you can enjoy working toward together. These should definitely go beyond the boilerplate goals like getting out of debt and saving for retirement, keeping your home in good working order and even working together to raise happy, healthy children, if you have them. Those are incredibly important—but finding brand-new, outside-the-box projects together can be a great way to get out of your comfort zone, learn new things about each other and remind yourselves that a “grown-up relationship” isn’t just about paying the mortgage and weekend date nights so predictable you feel like you just stepped out of the movie “Groundhog Day.”

Start by brainstorming, and don’t let yourself become discouraged if your first few ideas go over like a dead balloon. Eventually you’ll hit upon something that inspires both of you. Maybe it’s taking a foreign language class or dance class. Maybe it’s dusting off those old rackets in the garage and starting to play tennis again (you could even find some doubles partners and start some friendly rivalries—now there’s a bonding experience). Maybe it’s working toward a dream for the future, like that trip to Ireland you’ve always dreamed of taking. Before you know it, the planning alone could turn into a favorite after-dinner pastime.

Keep it interesting – explore each others interests

Another fun experiment is to involve your partner in goals or pastimes that have traditionally been the sole domain of just one or the other. Are you an avid golfer, but your wife has zero interest? See if she might be interested in taking a few lessons (not necessarily from you—that can be a double-edged sword), and maybe she’ll surprise herself and catch the bug. Chances are you won’t become true golfing buddies anytime soon, especially if you’ve had years of practice and she doesn’t know a driver from a putter. But you could enjoy going out to the driving range together to hit a few buckets on a sunny afternoon or watching the Master’s over a few beers with friends.

And by all means, if one of you is willing to take an interest in the other’s favorite activity, I highly recommend reciprocating. Maybe you’re a lover of novels while he sticks strictly to nonfiction, but if you look through your shelves and suggest a few you think he might enjoy, see if he’ll give them a try. If you get lucky and find that he shares your enthusiasm for at even one of them, at the least you have a new topic for conversation, even if he’s not quite ready to join your neighborhood book club.

Trying is half the fun

No matter what you choose, it’s bound to be a positive exercise for your marriage. Heck, the worst that can happen is that you try something and both hate it—and then think about how much fun you’ll have making fun of the dance instructor with the terrible toupee, or recalling the time you set off the fire alarm during your Szechuan cooking class. Sharing interests can play a key role in ensuring you and your partner or spouse stay connected. Setting goals to acquire new skills or do new things together that you both enjoy can do wonders to keep that connection solid as the years go by.

If you and your spouse or partner are struggling because you feel as though you’ve lost that connection you once had, the caring therapists at the OC Relationship Center can help. The great news is that with desire and practice, many relationships get better and happier. We want to help make it easier and better for you. Call us today at 949-220-3211 for an appointment or more information, or book your appointment now via our online scheduling tool.

Seven Reasons to Attend Couples Counseling

Your marriage can benefit from the caring counseling at OC Relationship Center.

“You don’t develop courage by being happy in your relationships everyday. You develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.” ~ Epicurus

There’s no doubt; marriage is challenging.  Nearly every newly married couple is excited and elated about their nuptials, and rightfully so.  You are extremely smitten with your spouse and you are excited about creating a new life together.  So what happens in the years following your wedding that causes so many couples to become unhappy and ready to throw in the towel?

The first thing that happens is reality sets in.  You go back to the “real world” after returning from your honeymoon.  You return to your job and everything else it takes to run a household, such as grocery shopping, cooking, paying bills, cleaning, doing yard work.  Sometimes when reality sets in and the “honeymoon is over”, people really struggle with the commitment to being married and the time it takes to ensure your spouse knows how you feel about them, as a person, sexually, and as a partner in life and in realizing your common dreams.

So, how do you know that your if your marriage is going through a rough time or if you’re dealing with something more devastating and permanent?  Marriage Counseling can be a godsend for couples struggling in their relationships.  If you have hit a brick wall in trying to work things out between the two of you, it may be time to seek counseling.  There are definite signs to knowing when you should at least start talking about finding a marriage counselor in order to get through the rough patches.

  1.  You No Longer Communicate – You are married, you go through the motions, and you have become more like roommates than a married couple.  You speak to each other, only when necessary, and mostly about the kids, who is responsible for the chores this week, who will pick up the groceries or dry cleaning, and what is needed to pay your monthly bills.
  2. Your Sex Life Changes Dramatically – If there is a loss of intimacy, there are problems somewhere.  If there is an increase in intimacy, there are problems somewhere as well.  Loss of intimacy tends to mean there are unspoken issues and quite possibly, one spouse has no idea what those issues are.  On the other hand, if your spouse is wanting to make passionate love to you every day and wants to try new positions, there are probably issues as well.  In that case, your spouse may be feeling aroused by things that are not originating from you
  3. Ongoing Issues – If you have had the same issue in your relationship from the start and have tried to work things out and agree on an outcome, but the same issue comes up time after time, you should seek counseling.  Ongoing issues can lead to divorce very quickly, or the issue can build and build, causing tension and bad feelings for years to come.
  4. Finances – Disagreements over how to save money or how to spend money are one of the top reasons couples find themselves in constant conflict.  If all of a sudden your spouse feels the need to control the entire budget, it may be time to say something.  If you are being kept in the dark about family finances all of a sudden, there is a reason for this shift.
  5. Unfortunate, Devastating Life Events – If there has been a traumatic event in your marriage, such as an affair, a miscarriage, or loss of a child, and one or both partners are struggling with letting go, it is time for counseling.  Many times, especially within the case of losing a child, people tend to blame themselves, or their spouse for the occurrence.  This is never healthy.  Counseling can help you talk through the issues and blame and work towards a shared understanding.
  6. Kids – Children are miracles and nothing short of blessings, but having kids can add stress to your marriage, especially if you are not unified in your parenting styles.  One parent is always the “hard” parent, and the other the “soft”.  Kids know this and will play this to their advantage.  It is essential that both parents are unified in decisions and support each other in child-rearing decisions.
  7. You Still Love Your Spouse – There is a difference between loving your spouse and being in love with your spouse.  Many struggling couples find that although they love their spouse (maybe for their parenting skills, their selflessness in putting the rest of the family above their own needs, or their role as a provider in working to support their family’s wants and needs) they are no longer “in love” with their spouse.  This is a good time to start speaking with your spouse about counseling.  If you wait until you truly despise your spouse, it’s probably going to be too late.

Going through life being unhappy is never productive.  Many times couples are aware that something is wrong, and they may even know what is wrong.  The problem is, they don’t know how to fix it.  Marriage counseling takes a commitment from both spouses in order to get through the issues and create a better, stronger marriage.  As times go by in your marriage, you will see that sometimes it’s just not worth it to argue about in-laws, how much money is spent on grocery shopping, or how many times a week you want to have sex.  Marriage Counseling can help in so many ways.

Typically when a couple first attends marriage counseling, each individual spouse blames the other for the problems. However, both spouses create the climate of the relationship; both spouses put distress into the relationship; and both spouses need to do things differently to create the marriage they both want.  Conflict is the start of growth, and it can go in a positive direction or a negative direction.  Take the time and commit to marriage counseling when things get tough.  You may develop a stronger relationship than you ever had with your spouse.

And remember, you were head over heels in love with your spouse at one time.  You chose your spouse.  Shouldn’t you do whatever it takes to get your marriage back on track? We are here to help you. OC Relationship Center. Give us a call today at 949-220-3211 or book your appointment via our online calendar, and get your relationship back on track.

It’s Not You, It’s … Just a Bad Day

Stabbing headacheIt’s always disappointing when you’re in a great mood, cooking dinner and looking forward to a nice evening…and then your partner comes home with a black cloud hanging over their head. Maybe they’re tired, or they’re stressed out, or both. While it’s obviously hard on the one who’s feeling down, it can be stressful for their partner too.

Of course you’re disappointed that your partner isn’t up for the plans you might have made, even if it was just a special meal you’d planned, but you also feel sympathy if they’re feeling exhausted, sick or down. Worst is if they don’t even feel like talking about it—and that’s when your partner’s bad day can really affect your mood, too … if you let it.

You don’t have to let your partner’s mood bring the whole evening down. Sure, in an ideal world, your partner would always want to share with you how they’re feeling, and you may want—or even expect—to feel needed and trusted when your loved one is having a hard time. But we’re dealing with reality here – it doesn’t always work that way. He or she might still be processing something that went wrong at work or elsewhere, but isn’t ready to talk about it. They also might just be tired or coming down with a cold. In other words, sometimes a bad day is just a bad day—and the worst thing you can do is take it personally. Instead, if you really don’t know what’s bringing them down and they’re not forthcoming at the moment, here are a few dos and don’ts to help keep things positive while not stirring up already choppy waters:

Do ask—once—what’s wrong, offer to listen and sympathize. If your partner doesn’t want to talk about it, let it go. When they’re ready to share, they will—or maybe whatever it is will resolve itself, and it will turn out to have been no big deal in the first place.

Don’t immediately ask if they’re upset with you. It’s natural for some to worry that they’re the reason every time their partner is less than their most-cheerful self, that they’re secretly angry with them. In truth, this is a self-centered—and self-abusing—assumption, and it is not healthy to be in the habit of blaming oneself every time their partner or spouse is in a bad mood.  Try to trust if that if they are angry with you, they’ll say so.

Do offer to make them feel better in ways that don’t involve intense discussion about whatever is bothering them. Suggest that maybe you just take it easy tonight and eat a casual dinner in front of the TV. Tell them it’s okay if they just want to lie down and read, and tonight you’ll give the kids baths, help with the homework and give them a break for an evening. Giving them kindness of a little time to work through what’s bringing them down can work wonders on a bad mood.

Don’t let it ruin your day. It’s always troubling when someone you love is upset, and most of us want to try to do anything we can to make things better, but if there’s truly nothing you can do about it at the moment, feel free to go about the business of taking care of your own needs. The alternative is to play guessing games and let your mind run wild, assuming all kinds of upsetting scenarios that your partner is mysteriously keeping from you.

Obviously, if a pattern develops and silent brooding becomes your partner’s default position, you have every right to know what’s really going on. But for now, give him or her some space, and accept that it’s normal to have bad days. Everyone has a bad day every once in a while, and when it happens, you might appreciate a little of the same quiet sympathy coupled with a healthy dose of “me” time.

What to Do When Your Partner or Spouse Refuses to Go to Counseling

We offer couples counseling for one at the OC Relationship Center.

We offer “Couples Counseling for One” at the OC Relationship Center.

It can be very difficult when you know you would both benefit from counseling, but your spouse or partner refuses to give it a try. Perhaps you have been trying to work out your differences for a while now and you’re not really sure what else you can do.

Most of our clients are dedicated to doing anything necessary to improve their relationship and to keep it going in a healthy direction. However, when your spouse or partner refuses to take the steps to fight for your relationship alongside you, it can leave you feeling defeated and very alone.

There are a few things you can do if you find yourself facing this problem. Taking these steps can strengthen your relationship, as well as give you peace of mind that not all hope is lost.

Try to Understand Where Your Spouse/Partner is Coming From

You are absolutely certain in your heart that counseling would help your relationship. However, whenever you bring it up, you are met with an array of excuses. Many people suffer from denial when their relationships are struggling, so it’s not uncommon for your significant other to be on the defensive. You may have heard comments like:

  • “Our problems really aren’t that bad.”
  • “We can’t afford to go to counseling.”
  • “I don’t need a stranger to tell me how to fix my marriage/relationship.”

Do any of these sound familiar? They’re all natural responses. It can be difficult to admit that you have a problem that you’re not capable of fixing yourself, especially when it’s a relationship problem.

Try to find a time when your significant other is in a good mood. Ask if you can discuss how they feel about your relationship, and what they feel the problems are. Most of all, focus on listening to the other person, and avoid interjecting your own feelings and desires. help after your talk.

Don’t Be Afraid to Come Alone

While you might be able to persuade your partner or spouse that counseling is a good idea, you shouldn’t count on it. It is possible that he or she will still not want to pursue counseling. In that case, you shouldn’t be afraid to seek out help on your own. Here at OC Relationship Center, we offer Couple’s Counseling for One. Your counselor is accustomed to designing a treatment plan for an individual, and you’ll find that you’re able to begin working on yourself, even if your spouse or partner isn’t involved. We’ve helped many relationships improve because we focus on helping you identify the things that are best for your relationship as a whole.

Ideally, all of our clients would love it if their partners joined them for counseling. However, it doesn’t always work out that way. Even so, there are things you can do to make your relationship better. You deserve the absolute best, and by being brave, and taking the first step, you can be well on your way to a healthy, satisfying relationship…for both of you.

If you feel that a counselor would help your relationship, please consider the OC Relationship Center’s “Couples Counseling for One“. Our trained therapists can help you find ways to make yourself happier and your relationship better. So if you are tired of the way things are – and tired of trying to get your mate to counseling – then please call us today at 949-220-3211 or schedule your appointment online.

From Perfectionism to Peace

Can let go of perfectionism? Let the trained therapists at OC Relatinship Center help.In a society hell-bent on achievement and prestige, it’s no wonder that so many people strive for perfection in everything they do. After all, if it’s not perfect, then someone else can do it better and is therefore believed to be better. But trying too hard to be perfect can actually have the opposite effect. If you or your significant other has been plagued with a perfectionist drive, then it may be time to let go of the wheel.

Doing so, of course, is not easy, but is absolutely necessary if you want to have a healthy relationship. In fact, perfectionists typically have a hard time maintaining healthy relationships because they project their same perfectionist traits onto their partners, who are human and, by nature, imperfect. Thus, insisting on perfection from a partner puts unfair pressure on them to perform beyond their capabilities and adds unnecessary stress to the relationship as a whole.

The effects of perfectionism

People can never be perfect. To quote John Lennon, “there’s nothing you can do that can’t be done” and more than likely, someone else can not only do the same as you, but can do it better. This is not to say that you shouldn’t try to do your best, but rather that your best is good enough and anything more is unrealistic.

Striving for your best and striving for perfection are two completely different things: one encourages pride and self-worth, and the other discourages it. Here are just a few ways perfectionism can have an adverse effect on those involved.

  • Perfectionism casts doubt on one’s self and those around him: When everything is expected to be perfect and isn’t, then the person wrapped in perfectionism will lack trust in those around him, which will yield a hefty price tag when the people closest to him realize they cannot live up to these lofty expectations.
  • Perfectionists have hard time learning from experience: One thing they may learn is to not try new experiences if they may result in failure. They take mistakes very personally, and often attempt to find blame elsewhere so that they will not be responsible for it. This move is not only unfair to those on whom the blame ultimately falls, but to the perfectionist herself who cannot gain from these important life lessons
  • Perfectionists lack intimacy: One of the most important ways to gain intimacy is through vulnerability. Be it through the disclosure of personal information or through a risk-taking activity, showing our vulnerability to a lover is a key part of intimacy. Perfectionists, however, view vulnerability as weakness and avoid it at all costs.

Letting go of perfectionism to find peace

Nothing on earth is perfect, which is what makes it so unique and amazing. Trees may grow without symmetry and animals may be born with missing limbs, but they are all unique and, with encouragement and support, can still thrive despite their potential setbacks. So, too, is the case with interpersonal relationships. Here are some reasons to put perfection aside and embrace the uniqueness associated with your imperfection.

  • Get more accomplished: Perfectionists devote a lot of time and energy into creating the perfect outcome, but doing your best without striving for perfection will actually open up more time in which to get more done. You will be happier with the final outcome, too, which will lead to a happier, more fulfilling life.
  • Increase your compassion: When we stop expecting the best from ourselves and our partners, we can learn to appreciate them and ourselves more. With increased compassion for your lover, you can regain intimacy and begin (re)structuring a healthy, rewarding relationship.
  • Reduce your anxiety: Anxiety can be defined as fear, worry or unease, and can be brought on by any number of things; one in particular is the fear associated with imperfection. But, when we take the time to embrace our imperfections, we can learn from them rather than fear them. This will not only reduce the stress, but will also increase the over-all happiness within your relationship.

Everywhere we go, it seems that someone is either boasting about their accomplishments or putting others down for theirs. We live in a perfectionist society where people who seemingly lack the drive needed to succeed are condemned for their failures so that others who have done better can feel better about theirs.  But, if you get caught up in the hype about the need to be perfect in everything you do – including your relationships – then you are ultimately setting yourself up for failure.

By taking a step back and loosening up your grip on the situation, you can actually increase the odds in your relationship, because, when it comes to love and marriage, understanding your and your partner’s imperfections can actually set the stage for perfection through imperfection.

Sometimes it takes the insight of a professional in order to see things differently, and begin to work toward letting go of perfectionism and working toward peace.  If you feel that speaking to an unbiased third party may help, please give the counselors at OC Relationship Center a call today at 949-220-3211 or book your appointment online.

Can You Change Your Partner?

OC Relationship CenterIn square dancing, absolutely. In a relationship, it’s a bit more complicated.

When people first enter into a relationship—especially if they’re young—they usually feel like they have all the time in the world to worry about how their differences might impact a future life together. Infatuation always trumps practicality, so even the big issues like children, religion and money seem far, far off in the future. If their partner does something now that bothers them, they probably assume it’s a youthful phase.

But why would you assume that? There’s a great opening line in a novel by Louise Redd called Hangover Soup—about a married couple nearly destroyed by the husband’s alcoholism—that really hits home when I think about this: “I met my husband in college,” the narrator explains, “where it’s hard to tell who’s a true alcoholic and who’s not.” She assumed his drinking was normal for a college kid, and he’d grow out of it.

Renowned marriage researcher Dr. John Gottsman did a study showing that fully 69 percent of issues that couples disagree on early in marriage are not resolved later in marriage. It seems a fair guess that the odds get worse for couples who’ve been together for years.

So what do you do when disagreements over one another’s habits or behaviors reach the boiling point? Here are a few pieces of advice I often give my clients:

  1. Clearly tell your partner (as if he or she hasn’t already heard it a million times, but still) what you wish he/she would do differently, and how you feel it would improve the relationship. Then just ask them if that’s likely to happen—and whatever their answer, take them at their word. It may not be what you want to hear, but at least it gives you a chance to move forward with clear expectations.
  2. At the same time, however, compromise is a beautiful thing. State the major areas in which you think you could be happier in the relationship, and ask your partner if they’re willing to change at least one or two of them. Be sure this is a two-way street, however: your partner should come up with his or her own list, and your willingness to change one or two of the things that bother them might make them more willing to meet you halfway.

This practice also offers the added incentive of helping you prioritize what really matters and what doesn’t. If you’re biggest complaints are (1) the dirty socks you’re constantly picking up, (2) their unwillingness to attend church or synagogue more than once a year, and (3) their nightly habit of stopping for drinks on the way home…well, for most people, the dirty socks start to look pretty insignificant. You can’t change everything, so you might as well go for the important ones.

  1. Be as specific as possible. If you’re always complaining about the state of the office and he hears, “I need you to really clean out the office before my mother visits this weekend,” he may imagine that you expect him to wash the baseboards, dust the diplomas and alphabetize the books, when all you really wanted was for him to go over the desk and put all his papers in neat piles. When you ask for someone to change something that doesn’t come naturally to them, they’re far more willing to comply if you can explain exactly what you’re looking for
  2. Finally—and you probably know this one, but it bears repeating—remember the timeless “serenity prayer”: “Grant me the courage to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

Whenever reasonable and possible, accept your partner for who they are and find a way to focus on the person you love, warts and all.

What We Learn (or Don’t) From Conflict in Our Parent’s Marriage

We learn how to deal with relationship conflict from our parents.

It doesn’t take a psychologist to know that our parents have a tremendous impact on the kind of people we turn into, including how we behave in relationships.

Unfortunately, in this area there are surprisingly few hard-and-fast formulas. Just as adult siblings may describe their childhoods growing up in the exact same household in completely different ways, the lessons that children take away from their parents’ marriage are often unpredictable. The key, then, is not to look for black-and-white answers but for awareness of what you learned in childhood about relationships, and how it has negatively or positively played out in your own.

For instance, consider how divorce impacts children as they grow up. We do know that the divorce rate among children of divorced parents is much higher than for people whose parents don’t divorce—perhaps as much as twice as high. In some cases, these offspring take the marriage commitment less seriously, so they’re more likely to call it quits rather than taking the hard steps of working through problems.

Conversely, some children take an opposite view. Determined to avoid repeating the pattern, they attempt to stay married at all costs. But that commitment needs to come from a place of strength rather than weakness. For instance, if someone felt abandoned as a child—or felt that one of their parents was abandoned by the other in the divorce, they may adopt a “please-my-partner-no-matter-what” strategy. That’s not good for any relationship. I’m not talking about staying in an abusive relationship—that’s another topic altogether—but avoiding conflict at all costs, even when it means you don’t stand up for your own needs for fear of “failing” at marriage or driving your spouse away (because that’s what you perceived happening with your own mom or dad).

The way your parents dealt with problems can also become a generational pattern. A child who grew up in a home where parents fought all the time may fail to learn constructive communication skills with their own partner. Fighting—including shouting, intimidation and name calling—may seem perfectly normal to them. After all, children lack the perspective to know what’s normal or not, and it can be hard to unlearn the examples we absorbed during our formative years.

When the child grows up, how does that affect their own relationships? They may be so conditioned to fight “ugly” that they can barely comprehend why their partner breaks down in tears or puts up walls.

Yet here again, the offspring of warring parents (or other warring family members) may come away with a different message altogether. Theirs is more of a “been there/done” that mentality—they have zero tolerance for conflict. On the one hand, if that means choosing calmer, more respectful tones when working through conflict, that’s a positive repudiation of their parents’ style of arguing. On the other hand, perceiving every note of discord as a frightening outburst doesn’t help much, either.

Couples counseling can be extremely helpful in providing a safe forum for partners to understand where their gut reactions are coming from, why their communication styles seem worlds apart, and how to find ways of dealing with conflict that feel comfortable for both.

It’s all about insight. As with all aspects of life, understanding why we do the things we do can help us grow and improve in our relationship skills…and if we have children of our own, try our best to model the best behaviors that we can, knowing that it will could have a positive impact for generations to come.

If you want to increase your insight (and not have a marriage like your parents’ marriage), please give us a call today at 949-220-3211, or schedule an appointment via our online calendar. We at the OC Relationship Center are here to help you.