As you’re likely all too aware, couples can struggle with many key issues in their marriage. For example, differing perspectives on how to discipline the children are common. Rapport with the in-laws (or the lack thereof) is not unusual. Religious and faith journeys are fairly common discussions for couples in my counseling office. How your spouse spends his or her time when not at home is also a challenge for many couples.
However, likely the bigger problems arise from our views on how to manage money. Perhaps even more challenging is our views on sex and affection. Getting our needs met in these critical areas of our marital relationships can seem daunting if not overwhelming.
** Please note that the examples I utilize in this blog are a compilation of many conversations and also not real names.
Money—Balancing the Relationship Budget
As a counselor that has worked with couples for many years, I find that disagreements about money are common in most relationships. Whether its about how to spend our income on a daily basis. Or how to save for the future, next years vacation, or even for retirement, men and women can just see things differently. Over the years I’ve used an example regarding going back to school (pre-COVID!) that has proved helpful.
In our example, Ricky* (* not his real name) is 13 and is about to begin his first year of middle school. Ricky and his mom go to a local store to purchase school clothes for him. Ricky’s mom and dad have recently agreed on a budget for both he and his siblings clothing budget. They feel comfortable with the amount they’re spending and finally feel that they’ve made progress. That sounds great right? Absolutely, until the unexpected happens, which seems to happen often with busy families.
Please know that the back story here is that Ricky’s parents were raised in homes that see money vastly different. Ricky’s mom was raised in an affluent home where money challenges similar to my example were just NOT an issue. Meanwhile, Ricky’s father was raised in home where money challenges and balance were common.
Ricky loves to skateboard and has done so for several years. He is boarding with friends when he takes a spill and tears the knee out of his new school pants. These are his favorite pants and Ricky is devastated as he considers telling his parents. He musters up the courage and tells his mom who responds essentially “don’t worry, we’ll get you a new pair before school starts.” He is relieved and feels better. Later that evening when his mom and dad discuss the issue, his father is pretty upset by his wife’s perspective. He reminds her of the budget they’d both agreed to live by. How important not waffling on their new spending plan is to him. He states that we need to “just patch the pants” and send him to school. Besides, Ricky needs to learn to be “…responsible and take care of his things.”
What would you do to balance the relationship “budget???”
Sex – Balancing the Relationship’s Affection Needs
As if understanding your wife’s perspectives on money isn’t challenging enough, another area maybe even more key. That area is sex, which I like to refer to as overall “affection” in the relationship.
While working with couples regarding their romantic and sexual needs, one thing has become very apparent. Men and women just see sex differently. While I’ve used many examples to discuss sex with couples in counseling, one has seemed particularly germane for this blog. Tim and Sandy* (* not their real names) have been married for 5 years. They have a 3 y/o daughter who goes to daycare while her parents are working. Tim is a local school Vice Principal and Sandy is the head of Human Resources at a local, fast growing start-up company.
Tim and Sandy want to have a relationship that balances in most areas. However, their sex life seems to be one of their biggest challenges. For example, recently Tim was feeling extra close to his wife and that having connective sex that night sounded great. When he included some heart emoticons in texts to his wife during the day, she said supportively she would talk to him when she got home. Over dinner, Sandy mentions to her husband that although interested, she’s really tired but would love to get together tomorrow night. Tim finds her response to be supportive and feels understood.
The following day Sandy anticipates a busy day at work. She drops their child off at daycare and makes sure to plan her day well. Sandy also remembered her commitment to her husband and made a focused effort to think emotionally connective thoughts about him, e.g., he’s a great husband, great support, great lover. As the day moves on, Sandy is feeling really good about the prospect of spending some quality time with her husband. Later that afternoon, Sandy receives a text from her boss regarding a meeting she was to attend with her CEO tomorrow. Her boss notes that the team member who was going to present was being tested for COVID and wouldn’t be able to attend the meeting. This means she is now presenting and would need to have it ready by 9 AM tomorrow morning. Although the meeting may end up being virtual, please plan on attending in their corporate offices.
While Sandy feels encouraged that her boss would ask her to fill in, there is a problem. She now will be up much of the night preparing for the critical presentation. She is also really disappointed that she won’t be able to give her relationship the time it so desperately needs. She considers all options but ultimately decides to ask her husband if they can spend time together tomorrow night. How will he react? Will he feel hurt or dismissed?
What would you do to balance the relationship’s “affection” budget?
Balance is the Key
Whether Tim feels hurt or dismissed will depend on how he believes the relationship has been overall previous to this challenge. Let’s say that both he and Sandy have worked on keeping their relationship open and honest. Then likely Tim won’t feel dismissed and he will be able to weather this potential hurricane of negative feelings and resentment. Meanwhile, Sandy won’t feel guilty that she is asking for some relationship latitude but rather also feel understood and appreciated. Do you see a positive pattern here? Absolutely!
It has been my experience that open communication is the key. Being able to have critical conversations safely that may not be easy but will benefit the relationship’s sex and affection needs. Other keys include:
* Trust. Building trust includes, but isn’t limited to, knowing that your spouse will allow you to share her opinion without feeling judged or questioned for her perspective. Trust is particularly important for a woman as feeling emotionally safe and close to her husband is often contingent on trusting him deeply.
* Respect. When couples trust each other then it is quite natural that a deeper level of respect will likely also follow. Thus trust and respect go essentially hand in hand resulting in a marriage where connective conversations can naturally occur.
* Love. You can love your partner but not necessarily trust or respect them. The oft used adage of “Love Conquers All” isn’t always true particularly regarding trust related to money and sex. Couples that have nurtured trust in their relationships report a deeper level of commitment to the relationship. Essentially, that my spouse “has my back!”
What’s Next? Achieving Balance
Whether you struggle with discussions regarding money or sex really isn’t the question. Many couples struggle in these key areas. The most important thing is to be able to move forward through the challenges. Increase trust, respect, and ultimately the love in the relationship. Here are 3 suggestions to achieve these relationship goals.
First, absolutely set goals to communicate openly and often. I typically assign the couples I work with to have a “check-in” each day. It doesn’t have to be long BUT it does need to be more than just “how was your day?” Ask questions that support each others challenges. For Tim as a Vice Principal, empathic questions related to returning to school may be most germane. However, the key is that the communication is open to ANY thing that seems important to the partners in their marriage.
Secondly, I’ve often heard it said that “couple’s that play together, stay together.” That has been my experience particularly when couples play often and in ways that connect the relationship. Couples can connect each evening. Couples can “play together” on the hiking trail. On the ski slopes, or on vacation, whether it’s in California or Park City.
And for the subject of affection in marriage, couples that play (connection/affection/sex) together often will stay together! It absolutely works and is worth working on in a loving ways.
Lastly, absolutely be flexible and recognize that plans change. And please totally be aware that just because your wife isn’t available for sex this evening doesn’t mean that she’s not into you. In fact, be aware that her asking to get together tomorrow night is likely totally sincere. She does want to be with you. Please take a risk and ask her (or him!). You may be pleasantly surprised by her response.
Michael Boman, LCSW, is a clinical therapist at Wasatch Family Therapy. Michael has over 20 years experience in working with couples and families.
We live in a world where we are being fed a constant stream of information at, seemingly, every turn. It can be easy to get lost in all the noise, and disconnect from our core sense of self, worth, and values. When that happens, one might experience depression, anxiety, feeling untethered, resentment, and unhealthy relationships, among others. One of my greatest steps in my own journey was learning how to come out of the self-betrayal that had become familiar and comfortable.
What is self betrayal? Self betrayal can manifest in many different ways. It can be sacrificing your own values and boundaries to maintain a relationship, saying “yes” when you actually want to say “no,” people pleasing, perfectionist tendencies in an effort to feel, or be seen as, “enough,” or living in a cycle of shame from not understanding the wounds that drive behavior. In a sense, it is disconnecting from that voice of truth within.
Learning to connect to your most authentic self can be scary and liberating, all in the same breath. Some tools to help you connect to this authentic self can be:
-Meditation and mindfulness exercises -Truth and distortion journaling prompts -Future self authoring exercises -EMDR, and other somatic work to process past trauma -Inner child work and attachment healing
As you learn to connect and find belonging to your truest self, you will find deeper and more meaningful connections in your relationships, as they are no longer responsible for filling your cup of worth. If you have experienced self betrayal in your life, and are wanting to find healing, know that you have all the tools of healing within you to begin this journey. An experienced counselor can help you unlock those tools when you find yourself feeling stuck.
Human beings are social creatures and need connection. Psychologists, anthropologists, and philosophers have suggested many reasons for why we need connection. These reasons include: providing for physical and emotional needs, creating tribal safety, invoking social and economic efficiency, and offering structure for human development.
explored this topic, I find our need for others is multifaceted. In mental
health, there are overlapping influences, often termed the biopsychosocial
model of health. This phonetic amalgamation promotes the importance of
three overarching schools of thought: (1) our biology, (2) our thoughts and
emotions, and (3) our social environment. Our social connections are no
small matter. We experience social connection with family, friends, church
relationships, clubs, and work situations.
One reason I feel we need others, is to create affirmation and validation for our life journey. As children, we look to authority figures for validation. At first, this person is usually a parent or guardian. When we enter our adolescence, we turn to friends. As adults, we may seek approval from peers, or authority figures such as church leaders, a spouse, or a boss at work. Marriage relationships uniquely create opportunities for seeking intimate affirmation and validation. As a therapist, I see couples desiring validation if they are “enough,” or if they are “doing things right.” These bids for validation are expressed in a variety of scenarios in the kitchen to the bedroom.
we arrive at a place where self-confidence eclipses the need to seek validation
from others. When this occurs, we help
support others, and our self-esteem is self-sufficient. I don’t think this process is a bad thing.
Instead, I feel the understanding we gain is helpful and includes three
as other people bid for validation from us, we should feel complimented, as we
are now a companion in their healing journey. Affirming another is an
opportunity to support and honor the path and choices others make in a way that
creates self-awareness and growth, confidence, and security while allowing for
a space of safety.
we need to know how hurtful rejection can be for those who seek for an
affirming voice from us. As children, we are often told “no,” “don’t,” or
“you cannot.” Usually, these commands are barked from parents who want to
protect their children. However, as a conscience being willing to aid in
the healing journey of others, an affirming voice such as “you can,” “you’ve
got this,” or “I trust you,” is more effective.
understanding your attachment style, or the attachment style of others can
assist in explaining how validation and affirmation are expressed. An
assessment of how you engage with others can aid you and those you love to help
establish securely attached relationships.
For example, some people will anxiously seek for attention, and others
pull back when things get messy, avoiding receiving the needed help the
As humans, we connect with others for a variety of meaningful ways. Seeking affirmation and validation is a human characteristic that moves people toward a place of self-confidence. We start by trusting the voices of others we trust, and then we move to trust our internal voice. We do these in elaborate dances that deserve our attention and our nonjudgmental observation.
If you or a loved one needs help in understanding or seeking validation, please give me a call at 801.944.4555 to schedule an appointment today.
What is love? According to Sue Johnson, “It’s intuitive and yet not necessarily obvious: It’s the continual search for a basic, secure connection with someone else. Through this bond, partners in love become emotionally dependent on each other for nurturing, soothing, and protection” (Johnson, 2009). Humans have a hard-wired need for emotional responsiveness and closeness. At the beginning of our lives, we are born with the survival response and need for attachment from our mothers. This need for a secure attachment never fades; it follows us into adulthood evolving into the need for a secure attachment with a partner.
Underneath most fights and marital issues is the longing to feel connected to your partner, to feel that secure attachment and to know, do I matter? Are you there for me? Unfortunately, our culture has painted the picture that this type of dependency is weak and undesirable. Because of this, many relationships begin to exhibit over time, physical and emotional isolation that is actually traumatizing to humans; it communicates to the brain “danger.”
Most relationships begin with a super close connection; partners tend to be more responsive to each other’s needs. However, over time this tends to dwindle and fade as each partner begins to make assumptions about the other. For example, one partner wants more attention or love but expresses this by acting angry and nagging, the other begins to withdraw and pull back not knowing how to react and possibly feeling as though they can’t do anything right and so begins, the “dance” of the couple. The more one nags and pursues, the more the other pulls back and begins to withdraw. At this point, the relationship begins to unravel leaving each partner wondering if the other is there for them or not. During this dance, neither really discusses the deep emotional pain they are really feeling, which keeps them spiraling around in this cycle.
Once you have been able to identify your relationship’s negative cycle, you can both agree to break the cycle. Although disappointments will always be a part of every relationship, we can choose how we handle them. We can handle them in the same old ways, reflecting fear and defensiveness or we can handle them with a little more understanding. If you and your spouse feel as though you are constantly caught in an endless negative cycle, schedule an appointment to begin changing that cycle by learning to understand the underlying emotions and recreating a deeper emotional connection with your partner.
Johnson, S. (2009). Hold me tight. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200812/hold-me-tight
Every married couple has problems, so why is it that when we’re struggling in our marriages we can feel so alone? I recently sat down with the ladies of “Good Things Utah” to answer some marriage questions that viewers had written in. Perhaps some of them will mirror your own experiences.
I recently sat down with the ladies of “Family Looking Up” to discuss how women’s assertiveness can help our families. The conversation included clearing up misconceptions about assertiveness (such as the false idea that it equates to being aggressive or selfish) and also how women can view their own needs as being equal to that of their children and their partner. If you’re interested in learning more about how to improve your communication style, practice self-compassion, and say no without guilt, take a listen!
Click here to learn more about my book “The Assertiveness Guide For Women: How to Communicate Your Needs, Set Healthy Boundaries, and Transform Relationships.”
Years ago I had a co worker who was notorious for not accepting compliments. One day, I told her that her hair looked nice and her response was “Does it not look good everyday?” Another time, I expressed that I liked her shoes. “I guess my other shoes aren’t cute then” was her response. Do you know someone like this? It can be frustrating when you are vulnerable enough to share a compliment with others and it not received well. It seems that a lack of accepting compliments can be tied to one of three things.
The first is a lack of self esteem. When we do not think kindly about ourselves, it is often times hard to accept that others think highly of us. Negative self talk can often lead to thinking positive things are untrue, and therefore it is difficult to accept when others think positively about us.
The second is a real or false sense of humility. I have run into this professional and personally many times. When a compliment is given the person shoots it down. “I don’t look good.” or “It’s not a big deal. I didn’t do all of the work.” My personal favorite is just a simple “What? No!” Whether it is to get more attention, the person is trying to be humble, or it is an actual sense of humility it is still frustrating when a response like this is given.
The third is true surprise. We have all had circumstances when we don’t feel like we’ve done a good job, and yet someone praises us for a job well done. A time when we didn’t feel good about how we looked and someone commented that we looked nice. Although this happens regularly,people don’t know how to respond because it is such a surprise.
What is do be done? I challenge you to look into your self talk. When you think positively about yourself you can accept that others do. When someone is vulnerable enough to share a compliment you can respond in a way that exudes confidence and humility at the same time. Here are five wonderful ways to respond when you get a compliment. Try these out and see if it changes the way you think about yourself, and the person who is giving you a compliment.
Who has ever said yes to something but were internally screaming a no?
We all have people asking us for time, money, attention, physical or emotional connection, labor, and on and on. Helping others, giving them our time or attention is a good thing, so I want to clarify that boundaries are not just about saying no. Boundaries are about making thoughtful choices which allow us to say yes to the things we want to say yes to.
We humans are social creatures. We are driven to seek connections with others. Forming connections, or attachments, helps us navigate challenges in life. Much like a toddler will cling to her parent’s leg, step away to explore, then run back when they need reassurance. Saying no to a request goes against our need to connect with others. However, when we repeatedly say yes to things we don’t feel good about, we can end up neglecting our own needs. This turns an act of kindness that helped us feel good and brought us joy, into a burden that we feel resentful of.
Resentment is an interesting experience. It’s a low simmer, just under the surface, that tells us something isn’t right. Something about the situation feels off. We might feel taken advantage of, unheard, or manipulated. Each experience where we feel resentment adds a link in our chain of resentment. They build upon each other, and if we continue to carry the chain around, and add to it, it will get heavier and heavier. This resentment chain makes it difficult to want to say yes to anything, because we’re constantly on guard, looking to protect ourselves.
Setting boundaries allows us to set down the chain. When we can stop carrying it around, we’ll have more energy to make the kind of thoughtful decisions that bring us joy.
Why is it hard to set boundaries?
-fear on loss/abandonment/loneliness
-fear of anger
-fear of self perception (I’m a good person, good people sacrifice for others)
-fear of approval (will other people think I’m a good person?)
-guilt for disappointing or hurting someone.
Feelings of resentment, fear, or guilt are indicators that there is an area of your life that needs boundary work.
Here are three concrete tools for helping to establish boundaries in your own life.
1. Have a Plan
It can be difficult to think clearly if you feel put on the spot. Having responses planned out ahead can help buy you time to evaluate whether the request is something you are willing or able to meet. One example, “I’ll have to check my calendar, but I’ll get back to you” can buy you some time to evaluate if the request is something you have the time/energy/desire to meet.
2. Don’t Explain
Sometimes, in an attempt to soften our “no”, we offer explanations that may or may not accurately represent our true reasons for saying no. This can be dangerous as it gives the requester the ability to counter with an adapted request that may feel more difficult to refuse.
3. Offer an Alternative
Offer an alternative if there is one that you feel good about. “I’m not able to make that planning meeting, but I will write up my proposal and email it to you before friday”.
All of us have boundaries. Whether we communicate them openly or not, we are setting boundaries. Holding back, or acquiescing out of fear or guilt means we are setting an loose boundary that will likely lead us to feel resentment. Setting clear and proactive boundaries allows us to form relationships with others, free of resentment, and allows us a greater sense of peace and joy.
If you are struggling to set boundaries in your life, and would like help learning how to make changes to reduce feelings of fear, resentment, or anger, call and schedule an appointment with Alice. 801-944-4555.
One of the biggest problems in marriage is poor communication. There’s so much emotional history and baggage, and both people have thoughts, feelings, and need that can cloud the situation, so it’s easy to miss each other. It’s important to understand three distinct communication styles and how they can hinder or help our ability to connect with each other.
The name says it all: an individual with a doormat style of communication often gets trampled on or simply allow others to lead. They typically favor peace over any type of conflict, so they’ll often be passive or give the silent treatment when things get difficult. This can lead to problems, as those assuming the doormat style have their relationship needs chronically neglected and do not take a stand for themselves.
The sword is the opposite: those with this style are often very aggressive, defensive, and on edge. They may verbally lash out or blame others. For them, self-preservation is achieved through emotional manipulation or violence, but the relationship suffers the damage.
The lantern is the type of communication that we should all strive for. It’s illuminating and invites all into the light to see different perspectives and experiences. It is firm and secure, yet not overbearing. The lantern is a more mature style of communication, as it is rises above the tendency to be either a sword or a doormat.
If you are interested in learning more about communication styles and how to strengthen your relationships with also maintaining your own unique voice, check out my book “The Assertiveness Guide for Women.”
I often hear stories from men and women who discover their partner has sexual secrets. Sometimes those secrets involve pornography, sometimes they involve infidelity, sometimes they involve fantasy or sexual preferences. The individuals who share these stories with me often feel betrayed because the expectations they had about the sexual agreements within their relationship were not kept. The first problem to address is that most of the time, these sexual agreements were unspoken.
I want to encourage couples to make these unspoken agreements spoken. All couples should talk about their expectations for their sexual relationship. In order to facilitate this discussion, here are six principles that constitute healthy sexuality. Spend some time with your partner and discuss each one, what it means to each of you as individuals and how it relates to you as a couple. (One word of caution, avoid having this discussion during or after sex. Those times are likely to bring with them heightened vulnerability, which if the discussion is difficult in any area, can lead to increased defensiveness and conflict. The discussion will go much more smoothly if you schedule it for another time.)
Consent in this context means that someone has given permission for something involving their body to occur. Are there sexual behaviors in your relationship that you’d like your partner to ask specific consent for each time? Are there sexual behaviors that you don’t feel your partner needs to ask first? Talk about these, and create clear guidelines to shape how consent looks in your relationship. Remember that feelings about specific sexual behaviors can change, and it’s okay to change your sexual agreements in the future.
Non-exploitative means that one partner does not take advantage or manipulate the other into sexual behaviors. This includes using power dynamics to coerce the other person. Are there behaviors that one partner participates in hesitantly? Use this opportunity to talk about what those behaviors mean to each partner. If there are exploitative behaviors in your relationship, this is an area where reaching out for help with a therapist may be necessary to resolve them and set healthy boundaries.
3. Protection from STIs, HIV, and Unplanned Pregnancy
If either person has had previous sexual partners, have they been checked for sexually transmitted infections or HIV? What is the plan surrounding birth control?
Are both partners able to be fully honest about their sexual history, and is there room in the relationship to honestly discuss fantasy and sexual preferences?
5. Shared Values
Creating sexual agreements are crucial for couples, and the largest part of the discussion will likely revolve around values. What behaviors fall within your value systems as individuals and as a couple? If there are value differences, can you create workable compromises? If there are value conflicts within a relationship, a professional can help explore resolutions that feel workable to both partners.
6. Mutual Pleasure
Sadly, many individuals grow up with the idea that sex is something men like and women tolerate. When this is the background, women can feel used and resentful about sex, even when they’re otherwise happy in their relationship. Breaking out of this mindset is going to be difficult if the couple has not found mutually pleasurable sexual activities. If one partner wants a specific type of sex exclusively, and the other partner doesn’t enjoy that activity, neither partner will be able to truly experience the kind of sexual relationship that is fulfilling and strengthens the relationship.
If after reviewing these six principles, you find some areas that you and your partner need help with, schedule an appointment with Alice today. 801-944-4555.