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.
You’ve decided you want to be
together forever. Now what?
Whether our relationships are old or new, there a few important topics that I believe should be discussed before long term commitment or marriage. At times, we think we know our partner inside and out. I have outlined four important topics that can be a starting point of conversation to set our relationships up for success.
How do we feel about kids?
Each partner needs to discuss what they are expecting in terms of wanting kids, not wanting kids, or how many kids each partner envisions. Does one partner only one or maybe two children while the other wants four or five? Once you have an understanding what each partner wants, you can discuss whether there is any flexibility in their wants. This should be an ongoing conversation with your partner as road bumps happen along the road, including infertility or that one partner no longer wants more children. What if one partner wants to change directions in their career and be a stay at home parent? These are all important things to not only talk about, but truly understand our partner’s wants and desires.
Conflict and Communication
SPOILER ALERT: Conflict will happen
in your marriage! It is not whether you have conflict or not that determines if
your relationship will last; it is how you handle conflict. It can be easy to
develop poor communication habits with your partner. These bad habits can
include stonewalling, holding onto resentments, or not giving your partner
space when needed to calm down. If you’re developing any bad habits during your
arguments, or are curious about your communication style, then it might be
helpful to explore some resources. The books Hold Me Tight by Sue
Johnson or Seven Principles forMaking Marriage Work by John
Gottman are a great starting place. You can also seek out a great couple’s therapist!
Time together and alone
When you are in the dating stage you often are inseparable and spend a majority of your time together. While this stage you are learning about each other it is also important to understand what time together and alone will look like once you get married. If our partner had weekly outings with friends to the club, outlets, rock climbing, or a weekend trip will this still be ok once we’re married? Is our partner used to going to the gym alone and has been doing this for years? These various activities can be very important for our partner. If we think that after marriage we want them to change or adjust their habits and the way they spend their time then we need to communicate that now. We cannot expect them to just change while we stay at home and harbor resentment. While time together with our partner fosters a healthy relationship, we also need to foster relationships with friends and family. At times, we may need quality time with close friends or other family members too, or even just alone time to be with our self. It is okay for us to want these things as long as it is something communicated to our partner.
How is our partner allowed to talk with coworkers, friend etc.
When our partner is not with us they
will be among other people at work, the gym, and friends. While this time spent
with others is needed there are some important questions to discuss with your
What are intimate details of our relationship how or should be shared with others? How do we talk to others about our relationship?
What constitutes an emotional affair for your or your partner?
While every situation varies for each couple. It is important to understand what ours or our partner’s behaviors might be. The more we understand them and have conversations about what our relationship boundaries should be then the healthier our relationship is in the long run. If you would be hurt if your partner went to lunch with female co-workers then let them know. If it causes hurt when your partner comments on an ex’s post, let them know! Do not let these things fester and build until serious relationship difficulties come up.
Communication with our partner is essential to building a healthy, lasting relationship. When we have a conversation with our partner about the four topics discussed above and many more, we can then avoid resentment, future conflict, and have healthy boundaries in our relationship. If you would like more information about the topics above, a better understanding of your current relationship, or just want to have a safe place to discuss future and/or current relationship goals reach out to me at (801)-944-4555.
If you frequent the many on-line
resources (message boards, blogs, advice columns, podcasts, etc.) related to
dating, specifically dating at a more “advanced” age, you will surely encounter
at least one article about “compatibility” in relationships. What exactly does
compatibility mean? If you read all the advice on the internet, this post
included, then you’ll find that there is a wide array of opinions offered.
Opinions range from the alignment of interests and goals to the notion that
there can’t be any disagreements or conflicts within relationships. However,
according to Merriam Webster’s Dictionary compatibility is, “being capable of existing together in harmony”. Dr. John Gottman (2016), the world-renowned
relationship researcher, described compatibility as, “Agreeability and conscientiousness are the
characteristics that people really mean when they talk about “compatibility.”
These qualities are indexed by a person being able to say things like “Good
point,” or “That’s interesting, tell me more” or, “You may be right, and I may
be wrong” during a disagreement.”
It’s always interesting
to me that couples often fear that they are incompatible if they encounter
conflict within their relationship. Conflict and the ability to address and
resolve it are important aspects to relationships; it says a lot about the
relationship’s strength when a couple or family is willing to confront the
areas of conflict in their relationships. However, there is a myth perpetuated
by society and the media that “healthy” relationships are conflict-free. That’s
an unachievable expectation that can be dangerous to a connected relationship.
How can everyone’s needs
be met if unmet needs can’t be expressed because it is seen as starting a
fight? You’ll notice I changed the wording in my last question from conflict to
fight; I’ve noticed that many times the two words are used interchangeably.
Fight, typically, has a negative connotation that denotes a level of aggression
or force, however. While conflict simply implies a disagreement. Often though,
couples and families see any form of disagreement as a fight and it can feel
dangerous to the relationships. I teach my clients that it’s important to
recognize that you can have a conflict/argument/disagreement and the
relationship can still feel safe. How can you safely have a disagreement? I
believe that if couples can set up a few rules to how they are going to “fight”
that they can maintain safety, not just physical but emotional and
psychological as well. Below I’ve listed a few of the boundaries that I
recommend couples start with while encouraging them to add their own personal
ones that are relevant to their situations:
Use “I” and “me”- if it’s important to you than make sure you are keeping it about who it is important to. “You” statements can feel very blaming.
Keep the volume in check- while some people’s voices get very animated and the volume increases as they get elevated, regardless if it’s from excitement or frustration, it can be very scary. No yelling and screaming!!!
Keep the language respectful. Personal attacks on character, name calling, mocking, being sarcastic, condescending, or patronizing are all ways that can leave people feeling devalued and demoralized.
Telling your partner how they do or should be feeling. Everyone is entitled to their feelings regardless of whether they make sense to others. Use this as an opportunity to be curious about your partner and their experience.
Timeouts aren’t just for kids. A negotiated and stated 20-minute timeout to re-group and calm down can do wonders for a disagreement while reinforcing the importance of safety in the relationship.
Conflict is an important part of relationships, as Dr. Gottman said they introduce diversity and make relationships more interesting. Additionally, they can be used as avenues to deepen our connections with partners by exposing and discussing vulnerabilities. However, for a conflict to be an opportunity to grow it must feel safe for both parties to express those vulnerabilities. Fight for your relationships and connections, not against them!
It is no secret to the people I work with that I love the work of Brene Brown. Her books, podcasts, articles, Netflix special, and basically everything else she has done is phenomenal. One of the key topics she speaks regularly on is the idea of vulnerability. This is an important key to any successful relationship. I first noticed this when I started doing marriage therapy, almost fifteen years ago. Brene Brown helped me put a name and research behind what I had been seeing for so long. Couples and individuals that are struggling in relationships have a difficult time being vulnerable.
What does someone who struggles with vulnerability look like? It is the person who has a difficult time identifying and expressing primary emotions-or in other words those really hard sticky emotions like hurt, sadness, loneliness, grief etc. For countless years I have seen couples come into my office and as they express their feelings of anger they create a solid wall or barrier between themselves and their partner. As we work on knocking that wall down and identifying those hard emotions it is very difficult for these couples because they have stopped the vulnerability in their marriage for so long. Sometimes years. Sometimes decades. What happens when vulnerability is turned off? That wall between the couple gets higher and thicker. Emotions are not expressed, except through anger or passive aggression. Resentment grows. Communication decreases. Emotional and sexual intimacy decreases. The couple starts to lead completely different lives.
In therapy, we work tirelessly on creating a safe space where each person in the relationship can express their feelings and be truly vulnerable. It is amazing to see the progress when they can look at each other and state they feel lonely and unimportant rather than yelling. The couples I work with laugh because I am always saying to them “turn to each other. Talk to each other not to me.” Through this sometimes uncomfortable process comes true vulnerability. Through vulnerability couples are able to better share their emotions, thoughts, and feelings without the fear of judgement. These couples communicate better, fight more productively, and have better emotional and sometimes sexual intimacy. The ability to be vulnerable with your partner is a game changer!
I challenge you to work hard to implement more vulnerability into your marriage. If your marriage is in trouble and you feel this is lacking please come in for counseling! Working on this and other essential keys can help rejuvenate your marriage.
Recovering from a breakup can be a confusing time in life as your head and your heart struggle to get on the same page. You may have started grieving the loss of the relationship long before it ended, while family members and friends are just beginning to deal with their own feelings of loss. Your heart may be telling you to try again, while your head is filled with fears about suffering another loss. When we lose a partner to death, we are often given the social permission to dismiss their flaws and focus on their virtues. Losing a partner to a breakup can feel like the opposite, where we dismiss their virtues and focus on their flaws. Doing so often makes the recovery process difficult and longer than it has to be. Here are some helpful suggestions for navigating the process of healing from a breakup.
1. Assume total responsibility for the break up. At first glance, this will seem counterintuitive. Here’s the logic: by taking 100% of the responsibility (not the blame) for the breakup, you assume 100% of the capability to heal from it. If your partner is even 1% responsible, that’s 1% of the recovery process that it beyond your control.
2. Acknowledge the grief. By calling those emotions what they are, you increase your ability to understand them. By understanding what you are grieving (loss of the ideal relationship, loss of companionship, etc), you are able to determine what may motivate you to enter a new relationship too quickly. Remember, grief is a process.
3. Normalize the experience. The reality is every relationship will end until you find the one that doesn’t. Each relationship will teach you something significant in preparation for the one that will last. As you approach each relationship as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and how to teach you to another person, you will realize that breaking up is as normal as students failing a class, even with a gifted teacher, if they don’t make the effort to learn the material.
4. Maintain an attitude of gratitude. Nothing helps in the process of healing quite like gratitude. Can you be grateful for the experience? Can you be grateful for what you’ve learned? Can you be grateful that you are no longer tied to someone who wasn’t good for you?
5. Treat yourself. Buy yourself one thing that represents all that you’ve gained from the experience. For example, get yourself that pair of shoes you’ve been wanting to remind you of all the strength it took to walk away or get yourself those Superman cuff links to remind you of the strength you’ve gained to reclaim your life.
Abuse is a tough topic to talk about, but it’s so important that we know signs to watch out for. While physical abuse is easy to identify, emotional abuse can be more subtle but can be just as damaging (while most everyone has mistreated their partner at times, we are talking about repeated and consistent behavior). Here are some signs of emotional abuse in marriage:
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.”
So often in relationships, we are aware of the other person’s needs and work to fulfill them. While this is a wonderful trait, it can lead to burnout if we chronically neglect ourselves. Here are some self-care tips that actually help strengthen our relationships with others:
Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the ability to recognize emotion and to use it to improve your life and your relationships. It is truly one of the most important skills you can develop as a human being, and yet it’s not something we seem to talk about very often. Here are some ways to work to achieve Emotional Intelligence in your marriage.
Acknowledge Your Emotions
All people have emotions. Some may be more expressive or communicative about them, but everyone has feelings. It sounds simple, but it’s important to recognize that both you and your spouse have inner experiences that influence you both.
Sort and Label Emotions
To be able to utilize and express your emotions, you first need to be able to identify them. The six basic emotions are happy, mad, sad, scared, surprised, and disgust. The ability to articulate in your mind, “this is what I’m feeling,” will help you communicate better with your partner. Being able to name those emotions makes the intensity go down so you’re better able to keep calm even in a tense situation.
Manage Emotions In Health Ways
Couples often have problems in that they don’t know how to cope with their own feelings, so they have emotional outbursts with their partner. Sometimes it’s as simple as taking a deep breath before you choose to engage or say something. Just take a pause and give yourself some time.
Express Emotions in Ways That Bring Connection
When you understand your emotions, you can ask for what you need in a way that brings you closer. If you’re sad, you can ask for comfort or encouragement. Also, look for signs that the other person has some emotions that need to be acknowledged. You might say something like, “gosh, you’ve seemed upset this week. Anything you want to talk about?” Acknowledging, labeling, and managing our feelings allows us to connect more with our partner and make sure both people’s needs are met.
Click here for a free printable Feelings Word List to help you better understand your emotional experiences.