Tag Archives: couples therapy

You Didn’t Marry Your Parents (They’re Hiding in Your Suitcase)

You’ve probably heard the age-old line about how we all tend to marry our mother/father in some way. Maybe your mom was bossy/demanding, and you’re starting to notice that your wife can be pretty controlling and you never measure up. Maybe you had your dad wrapped around your little finger and you picked a husband who does everything you ask, but doesn’t seem to have any ideas of his own, and now you’re feeling bored.

The problem with these kinds of relationship dynamics is that they’re great at first. We love to feel comfortable in relationships, so we often end up dating and marrying people who make us feel things we’ve felt before. We seek what we know. And once we get comfortable, it’s hard to change things, even if it’s for the better!

Comfort in Discomfort

I can’t recall where I first heard this, but I can’t tell you how many times it rings true with my clients: “People tend to stay the same until the status quo becomes more painful or scary than trying something new.”

What this means for our adult relationships is that we likely had a particular way that we felt in our early relationships that we’ve carried into our romantic relationships. The feelings are not always good or bad. They can be anything- fear, comfort, apprehension, security, longing, inadequacy, etc.

Let’s take fear as an example. If your relationship with one or more of your parents consistently involved fear, you likely try to avoid fear at all costs. You may settle for someone less than ideal simply because s/he is not overtly threatening. Maybe your fear leads you to avoid being truly vulnerable, no matter how sensitive, gentle, and inviting your partner is around you. Maybe you take a more active approach and your fear has led you to be controlling in relationships, making sure that you manage minute details of the relationship (e.g. your partner’s schedule, their messaging habits, their social life, etc.). Whatever the behavioral response, it’s important to recognize where it may be coming from.

Emptying Your Suitcase

We all carry around a relationship suitcase from childhood. The trick here is to recognize what feelings or patterns you’ve carried around in your adult relationships, and be intentional about seeking something different and healthier. Staying present with your partner is a great first step. If you think you can trust them to be on your side and to be invested in improving the quality of your relationship, however poor your combined communication skills might be, ask them to monitor some behaviors for you.

Tell them about the old family baggage you found in your relationship suitcase, and that you’re trying to get rid of it for the sake of your relationship. Tell them the ways that you are trying to improve/adapt/change, and ask them to gently bring it to your attention when you start sliding into old habits. I tell all of my therapy couples that it’s important for them to start letting go of their history and start telling a new story. This requires forgiveness, eventually, and a good way to start down that road is to focus on personal humility and collaborative problem solving around these suitcase issues in the present moment.

No Shaming Allowed

When they call your attention to a problem behavior, they should only bring it to your attention, not judge you. There should be a collaborative feel to the whole process. No shaming allowed (by either of you). This is an opportunity to come together over a shared goal: having the most amazing relationship you can! The things you share in a vulnerable conversation are not allowed to be used as ammunition in future disagreements.

For that matter, past hurts/flaws are unhealthy forms of ammunition as well (again, history is a dangerous weapon!). Heck, if we’re calling it ammunition, let’s just put down our relationship guns and work together. Each of you should think of your job as being whatever your partner needs at any given time, and the work gets a lot simpler. If your focus tends to be on each others’ needs, negativity tends to diminish.

Suitcases Can Show Up Anywhere

Our family suitcase baggage can show up anywhere, but we tend to unpack most of our baggage with the people we’re closest with. This is often our spouse and our children. You might not notice it, but you probably have some similar relationship dynamics with your children as you do with your partner. Some of these may be good/helpful/healthy, and some might need some work.

If it’s a pretty mild problem, there’s a chance that you might be mainly responding to a recent difficult situation, and the problem may resolve once the situation changes. If not, and you happen to notice some unhealthy/unhelpful patterns in any of your important relationships, it’s time to do something about it.
Depending on how severe the problem is, you might just want to talk to a friend about it, or you might want to find a book, podcast, workbook, or perhaps more blogs like this one to give you some basic pointers. I recommend just about anything written by John Gottman that deals with successful relationships (e.g. What Makes Love Last?). For those looking for a religious/Christian perspective on healthy marriage, I recommend Tim Keller’s, The Meaning of Marriage.

Will This Go Away On Its Own?

The reality is, however, that most relationship patterns don’t tend to go away unless we do something intentional about them. If the problem is severe enough, meaning that it’s having a significant impact in some major area of life functioning (work, marriage, friendships, parenting, finances, self-care), it may be important to reach out for some professional assistance.

If you think you might need professional help, that’s okay! No matter where you live, there are trained professionals who can help you through the change process. Try to think of therapy as an investment in not only you, but in your relationships and your future happiness.

If you haven’t noticed what’s in your suitcase, it’s probably sitting in your closet waiting for you to open it. Your loved ones probably already have a good idea of what’s in it. If you’re feeling brave, you might just ask them about it! Whatever you decide to do, do something. Who is going to be your first text/email/call? It’s never too late to start having better relationships, and you might as well start now!

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

Tuning Your Relationship Radio

My first car was a beige 1985 Ford tempo. Yeah…I know. Pretty bold choice, right? Well, my grandparents gave it to me and it was the best (and only) free car I’ve ever had. For a teenage driver with a job making 4 bucks an hour, that was exactly the kind of car I needed! The clutch was mostly burned out, and the brakes ended up going out one day, and it didn’t have a digital radio until I bought one at Best buy with the money I made from my job at The Disney Store (where we wore long sleeve denim uniform shirts…and yes, we knew how cool we looked). But it had everything I needed.

The original radio in my beige tempo had a tape deck and dial that you would to turn to tune into the particular station you wanted to listen to. It’s the knob on the right in the picture above. For any millennials and beyond reading this, the way that radios used to work was that there was not a button to tune to a very particular frequency a specific frequency, but rather there were knobs that you would turn that would approximate a signal. They didn’t click with each station you passed like the knobs in our cars today. If you wanted to listen to 102.7 you would to turn the knob until you got close and then use your ear to find the best signal possible. To get the best listening experience you had to pay close attention to the sound coming from your radio and finely-tune your actions to best attune to the station.

Radios and Relationships

In my work with couples over the past 14 years I’ve found that relationships are a lot like the radio in my old Tempo. If we don’t listen closely, and finely tune our actions according to what we hear, we tend to experience a lot of unpleasant static. Attunement is the term for this concept that social scientists use when they study relationships. Attunement essentially is your ability to “tune in” to your partner’s feelings, thoughts, and experience of a situation. Our partners have thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that, if we pay attention, can give us helpful information about what they need and how we can respond.

How Can I Get Better At Tuning In?

If you tune in closely to your partner’s signal you’ll see those helpful hints they provide. If, however, you don’t tune in to the station, or at least get close, there’s going to be a lot of static. You won’t clearly hear the music that they’re playing for you. Some couples therapists talk about relationships as being a dance, with feelings often being considered the music of the dance. Your job as a partner in a relationship is to tune in to the music of the dance, the feelings. You need to get your radio dial tuned as finely as possible to the music coming from your partner’s station so that you can best respond.

If you are tuned to a different station, distracted by your phone, or thinking about work, your kids, or a “to-do” list, you can’t be paying close attention to the signal that your partner is sending you. You’re going to miss what they’re trying to tell you. You might hear the unpleasant corrective words, and miss the good intention behind them.

Do I Have To Be Tuned In Perfectly?

Sometimes you might tune in to the station but you might be a little off. You might not have gotten your dial perfectly fixed on their signal. And that’s okay. Sometimes you might misinterpret something. Your job in those moments is not necessarily to fix what was wrong but just to tune in more closely. Be curious about what led them to send out the signal you heard. Recalibrate your radio by humbly asking questions before making statements. The next time your partner speaks strongly about something, commit to tuning in to their signal so that you can respond in a more helpful way, even if they trigger an upset feeling in you.

Partners in successful relationships are not about brute force, blunt communication. Successful partners communicate with nuance, and are willing to recalibrate their attunement to meet their partner’s needs.

But My Partner Is Such A Terrible Communicator!

If you find yourself hearing only static in a relationship, try not to blame your partner too much. The static is not what was meant to be heard, at least not initially. Some people learn to send out static, instead of a clear signal, because it’s scary for them to be truly known. It can feel vulnerable or scary for them to be seen, heard and understood by others. They have often been hurt by others. It can be hard for them to send out a clear signal without someone first being closely attuned to them and accepting them as they are. Sometimes their partner is able to help them work through this; other times, it can be helpful to involve someone with training and experience with relationship attunement.

What Should I Do Next?

Attunement isn’t everything in relationships, but it is vitally important. If you feel like your radio dial isn’t quite tuned to your partner’s station, or if you feel like there’s a lot of static in your relationships, it might be time to talk to someone about it. The best person to talk to about the static in any relationship is often the other person in that relationship. Make sure to engage them with humility and curiosity so as not to put them on defense right away. If you’re not sure how to do that, it might help to talk with someone else first.

A good friend can often lend perspective on tough relationships. Or you might want to talk with a therapist trained to “listen between the lines” and see the nuanced processes impacting your relationships. Or, if your partner is willing, it’s often even more helpful to talk to someone together, so you both can tune in more closely to each other. Whatever you choose to do, do something. The music won’t change in it’s own. Someone has to turn the dial.

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

There’s No Such Thing As Soulmates!

Will I ever find THE ONE?

If you’re looking for an article to give you some hope that there’s that one person out there that’s destined to be the love of your life, you should probably stop reading now. My goal here is to help you understand how there is simply no one out there who is your “one.” But not only that, I hope to empower you to get out there and find A one and MAKE them your one. Fairy tales don’t exist, and there’s no prince charming, damsel in distress, love at first sight, or any other Disney princess nonsense going on in the real world. (To be fair to Disney, their movies have generally played to the mainstream cultural mood of America in some ways, and they’ve made moves toward more egalitarian, even power-female, plots in recent “princess” films.).

We’ve got great physical chemistry…

If you’ve been searching for “the one” for a while with no luck, it’s probably because love (at least lasting love) is not about luck, serendipity, fortune, or destiny. According to the majority of the scholarly research available on couples, it’s about commitment, trust, and sacrifice. It’s also not about physical intimacy. If the physical “chemistry” happens to be good from the start, great. But let me emphasize that physical chemistry is something that can be worked on and improved far more easily than personality issues and worldview conflicts (differences in the personal value lenses through which we see and interpret the world around us).

Passion in Paris, or consistent commitment?

What we are often led to believe by Hollywood, and ABC’s “The Bachelor,” is that near death experiences and passionate physical encounters are the main ingredients of great love. But what Hollywood often fails to portray in these epic romances is the depth of devotion and sacrifice required to maintain that chemistry over the long term. Even the 90’s NBC sitcom, “Friends,” takes a humorous approach to the subject, and largely equates soulmates to someone attractive with whom you share primary interests.

Most of the “love at first sight” stories fail to show the complex and nuanced process of growing together over several years. In entertainment romances, love is seldom earned by working at building and maintaining a friendship based on trust and mutual self-less action. Instead, one partner covers the bedroom in a thousand rose petals, sells a business and moves across the country, plans a romantic weekend in Paris, etc., and the characters “fall” for each other. These sweeping gestures and fancy vacations lead to passionate emotional connection that has little chance of lasting without the key ingredient of commitment.

Should marriage be so difficult?

I recently heard a marriage therapist say, “If your marriage is difficult, you’re doing it wrong.” I think I understand where they were coming from, but I would hate to sugar coat anything about marriage. It’s hard work. No, it shouldn’t always be difficult, but there will be difficult moments. There should be fun, and it should outweigh the bad times, but most of our daily lives together are not epic, harrowing, dramatic, exciting, or anything else that many people look for in soulmate love. Much of life is ordinary and detail-oriented. It’s meal-planning, budgeting, working, raising children, scheduling, etc. The business of daily life.

If you need constant excitement in your relationship, you’re likely heading for a break-up. No relationship can offer constant fun. If you start to say to yourself, or your partner, “We never have any fun anymore,” that’s okay! Talk about it! Ask for what you need and want. Discuss what you’re willing to sacrifice to make positive changes to the relationship. Show your partner what you’re willing to give up in the schedule to make time for new adventures. For example, how willing are you to help your partner with their daily tasks to make their life easier and create availability in their schedule for the fun time you crave?

Soulmates are not found. They are made.

You pick a person, just about any person, and as long as there is mutual commitment to trust and sacrifice for each other, the relationship has a great chance of surviving and thriving for the long haul. We all grow and change together. The soulmate you find today may be somewhat different in a year, and possibly very different in ten years.

What if s/he changes over time?

Few people change dramatically overnight. Growth takes time, and what matters is growing together. You might find your soulmate at the grocery store, or at a club, church, school, or office. You just won’t know it’s them yet. Even if you feel a strong connection right away, this is short-term emotional excitement. This represents attraction, aroused interest, novelty, and curiosity, but not love. Find a person you like now, and help them to grow over time, loving and sacrificing for them to help them reach their full potential as a person and partner. As they do the same for you, they solidify their place as your soulmate.

I love him/her, but it feels like it’s not working anymore…

If you’re already in a committed relationship and it’s not feeling like a soulmate situation, this doesn’t mean you picked the wrong person. It means you’ve both got some work ahead of you to become the soulmate each other deserves. Relationships are a team game, and you have to play WITH and FOR your teammate. You’re bound to lose the game of love when you start playing only for yourself. Be the partner you want your partner to become. You can’t change them. You can only change yourself, and appeal to their love for you in requesting that they also make some changes. Show love and ask for it in return. Be open about your needs and desires. And when they follow through, even on the small things, give them credit!

Should we just tough it out?

If it’s still difficult, get help. Talk to a psychologist, a therapist, a pastor, or maybe for starters, a happy long-term couple that you know and trust. Relationships are not meant to be lived in isolation, but in supportive community. If your partner changes, you’ll probably need to make changes as well. You can’t find a soulmate. But you can be one, and help your partner become one too.

 

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

Are you a marriage consumer?

One of the leading causes of death for marriages is consumerism. We get so caught up in consuming our spouse that we lose track of what it means to serve them. We forget the original vows we told each other, and we start thinking about ourselves first.

When my wife and I got married, we exchanged vows and promised each other the following: I want you in my life, to have and to hold, for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others (i.e. don’t be intimate with other people!), as long as we both shall live, as long as you meet all my needs first.

Okay, maybe not that last part. But isn’t that what we end up doing all too often in our relationships? We start out with the rose colored glasses on, thinking only of our partner’s happiness and security. We give of our time, energy, and affection regardless of how tired we are or how much we are looking forward to doing something else at the time. Our partners know they are our top priority. But then things change.

We get into routines. We get busy. Maybe we have kids. Few things can get in the way of a couple’s relationship more than those adorable little bundles of joy. In fact, research tells us that often the lowest point in terms of satisfaction in most marriages is in the child-rearing years. But it doesn’t have to be as bad as we often let it get.

What’s the problem here? It’s not actually the kids. It’s not the number of hours you or your spouse are working. It’s not money. Granted, those things can often be difficult to deal with. But what I remind many of my couples is that there are plenty of marriages out there where both partners are happy and their situation is objectively more despairingly difficult than most couples’ situations. So what is different for those happy couples? What is the problem, really?

What I’ve learned from reading the scientific literature on relationships and from the couples I’ve worked with, is that the biggest problem facing married couples is not what stressors are in their lives, but whether they face them together. Are you and your partner connected in such a way that you both feel safe and secure in the marriage no matter what happens outside of your relationship?

If you lost a job, a home, a child, would your relationship survive? Would you draw each other closer in that time of need? Would you reach for one another? When one of you is tired and having a difficult time meeting the other’s needs, does the other understandingly pick up the slack? Or is there resentment? Bitterness? Frustration and withdrawal?

If happiness in your marriage is based on consuming your spouse like a product, you’re in for a disappointing and lonely time when you and/or your partner hit a rough patch in life. If you’ve secretly added the “as long as you meet all my needs first” section to your vows, it’s going to be hard to do your part in the relationship when they are unable to fulfill theirs.

The bottom line is that we cannot be consumers of our marriages. We must instead be investors in our marriages. We must be entrepreneurs and constantly invest, sometimes in new and creative ways, in our marriages.

This may not be easy for you, especially if this is not what was modeled in your home growing up. But what needs to happen is for you and your spouse to begin to truly live up to your vows to put each other first. Even when it’s not fun or easy. In sickness and in health. When money is overflowing and when you’re scraping pennies for mac-n-cheese dinners. When you’re happy and when you’re not. There are no contingencies in successful marriages.

To be successful in this, you need to cultivate the safety and security that are the foundation of healthy communication. Consuming your spouse only puts pressure on them and drains them. Investing in their happiness, their success, and their emotional health puts them in a much better position to be able to meet your needs. Be an investor in your marriage, not a consumer of it.

 

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

Weeks and Weeks of Little Tweaks

A while back I was talking with a married couple that was getting ready to finish up their couples therapy. They had been separated for quite some time and were essentially living as a divorced couple, co-parenting their children effectively, but not much interaction outside of their parenting efforts. After several months of therapy, moving back in together, enjoying date nights, and starting to have civil and even meaningful conversations even around difficult issues, we decided that it was about time to try things on their own.

As is typical toward the end of therapy, we talked about all of the wonderful changes that had happened in their marriage and all of the goals they had met by working together on being together. As I tell my graduate students all the time, there’s no magic elixir, no magic pill, no special word of advice or wisdom that will fix any relationship. It takes two people committed to doing the often difficult work of recommitting to put their partner first, just as they did months or years earlier.

During our happy discussion about all the exciting changes in their relationship I praised their hard work and tried like crazy to make sure that they took the credit for the positive changes they were seeing. I mentioned the “no magic elixir” bit, as I had many times before with them, and the wife mentioned something I’ll never forget.

“It just took weeks and weeks of little tweaks,” she said, not knowing just how brilliant it was at the time. Now this obviously simplifies the process substantially, but how true that statement is! Some couples will be able to mend things and reconnect faster than others, but relationships are still, at their core, about doing the little things. Sweeping gestures and grand gifts are nice, but it’s not about what have you done for me lately. It’s about what have you done with me, done for me, and shared with me every day, whether we got to see each other in person or not.

If you’re in a rough spot in your marriage, weeks and weeks of little tweaks are likely a big part of what you need to be doing. Fancy vacations together, calling sappy radio shows at night to dedicate a song, and other cheesy actions are great, but make sure they’re not a one-time deal. Make sure your lover knows you love them! Every day. In many ways. Do the little things.

If you’re on board for doing the little things and maybe are having a hard time deciding which tweaks need to be made, it might be time to ask someone who is trained to help you and your partner get back on track. If you happen to be in the Orange County area, feel free to give me a call to see if I might be able to help you and your partner out. But wherever you are, get in touch with someone who can help. You’re worth it, and your relationship is worth it.

 

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

Investing in your Marriage

You’ve probably heard the maxim, “It takes money to make money.”

Unfortunately, even if you’ve been gifted the initial setup from a friend or website dating service, most of the future investments will need to be your own. Yes, it may be financial ($$ for dates, $$ for gas to visit your partner, maybe eventually $$ for rings, etc.), but certainly not always.

Your partner, depending on their particular love language and attachment needs, may need some very specific things that you’re not aware of and may not feel prepared to give depending on your own background and needs.

What does relationship investing look like?

Investing may take the form of seeking the advice of a trusted friend/couple, family member, pastor, or therapist. Some resources will be free, while others may cost you a great deal of money.

The question it always comes down to is this: How committed are you to keeping the promise you made to your partner?

Are you willing to do whatever it takes to save your relationship? Will you go to the moon and back to show him/her that they matter? Will you give up the vacation time you planned with a friend to stay with them and work on the relationship? Will you reduce your hours at work to spend more time at home with your family? Will you attend therapy with someone that is not just convenient or cheap, but you’ve decided may actually be a good fit or comes highly recommended?

How does this play out in real life?

The “It takes money to make money” principle is almost never more true in a relationship than in the following two ways:

1- You consistently invest time, energy, and financial resources in your relationship and partner. This helps you avoid counseling and divorce attorney fees down the road, and you are more likely to have a successful/healthy/happy marriage for years to come.

2- One or both of you have not done #1 above as well as you could have, and you are now living separate from each other, spending unnecessary sums of money on two homes. You spend more on gas and food, electricity, heating, and everything else that would be contained to one bill if together. By investing in quality counseling for, say, 10-20 sessions, you stand to not only have a relationship that is thriving again, or maybe even for the first time, but also to save thousands of dollars over the course of months or years of separation.

The “Ouch” factor in counseling

People often hear what therapy costs and literally say, “Ouch!” I practice in Huntington Beach, California, and apartment rent ranges from around $1500 to $2500/month (though this is for a pretty standard, smaller, non-luxury apt.). Five months of weekly therapy with me costs couples less than two months of rent at a pretty average apartment in Huntington Beach.

Many will still see the cost of therapy and hesitate, but I’d encourage you to consider the costs of not coming to therapy, even in the short term. Long term you’re looking at tremendous costs in the thousands of dollars (rent, attorneys, etc.). Short term, you’re looking at seldom feeling happy, loved, fulfilled, worthy, cared-for, prioritized, valued, special, trusting, and secure.

Add this to the anxiety and stress that is experienced by couples in distress brought on not only by each other, but the social pressures of keeping up appearances with children friends, church members, colleagues, family members, and others, and these costs begin to feel more burdensome than a withering bank account. (See also this related article).

Investing vs. the relationship lottery

The bottom line is this: Either your relationship is worth saving and investing in, or it isn’t. I hope you’ll pardon me here, but there’s no way to successfully half-ass your relationship. You either spend the time, energy, and money to maintain and build it, or you choose to let it crumble. Sometimes slowly, sometimes in an avalanche of disrepair.

It’s your call to make. Well…you and your partner. I believe that any relationship with two highly motivated partners can succeed with the right guidance. If you’re ready to invest in your relationship, there’s no better time than today. Make the phone call or send that email you’ve been putting off. The longer you wait, the more it costs you. Start investing now!

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

Are you in a Hokey Pokey marriage?

Are you in a Hokey Pokey marriage?

If you’ve ever been to a wedding, at least one with nerdy white folks like me, you’ve probably at least watched people do the Hokey Pokey. This awkward, ultra-cheesy “dance” (a generous term for sure) involves standing in a circle goofing around with other friends and relatives you haven’t seen since the last wedding. Dancers are told to “put your right foot in, put your right foot out, put your right foot in and you shake it all about.” If you can leave all self-respect at home you’ve got a decent chance at having some fun.

What’s the Hokey Pokey Marriage Syndrome all about?

The sad truth about a lot of the couples I work with in therapy is that they suffer from what I call Hokey Pokey Marriage Syndrome. All too often couples wait to enter therapy until they are at their breaking (up) point. They are on the brink of divorce and may no longer be living together at the time they call to start counseling. There are obviously many problems that can bring a couple to this edge. One of them is Hokey Pokey Marriage Syndrome.

Couples experiencing HPMS have at least one partner who is contemplating ending the relationship. They may only be 1% out the door, but they’ve started leaving in their mind already. They’ve started thinking beyond the relationship. They wonder what it may be like if they leave. They begin planning ahead, looking at apartments, setting aside money, and anything else they think might help make a transition to single living easier if that time actually comes someday.

What’s the harm in planning ahead?

You might wonder how a little planning ahead can be dangerous. In reality, for the individual, it may actually be a smart move. It sets them up to be better prepared than their partner for single life when they eventually leave. The problem, however, is the mental state of this partner with one foot out the door. They are already thinking as an individual as opposed to a committed partner in a relationship. It may be helpful for the individual member of the relationship to plan ahead. Unfortunately, if they do, they’ve essentially committed relationship suicide. By “putting one foot out” they have already stopped doing everything they can to save the relationship they’re already in.

What is tempting you to put one foot out?

It’s convenient to forget certain parts of our vows when we are unhappy. Your partner may be doing a lot of things to make your life miserable. Maybe he’s a poor communicator. Maybe she’s not taking care of your “needs.” Maybe he changed his mind about wanting kids. Or she wants to go back to work instead of staying home with the kids. Maybe your partner has an addiction that’s wreaking havoc in your marriage and family life.

With few exceptions (i.e. physically or sexually assaulting you or your kids, having an adulterous affair), I’m a big believer that as long as both parties are fully committed to working on the relationship, any marriage can be saved. Even in those exceptionally troubled relationships, fully committed partners have a decent shot at turning things around. It’s the “fully committed” part that seems to often be the most difficult for partners in today’s immediate gratification, all about me (think “selfie”) culture. It’s hard to be fully committed to a relationship when we’re so committed to making ourselves happy first.

Is happiness such a bad thing?

The commitment to your own happiness first is an easy way to justify putting a foot out the door and starting to think beyond the relationship. It’s just not what you or your partner signed up for. And having that “me first” mentality is almost a guarantee that your relationship will not work out. If you want your relationship to not only survive, but thrive, you need to be thinking about your partner first.* Your partner also needs to be thinking of you first, but you can’t control that. If you want your relationship to last, you’ve got to keep both feet in, fully committed to making it work. Otherwise, you’ll likely fall victim to Hokey Pokey Marriage Syndrome and sabotage your chances of being happy in the relationship you already have. You can’t think about your relationship the way you did when you were dating. It’s different now. It’s not about you. It’s about your marriage.

Do you and your partner have Hokey Pokey Marriage Syndrome?

Do you have one foot in and one foot out? Have you started thinking beyond your relationship? Have you noticed your partner displaying some of the above signs of HPMS? If so, it’s time to talk to someone. It really would be best to talk to a couples counselor before you get to this point, but you can only be where you are. For some guidance on what to consider before choosing a marriage counselor, click here. Get some help now, before it’s too tempting to take a foot out and you start living for yourself instead of your partner and your relationship. That’s really the only way to make things work long-term. And if you both live for each other, you’ll probably end up happy too. Maybe even happy enough to do the Hokey Pokey.

 

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

 

*In putting your partner first, it’s important to remember that you need to keep firm boundaries in place to protect yourself from harm. Leaving for an apartment or a parent/friend’s house for a while may be the best way to stay safe while holding out hope for reconciliation with your partner as they go through a change process on their own. Looking to serve your partner and seeking their happiness before your own should not come at the expense of your safety. It also definitely does not mean you need to serve as a doormat for your spouse. Standing up for your basic human rights and dignity is different from looking for temporary happiness at the expense of long-term relationship success. If you are in a relationship that involves domestic violence, couples counseling is probably not the best option right now. Individual therapy would likely be a better first step.

Teaching your partner how to respect you is one of many important steps toward a healthy relationship. On your way to getting both feet back in the dance, you’ll each learn how to communicate in ways that are safe and empowering for both partners. This will help you both move toward respectful discussion of any inequities in your relationship that may be getting in the way of fully realizing the future of this most important relationship in your life.