Tag Archives: healthy relationships

On Coupling

Below is a portion of a couples’ questionnaire that I send people who are coming in for relationship counseling. Sometimes it’s to address moving in together, getting engaged/married, becoming parents, or even breaking up in an honorable fashion: the next step questions.

I love working with couples. There is a magic that happens when individuals decide to share their lives. It’s also hard work.

Usually, when I start working with a couple, I ask questions that are streamlined for their specific situation. This questionnaire is extremely baseline; I work with couples who are in different combinations and permutations of relationship; there is no formula.

Here are some of my questionnaire items to possibly discuss with your partner.

Children related questions

  • At this point in the relationship, you may already know the overall “will we or won’t we” as regards to raising a family. But digging a bit deeper into the topic can be a beneficial exercise, since it can reveal areas you might want to work through.
  • How many children do we want to have, and what’s our ideal timeline? Will we adopt?
  • Do we want to hire a babysitter or nanny? Will our children go to day care? Or will one of us stay home?
  • If yes to a parent staying home, how long before we return to work?
  • Will our children attend public or private schools? How important is this to each of us, and why?
  • How do we hope to parent our children? What are the values that we find most important as parents in raising children?
  • What will we do if our parenting styles or values conflict?
  • What role will our extended family play in our parenting?
  • How will we speak to our family members who may favor a different parenting style from what we hope to implement?
  • What will we do if one of our children/child has special needs or is diagnosed with learning or behavioral concerns?

Religion and faith related questions

  • Whether you’re devout, undecided, or somewhere in-between, religion and spirituality are typically a tough topic for couples to discuss on their own. You may also have your own faith based counseling that you would like to engage.
  • Secular couples counseling provides the opportunity to voice your desires and concerns by asking questions like:
  • How important is religion / faith to each of us?
  • How much influence do we want religion to play in our lives and our children’s lives?
  • Which religion will be taught and celebrated in the home or could different religions be celebrated?
  • Will we celebrate religious holidays? If so, to what extent? What will those holidays look like?
  • What are our core spiritual values as individuals and as a couple, and how do we see ourselves upholding them?
  • How can we handle any conflicts between our individual values?
  • What happens with our extended family situations if our religious values are not commensurate with theirs?

Money related questions

  • For many, living together/marriage marks the point at which income and finances may become a shared responsibility.  But it’s not always as easy as opening a joint bank account and calling it a day; you may also need to discuss the nitty gritties of the “f” word… finances:
  • How much do each of us expect to contribute to the household?
  • How much of our income will we spend on our own personal hobbies or interests?
  • How much of how income do each of us envision saving
  • Should we have a monthly budget? How will we set it and stick to it?
  • Do we want to combine our finances completely or keep some accounts separate?
  • How much debt do we have, and how much money do we have saved?
  • What will we do if we have an emergency expense or an unexpected loss of income?
  • How much do we plan to spend on shared interests, like vacations? If we plan to spend some of our money on a vacation, what type of vacation do each of us enjoy?
  • What is the importance of earning money to each of us?
  • How much is expected from each of us in terms of earning money for the family?
  • What happens when we have significant discrepancies in income?
  • What are the emotional reactions we have around money, earning, spending, saving?

Work and career questions

  • One person’s long hours is another person’s normal. Make sure you and your partner are on the same page about career expectations.
  • How much will each of us work?
  • Do we expect or want to make any significant career changes in the future?
  • How will we balance careers and childcare if we have children?
  • How can we support each other in our career goals?
  • How much sacrifice is each of us willing to endure for the other person’s career goals and the pursuit of success? What if one of us becomes unemployed or under employed?
  • What happens if one of us wants to pursue future goals that require time and any commitments such as advanced degrees?
  • How many hours per week does each person expect the other will be away from home (or working at home) in order to pursue career goals?
  • How will we negotiate future ambitions and endeavors, such as one of us wanting to start a business or go into self-employment
  • Questions related to where you want to settle, in the short and long-term. Whether you both want to move, or put down roots where you are, it’s great to touch base now.
  • Where do we want to settle down? Will we want to live in the city or in the suburbs?
  • What is our shared vision of the future? Are there any significant differences?

Sex related questions

  • It’s a tricky topic, but crucial to be honest about. After all, who better to discuss sex with than your partner? NOT talking about sex can become a habit that makes it harder to communicate in the bedroom.
  • How important is sex to each of us?
  • How much sex do each of us envision having every week?
  • How will we handle any problems in the bedroom down the line?
  • How is our current sex life going? Do either of us have any unmet sexual desires?
  • Are we monogamous in the longterm? What will we do if either of us is interested in changing our relationship model in the future?
  • What other forms of intimacy and romance are important to us?
  • Do we make time to be together as a couple or do our other responsibilities take over?
  • Are we able to talk about sex, from preferences to complaints?

Social lives questions

  • Every relationship needs a healthy balance between friends, family, career, self-time, and each other – what does yours look like?
  • How much socializing is important to each of us? How much time do we want to spend with each of our friends and family?
  • How important is maintaining friendships outside the marriage to each of us and to what extent should our attention and shared resources be devoted to these (e.g. weekend bachelor and bachelorette parties, girls’ night out, weddings, showers, visiting out of town friends, etc.)?
  • How close are each of us to our immediate and extended family members? How much time do each of us expect to spend with our families (alone and with one another)?
  • How comfortable do you feel about your partner having friends of the opposite gender?
  • What are the rules around social media and having online friendships with opposite gender connections?
  • How do we feel about time spent away from family that is spent with friends, individually and as a couple?
  • Do we have friends that we share, individual friends, or both? What happens if we don’t like our partners’ friends?

Vacations and holiday related questions

  • How do each of us envision spending our weekends? Where do we want to spend them?
  • How will time off, and holidays, be spent?
  • How much of our vacation time will be devoted to visiting family versus traveling together as a couple or family?
  • Do we have a bucket list of places that we both want to explore?
  • How much time and expenditure do we want to spend on holidays?

Conflict resolution and decision making questions

  • How do we resolve conflicts?
  • What communication style works well for us, and where do we struggle?
  • How can we effectively express difficult emotions like anger and sadness?
  • How will we make major life decisions together?
  • Where can we turn for support if we disagree about a big decision in the future?

Household responsibility questions

  • How do we divide up household duties?
  • Do we have any particular challenges around sharing a household?
  • Which tasks will (or does) each partner handle?

Personal history questions

  • What are our plans for combining our different backgrounds, whether racial, ethnic, cultural, socio-economic, or otherwise?
  • Do we expect any conflicts related to our different backgrounds?
  • How might we plan to resolve those potential conflicts?
  • How do we handle medical and mental health issues?
  • How do we feel about the health of each other and how to best be supportive If your partner is under the weather?
  • What happens if one or the other becomes physically or mentally disabled?

Also read Healing in Relationships: Imago Therapy for Communication.

The importance of validation in relationships

Have You Met You?

How many times did you return from a stressful day of work, or experience of a deeply stressful situation and tell your partner, family member, or friend how you felt, and they responded by saying “I am sorry, that stinks, or you should have done this instead of that”.

In these moments, many feel alone or judged. Certainly unheard.

Some Research:
Seeking to better understand why some couples have healthy, lasting relationships while others do not, psychologist Dr. John Gottman and his colleagues arranged their clinic and research lab at the University of Washington to look like an inviting bed and breakfast. They asked research participants, 130 couples, to spend a day at the retreat and watched as they did what most people do on a typical weekend—prepare meals, chat, clean, and hang out.

As Dr. Gottman and colleagues studied the interactions of each couple, a pattern was observed. Throughout the day, partners would make small, seemingly insignificant requests for connection from each other. For example, partners would express interest in a movie or show, something they had read, or an event that happened in the past week outside of the relationship, Gottman and colleagues call these requests for connection “bids.”

Dr. Gottman and colleagues define positive and engaging responses, showing genuine interest, as “turning toward” and negative and passive responses as “turning away.” As it turned out, the way couples responded to these bids had a profound effect on their satisfaction and well-being. Gottman found that couples who had separated or divorced during the six-year follow-up period had “turn-toward bids” just 33 percent of the time—meaning only three in ten of their requests for connection were met with interest and compassion.

In contrast, couples who remained together after the six-year period had “turn-toward bids” 87 percent of the time. Nearly nine times out of ten, the healthy couples were meeting their partner’s emotional needs by the seemingly simple trio of listening, reflecting, and validating.

Now here’s the kicker: by observing these types of interactions, Gottman and team was able to predict with up to 94 percent certainty whether couples——will be broken up, together and unhappy, or together and happy, several years down the road.

Yes, there was emphasis on diversity and combinations of defined couplehood, an extremely important factor (that merits further studies).  While much more needs to be learned and applied to be truly effective in helping couples, this is a promising start.  At Embolden Psychology, our perspective emphasizes the importance of friendships and work relationships, not just  romantic or intimate ones. How relationships proceed seem to have certain trajectories that can be observed and used in helpful ways.

How to recognize invalidation
You don’t have a say in decision-making
They reject your emotions and instead tell you how you ‘should’ feel.
They resort to stonewalling or silent treatment when you try to put your point across.
They pin the blame of your distress or unhappiness on your perceived sensitivity.
They shut down the discussion and dismiss the whole point of having a conversation.
After a conversation, you feel ignored, rejected and judged.
Your relationship has turned into a one-sided conversation.
There is an absence of cues that suggest they are listening.

How to validate someone’s feelings
In order to effectively emotionally validate your partner/friend/loved one, here are simple steps you can follow.
Stop what you are doing and listen. This is very hard to do when we are preoccupied. Like meditation and mindfulness, practice strengthens the pathways.
Understand the emotions that your partner is expressing and if you cannot, respectfully ask for clarification.
Work to understand what contributed to their feeling.
When responding to their distressing situations work to show unconditional positive regard.
Demonstrate genuine understanding to their individual experience of the problem.
Reflect. The only way to check out what you actually just heard or thought you heard is to find out.
Try to adjust your energy level in sync with their mood and response. For example, curb any unnecessary emoting when they are sharing a personally distressing narrative.
Refrain from giving unsolicited advice.
Being validated is so powerful. It’s meeting yourself and seeing it reflected in someone else’s eyes.

Learn more about emotional intelligence and the workplace here.

Mental distress and social exclusion

Her: I usually feel excluded at work; with colleagues, meetings, or in conversations. I’m invisible: I don’t matter.f
Him: One of my best friends recently started dating somebody. I’m happy for her, but she has no time to chat or hang out. I feel like I don’t matter.
Them: My partner has a new job. Everything is about their work. I feel like I don’t matter.

Humans are “herd animals.” We all want to feel included. As much as we will hear “don’t care about what other people think,” “do your own thing,” that’s not how we’re built.

Belonging and ‘fitting in’ are core needs. Long-term social exclusion can lead to emotional distress and a host of mental health problems. One study even found that social exclusion can lead to impaired self-regulation, meaning that people may struggle to make healthy decisions for themselves when they are being socially excluded. For example, if you are feeling alone, you might eat that quart of ice cream or finish that bottle of wine. In contrast, people who are in close, caring, and secure relationships and friendships show elevated levels of oxytocin, which is the love/bonding hormone that keeps us ‘on course’, even at the cellular/neural level.

So it’s completely normal and understandable that you might feel rejected if you feel left out of plans or your friend group or people you care about are having fun without you.

If you feel left out regularly, there are some things you can do to deal with these feelings. We all get left out and ignored sometimes (no one can be liked by everyone), but we can learn to surround ourselves with people who truly want us around. In addition, we can learn to manage our feelings better, so we don’t feel as bad in the times we will be left out.

Accept your emotions
A lot of our hurt comes from trying to deny, suppress, or run away from our feelings. Giving space for our feelings can paradoxically make them more manageable. Accepting your emotions doesn’t mean that you have to love your current situation as it. You can still try to change and improve the things that are bothering you in life.

What does accepting emotions look like in practice? Let’s say you’re feeling left out of family gatherings or friends who are spending time together. Accepting your feelings means saying to yourself: “right now, I’m feeling rejected, and that’s tough. There is nothing wrong with how I feel. I can be still be kind to myself.” Self-compassion is not static; you may have a wave of hurt that takes you by surprise. Contrary to popular belief, self-actualization or Nirvana are not phases that are permanent; you have to soothe yourself as the feelings come.

Make sure you haven’t misread the situation
Sometimes we assume that we have been purposefully left out or rejected, but that isn’t always the case. It’s worth examining the situation and how we feel about it. Note that examining your emotions doesn’t mean shaming yourself for them. Your hurt feelings are still valid even if you misread the situation. Shaming yourself isn’t going to help.

Let’s say that you hear of two friends hanging out together on a day you were free. You may feel hurt and sad because they didn’t ask if you want to join them. Feelings of envy, jealousy, inadequacy, and shame may creep up. Thoughts like, “I guess we’re not so close after all” may fill your mind.

Ensure that you’re making yourself available
How do you deal with the feeling of being left out? Some people share their feelings, while others may pull away in an attempt to protect themselves.

It may come out of a fear of “burdening others” with your needs or presence. Or perhaps it’s a deep fear of abandonment or rejection.

Some people “test” their friends by not responding to their texts for a while. They wait to see if their friends check up on them and “prove that they care.”

The worst communication is tit for tat: they did not respond to me, so I’m not going to text them. They did not invite me so I’m not going to invite them. They don’t care about my feelings, so I’m going to show them I don’t care.

Bottom line is that you do care. You can learn how to make your overall communication appear more friendly and approachable. Just reply to messages and calls. Let people know you appreciate them. Give and receive compliments with grace. These actions send the message that you’re available for new connections.

Check if your expectations are realistic
People have different expectations from friendships and romantic relationships. Some people need a lot of time together, while others want to have a lot of alone time. While some people prefer to have two or three close friends they do most things with, others prefer to have many friends, contacts, followers, and acquaintances.

As we get older, our friendships change as well. As people become parents, they spend more time with their children and expanded families. When they meet up, they cannot be as spontaneous as their friends with no kids. They have to be back home by a certain time to say goodnight to the kids or send the babysitter away. Sometimes they’ll need to bring their children with them and prefer to go to kid-friendly places. This also relates to people who have companion animals who require attention. If they are rushing home to take care of their furry companion, it’s a responsibility that needs to be respected.

We also tend to get busier as we get older. Obligations such as work, juggling work, family both young and old, self-care, and keeping up the house take more of our time. Our interests change as well. You may have had friends you bonded with over late nights, meaning of life conversations, and barhopping, who may no longer have those interests or ability.

In some of these cases, friendships can adapt and grow. You may not see a friend for several months as they adjust to a new job, relationship, or parenthood, and you may hear from them again when things have settled down. Another friend may have moved away but reconnects. With virtual communication and travel, distance is not what it used to be.

Enjoy time spent alone
You’ll feel left out more if you’re not enjoying the time you spend by yourself. Learn how to be. Eat the delicious food, drink the delicious libations, watch your favorite show, read the book that you’ve been saving, light your favorite candle. Just as you nurture people you love, spoil the one who is with you the most.

Remind yourself of your amazing qualities
When we feel left out, we might come up with all sorts of stories about ourselves. You might start thinking: No one invites me because they don’t like me. I’m boring and needy. If I were fun to be around, I’d have more friends. Then, we start to believe ourselves. We feel that we don’t have anything to offer others, affecting how we interact with people, leading to a vicious cycle. Try to make a list of your positive qualities and remind yourself of them often. You can use daily affirmations or put post it notes on your laptop or mirror. Let yourself celebrate your successes, no matter how small. Give yourself a mental high five when you try something new, pay off a bill, or go for a run.

Meet new people
How do you know if you have flaky or toxic friends? If you find yourself extending yourself to others, with your time, energy, finances, and interest, and not receiving the same effort back, it may be time to make new friends.

A friendship that leaves you feeling consistently feeling left out and rejected may be doing more harm than good.

A good friendship should feel overall balanced and reciprocal. There are often periods in a long friendship where one person is busier than the other or needs more support. That’s normal and something you can work through together. But if you feel like you’re the only one giving in in your relationships, you may consider taking a step back.

Talk to a therapist
If you find yourself feeling left out frequently, there may be something deeper going on. It may be that you’re misreading situations and feel left out even around people who enjoy your company and want to include you.

Or you may be struggling to recognize when someone wants to be your friend, leading you to choose unhealthy friendships or put yourself in situations where you will be hurt.
In either case, you may benefit from working one-on-one with someone who can help you identify where you’re stuck. Together, you can come up with solutions on how to remove these blocks and make changes in your social interactions.

Honest communication; or how to express your needs. 
When bringing up sensitive topics, it’s always best to focus on “I” statements. Talk more about how you felt than what the other person did, so it does not come out as an attack. When people feel attacked, they are likely to respond defensively, and the conversation can turn into a conflict rather than coming up with solutions.

For example, if you want to share that you feel left out, avoid saying things like:
“You’ve been ignoring me.”
“I’m always calling you, but you never call me.”
“If you cared about me, you’d have made time for me.”

Be open and honest about your feelings, but don’t expect your friend or partner to “fix” them for you. Listen to what they have to say and try to come up with a solution together.
Takeaway: Being kind to ourselves sets the standard for what kind of behavior we accept from other people. This does not minimize normal human feelings of pain, loss, abandonment, jealousy, even anger.

All lost relationships hurt badly. The one you have with yourself is your constant.

Embolden Psychology
Embolden

Embolden offers the ADOS-2, the gold standard assessment for kids on the spectrum.

Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

Thank you for contacting us.