Naked Truth: Do Both Partners Have to Work on the Relationship Together?

Naked Truth: Do Both Partners Have to Work on the Relationship Together?

Naked Truth: Do Both Partners Have to Work on the Relationship Together?

Naked Truth: Do Both Partners Have to Work on the Relationship Together?

I recently started coaching a couple I’ll call Jake and Ashley. Jake can sometimes be a bit aggressive in the way he gives Ashley feedback. When he does this, Ashley gets reactive because she feels she’s being attacked and blamed for something she did wrong. On numerous occasions in our sessions Jake has sworn this isn’t the case. He isn’t “mad” at her. It’s just that he often doesn’t always have the wherewithal to approach her in a gentle way. He’s working on it, but he admits that he can come across somewhat anxious and abrasive at times.

Recently, Ashley came to see me for a private session. She had a list of incidents where Jake had “attacked” her and set her off. She was also hurt because she felt that this was Jake’s issue. He was the one who was abrasive. So, why did she have to be the one to stop reacting? Shouldn’t he be coming to coaching to work on himself?

Here’s what I told her:

  1. This isn’t an either or situation. Jake should work on his delivery just as much as she needs to work on her reactivity. Both are true.
  2. Usually in a couple, there is one person with a higher level of emotional intelligence. Often that person is the woman. Women are more naturally inclined to focus on their personal and emotional growth. This doesn’t mean the other partner should get a hall pass and not have to work on himself, it just means that one partner is able to grasp issues in the relationship faster and that partner is more likely to be the one to make the changes that are needed to balance out the emotional dynamics in the couple. In this case, Ashley is that person.
  3. It’s not true that two people have to work on a relationship together. When one partner makes changes, the other partner is also forced to change. So, just because one partner doesn’t like going to coaching, it doesn’t mean that the relationship is doomed. Each partner in a relationship has different strengths. You want to leverage those strengths. If one person is the primary breadwinner, the other person can focus more on maintaining the emotional stability in the relationship. Susan Page, one of my favorite authors, wrote a book on this very subject: How One of You Can Bring the Two of You Together.
  4. Finally, I offered Ashley this solution drawn from my own rather peaceful marriage. Whenever my husband is giving me feedback and I start to feel defensive, I calm myself by reminding myself of the following:

He chose me out of all the women in the world to be his partner, he loves me dearly, and I need to trust that his intentions are good and that any feedback he’s giving me is for the betterment of us and our relationship.

One of the many things I admire most about Ashley is how open and coachable she is. She agreed that she has more of bandwidth for personal growth than Jake. She was also willing to let go of the idea that they both had to be working on the relationship. They still come in for joint sessions, but she is also coming in once a week to do some additional work on her own. In our last joint sessions, when I filled Jake in on what Ashley and I had talked about, he said, “I really liked that part about what you said say to yourself when you start to feel defensive with your husband. When Ashley starts to get upset with me, I am going to remind myself that she loves me, that she chose me out of all the men in the world to be her partner, and that she means well.” When I looked over at Ashley, she was beaming.

 

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The Healing Power of Acceptance

The Healing Power of Acceptance

The Healing Power of Acceptance

Naked Truth: Is Someone You Love Pushing You Away?

Naked Truth: Is Someone You Love Pushing You Away?

Naked Truth: Is Someone You Love Pushing You Away?

Hi Lisa. I just lost a great woman I’ve been dating for the past year. It was going really well, but then she started nitpicking about things about me that never seemed to bother her before—my dog, where I live—and said she needed space to find herself again. I’m happy to give her that, but it’s been almost three weeks now and I haven’t heard from her. Her family says she’s confused and hurting. It’s painful knowing she’s suffering and there’s nothing I can do to help. I love her and her six-year-old daughter, and I was ready to ask for her hand in marriage… but I can’t wait forever. My question is, do I give her space and see what happens or just let her go?

Thanks,

Rick

 

Hi Rick,

I am so sorry you’re going through this. I can tell you really care about this woman. From everything you wrote, it sounds like she has an “avoidant” intimacy style that is causing her to push you away. She’s afraid of getting close and needing someone. The closer the two of you become, the more uncomfortable it gets for her. This fear is so powerful that it causes her to nitpick and push you away. What’s tricky is that she doesn’t know that her fear is what’s causing her to feel uncomfortable. She thinks the reason she starts to feel uncomfortable around you is because you’re not the right person for her.

There are some excellent relationship books that could help you understand attachment styles better. I would start with one called “Attached.” Ninety-nine out of a 100 of my clients who read it say they love it! Two other excellent books about adult attachment theory are “Hold Me Tight” and “Wired for Love.” Another option to consider—if she’s willing—is to see a therapist with her. If she is, in fact, avoidant, she will need the help of a therapist understand where her urge to run away is really coming from and how to stop it. You might also want to take a quick compatibility quiz on the “Attached” website. Here’s the link: www.attachedthebook.com/compatibility-quiz You can see what both of your attachment styles are. This information can be crucial to understand what’s happening. From what you’ve written, you seem to have a secure attachment style. When a secure person is in a relationship with someone who is avoidant, it can cause the secure person to become anxious.

My last word of advice: don’t get defensive and block her. I know she broke up with you and it’s really painful, but women are funny. Sometimes, we push men away when we really want them to come back. If you truly adore her like you say you do, I suggest you read these books (or listen to them on audio) and then give her copies. It will be a revelation for both of you. I would love to know how it goes. If you see a therapist, try to find someone who”s done some trainings with John and Julie Gotman or Sue Johnson.

I wish you the very best. I hope this helps, Rick. You sound like a good man.

Warmly,

Lisa

 

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Naked Truth: Protect Your Marriage at All Costs

Naked Truth: Protect Your Marriage at All Costs

Naked Truth: Protect Your Marriage at All Costs

Hi Lisa. I am happily married to an incredible woman. Recently, several women from my past decided to walk back into my life after 20 years. How do I get them to back off before they jeopardize my marriage? The ring and paper don’t seem to be enough, and they don’t seem to be respecting traditional boundaries.

-Will

 

Hi Will,

Thanks for reaching out! The single most important person in your life should be your wife, and you need to do everything you can to protect the sacred bond the two of you share. You say these women “walked back into your life,” but I don’t think they just walked in. You had to have let them in. My guess is that you haven’t been clear enough with these women or that you are still trying to be nice and polite so you don’t hurt their feelings. I see this a lot with my male clients. The problem is, if you don’t take care of this, someone else is going to get hurt… and that someone is probably going to be your incredible wife. If these women aren’t respecting your boundaries, I would dispense with any niceties and tell them—in no uncertain terms—that you are flattered they are thinking of you, but that you are happily married and won’t respond to any further attempts on their part to contact you. Hope that helps!

Warmly,

Lisa

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Naked Truth: Protect Your Marriage at All Costs

 

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