Make Sure You Stay a Couple (even with kids)


Relationships can be suffocated if parents become so child-focused that they forget about being a couple. The “US” of being a couple should not be erased. The US is the third entity of every couple that requires care & nurturing

When couples come to see me I will use a prop to demonstrate there is an US, not just 2 individuals. It’s important to recognize the US needs to grow & breathe. It’s more than the sum of it’s parts.

Get a babysitter & go out twice a month to remember who you are as a couple. Don’t give up your sex life because you are exhausted. Make time to talk & share without every conversation about your children.

Stay curious & interested in each other.

I ask my couples when was the last time you had fun & they look at each other & dredge up some memory 2,3 or 4 months ago. This is unacceptable. While fun as a family matters so does fun as a couple.

I have moved this blog to my website: therapy please subscribe there. The current new blog post is Marriage, Secrets & Unfinished Business from Childhood.

You can follow me on instagram & twitter: @rhodaoncouples  (The picture above was my very first instagram picture)

I also have 16 podcast episodes available on my website from my show: What Healthy Couples Know that You Don’t. It’s available on both iTunes & Stitcher. Podcasts are audio blogs that can be played in the car or while exercising by downloading a podcast app on your phone.













Defensiveness, a Very Bad Habit that Destroys Communication

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Defensiveness is a powerful way to reassure yourself. Everybody does it almost every day if they have relationships. Defensiveness is a knee jerk reaction that says “Oh,no that’s not me, you don’t get what a good person I really am! I am so misunderstood.”

The irony is that the misunderstanding is usually yours, not theirs. It’s very hard to jump into the cold water of the deep end & recognize the bits that are true about your own dark side. The only way to grow & change is to do the hard work of swimming around in these very dark waters.

Defensiveness is worst than chewing your nails or pulling your hair or grinding your teeth because this bad habit stunts your soul’s ability to grow.

The opposite of defensiveness is being vulnerable, which is avoided by most people in our culture. Vulnerable is that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach that says “oh,shit did I really do that?” Facing up to your mistakes & mistreatment of others is the only path there is to building character within yourself.

Defensiveness is the constant fragile rebuilding of the false reality that you have done no wrong nor ever would!

Defensiveness is creating Disneyland for the soul which is a bad idea. Bad because it obscures truthfulness (like all those smiles the land of Mickey coaxed from their employees). The soul is capable of facing hard truths & then willing yourself to be different because you value growing up.

I use Fritz Perls definition: Growing up is honestly facing painful situations

Our defense mechanisms are triggered by wanting to avoid the harshness of reality. Using denial to avoid painful things is an epidemic in the world (as Russia & Turkey jail journalists who don’t follow the party lines of false reality) not just the USA.

Reality asks a lot from us. I remember in 90 & 91 helping my best friend Patrick who died of AIDS in 92 recognize that AIDS was a full-time job. Defensiveness is about creating false realities and adds problems to all partnerships & marriage.

People come in to my office & say they have a communication problem 99 times out of 100. I propose that the communication problem is really defensiveness with a lack of ability to face the truth about how you contribute to the problems in a relationship.

We far prefer the old, tired circles of blame that go nowhere!

Defensiveness is a way to stay comfortable & blame the other person instead of being uncomfortable & looking at ourselves. Try jumping into the deep end of the pool, taking responsibility for your contributions to the problems & watch the communication improve massively!

Integrity is All About Self-Confrontation

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Integrity is the difference between being nice and being good. We live in a world that too easily values nice because nice is easy to do. Good is a whole lot more hard work. The Big Bad Wolf was really nice to Little Red Riding Hood before he ate her grandmother.

Someone facing hard truths about their own dark side is the infrastructure of integrity.

We humans are more like reptiles in our brain functions than mammals. We all have selfish, greedy & entitled feelings. Feelings are completely unreliable. It’s what you do with your feelings that matters.

When I have a client who paints a picture of themselves that leaves me confused as to what their dark side might be, I ask them to ask someone they trust to provide more honest feedback. Good therapy will collide with the comforting picture of yourself that you have in your head.

You can’t grow without being uncomfortable.

We so easily imagine ourselves to be better than we are. This is creating a false reality, like Disneyland for the soul. We all create defensive energy so rapidly in order to keep the falseness operating. Most problems in relationships are avoided & deflected by almost everybody because it is easier short-term (like the monkeys pictured above).

Instead we have to be willing to wrestle withe worst parts of ourselves. Only then can the best of who we are truly stand up to build into real character. You have to find the courage to collide with the comfortable way you see yourself.

Think of all the marriages you think you know, including your own. When someone blows up the other person usually gives up. This maintains the status quo & nothing changes or is solved which is so much easier than dealing with the struggle of hard truths. Most people avoid the real issues.

I send spouses home to ask “Why have we stopped being sexual?” “Is it ok if we have a celibate partnership?” These are questions that need to be faced. Low desire partners usually do not perceive themselves as part of a problem because they don’t miss sex.

Years of layered silences or loud yelling & screaming stops communication.

Think of your family of origin, how many times did you witness a problem being dealt with successfully?

Therapy is far more successful when you are willing to do the work on something you don’t want to deal with.

Marriage/Partnership means doing things you don’t want to do.

Improving yourself, your relationships or your job means being honest about the problems. If you, your partner/friends or your supervisor avoid honest feedback then you are setting yourself up for mediocrity. It takes courage & honest disagreement to grow, change & improve character.

Romance Relationships in the Workplace

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I asked my friend Laurel Coppersmith M.S.W. to write a guest post because
she has spent 25 years doing EAP work & 23 years in private practice. I
respect her wisdom enormously:

People spend 2/3’s of their waking hours at work. Workplaces are highly
stressful these days, and the experience can leave them distressed and
emotionally hungry at work as well as emotionally drained and inaccessible after
work. No wonder, then, that workplace romances occur on a regular basis.

So, what’s the problem with that? Some would argue that it’s better than
meeting a stranger at a bar, because they know the person and would see him/her
on a continuing basis . That is precisely the problem! If/when things aren’t
going well, they still have to work with and see the person. It could prove
difficult to have to set aside feelings in order to do the job.

To further complicate matters, what if the romance involves an employee and
a supervisor? These types of workplace romances are extremely problematic
because there are federal laws that severely penalize workplaces which tolerate
these relationships (many workplaces have Human Resource policies which
explicitly prohibit workplace romances).

If the relationship sours, the supervisee may feel that she/he was coerced
in exchange for the promise of promotion or perks ( known as quid pro
quo sexual harassment). Other employees may complain that the individual
in the relationship with the supervisor gets/got special treatment
(known as hostile work environment sexual harassment).

The legal fallout can create adversarial relationships which can
increase job stress and threaten job security.

If you are a supervisor having a relationship with an employee and that employee
or another one files a grievance which, upon investigation, is founded, you can expect to be terminated from your position.

What are some options for people in the workplace? First, try to keep
some boundaries between the workplace and your personal life. Make sure that
your stress level is manageable so you aren’t emotionally vulnerable, and can be
choiceful about your relationships (in other words, get a life!).

If you are already in this situation, consider whether one of the two of you
could seek alternate employment, or even a change in department. Many
companies have Employee Assistance Programs which offer worksite-based counseling.
You can avail yourself of this resource, as well as the counseling
which is covered by your health insurance as a mental health benefit.

Boundaries & How to do them

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Defenses @ Fort in India

Boundaries require you to risk being uncomfortable. Every relationship is about respecting the differences. The differences will not be respected if they remain unspoken. The discomfort is worth it because it’s how you grow.

You can’t grow without being uncomfortable.

This post is being written at the request of a reader who is perplexed by the how. We live in a culture where saying hard things is avoided & deflected with great expertise. Lovers & spouses don’t explain why they are leaving…..they just leave.

Finding the courage to describe the truth of who you are & how you are wired is an onerous responsibility. We generally are silent & then scream about what we want when we reach our very own mysterious tipping point. Screaming only creates defensiveness in the other person so it really is a fruitless pattern.

You begin with courage, then you acknowledge where the other person is coming from. “You are someone who is full of life & sometimes you don’t realize you take up a lot of space. I am someone who finds it hard to speak up, I want you to like me & I’m afraid when I feel differently & know you may not want to hear it.” Saying this respectfully & with a dignity that allows time for a thoughtful response.

Acknowledging the other person (you are full of life) will help them listen a bit better, because they feel truly seen by you, that you do get them & like them.

If the other person is not interested in what you have to say, when said respectfully, then maybe they are being manipulative & you are allowing yourself to be manipulated. Then you must look at yourself through a more difficult lens because you are participating in erasing yourself.

Of course this still might invite defensiveness because we all are dripping with buckets of it. So then it’s important to try to stay calm & respectful, not getting caught up in the simple drama of “I’m not a bad guy, you are”. Relationships are complicated and understanding each other requires time to listen to the differences.

Another part of How? could be writing letters in a notebook that is exchanged back & forth, because it might be a less emotional way to learn about each other. Of course, this requires time, and you have to make time for what’s important. Texting about hard things does not work & is a mistake. Words on a page allow time for thoughtfulness by both parties.

We may wish to be in love with a clone but that is not reality, which is why relationships require work. I had a friend once who said “Friendships are so important to you, I don’t even think about friendship much.” I tried to explain why it was true for me but quickly realized she was giving me a boundary that her time was consumed with family & I needed to accept that which was difficult to accept.

Courage, acknowledge (or accept) where the other person is coming from then speak up. It’s not easy & it will be hard work. The differences complicate relationships & make them more fascinating, rich & interesting. It would be just as boring to live with a clone as it is to live with a drama queen.

Relationships, Communication & Sharing Power

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Think about all the arguing couples you know and ask yourself, how many of them are good at sharing power? There are many couples where one person caters to the other. Often men cater to women to make them happy in the beginning of relationships.

Then there are many couples where a power imbalance is par for the course so they don’t fight. Things are easier that way. I’ll ignore your irritability, your drinking too much, your selfishness etc. so we just get along. The path of least resistance sometimes turns into the mushiness of codependency.

Then there are those rare couples that pursue the work & struggle that sharing power requires. Couples fighting is ok if they are on a path of sharing power and learning to be a team. Relationship problems require two people who can present their point of view.

Many fighting couples come into my office and begin with; “We don’t communicate well”. I think that often means one person has too much power & takes up all the space. The other person gives up their power by not saying enough or not taking up enough space. Both people collude in this pattern.

The too much person has to learn to edit, put their finger over their mouth, shut up & listen even if you don’t like what the other person is saying. They would effectively be sharing the power by recognizing they are not always right & by having a value on fairness.

The too little person has to find their courage to be authentic and address what they want & don’t want even if the other person disagrees. They would be taking more power by standing up for themselves & believing they deserve more respect for their differences. Often they are too afraid of the wrath or disappointment of the other.

It is ironic that many times when the too little person admits they are afraid of the other; then the too much person is furious at feeling portrayed as “Darth Vader or a Wicked Witch” (though this is not the case). This then becomes another reason to be completely unreasonable & ballistic with the agenda that the too little person regrets saying their truth. Caving in is precisely the result that the too much person desires.

This effectively maintains the status quo & the power imbalance remains. When the too little person gives up then they are allowing themselves to be manipulated into continuing to shut up. The too much person blows up to manipulate the other person into permanent silence.

Sharing power requires a heap of respect. Divorce is because respect has evaporated. Dialogue instead of monologue means recognizing two points of view exist in most situations. Dialogue is far more interesting and does not happen very often because it takes time.

We are a frantic, hurry up culture. There is no time for the layering of the many conversations that creates a depth of understanding. It is the norm for couples fighting to be so defensive in the first conversation then they don’t really hear what’s important to the other person.

When couples fight, it is unfortunate that most people give up too easily after the beginning conversations because of defensiveness.

Defensiveness is built on someone being too sensitive, feeling attacked too easily or insecurities. The other person is too insensitive, too self righteous or judgmental. Defensiveness pollutes hearing both sides to every issue. Only honest dialogue leads to sharing power through negotiation, problem solving and feeling like a team with your partner.

Read more on my website on the relationship page.

Lopsided Love Relationships & the novel: The Woman Upstairs

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Relationships in love usually start out lopsided – someone loves the other more, it is the nature of relationships. The great achievement in relationships is when love evolves to be mutual and this begins with respect as the first building block. Over the long haul respect is more important than love because it leads to personal growth & longevity.

Even though I adored this great book, I found myself wincing a lot reading The Woman Upstairs because Nora is an overly generous woman who is so enchanted by a family of three that she has no instincts for self protection.

Women who give too much need to embrace their self-protectiveness more. When they don’t, there is often betrayal and on some level they (& Nora) have allowed it. Even though I knew I was reading fiction I found myself saying to Nora, “What about your art?” “Where are your boundaries?” “Ask her to help you instead of always helping her.” I read onward with many misgivings.

I loved the vitality of Nora’s anger in the first chapter and in the very first sentence. This marvelous book is about her journey to finding her anger. Anger can be life enhancing because it is a part of learning to be self-protective.

Anger is a demand from your soul to factor yourself into the equation. Nora finding her anger is deciding she matters. We often misjudge anger because those who are best at it use it too often to demand they are important. Then there are those who are lopsided in selflessness who swallow their anger and don’t use it at all.

Nora never got angry along the way with Sirena. She was happy to be the moon in quiet orbit of Sirena’s earth. Nora never says, “Hey, it’s my turn now.” She is easily satisfied with the crumbs tossed her way.

Nora recognizes she plays a part in her betrayal. The lies she tells herself with her creative imagination and the love affairs she plays out in her mind are rich in denial.

Nora is single, never married and easily dismissed by the culture at large. Unmarried women without children are often invisible. The author really understands how deeply hungry they are to be seen and recognized.

Over many years I’ve had profound empathy for these women that society shunts aside. There is a deep injustice that translates into them dismissing themselves because of their experiences layered over time. The author, Claire Messud gets it right.

Therapy is often about reality checks that no one wants to hear. Her best friend Didi is gay and offers her unwanted doses of reality. Nora ignores her wisdom because it doesn’t fit in with what I call the ‘Star Trek Parallel Universe’ that she has created in her imagination.

The ‘Star Trek Parallel Universe’ is the story we love to tell ourselves whether it is true or not. The book begins and ends with Nora’s newly discovered anger. Anger is a rocket ship that can propel you out of denial & self pity and into the fire of action. People often use their anger to start a new life after divorce, death or betrayal.

This is a moving book because you grow to care for Nora, even while you know she is doomed. At the same time her life might have continued to be mediocre if she hadn’t had hopes of being a part of her new friends success.

It’s her anger that she’s now earned that will help her take the risks she’s avoided until being so badly hurt. Often in life when something terrible happens it can be a new beginning that is indeed transforming.