Grumpies, Grumbles, and Complaints: How to Give Your Partner Grace When They’re in a Bad Mood

June 1, 2023

Let's face it: bad moods happen and are not always easy to deal with. But things can get especially tricky when your partner is in a funk. 

Luckily, there are ways to handle their mood swings without letting them ruin your night (or your relationship!). If your partner is in a bad mood or going through a difficult emotional state, responding with kindness and compassion may be your best resort.

How exactly do you do that?

Stay Cool – Don't Take It Personally

When your partner is in a bad mood, it's crucial not to take it as a personal attack. Resist the urge to immediately assume you’re at fault for their negative mood. Instead, approach the situation constructively by acknowledging their mood and asking if they want to talk or prefer to be alone. 

Don’t become defensive if your partner indicates their mood results from something you did or said. Instead, aim to comprehend the entire situation and seek to understand their perspective.

Establish Healthy Boundaries and Maintain Your Sanity

One way to set boundaries is to communicate openly with your partner about how their behavior affects you. While being respectful of their feelings, let them know you cannot tolerate constant negativity and moodiness.

And be clear about what you need from them to maintain a healthy relationship. This might include asking them to take responsibility for their emotions and not blaming you for their bad mood.

Setting boundaries is not about punishing your partner, but rather about taking care of yourself and your emotional well-being. Doing so shows them that you value yourself and your relationship enough to make it healthy.

Continue to Open the Lines of Communication

Empathize with your partner during these emotionally tense periods. Do this by listening to them without judgment and acknowledging their feelings in a validating way. 

IMAGO's concept of mirroring can be especially helpful here, because it has you repeat back what your partner is saying and check to ensure you've understood them correctly. Practicing this communication technique can build a stronger connection and foster deeper intimacy in your relationship.

To better anticipate and mitigate your partner's bad moods, it's important to understand what triggers them. One way to do this is by engaging in intentional dialogue. Asking open-ended questions and actively listening to your partner's responses will help you understand what's going on with them. Armed with this knowledge, you can plan and take steps to avoid situations likely to trigger their bad moods in the future. 

Navigating the Emotional Rollercoaster

Maneuvering your partner's bad moods can be challenging, but it doesn't have to ruin your relationship. Responding with kindness and empathy, and establishing healthy boundaries, can help maintain your sanity while protecting the well-being of your relationship. 

Remember to approach the situation constructively. Practicing intentional dialogue and understanding what triggers your partner's bad moods can help build a stronger connection, deepen intimacy, and create a more harmonious living environment. 

Still struggling with this issue? Reach out for more personalized help.

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Have Hard Conversations to Make Your Relationship Stronger

April 22, 2023

All couples experience conflict, but not all couples know how to effectively deal with it. Hard conversations are just that – hard. And scary. No one wants to have them. What if things change for the worse? But if you truly desire a strong relationship based on trust and understanding, it’s important that you try.

So, how do you talk with your partner when you suspect that there will be disagreement, and things might get heated?

Mindfulness can help. Mindfulness – the practice of being present in the moment without judgment – is an incredibly valuable tool for moments like these. 

When you are able to maintain mindfulness, being aware of your body sensations, thoughts, and feelings as you react to the conversation, you are more likely to understand your partner’s perspective and find common ground in a discussion.

Tips for Practicing Mindfulness During a Conversation with Your Partner

There are all kinds of mindfulness strategies and methods out there. But these four are a great starting point for someone who knows they are about to have a hard conversation with their partner.

Listen without judgment. One of the most important things you can do when listening to your partner is to try to see things from their perspective. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, but it does mean that you should try to understand where they are coming from. You might say “I don’t pass judgments” – but that stance can really go out the window when you feel passionate about an issue. Try to catch yourself when your judgment takes a self-righteous tone like “You’re being so selfish!”  

Avoid “you” statements. Jumping off that last piece of advice, “You” statements are often accusatory (e.g., “You never listen to me!”), so they tend to put people on the defensive immediately. Instead of using “you” statements, try using “I” statements (e.g., “I feel like I’m not being heard”). This will help de-escalate the situation and allow for a more productive conversation. 

Respond, don’t react. It’s easy to let our emotions get the best of us during a difficult conversation, but it’s important to remember that we always have a choice in how we respond to our partner. If you find yourself feeling like you need to defend yourself, pause. Take a step back. Breathe before saying anything else. Once you’ve calmed down, you can respond more rationally to what your partner has said. 

Be present in the moment. One of the most important things you can do when communicating with your partner is to be present in the moment. This means putting away distractions (like your phone), making eye contact, and really listening to what they are saying. These might sound like conversational basics, but you’d be surprised at how many people miss them.

Ask questions. If there’s something you don’t understand, or if you want clarification, don’t hesitate to ask questions. Asking questions shows you are interested in understanding your partner’s perspective and that you value their opinion.

Breathe deeply and mindfully throughout the conversation. Be aware of your breathing patterns throughout the discussion. In order for your brain to get enough oxygen, aim for deep belly breaths. When you breathe deeply, you stay calm under pressure, which motivates more compassionate and balanced decisions over emotionally-driven ones. 

Last but not least, remember that you’re having hard conversations for the good of your relationship. Well-managed conflict is healthy. Following these tips can help both you and your partner effectively communicate to understand each other's needs more fully – a solid building block toward a stronger and healthier relationship overall.

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Resolve to Re-Spark Your Marriage

February 23, 2023

It's a new year, which means it's time for new beginnings. If your marriage is feeling a little lackluster, now is the perfect time to re-spark the flames of love. 

Here are four tips on how to do just that.

  1. Schedule time for each other. You likely have a lot of demands on your time. Work. Kids. Obligations to family and friends. And it's easy to let these other obligations take precedence over your relationship. 

But if you want to re-spark your marriage, you need to make quality time for each other a priority. Whether it's going on a date night once a week or just taking a few minutes every day to talk without distractions – carving out time for each other is essential.

How? Schedule it. Literally put it on your calendar like a regular meeting. This will make your “us-time” feel more “real.” Plus, it will prevent you from double-booking the time and serve as a nice reminder… which will hopefully help to build anticipation.

  1. Get out of your comfort zone. If you've been married for a while, it's likely you and your spouse have fallen into a bit of a routine. And while there's nothing wrong with routine per se, it can sometimes lead to boredom. 

To keep things fresh, try doing something outside of your comfort zone together. Whether it's trying a new hobby or exploring a new city, breaking out of your comfort zone will help you and your spouse rediscover the excitement and adventure of being together.

Again, for the busy people, there are ways to keep this simple. Try a new restaurant. Start watching a new show together. Read the same book and talk about it. These may not sound “exciting,” but every little bit helps until you have the time to plan something a bit more intense.

  1. Be more intentional about physical affection. Physical affection is an important part of any relationship, but it's often one of the first things to go when marriages start to lose their spark. 

If you want to rekindle the physical side of your marriage, be more intentional about showing affection. This can mean anything from holding hands while you watch TV to giving each other massages after a long day. Whatever it is, making an effort to be physically close will help reignite the passion in your relationship.

  1. Talk about your needs and wants with honesty and openness. Why is it that people – even those who have been together for years – have so much trouble talking to each other about their feelings? One of the main reasons marriages lose their spark is because couples stop communicating with each other about their needs and wants, brushing meaningful interactions under the rug. 

If you're not sure what your spouse is thinking or feeling, ask! And be prepared to share your own thoughts and feelings, as well. Having open and honest communication will help you both feel closer to each other and ensure that your needs are being met in the relationship.

Re-Spark Your Marriage – One Day at a Time

If this sounds overwhelming to start, don't despair—things don’t have to go from gray to technicolor in a week. Take your time, coupled with persistence, to turn things around! 

By making quality time for each other a priority, getting out of your comfort zone together, being more intentional about physical affection, and communicating honestly and openly with each other about your needs and wants, you can re-spark the flame of love in no time.

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How to Help Your Relationship Thrive During the Holiday Season

December 3, 2022

The holidays are here! But while that can be exciting for all kinds of reasons, for many of us this is also the busiest, most stressful time of year.

How can you keep the holidays from adding stress and tension to your relationship? Beating holiday stress may not be completely possible, but there are lots of things you and your partner can do to reduce it.

Beating Holiday Stress and Focusing on Your Partner

“Survival” may seem dramatic – but so are the holidays. Everything is heightened, and it can feel like each little thing you get right – or wrong – is incredibly important. So much to do! So many people depending on you!

So take a deep breath and read on to keep your relationship strong throughout the season:

Just Say No. This may be the most important advice you get this year for beating holiday stress. So much of that “overwhelm” feeling comes from trying to do too much and bending over backward to make other people happy. But you are not responsible for everyone’s happiness, and you do not have to do everything. Decide ahead of time what you’re comfortable taking on, then tell people “no” if they try to add things on top of that.

Does a Tradition “Spark Joy”? Yep, Marie Kondo works for traditions, too. Sometimes, things that worked to bring you together in the past can become divisive, frustrating, and stressful as people – and the world – grow and change. If something seems like more trouble than it’s worth, don’t do it anymore.

Forget about the “Joneses.” It’s all too easy to see what others are doing on social media – or just in your own neighborhood – and feel jealous or competitive. But you have to let it go and remember what the season’s really about: connecting with the people you love. Bonus: tuning out all that other noise will help you do that!

Have a Team Mentality. You and your partner are a unit. A lot of beating holiday stress is about talking to each other, making a plan, and refusing to let others set you against each other. Just as important: help each other out. When you work together, you can make things easier for both of you.

Talk It Out – and Keep Talking. Part of this is making a plan, getting on the same page, and sticking to it – including setting aside “relationship time” (as in actually scheduling it!) Part of it is continuing to talk and keep each other in the loop when these best laid plans inevitably hit speed bumps.

If you find that you both need a little extra support during the holidays, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with a professional counselor. They can help you sort out those touchy family issues. And it’s at least one hour per week scheduled to pay attention to your relationship. 

Hopefully, after reading this, you’re feeling a bit more ready. Remember, holiday seasons come and go. The most important part is how you feel about each other afterward. Never lose sight of that, and you’ll have a happy home all year round. 

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What Is Co-Regulation – and How Do We Do It?

September 2, 2022

Co-regulation in relationships is the process of remaining calm in the presence of a partner who is, well, not, and passing that feeling on to them.

Why does this matter?

Well, imagine the opposite. We’ve probably all been there at one time or another with our partner. Perhaps we’re relaxing with a good book or having fun with the kids. 

Then our partner storms in, and it’s clear they’re spiraling for one reason or another. Their energy overpowers everything, and before you even realize what’s happening, you’re spiraling with them. 

Often, this means some kind of argument where you’re both getting more and more upset with little real understanding of why. This is the opposite of co-regulation.

Why Is Co-Regulation in Relationships Important?

A better question might be: What does co-regulation do?

Thankfully, this is one of those things where the answer is fairly simple: when someone who is calm is able to maintain that feeling and pass it on to their partner:

It relaxes them. Literally on a physical level, co-regulation can lower heart rate and blood pressure to bring the other person back to a calm state.

It makes them feel safe. There’s a reason mothers do this with babies and therapists with their patients. Passing on calm energy is reassuring. It’s a way of emotionally saying, “Everything’s okay. We’ve got this.” Co-regulation in relationships works in a similar way.

What Kinds of Things Can You Do to Co-Regulate with Your Partner?

Co-regulation in relationships always starts with communication. You need to be able to tell each other what you need – including when you are not feeling regulated and need to step away for a few minutes to calm down.

That being said, there are a variety of behaviors and techniques you can use to co-regulate with your partner. These include:

  • Taking their hand.
  • Giving them a hug.
  • Sitting next to them quietly.
  • Speaking in a soothing tone.
  • Just breathing together.
  • Finding calming music to listen to.
  • Maintaining eye contact.
  • Massaging them.

As you can see, this is a very physical list. That’s because co-regulation is, at its heart, incredibly physical. It’s about two nervous systems coming into contact. Being body to body.

The other important thing to remember is that it’s no use attempting to co-regulate with your partner if both of you are agitated and full of nervous energy. Because of this, the first step to achieving co-regulation is knowing how to self-regulate with techniques like meditation, breathwork, and other somatic (mind-body) practices.

A professional counselor can be a great source of education about practices to help you self-regulate and co-regulate – one of many ways that therapy can support the health and longevity of your relationship!

 

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Fundamentals for Couples: What Is My Relationship Attachment Style?

June 24, 2022

Are you familiar with attachment styles? This psychological concept describes how people relate in their closest relationships. Sometimes folks of certain attachment styles are drawn to each other – which can make for an easier or more challenging time.

Understanding your attachment style and your partner’s attachment style can help break negative cycles in your relationship. And, in time, it can help you move toward a more compassionate connection in which you both can flourish.

Attachment Theory and Your Relationship

What does “attachment” mean? This is usually based on how you formed your earliest bonds in life – usually with your parents or other significant caregivers. Attachment refers to how you react when a person who is important to you is present – and when they’re absent.

The theory emerged from a study conducted with toddlers and their parents. Researchers noticed that, from a young age, children showed different reactions when their mother left the room.

Some cried for a bit, eventually calmed down, then got excited when their mother showed up again. Some cried and remained upset, even after she returned. Others seemed indifferent to their mother’s presence and absence. And some exhibited a confused mixture of reactions.

These observations formed the basic attachment styles. We’ll go through them below, although most people don’t fit neatly into just one.

Secure

In this attachment style, said to be exhibited by about 50% of the population, people are able to easily form bonds with others. They miss loved ones when apart but don’t feel extreme anxiety or fear about the relationship.

The next three attachment styles are typically categorized as “insecure.”

Anxious

People with an anxious attachment style worry when their partner is away – but they also find it difficult to be present and receive love when they’re around. This style parallels the inconsolable child in the study.

Avoidant

Those with an avoidant attachment style may have trouble feeling their emotions and even, sometimes, their bodies. They learned to disavow their needs, because they learned that they couldn’t depend on loved ones.

I once heard another therapist describe avoidant attachment style as “covert anxious.” They crave connection just as much as their anxious counterparts, but they don’t make it known and, thus, find themselves reliving their original disappointment.

In fact, anxious and avoidant partners are often attracted to each other, since they confirm each other’s negative biases about relationships. The anxious partner doesn’t get affirmation from the avoidant partner, and the avoidant partner sees their pulling away as the abandonment and rejection they expected. This is commonly known as the anxious-avoidant “negative cycle.”

Disorganized

Very chaotic and/or abusive upbringings often breed a disorganized attachment style, although any sort of inconsistent parenting mixed with a particular child’s temperament could result in it.

A disorganized attachment style is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a mixture of confusing reactions. People with this style both want and fear connection. Partners will get numerous mixed messages, ranging from angry pushing away to desperate clinging. This style especially needs professional help to reach security.

Which brings up the question: can you develop a secure attachment if you’re not already there?

Help! Can I Change My Attachment Style?

The short answer: yes. You can move from an insecure attachment style to a more secure attachment style.

The longer answer: this is generally quite difficult to do alone. Since the original wounds happened in a relationship, they must heal in a relationship, too. Many people with insecure attachment will struggle on their own for years, as being overly self-reliant is a common defense.

However, for most people, once they decide to seek help, they can experience change by working with a trusted therapist. It takes patience and persistence to gradually open your heart again – but the reward of healthy, fulfilling connections is worth it.

At Delaware Relationship Center, you can get the help you need to overcome insecure attachment.

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Walt Ciecko, Ph. D., BCB
605 Wynyard Rd
Wilmington, DE 19803
302-429-0195