Help with Relationships

When You Right Fight, You Argue for All the Wrong Reasons

June 1, 2024

Conflict is an unavoidable part of relationships. When you spend a lot of time with someone – particularly if you live together – there’s bound to be friction from time to time. However, when conflicts escalate into right fighting – the relentless pursuit of being right at the expense of resolution – they can erode relationships and breed negativity. 

So, why do people engage in right fighting, and how can you break free from this destructive pattern?

“You’re Not Listening to Me!” 

Right fighting often stems from a deep-seated need to validate our opinions, beliefs, and values. Many people who engage in right fighting dealt with parents or others in early childhood who tended to negate those opinions, beliefs, and values, making them feel like no one listened or cared. Like they didn’t matter.

  1. It’s not just your parents. Societal and cultural influences play a significant role in perpetuating the phenomenon of right fighting. From an early age, we   taught to value assertiveness, confidence, and independence. While  but 
  2. traits are essential for self-expression and empowerment, they can also contribute to an adversarial approach to conflict resolution, where winning becomes the ultimate goal at any cost.

Additionally, right fighting can be fueled by ego and insecurity. When our sense of self-worth is tied to being right or winning arguments, we become hypersensitive to perceived threats to our intelligence, competence, or authority. We need to prove that they are wrong and we are right.

Bottom line, when we feel challenged or threatened, whether consciously or subconsciously, our instinct is to defend ourselves. Unfortunately, this innate desire to win arguments and assert dominance can override our ability to empathize with our partner and find common ground, leading to a cycle of escalating conflict.

But it doesn’t have to, and here’s the good news: often, people with the particular emotional wound that causes them to engage in right fighting tend to choose partners with the same wound. Why is that good? Because if you can both become aware of the issue and actively work against it, you can actually help each other to heal that wound.

Breaking the Right Fighting Cycle

While the impulse to engage in right fighting may be deeply ingrained, it is not insurmountable. There are several strategies that individuals can employ to break free from this destructive pattern and cultivate more constructive approaches to conflict resolution.

Practice Self-Awareness

The first step in overcoming right fighting is to recognize when you are falling into the trap of prioritizing being right over finding resolution. Pay attention to your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors during conflicts, and identify any patterns or triggers that contribute to right fighting tendencies.

Shift Your Mindset to Your Partner

Instead of focusing on yourself and how threatened you’re feeling, actively work toward showing your partner that you see and hear them. If they say they told you to pick up milk, repeat this back to them – even if you don’t remember it that way: “You remember telling me to pick up the milk and I didn’t do it.”

What’s the point of this? It shows them that you’re actually listening and acknowledging their point of view. Which, at minimum, avoids escalating the argument, and may even start the work of de-escalating. You could then follow up with something like, “That sounds really frustrating.”

Keep in mind that you’re not agreeing what they said happened, just acknowledging that’s their experience of what occurred and empathizing. Because, in the end, who’s correct isn’t going to change the problem: either way, there’s no milk. So the argument isn’t about solving that – it’s about recognizing and respecting your partner’s feelings. 

When You Show Your Partner You See Them, Right Fights End

Remember, right fighting is about the need to have our thoughts and feelings validated. To have the other person acknowledge that we matter. Being aware of your own feelings and making yourself focus on your partner not only serves to prevent you from engaging in right fighting – it’s likely to knock them out of that heated zone and put both of you back on the right track.

 

Of course, no one is saying it’s easy in the heat of the moment. If you just can’t stop right fighting with your partner, we are here to help. Get in touch to see if we’re a good fit.

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Aged to Perfection: Being Ready for the Stages of Mature Relationships

March 20, 2024

Relationships are like gardens – they require nurturing, patience, and growth. Just as gardens go through different stages of development, so do relationships. 

From the initial spark of attraction to the deep-rooted connection of mature love, each stage brings its own joys, challenges, and opportunities for growth. Being ready for these stages can make the journey smoother and more fulfilling. 

While all mature relationships are different, there are some common issues that most aging couples face. If you have children, your relationship will need to adapt to the changes that arise when they move away, and it is just the two of you again. Even couples without children, though, still have to deal with the impact of retirement, physical and mental complications that can arise with age, and the emotional toll of loss in a variety of ways – whether that means the things already mentioned, the loss of friends and family members, or the realization that your own journey is coming to an end.

Depending on how strong your connection is with your partner, these huge, life-changing circumstances can bring you closer than ever – or push you apart. In this post, we’re going to explore how to be prepared for the stages of a mature relationship so you can take comfort in the fact that you’re going through them together.

The 3 Stages of Every Relationship

We’ve written before about the fact that each relationship consists of three stages: 

  1. Romantic Love
  2. The Power Struggle, and 
  3. Conscious Relationship… or Break Up.

You might think that couples entering into the mature phase of their lives automatically fall into the category of “Conscious Relationship.” After all, if you haven’t reached this yet, wouldn’t you have left each other?

But this isn’t necessarily true. Some older couples may be in newer relationships that place them in the Romantic Love stage. We’re not going to deal much with that in this post – sorry, lovebirds! Remember, this is about mature relationships, not just mature people in relationships.

Even if you discount those couples, though, there are plenty of longtime couples who have stayed together but never quite attained a Conscious Relationship. They are still enduring the Power Struggle stage, and that can mean a bunch of different things.

Some couples experience this like a roller coaster, with extreme relationship highs and lows that, over time, they’ve started to believe are simply part of the ride. But this doesn’t mean they haven’t been worn down by these ups and downs.

Then there are couples who have sort of come to an uneasy truce in their Power Struggle. They haven’t resolved it, but they’ve gotten tired of fighting and learned to co-exist. In many cases, even though these people still love each other, they’ve pulled away in big ways. They may find much of their pleasure and satisfaction in life outside the relationship.

Here’s the problem: navigating the Power Struggle stage is bearable when most other things in your life have a certain stability. This becomes much harder to do when everything is turned upside down. Like, say, when your kids move out. Or you stop working. Or your bodies and minds stop behaving the way they used to, and you really contemplate the end.

If your relationship isn’t strong when you’re going through these changes, there is a much higher chance that it will end in a break up. So, how can you avoid that?

Reopen the Lines of Communication

It’s never too late to build a strong foundation based on trust, communication, and mutual respect. Developing a Conscious Relationship involves being open to vulnerability, actively listening to your partner, and expressing your needs and desires honestly. Invest time and energy into nurturing the connection while allowing space for individual growth and exploration. Cultivate effective communication skills, practice active listening, and be willing to seek support from trusted friends, family members, or professionals when needed.

Embrace Challenges as Opportunities for Growth

No relationship is without its challenges. Whether it's differences in communication styles, external stressors, or conflicts of interest, being ready for the inevitable bumps along the road requires resilience, empathy, and compromise. Learn to approach challenges as opportunities for growth rather than threats to the relationship. 

Rediscover the Power of Intimacy

As a relationship matures, so does the depth of intimacy shared between partners. Intimacy goes beyond physical attraction. It encompasses emotional connection, vulnerability, and genuine understanding. Cultivate intimacy by engaging in shared experiences, meaningful conversations, and acts of kindness and appreciation. Create space for vulnerability and authentic expression, and prioritize quality time together to nurture the emotional bond.

Keep Putting in the Effort

Mature relationships require ongoing effort, commitment, and adaptability. As individuals evolve and circumstances change, so too must the relationship. Being ready for this stage involves embracing change with an open heart, fostering a growth mindset, and continuously investing in the partnership. Celebrate milestones together, support each other's dreams and aspirations, and never stop exploring new ways to deepen your connection.

Embrace Imperfection

Finally, being ready for the stages of mature relationships means embracing imperfection – both in yourself and your partner. Understand that no relationship is flawless, and there will be moments of struggle, doubt, and vulnerability. What matters most is how you navigate these moments together with empathy, compassion, and a willingness to learn and grow.

Being ready for the stages of mature relationships is an ongoing journey of self-discovery, growth, and mutual exploration. Remember, the most beautiful gardens are those tended with patience, care, and love. Want to get a professional, outside perspective on how you and your partner can attain a Conscious Relationship? Get in touch today!

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New Year, New Relationship Intentions

January 23, 2024

Setting relationship intentions is a great way to work together with your partner to improve your relationship and get closer. One great time to set new intentions is – you guessed it – the New Year! Everyone is already creating New Year’s resolutions – why not do a version of that for your relationship?

Just remember that “intentions” are not the same as “goals.” Intentions are a direction you want to go in to improve your relationship rather than a rigid target you’re trying to hit.

How do you and your partner set these intentions?

Set Aside Time and Make a Plan – Together

Dedicate time to discuss the highs and lows of your relationship over the past year. Reflect on themes like communication, disagreements, quality time, deepening your connection, and intimacy. 

Answer these questions individually and then share your responses. Identify common ground and differences. For shared goals, create a plan to achieve them collaboratively. Address divergent answers with open dialogue, seeking convergence for the year ahead.

Establish Ground Rules for Constructive Dialogue

This means you need to emphasize taking turns, active listening, and staying present. Despite their apparent simplicity, adhering to these rules requires effort, especially when discussing sensitive topics. 

Be generous with each other and frame responses in a way that focuses on shared responsibility. Phrases like "We need" or "We could" foster a sense of teamwork rather than pointing fingers.

Remember This Is a Continuous Process

Significant relationship changes take time. Setting intentions, not rigid goals, acknowledges that behavioral shifts are a continuous process. 

Expect to revisit and adjust your plan periodically. Celebrate successes and discuss areas for improvement. Consider setting smaller resolutions as mile markers, making progress more visible and allowing for a sense of accomplishment along the way.

This is a good thing, because you don’t want your relationship to have a final destination. The only thing “final” is when a relationship ends or you stop trying. In a continually evolving relationship, the ultimate aim should be finding ways to enhance the journey for both partners. 

Let 2024 be a year of intentional growth and continuous improvement in your relationship. And if you discover you need help as you embark on this journey, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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Simple Tips to Maintain Emotional Intimacy During the Hectic Holiday Season

December 5, 2023

The holiday season is often a time of joy, celebration, and togetherness, when families and friends come together to create lasting memories and strengthen their bonds. 

However, amidst the hustle and bustle of holiday preparations, it can be easy to overlook emotional intimacy, which is essential for maintaining a healthy relationship. Emotional intimacy is the experience of being known and understood within a safe bond with another person. And it is something that must be intentionally cultivated and protected.  Just because you go to bed and wake up next to someone on a daily basis does not mean that emotional intimacy automatically springs up between you two.

Busyness can work against emotional intimacy when you let understanding between you and your partner dim. You can see how the holidays might really set the stage for that. You’re both running alongside each other, trying to check off all the  event planning and gift buying tasks… And you forget to ask “How are you doing?” 

Being proactive about check-ins can help counteract this strange holiday loneliness. Here are some simple tips to help you maintain emotional intimacy with your partner during the hectic holiday season.

Prioritize Quality Time. With a never-ending to-do list during the holidays, it's crucial to prioritize quality time with your loved ones. Set aside moments for meaningful conversations, shared activities, or simply being present with each other. Whether it's a cozy night by the fireplace or a leisurely walk in the snow, these moments can help you connect on a deeper level.

Communicate Openly. Effective communication is the cornerstone of emotional intimacy. During the holidays, be sure to express your thoughts, feelings, and expectations openly with your loved ones. Listen actively to their concerns and needs, as well. You may need to pay special attention to family-related topics like “How do you feel about your relationships with specific in-laws?” Honest and transparent communication can help prevent misunderstandings and foster emotional closeness between you and your partner, easing the stress of holiday gatherings.

Manage Expectations. The holiday season can come with high expectations of how much fun you should be having or the intensity of positive emotion you should be experiencing – often leading to disappointment when reality falls short. The truth is that the holidays are a mixture of emotions for most people, ranging from restful and joyous to somber, grieving, and bittersweet. It’s a time to slow down and reflect on the year for most people, so that understandably comes with a broad spectrum of emotions beyond “merry” or “happy.”

To maintain emotional intimacy throughout the highs and lows, manage expectations by setting realistic goals for gatherings, gifts, and activities. Embrace imperfection, mishaps, and less-than-merry attitudes as part of the experience. For small hiccups – like the turkey took 2 hours longer to cook than you expected – try to laugh it off and focus on the heart of gathering: the warmth and connection you share with your loved ones.

Create Traditions. Traditions can be a beautiful way to strengthen emotional bonds. Consider establishing new holiday traditions or continuing existing ones that hold special meaning for your family or friends. These rituals can create a sense of belonging, anticipation, and continuity through the years, helping to bring folks closer together in a consistent way.

Self-Care. It’s easy to forget about your own needs during the holiday season. Self-care is essential for maintaining emotional intimacy, because when you're emotionally healthy, you can give more to your relationships. What does self-care look like for you? Prioritize those activities that recharge you, whether it's meditation, exercise, epsom salt baths, or simply taking a quiet moment alone in the midst of gatherings.

Delegate and Share Responsibilities. The stress of holiday preparations can strain relationships, diminishing emotional intimacy. To counteract this, share responsibilities and delegate tasks among family members or friends. This not only lightens the load but also fosters a sense of teamwork and cooperation. You’d be surprised at how much effort people will make to get along when they’re working toward a common goal. This is also a strong pitch for having activities at the ready for gatherings, like party or board games. Some conflict stems simply from a sense of understimulation or boredom. If you’ve been catching up about deeper topics for an hour, it’s okay to take a break and just do something fun.

Put Down the Phone. Or game. Or… In today's digital age, it's easy to get caught up in our devices and distractions. During the holidays, make an effort to be present in the moment. Put away your phone, engage in eye contact, and actively listen when someone is talking. Being fully present is a powerful way to nurture emotional intimacy.

Gratitude, Reflection, and Appreciation. As the holiday season comes to a close, take time to reflect on the memories you’ve created and the emotional connections you’ve strengthened. 

When you’re at gatherings, direct your attention and the attention of your loved ones to voice gratitude for each other and for moments throughout the year. This simple practice can create a positive atmosphere, deepen connections, and remind everyone of the importance of your relationships. Gratitude and reflection can leave a lasting impression and set a positive tone for the year ahead.

As you celebrate this season of togetherness, remember that it's the depth of your emotional bonds that truly makes the holidays special. Focus on the people around you and everyone will feel more connected.

And if you’re struggling to keep the closeness you need as the holiday season approaches, don’t hesitate to reach out for professional support. A little help can go along way.

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How to Up Your Quality Time and Relationship-Building Moments As Summer Ends

August 2, 2023

Vacations. Warmer weather inviting you to relax together. Fun activities like swimming.

Summer offers plenty of opportunities to create adventures and cherished memories with your partner. However, just because summer is ending doesn't mean the opportunities for quality time and relationship-building need to stop. In fact, the transition to autumn can be an ideal time to deepen your connection even further. 

Here are some creative ways you can up your quality time and relationship-building moments as summer fades away.

Embrace the Beauty of Nature

While the days might be getting shorter, the charm of autumn colors and cooler weather offers the perfect backdrop for outdoor activities with your loved ones. Take a hike through a nearby park, go apple picking, or have a picnic surrounded by falling leaves. Spending time in nature not only promotes bonding but also allows you to appreciate the beauty of the changing seasons together.

Spend Cozy Nights In

As the weather cools down, take advantage of cozy nights indoors with your partner – there are all kinds of opportunities for relationship-building moments. Prepare a delicious homemade meal together, watch a movie, or play board games. The intimate setting of your home can foster meaningful conversations and strengthen your connection without the distractions of the outside world.

Explore Local Events

Many communities host exciting events and festivals as summer turns into autumn. Attend local fairs, cultural festivals, or art exhibits to share in the joy of discovery and exploration with your partner. These events often provide ample opportunities for laughter, learning, and bonding with each other.

Reflect and Set Goals Together

As one season transitions into another, it's an excellent time for reflection and goal-setting. Discuss the experiences you want to share in the upcoming months. Setting mutual goals, whether they’re personal or collective, can bring you closer together and create a sense of shared purpose.

Volunteer as a Team

Engaging in volunteer work as a couple can have a profound impact on your relationship while also making a positive difference in your community. Find local charitable organizations or community projects that align with your interests and values – and go volunteer together. The shared experience of helping others will not only deepen your connection but also foster a sense of fulfillment and joy.

Weekend Getaways

Trips together always offer chances for plenty of relationship-building moments. You might not have time for a big vacation like during the summer months, but consider planning a weekend getaway to a nearby destination. Whether it's a charming bed and breakfast, a cozy cabin in the woods at the leaves change, or a visit to a new city, a change of scenery can work wonders for rejuvenating your relationship. Explore new places together, create shared memories, and enjoy each other's company without the distractions of everyday life.

Practicing Mindfulness Together

As the year winds down, take some time to practice mindfulness together. Whether it's through meditation, yoga, or simply spending quiet moments together in nature, mindfulness can enhance your awareness of each other's emotions and needs. It promotes empathy and helps you be more present in your relationship.

These activities will not only up your relationship game but also create lasting memories that will carry you through the changing seasons ahead. The key is to be intentional in your efforts to connect, communicate, and cherish your partner, making every moment count, regardless of the time of year.

Want more ideas on how to connect as the seasons change? Get in touch today.

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