Help with Relationships

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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Breaking the Ice When You Feel “Alone Together” in Your Relationship

April 8, 2022

It can happen to even the strongest of couples. After being together awhile, it’s normal to sometimes feel “alone” or lonely in your relationship. And like the once-endless conversations are drying up. Or worse, tense and forced.

You love your partner and want to rekindle your connection and spark. But how do you break the ice and get yourselves out of the rut?  

The trick is to examine your current styles of communication, watch for potential roadblocks and red flags, and be open to new topics of conversation. Here’s a roadmap to reconnecting with your partner and strengthening your bond.

Rekindle Connection in Your Relationship 

It’s common to get stuck in a communication “loop,” where we recycle the same stories or conversations with our partners out of habit. Or perhaps the stressors of day-to-day life have been weighing on you. And you and your partner are starting to feel like ships in the night. Passing each other with just a few words here and there. 

The passionate chats you used to have seem long gone. So, what do you do?

Connection Through Communication

The truth is that connection is at the heart of a healthy and successful relationship. And one of the most effective ways to connect is through talking. Your conversations can be deep and meaningful – or playful and flirty! 

But if they aren’t happening at all, it’s time to evaluate your and your partner’s communication styles. Some things that can truly make a difference include:

  • Active listening to your partner. Hint: a lot of times we think we’re listening, but we’re really just waiting for our turn in the conversation! Try repeating your partner’s words in your mind as they speak to help you process them. Take time to think about what they’ve said… and then add onto their statements. It can make a big difference!
  • Find ways to show you’ve heard them. Acknowledging something they mentioned in a later conversation, leaving a sweet note for them, or doing them a favor.
  • Check-in throughout the day – with a quick text, email, or call to let them know you’re thinking of them.
  • Plan a unique activity together that you’ve never done before. It can get you both out of your comfort zone and talking!
  • Try using conversation starters to break the ice (more on this below!) They may feel awkward at first, but once you start using them you will feel more confident and comfortable over time. And more importantly, you’ll learn new things about your partner.

Communication is Key

It’s perfectly normal to have a disagreement with your partner every once in a while. In fact, it would probably be unusual if you never found yourself clashing with your partner. And awkward conversations can happen to anyone.

But it’s important to acknowledge if constant conflict is the root of your disconnect with your partner. Especially if you find yourself feeling increasingly angry with them. Then it’s time to examine your relationship closely. And to seek the trusted guidance of a therapist who specializes in couples counseling.

However, if you’re just feeling like your conversations with your partner are lackluster – or lacking completely – the trick is to open the channels of communication back up.

Common Communication Roadblocks 

Common pitfalls in relationship communication can include:

  • Passive-aggressive behavior in the form of little slights or digs at your partner. This type of communication avoids directly telling your partner how you’re feeling and can chip away at a relationship.
  • Shutting down or ignoring your partner’s attempts to connect and communicate. We know that our partners need our validation and support when they are having a hard time. But studies have shown that responding to our partner’s positive “bids” for connection is even more important for strengthening the relationship. And couples who do this stay together longer!
  • Not prioritizing time to connect. It’s easy to fall into a routine with your partner and put things like date nights on the back burner. But without emotional intimacy, you and your partner can start to feel distant or grow apart. 

‘Break the Ice’ with Conversation Starters

So, you’ve acknowledged any roadblocks you and your partner might be experiencing. Now you can set aside a chunk of time to reconnect. But what do you talk about? 

Conversation starters can feel forced or silly at first, and they require some bravery.  But they are also fun – and a great way to learn new and exciting things about your long-term partner! Also, they can be about anything – serious or silly topics, or even the relationship itself.

Consider the following starters or use them as inspiration and create your own:

  • What’s your favorite memory of the two of us? Why does it stand out to you, and how do you feel when you remember it?
  • What’s your proudest accomplishment?
  • You just won the lottery and bought us vacation tickets without telling me… Where are we going and why?
  • What are some ways you would like me to show you appreciation in our relationship?
  • Tell me something you are interested in (hobby, pursuit, topic) that is outside of your comfort zone. And how can I support you in trying it?

Talk to Your Counselor for More Tips

If you know reconnecting with your partner is your priority, it’s never too early to seek outside support to strengthen your bond. The Delaware Relationship Center is ready to help you at any point in your relationship, using unique therapy approaches and techniques. 

A rewarding relationship doesn’t always come easily. But, like all good things, it can thrive with work and support. Let us help you reach your goals today.

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Why Trial Separations Do Not Work

November 1, 2019

Often, the idea of a separation comes out amidst an argument when people are at their wits’ end.

Or it may seem like a kind of release valve. A way to get some distance from the pressure and frustration attached to working through issues. 

The idea can seem like a relief. Is it really, though?

The Idea Behind a Trial Separation

Proponents of trial separation believe there are benefits to be had. They say: 

  • Separation provides time and space to realize your partner’s worth.
  • Time apart allows you to let go of petty issues you have with one another.
  • The break offers a fresh start and a healthier perspective on your life together.
  • You’ll be able to focus on yourself and sort out your personal issues.

That last one’s got it partly right. Healing and strengthening any relationship does begin with you. However, there are some big problems with the other supposed positives.

What’s Wrong with the Idea of Separation

When you are successfully working through personal issues, this is a positive experience. And if you achieve a breakthrough, your natural inclination will be to examine all of the elements that led to that achievement. 

So, think about what it means to reach a goal and feel better than before... without your partner. None of those positive feelings will be associated with them.

Moreover:

  • A trial separation severs communication… at least to some degree. 
  • Temporary independence may feel good, but your responsibilities don’t just go away.
  • Returning to a situation that hasn’t really changed may make it easier to let the relationship go.   
  • If you achieve a positive feeling while avoiding doing the work together, it may justify more future “breaks.”

The healthier, more long-term route for a committed couple is to directly confront and try to resolve conflict. It can be tougher. But it provides longer-lasting and more satisfying results. 

Wouldn’t It Be Better to Just Start Over?

You may be asking yourself whether scrapping this relationship might be a better option. After all, you can just start over fresh, and the next one will be different, right?

Not likely, according to researchers with the University of Alberta. The recent completion of one eight-year study proves what relationship therapists and couples counseling have seen for years: “Although some relationship dynamics may change, you are still the same person, so you likely recreate many of the same patterns with the next partner.”

What You Should Do Instead

Instead of starting all over with someone new, Imago therapy tells us that working together on improving relationship issues is a better answer. 

The trick is to set the stage for honest conversation and create realistic expectations for your partnership. One way partners can do that is in a couple’s therapy session. 

Or, you can start with a workshop. Over a single weekend, you’ll dive deep and learn some easily applicable tools to help you rediscover your potential together. 

Working through personal issues as a unit defines how you find your “couple’s answer” to the various conflicts you may be having instead of solving your problems alone (and apart).

Ultimately, building and sustaining a loving, emotionally nourishing marriage is more difficult than we imagine during the new romance phase. It takes work and practice and time. But you’ll find rekindling the flame is incredibly satisfying!

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