Why NOW is the Time for Your Relationship

FayPsych Staff

“We’ll start having sex more after I’ve lost weight.”

 “We’ll spend more time together after I’ve gotten the promotion at work.”

“We can focus more on each other when the kids are older.”

“Once I stop traveling so much there’ll be more time for us.”

“My mom really needs me right now.  I know you’ll understand honey.”

How many times have you heard a friend say something along these lines, or maybe even uttered something similar yourself?

Couples tend to put off for tomorrow what they should be doing in their relationships today.  It’s easy to become nonchalant about our partners and our relationships.  It’s easier still to avoid the anxiety-provoking facets of our relationships and face them ‘some other time.’  We just assume that our partners will always be there for us, no matter what.  We so often fall into the bad habit of putting them on the back burner while we prioritize everything and everyone else ahead of them—jobs, kids, extended family, you name it.  But we do so safe in the knowledge that one day, when we’re ready, we can refocus our attention on them and they will be waiting for us.  The problems we have in our relationship can be worked out when that someday comes along too.

Only it doesn’t always work that way in the real world.  Couples who put off tending to the current needs (and trouble spots) within their relationship may find that their partners are not waiting for them when they’re finally ready to fully invest in and work on their relationship.

Many of the couples who present to therapy as a last-ditch effort to save their relationships have discovered that this “wait for another day” approach has had devastating consequences when they have finally decided to focus on their marriages.  Some have learned that it has left their relationship filled with resentment and so devoid of intimate connection in the here and now that they have chosen to seek out other connections through extramarital or emotional affairs.  Others have found that their partners did not want to wait for them and felt it might just be easier to leave the marriage altogether.  For those who have not yet reached this “critical” stage, there can still be a lingering sense of disconnect, loneliness, and “how could this happen to us?”

It’s terrible to see people who once had strong emotional connections come apart, especially since most of these couples could likely have avoided their fate if they had applied greater vigilance earlier in their relationship.  The damaged relationships described above didn’t happen overnight, it took time for their battle scars to be inflicted.

So what can couples do for their relationships to strengthen them right now?

Recognize that your relationship requires an investment of your time and energy on a daily basis.  Given the stresses and strains that career, children, extended family and other external factors may place on you as an individual this may be easier to pull off some days more than others.  Remember that your effort each day is part of a long-term investment in you, your partner, and your relationship that will pay dividends far into the future.  Some days you will do a better job than others, as will your partner.  Learn to forgive yourself on the days that your performance isn’t quite up to par, and extend the same forgiveness to him/her.

Try to remember what dating your partner was like when prioritizing your day.  When you were dating, your energy and focus were on your partner and your relationship while other aspects of your life became background players in those heady hormonal days of your early courtship.  This prioritization has likely reversed over time. While your partner can’t be your number one thought every waking minute, moving him or her up the list more consistently will make a big difference in how you feel about the relationship and how he/she is likely to feel about it as well.

Imagine what you would do differently if you were vying for your partner’s affections against a rival suitor.  Most couples have given up pursuing one another since the “deal has been sealed.”  Once you’ve stopped the chase, he/she feels less desirable and you are likely to be less engaged in your interactions with your partner.  Resetting your mind to the notion that you are in competition for your partner’s affections can help you bring out your A game.  Maybe you’ll pay a little more attention to how you dress and groom yourself, perhaps you’ll open the car door for her or send him a sexy text message– whatever the things are you think would catch your partner’s attention and win him/her over again.  Have an affair with your spouse!

If you are putting off being close to your partner because of your own physical, psychological or spiritual issue(s) you will address it/them– now.  If you’ve been holding your partner at a distance sexually (or otherwise) because you’re embarrassed that you’ve put on a few pounds, now is the time to do something about it.  If you have problems in your relationship with your father, that are affecting your relationship with your partner, now is the time to talk to someone about them so that you can resolve them once and for all.  The bottom line is, don’t expect your partner to either fix your problems or wait forever for you to decide to take care of your problems while they damage your relationship.  Take responsibility for yourself, and take action – NOW.

If the two of you are really stuck, seek guidance from a qualified couples therapist – now.  One of the biggest mistakes couples make is waiting too long to seek help when they come up against a problem in their relationship that they can’t handle on their own.  Rather than letting a problem pattern become entrenched, or letting resentments build up for years and years, talk to a professional who can help you learn new skills for addressing the issues the two of you are facing in a healthier way.

Copyright © 2011 Fayetteville Psychotherapy Associates, PLC


Why Smart Phones Aren’t So Smart in the Bedroom

Couple in bedFayPsych Staff

It’s the end of a long day and the kids are tucked in for the night.  You and your significant other have finally crawled into bed and are actually blissfully alone for the first time all day.  It’s the perfect chance to reconnect after a day devoted to careers, kids, and running a busy household.  You lean back against the soft pillows, alone at last.   And then it happens:  instead of spending the evening snuggling together, exchanging intimacies about yourself and your day while you enjoy the pleasure of physical contact with one another, you both bring out your smart phones.

Soon you are both under the covers chatting, but distracted by email, texts and other electronic delights.  The chance for a real connection with your partner is gone again tonight, just like it was last night, and probably will be again tomorrow night.

It’s a scene that’s played out in bedrooms across America every night; night after night, after night.

The conversations in those bedrooms often go something like this:

He:      So, how was your day? (checking email)

She:    It was okay I guess. (reviewing social media app)

He:      Hey, I saw Joe at Austin’s soccer game.  (composing email)

She:    Really? How’s he doing? (sending text message)

He:      He said he’s doing alright, but the divorce has been hard on the kids. (opening                     another app)

She:    I still can’t believe he and Abby fell apart like that. (reading text message)  You                     don’t think that could happen to us, do you?

He:      I don’t think so, they were really having troubling connecting there at                                       the end… (starting a game)

Couples often come to therapy complaining about “poor communication.”  They say that they’ve ”lost touch with one another,”  and that they no longer have true intimacy in their relationship.  It is not surprising that intimacy can seem so lacking in our relationships when we are unable to get our partners to look up from their smart phone screens and make eye contact with us, even when we are alone in the privacy of our own bedrooms.

In our hurried modern lives, those few hours and minutes we share alone with our partner at the end of the day are a rare chance to reconnect and recharge our relationships.  Yet many, many couples fail to take advantage of this time, either because of fatigue or fear of true emotional intimacy with their partner. (Yes, the very thing couples complain is missing from their relationships is often the thing they are unconsciously avoiding. We’ll talk more about this phenomenon in future blog posts.)

It’s easy to go through the motions of a conversation while “playing” on a smart phone (or other electronic device), much like the couple in the example above.  We may be “talking” to our partner, but there is no true intimacy to the communication.  We may be in the same room, but there is no real physical or emotional connection, even though we are physically present.

When couples allow this kind of disconnect to go on night after night, for a significant period of time, their relationship begins to suffer.  If it goes on too long, the damage may become irreversible.  (Many of the couples who seek therapy at our practice because of an extramarital affair cite the lack of intimate communication as one of the factors that lead to the affair.)  A committed, loving relationship needs true connection on a regular basis to flourish and remain passionate.

So what’s a modern couple to do?  If you find that you and your partner are
slipping into the smart phone trap, here are some steps you can take to reconnect with one another:


Establish pre-bedtime de-stressing rituals for yourself so that you don’t meet your partner in the bedroom filled to the brim with anxiety. (You’ll also be less tempted to grab your phone as an outlet for that stress).


With your partner, establish a cut-off time for using phones in the bedroom.
For instance—no phone use after 9:00. Stick to it!

Talk, Touch, Connect

When the phones are switched off, it’s time to talk, touch, and reconnect with your
partner.  Look your partner in the eyes and tell him/her what is really going on in your world.  Make a physical connection through touch.  Listen to what he/she has to say
about what is going on in his/her world.

NOTE:  If you have gotten in the habit of “zoning out” with your phone instead of focusing on your partner, this may feel strange and awkward the first few times.  Looking your partner in the eyes is an intimate and giving act, and it shows him/her tremendous respect.  Take a deep breath to help you relax while you are relearning how to connect with your partner– remember, this is a huge investment in your relationship, and well worth it.

If you will really open up to your partner and learn how to have “pillow talk” again each night, you will be surprised how much closer you will feel to him/her and how much less
desirable that smart phone will seem in comparison.  After all, no text message, email, or game can possibly hold a candle to feeling truly close to your partner.

Copyright © 2011 Fayetteville Psychotherapy Associates, PLC

What Every Two-Year-Old Knows– The Power of “NO”

FayPsych Staff

"The word no must have a place in our lives if we want to live as healthy, happy, mature adults..."

A friend of mine had been experiencing a particularly bumpy few weeks and I invited her to lunch to blow off some steam.  She was troubled by her role as treasurer with a fundraising organization she had belonged to for the past several years.  Squabbles within the group’s leadership over the past few months had come to a head, and she felt torn between wanting to contribute to the group, and her desire to remove herself from the stress and anxiety of being exposed to all the bickering, along with the burden of the job of treasurer itself.

As we talked over a light lunch at our favorite restaurant, she recounted to me the three emails she had already received that morning related to the group’s latest saga.  “I’m
at my wit’s end with this – I have a full-time job I can barely keep up with as
it is.  I just don’t need this drama in my life. ” She said in exasperation.  I think
I’ve finally had it.”  The group’s dysfunctional ways were often the topic of our lunches, so I was not surprised to hear about this latest turn of events.

She was absolutely right. She didn’t need drama in her life. She had a very demanding career, as well as young children and a husband at home who needed her time and attention. As we talked, I reminded her that she had practically been made treasurer at gunpoint two years ago, and that it had not been enjoyable for her at any point since she had begun the job.  She had taken on the position with great reluctance, and it had proven to be as time-consuming and politically charged as she had feared.  She had hoped initially, that the good the fundraising organization did for the community
would outweigh the heavy toll the position took on her.  Over time though, it became clear that was not the case.

“I’m seriously thinking of resigning.” She told me.  “It’s just not worth it.”  She shook her head in frustration.  “I knew I never should have taken on this position.”

She had reached a crossroads, but on a journey that could have been avoided altogether with just one powerful little word – NO.  Had she had the courage two years prior to say no to the nominating committee (and she clearly knew she shouldn’t take the position back then), the stress and anxiety she had experienced over these last
two years could have been completely avoided. She would not have spent hours away from her family and her work, thanklessly trying to please the fundraising committee’s board, had she uttered that one small word– NO.  She knew she should have done it at the time, but she just couldn’t bring herself to say it.

It’s amazing how difficult it is for most adults to utter a simple two letter word.  I think of how often I have witnessed a toddler in a fit of two-year-old zeal throwing around
the word no as effortlessly as they might a toy.  At this stage of development, when a child is discovering his own sense of self and separateness from other people, he
delights in telling other people no as loudly and as often as possible–  especially if things aren’t going his way. He is learning how to establish boundaries and use language to make those boundaries clear.  While adults are reluctant to use the word no, a two-year-old relishes the word.

As we grow older we learn to be much less self-centered than our two-year-old selves, like my friend, who is a very caring and compassionate woman in every way.  This turn toward a more selfless outlook is a natural and necessary part of our development, but it can have a downside.  Our concern for others may make us vulnerable to suffering at tasks or in situations that make us miserable, or do damage to our relationships and sometimes even our health.  As we grow up, shame and guilt also enter our lives and become powerful motivators for our behavior.  We may make decisions based upon our fear that we are “not enough” or are “not living up to expectations.”  We find ourselves saying yes to things we are absolutely clear are not healthy for us, but we feel powerless to conjour up that two-letter word that holds the key to releasing us.

When we become disconnected from the ability to say no, out of misplaced altruism, guilt, shame or fear, we allow others to hold us hostage and use us for their own purposes. We may also wrongly believe that we are acting out of love when we fail
to say no to a parent’s, child’s, spouse’s or other family member’s requests,
when in fact, that failure to say no may be the most un-loving thing we can do,
both for that individual, and ourselves.

It’s easy to slip into the failure to say no trap over and over again;  it happens when we
over-indulge our children by not saying no (teaching them that they can expect to have whatever they want, whenever they want in life),  when we let our own parents
run over us with unreasonable expectations or demands (leaving us to simmer with silent anger at them while we limit our own life choices or our own family suffers from our misplaced loyalties),  when we let a friend coerce us into spending time doing something we don’t want to do (when we know it will make us anxious and cause friction at home), when we let our spouse’s desires overwhelm our own needs time and again (until resentment builds to the point of damaging or destroying our marriage).

The word no must have a place in our lives if we want to live as healthy, happy, mature adults with strong and enduring personal and professional relationships.  Without establishing appropriate boundaries with this powerful tool, we set ourselves up for lives filled with anxiety, depression and other psychological maladies. We also set ourselves up to fail as parents and as romantic partners; we doom ourselves to raise children with unrealistic expectations that the world will never be able to meet, and we assure that we will never give our partners the best of ourselves.   If we truly want to be loving, we must demand the best of ourselves, and for ourselves, and we cannot do so without the power of no in our lives.

My friend and I talked some more over dessert and she decided she would tender her resignation that afternoon.  I could see she was tense about having to talk to the board’s president about her decision. When we said our goodbyes I reassured her that her decision was sound.

I spoke to her the next afternoon and she told me she had officially resigned.  She also said the president had begged her to take another position on the board.  I asked her what she told him.  “No,” she said simply.  I could hear her smile and her relief over
the phone.

Over the next couple of weeks we caught up by phone several times, and the sheer delight she expressed at the free time she now had on her hands along with the stress she was not experiencing was almost contagious.

Copyright © 2011 Fayetteville Psychotherapy Associates, PLC

Social Networking, CyberSpace and Couples – What Mark Zuckerberg Wrought

FayPsych Staff Fayetteville Psychotherapy Associates, PLC

In the black-and-white, cut-and-dried days of Leave it to Beaver, Ward and June Cleaver had a pretty good idea of what one another were up to most of the time. June, dutifully dressed in her pearls and heels was usually at home tending to the household chores; or, as was the case with any respectable married woman of the day, she frequented predictable places such as the market, her sons’ schools, or “safe” places such her friends’ homes. In turn, Ward haunted appropriate man-spots such as his office, the hardware store, the bank, and other locales where similarly-situated men would gather.

Likewise, they both had a pretty clear idea of to whom their spouse spoke on a regular basis. Telephone calls were limited to those made from the telephone in the house, the occasional pay phone, or Ward’s office phone. Other communication took place by way of mail service, telegrams, or face-to-face meetings with people. Clandestine communication took more than just a little work in those days (which is not to say that it wasn’t done). Meeting new people or reconnecting with people from their pasts’ would have taken significant effort for the Cleavers. Even Eddie Haskell had a hard time pulling off much subterfuge.

Generations later, a young man in a dorm room at Harvard, invented what would eventually become Facebook. This tool, along with a litany of other social networking tools and new technologies, now allow us to communicate with one another with a speed and ease that would have amazed Ward and June.

Using tools like Facebook allows us to quickly connect and reconnect with old friends and even old lovers that might have been lost to the past were it not for this amazing technology. With these tools we are also able to communicate out of earshot and out of sight of our spouses (and families) with great ease. We can share our most intimate thoughts, upload photos and even send private messages with just a few mouse clicks. With a smart phone, the technology is completely portable.

For all their benefits, these social networking platforms and new technologies raise unique challenges for couples that the Cleavers never could have envisioned. More and more couples come to our practice having been damaged in some way or another by one partner’s use of a social networking tool. That is not to say that Mr. Zuckerberg invented a marriage killer in that dorm room not so long ago. Individuals that use these tools to “hook up” with old flames, or to seek out new lovers already know, if not consciously, that they are not completely happy in their current relationships when they hit the “SEND” button. As marital therapists, we find this trend extremely disheartening. The energy that is redirected to the high school sweetheart that has been rediscovered online, or to the cute redhead from the accounting department who shares flirtations over Twitter, could be used to work on restoring a flagging marriage instead. It often seems easier though, and certainly much more exciting, to embark on a new relationship rather than face the reality of working to restore a current relationship that is not living up to one’s expectations. That is is the allure of the cyber-world – instant gratification with little effort in 32-bit high-definition color.

We regularly see social networking and Internet technology affecting couples in a number of ways:

Internet Affairs

The most obvious misuse of social networking tools that brings people to therapy is the use of these platforms as a launching point for online affairs. These online affairs often morph into more “traditional” sexual affairs over time. Most of us probably know personally, or know indirectly of a couple that fell apart over one partner’s online infidelity– it has become that common. Whether the partner reconnects with an old flame or meets someone new online, the results are similarly devastating.

A twist to this issue that often finds its way to our office is the online “emotional affair.” These Internet affairs never lead to any physical or sexual interaction between the affairees, but the emotional resources that are drained from the primary relationship can eventually starve it completely. Persons involved in this type of affair will often rationalize their behavior by saying things like “We’re not having sex,” or “We’re just talking.” Be assured though, that this type of affair can be devastating to a relationship and certainly to one’s partner and/or family when the affair is discovered.

Collateral Damage

Social networking and online technology do not erode relationships strictly through Internet affairs. For couples who do not experience infidelity issues surrounding a social networking or Internet site, some are negatively impacted by the amount of time one or more of the partners in the relationship devotes to a site or sites on the Internet. This alone can have an extremely negative impact on the couple’s relationship. Partners may complain that they “lose” their significant other for hours at a time to a particular site or an online game. Their partner has, in effect, taken a lover by way of their physical and emotional absence from the relationship while they are online. It’s a hell of thing to lose your partner to an online world of farming games, old friends and instant messages when you are sitting just two rooms away from him or her.

Throwin’ His Clothes Out On The Lawn

Another complaint we hear about social networking sites as they relate to couples is how they are sometimes used to air a couple’s dirty laundry in a very public fashion. A marital spat or a general complaint about a partner or relationship can quickly turn into a full-out Internet sensation. Soon, dozens, if not hundreds of people are weighing in with their opinions as to who was in the right and who was in the wrong. This online sharing of marital woes not only violates the sanctity of the marital relationship, but opens up one’s partner to external criticism. For couples with children, these public revelations can be damaging to the children as well. Posting details about the private aspects of a couple’s life online is a significant betrayal, and some couples find it very difficult to recover from the fallout. Although sometimes a “wronged” partner (a partner who has been cheated on for example) may feel righteous in posting the news of their betrayal online, it leaves little room for reconciliation, or for that matter, dignity, down the road.

Technology and the Modern Couple

So how do couples safely deal with social networking technologies with in the context of their relationship? First, we recommend that couples establish clear ground rules for the use of social networking sites that they both agree to adhere to– period. Begin by having a conversation about what each partner’s expectations are up front, before an issue has arisen.

Typically, one partner will be more cautious about what is acceptable online behavior and negotiations will begin from this framework. Remember, the goal is to have a successful relationship and access to social networking. It is important to balance each partner’s needs for privacy and autonomy with the needs of maintaining a healthy relationship.

Here are some things to consider including in your discussion:

  • Is it acceptable for either partner to participate in a social networking site at all?
  • Are some sites off limits?
  • Is it acceptable to “friend” members of the opposite sex?
  • If I’m contacted by an old girlfriend/boyfriend online, how will I handle it?
  • If I’m contacted by an old girlfriend/boyfriend online, how how does my partner want me to handle it?
  • If I located my high school sweetheart online is it okay to contact him/her?
  • Is it acceptable to send private or off-line messages to members of the opposite sex?
  • Is it okay to send pictures of myself to members of the opposite sex?
  • Will my partner have access to my account?
  • How much time is acceptable to spend online each day?
  • How will it be handled if a posting or message makes my partner feel uncomfortable?
  • What, if any aspects of our private life as a couple are okay to discuss online?
  • If I received a message from an “old flame” that makes me feel uncomfortable, will I be able to safely approach my partner about it?

Note: Generally, the more open you are about your activities online, the more comfortable your partner will feel AND the less likely you will be to engage in risky behavior.

Once you’ve established your guidelines, stick to them. If after a period of weeks or months, the rules appear to be out of synch with the reality of your relationship, or the reality of your online experience, sit down again and have another discussion. Remember– having a Facebook account is not going to end your marriage. Having a vulnerable marriage and being reckless on Facebook or elsewhere on the Internet may end your marriage.

If you you are unable to work through these issues yourselves, we strongly encourage you to seek the advice of a qualified couples’ therapist for assistance. Even Ward and June might need a little help keeping up with the digital age.

Copyright © 2011 Fayetteville Psychotherapy Associates, PLC

Drowning in Emotion Part 4: A Legion of Saviors

Dr. Bill Spaine 

To whom or to what do this latter genre of fleers turn for rescue (and fighters often withdraw after fighting, as do passive-aggressive types)? Who is the lifeguard around whose head you throw your arms? Fortunately, or unfortunately depending upon your perspective, there are a legion of saviors to ease your immediate pain after flight from a hurtful relationship. Each of these deserves a much fuller explanation and analysis than will be devoted to them at this time. So in future discussions, we will delve more indulgently into many of them, for they are a seductive lot. But for now, let me list the usual suspects to whom we turn for rescue and relief.

Alcohol, illegal substances, and the misuse of prescription drugs offer temporary respite from psychological misery. Couples who present to my office in which at least one of them is self-medicating with a substance are often surprised to learn that their alcohol use renders them emotionally less available or even emotionally abusive to their partner. They don’t realize that they are drowning and have drawn in unreliable support.

Frequently, a wife will complain that her husband spends most evenings and weekends watching television, and he quickly counters that when he tries to talk to her, she’s on her computer or smartphone. A new book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other by a clinical psychologist and professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology argues that, “These technologies are with us, but we have to learn to live with them in a healthy way, according to our human values.” My contention is that it is not the technology that seduces us away from our partners and families so much as that when we flee from our conflicted relationships, technology is there to lend what may appear a helping hand.

But things can quickly become much more sticky than the siren’s voice of technology. While Facebook and other social media have facilitated the cyber-reunion of family and old friends, it also offers a means whereby one might exchange anxious relationship minutes or hours with a spouse or partner for a non-conflicted online relationship with an old (or new!) friend who finds us much more interesting and charming than the person with whom we just fought.

Copyright © 2011 William E. Spaine, Psy.D.