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

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