Help for Couples Blog

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May 30, 2019
by James Gallegos Blog on 

Exes and Blended Families

Forming an intimate relationship can be littered with obstacles and challenges. In simple terms it is difficult to do. Now introduce children, ex-spouses or life partners to the mix and you have an ever more complex scenario. Blending a family does present a broader challenge than does a new relationship.  When parents marry new spouses, blended families are created. These types of families are typically comprised of an adult couple and their kids from previous marriages or relationships, as well as any children they may have together. In the modern age, when divorce and second marriages occur regularly, blended families are very common and feature their own brand of challenges alongside family issues that occur in traditional families.


Dealing with the Ex

One of the most common challenges for the blended family couples I see in my practice revolves around dealing with a difficult ex-spouse or partner. 


1. The Hostile Ex

What to do if the ex-partner attempts to undermine the relationship…both with you and your new partner and your children? Do they send threatening texts or emails? Do they vent to your children about you and your new family? Dealing with an angry ex can negatively impact your new relationship by creating chaos, discourse, and arguments aplenty.


2. The Non-Compliant Ex

Does your ex not follow the guidelines with scheduling, parenting styles, and communication? This can be quite disruptive especially with children as they balance the mixed messages from both homes and look for loopholes.


3. The Ex with Poor Boundaries

Does the ex send too many texts, call at inappropriate times, or show up unannounced? The meddling ex may have difficulty in letting go of the relationship or worried about their kids are being raised in your household. Regardless of the intention the impact on your relationship can be catastrophic.


How do you set boundaries with a difficult ex-spouse or partner? The first thing is that it need be a united effort. You and your new spouse or partner definitely need to be on the proverbial same page in order to create and implement the necessary rules to manage the difficult relationship with the ex. You will need to protect your new relationship.


In the case of the hostile ex when threats, undermining, and aggressive behavior exist, direct action is necessary. If it is your ex-partner who demonstrates the malicious behavior then you likely need to take the lead in working with them to deescalate.  See if you can have a civil conversation. If that is not possible, spell everything out. The poorer the communication there is, the more important it is to spell out every aspect of parenting time/visitation with the children. In some cases, pick-ups and drop-offs should be specified to the minute.  There should be a 15- or 30-minute grace period if someone is running late, but everything must be in a written order of the court. This puts teeth into the agreement or judgment if there are continuing problems.

In order to protect your new marriage or relationship, it is necessary to set up appropriate boundaries with your ex-partner(s). Doing so doesn’t mean that they will automatically respect or accommodate them but when implemented and consistently upheld over time, both households just might find a more respectful working relationship.

February 24, 2019
by James Gallegos Blog on 

Are Your Libidos Different?

Differing sex drives presents a common problem for couples. The majority of couples I see in my practice often bring the issue up during counseling—in fact it may be one of the top reasons why they choose therapy as an option to begin with.  Sometimes the difference is evident right from the beginning of your relationship but usually the “honeymoon” stage reflects both parties on the same page. They don’t live together, have spans of time between “dates”, and if they are sexually intimate, both are generally mutually interested in participating fully in that endeavor most of the times when they’re able to be together.


As relationships progress, however, differences tend to show up in all types of ways; particularly how each person prioritizes sex.  Common beliefs may paint the picture that men always want sex and their female partner not so much…but that is hardly the case. Often it’s the man’s drive which is lower in frequency.  The point is that differences occur and they hardly match this misconception.


Couples I see often present the divide in libidos in negative ways—feelings of neglect, rejection, and frustration are common. A big part of the problem is that the person with the higher drive almost always feels rejected by their partner.  They take it personally and begin to wonder if, or even believe that they are no longer desirable. Most often this isn’t the case.  What if the less frequently interested partner is only taking care of themselves by deciding if they are interested in being sexual or not?  Due to this perception, anger is likely to occur.  As for the one declining the invitation, they usually feel a great deal of pressure and guilt, which can turn into anger and resentment if not addressed.  Oftentimes, when this precedent is set and the couple does not discuss and find ways for resolution, the pattern continues indefinitely, sometimes over the entire span of the relationship.


Libido differences can certainly create havoc in your relationship and create a fighting cycle—with one person feeling rejected and the other pressured. So, what’s a healthier alternative to dealing with the mismatched libido?  First, each person needs to recognize that neither are likely very happy—you’re in this cycle together. It’s also necessary to look beyond what’s not working for you and instead being quite curious of how it is like for your partner. Try and understand their experience, ask questions, get in the habit of listening. Talk and listen to each other about what being sexual actually means to you each of you. What do you get out of it when you have it and what is lacking for you when it is not?


One question that comes up often is the idea of scheduling sex. Is it a good idea? Many experts do advocate scheduling sex, comparing it to scheduling other important events in our lives like vacations for example.  While some may see this as unromantic, believing that sex should be more spontaneous, having a sex date on the calendar will get you to openly discussing your sex life—a very important ingredient. In fact, according to John Gottman’s studies, talking openly about your sex life is one of the 13 key things all couples do that have a very satisfactory sex life:


  1. They say “I love you” every day and mean it
  2. They kiss one another passionately for no reason
  3. They give surprise romantic gifts
  4. They know what turns their partners on and off erotically
  5. They are physically affectionate, even in public
  6. They keep playing and having fun together
  7. They cuddle
  8. They make sex a priority, not the last item of a long to-do list
  9. They stay good friends
  10. They can talk comfortably about their sex life
  11. They have weekly dates
  12. They take romantic vacations
  13. They are mindful about turning toward


Having a different engine need not sink your relationship. Like all differences you encounter, getting in there, taking it on, and not making it the elephant in the room will serve you both well.


February 9, 2019
by James Gallegos Blog on 

Are Differences Okay in a Relationship?

Common beliefs may tell you that it is essential to have the same interests and styles to co-exist happily. Some 64% of married Americans believe that “having shared interests” is very important for a successful marriage, according to the Pew Research Center. In fact, those surveyed ranked shared interests as more essential than good sex or shared political beliefs. Conventional wisdom goes that couples must have common interests to be happy. But what if the conventional wisdom is wrong?


Whereas it’s nice to share common interests there are many other determinants that will likely dictate whether your relationship prospers.  What happens when you like to read and your partner would rather stream TV programs? What if you’re more of a homebody and your mate prefers to go out? What about exercise and fitness? Is she a gym rat and you’re more of a couch potato? Certainly struggling to find things in common can pose challenges but need they be deal breakers, an unclimbable wall or a chasm too wide to bridge? Well, it depends.


Let’s take physical fitness as an example. What do you do if you both just disagree or just prioritize it differently?  Is it true that couples that sweat together, stay together? Well, there is research that does suggest that jointly participating in physical activity leaves both partners more satisfied in their relationship. Makes sense but what if that just isn’t you?


First, you both need to recognize whether or not your difference(s) registers as a deal breaker—a consistently divisive impact on your relationship. If not, then talking and negotiating a solution is much more plausible. For example, leave the more strenuous activities to the adventurer and instead agree on active outings that both of you can enjoy together. Discussing your differences and not simply ignoring them goes a long way in finding a happier middle ground.


Similarly, when thinking about a problem or conflict in your relationship, it’s important to determine whether that problem is solvable or perpetual. John Gottman’s research has shown that almost 70% of relationship conflict is about perpetual problems—they are likely not solvable and constantly reappear in your time together. Obviously, your style differences and interests will be reflected here but does that mean that all is lost? No.  What matters is not solving perpetual problems, but rather the affect with which they are discussed. The goal should be to establish a dialogue about the perpetual problem that communicates acceptance of your partner with humor, affection, and even amusement, to actively cope with the unresolvable problem, rather than allowing it to fall into the condition of gridlock.


Once you have determined that a difference is something you are both willing and able to navigate together then you have options. Accentuating what you do have in common and building on those common interests and not letting the differences become the only narrative in your relationship allows you the opportunity to grow both individually and collectively.

December 21, 2018
by James Gallegos Blog on 

Let's Talk About Money

The holidays often bring up a lot of stressors for couples. One of the most common challenges couples face during the holiday season comes down to dollars and cents, particularly so when your financial viewpoint differs from your partner. Thinking about money or your finances during the holidays, with gift buying, entertaining and travel, can be stressful Too often couples feel the pressure to spend more than they are comfortable with to make for a happy holiday even at the risk of racking up credit card debt. 


When working with couples in therapy, investigating the meaning of money and each person’s personal history with finances brings up a lot of vulnerability. Too often we avoid discussing this very important subject matter.  How comfortable you are talking about money with your partner can make or break your relationship


Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, a wealth psychology expert, examined this in her book, “Breaking Money Silence.”  The book looks at the ways couples and individuals can improve how they think and talk about money. Some signs that couples are financially incompatible are obvious, such as hiding purchases or racking up debt, often unbeknownst to their partner.  “Often money is a symbol of something else,” Kingsbury said. “That might be a symptom of trust issues in the relationship.”


But even couples who are on the same page and share priorities when it comes to what they spend money on, say adventurous experiences, may still disagree on where to go on vacation and what equipment they will need once they are there. Getting past those differences comes down to communication. Kingsbury suggests the following tips for how couples can get beyond financial issues:


1. Examine your own individual mindset about money. Understand your own perspective.

2. Look at your reluctance to talk about money. 

3. Actively listen to your partner.

4. Go on a money date. Set aside time to discuss topics like budgeting and tracking your finances.

5. Consult a professional if needed.


So bringing all of this into context of holiday spending, what are some ways to come together as a couple and get through the season feeling like you made sound decisions?  The American Psychological Association (APA) offers similar good ideas to help you deal with the financial stress around the holidays.


1. Make one financial decision at a time. Simplify your spending by spacing out your financial decisions instead of binging and becoming overwhelmed.


2. Track your spending. Research shows that tracking can be an effective tool. Keep a daily list of how you spend your money.


3. Identify your financial stressors and make a plan. Take stock of your financial situation and where money causes you stress. Write down ways you and your family can reduce expenses or manage your money more efficiently. Then commit to a plan and review it regularly. Although this can be anxiety-provoking in the short term, writing a plan and sticking to it can reduce stress.


4. Recognize how you deal with stress related to money. In tough economic times, some people are more likely to relieve stress by turning to unhealthy activities such as smoking, drinking, gambling or emotional eating. The strain can also lead to more conflict and arguments between partners. Be alert to these behaviors — if they are causing you trouble, consider seeking help from a mental health professional


November 24, 2018
by James Gallegos Blog on 

Regaining Trust


A simple truth is that relationships flourish when partners trust one another. A feeling that your relationship reflects honesty, fidelity, respect, kindness, and the consistent ability to deal openly with conflict makes for a grounded union. But what happens when trust is broken? Well, relationships stall, they get stuck, and eventually they can fade away. Trust turns out to be the glue that holds it all together. In fact, trust and communication issues present the biggest challenges in marriages and committed relationships.


Each couple shares a sort of bank account, not an account built on currency, but rather one supported by trust. When the relationship is negatively impacted, your trust funds are depleted. Certain actions or behaviors can withdraw a large amount of trust and shake the very foundation of the relationship. The idea is to not bankrupt your account!


Obvious trust-buster behaviors include having an affair , lying about your financial situation, and simply not engaging as a parent.  All three of these can essentially make a huge dent in your trust bank…but there are many other, more subtle ways in which trust can be eroded. What if your partner consistently says he or she will do something and never delivers on the promise? What if your partner is emotionally unavailable to you during a trying time? These situations may not destroy trust, but they can certainly threaten it.


Betrayal can come in many forms, such as dishonesty, disloyalty, unfaithfulness, or withholding. Each of these feels like a violation that cuts to the core of feeling safe—is he going to hurt me?  Is she going to disappoint me?  Although harmful, betrayals need not be the end of your relationship. For some couples, working through the betrayal can make the relationship even stronger than before provided the wounded party is first able and willing to consider forgiving. It’s a start because while forgiveness is necessary to the reconciliation process, it is not sufficient for being able to move forward with a relationship. Whether a relationship can be repaired depends primarily on whether or not trust can be restored.



Rebuilding Trust


1. Forgiving yourself and your partner

If you are the person who has been hurt, the first thought may be the need to forgive the person who hurt you but forgiveness needs to start with yourself. We often blame ourselves—if I was a better person in some way, maybe this wouldn’t have happened to me. Self-forgiveness requires self-compassion. Same goes if you are the person who broke the trust bank. Forgiving yourself and treating yourself with self-compassion will go a long way in allowing you to make the necessary changes to not repeat the behavior.


Forgiving the other person allows the space and freedom to truly heal.  Many people struggle with forgiveness because they don’t want to let the other person off the hook for his or her bad behavior. It is important to realize though that forgiveness isn’t about giving your power away to the other person but rather taking it back.


2. Trusting yourself and your partner. 
Similar to forgiveness, it is nearly impossible to trust someone else unless you first trust yourself. A good deal of the fear that people feel when they think about trusting someone who has betrayed them comes from the belief that they will not be OK if it happens to them again—that they could become emotionally devastated by being hurt again. This is where the work needs to be done. Instead of focusing on why you won’t be okay, it is important to know why you would be fine and still be able to live a good life without the other person.

The truth about trusting someone else is that the only certainty is that there is no certainty. There is always an element of faith in the trust we give to someone. After a betrayal, all you can do is assess the situation and make an appraisal about what you think is likely behavior in the future. Does the person seem sincerely apologetic and willing to make amends? Does the person act with integrity in other areas of their life? Were there circumstances that played a role, or does the betrayal seem to reflect their overall character? Has he or she broken your trust in similar ways in the past? In the big picture, is there more good than bad in the relationship?


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