Your Relationship Questions Answered
I love hearing from readers all over the world! Many people think they are alone with their relationship struggles and doubts. But as a professional couples therapist, I can assure you that you are not alone.
I've put together this page so that I can answer your relationship questions and we can all keep learning from one another. If you'd like to submit a question, please add it to the comments section at the bottom of the page.
Disclaimer: Although I am a certified couples therapist, I am not YOUR couples therapist. All content on this website is for informational and educational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and does not establish a client/therapist relationship. I strive to provide sound information based on scientific research and my experience in the field, but none of this writing is intended to replace professional advice from a licensed professional.
Suffering is an unavoidable part of life, but it’s always worse to feel it alone.
Loneliness can be tough, especially if you are in a primary romantic relationship; you might be surprised that you still feel lonely at times. This is normal and way more common than you might think.
It is helpful to remember that loneliness is not a permanent state. We have moments of loneliness both inside and outside of a relationship, and we also have moments of connection and contentment. Recognizing that disconnection is a normal part of all relationships can help us feel less anxious and approach solutions instead of suffering silently.
Here are some ideas to help you get started.
- Identify the root cause:
Before you can effectively combat loneliness, it’s important to identify the source of your feelings.
Are you struggling with social anxiety or shyness? Have you recently experienced a major life change, such as a move or a new job? Are you feeling disconnected from your community? Struggling to make new friends? Gotten out of the habit of having meaningful conversations with your partner?
By understanding the underlying cause of your loneliness, you can begin to address it in a more targeted way.
- Reach out to friends and family
Picking up your phone can ironically be more difficult when you are feeling lonely and need the connection the most. You might start to get in your head and tell yourself they don’t want to hear from you. Perhaps you start to wonder if your friends and family legitimately still like you and want to spend time with you.
The best approach is to “fake it till you make it.” It might feel risky to initiate an activity because they might say no, which can lead to feelings of rejection or abandonment. But it’s equally risky to not reach out, believing something that may or may not be true
- Join social groups or clubs.
One of the best ways to combat loneliness is to join social groups or clubs that align with your interests. This can be anything from a book club to a hiking group to a cooking class. Not only will you have the opportunity to meet new people and make friends, but you'll also have a shared interest or activity to bond over.
Look for local groups, clubs, or volunteer opportunities in your community. Start by searching online or posting inquiries on social media.
- Deepen the connections you do have
Sometimes we feel lonely even when we are around people we love.
This can result from emotional disconnection, especially for people who tend to have an avoidant or anxious attachment style.
The best strategy for this type of loneliness is to practice physical, emotional, and intellectual vulnerability. Take risks to feel closer. For a deeper dive into this topic, check out Love Is an Action Verb, Chapter 5: Free-fall Into Intimacy, which walks you through exactly what to do step by step to combat loneliness in a romantic relationship
This is a very common problem, such that recently a new term called Roommate Syndrome has been coined. Roommate Syndrome not a devastating diagnosis, it is simply a term for what happens when couples are so busy that their relationship becomes task-oriented instead of close, passionate and romantic.
Repairing a relationship that has become centered around to-do lists is easy to fix with a little but of small, but consistent effort and communication from both of you.
Here are some steps you can take to work towards reestablishing a sense of teamwork and connection:
- Acknowledge the issue: Recognize that the relationship has shifted and that it's not how you want your relationship to be. Discuss this with your partner, expressing your concerns and the desire for a deeper connection.
- Set up a weekly “How are You Actually” Conversation: Schedule a dedicated time to talk openly and honestly about your feelings, concerns, and desires for the relationship. Create a safe space where both of you can express yourselves without judgment or interruptions. I recommend blocking out 20 minutes per week at the same time and place, so it becomes routine.
- Identify the underlying causes: Try to understand the reasons behind the shift in your relationship dynamic. Explore whether external factors such as work stress, family issues, or other life changes have contributed to the current state. Identifying the root causes can help you address them effectively.
- Set shared goals: Discuss and establish shared goals and aspirations for your life together. Identify common interests and activities that can help you reconnect on a deeper level. This might involve hobbies, travel plans, personal growth endeavors, or simply spending quality time together. Download this free relationship fitness test to give you some ideas.
- Rekindle emotional intimacy: Take intentional steps to reconnect emotionally. Engage in activities that foster emotional closeness, such as sharing your thoughts and feelings, going on date nights, engaging in meaningful conversations, and practicing active listening.
- Prioritize quality time: Make a conscious effort to spend quality time together. You don’t have to have deep, intense dialogues to improve your relationship. Small things such as going for walks, cooking together, taking up a new hobby, or planning regular date nights will help you strengthen your bond and create new memories.
- Revive romance and affection: Show affection towards each other through small gestures, such as hugs, kisses, compliments, or surprises. Rekindle the romantic aspect of your relationship by planning special outings or surprises for your partner.
- Create your own DIY relationship retreat. You can pick up a relationship workbook such as mine Love Is an Action Verb Couples Therapy Workbook, or The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman. Then book a weekend away to get out of the daily grind of your every day life and give your relationship the TLC it deserves. Here is a list of 7 Romantic Couple Retreat Ideas.
- Seek professional help if needed: If you find it challenging to make progress on your own, consider seeking the assistance of a couples therapist or counselor. They can provide guidance, tools, and insights to help you navigate through the issues and rebuild your relationship.
Remember, repairing a relationship takes time, patience, and effort from both partners. It's important to approach the process with empathy, understanding, and a genuine commitment to rebuilding the connection and working together as a team in life outside of work.
I love this question because I get it all the time! Usually, there is one person in the relationship who is more of the driver when it comes to reading self-help articles and coming up with ideas for how to be closer. This person is YOU (because you are the one reading this article )
Getting your partner interested in self-help content requires sensitivity and an understanding of their perspective, even though it’s frustrating to feel like you’re always the one doing the work.
Try to remember that your partner also brings valuable things to you and to your relationship, even if they resist you when you suggest doing communication exercises together, taking personality quizzes, or discussing relationship self-help articles.
Here are some suggestions to encourage your partner's interest in such content:
- Express your desire for growth: Share with your partner your genuine desire for personal and relationship growth. Be sure to talk in first person to avoid coming across as blaming and explain that you believe there is always room for improvement and that you value investing in the relationship.
- Focus on the benefits not the problems. Sometimes people feel concerned or anxious when their partner raises an issue and this can lead to defensiveness. If you emphasize the benefits such as that it can lead to better communication, understanding, and a stronger bond between you both, your partner may feel more motivated and less anxious.. Frame it as a way to enhance your connection and create a more fulfilling relationship.
- Start with shared interests: Find relationship-related content that aligns with your partner's existing interests or hobbies. For example, if your partner enjoys reading, suggest relationship books or articles that they might find engaging. If they enjoy podcasts, find relationship-focused podcasts that discuss topics they might find interesting.
- Lead by example: Begin by exploring relationship-improvement content on your own. Discuss what you learn and share any insights or practical tips with your partner. By demonstrating the positive impact it has on you and the relationship, you may pique their curiosity and encourage their involvement.
- Find relatable and practical resources: Look for content that is relatable to your specific situation and offers practical advice. Avoid overwhelming your partner with heavy theoretical material or overly academic content. Focus on resources that provide actionable steps and relatable scenarios that they can easily connect with.
- Be patient and understanding: Remember that everyone has different learning styles and preferences. Be patient with your partner if they don't immediately show enthusiasm for relationship self-help. Respect their boundaries and give them space to process and engage at their own pace.
- Seek professional guidance if needed: It might be helpful to consider seeking the assistance of a couples therapist or counselor. A neutral third party can provide guidance and facilitate productive conversations about relationship growth.
Remember, the key is to approach the topic with empathy, respect, and understanding. You might want to start by sharing this website with your partner!
This question is heart-wrenching.
We wonder why we fight with our children, our parents, and our romantic partners when we can be perfectly polite to rude strangers or disrespectful co-workers or acquaintances. You’d think it would be the other way around.
But hurting the ones we love is a complex and unfortunate aspect of human relationships.
While everyone's motivations and circumstances can vary, here are a few potential reasons why this can happen:
- Emotional vulnerability: We tend to be more emotionally vulnerable with the people we love, which means they have the power to hurt us more deeply. When we let our guard down, we may unintentionally expose our loved ones to our pain, frustrations, and insecurities, and in turn, they might inadvertently hurt us through their actions or words during a time when they are not at their best.
- High expectations: We often have high expectations of those closest to us, expecting them to understand us, support us, and meet our needs. However, when these expectations aren't met, we can feel disappointed, hurt, or let down. In response, we may lash out or act in ways that hurt our loved ones as a result of our own feelings of frustration or dissatisfaction.
- Familiarity is a double-edged sword: Familiarity and closeness can sometimes breed complacency or taking one another for granted. One of the best parts of close relationships is that we can let our hair down and be honest and transparent with the people closest to us. But the comfort that comes with familiarity shouldn’t be confused with an excuse for becoming lazy with our words or actions. It's easy to forget that the people we love are also individuals with their own sensitivities and vulnerabilities.
- Communication breakdown: Miscommunication or ineffective communication can contribute to hurting our loved ones. Lack of clarity, misunderstandings, or failure to express our feelings and needs can lead to unintended hurt. Poor communication skills can result in conflicts, hurtful remarks, or actions that damage the relationship.
- Personal issues and unresolved conflicts: We all carry our own personal issues, past traumas, and unresolved conflicts. Sometimes, these unresolved emotions can spill over into our relationships, causing us to act out or inadvertently hurt those closest to us.
- Stress and external pressures: External stressors like work, financial issues, or other life challenges can take a toll on our emotional well-being. When we are overwhelmed or stressed, we may unintentionally project our frustrations onto our loved ones, causing them pain or hurt.
While hurting the ones we love can be unavoidable in certain circumstances, it's crucial to develop self-awareness, empathy, and effective communication skills to minimize these instances and work towards healthier relationships.
NOTE: While periodic, non-malicious hurt is a normal part of all loving relationships, this is very different from emotional, verbal or phsyical abuse which should not be tolerated. If you believe you are experiencing abuse, contact a professional who is licensed in your state.