Is the Presidential Election Wreaking Havoc On Your Relationships?

woman filling out voting ballot

Over six months into the pandemic, the prolonged strain of living a restricted lifestyle along with greatly reduced in-person contact with the outside world has challenged even the best of relationships. Adapting to the limitations, many of us have made adjustments and settled into a new equilibrium. Enter the final stretch of the presidential election and the current political climate feels more polarizing and emotional than any in recent history. Where politics may have once felt distant and theoretical, the issues in front of us now feel personal and potentially life altering. Formerly passive observers have become passionate activists.

Wherever you land on the political spectrum you are more likely than ever to have strong reactions to the daily news cycle. For many, the outcome of the upcoming election raises anxiety and fear… it feels personal. However, not only is it affecting us as individuals it is also affecting all kinds of relationships: romantic partnerships, close and extended family, and even friendships. Combine the opportunity to reach friends and family through social media and more time at home and we are exposed to views, opinions, requests for involvement, money and even rants from anyone and everyone. There are two major factors posing challenges to these relationships: whether or not your views are aligned, and how those views are expressed.

Let’s start with the first one.

When you find out someone in your life falls on a different part of the political spectrum, you may begin to question the viability of the relationship. If this is how they view the issues, is there room for this person in my life? If it’s a partner or close family member it probably feels like less of a choice and you most likely need to try everything in your power to preserve the relationship. But what if it’s a friendship? How close can you be if you don’t agree about important social and political issues? How strong does a friendship need to be to survive such profound differences?

My answer is – it depends. If this is a friendship you value, one that has been meaningful and fulfilling in your life, I would pause before discarding it. Just because you don’t agree on politics doesn’t mean you don’t share certain values and don’t have anything to offer one another. Unlike romantic partnerships where we rely on one person to meet many of our needs, friendships offer something else – you don’t turn to the same friend for all your friendship needs. There are the friends you confide in, the ones you have fun with, the ones you have history with, the ones you shared a pivotal experience with, etc. Ask yourself where this person fits in your life, what you would miss if you cut off contact, and how much your differences cut to the core of your values. The answers to those questions should tell you whether or not there is room for the friendship despite differences. It could be as simple as agreeing to disagree and not following each other on social media. However, if the person’s views are extremely disturbing and offensive they may cross a line from which there is no turning back. There are some issues that are insurmountable and you will need to give yourself permission to let go of the relationship.

Secondly, how do your friends choose to express their views? Bear in mind that there is a high level of passion which can easily veer into anxiety surrounding the election. We all have our ways of managing anxiety. For some, it involves getting it out and finding support and comfort in shared beliefs. For others there is a strong pull to action; fund raising, marches and rallies, phone banks, and recruiting friends and family to do the same. For others, too much talk triggers anxiety and flooding. And lastly, there may be people in your life who just don’t feel that strongly and aren’t that interested in talking politics. If it’s a close friend who manages anxiety by talking and venting you may want to cut them some slack and listen. But know your limits, when it begins to feel draining and causes resentment you should cut it off and let them know you can only listen to so much.

A universal truth of all relationships is that there will be common bonds and there will be differences. Often it is those differences that make friendships interesting and enriching. And yet, all relationships need good boundaries—that delicate dance of where you are intimate and close and where you are separate. The election is tugging on boundaries in every which way. As with any relationship, sometimes an adjustment is needed. If you are not feeling good about your friend’s calls to action or attempts to engage you, tell them you respect what they feel and what they are doing but you need to handle this last leg of the presidential election your own way. If it’s not an important relationship it may be time to let it go. There are friendships that come into our lives for a reason and a season. Views regarding racism and social justice may rise to the surface in such a way that they become deal breakers. It is deeply disturbing to learn someone you previously connected with is on the other side of a non-negotiable core belief. It may mean the end of the relationship in the case of friends, or drastically reduced contact in the case of family members.

Here are some tips for preserving your relationships or letting them go in the home stretch of the election:

• Separate the person from the opinion…good people can have beliefs you strongly disagree with – there are however exceptions to this when views feel too extreme or offensive.

• Remember – our views are formed by our unique life circumstances; background, experience, influences, and even trauma. Until you walk in another person’s shoes, be careful of how you interpret their beliefs.

• If you value the relationship or if it’s a family member, do what you can to preserve it. It’s easy for relationships to thrive when you are aligned and tempting to cut off or distance when you are not – strong relationships require time and attention and can withstand some tension.

• Set boundaries, if you don’t want to talk politics or you don’t want to discuss the election with a particular person let them know and if need be, un-follow them on social media.

• If you have the band-with, take a different approach – be curious about the other person’s beliefs, ask them questions and really listen to the answers. Nothing strengthens a relationship (be it friend, family, or romantic partner) like feeling listened to, heard and even understood without judgement. If you can do this your bond will be stronger even if your election experience is vastly different.

• In more extreme situations letting go of a relationship may feel like the only option; bear in mind the rules for family and friends are not the same – every effort should be made to avoid a family cut off while in the case of a friendship if you are certain there is no turning back, let the person know.

This blog was first published on Yours, Mine, & Ours.

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Maternity Leave During The Pandemic: Nightmare Or Blessing?

photo of a baby's feet surrounded by a blanket

Over a month into the COVID-19 pandemic, sheltering in place has resulted in some universal strains, but there are others that are unique to each individual circumstance.   Perhaps one of the most challenging is finding yourself at home on maternity leave, just the two of you and your newborn. After months of anticipating the transition to parenthood and trying to plan for it to be as smooth as possible, it’s just you and your spouse, new parents at home with your infant. 

Vanishing in the wake of the crisis are the family members who were excited to offer their time helping out with the baby, the doula and the baby nurse you carefully screened and hired, and the new moms’ support group.  The ability to spend time with other new moms, the meals your mother in law promised to cook and deliver so that you wouldn’t have to worry about food, the night nurse who would make it possible to actually get some sleep, and your plans to use your support system to make time to get back in shape, are all gone. Furthermore, your spouse may be working full time from home, and not only do they have little or no time to devote to baby care, there’s the additional pressure of maintaining a productive work environment. And you have been advised not to leave your home unless it’s absolutely necessary. All of a sudden, being a new mom has gone from an incredibly stressful life transition to feeling almost unbearable.

It’s hard to know the difference between how hard new parenthood would be anyway and how things are compounded by the circumstances. Part of what makes having a newborn so intense is being on-call 24/7…never knowing when you will have a moment to yourself. The exhaustion can be overwhelming. Taking a shower is a challenge and finding time to have a conversation with a friend is often out of reach. All of this is to be expected, but under normal circumstances you can organize an escape for a little while, or just have a change of scenery to break it up. But now you may feel trapped in endless days with no respite.

I have heard from couples that the intensity of new parenthood, combined with the restrictions of being home without a support system, is putting a strain on their marriages and causing personal self-doubt. They are grieving the loss of how they envisioned maternity leave and are trying to cope with the reality. The fact that their parents, siblings, and close friends can’t meet their baby and share in the moment feels like a painful loss. 

But new parents should not despair.  There are some significant advantages and opportunities for both the parents and the child if you find yourself in this situation:

  • Research shows that time spent with a baby is what produces confidence and connection.  The feeling that you know what you’re doing and can take care of and soothe your child creates a bond. Usually the mom bonds with the baby early on and the father takes more time to establish that connection.  Sheltering in place is creating that experience for both new moms and new dads simultaneously.  
  • Couples who only have each other to rely on in the day to day reality of parenting a newborn are forced to bond and work together. Even a parent who is working from home will be forced to take some of the burden from the other parent if there are no other options. The resentments that often occur in the first months of a baby’s life because of role inequality are much less prevalent.  
  • Without the distractions of the outside world including grandparents, friends and family visits, and with no feeling that you are missing out on social activities (because they simply don’t exist at the moment), new moms and dads are forced to work together to learn how to parent, and turn towards each other for their emotional needs. I’m anticipating that if managed correctly there will be a ripple effect that leads to better co-parenting and stronger marital relationships as the baby grows and develops.

While it’s a universal truth that being new parents requires relinquishing pre-baby life and leaning in to a new reality, it’s especially true now. There is no escaping the loss of freedom and spontaneity while being restricted to your home with your partner and your baby. The best way to cope is to rely on each other, be present for each other, and tap into your own internal resources. Accept that it’s a temporary situation that comes with a gift, an opportunity to bond with one another and your new family member. 

This blog was first published on Yours, Mine & Ours.

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How Social Distancing Can Make or Break A Marriage

glass globe in water

Now that we are a month into the coronavirus crisis, many couples have spent more time together than they have for years. The daily relationship distractions are dwindling, you are forced to look at each other, interact, and co-exist every day.  In an earlier blog, I wrote about this being an opportunity to strengthen your bond, to use the time to reconnect and reignite your connection. For some it’s a chance for renewal.  When you are finally able to pay attention to your relationship, you may be surprised at how much more you have to give and how much you get from your partner in return. Sheltering at home could be an opportunity to feel happier as a couple than you’ve been for a long time.

However, for many couples this time at home together will produce a different outcome. This much togetherness may make it clear that the marriage is beyond repair.  While many people know the truth about their marriage, they push it away. Our normal life is busy and filled with distractions so it’s easy to avoid what you know in your heart.  This can go on for years allowing many couples to linger in unhappy marriages until they reach a breaking point. For better or worse, social isolation has become that point for countless couples. 

The realization that the will to work on this marriage isn’t there is staring many people right in the face. It may be accompanied by sadness, anger, even shame but the quarantine has broken through denial and avoidance. As a couples’ therapist, I often hear that the difficulties bringing couples to my office have been going on for years but they have avoided dealing with them.  The question I always ask is, if you’ve been ignoring or minimizing this for years, why have you decided to deal with it now?

For many couples the pandemic and all that comes with it will be the “why now.”

The reality is, they have turned away from the marriage to such an extent that there’s no turning back.  The time at home has made them admit to themselves and perhaps to each other that they are heading for a split. 

Prolonged social isolation, the lack of distractions and ways to keep busy outside of the home, and a general opportunity to go inward and take stock, is revealing the truth about many relationships that may have been just out of reach before the covid-19 crisis. If you are experiencing the following realizations while socially isolating with your spouse, you may be reaching clarity that divorce could be in your post pandemic future:

  1. Being with your spouse is not soothing or comforting. For many couples, having each other is a refuge, a way to alleviate loneliness, a source of strength, but  if you find yourself feeling you’d rather be alone, that your spouse brings about more anger, annoyance and sadness than any connection or comfort, you may be beyond the point of being able to work on your marriage.
  2. You realize you share little in common, don’t make each other laugh, and don’t have much to talk about.  All this time together has made it hard to deny the sad truth of the state of your connection.  There isn’t much common ground, you’ve grown in different directions and have lost interest in each other.
  3. Lack of motivation.  You’ve thought about using this time to work on your marriage and reconnect but you simply can’t do it.  The desire to reconnect is just not there– perhaps you have even tried and ran out of gas before you got anywhere.
  4. There is no sexual connection or chemistry and you can’t deny it any longer.   Being home together has forced you to admit this to yourself and to acknowledge that you’re not willing to forgo sex and intimacy for the rest of your life.   There may have been a time when you thought if you just made the effort you could reignite your sex life but all the time in close quarters has made that feel impossible.  Perhaps you never had a great sexual connection and the quarantine has made the lack more pronounced.
  5. Deal breakers.  These are the things about another person you just can’t live with.  Maybe they were there from the start and you thought they would change, or maybe they are something that have developed over the time you’ve been together, something you didn’t sign up for. In either case, being home together has made it hard to deny that deal breakers exist.

We are all vulnerable and things can change quickly. This crisis has made that abundantly clear. Instead of feeling like a cliché, the idea that we need to make the most of each day because we don’t know what lies ahead now resonates and feels real. This new reality has made it hard to ignore the state of your marriage, but while you may have known that for a long time, there hasn’t been any urgency to act. The current crisis may be just the thing that moves the dial from uncertainty to readiness to move forward. While it may not be feasible to take much concrete action while socially isolating with your spouse, the time can be used to gather information, find resources, and have conversations with professionals who can help you navigate the process, and develop a plan.

This blog was first published on Divorceify.

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How Couples Can Survive These Trying Times and Even Benefit

couple on couch kids running

We are all in this together… life as we know it has come to a halt. This means a complete shift in the amount of time spent at home, in the same space with your partner. Because of the incredibly wide spread impact of this virus we are all being affected in many ways; financial, emotional, professional, separation from friends and family, loss of hobbies and stress relievers like working-out.

This new reality has already put a strain on many relationships, while others are wondering how it will unfold and what their relationship will look like after weeks and possibly months at home together. Spending all your time working in the same space as you eat, exercise, and have your leisure time is a challenge for even the strongest relationships. Ordinary activities now pose a risk and couples have to weigh each situation often with different perspectives.  One wants to heed all the warnings and restrict activities as completely as possible, while the other is maintaining it’s not that bad and trying to proceed with as much “normal life” as possible.

As restrictions have grown day by day, I’ve been doing my sessions remotely instead of in my office. I’ve seen into people’s homes and heard about the challenges of being in a small space together all day every day. The home is now an office, gym, dining room, date night locale, entertainment space, you name it.  The first thing that stands out is that each individual has his/her own reaction to the impact of the pandemic and how we are best to respond.  Typically, one person is more fearful and cautious and the other is downplaying the risks.   It’s the classic minimizer, maximizer syndrome.

While it’s always important to honor and understand each other’s differences, this is a time it’s really critical to do so.  Hear each other and try to understand where your partner is coming from – we are all getting new information daily, even hourly, and we process and integrate that information at different rates. A minimizer may be much slower to translate the news into behavior in their own life, while a maximizer may over anticipate and make changes immediately.

Instead of arguing, use this opportunity to let each other know you are listening and understanding where the other is coming from even if you disagree. There may not be a compromise, the more severe interpretation may prevail but if you hear what your partner is saying you will build emotional currency and connection.

The new reality of Covid-19 is a major challenge to relationships but it’s also an opportunity.  It’s a time to strengthen your connection, explore the benefits of an intense amount of couple time, and lean in to your relationship.

What are the potential benefits?

First, there is gratitude — the realization that you have each other, are not alone and are in this together. Human beings are not wired to go it alone so having someone is a reason to be thankful.

Couples can use this as an opportunity to re-connect and remind themselves why they chose each other. I often hear from couples that they just don’t have enough time together. Now you do and how you use this time to nurture your relationship is a real and perhaps once in a lifetime opportunity.

Following are some tips on how couples can flourish rather than fail during these trying circumstances:

  • Honor each other’s differences, if you are having different reactions to this crisis do not pass judgment or be impatient with one another, pause and try to hear & understand what your partner is feeling.
  • Preserve as much structure as you can in your day.   Designate some time for each other and during that time disengage from all distractions.
  •  Have a creative date night – go back to basics, make a meal together, play a game, do a creative project just for fun.
  • Pay attention to each other’s needs and desires for intimacy and affection-it’s more important now than ever.
  • Allow each other time to vent or complain – but not indefinitely, there’s a fine line between getting it out and relieving stress and getting stuck in the negative which will raise anxiety.
  • Remember how much you enjoyed spending time together at the beginning of your relationship and wherever possible try to recreate some of those activities, it may be tough at home but be creative.
  • Give each other personal space even if you live in a small apartment, honor the need to not interact at times and be in your own world.
  • Disengage from work when the work day is over, living at work is not good for any relationship.
  • Work out together, and try workouts that are outside your normal routine.
  • Allow yourselves to be creative or corny – do the things you never have time for.

Redesigning Relationships

mature couple looking at psychiatrist in office

A couple recently came to their first session of the New Year and proudly declared that they didn’t have any fights in 2019. This was quite a victory. They had initially started couples therapy because of extremely damaging and volatile arguments. When I asked what they thought they were doing differently, they quickly answered that they no longer felt the need to be “right.” Once that need was taken out of the equation they had many more options for resolving differences.

This shift of perspective makes a tremendous difference in a couples’ interaction. In my work, the focus is on helping couples redesign their relationship, not redesign each other. It’s hard to resist pointing out what your partner is doing wrong rather than focusing on how you personally may be contributing to the problems. But if you join together to change the dynamic not each other, new possibilities become available.

Once a couple decides to come to therapy, they have already begun to redesign their relationship. Wanting to make the relationship better and taking concrete action is the first step. Together, we move through four phases of a relationship reboot.

Phase 1—Peeling back the layers

First, we peel back the layers and look at the patterns that repeat. How do you approach differences and how do you ask for what you need? Where do these habits come from: poor communication, past trauma, a repetition of something familiar from your family of origin?

Phase 2—Taking a look at interactions that only lead couples down a rabbit hole.

We look at the triggers and we try to understand what is going on beneath the surface. What are you really asking of each other and what makes it so hard to let each other know what that is? Are you making each other a priority, listening, and considering your impact on one another? These can be hard questions to answer but also open the door to new ways of relating.

Phase 3—Providing tools for successful communication and healing from these negative interactions.

If we could all just treat our significant others as if they were the most cherished important people in our lives and take their needs into consideration with every move we make, then relationships would operate at a different frequency. If we could prioritize expressing our love over being right, there would be so much less conflict. But alas, that’s not how human beings interact the vast majority of the time. And yet…if you can learn to do this some of the time, you can actually redesign your relationship. New habits can be created that will yield different results. A big part of achieving a relationship redesign is trying out and incorporating new ways of relating; listening differently, being curious about each other, ensuring you have enough positive interactions, to name a few.

Phase 4—New ways of relating to each other

The last phase occurs when new behaviors, understanding, and habits have created a shift in how you relate to each other and how you experience your relationship. Here are some of the ways couples describe what it’s like after they have redesigned their relationship –

  • We have learned to honor our differences.
  • We can be vulnerable with each other without it being used as a weapon.
  • We understand that an emotion that is felt in the moment is not a referendum on the whole relationship.
  • We can disagree without denigrating one another.
  • We don’t have to counter or correct every misstatement made by our partner.
  • We don’t need to fight in order to get each other’s attentionwe can actually ask for what we need whether it’s more time, more affection, or better listening.

What you can do to begin redesigning your relationship:

  • Practice active listeningwhen you really listen and the other person feels heard, negative patterns are interrupted.
  • Be genuinely curious about what your partner has to say or what they are feeling without assuming you knowgiving them space to express themselves will create a new dynamic.
  • Use “I” statements instead of “You” statements.
  • Avoid “Always” and “Never” statements.
  • Don’t try to solve each other’s problems, just listen and try to empathize.
  • Care about how you interact as opposed to the outcome.
  • Prioritize your relationship in your busy life; make sure you find time to connect, emotionally, physically, and just relaxing or having fun together.

Many couples resist the idea of redesigning their relationships out of fear that it will be an insurmountable amount of work. The reality is, small shifts and changes can go a very long way in creating positive momentum and emotional currency. And it’s contagious, once you begin new ways of relating your partner will do the same, the positive cycle gets energy and feeds on itself!

Are you interested in taking action to redesign your relationship? Contact Tracy Ross today to request an appointment.

Surviving Home For The Holidays: Tips for Avoiding Conflict While Visiting Family During the Holiday Season

happy family at christmas

It’s a classic — the flurry of calls to my office in January from couples who feel their relationship is really strained – or even on the brink. The trigger? The visit home for the holidays – it led to a major blow out fight that felt all too familiar. If they can’t celebrate the holidays together with their families are they really meant to be together? Isn’t this a sign?

Not necessarily!  Going back to your childhood home is often a set up for conflict, distance, and strain in your adult relationship. Old ways of relating and managing conflict reemerge. Historical family dynamics are re-enacted without warning. A bit of anticipation and thoughtful planning can go a long way in preventing damage to your adult relationship.

The Holiday Challenges Faced by Two Couples

Sarah and Kate are the classic example.  Both of their families live in other states and when holiday time rolls around the pressure is on, especially for Kate who is an only child. She is everything to her parents, they look forward to her visits all year. And when she is home their attention is all-consuming. They want as much of her as they can get and don’t particularly relish sharing this precious time with her partner.

For Sarah it’s a different issue.  Until recently her parents weren’t embracing of her same sex relationship.  The last time she took Kate home for Christmas the reception was ice-y and strained. All of this adds up to a holiday season with the families that is ripe with potential for stress and conflict.  Both Kate and Sarah put so much energy into managing their own feelings about going home they lose sight of each other.

For Kevin and Jenna, traveling across the country with their young toddler and infant to spend Christmas with Kevin’s family pretty much guarantees tension, turmoil, and a nasty fight. Kevin and his mother (who has been a widow for many years) have a close, yet volatile relationship. His mother relies on her adult children for emotional and practical support. Kevin’s mom doesn’t hold back on expressing emotions. What this means, according to Jenna, is that every time they visit, Kevin and his mom have a screaming argument that includes threats, insults and curses. They don’t resolve anything, they just cool off and move on.

Jenna comes from a different kind of family. Her parents are happily married and were extraordinary care-takers and nurturers to their children. They never relied on their kids for emotional stability.

For Jenna, bearing witness to these arguments is traumatic. Now that they have children she finds the thought of this dynamic even more unbearable. She would prefer to spend Christmas elsewhere. Both Jenna and Kevin agree that they want their children to have a relationship with their grandmother. However, they acknowledge the even greater need to set firm boundaries so that their children will be spared this volatility and tension. They want Christmas to be magical and filled with positive memories. Even though they are on the same page about this, they are unsure and even disagree as to how to accomplish it.  This tension has been the cause of Jenna and Kevin’s worst arguments. Recovery from the visits and the subsequent fall-out is painful and slow, and the damage is lasting.  Needless to say, the thought of the holidays fills them with dread.

What these couples have in common is a feeling of despair as the holiday season approaches. The description sounds like post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Just anticipating the holidays brings back memories of past visits that didn’t go well. They start to re-live past events, together with the stress, anger, and hurt that occurred. Some couples replay the fights, the mere mention of what didn’t go well last time recreates the same tension and before they know it they are having the same argument.

What to do? 

Planning, Preparing and Communicating Can Help You to Get Through the Holiday Visit with Your Relationship Intact.


  • Don’t leave the time open ended and spontaneous.
  • Plan your days, including time together away from the family, things you want to do with your children, and time for your parents to spend with their grandchildren.
  • If possible do not stay with your parents and definitely don’t sleep in your childhood room.


  • Go over the agenda and identify what triggers the fights so that you can prevent the triggers from taking you down a familiar rabbit hole.
  • Commit to time together and periodic check ins, these can be 5 minutes but should be done at least twice a day
  • Keep in mind the type of holiday traditions you are creating for your children, and be intentional – don’t leave it to chance.
  • Spend some time identifying traditions from your past you want your children to have and also those you would like to change. Even if you grew up with the narrative, “there is always a family fight at holiday time,” it doesn’t have to be that way for your children.


  • Let each other know if there is something about visiting your families that you just can’t do or prefer not to participate in, and be open and flexible about this.
  • Ask your partner for support where you need it.
  • Make sure you hold your partner in mind during the visit.
  • Set limits and manage expectations with your family.
  • Communicate directly to all involved as much as possible.
  • All families have their idiosyncrasies and unwritten rules which must be taken into consideration. Within that, establishing adult boundaries and letting your family know your relationship and your children are your priority will send a strong message.

For Sarah and Kate there was this sinking feeling that they were lost to each other during family visits – they felt completely disconnected by the end of their stay

The solution was to plan ‘check ins’ so they could re-connect and re-group

A walk, a hug, even five minutes a day to just take a break, close the door, look at each other and ask “how are you doing?” made a huge difference.

They planned their time with the family so it wasn’t open ended – and included a few times to escape. They talked in advance about specifically what was hardest for them during these visits, they identified the triggers and then were able to ask for what they needed from each other.  They let each other know “I’m still your person and I’m here with you,” which created a completely different tone.

For Kevin and Jenna it was a bit more complicated. They had to do the planning, preparing, and communicating, but Kevin also had to accept that for the sake of Jenna and his children, the fighting with his mom had to stop. Even though it was his “normal” he had to find a way to disengage. Ultimately, they ended up staying elsewhere when home for the holidays and explaining it to his mom in the most loving yet firm way possible.

Families and holidays are often less-than-perfect, but you can make the most of your holiday times together.  By planning ahead, prioritizing each other and your children and making a concrete plan to do so – going home for the holidays can be a different experience for all.

Would couples therapy help improve your relationship when you’re home for the holidays? Contact Tracy Ross today to request an appointment.

When Happy Couples are Very Unhappy 10% of the Time

discernment counseling

I often hear from couples that they are reluctant to begin couples therapy because really, their relationship is good or even great 90% of the time. It’s just that other 10% – are they being greedy by focusing on that?

Shouldn’t they be able to fix it themselves?

As we get deeper into the conversation it becomes clear that the 10% can be extremely distressing. They become volatile, distant, stop talking, are hurt and frustrated and don’t understand how they got there. The trigger seems so silly it’s embarrassing.

The anchor in any good relationship is connection. This can be spending time together or simply a check in, letting each other know you’re there with each other emotionally. When this doesn’t happen small resentments build and a simple misunderstanding can trigger an all out war.

Sex and intimacy is a primary way couples stay connected. Each may have somewhat different sexual needs or they are out of sync sexually and distance creeps in, this can be subtle and happen without either person realizing it, or it can be extremely obvious. In many cases both partners avoid talking about it, resentment and confusion builds.

Another volatility trigger is “the in-laws”. At times the needs of your parents and the needs of your partner may be in conflict. The pull to satisfy both often results in your partner feeling neglected, not a priority, or misunderstood.

It all comes back to connection, the anchor of every relationship. What that connection looks like varies from couple to couple and for each person in the couple. One may require more alone time and the other may need more together time. This has to be communicated so it doesn’t turn into a trigger.

These are some of the ways couples end up in the volatility cycle going down a rabbit hole of arguing that only leads to more hurt and distance.

Identifying these triggers can help prevent fights or repair and reconnect after some volatility has already occurred.

As your relationship partner, I help create a safe space for these conversations so that you can identify triggers and communicate in a way that brings more understanding and closeness.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Couple sitting on couch listening to therapist

They enter my office, nervous and uncertain as many couples do during a first visit—he is trying to smile and break the ice; she is stone-faced and clearly contemptuous—of him? Of the process? Hard to say, but what quickly becomes clear is that she doesn’t want to be here. Her body language speaks volumes as she turns her body away from him and avoids making eye contact.  

What emerges is a story I’ve heard all too often: both agree that it isn’t working but he feels they can save the marriage; she is in the other camp, thinking it’s too late.

We have all seen this—attorneys and therapists alike. A couple in distress comes for your services; one wants to work on the marriage and will do anything to save it while the other wants a divorce. Are they done?

What is clear is that they can’t go on like this any longer.

This situation is fertile ground for volatility, frustration, and a feeling that the professionals they have consulted have let them down.

How can an attorney or therapist make headway with this kind of “mixed agenda” couple? The truth is, going the usual counseling routes, it’s almost impossible. They will continue to sabotage each other’s efforts until they have a common goal. Often they will blame the attorneys and therapists, calling them incompetent and unhelpful, saying they “just don’t get it”.

Many couples in this predicament are frustrated by the lack of progress in couples therapy. In a sense they are correct. It’s virtually impossible to make any progress when two people are working towards entirely different goals. One or both may consult attorneys but they don’t take the next step because they see the writing on the wall. The break up will be ugly and harmful. They don’t want to go down the road of contentious divorce.

That leaves them stuck, stuck, stuck, and unsure and even untrusting of where to turn for help.

This is the perfect time for a focused, time-limited method for getting couples on the same page, working toward the same goal, so they can move forward.

This is Discernment Counseling:

Discernment Counseling gives couples a safe and constructive environment to hear each other’s pain and despair while not having to agree to any long-term arrangement. It sets the stage for either committed couples therapy or moving through divorce. Most importantly, it allows each to take personal responsibility for where they are and where they are going.

  • A structured (or specific) approach to choosing the goal
  • Takes the focus off of blame and how each person was wronged
  • Puts the emphasis on what comes next, and attaining an outcome that will benefit all involved

That same couple that entered my office with arms folded and bodies turned away from each other is now engaged in a dialogue. They have softened toward one another and have joined together to choose the best path forward for themselves and their family.

6 Signs It’s Time to Go to Couples Therapy

Every relationship has an ebb and flow to it: moments of giddy excitement and closeness to treasure, and then periods when you feel distant or frustrated with each other. When the rough patches hit, it’s tempting to wait them out and assume they’ll pass without making a long-term dent in your relationship.

Therapists, though, advise against that strategy. “The best time to seek out couples counseling may be when you’re feeling happy in your relationship,” says Gail Saltz, MD, psychiatrist and the author of The Power of Different: The Link Between Disorder and Genius. Wait too long to seek help after challenges crop up, and bad habits might cement in place, along with resentment and anger. “That’s a very toxic place that’s difficult to undo,” says Dr. Saltz.

“It’s easier to work with couples who decide to intervene before the damage is really great,” agrees Tracy K. Ross, LCSW, a NYC-based couples and family therapist. With a therapist’s help, you can break negative cycles, discover what’s causing conflicts and distance, and restore a connection that may feel frayed. “Perhaps most importantly, it helps [couples] identify and remember the strengths of the relationship,” says Ross.

How can you know if your problems amount to a few rough weeks or months—or are big enough to break you up? All relationships are unique, but experts say it generally boils down to certain issues. Here are six signs you might want to consider couples counseling.


Are you in a volatile relationship? 5 signs to look for

First, you may think volatile relationship means you’re always fighting. No! Many couples in volatile relationships are what I call 90-10 couples™.

90% of the time, things are good or even great! You’re happy in your relationship. You communicate well, enjoy spending time together and generally feel positive about your relationship. But that 10% looms in the background like the dreaded Voldemort, that which should not be named.

What are the signs of volatility?

  1. The smallest slight, without warning, triggers a big argument. I call these rabbit hole arguments. They seemingly come out of nowhere, but they get emotionally explosive quickly.
  2. When the relationship demon shows up, one or both of you may say things you don’t mean, but they are hard to take back.
  3. You experience days or even weeks of minimal communication or not talking at all. You avoid each other, not knowing how to find your way back to the person you know and love. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife.
  4. You feel isolated, lonely, and disconnected. The person you love feels unfamiliar, distant, and a stranger
  5. You think the worst and fall into hopelessness about ever working it out. You may use the word divorce even if you don’t really mean it. You just don’t know what else to say, but the pain of hearing it out loud lingers.

The good news is that the 90% can win. If you are willing to examine the triggers, practice new strategies, and experiment with new behavior, you can go from volatile to versatile and actually use the passionate energy in a constructive way.

Relationships can and do get better if you are both willing to commit to putting aside the need to blame and doing the hard work to protect your connection from the volatile rabbit hole.