10 Ways to Practice Emotional Intelligence

10 Ways to Practice Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence has been a buzzword term for a while now, but many people still struggle to understand what it looks like in daily practice.  In general, emotional intelligence (EI) refers to your ability to understand and regulate your own emotions.  In practice, this means that you allow yourself to feel your emotions, but you don’t allow them to rule over all your decisions or behaviors.

Emotional intelligence also means that you have the ability to understand the emotions of others and respond to people in a way that reflects your understanding of and respect for how they feel. While some people do have a more innate ability to understand the emotions of themselves and others, people also can practice and strengthen these skills.

People who have emotionally intelligent traits tend to communicate better with other people, resolve conflict in a more healthy way, and have better emotional regulation overall. You can practice developing your emotional intelligence by working to understand and regulate your own emotional life in a way that allows you to have control over your emotions, instead of the other way around. This post will be the first in a new series about emotional intelligence where I will expand more on how to cultivate and practice this important skill in your own life.

How to Practice Emotional Intelligence

Here are 10 ways that you can practice strengthening your emotional intelligence so that you can feel confident in your ability to handle your emotions and the emotions of others.

  1. Understand your own feelings

Learn to identify how you feel by practicing distinguishing your thoughts from your feelings. For example, you may be thinking “he is such a jerk!”, but the feeling associated with this thought is “I feel hurt and disrespected when he speaks to me in that way”. When you focus on understanding how you feel in a given situation, you will be better equipped to approach the situation in a productive way.

  1. Take ownership of your own feelings

When you know how you feel, the next step is to own that feeling and recognize that you have control over that emotion.  Practice doing this by catching yourself the next time you say “You are making me feel…(angry, jealous, insecure)”, and replacing that with “I feel (angry, jealous, insecure) when you do that.”  This way of framing your emotions allows you to take control of that emotion instead of feeling powerless over it.

  1. Use your feelings to help you make decisions

Before you make decisions, ask yourself “how will I feel if I do this? How will I feel if I don’t do this? How are my emotions affecting this decision?” Work on using this insight to help you make decisions that you will be proud of and happy with later on.

  1. Respect other peoples’ feelings

You don’t have to agree with everyone on everything, but you can have better relationships with all people if you learn how to respect things from their perspective. If you want others to respect your feelings, then you can model how you want them to treat you. Even though other people will not always return the courtesy, you still want to represent yourself well by treating others as you would like to be treated.

  1. Avoid people who do not respect your feelings

Just because someone disagrees with you does not mean they are disrespecting you, but when someone truly doesn’t respect you or your feelings, you can respect yourself by avoiding them. You won’t always be able to avoid everyone who disrespects you, but you can minimize your contact with them and set boundaries when necessary. For example, if you have a supervisor at work that doesn’t respect you, you can try to make the best of things by minimizing your contact as much as possible and disconnecting emotionally from the situation. Ultimately, though, you are going to need to assess whether you should look for another job if the situation is not going to improve.  This includes setting boundaries with people when necessary.

  1. Manage your reactions to your emotions

You can have an emotion without acting on it in the same way that just because you think something doesn’t mean you have to say it out loud. You are going to feel angry, depressed, frustrated, and distressed at times in your life. These feelings are all okay to have and you don’t have to deny that you feel these things. Yet being angry doesn’t mean you have to be aggressive, being depressed doesn’t mean you have to hurt yourself, being frustrated doesn’t mean you have to lash out, and being distressed doesn’t mean you have to hurt others. Learning to build strong coping skills so that you can face these feelings without reacting in an unhealthy way to them is a key part of emotional intelligence.

  1. Label your feelings instead of labeling people or situations

This is also part of owning your emotions, because you can talk about your feelings instead of talking about other people.  For example, try saying “I feel frustrated and impatient because of how slow things are happening” instead of “This is taking too long! These people are so incompetent!” Even when you are just saying these things in your head and not out loud, it makes a difference.  You can be sitting there stewing with frustration thinking nasty things even if you never open your mouth. Recognizing that this helps nothing and you feel terrible in the meantime will help you change your thoughts, which will change your emotions.

  1. Use your emotions to energize your actions

People who use their emotions to motivate them towards positive action can do amazing things. If you get angry about an issue you care about, it can motivate you to go take action to address that issue. Use the energy you feel from strong emotions to propel you to take action in a positive way. If you think a situation is unfair, speak out about it and let your voice be heard. If you have something bad happen to you, use the power behind your emotions to help prevent the same thing from happening to others if you can.

  1. Practice taking positivity from negative situations

Negative situations are inevitably going to come up. It’s important to allow yourself the time and space to process how you feel when bad things happen and allow yourself to heal when needed. Negative situations can also be a trigger for growth as well, though. This is a practice that you can start small with. For example, if you have been practicing building patience but you end up next to a road raging driver, use the situation as an opportunity to practice your frustration tolerance skills.

  1. Learn how to effectively deal with difficult people

Not everyone is going to be in the same place as you are right now in your life. Some people may have their own issues to sort out and you will end up crossing paths with them, resulting in difficult interactions. Part of being an emotionally intelligent person is deciding that you are going to be the kind of person you want to be, regardless of the kind of person someone else is. If you intend to be a kind, considerate, emotionally mature and secure person, then don’t let what other people do have an effect on your own choices and behaviors. It’s hard not to snap back at someone who has been rude to you, or disrespected you in some way. You never have to be a doormat for others or allow others to abuse you. However, when you have the confidence to address situations gracefully you will feel better able to stand up for yourself when needed and let petty things go when it’s not worth your time and energy.

Why Is Emotional Intelligence Important?

Practicing emotional intelligence can help you feel more confident and in control of your life. We all have emotions, and emotional intelligence is not about suppressing those emotions. It is actually about understanding and using your emotions to help you handle situations and people in a way that produces positive results in all your relationships and interactions instead of escalating situations until they feel out of control.

All of these practices will help you understand yourself and feelings more, and help you to focus on what is important instead of getting caught up in a habit of just reacting to your emotions. While some people may find that these practices come more naturally to the, other people may really struggle, and that is okay too.  Struggling with these things doesn’t mean something is wrong with you, it just means that you might need to practice more before these habits become comfortable. Even people with strong emotional intelligence traits can struggle with this kind of practice. No one is perfect, and emotionally intelligent people understand and respect that!

Relationship Series: Sexual Compatibility and Your Partnership

Relationship Series: Sexual Compatibility and Your Partnership

Sex is an important part of any relationship, so it’s worth talking about it because there are so many ways that sex can become a source of frustration, conflict, and discouragement.  It doesn’t have to be that way, but there does need to be a clear understanding about what the  sexual boundaries are and whether or not sex is a boost to your relationship, or a burden.

Ideally, you want to find a partner who shares the same sexual interests, drive, and desires as you do, but that’s easier said than done. There’s a few common problems related to sex that I see come up with many of my clients, so let’s talk about what some of the common issues are and how we resolve them in counseling.

  1. Sex Drive

I’ve seen this happen time and time again with couples in counseling.  One person has a strong sex drive and the other person is just not that into it anymore.  It’s not that one partner doesn’t want sex, but life just saps their energy and drive. This causes friction because sex starts to feel like an obligation to one partner, while the person with a stronger drive feels frustrated and rejected.  This becomes a source of conflict and the person with a lower drive feels guilty for not “fulfilling their partner’s needs”.

When we examine this problem more closely, it’s a lot more complicated than just a sex drive problem.  For both men and women, there are hormonal changes that happen throughout the life cycle that can impact sex drive.  Women’s libido tends to drop as they start to age out of their childbearing years, while men may still feel a strong sex drive.  Add to that work, kids, life, and chores, and it’s not surprising that turning into a sex bomb when the clock strikes midnight is not high on the priority list when your hormones are against you and you have to get up and do it all over again the next day.

Stress relief is an important factor to incorporate when this happens. The latest studies on sex, chores, and partnership show that heterosexual couples who share household chores have more sex than in relationships where the woman does the bulk of the housework. These findings have changed over the years, but so have relationships. These days, egalitarian partnerships where both partners feel that duties overall are shared pretty fairly had the highest frequency of sex each month.

  1. Sexual Experimentation

Let’s be really clear about sexual experimentations: the # 1 priority is CONSENT. No one is entitled to sex acts from their partner that the other person doesn’t want to participate in. This includes swinging, the use of any toys, voyeurism, or any other kinky fantasy you can come up with.  Adults in consensual relationships have wide latitude to do whatever they want in the bedroom, but it must always come with clear and enthusiastic consent from both partners.

I have seen couples where one person was trying to please their partner and so they agreed to engage in sexual activities they were not truly comfortable with. This leads to distrust, shame, resentment, and loss of respect between partners.

It can be confusing to know what to do in a culture that makes sure sex is ever-present in the media.  The explosion of availability of porn on the internet means that children are getting access to sexual content at ever-younger ages, and so both young adults and older couples have seen a shift in the expectations of what goes on in the bedroom.

This can affect relationships when there are differences in what each person is comfortable with or interested in.  There’s no need to shame people for being interested in sexual experimentation, but there’s also no place for shaming your partner for NOT wanting to participate in certain acts. With time and trust, a couple may become more comfortable with certain sexual experimentation, but there shouldn’t be hard and fast expectations about what your partner “should do for you” just because you want it.

  1. Intimacy

There’s physical intimacy, and then there’s emotional intimacy.  Some people need emotional intimacy to get to physical intimacy.  Some people need physical intimacy (sex) to feel emotionally close with their partners.  I’ve seen this present in all different ways, too. I’ve seen men that have struggled with sex because they needed to feel emotionally secure with their partners. I’ve seem women who felt rejected and hurt when there wasn’t enough sex going on the in relationship. I’ve seen all genders display all ranges of needs in these areas of physical and emotional intimacy.

The important thing to know is how your emotional and physical intimacy are connected to each other and how important this is to you as a couple. Talking about your emotional and physical intimacy is key to building a better sex life if you’re struggling. You might be a little more open to sex if you know that it will help your partner feel emotionally connected and close to you.  You might feel more compelled to put some effort into connecting emotionally with your partner and spending some time together if you know they will be more open to having sex when you make that effort.

Talk to each other about the role of emotional and physical intimacy and how that affects your sex life in terms of quality AND frequency.

  1. Infidelity

This is a tough one for many couples because infidelity is a betrayal. Many people blame their infidelity on the fact that things were not going well in their relationship or marriage and so they sought out attention elsewhere. Sometimes the victim gets blamed for not providing enough sex or attention to the partner who cheated.  The truth is always more complicated than that.

People’s sex life is often affected when infidelity happens because of the violation of trust. The person who has been betrayed may want to punish their partner by withholding sex, or they may feel disgusted by their partner’s behavior and not want to be physically intimate for a while. There are all kinds of emotional reactions to infidelity, and it is normal to need a period of healing if you decide to stay together.

This is a situation in which the person who cheated needs to be especially attentive to their partner’s emotional needs.  But there are things can become unhelpful to the healing process, and sometimes it’s important to have ongoing conversations about what is or is not going to help heal the relationship.  It’s important to understand what fair expectations are, and what is going to actually be helpful to the future of the relationship versus what will just continue to damage the relationship. For more on healing after infidelity, read this post: Rebuilding Trust After Infidelity

  1. Attraction

Most people will say that they were attracted to their partner when they first met them or at least by the time they first started dating. However, sometimes attraction fades and your partner doesn’t seem so shiny and new.  Sometimes the sex in the relationship is affected because one person may not be attracted to their partner anymore, or sometimes because one person doesn’t feel that sexy anymore and so they don’t want to have sex.

This is why it is important for couples to be attracted to each other AND to themselves beyond just their physical attributes.  There are lots of qualities that people have that can be very sexy: confidence, charisma, loyalty, dedication, personality, humor, kindness, and generosity.  Attractive qualities can be found in abundance. If physical attractiveness is the main thing keeping two people together, there’s bound to be some problems later on.

If you plan on staying together, you can expect that your bodies and your looks will change over time. Sexual attraction doesn’t have to change, though, just because your appearance does. When you understand that being sexy has just has much to do with enthusiasm and personality as it does with lingerie and a hot body then you’ll maintain attraction to each other into your golden years.

  1. Pressure and Guilt

Putting pressure on your partner can backfire when it comes to sex.  If you try to make your partner feel guilty or ashamed when they don’t want sex when you do or if they don’t want to participate in certain sexual acts, you’re going to damage the intimacy and trust in your relationship. No one is owed sex by anyone else, even if you’re in a committed partnership.

If you want more sex from your partner try instead to work on creating the conditions that will get your partner in the mood. Doing things that help your partner feel relaxed and sexy are more likely going to get your partner interested and engaged in sex than if you pressure them by saying hurtful things like they’re “not holding up their end of the deal” or that you “will go find it elsewhere” if you don’t get your way. Saying hurtful and shaming statements will make your partner less likely to want to get in the mood because they’re not going to feel sexy or confident.

The Bottom Line

Sex can and should be a fun and integral part of your relationship or marriage. It’s also one of the main reasons people break up and it’s a big source of conflict for some couples. Sexual compatibility is about so much more than just if you enjoy having sex with each other. Sex is a two-way street, so both people deserve to feel good about it and feel happy in their sex lives with their partner.

Yet sex is just like every other issue in a relationship in that it means having to compromise sometimes. When you are in a relationship with someone, both of you have to compromise on lots of different issues, but you do so because you care about each other and want to figure out a way to make each other happy. Just as with other areas of conflict, communication is the key.

If you’re not comfortable talking a with your partner about sex in an open and respectful way, then you might benefit from seeing a therapist, either individually or as a couple. It doesn’t have to be a specialized sex therapist. Most counselors are fine with talking about sex with couples, especially if they do a lot of marriage or relationship counseling.

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For more information about relationships and building a strong partnership, check out my author page for a link to my book for couples “Work It Out: A Survival Guide to the Modern Relationship”  and if you want more resources for building a healthy relationship, subscribe here and I’ll send you the free Couples Communication Toolkit that I designed to get you on the right track with your relationship communication.

 

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For more posts in this series, please see:

Relationship Series: Shared Values

Relationship Series: Emotional Intimacy

Relationship Series: Personal Confidence and Your Partnership

Relationship Series: Couples’ Communication

Relationship Series: How to Stop Past Pain from Damaging Your Relationship

Relationship Series: When Opposites Attract- How to Manage Personality Differences

Relationship Series:   When Opposites Attract- How to Manage Personality Differences

Relationship Series: When Opposites Attract- How to Manage Personality Differences

Personality differences can complicate relationships. You may start out feeling like opposites attract and really fall in love with some of the things that are different about your partner. Over time though, personality differences can impact your relationship and cause conflict, especially when there is a lack of understanding about your different needs and how you think about the world around you.

Does Personality Matter in Relationships?

Sometimes. The research on the topic is complicated. Studies have found that people tend to pursue relationships with people that are similar to them in some areas such as age, religion, education, and political orientation.  However, when it comes to fixed personality traits, some traits are more predictive of relationship satisfaction than others.

Some couples have different personalities but similar interests, so they find lots of ways to have fun together and bond as a couple. Other couples really don’t share a lot of interests, but they love each other and so the other strengths they have in their relationship help them to establish and maintain emotional intimacy.

How To Manage Personality Differences in Relationships

Couples may differ in their traits of introversion vs extroversion, their style of thinking, their openness to new experiences, their empathic tendencies, and other traits.  Here is how some of these differences manifest in relationships and how couples can manage these differences as they build their partnership.

  1. Introversion vs. Extroversion

These traits exist on a scale, so some people will be highly extroverted and some people may be very introverted, and many people fall somewhere in between.  When you are a couple in a relationship where you’re very far apart on this scale, you will need to understand that you have different needs and work together to make sure both of you are getting your needs met for social connections and personal time.

This means understanding that sometimes your partner might need more time spent out with their friends because they thrive on the energy they get from social relationships. The other partner may need time spent alone to recharge and renew their energy, because too much time around a lot of people drains them of their energy. As a couple, you need to find a balance and understand that your partner isn’t rejecting you if they need either of these things. Making sure you dedicate couple time together will help both partner feel more connected to each other.

  1. Engineers vs. Artists (Left or Right Brain Thinking Style)

This has to do with thinking style. People who think like an engineer are very logical, solutions-oriented, and not always very emotionally perceptive.  People who think like an artist are not rigid, they focus on beauty as much as function, and they like to use creativity to solve problems or come up with new solutions. This traits are both valuable in different situations, so partner who differ in these traits need to find ways to utilize the strengths of both people.  This might come down to who does what things better, and learning to allow the strengths of each person to shine in different areas.  This may mean one person always does the taxes, and the other person decorates the home or plans time spent together in ways that express their creativity. These couples can thrive together if they learn how to use each person’s strengths to make them stronger as a couple.

  1. Adventurers vs. Homebodies

This has to do with people’s individual comfort level with new experiences.  Some people love new adventures and crave the thrill they get from trying something new.  This doesn’t have to mean they’re out cliff-hanging every weekend, but they are more likely to want to try new things, go new places, and experience things that excite the. Other people love the safety and comfort of their routine, their home, and their normal activities.  This doesn’t make them boring, it just means they know what they like and they prefer to stick to what they know.

When these two different personalities get together in a relationship, it’s not uncommon to have some conflict over what to do and when.  This is where compromise is a key strength to develop. The more adventurous of the couple will need to respect their partner’s discomfort with certain activities, and recognize that they may have to plan some activities with other people who share similar interests.  The homebody folks also need to recognize that stepping out of their comfort zone can be a great way to bond, but it’s okay to set limits when needed and know how to communicate those limits.

  1. Empaths vs. Psychopaths

Okay so getting involved with a psychopath is not recommended. But seriously, empathy exists on a scale too. Some people are very empathic, meaning they are highly perceptive of other’s feelings and are emotionally affected by the people they meet and the situations they experience and witness.  Psychopaths are the opposite end of the spectrum, with no empathy for others and an inability to understand or care about other people’s feelings. As with introversion and extroversion, though, there are many people who fall somewhere in between, and that doesn’t make them bad people. Many people empathize and care about other people, but it doesn’t affect them or their mood as much as it does with very empathic people.

In a relationship, empaths may be sensitive to their partner’s needs and moods, but someone less empathic may have a hard time understanding why their very empathic partner always gets so upset or affected by things. They may be less likely to perceive when or why their partner is upset, which makes conflict resolution hard sometimes. In this situation, empaths need to understand that a difference in sensitivity doesn’t mean your partner doesn’t care about you, they just might need more direct communication to understand how you’re feeling. The people who are partner with a very empathic person need to understand that their partner’s personality makes them more sensitive, and they don’t need to grow a thicker skin or be different. Empaths feel things deeply, so talking to them and validating their expression of feelings is a key way to connect with them.

  1. Organizers vs. Free Rangers

Similar to engineers and artists, organizers and free thinkers both have strengths, but they thrive on different things. The highly organized person needs structure and tidiness to feel in control and able to handle all of life’s craziness. When the home or their personal space is in disarray, they feel out of control and this causes anxiety. Free-rangers are people who feel overwhelmed with the prospect of having to keep everything looking perfect all the time. These are people who know exactly where to find something, but it might be in a place that doesn’t make sense to an organized person. They don’t necessarily prefer symmetry, and they don’t feel bothered when everything is not in it’s perfect place. This doesn’t mean they have to be messy or cluttered, they just have a different tolerance for disarray that might cause a highly organized person to feel anxious.

These people can be in a relationship together, but there needs to be some understanding about this personality difference. If you are a highly organized person who needs the structure and stability that good organization provides, but your partner is not similarly oriented, you may need to accept that you will be doing more of the organizational  tasks, because it matters more to you. Likewise, if you are a free-ranger, you need to understand the anxiety that disarray can cause in your partner, and be prepared to respect your mutual space by participating in keeping things maintained. It’s always a good idea as well, to both have even a small space of your own that can organized, or not, according to personal preferences.

Why It Is Important To Understand Personality Differences in Relationships

Personality differences do not have to mean constant conflict and struggles.  It is worthwhile, however, to talk about the personality differences you do have, and what they mean to how you function as a couple. Understanding each other’s needs and respecting the personality traits that you each have can help you as couple learn how to use your strengths to build a great partnership.

Compromise and understanding are part of all healthy relationships, but you can’t change your personality. Of course people grow and change over time, but there are some personality traits and preferences, like the ones listed above, that remain pretty constant over a lifetime. Couples can absolutely function and thrive with these personality differences, but it does take some communication and respect for those differences.

If you have identified some of the traits about where you think that there are some significant personality difference that impact your relationship, talk about these differences with your partner! Think about how your personality impacts what you need from your partner and where there are some areas for compromise. Talk about how the different personality traits can be a strength at different times and who is better at what when it comes to shared responsibilities.

When you understand your partner’s personality and how it affects their needs, you will be able to be a better partner as well. Communication and respect for your differences will help you use those personality traits to your advantage and build a stronger partnership along the way.

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For more information about relationships and building a strong partnership, check out my author page for a link to my book for couples “Work It Out: A Survival Guide to the Modern Relationship”  and if you want more resources for building a healthy relationship, subscribe here and I’ll send you the free Couples Communication Toolkit that I designed to get you on the right track with your relationship communication.

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For more posts in this series, please see:

Relationship Series: Shared Values

Relationship Series: Emotional Intimacy

Relationship Series: Personal Confidence and Your Partnership

Relationship Series: Couples’ Communication

Relationship Series: How to Stop Past Pain from Damaging Your Relationship

Relationship Series: Sexual Compatibility and Your Partnership

Relationship Series: How to Stop Past Pain from Damaging Your Relationship

Relationship Series: How to Stop Past Pain from Damaging Your Relationship

Sometimes the hardest thing to overcome in your relationship is not what’s happening right now, but what happened to you in the past and how that affects you today.  This post in my Relationship Series is going to address how the pain from your past hurts your relationship today, and how you can work to overcome that pain so that you can thrive in your current partnership.

I frequently tell my clients that for a relationship to work we need two people who both want to be in the relationship.  If we have that we can do a lot to work through things and make the relationship stronger and able to withstand lots of challenges.  One of the ways that you can do to be present in your relationship and make it more meaningful and fulfilling is for you to do the work that needs to be done to understand how past pain has impacted you and work to release those past burdens from your current partnership.

There are many ways that our past pain can hurt our partnerships. Being aware of how your past has impacted you emotionally will help you to have a healthier approach to resolving conflict with your partner and build the relationship you really want. Here are a few common ways that your past may be holding your partnership back:

  1. Past trauma or abuse has damaged your sense of self-worth

When you have experienced a trauma, such as childhood abuse, domestic abuse (an emotionally or physically abusive relationship), a specific traumatic incident or a major loss that significantly affected you, you may struggle with feelings of low self-worth. This can affect your partnership because when you carry around the burden of these traumatic emotions, you may be seeking a level of validation from your partner that s/he is not able to give enough of to heal that past trauma.

When we struggle with low self-esteem, we feel temporarily better when other people validate us and show us love.  But that feeling never lasts because you still don’t feel good about yourself and you constantly want more validation from your partner. This can leave your partner feeling frustrated or helpless because although they may be trying to express love and support for you, it never seems to matter or be enough.

When you make the decision to face and heal the trauma you have endured and build your self-esteem and confidence, you will not need constant validation from your partner, because you will feel good about yourself anyways. Making the commitment to address this past trauma can be an asset to your partnership, but more importantly, a way for you to heal and release yourself from past pain.

  1. Past betrayals have impacted your ability to trust

Perhaps you have experienced infidelity in past relationships, or even in your current one. Betrayal may come from infidelity, but it could also come from other things, such as issues related to finances, substance abuse, or emotional betrayals. Whatever the source, when we feel betrayed it makes it hard to trust other people, especially your partner.

Regardless of who betrayed you, it may be your partner who feels the impact of that lost trust. Our partner is usually who we want to trust the most, but the pain of past betrayals make that hard. If your partner was not the one who betrayed you, you may need to ask yourself if you are misplacing this loss of trust. Your partner will never be able to make up for the mistakes of another person, and misplaced blame can damage your emotional intimacy. Realigning your hurt and releasing your partner from the responsibility to heal the betrayals that came from other people will enable you to stop past betrayals from impacting your relationship today.

If your partner IS the one who betrayed you, then you have some work to do as a couple to sort out how to overcome that betrayal. This might mean that you have a lot of discussions over time about the impact of the betrayal, but eventually there will come a time when the power of that betrayal needs to be diminished. Ongoing infidelity is a different matter entirely. But when you make the decision to continue on working in your relationship after a betrayal, then it should not be something that gets dragged into every argument or brought up at every conflict. Sometimes counseling is in order, other times you may be able to work through it together on your own.

  1. Past mistakes have left you feeling guilty and defensive

Sometimes you are the one who has made a mistake, either by betraying your partner or due to other mistakes you may have made in the past.  This can cause feelings of guilt and shame, which sometimes manifests as defensiveness. Defensiveness can cause you to be hyper-sensitive to criticism.  You already feel guilt and shame about mistakes you’ve made, but maybe you don’t really want to hear about it from your partner. You may already feel burdened with feelings of shame or disappointment about not living up to your own values, creating problems that could have been prevented, or falling short of your responsibilities. Sometimes this gets taken out on your partner because you already feel so bad about yourself that you don’t want to hear any more criticism, so anything they say gets taken out of context or blown out of proportion. This can cause lots of arguments and often little issues turn into big problems for no good reason.

Part of healing this problem is about forgiving yourself, but the other part is about being able to withstand some criticism about your actions or decisions. Sometimes your partner may need to feel heard, so you need to be the one doing some listening. Other times, you may need to accept that you made a mistake and try to make up for it as best you can. This isn’t an easy solution, because it takes time to build back trust and you will have to withstand feeling uncomfortable as you acknowledge your mistakes. The good news is that sitting with that discomfort, acknowledging your mistakes, and acknowledging your partner’s feelings will allow you release the defensiveness so that you can move past the guilt and shame of past mistakes.

  1. Past conflicts have built up and created distrust and resentment

Sometimes things just build up over time, and problems seem to fester and resentment grows. Maybe it’s not about any one thing or a specific act of betrayal, but a more general sense of discontentment that comes with life just getting hard and hurtful conflicts building up resentment over time. This can manifest itself in your relationship as frequent conflicts, loss of interest in intimacy, and revolving problems that never get resolved. When this happens you need to reconnect with each other as couple and identify what has been holding you back.  Perhaps there is tension around relationships with your partner’s family, and you felt s/he never stuck up for you enough. That can turn into a resentment about not feeling supported by your partner or thinking that they value other relationships more than your partnership as a couple.

It’s not fun to look at emotions like resentment, jealousy, or anger. Yet those emotions are part of being human, and your partner might actually relate to those feelings when you talk about them.  Acknowledging how those past conflicts and resentments have built up to your partner can help you get to a place where you can renew your commitment to one another by creating a shared vision together of your future, and working towards the goals that you both have for your partnership.

 

How Releasing Past Pain Benefits Your Relationship Today

These are just a few ways that the emotional pain we have experienced in our lives impact our ability to connect with and respond to our partners. No one wants to keeping feeling the pain of the past over and over again, but holding onto negative patterns in your relationship will not help you to heal from those emotional injuries.

You are likely in the relationship you are in because you love and care about your partner and see a future with them. Creating a future for yourself and your partnership starts with healing from past pain so that the past doesn’t define your future. No one should be defined only by their past experiences, good or bad.  This means that good deeds done in the past doesn’t excuse bad behavior today, the same way as bad behavior in the past shouldn’t define who you are and what you care about today. We all just have to keep pressing forward to become the people we aspire to be.

Our experiences shape who we are and they can help us learn about ourselves and what we do and do not want or what we will or will not tolerate in our relationships.  This doesn’t mean though, that those experiences have to define all of our choices in the present.

You can choose to be emotionally vulnerable even though you have been hurt in the past. That is an act of bravery. You can choose to acknowledge your own shortcomings in order to become the person you are meant to be. That is an act of growth. You can choose to acknowledge the ugly parts of your feelings like jealousy or resentment that you don’t feel proud about. That is an act of truth-telling and honesty.

Acknowledging these feelings and expressing them assertively is hard, but it’s a necessary part of building a stronger partnership where you feel heard and where you feel capable of expressing your emotions and building strong communication with your partner. If you feel weighed down by emotional struggles that are influencing your relationship dynamics, think about how things could be different if you really decided to confront that past pain and stop letting it rule over your relationship. This doesn’t guarantee that you will instantly feel better, but it will make you more confident in knowing how you feel and being able to release the pain from your past that doesn’t serve you any longer so that you can have the kind of partnership you want for your future.

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For more information about relationships and building a strong partnership, check out my author page for a link to my book for couples “Work It Out: A Survival Guide to the Modern Relationship”  and if you want more resources for building a healthy relationship, subscribe here and I’ll send you the free Couples Communication Toolkit that I designed to get you on the right track with your relationship communication.

 

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For more posts in this series, please see:

Relationship Series: Shared Values

Relationship Series: Emotional Intimacy

Relationship Series: Personal Confidence and Your Partnership

Relationship Series: Couples’ Communication

Relationship Series: When Opposites Attract- How to Manage Personality Differences

Relationship Series: Sexual Compatibility and Your Partnership

Relationship Series: Personal Confidence and Your Partnership

Relationship Series: Personal Confidence and Your Partnership

In this post for my Relationship Series on the blog I am going to discuss the importance of personal confidence in your relationship.

Confidence and self-esteem are all about you as an individual, but they also play an enormous role in your relationship. The reason for this is because when you feel secure and confident in who you are as an individual, you won’t be looking to your partner to compensate for the way you feel about yourself.

Sometimes couples come in for therapy and as the clinician I may make the recommendation that one or both of the partners do some individual counseling first because there are some individual problems that need to be addressed for the health of the relationship as a couple. This is not to say that the relationship problems are the fault of one person, but it does mean that sometimes the problems in the relationship may be directly impacted by these individual issues.

Why Is Personal Confidence Important In Relationships?
One area where these individual issues are important is in the area of personal confidence. When you don’t feel confident in yourself this will come out in your relationship in one way or another. You may find yourself feeling irrationally jealous or even possessive at times. You could also experience this problem as needing excessive reassurance or needing to know where your partner is at all times.

This is different than just commonplace partnership practices. It’s totally fine for you to check in with your partner, let each other know your schedules, or want to feel emotionally supported by your partner. All of these are healthy and desirable qualities in your relationship.

When these normal partnership practices become unhealthy is when they become excessive or cause a lot of conflict in the relationship. When one partner is feel so insecure that they need their partner to constantly reassure them that they are loved, wanted, and prioritized, it can put a strain on the relationship.

Sometimes, the partner who is constantly being asked to provide that reassurance feels like it is never enough to their partner. This if often very true, because when you cannot fill yourself up with your own sense of confidence and self-value, you will always need other people to fill you up.

The problem, of course, is that no one can ever give you enough reassurance and support if you don’t love and value yourself first. It will never feel like enough, because you always feel like you are searching for that validation from others, most often from your partner.

There can be a fine line between wanting some normal reassurance and support from your partner, and needing constant validation from your partner. I’ve seen this have negative outcomes, for example, when one partner makes the other person sign up for location apps because they always want to know where their partner is or are constantly worried about infidelity.

How To Know If Low Confidence Is Impacting Your Relationship
It is important to ask yourself if a lack of confidence or feelings of low self-worth are putting a strain on your relationship. Knowing that some of the relationship problems are stemming from individual confidence issues is the first step in learning how to address the root of the problem.

Some questions to ask yourself to help you figure this out are:

• Do I feel rejected when my partner wants to spend time with other friends?
• Do I constantly compare myself to my partner’s ex or feel threatened by people outside the relationship?
• Do we have frequent arguments about where one person is, who they are messaging with, how quickly they respond to messages, et cetera?
• Does one partner feel the other person is trying to have too much control and not enough privacy?
• Does one partner feel threatened by the other person needing privacy?

If any of these themes sound familiar, you might need to thing about whether working on personal confidence would benefit your relationship overall. Note that this is different from having trust issues based on specific issues that have occurred in the relationship. This is about problems that are arising based on personal insecurity, not based on issues of past actual betrayals. Specific betrayals or incidents where trust was compromised is different than having personal insecurity based on other factors.

Personal Resiliency and Partnership
Building confidence and feeling an independent sense of self-worth that is not connected to your partnership is important as a matter of personal resiliency as much as it is for the health of your relationship.

When you feel confident in yourself, you will have an innate knowledge that whatever happens in life, you will be able to handle it and you will be able to count on yourself. Having confidence means that you believe in your own abilities, you believe in your own resiliency, and you believe in your own value. You know that even if you lost your partner for any reason, you would still value yourself enough to work on healing and thriving in your own life.

This is not about denying the need for intimacy or security in your relationship. However, one of the ways that couples can build intimacy and security is by both people feeling confident enough to be vulnerable with one another. When your feel secure with yourself, you are more likely to be able to feel secure with your partner, because your personal sense of worth and value is not solely dependent on the validation of your partner.

Sometimes you may not feel resilient or confident because of past pain from trauma, betrayal, or actual things your partner may have done that upset or hurt you. Being resilient is not about having to just forget these past pains and not let them affect you. This is about having power over your own past pain and not allowing it to infiltrate and negatively affect your relationship now.

How Can I Work On Building Confidence and Resiliency?
If you recognize that your personal feelings of low self-worth, lack of confidence, or struggles with personal resiliency are affecting your relationship, understand that you are not alone and many people have to overcome these feelings to have healthier relationships. Part of being a healthy couple is being healthy individuals. This means that we all sometimes have to do some work on ourselves to make sure we are ready to have the kind of relationship we desire with our partner.

There are several recommendations I have to begin working on building your confidence so that you feel resilient and ready to have a stronger partnership that is fulfilling for both you. Some of these options are:

Start with positive affirmations
Practice gratitude
• Do individual counseling if needed to address healing from your past
• Work on recognizing your cognitive distortions
• Understand internal and external validation
• Practice building emotional intimacy
• Journal or do other forms of self-care
• Practice healthy communication with your partner

Building confidence is part of emotional intelligence, and when you are feeling more confident and practicing emotional intelligence, you will have an easier time with conflict resolution and communicating your true needs to your partner. When you feel confident in your own feelings and have a sense of control and power over your own emotional needs, then you will be free to ask for what you need and have reasonable expectations in your relationship that you both agree on. This will help you both to have a stronger partnership, better communication, and improved emotional intimacy.

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For more information about relationships and building a strong partnership, check out my author page for a link to my book for couples “Work It Out: A Survival Guide to the Modern Relationship”  and if you want more resources for building a healthy relationship, subscribe here and I’ll send you the free Couples Communication Toolkit that I designed to get you on the right track with your relationship communication.

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For Other Posts In This Series See:

Relationship Series: Emotional Intimacy

Relationship Series: Shared Values

Relationship Series: Couples’ Communication

Relationship Series: How to Stop Past Pain from Damaging Your Relationship

Relationship Series: When Opposites Attract- How to Manage Personality Differences

Relationship Series: Sexual Compatibility and Your Partnership