Questions & AnswersRelationship Issues

QUESTION: My husband and I tend to have big blow outs over fairly inconsequential things. It seems like one of us always has to "win" and that "winning" is more important than what we're actually fighting about. What's going on and how can we stop it?

ANSWER: It could be several things, but the core of your fights almost certainly involve issues of self-worth. Oftentimes couples use each other in a fashion not unlike "mirror, mirror on the wall". In the honeymoon stages of a relationship, this can be wonderful, because we look in the eyes of the other and see a glorified image of ourselves reflected back. However, as we become more aware of one another's imperfections, couples who have been relying extensively on mirroring now look hopefully into the eyes of their partner and see a less than perfect image of themselves reflected back.

To some people, "less than perfect" doesn't exist. They only see the world as black or white, so "less than perfect" becomes intolerably black and they frantically begin doing whatever is within their power to redeem themselves. Since they're used to looking to their spouse for validation and the spouse is no longer forthcoming, a common solution is to try to bring the spouse down. The unconscious logic is that if the spouse can be shown to be less than perfect, then it follows that they obviously aren't seeing us accurately and our opinions of ourselves can rise. However, there's a double-bind, because if the spouse is perceived as the bad guy, then the person will start to feel bad about themselves for staying with such a slouch. The therapeutic goal in this type of a relationship is to teach each person to find their self-worth and goodness within themselves instead of relying on others to provide it.

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QUESTION: I'm in a lesbian relationship and my partner is homophobic. Is there anything I can do to help her get past the homophobia?

ANSWER: I would suggest some couple's therapy first to make sure it's a pure case of homophobia. Oftentimes homophobia, even though very real, also serves as a mask to keep a couple from dealing with deeper issues. Once the two of you have a clearer sense of the issues, you'll be in a better position to decide whether additional couple's therapy, individual therapy, or some combination of both will be best.
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QUESTION: I've been married for over 20 years. My husband was the man of my dreams and we had an incredible amount of passion in the relationship for the first few years. Now, though, it seems like we're more like roommates than spouses. We never fight and yet it seems like something is missing. Any ideas about what might be wrong and how we can get back on track?

ANSWER: Passion is a wonderful thing in a relationship. However, couples who have wonderfully passionate relationships often also have equally passionate negative feelings toward one another. These negative feelings are not bad in and of themselves, and in fact, they provide extremely fertile ground for growth both for the individuals in the relationship as well as for the couple.

However, many couples have trouble navigating through the negative times, feeling scared of the critical or hostile impulses they harbor and/or hopeless about resolving the issues. Although some couples resolve the dilemma by continual fighting and/or breaking up, other couples will dissociate the negative feelings to avoid conflict. The latter solution typically results in the scenario you're describing. There could be other explanations as well but this one is the most common.

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QUESTION: My partner hates my family. Just really can't tolerate being around them at all. He tries for the sake of the relationship, but it always feels strained. What should we do?

ANSWER: The first question would be to try to determine why he hates your family. Do they mistreat him? Remind him of his own family? Act possessively toward you? Feel critical of him or of your relationship? If his feelings toward your family are based on individual issues of his, the most effective course of treatment might be individual therapy for him as well as couple's therapy for the two of you so you can develop some workable solutions to the problem in the meantime. If members of your family are actually doing things to provoke him, possible solutions would be to have some extended family sessions with all of you and/or for the two of you to have some couple's therapy so you can come up with ways to handle the situation together, so that you're aligned as a couple and he doesn't feel alone in dealing with it.

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QUESTION: My boyfriend and I can't agree on whether to have children. We're planning to marry in a few months but this issue really worries me. I've talked to him about going to counseling with me but he's not interested. He says that he may change his mind but right now, he doesn't want kids and I do. I'm not sure what to do.

ANSWER: The issue of whether to have children is a difficult one because there's not a good way to compromise. It also concerns me that your boyfriend isn't willing to go to counseling with you. That makes it sound like he's pretty set on having things his way. You may end up having to choose between your boyfriend and having children.