5 Signs Your Marriage Really WILL Last 'Til Death Do You Part | Washington DC Psychologist

Wondering if your love is the real deal? Here are the signs you need to know.

Washington DC Psychologist | therapist relationships | Dr. Marie Land LLC

It's never good to compare your marriage to anyone else's, because all relationships are different, especially behind closed doors. Even the happiest couples can have dark times, and it can be stressful trying to figure out whether you'll weather stormy moments or capsize when things get rough. Here are five ways to tell that your marriage will make it. We're crossing our fingers for you!

1. You don't turn into strangers when your pals are around.


One of the best indicators of a good marriage is how you behave and feel when you are with both your close friends and your partner. Most people feel very relaxed and authentic around their best friends. If you were out to dinner with a couple of close girlfriends and then your husband joined you, ideally your behavior would change very little. Sure, the topics of conversation might be a little different, but your basic personality and comfort level and way of interacting  should be similar. You should be able to joke the same and talk about things that are important to you whether or not your spouse is with you. If you find yourself censoring yourself and feeling tense, that might be an indicator that something is a little off in your marriage.

2. You're not constantly saying sorry.


There's nothing wrong with apologizing here and there for mistakes that you’ve made. It's actually a sign of good awareness of how your behavior affects others (a great marker for a healthy relationship). Also, being courteous and grateful for the help that your partner gives you is a good thing. The problem occurs when you apologize for things that clearly aren't a big deal, or you over-apologize. You should feel natural and at ease around your partner with the knowledge that they have a level of forgiveness and understanding of you. However, if you find yourself apologizing frequently you need to consider why that might be. Ask yourself: Are you afraid of disappointing your spouse? If so, why is that? Why would the stakes be so high if you were to make a small mistake?

3. You can tell what your spouse is feeling.


Of all people in this world the person you are married to should have a strong level of awareness of how you feel. It's not unusual for married couples to not understand why their partner feels they way he or she does. It's also not uncommon to struggle to perfect the skill of noticing when your partner is upset, hurt, or in pain of some kind. However, once your spouse does realize that you are experiencing emotional or physical pain, they should feel empathy and concern. It takes work in a relationship to know what to do with that empathy (how to help your partner), but you should be able to feel or imagine your spouse's discomfort once you are aware it exists, and want that discomfort to go away.

4. And you give each other ALL OF THE FEELS.


Your marriage should be a way you are able to experience many emotions. Sure, it's best if there aren’t a ton of negative emotions. You do want some variety in your emotions when you're with your spouse because this indicates a degree of balance. If you just experience "joy" and "fun" when you’re with your partner that might be a great thing, but you're likely missing out of other ways to experience intimacy. An example of a range of feelings and states that may represent a balanced marriage would be joy, laughter, passion, excitement, sadness, fear, stability.

5. If you get arrested, he's automatically your "one phone call."


The last sign of a healthy marriage is whether or not you're able to ask your partner for favors and help when you're in time of need, or for an ear to listen to you when you need to vent. If you find that you’re calling all your friends or asking your relatives anytime you need anything to the point where your spouse is a last option, then that's a bad sign.

5 SURE-FIRE WAYS TO GET OVER YOUR EX | Relationship Psychologist Washington DC

Psychologist Washington DC | Dr. Marie Land | Relationship therapist

1. LIMIT YOUR INTERNAL COMPLAINING

Venting and expressing your feelings after a break-up is just par for the course. It’s effective when it’s cathartic and provides a channel to feel things and let them pass through you. The time it will take in this first phase varies but one thing is for certain. After a week you need to limit your internal break-up complaining. You can complain to all your girlfriends (keep a list of them handy and cycle through them on different days). My point is, if you want to be replaying questions and regrets over and over that’s fine. Just don’t do it quietly. Get it out. And if your best friends are spent listening to you then find a therapist. Speaking out loud is a productive type of expression and it allows for movement of negative feelings. There can be progress made. The problem occurs when people sit quietly to themselves and tell themselves the same story over and over again. If you isolate in your room you will probably find if we recorded your thoughts you had the same 5-10 thoughts over and over again. Hearing your voice out loud is where change occurs. The next best thing to speaking out loud is writing. Since you won’t have a friend handy at all times you can use writing to complain and sulk. But no sitting in silence.

2. LEARN SOMETHING NEW

If you’re not feeling good about your break up then you’re probably recalling all the good times that you had with your ex. He was the main way you experienced joy and happiness, right? You may even know that’s logically not true (if it is then we have another problem). Now it is your task to find new ways to experience joy and happiness. Although you may not instantly enjoy trying new things, your brain is responding to new stimulation and novelty. Trying new things, seeing new things, and doing new things is an excellent way to get over your ex.

3. START DATING. SOON.

Dating may not always prove to be instantly fulfilling because there may be plenty of duds that don’t compare to your ex. At the very least you will again be experiencing novelty and stimulation. And at the very best, you will be reminded of what it feels like to be hopeful again. Hope is your ticket to freedom from the loss associated with your last relationship.

4. STOP STALKING

Hopefully you’re not REALLY stalking. But I’m talking about social media here. You need to start by setting short-term goals. Decide to not check any social media, ask mutual friends about your ex, or talk to your ex for a day. Then make a goal to do so for a week. To hold you accountable, ask a friend to help you with your goal and agree to send her a text message of a number (hopefully zero) of times you broke this rule that day. Overtime, hopefully, your number will decrease. If you relapse you know you have the next day to try again.

5. DISTRACTION

Everyone needs to learn the healthy mechanism of compartmentalization. For some people going to work can be the best thing after a break up. If you have a job that is engaging and interesting it may be the best thing for you. You can watch shows with friends, or become involved in creative projects you’ve been putting off. One of the best types of distraction is calling a friend and asking really specific questions about their lives (not related to relationships) such as how to help them resolve a family or work issue. Make a list of 10 ways that help you to distract yourself and include at least 3 that will bring you out of your house.

3 SIMPLE WAYS TO GET YOUR GUY TO COMMUNICATE | Relationship Psychologist Washington DC

Dr. Marie Land LLC | Psychologist Washington DC | Relationship Therapist

1. KEEP IT SIMPLE…or SOUND STUPID

Okay, stupid may sound a little harsh. “Unclear” or “indecipherable” are perhaps more accurate terms. The point is, people stop taking in information at some point. If you spend 3 sentences prefacing “the talk” before you get to your point, you probably will never be heard. Your over-use of verbiage can make your partner feel that they have to also come back with big verbal response. That could create anxiety for the other person and stifle their natural ability to respond to a simple question. Before going into a conversation have three clear bullet points that you want to communicate. Apply the same to follow up questions. Ask one question at a time and give him time to respond.

2. MIX UP YOUR MEDIUM 

Talking to your partner face-to-face is ideal for many reason. Body language, eye-contact, and other non-verbal’s can provide invaluable information to help you and your partner communicate. Some people have such high levels of discomfort talking about “real feelings” in person that they flee from any opportunity to have a one–on-one “talk.” If you’ve gotten into the dynamic where you can just tell your guy is trying to run whenever you want to talk, be okay with trying a different mode of communication. Yes there is lot of room for error and misunderstanding in things like email, text, and phone calls. There also is room to say EXACTLY what you want to say. You can also try to communicate in naturally less stressful situations like when you are walking together outside side by side, or going for a drive down a non-busy street. These types of situations can be opportunities to help your guy communicate because you aren’t having intense eye-contact (something that makes a lot of people anxious when discussing emotional information.)

3. GIVE HIM AN OUT

People that are not comfortable talking about emotions are going to very easily feel like they are being pushed into a corner whenever you bring up something that sounds like it could be a “relationship talk” or talk of any emotional nature. They will be defensive and look for a way out of the conversation as soon as possible. One of the ways to avoid this reaction is to seem casual about the content of your proposed conversation, and to appear confident and light-hearted. I was thinking about (insert emotional topic) and wanted to run some things by you. Is now a good time? If you seem confident and the way you deliver your words is not heavy and dramatic chances are he will be a little more open.

7 WAYS TO WIN AT ROMANTIC POKER | Relationship Psychologist Washington DC

Should you play the romantic cards you're felt or ask for another hand? How to redial your relationship cards and know when to fold 'em in romantic poker. Don't let the guy define the status of the relationship. 

Dr. Marie Land | Relationship therapist | Psychologist Washington DC

Have you ever been with a man and waited for cues from him as to what on earth the two of you are doing in the relationship?

Dating, hooking-up, committed with long term goals in sight? Waiting for him to say he’s monogamous and to say the first I love you? If you’re an adult and have had a few relationships you’ve come to some basic ground rules and standards when it comes to romantic relationships. Maybe it’s that you don’t stay with someone without a commitment in terms of monogamy after being with them for 3 months. Look, I’m all for equality and compromise in relationships. However, after years of working with women in romantic relationships I see many women draw the line in the sand.  With the wisdom of their past relationships and personal needs they can readily articulate what they need in a relationship if asked by someone like me or a friend like you.

A relationship then unfolds in a certain way and their heart is invested so to speak. The line in the sand very easily becomes blown over by wind and is essentially invisible to all involved. The whole idea of standards becomes a moving target. Why is that so bad? If you’ve internalized basic standards and they aren’t met and you accommodate someone else’s although you don’t really believe it’s in your best interest, or the interest of the relationship, then a little bit of your self esteem diminishes. Where you once saw something solid and real and logical, you have questions. You question yourself. If not, you have a little bit of resentment, dissatisfaction, or fear. You’re basically buying yourself time until they come around, or you think you will suddenly adjust and be satisfied in an unsatisfying situation.  I call this relationship phenomenon, WHEN YOU KNOW YOU KNOW….AND THEN YOU FORGET.

1. NEVER BACK TRACK IN THE RELATIONSHIP

This speaks to the dangers of thinking that redefining the relationship in terms of where it’s going is not a problem. Perhaps you’ve been there. Things are going splendidly and you can’t get although of each other. You’ve established that your relationship is of a certain status: Say you’re monogamous and not seeing other people. You spend 2-3 times a week together. If this has been going on for a substantial amount of time (I’ll say one month minimum-enough to establish a pattern and expectation of behavior). Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can change that up and be demoted to a 1 x a week girlfriend. This of course includes a rare exception of some real life event that makes keeping things status quo impossible. But if one partner suggests that what was once a reasonable amount of time becomes significantly not okay, then the standards of the other person have to change. The target of appropriate behavior has shifted, the line in the sand is redrawn.

If you did this, good luck as well. This may be liberating for one partner but it rarely works for the other partner. That’s because patterns of behavior and expectations relate to the forward trajectory of intimacy. That means that in order to be in a relationship you need to have similar speeds, desires, and expectations. Negotiations happen, but the relationship should ultimately be forward moving in some way. Women that stay in situations that are demoted to “just dating” from being someone’s girlfriend are letting the man choose the target, and it’s moving along and will likely continue to do so. He has the control. You are vulnerable and it’s not going to end there.

2. KNOW WHAT YOU HAVE TO GAIN BY THE CLOSING OF ANY REALTIONSHIP DOOR.

I know it sounds morbid to think of the good parts about losing someone. But keeping one’s strength and empowerment while in a relationship is one of the best things you can do to make sure your relationship succeeds. This doesn’t have to influence your ability to be intimate and vulnerable in the relationship at all. It’s about knowing your value as a human being independent of the identity you’ve grown to have with your partner. And yes, it has a bit of a self-protective component. After any relationship ends it’s really hard to internalize all those wonderful compliments about your value from your girlfriends or family or ex-ex boyfriends you’ve called to get affirmation that you will not be alone forever and someone better is out there. This is a win-win approach given that most people enjoy being in relationships with people who are self-assured. Sure, if you’re psychologically minded you want your partner to show some vulnerability, maybe even an insecurity from time to time. It helps promote intimacy and lets you know the other person is real. However, keeping hold of one’svalue is essential in order to express true vulnerability and continue to derive confidence and self-esteem from yourself rather than the easy way from your partner which can feel like magical osmosis, only to be removed the second they are inconsistent or you have relationship difficulties.

You have to know that if things don’t work out, there WILL be another option. I don’t care if you’re spiritual or atheist or believe in fairies. Find whatever made up logic you can to internalize this belief. There is always love around the corner. That’s one of the best ways to thrive in a relationship. If you can do this you’ve created security within yourself which will help the relationship thrive!

3. IT’S OKAY TO KEEP SECRETS!

 I’m definitely speaking to those of you with some internal moral compass. It’s not a free pass for people with a foundation of dishonesty. I know women who think that being in love means that they should share all the deep dark secrets from their past. That their boyfriend should know their every skeleton. He would unconditionally accept them and love them more for them. Sure, this could work at first if they guys are seeking the same type of unconditional love in a way that would make them feel more secure themselves. After observing the ringer of relationships like this I see it quite differently. You shouldn’t feel the need to show all your cards. I actually think that it’s smart to be strategic about when you show vulnerability. They don’t need to know the details of why you were dumped last, how you’ve been in therapy for years for trust issues, or how you’re afraid you’ll always be too needy for any guy to tolerate.

As the Kenny Rogers song “The Gambler” goes, when it comes to sharing emotions, and determining if a relationship is worth it, you need to know when you hold them. Know when to fold them. Know when to walk away. And be damn sure you know when to run.

4. KNOW WHEN TO HOLD 'EM

 You need to know when holding back certain information will not intentionally hurt the other person and will keep a source of harmless but self-protective power in you. Everyone needs to feel safe and secure in life and in a relationship. Yes, it’s a beautiful thing if your partner can give that to you. But it’s not the only way to feel secure and safe. Knowing that you have value, that you have options, can help you have the confidence to stay PRESENT in your relationship and actually give the relationship a chance to thrive without the baggage we all have. This relates back to the idea of knowing that you don’t need that person. Now, I don’t mean that you need to go about flirting and exploring options. But you need to get a reality check on what’s out there from time to time. If you do this within reason (considering possibilities, not actually crossing the line), then you will increase your security and safety in the relationship. Problems often arise when we overact to the threat (even when extremely small) of the relationship ending. This plays out in the day to day disagreements or repetitive issues that any relationship has.

5. KNOW WHEN TO FOLD 'EM

This is when to know if you are under-communicating and you are actually keeping TOO many secrets. This is equally detrimental for the relationship and for your own self-esteem. For example, if you actually have strong feelings and are playing it cool to the point where the other person doesn’t have a real assessment of your true feelings. This doesn’t really apply in the first month. That is too early but if you have been with someone for 3 months or more (even regularly dating and not monogamous), then this is a real issue to consider. This also includes when you may not have been clear about your expectations. For example, you tell a guy that yea, we are totally cool being casual. But you’ve in fact picked out your wedding song. When it’s okay to lie: do NOT share your instagram wedding photos. When it’s okay to be honest: If you truly would be very disappointed if you found that he was 30% in this relationship in terms of current commitment and future potential and you are at about 80%. The ratio doesn’t have to be equal, but if you suspect if may be off, it’s better to risk learning that you’re not on the same page than staying in a relationship with no potential.

6. KNOW WHEN TO WALK AWAY

This is when you’ve already folded them. You’ve put it out that you’re open to the idea that the relationship works out. Using the word “open” is a great way to soften the intensity of testing if a relationship has potential. It’s a little less scary than speaking of expectations. Assuming that you’ve already expressed where you’re at and the guy is not on the same page. If you’re in this place, you’ve already tried to rationalize what you’re doing in the relationship. Perhaps he’s stressed at work and will come around. This is when you really need to play the objectivity game. This is when objectively (if you heard a stranger telling your story) it would be pretty clear that there isn’t a future. The relationship serves temporary needs and your needs extend past the short term. This doesn’t mean you have to bail if you think you have shown your cards and not gotten the response you wanted. By all means, express yourself a little more. Don’t worry about a guy perceiving you as over emotional. Be clear about your wants and where you’re at. Give him the opportunity to be an emotionally mature person and to talk through things with you. If he is squeamish and has little ability to talk it out, then you would be in for a  lifetime of difficulties were you to stay with him.

7. KNOW WHEN TO RUN!

When you’re not being yourself or you know he isn’t. If you have to spend a lot of time in the guessing game, trying to figure out mutual feelings, etc. After all attempts at communication have been futile, or when you are repeating a negative relationship pattern that you’ve already identified as seriously problematic/red flag material. If you feel embarrassed to tell family and friends that you’re still with the guy, then run!

CAN YOU PROTECT YOURSELF WHEN IT COMES TO LOVE? | Relationship Psychologist Washington DC

 
Dr. Marie Land LLC | Psychologist Washington DC | Relationship Therapist

There are all types of tricks. Ways to use your mind and thoughts to set yourself up for a healthy relationship. You’ve made mistakes before. You’ve broken hearts and had your heart broken. Now you’ve learned. You know the logic and the specific ways to prevent yourself from being hurt the way you did with the last relationship. Or perhaps you have this wisdom from your first relationship when your high school boyfriend totally surprised you by doing a complete 180. One day he loved you and the next he loved his ex, or his car, or fantasy football. The truth is, how can we ever completely expect another person to be fully consistent and reliable? We can barely do it for ourselves so as sad as it makes me when people are surprised by how hurt they are by a partner, I am in fact never surprised. People change. YOU change. Walking through life pretending that love and relationships are a type of foundation that is like cement on the pavement does nothing to protect yourself. SOUND DISMAL? IT’S NOT!

People want to know if there is any way to protect their heart when it comes to love and relationships. In short- No. You can’t. You can make better choices and increase the likelihood of doing your part in controlling the outcome of a relationship by making it positive, healthy, whatever your goal is. In fact, I encourage you to try to not make mistakes you previously did. The thing is, after you’ve been through a series of break-ups you probably realized that the whole getting hurt (even if it means you were the one that ended it. That is very painful for most with some sense of empathy as well) thing should be avoided if possible. Maybe you’ve talked with your friends about various methods. Don’t let him know you care too much. Try to keep the control and power. Manipulation and self-protection can do wonders for temporary anxiety relief. But if you really want a good relationship, you have to come to terms with a fact.

THERE IS NO WAY TO GET LOVE WITHOUT A LITTLE FEAR

There is not some short-cut path to obtaining a loving relationship without feeling a little vulnerable, or being somewhat afraid. Without knowing that you can fall over a cliff plummeting down a horrendous drop. And no, that doesn’t mean that you should give up everything to be with someone in order to be totally “in it.” But it does mean that if you are to experience something truly wonderful, you’re going to have to give up some of your self-protection methods, games, and attempts to hide your feelings for fear of being hurt. In general I’d say it’s safe to say that none of us want to be wasting our time with someone who is not on the same page. That can mean if you’re looking for something casual or a long-term relationship. Why not waste your time or someone else’s and be real, knowing that it could end horribly…or maybe, just maybe give you the relationship you’ve been looking for. The ability to face your fears in love is a wonderful gift- and I see no other way!

IS YOUR MAN LOSING INTEREST OR JUST BEING LAZY? | Relationship Psychologist Washington DC

Dr. Marie Land LLC | Psychologist Washington DC | Dupont Circle

We try to believe that we live in a world where courting doesn’t exist, but the truth is, it still does. People are trying to show their best self to their potential mate and included in that is the expression of effort. How much do you really want that person? Remember the first few dates when a guy brought you to that nice new restaurant and then got you tickets to see your favorite band? It doesn’t even have to be such superficial stuff. Maybe it was just the way he texted you cute emoji’s that he was thinking of you throughout the day and wanted to make sure that he would be able to see you again soon. Or maybe he called you every other day just to say hi, not just when something was wrong or to coordinate plans. You were in the dating phase, and all is not secure at that point. It’s exciting and uncertain! HAPPY SECURITY OR BORING ROUTINE?

For some couples it takes weeks and others months to establish a norm and routine. You start to expect to see that person every other day or to be invited to weekend outings that take him out of town. You know he’s happy to see you and wants to spend time with you. Then…you’re his girlfriend. Week one after that’s established he pulls you close and can’t get enough of you. It’s still so exciting! Then, slowly (and surprisingly for many, not so slowly) reunions become a little less dramatic and goodbyes a little less disappointing. Texts and calls a little less frequent and his passive expression of affection on Facebook becomes a little more subtle. If this is a consistent issue, then I suggest you either look at the data (how is he being different behaviorally) and trust it if it comes in themes. If big picture, he’s giving less than half what he used to, it may mean that he’s not as into you. If so, trust me gals, you want to know. No need to waste time on someone who is not your match. So bring it up. Elephants in the room are meant to be pointed out in mature relationships.

There is however another possibility. He has strong feelings for you and he just doesn’t think he has to constantly express it in little ways. That’s not such a bad thing if that’s what you’re dealing with. It just may indicate that you need to renegotiate what you both expect in terms of needs and wants in a relationship (amount of communication, time together, affection). The feelings are truly what matters!  But to keep them growing behaviors can’t be stagnant or your relationship will be.

DON’T BE TAKEN FOR GRANTED, AND DON’T TAKE FOR GRANTED!

It takes a long time to get to know a person. Like, really really know a person. In those early dates the questions are there, the curiosity is there. You are both sizing one another up. Mistakes that couples often make though are to stop trying, stop courting, stop trying to size the person up and see if they continue to be a match as you each continue to grow. Just because the label of a relationship has been established, it doesn’t mean that you should stop with the questions, stop with the courting. People sometimes use the idea of security (“She likes me, I guess we are a thing now. Done.”) to decide to stop doing things they used to do for one another. Security is a wonderful thing. It means you shouldn’t have to play games to get another person’s affection. They shouldn’t only reach out to you when they think you’re pulling away or gauge a little bit of uncertainty or distance on your part. Feelings should grow for one another if you’re in a relationship, not depreciate. Affection (think back to the early stages of your relationship if you can’t quite recall what that is) should increase as feelings increase. It’s a mistake to think that just because you’ve established that you have feelings, that you should just take that as a known. It’s not just him, either. Be sure to model the things you expect in a relationship by giving them as well. Continue to date your partner in new creative ways for as long as the relationship lasts!

For some couples it takes weeks and others months to establish a norm and routine. You start to expect to see that person every other day or to be invited to weekend outings that take him out of town. You know he’s happy to see you and wants to spend time with you. Then…you’re his girlfriend. Week one after that’s established he pulls you close and can’t get enough of you. It’s still so exciting! Then, slowly (and surprisingly for many, not so slowly) reunions become a little less dramatic and goodbyes a little less disappointing. Texts and calls a little less frequent and his passive expression of affection on Facebook becomes a little more subtle. If this is a consistent issue, then I suggest you either look at the data (how is he being different behaviorally) and trust it if it comes in themes. If big picture, he’s giving less than half what he used to, it may mean that he’s not as into you. If so, trust me gals, you want to know. No need to waste time on someone who is not your match. So bring it up. Elephants in the room are meant to be pointed out in mature relationships.

There is however another possibility. He has strong feelings for you and he just doesn’t think he has to constantly express it in little ways. That’s not such a bad thing if that’s what you’re dealing with. It just may indicate that you need to renegotiate what you both expect in terms of needs and wants in a relationship (amount of communication, time together, affection). The feelings are truly what matters!  But to keep them growing behaviors can’t be stagnant or your relationship will be.

IS YOUR BOYFRIEND AN UPGRADE?

There is the idea that you learn from each relationship. You know more about yourself and what you want and what you don’t want. Theoretically then, your current boyfriend should be an “upgrade,” right? When that doesn’t seem to be the case it can feel super alarming and have you questioning your relationship.

Dr. Marie Land | Psychologist Washington DC | Relationship Therapist

BETTER THAN YOUR EX?

When you first start dating someone new it’s natural to compare them to your ex, particularly if it wasn’t that long ago that you ended your past relationship. If your ex was seriously lacking in some essential quality (i.e., he was incapable of assigning your relationship any type of label although you were dating for months), you’re likely to be on the lookout for similar traits. You avoided a crash by getting out of your last relationship, and you’re hypervigilent to do the same now. Nothing wrong with a little caution, right? The thing is, you can’t look at individual traits by themselves. “Flaws” are always housed in the context of another person with their own unique history and buffer traits (being awesome in many other ways so that the negative trait could potentially not be such a big deal).

THINGS DON’T WORK OUT FOR A REASON!

It’s important to acknowledge that when relationships don’t work out, they don’t work out for a reason. Usually it’s not about someone not trying enough (well, at least one person was probably trying enough). There are so many reasons a relationship may not be a long-term fit. You need to remember the reason that that one trait in your ex was problematic. Yes, it was the behavior he had or lacked. But why did it bother you? Was it because he didn’t meet some fundamental need you had (i.e., to be respected, adored, loved)? Remind yourself that those underlining issues are the ones that you need to be on the look out for in your current relationship. If you can’t be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t totally adore you, that’s fine. Just know that everyone has different ways of expressing that feeling and your current boyfriend’s behavior may mean very different things than it did for your ex.

IS A DOWNGRADE SO BAD?

If you’re really wondering if you have a downgrade, try to look at things objectively. Your current boyfriend’s qualities on paper. If it’s how he treats you in public, on Facebook, around friends, whatever. If he has morals, a job, etc. Look at the whole picture of this guy and see if you were standing outside your life as an observer, would you actually think this is a better match. Second, determine your level of happiness with this current partner. You may recall less or more intense emotions with a previous relationship, but memory for past feelings and attachment can be skewed and a bit distorted. Your overall happiness when with your current partner is more indicative of determining if your boyfriend is an upgrade or downgrade, not necessarily the memory for romantic feelings in the context of a lot of drama. Your overall happiness when around your boyfriend should be a good determinant of his upgrade or downgrade status. And yes, you really should always have an upgrade!

SHOULD YOU CHANGE FOR HIM?

Hush hush, it’s not something you want to say out loud. Certainly not to your girlfriends. You know the answer already, right? Don’t change. If he really likes/loves you, he’ll accept you just the way you are. And of course that doesn’t mean you can’t change him a little. After all, nothing wrong with a guy who is a little work in progress, right?

HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?

Dr. Marie Land | Psychologist Washington DC | Therapist Dupont Circle

Let’s be real, if you’re in a relationship you’ve already changed some. Perhaps your version of changing is stomping your feet on the ground in such a way that you make sure you’re not really changing….which basically means you’re changing. One of the biggest markers to me of whether someone has changed too much for their partner is if they act significantly different when they are with their friends compared to alone with their partner. There should be a pretty strong degree of congruence between your friend self and your hanging with your man self. Not 100% Sure topics of conversation and dress code may vary. But the core of your personality, your humor, your degree of extroversion/introversion…it should remain fairly constant.

THE “WHAT’S” OF CHANGE 

There are certain “what’s” that make a lot of sense. Like starting to go out and party less because you’re married with children. Fine, change makes sense and it’s an evolving compromise within your relationship. The things that you truly enjoy and have carried you through singlehood may become a little less appealing when you’re in the depths of love in la la land. However, if they are a true part of your identity, then I suggest you make time for them even if they are a distant runner up to your guy. Appropriate “what’s” of change: managing your time a little differently, balancing shared hobbies (he joins in some of yours, you join in some of his), going to some stuffy work functions with him as a favor. Enjoying them. It’s all fine. Not fine: not doing the same activities you used to, laughing less, returning calls less, only eating out at paleo or vegan (*not that there’s anything wrong with that!) hipster restaurants, hanging out with his friends over yours 90% of the time, choosing holidays at his family’s house instead (I don’t care it’s more convenient than your sister’s place). Basically, if you didn’t want your best friend (assuming she’s the one who knows you best) to be a fly on the wall at these activities because she would puke at the thought of your level of inauthenticity. Outside of some obvious personal romantic exceptions, you should be able to act with your boyfriend as you would if your close friends were watching.

DO YOU KNOW IF YOU’RE A CATCH?

Dr. Marie Land | Washington DC Psychologist | Relationship Therapist

With so much emphasis on your wants and needs in a potential (or current) partner it sometimes leaves little room for awareness of what you bring to the table. Having a (hopefully not too rigid and inflexible) list of qualities and standards and non-negotiables in a relationship can leave little room for awareness of what YOU bring to the relationship. With continued attention on how a partner meets or doesn’t meet your needs, the maintenance it takes most people to upkeep their self-esteem can be prioritized like an unwanted stepchild. HE’S KIND, BUT NOT THAT KIND!

Look, people aren’t that generous. Although I’m one to believe that people are innately kind for the most part, true altruism is hard to find. With the exception of a few guilt-maintained relationships, most men (and women) do not stay in relationships with women out of the generousness and kindness of their hearts. There’s something, well, more than one thing that keeps him in the relationship. There are qualities in YOU that are keeping him around (and remember- if he’s inconsistently around then we have bigger things to address here). It’s essential to see your value not only for the strength of a relationship (and continued attraction…confidence is attractive), but to ensure that your personal growth and esteem remain on the path that enhances your well-being, doesn’t diminish it.

SELL YOURSELF TO YOUR SELF

Okay, this doesn’t mean that you have to go around advertising that you are funny, intelligent, empathic, or charm and work a happy hour like no other. It does mean that you have to put at least as much thought into how you are growing, improving, and have serious relationship marketability as you are into trying to move the relationship forward. Relationship, AND self. They are two trajectories that continue parallel paths in time and influence one another. Stepping back and acknowledging the good in your daily existence is one of the most overlooked aspects of a healthy relationship.  Sell yourself to your self each day. Why the hell would he be with you? Sure, you can look and see if you can understand what he sees in you for a little material here. But mostly don’t look to him for answers. Remember how as genuine as you tried to be that first date, you really did a little selling of yourself to him? Selling yourself to YOUR self should be at the top of your relationship improvement to-do list.

A RED FLAG “LIST” OR A SELF-PROTECTIVE “MISS?”

 
Dr. Marie Land | Washington DC Psychologist | Relationship Therapist

After a few relationships you may have a mental list in your head of the things that you want and don’t want in a relationship. Perhaps they fly out the window when you’re with your guy because you’re just having a good time. But what if you are really attuned to your mental list? For example, let’s assume your ex was not a great communicator and as a result you were blind-sighted by a sudden break-up. You had no clue that things weren't going terrific. You swore off guys that aren’t open and expressive because you don’t want a repeat of last time. This is smart thinking in many ways but categorizing guys with your own subjective list of red flags can be problematic if you jump ship too soon or if you compare your current romantic interest and his behaviors (or lack there of) to those of your ex. Assuming that the “red flags” mean some probable outcome isn’t necessarily the best route.

BALANCING RED FLAGS AND REALITY

Remember how your ex didn’t check on you when you were sick that time? Later come to find out that he wasn’t all that compassionate or considerate of your needs. It’s difficult to balance being the right amount of cautious (watching out for red flags likely to bring your relationship down) and living in reality (not assuming that the same behaviors mean the same things as they did in your last relationship - or some other model of a relationship you have).

First, don’t view single behaviors (unless we are talking serious red flags…like his mentioning that he’s been bored with every woman he’s ever dated and caused him to cheat) as meaningful. Look for patterns of behaviors. One comment or action is usually not meaningful because we don’t have the full context (his history, his current mood or his own fears) of what may be influencing his behavior. However, after a handful of consistent repeated actions that raise alerts…now that’s meaningful. So ASK. If you’re about to throw the relationship out based on some concerns you might was well ask about what that behavior means or why he’s doing/saying that thing. Don’t worry about his discomfort with having a real conversation either. If you’re at the point where you’re about to jump ship anyways, you might as well give it one more shot. Modeling the type of relationship you want by holding your own behaviors and actions to the same standards as you want your partner to is essential. We often create space (or lack there of) to be an open communicator or affectionate. Point is, it’s not always totally the other person so be sure to do your part and model the thing you are seeking!

SOOO…YOU THINK YOU CAN BE FRIENDS WITH YOUR EX, HUH?

Breaking attachments to another person is painful for most. No wonder people convince themselves that having that person in their life is a good idea. It softens the blow, and the feeling of loss. Initially. Don’t get me wrong, it absolutely CAN work. But there are some reasons that most of the time it doesn’t. See if these relate to you, and decide if you’re in the clear to go and have a healthy friendship with your ex.

DO YOU LET JUST ANYONE TRASH YOUR PLACE?

It would be nice to think that you hold a partner to the same standards as a friend, but you probably don’t. In certain aspects of life you may be way more forgiving and understanding of your partner. You know, the nothing you can do is wrong. Whereas a friend coming over and trashing your place would be super rude, he is just comfortable in your space and that’s kind of cute. The standards work in the other direction as well (and perhaps more frequently for many). Your ex being late is a whole different level of inconsiderate (and perhaps representative of how serious he is taking the relationship and your feelings), whereas a friend being a few minutes late is hardly noticeable. If you try a friendship with your ex, check in with yourself and see if you have the same friendship standards with him as you do with your friends. Or are you disappointed when he doesn’t get back to you via text or falls through on plans or talks about a new partner? It’s not that this should absolutely be instant at the start of you “friendship.” Likely there would be a transitional period and that would take time. But after a while, it should be the case.

HOW DESPERATE ARE YOU FOR A FRIEND?

Dr. Marie Land | Psychologist Washington DC | Relationship Therapist | Dupont Circle

Consider this question because you need to look at why exactly maintaining this friendship is so important to you. Is it out of guilt, out of inability to let go? Perhaps you were together for a long time and you have the same circle of friends so it would be difficult to not be friends with him. Just think, to what extent do you need a real friend, not just a friendly interaction occasionally with your ex. In fact, if you are seriously limited in terms of friendships with other people, this may be all the more reason that being friends with your ex could be problematic. You may be more likely to depend on him and less likely to really change your attachment to him….something necessary to truly move past the relationship.

FEELINGS AND HOW THE RELATIONSHIP ENDED

If you still have feelings, this is a no brainer. Not a good idea. Taking actual time apart (not being in touch for a couple of months or weeks) will likely help you break your attachment to you ex and strengthen new attachments (with friends or a new partner) could resolve this and give you a chance to really see this person in a platonic way. If the relationship ended because you already only had platonic feelings towards your ex, then that is another way that being friends could work out. If things ended on your ex’s terms, it will take time for you to heal and this should definitely occur before developing a friendship. Remember, you have friends that you don’t talk to for a period of time and then start to hang out a lot again. Friendships don’t have to be the most consistent thing (which relationships usually do when healthy). Take time, live your life. Then consider if a friendship is truly valuable, and not just a hindrance to moving on with LIFE. 

WHY YOU CAN’T STOP THINKING ABOUT HIM

Dr. Marie Land LLC | Washington DC Psychologist | Dupont Circle Therapist

Oh, there are so many reasons! I’ll begin to address a few here. First, let me say that many people define how much they  love/feel for someone by the amount of “space” in their brain that is taken up with thoughts of him/her. Consider your past relationships when you were really “in-love.” Whatever that means. If you're worried that you were more in-love in a past relationship compared to your current one, you can probably recall that you thought a lot about this person. Fear not, it doesn’t necessarily mean what you think it does. WHAT DO THOUGHTS “REALLY MEAN?”

In the context of relationships, thoughts can mean many less-than-desirable types of things. Take the issue of your needs not being met. We often think about situations and people that we are trying to understand. Hmmm….funny how after a certain amount of time that speed of insight and understanding slows down to a turtle’s pace (not super productive). If you’re thinking of a person excessively, consider that you may be trying to avoid a negative feeling.

FAST CARS AND HOME COOKED MEALS

Two things that often keep people in the cycle of thinking are the search for excitement and safety. When your mind goes back to the same exact thing (or image…some people just imagine some picture of the past or future with the person) it may be because of your (or your brain’s need) need for excitement/thrill or safety/comfort. Not so different than a rat pushing a lever for a treat (or a feel-good drug). Also not surprising, people sometimes feel that each relationship is heavy in one area (either in excitement or safety), and choose the next relationship based on whether or not that dynamic was desirable. Figure out what it is that you’re seeking (or getting) with those thoughts. What do they provide you with, if even for a moment? Is it avoidance of some type of anxiety, loneliness, or escape from boredom? Which need are you and your brain trying to meet around the corner through excessive thinking? Excitement or safety?

HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR TEXTING RELATIONSHIP

I’m not going to give you the generic advice about texting. That it’s not real intimacy. That you can’t really tell anything from texting. Okay, I sort of want to tell you that but I’m not going to because it’s just not realistic. It’s difficult enough to find ways to communicate and connect romantically, I’m not going to try to limit your options.

DOES HE MEAN WHAT HE SAYS?

Continuity and consistency. These are two words to keep in mind when looking at what you’re learning from your texting interactions. Any one text exchange (i.e., late at night/aka a lonely time for many, or after drinking) is not really meaningful. Patterns of texting (i.e., consistently flirtatious or sincerely trying to get to know you day in and day out) mean something. At the very least, a desire for an increase in connection. If that reaches beyond technology there’s only one way to find out.

TEXT IN THE DAYLIGHT

If you’re not actually seeing this person in real life, then we have other things to address. I’m assuming that you are seeing this person in real life in addition to texting them. There is often a serious disconnect between the way people interact via text and in person. Similar to the logic some say about drinking (that “true” feelings come out when drinking), texting has been described as being a way to express things that are anxiety provoking or scary in person. There is less vulnerability through texting and sometimes, yes, that’s a great thing! However, if your end goal is increasing a connection with someone then bridging the gap between texting and reality is best started subtly but regularly. In a non-creepy way, reference something you “talked about” via texted. Some light-hearted mention of something he said will do just fine. If he’s clueless and doesn’t take the bait, then there may be reason to be a little cautious about his own sense and desire for bridging the text-real life gap. It’s going to take a little initiating on your part to get a sense of what the real text-to-reality ratio is. The most important thing to watch out for is someone who does not have the capacity to discuss the more significant "text topics" when face-to-face. If that’s the case then you have to be real….that perhaps he’s not real.

DOES HE HAVE “TOO MUCH BAGGAGE?”

By the end of this, you may need to ask yourself the same question if you haven’t already. First, if he’s over 25 you need to accept the fact that chances are this is a person who has been through a range of emotions, and a range of emotions directed towards other women. Yes, women that he loved and despised and all the ranges of emotions that come with being human when involved romantically.

RELATIONSHIP BAGGAGE

Relationship baggage is the main one that seems to be of concern. The questions that accompany this issue are ones like, If he wasn’t the one to end it does that mean that he’s “really” over her? Or Is he going to treat me the way he treated his ex (good or bad)? Another good one – He seems sort of damaged by her. Is he really going to be able to become trusting of me or will he just be jaded? If we are talking about an older age then you’re probably not only getting a guy with a history of long-term relationships, passionate flings, rejections and permanent heart ache wounds, you may be getting divorce or at least the letting go of something they thought would be “forever.” Hmmm….familiar?

LET DEAD SKELETONS LIE

People spend far too much time on an archeological digging mission when they get to know someone. Although it can be a useful experience to know a person’s relationship history, I think it’s not a good idea to go digging around for it when you are in the early stages of the relationship. Base your impressions off of shared present moment experiences. Notice how you interact with each other doing fun things, or discuss something you’re observing while people watching or something going on in the world at the moment.

If he volunteers the information that’s fine but if you know too much too soon, it can cause you to dismiss them (or give them unnecessary brownie points) too soon based on random facts. At the same time, if you do find out some of his history, try to see both sides of each piece of information you gain. For example, if he is divorced, see that as a positive that he is capable of commitment. Also see it as something that was probably painful in some way. Don’t make any assumptions beyond that about how any aspect of his history is influencing him present day.

Dr. Marie Land LLC | Psychologist Washington DC | Therapist Dupont Circle | Relationships

Unsolicited information he gives you about how past relationships impact him CAN be valuable though. Especially if he is bringing up things that are in the “red flag” category for you such as his confidently admitting his capacity to be selfish and dishonest with women. If there are red flags and ingrained patterns, permission to listen – and abort!

SEE THE VALUE IN HIS STORY

Rather than being intimidated and insecure about the wide range of experiences a person has, be grateful for someone who has richness of experience. Chances are they may have refined their wants and needs along the way and if they are interested in you, how great that you happen to match up with him on multiple levels. Just as you have a larger appreciation for what you want in a relationship, he probably does too. Remember that every past relationship didn’t’ work out for him (or for you for that matter) for a reason. A reason that chances are, still exists. The majority of your impressions of someone you’re dating should be based on present-day experiences. No matter how detailed a picture they may paint you of their past, you’ll never get a full screen color depiction of reality. Rather than refining your intuitive abilities on reading men, base your impressions on just that – impressions of current reality.

HOW SOON IS TOO SOON TO HAVE “THE TALK?”

This concerns people that are actually interested in having “the talk,” as in discussing what exactly it is that you and your date are “doing.” Why are you hanging out exactly? Whether you’ve been introduced by a friend, met on the metro, or online, the question sits and uncomfortably lingers for most people at some point, no matter what their intentions are.

OH SO "SCARY" WOMEN

Dr. Marie Land LLC | Psychologist Washington DC | Relationship Therapist Dupont Circle

There’s a serious stigma for many women (it’s not easy for men either though) who are dating and are looking for something more than a casual encounter or hook-up. It’s almost taboo to bring up the topic of “what exactly is this?” because it can seem like you’re being too eager, needy, even desperate. In response to this stereotype of women being more interested in commitment than men, women are sometimes afraid to “scare the man away” with talks of the status of things. My advice – Fear not.

TALKING ABOUT ELEPHANTS ON DATES

One of the easiest ways to avoid this situation all together is being upfront in a warm and confident way from the get-go. If you’re interested in casually dating with the mindset that you’re open to connecting with someone who is relationship material, then say it. It makes future talks way easier and less intense. Most people rely way too much on their intuition and belief that they can “read” another person and be able to basically tell if the other person is really looking for things to move towards a relationship or to just be in a plateau of casualty indefinitely. Unfortunately, people aren’t that accurate and a lot of time is wasted by not being upfront. No worries if you weren’t though. If you missed the boat at the start of your series of dates with someone there are a couple of opportunities you can take:

1. Nonchalant , oh by the way…. Remember, talking in general is as casual as you make it. If you you’re comfortable then it really doesn’t have to be a big awkward mess. The basic hey, I’m having a good time hanging out and it occurred to me that we don’t even know what we are hoping (or not hoping) to get or not get from dating. Always providing an “out” at the start of the conversation can help the other person feel casual about the conversation too and keep everyone non-defensive. Generally, this is best after at least a few dates. 2.) Prior to physical intimacy. This can be a sort of natural and easy way to bring up the topic. Combining “the talk” around this time can be a great opportunity. 3.) Referencing how you got together in the first place. Mentioning something about how you first met can be an easy way to bring up the topic of what exactly it is that you’re doing with one another. It can be as simple as inquiring about how open or not open they were to getting to know you and why that is. If you consider yourself in a “dating” phase of your life than you’re basically trying on lots of personalities (and whatever other criteria you have) to see if they are a good fit. The only way to tell is if you don’t run from being genuine about what you’re looking for.

ARE YOU "MS. OVER-ATTACHED?"

Whether or not it’s completely untrue, people seem to be pretty concerned about potentially being “too attached” to their partner. If you’re like most people, it doesn’t seem like a particularly attractive or admirable trait to be “clingy,” “needy,” or “dependent.” Not in the same society where gold stars are given out to those that are independent and self-sustaining. Perhaps it’s one gender in particular that may experience a super negative visceral reaction to being labeled any of these terms, but I’ll leave that up to you to decide. IS IT YOU OR YOUR MIND?

Dr. Marie Land LLC | Psychologist Washington DC | Relationship Therapist

For some people, the idea of being “needy” is so appalling that the second they notice any remote signs of dependency in themselves, they cringe and wonder, “Am I being needy?” This snowballs into over-thinking about whether or not one is needy or not. This preoccupation can be more harmful than the actual preoccupation with another person. This is because there is such shame involved in “needing” another person.

Endings and beginnings are tough in life in general. In relationships, people can be super attuned to any time of transition on the spectrum of beginnings-endings. For example, if you normally spend every other day with your boyfriend and then he is out of town for a conference for a week. You have a feeling of loneliness in the pit of your stomach when he leaves and an existential sort of anxiety the first night he’s gone. It can be tough. But is it significant and does it matter? Sometimes people have a heightened sense of feeling needy just because there is some type of contrast.

A significant change of behavior (spending most days together to not spending time together) can trigger feelings of neediness. Now, to determine if this is significant or not, notice if this feeling goes away after a couple of days. After the contrast isn’t so strong. Thankfully humans adapt and you may adapt fairly well to your boyfriend’s absence (start hanging out with more friends, doing fun things, being “productive” …. hmmm….maybe a more balanced life in general!), if you would only consider your behavior and adjustment after a couple of hours or days from the contrast.

Time helps most people with transitions and one way to know if being super needy is of real concern is to track your behavior and feelings over time. Not just when things changed. Another indicator of being too attached is anticipatory endings. If you find that you are already anticipating your boyfriend leaving (temporarily or permanently) so much so that it is ruining your time with him, then this is a sign that you may need to throw yourself into other enjoyable aspects of life!

SO, WHAT’S NORMAL?

It’s normal to love being with someone you, well, love. If over the course of a month your mood is only positive when you’re with the other person, then you need to make finding joy in other ways a top priority. If for no other reason (and there are many!), then for the fact that you will convince yourself that that person is the only way to experience happiness, and an unhealthy dependence will likely result. Take this is as an exciting opportunity and challenge – to find all the different ways to experience joy. Chances are, your relationship will thrive even more.

HAVING THE SAME ARGUMENT ON REPEAT? WHAT TO DO IF IT FEELS LIKE GROUNDHOG DAY

Most couples have the same short list of arguments that come up time and time again. They may be packaged differently but the underlining issue is the same. This isn’t surprising given that many people just have a few reoccurring insecurities and fears. For example, the oh so classic “I’m not good enough” or “I’m not lovable.” This type of internal battle can manifest in arguments related to insecurity in the relationship. Related, trust issues continuing to pop up. Perhaps it’s continued arguments about household chores or spending time with friends. Whatever it is, it can feel like groundhog day when it comes to arguing.

SO WHY SO LITTLE PROGRESS? 

Why is it that some couples can just address things and move on and others make so little progress when it comes to resolving conflict? Yes, it’s a unique combination of personalities and the content of the actual argument. But there are other key players here. If you’re the one initiating the argument and it is playing on repeat, ask yourself the following.

LIKE, WHY IS THIS SUCH A BIG DAMN DEAL?!

The underlining issue is something far deeper than the superficial stuff that comes up in arguments. It’s usually a much more vulnerable place that you are going to need to go and yes, chances are it has something to do with YOU, not the other person. This is not saying that your partner isn’t selfish or wrong, or whatever it is the label you may be assigning them. It does mean that your loyalty to your argument has to do with you not looking at your concern deeply enough. You’re arguing about some behavior of your partner but you are not addressing the underlining issue. And yes, it is possible that this is NOT your partner’s issue. Why don’t you spend more time with me may be more related to your underlining fear that they don’t care/love you and will ultimately leave you. Who knows…but if you sit with it, I think you do know. Start asking questions related to the underlining issue (when calm….not in the heat of the moment when you’re upset about one of the “surface level” arguments). If your partner gives a comforting response to your real issue, hopefully that will help. If it doesn’t, then this is an indicator that the argument may be covering up real internal work that you have to do.

 BRAIN HABITS

Our brains have an impressive ability to think on repeat and it almost becomes habitual. If you’re used to arguing about the exact same household chores over and over again, it’s difficult to suddenly walk into the kitchen and not get upset about the dishes in the sink. Well, try. Try to just turn your mind away from the very thing that is annoying you for about a week. You’ve been arguing about it for a while now and certainly you’ll have opportunities to argue about it again. Just give your mind a break, and give your partner a break. This frees up space for you to feel more of what’s going on, and for real issues to be worked out.

WHAT IF YOU’RE THE ONE “GETTING IN TROUBLE?”

If you’re the one on the receiving end of the argument (and yes, often times it’s two sided…but for many arguments there is one person that ends up arguing by attack and the other by defense…and yes that can turn into attack). You don’t want to get in the routine of creating arguments that are eerily similar to the arguments you had as kid or teen with your parents. In a compassionate way, like a detective try look at your partner and see, “What’s REALLY going on here?” Ask for help in understanding why it is that “this thing” is bothering your partner so much. It may not be the first thing that they say if you ask something along those lines, but uncovering the layers of responses to this could give you something to work with. Try to work with your partner by finding ways to address the underlining issue in addition to doing the one thing that they want you to do that you can’t stand to do. Also, own what is yours. Be able to tell the difference between your not wanting to do the thing they want you to do….or if you are genuinely protecting your own fundamental needs which would not be met if you did compromise.  

CAN YOU REALLY CHANGE HIM?

Dr. Marie Land LLC | Psychologist Washington DC | Relationship Therapist Dupont Circle

You may be in the small pool of individuals who find someone who is essentially perfect. If so, let’s face it – that’s quite a nice combo of love and lust you’re experiencing because, well, no one is perfect. What starts out as acceptance of every behavior can sometimes turn into feeling like you have a microscope focused on every little irritating move he makes from morning until night. You may even acknowledge to yourself that your heightened awareness of things you want to change about him is just due to your mood at the moment, or some other fleeting feeling. Other times, there are things that just seem like they are non-negotiable. You like/love him. But he’s got to change. So can you really change him?

Before you try to change someone, ask yourself the question: Why is this so important to me? Once you really get in touch with your answer, consider the following qualities in your partner. Are they someone who changes and evolves in life in general? Or do they hang out with the same people, watch the same TV, and work at the same unsatisfying job…year after year?  Do they try to understand why you want them to change and why this thing is bothering you? If so, that’s good. That means they probably have some empathy and if they can make an easy compromise or adjustment to make your life a little better, no big deal. What’s their level of defensiveness? Do they fire back easily with something that is wrong with you (the fact that you’re asking them to change) or move quickly into focusing on a behavior that THEY want to change about YOU (this is a poor indication of someone who would change for another person)?  People (women and men) do change. If you find that there are really big things that need to change (those associated with the basic values of what is “right” or “wrong” to you both) in the relationship, it’s going to be pretty difficult to change that about your partner on your own (without a good couples therapist). If there are many little things that you’re trying to change, think about this next idea. 

ARE YOU EXPERIENCING MISGUIDED PERSPECTIVE TAKING?

You may use some logic like the following: “If he REALLY loved/liked me he would just do this thing for me. I would totally do it for him. Aren’t I worth it?”

You’ve created some formula in your mind that makes sense. A + B = C. He will stop being friends with his ex on Facebook (A) and will introduce me to his best friend (B) to prove he really likes me (C). The meaning you attribute to A and B (whatever they are) is not necessarily the same meaning he attributes to them. In fact, there’s a pretty good chance that he does not attribute the same meaning. The formulas we have in our minds that determine what we think is “normal” seem so believably logical. They are just truth!

Trying to take your partner’s perspective (imagining being in their shoes) is a great practice if you’re in a relationship. It helps create empathy and understanding much of the time. When it comes to changing behavior though, trying to see from his perspective may actually do nothing for your ability to see what he is experiencing. It may just be a great opportunity to imagine what you would do, and be more annoyed that they aren’t doing the same thing.

If you’re finding yourself annoyed by your guy’s inability to change some behavior find out his formula. Does A + B = C? More importantly, focus on C (the meaning you attribute to the behavior). The first part of the formula only matters because of the meaning you attribute (or assign) to it. Are there other ways that you know that C is true? Is this really about A and B, or are you just preoccupied with A and B because the real problem is C?

HOW TO TELL IF YOU’RE READY TO TAKE THE RELATIONSHIP TO THE NEXT LEVEL

Knowing when to take that next step in a relationship can be less than clear cut and obvious. Whether it’s calling him your boyfriend, moving in together, getting engaged, or sharing a bank account. Whatever the next step is, there are things you can do to make sure you’re ready.

WHAT’S HE GOT TO DO WITH IT?

Dr. Marie Land LLC | Washington DC Relationship Therapist | Psychologist Dupont Circle

Your knowledge of your own readiness can be influenced by your assumption about what your partner’s readiness to take the next step is. For example, if you’re preoccupied with whether or not your boyfriend thinks it’s too soon to move in or not, this makes it less likely that you are able to acknowledge to yourself what your needs and wants are. People have a tendency to dismiss their own desires when they feel like there would be vulnerability in expressing then. If there’s real concern about being the first one to bring up a next step, think about why that is. Is it because that is what you believe your partner is the only one who has the right to steer the relationship in a certain direction? Or because you label yourself as either too needy or too uncomfortable with commitment? Allowing things to “unfold naturally” does not need to mean that you need to wait for the other person to make the decisions about the relationship. Communicating one’s perspective is a mature and healthy way of relating.

 DIFFERENT TIMELINES

So, what if after you express your needs you’re on a completely different timeline than your partner? He assumes that moving in after a year is normal and you’re a little more cautious and want to wait two years. Does it mean that your relationship is destined to fail because of timing? Not necessarily. If both partners can openly discuss the meaning behind the their partner’s time line (after all, everyone comes up with their own one based on past relationships, values, and the models of relationships they’ve had in their lives), and not get freaked out by what they think that means, having differences doesn’t have to determine if the relationship sinks or swims. The first step though is getting real with yourself and looking at why you would not be open to discussing the next step when you feel it’s time to take it. Is it because you fear that it will push the other person away? If so, isn’t that something you would want to know? That your relationship is so fragile that a little communication will determine its failure?

JUST MAKE ANOTHER DECISION!

Usually when making decisions, there’s not complete certainty that it is the “right” decision. It’s normal to have some hesitation with any big decision. Ideally, you can be open with your partner about concerns and hesitations. Chances are they have had some of them as well. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything of concern. Hold in your mind that there are not perfect decisions, and there are risks involved with every decision. Also, know that if make a decision and it doesn’t work out, you can make another decision. You have to make choices based on the information you have. You can’t predict the future but you can honor where you’re at by listening to your wants and needs and expressing them.

“THE ONE” VERUS “THERE’S ALWAYS ANOTHER ONE”

There are risks involved with having either one of these perspectives. Certainly there is a continuum of where you may fall but many people tend to lean towards one view or the other. Being extreme in either viewpoint has its challenges.

Dr. Marie Land LLC | Psychologist Washington DC | Relationship Therapist Dupont Circle

THE FALLACY OF “THE ONE”

I call it a fallacy because there is not just one person, or even five. The fallacy that being with the person you're with is the only shot you have at a happy life involving a successful, fulfilling relationship is frankly, completely inaccurate. Holding the belief in “the one” is mainly problematic to those of you that find yourselves in relationships that are no longer mentally and emotionally desirable. Yes, holding this belief can occasionally help you feel grateful and appreciative of the romantic relationship you’re in that is going really well. More often though, it can be harmful by creating a lot of unnecessary fear and pressure around the relationship working out. Further, if a relationship has ended, you may feel that you lost your only chance at love. That's about as high stakes as it comes.  

WHAT IF I’M MISSING OUT ON SOMETHING BETTER?

On the other end of the continuum, you may think “there’s always a better option around the corner.” The belief that “there’s always another one” can be a helpful viewpoint if it helps you to remain hopeful about your love life, no matter what. If things don’t work out with one person, there will be other options. This idea is most useful if you can manage to have it after a relationship ends. It can even be useful during a relationship if it keeps you from having a sense of desperation about your relationship working out.  The problem arises when you think of this a little too often you’re actually in a good relationship. It keeps you from being totally in the relationship and wondering if you could “do better” when in fact you’re missing the opportunity to be grateful for a relationship that you entered for a reason (or hopefully multiple reasons). Each of these two errors (in the extreme) can be directly related to the next concept.

 YOUR BREAK-UP RESILIENCY

The fear of endings (or lack there of) is related to your break-up resiliency, an important factor to consider when you’re entering a relationship, in a relationship, or considering leaving a relationship. I define your break-up resiliency as your ability to recover from the ending of a relationship and bring your attention into the present moment in such a way that when you meet new people, your past isn’t haunting you with a gray cloud of fears. Determining the factors that increase your break-up resiliency are just as important when you’re in a relationship as when you’re starting to date after being single. This gives you the confidence to make more accurate decisions and see the strengths and weaknesses of your relationship more clearly. Simply look at what has helped you in the past when things ended and appreciate how difficult experiences have already helped you deal with loss. Remember that you do have coping skills and you will always be okay not matter what.