Couple underwater.Dating can be exciting and fun, and being in love can be magical. But is there something you should be doing to see if this is the right person for you? Well, yes, as a matter of fact. Dating is about getting to know one another and, in this way, seeing if there is a good match between you, finding out how compatible you are with one another. Don’t get me wrong, no matter who you partner with, there will be differences that will need to be negotiated. Knowing about these ahead of time, before making a long term commitment, can help you decide if you are a good enough match for one another. This will improve the chance of your relationship being successful in the long term.

Couple underwater.

Image of card deck.I love the card deck 52 Questions Before Marriage or Moving In designed by Ursula Burton. The card deck has four categories: romance, social life, work, and money. Each card has questions to help you have meaningful conversations around these topics. For instance, a card under romance asks: “What are your views about having children? Pets? How strong are your positions about this? What, if anything, would change your mind?” Under social life, one card asks: “In what ways do your religious and/or political beliefs and practices, if any, differ from your partner’s? If you have children, with what beliefs and practices will you raise them?” Under work: “What reasons might there be for one or both of you to cut back on work hours or not work for money?” Under money: “How do you feel about any existing debt? About taking on more debt as a couple?”

Image of card deck.

As you can see, the card deck has great questions and conversation starters to help you explore life together. This will help you understand how good a match you are for one another, and what areas might be challenging to negotiate as a couple. It is crucial to know if there are any “deal breakers” in any of the differences you explore. Deal breakers are differences such that one of you will not be able to meet a core need; for example, one person wants to have kids, the other one does not. But keep in mind, outside of deal-breakers, differences do not mean your relationship won’t work. Differences are unavoidable. It is how you manage these differences—how you talk about them—that makes all the difference in the world. Knowing about these sooner rather than later can help you evaluate the next steps, such as further exploration, getting help from a trusted other to talk about difficult topics, or taking time to do some soul searching about your relationship.

'quote'We recognize a soulmate by the supreme level of comfort and security we feel with that person. That doesn't mean that there aren't issues that remain to be ironed out. Rather, it means we know intuitively that we can resolve issues with our soul mate without losing his or her love and respect.' — Linda Brady

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'The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress.' — Joseph Joubert

Perpetual issuesDoes your partner drive you a bit batty by doing the same thing over and over that they must know by now that it is a pet peeve of yours? Here is a little secret about disagreements with your partner: if the same argument keeps coming up, over and over again, you may be dealing with a “perpetual issue.” Dr. Gottman’s research has shown that perpetual issues make up about 69% of conflict couples have. These are issues that relate to fundamental differences between partners, such as differences in personality or lifestyle preferences.

Perpetual issues

When you are discussing a perpetual issue, the most valuable skill is establishing an ongoing dialogue about the issue. An essential part of this dialogue is to slow down the conversation. The aim is to understand what is going on underneath the surface. Then, with this understanding, explore options to make things better for both of you.

Perpetual issues

For example, take Joe and Mary. Mary wants to be on time, but Joe has a relaxed stance on timeliness. Is Mary’s need for timeliness about a value like respect? Is there a backstory that can help flesh out what is going on? Is Joe’s underlying value about relaxing and escaping the tyranny of time? Is there a disaster scenario for them around some aspect of this? The possibilities of what could be going on for each person are endless.

When we understand what is going on, for ourselves and our partner, and we both feel heard and understood, avenues for honoring each other’s needs become possible. A deeper understanding will allow you to experiment with possible solutions. But know that you will likely need to return to dialogue when it comes up again. As always, remember to avoid the Four Horsemen (contempt, stonewalling, criticism, and defensiveness).

Perpetual issues

Let us go back to Joe and Mary. For Mary, timeliness is about keeping her word and being responsible. For her, it is about how disappointed and let down she feels when others fail to show up for her. For Joe, his relaxed stance on time is about not worrying about responsibilities all the time. His story is about how stifling it was to grow up in a house where there was no space made for hanging out and being creative. With this understanding, Joe and Mary discussed ways to manage this difference. One option they came up with is deciding which events will be prioritized for being “on time” and which events both will be “more relaxed” about. They also decided to set up activities that are not bound by a set time frame.

Perpetual issues

Once you have set up a plan, give yourselves some opportunities to try it out. Come back and talk about it again after a while to see what may need to be adjusted. Remember that this is an ongoing conversation; keep experimenting, building on what you learn along the way.

While some arguments will change over time, others will stay with you as you find ways to deal with them. Keep in mind that differences are inevitable when two people love one another. The important thing is that the positive things about your partner and your relationship can far outweigh these differences.

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Highly unlikely… for starters, “sex addiction” is not mentioned in the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is used to make diagnoses in the United States. The World Health Organization also does not use the term sex addiction in its diagnostic guide (it has “compulsive sexual behavior disorder”).

Broken heart.How can we know if something (whether heroin, porn, sex, gambling, or alcohol use) is an addiction? According to Prof. Mark Griffiths, there are six criteria to consider: 1) Salience: does it dominate thoughts, feelings, and behavior? 2) Mood modification: is it used to shift mood? 3) Tolerance: are increasing amounts needed to achieve the same effect? 4) Withdrawal: do unpleasant feelings, or physical effects, occur when discontinued or suddenly reduced? 5) Conflict: does it create interpersonal conflict or intrapsychic (internal) conflict? 6) Relapse: is there a tendency for the activity to recur after years of abstinence or control? Another hallmark of addiction, according to Dr. Allen Frances, is that something that may have given pleasure at the beginning now no longer does so, but can’t be stopped. For most people, even though sex may create problems, the act itself remains pleasurable.

Broken heart.

I think it is clear that very few people would qualify, given the above criteria, for having a sex addiction. Yes, this behavior can create plenty of problems, but calling it a “sex addiction” may be more about avoiding taking responsibility than about dealing with an addiction. Yet the fallout from an affair is real, regardless of what it might be attributed to. But, if it is not due to “sex addiction,” what is it due to? Most likely, it is about trust, commitment, intimacy—either that these are lacking or are broken—and a host of other related issues.

To save a relationship after an affair takes a lot of work—from both partners. Even then, there is no guarantee of success. It is possible to create a healthy relationship after an affair if both partners are willing to put in the hard work. And for many couples, this is worth doing. It goes without saying that getting help can make a big difference; the-sooner-the-better. If you want to explore this option, contact me for a free phone consultation.

quote: 'My addiction made me do it' is the modern equivalent and substitute for 'the devil made me do it.' Personal responsibility is easily dissolved when behavioral choices become fake psychiatric illnesses. — Allen Frances, MD

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Quote on trust

Everyone has some sense of what trust means in relationships. As it is a vital part of any healthy relationship, it is worth taking a look at. When trust is broken, any relationship is in serious trouble and likely to end.

Reaching out to help woman climb upTake Judy, for example, who was in a relationship with a partner who cheated on her. For a long time, she wasn’t able to trust her partners as this experience “infected” her with jealousy and lack of trust. Years later she fell in love with Jack and she told him about her earlier experiences and her “hypersensitivity”—which, in this case, means being vigilant about something painful that has happened in the past. For Judy, this came not only from her prior cheating partner’s behavior but also from her father’s infidelity to her mother. Jack asked what it would take for her to trust him. She thought about it and asked that they have a “no secrets” policy; for her, this meant no secret passwords, Jack always being available by phone, and no repeated meals or business trips with attractive women. He was willing to meet all of her conditions and then some. Not only did Judy eventually stop being suspicious and jealous, but over time she was able to relax some of the conditions she had needed before.

Reaching out to help woman climb up

In relationships, trust occurs when we know our partner acts and thinks to maximize our best interests and benefits, not just their own. It’s that sense that our partner has our back and is there for us and is willing to be consistent in meeting our needs. The first step in building this kind of trust is listening with compassion and understanding to one another, just as Jack did for Judy.

Did you notice the listening part above? Learning how to be a great listener is a skill you can work on. Start with this simple listening exercise to help you become a great listener. As to compassion and understanding, stay tuned for more…

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“Most people fail, not because of lack of desire, but because of a lack of commitment.” — Vince Lombardi

Commitment can be defined as “the state or quality of being dedicated.” In the context of a relationship, a useful way of looking at commitment is this: believing, and acting on, the understanding that this relationship, with this specific person, makes one's life-long journey complete.

It was always you - wedding doorA lot of the couples who come for my guidance question their commitment. In all cases the marriage vow, “for better or for worse,” applies—with the understanding that when worse both must work to make improvements. So, when things have tipped into “worse,” what can you do? First and foremost, make sure the four horsemen (Contempt, Criticism, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling) are out of the equation—this is the solid foundation upon which to proceed. Effective communication is also essential; so practice your listening skills—be a good listener for one another. Be gentle with one another when discussing the pain points in your relationship. Don’t be afraid to get support if you need it—and do this sooner rather than later—particularly if you find it is hard or painful. One way to get hands-on experience with these skills is to participate in one of The Art & Science of Love workshops, or get personalized coaching.

It was always you - wedding door

What if you want to ensure your commitment is in good shape and stays that way? In this case, gratitude is key, so find ways to celebrate the wonderful things about your relationship and your partner—be sure to cherish the positive. Beware of trashing your partner (with others or in your thoughts), avoid making negative comparisons of your partner with others, or nurturing resentments. For partners who have fallen into this, there is a higher risk of an affair (emotional and/or physical). When concerns arise, address them—be gentle. This can lead to more intimacy and prevent the erosion of commitment.

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LeMel Firestone-Palerm, LMFT, LPCC, CGT
LeMel Firestone-Palerm, LMFT, LPCC, CGT About LeMel...
SFBayCounseling.com
LeMel Firestone-Palerm, LMFT, LPCC, CGT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist MFC 42162
Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor LPC 1534
Certified Gottman Therapist