Marriage/Couples

Keep the Spark Alive in Long-Term Relationships: 9 Tips for Initiating Sex

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By Jill Baumgarner, MA

Early in your relationship, the thought that you might need tips for initiating sex were probably the furthest thing from your mind. There was a lot of sex and subsequently, a lot of talk about sex. Yet, over time, both the sex and the conversation surrounding it tend to slow down.  Realistically, it’s not surprising that lust cools and intimacy shifts as the relationship matures. But, if a couple is not communicating about their sex life, it can spell trouble.

The Stages of a Sex Life

Wait…there are stages?

The first step in keeping the sexual spark alive is recognizing that this spark can and often does fizzle after a period. We like to think we’re different. Our entire connection will be the proverbial “honeymoon phase” and we won’t need to talk about it to keep the excitement alive.  A more productive approach is to commit early to open communication about all things, including sex. If you accomplish this, there can be a healthy pattern to the stages of your sex life. For example:

  • Anything Goes. the dizzying early days when lust feels like a new discovery.

  • Finding a Rhythm. When you realize this is not a fling and settle into your own personal sex vibe.

  • Rhythm Becomes Routine. As time passes and responsibilities increase, you lose that spontaneous feeling.

  • Resisting the Cliché. “We will not become that couple everyone talks about!”

  • Acceptance. Okay, you sometimes are that couple but recognizing this creates room for…

  • Reinvention. With enough trust and lust, this process can always stay fresh.

9 Tips for Initiating Sex & Keeping the Spark Alive in a Long-Term Relationship

1. Open the Lines of Communication

Being clear and honest is sexy. Put aside assumptions and embrace direct discussion.

2. Redefine “Sex”

It can feel demoralizing if you experience long gaps between sexual encounters. Take a look at how you define “sex,” and remember that there’s much more to intimacy than just that one act.

3. Practice Seduction

In many relationships, one or both partners may feel they are taken for granted. Practice seduction. It makes things stimulating again.

4. Don’t Put it Off

If you have social plans, why wait to get frisky afterward? Don’t risk being too tired, full, drunk, or cranky. Do it when the opportunity feels right.

5. Take a Mini-Vacation

If you’re in the position to plan a getaway, make it happen.

6. Use Tech to Tease

We have these fancy devices with us all day. Why not use them to remind your partner that they make you hot? A mid-day text is a sweet way to build some suspense.

7. Don’t Pine for the “Good Old Days”

What you looked like and how you got down “back in the day” is of no concern today. Find what feels right for who you are right now.

8. Lots of Compliments

This is connected to the practice of seduction, mentioned above. Verbalize your appreciation and feel the sexual tension rise.

9. Be Patient

There is no blueprint or magic formula. Relationships require our full and constant attention. Be patient, trust each other, and reap the rewards.

Getting to the Root of the Issue

Sometimes there are unspoken, underlying factors to consider when it feels that the spark has left your relationship. Relationships are complicated and issues other than your sex life impact all aspects of your connection.

If it feels like the thrill is gone, you might want to ponder if the thrill is just being obscured by other things happening in your relationship. Perhaps there are things, such as hurt feelings, unresolved resentments, lack of intentional time together, busy schedules, etc., that are influencing your feelings about sexual intimacy with your partner. Many couples seek professional assistance by committing to meeting with a professional counselor to help them identify barriers that are keeping the sexual spark from igniting. In a safe and non-judgmental setting honest discussion can bloom, unhelpful patterns are exposed, new approaches are suggested, and additional tips for initiating sex explored. The result is a sharper awareness of how to stay intimate as your relationship evolves through the years ahead.

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Jill Baumgarner, MA, LPC Intern works with both couples and individuals at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin who are looking to regain the spark in their relationship. If you and your partner are ready to enhance sexual intimacy and restore an emotional and physical connection, call Jill at (512) 270-4883, ext. 108, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

6 Measures to Make Your Relationships A Priority This Year

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By Mirela Bitkowski, MA

Resolution #1: “Make Your Relationships A Priority”

From New Year’s Eve forward, we tend to jump into a myriad of resolutions and goal setting activities that fuel to-do lists, which may grow exponentially throughout the year. Resolutions focused on relationships, sadly, tend to get the least amount of attention.

Where do your relationships factor in your list of priorities? After the gifting and gathering of the holidays, do you find they get pushed further and further down the line? How many times have you felt guilty, stressed, or dissatisfied by the diminishing quality of your relationships as time goes by?

If you don’t have a solid plan to guide you to make your relationships a priority, you may end up giving the least attention to those you care for the most. You can avoid taking those you love for granted by checking in routinely, keeping communication flowing, and scheduling time together.

How do we do all that and reverse the inclination to put relationships on the back burner? Let’s see:

Try these 6 Measures to Make Your Relationships A Priority Year Round

1. Keep Communication Curious, Central, and Commit to it Daily

No relationship grows if interest and meaningful discussion stagnate. Healthy communication honors and facilitates deeper connections.

The people you care about need to hear from you, sense your interest, and believe that you are eager to know what they think and feel on a regular basis. They want to know that you are interested in what’s going on in their world. When they are sure they belong to your tribe, they are more likely to engage routinely and reciprocate your interest. In time, your relationships will naturally flourish.

2. Cut Down on Digital Distractions

There are so many conveniences and technologies pulling us away from each other. Despite their promises to provide time for the important things in life, social media, emails, and gaming often get in the way of our real-life connections.

Though it’s easy to think we’re connecting, we’re just distracting ourselves from the more personal investment of face-to-face relationships. Why not power down completely or use your phone to plan a real-world meet-up?

3. Pursue Passion & Develop Deeper Intimacy

As it pertains to your romantic partner, it’s vital that you pay special attention to waning affection and any sign of “roommate syndrome.” Use your new year calendar to schedule time together, plan vacations, and block out special celebrations.

Talk to your partner, allow them to share their ideas of intimacy. You may be surprised at what makes them feel closest to you.

4. Make Gathering and Goodwill a Year-round Activity

Simply put, this is a call to get together! Resist the automatic claim that you don’t have time to gather with friends or loved ones. Plan simple gatherings both at your home and away:

  • Welcome people in for your brand of hospitality when they least expect it. It doesn’t matter if it is a four-course meal or game nights with chips and dip.

  • Suggest dining out at a favorite deli, museum outings, nature hikes, or field trips to local tourist traps. Just make the invitation and follow through.

Experiencing life with people helps relationships grow and produces more memories and opportunities to know each other in various ways.

5. Don’t Forget the “Little” Things

There really are no small gestures in a relationship--especially your most cherished relationships. The daily ritual of “I love you” and a forehead kiss is gold to a spouse. A silly card in your child’s lunchbox communicates support and belonging. A photo sent to your great aunt via snail mail says you cared enough to say, “I’m thinking of you.” Grand gestures and gifts are wonderful, but thoughtful attempts to stay connected often mean much more.

The take away here? Do your best to listen, to stay on top of birthdays, and to take note of special needs or life changes.  List favorite things and possible gift ideas for loved ones throughout the year. Soon, your mindful, considerate actions will draw others closer and deepen your bonds.

6. Appreciate and Celebrate

Most of all, attempting to make your relationships a priority means understanding how much they enrich your life. If certain individuals in your life are high priority people, they deserve to know it and feel it. Show appreciation as often as you can. Celebrate who they are and your relationship with them. You owe it to yourself to feel the joy of sharing your appreciation and receiving their gratitude in return.

What’s Next?

Why not start the new year with the intention to continue to build and maintain your important relationships, and to begin improving your relationships with family and friends you may have neglected?

Prioritizing relationships may then seem less like something you have to resolve to do every new year and more like a natural, evolving part of your daily life.

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If you’re ready to make your relationships a priority and move toward increasing closeness and connections in your life, I would like to help.  Please contact me at (512) 270-4883 ext. 103 or request an appointment with me on the RCC Austin Scheduling page so we can discuss how to cooperatively achieve your relationship goals as quickly and effectively as possible. I look forward to hearing from you.

Which Love Language is Your Partner's? Why It Matters That You Master It

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By Mirela Bitkowski, MA

According to author, Gary Chapman, there are five love languages for couples; five primary ways individuals demonstrate their love for one another.

Although his theory isn’t based on scientific research, it is backed by more than 30 years of anecdotal evidence from Chapman’s experience as a marriage and couples counselor.

Chapman identifies the following love languages:

1.       Receiving Gifts

2.       Quality Time

3.       Words of Affirmation

4.       Physical Touch

5.       Acts of Service

In Chapman’s book, The 5 Love Languages, he outlines ways to decipher the individual language both you and your partner speak. Believing that these languages are embedded within each person at a young age, he’s confident they hold the key to developing healthy relationships.

What does this all mean for you? How can you tell which love language your partner speaks? What is your own love language? Furthermore, why is it important?

How to Identify Your Partner’s Love Language

Learning another ‘language’ is one thing but identifying the language and understanding it is completely different. Here are some tips on how to home in on the love languages you and your partner speak.

Look for Excitement

Observe your partner in everyday activities. Is there something that really makes them smile? Do they get excited over a certain behavior or action of another person? Can you tell when something is genuinely meaningful to them?

For example, one partner got as exuberant as a child every time their partner brought home fresh donuts on Saturday mornings. Or, consider the partner who consistently let out a sigh of relief and relaxed as the couple held hands.

These tiny moments are clues into which love language your partner speaks. Take these moments and connect the dots back to the love language.

Pinpoint What Upsets Them

As you observe what is meaningful to your partner, remember to look at the negative responses, as well.

Take note of the behavior and situations that upset them. Listen for a theme in their complaining or frustrating moments.

For example, one partner was easily upset when a device would interrupt the conversation. In this case, it may be worth considering Quality Time as their love language.

Why Your Partner’s Love Language Matters

More than simply “getting along,” here are two important reasons to learn which love language your partner speaks.

Establishes Guidelines in the Relationship

Relationships work better with guidelines to clarify each partner’s needs and personal boundaries.

Without guidelines, you and your partner have no map to give you direction on how to show your love in a way that has meaning to the other. It’s a situation where neither of you know how to show the other love.

Furthermore, no matter how hard you try to express your love, your partner may not even understand what you’re trying to do. They may even misinterpret your action as having some other motive.

These types of misunderstandings could easily cause rifts in your relationship.

Keep Their “Emotional Tank” Full

According to Chapman, the most vital reason for learning which love language your partner speaks is to avoid their emotional gas tank becoming empty.

Close relationships and even casual human interactions—at the office, in the home, in line at the store, etc.—they all require a certain amount of emotional energy. When a person gives and gives without having their emotional gas tank replenished, burnout can happen.

Think of a vehicle sputtering to the side of the road, all out of fuel.

As a couple, you each have the responsibility of keeping not only your own tank full, but also your partner’s.

Another way to think of this concept is as if you’re making deposits into what John Gottman calls an emotional bank account. When the account is kept full, your partner is at maximum emotional strength.

Nurturing a relationship can be tricky. Furthermore, it’s no small feat to pinpoint which love language makes sense to your partner, and then speak it! However, with attunement and intention, you can definitely learn.

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Mirela Bitkowski, MA, LPC Intern is a couples therapist at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. If you’d like help in strengthening the connection between you and your partner, and learn more about “love languages” in your relationship, please contact Mirela by calling (512) 270-4883, ext. 103, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

 

Aim to Please: How to Talk to Each Other About Sex and Satisfaction

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By Jill Baumgarner, MA

Discussing sex with your partner should be a great experience. At the beginning of a relationship, it usually is.

People are always changing, though. Which means your desires and needs will change, too.

The longer you’re in a relationship the more likely there is a need to talk to each other about sex. Though for many, this can be an awkward moment. Sort of like walking on egg-shells.

While you certainly want to communicate your sexual needs, you may also want to avoid insulting your partner on their sexual prowess. It’s a delicate balance.

Despite the sensitive topic, following a few guidelines will help you to have a healthy conversation.

Get Out of Bed

When you talk to each other about sex, be sure you do it in a neutral location—not while you’re in bed. The goal is to make your partner feel safe, secure, and open to being vulnerable.

Instead of surprising your partner with this discussion, tell them ahead of time what you want to talk about. Preface the invitation with your desire to talk about something that’s been on your mind regarding your sex life.

Handle One Thing at a Time

Because there’s often a risk that a sexual discussion could go poorly, you may be tempted to talk about everything all at once. Trying to discuss every little thing about your sex life is not the best  approach. It can be overwhelming for your partner. Plus, the chances are not great that you will come to any conclusions.

Therefore, follow the “short-and-sweet” rule, sticking to one topic per discussion. For example, if you’d like to talk about your partner taking the initiative more often, simply focus on that one aspect of your sexual relationship.

Remember the Basics

As you head into this discussion about sex, keep in mind the basics. It’s not exactly about tackling a sex topic. It’s more like laying the foundation of your sexual relationship.

Talk about things like what initiating sexual intimacy means to your partner or what time of day they enjoy sex the most. Your partner’s natural life rhythm can greatly influence their sexual desires, so keep these facts and their concerns at the forefront of any discussion.

Take the Positive Approach

As with any discussion attempting to motivate change, the temptation is to focus on what you don’t like. Basically, you end up complaining. Avoid this approach, by all means.

Rather, offer your partner reassurance by telling them what you do like about your sexual relationship. Go as far as to discuss a certain action like the way they kiss you or caress your skin.

Only after you encourage and uplift your partner can you talk about any suggestions or concerns you may have. Keep in mind, too, that you need to leave room for them to give their point of view and be open to their feedback.

Be Incredibly Tactful

While sex is undeniably a very physical act, its impact runs far below the surface of your body. It is emotional, mental, and intangible. Further still, each person has their own unique relationship with sex.

It’s important to acknowledge that your partner could have different ideas about sex than you do. Possibly even a complicated history that affects how they feel about it.

For this reason, dedicate yourself to being as tactful as you possibly can when you talk to each other about sex. If you have trouble finding the right words, pause the conversation.  Search your mind diligently for them. Protect your partner from misunderstanding you and inadvertently hurting their feelings.

Obviously, sex can be a wonderfully intimate expression of the connection between two people. If you struggle with discussing it, take some time to determine why. Otherwise, your relationship may struggle as well.

A therapist’s objective support and guidance could make it easier if you find that you have difficulty with this subject on your own. Consider seeking out a therapist who can facilitate a discussion about sex and help you to reconnect intimately with your partner.
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Jill Baumgarner, MA, LPC Intern, works with couples at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin, helping them restore intimacy, sexual spark, gain communication skills, and find peace in their committed relationships. To schedule an appointment with Jill, contact her at 5121-270-4883, ext. 108, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

When You Both Feel Misunderstood - 5 Tips For Clear Communication

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By Summer Hough, MA

A conversation with your partner begins innocently enough, but clear communication can get muddy in hurry.

Sound familiar?

You know how it goes: you are having a perfectly nice discussion, but a facial expression suddenly sours, open body language shifts to being closed off, or a phrase or tone of voice doesn’t sit right. Your sunny dispositions may cloud over as a simple discussion turns into a disagreement.

Poor communication can ruin a good conversation about anything—parenting styles, what to do for vacation, finances, household tasks – just to name a few. When clarity gives way to an offense, you both feel unheard or misunderstood.

It can be so frustrating!

You just want to explain yourself to your partner so they will get it and then agree with you. Right?

However, many times that doesn’t happen. Instead, the situation only goes from bad to worse.

To avoid such misunderstandings, consider five tips to help you to achieve clear communication.

1. Put Yourself in Your Partner’s Shoes

Often, one of the reasons why we feel misunderstood is because we believe our position or opinion is the right one. You may think, “If only I could convince my partner of the true facts, as I see it, they would get it!” Problem solved.

This approach doesn’t often work, as your partner most likely only digs in deeper with their own “true facts.”

Take a breath to give yourself a short pause before responding to your partner. Take a moment to step back and see things from your partner’s perspective. Consider how they might view the situation from their side. Can you consider that perspective and find common ground?

Putting effort into seeing things from the other person’s viewpoint really helps when it comes to effective communication.

2. Know How to Interrupt

A general rule of thumb is that interrupting your partner is not helpful and only leads to conflict escalation.

However, if there is a time when you must pause the conversation to focus on a particular point, don’t default to rudeness or start talking over your partner. Rather, say, “Excuse me, you’re bringing up a really good point here. Could we explore that further?”

Frame the interruption as a question with the intent of furthering your understanding. This is productive and respectful, as opposed to interrupting with the goal of shutting your partner down by disagreeing or saying they’re wrong in their point of view.

3. “I” vs. “You” Statements

When it comes to misunderstandings with our partner, it’s easy to use language focused outward instead of inward. It can be easy to generalize, catastrophize, and minimize someone else’s behavior, too. Do you say things like:

  • You always do that!
  • You never listen to me!
  • Can’t you just stop for a moment?

Instead, use “I” statements to express what you are feeling. For example, “I feel disregarded when it seems what I have to say is not important. I need to feel that I’m heard, even if we disagree on this issue.”

Hear the difference?

Criticism of your partner is gone when “I” statements are present. You are speaking from your point of view and the emotions you are feeling. Be aware of the use of the word “you” during conflict, which can feel like criticism to your partner, and often results in the back-and-forth volley of defensiveness between the two of you.

This kind of approach helps your partner stay more open to what you have to say instead of feeling backed into a corner or accused by you.

4. Avoid the “Here We Go Again” Mentality

Have you ever caught yourself thinking, “Here we go again,” when talking with your partner? This refers to the repeated actions or speech your partner uses. Even just the fact that you are having another argument about the same old thing can bring this thought to mind.

“Here we go again” thinking causes you to mentally write your partner off before they have even had a chance to express themselves.

Think about it. If there is a theme that repeatedly comes up, perhaps it’s time you both really addressed it. To do this well, be willing to have an open mind when your partner brings up the perpetual issue. Ask questions. Be curious. Try to understand, even if you don’t agree.

5. Listen, Don’t Speak

The key to clear communication with your partner has less to do with speaking and more to do with listening. That means avoiding the temptation to jump in and “correct” your partner or talk over them.

Truly listening involves more than just opening your ears. It also means having an open heart.

When each of you opens up, real sharing and dialogue can occur. Otherwise, you are just fending each other off with your emotional walls and defenses. When that happens, emotional vulnerability is off the table, and little or no progress can be made

No one likes to feel misunderstood. However, there is a right and wrong way to go about creating clear communication and understanding. The wrong way means shutting yourself off, not listening to your partner, and being dismissive.
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Summer Hough, MA, LPC Intern works with couples and individuals, helping them to improve their relationships through improved communication skills. She sees clients at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin, a specialty practice helping couples, families, and individuals building and maintain positive and happy relationships. Contact Summer at 512-270-4883, ext. 110, or complete the form on the RCC Austin Scheduling page and request an appointment with her.

Healthy Relationships: When Is It Time to See a Couples Therapist?

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By Summer Hough, MA

Every couple can benefit from the nonjudgmental assistance of a couples therapist.

Transition periods in a relationship may be especially difficult for couples to manage on their own.

Changes are exciting. Moving in together, getting married, and starting a family are fun experiences. Changes like this are also very stressful.

Transitions trigger our fears. They show us our differences. Things that neither of you knew were an issue can arise and provoke problems.

A couples therapist can help you navigate the transitions with ease.

Counseling is beneficial before big changes occur. Continuing through transitions will help to navigate difficult times. Do you have any of the following big transitions coming up?

1. Moving in Together Has Unexpected Surprises

Living together offers many wonderful moments of domestic bliss. Cooking together, sharing a shower, and sleeping next to one another are cozy. A lot of intimacy opens up when you agree to share space with one another.

However, many issues also arise with moving in together. Couples may think they have a lot in common only to discover a big gap in the way each does everyday things. Things that can challenge your patience include:

  • Dividing chores
  • Balancing “together” and “alone” time
  • Adjusting to your partner’s sleep-wake cycle
  • Choosing when and how to communicate about issues

Counseling can help you set expectations before you move in together. Your couples therapist can point out common issues and help you discuss them. After the move, as new challenges arise, therapy can continue to support your growth as a couple.

2. Getting Married Creates New Challenges

Whether or not you live together first, marriage presents a new set of challenges for couples. Many people have underlying expectations of what a marriage is, and they mistakenly assume that their partners feel the same way.

Sometimes we, as individuals, haven’t even unearthed those issues for ourselves, so we can’t communicate them adequately. Our partners don’t live up to what we expect, and we feel disappointed. Individual and couples counseling help you define and discuss those expectations.

Pre-marital counseling is also important for sifting through major marriage issues. Many couples feel stress about combining finances. Other common stressors include where you will live, how you will deal with job changes, and what role your in-laws will play in your lives.

You can anticipate and cope with many of your marriage problems in advance. When new challenges arise, you’ll have the foundation that you need to discuss issues and deal with them productively.

3. Starting a Family Triggers New Fears

Having child brings up concerns for many people. You may experience triggers from your own childhood that you thought had been resolved long ago. These unprocessed events from an earlier time can put a big strain on a relationship.

Problems can arise long before the children are even in the picture. People have different ideas about when to have children, how many to have, and even how to have them (through adoption, for example).

It’s never too early to get help from a couples therapist in this area. Bring your fears and doubts into the therapy room. Work together to find ways to create a family that feels right to everyone involved.

Once you have children, they will provide you with many learning opportunities that further challenge your relationship. However, having done the work ahead of time, you and your partner will be better prepared to work through those issues. You won’t always be on the same page, but you’ll know how to get there together.

Sometimes problems in a relationship make it is obvious that you need to see a couples therapist. It is less obvious that you should go when things are going well for you and your partner. Still, notice the transitions in your lives, and don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help early on. You can get through challenging times with love and the tools to grow together.
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Summer Hough, MA, LPC Intern is a counselor at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. She helps couples, married and premarital, successfully navigate transitions in their relationships. To schedule an appointment with her, call 512-270-4883, ext. 110, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

Marriage and Friendship: 4 Keys to Knowing Each Other Intimately

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By Roy Faget, MA

The one person that you should know best in life is your spouse. In fact, research shows that knowing your partner well and maintaining a deep and trusting friendship, is foundational to your relationship happiness. Marriage and friendship are closely linked.

Your spouse is your life-partner and the friend whom you can turn to at the times you need them the most.

Marriage, of course, is a lifelong journey. That means that the process of learning about your partner never ends as you grow together through the years.

No matter where you are in your marriage—whether it’s year 1 or 51!—there is always the chance to more intimately know one another.

Consider these four key ways to accomplish just that.

1. Spend Time Together

There is absolutely no substitute for spending time with each other. When you are first married, you spend a lot of time together as a couple. As time goes on it’s easy to drift into separate lanes.

When that happens, you lose the intimacy you once had. This is more than physical intimacy; it’s the emotional and spiritual closeness that you share together.

To spend more time enhancing your marriage and friendship together, consider these ideas:

  • Set aside 30 minutes each day to be together and catch up on each other’s day.
  • Go for walks together. This is especially useful if you have a pet that needs a daily walk (or two!).
  • Cook meals together.
  • Play music or dance with each other.
  • Spend a getaway day together where you go out and explore your community.
  • Exercise as a couple.
  • Pick up a new sport or hobby that you are both interested in.

Whether it’s a daily practice that takes a few minutes or getting away on vacation now and then, it’s important to spend time with each other and doing things together.

2. Have Meaningful Conversations

You and your partner probably spent a lot of time talking and getting to know each other when you first started dating. Most likely, these were the kind of conversations where you both lost track of the time. Everything else fell by the wayside as you were drawn into each other.

Don’t let that disappear once you’re married. Instead, continue to have meaningful and thoughtful discussions. Ask your partner what their hopes and dreams are. Show concern if they have a newfound fear.

Relationships evolve over time, and so do people. What was true for your partner when you were dating may have changed by now. Make sure that you are both still on the same page and know what is going on in each other’s worlds.

3. Truly Listen to Each Other

Listening has become something a lost art in our modern, busy, stressed-out world. Yet, it is such an important and key element for knowing each other intimately. How can you possibly know your partner if you don’t pay attention and listen?

Listening intently requires you to slow down and to focus your attention—not on yourself, but on your partner. Take in what they have to say and let it absorb into your mind and heart. Try to relate and connect with what they are feeling and experiencing.

Listen to understand your partner, not to give advice or fix a problem they are sharing with you. Validate the feelings and emotions they are sharing with you. Be curious about what is going on for them.

Listening also means paying attention to your partner’s nonverbal communication. If you can be attuned to both forms of communication, you will be much closer to knowing one another intimately.

4. Laugh Together

The fourth key to intimately knowing your partner is laughter and humor. When you laugh you are releasing endorphins, which affect your mood. You feel more relaxed, accepting, and present.

Imagine what happens when both of you are laughing together. You are both sharing a common experience that is positive, satisfying, and enjoyable. Let’s face it, laughing is just fun!

Knowing what makes your partner laugh can help when times get tough or you need to blow off steam. Sharing a laugh can truly help. Remember, it’s those little events that occur in your life that create a strong foundation for not just a friendship—but a marriage.

The key to a happy marriage and friendship is no big secret. Marriage and friendship are paired  qualities that have stood the test of time.

Don’t allow the busy-ness and stress of everyday life to get in the way of having a strong marriage and friendship.  It’s never too late to put these four key elements into action to create a stronger, more intimate, and consistently caring relationship.
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Roy Faget, MA, is a marriage and family therapist associate and licensed professional counselor intern at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. Contact Roy if you and your partner are looking for assistance to revive friendship and intimacy in your relationship. He can be reached at 512-270-4883, ext. 109, or request an appointment with him on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

5 Affirmations Happy Couples Give Each Other Often

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By Jill Baumgarner, MA

We are regularly bombarded with images and messages about “true love.” They all seem to add to something like this:

  • You have one true soul mate out there
  • When you meet, it’s love at first sight
  • From there, well… it’s happily ever after

Sure, this is an oversimplification but, by how much? Each of us, through no fault of our own, get some very unproductive messages about relationships. Movies, books, and social media often present us with the image of what a relationship should be. This can result in big problems when real life doesn’t follow the fairytale script.

There is a very basic, yet powerful way to counter the “true love hype” in this age of social media, memes, and smartphones. What is it?

Affirmations!

What is an Affirmation?

An affirmation is defined as a positive assertion.                   

An affirmation is a conscious act. It is a mindful statement of truth.

We each have anywhere from 150 to 300 thoughts per minute. Most of the tens of thousands of thoughts we have daily are subconscious. The majority of these are negative, and most of the time we are not even aware of our negative cognitions. When we begin to pay attention and choose to mindfully be aware of the ticker tape of thoughts going on in our mind, we can then counter the negative thoughts with positive affirmations that are more helpful.

While everything else ricochets around your brain, an affirmation has a calming effect. It provides much-needed certainty among the many conflicting thoughts. Affirmations are helpful in relationship terms, as well as in individual. A steady practice of giving your partner and your relationship positive affirmations feels like a strong foundation against the changing, unpredictable winds.

When we affirm ourselves, our partner, and our relationship, we absorb the positivity. We feel it. We mean it.  We live it.

5 Affirmations Happy Couples Give Each Other Often

1. Our lines of communications are always open and always open to change.

Healthy communication is a foundational part of a happy relationship. Remember that good communication is a process — not a destination.

2. I love you as you are.

Too often, we stack up our partner against other people. Even worse, perhaps, is when we stack our partner up against some future version of them. We can love our partner as they are — while also supporting them as they evolve and grow.

3. I take responsibility for my words and actions.

No more defensiveness and passive-aggressive deflection. We will think before we act and speak and after we act and speak. If we make a mistake, we will repair that mistake and take responsibility for it.

4. I forgive when necessary and I apologize when necessary.

Hard times will happen. The goal is never perfection. When navigating rough waters, we will handle the struggle with maturity, grace, and love.

5. My respect and trust are unwavering.

No matter how our connection evolves — even if that connection dramatically shifts — respect and trust is non-negotiable. These are guiding principles for all our actions.

There’s Something Else Happy Couples Do

Leave nothing to chance. Accepting that sometimes you may need a bit of help is another way to affirm yourself, your partner, and your relationship.

Individually and as a couple, we must accept that sometimes we do better if we get outside help and support. This may mean reading books on healthy relationships, attending a workshop or weekend retreat for couples, or seeing a couples counselor. Reaching out for help with your relationship doesn’t mean your relationship is failing, it affirms that your relationship is important to you and you want to make it better and happier for you both.

The patterns we develop over time often mask what we choose not to see. To stay a “happy couple” means we must sometimes face some “unhappy” truths. We identify them, address them, and do the work to make different choices. All in all, there’s no other affirmation that shows love more clearly.
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Jill Baumgarner is a licensed professional counselor intern with the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. If you and your partner want to find new ways to affirm your relationship, contact Jill at 512-270-4883, ext. 108, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

Don't Agree? Can't Relate? How You Can Gain More Empathy For Others

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By Mirela Bitkowski, MA

Are you having trouble relating to others? Understanding your partner and other loved ones? Communicating with your coworkers? Have you started to wonder whether you might be the common denominator in your relationship misunderstandings?

Every relationship comes with its unique set of challenges but relating to others shouldn’t feel foreign. Cultivating more empathy will enhance your relationships and encourage you to forge strong connections with other people. Use the following tools to increase your empathy levels and build successful relationships.

Immerse yourself in fiction

Immersing yourself in fictional stories can be incredibly beneficial in cultivating more empathy. Reading books and watching television shows or movies allow us to explore the lives of others. When we embark on these fictional journeys, we form attachments to characters, begin to see the world through their eyes, and walk a while in their shoes. Engaging in the fictional lives of characters is almost like practicing for “the real thing” – the more you cultivate your imagination, the more you cultivate your ability to empathize.

Practice active listening

Do you find yourself listening just to solve an immediate problem? Does partner accuse you of constantly interrupting or cutting them off? Do you hear this from your friends and family, too? This might be because you don’t give them the opportunity to fully express themselves.

When we don’t truly listen to another person, it’s impossible to empathize with them. Next time you find yourself in an argument or discussion with a loved one, practice listening without interruption. To gain full comprehension, repeat back to them what you understand about their wants and needs. You can resolve conflict more efficiently and build stronger connections when you listen for understanding.

Don’t shy away from curiosity  

Don’t be scared to ask questions when you meet new people, or to obtain a deeper understanding of someone you already feel close to. The more you inquire about the people you meet, the more easily you’ll see things from a variety of perspectives. Being curious decreases judgment while increasing empathy.

Step outside of your comfort zone

The more places you visit, the more people you’ll meet. The more questions you ask, the more expansive your worldview will be. Try stepping outside of your comfort zone and helping people you wouldn’t normally find yourself interacting with.

Instead of living inside of your own bubble, step into a new environment and devote your energy to another person. Remember that, ultimately, we all carry biases, and that it’s important to question them. Challenge these biases to empathize more with one another.

Empathy takes practice, and while some of us carry this trait more naturally than others, we can all benefit from cultivating it.  
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Mirela Bitkowski, MA, LPC Intern, sees couples and individuals at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. For more help on developing empathy, contact Mirela at (512) 270-4883, ext. 103, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

Relationship Recess: Why Playing Together Promotes Staying Together

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By Sarah Wilson, PhD

For most kids, playing together at recess is the best part of the school day.

They can let down their guard, give their brain a break, and allow their muscles to work out pent-up tension.

As an adult, you don’t have recess like you did when you were a kid. But you can still steal away from life to enjoy a little playtime. Especially with your partner.

In fact, making “recess” a part of your relationship routine can actually strengthen your bond.

Here’s how.

Keeps You from Getting Bored

Couples often report that they divorce or end their relationship because they have grown apart or have gone in different directions. Relationship boredom may play a big role in this distancing.

Boredom often leads to dissatisfaction and dissatisfaction can lead to breaking up.

To safeguard your relationship from the downfall of boredom, infuse some pep into your routine.

For example, consider trying a new restaurant, maybe an ethnic food that neither of you have tried before. Or, plan a miniature golf outing with your partner. You can even go all-in and learn a new hobby or skill by taking a class together. How about dance lessons, a new language, or an exercise class?

The goal of trying new things isn’t to win or be the best, even if you’re super competitive. It’s to laugh and have fun together. Plus, the actual activity isn’t nearly as important as the attitude in which you participate.

Helps to Bridge the Good Feeling Gap

Humans work in a unique way, associating feelings with things and activities. You might associate grocery shopping with the feeling of urgency. Or, connect contentment to watching your favorite movie.

Playing together with your partner will provide the same sort of connectivity.

When you enjoy the activity you’re doing together, you experience good feelings. Your amazing brain will connect those good feelings to your relationship in general.

Essentially, doing fun and novel things together gives you both a rush of positivity. In turn, this positive rush washes over your relationship and covers you both in optimism and good feelings and emotions.

All these good feelings can help you resolve conflict more effectively, too.

Promotes Happiness in General

Trucking through the same routine day after day can eventually wear on you. Routine is good, and you may thrive on it, but everyone needs a bit of variety in their lives. Especially in our relationships with our partners. We need arousal and stimulation.

Not only can a new activity stimulate brain cells that are stuck on autopilot, but it can make you feel genuinely happy.

You might not be absolutely enamored with the activity itself. More than anything, though, a new activity can spark a flame that is at risk of fizzling out.

Unsurprisingly, this overall feeling of happiness often spills over into your relationship. When you are a happier person, you tend to be more pleasant and more satisfied with your partner.

It’s a Win/Win for Both of You

Starting out, establishing a fun relationship recess might seem too activity-focused. Meaning, you are both more concerned with enjoying the activity than enjoying each other.

Here’s the thing about a relationship recess, it has little to do with the actual activity. As mentioned before, it’s not the activity that makes the difference. It’s the spirit behind it.

Ultimately, it’s a win/win for both of you. Even if one of you isn’t a huge fan of the activity. And although your partner may “win” in convincing you to try something new, and vice versa, both of you are champions.

By playing together, you’re creating emotional intimacy and cultivating an intense connection.

You might even find yourself saying, “I never thought I’d be doing this!” And in the next breath, discovering you’re really having a great time.

Plus, the beaming smile on your partner’s face will be worth it.
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Do you and your partner need some help putting the "fun" back into your relationship? Dr. Sarah Wilson, LMFT Associate, can help you develop strategies and goals to bring the spark back to your relationship. Contact her at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin at 512-270-4883, ext. 104, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.