What is normal, really?

What is normal, really?


The Marriage and Family Clinic

Clients often come into therapy worried that they aren’t normal and that their problems are unusual.
It’s important to realize that you are not alone in your struggles and that there are many others who share your pain. 

Of course, the issues you and your partner face are unique to you because you both have your own coping and problem-solving skills that you bring to the relationship.  But take solace in the knowledge that because we all share most of the same concerns, there is a myriad of solutions.

The following are some of the most common complaints that couples bring to therapy, along with some suggestions on how to fix them:

Poor Communication

This is the biggie.  It’s the rare couple that doesn’t come to us in counseling talking about communication issues.  Of course, it’s paramount that you as a couple are able to communicate effectively.  But most importantly, WHY aren’t you able to communicate?  What are the barriers standing in your way and why do things become so heated? That is perhaps the most important work that will be done in therapy.

What you can try at home:

Reflective listening: Slow down and listen to what your partner is saying, then reflect back the message you received – without judgment or interpretation!  Ask your partner if you got it right.

“I” Statements: When expressing your thoughts and feelings, accept responsibility by using the word “I,” as opposed to the blaming “you.”

Depleted Emotional Bank Accounts

These may not be the exact words that a couple will use when describing their relationship woes, but it’s not unusual that even the smallest issues can cause big blowouts because our emotional bank accounts are bereft of funds.  Imagine deciding to run a marathon without any preparation.  Your body would rebel because you didn’t build up any stamina with proactive exercise.  The same applies to your emotional interactions.  If you and your partner have a big, emotional issue and you haven’t been working on your emotional “muscles,” then you may not be in the greatest shape to deal with emotional strife. 

What you can try at home:

Take time when things are good to fill your partner’s emotional bank account with positive deposits (“I love you.”  “You look great.” “You’re an amazing parent.” You get it – compliments), then he or she can more easily weather the storm of a negative emotional event.

Relationship Boundaries

With the advent of texting and Facebook, etc., it has become pretty easy to maintain relationships that would never even have existed just a few years ago. These new-age relationships can quickly become threatening to our partners as they can easily cross the conventional lines of appropriateness.  What is, or is not, appropriate is specific to each couple, but once emotions or personal details become part of an electronic relationship, many partners start to feel like boundaries have been broken. 

What you can try at home:

In these scenarios, it is important to respect the communication you are receiving from your partner.  Even if you don’t believe you are being inappropriate, or that you are actually cheating, if your partner is feeling it then it matters.  But most importantly, what is your partner seeking from this outside relationship that they aren’t getting from the relationship you share? While figuring this out it will be necessary for the “communicator” to take a break from all but professional, or necessary, connections with their “friend.”

Mismatched Sexual Desire

Most of us didn’t have any training in transitioning for teen sex to adult sex.  In other words, when sex – or even a relationship – is new to us, the sheer excitement can be enough to make sex amazing and desirable.  But when our relationships continue and become more “mature” (jobs, kids, any responsibility), then sex can often become more of an expectation or even a chore.
But nobody ever told us that would happen! So it isn’t at all unusual that once we settle into the routines of our relationships, our natural levels of sexual desire may clash.

What you can try at home:

Your best bet is communication, but, unfortunately, most cultures do not necessarily support open sex talk as we grow up, or even once we’re adults. A specific strategy that helps couples reconnect is called sensate focus.  This exercise helps couples get in touch with one another’s – and their own – bodies to focus on what feels good.  This is done without specific sexual touching, and without the expectation that it will end with sex.  This is great for decreasing the pressure that the lower-desire partner may be feeling.

If you are still unable to fix your problem then it might be time to see a counselor. Couples counseling can be a wonderful venue for finding new levels of comfort around difficult topics, but you can also accomplish this alone with some communications strategies found above.


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