10 Things Besides Affairs That Could Spell Trouble for Your Relationship
Time apart is healthy, and let's be honest, you live for the chance to reconnect with your girlfriends. But, "for couples with too many boys' or girls' nights out, rules need to be discussed and boundaries set in place," says therapist Irina Firstein, LCSW. Sure, you don't want to come off as possessive or come between your guy and his friends, but that doesn't mean he isn't crossing a line with the time he's spending with them. The golden rule? If it's making you uncomfortable, it's worth a discussion.
What to do about it:"You should know who is there and what is going on," says Firstein. "It's also OK to give input on the frequency of nights out, as well as how late your partner stays out. Different couples have different opinions on what is appropriate, so you need to establish your personal comfort levels and adhere to them." Another important rule: Make yourself available if your partner calls or texts you whileyou'reout. It might take you 20 minutes to notice the text in between dinner and laughter, which is understandable, but it can be upsetting to not be able to reach your partner at 2 a.m., Firstein stresses. Try to see both sides of the situation, regardless of which one you're on: "Being out late at night is anxiety-provoking to the one at home. Communication and contact are key here," she adds.
"If you feel your partner is watching too much porn, the question to ask iswhy," suggests Firstein. "Many times when a husband is excessively using porn, this is potentially a sign of other trouble. It can be that he or she is looking for distance, there is a sexual issue or problem, or that he has an addiction to porn, which would need to be professionally addressed."
What to do about it:"It is critical to talk about this together and understand the role of porn," says Firstein. If it's innocent and just about satisfying sexual urges, ask your partner if you two can enjoy some of these fantasies together, IRL, instead. "Maybe make watching it a part of your sexual relationship," suggests Firstein. Whether you watch it with him or give him your blessing to watch it only when you're not around, "it is critical that his porn habit is not secretive," says Firstein. "If you can't discuss it constructively together, or if there is a deeper reason why he's turning to his laptop and not to you, seek the help of an experienced couples' or sex therapist."
"As a therapist, when a couple reports no conflict or no fighting ever, I get worried," says Firstein. "While heavy conflict is exhausting to a relationship, none is usually a sign of distance and disengagement."
What to do about it: "Some conflict in a relationship is healthy and inevitable, as it means one or both are fighting for the relationship," explains Firstein. If you never fight, ask yourself (and your partner) why you've been avoiding confrontation. "Most of the time it's a sign of distance, being checked out, or giving up," says Firstein. Has your mother-in-law been giving him a hard time about how to raise the kids? Have you asked him 100 times to eat healthier and work out more, and feel that he isn't listening? Whatever it is, it's time to find those hidden triggers and bring them out into the open. "I would encourage both partners to come back to the relationship and start talking about what they are thinking and feeling so you can start to sort out the underlying issues."
"Hiding financial issues is a common problem I see in my work with couples," says psychologist Dr. Stephen Shainbart, Ph. D. "While it can be embarrassing to admit that you've been laid off or are gambling away your bonuses, it's important to keep your partner privy to your finances because this is an issue that affects you both equally as a couple. And more than that, "it usually causes harm to the trust in a relationship," explains Dr. Shainbart. Even if nothing else is off between the two of you, money is a significant enough issue to cause stress in a relationship by itself.
What to do about it: "As a general rule, openness and transparency—even if it leads to some short-term tension—is much better than secrecy, which just eats away at trust," says Dr. Shainbart. "I don't think partners should ever hide finances from each other."
Sure, your best friend's jaw may drop when you tell her you're OK with your husband going to a strip club after work once in a while, but Dr. Shainbart says that only one person's opinion matters on this topic: yours. "I don't believe that going to strip clubs is a problem if both partners don't see it as one," says Dr. Shainbart. "It becomes a problem when at least one partner feels it is a problem, such as if it represents cheating to them," he adds. If this is how you feel, be honest. A caring partner should listen and respect your wishes.
What to do about it:If your partner's strip club visits bother you, "my advice would be to not jump to conclusions about the meaning of it," suggests Dr. Shainbart. In other words, don't take it personally, but try to get an honest answer, stemming from an open dialogue, about what it means to your partner. "Share your values, and if you disagree, see if you can understand and respect each other's feelings and come to some kind of compromise," he says.
Sometimes you have a reason to stay in touch. Maybe you maintain the same circle of friends, the same workplace, or have children or pets in common. If there's a reason like this, contacting an ex is not necessarily a bad thing, with one big caveat: "If this is doneopenly, with the permission of you partner, it is a very different thing than if it is done secretly," explains Dr. Shainbart. "I believe there are times, probably the minority of times, when an ex can turn into a good friend and nothing more," says Dr.
Shainbart. But if you have no children together and no good reason to get back in touch, "it may represent something more ominous and threatening for the relationship," Dr.
What to do about it:Before you panic, know this: "There is not a once-size-fits-all answer, and each situation must be considered on its own terms," Dr.
Shainbart stresses. So if either of you are bothered by the contact, and especially if you discover it taking place behind your back, speak up immediately. "The important thing is to be honest and open and talk—as well as listen—to each other," Dr.
Shainbart advises. No one should be more important than the two individuals in the relationship, so if you feel that the behavior is continuing after you've voiced your concerns, it's time to consult a therapist to mediate.
"When a man or a woman or both often end up on their phones, in front of computers, or in different rooms watching different shows, this tells me they don't feel connected, they are escaping from each other, or that someone may be hiding something," says Firstein. But even the best-intentioned couples can get caught up in this bad habit on a smaller scale: "Couples do this a lot at the end of a long day, when they have no energy, and it's too easy to go on Facebook or get caught up in the news."
What to do about it:"I ask that the phones and all the devices are turned off when everyone first gets home," says Firstein. They can be turned back on a few hours later, but in the meantime, "be present and look at your partner. Talk to them, eat with them, sit next to them," says Firstein. Little moments of connection on a daily basis are crucial to maintaining intimacy.
"If your husband goes out 'drinking with the boys' regularly and comes home after midnight intoxicated—especially if you can't always reach him—your relationship may be in trouble," says Firstein. Likewise, it may be you who's been indulging in too many margaritas with your coworkers, or hiding just how much (and how often) you're really drinking.
What to do about it:"It's important to confront the situation," says Firstein. "If you have a strange feeling in your gut, probably something is not quite right. Talk to your partner, express concern, and find out what is going on." Whether it's a temporary thing, like drinking away the pain of a lost parent, or a more serious one, like dealing with alcoholism, the important thing is to ensure that you talk about it, and get help if necessary.
"The obvious thought here is often that your partner is having an affair and is covering it up by saying he's 'working late.' While this is one possibility, there are other very different reasons why your partner may be working long hours," cautions Dr.
Shainbart. "It's possible that something at home is so uncomfortable for them that they are actually soothing themselves by staying at the office. For example, they may feel criticized, inadequate, or smothered," Dr. Shainbartsays. "Another possibility is they are avoiding intimacy. When a partner is away from home, it could be a way of avoiding negative feelings stemming from a problematic relationship."
What to do about it:As we mentioned before, never go directly to "affair" in this case, but also don't dismiss this as a phase or just nothing, says Dr. Shainbart. "Oftentimes parents get caught up with the kids and don't have the energy to address or notice changes in the marriage," adds Dr. Shainbart. Use this as an excuse to have an honest discussion about what's changed in your relationship, and address both of your needs going forward. "First, convey to your partner that you feel neglected in a self-advocating manner. Do not be attacking, or you will only push your partner further away. One way to do this is to begin by talking about how important your partner is to you," says Dr. Shainbart. "The second thing to do is to be open to finding out (without judgment or getting defensive) what your partner is uncomfortable about. Try to resolve the problem without blame, but rather with mutual caring and dialogue."
Whether it's postpartum depression, bipolar disorder, or something deeper, you should never try to hide your wellbeing from your partner. "Often the partner with the psychiatric issue is denying it or avoiding it because they have underlying feelings of shame," explains Dr. Shainbart. This is completely normal, but remind yourself of two things: It will not go away by itself, and failing to address it will damage the bond between you and your significant other. In most cases, a good partner will only want to help and support you. If you keep him or her out of the loop, "they will often lose trust and resent you," Dr. Shainbart says.
What to do about it:This one feels complicated, but the action to take is simple. Just speak up about how you feel, as hard as that may seem. And there's good news: "If the partner with the problem does address it, it can often strengthen your bond as a couple," Dr. Shainbartsays. He reminds couples to never get critical or go into blaming mode here, no matter what the issue is.
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