Relationship Obstacles and Deal Breakers
Dana Emold, MS, LPC, CSAC
Clinical Therapist and a Certified Substance Abuse Counselor with Lifestance Health
What happens in a relationship when partners don’t see eye to eye on important issues? What happens when, over time, values and opinions change? Dana Emold, a Clinical Therapist and Certified Substance Abuse Counselor with LifeStance Health, discusses relationship roadblocks and deal breakers. People and relationships change over time. That change can be anticipated and embraced, but it needs to be communicated, too. Dana can be reached at https://lifestance.com/
[Jaunty Guitar Music]
Mike: Welcome everyone. This is Avoiding The Addiction Affliction, a series brought to you by Westwords Consulting. I'm your host, Mike McGowan.
Mike: What happens in a relationship when one person wants to paint the walls of the living room? Mm, tope, and the other wants to paint 'em lime green? It may not seem like a big issue, but how do they handle it?
Mike: What do they do? Who wins? Who loses? How do they compromise? Well, I'm pleased to have back today as our guest, Dana Emold. Dana is a Certified Substance Abuse Counselor and Clinical Therapist with Lifestance Health. Our conversation today will be about relationship difficulties, roadblocks, and deal breakers.
Mike: Welcome back, Dana.
Dana: Hi. Thank you.
Mike: I'm so glad you could be here. You know, the last time we chatted, we discussed healthy relationships. I did a series of podcasts on what makes a healthy relationship, which is always a goal in therapy. Right. But I wanted to come at it from a different direction Today. Not all people in a relationship have the same goals.
Dana: That is true. They really don't. And it's, I think it would be really rare for two people to always match in their goals. It's completely appropriate for two people to have different goals. It's not something that they have to be the same on.
Mike: Well, I went to a wedding last weekend and they were, in all the toasts, they were all talking about how well they were matched.
Mike: And, you know, at the end of all the toasts, you would've thought, well, they're the same person. Why did they get married? You know?
Mike: [laugh] Which is sort of a joke, but a lot of couples, how do you start out? Like, wouldn't it be great if every couple got into therapy before they moved in together or formed a partnership?
Dana: It would be amazing.
Dana: It rarely happens even though therapy and mental health has come more to the forefront. A lot of people really underestimate that we are not taught at any time in our schooling how to communicate with another person and how to negotiate with another person. That is something we are not taught.
Dana: We are taught how to do relationships through Hollywood and love songs.
Mike: Oh, wow!
Mike: That's not good.
Dana: No, [laugh] it's not good.
Dana: It's just a landmine of unrealistic expectations.
Mike: Well, especially with all the Marvel and Avenger movies out, that's, [laugh] it's not a good role model at all. Well, so what would you, you know, if a young couple came in...
Mike: Prior to, to forming a partnership, we'll use that term today. What would you have them talk about?
Dana: I think one thing is to sort of, identify, what are your goals and what are your values? And then also learning from the other person what their goals and values are and teaching them how to communicate the areas where they have differences, where they're focused on the what and not the who.
Dana: It's what is different. Not you're wrong, I'm right. It's just the what if we have a difference of opinion on. What color to paint the walls. That's a conversation about painting the walls. That's not a conversation about "You're stupid".
Mike: Even if I like lime green.
Dana: Even if you like lime green.
Mike: That's right.
Mike: Well, you know, think about the amount time that let's say if a couple's getting married, that they are gonna spend talking about colors of the dresses.
Mike: The food. Where we're gonna go, who's gonna be invited? And in the meantime, who pays the bills? How do you divide the finances?
Mike: Can I ask you a personal question? Did you do any of that prior to a partnership for you?
Dana: No. No.
Mike: No? Nobody does, right?
Dana: Yeah. I mean, that's something you learn along the way. And so when people say, I love that, people always say, oh, you know, marriage is a lot of work. That makes no sense to anybody until you're married. And then it's like, oh!, this is what they meant.
Dana: Now we have to figure this out. And how do we figure it out? And then how does our, like, families of origin, how does that play into it? Did our, did our parents know how to discuss these things? Have we seen a healthy model for it? And then you throw like kids into it and it's now the way we were raised comes into it.
Dana: And so it's, there's so many different complicating factors and it's how do we learn to discuss those and know that it's okay to discuss those, that, that we don't, that someone is not suddenly a terrible partner simply because they have a difference of opinion.
Mike: Well, I grew up in a, a pretty dysfunctional family that was at some point not intact.
Mike: Did you grow up in an intact household?
Dana: Completely, completely intact.
Mike: Okay. So did you see like in my parents' generation, I'm older than you a little bit, we'll just say a little bit. It was easy for them, I think when you said how'd our parents do it? It was male outside, female inside, female kids...
Mike: Male work, male grilling, female cooking. Is that, you know, if that makes sense. Right?
Dana: Yeah. Very, very traditional, very standard of, of what was standard at that time.
Mike: Yeah. So is that the way you also grew up?
Dana: That is somewhat close to the way that I grew up. My mom did work outside the home, but not initially.
Mike: Yeah. So in your current relationship, who mows the lawn?
Dana: There's a lawn care service.
Mike: [laugh] Hey, hey, that's a great way around everything, right? [laugh] We disagree. Let's get somebody else in, right?
Dana: Yeah, it's, I mean, I think there's all these, there's all these different types of relationships now, and so it's how do we figure out how to do things and what if it's like, what if it's two women in a relationship?
Dana: What if it's two men in a relationship? What if it's two women and a man in the relationship. It's how are we navigating this?
Mike: And that's part of where we're going. It's like where, you know, you talked about the traditional, or let's just say values that we saw through the media growing up.
Mike: And now you look around and relationships have all sorts of different constellations.
Dana: Yes. They absolutely do.
Mike: Well, do you think, do you think that people are fearful to express to their partner what they want and how they feel?
Dana: Unbelievably fearful.
Dana: Of they're both afraid of the retribution, afraid of the invalidation, and sometimes we're also just afraid of like what it means.
Dana: What is it? Depending on what our family of origin taught us and what our upbringing made us believe. What does it mean if I tell you that I want this non-traditional type relationship? What does that say about me? That becomes part of it too, where it's not even so much about the partner, it's about saying it ourselves.
Dana: And having that kind of bravery,
Mike: You know, I, it, that's almost a, that's such a simple statement you just made. Let's explore it a little bit cuz it's almost mind boggling. So we're gonna form a partnership.
Mike: And I'm afraid to talk to you.
Mike: And you said that's unbelievably common.
Dana: It's unbelievably common. I have a post-it note at my desk on my computer that says, in relationships, the two things that they need that they have to take away from a couple's session is, one, you cannot blame your partner 100% for what is going on in this relationship that you both have a role, and number two, know what you want and know how to ask for it.
Dana: It doesn't mean you're gonna get it, but just know what you want and know how to ask for it. A lot of times we're not asking for what we want. And then we're really frustrated with our partner when we don't get it.
Mike: Even though they don't know what it is.
Dana: They don't even know what it is. And then, then we'll, we'll navigate and we will manipulate so many things in the relationship to try to get them to see it without us ever actually expressing it.
Mike: Wow. Well, okay, so then I, if I'm fearful to communicate to begin with, then where's the trust?
Dana: I mean, it's, it's limited, but it's also, it's, it's usually not there for ourselves. I don't trust that this is really what I want.
Dana: And I don't trust that my needs deserve to be met.
Mike: And that comes from?
Dana: That's our own self-worth, our own lack of confidence in that relationship or in any relationship.
Mike: So an individual needs to spend time thinking, what do I want in life? Right?
Mike: And then what do I want in this relationship?
Dana: And the catch is that's gonna change over time.
Mike: Well, that's where I was going too. Like it's not unusual, especially nowadays, and this we'll get into the substance abuse stuff for a minute, for people who are younger, not everybody gets into recovery at the age of 19.
Mike: And, and then if one of the people develop a substance abuse problem...
Mike: And has to quit, what do they say to their partner?
Dana: There's so much stress that goes on in that sort of situation that goes sort of unspoken or. Or negotiated. So I think for most people who are entering sobriety, what they want is their partner to be supportive. And in many cases, they would want their partner to be sober, but they don't feel like they can ask for it.
Dana: They say like, well, I don't, it's not, this is my issue. It shouldn't change them. This is my issue. I shouldn't put it on them. Well, the, the reality is they've already been along for the ride if they're your partner. Because addiction's a team sport. They just didn't get the playbook. So all you're doing is letting them know where your head is at.
Dana: If you say, I, I'd like you to also maybe support me in this and be sober with me, that doesn't mean that they have to say yes. Maybe that's the starting point of negotiation, but if you come at it and say you don't have to make any changes at all. Well, then they're not likely going to make those changes, and then you get mad at them because they didn't, how does that work?
Dana: That's not communication.
Mike: And blame them for not being supportive.
Dana: Yeah. When they may have very well been willing to have been supportive, but they just didn't know what was going on. They didn't know what you were thinking.
Mike: You know, you're, you're the one that mentioned movies before, so this next part is your fault, right? Did you, did you ever see "When a Man Loves a Woman"?
Dana: Oh yeah.
Mike: Yeah. Okay. All right. Well there's that great scene in there where Meg Ryan is really nervous and just so agitated around Andy Garcia, right?
Mike: And she goes, stop it! Cuz he is trying to do stuff for her. And I love his line.
Mike: He says, "I'm your husband. What am I supposed to do?"
Dana: Yeah, it's the people who are your support, who are, who are thought of as your traditional support. So your immediate relationship, your primary relationships. More often than not, they, they want to help. They just don't know how. So by you telling them what you need, in many ways, you're, you're helping them.
Dana: You're not helping them by saying you can just do whatever you want. That's confusing because they know that that's a minefield.
Mike: Well, and, and you said, you said that those needs change too, right?
Mike: So I mean, I might ask you for one thing. Might I ask you for one thing in December and then by March it's not cutting it anymore?
Dana: Yeah, that could change, especially in early recovery.
Dana: Cause this is new. This is a whole new world for the person in recovery, so it's going to be constantly changing.
Mike: What, what do you say to those couples who, you know what, so let's say I'm the person, right?
Mike: And I want so I'm in recovery and you've taken over all the financial stuff.
Mike: And now I want, I want the, I want the checkbook back. How do, how do they begin to negotiate really important issues like financial stuff and children's stuff when the trust has been eroded because of the behavior?
Dana: Well, I think it, it can't be like an all or nothing. I like I, all the finances were taken away.
Dana: Now I want them all back. It's what's the first step?
Dana: What can we do today? What feels comfortable for both of you? It's not a land of demands. So it's a, I want this, you don't trust me. It's, let's talk about the finances. What's the safest thing we can do with the finances? What's working well with the finances rather than, I don't trust you.
Dana: Because if we get focused on the you, the people are gonna start to get defensive. They get critical, and it becomes a fight. And we're trying to avoid the conflict. So it's, we're just talking about a, what, what's going on with the finances? Well, I don't have any access to any sort of freedoms with, with the money.
Dana: Because you took all [laugh] the credit cards. All the checkbooks, you took everything. Okay, well what do you need and how can we work together on that? Is it, it takes a lot of work not to trust someone. I know we've talked about that before. So it's, it takes a lot of effort for your partner not to trust you. It takes more work to not trust somebody because you end up doing all this double checking of everything they're doing.
Dana: So it's how can we start to let go of the reigns a little bit? Where this kind of goes sideways is a lot of times in early recovery, it's, people wanna make these huge changes really fast. "I feel great, now gimme the checkbook back." Nope. It, it took years and years for you to erode that trust. It's gonna take more than a couple weeks for you to get it all back.
Dana: So maybe stuff like that, we just kind of table that conversation for a bit.
Mike: Can you sense in a therapy session when one person is capitulating rather than working through it just to get through the session?
Mike: And how do you address that?
Dana: So a couple session is so much different than an individual session, and I usually will spell this out in the beginning of it, assuming that people have done both, or even if they haven't oftentimes they're sitting on my couch.
Dana: And I'll say, okay, so have either of you done individual work? And one of them might say yes, or they might both say yes, or they might say no. And I'll say, okay, well how this is different is in individual work. I'm focused on you or you. In a couple session, I'm actually focused on that little space in between the two of you. And I am making sure that that stays intact and that there is a free flow of information between that space in between the two of you.
Dana: That's what I am there to focus on. I am not a judge. Neither one of you is right. Neither one of you is wrong. And so if one of them starts to pull back or it doesn't seem to be flowing properly, I'll say like, you know, is there, is there something going on? What are you reacting to? How is what that person just said, how does that feel for you?
Mike: And so what you're really doing then is you're modeling for the other person how to have a healthy communication about tough issues.
Mike: You're noticing out loud what you're observing in a pretty non-threatening way.
Dana: Yeah. Because you can see it when somebody says something, you see what the other person, you see how they react.
Dana: But it's possible that the partner isn't, isn't paying attention to it or isn't seeing it clearly. But I mean, I know that I've had sessions where some, like one partner will say something, the other partner is shaking their head no. And then I'll say, you disagree with that statement? And they're like, what are you talking about?
Dana: And I'm like, you're shaking your head no. Do you not even realize you're doing that? [laugh]
Mike: [laugh] Okay. I'm laughing because you just described the relationship with my mom and, and I, I loved her to death. She was recovering for, what, 26 years when she passed away. And she had a thing. She didn't shake her head. No, but she would I, this isn't gonna come across maybe audibly, but she would snip, she would go. [snip sound]
Mike: I don't know. Can you hear that?
Dana: Yeah, I can hear it.
Mike: You go. [snip sound] And when that had meaning. Okay. Growing up with her, that little thing had a lot of meaning. So I would look at her and say, what'd you snip for? "I didn't, I didn't snip, what are you talking about?" I'm just, and so the, the verbal communication seemed all healthy, but the non-verbal had all this context.
Mike: Beneath it. How do you get through that?
Dana: So if I'm noticing that happening in a, in a relationship or in, in these couple sessions, my first recommendation, and this is I recommend this to anybody, go for a walk with your partner, have difficult conversations on a walk with your partner, or if the weather doesn't allow that, then you do it on a, in a, in a car, on a drive.
Dana: I don't want you facing each other when you're talking because it feels, then you are reacting to all of these non-verbals. If you're on a walk, I'm not seeing the nonverbals at least, or I'm not seeing them as clearly, and there's a natural end to it. I know that if we're walking for two miles, we're done at the end of two miles.
Dana: There's a natural end point to this conversation. Whereas if we're sitting at the kitchen table, this conversation could go on for the rest of our lives and it might go every which way. Two miles. We don't have that kind of time.
Dana: This is gonna end.
Mike: No, I can start to walk slower. But you're gonna pick that up.
Dana: And it's, and I'm not seeing, I don't have to gauge your reaction when I say something. I don't, I don't watch you startle. I don't watch you shake your head no. So I'm not reading on that.
Mike: And how often does it happen when you think you have some kind of an agreement walking out of a session? And then they come in the next week and didn't follow through?
Dana: A lot.
Mike: And, and how does that address then, like, why didn't you follow through or how do you address that?
Dana: I usually start a session by asking like, what's, how are things going? What's going well? And then sort of like where, where are things struggling? And if it's usually not that they'll, they both kind of.
Dana: They usually won't come in and say, well, I, you know, I followed my end of the bargain and they didn't follow theirs. What I find is some people leave the sessions and then just never discuss what we discussed in session, right?
Dana: It's like as though it's going to magically just sort of start to happen without any follow up following our session.
Dana: So if that's what occurred, then it's, okay, here's how these, your homework is. You need to have these conversations every night. You need to do this thing every night. You need to go read this book together. You need to take a test together. It's sort of guiding them to start to do things together outside of session.
Mike: You mean you don't get in shape by driving past the gym?
Dana: [laugh] That would be amazing.
Mike: Yeah. Wouldn't it? I. I have to also, I wanna branch out a little bit. Lately from folks like yourself, from many friends of mine. I've heard about people changing the rules in the middle of a relationship. Like you have some absolutes. I, well, I shouldn't say, if you go into a relationship where you have done some communication, you're talking, and then several years in the relationship, the other person says, oh, by the way, I'd like to date other people while still in a relationship with you? Well, that's changing a pretty fundamental rule, isn't it?
Dana: Yeah, it's changing a huge rule. It's, first of all, I think it takes a tremendous amount of bravery to say that, to say it out loud before you've gone and done it, because a lot of times it's happening in the reverse. I'd like to date other people, my partner would never allow it. Therefore, I'm going to just go and do it, and I'm not going to tell them.
Dana: And then that's going to play out in this entirely different way. For somebody to be forthright and say, you know what I'm, I'm really thinking I would like a more open relationship, is it's a tremendous ask of your partner, but it's not necessarily something they're opposed to. One area that couples counseling has changed a lot recently, is in the past if somebody was having an affair, that was under, like, like the Gottman method, that was the one area that if that is happening, if somebody is having an ongoing affair, couples counseling is contraindicated, and we sort of say like, you can't, that has to end before you can do this.
Dana: Well, now, before that statement is made, the first question that has to be asked is are, are you okay with an open relationship?
Dana: Because maybe your partner's okay with it. Maybe they know I can't meet your needs and we can, we can go ahead with this and just sort of pursue how to, how to move forward, what, what's the boundaries of this?
Dana: What does that look like? It's a lot of times things that when the rules are changing, they're not getting communicated.
Mike: I, I just. That seems to always put the shoe on. I, I mean, that takes away some of the 50/50 I think, in a relationship. You know, when one person wants to change the rules in between, the other person's kind of stuck with what do I do with this?
Dana: Yeah. I've seen it go all kinds of ways. I've seen people that have been completely supportive where they say, you know what?
Dana: I love you. I know that that need that you have, I can't meet that need. But I love you and if you wanna keep our relationship intact and pursue that, well, then I support that. Such as if it's a male/female relationship and one person wants to explore a relationship with the same gender.
Dana: Well, I, I can't change my gender, but I love you and you love me, so go ahead and explore. I'm a safe space. This is fine. Other times it doesn't go that smoothly. Where it's, that will mean the end of the relationship.
Mike: Well, and again, using your words from before, that can change, right. I can say I'm okay with that, and then when it happens, go, yeah, you know what, I'm not okay with that.
Dana: Yeah. It's if somebody's going to explore an open relationship and they haven't already, and they're in couples counseling, or even if I'm working with just one of them and they tell me that their partner is getting ready to explore this, or they're thinking about exploring it. This is a point in time where your communication has to be on point, because while these rules are changing, while the boundaries are changing, you have to constantly be checking in with each other and make sure you are okay.
Dana: Are we on the same page? Where are we at with this? Is how are you feeling? Are you comfortable with this? Rather than just moving forward and assuming everything's fine.
Mike: What do you find are the most common deal breakers in a relationship?
Dana: Well, addiction is a big one. One person is struggling with addiction and the other person is pointing it out or trying to acknowledge it, and, and the, the person struggling is not acknowledging it.
Dana: So substance use, infidelity. But the issues that couples fight about more often than not is really finances.
Dana: And then like in-laws,
Mike: [laugh] I hadn't, I hadn't even thought about that.
Mike: Like what? Like where we spend Christmas or holidays?
Dana: Sometimes that, but we're just, I don't have, I, let's say I was raised in a very enmeshed family and that felt very natural to me.
Dana: And your family had far more significant boundaries. Well, suddenly we cohabitate. My family's calling all the time. They're over all the time. I feel like I'm sharing you with your family, and I wanna be first. I want you to choose me first, and the partner's kinda lost. Like, what does that, what's that mean?
Dana: Because they're coming from a background where it's, we're all in, it's a stew. It's a big melting pot. It's not a plate with dividers. So that can cause a lot of conflict because there's just sort of this association that we're placing on how that person approaches family. That that has some significance to what they think about me and it doesn't always.
Mike: You should be able, that's one though, that you should be able to figure out ahead of time based on the relationship you observe with their current family.
Mike: You know, if you're gonna marry the, if you're marrying the whole family.
Dana: People underestimate that one though. It'll be fine.
Mike: Oh, okay. I love that, boy that's what we should title this whole podcast. It'll be fine. Right? Well, okay, so you make, let's say we, we do some things that we're not proud of.
Mike: We, we do the clandestine cheating. We explore things without telling our partner. We have substance use issues. How do you, how do we get the moral compass back?
Dana: First, you have to own what you've done. You have to be willing to admit what you've done, and you have to be willing to hear from your partner the impact it had on them.
Dana: And validate it. You have to be able to tolerate that. If you can't even look in the mirror at yourself and say, this is what I did and I own it, then it's gonna be real hard to get that moral compass back.
Mike: Don't you think that that's what a lot of people are looking for is validation?
Dana: It's, it's this very simple thing.
Dana: It's so simple, but it's not easy. It's so difficult for people to validate someone else's feelings without thinking that means that they either agree with those feelings or that they condone those feelings. I hear you. I see that you're in a lot of pain. I can hear that you're in a lot of pain, is different than it's totally justified that you did what you did.
Dana: Those are different things.
Mike: You know, this, this is, you know, the more we talk about this, it's so fascinating to me because it just, it one question leads to another, into another and to another. And yet, like you said, without the, any experience in doing this at all, people form these bonds all the time.
Mike: Prior to our having this discussion, I looked it up. Just in a traditional marriage, let's just say that. Or marriage, cuz you can have marriage cross different again, configurations.
Mike: In the United States, the current divorce rate is near 50%. It's like 46, 47%.
Mike: Which, which means that people who form that permanent bond, half of them, half are like, yeah, let's call it a day.
Mike: And why are they calling it a day?
Dana: Because we're, we're not allowing room for growth. We're not allowing room for change. So Esther Perel does a lot of studies on infidelity and the impact it has on a marriage. And she has this amazing quote where she says that in, in an average lifetime, you fall in love five times, but you decide how many times are with the same person.
Dana: So when there's been an infidelity, when there's been some sort of a break or a change in values, change in goals, that relationship that you had is, is fundamentally over. The relationship that you were on is fundamentally over. Now it's, that's the point in time where you decide, okay, do I build a new relationship with the same person?
Dana: That's what you're doing moving forward.
Mike: Same person. Different relationship.
Dana: Yeah, different relationship. Same person. So my parents have been married over 50 years. They're a very different couple than they were in their twenties. Now that they're in their seventies, but they continually fall in love with the same person. Different relationship, same person.
Mike: That must be awesome to watch.
Dana: It's, it's amazing to watch. Yeah. It's, it's, they're the best, that they're the best couple. I know.
Mike: That's, that's very cool. Well, and I come at it from the other end. I watch them dislike each other over and over again, so.
Dana: Yeah, it's, there's couples that do that. They stay together, but they don't like each other in any format. But a lot of that is holding onto these paths like, you used to do this. You could have done this, you should have done this. Now it's, here's, here's where you're at right now. Can I love this person?
Mike: Yeah. You know that whole line that, what's the line?
Mike: You always hurt the one you love. I hate that line. And I think it's...
Dana: Kinda twisted.
Mike: Yeah, it is. It is twisted. You hear people saying it, it's in songs and it's.
Mike: It's like why is that better, better to not do it. Well I may ask you to do part two of this, or part 2, 3, 4, cuz this is fascinating to me and our time is appro. My time with you is approaching the end.
Mike: Obviously folks, if you want to talk to Dana personally, her contact information is at the end of this podcast. We encourage you to listen next time. You never know what we're gonna talk about here. Dana, thanks a lot for joining us today and, and digging a hole in this subject matter for us.
Dana: Thank you so much for having me on.
Mike: Yeah. And for the rest of you, please listen in next time when we talk about more of this kind of stuff. Until then, stay safe. Talk to one another again and again and again. Stay safe.
Stream This Episode
Download This Episode
This will start playing the episode in your browser. To download to your computer, right-click this button and select "Save Link" or "Download Link".