Can I Come in with My New Girlfriend?

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A long-term client of mine, a smart and warm man, who I have coached through different personal and professional challenges and previous relationship struggles, just came in with his new girlfriend of one month. I was thrilled—and so was his girlfriend. There is a man who is aware of the importance of working on himself and on a relationship from the very start. Both, he and his partner, have had—like all of us above a certain age—previous experiences of how we can get hurt in relationships. They both recognize the importance of getting to know each other well and of navigating potential pitfalls with awareness.

Most of my clients come in when there is a crisis and when they have already been struggling for a while. What if we didn’t wait until the path we are travelling on has so many potholes that our relationship car is in acute danger of breaking down on this road, but if we committed from the start to doing regular maintenance?

Different religious affiliations offer premarital counselling or marriage classes prior to making the commitment. Some of those sessions might be more helpful than others but the intention is to get to know each other better. Counselling offered by a church might not be a consideration for all couples, depending on one’s spirituality or lack there of.

Premarital coaching, or simply relationship coaching from the start of a relationship, is an alternative, independent of your religious affiliation. It helps both partners to learn to communicate about challenging topics and to learn to hold each other in those vulnerable moments we all experience. Coaching allows us to become aware of patterns and to release them. Relationship sessions enhance any relationship and help us to be able to be our best self in our long-term relationship or marriage.

You might wonder what there can possibly be at the beginning of the relationship, when we are in the honeymoon stage and everything looks rosy and hopeful. There actually are a lot of topics to explore.

What kind of questions might we ask in a relationship coaching session at the start of a relationship?

  1. Let’s talk about values. What are my top values in life, what are my partner’s?
  2. Let’s become aware of our subconscious. What beliefs and fears have I learned based on my family history and my past relationship history?
  3. Let’s talk about expressing affection. What is my primary love language, what my partner’s?

  1. How do I tend to handle conflict, and how about my partner?
  2. Do I know what my emotional triggers are and can I share them with my partner?
  3. Let’s talk about mutual support. What emotional support do we both hope to get from each other? What practical or financial support?
  4. What does it mean to each of us to commit to a relationship?
  5. What did our own parents model for us concerning love and a long-term relationship or marriage?
  6. What attracted me to my partner and who do I believe my partner will help me to be?
  7. Let’s talk about goals. What personal and professional goals do we both hope to achieve and how do we see the partner’s role in that?
  8. How are we planning to create a life-work balance?
  9. What is a comfortable balance for spending time with my partner and with other people?
  10. Let’s talk about needs. What are my top ten needs, what are my partner’s? How comfortable am I expressing my needs?
  11. Who will take on what responsibilities at home?
  12. Let’s talk about money. How do we feel about differences in financial income, joint accounts, debt, keeping a budget, having spending money, paying bills, completing income tax, financially supporting parents or previous children, and so on.
  13. Let’s talk about our families and the in-laws. What boundaries with regard to family interactions do we both need? How do we show up as a team with third parties?
  14. Let’s talk about future or current common children and/or step-children and about parenting. Where do we have overlapping ideas where do we differ? How are we going to handle differences?
  15. Let’s talk about intimacy and sex. Do we need to learn to talk about this sensitive topic? What are our hopes and expectations?
  16. Let’s talk about spirituality. What are our beliefs and practices? Where are there differences and can we be tolerant of each other’s differences?
  17. Let’s talk about monogamy and affairs. How do we both feel about one of us slipping up? Can we both commit to talking to our partner when we experience an attraction to somebody else, in order to strengthen the bond between us and to avoid sliding across the line with an outsider? Can we also commit to not talking to a person who is not a “friend of the marriage”, about our relationship problems because this builds a bond outside of our relationship? (For more information and to learn more about what this means, check out my blog series “Affairs”.)


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The Five Love Languages

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In my blog on June 28, 2013, I elaborated on how powerful words are and how they can have a strong vibration of manifestation in a negative sense. Today, almost a year later, I would like to focus on how the same concept works in the opposite way. Words of Love and Affirmation have a strong powerful vibration that deepens our love.

Personally, I feel seen, heard, appreciated and most safe with a partner who is able and willing to express his love and appreciation through words. That means expressing his feelings, affirming my actions and accomplishments, or complimenting me in some way. Words are the surest way to connect with me. My primary love language is words of affirmation. And I am not the only one who feels a strong connection and heart opening when hearing kind and loving words. When I feel disconnected, it always is because my partner and I had no opportunity to speak. However, that feeling of disconnect is remedied very quickly with a loving text, a phone call, or some time set aside to speak.

Gottman has shown the destructiveness of negative interactions in his research. He points out that it takes five positives comments to negate one negative. On the other hand, regular loving and understanding verbal interactions create something like an account of affection that we can draw on in challenging or stressful times.

Another love language is physical touch. If that is your primary love language you might reach out to your partner to touch, to hug or to hold hands. And it makes you feel safe, perhaps calms you down, to be touched. Without touch you tend to feel unappreciated, unloved or disconnected from your partner.

Most of us are multilingual when it comes to expressing affection. We might speak two or three love languages quite well but we usually have a primary one that we will need to receive, or that we default to in terms of expressing our affection.

A third love language is the one of giving love through acts of service. You or your partner might cook fabulously, keep everything need and tidy, run the kids around whenever they need a ride, repair things around the house and so on. In my experience, this is a love language we tend to overlook and take for granted. When have you last told your spouse how grateful you are for something they do for you or for the family? Or if their love language is not words of affirmation, can you express your appreciation for their acts of service in their way? Touch? A gift? Another service?

Or perhaps you primarily experience being loved when spending quality time with your partner, a fourth love language. Engaging in cultural or recreational activities together on a regular basis is an important way of staying connected. The saying “couples who play together, stay together” is a testament to this. Even when we are parents with young children and our priority is to spend family time together, we also need to make time for a “date night” or other one-on-one interaction with our partner.

The fifth love language is giving or receiving gifts. That was my mom’s love language when she wanted to show her affection. I always knew that a gift meant, “I am thinking of you, that’s why I bought you something”.  When working with clients I have occasionally come across the other person looking down onto the love language of gifts. They will say something like,  “I don’t want him to buy me something, I want ____”. And they fill in the blank with their love language which they perceive as “more meaningful”.

I often summarize the book “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman for my clients, in particular when someone sits in front of me who is deeply convinced their partner/parent/child does not love them, “not really in the way that they should.” The truth is that there is no right way to express love. However, there are these five love languages we all speak, some with more skill and enjoyment, others with less.

We have to keep in mind that everybody automatically expresses their affection in which ever way they have learned to and are most comfortable with. However, we can learn our partner’s love language and strive to speak it more, even if it does not come naturally to us. Since we are just dealing with different languages in this matter, we can make an effort to speak the other person’s language and we can appreciate the way in which they are expressing their affection.

It helps to figure out what your primary love language(s) is and which one(s) your partner uses. Compare them. Is it really true that they do not show you their love? Or are they just speaking a different love language?

I have had partners throughout my life who were not comfortable expressing emotions and were suspicious of hearing affirmations or compliments. Instead they had another primary language like Acts of Service or Giving Gifts. They would, for example, do something practical as their only expression of love, or they would buy me a gift. Sometimes it was hard for me to understand that their language was simply different. What if we could graciously accept a different love language while having an open conversation with our partner about what makes us feel most loved?

What is your preferred love language? Which language do you like to use; which do you like to receive? What is your partner’s love language? Your daughter’s or son’s? How can you learn to understand, or even speak, each other’s languages?

You can purchase the book “The Five Love Languages” on Amazon.

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I know your time is valuable and I appreciate you reading my blog. If you are enjoying my articles, you can subscribe to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to enter your email address in the field on the left side of the bar. Thank you for your support!