A Couple's Guide to get Started Budgeting

Personally, I love budgeting. I love it so much that I have a paper version, an app on my phone, and a google sheet that all tell me the same thing: where is my money going? (Compulsive much? Yes!) I know I have an obsession but here are my reasons why you and your partner should create a budget and see if it helps you refrain from arguing about money:

 
 

1 | Visual access to your spending

You actually get to see where your money is going. I know everyone has their bank statements and some things vary from month to month (like PG&E or dining expenses) but for the most part, what you spend has some degree of consistency. This can aid in the reduction of fighting because you won’t be like my friend and look at your bank account one day and realize you and your boyfriend have $40 to last you the rest of the month. (YIKES!) The budget is an assistant in communication.

2 | Freedom to tailor your budget to you

Now that you know what you spend, you can create a budget that matches it. Or reduces it if that’s your goal too. I use Mint, a free app that allows you to carry your budget in your pocket wherever you go. (Disclaimer: you do have to allow access to your bank/credit card accounts but it’s totally legit and user-friendly.) Unlike my mother, who thinks my budget is the end-all be-all of money spending (I like to cap my monthly outings at around $50 a month and we have differing views. Let’s leave it at that); it is totally up to you and your partner how much you want to spend or save. I know people who budget for $1,000 every month for entertainment and that’s completely fine if it’s within your means. You know where your money is going. That’s great!

3 | You can address the ‘Who is paying for what?’ question

It’s date night — who picks up the tab? Reference your money spending tool. Did both you and your spouse factor outings into the budget? If so, then it’s still within the collective budget regardless of who pays this time. Hopefully next time it’ll be the other person’s treat. One of my most cherished ideals is being fair. Everyone says “Life isn’t fair” but my rebuttal is “but you can try to be fair to everyone in life.” For example, I know a couple who don’t make the same amount of money; one person pays more for rent than the other. But they came to the agreement that each would pay 35% of their income. So even though it’s not splitting rent 50/50 it’s still equal in terms of what each person can afford. The budget can aid in deciding how much one person pays for things you both use.

It’s easy to swipe your card and not think twice about what that swipe represents. With the budget, you can see what is going where. Everyone works hard to earn their money; a budget shows you what’s going on and will give your partner some insight to spending and saving habits. The beauty of the budget is you can do it for yourself (if you and your partner don’t share money) or you can do it as a couple (if you do share money and would like to know just how the heck you only have $40 left for the rest of the month!) and it will be beneficial regardless! Maybe creating a budget won’t eliminate all fights about money but I sincerely believe it could help. Remember the budget is not meant to be one size fits all. Talk it over with your partner and figure out where each of you stands.

Now, I’d love to hear your feedback. Did you try the budget? If so, what were your results? Do you have another way to diminish your fights about money? Please share in the comments below. Good luck in your spending ventures. Thank you for reading!


about the author

Hi! I'm Trina. I graduated from U.C. Santa Cruz with a B.A. in Psychology (cum laude, but no one is keeping score, right?) I enjoy re-reading Harry Potter and extensively Googling new words. My aim in writing for this blog is to help couples overcome hurdles in their relationships.

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Strategies for Loving Someone who has Anxiety

Being in a relationship with an anxious partner can feel like hard work! If you’re looking to experience some more ease within your partnership, please read on for my insider tips on how to maintain your composure while dealing a partner’s propensity for anxiety. These tips will also help you foster a healthy relationship with your anxious special someone:

 
 

1 | Manage expectations

Understand that even if your partner is working hard to manage their anxiety, it's only natural for an anxious person to want to know as much as they can about any given situation it can help them feel more "in control" and therefore safer. Keeping this in mind, managing your partner's expectations about future plans will save you both much strife. For example, if you and your partner have plans and something changes or new information is presented that only you are aware of, let your partner know! They will be so grateful to have been brought up to speed about new developments so that they can make adjustments, if necessary. Anyone who has an anxious partner can attest to the fact that their mate does not like to be surprised with last-minute curveballs!

2 | Don't take things personally

Remember that your partner's anxiety has been there much longer than you have! That said, don't take it personally when something you've done or said "makes your partner anxious." Your action or statement was simply a trigger for what was already there. I know it's very hard not to react with feelings of shame or guilt when we've triggered a partner so take deep breaths and engage in some positive self-talk, like "It's going to be okay. My partner will get through this and so will I. I am a good person and I'm trying my very best."

3 | Avoid taking on your partner's anxiety

If you haven't noticed yet, anxiety is contagious! So, take good care of yourself. When you notice anxiety beginning to take hold, give yourself some space and time to re-center. Do some self-care, whatever that looks like for you. Pop in some headphones and listen to a guided meditation. Remember that you don't have to be pulled into the anxiety vortex just because someone you love is feeling that way.

4 | Practice compassion

As much as we love our partner it can be so frustrating to see them in a state of anxiety, especially when they are being completely irrational. Remind yourself to look at the big picture although the situation may look like small potatoes to you, it feels like the end of the world for your partner, so practice compassion. Imagine what it might be like to feel such intense fear for no apparent reason. This will help you stay connected with and empathic to your partner during freak-outs. Your groundedness will also rub off on your S.O.

5 | Find outlets

Because you're in a relationship with someone who has anxiety, you might feel as though there are certain topics of conversation or areas of life you need support where you just cannot go with your partner at this time. But that doesn't mean you should keep that all bottled up! You are going to need some serious friend support so that you can discuss whatever you need to whenever you want to. There are also some awesome books on the topic that you can read. A colleague and friend of mine, Lissah Lorberbaum, co-wrote "Anxious in Love" which delves deeply into this theme.

6 | Timing is everything

To make this relationship thrive, you and your partner will have to become masters of communication. One skill in addressing issues with your partner will be timing. An anxious person might have a really hard time with a text that says "we need to talk" sent in the morning when you're not seeing them until the evening. Your poor S.O. may spend the entire day ruminating only to find out you wanted to talk about redecorating the guest bathroom! Obviously, some issues can't wait and need to be addressed immediately. For ones that are less urgent, find a time to talk when your partner can be calm and receptive to the information being presented.

7 | Use systematic desensitization

If there's an activity you're into (say, rock climbing, dirt biking, surfing, etc.) that terrifies your partner, you shouldn't have to give up your hobby just to quell your partner's anxiety! Instead, expose them to it slowly over time by engaging in a mild version of the activity (i.e. an indoor rock wall or a short ride) and then ramping it up over time (i.e. more challenging versions of the activity.) This will give your partner a chance to build new neural networks associated with these activities the more times you come back safely, the more their brain will be reinforced that there's no need to worry.

I hope you’ve found these tips helpful for better navigating a relationship with an anxious partner. Now I’d love to hear from you! What helps you keep your cool among your partner’s anxiety? What absolutely does not work? Please share your insights in the comments section below. Thanks for reading and be well!


about the author

Hi! I'm Natalie. And I'm passionate about helping people create healthy relationships in their lives. Through couples counseling in Pasadena and here on the blog, it's my mission to help foster stronger connections, healthy communication and life-long love.

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8 Ways to Make More Time with a Spouse

With all the responsibilities of modern life, it can be tough to find time to spend with your special someone. Often times, with two people's busy schedules, it can seem like there isn't enough time in the day or week to dedicate to "us time." But we also know that in order for a relationship to thrive, we need to have quality time with our partner. If you feel like you and your partner need to implement some new strategies to make time for one another read on:

 
 

1 | Solo to Duo

If you and your partner are struggling to make time for each other, try doing something you typically do solo with them. Some ideas could be working out together, cooking, or running errands. You’re going to eat at some point, right? Why not cook dinner and eat with each other?

2 | Put the kids to bed earlier one night a week

Not being a parent myself, I enlisted my brother-in-law’s advice on this one. I asked him how he and my sister guarantee extended time together when kids require so much time and energy. He said putting the kids down earlier ensures parents get at least a few minutes together without being interrupted by the children. It doesn’t have to be hours and hours earlier, but 10-15 minutes earlier gives you that much more time to spend with your partner and dedicate some of your attention to them for a bit.

Conversely, if you do not have children, still make it a point to engage with your significant other prior to falling asleep. Even participating in this behavior for 5 minutes a night gives you an extra half hour per week with your special someone.

3 | Have a no-phone night

This generation is always stuck with some piece of technology in front of our faces (I write as I type this up on my laptop with my phone 2 feet away). It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the phone that it can become another partner taking time away from your significant other. Ditch it for a night and see how much quality conversation can stem from the lack of devices.

4 | Surprise them with food

Food makes everything better. Try surprising your significant other with lunch one day at work (obviously if you have the means and the time). Hang out for a bit; talk. If you’re pressed for time you can drop it off with a quick hello but the gesture will still convey to them, “Hey, you were on my mind.”

5 | Plan a date night

And stick to it! There are always factors that can come up to deter you from focusing on quality time with the object of your affections; but do try ever so hard to have a night or a couple hours on a weekend afternoon to just be together. Leave everything else at home: the kids, work, any other distractions. Revel in each other’s company.

6 | Go on a walk

If money is an issue for stereotypical dates like dinner and a movie (forget about dropping $50 on popcorn, am I right?) Go on a walk. Walks have the rejuvenating effect of allowing you to simply share space, which forces you to spend time together, and it’s healthy. Look at you taking your mental, emotional, and physical health seriously. Go you! Ask them about their day and they can reciprocate engaged conversation.

7 | Take a trip down memory lane

Again, not a time-consuming venture but something that can remind you what you two were like at the onset of your relationship and how far you’ve come since then. What was your first impression of your partner? Did they prove you wrong or right? Offering your perspective could help bring you closer.

8 | Compromise on schedules

If you have a big work project coming up or an event that has been in the calendar for ages, plan a time before or after to say “Yes, this is on my plate right now but I haven’t forgotten about you.” And if you have yet to spend time with your partner recently and have an event coming up that your presence is that of less than dire importance...play hooky and spend time with your loved one instead!

I hope some of these tips prove useful to give you and your special someone extra time together. Remember that quality of time together is more important than the quantity – so even if it's an extra 15 minutes a day being truly present with one another, this could have a significant positive impact on your relationship. Now I'd love to here from you! How do you make it a priority to carve out time with your spouse? Please share in the comments below. Thanks and be well.


about the author

Hi! I'm Trina. I graduated from U.C. Santa Cruz with a B.A. in Psychology (cum laude, but no one is keeping score, right?) I enjoy re-reading Harry Potter and extensively Googling new words. My aim in writing for this blog is to help couples overcome hurdles in their relationships.

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10 Tips for Communicating with a Spouse

One of the most common goals for treatment that I hear from couples counseling clients is that they would like to communicate better. By the time couples come in for therapy, they typically know that their communication patterns are not serving them anymore and that they need to learn new skills. That’s why I’ve compiled this list of strategies for improving your communication with your partner:

 
 

1 | Use “I” statements

When communicating with your partner, it’s essential that you speak from your own experience and avoid blaming your partner for your feelings. This has two benefits, 1) you allow yourself to be seen and heard and 2) you avoid putting your partner on the defensive. Utilizing “I” statements is probably the most commonly taught technique in couples counseling.

2 | Avoid over-generalizations

Making statements such as “you always” or “you never” is not only unhelpful, but it’s also simply untrue. It’s impossible for someone to always or never do something, so let’s keep the over-generalizations out of the conversations. For a more helpful and healing interaction, express the way it makes you feel when your partner behaves in a certain way.

3 | Listen fully

This means that you need to pay close attention to what your partner is saying, as opposed to planning your response. I find that when I feel revved up and really want to say something, I notice my body begin to tense up and wanting to interject. In these moments, slowing down and focusing on my breath allows me to stay present to what my partner is saying.

4 | Face your issues

When people don’t address and resolve the things that bother them with their partner, they may think they are just “letting it go,” but typically these annoyances and resentments build up over time resulting in one of two scenarios, 1) the frustration can be insidiously expressed as passive aggressive behavior or 2) the anger can build up over time causing the individual to lash out at their partner. Do these sound familiar? As uncomfortable as it may be to do at the time, you and your partner are both better off dealing with issues head on instead of putting them on the back burner.

5 | Practice honesty

This may seem obvious, but I don’t think it can be understated that trust is the foundation of an intimate relationship and deception (even when it seems innocuous) slowly erodes at that foundation. Even if you’re tempted to cover up the truth about something to avoid discomfort or conflict, remind yourself that your relationship will benefit more from telling the truth and dealing with the consequences. It will ultimately bring you closer.

6 | Be vulnerable

In any relationship conflict, it takes two to tango. Even if one person is 99% at fault for something, the other partner is 1% accountable. So, if you’re angry or upset with your partner about an issue, take responsibility for your part in it. This will set the tone for the conversation and encourage your partner to open up with you about their part in the conflict. If being vulnerable is challenging for you, I recommend watching the above TED talk about the power of vulnerability. It's one of my favorites.

7 | Know “The Four Horsemen”

John Gottman, the psychologist famous for his research on relationships, writes about the “Four Horsemen” of relationships which are criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. In order to have successful communication and a long-lasting relationship, couples must avoid these classic traits that can doom relationships. Here is a short summary of Gottman’s Four Horsemen:

  • Criticism – Offering your partner helpful feedback on ways they can improve within the relationship can be a healthy habit, but once your criticism crosses the line into a pervasive pattern of diminishing your partner’s sense of self, this becomes unhealthy.
  • Contempt – This characteristic is often expressed as name-calling, mimicking, ridicule and using body language such as eye-rolling that denigrates the other person. These behaviors have a serious negative effect on relationships and need to be avoided.
  • Defensiveness – It’s challenging not to get defensive when your partner addresses an issue with you, but it’s critical to take feedback in stride. Defensiveness turns what could otherwise be a productive discussion and turns it into an argument immediately.
  • Stonewalling – The term refers to when a partner becomes overwhelmed with the conflict with their partner and decides to completely withdraw from the interaction. This behavior can be incredibly frustrating and invalidating for the other partner.

8 | Speak directly

You may wish that your partner knew what you wanted and needed at every moment, but the truth is, they don’t! Therefore, you need to assert your needs often and clearly, to help your partner out. This process may be rocky at first (it can take a while for people to get used to assertiveness!) but if you can master direct communication with your partner, the rest of your relationship will flow much more smoothly.

9 | Stay calm

When people get triggered in a conflict with their partner, they can often raise their voice and say things that they don’t mean. To combat this, stay connected with your internal experience during a discussion with your partner. If you notice physiological symptoms of stress (like sweating, increased heart rate, etc.) slow the conversation down, take a few deep breaths, and if you need to, tell your partner you need to take a break in the other room for a minute before returning to the conversation. This mindfulness will help prevent unnecessary outbursts.

10 | Table discussions

This may seem contradictory to tip number 4 (Face Your Issues), but it actually complements it. Sometimes it is simply not a good time to discuss a particular topic. If you’re on your way to an important work presentation and need to be on your A-game, you probably don’t want to bring up that huge issue with your spouse on the car ride to work. Instead, mention to your partner that you’d like to discuss it when you get home. This way, you’re not avoiding the issue, but finding the right place and time to address it.

I hope this list is helpful to you and your partner in optimizing your relationship. I know these strategies have helped me immensely in my own relationship. Now I’d like to hear from you! What works for you in communication with your spouse? What seems to always backfire? Do you have any questions about how to employ these tips? Please share your thoughts and questions in the comments section below. Thank you and be well.


about the author

Hi! I'm Natalie. And I'm passionate about helping people create healthy relationships in their lives. Through couples counseling in Pasadena and here on the blog, it's my mission to help foster stronger connections, healthy communication and life-long love.

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Strategies for Strengthening Your Bond

When things are going smoothly in our relationships, it's easy to feel connected to our partner. We naturally want to spend more time with them and engage in enjoyable activities. But when times get tough and the road is bumpy, it can be more challenging to find ways to connect. Think of your relationship bond like a muscle – if you want to strengthen it, it takes consistency and practice. Here are some tips for you and your partner to implement if you feel like your relationship needs some extra TLC:

 
 

1 | Set aside “us” time

If you live with your partner, it may seem unnecessary to schedule “us” time, since you may see that person a lot. But remember, quantity of time does not make up for quality of time. Set aside some time that is without distraction (i.e. no phones, laptop, T.V. or books) just for the two of you to be together. This time could be used for simple talking with one another, giving each other a back rub or cuddling and connecting.

2 | Mix it up!

Sure, a dinner and a movie is always a great staple for a date night. But the same ol’ same ol’ can get stale as old bread. Mix it up with something fun and new! If you want some new ideas for creative date outings, browse Groupon and Goldstar to see what strikes your fancy. The bonus is these sites also offer steep discounts for fun activities. Like live theater? TodayTix is a website and app for discounted last-minute tickets to plays. Love museums? Here’s a list of museums in Los Angeles that are either free or have free days.

3 | Make it sensual

Usually when couples are feeling disconnected, the first thing to go is the romance and affection. And when that’s not there, it’s really tough to employ the “fake it till you make it” approach to dealing with challenges. Instead, wake up the senses on a daily basis to start feeling more sensual and more interested in shared connection with your partner. How does one do this? Begin noticing throughout the day what naturally feels good (for example, walking through a park on your lunch break and feeling the leaves of a tree brush up against your arm) and share that with your partner. Have them do the same so you both know what’s pleasing to the other person. This will inspire you guys to want to create more physical pleasure for one another.

4 | Use the atmosphere

We’re going for the power of association here – think of how a spa atmosphere automatically makes you feel more relaxed, even before you’ve begun to receive your treatment. Simply walking into the spa and hearing the gentle music and noticing the pleasant smells invites you to feel calmer. We can do the same at home. Create an environment at home that’s more stimulating to the senses through lighting candles, putting salts in the bath, spraying aromatherapy, playing soothing music etc. When you intentionally make your surroundings more amenable to romance, you’re more likely to want to connect with your partner.

5 | Get inspired

It helps to get some outside inspiration when we’re not feeling so great about our relationship and need some new tools and ideas to work with. Here’s a list of 10 books that are great for learning about the dynamics of relationships and how to strengthen them. Don’t have time to read a whole book? Use Audible to listen in the car or choose a podcast instead. You can check out this round-up of 10 relationship podcasts you can sink your teeth into.

6 | Reflect on the good times

When we’re in the throes of conflict with our partner or seriously doubting our relationship, it’s easy to forget all the amazing memories we’ve shared with that person. Simply pulling out photo boxes, leafing through scrapbooks or looking at Google photos can remind you both of the fun times you’ve had together. If you and your partner are in need of some serious bonding time, set aside an afternoon or evening to sit together and look through old photos from vacations, dates and other occasions. The act of looking at these pictures will bring up stories, jokes and anecdotes that will surely bring you closer.

7 | Pull out all the stops

By now, you can probably tell that date night is a good idea. But don’t stop at that! Pull out all the stops. Spend some time getting ready and dolled up for each other. Buy flowers. Go to a restaurant you can’t really afford to go to. Get a couples massage. Your relationship is an investment and it’s worth the splurge every now and then! You’ll send a strong message to one another that the relationship is worth it. Most importantly, enjoy the royal treatment.

8 | Be spontaneous

It’s great to have plans, but sometimes plans don’t work out for one reason or another or sometimes something more exciting comes up. In your bonding time together, allow yourselves to divert from original plans and go with the flow. This will allow you guys to reconnect to a younger, more spontaneous side of one another. Often as we get older, we become more set in our ways and less able to let the night take us to unexpected places. If it’s a gorgeous night and you get the idea to take a drive up Mulholland for a gorgeous view or a drive up the coast to smell the salty sea air…do it!

9 | Have limits

Are there certain topics that inevitably spiral into arguments or stress? Take a vacation from those themes for a night or weekend to simply enjoy one another. No, this doesn’t mean putting off dealing with your problems forever. It means that it’s okay to set limits on what you won’t talk about for your bonding time together. If something gets brought up, and you don’t want to forget to address it later, simply write a short note in your phone about it and table it for another time.

10 | Hire a babysitter

If you have kids, and if you don’t have a babysitter yet, you need one! This is essential. I’ve known many couples who rely on their parents, neighbors or friends to watch their kids and this is not enough. You need and deserve to have professional childcare that is available to you on a regular basis so that you can go out on dates without the guilt associated with asking for a favor and without relying on other people’s availability. If you don’t know a sitter, there are great nanny websites such as Urban Sitter and Care.com.

Now I'd love to hear from you! How do you reconnect with your partner in times of conflict or emotional distance? Every couple is different and a strategy that works great for one pair may not fare well for another. That's why I'd love to get some varying opinions on what works and what doesn't work for couples who've hit a rough patch. Please share in the comments below. Thanks for reading and be well.


about the author

Hi! I'm Natalie. And I'm passionate about helping people create healthy relationships in their lives. Through couples counseling in Pasadena and here on the blog, it's my mission to help foster stronger connections, healthy communication and life-long love.

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