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Ask the Expert: Dr. Joshua Coleman on relationships

Is the “honeymoon phase” a real thing? How can we mend strained relationships? Why do siblings fight? The questions are endless when it comes to friendships, love, and family. That’s why we were grateful to have Dr. Joshua Coleman, psychologist and author, join our Ask the Expert webchat last week to answer our users’ questions on the subject. Dr. Coleman is a psychologist in private practice and is Senior Scholar of the Council on Contemporary Families. He has been a frequent guest on the Today Show, NPR, and the BBC, and has also been featured on Sesame Street, 20/20, Good Morning America, America Online Coaches, PBS Life Part 2, and numerous news programs for FOX, ABC, CNN, and NBC television. His advice has appeared in the New York Times, the Times of London, Fortune, Newsweek, the Chicago Tribune, Slate, Psychology Today, U.S. World and News Report, Parenting Magazine and many others.

Here are the highlights from our webchat with Dr. Joshua Coleman. Please keep in mind all user participation is anonymous.

Addressing co-dependency

QUESTION — “My partner and I have been having difficulties creating balance in our relationship. We love spending time together, but it has become very comfortable and easy, and we both recognize that a co-dependency has formed. Meanwhile, we both feel unfulfilled in other areas, such as friendships and hobbies. The lack of balance has become detrimental to the relationship. Do you have any advice on how to improve this?”

Dr. Joshua Coleman — “Yes, it sounds like one or both of you is worried about hurting the other by focusing on other aspects of your lives. If your partner is unable to go first, and he or she has stated that they also want that, then you should start planning more activities outside of the relationship and see if they follow suit. If they complain, which they might, be empathetic, but remind them that this is something you both agreed was needed and healthy.”

Improving sibling relationships

QUESTION — “I only have one sibling, a sister who is a year older than me. We have always had a difficult relationship, but as I am getting older I am realizing that I can no longer handle the drama that comes with this relationship. Family is very important to me, but I cannot continue to keep a toxic relationship with someone who repeatedly tears me down. I don’t know where to go from here.”

Dr. Joshua Coleman — “The question is how much have you made her aware of how hurtful her behavior is with you? If you feel like you’ve tried to communicate your complaints about her in a productive and non-critical way and she remains unwilling to change or modify her behavior, you could say, ‘I love you and want nothing more than to spend time with you, but I don’t feel like you’re actually addressing or changing the communication and behavior that I’ve said is really hurtful to me. If there’s something that I need to change in order to make it easier, I’m happy to look at that and address it. But, I feel like if we can’t do a better job communicating and interacting with each other, then I’m going to need to take more distance from you.’”

Deciding whether love is worth fighting for

QUESTION — “My girlfriend of four years just decided to end things. We love each other, but she’s unhappy with her personal development and doesn’t feel the spark between us right now. I love her so much and don’t want things to end. We’re still seeing each other and I am trying to be supportive, but I don’t know where things stand. I want to be respectful of her space, but also don’t want to lose her without a fight. What should I do?”

Dr. Joshua Coleman — “The question is whether or not fighting for the relationship is a good or bad thing. If her issue with you is that you’re not sufficiently committed or invested in her or the relationship, then fighting for it could work in your favor. That might mean getting into your own therapy or offering to go to couple’s therapy with her. However, if what she really wants is to end it or to have space, then your continuing to push for being together will work against you.”

Don’t miss our next Ask the Expert session!

If you weren’t able to catch our webchat with Dr. Joshua Coleman, you can always sign into your LifeSpeak account to read the transcript. And be sure to log in August 20 at 12PM EST to chat with MA, Registered Clinical Counselor, and Certified Parent Facilitator Sharon Selby, who will be answering your questions about back to school and other childhood anxieties. If you don’t have a LifeSpeak account, please have your HR team reach out to us about your company subscribing.

What is Ask the Expert?

Our Ask the Expert sessions allow our users to have regular access to our experts in real time, which allows them to have their pressing questions answered. This opportunity provides our users with practical and easily implemented tips to help them make real changes in their lives. To learn more, don’t hesitate to book a walk-through.