Ask Emi

(updated 4/16/2021)

Looking for relationship advice? If you have questions for our relationship experts, or just want to vent, we are here for you. Submissions are collected through our app, and all questions will remain anonymous (we may change some parts of the question to protect anonymity). For those that shared questions – thank you for your openness and courage. Your questions will help many others here during this time of uncertainty and loneliness.

Q: How do you get past an emotional cheat? Covid has separated us in our own home. We barely talk and I caught him talking to another woman. How do I focus on getting past it?

To get over a transgression, emotional or physical, it is important to start by talking. Usually, if someone has cheated in some way, it is because he or she has been needing something more – usually connection. This would make a lot of sense in this case, given that COVID separated you. If that is in fact why he wandered, it is important to understand why he didn’t come to you with this need for connection. Perhaps he was scared, and if so, perhaps the other woman was simply an easier option because there was less vulnerability there (in other words, rejection from her was not a big deal because he didn’t care as much about her, but putting himself out there with you would be scarier if you were to deny his needs). If you can get a better understanding of what he needed, and why he chose that path, it will be easier to get over the transgression.

Q: My boyfriend cancels on me often and I’ve communicated that I don’t appreciate it as it’s disrespectful of my time. I want this relationship to work out but I don’t see how it can when he still cancels.

The first question I would ask is actually to you – why does it bother you when he cancels? Sure, it is a waste of time, but I’d imagine it is also very hurtful. If that’s the case, then I’d say you need to tell him that directly – even if you think he should be able to infer it, he likely isn’t. Whenever a partner continues to do something against your stated wishes, my first thought is that they do not understand the emotional implication of their actions. By simply saying “it disrespects my time,” it doesn’t communicate “it hurts my feelings and makes me feel like you don’t care about my needs.” The first statement, “it disrespects my time” ultimately tells him how or why he’s doing what he’s doing and will make him defensive. You may hear him argue the content, saying something like “I do respect your time, look at when I did this other thing for you.” This response is infuriating because it misses the actual point. It is a painful experience and makes you feel like, perhaps, you can’t trust him. He can’t argue with that. It is your feeling, your pain, and your truth. If you continue to struggle with these kinds of communication misses, consider talking to a professional together for a few sessions.

Q: My boyfriend just told me he doesn’t see himself with me 5 years from now. We are so young and have been on and off for a year. What do I do? I want to save my relationship with him.

Emi: First of all, I’m sorry this happened. It can be hard to hear that, and quite heart breaking. That said, if you are young, he doesn’t know what he wants or what he will want in the future. And nor do you! Things change, and if the relationship is strong, you will grow together. If it keeps coming up, consider talking to a therapist to figure out if there is a way to come back towards each other and compromise on not making any plans in the future, so far ahead of time.

Q: How do I strengthen my relationship with my partner?

Emi: If you want a strong relationship, the key is to give it all it needs to grow! Give it a lot of time, a lot of depth of conversation, and connection. Consider practicing with Emi, which reminds you to connect frequently and with depth.

Q: How do I get my partner to let go of his past negative experiences?

Emi: When someone has had negative experiences with romantic (or really any truly close) relationships, they can respond with fear whenever something reminds them of the past. In couples therapy, we call these attachment injuries, because they are injuries to an important connection, where we felt betrayed or disappointed or abandoned by someone we had trusted. To understand how these play out, think of what happens if you cut your finger using a sharp knife. The next time, or maybe the next many times, you use a sharp knife you will be extra careful. Some may choose a blunter instrument, or avoid the task all together. This is a protective pattern, created by our brain to avoid the initial injury. It isn’t actually rational at all – for example, blunt knives are actually more dangerous than sharp ones! In other words, you cannot explain to your partner rationally that you are not like the last person. You need to be soft with him or her, with constant, gentle reminders that you are not the last person, and with frequent validation of your care and support. If that doesn’t work, it may be important for your partner to talk to a professional.

Q: I recently started dating again. Trying to understand my needs and recover from former relationships. I feel like I sabotage the experience with former expectations of what was lost. How do I realign myself from scratch? How does one date from the very beginning all over again?

Emi: If you continue to find yourself dredging old wounds up in your current relationship, the first thing to do is realize why this is normal. If you were in the woods walking, and the last time you were there you were chased by a bear, wouldn’t it be safer for your body to be aware and look around for bears? Unfortunately, in this circumstance, your brain is not potentially saving your life. But it doesn’t know that! You need to talk to yourself and say, “thanks brain for trying to help! I’m all good here though, so thanks but no thanks!” That said, there are times that our brains are noticing a pattern that we have gotten stuck in repeating. If you can be sure that you are just in “fear brain” then try to really notice all the ways that this person is different from the one that hurt you – tell yourself, with evidence, why this person is safe. If you are noticing potential patterns in who you choose to date, try to see if this person fits that pattern before making a call. If that isn’t effective, consider talking to a professional to help you heal and recognize patterns. 

Q: How do you find moments to connect when there’s a lack of time?

Emi: Finding moments to connect can be very difficult in these times. The important thing to remember is that connection isn’t about quantity of time, but quality. Start by putting down the phones/screens/work/children for even just one minute a day. Be together for that minute. Take a few deep breaths and just be with your partner. Look into each other’s eyes, maybe hug. Have a quick conversation. Try that once a day, at the same time daily. Then add to it once that feels possible.

Q: How do I deal with differing views on acceptable drinking limits? I am more conservative and health conscious than my partner.

Emi: Is this person drinking to a point that is unhealthy? Is it affecting the relationship? Are there arguments or poor decisions due to the drinking? For most people, using “I” statements is far more effective than laying down facts. For example, “I feel ____ when you drink too much.” 

Q: What can I do to have less arguments with my partner?

Emi: Communication is the key to less arguments. Try to figure out if there is a theme beneath them – perhaps on the surface it feels like the arguments are about, let’s say, daily chores. But alas, perhaps under that, there is resentment, feelings of disrespect, or deprioritization? Try to communicate at the most core emotional level. If you need help doing so, it can be helpful to talk to a professional, even if just once or twice, to help guide you in understanding what lies beneath the arguments.

Q: How do I forgive and let go of my partner’s betrayals of 4 confirmed affairs, countless lies and a child outside of our marriage?

Emi: First of all, this sounds like an extremely hard situation. Lies, betrayals, affairs, all cause real injuries that hurt and haunt us. The best advice is to consult a professional when there are repetitive patterns of destruction. In this case, destruction to the marriage, to you, and to your partner (self-destruction). Likely, these events are products of internal pain that your partner is trying to heal, so s/he will need individual treatment in addition to couples therapy. You may also need individual therapy to help you heal from the wounds.

Q: Struggling with my in-laws. We have a new baby with serious medical conditions, and they aren’t taking the pandemic seriously. My husband and I are on the same page with social distancing/limiting social engagements. I have left the conversations about expectations to my husband. They haven’t been able to seen her much, and are constantly badgering my husband. He feels like he is caught in the middle and I feel as though his parents have caused this. He doesn’t want to disappoint his parents and feels like giving them an ultimatum is too harsh, but I don’t feel the same way. I feel like we have made our position clear but they are putting their social life ahead of their grand daughter’s health and that speaks volumes to me. Do you think I should have a conversation with them? Any suggestions or thoughts?

Emi: Normally, compromising across different family systems is the ideal. However, during COVID, things get a bit more complicated! Compromise is still important, but health and individual risk tolerance also has to be considered. Perhaps the best thing to do is try to find a way to offer compassion for their position with words like “We so appreciate how much you want to see the baby and know you are going to be wonderful, caring grandparents” and then add “We hope you can respect that we are being very cautious right now, perhaps in ways that appear overly so to you, for the health of our baby.” And then explain the rules that you and your husband have created. I wouldn’t recommend getting into the facts of the risk, because there is so much information out there that validates different perspectives. Just keeping with, “we all want everyone to be safe.”

Q: My partner’s best friend doesn’t like me. Because of that, she ghosted my partner, a friend of 14+ years, and now after 2 years, she wants to act as if nothing ever happened and start “fresh.” Yet she continues to disregard me and be disrespectful. She has invited my partner on a trip but said she doesn’t want me there. My partner doesn’t understand how this is hurting my feelings and can potentially hurt our relationship.

Emi: The best place to start is with you: how do you feel about them going on vacation together? What does it make you feel or worry about? Once you have figured that out, you can go directly to your partner with your concerns. For example, if it is a worry that she will tear you apart, you need to look at what evidence you have that would support or counter that. If you want him to prioritize your relationship, think if there is a way for him to do both, or if it is all or nothing to you. Once you have figured out your needs, go to him with those specific feelings. He may react with more compassion when he understands which parts are painful and what, if anything, he can do to help.

Q: How should one deal with an overbearing in law?

Emi: Before considering how to deal with an overbearing in-law, first ask yourself what it is exactly that they are making you feel? Judged? Unseen? Whatever it is, knowing why it is bothering you exactly can help in knowing how to talk to your spouse, or the in-law, about it. Once you have figured that out, go towards your partner with compassion, as he or she is going to be stuck in the middle. Acknowledge that this is hard for them too, and decide together if it is appropriate to create boundaries and/or talk directly to the in-law. It may be better for you to own that conversation, or for your partner to own it. No matter what, acknowledging that feelings are going to be hurt and that compromises will need to be made is important, and it is okay! Not everyone can be happy all the time. Deep breath. Good luck!

Q: I get jealous and overthink about other girls

Emi: This jealousy sounds like you may need validation from your partner and maybe don’t ask for it. When we get jealous, it often signifies that we are feeling disconnected and our worried brain fills in a reason for that disconnection. In this case, you are disconnected from your partner and your brain decides that it’s because your partner has a wandering eye. Consider going towards your partner, and asking for some validation in these moments! It is okay to say “hey, I’m feeling a bit disconnected. Can we spend some quality time together?/ Can you reassure me that we are still good?”

Q: How can I learn not to take things so personally or as an attack? When my partner feels jealous or insecure, he gets very rude and blunt, when it’s really embarrassing, distasteful and at times humiliating. 

Emi: When we care a lot about someone, the ultimate threat is being left, or abandoned. Our brain does not understand the different types of fear, so it behaves with an emotional threat the same way it does for a physical threat – fight or flight response gets initiated. It sounds like when your partner gets insecure, aka fears that he will lose you, his fight or flight gets initiated – and in his case, fight! The work that you need to do together is try to slow down his reaction so that he can tell you what he needs before his response gets initiated. Most likely he needs reassurance and compassion. In addition, at a different moment, when he is feeling calm, you may want to tell him how it hurts you when these episodes take place.

Q: How do I stop being so defensive in arguments with my partner?

Emi: This question is similar to the one above. You are responding in fight or flight, because you are scared. Can you look within yourself to see what you are afraid of? One technique to consider: take your heart rate. If it is at 100 or higher, you are escalated and need to calm down. Do some deep breathing. Take a walk. Once you are below 100, restart the conversation. Ask your partner to use “I” statements. “I feel — when — happens.” This technique will reduce the propensity of blaming.

Q: My husband and I have a baby, and I just haven’t really wanted sex since our baby was born. I know it’s important to our marriage so we go for it, but I feel like it’s indicative of an overall lack of closeness since baby. How do we start to get that back so it translates in the bedroom?

Emi: Having a new baby at home is a wonderful experience that also completely changes your romantic relationship. There are a few things to keep in mind to help during this time.

  • Having a baby means a serious shift in priorities and availability. This means that things you may have taken for granted in the past are now becoming “problems.” The first step is to talk about what has changed, both for the better and worse. Find out what each person actually needs in this new chapter. Expect that there will be some areas where your needs will align, and some that may differ. Remember, this period (baby) only lasts so long! 
  • You will need to make time to be together. It can be very tempting to use baby’s nap time as a moment to exercise, or go run an errand. But time together is just as important.
  • Remember that some people need to feel emotionally connected in order to have physical intimacy. Ask yourself, has the bedroom antics dropped off because of lack of interest, exhaustion, or disconnection? 
  • Sex will look and feel different for a bit. Spontaneity is difficult. Noise may be too! Bodies may have changed. This baby phase is one of many times when your sex life will change over the years. That honeymoon period? That ended and your relationship lived on. You adjusted. In other words, don’t worry so much about what it means, and try to put that energy into making it better.
  • Finally, if all else fails, call a professional. There are plenty of therapists who specialize in such situations! Gottman even created a curriculum called “Bringing Home Baby.”

Q: Do you have any advice for new long distance relationships? Tips for things to do or keep in mind?

Emi: The best way to make sure a long distance relationship works is to have honest, authentic, clear communication and expectations. To do so, you need to first really know what you need to feel connected. Do you need a video call? A quick text in the morning? Figure it out and ask for it. Of course your partner may not be able to comply for some reason, but then you have an opportunity to practice the art of compromise together!

Q:  I’ve been married for a few years now. In the beginning of my marriage, I wasn’t very open with my wife (discussing things, sharing thoughts, things that happened in the past or present). After some counseling, I learned to opened up a little more and steadily letting my wife in… but I feel that it might be too late. What other ways can I show her that I’m completely open?

Emi: Research shows that for most people, the more we know about each other, the closer we feel. While I have no idea what the specifics of this situation may be, I do wonder if perhaps when you say you “feel it may be too late” that you are actually saying you are scared. What you are doing, opening up, is new and courageous. It makes sense to be scared! And if you haven’t done this before, it may feel risky, and you may not know what to expect. It is likely that she is scared too. If you want to show her that you are open and available, tell her so, often and softly.  Find ways to tell her you love her, that you are scared of losing her. Tell her that while you will continue to open up to her and share your feelings, each time it feels like a risk and that you could use reassurance. Finally, remember that she may not immediately understand this new version of you, but that does not mean that she doesn’t want to.