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Dr. Robyn Spirtas on Improving Relationships
For more than five years, Robyn Spirtas—a licensed marriage and family therapist with a Ph.D. in counseling psychology—took center stage as executive producer and host of “The Dr. Robyn Show,” a nationally syndicated radio show on love, life and relationships that had been broadcasted in 14 markets and through online streaming audio. Since her broadcast debut, Dr. Robyn has been featured on many radio, television and internet shows, including “Dr. Phil,” “Daytime,” “48 Hours,” “Fox News Nationwide” and XM satellite radio programs. She also provides one-on-one counseling services to individuals, couples and families at her new practice or via telephone. We spoke to Spirtas about the first 30 days of improving any relationship.
How can we start trying to improve a relationship?
The first thing to do is make the decision that you’re going to stick it out regardless of what the other person is going to do or say. One option is to call for counseling and get some help. Initially, I recommend people go back to their roots: How did you act and what did you do early in the relationship? Did you write notes to each other? Did you buy special things? Make special meals? How did you talk? After many years, sometimes people stop speaking nicely to each other. We forget how gracious we were with each other. We stop being giving, loving and caring. It’s always a good idea to go back to treating the other person with respect and kindness, like you did early in the relationship.
What kinds of feelings and emotions do people experience during the first 30 days of improving any relationship?
Frustration because they have expectations and it doesn’t always go the way they want it to go. For example, you write that cute little note and stick it in his lunchbox, but then he never says anything about it. We’re disappointed and frustrated and immediately retreat saying, “See, I knew this wasn’t going to work.” You have to have faith and stick it out.
How can we overcome this frustration?
It’s just a decision that you make. Decide on a time limit and don’t give up: Don’t just give it two weeks; give it six months and keep working at it until that timeframe is up. If nothing has changed after six months, then you have to decide your next step.
What mistakes do we make during the first 30 days?
You can give up way too easily. People will say, “Well, we worked on your advice this week. The one time I slipped and said the thing that pushed his buttons, he said, “See, you’re never going to change.” People expect immediate changes. When that doesn’t happen, they see it as a failure and give up. Sometimes couples in counseling think after one or two sessions everything is going to be better. They expect it to be a miracle cure.
What advice do you have for people who might let that fear prevent them from working on the relationship?
No pain, no gain. You’re never going to get anywhere if you don’t take chances. I always tell people they have three decisions regarding their relationships: They can stay and do nothing and continue to be miserable, they can get out or they can do something about it. Usually the third choice is the best option.
What if one person doesn’t want to make a change? Can it still work?
It can work with help. The person who doesn’t want to change has to come to terms with the fact that the other person is not happy, so they have to make some changes or the person will leave or stay miserable. If you’re okay in a relationship but your partner isn’t, then you don’t have an ideal relationship. If it’s important to your partner, then you have to step up.
How do you get over the anger and resentment associated with some relationships?
It’s a decision that you make. That’s how simple it is. You must decide that you won’t hold on to the anger any longer. Say to yourself, “If I want to make this work, I cannot hold a grudge. I have to move on from this.” For example, I used to yell angrily at my son when he was younger. One day I was screaming in his face and I just said to myself, “I’m never doing this again.” I hated myself and decided that was the last time I’d yell at him like that. And I stopped. It’s something that you have to go within and say, “I don’t like the way I’m handling this situation. I don’t like this angry feeling. I can’t do this anymore. I have to let it go, or nothing will ever change.”
What are some practical things people can do to improve their relationships?
Learn how to reconnect, re-identify what you liked about each other and what the initial attraction was. Practically, don’t talk over each other; no name calling; don’t put each other down; do things for the other person even if you don’t like to do them; be honest and accountable for your actions; and keep your promises. Most of this stuff is so simple, but we don’t practice it. We have to put it into practice on a regular basis.
What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?
Change can be good. I don’t fear change. I like change. I welcome change. It can be scary, but I push through because I know good things can come of it. I don’t fear failure. I don’t see education as failure. If I try something new and I don’t like it or it doesn’t work out, it’s not a failure. It’s just knowledge and education and growth for me.
The best thing about change is…
…how good it can make us feel and how positive and productive it can be in our lives.
What’s the best change you have ever made?
Getting married to my husband. We’re in the process of going through many changes now. We’re moving to a new city, a new house and I’m building a new practice. It feels really good to me. I know I made the right decision.
For more information on Dr. Robyn Spirtas, visit Drrobynphd.com