The Confidence Collection: The Relationship Edition - He Says; She Says: Why Women Most Often Seek Therapy, vs the Number 1 Reason Men Go…

Welcome to our new series, The Confidence Collection! There’s not a single person on the planet who hasn’t suffered a crisis of confidence at one point or another (TRUST us!). SO, we present The Confidence Collection, (click here for our previous editions!) Thanks to our pals at Capsule NZ. We’ll be covering all areas of self-belief in all areas of life – dating, work, relationships, beauty and personal growth – with practical advice, words of wisdom from women who have seen it, lived it and conquered it, and everything in between. 

In our fifth edition we delve into relationships and look at the role that self-confidence plays, why conflict is inevitable and the number one thing we should work on (and, surprise, it’s not communication!). In this week’s instalment we speak to not one, but two relationship therapists and discover the most common reasons women in relationships seek therapy vs men.

“There is nothing sexier than the right amount of self-confidence,” says relationship therapist Michael Frampton.

Too little, or two much can be problematic, but it’s and oh-so important part of a healthy, functioning relationship. 

It’s actually a complicated wee aspect of relationships, but Michael sums it up perfectly. 

Self-awareness is knowledge of who you are,” he explains. “Self-confidence includes self-awareness and knowing that your wants and needs are as important as another’s. An absence of individual self-confidence will result in the either relationship ending, or being dysfunctional. But too much “self-confidence” comes across as arrogance and leaves no room for traits necessary for a functional long term relationship; empathy and compromise.”

Michael Frampton and Serafin Upton are two of Auckland’s most sought after relationship therapists, with a number of kiwis turning to them for advice and counselling, both for sessions individually, or as a couple.

They deal with clients who have hit a bit of a lull in their relationship, or want to do a little bit of work on themselves – or, they deal with people in full crisis mode. Maybe there’s been infidelity, lying or hurt feelings – but whatever it is, they’ve seen it all.

Here, we have the unique opportunity of picking their brains for you for free – with not just one expert opinion, but two!

How important is self-confidence when it comes to relationships?

Michael says:  Initially an individual’s self-confidence may be what sparks the chemistry and sex appeal, but for a romantic relationship to be a functional long term one, the definition of self-confidence must be added to. Why? Because not only are you now growing as an individual, you are growing as a couple within a relationship, so the relationship must also grow. 

To have self-confidence in the context of a relationship means to hold space to allow your partner to communicate themselves safely. 

Having self-confidence in a relationship means being assertive about your needs to have them met in a way that is good for you, the relationship, and your partner. The relationship is the vehicle for both people to become better people both as individuals and as participants in a relationship, therefore the relationship itself will get better. It’s not about two becoming one, it’s about both becoming better. 

Conflict is inevitable – at some point you will disagree. It can be scary, but we must express our feelings and opinions with assertiveness. 

Just as importantly we must be willing to hear our partners opinions and feelings so it is necessary to let them know that while they are expressing themselves you promise not to get angry, you listen to learn where they are coming from and what they are saying. At the same time not judging them, and most importantly knowing that their views are not set in stone –  they are asserting the way they feel with confidence, yet willing to grow as a person and make the relationship work for both individuals.

Serafin says: I like the Spice Girl song reference, Michael! And, yes, I completely agree.  Something I hear every week is one person in the relationship feeling uncomfortable about their partner’s lack of confidence and this happens irrespective of gender.   

I then ask the partner who is uncomfortable by their partner’s lack of confidence: “If your partner was confident, what would that enable you to feel or do?”  They invariably tell me that if their partner was confident, they would not have to worry about looking after their partner.  

Looking after one’s partner with respect to confidence, is having to constantly reassure one’s partner. What this does, is set up a caretaker or parenting dynamic within the relationship which over time, is toxic.  

It’s toxic for two reasons; 1) The person with the self-confidence issues doesn’t grow; 2) Their partner rarely gets their needs met, because the focus is always on making the partner with self-confidence issues feel better or good about themselves.  If we’re with someone who is self-confident, it means we don’t have to take care of them or carry them through life – it means we get to enjoy them instead.   

What can we do to build our confidence – both as individuals, and as a couple?

Serafin says:  There is no “one way” for one person or one couple to build confidence in the relationship but the formula is the same irrespective of the method – experiment [try something you have not yet done or want to improve], repeat the experiment [learn from it] and keep building on that.  The more exposure we get to our anxiety, the more we learn how to tolerate the sensations, thoughts, and feelings which come up for us around our anxiety [which is just another way of saying the more we get out of our comfort zone, the more we grow].  This is cool, because no matter what you do to build your confidence, if you keep doing it, you build competence with it – and competence is what builds confidence.  

Michael says: Psychotherapy and coaching are great tools to develop self-confidence, and if that’s simply not in the budget then head to the library and get some of the most popular self-help books and start learning i.e. The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck”.  Meditation is a great tool and there are plenty of free meditation apps.  Improving your health and fitness and getting optimal sleep is also key. Couples therapy is the gold standard for self-confidence within the relationship. A good book option would be  – The Love Prescription by John Gottman (both partners need to read it!).

What are some of the overarching issues you most often find women – and men – coming to you for assistance around romantic relationships?

Serafin says:  There are really only two issues in the majority of all cases – folks come to see me because their physical or emotional intimacy has waned or they’re having arguments [visible conflict] or there is resentment [invisible conflict].  

Michael says: Yeah lack of sexual intimacy is a one of the most common relationship issues for the guys I work with, because not having sex really impacts self-confidence for guys. Some guys don’t want to have sex with their partner if she disrespects him, her disrespect can destroy his self-confidence.  If he is physically aroused for her, and tries it on, she is likely to reject him because of his lack of self-confidence… a vicious circle.  Conflict must be addressed asap, because when you work through the conflict properly, she will feel heard and respected, he will regain his self-confidence, and then its make-up sex time! 

Serafin says: Absolutely.  Both men and women’s self-confidence gets impacted by an absence of intimacy.  If we’re having sex with our partner, this really increases both our self-confidence and our “relationship confidence”.  I agree that men’s confidence takes more of a knock compared to women’s self-confidence when it comes to sex and I suspect this is primarily down to men’s tendency toward using physical connection as a love language over verbal affection because it’s less vulnerable to do so. 

Often we can have trouble verbalising exactly what it is that we really need from a relationship – how important is communicating our needs and wants, and how do we get better at asking for it?

Serafin says: People generally overestimate their ability to effectively communicate what they need and want in a relationship – people rarely ask in a way that their partner can action with ease and people often don’t ask for what they want – they complain about what they don’t want.  

For example; “You don’t prioritise me.”  This is unhelpful because it’s a complaint – not an actionable request.  A better request would be; “I miss you. Can we please agree to spend at least 30 minutes together every second night?  Would that be ok for you?”  

2) Their timing is off – they approach their partner when their partner is distracted, is at work, is stressed out, or perhaps they approach following conflict or following sex.  Asking for what we need is as much about timing as it is about approach.  I estimate about 90% of people I work with are excellent communicators.  People don’t have issues communicating – they have issues relating. Relating is about timing, pace, tone, body language, safety, security, trust… You may be crystal clear about what you need to feel – because you know you want to feel differently – but how you need that to happen is more nuanced.    

Michael says:  A good technique to understand your partner is to repeat their feelings and opinions back to them, in your own words, and if they say, “Yes, that’s exactly right’’, then, and only then is it your turn. Conflicts don’t go away if you ignore them, they grow and turn into resentment, so expressing them as soon as possible is not only essential, it shows self-confidence and respect. And there is nothing sexier than self-confidence and respect.

Serafin says: Yeah, completely agree.  I actually prescribe couples this exact assignment – I call them “Sages” – deliberate and intentional time set aside to raise discomforts to prevent resentments forming. 

What if our readers have been working on their confidence and asking for what they want in a relationship and it’s falling on deaf ears, what’s next? It must be different from relationship to relationship, but what are some real signs and red flags that it’s time to start thinking about moving on?

Michael says:  If your partner refuses to address conflicts, encourage a couples therapy session, people often feel safer with an expert involved. If they outright refuse to attend and remain unwilling to discuss the issue. That is a big red flag, and it’s time to talk to your bestie about the exit strategy. Judge people by their actions (or lack of action) not their words.

Serafin says:  I think I’d see not wanting to attend therapy as a red flag. It’s time to move on if someone won’t get help for a drug and alcohol issue or a mental health issue. It’s also very difficult for folks with personality disorders to have relationships and most relationships impacted by a personality disorder will need therapeutic input.