Stacey Sherrell and Rachel Facio are the co-founders of Decoding Couples, where they serve as relationship experts via their Instagram community and across multiple other platforms. The following is the first interview of our Relationship Advice Series, featuring Stacey and Rachel.
1. Tell us about yourself (your background, what you do, what makes your relationship advice stand out)
We are both licensed marriage and family therapists and run private practices in Los Angeles. What makes us stand out as therapists and relationship experts is our ability to keep it real.
We created our community to be direct, real and humorous. All this while providing quality education and tools for singles and couples working on themselves and their relationship!
We aren’t afraid to tell it like it is while embarrassing ourselves on an IG reel!
2. What do you think about gaslighting in relationships? What is your advice for someone in a relationship with a gaslighter?
Gaslighting is a dangerous tactic. It creates major trust issues in relationships and is one tactic that falls under the category of emotional abuse.
The term gaslighting (and narcissism as well) gets tossed around pretty carelessly. And it isn’t always being used accurately. Someone remembering something different than you, or disagreeing with how something happened doesn’t necessarily mean they are gaslighting you.
Gaslighting is an intentional tactic used by a partner to manipulate and control, make their partner question their sense of reality and second guess their experiences.
If someone is being gaslit, first and foremost, we’d encourage that person to NOT get into a debate with the gaslighter about whose reality is right.
That “debate” is part of the tactic and where it can become really toxic and volatile.
If someone is gaslighting you, agreeing to disagree, and responding in ways that lead to minimal debate is the way to go.
This can sound like:
- “We remember what happened differently”
- “I hear what your experience was and that wasn’t my experience,” or
- “I understand that we don’t agree with what happened, and I know my truth.”
Secondly, we really encourage someone who is experiencing gaslighting to get support. Whether this is from a trusted friend/family member or therapist.
The more isolated you are, the more of a powerful impact gaslighting has because you get stuck in a cycle of questioning yourself and your reality. This can be detrimental to your self esteem, self worth and relationship with yourself.
Lastly, remembering you cannot make someone stop engaging in gaslighting tactics. It is not your job to be responsible for them or change them. It has to be their choice to change. And your job is to take care of yourself and your wellbeing.
3. Why do you think some relationships become toxic?
When all we know is blow up fights, degrading our partner, or cheating, we might replicate those behaviors.
if we don’t actively work on repairing in ourselves those behaviors we saw, there is a good chance that when things get real in our adult relationships, we are going to repeat what we know (even if we know it is unhealthy or toxic).
Some people are just not a good fit for one another. The reality is, we all have baggage that we bring into our relationships.
Some of this baggage is more complimentary and manageable, and for others, when their baggage is put up next to someone else’s, it can be really triggering for toxic cycles.
If communication skills are low, emotional intelligence is non-existent, there is unhealed trauma histories, relationships can become really unhealthy, really quickly.
4. What’s your advice to build a healthy and successful relationship?
- Awareness and curiosity about your own “stuff” is a major key. This means being introspective, working on building a healthy relationship with yourself, and continually being curious on how your “stuff” shows up in your relationship. When individuals are both introspective and curious about themselves in a relationship, some really beautiful things can happen.
- Weekly check ins with one another. There HAS to be continued conversation between partners to check in on things like mental health, if you live together, are household tasks feelings balanced, knowing how to support one another and keeping intimacy alive. If a couple can commit to a weekly 30-60 minute check in, this is huge for a healthy relationship.
- Learning how to “fight fair”. Conflict is going to happen, it is inevitable in any relationship and conflict in itself isn’t unhealthy. It’s how you fight and how you repair that truly matters for the health of the relationship and prioritizing healthy conflict and fair fighting is key.
- Prioritizing individual hobbies and interests. Investing and allowing space for each partner to be their healthiest versions of themselves may be counter intuitive, but is so important for a healthy relationship. It combats codependency, it has been shown to improve sex and intimacy, and allows both parties to have better self esteem and confidence when they are invested in their own hobbies and interests.
5. Is it possible to build a healthy and fulfilling relationship when one partner has mental health issues? What’s your advice for someone in this type of relationship?
It is absolutely possible to have a healthy, fulfilling relationship when one partner has mental health issues.
As of 2020, 1 in 5 adults identify with having mental health concerns, so this will show up in most relationships. There are two big factors that determine how this fits in with a healthy relationship.
1. Is the person with mental health concerns actively communicating about what they are going through, and are they taking responsibility for their own mental health support and care?
Communication is a HUGE part of any relationship being healthy and successful, but if there are mental health concerns, it is even more important.
If a couple is not able to talk about how the mental health issues impact the relationship, what each partner needs to feel supported, how to raise concerns when there are concerns around the issue, etc, it can erode trust and can make it feel like everyone is walking on eggshells.
2. The partner that does not have the mental health issues has to be okay with not “fixing” their partner. There has to be an acceptance about the ups and downs of mental health issues without forcing their partner into treatments they aren’t ready for, giving solutions when it’s not warranted or other type of “fixing” behavior.
This can slide into codependent behavior and can burn out both partners.
6. Do you recommend couples therapy? Or do you think individual therapy is more beneficial?
It is totally couple-dependent. We don’t think there is one “right” answer because there are so many factors that lead to each recommendation.
Couples therapy is good for couples who are both ready and willing to start the therapy process together, for couples where there is no active violence or abuse, and couples who are unsure of the direction of their relationship, but what to figure it out…whether that means staying together or agreeing to go their own ways.
Individual therapy can be complimentary to couples therapy, and it isn’t unusual for one or both partners to be in individual therapy while also in couples therapy.
It can be good when someone has a big trauma history and needs to work through their own “stuff” before, or while, working on issues as a couple.
Also, Individual therapy is good if there is a lack of safety in the relationship, whether physical or emotional.
7. How can someone keep the spark alive in their relationship, even after years? What’s your advice?
Great question. We think what we don’t talk about enough is the ebb and flow of the “spark.”
Having realistic expectations that the spark is not going to be there 24/7 if you’re together in a long-term relationship, but understanding that when it isn’t there, it has to be an active choice to reignite it. Some things couples can to do maintain the spark or work on getting it back after an “ebb” are:
- Routine date nights, I know, I know typical but necessary. Really anything that consistently makes time for each other and prioritizes the relationship and connect is very key.
- Keep open communication about sex and intimacy. Through different phases of life, turn ons, interests and identity changes. This has to be a constant conversation to know how to meet each partner at whatever stage of life you’re in to keep the intimate connection alive
- Making sure each partner is individually fulfilled. So that there is enough room in “your cup” for the relationship and each other.
- Emotional intimacy and thoughtfulness. Small actions to let your partner know “hey I see you, I’m here for you, I’m thinking of you” are key for the spark.
8. In your opinion, what’s the best way to stay calm during an argument?
Learning self-regulation skills.
This means you know your “warning signs” and can engage in skills that calm down your nervous system so you can respond appropriately. This can be grounding exercises, breathing, taking a time out, etc.
9. How can people find you?
Our biggest presence is on Instagram @decoding_couples but we are also on Facebook and Tiktok.
Our website is www.decodingcouples.com where you can find out more about us, get free relationship tools and learn about upcoming events and offerings.
10. Do you have a relationship advice book/online course/app you would like our readers to know about?
We currently have one course and one masterclass out.
Our course is the Relationship Roadmap that helps couples, or singles, understand their attachment styles. The course is also a great tool to improve communication and re-ignite sex and intimacy.
It is self paced and you have lifetime access once you’re signed up.
Our masterclass, Stop Fighting Start Talking, is a free resources where we teach you the 5 steps to start having healthy, productive conversations with your partner around previous fights or lingering past hurts.
It was amazing having you as first guests of our relationship advice series, Stacey and Rachel. Thank you for your time!