Self-sacrifice has been misinterpreted by too many, as the way to be the “best” partner you can be. For this episode I have Alicia Munoz joining me to discuss how  you can use your own experience of pleasure and joy as a compass to guide you to being more fulfilled as a person, and therefore, a “better” partner. Consider the stewardess on the plane advising parents to put their own mask on first in the event of a plane crash, it’s the same idea.

selflove, selfceare, self, selflovejourney, selfworth, selfcaretips, selfdevelopment, selfcompassion, selfrespect, relationbships


Self-sacrifice has been misinterpreted by too many, as the way to be the “best” partner you can be. For this episode I have Alicia Munoz joining me to discuss how  you can use your own experience of pleasure and joy as a compass to guide you to being more fulfilled as a person, and therefore, a “better” partner.

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Alicia Muñoz is a Virginia, New Jersey, and New York State Licensed Professional Counselor. Prior to opening her private practice, Alicia provided individual, couples and group therapy at Bellevue Hospital’s World Trade Center Mental Health Program. She is the author of 3 books that can all be found on amazon:

No More Fighting: The Relationship Book for Couples: 20 Minutes a Week to a Stronger Relationship

 The Couple’s Quiz Book: 350 Fun Questions to Energize Your Relationship 

 A Year of Us: A Couples Journal: One Question a Day to Spark Fun and Meaningful Conversations

She also has a blog on her website which is: & her instagram handle is aliciamunozcouples.

So let’s begin with defining what does it mean to be a good partner?

Alicia: So the million-dollar question, I love it. So in my view, being a good partner is both simpler than it seems, and obviously it’s harder than it seems. And so it’s really about being invested in knowing who you are and being invested in knowing who your partner is. 

So that really requires a mix of humility and self-respect, which people sometimes can, you know, see as contradictory, you know, how can I be humble and also authoritative and sovereign and respectful of who I am and what I need and what my boundaries are. So I feel that that really being a good partner is about blending these two aspects of oneself, curiosity, humility with authority and self-respect.

Rhoda: I completely agree with that. I do Gish stall and so the two polarities of humility and self-respect make a lot of sense to me, because then you have more range when you have ownership of both of those. 

Alicia: So true. 

Rhoda: Yeah. I like how you put that. Could you explain to my audience, what does it mean to be connected, but differentiated?

Alicia: Sure. Well, differentiation, which is kind of a mouthful. It is really an essence about defining yourself in a relationship. So again, it’s sort of that yin yang polarity dance between, you know, knowing who you are, sharing who you are and communicating who you are and what your boundaries are, and also managing your own anxiety is a big part of that, and so doing that in a relationship with another person who is really in the midst of that same process is what differentiation means. 

It’s not an easy thing to do, and people often will, you know, mistake compliance or going along with things or, you know, being pleasing or avoiding conflict with differentiation or with relationship. And that’s not what relationship is about.

Rhoda: No. I always think of it as the respect for being wired differently. It doesn’t matter how Sympatico you are; it really is about that respect for the differences. And if love means agreement all the time, then you’re losing the spice of differentiation.

Alicia: Oh, yes. That’s a wonderful reframing of it. You know, as an area that if couples can embrace that the differentiation or the differences between them, it creates a richness and a depth in the way they connect.

Rhoda: Absolutely. Is it even possible to genuinely take care of your partner, if you’re not prioritizing yourself and your own happiness?

Alicia: Well, I think I have a bit of a bias here. I mean, I would say out and out, no, you know, not a chance. I really think that, you know, compliance is not relating and taking care of someone has to begin with an awareness of your own needs and who you are and what feels pleasurable or good or not good and not pleasurable and not positive to you. 

So, you know, beginning from a place of self-knowledge and self-awareness and then stretching into, okay, well, so this is who I am and what I need. Now I can look at you and connect with you and explore what you need and what self-care means for you, and then, you know, we get into this dialogue of what is it that I can provide willingly and, you know, what is it that you can provide willingly, because we’re here to take care of our relationship. And what does that mean? Taking care of our relationship? It’s not just all about, well, what I need or what you need, it’s what do we need?

Rhoda: The us, that so many people lose track of, that I think we, as couple’s therapists are the ones kind of in charge, but we’re really trying to teach people to take over that, you know, role for themselves caring about that us.

Alicia: Yeah. And, you know, it’s a little pronoun shift, right, from I, to we or even when we’re blaming each other or complaining or feeling victimized by each other in relationship, there’s often you, you know, you, versus me, and so those pronouns are a little kind of portals into pretty profound shifts and processes, if you can actually practice moving into them.

Rhoda: I think that, personally, I’ve been thinking a lot about blame as an immature defense system. What do you think about that?

Alicia: Yeah. you know, I hear you, I am tempted also to agree with the immature part, although, being well-trained as I am, I would prefer maybe an unhelpful or unhealthy, I think that the blame tends to be something that definitely is a protective strategy to avoid kind of looking underneath at what feelings are there, that blaming you protects me from, you know?

Rhoda: Yes, I am using Isadore Frome’s definition that maturity is honestly facing painful situations, and so that’s where that word is coming from. 

Alicia: Got it.

Rhoda: And it’s one of my favorite quotes. And I think of it all the time, and I always wished I had learned something about that back in high school. I think it would have helped college be much more mature on my part.

Alicia: Yes. Oh, and I hear that around, you know, I think it’s true, the more we evolve to being able to live in the gray versus the black and the white and the polarities and the right and the wrong and the good and the bad, that is what maturity really is about. It’s sort of tolerating more of the complexity of reality.

Rhoda: And recognizing your part in it. And that is such a hard thing to learn!

Alicia: Well, it’s something that I know I personally have often tried to learn intellectually or through the mind. And in fact, so much of that learning is experiential and about, you know, opening to emotions and uncomfortable, conflicting feelings that we have about our partners, you know, our parents, our friends, people in our lives, and so yeah, it is such a hard learning, and a very experiential learning that is vulnerable.

Rhoda: Yes, absolutely. And I also think our culture isn’t really helping with that, that there’s so much…. layering of falseness in so many ways, or even just the hiding out in social media, on set texting. I love you, the first time you say it, so to speak, and those kinds of things. And so I’m hoping that we can get braver, you know, if I could pick one thing to sprinkle on the world to make it better, it would actually be courage.

Alicia: Yeah.

Rhoda: And about that discomfort and anybody who thinks therapy is an easy thing to do, is mistaken if it’s done well, you know, it’s tolerating…

Alicia: Yeah. You’re basically paying someone not to lie to you.

Rhoda: Yes. Oh, I hope we cannot need that someday?

Alicia: Yeah. 

selflove, selfceare, self, selflovejourney, selfworth, selfcaretips, selfdevelopment, selfcompassion, selfrespect, relationships

Rhoda: So there are so many people who find it difficult to define their own wants. So how do they even begin to get to know what their own wants and needs are?

Alicia: Well, I think what you’re saying about, you know, therapy being difficult, or, you know, these types of learning being difficult is the first step. I think, acknowledging that, you know, this isn’t an easy process and there’s nothing wrong with you, if you struggle to really identify your needs, and that there’s very likely just layers and layers of conditioning there, you know, that kind of inhibit or restrict your ability to just be like, Oh, you know, I need more comfort or I need to be held or, you know, I need to cry or I need to express anger or, you know, I need to quit this job. I mean, there’s likely a lot there that makes it difficult. 

So that’s the first step. And, you know, I think once you bring that kind of self-compassion, or just acceptance that it’s hard to know what you need, you know? That’s a big first step. 

Rhoda: Yes. I think, I really think it is. I just helped somebody a few weeks ago recognized that they might need more alone time. And you know, so it can really be big small steps and small things.

Alicia: Yeah. I was working with someone who was really judging themselves for their own judgment, you know, and of many different things in their life and really ultimately judging how judgmental they were. And so, you know, even that to just be able to say, okay, this, you know, I have a lot of judgment going on right now. I’m curious, you know, what does that mean about what I need, you know? Do I need to slow down; you know? 

Do I need to settle into the present moment and just meditate or listen to an audio that’s soothing or connect with my inner emotional truth? So it can be just the, you know, you don’t have to jump over a cliff to get somewhere, you can take a half step and still be moving in the right direction.

Rhoda: Yeah, that’s right. Absolutely. If you have someone who most often goes along to get along, how do you communicate your needs to a partner? What’s your advice about that?

Alicia: Yeah. About you mean like literally how you communicate?

Rhoda: Yes

Alicia: Well, I think that, again, it starts with knowing yourself, knowing what you’re feeling, because if you have a twinge of jealousy, you know, that in my mind is often a need in disguise. You know, if you feel angry or you feel irritable, that’s a need in disguise. If you feel some sadness, that’s also a need in there somewhere. 

So I feel that taking the time to be curious about what needs might be buried in your emotional reality is the first step, and then you begin to practice, what would it be like if I express this need, if I kind of… and I think of them as sort of like these little seeds that you’re throwing on the soil of your relationship, let me just practice expressing that I need a hug or that I need you to do the laundry today, or I need you to fill the gas tank, or I need you to do XYZ. Let me just practice expressing them. 

And that’s a success, like you don’t need your need to be fulfilled in the moment in order to be like a measure of success. Just let me try this out. How does this feel? So that would be a good beginning and a good first step. And I mean, not even a beginning, I practice… I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I practice all the time, how do I practice expressing my needs.

Rhoda: I love what you said about a need in disguise. One of the things I suggest to people is that they make a list of 50 to 75 people from whenever they were growing up in high school, and then imagining something back then that the positive or negative that they wish they could have said. 

So it could even be your fifth grade English teacher and saying, you know, I really… you were so important to me, because you, blah, blah. So that’s a way to practice looking backwards and seeing how valuable it might’ve been to be able to say some of these small things.

Alicia: Oh, I love that, that’s so genius. Because, you know, it really often things get kind of stuck and buried and trapped in ourselves, in our bodies, in our consciousness, around, you know, like what’s possible, and I think that guiding your clients to reconnect with different moments in their past really has the potential to kind of unlock and free things up, which can really affect a person in the present, it creates more possibilities, you know, more options. It removes, you know, psychological blocks. So that’s a really beautiful exercise.

Rhoda: Yeah. I love that part of therapy of helping people open the door to more possibilities, you know? 

Alicia: Yeah. 

Rhoda: Could you share more about what the risks are of letting one partner lead or dictate how things go in a relationship, which is very common?

Alicia: Yeah. You know, I mean, I have worked with so many couples that are kind of shocked and pained and confused by the fact that one of them spent years and sometimes decades sacrificing themselves for, in their mind, the relationship, right? Or their partner, for the children, you know, for, this, that, the other. And so then they come to therapy and there’s a sense of why didn’t this create a happy marriage? Why didn’t this create a happy relationship? Like, why aren’t you happy and why am I not happy? 

And so I think we’re kind of sold a false bill of goods from early on that says, you know, if you do these things in your relationships, then, you know, you will be loved, you will be safe, you will be connected, you will succeed in quotes. And that’s just not how it works.

You know, our sort of inner biological, spiritual… I don’t know, however you want to phrase it, imperative isn’t to check boxes that are measures of external success. We strive for authenticity. Like our deepest selves want to be authentic, want to be known as we are. 

So if you start putting the lid on your authenticity, if you start doing that, it really impacts the connection with your partner. And that’s a big risk. I mean, what could be bigger than that? A life unlived your own life, not fully lived.

Rhoda: A relationship where you’re unknown? 

Alicia: Yeah. And it’s painful, because it’s often with the best of intentions.

Rhoda: What does it sound like to ask for things directly and why is it so hard for so many people?

Alicia: Yeah. I mean, I think we’ve been talking a little bit about why it’s so hard, you know, and I think it’s hard because we’re not encouraged from a young age. We’re often encouraged to obey rather than express, and that can become a really bad habit. So I think, you know, and there are many other reasons, but I think that to the way you do it is; one, you take time to connect with your need, to allow your need to be there and to identify it, however small it is, you know? 

And two, you state it, you say it, and if it’s in a relationship, you know, you might say, you know, I need time to rest. I’d appreciate it, if you would make dinner tonight, that will give me a chance to unwind, you know? So you stay at your need. I think it’s helpful to tell your partner what it’s going to give you, you know, like I need a hug. That’s going to help me feel more connected. 

I need your attention for a half an hour. That’s gonna just help me feel more centered and less anxious. So those are, you know, three steps, identify your need, state, your need, let your partner know what is going to give you, what it’s going to provide you with.

Rhoda: I don’t want to do cell phones in restaurants.

Alicia: Right, I don’t want to… yeah, would you mind putting your cell phone away? It’s gonna help me feel more connected to you and yeah, and I really missed just connecting with you without a device around. 

Rhoda: How can you learn to ask for what you’ve been conditioned to believe is selfish? How is self-care different from selfishness?

Alicia: Yeah. These are often mistaken. And I like to… it’s confusing, because, you know, other people might view your act of self-care as an act of selfishness. So it’s sort of important to be able to differentiate, who’s calling the shots here, you know, are you advocating for your own need and, you know, taking it seriously and honoring it, or are you sort of throwing your need out in favor of someone else’s judgment of you or, you know, appraisal of you? 

So it’s really, again, just about staying grounded in what you know about yourself, resisting the impulse to jump out of yourself and worry about someone else’s perception of you. And I think that self-care brings more generosity and selfishness creates disconnection. So I think that’s another good way to measure it. 

Rhoda: I like that. Yeah. 

Alicia: Like you will have more to give, the more you take care of care of yourself, and if you’re acting out of selfishness, it’s going to feel like you have a void that never gets filled.

Rhoda: Yeah, that’s right. How can regularly toning into the way your body responds to things guide you in knowing your needs?

Alicia: Well, I think that’s a big part of knowing yourself and knowing what you need is to tune in throughout the day. I mean, personally, I love tuning in, in the morning and at night, because there’s no other distractions. So, you know, when you’re lying in bed before you wake up, you know, that you could just kind of sense, Oh, what do I need? 

What do I need today? You know, or at night, you know, what am I feeling about the day? What what’s missing or what’s filled me up and touched me today? So I think just taking that time to be still and mindful can’t be overstated the importance of finding ways to do that.

Rhoda: Yes. I agree. I even think when people have little aches and pains that the PCP doesn’t know what to do about, it might be your body talking to you, you know?

Alicia: Well, yeah, there’s a kind of exquisite wisdom in the body that doesn’t always show up in a way that looks, you know, why sometimes it is like that ache in your back, or, you know, a headache, you know, or, you know, I mean, not that you have to go all the way to full conversion here, but there are ways where our emotional symptoms translate into the body, and if you bring attention to it, you can often be surprised by what your body is telling you. Sometimes it’s quite literal. Like you’re breaking my back. Slow down, don’t be so busy. Take care of me, you know?

Rhoda: Yeah, that’s right. And my final question, how can you and your partner support each other in practicing self-care on a daily basis?

Alicia: I think there are two or maybe it’s just one, but there’s a practice you can do, where whenever you notice your partner taking care of themselves, you know, even if the way they’re doing it kind of goes against what you want, you know, to actually acknowledge, right? Like, I mean, with my husband, sometimes I might say, you know, will you do the dishes or will you take out the trash or will you, you know, do XYZ or something that maybe I typically do, and versus what he typically does, and, you know, if he says, no, I get defensive or I get mad. 

So I try to instead thank him, you know, well, thank you for taking care of yourself, you know? I see that you’re trying to take care of yourself, and if he sees me doing something that, you know, he might want me to help him do something and if I set a boundary with him, he’ll try to also just appreciate that I’m trying my best to take care of myself rather than just submitting to his needs. 

So I think that’s a really counterintuitive practice you can do, where you acknowledge that your partner is taking care of themselves, and it’s especially challenging when, you know, you might wish that they would give you a foot rub, but instead, you know, they’re going to go for a run. But I think that puts the focus on the relationship and on just replenishing the relationship and acknowledging that your partner is practicing, taking care of themselves.

Rhoda: Without feeling resentful, because maybe you haven’t figured it out as well as they have. 

Alicia: Right. 

Rhoda: I encounter a lot of that in calls. Thanks so much for joining me today. Would you share your Instagram handle once again with my audience?

Alicia: Sure. Alicia Munoz couples.

Rhoda: And thanks for joining me today, audience for more than 450 pages of free information, visit my website at, spread the word about the podcast that helps couples make it. Thanks for listening.

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