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ERP 086: How To Handle The Stress From Your Partner’s Lost Job – Part One [Transcript]

ERP 086: How To Handle The Stress From Your Partner’s Lost Job [Transcript]

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Welcome to The Empowered Relationship Podcast, helping you turn relationship challenges into opportunities and setting you up for relationship success. Your host, Dr. Jessica Higgins, is a licensed psychologist and relationship coach who shares valuable tips, tools and resources for you to dramatically improve your relationship.

This podcast is 100% ad-free. To support this show, please subscribe and write a review today. Here is your host.

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Hi, thank you for joining today’s podcast episode. Today’s episode is 86, titled How To Handle The Stress From Your Partner’s Lost Job. I am answering a listener’s submitted question.

Before we get started, I wanna thank you for tuning in today’s podcast episode, and just to remind us all that this show’s intention is about improving relationship, having and growing fulfilling and authentic relationship, which in my mind takes a level of investment. So we are wanting to set our relationships up for success, knowing that there’s gonna be challenges but learning how to deal with them more skillfully.

On this show I will answer submitted questions from listeners who e-mail me or leave me a voicemail. I also have had people receive live laser coaching on the show, where they’re actually featured on the show. I also have guests, other experts in the field, and I also bring topics based on my work with clients.

Over the last several months I have had an opportunity and privilege to speak with some of you, or have interactions with you via e-mail, and I’ve heard your requests around having maybe bi-monthly or bi-weekly calls where we have a more intimate group to go a little deeper with some of these principles, as well as like a Facebook group or some type of group that allows us to have some more correspondence.

I am kicking around this idea, and I would love to hear from you if you’re interested and you would find value in this opportunity. I think it would be fantastic! I get super excited about having more contact with you, and to be able to engage in a dialogue that deepens and expands on these principles. I would love to hear your input and your feedback. I think it would just help this podcast, this community grow and evolve, because I truly am growing and evolving. I have told you if you have listened to my podcasts, that everything I talk about, I am practicing. I am on the journey, as well.

I have a few things underneath my belt for sure, and I am doing the work and I’m a deep subscriber to all of this, as well. I am growing in how I teach, so periodically before I publish a podcast I will hop over to iTunes and see if somebody wrote a review so I can share it with you guys. I did get a review, and this is from ILoveLisa, and it’s a five-star review:

“Great info. I just wish the delivery tone and inflection didn’t sound so much like adults when they speak to children. Makes it hard to listen to.”

So this is constructive feedback, and I very much appreciate this. I’m not gonna learn unless I hear from you guys, and I can appreciate that comment. I know that I can get emphatic and I can get pretty strong in my delivery and my tone of voice; I can hear that that would sound a little parental, and that’s not my intention. I think I just get very passionate and excited about some of what I’m discussing. So I don’t know that that’s gonna go away; that’s part of my personality. I tend to be very expressive and excitable, and definitely feel strongly about some of what I’m describing, and I would love to be more aware and conscious of what could sound almost condescending. It sounds like this parental, which could be like a talking down to, and again, that’s not at all what I wanna convey.

I try to use myself as an example in that I am very humble to these principles and that I am on this journey with all of you. We might have different stages or different things that we’re negotiating, yet we’re all on the path, and I firmly believe that. So thank you for that feedback, I do appreciate the constructive criticism, and again, I really am interested in just increasing the opportunity for dialogue.

I was talking to another listener who was just wanting to hear from other listeners, and I say people typically e-mail me directly. I encourage people to comment on the podcast show notes and comment below, but I get that that’s probably not the most convenient form of communicating. I would love to hear from you if you have ideas, some way that you would be interested in speaking to other listeners and just engaging in this dialogue a little more deeply.

Alright, let’s get started for today’s podcast episode. Today’s episode is 86. Again, this is titled How To Handle The Stress From Your Partner’s Lost Job. This question comes from Christen, and she writes:

I sought out your podcast a few days ago and have found it very helpful for the difficult situation my relationship is currently in. My partner lost his job a couple months ago due to downsizing at his company. Since then he has also lost a lot of confidence, reignited many insecurities, become extremely negative about everything related to job searching, and been unmotivated. Meanwhile, I work 40 hours a week and it’s really hard for me to remain positive and supportive. I would love to hear an episode that could speak to this.

Christen, thank you so much for submitting your question. You’re actually not the only one that’s brought this up. I’ve had several clients lately address this in some form or fashion, some angle, so I’m excited to speak on this a little bit today.

This is such a challenging situation. I do think that the couple creates an environment. I’m not sure if you have children or you don’t, but there is an environment of your couplehood or an environment of your family, and there is an emotional tone to that, there’s a mood. If your partner is going through a very difficult time and is having a lot of emotional upset about that, that’s gonna impact the couple tone. I think there’s a pull to that, and it’s super hard to remain positive and sometimes it feels like you might have to carry the weight, or keep the train moving, so to speak, and that can be a lot to hold. I really wanna acknowledge that.

Today I would like to lay out just a couple things that are often going on in this type of situation. Then I’m gonna move into some tips that I feel have been very helpful for me – I’ve been in this situation before, I’ve worked with clients on both ends… The male or the partner that is out of work or looking for work, and also the female that’s trying to support her significant other. I’m gonna speak just generally. This is not gonna be the case for every single person. Every person has their own unique process, and that’s a given.

The first thing I wanna mention here is what an ego blow this can be to lose one’s job. He lost his job due to downsizing. I don’t know if he saw it coming or if it was a complete surprise, but it doesn’t sound like he really chose this. This is something that happened to him, so to speak.

This can be really tricky. A lot of people have stock in their career. It’s very much a part of their identity. When we go to networking parties, or we go and we meet people in some social gathering, or even family events – one of the primary things that people ask about is “What do you do? Tell me about your work? How is work going?” and it’s very much how we define ourselves a lot of the time. This is incredibly true for men, stereotypically. There’s a lot of investment, value, sense of self-worth wrapped up in career – what I do for a living, what I do to provide for my family and how I’m industrious in the world. There’s achievement, there’s accomplishment, there’s excelling and winning and all of those things, and I think this can have a cultural element. Depending on what part of the country you live, I think this can be a little more pronounced than other areas, so I think it’s a real thing to just take note of.

In your question, I love that you were able to recognize that this has possibly reignited insecurities, and maybe negative thoughts or beliefs. This is really classic, that when – I’m gonna speak stereotypically – a man loses his job, that’s upsetting as it is; it’s a huge blow to the ego, it kind of rocks the boat, identity…  “Who am I? What am I doing in the world? What’s my worth?” But if there’s any preexisting, meaning any time in this gentleman’s life where he has not felt confident or strong or secure in himself, this can get reactivated or reignited, like you’re saying.

I have a client that I’m working with that was brought up in a family where he got a lot of things, but he didn’t get that positive affirmation about who he is in his core, about being loved and valued and feeling good about himself knowing that he’s got something to contribute and feeling that sense of confidence. He didn’t get that external validation growing up that allowed him to have that integrated in his internal world, in his internal being. So his inner voice isn’t as strong around, “I got this. This is just a little blip. I have something to offer, I do have value to contribute. There’s another better fit for me”, or whatever the inner dialogue talk is, it comes from a belief of positive self and self-confidence.

So again, if there’s any challenge in the past, of feeling that level of security and confidence, it can reignite that. In psychology we call that where it can be an encapsulated experience or a state, where if we’re feeling insecure emotionally right now, given what’s going on, it’s gonna remind us of all the other times where we felt insecure. It’s almost like it has this thread where it might not be that strong, we might not be able to remember, we might not have that same recollection if we’re feeling strong and confident; it’s just not really in our awareness. But when it’s up for us, we’re gonna remember all the other times where we have felt similar.

This can be an incredibly deep, deep experience. If there’s some preexisting insecurities, depending on what they were, this can be a big deal, a really big deal. Some people get depressed, some people really struggle with finding their motivation, finding their sense of confidence and value, and depending on where your partner’s level of skill, it can feel really humbling and a little demoralizing to think about getting back into the job hunt, especially if he has achieved a certain level, and to kind of feel like you’re going back to the drawing board. It is not like that, but it can feel like that when you’re trying to break through the HR search of keywords. It’s this electronic equation, and to try to get your foot in the door can feel really daunting.

Throughout this episode I’m going to reference a few resources, some of which are podcast episodes that I think will support what you’re describing, and there’s a couple articles that I’m referencing, one of which was published on Oprah. It’s by Caitlin Shetterly, and it’s titled “6 Things Your Unemployed Husband Might Never Say Out Loud.” I just thought a few of them were really poignant, and I feel like they’re echoed things that I’ve heard clients say, things I heard my husband say when he was in this situation, and I just think it could be good food for thought, because I don’t know that a lot of men are gonna really verbalize and make it very explicit, especially when they’re going through such a difficult time.

It’s very classic that men will want to try to work through these feelings internally, go into the man-cave, so to speak, and really try to not burden their significant other.

One point from that article of the  “6 Things Your Unemployed Husband Might Never Say Out Loud” was “At this point I’m so terrified of rejection I don’t know how to get back out there and try again.” This is something that the husband might be thinking or feeling but might not say.

Caitlin, the author of this article is saying as a very kind of verbal, active woman she might provide a lot of ideas around how to get a job, and that she was hearing pretty much silence in return. She wrote “I’ve come to realize finally that it’s not that he doesn’t want to try my ideas, instead the problem is Dan’s (her significant other) wound is deep enough that it might take a while to heal.

So just recognizing that his process might be deeper and take longer than we might think. It might be more significant than we might be aware of. That’s one of my first points around what is getting activated and what’s happening during this time.

The second point I wanna make is just his period of upset and loss. For some men or some people it could be for a few days, it could be for a few weeks, or it could be a few months, which it sounds like your significant other is on that track. There’s a natural upset, being shocked, fighting against what happened and how it happened and being resentful and not really wanting to accept it. Then there could be a grieving, a real sadness around “Oh, I’m missing my co-workers and going to work” and maybe really liking the environment of the job, and all the aspects around that.

There’s a real grieving around maybe some goals he had in mind, or someplace he saw himself within the company, and all of that is changing. I’m just speculating, I have no idea what your significant other’s situation is, but I’m just speaking generally here.

I wish it was an exact science, like “If you lose your job, this is what you can expect.” Well, I do think we can say it’s pretty common and natural to be upset about getting laid off, and there’s so many variables and circumstances that make how somebody’s gonna respond be different. Like I said, some people might take a few days and really just get out there and say, “Okay, this is awesome! I actually was looking for a change. This is now the clean break that I’ve been looking for.” I don’t know if he got a severance, but “This will give me the transition period to now step into something I’ve been really wanting to develop and I just haven’t had the time.” To, as I just mentioned a moment ago, “Wow, this is hitting me like a break wall. This is bringing all this really painful, unfortunately familiar feelings of not feeling adequate, feeling unconfident, feeling like I don’t have a lot to offer, feeling pretty bad about myself.”

That can be a very serious emotional and mental strain. It takes a lot to think positive, it takes a lot to emotionally work through some of those feelings, and people will have some depression symptoms – feeling irritable, sad, wanting to isolate, maybe self-pity, and then all this stuff that comes along with that, like sleeping too much or not sleeping enough, or eating too much or not eating enough. There’s a lot of ways that can show up.

Some of the other strains that people will experience when they lose a job is how it relates to belonging; how they’re viewed by their family, their community, their loved ones, their relationship… There’s a sense of feeling shame, humility, failure, vulnerable. That can be anxiety-provoking, too. Like, “How am I going to overcome this, when I’m feeling this much pain and this much shame and humility?” It can be embarrassing.

You know this is all really hard, but I’m just being real about where people go when they get this type of rejection, because getting laid off is a form of “We don’t want you.” Depending on how much he invested into that company, it’s like a breakup, it’s pretty hard, and it can take a little bit of time, for sure. So just kind of laying a little bit of context in here.

The other thing that Caitlin said in her article that was published on Oprah, the “6 Things Your Unemployed Husband Might Never Say Out Loud”, he might be feeling, “I love you, I just don’t love myself that much right now.” So just that feeling of “It’s hard for me to express love to you because I’m feeling so crappy inside.” I know my husband has said this to me, where it’s just very difficult for him to engage in a really positive way when he’s feeling so crappy internally.

The other third comment here that I wanna say before I get into my tips around how to deal with this situation is really stating the obvious, but I wanna say it anyway, which is just the increase of stress. I have mentioned there’s a podcast – I think a did a two-part podcast… Episode 74 and 75, How To Combat The Damage Of Stress In Your Relationship. Those are two podcast episodes that I talked about stress.

Within that episode I mentioned a stress inventory. It was actually published years ago, but I do think it’s really valid that if we were to look at a year span and look at the life events, we would actually tally based on the event. It has like a number associated with the level of stress that’s coming, so the level of the intensity of stress that that event might incur. A death of a loved one would be high, getting fired would be high… So it’s bringing to awareness that “Oh, I’ve actually dealt with some really stressful life events, and I’m actually incurring — there’s this cumulative effect here going on” and just to validate that stress is real, and it has an impact, and that it’s gonna impact your relationship.

Your relationship is made up of two people, and if one person’s going through something pretty significant, it’s gonna impact your relationship as a whole and it probably will put stress on the relationship, which might magnify previous tensions. Like I was saying with your partner, if he had any level of insecurity before, this rejection will probably amplify that. Similarly, if one person loses their job and it puts stress on the relationship, it might increase the levels of tension that were already there, or the difficult dynamics that were already there.

I want that to be also recognized, that it might feel like things are getting more strained in your relationship, which is true, but it also might amplify or turn up the volume on things that were already there.

In an article written by Margie Warrell, “Bouncing Back From Job Loss: The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective Job Hunters” – now, I get that this is more geared towards the partner who lost the job, but I still like what she wrote. She says, “But whether the reason you lost your job has everything to do with your perceived performance, or absolutely nothing, it’s how you respond to the wake of it that will set you apart from others when it comes to finding a new job.”

This very much mirrors one of the things that I talk about often, that when we deal with life upset or relationship conflict, it’s how we deal with it that’s gonna determine our success, it’s not the fact that it’s happening. So she’s saying whether or not you didn’t perform well and you got fired, or whether or not you performed really well and it had nothing to do with you when you got fired, the way you deal with getting fired or let go is gonna really determine how you’re gonna get and set yourself up for a new job.

I think this can also be said about how we show up for our partner when the going gets rough also can speak volumes. How we show up for our partner when they’re going through a difficult time can give opportunity to deepen the trust level, deepen the intimacy and strengthen the bond. We don’t always know how somebody’s gonna be there for us when we’re down and out, and when we can know that our partner is going to do the best that they can and show up for us, be there, that is gonna be an incredible opportunity. Again, it’s how you deal with it that’s more important than what actually happens.

Now I would like to get into the tips portion. What I would like to do is provide the first two, and then I’ll provide the next six in the next episode, and I’m gonna be publishing that very soon, so you will not have to wait that long. I was a little delayed last week in getting out this episode, so I will be publishing the next day or so.

So I have eight tips in total, and I’ll cover the first two here, and then I’ll cover the next six in the next episode. Before I provide these first two tips, these are more general tips for this type of situation that I think will help long-term, bigger picture, and really for your relationship. I think what you’re specifically asking me, Christen, in your question is how to deal with more of his negative down mood and how for you to stay positive and be supportive.

I’m gonna speak to the supportive part. The positive part I will address next week, and how to negotiate some of those things. So just stay tuned, because I really want you to feel that I’m listening to your question, and I will get there.

The first tip that I wanna talk about is Listen. This is gonna be something that you will wanna do in doses. I don’t think it’s realistic for you to always be available and receptive to deep listening. Which reminds me, I have another podcast – I’ll have to put it on the show notes – around the gift of deep listening. It’s a total thing that we can give to our partner, but it’s potent. It’s not something that can be done all the time.

I know when my husband and I were negotiating this type of circumstance in our relationship. I wasn’t always capable of providing the deep listening. There’s a lot of things in life – domestic chores need to get done, and I have needs… I’m gonna talk about all that in a minute, but when you can, when you feel like you’re really available, there’s a way of showing up of just paying attention, letting your partner know you’re interested, and just being patient – maybe asking a question – and allowing him to start to talk, and empty the cup, so to speak.

When we start talking, we might feel like we have nothing to say, and yet when we begin to talk we begin to deepen and unfold and there’s more, and there’s more to say, and there’s more to say. We empty what’s in us that we didn’t even maybe know it was there, and I think this is particularly true for men, that it’s an unfolding that sometimes is a deep inner emotional process, but isn’t always easily named, where women can pretty easily know they’re feeling something, identify it and be ready to talk about it. Again, this is stereotypical, but for men, to give that space of not filling in the blanks, not guessing what he’s gonna say — I’m so guilty of all of these things, where if my husband’s pausing and he’s trying to find the word I’ll often guess. I’m very verbal, and I will wanna chime in, add to what he’s saying.

I think that there can be a value to that, but what I’m suggesting here is really to stay silent and really allow him to share as much as he’s willing to share. He might not even be available, so this is kind of a syncing up-type thing. But if you’re willing to hold the space, he might open up. And if he doesn’t, that’s fine; at least you were present and open to the idea of being there.

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard women tell me in session – when I’m doing a couples session – “I have never heard this before” or “Wow, I had no idea.” And part of it is in couples sessions I am attending to both people, but when I’m focused on the guy, I stay with him; I stay curious. I really try to get into his world and ask questions, really understand it.

Obviously, this is my job and I’m signed up to do it and I’ve had training to do this, but it’s a level of really putting that attention and allowing him to share and deepen and empty… The more talking, the deeper it usually gets. Again, I’m saying, even for myself, there have been times where I have been able to be in this place. I don’t know if the stars just line up, and he’s open to it, and I’m receptive… Or if I’m really present and he can feel it, and now that we’ve been together for a long enough time, he can feel when I’m relaxed, I’m calm, I’m attentive, I’m very present, I’m not distracted, there’s nothing on my list to do, I’m just with him fully, he’ll go there. He will share and deepen, and it’s an incredibly rich experience for both of us.

Again, I can’t do it all the time, but when I can, there’s such a respect and a gift to be able to offer that. And if it’s natural to empathize… Just feeling with him; I don’t think you need to say a lot, but being willing to feel what he’s describing. And if it’s natural to reflect and say, “Wow…” or empathize, sure. But again, that more focus on him and listening, you being his person.

It’s a very isolating process to look for a job sometimes, unless he’s out networking and really working it with his friends, and trying to put plugs in here or there, it can be a lot to handle throughout the day, not really have a lot of people to be sharing with or talking about, especially the inner, emotional stuff.

Number two – Believe. This is a harder one. If he is in a funk and he’s got a native story or he is combating some really negative core beliefs or insecurities, this is a tricky one. This is extremely tricky, because it requires you – or me, when I was in this situation – to ballet and juggle how not to buy into the negative story, or the victim story, at times. And how to also encourage, without being his coach, without trying to take it on for him, but reminding him of his strengths.

Again, this is a tricky thing, of how to support without being to cuddling or caretaking, or enabling. Because again, you don’t wanna believe and hold this negative story with him. His upset is real, but the pity and the “this is the way it’s always gonna be”, or the staying stuck in that – you don’t wanna endorse that.

And you don’t wanna push too hard. He’s got his process, he’s gotta work through it himself and you don’t wanna be cold and uncaring. So I get that it’s a challenging place, and I often felt unsure of what kind of support to offer when – and I’m gonna talk about that in my next tip – but just to bring the awareness around… It’s a tricky thing to believe in him, but also validate what the hardship is.

In this point that I’m suggesting here of believing, the ability to believe in his strengths, believe in goodness for him, that he will eventually get a job, and that it might even be better, or that something good will come from it, and to know that he’s worthy, to know that he’s valuable, believing in his strengths… And validating that it’s hard right now, it sucks right now, it feels pretty crappy right now, and that was maybe not the hand he wanted to get dealt, for sure.

So to understand and empathize, and yet also not buy into the reality that this is the ultimate state of his circumstance, if that makes sense… I have said this before, I think it’s one of the most challenging things to do in life – to hold belief when things look like they’re a mess. We’ve talked about this in my last podcast.

It can be easy to get sucked into his mood, his energy and to buy into his story. So whether or not you hold belief for him silently, or if he is in a place of feeling receptive to encouragement… You can be explicit about it, you can straight up ask him. “I see a lot of positivity in you, and I don’t know if now is the time that you’re wanting to hear that”, or “I’m wanting to remind you of things that I know about you. I don’t know if that would be helpful right now.”

Again, number one – Listening. I do think that having a space to really talk about the hardship and the upset, and what gets brought up — not that you’re gonna be his therapist or counselor, but that he can feel like he can share what’s going on, that there’s a space to feel validated in that. Then there’s another time where if he’s just scared, or feeling unmotivated — again, not that you’re gonna be his cheerleader, but that if he is forgetting what is good about him, and his strengths and what he has to offer, to have your person be a mirror for you and shine that light can be incredible feeling.

I don’t know how receptive your partner would be to this, but again, this can be done silently. I think that that could help you to know that this is a hard moment right now, and that you guys will get through it, he will come around. And how – I have some tips to share with you – this holding belief in him can also help you feel that it’s not gonna be like this forever.

The other reason why believing in him is incredibly helpful is as humans we tend to have a negative bias, which means that we will be scanning our environment for threats. Everybody does this. And when there is an upset, we wanna take care of ourselves. So we look for threats and we try to mitigate that. If we’ve had any upset, we wanna protect ourselves. We’re actively negotiating threats, which means we’re spending a lot of energy thinking about the threat, thinking how to combat it and how to deal with it, and it’s all designed to protect ourselves and survive.

Well, the side effect to that is that we might overlook, minimize and discredit our strengths and our positive aspects or resources. I’m not sure you’ve had this experience – I’m imagining you have; all of us, I believe, have had some experience where someone has reminded us of our goodness, our strengths, our resources. We shift out of what might be intense fear, worry, sadness, negativity, into feeling more hope, or some level of relief and motivation and confidence. Not that one goes away – they’re both true, but just to balance it, to help recognize and get some perspective… And I’ve seen this shift be really profound; I can feel it in myself when somebody has pointed out things to me, or helped me remember, or when I’ve been able to be that for someone else and seen them get a little untethered, disidentified from so much of the pain, and be able to see the other side, see things they might have been ignoring or overlooking. And that yes, this is hard right now, and these feelings are coming up, and this is difficult and it’s challenging. And all the positives, to point out. I can only speculate what your significant other – his strengths, but I can imagine there’s quite a few.

So being able to believe that and hold that for him, whether or not this is a real explicit act of conversation with him when the time is right, or if you just know this and hold this about him. And that it informs maybe the way you see him or think about him. I think it’s incredibly important, either way.

Okay, so for today’s episode I’ve covered a little bit about what happens when someone loses their job, and the pain and the difficulty that can be involved in that, and then I’ve offered two points around how to handle the stress and the upset, and how to show up for your partner. One – listen, two – believe.

In the next podcast I will be doing the six remaining tips that I have for how to handle distress from your partner’s lost job. And if you are listening to this podcast and you’re thinking “I missed something” or you wanna contribute and add your thoughts or input, please visit the show notes. You can find those on my website, which is DrJessicaHiggins.com, and click on Podcast. You can find the most recent episode there at the top. Again, today’s episode is episode 86. Scroll down to the bottom and you can see a comment section. And again, I know this is a little bit of an effort on your part, so I appreciate you reaching out. And even if you wanna e-mail me directly at Jessica@DrJessicaHiggins.com, I will get your feedback and it does mean a lot to me.

Again, let me know if you’re interested in a Facebook, or are interested in a twice a month call to deepen in this conversation and dialogue.

Thank you for tuning in, I appreciate sharing this time with you. Until next time, I hope you take great care.

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