couples therapy

The Space of a Step

The Space of a Step

Making that first initial phone call to a therapist can be challenging. The mind can race faced with the issues that can drive us to therapy. Let’s examine some of the thoughts and questions that can persuade us to stay in our pain instead of reaching out for help.

Is Technology Eroding Your Relationship?

Is Technology Eroding Your Relationship?

If you clicked on this blog title, chances are you or someone you know is letting technology take over their relationship. But have no fear, you are certainly not alone. We are all susceptible to the trap of spending hours on that new app, binge watching the latest Netflix offering, or getting lost in a sea of social media entertainment. Many of my clients report simply wanting to be able to unwind and relax after a long day of work and parenting, and I don’t blame you! There’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking a little time for yourself in order to recuperate. I relish my alone time as much as anyone. However, as with most things in life, balance is key.

I’m In a Relationship… So How Can I Feel So Alone?

“I try to connect with my partner, but he just shuts me down.  I have tried to share many times in the past the issues I have regarding my boss, but my partner just criticizes me for what I am not doing instead of listening to me.  Every time I talk to my wife, she just shames me for my decisions.  My partner is here, but I can’t talk to them.  I feel so alone.” 

Do any of the statements above sound similar to something you’ve experienced in your relationship?  Are you tired of trying to share your world with your partner and get shut down or shut out?  If so, you are in the right spot.  I hope my blog gives you a quick educational snippet of what emotional safety is and how, without it, relationships tend to suffer.

  1. What is Emotional Safety?
    Emotional safety refers to a state when an individual is able to be truly open and vulnerable in a relationship. When an individual feels emotionally safe, their social connections tend to thrive. When social connections are thriving, long-term relationships can be cultivated!

  2. How is Emotional Safety Disrupted in a Relationship?
    Threats to emotional safety in a relationship can come in all forms. From my experience, it is not the BIG arguments that cause couples to come into therapy. It is the SUBTLE threats that build and build over time that lead couples to question what has happened them. These subtle threats include: feeling attacked and then feeling the need to counterattack, shutting down, being judged, being criticized, and being shamed.\

  3. How Can Emotional Safety Be Rebuilt?
    Rebuilding emotional safety and reconnecting with your partner can be a daunting process. Here are just a few tips to rebuild emotional safety: effective communication, fair fighting, soft start up, acceptance, and love.

As research states, emotional safety is a key component of a long last relationship.  When a person’s mind and body feel safe, their connections and relationship tend to thrive.  If you and your partner are still feeling overwhelmed, please give me a call and I would love to help you rebuild the relationship you want and deserve!  

Communicating about Sex

Communication would be at the top of the list when discussing ways to maintain a healthy relationship. While there are other equally important skills you and your partner should have, communication remains as the highest trait in helping a relationship stay solid. This fundamental piece can determine how in sync you and your partner really are. Since communication is such a key element, why is it then hard to talk about sex with your partner? The answer to why we still tend to cringe towards this subject may be understandable.

Even though different forms of media are filled with sexual content nowadays, society still tell us conversations with sexual content is a “no, no”. It keeps persisting that sex is taboo. Altogether, this can be confusing and send mixed messages on how to approach the topic. You could feel stuck on what to do. Furthermore, there are additional contributing factors influencing your perception of sex. This includes: upbringing, religious beliefs, gender stereotypes, and any other influential origins you believe formed your perception. When considering everything, staying away from talks regarding sex seems like the easiest solution. However, think of it this way: If you and your partner feel that open communication should be implemented throughout all aspects of your relationship…shouldn’t sex be included too? Talking over what’s currently going on in your sex life or what ways it may have changed is a discussion worth having. No matter what the sexual issue contains, an open and honest conversation should occur. It can feel uncomfortable at first, but bringing up sex may be a vulnerable conversation that needs to happen within your relationship starting now.

In order to keep your relationship successful, your sexual health and experiences have to be prioritized too. If you’re like most clients I talk to, your sex life is less than ideal. Likely you’ve simply avoided the topic, hoping it will get better. Unfortunately you’re not likely to see much improvement without actually discussing the issue. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed about communicating your sexual concerns. Remember: As you progress through life’s ups and downs, your sexual desires can also fluctuate. Maybe what was a turn on isn’t one anymore, maybe you’re experiencing a sexual difficulty that once wasn’t there before or maybe you’re wanting to explore something different. Whatever the matter is, your partner should know what is going on. In a healthy relationship, each partner is willing and open to share their sexual issues. They understand the importance of addressing and having a healthy sex life. You and your partner’s connection will only strengthen from it.

If you’ve never been good at discussing sex with your partner, you may benefit from seeking professional help, whether individually or as a couple. As a therapist with training and experience helping couples communicate regarding their sexual relationship, I’m happy to help.

Work and Home Life Balance

The title may look a bit odd to you because the more common phrasing is "work/life balance." That's never felt right to me as it implies that life is what happens outside of work. However, most of us spend more of our waking hours at work than we do anywhere else. We do life at work and, whether we like to admit it or not, work also bleeds over into home life as well. I believe we should be trying to improve ourselves in all areas of life, including work. Problems arise when we 1) carry our work stress/habits into home life, 2) carry our home problems into work, or 3) try and be our “work selves” at home with our family.

Work is stressful whether it’s a 70-80 hour week, a flexible schedule working from home, or a stay at home parent. It’s understandable that you would share that with your partner. The goal here is to not take it out on them. Relationships are, in part, about helping each other carry burdens. I encourage partners to include their partners in all aspects of their life, but remember they are your ally, not a punching bag. Asking them about their day and helping shoulder their struggles is just as important as them helping you.

Likewise, issues in your personal life can’t help but affect how you behave and perform at work. If the home life is less than ideal, you can’t just turn that off when you head to the job site. However, this is what close friends and colleagues are for. Choose people who are supporters of not just you, but of your relationship, and do life with them. Ironically most of us do this one much better than the first issue as we all know we need to perform well at our job or soon we might not have one. Just think if we viewed our relationships with the same level of importance and urgency!

Finally, we all have our work persona that we carry into the office. Whether that’s the boss, managing people, taking orders, being direct, etc, what works in the workplace rarely works at home.* Your partner needs a flexible, caring, empathetic partner, not a task-oriented, directive-driven workhorse. Be attentive to how your partner’s needs may vary from your own and be mindful of how the behaviors that may make you an effective professional may not make you the most lovable partner.

I say all this not because I’m great at it, but because I too struggle with these very things. The important thing is recognizing where you struggle and getting help. Whether it’s your partner, a close friend, a family member, or a therapist, find someone that can help hold you accountable to being better!

Avoiding Assumptions

In my 15 years of seeing individuals and couples in therapy, I've heard just about every version of argument there is. Whether it's a blowup that started with the laundry not being folded or a walk out due to a direct insult, I've heard it all. I've found there's a common theme in all of these miscommunications: assuming. Once we get comfortable with someone and have been with them long enough, we naturally tend to figure out some of their patterns of thinking, behavior, and communication. Although this can be helpful in meeting their needs and being more efficient, assuming can also be devastating to relationships. What if you're wrong and you didn't stop to check? Then you might be responding to or arguing with a point that the other person never even imagined.It's also important to remember that we all come into relationships and arguments pre-loaded with our own baggage and insecurities. This means you're not just making assumptions based on your observations of your partner, but you're also seeing everything through your own biased filter. Ever heard the phrase "you see what you want to see"? Basically if you're convinced there's a way your partner (or perhaps people in general) talk or behave toward you, then ironically this is what you're likely to experience, whether it's objectively occurring or not. For example, if you believe that no one could ever truly love you because you yourself don't believe you're truly worthy of being loved, then you'll consciously or subconsciously always be looking for signs that those around you do not in fact love you. Even if you see 10 signs of love for every 1 wrong, you'll focus on the wrongdoing and dismiss the love. See how this could be dangerous in combination with our natural tendency to assume?Luckily I've had 15 years and plenty of training on how to thwart these negative patterns! I have four quick (but not easy) steps to avoid falling into the assumption trap:1) Check assumptions - The moment you find yourself assuming your partner is saying something hurtful toward or negative about you, ask before attacking! It also helps if you do this in a curious way (What did you mean when you said X?) versus defensive (So you're saying that I'm an idiot?). What if they had a perfectly harmless thought and just expressed it poorly? Good thing you checked!2) Lead with feelings - This is by far the hardest step because it requires the toughest thing to do in this world - being vulnerable. Leading with how their comment made you feel is far "weaker" position than lashing out and hurting them back. However, I struggle to think of a time when attacking back has ever led to positive resolution. Instead use a feeling to describe your reaction to their comment. If your partner truly cares about you, sharing how you're hurt is far more likely to get a loving response.3) Address hurt feelings - If your partner has done step 2 and expressed hurt feelings the last thing you want to do is argue feelings with facts. The temptation is to try and convince them why they shouldn't feel hurt and why you're not a bad person/partner, but all that does is serve to invalidate their reactive feeling. Instead accept that this is how they feel and address that feeling.4) Meta-communicate - This is a fancy term for communicating about communicating (Did I just blow your mind?). In other words, talk about where the miscommunication occurred and how. Discuss how you could have gotten the same point across without hurting the other person's feelings. If the communication went poorly, talk about how you can better handle a similar miscommunication in the future without it leading to a fight.There are many other communication skills, but these 4 will have you well on your way to avoiding assumptions. For more help fine-tuning your relationship communication, please reach out to a couples therapist near you. They are an invaluable resource and are there to help strengthen your relationship both in quality and longevity.

Guardrails: Healthy Relationship Boundaries

Years ago I watched a video series called Guardrails by renown pastor and author, Andy Stanley. The idea was simple: set up guardrails, or boundaries, for your relationship so that you're not ever even close to the edge of being unfaithful to your partner. The execution, however, is not so simple. My primary specialization is infidelity, so you can imagine how many individuals and couples step foot in my office with poor guardrails or ones that are demolished to the point they're unrecognizable.I think most people would agree that you need some healthy boundaries between yourself and members of the opposite sex once you're in a committed, exclusive relationship. The problem is, many tend to see just how close to the cliff they can get before hitting a guardrail. I always use the guardrails on the roads for comparison. If you had a road near a steep cliff, do you want the guardrails as close to the cliff as possible, or set back a ways to where you could hit the guardrails without being in any danger of going over? Vice President Mike Pence seems to be the poster child for guardrails these days, good and bad. Many see his boundaries as too rigid and ridiculous, such as not ever dining alone with a woman who isn't his wife. Although I don't personally ascribe to the same set of guardrails, I do applaud him for putting his marriage before professional and social obligations. I'll tell you this much: I bet his wife doesn't question his dedication to her and their marriage.Do I think everyone reading this blog needs to commit to never dining with a person of the opposite sex? No, certainly not. Do I think most of us could do a better job of agreeing on an explicit set of guardrails with our spouse and holding ourselves accountable? The infidelity numbers in this country and in my office say "absolutely." I'm certainly not going to tell anyone what their specific boundaries should be, but I will always advise that you and your partner agree to your boundaries so that everything is easily interpreted and applied by both parties. This is especially important if either of you have experienced a breach of trust in your past. Here are some potential guardrails for you to discuss with your partner:

  • Is it okay to be linked on social media to our exes?
  • Is it okay to talk/text/message an ex or any member of the opposite sex?
  • How little and how much are we expected to share with our partner when we do interact with the opposite sex?
  • Are we comfortable dining alone with members of the opposite sex? For work? Personally? What's the protocol?
  • Is it okay to flirt with others? How do you define flirt? How far is too far?
  • Are we willing to communicate with each other if either of us feels a legitimate romantic interest in someone else is starting to form?

I know that last one seems like a trap, and I can't promise you it's going to go well if you tell your partner you're starting to develop even the slightest inkling of feelings for someone else. But I challenge you to find a way you can have an affair if you and your partner are sharing that level of detail with each other when an interest starts to develop. Although much of my work is in helping people recover from affairs, I also spend a lot of time helping people "affair-proof" their relationship. I can't tell you where your line should be, but the firmer and further back those guardrails, the less likely you are to fall over the edge.

March Awareness Month

If you google March Awareness Month/Week, you will discover a plethora of things to be aware of! It’s Red Cross Month, Ovarian and Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, and Brain Injury Awareness Month to name a few. But then if you scroll down, you will find a division of Awareness Weeks of March. Did you know that there was an actual National Sleep Awareness Week in March?! Anyone with babies and children are quite aware of our sleep, or lack thereof, awareness. There’s MS week, Down Syndrome Awareness Week. Here’s the one that caught my attention. In the U.K., they have a Tick Bite Prevention Week.Sunday, March 24th, starts the TBP week, and I guarantee you that I will be remembering that a country has claimed an entire national week to prevent tick bites. As silly as a Tick Bite Prevention Awareness Week sounds, if it allows families and pets to play outside with more awareness and precautions against tick bites preventing Lyme’s Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, or other horrible and debilitating disease caused by a tick, then bring on the awareness!There’s a difference in being aware and being anxious. If I have forgotten to buckle my seat belt, my car dings at me. There’s no need to panic. I just put on my seat belt. If I notice myself feeling more frustrated than usual, I do a self-check to see what’s going on internally. Sometimes it’s due to being tired, needing to work out, needing to have a conversation I’ve been putting off with my spouse.According to the Google Dictionary, “Awareness is the knowledge or perception of a situation or fact.” What personal and relational awareness do you have? What keeps you in check with your mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being? What signs do you have that keep you aware? When you start having more negative thoughts about yourself or your relationship, does that cause you to pause and question where those thoughts are coming from? When was the last time you checked in with your family, had a family meeting time, and/or had a meal together without any electronics? When was the last time you self-cared, self-reflected, or had a date night?My hope would be that you are doing a weekly or bimonthly awareness of your relationship and yourself to avoid any chance of a relationship or self break down. If you find yourself needing help to work through the awareness you discover, know there is someone to walk with you and help you in your discovery journey. Being more intentional and aware in your living will create more peaceful and joyful spaces.

Fighting Fairly

If you are a sibling, have had a good friend, or ever been in junior high, you know all about insults. You know when someone insults you, you insult them right back. And not just any insult. An insult against all insults. You try to one-up their insult. Then they try to respond with an even greater insult. Until someone throws a mom under the bus with, “Your mom!”The perpetual hamster wheel. It’s all fun in games until someone gets hurt. When we get older, it becomes your wife shutting down or your husband leaving. Insult wars start with words and actions that spiral out of control until homes are wrecked, marriages become irreparable, and lives are left devalued.Long before the above scenario occurs, little offenses might be taking place. Maybe it’s laundry not being put up or a spoon not placed in the dishwasher. These are such little things. However, as we know, those tiny little snowflakes can cause quite a disastrous avalanche. It’s not about socks and spoons. It’s about feeling respected and our time being valued. When we don’t voice what our needs are and push our feelings down by telling ourselves it may be easier to just ‘clean it up ourselves’, the real issue goes unheard and unaddressed.Tension and conflict are not the issue in the relationship. It’s how we deal with the conflict and treat one another during those tense times that leads to hurt and devaluing one another. Fighting fairly means we are able to have concern for our partner’s feelings as well as having awareness of our own behavior. It’s saying, “We’re on the same team.” “I love you.” “There’s something I’d like to talk about.” Choosing not to participate in criticism (“You never…”), contempt, defensiveness (“It’s not me, it’s you”), and avoidance can lead to repair and change.In order to be intentional in handling conflict, we need to cultivate: curiosity, compassion, and (self-) control. Providing empathy to our partner’s feelings in a respectful manner, without the harsh tones, can do wonders. Ask yourself, “Where is my ownership in this fight?”  It might be a good idea to take a break and come back to discuss the situation. Reiterate to your partner that you want to discuss the issue, but you need some time to think about your words and process before the discussion. This will ensure that the ‘problem’ isn’t being avoided and that you are working to come to a resolution.If you have found yourself in the perpetual hamster wheel, reach out for help. We are trained to help you to get off the endless cycle of unresolved conflict and provide the tools needed to help you fight fairly. Create the space needed in your relationship to have conflict without the pain attached to it. Adapted by: Dr. John Gottman’s “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” and Dr. Daphne de Marneffe “Put Up a Healthy Fight”.

Do Kids Kill Marriages?

In my experience as a marriage and family therapist, few things rock a relationship like having a child together. All of a sudden, you're no longer free to do as you please, when you please, and how you please. For many couples, one or both parents start to prioritize the children over the marriage. This can lead to the marriage becoming an afterthought and spouses feeling marginalized. Therefore, do kids kill marriages? Absolutely not, but parents often do. But they don't have to!I firmly believe, and plenty of research supports this position, that the best gift you can give a child is a healthy parental relationship. Children from intact homes, especially those containing healthy marriages, benefit financially, educationally, emotionally, and relationally. However, many first-time parents are often [understandably] so worried and focused on the child's well-being that their romantic relationship suffers. For lots of couples, this is a short term issue and the relationship bounces back by taking on a new but healthy form. However, for many parents the problem lingers and creates a rift for the couple over many years.Many couples will argue that the child depends on them for survival, so they have to make the child priority #1. I wholeheartedly agree. If you are neglecting your child's primary needs in order to focus on your relationship, then you are doing it wrong. I would never suggest you make plans for your marriage that would neglect your children. However, I would adamantly suggest you find ways to continue to make your marriage a priority and, at times, the priority. If your child is sick, hungry, tired, dirty, etc, you take the time and energy to make sure they are cared for and healthy, right? I'm only suggesting that you do the same for your relationship.As a father of twins, I can appreciate the lack of time and energy parents have when babies first arrive in the home. Therefore I'm not suggesting you go on date nights every night or have long walks on the beach every weekend. I'm suggesting you both figure out ways to make sure you are continuing to invest in the person with whom you chose to procreate. This can be as simple as eating dinner together each night, finding time to ask about each other's day at the end of the day, and asking for help watching the child so you two can spend some quality time together, even if just around the house or neighborhood. Grand gestures are nice, but they pale in comparison to small, consistent gestures on a daily basis. Dads ask Mom how you can be of help. Moms ask Dad how he's adjusting to fatherhood. Most importantly, be patient with each other as you figure out this process!Finally, don't be afraid to ask for help! Whether you've recently had a child, you're expecting, or you are years into this process, don't hesitate to reach out. Our team is well versed in walking couples through creating and maintaining a healthy relationship through life's challenges, including parenthood. There are plenty of excellent resources out there. You are not alone unless you choose to be. Children can be such a blessing for any couple and household, it just takes intentionality and help from others.

Let's Face It

Face/Off was a movie made in 1997 starring Nicolas Cage and John Travolta. I remember being both mesmerized and freaked out at how someone’s face (Nicolas Cage) could be transplanted onto someone else’s face (John Travolta) and vice versa, along with vocal training, to impersonate one another. They were able to pretend to be one another so well that even John Travolta’s movie wife thought it was him. I often wondered if I were married, would I be able to tell the difference between my husband and an imposter. Oh, the worries of a 19 year old!Fast forward 20 plus years and I have gained a lot of personal and professional experience when it comes to relationships and faces. There’s something so intimate about touching someone’s face. Many relationship experts including John Gottman, Sue Johnson, and Ester Perel, to name a few, talk about the significance of face holding. I love to watch reactions of my client couples when I ask them, “So, when’s the last time you held one another’s faces?”Holding your partner’s face slows this fast paced, crammed schedule, children needing, work-driven life down. It tells the other person, “Hey, I see you. I notice you. You matter.” It opens the door to reminiscing of last summer’s vacation when you got that freckle on your cheek or the partner expressing how smooth your skin is or the feeling pokey whisker missed while shaving. It’s looking deep into the dark or light iris of the eyes and smiling into the soul. Compliments seem to naturally ebb and flow when you’re gazing into one another’s eyes while holding each other’s cheeks. We need this connection. Our relationship craves this affection. When’s the last time you felt like you mattered to your partner? That you were seen past the phone, laptop, paper, or child(ren)?I chuckle now at my future spouse impersonation fear 20 years ago. No one could pull off being as quirky and loving as my husband. However, more significantly is that as our relationship has deepened, not perfectly, but intentional, this has been a regular check-in time routine for us. Even when we’re both spent and absolutely exhausted, five minutes of face-holding reminds us that we’re in this together and that we belong and matter.I encourage you to try this. See what happens. If you want to learn ways to be more intentional in your relationship, I encourage you to find a therapist who will help you improve your communication, help manage conflict more effectively, and strengthen your intimacy.

Can I survive the holidays? (and please everyone)

Getting through the holidays can be notorious for being stressful for a variety of reasons.  Pressures to host, to get gifts, and see friends and family.  As a host, there are so many details and things to consider including: what you need to prepare for a holiday event (i.e. food and catering, house preparation, etc.), compiling the list of the people you need to invite, and then ultimately trying to set a time and date that works best for everyone.On the other hand, there are times you have multiple holiday engagements to which you are invited and you’re wondering how you’re supposed to juggle it all.  If you are invited to multiple engagements, you’re probably thinking “I don’t want to hurt their feelings if I can’t stay the whole time because I have another event I was invited to.  I just want to make everyone happy.”  Trying to take into consideration everyone’s feelings is hard and compounds the stress of the holidays, as most of us want to make sure everyone gets included and no one’s feelings get hurt in the process.I’ve had people tell me in the past that they had three events to attend in one day – like one at 2, one at 5, and one at 8 – or multiple events for an entire weekend.  I try to imagine their days hopping from event to event thinking how are you hanging in there?  People tell me they hate having to rush out from the event trying not to hurt the host’s feelings, but know they are hurting the next host’s feelings if they do not make it to their event.For couples, the same issue is compounded right?  I’ve heard couples complain about the difficulty in trying to please both sides of the family.  I totally get it!  Well the good news that I tell all my clients is that any holiday is ONLY twenty-four hours.  You WILL survive the day!  Just remember:

  • You cannot please everyone and that is okay.
  • It’s just one day and there is always time to celebrate with your loved ones.
  • Remind yourself what IS important.
  • Communicate and plan ahead of time!

If you are having difficulty or struggling navigating through the holidays, please give me a call!

Infidelity - Clouded By Myth

According to couples therapists, infidelity is the second most difficult relationship problem, surpassed only by domestic violence. Most of the time, the other partner gets blindsided in the knowledge about their partner’s affair. Affairs do not have to be sexual for there to be infidelity. Sometimes the greatest betrayals happen without touching. Infidelity is any emotional or sexual intimacy that violates trust. “At least one or both parties in 50% of all couples, married and living together, straight and gay, will break their vows of sexual or emotional exclusivity during the lifetime of the relationship.” While most people want to be loving and dedicated to their partner, there obviously needs to be more awareness of the appropriate boundaries in friendships, work relationships, and internet interactions. Where are the lines between platonic and romantic feelings outside of the couple relationship? What are the signs or myths to look for? First and foremost, anytime there is a secret emotional intimacy, there is potential for an impending betrayal. Here are some myths encompassing affairs:Myth: Affairs happen in unhappy or unloving marriages/relationships.Fact: Affairs can happen in good marriages.Myth: Affairs occur mostly because of sexual attraction.Fact: The lure of an affair is how the unfaithful partner is mirrored back through the adorning eyes of the new love. Another appeal is that individuals experience new roles and opportunities for growth in new relationships.Myth: A cheating partner almost always leaves clues, so a naïve spouse must be burying his or her head in the sand. Fact: The majority of the affairs are never detected.Myth: The person having an affair isn’t ‘getting enough’ at home.Fact: The truth is that the unfaithful partner may not be giving enough.There is hope after an affair. If both partners are willing and wanting to stay together, here are some ways to bring about healing:

  1. Find a therapist whom you can trust and confide in. Make sure both of partners feel validated and heard in the therapy session.
  2. In order to rebuild intimacy, you must be willing to talk about the affair with the betrayed partner. “Trying to recover without discussing the betrayal is like waxing a dirty floor.”
  3. The aftermath of an affair can offer partners who are still committed to their marriage an opportunity to strengthen their bond. “Exploring vulnerability often leads to a more intimate relationship.”
  4. If you notice you and/or your partner turning outwards in the relationship instead of towards one another, seek help before bigger issues emerge. All relationships need tweaks and tune ups every now and then. Nevertheless, when the tweaks are not attended to, that leads to greater risk of greater damage.

Adapted from: Not “Just Friends”: Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity.” By Shirley P. Glass, Ph.D.

What are your habits? Part 2, Complaining vs Caring

Has someone ever asked you "how is it going" and your response was "I have no complaints"? More than likely you have either said it or heard someone say it. Sometimes my follow is "even if I complain, it will not resolve anything." The best part of the conversation is someone is caring for your well-being even in the briefest of moments. Part 2 of the habits series is exploring complaining (disconnecting habit) versus caring (connecting habit). Complaining is defined as "feeling dissatisfied or frustrated with someone or something and communicating those feelings". Complain comes from the Latin word "complangere" = com (very much) + plangere "to hit the chest." This habit can drive a wedge between individuals if the habit of caring is absent. Caring is defined as "having and communicating a genuine interest in another or concern for another." Care comes from the Old English "caru" = trouble. Caring about another's troubles takes a great deal of self-awareness and self-sacrifice. In your relationships, determine which of these habits dominates your interactions. Are you disconnecting or connecting? Which habit are you using? Until next time, everyone. Remember, the choice is yours.

What are you habits? Part 1, Supporting vs Criticizing

What comes to mind when you think of the word “habit”? Running? Reading? Whistling? Clinking your spoon on a coffee cup? (thank you I Love Lucy for those two examples). There are many habits we partake in, but the habits of this blog have to do with communication and relationships. Of these two habits, supportive and criticizing, which do you find yourself expressing more when having a discussion or disagreement with a spouse, family member, or friends? William Glasser tells us caring habits promote closeness while deadly habits promote separation. Through the next few blogs, I will be discussing the seven caring habits and the seven deadly habits of any relationship. When looking at your present and past relationships, think about some insights you have developed about yourself. For this week, begin acknowledging when you are using the caring habit SUPPORTIVE and when you are using the deadly habit CRITICISM. Remember to keep these in verb tense, supporting and criticizing, because you oversee your actions. Try utilizing a little more support when discussing something even in a disagreement. The choice is yours so make it a good one.

Meet Me on The 7th Floor: Getting Some Understanding Through Changing Your Perspective

Have you ever wondered what it is like for someone on the 5th floor of a building versus someone on the 9th floor?  Can you see more, can you see less, can you see what I see?  Perspective is a critical item in understanding.  Anything that happens in the world lacks meaning until we decide to give it meaning.  We all have our own ideas of how life should be, could be, and would be if things appeared or happened a certain way.  However, we all know life does not always play out the way we want.In relationships, perspectives play an important role in empathy, sympathy, compromise, and cooperation.  There are times where one person sees the glass as half empty and the other as half full.  While these two statements are each true, what meaning is given to the reason for the perspective?  Sometimes seeing another person's perspective gives us a new perspective on life.  The person on the 5th floor only sees what they can see and the same goes for the person on the 9th floor.  So, what do you do when you have reached your own perspective and you do not or cannot see the other’s?  Come together, compromise, and tell the person to “meet me on the 7th floor.”  Each person takes their own steps to give up their perspective to meet in the middle for a better understanding.  The key is to understand the power of your perception and recognize your ability to change it.  Here are a few steps to help:

  • Explain your perspective respectfully, honestly, and openly
  • Be open to hearing the other person’s perspective intently, respectfully, and openly
  • Be willing to meet the person in the middle on finding some understanding if a resolution is desired
  • Every now and then, do not be afraid to go up to the 9th floor or go down to the 5th because there is always something to be learned

Constantly Arguing?

Resolving conflict in any relationship can be complicated and overwhelming, but the truth is all couples argue.  But, I am here to tell you it’s not a lack of arguing that makes a successful relationship.  It is more about how partners argue that plays an important role in long-term relationship success.  Learning the right tools to engage in effective communication and exercise healthy conflict resolution skills can serve as a great foundation for any relationship.From my experience, common barriers that block couples from exercising effective conflict resolution can include but are not limited to unwillingness to see your partner’s perspective, unwillingness to compromise, not actively listening, waiting to respond rather than listening to your partner’s point of view, and stonewalling.I believe outlining ground rules for any conversation, easy or difficult, can help to guide couples in working through conflict successfully.  Some of these rules include: 1) discussing one issue at a time; 2) taking turns; 3) no name calling; 4) no use of profanity; and 5) being specific and concise.  Seems easy enough right?  You’d be surprised as to how many couples struggle with rules of interaction and that’s where I come in.  It is possible, through practice and commitment, to attain the right skills for you and your partner to have long-term success.If you feel like there is room for growth in your conflict resolution skills, consider the following questions:

  • Do you feel like you and your partner are constantly arguing?
  • Do you feel like no matter how you try to resolve the issue, you and your partner constantly argue about the same issues?
  • Do you get called a nag for bringing up difficult issues?
  • Just feeling stuck?

If you are experiencing any of these issues, please contact me for a relationship tune-up!  

Spirituality: A Holistic Approach to Therapy

What does it mean when a therapist says that they utilize a client’s spirituality as a tool to promote change and healing? When a client comes to see me and they ask if I am a ‘Christian Counselor’, I tell them that while my religion is Christian, I work with one’s spirituality. I see all kinds of clients of all religions and views of God. To me spirituality includes “wanting to belong, be loved, valued, affirmed and nurtured as human beings, and to be respected with dignity”.1 “How we see ourselves in the scheme of things, how we relate to other human beings and the wider world, and how we find meaning, purpose, and connection in life—all of this is the very stuff of spirituality”.2 Spirituality is about relating with oneself, with others, and with a greater power than oneself or with God and “serves as a unifying and healing force that centers on relationships, development, wholeness, integration, and individual empowerment”.3 I use a holistic approach to therapy because I believe that a person is a physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual being who cannot be compartmentalized. When one aspect is hurt or sick, it affects all aspects of the individual. Therefore, in my sessions, I listen for how a client views God, a higher power, or where they seek their source of strength to help them find ways of getting them through their distress. Spirituality is about being in relationship with oneself and with others. As I affirm the uniqueness of each of my clients and their relationship(s), this enables them to meet their own spiritual needs and bring about inner healing as well as working through the individual, couple, and family dynamic issues they came to therapy for.Did you know that “in the United States, 92% of Americans report a belief in God or a higher power and more than 50% indicate that religion/spirituality is ‘very important’ in their lives”?4 Research showed that when a patient’s spiritual needs are addressed, the patient’s mental health tends to improve as well.There is a misconception, in my opinion, in the definition of healing. Sometimes healing can come from being cured. Other times, however, like in the case of a terminal illness, as described in The American Journal of Bioethics, healing can include discovering meaning, bringing hope and newness, reconciliation to one’s illness, to one’s past or present relationships, and peace with God.5 This is the beauty of spirituality. It comes through many shapes and sizes. Spirituality can appear in the subdued silence, the mystical and dancing sunrise, or through the laughter of a child. It can wrap a person in endless arms of love and delight and sing sweet melodies through spoken or unspoken words. It would only make sense that the one place a (hurting) person, already feeling incomplete, can walk into, is a (therapist’s) office, and be treated as a whole person. “We delude ourselves if we think we can keep our inner life separate from the outer”. 2References:(1) Edwards, A., Pang, N., Shiu, V., & Chan, C. (2010). The understanding of spirituality and the potential role of spiritual care in end-of-life and palliative care: A meta-study of qualitative research. Palliative Medicine, 24(8), 753-770. DOI: 10. 1777/0269216310375860.(2) Wright, S., & Neuberger, J. (2013). Spiritual expression. Nursing Standard, 27(41), 16-18.(3) Pelleg, G., & Leichtentritt, R. D. (2009). Spiritual beliefs among Israeli nurses and social workers: A comparison based on their involvement with the dying. Omega, 59(3), 239-252. DOI: 10.2190/OM.59.3.d.(4) Rosmarin, D. H., Wachholtz, A, & Ai, A. (2011). Beyond descriptive research: Advancing the study of spirituality. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 34, 409-413. DOI: 10. 1007/s10865-011-9370-4.(5) Long, T. L. (2010). Review of the rebirth of the clinic: An introduction to spirituality and a balm for gilead. The American Journal of Bioethics, 10(4), 87-89. DOI: 10. 1080/15265161003697339   

Am I a Good Communicator?

Communication in itself can be tricky and complicated, but it is such an essential tool for us as people to connect with others.  It is a tool that we constantly have to have in all our relationships and one that requires as much give... as it does take.  Broken down into its two primary characteristics, effective communication requires 1) sending the actual message effectively and 2) active listening.For this particular post, I wanted to focus on active listening.  From my recent work with couples and facilitating groups, the topic of active listening has come up quite a lot.  Like communication, active listening also requires two parts when broken down.  Active listening requires 1) listening intently and paying attention to the message that is being sent by the other person and 2) validation and reflecting.Where there tends to be a lot of issues among couples is part 1 of active listening.  Especially during emotional or heated conversations, we may be 'listening' to our partners but we are not taking the time to really listen to the message being sent because we are waiting to respond and 'fire back.'  This happens for a lot of reasons like feeling the need to defend yourself in front of your partner, literally not wanting to hear what your partner has to say, or emotionally checking out of the conversation until it's your turn to speak.  Over time, these actions can lead to destructive communication styles and you may find yourself stuck in the same arguments over and over with your partner.Part 2 of active listening is just as important as part 1. Both being able to tell your partner that you understand where they are coming from and that their feelings are valid is so important.  It is one thing to be heard... but it is another to feel understood.So if you feel like there is some room for improvement in your communication skills, consider the following questions:

  • On a scale of 0-10, how would I rate myself as a listener?
  • What areas could I improve in with my listening (and communication) skills?
  • Who modeled communication for me growing up? Were they effective communicators?
  • Who in my life, past or present, would I consider good communicators? Why?