marriage counseling

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.

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.

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.

Navigating the Holidays as a Couple

If your families are anything like mine, your holidays are full of characters. That's not to say every family is made up of a bunch of degenerates, but the more people that get together at one time, the higher the risk of discomfort. Every person is different and has their own quirks and idiosyncrasies, but in most social situations, you choose which people you want to be around. You don't choose family! Even when you consider in-laws: while most people say you marry the whole family, I've never heard of anyone actually saying "I do" to Aunt Edna and Pop-Pop. They get thrown in as a bonus after the fact.What does this mean? It means you may soon find yourself in a situation where you are spending a significant amount of time in the company of people you find challenging at best, or repulsive at worst. I often experience couples in my office debating how to handle family members whether it's family dynamics, specific individuals, or what limits and boundaries are appropriate. The problem is, everyone's opinions differ on how they prefer to handle family. Here are a few tips and ideas I recommend:

  • Remember, your relationship is the primary family unit. If you are placing the opinions of your parent/sibling/cousin/grandma over the opinions or feelings of your partner, you are doing it wrong. As I feel should be the case in life in general, your attitude should be "me and my partner vs. X" and not "me vs. my partner" or "me and my family vs. my partner." You are on the same team!
  • Your partner is not used to your brand of crazy. Every family is a little nutty. The difference is, you've had decades to get used to your family's weirdness and might even think it's normal (it's not)! Be ready for your partner to not understand or be comfortable with everything and everyone at your family's gatherings. Be sensitive to this instead of defensive toward them.
  • Take breaks! If you're with family for more than a day or two, be sure and carve out time for you and/or your partner to have some alone time. Family can be exhausting simply due to the numbers and the conversation (and awkwardness) at times, so a little time away can do a lot of good.
  • If it's your family, be sure to stick close to your partner until he/she says they are comfortable being left alone with your family. Putting your partner on an island with strangers who might ask uncomfortable questions may be a bit much at first.
  • Recap your experience together each night. Consider it a status report of sorts. Go over the things you each found weird, what you thought was funny, and what was difficult for you. Try and process this without getting defensive, but instead validate your partner's experience.
  • Don't forget the positives! It's easy and oftentimes lazy to simply say "family is difficult." Be sure and spend time sharing the good with each other. Even if there are only a handful, try and look for the good moments in the day. Instead of looking at the crazy aunt as overbearing, look at her as quirky and a good source of entertainment. After all, isn't the primary reason we get into relationships so that we can now comment and laugh at other people with someone?!

Addiction: Like a Stream of Water...

Imagine a stream of water flowing down an area of land…The stream of water touches everything in its path.  Everything in the water’s path is affected some way.  Soil is eroded and rocks are weathered away.  Once the stream passes, the area of land that the stream passes is never the same.  Like a stream of water, addiction has a powerful effect not only on the person struggling from it… it also tragically affects everything is the addicted person’s life including the person’s loved ones.  People who struggle from addiction often do not understand how their actions also impact the ones they love.When addiction is full blown, an addicted person will prioritize their addictive habits over anything else, which includes separating themselves from their loved ones and the activities they used to enjoy.  A wife may suddenly feel alone in her marriage or a best friend will feel they have lost a good friend. A sister may suddenly feel like she can no longer trust her brother after finding out he stole from her to buy drugs.Friends and family may experience an array of negative emotions as a direct result of their loved one’s addiction.  Addicted individuals can be very dishonest about their drug use and will even lie to cover up their usage.  Friends and family end up losing trust, feeling disappointed and lied to, and the emotional toll of a seeing their loved one struggle with the addiction can be overwhelming.As addiction continues, family roles can start to change too.  Typically, someone falls into the enabler role – the person who unknowingly or knowingly contributes to the addicted person’s substance use.  Other family members or friends may end up also becoming caregivers and focus on the addicted person’s needs, including the mental and emotional health.  A husband may suddenly put his needs aside in order to get his wife to her counseling appointments and remind her to go to her AA meeting.The list continues of the impacts of a person’s addiction on their family and friends, including financially instability (because money is spent towards supporting the addiction), exposing kids to negative influences and instability, health concerns, job loss, legal consequences, and even divorce.If you or someone you love is struggling from addiction or related issues, please contact me for help! The road to recovery and a healthier future is possible!

What are you saying? - Conversation Not Confrontation

Do these questions sound familiar: "what are you trying to say?", "what are you talking about?", and "can you help me understand"?  Or how about responses such as "I told you what it is", "I don't get what you are saying", and "I can't talk to you"? These become common phrases when communicating with someone.  Many times I have heard individuals come into my office to discuss communication issues with a parent, child, sibling, or spouse in hopes to clear up the muddy water.  Sometimes a simple conversation can become a shouting match or a dismissive conversation which will not go well for both parties, especially if goal is a resolution.  You will only talk at one another rather than talking with one another.In therapy we talk about process, how something is said rather than content, what is said.  The best example I use is sarcasm.  While what you may say (content) may be pleasant, the way it is said (process) is a different story.  Remember to discuss and distinguish both because someone may be triggered by the content rather than the process, but the opposite may be the case for someone else.  Before stepping into a conversation remember these helpful tips:

  1. Most importantly remember "this is a conversation not a confrontation".
  2. Check your attitude at the door
  3. Be clear with yourself about what you hope to accomplish before engaging
  4. Respond honestly and respectfully
  5. Always ask for clarity
  6. Listen intently

May your conversations be plentiful and productive.