Now I know you have been in this situation. You are involved in your daily tasks with your family or significant other and they say something in passing to you. While whatever they said was innocuous, your interpretation was anything but. So you storm out of the room or react with a verbal unleashing that would give any baseball coach in an argument with an umpire a run for his money. If the preceding hasn’t happened, maybe the following has. You are so deeply involved in your routine of life and work that when you come home after a long day, you simply co-exist with your spouse. You don’t even talk anymore. You’ve drifted apart and are living lives together under the same roof but miles apart.
A common belief regarding the cause of these examples is usually that the people involved are having trouble communicating. They would benefit from some communication training. Learning how to be assertive and use “I” messages properly. Nothing against these types of approaches, they are each good concepts to learn and incorporate within the right contexts. It is however my belief that within a committed relationship is not one of these contexts. Let me explain. As a foundation for this article, keep in mind that you cannot not communicate (pardon the double negative).
Everything we say; spoken and otherwise speaks volumes. Everything we don’t say speaks loudly as well. Research continues to confirm that around 93% of our communication resides in our body language and tone. How we say what we say speaks louder than what we say. The reverse is also true, how we say what we don’t say speaks louder than what we don’t say. I think I just confused myself. Maybe an example will bring about a little clarity. My wife comes in while I am watching a show on TV and begins a conversation (sorry if this is stereotypical). I now have a choice. I can turn off the show (or more likely hit pause on the Tivo) and respond to her invitation for a conversation. I can continue watching without saying a word. Or I can leave the show on and respond with the distraction of the show still in the background. She will react to whichever path I choose since she will read whatever I am saying by my reaction to her reaction and so forth. No wonder there are times when it seems communication is difficult.
The fact of the matter is, more often than not, communication problems are not the result of trouble understanding each other; it’s that we understand each other too well. In other words, the problem lies in me not liking what the other person is saying, and then reacting. When we react to the spike of emotion we get while interacting with another human, we often do so in an attempt to sooth ourselves.
Back to the previous example. If I do not pause the TV show and respond, or at the very least ask to have the conversation later, that can be interpreted as a threat to the status of our relationship. The message could be the show is more important than the conversation, and then the relationship, and then the family, and then the marriage, and ultimately then my wife. She may as well pack her bags and move out. I realize that is a bit overboard but it often starts that simply.
A majority of communication within a committed relationship in my opinion is covert. We are afraid to say what we really mean because we are afraid to take the “hit.” So we say it in code. We also interpret what we hear and see on our own without asking for clarity. Mainly because we may not want to know what the answer really is. We treat our significant other with kid gloves so as not to damage them. Incidentally, when exactly did I marry a person who is fragile? Why do I treat them as though they can’t handle what I truly think?
Conflict is not all bad. It is only through some conflict that value and rewards are increased. I hate to break it to you, but living a life that is more alive requires some work on your relationships, unless this life you envision is alone.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Have you ever wondered why there are times in life when it seems that you are simply coasting along? Throughout life, there are many tasks that must be undertaken in order to experience a life or relationship that is more alive. Granted there will be times when each of us may be bogged down with a particular event or stage in life (I have a 2 year old and a 3 month old in my house, needless to say, life right now is about them). Life has its natural ebbs and flows of emotion. But if you find yourself asking the preceding title question frequently, let me offer you some hope.
First, you are not alone. There are many, many people that have chosen to settle into their schedule driven life and have begun to believe that this is all there is for them and their loved ones. For many people, a routine life full of kid’s activities, homework, one week of family vacation per year, grocery lists, church meetings, carpool, etc. is enough for right now. What about later? When the kids are grown and out of the house (hopefully not boomeranging back). Have you planned that far in advance? Incidentally, did you know that the second most frequent period of relationships experiencing divorce is after the kids are out of the house? When you are forced to spend time with your spouse whom you may have avoided by “diving” into your kid’s life for all those years. You don’t have to wait that long (to change something, not get divorced).
Second, something can be done now that can begin the process of experiencing a life that is more fully alive. Experience a life full of passion, energy, love, adventure, and fun. It begins by asking yourself a series of simple questions: Would you want to be married to you? Would you want you as your father/mother? Would you want to work for you? Be friends with you? When we can honestly answer these questions, we have entered the beginnings of a life transforming process.
Far too often we want or expect those around us to change and accommodate us. We also may fall victim to the stagnating process of waiting for the other person to change before we respond. Let me explain by personalizing this. There have been times in my marriage when I have grown tired of the routine we have established of interacting, but I wait for my wife to do something different before I do. And to compound the issue, while I am waiting for her to read my mind, I get frustrated that she doesn’t respond fast enough or adequately to my unspoken expectations. Now I know how you may be responding to this; if she truly loved me and understood my needs, she should just know. If you are thinking this, you have fallen victim to the Hollywoodization of relationships. Just because you are in a marriage/committed relationship/close friendship/family does not mean that you cease to exist as an autonomous being. One with your own hopes and dreams and fantasies.
Having a life that is more fully alive, starts with you. By answering these questions honestly, you can begin to grow yourself into a better human. However, this does not come easily. This honest assessment of self and life is often accompanied by a spike in our levels of anxiety and discomfort. This is why we settle into the routine of life and don’t rock the boat. What I am proposing is that you have the willingness to stand up and address the things in your own life that get in the way of the life you want and in turn, take charge of your life and become more fully alive.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Imagine you’re 42 and in pretty good shape.
You exercise several times a week, eat okay, and outside of the occasional cold, are healthy.
You’ve been married for over 15 years, have a couple of kids, nice house, and a good job.
One morning you wake up to find that you can no longer move your right arm. Everything else in your body feels fine, you even have feeling in your arm, you just can’t move it.
What would you do?
If you’re like most people, you’d schedule an appointment with your family doctor as soon as possible. You may even immediately head to the Emergency Room. You also would probably be fine going to several visits with various specialists in order to find out what’s going on with your arm.
You’d sit through tests, scans, waiting rooms, and be willing to take whatever prescribed medication the doctor’s recommend. You’d be willing to go to physical therapy several times per week until your arm was working properly.
The point is, you’d be willing to do almost whatever it took to have your body working well.
Now, answer me this: What makes it so many people don’t treat their marriage the same way?
If you wake up one morning and discover a problem (or finally admit to a problem’s existence), would you seek out help right away or hope the problem simply goes away on its own?
It seems many people hope for the latter.
Don’t believe me?
Research continues to show that couples wait an average of 6 years after a problem has become a problem before seeking out professional help. That’s 6 YEARS!
Imagine if we treated our bodies the same.
Imagine if we said to ourselves, “Oh well, I really don’t use my right arm all that much. Perhaps it will begin working again soon. I’ll just wait and see. In the meantime, honey, can you cut up my dinner for me?”
Marital problems and struggles are common to us all.
But they don’t have to be the end of the relationship, and you definitely don’t have to go through them on your own.
Seek out a marriage and family therapist. This is your best option.
If you don’t want to do that, open up to a close friend. Preferably as a couple to another couple, or if it’s just you, share your troubles with a good friend of the same gender.
Life is so much better when shared with others. Including our struggles.
Most of the time, when you share a struggle with a friend, you find out that they’ve experienced it as well. Plus, you get the burden lifted off your own shoulders a little.
Thanks to the technology of today’s world, you can find help regardless of where you live.
One last point: being brutally honest with you.
Seeking out professional help or opening up to friends around you is a whole lot cheaper than divorce.
10 sessions with a therapist = $200-$650ish (depending on insurance)
Talking to a good friend = Free, unless you pay for dinner or the coffee
Divorce= $???????, but a whole lot more than all the above options combined.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
There are many events ripe for unearthing family dramas, often featuring a popular story line about competing loyalties. Though there are variations on the plot, the focus here will be on this dynamic as it plays out with men and boys and their mothers. Many men, caught up in powerful family dynamics from childhood, are plagued this time of year with having to choose between their mothers or their wives, as practical decisions regarding shared holiday time take on added meaning and consequences.
Holidays typically recreate old family dynamics as adult children reunite with parents, creating pressure from the original family system to replay the same patterns as before. This pressure invites conflict as new boundaries, competing with earlier ones, are tested and challenged. How the scene unfolds, and the outcome, depends on the level of differentiation achieved by the man from his mother, and the security of the boundaries he has established around his marriage and new family.
Loyalty binds are part of a common dysfunctional family dynamic which occurs when mothers use their sons to make up for previous loss, and lack of connection with -or anger at- their husbands. In such families, mothers often have a history of unresolved trauma, loss, or insecure attachments with their own mothers. This leads to a parallel and compensatory style of attachment with their sons, whereby instead of the mother tuning in to the child’s emotional states, the reverse occurs, requiring the child to adapt to the mother’s needs,
“Good enough mothering” involves a delicate dance of noticing and attuning to the child’s own rhythm, and adjusting one’s own rhythm to be in sync with the child’s need for closeness or distance, stimulation or retreat. Healthy attachment requires mothers to be secure enough to allow their children to safely differentiate from them without pulling them back in with the threat of anger, withdrawal, and/or guilt. Unresolved issues from the mother’s own childhood, particularly around separation and loss, can impede her capacity to allow the child’s needs and rhythms — not their own — to guide attachment.
As the child becomes an adult, a mother with this anxious, insecure attachment style may refuse to let go, secretly needing to remain the primary love attachment. This may not become apparent until her son finds a romantic love partner and devotes himself to her, allowing a competitor to enter the scene. The situation is then often enacted in full drama around family events and holidays when the mother’s explicit demands, and [unspoken] expectation of “loyalty” (e.g. exclusive love) from her son, conflicts with his role as a husband.
Jason’s mom required a possessive, symbiotic union with her son to guard against experiencing buried feelings of loss and abandonment. Losing her hold over Jason as he shifted his loyalties to his wife was the ultimate threat to her sense of security and control. When Jason married Kelley, the split he felt as a boy when he had to choose between his mom and dad – was recreated between his mother and his wife. This split became most apparent during their first holiday season together, when Jason’s mom made him feel guilty about how he divided his time, accusing him of abandoning her, and directing hate and blame towards Kelley
Jason’s parents divorced when he was a very young boy. Growing up, when he was at his dad’s, his mom called him frequently, asking him if he was ok – even when he was happy – and reassuring him that he had other people (her family) who loved him. She communicated to him in a variety of explicit and implicit ways her hurt and betrayal over his dad, which made Jason feel responsible for taking care of her.
Jason coped by developing a pattern of emotional detachment and blunting his feelings with both parents, so as not to let on that he was having too good a time with either. He experienced muted enjoyment with his dad in particular, often acting as if he were less excited than he was, especially when his mom phoned him, which was often. He felt particularly protective of his mom – the “abandoned one, ” often hiding the nature of his relationship with his dad, though it was secretly vital to him, and feeling guilty for leaving her alone. Jason’s father, in turn, took his son’s blunted reactions at face value, worrying that Jason did not like him or enjoy their time together, often pulling back in reaction or becoming angry.
Jason was in the dark about how he felt because both parents imposed their own feelings onto him. No one helped him understand what was happening or gave him a safe space to experience his own natural reactions, which went underground. Without help articulating their own and other’s states of mind through words and emotional resonance, children do not develop a “sense” of themselves. This self-awareness or inner wisdom is needed to guide us, allowing us to gauge what it happening in our relationships, and make decisions that are true to ourselves.
In place of authentic experience, Jason developed an adaptation to relationships in which he was detached and “other directed”. His reactions were driven by fear and dread of his mom’s unhappiness. When she was angry or hurt, through a process of “projective identification,” he took on her feelings as if they were his own, experiencing the weight of her depression, and the related feelings of guilt and badness she projected onto him.
Projective identification is an unconscious psychological process occurring in relationships whereby one person’s disowned feelings are put into the other. The recipient identifies with these projected feelings as if they were his own and both enter into a shared delusional cycle. In this case, Jason experienced his mom’s rageful accusations of abandonment as an emotional truth, feeling depressed, guilt-ridden and mad at himself for not looking out for her.
Using guilt, as Jason’s mom did, to control others in relationships disregards boundaries and disrespects the other person’s autonomy. This approach to relationships replaces mutuality and negotiation with greed and emotional blackmail, presuming a lack of faith that others would give of their own free will. It is typically an unconscious process whereby the guilt-tripper feels self-righteous, entitled, and innocent of any misdeed. Emotional manipulation through guilt can be costly – breeding resentment, limiting authentic engagement, and hijacking initiative and genuine desire.
In cases such as Jason’s, the lack of differentiation between mother and son is so complete and unconscious that the man may be unaware of the source of his resentment, easily displacing it onto his wife, usually a safer target than mother. This pattern leads to unintended collusion with the mother, causing the marriage to become divided until the man “owns” his unexpressed conflict with his mom, and recognizes that she is the source of his anger. An absence of anger towards his mother, or the inability to come forward with it is likely a sign of re-experiencing a once adaptive, but now instinctual, response to danger experienced as a child for any such emotional separation from mother.
Jason needs to see what is really happening in order to disentangle himself from his mother’s projections and find a space to think and feel for himself. Awareness of his internal conflict and anger over the emotional burden and manipulation he has had to bear will allow him the courage to set limits with his mom. Standing up to his mom will reduce his fear and avoidance, creating a space for him to act of his own volition and desire and choose his wife as his primary loyalty and partner in life.
Tips for the woman:
• Stay aligned with your husband
• Communicate feelings and requests clearly, without anger, or acting out
• Don’t demonize or bad-mouth his momRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Sabrina, 18, was a freshman away at college. Shortly after she arrived at school she found out that her parents had just split up. Sabrina also soon discovered that her dad had been having an affair since she was in high school, and was still involved with the other woman.
Sabrina came across as superficially tough and apathetic but her hurt and desire for connection were just beneath the surface. She said she had no idea why she felt so bad – so depressed and anxious – and that there was no good reason for it. However, when the topic of her dad came up, Sabrina became visibly distressed. She was adamant that she didn’t want to talk about him, didn’t want to have anything to do with him, and “didn’t care” – but often ended up talking about him anyway. Also, Sabrina frequently commented that if she met her dad’s girlfriend she would “punch her in the face.”
Sabrina’s attitude towards her dad was a change of heart from how she felt towards him growing up. Even though he wasn’t around all the time, she felt a strong connection and identification with him. In this regard, she talked about how she was never a “girly girl ” like her sister, and how she and her dad were both good at math and science.
Sabrina always did well in school until she went off to college. She was caught off guard this year when she began feeling homesick and out of her element – lost in a large school in the engineering department. Sabrina was noticeably hard on herself, hating that she was “weak and pathetic” and criticizing herself for not being able to focus on her work or get better. Her depression made it hard to concentrate and she found herself constantly ruminating, “What if I fail?” and worried about disappointing her parents. The pressure led to a repetitive spiral of poor grades and increasing panic, guilt and shame. Sabrina became uncertain of what she was good at or interested in, losing her focus and direction.
Sabrina didn’t tell anyone what she was going through and felt lonely and isolated. She didn’t want to talk to her dad and felt protective of her mom, fearful of burdening her. Sabrina mostly pretended things were fine, though occasionally dropping some conspicuous hints to her mom about wishing she (Sabrina) were dead.
Sabina’s mom, Deb, was in the throes of grief and depression following the breakup of her marriage. She wanted to help Sabrina and seemed loving but, at the same time, needed her daughter to be ok and was generally oblivious to what Sabrina was going through. Deb often gave quick advice or geared the conversation to her own problems, not taking seriously Sabrina’s expressions of desperation about whether she could survive.
Sabrina’s dad, Sam, was a high achieving, very successful engineer He held Sabrina to similarly high standards, confident (as she had been) that she would flourish in a related field. He seemed to love Sabrina more than anything but was somewhat emotionally immature – clueless about how to manage their relationship. Though he frequently came across as critical, reactive and not easily empathic or tuned in to feelings, he also seemed ingenuous, and was himself easily hurt.
Sam expressed his love and caring for Sabrina by giving her money and advice. On the one hand, he seemed to feel guilty when he recognized how much he hurt her by having the affair. But – on the other- he was mad about her ongoing anger towards him, arguing self-righteously that he, also, was entitled to happiness. Sam was very focused on wanting Sabrina to meet his girlfriend and be friendly with her – which would help his life be less divided. “Why should Sabrina be mad at her? And how long do I have to let her be mad at me? Plenty of families go through this. This can’t be all my fault. She’s just manipulating me into feeling bad. Sabrina’s problem is that she likes to blame everyone else but herself for her problems and failures.”
Sabrina was shocked, confused and devastated at the news of her parents’ divorce and her dad’s affair. She experienced her connection with her dad as having been severed, Disoriented by the thought of her dad as disloyal, she no longer could -or wanted to- identify with him and was too hurt and mad to let herself feel any connection to him. But the angrier she was, the more badness, guilt, and depression she felt. In addition, because the affair was secretly going on while she was still at home, she also felt she could no longer trust herself and her own instincts.
Children internalize how their parents see them and their expectations.
Sabrina’s adjustment to the pressures and challenges of college was impacted by the breaking apart of her relationship with her dad, an important part of her identity. Growing up, she internalized her dad’s positive view of her, as well as his criticism, high expectations, and easy disappointment in her. This relational pattern, combined with Sam’s inconsistent presence at home, was a recipe for a strong but insecure attachment to her dad even before the current episode. With this fragile foundation, Sabrina was especially vulnerable in the wake of rifts and loss in relationships.
Children come to experience themselves through the eyes of their parents – shaping their attitude towards themselves. Sabrina’s anger and disconnect from her dad, particularly in a context of failing grades, thwarted her ability to hold in mind the sustaining support of his positive view of her. She became progressively anxious and immobilized in the face of academic demands – taking on the role of “critical dad” with herself.
On the surface Sabrina blamed her dad for what he did and said she’d never forgive him. However, she was also quick to defend him and insist he was not the cause of her problems, maintaining that there was just something wrong with her. Sabrina initially refused to have me talk with her dad or allow him to join a session to begin a dialogue with him. She said it wouldn’t make a difference anyway because he would never apologize for what he did, or for anything – for that matter, acknowledging that an apology could be something that might help.
Anger and indifference may be self-protective.
Sabrina’s opposition to trying to work things out with her dad allowed her to maintain a self-protective posture of anger and indifference. Despite her protests, however, she eventually gave in to the part of herself that longed for connection, and agreed to allow me to talk with both parents and participate in sessions with each.
In family therapy with her mom, Sabrina told her mom how she felt. With help, Deb was able to recognize the importance of tolerating her daughter’s pain, and was able to be present with her in her distress, rather than deflect it. This helped Sabrina feel “seen” and comforted, lessening her desperation, but still not making up for her broken relationship with her dad.
Therapy With Dad
In individual sessions, Sabrina’s dad seemed eager to understand his daughter and repair their relationship. At times, he struggled – retreating to the original story he told himself about her being at fault. However, like Sabrina, Sam easily felt bad and guilty, making him want to run away. Both Sabrina and her dad tried to ward off the self-loathing and pain that accompanied their guilt, vacillating between feeling bad about themselves and then using anger at the other to escape these feelings.
Sabrina’s shame and self-recrimination, however, was a reaction to the internalized critical voice of her dad, not the result of any actual wrongdoing.
In Sam’s case, unlike Sabrina’s, there was “legitimate guilt “ – a built-in response of conscience designed to alert us that we did something wrong and betrayed our own morals. When guilt turns into self- loathing or self-punishment, however, it loses its utilitarian, evolutionary function by turning us inward towards our suffering – rather than outward towards making amends in relationships.
What should dad do to make things better?
Sam needed to bear and “own” the legitimate part of the guilt he felt, instead of projecting it in the form of blame, or sinking into despair.
Doing so would allow him to begin to truly take responsibility for his actions by accepting the consequences – his daughter’s anger at him. In this way, a space would be created for Sabrina’s feelings and the burden of her guilt for having them would be lifted.
Sabrina needed her dad to feel bad about what he did, not primarily so that he could be punished and suffer, but as a way to get him to “know” her experience of hurt and rejection– which she had no other way to communicate.
Through the unconscious process of projective identification, Sabrina tried to get through to her dad – making him feel bad and pushed away, the way he made her feel. Once Sam was able to recognize this behavior as a communication he needed to receive, rather than react to, Sabrina became noticeably calmer and more contained.
As he understood these dynamics, Sam felt more empathy for his daughter and was able to apologize for what he did and express regret. He realized that Sabrina’s anger did not mean she really hated him, or that he had to suffer and couldn’t allow himself to also be happy. This awareness, along with recognizing that accepting her feelings was the only route towards mending their relationship, freed him up to tolerate however his daughter felt towards him, even if it was unpleasant.
Sam learned to notice Sabrina’s anger and respond by telling her that he “got” that she was mad at him and why– and that, in spite of it being difficult for him, he was ok. Concurrently, he began working towards allowing himself to feel remorse without self-recrimination.
Sam also recognized that he had imposed his own standards for himself onto Sabrina, pressuring and constraining her. He owned up to having been critical of her and pointed out to her that he could see she learned this from him. He told her he thought she was now treating herself the way he had treated her – demanding that she meet expectations, or suffer demoralization. Taking ownership of ways he treated Sabrina allowed these powerful patterns – now in an orbit of their own inside her – to potentially free up and become available for change.
Sam struggled to accept that Sabrina was a different person from him. He wanted to embrace that, let go of needing her to be someone else, and help her develop in her own right. Sabrina in turn began spending more time with her dad. Though reluctant to trust him, or seem forgiving or praiseworthy of his efforts, she was noticeably less resistant to him and less tormented within herself. With this progress, Sabrina was able to accept help from her dad and address the other issues in her life.
Tips For Parents
• When your child is mad at you, or says he/she hates you, remember that these are states – not permanent conditions or truths.
• Take a leap of faith. Reassure yourself that teens will likely “come back” to you. Remember that this will happen sooner if you can accept, and be interested in, how they feel and not need them to feel otherwise or lecture them about your own feelings. (How teens handle their anger, however, is another issue and is “your business” in terms of what is acceptable or not.)
• Try not to be reactive or defensive – this will likely escalate or prolong how your teen is feeling. Recognize that hurt is often underneath anger. Try to manage your own feelings of rejection and anger.
• Know that equanimity in the face of your teen’s anger is privately comforting and sustaining to your teen. This composure is a reminder that the relationship will not be destroyed if they are angry and that your love is not contingent on their reassuring you.
• Consider your teen’s perspective and your role in the situation. Take responsibility for your part and apologize. Remember that you are a role model.
• Prepare yourself for your teen’s anger towards you and practice. Picture “holding your own” – reminding yourself that this is difficult but that you can tolerate it, and that your teen’s feelings now do not mean she will forever hate you.
• When your teen’s anger is received as a communication (vs acted upon), and then you as a parent understand and articulate it back to him/her, the feelings can be “digested” rather than harbored or acted out.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Marital/couples therapy is a form of therapy which involves working with both partners of a couple to improve their relationship and/or help them make important decisions about the relationship. Couples enter into therapy for many reasons, often at a time of transition or stress in the relationship or in their lives. Couples may come to counseling at a time of crisis, for example, following an extramarital affair, or when one or both is unhappy in the relationship or may want to leave. However, some couples use therapy before getting married or early in the marriage in order to learn skills to resolve conflicts and differences, or to recognize potential vulnerabilities in the relationship, with the goal of preventing problems later on and protecting the relationship.
Other issues which may lead couples to seek help through therapy include: anger/resentment/lack of communication, trust issues, fighting, upcoming marriage/wedding/commitment, fertility issues, mid-life crisis affecting one or both partners, illness: physical or psychological in one or both partners (e.g., depression, history of sexual/physical abuse), moving, parenting/family difficulties, in-law problems, religious/cultural/value differences, sexual problems.
In couples therapy both partners meet together with the therapist, who initially tries to get an understanding of each of them, their views and feelings about the relationship, and what they each want from the relationship and the therapy. The therapist also uses her own observations of the way the couple interacts in the session to evaluate what happens between them and determine how to best help them.. The therapist understands that relationships and people are complex. Problems that develop within relationships involve an interplay of the personalities and life circumstances of each individual to varying degrees, as well as what they bring out in each other when they mix together.
To improve a relationship, the therapist may work on helping each of the individuals as needed, usually with the other one present, in addition to working on the relationship and changing problematic patterns which have developed between them. Individual and couples issues affect one another. For example, when one partner is depressed and despairing, the mood of the relationship is affected. Similarly, when the relationship is in trouble, one or both partners may become depressed.
Common tasks of marital/couples therapy are as follows: to develop better communication, resolve trust issues, manage anger/differences/conflict, determine whether the relationship is salvageable, learn fair fighting skills, enhance intimacy/sex, heal after an affair, change destructive patterns, improve understanding of one another and oneself (including understanding gender differences that affect behavior and communication, and learning how to translate the other’s “language”), increase empathy for one another, and repair/strengthen the relationship by healing old wounds. Entering into couples therapy is an act of courage and offers the possibility of freeing oneself and the relationship from tedious and/or destructive patterns of relating, as well as hope of greater intimacy, happiness, and/or peace/resolution.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Some struggles that women experience are common to many women, and can therefore be attributed or understood in this larger context of what it means, biologically and socially to be female. A counselor informed about these issues is in a better position to understand women’s experiences and know how to help them. Psychotherapy can help women achieve their personal goals and improve themselves. A counselor can teach assertiveness, decrease fears that may impede success and happiness, and work with women on developing better and more sustained self-esteem.
In our society, women are often in the role of protecting and caring for others emotionally. Women may fear success and competition (which can manifest in self-sabotage) and have difficulties with anger and aggression. Women often experience stress related to the burdens associated with caretaking, compounded by stress resulting from their caring being devalued, unnoticed, or unacknowledged. Many women rely on external validation from others in order to feel good about themselves. Women are often accustomed to tuning in to other’s reactions to determine how they should feel and how they should act. Therapy can help women develop a positive sense of themselves and direction from within, rather than relying on other’s opinions of them, as well as develop the strength to follow the path they choose.
Women may suffer from depression, anxiety, self-destructive or self-sabotaging behavior, pressure to overachieve, perfectionism, sexual problems, body image problems, sexual identity issues, and destructive relationships to food. Women are too often the survivors of sexual/physical abuse (past or present), rape, emotional abuse, and re-victimization. They may struggle with feeling a lack of empowerment, choosing the wrong partners, staying in destructive, empty, or depleting relationships, being overly accommodating, and feeling afraid to leave unhealthy relationships.
Psychotherapy can help women manage the feelings associated with these struggles; recognize, understand and change self-defeating patterns, heal past pain, discover and foster inner strength, and learn new ways of behaving in relationships that allow them to get what they want and feel good about themselves.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
There are aspects of men’s experiences that are particular to being male. In working with men, it is important for a counselor to understand the differences in men’s experiences, what men need, and how to best help them achieve their goals. For men, psychotherapy can promote success in careers and relationships by teaching better communication, interpersonal, and leadership skills. Therapy can improve men’s relationships in general, at home and at work, by fostering greater self-awareness, self-confidence, and empowerment.. Therapy can also help men with issues of mid-life crisis, affairs, anger management, fear of entrapment in relationships, sex addiction, performance anxiety, social anxiety, and difficulties in relationships with women, e.g., understanding what women want from them.
Men often experience common dilemmas in their relationships with women. In relationships, men frequently overestimate their ability to sacrifice themselves for their partner, often trying very hard to please their women and accommodate them to make them happy and to keep the peace. These efforts may seem to go unrecognized or unappreciated, and they may experience confusing complaints from their partner in spite of their efforts. This pattern typically leads to a build-up of resentment and hurt, which the man may not even be aware of, except through his partner’s persistent accusations, of which he may feel innocent. These feelings may take a disguised form, for example, forgetting, being late or unreliable, not following through on his word, tuning out, working late, becoming impotent or losing sexual desire, having an affair. Men can be helped with this issue in a number of ways. Through psychotherapy men can learn to better recognize and identify what they need and feel, which may be foreign to them since boys usually grow up in this society trained to suppress or be ashamed of most feelings (other than anger). Once they become more self-aware, they can learn ways to be more direct, but non-combative, in expressing their opinions, even opposing ones. As men learn to express themselves more directly with words, versus actions, passive-aggressive expression of anger or resentment through actions, is no longer necessary. This change often leads men to feel stronger and more effective. Also, therapy can teach men how to decipher the language of women, so that they can more easily understand why they get upset and how to more easily satisfy them without sacrificing themselves.
Another issue particular to men, and often misunderstood by women, is the importance of sex. For a man, sex is often at the core of how he feels loved, and loved as a man. Though women may need to feel close or loved in order to have sex, men experience the reverse: they need to have sex in order to feel loved. This difference can create conflict and misunderstanding in relationships especially during times of conflict when their partners do not want sex. At these times whatever conflict already exists now becomes compounded by the man feeling more rejected, unloved, and angry, even suspect that his partner is using sex (or the withholding of it) as a weapon. When these patterns develop, men often retreat in hurt and anger or escape the relationship by acting out. Therapy can help by increasing self-awareness, developing more effective ways to communicate, and providing an experience of being understood.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
The odds of at least one partner having an affair during the life of a marriage is anywhere between 20-40%; however, many affairs occur toward the end of an already failing marriage. That means that happier couples are less likely to fall prey to an extra-marital affair. Here’s some relationship advice for the aftermath of an affair:
Keep in mind that the “I didn’t go out looking for an affair” excuse may well be true. Unless a partner is a philanderer, affairs are often slow-growing and unplanned. Usually they happen to people who are going through a sluggish time in their marriage, who feel lonely or who are experiencing stresses and strains they don’t easily discuss with their spouses.
The kids don’t need to know everything. If the couple wants to save the marriage, it’s better that the children don’t know all the details of what went wrong. It can be confusing for younger kids and disheartening for older ones to know that mom or dad had an affair. The kids probably know already that mom and dad are having relationship problems. They’ll feel better once they believe that their parents are working things out without knowing the specifics of what happened. If the children do learn of the affair, they may take sides and add to the amount of tension in the household. It’s then important for the parents to let them know that the problems are being handled.
It is important for the unfaithful spouse to examine why the affair occurred and to ask serious relationship questions. Dissatisfaction with one’s marriage or unhappiness about one’s age or place in life common factors.
Addressing areas in one’s life that aren’t working well can help defend against an affair happening again. But the spouse who was cheated on may demand to know “Why?” over and over. That is because no answer to why can ever be good enough. At some point, an affair must be accepted and no longer explored.
Understand the stages to overcoming an affair. The months following the revelation of an affair are “roller coaster” months. Getting along one day can be followed by harshness and coldness on another. You may push away the guilty partner when he shows you affection, and be angry when he doesn’t show it. These ups and downs are exhausting and confusing but are not forever. They are usually followed by a stage of flatness— fighting is less, emotional outbursts are fewer and farther between, but passion and zest are absent. This is finally followed by a stage of peace and a rekindling of feelings of love accompanied by less resentment.
The guilty party must understand that trust will take a long time to rebuild. It’s realistic that arriving home an hour late from work may raise relationship questions. “Where were you? Why didn’t you call?” The guilty party is advised to accept these moments rather than get offended that there is mistrust. This may be a time when the person who had the affair is on a “tight leash.” He or she will feel controlled and not like it, but it can be helpful in the initial weeks or months for the injured partner to regain a sense of influence over the relationship. In the long run, there must be no leash, if trust is to return.
Schedule discussions. Random discussions about the affair—usually demanded by the injured party—are risky. They are often long and drawn out and tend to ruin the rest of the day for both parties. It makes the guilty party less willing to want to talk in the future. A better idea is to schedule discussions—daily or weekly—and have them be time-limited (no more than one hour). This allows the injured party to vent and ask relationship questions, and allows the other party to relax more during non-scheduled times.
No more lies. In most cases, it is not so much the sexual aspect of an affair that destroys a marriage but the deceit that went along with it. A partner needs to regain trust. Often, the guilty party will hold back certain facts to avoid more arguments and to avoid hurting their partner anymore than they already have. But if those hidden facts come out later, a spouse can be devastated and believing there must still be more that is hidden. Once an affair is revealed, it is best to put all the facts on the table, however painful.
The guilty party should raise the topic of the affair from time to time. Most often, the injured party thinks about the affair way more than the guilty one. This is why it’s very important for the guilty one to ask the injured party how he/she is doing. By initiating the discussion, the injured party will feel cared about and will not resent having to always be the one to bring up the subject.
If resentment lingers, consider couples therapy so you can have help working through questions about the relationship.
Tell the kids when real progress has been made. No need to get specific, but when real headway has been made in the marriage, tell the children. Let them know you are happier and that the marriage is on solid ground. It can ease their minds.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
While there is certainly much debate on the specific phases of a relationship among professional Counselors and Therapists, we can all agree that certain “phases” do exist. Couples do not always move in succession from one phase to the next harmoniously, which is why Couples Counseling can be helpful. I will briefly discuss the five phases of a relationship, while interjecting with where I have found (in my professional experience) Couples Counseling to be beneficial.
Phase #1: The Honeymoon Phase – the relationship is fresh, new, and exciting. You cannot keep your hands off of one another. You look forward to seeing your partner at every opportunity that presents itself. You have sex regularly and cannot seem to get enough of it! Your partner is all you think about, dream about, and talk about in most instances.
Phase #2: The Accommodation Phase – this is when you start to realize that love isn’t as “perfect” as you originally thought. Don’t get me wrong, things don’t exactly have to be bad at this point, but you have had your “reality check” with regards to your relationship. Perhaps you have taken your relationship to the next level and moved in together or even gotten married. Daily struggles and bad habits are becoming evident at this point, and you may start to notice things in your partner that you hadn’t noticed before (or had noticed and just overlooked). This is where conflict begins most of the time. Things are becoming bothersome to you and your partner, and you may end up fighting or arguing frequently. A good intervention at this point would be Couples Counseling orMarriage Counseling. This is usually done to avoid bad habits and unhealthy patterns becoming worse and affecting the quality of your relationship. If you can catch yourselves at this stage of the relationship, and intervene with proper counseling, then your relationship should be fairly simple to salvage.
Phase #3: The Challenging Phase – somewhat similar to The Accommodation Phase (#2), The Challenging Phase is all about the troubles you encounter as a couple and how you deal with them. With life comes change, and this phase is all about how you two are adapting to the inevitable changes that occur in your daily life. It could be a new job opportunity, a new baby, or an illness in the family. Any of these events are enough to cause stress and strain in your relationship, and it is all about how you deal with the challenges as they occur. Once your roles and expectations are established (hopefully by Phase #2), you should be well-aware of what to expect from your partner when you encounter challenges in this phase. I often find that couples in this stage who are having trouble maintaining their relationship are struggling with their sex life (i.e. not having sex as often as they used to), or are having issues with being attracted to other people. This phase could be potentially dangerous to your relationship, as you do not want to promote or encourage infidelity or unfaithfulness in your partner, but you also want to ensure that you are standing up for yourself and what you believe in. If you find yourself fantasizing about past relationships, or wishing you were with someone else (which are both easy things to do when you are enduring a challenging time with your current partner), Couples Counseling, Relationship Counseling, or Marriage Counseling are all good routes to try here.
Phase #4: The Crossroads Phase – after already having been through several challenges as a couple, (and depending on how you have handled them), you move along to The Crossroads Phase. Judging by past responses from your partner to challenges that have arisen, you are now better able to gauge how he/she reacts to difficult situations and find out when/if you can depend on him/her. This can be a potentially damaging phase to the relationship, and often if couples did not experience a healthy outcome in The Challenge Phase, they do not make it to The Crossroads Phase successfully. Again, counseling can help during this phase, but ideally you want to catch the problem before it gets to this stage. If you find yourself already at this phase in your relationship, it is not too late to seek out help. I am a qualified professional Couples Counselor in San Diego who has helped many couples in the phase work through their problems in order to move along to the next proposed phase of their relationship.
Phase #5: The Rebirth Phase – while statistics do not favor this stage (it is estimated that only about 15% of couples reach this phase in their relationship), it is possible. By this point in your relationship, you are typically married or co-habiting, and have been for quite some time. You have encountered challenges and dealt with them as a couple. You understand your partner better than anyone else does; including your partner’s needs and wants. You have figured out who they really are, and are accepting and appreciative of one another. In this phase, you have learned and developed healthy coping mechanisms and skills for when conflicts and challenges present themselves, and you are able to deal with them together. Instead of engaging in circular, unproductive arguments, you give your partner the benefit of the doubt in situations, as well as accept that you will have to “agree to disagree” in some instances. Your focus is on what it right for one another and your relationship as a whole. You sex life has been reignited, and you are spending much more time than you thought you had relaxing and listening to each other. When challenges do arise, you speak about them calmly and employ conflict de-escalation or resolution skills you have learned either on your own or acquired through Couples Counseling.
Please remember, the proposed Five Relationship Phases are not set in stone. Typically, couples find themselves moving back and forth from phase to phase – sometimes even digressing or moving backwards to a previous phase. These phases are meant to educate you about the stage of your personal relationship, and to identify any troubles or concerns before they become detrimental to your relationship. You do not, by any means, have to live by these “phases” and what they entail, as they are just meant to be used as a general guideline for couples in relationships. Regardless of the “phase” you think you might be in, you can always feel free to give me a call for a consultation regarding Couples Counseling. Together, we can discuss your relationship’s unique struggles and issues, and come to a resolution that is agreeable to both you and your partner. We can also work on coping mechanisms as well as healthy communication strategies that you can employ in your day-to-day life with your partnerRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
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