WHY A THERAPIST GIVING YOU ADVICE IN THERAPY CAN BE MORE HARMFUL THAN HELPFUL

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Here is a truth. Even therapists see therapists. 

I personally have been in therapy for over 15 years and worked with one particular  therapist for over 10 years.  Sadly, this therapist passed away a little over 2 years ago from complications from a very aggressive form of ALS.   And, as part of my own grieving, it took me a while to venture back into finding someone new to work with.  However, I was facing my own life challenges and I could no longer ignore that I needed to return to therapy.  And so I ventured out as most of us do, and looked online to find someone.

And in my journey to find a new therapist, I got a reminder of not only what it’s like to be on the other side of couch, I also got a very valuable lesson about what works and what absolutely doesn’t work in therapy. 

For most of us, when we come to therapy for the very first time, we don’t know what to expect.  We have a problem or life issue that usually prompts us to come to a therapist’s couch.  And, it is natural and understandable to come to a professional with the hope they have the answers as to what can help us feel better.  And it is part of our job after all to help our client’s live better and more satisfying lives.  But, the question is, what creates true change in us that can potentially last a lifetime?

Understandably, in my work with clients there comes a time when the inevitable question arrives. “Tell me”, clients will often ask with their eyes earnestly pleading when talking about a problem or issue they are having in their lives, “What should I do?”

In my many years of experience as a student of psychology, a client in my own therapy and therapist in private practice, I have learned this one important thing:  A therapist giving advice is not only not therapy, it can potentially be one of the most damaging things a therapist can do. 

You may ask: What’s so bad about asking for and getting advice from a trained professional?  That’s what they are there for, right?  Here are a few thoughts:

1.)   ADVICE ISN’T TAILOR MADE TO YOU.  IT IS OFTEN BASED ON SOMEONE’S PERSONAL OPINION

There are times we ask for other’s opinions, we want to hear based on their life and their experience what they think or recommend.  And while the motivation is completely understandable, it is helpful to remember that it may not be what you need to hear or what necessarily works best for you, even from a professional who is there to help and support you.  It is important in any therapy process for a therapist to understand your particular circumstances and history, understand your emotions/thoughts about the issue you are wrestling with and guide you to the answer within you, rather than provide an external opinion or advice. 

2.)  GETTING ADVICE FROM OTHERS CAN SOMETIMES PREVENT PERSONAL GROWTH

Personally, I am one of those people who talks every day with their dad and I feel really lucky I still have my dad around and to have such a close relationship with him.  Over the years, I would rely on my dad’s advice to tell me what to do or how to handle a situation that I couldn’t figure out myself.  It felt great getting his advice and it helped me to feel closer to him.  However, in the long-term I noticed it wasn’t really helping me and, in fact, made me dependent on my dad for any major life decision.  Add on top of it he’s my dad and I didn’t want to disappoint him if I didn’t take his advice.  What I had to learn in my life is the drawbacks of getting advice from others, including from therapists. And while it may feel good in the moment and it may give us a potential solution to our immediate problems, it may also leave us more reliant on others and prevent the development of our own tolerance for our problems and our abilities to cope and problem solve.  True transformation and growth happens from developing our own sense of what works for us, what feels right and what our values are and what we want to do as a result of this knowledge.  Part of the process of growing “into our own” means knowing ourselves without the input of others. Good therapy free from advice giving can be a great way to begin and encourage this process.

3.)  GIVING ADVICE CAN DAMAGE THE THERAPEUTIC RELATIONSHIP

As a therapist, there are so many times I wish I could give my clients all the answers and take away their struggles and difficulties.  It can be hard to see my clients wrestle with break ups, losses, divorce, hardship, unemployment…and it can be very tempting to give a quick moment of advice or solution.  However there are many additional problems that can occur if a therapist “takes the bait” so to speak and gives advice.  For example, what if the therapist gives you bad advice?  Even if it’s well intentioned, what if it wasn’t what you needed to hear?  What if you followed that advice and it ended badly?  It would be incredibly damaging to the relationship with the therapist if this were to happen and this is where advice giving has the most potential for becoming quite damaging to a client in therapy. 

So where do we go from here?  In my experience, most clients find feeling understood, processing their emotion and working their way through a problem with the support and guidance of a therapist to be far more helpful than any piece of advice they may receive. Therapy, at its’ best, can be a wonderful way to discover and grow in a safe, empathic, reflective and guiding space for you to express, explore and discover.  Therapy done this way can potentially create long lasting satisfaction and change that can help you feel and live better.  And, it may be safe to say, it is best to leave advice-giving at the door.

With compassion and love,

Renee

 

 

 

 

 

HOW IMPROVING YOUR LISTENING SKILLS CAN HELP YOUR RELATIONSHIP FOR A LIFETIME

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Often the issues that come up with my clients stem from the arguments they are having in their relationship.  And, most find, the argument was really just a misunderstanding and they missed their partner’s feelings or what they were trying to say.   

I often say to clients “What are we typically thinking about while our partner is talking?”  And the answer often is “What we are going to say next.”  And unfortunately, this habit most of us have is detrimental to the well-being of our most intimate relationships.  It’s no wonder we struggle to tune into our partner’s message and that we fail to connect when our partner needs it the most, without even realizing it. 

According to research, frequent arguments in a relationship can erode connection and create overall dissatisfaction in our relationships over time.  So, it benefits us to learn how to listen better and achieve better understanding of our partner’s experiences, and avoid one of the most common pitfalls in modern relationships 

So, what can we do about it?

One of the most important communication skills to learn is: being a good listener. 

Here are some ways to improve your listening skills and increase understanding in your communication with your partner and hopefully avoid most misunderstandings in your relationship:

HOLD YOUR AGENDA

Some of the ways misunderstanding happens is when we immediately jump in with our response, correct what our partner is saying or defend our side of the story.  Instead, it’s best to hold your agenda until your partner has shared what they want to say fully and completely.  As a rule for my couples, I say that listening to your partner fully does not imply that you agree with what your partner is saying.  You each should get a turn to express your feelings and point of view. Holding your agenda and listening fully conveys to your partner, “I hear you and your feelings and thoughts matter to me” and creates less defensiveness in your partner and increases closeness and connection.

MAKE EYE CONTACT 

Making eye contact conveys to our partner that you are actively listening and are interested in what they have to say.  My husband and I would sometimes get frustrated with each other if we had our phones in our hands when speaking to each other.  Admittedly, this is a tough one for me, as I tend to check my phone rather obsessively.  However, my husband would say that it meant a lot to him that I would step away from whatever was happening in the so-called outside world or, maybe more appropriately, the internet world to make time to connect with him.  And, it feels good for me too.  So, it’s best to put away the devices, the laptop, the video game, whatever it is that may be a distraction and give your partner your full attention when they would like to share something and connect with us.

REPEAT BACK WHAT YOU HEARD

One of the best ways to eliminate misunderstandings is to repeat back to your partner what you heard them say.  By doing this, we avoid misunderstandings and confusion, we give our partner a chance to clarify or say more to achieve greater understanding and we find out from our partner if we heard it correctly.   You can start off with “What I heard you say is….,” summarize what you heard as best as you can and then ask “Did I get that right?”  I cannot tell you how impactful this can be in practice.  So often we assume we know what are partner is talking about and can be completely incorrect in our assumptions.  We are so limited in our worldview and perceptions so to truly understand someone else takes patience, careful listening and frequent confirmation with our partner about what we have heard and understood. I will say from experience, this technique has been a relationship lifesaver. 

By practicing these skills, we can, over time, learn to be a better listener and improve our communication in our relationships.  As with anything, it takes patience and practice but is worth doing for the overall health and well-being of your relationship.

With love and support,

Renee

Photo credit:  Melanie Bultez

HOW TO WORK WITH DIFFICULT FEELINGS

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Throughout my adult life I have lived in two modes of being, either overwhelmed or anxious (usually in times of busyness or when I take on more than I can handle) or unmotivated and depressed (usually in times when I am not busy and lean towards my introverted, hermit-like tendencies). And, when I feel this way, I tend towards the “get it together, what is wrong with you?” self-talk that only gets me even more stuck than I was before. It has been part of my own journey to find ways to change the cycle of these ups and downs and finding more balance in my daily life and to improve my overall well-being. And, more importantly, to manage these feelings without resorting to beating myself up for even having them.

So how can we begin to find more emotional balance in our lives?

HOW CAN MANAGE AND LEARN FROM DIFFICULT FEELINGS:

The truth is, one of the best ways to achieve any sort of balance is to know how to manage it when emotions do arise. One way I have learned to approach feelings is a technique borrowed from the wisdom of therapist, Buddhist teacher and author of Radical Acceptance Dr. Tara Brach who uses the acronym R-A-I-N. By utilizing these couple of steps, it may help in increase self-awareness, exploration of feelings in a kind and thoughtful way and pave a path towards a potential understanding and resolution of difficult feelings.

R- Recognize What is Happening

Recognizing starts with tapping into our inner experience. For some of us, we don’t know what we are feeling so sometimes it helps to just start with noticing what is happening in our bodies. We may notice a tightness in our chest, a lump in our throats, a pit in our stomach when we are having an emotional response to something. You can then ask yourself “What is happening within me right now?” Just becoming curious can open the door to understanding what we are feeling and why.

A-Allow Life to Be What it Is

This is giving a welcome mat to whatever feelings may come up for us and recognizing feelings do arise for all of us and sometimes they don’t have or need to have a logical reason behind them. Also, by giving ourselves permission to feel whatever feelings arise can lessen the stronghold of tension we may experience internally. It also paves a way for non-judgmental exploration of what we are feeling and the reasons behind it.

I- Investigate with Kindness

I go with the quote from Carl Jung “Until we make the unconscious conscious, it will rule our lives and we will call it fate.” In order to start the process of exploration and change, we need to explore our feelings in a kind and compassionate way. We can ask some questions of ourselves, such as “What is needing attention right now?” or “What am I believing?” “What does this feeling want from me right now?” You may discover resistance or difficulty in answering these questions. To help with this, attend to the “feelings before the feelings” and thoughts such as “This again??” or “I feel this way and I hate it!” Treat these feelings and thoughts with the same welcoming kindness and compassion and see if that eases some of the difficulty.

N- Non-Identification

We are more than just a momentary thought or feeling and it’s important to recognize you are not your feelings, you are a complex human being with a multitude of abilities, emotions, strengths, intelligence and intuition. And, to remind ourselves that no feeling lasts forever and “this too shall pass” We can also view emotion as an opportunity for learning and growth and not something that is a permanent definition of who we are.

Taking these steps can help us to become more accepting and flexible in the presence of complex and difficult emotion. In addition, we can move through feelings more efficiently and allow for the next feeling to arise and limit feelings of “stuckness.” As with any new idea or practice, it takes time, so be patient with yourself in the process.

With love and support,

Renee

Image: @fairystring

TAPPING INTO YOUR AUTHENTIC SELF

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In the therapy world we talk a lot about getting in touch with who we really are, using the therapeutic space as a safe place to talk about whatever is on our minds and in our hearts and to discover things maybe we didn’t even know about ourselves so we can gain better understanding of why we do the things we do. 

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Perhaps, because we spend a lot of time not being who we truly are (in order to fit in, to project a desired image on social media or in person) we can begin to lose touch with our authentic self and may find ourselves lost, disillusioned or lonely.  Maybe this is why we turn to therapy as one way to help us find our way back again.

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Ways to Tap Into Our Authentic Selves

Increasing Our Awareness

To begin any process of change, increasing awareness of our choices, our behavior and our internal state is the first step.  What do you notice are the patterns that arise when you are aiming to people please?  What pressures do you feel or that you place upon yourself?  What brings into a state of performing for others?  How can you help yourself be more at ease in your body and mind?

Knowing We Are Enough

Often we feel who we really are is not good enough or even shameful causing tremendous self-judgment.  Remind yourself you are enough as you are and there isn’t a need to push, pretend or change.

Practicing Presence

Being present and mindful can help us understand ourselves, our feelings, our inner experience.  Also, by practicing presence with others, we learn to respond to the moment with flexibility and authenticity.  We also listen more attentively when we focus on what the other is expressing rather than on how we want to respond or preoccupying ourselves with worry about what they think of us. 

As with any new way of approaching ourselves and our way of living and thinking, change takes time. It’s important, as always, to view any process as a process full of learning, set-backs and new learning to be discovered through the set-backs.

With love and support,

Renee

HOW TO FIND THE RIGHT COUPLES THERAPY APPROACH FOR YOU

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For some of us, we know we want to seek out support and are considering therapy as an option to potentially help with improving your relationship or to see if things are fixable enough to keep your relationship going. 

And, understandably, it can get pretty overwhelming once you start looking for a therapist or you start seeing different kinds of therapy and wondering which one is the best one for you (or does it even matter the method one particular therapist uses?)

I’ll start off by saying this, generally the particular method or “orientation” as therapists call it, doesn’t really matter all that much.  Sure, there can be certain ways of learning that work better for you and your partner or you may find certain approaches just “speak” to you more and we will get into all of that in a second.  But, to begin, and there is research that supports this idea, for most people it’s the relationship they have with their therapist that is the most important thing when figuring out what may be right for you.  Meaning, you feel comfortable with this person, you feel relatively understood by them, you get the feeling they have your best interests at heart and you just feel good working with them.  So, with that in mind, you may want to meet with a couple of people just to be sure you’ve explored your options and found a person you feel the most connected with.

That being said, in recent years there have been a few different kinds of approaches that have emerged in the arena of couples therapy.  All of them have similar goals in mind, to help couples feel more connected, communicate better and understand one another so they can feel overall better in their relationship.  While there may be others I am missing for the purposes of this particular post, I will focus on two of the main approaches I hear most often in the couples therapy world and why I personally like the work of the Gottman Method and how I think it can best be of help to you and your partner.

One of the approaches I hear most often about, and it’s quite popular with most therapists, Emotionally Focused Therapy.  In a nutshell, Emotionally Focused Therapy, or EFT for short, is an approach backed by research to help couples understand and identify the underlying needs and emotions behind any upsetting interaction and to build more compassion and empathy for these needs and emotions each partner is experiencing.  This may mean talking about your upbringing growing up or experiences in your past that left a lasting impression and connecting it to your current relationship.  The idea is, as you both share these experiences and the feelings/needs around them, you also start to build compassion and empathy around these feelings/needs helping to increase support and understanding in your relationship. 

EFT is centered around a few ideas but one of the main ones is attachment theory.  You may have heard about Attachment Theory in relationship to monkeys that were observed for research and how they responded to a cloth covered “mommy ” with a bottle attached to it in comparison to a wire mesh “mommy” that provided the same nutritional nourishment but was not nearly as soothing or welcoming as the cloth covered version. 

Attachment theory talks about three different styles of attachment that we learned as children growing up (secure, anxious and avoidant), how we attached or didn’t attach to our parents/caregivers and how we may interact with others as a result of this attachment style.   What EFT says is that couples who work towards a secure attachment style fare better in the long-term than those who have an avoidant or anxious attachment with each other.  So, there may be work around questions like “Do you love me for who I am?”  “Will you will leave/abandon me if….happens?”  “Can you give me reassurance when I feel insecure or jealous in our relationship?”  And the hope is you develop a secure/loving attachment and bond with each other which allows you both to be who you truly are in the relationship and know that even when you venture out in the world, your partner is there and supportive of you and who you truly are. 

I have to say, I am a huge fan of attachment theory, and really got a tremendous amount of insight to my own attachment style, which for me was more on the anxious side, and how it was affecting my decisions, feelings and behavior in relationships.  As I worked through the wounds of my past and feelings of unworthiness and feeling unlovable, it ultimately helped me to find and build the current relationship I have know into a secure and loving bond.  It also might be worth mentioning EFT can be helpful in an individual basis as well as with couples and families.

The other approach, which is one where I have received a ton on training on and both my husband and I received our own couples therapy with, is the Gottman Method for Couples Therapy.  If you have read my other blog posts, which, if you have, God bless you and thank you for making it this far, Drs. John and Julie Gottman developed their approach after observing over 3,000 couples over the course of about 20-30 years in their “Love Lab”  Based upon this research, they noticed patterns of interactions and behaviors that made up the “masters” and “disasters” in relationships. 

There are a few components the Gottman Method helps, through various exercises and skills to practice, including learning how to manage conflict, how to increase friendship and intimacy, developing a culture of appreciation, building meaningful rituals and supporting long-term life goals and increasing moments of connection.

This approach includes exercises you and your partner practice together that encourages improved communication and listening skills and gets rid of what John and Julie Gottman have deemed the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.  They also have additional ways you can work towards compromise and problem solving and normalizes the fact that any couple, no matter how compatible and understanding they are, will have a certain set of issues that will remain unresolved. 

One of things I really gravitated towards in the work of John and Julie Gottman was that, conflict is normal and, in fact, encouraged in a relationship.  For me and my husband, who tend to be very polite, kind and flexible people for the most part, it was helpful to know that we should be having conflict from time to time and discussing the things that upset us and to identify and express our needs.  In fact, it’s a vital part of a relationship to say these things otherwise you run the risk of resentment building and leading to a huge argument or just feeling very distant from your partner overall.

Related to this idea of conflict being normal and healthy, Gottman teaches you how to make your arguments and conflicts more productive and not dissolve into a shouting match or leaving you both shutting down and getting quiet.  Most of my clients say to me at the conclusion of their work with me that they got the most out of the communication skills they learned from me and I attribute a good portion of that to the research from the Gottman Method.

So, when it all comes down to it, there is no right or wrong way when it comes to couples therapy.  However, depending on what it is you are looking for and what you feel may be of the most benefit to you and your partner, understanding the different approaches may help you find the best path for you to a better and more satisfying relationship.  If you have specific questions about my approach and the Gottman method, feel free to reach out to me with the information contained on my contact page.   I also offer free consultations over the phone before setting up an initial appointment.

Warm wishes,

Renee

 

 

 

THE BENEFITS OF PREMARITAL COUNSELING (AND WHY YOU SHOULD CONSIDER IT BEFORE WALKING DOWN THE AISLE)

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I see many couples who come to me and sometimes have a multitude of different struggles, sometimes problems that have existed for years, and they are just now seeking out help and support.  It is a courageous decision to seek out help from an outside person to work on the issues that are occurring in your relationship and for many it can be the best decision they have made.  That said, I often find that there are many reasons to consider counseling for you and your partner before getting married.  Some studies show a lower divorce rate in couples that seek out support via couples counseling before saying “I do.”  So why should you consider premarital counseling for you and your partner?

1.) YOU WILL MANAGE YOUR CONFLICTS BETTER WHICH WILL HELP YOU LIKE EACH OTHER MORE

According to the research from Dr. John Gottman, one of the primary reasons people break up or end in divorce is due to built up resentment from unresolved conflict.  Sure, it is normal to fight, but fights that end up in screaming matches (or, the flipside, if you and your partner avoid conflict) it can result in feelings of toxic resentment towards their partner and the relationship.

Pre-marital counseling can help you and your partner learn how to express your needs and wants, learn how to listen to your partner more effectively and increase understanding.  The sooner you start to practice better communication, the better off you will be in the long-term.  And, you have a better chance of feeling more love and satisfaction in your relationship as well.

2.)  YOU WILL DISCUSS THE IMPORTANT TOPICS

In the beginning of any relationship, it feels easy and exciting and you cannot envision any problems arising between the two of you.  Fast forward to years down the road and one of you wants to move back to their small town they grew up in in order to raise a family and you cannot stand living in small-town America.  This is where the reality of who you are as individuals and your expectations and dreams start to come to the surface.  As you can imagine, it’s important to discuss these ideas, expectations and dreams before you decide to spend the rest of your lives together. 

One of the things I do in my practice is to guide you through conversations around important topics when considering marriage:  finances, in-laws, children, sex, chores around the house, extramarital friendships in order to get clarity about what you want and need and to see if they match your partners needs/wants/expectations.  Knowing these in advance can help you work through these topics and help you decide if this relationship is for the long-haul.

3.)  YOU CAN LEARN HOW TO MAKE YOUR LIFE AND YOUR RELATIONSHIP MORE FULFILLING

Often I hear these horrible things about marriage and long-term relationships, things like “You will never have sex again after marriage and children.” “You will only be with one person the rest of your life and you will get bored, are you sure you want to do this?”  These kinds of statements are toxic and stigmatize marriage.     When, the truth is, relationships and marriage have the potential to be quite wonderful and rewarding and even a vehicle for personal growth and transformation.

In counseling, you can explore your lifelong dreams with your partner, listen to feedback about what would help make your partnership better, discuss your desires and fantasies, share your life experiences, all in a safe, supportive environment.  By doing so, you can start to see how a relationship isn’t just obligations and checking off the boxes on a to do list, it can also be an opportunity to grow, learn, connect, love and work together in partnership.  We don’t learn everything in a vacuum all by ourselves, connection and partnership offers up the unique chance to grow as a person.  And therapy can be a way to explore these thoughts and feelings with your partner.

These are just a few examples of how pre-marital counseling can be of help and benefit to you and your partner or even if you are dating and are encountering challenges. Therapy can be a helpful and support way to work through what the two of you are facing and hopefully move you towards a healthier and more fulfilling direction.

Warmly,

Renee

 

 

WHY SOMETIMES “DOING NOTHING” IS THE BEST THING YOU CAN DO FOR YOURSELF

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I want to start off by saying I am a big “doer.”  I love doing things, planning what I will be doing in the future and get a lot of enjoyment thinking about what I have accomplished.  For most of my adult life, what I do has been a measure of my success and identity. 

Over the years, I noticed that along with this love of doing things and measuring my success based upon my accomplishments, came a whole lot of pressure and anxiety to constantly be productive or think of new ideas.  Moreover, I started to notice while I might have gotten a lot done, the quality of my work was not where I wanted it to be or I rushed through an idea before fully thinking it through.  As a result, I started to feel like a “Jill of all trades, master of none” which ultimately left me feeling empty and unfulfilled. 

I want to be clear, I am not “anti-productivity.”  Quite the contrary, there is absolute virtue and merit in knowing when to take action and initiating that plan, idea or process.  It’s also important to remember there is value in taking the time to discover how you feel, exploring what really matters to you and how do you want to implement your ideas before acting or making a decision in your personal or professional life.   

Further, studies show that there is value in “doing nothing” or having moments of idle time or boredom.   Ever notice how you get your best ideas when you are driving to work, taking a shower or sitting in a mundane meeting?  When our brain is “in idle” we are giving it space to play, to daydream, to generate new ideas.   In our current world of constant connection to technology via our phones, computers, tablets, etc…we struggle now more than ever to give ourselves an opportunity to be bored, make space for creativity and find moments to tap into our inner experience. 

Is the idea of sitting with yourself and your feelings scary?  That is understandable and actually quite normal.  Sometimes our fear is an indicator that we are coming upon something that is important and authentic and perhaps we can learn to push through the initial discomfort of being alone with our thoughts and feelings and breathe into the experience of personal exploration in order to discover or learn something new about ourselves.

How do we do this?  How do we, in effect, “do nothing?”

1.)   Create the space intentionally and with intention:

Build into your schedule free and unstructured time.  Make this time free from phones, computers, internet and other distractions.  Start with closing your eyes and taking a few deeps breaths.  Focus on your breath for about 5 minutes to allow yourself time to let go of whatever you were doing right before and any worries, fears, thoughts you have moving through your mind.  Set the intention to tap into your inner experience, that you will have this space to come to whenever you need it and you will protect this time as a priority in your life.

2.)   If you need an activity, make it a creative one or one that gets you into your body:

Sometimes having a few things on hand can be helpful, perhaps have some pens or pencils and paper handy to sketch, journal or color.  Another ideas is to play music that gives you enjoyment, peace and connection.  (I personally enjoy piano or violin music) Finally, if you feel the desire to move, allow yourself to dance or take a walk somewhere lovely.  The idea is, something that allows for freeflowing creativity, space, safety and comfort and isn’t work-related and cannot stir up any feelings of worry or anxiety.

3.)   Don’t judge or censor yourself:

Often we have an inner critic or have internalized others messages to us that tell us what we are doing wrong or give us reasons to beat ourselves up over mistakes we have made.  Let go of any judgments of this time and what comes of it.  There are no expectations of what happens, only that you hold the space and become curious of what arises in you.  Allow yourself to express freely on the journal page, in the dance movement, on the canvas, in the daydream. 

With time and patience, your comfort with empty space will increase and some find they actually welcome and look forward to this time as it gives them a greater sense of connection to themselves, helps to improve their relationships, they notice increases in creativity and new ideas and gives overall meaning and enrichment in their lives.  Time doesn’t always have to be scheduled with something to do, the path towards transformation and peace can be to sit in moments of emptiness and space.  You may find there is plenty to discover in the “nothing”

Warmly,

Renee

5 SIGNS YOU ARE IN AN ADDICTIVE RELATIONSHIP AND WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT

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Addictive relationships can be toxic, it can leave one or both partners feeling helpless, hopeless, afraid to leave the relationship and are very rarely healthy.

So, how do we know if we are in an addictive relationship?  Here are 5 signs that you may be in one and what you can do about it.

1.) YOU HAVE FREQUENT ARGUMENTS

If you have read my previous blog posts, I often talk about normalizing conflict as an inevitable part of a healthy relationship.  And, of course, every relationship has its' challenges and you will not get along all of the time.

However, if your relationship is a constant battle, where you don't have enough time in between your arguments to recover, this may be a sign of an addictive relationship.

Addictive relationships thrive on drama.  There may be a never-ending cycle of catastrophic interactions, sometimes where there are threats of ending the relationship, that create a constant instability where neither partner can fully recover.  

According to author Mark Manson, "Drama is when someone creates unnecessary conflict that generates a false sense of meaning for a short period of time."

However, drama is not meaningful or healthy.  It is, in fact, toxic and does not promote a healthy and functional relationship. 

2.) YOUR MIND IS CONSTANTLY PREOCCUPIED WITH THE RELATIONSHIP

Sure, we think about our partner throughout the day, keeping them in mind as we go about our days and fulfilling our daily responsibilities.  

However, if we find that we are consumed with thoughts of our partner, going over the last argument in our heads, unable to focus on other things, this is a sign of an addictive relationship.

Often when we are in addictive relationships, we know on some level it's not good for us, and yet, we don't leave. This creates an inner turmoil that can occupy your mind, trying to make sense of the relationship and how to fix it.  In addition, if you find yourself making a list of excuses of why your partner behaved the way they did, this can also can be an indication of addiction to the relationship (and potentially abuse).

3.) YOU HIDE PARTS OF (OR ALL OF) YOUR RELATIONSHIP FROM FRIENDS AND FAMILY

Like with any addiction, we hide our drug of choice from others.  In addictive relationships, we know this relationship isn't a good one and thereby hide what's really going on with our loved ones.  We might even hide the relationship because that's the only way it could survive.  Sometimes, we know that if our friends and family knew about it, they might encourage us to leave and we are not ready to let the relationship go.

4.) YOU FEEL YOU CANNOT SURVIVE WITHOUT THE RELATIONSHIP 

In addictive relationships we find ourselves unable to leave.  We may even decide to end the relationship, only to rush back into their arms, fearful about losing them or being alone.  Sometimes an indicator of an addictive relationship can be the cycle of frequently breaking up and getting back together.  Feeling powerless and unable to find the strength, we stay in the relationship paralyzed with the idea of being alone and on our own.

5.) YOU FEEL LOST AND QUESTION YOURSELF ALL THE TIME

Sometimes in addictive and toxic relationships, our partner will put us down or tell us our thoughts and feelings are not valid.  We may start believe them and question ourselves and our ideas, thoughts, feelings and opinions. You may pull back and conform to your partners values and beliefs in order to avoid conflict, causing further disconnection from who you really are and your values. Also, if we acknowledge things are bad and don't leave, we may beat ourselves up about it and start to feel depressed and anxious.  

WHAT TO DO?

Acknowledging you might be in an addictive and toxic relationship is the first step in the process.  So, what can you do if you find yourself in a toxic relationship?

1.)  CREATE A LIST OF REASONS WHY THE RELATIONSHIP DIDN'T WORK FOR YOU

Our memories of an addictive relationship can be selective and we may remember only the good times or memories with that person and it can be easy to forget why we left the relationship in the first place.  Sometimes writing down a list of the reasons why you left can be helpful in those moments when we feel tempted to reach out and reunite with our old flame.  And the truth is, all the negative and toxic things will still be there if we decide to get back together, leaving you in the same place or worse than you were before.  Instead of reaching for your phone to text or call them, reach for your journal and write down honestly all the things that you did not like about your relationship to give yourself a chance to analyze the relationship more realistically.

2.)  DEVELOP A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP WITH YOURSELF

When we are in toxic relationships, we stop doing the things we love or realize we haven't give ourselves the time to discover what really brings us meaning and moments of joy.  

Also, check in with yourself mentally, physically and emotionally.  How are you taking care of yourself?  This is a good time to take a walk outside on a nice day, connect with friends that care and support you and read a good book you neglected to finish.  Doing these things sends the message that you matter and, ultimately, you care enough about yourself and will not tolerate anyone who doesn't feel the same.  

3.)  SURROUND YOURSELF WITH PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT AND CARE ABOUT YOU

You may have lost touch with family and friends during the course of your relationship.  This might be a good time to reconnect with those you felt close to and begin to create a support system so you don't feel alone.  This helps you be more resilient in moments of doubt or loneliness and will remind you of your value and worth.

Finally, going through a break up is never easy and is a loss that needs to be grieved.  Sometimes getting counseling or therapy can be helpful to process the loss and help you to heal and move on.  No matter the state of the relationship, a loss can be hard, so go easy on yourself and feel the feelings as they come up, even if that means that you cry or feel the anger that had built up for so long.

And remember, you are worthy of genuine love and belonging.

With caring and support,

Renee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HOW ROMANCE CAN BE CULTIVATED EVERY DAY IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP (AND NOT JUST ON VALENTINE’S DAY)

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Valentine’s Day is such a hotbed of expectation and potential disappointment, even if you are already in a relationship. There can be a lot of pressure on couples to make Valentine’s Day the most romantic day of the year.  However, it is my belief that romance shouldn’t happen just because a holiday tells us so.  So for Valentine’s Day, I would like to focus on how you can cultivate romance with your partner on any day of the year.

TURNING TOWARDS INSTEAD OF AWAY:

Throughout the day, you and your partner make bids for each other’s attention.  Bids show up in small ways like reaching out to hold your hand or talking about an article you found interesting, and more complex ways, like a request for advice or help on an issue you are struggling with.  The key to building a strong connection with your partner is to turn towards them when they make these bids for attention. 

And, turning towards our partner is a very important thing for the health of the relationship long-term.  As part of his research, Dr. John Gottman conducted a study with newlyweds and then followed up with them six years later. The couples that had stayed married turned towards one another 86% of the time. Couples that had divorced averaged only 33% of the time.

So when your partner points out a rainbow while you are driving in the car or when they want to open up about how stressful their day was, these are pivotal and important moments of connection. The more you can be aware and responsive to these bids for connection, the better your relationship will be in the long-term.

STAY INFORMED ABOUT EACH OTHER’S LIVES:

One of the most powerful things you can do in your relationship is to know your partner really well.  According to Dr. Gottman, “Emotionally intelligent couples remember all the major events in each other’s history, and continuously, update their information.” Also it’s important, even on a daily basis, to stay informed about what’s happening in each other’s lives.

One way to do this is to ask what your partner’s day is going to look like.  What’s one thing they are worried about?  Excited about?  You can remember that one thing and check in with your partner about how it went when you reconnect that evening. 

Another way to know your partner is to ask open-ended questions.  This is one of my favorite activities when I go on road trips with my husband or when we go out for date night.  Some sample questions might be “If you could have any talent which would you choose and why?”  “Who was a person you looked up to as a child?”  “What was your proudest moment from the past 6 months?”  By asking and exploring these questions, we continue to get to know our partner.  (Sometimes we may be surprised at the answers we get and learn something new!)

RITUALS OF CONNECTION:

According to Dr. Gottman, “A ritual of connection is a way of regularly turning towards your partner that can be counted on.”

There are a few ways that we can establish and cultivate daily rituals of connection.  It can be having a 5 second hug and kiss when you both come home from work, it can be having dinner together and keeping your phones in the other room, it can be taking a walk around the neighborhood and discussing your day.  There are other rituals that don’t have to be daily, such as taking a yearly vacation to your favorite destination or trying out a new restaurant each month.  Whatever it is, it is something you both enjoy and can agree to.

Creating this intentional time together keeps you more connected and cultivates more enjoyment and pleasure in your relationship.

By taking these steps on a daily basis, you build, with each little interaction, a more satisfying and healthy relationship that will stand the test of time.

Wishing you love, joy and passion,

Renee

HOW ACTORS CAN BENEFIT FROM THERAPY

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As an artist, you encounter very specific challenges in your life: dealing with creative blocks in your work, handling the uncertainty of when you will get your next job, the subjectivity of the entertainment or creative industry.  How can therapy help with this?

It’s understandable to have feelings of anxiety, doubt or worry about your career in a creative field.  As a former actor myself, I remember the feelings of uncertainty or self-doubt that would creep in before an audition or casting.  And in the moments in between auditions, I would question my abilities or my place in the industry and wondering if I am a fool for pursuing my acting dreams.  Part of what can help is talking to a therapist about your thoughts and feelings and fears.  It can feel relieving to talk to a licensed professional about how to manage your fears, recognize when they are real and when they are a moment of self-doubt.  By acknowledging the fears and talking about them out loud, it can also lessen the impact they have on you emotionally and help you to make better decisions for yourself.  It is best to make decisions that are well thought out instead of from a place of fear or insecurity, therapy can help you discover what you truly want for yourself in a congruent and thoughtful way, giving you more confidence and increased self-worth.

My high school acting teacher was one of the most impactful people in my life and I will never forget the sign posted backstage: “Leave it at the door.”  However, there can be times when life happens and, understandably, feelings can get overwhelming and take over, making it difficult to leave our life’s problems at the stage door.  If we have experienced a loss, a recent break up, a sudden death of a loved one or an injury that leaves us unable to do the things we love to, we may experience feelings of sadness, depression and grief.  Therapy can help process these feelings in a safe and supportive environment and help you to work through the complicated feelings of grief and loss.  Therapy helps to heal in a healthy and productive way and may help with also identifying ways to cope and get the support you need during this difficult time.

Finally, it is a vital part of any actor’s process to keep your creative life alive.  Creative blocks can creep up for any actor and sometimes it’s helpful have a plan to cultivate your creativity.  Talking through barriers to your creative self can be a way to work through these blocks.  With a therapist you can identify what helps you cultivate creativity and rediscover a space where your creativity can grow and thrive. 

I hold a tremendous amount of respect for actors and artists who pursue their dreams of expression and storytelling.  It is a true joy for me to work with artists and provide healing support to so you can continue the wonderful and important work you do.  I feel now, more than ever, storytellers are needed to bring light to the oppressed and silenced.  I would love to be a part of your creative journey.

If you feel you may benefit from therapy, phone consultations with me are always free. 

With love, joy and compassion

Renee

DATING SMARTER: HOW TO FIND THE RIGHT PARTNER AND NOT JUST THE PARTNER FOR RIGHT NOW

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1.)  LEARN TO HOW TO BE ALONE AND ENJOY YOUR OWN COMPANY

We know the feeling, the fear of being alone or that we will always be alone and never find the right person.  And perhaps it’s been a long time since you have been in a relationship, building the evidence of a single life with no partner to share it with. 

It’s understandable to have moments of doubt or worry.  However, by letting these fears take over and dictate what you do in relationships, you could end up in a less than desirable partnership or stay in one that isn’t healthy for you.

By learning to be alone and enjoy your own company, relationships become more of a choice.  You are more free to be with the right kind of partner when you can decide whether you want to be in one or not. 

How do you go about this? Perhaps it starts with an exploration of the things that bring you joy and fulfillment.  What did you love to do as a kid or teenager growing up that you have long since forgotten? What ways can you begin to do things you once loved before being in a relationship took over? 

You can also do solitary things that are enjoyable to you:  Set up a date for yourself that includes your favorite movie and some take-out, lose yourself in a novel or spend the day in the park or local garden.  The important thing to remember is, you are a whole and lovable person whether you are in a relationship or not and can do things that feel good, even when we are alone. 

2.)  FIND THE QUALITIES YOU WANT IN A RELATIONSHIP/PARTNER AND THOSE THAT YOU DON’T

I remember something a girlfriend of mine told me when I starting to date again after my last relationship had ended: “The good stuff is easy, we can find something good in any relationship.  It’s the not-so-good that you need to look at.” 

Each relationship we have is an opportunity to discover what we want and what we don’t want in a relationship.  And, it’s important to know what our relationship deal-breakers are, the things that we know we can or cannot tolerate in a relationship.  You need to ask yourself the question “If  ______ didn’t change or he/she stayed exactly as they are now, would I be okay with it?”

When we discover the things that are not working (and the things that do) try to apply what you have learned with each new person you meet.  Do you see things in this person you would want in a partner/relationship?  Do you see anything that would be a deal breaker for you?  Do you see yourself with someone like this person?  Ask these questions before embarking on a romantic path, this will set you on the course for finding the right partner for you and eliminate those who are not.

3.)  KNOW IF YOU ARE NOT READY TO BE IN A RELATIONSHIP YET

Sometimes we are recovering from heartbreak and haven’t fully gotten over a past relationship. There is no judgment in being where you are and it’s important to work through the feelings you may be having and not try to push ahead.  Know if you are ready to be in a relationship, let others know honestly where we are rather than lead them on and process your feelings before launching into dating or your next relationship. 

Sometimes we find the idea of finding that person we want to commit to is overwhelming or a little scary.  Exploring the reasons for the fear, sometimes with a licensed professional, can be helpful.  Sometimes we find that we prefer being alone.  Sometimes we find we do want a relationship but are afraid of risking our hearts and putting ourselves out there again. If you do want a relationship, it is possible to break the cycle of dating people you don’t consider “marriage material” or the person for the long haul.  Slowly open yourself up to people who actively demonstrate genuine caring and interest in you, start to see them or identify those in your current circle who meet this criteria and notice how you feel on the inside when you are around them.  You may find yourself feeling safe, calm and at peace and that feeling you may not to want to let go of, breaking down those fears and worries about commitment. 

4.)  KNOW YOU ARE DESERVING OF A LOVING AND SUPPORTIVE RELATIONSHIP (AND IT’S NOT WORTH BEING IN ONE UNTIL YOU DO)

Sometimes we may feel we don’t deserve a loving and supportive relationship.  We may carry narratives that if someone were to really know us, they wouldn’t like us, let alone love us for who we are (and dare we say it, commit to being in a long-term relationship with us!).

Sometimes it’s wise to take a look at where these narratives come from and to begin a practice of self-love.  You have a right, by virtue of you being on this planet, to love and be loved.  You also have value.  Further, you have tremendous gifts to give the world and potentially a partner and it’s important to know and recognize who you are and what you have to give. 

By beginning a practice of self-love, we not only demonstrate to others that we are deserving of what we want, we also become our own biggest ally and, quite frankly, if we have ourselves we are never alone.

With care and support,

Renee

WHAT YOUR PARENTS NEVER TAUGHT YOU ABOUT HOW TO COMMUNICATE IN RELATIONSHIPS (EVEN THOUGH THEY DID THE BEST THEY COULD)

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Communication and relationships:  We know by now it’s important, we hear it all the time to the point where it’s enough already, we get it!  So, if we communicate more with our partner things will get better, right?  Wrong.

Dr. John Gottman, author of the “7 Principles of Making Marriage Work” has identified the four communication styles that are the biggest predictors of divorce/break-up and antidotes that can make your next conversation with your partner much more productive and satisfying.

BEING CRITICAL

When speaking to your partner about something that upsets you, it’s important to not become critical.  Critical statements ones that are qualifying your partner at their core and using words that are judgmental or hurtful and can lead to defensiveness and hurt feelings.  These are statements like “You are so selfish, you never consider anyone else’s feelings” and these kinds of statements are not productive and should be avoided.

So what do you do? Rather than leap to criticism, explain your feelings first.  You can even ask yourself, when this happened how did I feel?  Statements such as, “When you left this morning without saying goodbye I felt sad and ignored.  I would like for us to connect before heading out for the day, how does that sound to you?” can get you closer to having a productive conversation without defenses coming up.

Steering away from critical comments puts your conversation on the right track and can keep you both from getting into an unproductive fight or from one or both of you running away and shutting down.

DEFENSIVENESS

Defensiveness can be understandable, how many of us as soon as something not so great happens, want to find someone or something to blame?  raises hand

Brene Brown, LCSW calls blame “a discharging of discomfort and pain and is the opposite of vulnerability…. it is corrosive to relationships and a barrier to connection and empathy.”

And when we get defensive towards our partner, it can, in fact, push them away and can sometimes cause an escalation in conflict. 

So what do we do?  Rather than blaming your partner, take responsibility for your feelings or your part in what happened.  Statements like “I had a really long day ahead and was up against a deadline so I rushed out the door.  I realize I was distracted this morning.  Next time, I will be sure to say goodbye before heading out.”  By doing this you have the opportunity to increase closeness and understanding between you and your partner.

CONTEMPT

When criticism happens over a long period of time, coupled with built up resentment, it sometimes can turn into having a negative overall viewpoint of your partner or your relationship.  This is fertile ground for contempt.  According to Dr. Gottman “contempt is the number one predictor of divorce and should be (absolutely) avoided.” 

Contempt means mocking or belittling your partner, using effusive sarcasm and making cruel statements about your partner’s character. 

So, what do you do?  Build a culture of fondness and admiration along with expressing your needs and feelings before they build up to resentment.  Expressing appreciation throughout the day can help increase positivity between the two of you.  Also, I recommend having a weekly “State of the Union” Conversation  (See my post about 6 Hours A Week To A Better Relationship on how to do this) in order to make communicating about anything part of your regular routine.

STONEWALLING

There are ways we can cope with overwhelming emotion, sometimes the emotion gets so hard to manage we may fight, flight or freeze.  Stonewalling is when we completely shut out our partner, communication stops and/or we shut down.

As a result, we are not capable of having a productive conversation in this state and it is best to take a break and revisit the conversation at a later time. 

So, what do you do?  Self-soothe.  This may mean, taking a walk, taking a few deep breaths.  When we are in fight, flight or freeze our cognitive abilities go down since you are focused on perceived survival.  By calming down, we increase our chance of having a productive and thoughtful conversation with your partner.  Likewise, for the partner, it is best to let your partner calm down and don’t chase after them.  Doing this may escalate your conversation and cause more damage than good.

Practicing these antidotes can help improve your communication and make it more productive and satisfying for you and your partner.  I encourage patience and compassion for yourself and your partner in this process.  When we are learning something new, change happens over a period of time and cannot be rushed.

With support, love and compassion,

Renee

3 WAYS TO INCREASE TRUST IN YOURSELF (AND LOVE YOURSELF) MORE IN 2018

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What I often talk about in therapy with clients is the importance of building trust in yourself and avoiding, what I call, “self-abandonment.”  This can happen when put others needs in front of our own, when we talk ourselves out of our understandable feelings, when we fight against our gut instincts that tell us this is the wrong thing and when we judge ourselves harshly for the decisions we make.  When we do this over and over again, we can lose trust in ourselves.  Self-abandonment also compromises our belief that we will be there for ourselves when making decisions or what happens in our lives.  The good news is, we can take steps to build trust in ourselves and make decisions that are more in-line with what we really want.

1.) APPROACH MISTAKES WITH COMPASSION AND AS A NECESSARY PART OF LEARNING AND GROWTH

True confidence and competence comes through hard-work, receptivity to feedback and steady discipline over a period of time.  Mistakes are a necessary part of growth as they give us an opportunity reflect and improve.  We can be told hundreds of times what to do however the best way we learn is through experience and practice.

Knowing this, we can give ourselves the freedom to make (and even welcome) mistakes.  Further, we can approach mistakes with compassion towards ourselves, as we know it is an essential part of our personal growth.  Sometimes, I will stop myself from self-judgment by asking “If this was a close friend of mine going through the same thing, would I be as hard on them as I am on myself right now?”  More often than not, we grant a lot more compassion for others than we do for ourselves and we deserve the same treatment we would give a trusted friend or loved one.

2.) SURROUND YOURSELF WITH OTHERS WHO SUPPORT YOU

The most valuable commodities we have are our time and energy.  People who are negative, who criticize your efforts, who become competitive with you or dominate your time with their problems can compromise your confidence and ability to grow.  Who we surround ourselves with has a huge impact and it’s important to identify who is truly on your side and supportive of you and your goals.  This may mean learning how to identify people who are good for you and letting go of those who are not.  By doing this, you send yourself the message “I value my time and energy, I deserve supportive people in my life and I have the right to decide who is in my circle and who is not.”

3.) KEEP THE PROMISES YOU MAKE TO YOURSELF

One of the things that can cause the biggest feeling of self-abandonment is not keeping the promises you make to yourself.  For example, we may socially over-commit ourselves time and again when we told ourselves we really needed the time to recharge or we may have committed to spending less time with a toxic friend, only to reach out to them for coffee the very next day.  By doing these kinds of actions, you are sending the message to yourself that your needs don’t matter.  This, in turn, can invite in feelings of sadness or low self-worth. 

The more you keep promises you make to yourself, the more validated and stronger you will feel.  Be your own best friend and talk to yourself in a loving and kind way.  Change your inner monologue to one that is compassionate and an advocate for your needs.  By doing this over time, it will help increase your mood and your confidence in a helpful and healthy way.

Starting a process of implementing these 3 things will set you on a path towards decreased anxiety and depression and increased trust in yourself.  Don’t expect perfection, be gentle and generous with yourself.

Wishing you love and light in the new year,

Renee

 

HOW TO MANAGE STRESS AND KEEP YOUR RELATIONSHIP HEALTHY DURING THE HOLIDAY SEASON

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With Thanksgiving just leaving us in its' calorie-laden wake, the holidays are officially upon us and, along with it, potential feelings of stress and emotional overwhelm.  The holidays can be a minefield of relationship stressors and it can be a trying time for even the healthiest of relationships: Family gatherings may bring up feelings of anger, frustration, anxiety or disappointment when family doesn't behave the way we hope they will.  We may place an expectation on ourselves to buy the best gifts for friends and family putting a potential strain on your finances.  The holidays are thought to be a joyful time with all your friends and family but what if you are spending it as a couple alone?  

With all that the holidays can bring, there are ways to manage the stress and keep your relationship intact and on-course.  

1.)  COMMUNICATION

This can happen in many ways, but one of them is to discuss your holiday plans.  How do you want to spend your time?  Do you want to visit family?  If so, for how long?  Do you stay with your family or stay in a hotel?  Deciding together what you would like the holidays to look like is a great way to avoid resentment and potential conflict.  

If you are planning on spending time with family, build into your holiday itinerary time for just the two of you.  If you are traveling to a location, why not spend an extra day for exploring as a couple or arrange for a date night to give you a break from all that family time.  

Another thing you can provide each other is a de-stressing conversation.  Our family can push our buttons like no one else can so having a safe place to unload can be incredibly healing.  This is not a time for judgement or providing advice but you can provide validation, empathy and offer support to your partner. 

2.)  DEVELOP YOUR OWN HOLIDAY TRADITIONS AND RITUALS

As a couple, we come from two separate families with their own unique traditions and rituals. We can, of course, share with our partner the traditions you love and hold dearly but we can also create new traditions as well.  

Creating these traditions bonds the two of you together, creates a sense of connection and can be a fun and creative process you both can enjoy.  Perhaps it is watching your favorite movie on New Years Day or sharing your favorite holiday treat on a cold night.  Creating these traditions can also give a sense of freedom to create the holiday season however you wish and not just based on your families' expectations.

3.) LOOK AT YOUR EXPECTATIONS

Speaking of expectations, one of the biggest factors of holiday stress are the expectations we place upon ourselves, and others, to make it the "most wonderful time of the year."  It's important that we take a look at our expectations, understand that things won't always go the way we would like them to and express to our partner our hopes and wishes for the holiday season.  

For example, sometimes it's helpful to discuss in advance the gift-giving plan and agree to a specific budget. If it seems like something your can identify, tell your partner what you'd like to give them and link it to a personal reason why you'd like to get them this gift. Perhaps it reminds you of them or you felt they really needed it to make their life a little easier, sometimes it's not the dollar amount but the feeling behind it that makes gifts meaningful and special.  

Finally, it's okay to say "no" to a holiday party or two.  If you find yourself completely overwhelmed with all of your holiday plans, don't expect yourself to get to them all.  It's important to have downtime to take care of yourself and not put too many demands on your time and energy.  Sometimes it's best if you take a night to stay in, have a quiet night at home and recharge.  The less stress you have, the better you feel and the better your partner feels.  

Take a few of these steps and you are on your way to making the holidays easier and might save your relationship from some troublesome conflicts.  Wishing you all a safe and satisfying holiday season!

Warmly,

Renee

“WHY DO YOU NEVER PUT THE DISHES AWAY?”: HOW TO GO DEEPER IN YOUR CONVERSATIONS WITH YOUR PARTNER

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It is inevitable that we will have a feeling or reaction to something our partner does or says.  We often find that the most trivial daily interactions become the biggest areas of conflict and frustration.  And when friction happens frequently, we can start to feel negatively about the relationship overall, regardless of our partner’s intentions when they left the dirty dish in the sink. 

When we enter into “negative sentiment override” about the relationship and our partner, this can become very troublesome and in fact can be one of the major predictors of divorce for married couples. 

Dr. John Gottman, the quintessential leader in research on couples states:  “Negative sentiment override is when there is a discrepancy between insider and outsider perceptions of the interaction. An actually neutral or positive communication sent by one partner is interpreted by the other partner as negative. Hence, negative sentiments or feelings override positive interaction.”  And when this happens more often than not, this might spell trouble for the both of you.

So how do couples handle this?  One way is to take these daily interactions that bring up the source of frustration and upset and go deeper. 

I remember when one of my couples, who have generally a good relationship, except for they argued constantly over the unpacked boxes, from when they first moved several years ago, creating clutter in their apartment.   We tried making a plan, deciding when they would like to work on this unfinished project, who would do what and when. However, nothing seemed to alleviate the feelings of frustration and upset about these unpacked boxes. 

In therapy we tried exploring a bit more about the feelings these boxes represented.  After some exploration, one partner shared that these boxes were not just any boxes.  These boxes were medical records and bills documenting a chronic auto-immune illness that she had been living with for years.  Despite having worked with several doctors on finding a solution to alleviate her symptoms, she still hadn’t discovered a solution that worked for her.  Moreover, she felt her partner didn’t seem to understand the impact her illness had on her daily functioning, leaving her feeling quite alone in her experience.  By sharing this deeper meaning about the boxes helped us to identify what was really going on, how she was feeling on a much deeper level and we could then work towards a solution so she felt more supported in the relationship.

So, how do you go deeper?

When a specific behavior your partner is doing is bothering you, you can ask yourself some of these questions:

Why does this specific behavior matter to me?

Is there someone in my past that has done this specific behavior?  If so, how did I feel about it?

Does this behavior represent a bigger issue going on in our relationship that I want or need to address?

Do I feel my partner is not contributing enough or I have contributed too much in our day-to-day routine?

Is this specific behavior a habit or behavior I want to change in myself?  If so, do I need help from my partner to support this change?

Am I hurting inside and feel my partner hasn’t heard or understood my hurt?

By doing this kind of exploration, we can key in on what may be truly going on with us on a deeper level.  Also, it can help our partner understand us better, they are more equipped to express empathy for what we are feeling and it help you both work towards a real solution. 

Does this mean all of our reactions have a deeper meaning?  Of course not.  However, it’s a worthwhile exploration that will deepen your own personal understanding of yourself and, in turn, will make your relationship closer, more meaningful and more satisfying.  With a bit of practice and patience, over time this can improve the overall quality of your relationship, lessen the impact of negative sentiment override and prevent your relationship from going down a dangerous path of resentment and contempt.  

Warmly and with support,

Renee

 

5 THINGS YOUR PARTNER WANTS TO HEAR FROM YOU, BUT WON’T ADMIT IT

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1.)  I ACCEPT YOU AS YOU ARE, NO MATTER WHAT

Nothing makes your partner feel closer to you than hearing they are loved by you just as they are.  How often have we all felt unlovable in moments when we don’t feel our best?  Knowing we have a partner that has our back and supports us through our highs and lows helps us to start believing in ourselves again.

Does this mean accepting all behavior from your partner all the time?  Of course not.  However, accepting them at their core, believing in them and expressing to them the things you love and admire about them is always ok.  In fact, by doing this it will help your partner feel safe, loved and closer to you.

2.)  YOU ARE MY PRIORITY

It’s crucial to make your partner feel important on a daily basis if you want the relationship to last.  Daily gestures such as asking how their day went, show interest in their hopes, dreams and passions, showing affection with a hug and kiss helps our partner feel that they matter.  Also, life sometimes throws us curveballs and sometimes we need a helping hand or someone to vent our frustrations to.  Listening to your partner non-judgmentally and offering a helping hand can help your partner feel supported and reassured that, when push comes to shove, you will be there for them. 

3.)  I RESPECT YOU

Even the best relationships have conflict and encounter adversity. When we have respect for our partner, and they feel that respect, it makes getting through those difficult moments immeasurably easier.  It is important to validate your partners perspective, even if you don’t agree with it, and work through conflicts using thoughtful, respectful and empathic language.  Small daily gestures of letting your partner know when you are running late, apologizing when you know you were in the wrong and taking in your partner’s feedback when they express their needs tells them you respect them, their time and what they contribute to the relationship. 

4.)  WE WILL FIGURE IT OUT TOGETHER

No one has to go it alone, especially in a relationship or marriage and the couples that have staying power work together as a team.  Why?  Well, two heads are always better than one when it comes to tackling an issue or a problem.  Also, by working on it together, it prevents your partner from feeling disconnected or lonely.  Bonus feature, it also prevents toxic feelings of resentment from building between the two of you in the long-term.  Figure out ways that you can tackle the issue together, assign tasks you each can complete and have patience if it doesn’t go right the first time.

5.)  I LOVE YOU

Yes, even when you are angry.  I remember when a girlfriend of mine told me that she tells her husband, “I love you, I just don’t love what you are doing right now.” Saying “I love you” can restore faith in your partner that the relationship has not completely collapsed after an argument and can give a sense of security.  Often we can say we love our partner even when their behavior is rubbing us the wrong way.  Saying “I love you” can also be a way to express, well….love.  Some couples make it a ritual to say they love each other before falling asleep every night.  The key to all of it is, the expression of your love should be genuine and authentic to you.  Express it so your partner knows they are loved and lovable, which is a wonderful and profound feeling.

 

 

6 HOURS A WEEK TO A BETTER RELATIONSHIP

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One of the most common things I hear my couples express is not having a enough time together just the two of them.  With our incredibly busy schedules with work, kids, time spent in traffic, time with family/friends, etc…prioritizing time with your partner can easily fall by the wayside. 

More importantly, couples I see often don’t realize the importance of setting aside time each week to connect and communicate. By the time couples come into my office, they are filled with resentment and frustration towards their partner without realizing they need to put in the time in order to keep their partnership happier and more fulfilling. 

Dr. John Gottman, the quintessential leader in research on couples and making love last, has a prescription for a better marriage: devote 6 hours a week for you and your partner.

According to his research, this leads to more positive interactions, a feeling of more connectedness and a significant decrease in toxic feelings of resentment towards our partner.

Here are what successful couples do on a regular basis that greatly improve the quality of their marriage/partnership:

DATE NIGHT:

I know. It sounds cliché.  However, this one is important.  It is easy for couples to fall into talking about the day-to-day issues and shared responsibilities (house, chores, expenses, kids, you name it).   Take time to go out to dinner just the two of you and ask open-ended questions such as “If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?”  “What do you want to accomplish over the next year in your career?”  “What was your favorite thing you did today?”

Most importantly, relax and enjoy one another’s company. And, if you can, keep stressful topics off limits.

EXPRESS APPRECIATION:

There cannot be a simpler yet more impactful phrase than “Thank you.”  Even small interactions throughout the week can add up to a lot and cultivates a culture of appreciation and respect. 

Think of how we are with friends and co-workers, we often don’t think twice about thanking them when they offer help or pitch in.  Provide the same courtesy to your partner in a genuine and thoughtful way.   Doing this creates a significant impact to your relationship with minimal time and effort.

STATE OF THE UNION CONVERSATIONS:

This one is vital and can prevent toxic resentment in your relationship.  Create a dedicated space to discuss conflict where you can express worries, concerns, times when you felt upset or triggered or times when you felt your needs were not met.

By doing this once/week, you create a built-in mechanism for airing out any issues that have come up in your relationship.  I go with the adage: communicate early, communicate often! 

Of course, there are a few groundrules.  As the speaker, use gentle start-ups that avoid triggering your partner. Use “I” statements and try to avoid "you" statements, as this can come across as blaming. As the listener, try to truly understand what your partner is saying without judgment. If you get defensive or flooded, take a 20-minute break and return to the conversation.

Start by talking about what has gone well in your relationship since the last meeting. Next, give each other five appreciations you haven’t yet expressed. Try to be specific and include examples. Now, discuss any issues that may have arisen in the relationship. To make the conversation effective, take turns being the speaker and the listener.  I would recommend repeating back what you heard your partner express to ensure understanding.

After both partners feel understood and heard by each other, identify what the problem is and, if you can, work on a mutually-agreed upon solution.

At the end of the conversation, each partner needs to ask and answer, “What can I do to make you feel loved this coming week?”

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By incorporating these items into your weekly routine, you provide your relationship the time and attention it needs to thrive!

Warmly,

Renee