Archive | Relationships

The New Epidemic: L.O.N.E.L.Y.

July/August 2017

lone·ly [lohn-lee]
The discrepancy between what you want from relationships and what you feel you get

The truth is — we’re all somewhat scared of loneliness to varying degrees:

  • of being alone
  • of being left out
  • of not being loved
  • of not being included
  • of not being needed
  • of being left behind
  • of not being cared about
  • of being rejected or abandoned

Lonely strikes a chord of fear in all of us even if we don’t admit it.

What’s shocking is the increased prevalence of chronic loneliness. John Cacioppo, director and researcher at the University of Chicago, studies loneliness and his most recent study indicates “lonely” has reached toxic levels with 2 out of every 5 people stating that is a common feeling for them.

Why?
We aren’t as closely bound. We no longer live in multi-generational villages with grandparents, cousins and aunts/uncles living in the same house or 3 blocks away. Instead, parents/grandparents live in nursing homes and grown children live 3 states away.

Divorce numbers are high – so more families are disjointed and disorganized.

Companies are less loyal and no longer provide the stability of a life-long job. Losing a job or constantly moving for career opportunities creates a feeling of not belonging.

Relationships are transient….20% of the population moves each year. Therefore, neighborhoods, communities, church groups and work groups are constantly in flux.

The Internet creates an effortless opportunity to know more people without actually needing to “know them.” Sherry Turkle, Professor at MIT states that the Internet creates an illusion of “friendship without the demands of companionship.”

What’s the Cure for Lonely?
(1) Admit it
(2) Realize that the loss of close friends/connections is normal
(3) Do something to rebuild it

I would challenge anyone who is struggling with loneliness to pick up, Friendships Don’t Just Happen by Shasta Nelson. Even though it is written for women — men can gleam a lot of wisdom from the author’s ideas

Shasta smashes the myth that we should wait for friendship to happen to us and she normalizes the fact that friends come and go.

The author confidently states that friendships that ward off “lonely” have 2 endearing qualities; (1) deeper levels of intimacy and (2) consistency.

She has us remember times when we easily gained new friends; at recess on the playground, neighborhood kids who were always ready to play, girl scouts, high school sports teams, college dorm friends, sorority sisters and study buddies. Shasta states, “Repetitive time together is what happened automatically back then, not friendships. There’s a difference.”

That ebb and flow of friendships is normal. If we try to pretend that our friendships are close, frequent and fulfilling when they are actually shallow, sparse or 1-sided — then lonely sets in.

“I need friends” is not an admittance of failure — it’s an admittance of the truth that friendships change and we need to do something to nourish ourselves.

Shasta provides great tools to assess the strength/weakness of current connections and provides a hands-on approach to make the needed shifts. She uses a tool called the 5 Circles of Connectedness to help you see and categorize your current friends/connections based on the (1) level of intimacy and (2) consistency.

From there, you can gain awareness as to what’s lacking in your current friendships — either intimacy and/or consistency. And, put together a simple plan to fill in the gaps.

Friendships Don’t Just Happen lays out a simple, brilliant and executable concept to admit loneliness, embrace its message and then do something about it.

A SPECIAL NOTE ABOUT THE ELDERLY & LONELY:

Having lived with my 93-year old mother the last year of her life — I understand the loneliness that is unique to the very old.  They don’t have the same vigor or ability to maintain connections, having lost friends to illness and death over the years, as well as losing the simple freedom to drive. 

The elderly often feel “who would want to be friends with an old person.”  Yet, they still crave connection because they are still humans beings.

My message around that — take yourself into the life of someone who is old and provide them consistency and the ability to be heard.  Sit with them and listen.  Cry with them — laugh with them.  Be someone who offers them a smile at their story.  Be their window to the world.   Be present … with kind eyes and big ears.  

I’ve been doing that for the last year.  My new and special friend is Agnes — she’s 96.  I see her 3-4 times a week.  Agnes tells me stories about her life and asks me to tell stories about mine.  

Agnes is a faith-filled woman who tears up when she talks about her “big day” — the day when she dies and meets God. She asks me, with a bit of trepidation in her voice, if I’ll pray for her.  I smile, hold her hand, look her in the eyes and respond, “For the rest of my life, I’ll pray for you.”  She smiles lovingly and responds back, “And I’ll pray for you, my friend.”

Anyone who says, “old people have nothing to give” …. has never met Agnes.  

Continue Reading

Shame Sucks the Life Out of Relationships

February 2017

If you don’t know what shame is – spend 20 minutes on Facebook or reviewing the reader’s comments to any news story.  People shame others by; name-calling, negative labels, sarcasm, ridiculing, shunning and expressing disgust.  Shame sends the message – YOU are stupid, defective and unworthy– and you deserve to be ostracized, persecuted and rejected.

Brene Brown, the most well-known researcher and author on shame, explains; “Shame is the intense painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.”

Self-loathing becomes an identity statement: I’m stupid. Nobody loves me.  I’m a failure. I’m not good enough. I’m a mistake.  People see me as an idiot.  There’s something wrong with me.  I’m bad.  I’m a fraud.  If people knew me – they wouldn’t like me.

Shame in Childhood 
The first time most people experience shame is childhood. Typically, shame is used by parents, teachers or coaches to keep children in line with the rules of the school, society or the family. After a child is shamed, they will either: (1) use shame as a bullying weapon against their peers and classmates and/or (2) self-shame themselves.  Children who get into a lot of fights or bully other children are often heavily shamed at home.

Shame in Adulthood
Offra Gerstein, Ph.D., explains why adults use shame: “The most common reason why people shame others is to quell their own feelings of hurt, annoyance, irritation, insecurity or displeasure. The attack is a way to feel empowered by disempowering.”

Jane Middelton-Moz, Ph.D., author of Shame & Guilt: Masters of Disguise observes the following:

  • Adults shamed as children fear exposure of their flaws.
  • Adults shamed as children may appear grandiose/narcissistic/self-centered or seem selfless.
  • Adults shamed as children frequently blame others before they can be blamed.
  • Adults shamed as children may suffer from debilitating, “It’s my fault.” These individuals apologize constantly. They absorb responsibility for the feelings of those around them.
  • Adults shamed as children feel they must do things perfectly or not at all. This internalized belief frequently leads to performance anxiety and procrastination.
  • Adults shamed as children block their feelings of shame through compulsive/excessive behaviors; drinking, exercise, workaholism, eating disorders, shopping, substance-abuse or gambling.
  • Adults shamed as children build false boundaries through walls, rage, people pleasing or isolation.

What to do:

  • Notice if there’s one person in particular who makes you feel bad.  Listen carefully to the way they speak to you. Counter their negativity with healthy self-talk: “That negativity belongs to them – it’s not mine to keep.”
  • Set healthy boundary with the person who consistently shames you.   Speak firmly and in a calm voice, “I’m asking you to stop speaking that way to me.  You’re tearing me down. I will stop you or leave if you continue.”  Then take the action, if they continue.
  • STOP negative self-talk. Own that it belongs to you – and calm it:  “No, he is not saying I’m stupid – my boss merely pointed out that I had a typo in my presentation.  And, he’s right – I did make a mistake.  I’m human.  I’m not stupid.”
  • Surround yourself with healthy people who are both honest and kind.  Supportive friends, family or trusted acquaintances are a great reality check of your self-perception and negative shaming statements that are not true.
  • Distance yourself from people, places, things that exude negativity: Facebook, the news, tweets, discussion boards, gossipy friends, pot-stirring co-workers, nosey neighbors and family members who put you down and then say, “I was only kidding!  You’re too sensitive.”
Finally, if you ever see a child being shamed, teased or bullied — step in to stop it immediately.  Notify their parents, the parents of the children who are bullying and the teachers.
You never know — you may have just changed the course of that child’s life.
Continue Reading

After the Affair – Now What?

November 2016

affair  noun  af·fair \ə-ˈfer\

That is a gut-wrenching word that no married person wants associated with their own marriage.

How many people cheat?  That’s a difficult number to pinpoint yet studies indicate roughly 35% of women and 50+% of men have at least 1 affair during their marriage.  Ruth Houston (founder of InfidelityAdvice.com) cites that 1 in every 3 couples will be affected by an affair.

The #1 setting for affairs to emerge — the workplace.

Dr. Shirley Glass (author of Not Just Friends) gives a clear definition of cheating:
Infidelity is any emotional or sexual intimacy that violates trust.

Research shows there are distinct stages to an affair:
1) Emotional bond (talking, texting, sharing stories),
2) Secrets/Lies in order to protect and guard the relationship
3) Courtship and Dates (meeting for coffee, playing golf, walks in the park, taking a drive together)
4) Sexual connection

Not all affairs progress to sexual intimacy and not all affairs include an emotional bond.  All affairs do wound.

When working with couples, I refer to an affair as (1) toxic and destructive and (2) a formidable catalyst for change.  That change unfolds when they both choose to work on the marriage or at least begin the journey together to see what’s left of the marriage.

After the Affair is Discovered
It’s common that the betrayed partner demands to know everything and gives directives that the affair must stop – as he/she cycles through feelings of hurt, anger, rejection, abandonment, betrayal, confusion and disbelief.

The unfaithful partner also experiences great depths of suffering.  They experience pain and shame (for what they did and/or for getting caught).  They might feel trapped under the weight of ultimatums to choose between the betrayed partner and the affair partner.  They can be overwhelmed trying to navigate their own feelings along with others who know about the affair, including their children.

Step One: Stop the Affair & Share
Recovery takes time and is similar to any natural disaster – what happens immediately after the discovery of the affair is key.

In my office I say, “All walls must turn to windows – what was hidden must be seen.”  What does that mean?  All contact between the unfaithful partner and affair partner – must stop.  No new lies or secrets can occur.

This is an essential building block.  Without it, the betrayed partner cannot move forward.

Stephen Judah Ph.D. (author of Staying Together When an Affair Pulls You Apart) outlines the essential information that should be shared:

  • Who
  • What happened (in general terms)
  • When
  • Where (especially if anything happened on sacred turf)
  • Current status (terminated or still going on)
  • Who else knows

It is common for the betrayed partner to want to know specific details related to the sexual acts and performance comparisons.  No — this topic needs to be taken off the table.  What is heard can never be unheard.  Sorid details can push the affair partner into new lies and ignite new pain for the betrayed partner.

A key component to life after an affair is to seek professional help in the recovery process — even if the journey is moving toward divorce.

BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • Not Just Friends by Shirley Glass, Ph.D.
  • Staying Together When an Affair Pulls You Apart by Stephen Judah, Ph.D
  • Private Lies by Frank Pittman, M.D.
  • Love Must Be Tough by James Dobson, Ph.D
Continue Reading

3 Tips to Detox Relationships

JULY 2016

Tip 1: Identify your Side of the Street

You can’t change their side of the street.  That’s why it’s so important to understand how you navigate conflict and to fully own where you fall short.

Here are 3 very common patterns that people tend to lean into that don’t work:

  1. Amp-up with anger, irritation or frustration.  This includes the use of any of the following: strong words, loud voice, sarcasm, blunt, verbal attack, threats, physical gestures or blame
  2. Amp-down by emotionally shutting down.  This includes: not verbalizing what you are thinking, holding in anger/irritation, thinking it’s best to say nothing rather than stir up conflict, feeling hurt but not expressing it or pretending that everything is “just fine”.
  3. Amp-down by physically withdrawing.  This is simply leaving the room/conversation to go somewhere else (e.g. the other room, for a drive, the gym, a friend’s house).

People who have an “amp-down” style of communication feel good that they never fight.  The reality is you don’t resolve conflict … you avoid it. People who have an “amp-up” style believe the bigger energy helps them to be heard.  It actually has the opposite effect

Tip 2: Change your Side of the Street
Now that you have some clarity as to what you’re doing to hurt the relationship — it’s time to start speaking for what you want to change. The goal in healthy relationships is knowing how to navigate conflict which includes boundaries and crystal clear communication.

Express feelings with short and direct requests with 1-2 sentences with a calm, compassionate voice. Drop any language that is blunt, laden with blame or sarcastic. It might sound like this:

  • “It hurts when you criticize me. I need you to stop.”
  • “Lower your voice.  I want to hear you – and I can’t when you’re loud.”
  • “I’m not ok with your drinking.  I love you and I’m asking you to make a change.”
  • “I withdraw when you snap at me.  That needs to stop.”
  • “I want to hear your point of view and I want you to hear mine. I don’t feel heard when you talk over me.”

Tip 3: Fill Your Love Tank
Many relationships fail not because people don’t put in the effort but because people express their love in the “wrong” way.

The Five Love Languages, a NY Times Best Seller, by Gary Chapman clearly explains that each of us has a primary love language.  When you speak the right language to those you love — it fills up their “love tank”.   They feel more connected and loved by you.  And, it provides to you an easy way to ask for more love and connection.

Here are the 5 Love Languages, as developed by Dr. Chapman:

  1. Physical Touch:  A person whose primary language is touch loves non-sexual contact including; hugs, pats on the back, holding hands, and thoughtful touches on the arm, shoulder, or face.
  2. Acts of Service:  Can wiping down the kitchen countertop be taken as, “I love you?”  Yes! A person with this love language feels loved when people do things for them.
  3. Gifts:  This is not about the monetary value of the gift.  Those with this love language thrive on the thoughtfulness, surprise and effort behind the gift.
  4. Quality Time: For these people, nothing says, “I love you” like full, undivided attention. Being “fully present” for the person with this love language is critical which means no TV, computer or chores to distract.
  5. Words of Affirmation:  Actions don’t always speak louder than words. People with this love language, relish in compliments and affirmative phrases.
Read The 5 Love Languages and pay attention to ALL your relationships — spouse, partner, children, family and friends.  Which relationships fill your love tank and which do not?
If you have relationships that are not working — do something.
Nothing changes if nothing changes
Continue Reading

FOMO: Fear of Missing Out

JUNE 2016

FOMO
Pronunciation: /ˈfōmō/
Anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on social media.

This word/acronym is new.  It was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013 to describe the social angst tied to the usage of social media and electronics.

The anxiety that “others have a better life” has always been somewhat common among 20-somethings as they find their feet in this world as an adult.  They hear of their classmates landing exciting jobs in flashy organizations and can feel overwhelmed as they focus on their college debt and wanting-it-all-right-now.   Facebook and other social media amplifies that feeling – “you’re not doing as well as others”.

The social angst of “missing out on something” also hits 30/40-somethings that believe they should have it all together.  They embrace the fairy tale story woven through Facebook that others are rich, happily married and quite successful. They might notice a sinking feeling inside as they view the in-your-face affluence of a high-school friend, who posts a dozen pictures of her Hawaii vacation.

Even 50/60-somethings experience intensified feelings of inadequacy, regret in relationships and disappointment in fading career choices.  Looking through the lens of social media, it’s easy to say, “Look at Ben enjoying retirement — I should have taken that Federal job when I had the chance.  And, Sara’s grandchildren visit her often — mine don’t.”

Even those in the workforce who have a company phone or Blackberry might notice they regularly check their work email in the evening and/or weekends.  This is another form of FOMO.  The Fear of Missing Out in the workplace has underpinnings of anxiety (such as fear of failure or fear of being judged/criticized).   This type of FOMO drives people to be “attached to work” through their electronics, even though they are supposed to be off work and enjoying work-life balance.

Popular writer on psychology and technology, Nir Eyal (author of  “Hooked”), states that it’s important to remember that the feeling of FOMO is common and not unusual.  Nir offers these tips:
•    Delete social media apps from your mobile device. It is not as radical as quitting Facebook altogether but is a quick and relatively easy way to reduce social media use when you are away from the computer.
•    Take a hiatus from social media. Try staying offline for a day, a week, or maybe even a month. Examples abound of people cutting themselves off and waking up to the wonders of the real world.

My suggestions to clients include:
•    Create a written gratitude list (with pen and paper) to remind yourself of the good things in your life.
•    Focus on what you want from life and begin to live your life more fully, in ways that are important to you (not others).  I found the book, “Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren a game-changer for me in my early 40’s.
•    Have a basket by the front door — any work-related devices get placed in it upon arriving home for the evening.  It’s a great place for personal devices too during family dinners and social gatherings.
•    Develop a gentle mantra as you use Facebook, “This is not an accurate representation of reality” – so that you can relish in the good things happening to others while not robbing yourself of peace or contentment.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

― Theodore Roosevelt

Continue Reading

Let Go of Stress * Let Go of a Grudge

May 2016

grudge
Noun grəj/
: a persistent feeling of ill will or resentment resulting from a past insult or injury

Grudges impact you negatively — physically, emotionally, spiritually.

Joseph Neumann PhD, who has researched the relationship between grudge-holding and heart disease, reports, “When I treat patients with heart disease, I am struck by how many are bitter, angry, resentful and depressed.”  He went on to say, “Holding onto grudges and resentment affects their health and their ability to heal.”

Grudge-Holding Impacts Stress Levels:

  • Bitterness – Loneliness – Anger – Depression – Anxiety
  • Tough to enjoy new experiences
  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Feeling misunderstood
  • Negativity that takes up a lot of room
  • Consumed with revenge and punishment
  • Difficult to build new relationships
  • Perpetual energy drain to hold onto “I’ll never let this go”

forgive
Verb for-give
: to stop feeling anger toward someone who has done wrong
: to stop blaming

Here’s the truth about holding a grudge – it hurts you – not the other person.

Resentment is like swallowing
poison and waiting for
the other person to die.

Forgiveness is a process – it’s not an on-off switch.

  • Acknowledge that you hold a grudge and set an agreement with yourself that you want to begin the process of letting it go
  • Reflect upon the benefits of forgiveness for you (not the other person).  Do I want that person to have so much power in my life today?  What would it would feel like to not have that rock of hardness in my heart? 
  • Connect to a spirit of forgiveness and acceptance through:
    • Books:  Two of my favorite authors are Dr. Wayne Dyer “Living An Inspired Life” and Catholic author, Father Jacques Philippe “Interior Freedom”.
    • Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.”
    • Visualization:  Feel the anger and resentment in your body.  Now, picture yourself in a beautiful setting in nature (on top of a mountain – by the ocean – in a sunny meadow).  In that place of beauty, breathe in kindness and forgiveness.  Breathe out anger, resentment, vindictiveness and hurt.  You can ask God or angels or a divine light to help you release the negativity and take in a refreshed, forgiving spirit.

Very often we feel restricted in our situation, our family, or our surroundings.  But maybe the real problem lies elsewhere…in our hearts.
Fr. Jacques Phillippe, Catholic Author – “Interior Freedom”

Continue Reading

Does Your Mouth Have a Mind of Its Own?

March 2016

What comes out of your mouth in relationships with those you love?  Do you use sarcasm, placating, bluntness, anger, explaining, silence, name-calling or do you give a perpetual apology? Perhaps you use passive-aggressive gestures that speak volumes … such as rolling of the eyes, slamming of a door or shaking your head.

Understand Relational Pain from your Brain’s Perspective
If you believe that “the past is the past” and it doesn’t impact you today — that’s coming from a very logical/rational area of your brain.  The amygdala controls and rules over your emotions — and it doesn’t believe that the past is the past.

The amygdala is part of the limbic system within your brain.  You have two small amygdala — they are the shape and size of an almond.  They are the powerhouse that stores painful memories and feelings from the past.  Much of it is in your unconscious.

Your responses (anger, irritation, frustration) become fused together with certain emotions (sad, alone, hurt, rejected, hopeless) within the amygdala. When you are hurt today — the amygdala attaches meaning on your hurt of today based on your hurts of the past.

The speed at which the amygdala processes is 5-6 times faster than your logical, rational thoughts.  Anger, irritation, frustration, blame, placating and silencing yourself … kick into gear before the logical portion of your brain even knows there’s a problem.

When you have been hurt or disappointed by people throughout your life (mom, dad, sibling rivalry/teasing, childhood friends, grade-school bullies, high school sweethearts, insensitive teachers/coaches, previous divorce/affairs), the amygdala stores those smells, sights, sounds, tastes, feelings to that painful memory and person.

When you automatically and repeatedly use the same responses over and over — you might begin to see the negative impact on your relationships:

  • Pulling away from your spouse increases the feelings of hurt/alone and rejection.
  • Moving toward your partner with defensiveness or irritation destroys relational connection, increases relational ache and drives loved ones away.
  • Drawing closer by appeasing/placating, solidifies your feelings of not being heard  and can boom-a-rang back at you since your partner doesn’t ever really know what you need.
  • Putting up walls guarantees your relational needs won’t be met and increases your own feelings of being alone, hurt and misunderstood.
  • Seeking out comfort from another person (friend or lover) to soothe your feelings – robs you from repairing the relationship with your loved one and feeds the relational sickness.

The Solution
Awareness of how you respond is the first step to changing it.  It means slowing everything down when you begin to experience a strong reaction (irritation, frustration, “not this again!”, shut down).  By slowing yourself down, you allow time for your logical/rational brain to catch up and realize that you have more choices in how to respond in that moment.

Giving your partner the same response over and over — puts your relationship on a perpetual merry-go-round that feeds the downward spiral.

A different response from you — gives a greater chance for a different response from them.

Easy?  No.  Worth it?  Yes.

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

~Albert Einstein

Continue Reading

When Friendship Crosses the Line

February 2016

The shocking news of the Ashley Madison data breach last year put a spotlight on the hush-hush fact that millions of married people think that an affair will make them happy.

Most people understand that a sexual affair is a serious breach in a relationship.  Fewer people realize that an emotional affair is just as harmful.

Emotional affairs are insidious because: (1) they are often a slow process that begins as friendship and (2) they are equally as damaging as a sexual affair.   It can catch people by surprise because they don’t realize they have entered the deep waters of an emotional affair until it has crossed the line.

What exactly is an emotional affair?  It’s an affair of the heart that doesn’t include sex. A good litmus test: “Would I say/act the same way with my friend if my spouse were here?”

Platonic friendships can lead to an emotional affair. Emotional affairs can lead to sexual ones. The best time to stop infidelity is before it happens.

Notice the Bright Yellow Flags
You have a special friend and you experience  2+ of these …
o    Share personal information about your marriage
o    Feel good that they “get you”
o    Hold private jokes and secret meanings with your friend
o    Engage in innocent flirting
o    Turn to your friend for validation and support
o    Compare your spouse to your friend
o    Feel “alive” with your friend
o    Attack your spouse if they question the friendship
o    Share with your friend so you don’t “burden” your spouse
o    Talk about what’s missing in your marriage (and theirs)
o    Think of your friend often

Stop! Re-Turn Toward your Spouse 
What is an emotional need? It is a craving that when met, results in feelings of closeness, specialness, happiness and/or connection.  When unsatisfied, you feel frustrated, alone, resentful, devalued, misunderstood and/or unloved.

What should you do when you realize that you are experiencing a disconnection from your spouse and getting your needs met by someone else?  If you care about your marriage and your spouse – disconnect from your friend.

Then, make time to talk about what is going on for you with your spouse. The longer the problem is ignored the greater the damage to the marriage.  Speak for your needs – your feelings – and invite your spouse to journey back to a place of connection with you.  Admit your fault – ask for forgiveness – and express your desire for the relationship to be better.

If you are concerned your spouse is having an emotional affair, speak to them for what you feel. Share your discomfort.  Be honest as to what you are missing in the marriage – closeness, connection, physical touch, time together, communication.  Then, ask what they need from you.

Stay away from attacking or accusing your spouse – open your heart, feel the tenderness and speak from a place of love.

“The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.”

~Audrey Hepburn

Continue Reading

How to Talk About Anything with Anybody

December 2015

  1. Create a safe, trusting space. First, check your emotions. If you are angry, disappointed or afraid, the person will either mirror your emotions or shut down. Remember why this relationship is important to you and choose to feel curious, compassionate, caring, respectful, and/or hopeful. Then consider how a change will help both of you.
  2. Ask for permission. “Open the door before you walk in” by asking the person if he or she would be willing to resolve a problem that is having an impact on your relationship. If the person hesitates, sincerely share why the relationship is important to you and ask if there is a better time to talk.
  3. Start by describing your perspective. Once the person says yes to your request, be specific when describing what behavior you witnessed and what words you thought the person said. Own your observation; share only what you believe you saw or heard.
  4. Describe the impact on you. Describe how you felt when the person did or said something that affected you. Were you hurt, embarrassed, surprised, or disappointed? Speak in “I” statements. Do not blame the person or speculate why he or she behaved that way. Simply state what you experienced.
  5. When the person responds, listen. Do not interrupt or defend yourself. Let the person give you his or her perception and reasons. Steps for listening:- Stay 100% engaged with positive, respectful attention on the person while they are speaking.

    – Release “knowing” what the person is going to share. Be curious.

    – Refrain from formulating what you want to say next while the person is talking. Maintain soft eye contact.

    – Notice when you want to admonish, criticize, inform, defend or give your retort. Calm these urges.

    – Wait until the person is finished before you speak. Then acknowledge what you heard and ask them if you’ve got it right.

  6. Suggest a way forward. This is your chance to ask for what you need the next time. What could the person do that would make you feel respected, acknowledged or loved? Be brief and specific. Ask what you could do differently that would be helpful for them.
  7. End on a positive note. Thank the person for agreeing to talk. Acknowledge what went well in the conversation and its importance to you.
Continue Reading

Let’s Talk About Happily-Ever-After

October 2015

There is a typical laundry list of factors that lead to divorce (loss of communication, inability to connect, feeling unloved, feeling misunderstood, etc.). With the high rate of divorce — the smartest thing that couples can do is to seek counseling before they say “I do.”

Some studies suggest that couples who engage in pre-marital counseling have lower divorce rates.  The willingness to work on your relationship when you are still courting indicates a high probability that you will continue that work throughout the marriage.  And, to have clear conversations about basics such as money, sex and children relieves a lot of pressure as you head into marriage.

I often ask the question to couples, “What’s the elephant in the room?”  Or, “What gets pushed under the rug and not talked about?”  That almost always opens up a tender subject.

I see how beneficial it is for couples to deal with problems early – before it morphs into the Great Wall of China.  Why? Because the unhealthy patterns aren’t yet set in concrete.

After marriage, many couples settle into life and deal ineffectively with their problems which leads to consistent collapse in communication, absence of sexual relations or lack of quality time together. These relationships can typically be salvaged — with hard work by the couple.

As a therapist, I can say that the earlier a couple starts therapy, the better the prognosis for the health of the relationship.

The point is simple — couples counseling is a smart decision.

It might feel intimidating to think about expressing your pent-up anger, frustration and resentments.  Although, it is the expression of these feelings in a structured context that actually allows two people to deal with them and begin getting back on track.

What can you expect out of Relationship Counseling?

1) Strengthen Communication Skills: Being able to effectively listen, truly hear and validate the other’s position is a skill that few people possess. Couples that communicate well can discuss and resolve issues when they arise more effectively. Good listening and speaking skills include feeling prioritized, heard, validated and loved in the relationship.
How often am I formulating my defense or retreat or comeback or poison arrow — when my loved one is attacking or withdrawing?

2) Explore Relationship Balance: How much attention is paid to the “you,” “me” and “we” of the relationship?  Couples who are out of balance can struggle with a number of issues. It’s important to identify whether you’re both satisfied with your relationship balance – or you might need to make a few adjustments.
Do I feel there’s a sense of equality and power balance in my relationship?

3) Identify Problematic Family of Origin Issues:  People learn much of how to “be in a relationship” from parents and other early influences. If one partner (or both) experienced unhealthy examples from role models, it is helpful to explore that in regards to how it plays out in the relationship.
How was conflict handled in my childhood home and what did I learn about making an apology?

Let us pray for peace, and let us bring it about,
starting in our own homes.
 ~ Pope Francis

Continue Reading