It can be difficult to tell when you need outside help in your relationship. Relationships go through phases just like people and sometimes the stress we feel is simply a point of growth. However, when the stress or issue begins to inhibit growth and linger, it’s important to tend to the issue. Also if these behaviors or interactions occur for a long period of time or become primary ways of coping in the relationship they are red flags.
- You stop talking and start avoiding: Is there a topic you can no longer discuss because both of you get to mad or hurt? Is there a topic that you have discussed at great length with no resolution or understanding? When both partners begin giving up on finding understanding, it is an issue. It can be beneficial to have a professional guide you two to better understanding of one another instead of just avoiding.
- Withholding affection or stonewalling: when one or both partners participate in this behavior it is dooming the relationship. The good news is it’s just a coping skill, with therapy you can find more productive ways to move through issues.
- Keeping secrets: It doesn’t matter if they are financial, emotional, or any other type of secret, keeping secrets in a long term relationship doesn’t work.
- If you feel like the only problem is your partner. That isn’t how relationships work. It takes two people to build a relationship and chances are your behavior or attitude could be fueling what you don’t like in your partner. Keeping yourself stuck in the victim seat only prevents both of you from growing together building the life you do want.
- When one or both of you can no longer lighten up once in a while. When the topics or issues being avoided or the pattern that gets you two no where is so large you are no longer having date nights or having a good time together that’s when it is time to see a professional. Relationships need care and attention to survive.
Problems in your most important and intimate relationship is scary and isolating. It can feel like no one understands and there is no one to talk to.
Here are some triage steps to reducing damage and getting your relationship back on track:
- Stop the damage: Is there a topic that sets off the same argument? Is there a predictable negative interaction pattern that you can see? Does the problem appear unsolvable to one or both of you? These are excellent indicators to try doing something different. Try saying to your partner, “I feel like this topic always leads to an argument, can we put it aside until we have help with it?” or “I can see you are getting really upset with me, can we take a 20-30 minute time out to cool off?” Be sure to validate that you are both upset/hurt/angry, DO NOT MINIMIZE or ignore, simply state your desire for change and to not hurt one another more.
- Make time for the relationship: It is very common for couples to sense the stress in the relationship and begin to avoid the stress by avoiding one another. Often this leads one or both parties to begin to write a story in their minds about the relationship. These stories often sound like, “maybe I am better off on my own”, “all he does is avoid me”, “she has given up on me and this relationship”, or worse, “he/she did all this on purpose.” These narratives are built from only one side of the relationship and are rarely accurate. Make time to check in with one another and be curious, “what were your intentions?”, “how would you have preferred that argument to go?”, “what did you mean when you said ______?”
- Find a therapist or counselor who specializes in couples therapy. Many therapists are trained in their graduate programs to do couples work but that does not make a specialty. A therapist who specializes will work primarily with couples, attend ongoing training in couples therapy, and have confidence about how to approach your particular issue. Many therapists and counselors offer free consultations. At least talk on the phone with the therapist to get a sense of what they have to offer and how often they work with a couple.
For the past year it seems headline after headline reminds me of the importance of community. From the circus of a presidential election to a harsh hurricane season when I read the news Monday about Las Vegas, it was too much. I find myself attempting to learn as many facts in a short scan of the news and then needing a break from it.
It is important to remember flashy news headlines can be addictive. They make us feel under threat and rope us in. And now with social media broadcasting many of the same news stories, it is hard to get away from it.
My true hope is that you can dig deep into your community. Make eye contact and genuinely ask your neighbor, “How are you today?” Take a pause and thank the people you interact with throughout the day. Make plans with friends and family. Play games with your children. Take a break from media. For example, Michael and I quit watching/reading any news or social media after 6pm every day. This gives us a full 12-13 hour break each day. Go for a fall walk with a hot cup of tea.
Be in touch with your humanity.
Media is fear based. Fear sells things and makes people feel isolated.
The only antidote is to be in touch with your humanity and to love the wonderful people in your life.
The theme of my week has been the importance of showing up. In a world where with the click of a mouse and/or the swipe of a debit card we can send condolences, comfort, and pseudo connection I’ve been struck by the power of showing up. No one can read your mind and often our intentions are assumed by others. By showing up we communicate our thoughts and intent clearly.
Here are some ideas of how to show up in your life for those most important to you:
Take flowers to someone
Say thank you in person
Look people in the eye
Compliment what you admire
Shake someone’s hand
If you love them, say it! Again and again.
When you feel the urge to say just about anything to make someone feel better; hug them instead.
Hold your loved ones hand
Be patient with emotion. Feelings come and go but some linger… that’s ok.
Human interaction truly matters. Don’t let the digital world fool you into thinking otherwise.
Couples therapy can look different from couple to couple and I have been working on finding the key ingredients. Those components that seem to help every couple at every stage of their relationship.
Meaning making appears to be one of those key ingredients. We all do it from the time we wake up until we go to sleep. As human beings we don’t just take in facts and observations we make meaning from that information. Sometimes this is totally unconscious. For example, this was the first frosty morning here in Bend Oregon. For some people the first frost is a sign that summer is gone. For me it means ski season is closer!
Perhaps the best question to ask your partner when you don’t feel you are seeing eye to eye is, “What does that mean to you?”
“I hear there is a lot of change for you at work lately, what does that mean to you?”
“When I got upset yesterday, what did that mean to you?”
“When we couldn’t agree last night and went to bed upset, what did that mean to you?”
Look for ways to understand your partners experience and you will discover no matter how long you have been together there is so much you don’t know.
Perhaps it is backlash for all of the participation trophies and unfounded praise our culture is accustom to offering children these days but I have never heard children described in terms of their deficits so often.
It seems my work with children and their families commonly begins with uniting all of the deficits from the child. In the past it seemed parents would reflect, “it feels like he isn’t listening to me” but that has morphed to “how do I get my ADHD child to listen to me.”
Maybe the internet has turned us all into diagnosticians or maybe the school system has become the leading authority on your child and their behavior.
Either way, my dream as a family therapist is that parents would return to seeing their children as human beings on a complex journey of maturing and not a list of abilities and deficits.
To be honest, I am just as surprised as you.
There is a part of me that has been trained by our society to believe that there is no way something I enjoy so much could benefit the world. Isn’t work supposed to be dull and mundane?
Long ago when I graduated with my masters degree in marriage and family therapy and Michael started his, we had hoped one day to work together. At that time, we thought working together in our own private practice built on our convictions was the dream.
Instead, over the last year we have found our calling.
Working with couples together.
I am intentional about naming it a “calling.” It isn’t niche, we didn’t build this practice with this service in mind. We have yet to discover a sustainable way to bill or market it, but it is working. We are seeing couple after couple walk away reporting a stronger more fulfilling relationship. We are helping couples identify what is working for them and the narratives or beliefs that hold them back. We are creating a space in which more perspectives equates more options. We hold space for gender roles and rules, not just from one genders perspective.
Stop in for a free 20 minute consultation to see if this is calling you too!
Call – text – connect (541) 639-2986
The number one problem as defined by couples is typically communication. As a therapist the words “we need help communicating” has come to mean a lot of different things. It can mean everything from we hardly talk about our problems to we don’t have sex enough.
However, there is one tool that can help any and everyone communicate better. Don’t make assumptions. When you feel yourself building a story about an interaction with someone use that as a question to check in with that person. Say something like, “when you said fill in the blank I thought you meant fill in the blank , is that what you meant?”
A large part of communication is the exchange of information and so often despite communication skills or being as clear as we think we can be, the information is straight up misinterpreted. And when two people are operating from two different understandings of the same information that is the beginning of the communication problem.
So head it off at the pass, nip it in the bud, and quash that argument before it happens. Simply follow up and make sure you are both understanding each other before you get angry, hurt, sad, anxious, or feel your relationship is doomed.
Over the summer I have been pursuing all sorts of creative endeavors. Painting, music, videography, anything and everything that piques my interest. To me having a creative outlet is a key ingredient to self-care. And as a therapist, I am always seeking to add to my self-care repertoire.
These creative endeavors lead me to the book The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. I have not been able to put this book down! The concept is that art is a part of our souls and often a higher calling but it is commonly met with different forms of resistance. From alcohol to love to procrastination, Pressfield describes in detail the many faces of resistance.
In reading these descriptions of resistance, I couldn’t help but think of therapy. Therapy is often an artistic endeavor where my professional expertise meets the wide variety of human experience and together we create a new paradigm for the future. When I reflect on it that way, I can’t help but ponder how the resistance may show up for my clients.
- Dreading sessions perhaps?
- Too afraid to pick up the phone to even schedule a session?
- Perhaps beating yourself up for even feeling as though you need a therapist?
- Ignoring the issue hoping it magically disappears?
- Trying once again to solve it all yourself?
- Too stuck to even find a therapist?
Resistance is a powerful force that often prevents us from moving forward. But as Pressfield articulates, “the greater the resistance, the more important the work.”
“One of the largest, strongest horses in the world is the Belgian draft horse. Competitions are held to see which horse can pull the most, and one Belgian can pull eight thousand pounds. The weird thing is if you put two Belgian horses in the harness who are strangers to each other, together they can pull twenty to twenty four thousand pounds. Two can pull not twice as much as one but three times as much as one. This example represents the power of synergy. However, if the two horses are raised and trained together they can learn to pull and think as one. The trained, and therefore unified, pair can pull not only twenty four thousand pounds but will hit thirty to thirty-two thousand pounds. The unified pair can pull an extra eight thousand pounds simply by being unified.” – Dave Ramsey EntreLeadership
Early on in my career as a Marriage and Family Therapist I could sense the power of working with couples. For many therapists and counselors it is fear inducing to be in a room with two people who are so in sync. However, I have always found it intriguing. Couples who are committed to one another and share a future, are powerful both in their relationship and individually. There is a synergy that gets created between two people. And when couples are unified, nearly every area of their life is impacted with that power.
At the same time, that same energy can also tear couples apart. And it can happen quickly. Like I shared in a previous blog, 3 Reasons Couples Therapy is so Important, when couples face issues it can feel terribly isolating. On top of that, it is common for partners to begin to build elaborate stories about the hows, whats, and whys their partner is hurting them. Assumptions start to compound the issues and suddenly a miscommunication feels like a free fall into the abyss for both partners.
I always remind couples that their job is to work together and put me out of work. It seems couples therapy is always more work up front than people anticipate and at the same time, when communication and connection starts to improve the synergy snaps back much faster than they anticipated.
Cultivate and nurture that synergy. It makes a couple a force to be reckoned with!