Repairing a Relationship

It has been an embarrassingly long time since I have sat down to reflect and write in this space. Michael and I have been spending most of our time providing therapy to some incredible couples over the past few months. Time flies when we are working together… it is such a privilege to do this work.

Something we keep running into time and time again is the myth that when couples enter therapy the past wounds will be covered with immediate action like homework. Clients are eager to ask for the next task but the work is a little harder to spot and it certainly cannot be checked off a to do list.

The work lies often in holding both realities. The reality that the relationship is being worked on and will improve and the reality of the damage that has been done. Part of repair then is being able to sit with your partner in those tense moments when one or both of you lacks confidence in the relationship. Having compassion for one another and being able to see that the past hurt is just as real as the new future you are creating together.

The magic ingredient is not letting those moments set you back. Instead have confidence that this uncomfortable space of rehashing isn’t the past argument, it is a new conversation because it now exists in the context of working on the relationship. Rehashing for couples before therapy often happens in the context of “will we stay together” or “is this relationship healthy for me/us.”

Can you hold both the past hurt and the desired future just long enough to start to see it change?

Remember, change in humans is the same as a growing plant. It is hard to detect until you look for it.

 

Self-Care and Restoration

I used to think self-care was quiet time or that I could feel restored after a long night of interrupted sleep.

As a new therapist you are encouraged to “practice self-care” as it can be a shock to the system to begin this work. So my first several years as a therapist were spent seeking quiet solitude, watching movies, or attempting to ensure 9 hours of sleep as often as possible.

However, as I enter into 2018 I have drawn a new conclusion about what practicing self-care looks like… at least for myself.

  • Self-care is actually found in adventure.
  • Restoration is found in sleepless nights in the wilderness and bumpy flights to foreign lands.
  • Caring for myself means shaking off the limits that seem to settle on me like dust on trail runs and ski slopes.
  • A restorative night can be found staying up late connecting and catching up with loved ones.
  • Self care can be found in everyday chores or a commute when I am with my partner or listening to a good podcast.

It seems there is a message that self-care means being alone or disengaging with life. I have found the opposite to be true. Self-care and that feeling of being fresh and restored actually comes from truly living and engaging with life. Try it out ūüôā

Resolve

I still love New Year Resolutions. I love that there is a time of year that people feel some sense of inspiration about their future. There is a magic in the air as one year closes out and a new one begins. A magic that seems to help some people give themselves a chance to dream or reimagine themselves.

The problem comes when they wake up two weeks later in a culture that doesn’t support change and growth. We live in a time when it is easier than ever to keep the status quo, avoid personal responsibility, and busy ourselves into oblivion.

Still, I believe in people. I have the honor of seeing people change their lives all the time… not just in January. I also know that sometimes people need a few false starts. Sometimes the journey is trying out new ways of being and discarding what doesn’t work. I don’t blame people for quitting gyms after two weeks. Have you been to most gyms during January? The place is packed and its cold and flu season… gross. Maybe it will lead you to finding the right gym, the right workout community, or the right sport that keeps you fit. Sometimes we make progress in quitting.

But I digress.

I promised myself this wouldn’t be a blog of “Joella’s new year opinions.” Rather, I wanted to talk about Cascadia Family Therapy’s resolve to provide the highest quality couple and family therapy we possibly can. We are more committed than ever in 2018 to creating massive change in the lives of our clients and in our industry.

It is time for the old way of therapy (you know the once a week, bill your insurance, only to get a bill months later, all the while wondering what your therapist is trying to accomplish with you kind) to get out of your way. It is time for a new way of therapy. Therapy that is transparent, empowering, and collaborative. Therapy that trusts the clients to do the work and believes in people’s resilience and possibility.¬†

We are here to do that work. When a couple or family is ready for change, we are here to work, support, encourage, provide skills, whatever it takes.

We believe in YOU to build the life you want. Make your resolution stick!

Interconnected

One of my favorite parts about being a marriage and family therapist (or systems therapist) is that we can pick from a wide variety of context to create change. Our minds and bodies are deeply connected and our relationships and environment are also connected to us. When you think of humans in the way, you can see how picking one area of life and making a positive change can impact the other areas.

If you are stuck in some area of your life or if you are feeling depressed or anxious pick one of these areas and do something different:

  • A relationship
  • work environment
  • home environment
  • physical health
  • give yourself the benefit of the doubt
  • how you greet your loved ones
  • go to bed earlier
  • eat more fruit and veggies
  • spend time outdoors

All of these things alter our chemistry and help us to get into another state of being.

What works for you?

Escape Rooms and Therapy

A friend recently told me about their experience trying out Bend Escape Room. In case you are not sure what I am talking about here is a summary of the games growing popularity.

I had two take aways from listening:

One, people are genuinely interested in spending more time with other human beings. In a world with exponential growth in technology and a variety of ways to avoid human interactions, things like Escape Rooms, outdoor sports and recreation, therapy, coaching, and shared office spaces keep growing and growing. It seems every time I hear of a potential job market becoming obsolete I hear an equal increase in these interactive spaces.

Secondly, people are searching for paths to connection. There is a shift in society from behind the computer screen to these spaces where ideas are built upon and connections form. It seems there is an underlying realization that human beings need each other. We need collaboration, cooperation, and all of the fine skills required.

Psychotherapy not only provides the skills necessary for collaboration and cooperation, it is also a space to try out those skills. After all, psychotherapy in my opinion should be an exercise in my expertise in relationships/emotional wellbeing and my client’s expertise in their own life. Therapy requires us to work collaboratively and cooperate toward a shared goal. Those skills then translate to your friends, family, and professional environments… which then translates to their friends, family, and professional environments.

It is all about connection!

Thanksgiving Guilt

Last year at this time I addressed boundaries and how to use them effectively to have a good holiday season.

After giving a presentation to my community about boundaries and family of choice I heard a resounding theme.

Guilt.

It seemed the crowd had a great grasp on the concept of boundaries including how to use them and how to make them effective. The questions came as we shifted the focus to family of choice.

Family of choice refers to those who find the holidays are best spent with the family members they have chosen. Some times these are blood relatives, some times they are friends collected along the way.  These are the people who make up the inner circle of your world. They are the people you trust fully and are there for you through thick and thin.

Two reminders:

  1. Guilt is a feeling associated with doing something wrong. Usually intentionally wrong. Or how dictionary.com puts it “the fact or state of having committed an offense, crime, violation, or wrong, especially against moral or penal law; culpability:He admitted his guilt.

  2. When one gets married and especially when they have children, this is your family. Parents, siblings, and other relationships take a back seat to your marriage and children.

I suggest another word for the feeling associated with recognizing that a family of choice doesn’t include a parent(s) or sibling(s).

Sad.

It sucks. No one in the world likes recognizing that a family member or someone they were raised by or raised with has a negative impact on them and their partner or children. And often those who need to build a family of choice the most have given way too much time, thought, consideration, and has given too many second chances.

Let go. Grieve. And give yourself permission to spend your holidays with people who make you feel loved, connected, and cared about.

 

 

When to seek Couples Therapy:

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

 

Community

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.

 

ÔĽŅUnified Couples

“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!

 

 

 

 

 

bound¬∑a¬∑ry ňąbound(…ô)rńď/

In my field of work, sometimes words and phrases get a bit overused. Terms like “co-dependence” or even diagnoses like “bipolar” start to get used in society where they don’t apply. That overuse makes terms get distorted. The term’s meaning becomes part pop culture and part industry specific making them no longer the concise description they used to be.

The term “boundaries” is one such word. I find in my practice, I hear more and more people describe that they know they need them but they feel uncertain about how to go about implementing boundaries.

Let’s¬†tease out the term boundary to start. The dictionary states a boundary is,¬†“a line that marks the limits of an area; a dividing line.” The term’s meaning in pop culture is often, “a nebulous thing you should do to prevent your aunt from making you uncomfortable.” What a boundary is in a relationship is the line that separates your expectations and comfortability from another person’s. In other words, it is simply the line that defines what you are comfortable with and what you will accept.

Part of what makes boundaries confusing is that so many are decided by society. ¬†We collectively decide things like how close is too close to talk to a stranger or that it is kind to hold the door for someone. Those types of boundaries are covert. A lot of people do them so from the time you are very young, you begin implementing these boundaries. This happens in families too. Family members collectively decide covert boundaries or rules like, it’s important to watch football on Thanksgiving. No one says it out loud but magically every Thanksgiving the game is on the TV.

The boundaries often referred to in therapy are the overt boundaries. For whatever reason, they require that you state your preference. These become important for people like in-laws or new relationships. Since they didn’t evolve around the same covert boundaries they need descriptions.

Where I see people get stuck is thinking that this is the same thing as confronting someone. It may feel uncomfortable to state your boundary to someone you care about, but that is only because as a society we don’t communicate¬†all¬†of our boundaries. It is just a conversation that doesn’t happen often. Boundaries only become a confrontation when they are not communicated¬†for a long time. The relationship goes on and on with one person feeling walked on and then the boundary doesn’t really get stated at all but rather the built up anger gets expressed. This damages the relationship. Not only does one person feel walked on and hurt but the other person was never even given a chance to respect this undefined boundary.

Think about what you need from a difficult relationship or the behaviors that make you feel walked on. What could be different? What is in the other person’s control? Would it help if they asked you? Could they call ahead of time? Maybe there is subject best left out of Thanksgiving conversation.

Often people know intuitively what needs to stop or what boundary they need to set. But before people state their boundary they say the three words heard in therapy rooms across America, “Is it ok?” These overt boundaries have to be overt because they are not widely accepted or implemented in society. So they are personal. There is no societal norm to compare your boundary to and that makes it feel uncomfortable.

So there are two components to the discomfort of implementing a boundary:

  1. There is no comparison. This boundary is just between you and this person.
  2. Stating boundaries takes conscious effort because so many boundaries are covert.

Remember that these boundaries not only free you from feeling intruded upon they also set the other person free from worrying about overstepping. Boundaries clarify, prevent arguments and hurt feelings. They also give the other person a chance to show they can be trusted and it feels good to feel trusted.

With all of that being said, what are one or two boundaries you could state to help you have a healthy and happy Thanksgiving?

Happy Thanksgiving ūüôā