Author Archives: FireSpike

10 Good Reasons to Seek Relationship Coaching

You Don’t Need a Crisis for Relationship Coaching

One of the main reasons people seek therapy is for help with intimate and close relationships. And while couples counseling tends to be viewed as something for only relationships in crisis, there are many reasons people in relationships might pursue it. Some are small, some larger, but all are important and deserve to be explored and worked on.

Here are 10 good reasons to look into relationship counseling:

  1. COMMUNICATION ISSUES

Communication is the foundation of all relationships. Communication comes in many forms, both in person and over the phone, text, or social media. Therapy teaches couples how to communicate with each other in a positive manner that works. The type of communication a person grows up around tends to strongly affect how they communicate in their adult relationships. Counseling can help couples make a conscious choice of communication style and not just fall back on what they know from their history.

  1. PREMARITAL COUNSELING

10 reasons for relationship coaching Portland.

There are many issues couples face before they tie the knot. Premarital counseling is a place to discuss many things. One example is finances. Will bank accounts be shared? What about making decisions about what to purchase? Another consideration is household duties. Are children part of the picture? What role(s) will in-laws play in your life? Couples counseling can be a safe place to start the conversations that need to be addressed.

  1. SEXUAL ISSUES

Sex can be something that heals and brings a couple together, or it can be a battleground fraught with anxiety, embarrassment, anger, and hurt. Counselors encounter sexual issues frequently and can help.

  1. INFIDELITY AND UNFAITHFULNESS

Infidelity within a relationship can be the most hurtful and damaging thing a couple ever goes through, but it does not mean the relationship has to be over. Couples counseling provides a healing space to begin the journey toward resolution. It can help find practical and meaningful ways to navigate the treacherous waters of unfaithfulness.

  1. ASSISTANCE MANAGING OTHER RELATIONSHIPS

Couples have relationships with people outside of their relationship together. Friends, extended family, children, coworkers, and supervisors/bosses/professors are just a few. These relationships can be either healthy or unhealthy. Some things that can be discussed are boundaries with members of the opposite sex or same sex, communication with exes, and together and alone time.

  1. NONTRADITIONAL RELATIONSHIPS

Nontraditional intimate relationships, such as polyamory, open relationships, and swinging, can have problems and struggles—some of which are specific to their lifestyle and identity, some that all couples deal with. It can be intimidating to seek relationship therapy for fear of not being valued or understood because of the type of intimate relationship one is in. Many relationship counselors are comfortable and have the background and understanding to work with people in nontraditional relationships and can provide an open and safe place to work on the struggles a couple is having.

  1. BLENDED FAMILIES

When one or both partners have children from another relationship, blending has its own specific struggles and difficulties. Parenting differences, the role of the other parent, and the new identity of the family all need to be explored.

  1. THE END OF A RELATIONSHIP

When a relationship has ended, whether by mutual agreement or otherwise, managing life can be difficult. Often, individuals need to express anger, sadness, and grief. There may be practical issues to sort out as well, such as housing and children. Agreeing how and when to communicate is another example of a matter to be discussed in couples counseling.

  1. DIGITAL-AGE ISSUES

Facebook. Twitter. Texting. Sexting. Instagram. YouTube. Snapchat. These are just a few ways technology can infiltrate and affect relationships. Communicating via social media has its own pros and cons. Couples often have conflict regarding who to “friend,” what to “like,” and who to text, block, or chat. Communicating that is not done face-to-face or even on the phone is hard. No matter how many emojis are used, words can be misconstrued and misread. Tone of voice and body language are important to understanding what is being conveyed. Relationship counseling can help couples work through problems technology has caused, and create boundaries with each other to help restore trust when social media have hurt the relationship.

  1. TRUST ISSUES

After trust is broken, relationships can be harmed or even destroyed. Part of having a solid and healthy relationship is to be able to trust one another. Learning to trust again is a slow and hard process, and it can be painful and frustrating when it doesn’t happen quickly. Counseling can educate and assist couples with understanding the process of regaining trust, and provide tools and direction to help.

All relationships are difficult in some form or another. There will be disagreement, conflict, and hurt even in the best of times. Relationship counseling can help individuals and couples grow and heal. Like all types of therapy, the lessons learned and behaviors changed will continue to serve each person for much longer than the therapy itself.

It takes work to have a solid and positive relationship. Couples counseling is worth considering for any couple and can promote mutually beneficial change for years to come. Make an appointment at my Portland area office for more info on relationship coaching.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

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University Graduate Students Counseling Help

Are You a Graduate Student? Feeling Stressed? Counseling Can Help!

With greater access to treatment, more people find they can take on the monumental venture of earning a degree. Yet once they are in school, their risk of mental health problems increases. Graduate students in particular may struggle to manage school, finances, and self-care. The combined stress can be devastating to mental well-being.

Counseling can help graduate Portland State University students.The American Psychological Association says the need for mental health care on campuses is increasing. A 2015-2016 report from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health surveyed college counseling centers across America. The report showed an increase in student hospitalization, medication use, and suicide. More than 55% of the centers saw increases in salary budgets to meet demands for care. But some clinics still face challenges in meeting students’ needs. They may have limited hours of service or high costs of care.

Meanwhile, almost a third of PhD candidates may be at risk for mental health concerns. Around 34% of graduate students may already experience moderate to severe depression.

Researchers continue to study the specific differences between undergraduate and graduate students’ health. Further surveys may determine how to improve psychological care for each population. The goal is to promote mental well-being in colleges and universities.

RISK FACTORS FOR MENTAL HEALTH CONCERNS IN GRAD SCHOOL

Some populations are more at risk of developing mental health concerns. As the population of graduate students grows more diverse, so do mental health needs. Minority and international students may need help with multicultural issues. LGBTQ+ students can also face discrimination.

These populations can benefit from seeking mental health treatment on campus. Yet not all students may feel represented at their school’s counseling center. Around 71% of counseling center staff members are white. The number of openly LGBTQ+ counselors is limited. Counseling centers could better serve minority students by hiring more diverse staff.

Another risk factor is academic performance. Students who feel they are behind in their classes are more likely to report stress and anxiety. The Graduate Assembly of University of California, Berkeley rates academic performance as one of the top three predictors of depression in graduate students.

Yet catching up may be easier said than done. Many graduate students have responsibilities outside school such as childcare or employment. In a 2014 survey, graduate students cited job outlook, financial stress, loneliness, and alienation from mentors as contributing factors to depression and negative well-being.

Graduate students can help improve mental health outcomes by learning what signs to watch for. Any of the following symptoms may indicate a larger mental health concern:

  • Irritability
  • Sleeplessness
  • Panic attacks
  • A dependence on drugs or alcohol
  • Inability to complete daily tasks
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Suicidal thoughts

HOW GRAD STUDENTS CAN USE COUNSELING CENTERS

Psychological care addresses diagnoses that affect students as well as the general population. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy can help individuals cope with anger or anxiety. Acceptance and commitment therapy can help busy students focus on their priorities.

Counseling centers can also introduce students to alternative treatments to complement traditional therapies. Some therapists might assign internet-based worksheets to help reprogram harmful thoughts. Others may direct students to mindfulness practices like yoga.

Treatment can be especially helpful for students whose diagnoses impact learning. When a survey asked students if campus counseling services helped with their academic performance, over 70% answered positively. These results suggest counseling can help both mental health concerns and academic issues.

PREVENTING MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES DURING GRAD SCHOOL

Self-care practices like sleep and exercise can promote more positive mental health outcomes. Students who limit their schedules and have a social life have less risk for burnout. Experts encourage students to find a therapist before their symptoms become overwhelming.

There are several ways graduate schools can reduce students’ risks of mental health concerns. Schools can accommodate students’ schedules, aid their career preparations, and improve campus mental health care. Schools can also help by educating students about time management and self-care. Close mentorship is also linked to improved mental health and academic outcomes. Academic advisors are particularly helpful for international students.

Graduate students are a population with unique mental health needs. If schools improve their campus mental health care, they can not only lower the rate of mental health concerns, but also promote academic success. Mental health care on campus can improve all aspects of graduate student life.

LIFELINES AND FURTHER RESOURCES

Jed Foundation is an advocacy group for teen and young adult mental health. Students can find information about their legal rights related to mental health.

The National Grad Crisis Line provides suicide prevention services specifically for graduate students. Individuals can reach the hotline by calling 1-877-GRAD-HLP (1-877-472-3457). People studying abroad can access the hotline through a Skype number.

ULifeline.org is a service of the Jed Foundation. It offers self-assessment tools to evaluate mental wellness and suitability for counseling. There are also resources for those who need immediate help.

American Psychological Association has an online section of articles especially for graduate students. Helpful pages include self-care tips and advice for seeking mentorship.

If you’re a graduate student or student of Portland State University, I can help with local counseling. Make an appointment today for more information.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

 

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Coaching Steps To Discuss Relationship Problems

How to Talk About Relationship Problems with Your Partner

Something touched off hard feelings between you and your partner. Maybe it was a simple mistake. Your loved one forgot to pick up the milk on the way home. Or maybe you wanted some sympathy after a bad day at work, only to hear your partner criticize you. Ouch.

Now you’re upset. You may wonder if your partner really understands or cares about you.

How do you fix a relationship problem? Many people dread conflict so much they say nothing. They hope the bad feelings will just go away.

Relationship Coaching Portland steps to discuss problems with your partner.HOW TO BRING UP A RELATIONSHIP PROBLEM

You need to know how to talk about a relationship problem. The important thing is to learn how to allow the emotions involved.

Because avoiding emotional pain in your relationship works against you.

Hard feelings between you don’t go away on their own. You need to see them and soothe them as a couple, so they resolve. That’s one major function of a healthy relationship.

I worked with a couple I’ll call Bob and Amy. Amy wanted to keep just those things around the house they needed and used now. Bob preferred having stuff like extra boxes, umbrellas, and materials for projects. Bob tended not to tidy up unless pressed. And when Amy has pressed Bob, they had terrible fights.

Now Amy doesn’t feel free to speak up about the “clutter” issue, though it still bothers her. Meanwhile, Bob throws away more than he wants to, and resents it. And he worries Amy will never be satisfied, no matter how little he keeps or how neat he tries to be.

Do you see the trouble? On the surface, the disconnect is about stuff in the house. But as a therapist trained in emotionally focused therapy (EFT), my job is to help Bob and Amy see the unspoken thoughts and emotions at work. What’s under the anger and resentment? What do those thoughts mean to their sense of attachment as a couple?

LEARNING TO SEE WHAT HURTS

In therapy, Amy admitted feeling Bob’s stuff was more important than her peace of mind. She felt dismissed and hurt. She needed Bob to hear that his desire for “stuff” seemed to come first, and it made her feel unwanted. After Amy expressed her hurt in a vulnerable way, you could feel their tension soften.

Then Bob said he worried that even if he threw everything away, she’d still find fault with him. He felt rejected. Bob needed Amy to hear that her demand for “order” left him no room to be himself.

Before they can solve their lifestyle problem, the bigger problem needs tending: the underlying panic that neither of them saw or cared about each other. They took time to tend the hurts and put stress relief first.

After Bob and Amy connected emotionally, they could affirm their support for each other. They quickly found the energy to be co-creative. They agreed on “clean” zones for Amy and built a “man-shed” for Bob. But more important, they learned how to take each other’s distress to heart, find the source, and assure each other they matter.

Sometimes, tensions arose again. But now they could talk over what was happening without getting locked into battle or withdrawal.

RELATIONSHIP STRESS NEEDS A RESPONSE

Unsolved relationship issues trigger deeper worries about how safe and secure partners feel together. It’s hard to feel close when you’re worried. That’s why distress with a loved one needs to be resolved.

Doubts about a connection can make a person feel threatened or in danger. That’s because we naturally seek safety in relationships. Deep down, relationship hurts trigger bigger questions: Do I matter to you? Are we okay?

If we’re not sure how to say “I care” to each other, it’s easier to get angry and strike out against what seems wrong.

When we speak out of anger, we’re headed for trouble. There’s actually nothing wrong with saying something is bothering you. But the key to fixing your relationship is to talk about what you need—not your partner’s faults.

What else can couples do besides struggle in silence?

GOOD (AND BAD) WAYS TO TELL YOUR PARTNER SOMETHING IS WRONG

Let’s look at some of the damaging ways some people bring up relationship issues. Compare these to some healthier ways to fix a problem instead:

Don’t glare: Don’t glower, grumble, or go silent to get a reaction. It doesn’t help your loved one understand. More likely, angry looks will make your partner defensive.

Do be clear: Do tell your loved one that you are upset. Say what you are upset about without blame. “I didn’t like the way you spoke to me when you came home.”

Not this: “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you remember one little thing?”

Try this: “I was counting on your help. You forgot about it, and I feel like I don’t matter.”

Don’t assume: Don’t expect your partner knows how you feel or can figure out what you want to happen.

Do explain: Tell your partner what hurts you. Be clear about what you want and need.

Not this: “You’ll never understand. You should know me a lot better by now.”

Try this: “I need you to see how upset I am about work. Can I just vent? I would really like some support.”

Don’t get personal: Avoid put-downs or name-calling. Words such as “selfish,” “clueless,” or nasty names usually make problems worse.

Do speak from experience: Focus on what happened for you. Clean anger deals with behavior rather than character.

Not this: “You said you’d get the milk. Can’t you get your act together for once?”

Try this: “I get really stressed when there’s no milk for the kids. I know you didn’t mean to forget. How can we stay on top of this better?”

WHY REPAIR WORKS SO WELL TO FIX RELATIONSHIPS

Repair is one of the most powerful things you can do to build a stronger relationship.

You don’t need to be perfect for each other to be happy together. You can do a lot to restore goodwill by repairing hurts.

What separates many successful couples from less happy ones is the ability to make repairs. It allows you to keep getting better at responding to each other’s needs over time.

Repair is any gesture—a phrase, apology, hug, a friendly glance—that eases the negativity between you.

A lot depends on whether, beneath it all, you see each other as friends. Even if the repair attempt is awkward or clumsy, faith in your friendship will tips the scales toward healing after conflict.

Your kindness—and your partner’s ability to accept it—makes you both part of the solution instead of the problem for each other.

EMOTIONAL CONNECTION: ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT JOBS IN THE WORLD

It’s hard to admit we need each other. No one wants to invite ridicule or rejection by showing a tender need for love and acceptance. Yet it’s more terrible to feel cut off and alone.

“Do I matter to you?” That’s the question we need to hear “yes” to, especially when one of you is hurt.

Gently explaining your hurt is the first step to deepening your understanding together. Being able to hear when your partner is hurt is just as important to make things better.

This is much easier said than done. It’s tempting to avoid painful feelings rather than talk through relationship issues. That’s why a good therapist can be a powerful help to find a repair process that works for you.

Talking to your partner when you’re upset is a great chance to connect. You can learn to get your message through in a way that works with your need to connect, not against it. For more information on relationship coaching, contact my Portland office.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

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Exploring Healthy Relationships in Couples Therapy

Healthy Self, Healthy Love: Characteristics of a Strong Relationship

Much has been written about unhealthy love and toxic relationships, but what about healthy love? When we think about healthy love in a relationship, what does that look like?

Exploring healthy relationships with Portland couples therapy.Maya Angelou said “The best love is the one that makes you a better person without changing you into someone other than yourself.” Along those lines, the definition of healthy love, as I have come to understand it in my years of practice, lies in a sense of responsibility to the self.

In other words, healthy love means we are responsible for our own happiness. I am not responsible for my partner’s happiness. I am responsible for ensuring that I am a whole person, that I have a healthy sense of self-identity, and that I can meet my own needs and self-esteem from within. For healthy love to exist between partners, they must first understand and accept that happiness in a relationship depends on whether the people in the relationship have developed (independently) into a whole, secure person.

The following are what I believe to be the seven characteristics of a strong, healthy relationship:

  1. A solid sense of self-identity

People in a relationship that is healthy can think independently and are willing and able to articulate their wants and needs to partners. They are able to speak and act from an honest place within themselves. Partners can love themselves unconditionally, accepting the parts of themselves that are easy to love as well as the parts that are not as easy to love. Healthy partners love their own lives while still being open to growth, progress, and evolution with a partner.

  1. The ability to compromise

Partners who are open to the idea of seeking mutually gratifying solutions to conflicts are more likely to have a strong, healthy relationship. Healthy partners can acknowledge the validity of their partner’s wants and needs and, even when they do not agree, still respect areas of difference. A cornerstone of compromise is finding solutions that are agreeable to both partners, and healthy relationships are marked by an ability to consider situations from a partner’s side of things.

  1. Appropriate trust

This characteristic is one that can be determined at the beginning of a relationship. When both partners are available to begin a relationship, not still attached or otherwise holding on to a previous relationship, trust can be fostered. When trust has the opportunity to grow, partners feel more safe and may be better able to share their innermost thoughts and feelings with each other. They believe in their partner’s ability to listen and help, and there may be a mutual sense of faith that neither will be blindsided by surprises they don’t expect. Trust cultivates a stable relationship with predictability, reliability, and accountability.

  1. Communication

Let’s be frank here. Even in a strong and healthy relationship, you are not going to agree on everything—and you don’t have to! Being able to express your own feelings or opinions, knowing it’s all right to disagree, and saying what you mean and meaning what you say are all aspects of effective communication. When we are able to communicate effectively with our partners, show compassion and concern for each other, and talk about problems and listen well, we effectively create a road map for a partner to be able to understand and meet our needs. Without this map, we might endlessly wander trying to find out partners, coming close to meeting their needs but never quite succeeding.

  1. Loving detachment

Seeing a partner as a capable person is a critical component of healthy relationships. Couples can often confuse the concepts of whether their partner is good at something and whether they are simply capable of doing something. Believing these are the same thing can lead to conflict in a relationship. In reality, most people are capable of doing most things. However, sometimes partners may not be “good” at the things we want them to be good at. Loving detachment means we believe our partners have the ability to take care of themselves and their lives on their own. Allowing and encouraging our partners to have separate interests and maintain meaningful relationships with other people, and respecting their ability to do so, is an important part of loving detachment.

  1. An understanding of the reality of love

Love is created, and it requires effort on our parts. The idea of “love at first sight” is romantic, and we may want to believe in it, but in reality, that’s just not the case. Love is not something that is acquired one day by chance. It must be developed with trust, shaped with effort, and fostered with understanding and patience over time. This may not seem idealistic, but it is simply the truth of long-lasting love.

  1. An awareness of our attraction to familiarity

Have you ever heard the saying “We marry our parents”? We may not realize it, but many people partner (and eventually marry) someone who reminds them, in some way, of one or both of their parents. This is not necessarily a conscious decision. It’s simply that we tend to be attracted to and connect with people who are comfortable and familiar. So, whether our experiences with our parents are positive or negative or a little of both, we often are drawn to similarities in the partners we choose. If we are aware of this, and in tune with how our relationship with our parents has affected us, we are often better able to understand the type of person we might be attracted to. We might be fulfilling a desire to live out what we have learned as children or to fix what was broken in our childhood through our current relationships. Though we might logically know dysfunctional relationships with our parents cannot be fixed by our current relationships, we may still struggle with this emotionally. Identifying and working on ourselves to resolve any issues remaining from childhood will not guarantee a healthy relationship, but doing so may put us on the road to a better one.

Having a healthy relationship with our partners comes down to one thing—having a healthy relationship with ourselves. When discussing healthy love with the people I work with, I make it clear that I believe a healthy relationship with the self is necessary to have a healthy relationship with others. This healthy relationship with the self includes developing and maintaining a solid self-identity, recognizing our needs and being able to meet them on our own, and allowing our partners to live their own lives while sharing their lives with us. If you would like to explore any of these areas, on your own or with a partner, make a couples therapy appointment at my Portland, Oregon office.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

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Strengthening Couples Emotional Connection

What Couples Who Stay Together Do Every Day

Emotional connection is the bond that keeps people together. It is the glue in relationships. Many couples don’t realize that if they are not regularly connecting on an emotional level, the link that keeps them together weakens.

Things couples do every day tips for therapy in Buckman.In a previous article, I wrote about what happens to our brains when we feel emotionally disconnected from a partner or spouse. We can feel like our sense of security is threatened, causing us to become fearful. The amygdala, the almond-shaped region in the midbrain, acts as an alarm system, and a sense of panic can set in.

When we don’t get relief by reconnecting to loved ones, this can put us in a hyperaroused emotional state. This, in turn, can cause our stress levels to heighten due to elevated cortisol. Physical and mental health and well-being may suffer if cortisol stays elevated over a long period.

In Dr. John Gottman’s research, he identified an important dynamic that healthy and emotionally intelligent couples exercise: turning toward one another. Turning toward is a subtle or brief positive exchange that helps to deepen a couple’s emotional connection.

When partners turn toward one another, they are practicing what Gottman refers to as “bids.” Bids are attempts to connect using affection, support, humor, or attention. These interactions can be verbal or nonverbal. A person may be aware or unaware of the use of a bid, which may look like any of the following:

  • A gentle touch
  • A hug or kiss
  • A smile
  • A kind remark
  • Listening
  • A playful gesture
  • A word of encouragement
  • Sharing a news event
  • Saying “I love you”

Bids can result in deeper intimacy, greater romance, passion, and a more satisfying sex life. Gottman explains that one secret to lasting love among couples is turning toward each other in little ways every day. He found in his research that couples who regularly practice emotionally connecting stay together longer than those who do not.

Couples who don’t practice daily bids can more easily lose their way. When we are not emotionally connecting on a regular basis, our loved ones can feel uncared for or unvalued. The trap of taking a spouse or partner for granted can sneak up, especially if the couple has been together for a long time.

Given our busy and hectic lives, it is understandable how we can lose track of letting a loved one know how much we appreciate them. The risk of emotional disconnection is greater when we feel burdened, overwhelmed, or stressed.

HOW TO EMOTIONALLY CONNECT WITH YOUR PARTNER

Here are two things you can do today to emotionally connect with your partner or spouse:

  1. Be intentional about turning toward your partner.

Being intentional and practicing emotional connection every day can make a big difference. You don’t need to wait and plan an expensive vacation to emotionally connect. You can start right now, right where you are.

Here are a couple of suggestions to get you going. If you are near your partner or spouse, try reaching out and holding their hand. If you are not with your partner or spouse, text a sweet message or call and let them know you are thinking about them.

When you practice emotionally connecting every day, it is like putting money in your emotional bank account. You are investing in your relationship. The more you put in, the greater your love will grow. Having a substantial savings account can help in challenging times.

  1. Make a list of things you can do to lean in toward your partner.

If this sounds simple, it is.

List the things you can do to turn toward your partner. It can be a mental list or a written list. This might take a little time and effort, especially if you have gotten out of practice. Putting the list in a place you can regularly see it will help you to remember to reach out and connect.

Try this exercise for a month and see how it can begin to reshape your emotional connection and create a deeper bond. Consistency is key; the more often, the better.

CONCLUSION

If you feel you and your partner or spouse have strayed too far in your emotional connection, you could benefit from the help of a marriage and family therapist. Just because you are experiencing emotional disconnection from your partner doesn’t mean you can’t find your way back; it just may require a little help. Reach out. There is hope. Contact me to set up your couples therapy appointment at my Buckman area office.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

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Increase Relationship Intimacy with Letter Writing

Relationship Coaching Activity to Increase Intimacy

It’s far too common for newly married or new-parent couples to find themselves searching for more—more time together, more romance, more connection, more intimacy. Maybe, after the wedding is over and the thank-you notes are written, you’re thinking, “What are we supposed to do now?” Or maybe, when the baby is crying and the laundry is piling up, you’re thinking, “When will we feel like ourselves again?”

Relationship coaching technique for couples letter writing.

Research by Dr. Barry McCarthy, sex and relationship expert and author of Rekindling Desire, indicates that couples are more likely to become sexually inactive in the first two years of marriage than at any other period in their married life (McCarthy and McCarthy, 2014). His recommendation is for couples to re energize their relationship intimacy by enhancing desire, pleasure, eroticism, and satisfaction.

One place to start on the journey toward deeper intimacy is letter writing. Writing letters to each other is a good way to communicate your thoughts and feelings amid the demands of work and family. Remember the spark of excitement and desire when you received an old-fashioned, handwritten love letter? That’s the spirit of this activity. These are loving letters, full of your hopes, dreams, warmth, and tenderness. These letters inspire a deepening of intimacy because they help you communicate without distraction and with a genuine voice. The goal is for your words to bring you closer and help you feel more connected.

So here’s how it works: You and your partner commit to exchanging letters, ideally handwritten (but emailed will do), a few times a week. You can each answer one prompt below at a time, and you don’t have to follow the same order. It’s best to direct your answers to your partner, just as you would when writing a letter to anyone else.

What are ways you feel loved and accepted by your partner, even with an acknowledgement of failings and imperfections? Are there different ways you show your partner you love and accept them?

Describe a fantasy, romantic or sexual, you’d like to experience with your partner. Where are you? What does it feel like? What happens first, then next, then after that? How does it end?

What is a metaphor for your relationship so far? Explain the metaphor. How would you change that metaphor to illustrate the kind marriage you want to have in the future?

How do you think you and your partner should deal with bad luck or disappointment? How will you show your partner you are on their team no matter what?

Fill in the blanks and then explain: “If I were living my life the best version of myself as a partner that I could be, I would continue to ___, I would do ___ differently, and I hope you would feel more ___.”

What do you appreciate most about your partner? What personality traits, strengths, and talents do you admire and value?

What are your hopes, goals, and dreams for your marriage and family together?

At the end of a few weeks, compile your letters and go over them together. What do you notice about where your answers overlap or where they are unique? Reread them often and allow the words to calm you when you’re angry, soothe you when you’re sad, and fill you with hope when you’re worried. Your letters have the power to become the vision statement for your shared future together.

If these prompts, your answers, or your partner’s answers have stirred up deeper feelings of dissatisfaction, disconnection, or disappointment, you may want to seek individual counseling, couples therapy, or sex therapy. Make an relationship coaching appointment at my Portland office.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

Reference:

McCarthy, B., & McCarthy, E. (2014). Rekindling desire, 2nd Ed. New York, NY: Routledge.

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Skeptical About Couples Therapy? 3 Things You Should Know

Is couples therapy actually going to work?

As a couples therapist, I hear this question a lot. And it’s a valid question. When couples come to therapy, they are usually in pain and in search of relief. If I had a painful illness and the doctor prescribed treatment, my first question would be, “Is this going to work?”

When I was introduced to emotionally focused couples therapy (EFT), I was relieved to learn of this established method, with a science behind helping couples. And it works. Research shows that EFT helps 70% of couples recover from marital distress. Ninety percent of couples report significant improvements. If I were sitting in a doctor’s office with an illness and was told treatment had a 90% success rate, I would feel relieved.

3 things to know about couples therapy in Grant ParkBut despite the success rate of the approach, it is still normal to have some reservations about couples therapy. Before you knock it, though, I recommend learning more about the process. As a marriage counselor, these are some of my thoughts about three of the common reasons people are resistant to couples therapy.

1. People can’t change.

We are who we are, right? In couples therapy, I’m not seeking to change anyone. I’m not trying to help anyone change their personality or their partner. I’m seeking to change the dynamics of the relationship. An EFT therapist helps couples understand and meet each other’s needs in effective ways.

These needs, which EFT therapists call attachment needs, already exist in each person. We aren’t changing a person to create these needs, since they are already a part of each partner. But often these needs go unacknowledged. In other cases, partners attempt to get their needs met in ways that prove ineffective. In EFT therapy, therapists simply help each partner access their emotions and needs in a way that helps them bond. In other words, we are pulling out emotions and needs that already exist but are often covered up with reactivity. We are helping decode this reactivity in order to understand the feelings and needs underneath. By doing this, we can help both partners engage with each other in ways that help them both feel close and connected.

2. My partner won’t do the work.

EFT is not about going home and doing “homework.” In fact, change occurs in the session. Experts have studied the process of change and determined the specific change needed for events to occur. An EFT couples therapist knows these change events and can guide the sessions to help create them. These events help change the way partners view each other and the relationship, which can bring about organic change in the relationship.

When these change events occur, couples can shift from feeling distant and disconnected to feeling safe, secure, and connected. When couples feel more connected, reactivity can naturally change and soften outside of the session. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go home and try new things, such as planning more date nights or learning new communication tools. It just means the success of therapy doesn’t depend on doing “homework.” In EFT couples therapy, doing the work simply means showing up to the session and engaging in the process.

3. There is too much hurt.

Couples who seek out therapy have often engaged in a series of hurtful behaviors. One or both partners may have felt hurt by the actions of the other. Sometimes, this pain can feel overwhelming. Couples may have engaged in such a negative cycle that they have been unsuccessful in repairing these hurts on their own. The hurt has happened, and the unsuccessful attempts to resolve the hurt often only exacerbate the pain.

EFT therapists work to help couples dismantle their negative cycle so hurts can finally be felt, shared, heard, and healed. Most importantly, the way EFT therapists guide the conversations in therapy allows the emotions from these hurts to be shared in a way that bonds and connects couples. So yes, hurts can actually help bond a couple—when they are dealt with properly.

HOW DOES CHANGE OCCUR IN COUPLES THERAPY?
Jill and Paul came into therapy after years of feeling disconnected. During sessions, Jill described to the couples therapist their nightly routine: Paul retreated to his home office after dinner, while she would watch TV alone in her bedroom. Jill explained that despite her getting upset and angry at Paul for how much he worked, the pattern of loneliness continued. “He doesn’t care about how I feel. He only cares about his work,” Jill concluded.

The therapist helped Paul and Jill unpack the dynamics that led to these familiar lonely nights. The therapist helped Jill shift out of her anger and talk about her sadness regarding their distance. From there, Jill was able to express her desire to feel close and connected to Paul. Jill shared, with sadness, her belief that Paul hid away in his office at night because he wanted to get away from her.

With the therapist’s help, Paul was able to talk about his experience. He shared how through the years, Jill’s angry comments made him feel rejected. As their cycle repeated over and over again, he came to the conclusion that he wasn’t able to give her what she needed. He also explained his feeling that anything he says when Jill is upset only makes things worse. He shared how he wished he knew what could make her happy and that he has started to worry that maybe he doesn’t make her happy anymore. So instead of doing or saying something that may make the situation worse, he goes into his office at night.

Paul’s explanation helped Jill see that Paul pulled away from her not because he didn’t care, but rather, because he cared so much about protecting their relationship that he didn’t want to make things worse.

Many change events that occurred in therapy ultimately helped Jill and Paul get out of their negative cycle and create a way to communicate their needs more clearly and feel more connected to each other.

They identified the negative cycle occurring between them. They started to recognize the cycle, not each other, as the enemy or problem.
Paul was able to share his feelings of rejection and his fear that if he did anything to make things worse, Jill might decide to leave him.
Jill could see the care in Paul’s eyes as he spoke about letting her down. Her belief that “he didn’t care” started to dissipate. She recognized Paul’s retreat as his way of protecting their relationship from further damage.
Jill was able to express her desire for Paul. In the past, Jill expressed her frustrations of disconnection through anger, which Paul interpreted as rejection. Paul was able to see how upsetting it was for Jill to feel distant from him and how much she still longed for him and desired him.
Jill was able to communicate her needs for connection more clearly, being mindful of how her anger would shut him down. Paul was able to recognize her frustrations as protests against their disconnection.
Paul was able to hear Jill’s attachment need of feeling close and connected to him.
Jill was able to hear Paul’s attachment need of feeling desired by her.
Paul and Jill still found find themselves back in their familiar negative cycle at times. But as a result of the pivotal change events they experienced in therapy, they could more quickly identify the disconnecting cycle between them and find their way out.

WHEN DOES COUPLES THERAPY NOT WORK?
With all of this said, there are some factors that can inhibit therapy success. I like to be realistic with couples about the prognosis of their relationship. If any of the following factors are present, success is less likely.

Viewing problems as the fault of the partner. If you are not able or willing to look at your own contribution to the problems of the relationship, progress is limited. Couples therapy is an introspective process. It does involve looking within and understanding yourself better. Being introspective can be very difficult for some, and this can hinder the progress of couples therapy.
There is a competing attachment. If there is an active addiction or ongoing emotional or physical affair, couples therapy may not be helpful.
There is physical or emotional abuse. A couples therapist cannot create emotional safety if there is abuse present. Safety is crucial for the bonding process.
One person has checked out of the relationship. Most couples wait a long time before seeking help for their relationship. When couples have been unhappy for so long, sometimes one or both partners have checked out. However, there is still hope for re-engagement, even when this is the case—as long as both partners are willing to invest and commit to a process of reconnection.

When you are ready to start the process of couples therapy, make an appointment at my Grant Park area office.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

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3 Things Your Therapist Wants You to Do Before Couples Therapy Begins

How to Survive Before Couples Therapy Begins

Suggestions to cope before therapy begins at Buckman couples therapyFrom my many years as a couples therapist, I have learned one of the most difficult phases of the work is when a couple has committed to repairing your marriage, but before the repair has begun.

It’s an important time: you and your partner have decided to go to couples therapy, so you’ve researched local counselors and booked an appointment. But your first session hasn’t happened yet and you’re still feeling distressed, disconnected, or dissatisfied.

Some models of relationship counseling have specific tasks for this stage, such as the online relationship assessment for the Prepare/Enrich program. Therapists may also have their own preferred assessment measures, such as the classic Dyadic Adjustment Scale or the newer Gottman Relationship Checkup.

But these assessments are meant to inform your therapist about where to start treatment, about the issues and dynamics contributing to conflict or distress. They don’t help you and your partner get through the days or weeks until your first appointment with any more peace or patience.

So what should you be doing? Thinking about? Paying attention to? Here are three things I ask of couples seeing me for the first time, before therapy begins:

1. PREVENT FURTHER DAMAGE
To prevent further damage, do your best to stop unhealthy patterns of interaction that are causing distress in the relationship. There has been enough conflict already. In other words, it’s important to bring your best self to every exchange so you don’t heap problems on top of problems. You’ve committed to therapy to make positive changes, and they can start right now.

For example, if you’re used to yelling at each other, preventing further damage means keeping your volume low and your tone pleasant. If you’ve been sleeping in separate rooms, preventing further damage means respecting the boundaries each of you have set to avoid distress.

2. PRIORITIZE SELF-CARE
To prioritize self-care is to choose behaviors that nourish your body and spirit. The road to relationship health through therapy may be long and difficult, so it’s important to prepare yourself mentally and physically. Prioritizing self-care means taking good care of yourself.

If you find yourself back in a familiar dance of hurt feelings, miscommunication, or bad habits, remember to prevent further damage.

Here are seven ways to be intentional about self-care:

Eat fresh, healthy foods.
Drink plenty of water.
Rest when you are tired.
Prioritize sufficient, uninterrupted sleep.
Exercise and stretch your body.
Seek joy through the arts (music, comedy, theater/movies, art).
Soak up love from supportive relationships (children, friends, family).
You may realize it’s been a while since you were intentional about caring for yourself. Don’t worry—self-care can start right now.

3. PRACTICE INTROSPECTION
No matter which theory of couples therapy your therapist is trained in—Emotionally Focused Therapy, Imago, and the Gottman Method may be the most well-known for their evidence-based practice—one of the primary ways your therapist will intervene in your distress is to help you and your partner think and feel differently about what is happening. These skills of perspective taking don’t come naturally to all of us, but there are ways to practice before therapy begins.

One way to practice introspection is to think about your experience from a new perspective. I’ve written previously about the power of therapy to shift your point of view, and the metaphor can help before therapy even begins. Ask yourself: What are the ways I understand or explain what is happening in my relationship? Are there alternative ways to understand it, even if I don’t agree with them? How does my partner explain what is happening? Are we looking at things from the balcony or the dance floor? What might I see if I look from the other perspective?

Another way to practice introspection is to become familiar with the idea of mindfulness. Yoga, guided imagery, apps like Headspace or Calm, or spending intentional time in nature are readily available ways to bring mindfulness into your life.

When you are ready to start the process of couples therapy, make an appointment at my Buckman area office.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

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Regret About One’s Ideal Self Often Hurts the Most

A Counselor Can Help One Cope With Regret

Regret of the ideal self study in counseling.

Regret can be painful, even debilitating. People plagued by regret may feel guilt or shame about what could have been. They can even develop symptoms of depression or anxiety. Yet regret in life is inevitable. No one is able to live up to every goal they set.

A new study published in the journal of Emotion explores the psychological underpinnings of regret. Researchers found regret stings the most when people fail to live up to their idealized selves. Regret about duties and obligations is less painful. Although regret about one’s idealized self is often more painful, participants were less likely to take proactive steps to live up to idealized versions of themselves.

Understanding Regret

The research used six studies to survey hundreds of participants about their feelings of regret. The study draws upon the notion that there are three components of a person’s self: the actual self, the ideal self, and the ought self.

The actual self is who a person believes they are.

The ideal self is who a person wishes they were. The ideal self includes dreams for the future and goals for living up to values. It also includes traits a person wishes they had.

The ought self is who a person thinks they should be. The ought self is more focused on obligations, such as holding down a job. Regrets involve failures to live up to these duties.

Researchers asked participants what kind of regrets they had most often. Most participants (72%) listed regrets about their ideal self. Only 28% of people listed regrets about their ought self. When people were asked to name their biggest regret in life, 76% mentioned a regret about their ideal selves.

This finding suggests regrets about the ideal self may be more painful. They may also be more likely to contribute to an overall feeling of regret.

Preventing Regret

The study also found people are more likely to take steps to correct regrets related to their ought self than to their ideal self. This trend may be because ought-self regrets often involve explicit criteria. Fixing duty-related regrets can often be corrected with specific steps.  For example, if a student regrets doing poorly in class, they can resolve to raise their grade through studying.

Meanwhile, regrets involving one’s ideal self tend to be vaguer. A person may have a dream to “be adventurous” or “be a great parent.” Yet such goals rarely have a concrete way to mark success. Without a clear destination, many people wait for inspiration to guide them toward these goals. If inspiration doesn’t come, a person may let opportunities pass them by.

Fear of how the pursuit of a good life might look to others may also hold people back. That’s doubly true when there’s a conflict between a person’s ideal self and ought self. For instance, a person may wish to go on a backpacking trip with their child. But they may turn down the trip so they do not miss any work and appear “unmotivated” to colleagues. In this scenario, the person prioritizes the work duties of their ought self above the parenting dreams of their ideal self.

A trained counselor can help people cope with regret. They might help a person explore ways to build self-compassion and self-esteem. In therapy, a person can also learn goal-setting skills to help them grow into their ideal selves. Make a counseling appointment at my Portland, Oregon office.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

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Posting a Daily Photo May Improve a Person’s Well-Being

Life Coaching Tip for Improving Well-Being

On Instagram, more than 1.5 million photos have been tagged #365. People use this tag when they plan to post a photo each day of the year. Taking a daily photo and posting it to social media may improve well-being, according to a new study in the journal Health.

The study says people who post about daily practices (such as writing, photography, etc.) do so as a form of self-care. This mindful commitment may improve well-being or offer greater connection to others.

Could Photography Make People Happier?

How your life can be improved with a selfie and Portland coaching.The study followed social media users for two months. Researchers gathered data on the photos people posted and the text they added to the photos. They also recorded users’ interactions with others around the photos.

Users found posting daily photos encouraged them to be mindful. Many spent time each day seeking something interesting or unusual. Some found looking for the perfect photo encouraged them to get out of their homes. Taking daily photos helped many users feel accomplished and get more exercise.

In some cases, sharing daily photos reduced loneliness. It helped users meet people with shared interests and encouraged new friendships. Sometimes communities formed around the process of sharing photos.

Social interaction around the photos often added meaning to the activity. Captions helped users communicate narratives and memories connected to the photos. Adding text to photos cultivated more mindfulness. Comments from other photographers often gave more social meaning to the photos.

Healthy Use of Photography on Social Media

Many studies have assessed the risks and benefits of regular social media use. They have shown mixed results.

A 2016 study found social media can harm mental health in certain circumstances. Users who negatively compared themselves to others were more likely to have depression.

In 2017, a report by the Royal Society for Public Health said Instagram users were more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and bullying. Yet the report also said social media can promote community involvement and self-expression.

Another 2017 study found quitting Facebook immediately lowered people’s stress levels. Yet quitting Facebook also lowered life satisfaction.

The way a person uses social media platforms may change how they affect mental health. When daily photos are a form of self-care or friendship-building, they may improve well-being. When people use social media to dwell in envy or negativity, the effects may be harmful. If you are looking for help with your day to day life, contact me for a life coaching appointment at my Portland office.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

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