Category Archives: Relationships

Relationship Strategies When Home During the Coronavirus

Five Relationship Strategies for 24/7 Togetherness

Relationship Strategies for Couples During CoronavirusThe World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. As businesses, schools, and universities move toward online operations and travel plans get canceled, we are facing massive disruptions to the daily rhythms of our lives. For many couples, togetherness organically alternates with separateness, as they bid farewell to each other in the morning and reconnect in the evening. When this pattern is disrupted, what gets highlighted is how much we rely on cycles of closeness and distance to keep our relationships happy and healthy.

Our romanticized notions of love tell us that if we love each other we should always want to be together. Our lived experiences of love teach us that togetherness and separateness are an inhale and an exhale. They coexist and each enhances the other.

While we (hopefully) relish round-the-clock time with our partners when we are on vacation, this is radically different. It is unplanned and open-ended. Further, it is filled with uncertainty and fear about what lies ahead. Here are five ways to take care of yourself and your intimate relationship during this time of upheaval.

Practice Empathy for Different Coping Strategies

Consider this quote (source unknown): “The first thing you should know about me is that I am not you. A lot more will make sense after that.”

Based on an infinitely complex recipe of gender, temperament, life experiences, family dynamics, and personality, we develop a wide range of responses to stress and uncertainty. The chances that you and your partner will be coping with the pandemic in the same way at the same time are quite slim. Because responses can be plotted on a spectrum from calm to panicked, in any given moment, the calmer partner might say to the more frightened one, “Stop freaking out! You’re being neurotic” and the more concerned partner may fire back, “You don’t get how serious this is! You’re in denial.”

In the best of moments, however, different coping styles can enhance how a couple responds. The more grounded one can bring an element of play and levity, and the more concerned partner can make sure that everyone is doing what needs to be done to stay safe and healthy. When you strive to practice grace in the face of difference, you can capitalize on your varying approaches rather than shaming each other for them.

Continue reading at Psychology Today.

If you are interested in relationship coaching during the pandemic, contact me to set up a Telehealth appointment.

How Online Telethealth Therapy Works for Couples

What is Telehealth Therapy & Tips for Couples

How tele therapy can help lgbt couples.Romantic relationships demand a lot: each partner must find a way to support and nurture the other’s needs while identifying and asserting their own needs.

When one person in a couple experiences stress, that stress can affect their partner and the relationship. Factor in kids, jobs, and financial entanglement, and it’s easy to see why so many people struggle in their relationships.

There’s no right way to be part of a couple. No matter what challenges your relationship faces, therapy can help you identify your needs. In couples counseling, you’ll work with your therapist to manage relationship challenges and address your needs in a way that’s consistent with your values.

Sometimes face-to-face therapy is not available or easy to access. Online couples therapy offers similar benefits to in-person therapy, with the added convenience and privacy of getting support at home. Here’s what you can expect from online counseling.

Online couples counseling offers the same benefits of in-person counseling, but over the internet. You’ll use a secure platform to talk with your therapist—by video, in most cases. Couples usually meet with their therapist together, from the same location. However, online counseling can also be a good option for couples who live apart, or who are separated by military deployment, long-term hospitalization, or other barriers.

People who choose online therapy report similar levels of satisfaction with their treatment to those who choose in-person counseling. For some couples, online therapy may even mean the difference between accessing therapy to heal the relationship and getting no help at all.

Telehealth may be especially beneficial for:

  • Couples with busy schedules.
  • People who live in geographically isolated areas.
  • People who find driving or going out in public stressful.
  • Couples who do not want someone else to see them at a therapist’s office.
  • Couples in which one or both partner has a disability that makes it more challenging to attend in-person therapy.

Romantic relationships are a source of love and comfort. Many people rely on their partners to fill the role of best friend, mentor, financial partner, and co-parent. So when a relationship is struggling, many people feel as if their entire world has been upended. It’s easy to feel hopeless about couples therapy, especially if you feel like you’ve tried everything. But the research shows that couples therapy works. According to a 2015 analysis, couples therapy is most effective when therapists identify the goals of couples therapy; use standardized tools to assess progress; and systematically monitor both the progress of therapy and the quality of the therapeutic alliance.

Online therapy follows a similar model to traditional counseling. In fact, therapists can do nearly everything online that they can in person. It may take a little more time to get comfortable with one another, especially when there are technical difficulties. Quality online therapy on a good platform works well, and even allows the therapist to read subtle cues such as tone of voice and body language.

Online couples therapy is not for everyone. When there is domestic violence, most experts advise that the couple avoid joint therapy. That’s because therapy treats the partners as equals, each of whom has valid concerns. When there is violence, the partners do not contribute equally to the problems in the marriage, and the abusive partner may even use therapy to justify their violence. Moreover, traditional couples therapy aims to keep the couple together, and some therapists may even ask the couples to commit to a certain number of therapy sessions. This may cause a victim to remain in an abusive relationship longer, potentially endangering their life. The online context may make it easier to conceal abuse, intensifying the risk.

Some other signs online therapy may not be a good fit include:

  • The couple can’t access the internet or only has very old computers or tablets, making it difficult to see or hear the therapist.
  • One or both members of the couple distrusts technology and feels anxious about distance counseling.
  • One or both members of the couple feel stressed or anxious in the family home, and prefer the environment of a therapy office.

When searching for a couples therapist, it’s important to find someone who can offer specific details about their treatment philosophy. You can ask potential counselors the questions such as the following to see if they are a good fit for you:

  • What therapeutic philosophy do you use? Can you show us research indicating this approach works?
  • What is the goal of therapy? Are we working to decide whether to stay together, or is the goal to improve the relationship?
  • How will we know therapy is working?
  • What do we need to do outside of therapy sessions to improve our relationship?
  • How long does therapy typically take?
  • How much do you charge?
  • Do you accept insurance or offer a superbill so we can seek insurance reimbursement?
  • What do you do to ensure our privacy? Do you use an encrypted therapy platform?
  • Will we share our ideas about what constitutes a healthy relationship?

Most online counseling uses video so that you can talk, read one another’s body language, and create an experience similar to traditional counseling. During the first few sessions, you will work with your therapist to identify treatment goals, share the history of the relationship, and cultivate a sense of trust.

As therapy progresses, you’ll each talk about your issues in the relationship, then work to identify strategies to manage these issues. Your therapist may give you homework, ask you to notice specific feelings or behaviors in between therapy sessions, or encourage you to come to therapy prepared to talk about a recent dispute. In some cases, the therapist may recommend individual counseling to deal with issues such as depression, trauma, and anxiety.

Your therapist should gently challenge each of you. If therapy is going well, you’ll be encouraged to confront unhealthy thoughts and feelings. Your therapist should also validate your emotions, and should not take sides—though they might offer insight on various conflicts, or help you identify unreasonable expectations. You should feel comfortable giving your therapist feedback, and the therapist should regularly assess and revisit treatment goals.

If you or someone you love is interested in learning more about online telehealth therapy, contact me to learn how I can help.

Courtesy of GoodTherapy.

Surviving the Coronavirus: 9 Practical Steps for Couples

Therapy Tips for Couples During COVID-19

Instead of our usual date, we embarked on a nighttime adventure to Costco. It was the last task before my husband, Bob, and I hunkered down in our condo. We are both marriage and relationship therapists and made the decision to do sessions virtually for the next week or two.

COVID-19, the coronavirus or the novel coronavirus, also known as a pandemic, had arrived in the U.S. with a bang.

My thoughts raced: Do we already have it?

We are over 60, so we’re in the high-risk group with elderly people in their 80s and 90s. Wow, I never thought of myself or Bob as that old. We still work full-time, are in pretty good physical shape, and lead a very active life.

My next thought: Will we survive?

As marriage and relationship counselors, we see lots of couples as a team every day in our small, cozy office. Before we packed up to leave, I actually measured the distance between our chairs and the sofa where clients sit. To my dismay, it was only about 5 feet. The experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say we’re supposed to stay at least 6 feet away from others to minimize the risk of catching the virus.


Next, I wiped down door handles, bathroom fixtures, desks, office equipment, telephones, and anything else I could find that people may have touched. Our suite of five offices had more “surfaces” than I ever imagined. Was I overdoing it? I do have some obsessive tendencies.

I left each of the ten therapists who work in our suite a precious gift, a bottle of hand sanitizer. The bottle I’d placed in our waiting room somehow disappeared. Thank goodness I ordered them before all the stores were sold out.


Therapy tips for couples during the coronavirus.

Back to survival. Bob and I had food, shelter, sanitizer, and so far, no symptoms of the virus. During the first 48 hours home, we immersed ourselves in “breaking news” to make sure we were fully prepared for the coronavirus onslaught. Of course, there was nothing else we could do to prepare. We did get one thing from watching all that news: anxiety and fear that went through the roof.

  • What was going to happen?
  • Were we getting the facts?
  • Were my elderly relatives going to die?
  • How would they cope with visitors not being allowed in their retirement community?
  • Should we see our millennial kids, since they might unknowingly carry the virus without symptoms?
  • Would we lose our entire nest egg since the stock market was down and our business might suffer?
  • Was this going to affect the election?

I could have obsessed for hours. I used my relaxation app and finally got to sleep, only to have dreams about other disasters.

This morning when we awoke, Bob and I decided we were going to stop freaking out and do what we tell our clients to do. Here are the nine practical steps we came up with to survive the coronavirus–for ourselves and for you:

1. Limit the amount of time you spend watching news.

We need to stay informed, but overdoing it is not healthy. Bob and I, like many of you, at times become obsessed with the news. We watch it hoping to hear something that will give us a sense of relief. However, that rarely happens. Watching too much news often creates more anxietyfear, and helplessness.

We are choosing to tune in to one or two news shows per day and otherwise listen to music, find some shows to binge watch, or catch up on movies.

Decide how much news you need to watch.

2. Stay present and practice mindfulness.

We all tend to get stuck in our “what ifs,” and linger in the question. When my mind starts fixating on the “what ifs,” I answer the question.

Of course, the worst “what if” is, “What if I or a loved one get the virus and die?” Here is the answer I give myself: “If I die, I will have nothing to worry about,” and “Heaven forbid someone I love dies, I would have to bear the grief, and life would continue.” I don’t mean that to sound cold, but that answer helps me stop obsessing. Then I remind myself that the chances of the worst happening are low, and I bring my mind back to the present to focus on what I can control.

Being mindful means being fully present and aware of what is happening in the moment. Bob and I practice mindfulness and meditation.

3. Focus on gratitude.

When we’re in crisis, we tend to focus on the negative, which can lead to a general feeling of doom and gloom.

When we recognize this happening, we know we can refocus on what we are thankful for: my health today, my family members, my friends, my ability to work from home, having food and sanitizer. The list could go on.

Create your own gratitude list or journal.

4. Focus on what you can control.

When you catch yourself caught in the cycle of fear about what is out of our control, refocus on what you can do.

This morning I super cleaned our condo. I called family and friends. I decided to write this article. I made a decision to use this time to further our business and create some eBooks on relationships. I will practice the piano, one of things I never get to do.

Identify what you have control over. Then immerse yourself in those things.

5. Make a plan.

Bob and I brainstormed ways to use this time productively. We plan to do some projects at home that we never seem to prioritize. In addition, we are going to work on redoing our website and creating some products that couples can use.

Since we don’t want to go to the gym and my exercise classes were cancelled, we committed to doing some type of exercise daily.

We don’t have children at home, but I know many people do. Make a list of ways you can keep your kids productive and entertained. Talk to your partner and friends about ideas. Work with your partner to build in alone time for each of you.

Plan to make the best use of your time.

6. Schedule your activities.

When you create a schedule for yourselves and your kids, there is often a greater sense of organization. We are more likely to be productive when we have a schedule. If your kids are old enough, they can participate in creating this.

We are scheduling wake up time, work time, exercise time, movie time, and bedtime. It’s important to have a routine and stick to it. This is what we have control over, and it will help us stay focused on the present.

Post your daily schedule in the kitchen.

7. Offer to help others.

There is so much need out there. We called some of our neighbors, especially the ones who live alone, and told them to call on us if they need food or other supplies.

Being concerned and compassionate toward others stops the preoccupation with our own anxieties and puts the focus outside yourself. Connecting with others reminds us we are not alone. We are in this together.

Figure out who you can be of service to.

8. Have virtual dates with friends and family.

We thought we would have to cancel the dates we had planned with friends and family. Then I had an idea. We can keep those plans and have “virtual dates.” Using Skype or Zoom, we can actually prepare dinner and then have a meal and talk, “as if” we were out to dinner. Connection decreases feelings of isolation and gives us a greater sense of calm.

Make some virtual dates for yourself.

9. Love each other.

I’m referring to love as a verb. This is a great opportunity to connect with your partner, emotionally and sexually. Giving and receiving love is like food for the soul. And who knows, maybe in nine months we’ll have a generation of post-coronavirus baby boomers.

Let’s hope this pandemic gets under control and subsides sooner rather than later. In the meantime, use these steps and the support of neighbors, friends, family as well as your virtual therapist to get through this storm. The sun will eventually shine.

Set up an online couples therapy appointment to help survive the coronavirus.

Courtesy of GoodTherapy.

I Love You, I Hate You: Surviving Relationship Churn with Couples Counseling

Couples Counseling May Help Your On-Again, Off-Again Relationship

Businesses have long used the term churn to denote the loss of customers and clients. More recently, psychologists have introduced the concept of relationship churn. In this context, relationship churn refers to unstable on-again, off-again relationships. When couples break up and then reconcile—sometimes many times in a row—this is churn.

Although more prevalent among adolescents and young adults, people of all ages can experience relationship churn. Churning relationships often inspire intense emotions. A person may cycle through intense love, anger, jealousy, grief, and anxiety over the state of the relationship in just a few days.

Relationship churn is a new concept that remains poorly studied, so it is unclear how common these tumultuous relationships are. Most research into the topic has examined relationships among people in their teens, twenties, and thirties, so most data on the topic apply to adolescents and emerging adults. A 2012 study of adolescents and young adults found 44% of participants who had a romantic relationship during the two years prior to the study had at least one breakup followed by a reconciliation. A 2013 study found that more than a third of couples who break up will reunite. The same study found that a fifth of married people experience relationship churn.

Defining relationship churn can prove challenging. One partner might think the couple has reconciled after they have sex, even when the other thinks they are still fighting. Likewise, breakups are not always certain. One partner might think the couple is merely taking time apart even as the other believes the relationship to be permanently over.

The media is filled with depictions of on-again, off-again relationships. Penny and Leonard on The Big Bang Theory broke up only to later reunite and marry. Ross and Rachel on Friends spent much of the series pining away for one another. They remained broken up even after having a child and finally reconciled in the season finale.

Permanently breaking up with a partner can be very difficult. Even when a relationship is irretrievably broken (or even abusive), partners may love one another or experience intense infatuation and attraction.

A 2017 study identified numerous reasons for the cycle of breaking up and getting back together, including:

Believing that problems in the relationship will improve or that the breakup may change a partner’s behavior.
A strong sense of investment in the relationship.
Relationship ambivalence. For example, a person might dislike relationship conflict but feel intense love or trust for their partner.
Uncertainty about the future, which may motivate couples both to break up and to later get back together.
A sense of familial duty. Even if a relationship is unhappy, partners may reunite because of family obligations.
Fear of being alone. Singlehood can be difficult, especially for someone who is accustomed to being in a relationship. For some people, such as those with separation anxiety or anxious attachment styles, being single can be scary. Even if a relationship is unhappy, loneliness can trigger a reconciliation.
Everyone brings their life experiences to their relationships. These experiences color their expectations, their perceptions of what is normal, and their hopes and fears about the relationship. A reunion following a breakup is no different. However, it can be difficult for couples to separate the baggage from their prior relationship from the new relationship.

Research published in 2013 found that ongoing relationship churn makes it progressively more difficult to end the relationship. Couples trapped in a cycle of breaking up and making up report lower relationship satisfaction and greater uncertainty about the future of the relationship. Another 2013 study found that high-churn relationships had higher conflict than stable relationships, including relationships in which couples remained stably broken up.

This doesn’t mean that it is impossible for a relationship to succeed following a breakup. Some people even successfully remarry after an acrimonious divorce and are able to enjoy many years of happy marriage.

To increase the odds of success a second—or third—time around, it’s important to identify what went wrong in the earlier relationship. A therapist may be able to help couples sort through old issues. Treating the new relationship as a fresh start may also help. Bringing up long-resolved emotional wounds, especially as a weapon in fights, can make it difficult to move forward.

Relationships in which there is abuse—including verbal, sexual, physical, or financial abuse—are not safe for either partner. Reuniting without addressing the abuse is a recipe for further abuse, and it may give the abusive partner greater control. Likewise, when a partner is abusive to children, reuniting can be traumatic to the kids and harmful to the entire family. Before considering a reunion, each partner must weigh the effects of the relationship on their physical and emotional wellbeing.

Abuse isn’t the only reason to break up for good. Some signs that a relationship is doomed include:

Continually repeating old patterns. Every couple has a few fights that repeat themselves. But if a couple continues to fight about the same things that caused the earlier break-up, this may indicate the relationship is beyond repair.
Getting back together without discussing relationship problems. Couples who reunite without committing to sustained change tend to repeat the same patterns as before.
Reuniting solely because of loneliness or jealousy. Getting back together without a commitment to ongoing communication and relationship improvements can make the next breakup even more painful.
A couples counselor may be able to help couples assess whether their relationship can be saved and what must happen to save it. Therapy can even ease the breakup process by offering support to each partner and helping couples transition to a different type of relationship. For parents of young children who must continue to co-parent, therapy can be particularly helpful.

Both partners do not have to go to therapy to see improvements. It takes two people to create relationship conflict. Individual therapy can help a person identify their role in the conflict. It may also help a person understand why they keep returning to the relationship. If the relationship ends, the right therapist can help ease feelings of grief, jealousy, or low self-esteem.

Courtesy of GoodTherapy.

If you or someone you love is in a relationship churn, consider couples or individual counseling at my Portland, Oregon office.

Relationships Help Mental Health In Couples Counseling

Can Romantic Relationships Improve Mental Health in LGBTQ+ Youth?

Romantic relationships can have a big impact on LGBTQ+ youth. In a study published in Abnormal Psychology, relationships protected homosexual youth from the emotional distress of bullying and stigma. Bonds with parents and peers didn’t have the same protective effect. This suggests closeted homosexual youth may not be getting the full emotional support they need.

Romantic Relationships Help Mental HealthMeanwhile, romantic relationships were associated with higher stress levels in bisexual youth. This trend may have been due to unique stressors in the bisexual population.

The study recruited participants from Project Q2, the longest ever longitudinal study of LGBTQ+ youth. The project involves a racially diverse group of 248 Chicago youth between the ages of 16-20. Most participants identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

In the study, gay and lesbian youth displayed less distress when they were in a relationship. Romantic relationships also buffered the stress of victimization and bullying. Bonds with friends and family did not provide the same benefits.

The study’s authors suggest these young people may rely on their partners for support they often cannot find elsewhere. A 2014 study in the Journal of Adolescence reached a similar conclusion. In that study, youth attracted to individuals of the same gender experienced stress from anticipating societal rejection. Romantic relationships helped improve their emotional well-being.

The study’s authors say their research points to the value of helping young people find romantic relationships. Outreach programs such as “queer proms” may offer more than a fun evening. They can also help young people develop dating skills and find partners. The resulting romance could lead to improvements in mental health by helping offset the effects of discrimination.

One exception to these findings was in regard to bisexual youth. Bisexual people in relationships were 19% more distressed than their single peers. This may be due to unique stereotypes bisexual individuals face. The study’s authors mention previous research in which romantic partners “expected” bisexual women to engage in threesomes (likely due to the myth that bisexual people are inherently polyamorous.).

There is also the matter of bisexual erasure. Bisexual individuals are often told their sexuality is “just a phase.” When a bisexual person enters a relationship, others may claim the person was really straight or gay all along, depending on their partner’s gender. This invalidation can have serious effects on a bisexual person’s emotional health.

(Note: These results are not meant to imply that romantic relationships are bad for bisexual individuals. They merely show how bisexual people are more likely to experience distress in relationships due to stigma.)

Baams, L., Bos, H. M., & Jonas, K. J. (2014). How a romantic relationship can protect same-sex attracted youth and young adults from the impact of expected rejection. Journal of Adolescence, 37(8), 1293-1302. doi:10.1016/j.adolescence.2014.09.006
Celebrate bisexuality! GLAAD dispels common myths and stereotypes. (2011, September 23). GLAAD.
Romantic relationships buffer gay and lesbian youth from emotional distress. (2018, February 16). EurekAlert.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

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?


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.


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?


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?”


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.


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.

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.

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.


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.


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.

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.


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

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.

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.

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.