Couples counseling

How Couples Counseling Can Make You More Discouraged

Many of us well-trained professional counselors specialize in relationship therapy. But the general public may not know how couples counseling can make you more discouraged. It’s important to know the factors that get in the way of improving relationships.

Couples Counseling Means the Relationship is the Client

When a couple comes in for counseling, their relationship is my client. Even though they are two individuals, the focus is the well-being of their marriage.

There can be successful outcomes for couples counseling. And both of them need attitudes of curiosity about themselves and their partner. This is tough. It’s human nature to believe our spouse is the one who needs help. Yet, we all have blind spots that our spouse sees. And we all have quirks and flaws built into our personalities. For clarity, here are questions to ask:

  • “What it’s like for my spouse to be in a relationship with me?”
  • “Am I willing to change my part of the relationship pattern?”
  • “Am I willing to learn from my past mistakes?”
  • “Is my motive for counseling driven by improving my partner or myself?”

Couples Counseling Can Make It Worse

In some cases, couples counseling is not appropriate. Here are questions to ask.

  • “Is drug or alcohol abuse an ongoing issue?”
  • “Is there a sexual or emotional affair currently going on?”
  • “Are you a victim or perpetrator of domestic violence?”
  • “Are physical or verbal fights situational? Or does it characterize the relationship?”

Certain behaviors and attitudes are our “normal.” But it’s still destructive. We may not have discernment about issues of emotional and verbal abuse. For couples counseling to be effective, the well-being of each spouse must be honored. If it can’t, it’s time for individual therapy.

When Couples Counseling Is Not Appropriate

First of all, if couples counseling is not appropriate, DO pursue individual therapy. Secondly, it may be appropriate to come back to the couples therapist when both spouses can respect each other. They’re able to partner with common intentions.

For couples counseling to be effective, the well-being of each spouse must be honored. Click To Tweet

Many couples’ therapists can be fooled by the most clever and charming of spouses who abuse. I don’t like labeling individuals as “abusers” or any other derogatory term. And unfortunately, therapists can inadvertently harm the bullied spouse if they lack additional training. And we’re all human. So even therapists’ marriages can have similar issues.

The power/control issues of emotional abuse are ingrained in our society. It’s vital for therapists to have acute self-awareness. They hold power in the counseling office that can repeat what victims experience at home. Too many in our field have unknowingly caused harm by lack of awareness.

Questions to Ask Yourself About Couples Counseling

  • “Are you concerned about your emotional well-being?”
  • “Do you see yourself as a victim in your relationship?”
  • “Are you fearful of your spouse?”

A more difficult issue to assess is emotional or verbal abuse. And it’s important that each spouse is honored through couples work.

If your well-being is at stake, then it’s vital for you to get help apart from the relationship. Click To Tweet

I’m not suggesting that we perceive one partner in a marriage as the victim and the other as the villain. Both individuals can be willing and teachable to overcome the power/control dynamic. If not, individual counseling will give a sense of clarity.

Start with your free consultation to find out if if couples or individual therapy is best for now.

 

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Soulmate

How To Be a Soulmate Without Losing Your Soul

It’s a continual process to balance how to be a soulmate without losing your soul. It takes attitude changes and pressurized reality to learn how to balance between “we” and “me.”

When we travel by plane, we’re used to hearing the flight attendant’s safety instructions. He or she usually says something like this.

“If there’s a loss of cabin pressure, the panels above your seat will open, and oxygen masks will drop down. . . Be sure to adjust your own mask before helping others.”

If we attempt to help others before adjusting our own mask, we may end up passing out. Then we can’t help anyone. We need to take that same advice for our relationships.

We need to care for our own soul-needs before attempting to care for others. Click To Tweet

It takes attitude changes to be a soulmate

Marriages are like a pressurized cabin at various times. They are not so even-keeled. We experience turbulence and high altitudes. Storms and fair weather affect our differences. Our ears pop. The ride gets rough. We’re required to stay in our seats with seatbelt securely fastened at times.

Early on in romance, our differences are exciting, novel, and energizing. After marriage, and sometimes before, our differences can become outright annoying. That’s when they can escalate into major conflicts.

Other life transitions expose the soul storms of a marriage. Raising children, career development, loss, and core differences create turbulence in life. But we can get beyond messy marriages.

Many Christian couples vow, “The two of us are one.” It doesn’t take long to realize one or both are subconsciously saying things like this.

We two are one. And yes, I’m the one.

Or, in a patriarchal or what some consider a “biblical” marriage, a bride may live her life like this.

We two are one. And, yes, he’s the one.

As years go by, both lose opportunities to develop their character. They lose their individual selves as well as the relationship. One of them becomes invisible. The other one gets caught up in self-delusions. Neither has insights into their own souls.

Neither one attempts to adjust their own oxygen mask. They’re too busy trying to improve, fix, or help the other. They become bitter, resentful, angry and resistant. Their world gets smaller. They become stuck. Or, figuratively, they pass out.

Life transitions expose the soul storms of a marriage. Raising children, career development, loss, and core differences create turbulence in life. Click To Tweet

It takes pressurized reality to be a soulmate

It takes two to honor each other and respect one another’s differences. And it still takes two to do that in a relationship. Here’s points to consider.

  1. Conflict is necessary for personal and relationship awareness.
  2. Don’t avoid it or run from it.
  3. Don’t criticize your partner or try to win them over to your side.
  4. Instead, be open. Listen to understand. There are more than two ways to resolve a conflict.
  5. Seek counseling or outside help to resolve resolvable conflicts. And to adjust to unresolvable conflicts.

World-renown researcher, Dr. John Gottman, gives us clarity. Sixty-nine percent of happily married couples have unresolved conflict. The difference between the “masters” and the “disasters” are this. The “masters” are the ones who adjust and accept their partner’s differences. The “disasters” allow perpetual resentment and negativity to grow.

Here are ideas on how to adjust our own soul mask

  1. Do breathe deeply when you feel reactive, irritable, angry, or triggered by your spouse. Slow down. You’ll get clarity when you do.
  2. Be curious about what’s going on inside of you. Ask yourself, “What’s unfinished in my life? Why did this situation or comment make me feel this way? What is the meaning I created from that interaction?”
  3. To increase self-awareness, reflect on this question: “How is my spouse experiencing me?”
  4. See your spouse as a gift from God. When you do, you can develop an attitude of thankfulness. You’ll nurture your soul and grow your character. Be willing to accept your spouses’ issues as helping yoube more understanding.
It takes two to honor each other and respect one another’s differences. Click To Tweet

The cabin pressure of your marriage will change. Those oxygen masks will drop. Always adjust yours first. Balance the “we” and “me” in romance and marriage. Your beautiful life is worth keeping your soul intact.

I’m writing more on the steps for balancing the “we” and “me” in romance and marriage. So, let’s stay in touch in the meantime.

For now, sign up for updates and preview on my new book

Beyond Messy Marriages: Divine Invitations Toward Your Authentic Self

 

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Relieve Stress

Best Way To Relieve Stress Immediately

There’s a method I’ve discovered as the best way to relieve stress immediately. I’ve shared it with my clients and use it in my home every day. It’s called the seven-minute rule. What is the seven-minute rule? I’m glad you asked. Before I tell you how it works can you relate to these scenarios?

You Can Relieve Stress Immediately if. . .

  • You come home from work after a stressful day expecting to relax. When you walk in the house, it’s a wreck. No one cared to pick up after themselves. They must be lazy, you think.
  • Piled up bills are laying on the kitchen counter. The TV is blaring. The children don’t notice you because they’re on their iPads. They haven’t done their chores or homework. Or, they could at least be outside.
  • Your spouse is stressed and gives you the crying baby. And also expects you to change the dirty diaper. In an irritated tone, you ask, “what have you done all day?”
  • Your voice is firm with aggravation. The family accuses you of being mean. But it’s the only way you can get your point across.

As a result, we end up with an “I-work-so-hard-all-day-and-no-one-cares” attitude. Whatever our story, we find ways to escape the stress. Some do it by working late. Others do it by spending hours on social media. Those methods and others provide an immediate reward: dopamine, the brain’s pleasure chemical.

But, it doesn’t take long before our relationships become more distant. Those who matter most seem like strangers. And in some cases, enemies. Then we make up stories in our minds about their intentions to make our lives miserable. The results produce no teamwork in the family. Nor do we have partnership in the marriage.

Don't let mismanaged stress make relationships distant. Otherwise, those who matter most seem like strangers. Click To Tweet

Here’s how to change that cycle.

Relieve Stress Immediately —The Seven Minute Rule

The seven-minute rule is a technique that transforms stressful situations. With consistent use, we can create relaxing and peaceful connections in family relationships. What we create in a family environment can benefit in other ways. It also gives us skills to create more productive work environments.

Here’s how it works:

  • Consider seven minutes before or after any transition as sacred space. What do I mean by sacred space? It’s the place in-between a relationship that holds only gratitude and heart-to-heart connection. Nothing else. There’s no irritability, demands, criticisms or other negative interactions. That includes confrontations, stern looks, sarcasm, and cynicism.
  • The seven minutes of sacred space and time is taking deep breaths. That sacred space means slowing down to be loving and respectful. It’s focusing on being compassionate and tender with our loved ones. Also, it’s being kind and gentle regardless of the environment. It’s having an attitude of curiosity rather than judgement.
  • Let the children know you’re happy to be with them. You love them just as they are. You might say to your spouse with light-hearted honor, “I can’t believe I’m married to you! I am SO blessed.”
  • It’s your choice to love unconditionally in that seven minutes of sacred space. You take time to connect and value your relationships.

Examples of the 7-Minute Rule to Relieve Stress

  • Set the timer on your smart phone for seven minutes after pulling up in the driveway.
  • Put a reminder on your dashboard with a 3” x 5” card that reads “7-minute rule”.
  • Take deep breaths in and out with a mantra such as this. Breathe in thankfulness. Breath out stress. Or say, “I breathe in appreciation and I breathe out criticism.” Take about three or four deep breaths with the same mantra. Use that attitude for the following seven minutes of sacred time.

As you enter your home, leave your stress behind. Use deep breathing and then look into the eyes of your children and spouse. Be interested in their world.

It’s as if you’ll be walking onto “holy ground” in those seven minutes. Use it to connect, appreciate, and see the world through the eyes of your loved ones. Be willing to live in the present.

Use the 7-minute rule to connect, appreciate, & see through the eyes of your loved ones. Make transitions sacred. Click To Tweet

Relieve Stress through these 7-minutes:

  • Before bed
  • When you wake up
  • Right before leaving the home
  • After you arrive at your destination
  • While sitting down for a meal
  • As you finish your meal

Any transition is seven minutes of sacred and holy space.

Try it out for a week, (7 days) and see how it works for you. I challenge you to try it for 30 days. And I’d love to hear your comments.

Here’s Your next step.

Sign up for updates for my book in progress: Beyond Messy Marriages

 

Unsplash photo by John Sekutowski

 

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Marital Growth

One Thing You Must Know About Marital Growth

One thing you must know about marital growth is this. There’s a difference between closeness and intimacy.

We’re all designed for relationships. We may be single, married, widowed or divorced. But when it comes to marriage, there’s one thing you must know about marital growth – the difference between closeness and intimacy.

We desire to be loved by another human being in spite of our flaws. Yet we balk at knowing and being known. It’s risky because our spouse may not accept us. As a result, we keep an emotional distance to hide our vulnerability. Or we’ve been authentic in the past and it wasn’t worth it.

We desire to be loved by another human being in spite of our flaws. Click To Tweet

Marital Growth Can Heal Our Childhood Pain

It’s during our early experiences that we learn how to protect ourselves from pain. We learn ways to hide our real selves. The ways we hide keep us from being intimate in our marriages. Here’s an example.

I learned to hide my vulnerability when I was “held back” in the second grade. Our family moved in the middle of the school year. I had difficulty reading at grade level. A diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder didn’t exist then, and while I was diagnosed as an adult, it didn’t stop me as a child from believing something was wrong with me.

“You’re eight and only in the second grade?” kids would say.

“Yes,” I said trying to make light of it. “I was held back.”

“You flunked,” they laughed at me and pointed their fingers. “You flunked,” they said over and over again. I wanted to hide. And I learned to keep my past a secret. Instead, I pretended to be a year younger than I was. It was too painful to admit I “flunked.” As most children do, I chose to hide. I learned to keep my distance from people who would cause me pain.

We all need to grow beyond our childhood pain. A growing and partnered marriage is the way to do it. Otherwise, we fall into stagnation and mediocrity. But we long for energy and vibrancy.

Marital Growth Needs a Healthy Dose of “Closeness”

An example of being close is cuddling up on the couch with your loved one. As a couple, you’re watching a Netflix movie or an episode of your favorite TV show. You share a bowl of buttered popcorn. Physical touch between the two of you adds warm fuzzy feelings. It doesn’t take effort for either of you. It’s easy and comfortable.

To clarify, closeness could be:

  • Enjoying time on vacation together, whether it’s a cruise or a camping trip.
  • Having fun during a shared activity.
  • Comfortable silence between husband and wife.
  • Predictability of routines.
  • Finishing the sentences of another.
  • Knowing what the other wants on their pizza.

Being close because of shared experiences is a vital feature of marital growth. Yet, every marriage needs to be intimate. And I’m not talking about sex. Here’s what I mean.

Marital Growth Needs a Healthy Dose of “Intimate”

Most people think of intimacy as sex. But that’s not all it is. In some cases, sex is the opposite of intimacy. It can be a facade for real intimacy. Close physical connection through sex can be like super-glue for married couples. But it’s not enough. Authentic knowing of another comes through vulnerable conversations.

Here are examples that can apply to either spouse.

When a wife tells her husband she’s attracted to a male co-worker, she’s being vulnerable. As partners, they could be stronger by breaking the power of secret attraction. But she also bears the risk of rejection, insecurity or judgment. The husband could accuse, misunderstand or resent his wife. Even though she chooses integrity, he may reject her vulnerability.

But when her husband welcomes her internal struggles, they can strengthen their union. They can show up as partners for each other. And it takes two to do it.

Vulnerability plus acceptance equals intimacy. Trustworthiness increases. The marriage grows a stronger bond. They know each other’s weaknesses and have each other’s back. Intimacy invites partnership between the two. They both fertilize their unconditional love for each other. They grow through intimacy.

Intimacy in dating is seeing the other person as worthy of dignity and respect. It’s honoring the other’s differences. Resist the attitude of “what can my girlfriend do for me” to “how can I honor her?” Choose to nurture a friendship before a romance. Be willing to grow through relationship.

Intimacy requires two people in the relationship to choose to be real. One may pave the way for the other, but both are willing. Reciprocity is key.

Intimacy requires two people in the relationship to choose to be real. Click To Tweet

Marital Intimacy Is:

  • Leaning into giving and receiving love when you’d rather run away.
  • The confession of a shameful past to allow the other to forgive.
  • Saying a heartfelt, “I’m sorry” without the “but” or “if” words.
  • Letting go of bitterness, resentment, or cynicism.
  • Being willing to risk comfort and choosing to live in truth.

Remember, a growing and partnered marriage needs both comfort and intimacy. Our risk of intimacy and acceptance by our spouse helps us overcome the pain of childhood. When we reciprocate, we can grow our marriages with energy and vibrancy.

Questions to Ponder about Marital Growth

How are your relationships close?

What does the word “intimacy” mean to you?

What do you think of with the word “vulnerability?”

Sign up for updates on “Beyond Messy Marriages” 

 

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State of your marriage

How to Know the State of Your Marriage

My husband and I recently attended his 45th High School Reunion. There were a handful of couples who had been married over forty years! I was curious about the secret to their success. Of course, I want wisdom for my marriage. And I want to help others with “how to know the state of your marriage.” Beyond my clinical knowledge and experience, this was a perfect time to ask. These were couples my husband knew since adolescence. And it was the best environment outside my counseling office to get insight.

40-year Marriage Testimonies:

“We’ve been through a lot. And we have some major differences. But when we go hiking, all those differences fade. We appreciate each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”

“I don’t know why it’s worked for us. I guess we’ve been blessed. My spouse is my best friend.”

Of course, not all long-term marriages give evidence of partnership. Some couples look worn down and live like room-mates under the same roof. We all go through seasons or years of unhappiness or dysfunction. That’s why I steer away from the term, “happy marriage.” It’s more valuable to work toward a growing marriage. And that was my takeaway after listening to the couples at the reunion.

Marriage falls into one of two categories: “masters” or “disasters.” Chapter 11 of my book, Beyond Messy Marriages addresses these two categories.

It's more valuable to work toward a growing marriage rather than a happy marriage. We can all choose to grow through temporary feelings and seasons. Click To Tweet

One of my mentors, Dr. John Gottman, is world-renowned for his research on marital stability. The research findings are packaged in his books for the general public. Clinical training programs for therapists like me have been invaluable. I was privileged to meet Drs. John and Julie Gottman in Atlanta in early 2018 for the Level 1 Clinical Training.

Many who write books on marriage use his findings to define what does and doesn’t work in relationships. Dr. Gottman helps us understand differences between “the masters” and “the disasters.” In other words, those who grow beyond their marital messes are the “masters.” Those who get stuck are the “disasters.” Certain behaviors and attitudes put us heading in one direction or the other.

Know the State of Your Marriage By What Direction You’re Heading

Imagine a horizontal line with arrows on either end. Remember geometry class? Anyone of us can be an “x” on a continuum line facing either right decisions on one end or wrong decisions on the other. This idea helps us see the fluidity of our choices. We have hope for changing our dance (relationship) patterns. We can apply that same horizontal line with an “x” representing our marriages. Are we heading in the direction of the “masters” or the “disasters?” In other words, we can change directions with the smallest of decisions.

Our lives and relationships are never static even though we feel stuck. Click To Tweet

Know the State of Your Marriage By Adjusting to Perpetual Conflicts

Gottman’s research challenges how therapists help or hinder couples they work with. For example, we shouldn’t focus solely on conflict resolution skills. The reason is that 69% of conflict in our relationships are perpetual. They have no resolve. The couples I spoke with at the reunion validated these findings.

So you could divorce one spouse and marry another. But you will experience a different set of perpetual conflicts. They’re likely to add up to the same percentage as the old marriage. The wisdom here is for couples to learn how to solve the 31% of conflicts that are resolvable. And grow through accepting the rest.

Know The State of Your Marriage By Resolving Resolvable Conflicts

We can learn to grow through, adapt, and even appreciate the remaining perpetual 69%. Unless, of course, part of that 69% dishonors the dignity, value, and worth of either spouse.

My husband’s old friends became my new friends while at the high school reunion. Those long-term married folks validated the premise for my book. Those who are open and willing to respect differences were clearly among the “masters.”

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