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Tough Questions for Preparing Yourself for Couples Counseling
|Posted on June 7, 2015 at 10:50 AM||comments ()|
Tough Questions to Ask When Considering Couples Counseling
Asking good questions–of yourself and your partner–helps you uncover causes beneath causes.
In a strong disagreement, do you really believe your partner is entitled to their opinion?
Under duress, do you have the courage and tenacity to seek your partner’s reality and the courage to express your reality when the stakes are high?
Why is it important to let your partner know what you think, feel and are concerned about? (Because they really can’t appreciate what they don’t understand.)
What is the price your partner will have to pay to improve their response to you? How much do you care about the price they will have to pay? (Everything has a price and we always pay it.)
Can you legitimately expect your partner to treat you better than you treat him/her?
If you want your partner to change, do you think about what you can do to make it easier?
When a problem shows up, it’s natural to think “What should I do about it?”
A much more productive question is. “How do I aspire to be in this situation?”
The Importance of Communication
The three most important qualities for effective communication are respect, openness and persistence.
Good communication is much more difficult than most people want to believe. Effective negotiation is even harder.
A couple’s vision emerges from a process of reflection and inquiry. It requires both people to speak from the heart about what really matters to each.
We are all responsible for how we express ourselves, no matter how others treat us.
Communication is the number one presenting problem in couples counseling.
Effective communication means you need to pay attention to:
• Managing unruly emotions, such as anger that is too intense
• How you are communicating – whining, blaming, vague, etc.
• What you want from your partner during the discussion
• What the problem symbolizes to you
• The outcome you want from the discussion
• Your partner’s major concerns
• How you can help your partner become more responsive to you
• The beliefs and attitudes you have about the problem.
No wonder good communication is so hard.
Some Final Thoughts.
You can’t create a flourishing relationship by only fixing what’s wrong. But it’s a start.
Grace under pressure does not spring full-grown even with the best of intentions – practice, practice and more practice. Practice the right things and you will get there.
Love is destroyed when self-interest dominates.
If you don’t know what you feel in important areas of your relationship, it is like playing high stakes poker when you see only half your cards. You will make a lot of dumb plays.
The possibility exists that we choose partners we need but don’t necessarily want.
To get to the bottom of a problem often means you first accept how complex it is.
Trust is the foundational building block of a flourishing relationship.
You create trust by doing what you say you will do.
It’s impossible to be in a highly inter-dependent relationship without ever being judgmental or being judged.
If you strive to always feel emotionally safe in your relationship and get it, you will pay the price by becoming dull.
If neither of you ever rocks boat, you will end up with a dull relationship
Knowledge is not power. Only knowledge that is applied is power.
Most of the ineffective things we do in relationships fall into just a few categories:
• Blame or attempt to dominate
• Resentful compliance
• Denial or confusion.
These are the normal emotional reactions to feeling a threat or high stress.
Improving your relationship means better management of these reactions.
Everything you do works for some part of you, even if other parts of you don’t like it.
Three motivations will govern any sustained effort you make. You will seek to:
1. Avoid pain or discomfort
2. Create more benefits
3. Be a better person.
It’s also true for your partner.
If you are asking your partner to change something, sometimes it’s a good idea to ask if the change is consistent with how they aspire to be in that situation.
Businesses and marriages fail for the same three reasons. A failure to:
• Learn from the past
• Adapt to changing conditions
• Predict probable future problems and take action.
Effective change requires insight plus action. Insight without action is passivity.
Action without insight is impulsive. Insight plus action leads to clarity and power.
If you want to create a win-win solution, you cannot hold a position that has caused your
partner to lose in the past.
How to Get the Most from Couples Counseling
|Posted on June 7, 2015 at 10:45 AM||comments ()|
Couples are often uncertain what to expect from the process of couples therapy. They are not sure of what to expect of the therapist or even if the therapist has any expectations of them.
I have found most couples approach therapy with the idea that you will both share your side of your story and somehow the therapist will assist them to create a happier, more functional, relationship. They expect to learn some new or better skills. However, most people hope their partner will do most of the learning in problem areas.
I believe my primary role is to help you improve your responses to each other without violating your core values or deeply held principles. So that you may know some of my key guiding principles, I have created this document to provide clarity and focus to our work.
Your job is to create your own individual objectives for being in therapy. My job is to help you reach them. I have many, many tools to help you become a more effective partner – they work best when you are clear about how you aspire to be.
Goals and Objectives of Couples Therapy
The major aim of therapy is increasing your knowledge about yourself, your partner and the patterns of interaction between you. Therapy becomes effective as you apply new knowledge to break ineffective patterns and develop better ones.
The key tasks of couples therapy are increasing your clarity about:
• The kind of life you want to build together (Your We)
• The kind of partner you aspire to be in order to build your “We”. What gets in your way to becoming the kind of partner you aspire to be
• The skills and knowledge necessary to do the above tasks
Tradeoffs and Tough Choices
To create sustained improvement in your relationship you need:
• A vision of the life you want to build together (We)
• To have a life separate from your partner (the I) because you are not joined at the hip
• The appropriate attitudes and skills to work as a team
• The motivation to persist
• Time to review progress
To create the relationship you really desire, there will be some difficult tradeoffs and tough choices for each person.
The first tradeoff will be time. It simply takes time to create a relationship that flourishes: time to be together, time to be with family, time to play, coordinate, nurture, relax, hang out and plan. This time will encroach on some other valuable areas – your personal or professional time. Time is essential for meeting each other’s emotional needs. Lack of time together is the single most destructive killer for relationships.
The second compromise is comfort. That means emotional comfort, like going out on a limb to try novel ways of thinking or doing things, listening and being curious instead of butting in, speaking up instead of becoming resentfully compliant or withdrawing. At the beginning, there will be emotional risk taking action, but you will never explore different worlds if you always keep sight of the shoreline. In addition, few people are emotionally comfortable being confronted with how they don’t live their values or being confronted with the consequences of their actions.
The other comfort that will be challenged is energy comfort. It simply takes effort to sustain improvement over time: staying conscious of making a difference over time, remembering to be more respectful, more giving, more appreciative etc. It takes effort to remember and act.
The other effort is even more difficult for some people: that is improving their reaction to problems. For example, if one person is hypersensitive to criticism, and his/her partner is hypersensitive to feeling ignored, it will take effort to improve their sensitivity instead of hoping the partner will stop ignoring or criticizing.
In all these areas, there is generally a conflict between short-term gratification and the long-term goal of creating a satisfying relationship. The blunt reality is that, in an interdependent relationship, effort is required on the part of each person to make a sustained improvement. It is like pairs figure skating – one person cannot do most of the work and still create an exceptional team.
How to Maximize the Value from your Couples Therapy Sessions
|Posted on June 7, 2015 at 10:40 AM||comments ()|
How to Maximize the Value from your Couples Therapy Sessions
A common yet unproductive pattern in couple’s therapy is making the focus be whatever problem happens to be on someone’s mind at the moment. This is a reactive (and mostly ineffective) approach to working things through.
The second unproductive pattern is showing up and saying, “I don’t know what to talk about, do you?” While this blank slate approach may open some interesting doors, it is a hit or miss process.
The third common unproductive pattern is discussing whatever fight you are now in or whatever fight you had since the last meeting. Discussing these fights/arguments without a larger context of what you wish to learn from the experience is often an exercise in spinning your wheels.
Over time, repeating these patterns will lead to the plaintive question, “Are we getting anywhere?”
A more powerful approach to your couple’s therapy sessions is for each person to do the following before each session:
1. Reflect on your objectives for being in therapy.
2. Think about your next step that supports or relates to your larger objectives for the kind of relationship you wish to create, or the partner you aspire to become.
This reflection takes some effort. Yet few people would call an important meeting and then say, “Well, I don’t have anything to bring up, does anyone else have anything on their agenda?” Your preparation will pay high dividends.
Important Concepts for Couples Therapy and Relationships
The following ideas can help identify areas of focus in our work and/or stimulate discussion between you and your partner between meetings. If you periodically review this list, you will discover that your reflections and associations will change over time. So please revisit this list often, it will help you keep focus during our work.
Attitude is Key
When it comes to improving your relationship, your attitude toward change is more important that what action to take.
Identifying what to do and how to do it is often easy to identify. The bigger challenge is why you don’t do it.
How to think differently about a problem is often more effective than just trying to figure out what action to take.
Your partner is quite limited in his/her ability to respond to you.
You are quite limited in your ability to respond to your partner.
Accepting that is a huge step into maturity.
The definite possibility exists that you have some flawed assumptions about your partner’s motives. And that he/she has some flawed assumptions about yours. The problem is, most of the time we don’t want to believe those assumptions are flawed.
Focus on Changing Yourself Rather than Your Partner
Couples therapy works best if you have more goals for yourself than for your partner. I am at my best when I help you reach objectives you set for yourself.
Problems occur when reality departs sharply from our expectations, hopes, desires and concerns. It’s human nature to try and change one’s partner instead of adjusting our expectations. This aspect of human nature is what keeps therapists in business.
The hardest part of couples therapy is accepting you will need to improve your response to a problem (how you think about it, feel about it, or what to do about it). Very few people want to focus on improving their response. It’s more common to build a strong case for why the other should do the improving.
You can’t change your partner. Your partner can’t change you. You can change the patterns with your partner! You can influence each other, but that doesn’t mean you can change each other. Becoming a more effective partner is the most efficient way to change a relationship. You can change the patterns with your partner!
It’s easy to be considerate and loving to your partner when the vistas are magnificent, the sun is shining and breezes are gentle. But when it gets bone chilling cold, you’re hungry and tired, and your partner is whining and sniveling about how you got them into this mess, that’s when you get tested. Your leadership and your character get tested. You can join the finger pointing or become how you aspire to become.
Nothing is impossible for the person who doesn’t have to do it.
Fear lets you know you’re not prepared. If you view fear in that mode, it becomes a signal to prepare the best you can.
You can learn a lot about yourself by understanding what annoys you and how you handle it.
The more you believe your partner should be different, the less initiative you will take to change the patterns between you.
Infidelity: Mending your marriage after an affair
|Posted on December 18, 2014 at 5:25 AM||comments ()|
Infidelity: Mending your marriage after an affair
Infidelity causes intense emotional pain - anger, disbelief, fear, guilt, shame. But an affair doesn't have to mean the end of your marriage. Understand how a marriage can be rebuilt after an affair.
When an affair is first discovered, both partners feel as if the world has collapsed - you're left wondering whether your marriage can survive.
Few marital problems cause as much heartache and devastation as infidelity. Money worries, disagreements about children or a serious illness can strain a relationship. But because of the deep sense of betrayal, infidelity undermines the foundation of marriage itself.
Divorce doesn't have to be the inevitable resolution to infidelity. With counseling, time to heal and the mutual goal of rebuilding the relationship, some couples emerge from infidelity with a stronger and more honest relationship than before.
When an affair is discovered
The initial discovery of an extramarital affair can trigger a range of powerful emotions for both partners - shock, rage, shame, depression, guilt, remorse. Both members of the couple may cycle through all of these emotions many times in a single day - one minute vowing to end the marriage and the next wanting desperately to save it. At this point, it's important to take one step at a time:
Get support. For your own well-being, seek support from family, friends, a pastor or counselor - people you trust and feel comfortable with. Talking about your feelings with those you love can help you cope with the intensity of the situation. Objective support can help you clarify what you're feeling and put the affair into perspective. However, avoid confiding in people who you know will take sides - this tends to increase the emotional intensity of the situation.
Give each other some space. Both partners need a break from the emotional stress generated by the discovery of an affair. Although difficult, experts advise taking a timeout" when emotions are running high.
Take time. Avoid delving into the intimate details of the affair with your partner at first. Postpone such discussions until you can talk without being overly accusatory or destructive. Take time to absorb the situation. You may need to air out your feelings with someone who is a good listener before you can have a constructive conversation with your spouse.
What is infidelity to you?
Infidelity isn't a single, clearly defined situation. There are different kinds of situations that some may consider infidelity. What's considered infidelity varies among couples and even between partners in a relationship. What may be acceptable for some couples may be unacceptable for others. Similarly, what is tolerable for one partner in a relationship may be intolerable for the other partner. For instance, is it infidelity if your partner is attracted to someone outside the marriage - but never acts on it? Is an emotional connection without physical intimacy infidelity? What about online relationships? If your partner is regularly chatting intimately with another person online, is that infidelity?
As a general rule, a person who is having an affair:
Feels a strong sexual attraction to someone other than his or her partner
Feels the need to keep the relationship a secret, and uses lies and deception to do so
Feels emotionally closer to this person than to his or her partner
Recovering from an affair is a difficult and ongoing process. But it's possible to survive an affair. Marriage counseling can help you put the affair into perspective, explore underlying marital problems, learn how to rebuild and strengthen your relationship, and avoid divorce - if that's the mutual goal.
Understanding why an affair happened is crucial to recovering your marriage. Affairs can happen in happy relationships as well as troubled ones. The reasons vary:
The involved partner not getting enough from the marriage relationship or, conversely, not contributing enough to it
An addiction to sex, love or romance
Fear of intimacy
A life transition, such as the birth of a child or an empty nest
Acting on impulse while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs
A means of ending an unhappy marriage
Moving on: Steps to help recover your marriage
Although every relationship is different, often these steps are necessary to help mend a broken marriage:
End the affair. First, the affair must end. This includes any and all interaction and communication with the lover. True reinvestment in your marriage can't happen without this.
Be accountable. If you've had an affair, take responsibility for your actions. If you were cheated on, consider the role you may have played in your spouse's unhappiness and reasons for straying.
Determine your shared goal. Be sure you both agree that you want to mend your marriage - but don't make this decision in the heat of powerful emotions. It may take some time to sort out what's happened and to see if your relationship can heal. If you both arrive at the goal of reconciliation, it's important to realize that recovering the marriage will take time, energy and commitment.
See a marriage counselor. Find a marriage counselor who will help you restore your marriage if that is the mutual goal. Seek help from a licensed counselor who's trained in marital therapy and experienced in dealing with infidelity. Avoid therapists who see an affair as the end of marriage.
Identify the issues. Infidelity often points to underlying problems in your marriage. Examine your relationship to understand what has contributed to the affair, and what you need to do to prevent it from happening again.
Restore the trust. Make a serious commitment to rebuilding your marriage. Go to counseling together to help visibly confirm the commitment and to prevent secrecy from continuing to erode your relationship.
Talk about it. Once the initial shock is over, discuss what happened openly and honestly - no matter how difficult talking or hearing about this may be. Know that you might need the help of a marital therapist to be able to talk constructively about it.
Give it time. If you were the one cheated on, you can set the timetable for recovery. Often the person who's been unfaithful is anxious to "put all of this behind us" to help cope with his or her guilt. Allow each other enough time to understand and heal.
Forgive. For many people, this is the hardest part of recovering from an affair. Forgiveness isn't likely to come quickly or easily - it may be a lifelong process. Talk to a counselor or spiritual advisor about what forgiveness really means. Don't use forgiveness to cover uncomfortable issues that you think are too hard to face. If you're committed to your partner and your marriage, forgiveness tends to become easier over time.
Recommit to your future. What you're going through is emotionally devastating. But times like this can make people and marriages stronger than ever before.
The end - or not
Not every marriage touched by infidelity can or should be saved. Sometimes too much damage has been done, or both partners aren't committed. Painful as it is, it's important to acknowledge when this is the case. But if both of you are committed to rebuilding your relationship and you have the strength and determination for the task, the rewards can be great - a partnership that grows in depth, honesty and intimacy.
Impact of Pornography on Couples
|Posted on October 5, 2014 at 4:40 PM||comments ()|
When it comes to sexual purity, men are facing unprecedented challenges and temptation from every angle in today's increasingly sexualized culture. The online pornography industry is changing everything, especially now that Internet porn is immediately accessible on most cell phones and usually anonymously–seducing and enslaving even some of the most committed Christian leaders. The statistics are sobering (www.CovenantEyes.com):
• 68% of young adult men and 18% of women use porn at least once every week.
• 50% of all Christian men and 20% of all Christian women say they are addicted to pornography.
• In 2006, estimated revenues for the sex-related entertainment business were just under $13 billion in the U.S.
• One in five mobile searches is for pornography.
• 69% percent of the pay-per-view Internet content market is pornographic.
"Pornography is the most concerning thing to psychological health that I know of existing today." – Dr. Anne Layden, University of Pennsylvania