How Couple’s Counseling Works

Does the thought of going to couple’s counseling make you nervous? If so, I don’t blame you! For many people, going to therapy sounds about as fun as going to the dentist. When we have a painful cavity, we know it needs to get fixed. We also know that that getting it fixed will cause more pain at first. Counseling is similar in that it usually gets harder before it gets better. However, after all is said and done, couple’s therapy can make our relationship stronger than ever before.

So why does it have to hurt before it can get better?

Usually, we go to counseling because something hurtful has happened in our relationship and we want to feel better. It’s hard to look back and remember times that our partner has hurt us. However, if we don’t look at the wound, examine it, and determine its cause, how could we possibly know how to fix it? Just as the dentist has to poke around on our gums to find the problem tooth, we have to poke around and find where you have been hurt emotionally. This usually involves your therapist asking questions about recent arguments or maybe even looking at ways you’ve been hurt in past relationships.

Why do therapists always get into the childhood stuff?

It’s not always necessary to get into childhood issues but it can be helpful. As kids, our brains were developing as we learned about the world. We learned about what love looks like, whether the world is a safe place or not, whether we can trust people, and so on. Sometimes we’ve developed beliefs that are harming our current relationship. For example, if I learned that people don’t like to hear about problems, I may believe that I need to keep my problems secret from my partner. If that is my belief, I will most likely think it’s not ok to ask for help. So, let’s say I’ve had a serious problem with my boss at work. When I come home work very grouchy my partner has no idea why. My partner may try to ask but I’ll just push them away. Being pushed away may feel hurtful to my partner, so they close down too. Now we have two people in a relationship who are both feeling very alone. 

Who’s in the wrong here?

One could argue that no one is. I have been doing what I have learned is the loving thing to do in a relationship- keep my problems to myself. I think that I am protecting my partner from negativity by not sharing my troubles. Unfortunately, my partner feels like they must be doing something wrong. If I don’t share with them, they must not be a good partner. Maybe they believe that people who really love each other share everything with one another. They start to doubt my love for them. Now my partner is feeling insecure and alone. I am feeling overwhelmed and alone. Both of us are just trying to do the right thing but we’re operating from different belief systems. 

Here’s the difference between blaming a person and addressing the system.

I learned in childhood that people don’t want to hear about problems. I believe I need to keep things positive and not complain. When I came home in a grouchy mood, my partner asked me, “What’s wrong?” I snapped back with, “Nothing.” My partner is not an idiot. They know that something is wrong. My lack of sharing has triggered some sadness in my partner. You see, my partner struggles with never feeling good enough. Now that they see their beloved withdrawing from them, my partner is convinced that they must not be good enough to share with. Now my partner withdraws too, feeling hurt and rejected. This example illustrates why it is so important to move away from blame and move toward self-awareness. 

How does therapy undo the damage?

Therapy provides a safe place to come and get to the root of your issues with a neutral party. Therapists are trained to not take sides but to look at the whole relationship dynamic. If you’re in therapy, and you feel that your therapist is taking sides, you need to bring that up to them. You may even need to find a new therapist. The role of the therapist is to help you find what your underlying belief systems are. Notice I didn’t say that the role of the therapist is to find what’s wrong with you or your partner. Rarely is it one person that causes a relationship to struggle. It’s the system of communication that is based on faulty beliefs that is the problem.

Therapy helps us to see the unhealthy patterns that we slip into when life gets hard. Once we realize what we are doing, and why, we can address it. Using the example above, I must believe that my partner actually wants to hear about negative stuff that they’re facing. My partner must learn that I struggle with sharing hard stuff, but not because my partner is a bad partner. The hope here is that I will bravely begin to share more of my heart, even though I most likely fear they will be criticized for it. When I do share, my partner must work to make sure they are making it safe to share (not judging, giving advice without asking first, etc.). My partner must also realize that if I choose not to share, it may be because I am scared. See how this helps us both to have much more compassion for each other?

Results of Couples Counseling

When we have more compassion for each other (and ourselves) we are slow to criticize and quick to connect. Often, we take the behavior of our partner’s personally. In reality, we all come into relationships with baggage. We’re all wrestling with our own demons. Counseling helps us to reveal what those demons are and then learn new ways to relate so that they don’t effect our current relationships. If you feel stuck with your partner, consider finding a therapist near you. We all get stuck sometimes, going to a therapist can help you to identify the patterns you get stuck in and then give you tools for staying un-stuck. 

In the meantime, here are some free resources to help:

Thank you for reading! Please share with anyone who might find this helpful. 

Take Care,

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Gifts That Foster Connection

If you’re still on the lookout for some holiday gifts, here are some of my favorites that have the added benefit of enhancing your relationships. Please include your ideas in the comments as well!

For Kids

The Ungame – is great for for kids 6 years and older. The game includes great questions that give you a peek into your kiddos minds- and they get to do the same with you!

And Then, Story Starters – This is a great book that allows your child to let their imagination run wild. You’ll have so much fun hearing the stories they create and maybe get a little insight into problems they might be dealing with.

Video Game Console– Now, I understand this is incredibly controversial, but research has shown that kids who have parents that play video games with them, also see their parents as more of a resource for life in general. Obviously, if the game is only played by a child alone, it will not be a connecting opportunity. Yet, if it is used intentionally as a tool for teamwork, it can be a really fun way to build trust and a closer connection.

Lego Building– Or really any kind of building activity that will require your assistance. This goes along with the video gaming concept. It’s an activity that is meant to be done together to reach a common goal. My son and I were drooling over this set at the Lego Store today.

For Adults

Love Books– This is a really fun way to document a friendship or love relationship. They have tons of customizable options, including apology books (just sayin’). I’ll admit, I haven’t personally ordered one yet but they have great reviews. If you’ve ordered one, let me know what you think!

Hot Seat– This is a game best played with adult friends or family and it can get pretty wild!

Date Night Bucket List– One of my favorite sites to find unique and fun gifts is UncommonGoods.com and that’s where I found this gem. You can use this “bucket” with date ideas as a challenge to get those date nights on the calendar! There’s also a “Family Fun” option as well.

I hope these ideas helped to spark some excitement and ideas of your own!

Happy Holidays everyone, I hope this season you choose to intentionally slow down and enjoy the greatest gifts you already have- your relationships.

Take Care,

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Let it Slow: A December to Remember

“We dare not get rid of our pain before we have learned what it has to teach us. Most of religion gives answers too quickly, dismisses pain too easily, and seeks to be distracted—to maintain some ideal order. So we must resist the instant fix and acknowledge ourselves as beginners to be open to true transformation. In the great spiritual traditions, the wounds to our ego are our teachers to be welcomed. They should be paid attention to, not litigated or even perfectly resolved.” Richard Rohr

There is a reason why the holiday season can bring out the absolute worst in us. The financial stress of spending. The social stress of time negotiation. The emotional stress of facing old and perhaps never healed wounds.

It’s no surprise that January is a peak month for psychotherapists! All that the year has buried becomes unearthed by the friction of holiday chaos.

Here’s the good news: you don’t have to wait until January to get your feet on solid ground. You can make the choice right now to intentionally live out the remainder of December. Notice, I didn’t say you will get through December unscathed. Pain is an inevitable part of life. As the Richard Rohr quote states above, let’s take this opportunity to learn from the pain.

We don’t need to be afraid of the uncomfortable feelings that may surface this season. We need to face them head on if we are to ever make peace. Putting it another way, Brene Brown, author of Rising Strong and more, says that to speak our shame is to remove its power.

So this season, I encourage you to find the time for daily self check-ins. If you can, jot down what you notice in a journal or share it with a friend. Now may be a good time to choose a trusted partner whom you can call when you start to feel stressed, sad, disappointed, angry, overwhelmed, etc. Remember, the idea is to “speak” the feelings in some way, bring them into the light. The goal is not to erase them or fix anything. Your partner’s job is simply to listen and validate your feelings. Finding such a partner is not always an easy task but you can vow to be this for each other and your commitment to this process is invaluable.

If you would like, here are some prompts to help guide your self-discovery:

1) I’m feeling something unpleasant. (Take a deep breath) I accept that what I’m feeling is valid. This feeling could be called: (sad, lonely, discouraged, etc.)
2) Where do I feel this feeling in my body? (Tightness in my chest, knot in my stomach, etc.)
3) Do I want to call and share or journal about this experience?

I think you’ll be surprised at just how powerful those three steps can be! Also, make sure to listen to my podcast Mountains are for Moving this week to hear some beautiful ideas about how to have a slow and intentional holiday. This episode goes live on Thursday, December 8th, 2016.

Wishing you peace and love this holiday,

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Here are some free downloadable images to use as wallpaper for your smart phone or desktop as a reminder to slow down and stay connected to yourself and others this holiday.

Option 1:

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Once you download this image to your phone, you can adjust the photo to look like this:

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Option 2:

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Once adjusted for your screen, it should look like this:

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Help spread the spirit of slowness and share with your friends!

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Free Printable: Who Matters to You Most?

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Can you believe it? The holiday season is fast approaching (in case the retail stores haven’t pounded that into your head yet) and that means it’s that time of year for busy-ness. Unfortunately, many of us feel like there is just too much to do and too many to please. We feel like we can never satisfy all the demands upon us.

Well guess what? This year, things are going to be different for us. It will be different because we will intentionally choose what our priorities will be before the season pulls the rug out from under us. This year, we will stand on solid ground.

If you haven’t yet grabbed a copy of Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist or The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown or A Mile Wide by Brandon Hatmaker– let me tell you, this would be a great month to pick-up these reads. There is one concept in each of these books that was incredibly centering for me: Know who your people are and focus on them. 

Let’s take this month to really hone-in on who “our people” are. I created a free printable that I hope will help us all to stay focused and centered on our most cherished ones. Sometimes, we get so caught-up in trying to please everyone that we disappoint those who matter to us the most. We know our immediate family will forgive us and still love us, they sort of have to, don’t they?? Sometimes we take advantage of the unconditional love so generously given. This isn’t how we really want to live though, is it?

In January, we will look back on this holiday season and we will be proud of the way that we prioritized and stayed grounded. Most importantly, we will feel more connected to those who we value the most. 

Take Care,

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Here’s the link to your FREE Printable! Fill in the shapes with the names of “Your People” and you are one giant step closer to a more fulfilling holiday season. 

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