- Self-soothe - Before engaging in a conversation, process what feelings are coming up and calm down any jittery, angry or anxious thoughts that may pop up.
- Active listening - To engage in active listening one must be able to process what is being said without willfully wanting to get their agenda heard.
- Clarify - Ask questions and be curious about the other persons experience and perspective. Starting conversations with “I wonder if you felt…” can be helpful to make the other person feel understood.
- Validate - Validate the others persons experience and let go of who is right or wrong. To validate does not mean to agree with but rather make the other person feel as though you understand their perspective.
- Compromise - Find the middle path. Figure out what each person’s priorities are in the argument and see if there is a way to find meaning in the middle.
By: Katrin Steinert
We have all said things to loved ones that have caused pain and suffering. It may even have blown up a relationship in a way that was not expected. To be in any active relationship, whether it is romantic or friendly requires constant nurturing and communication. What happens when a relationship becomes heated and a rupture occurs? How do all involved actively repair a damaged relationship? Here are 5 tools that can help on the journey of healing:
By: Eric Kruse
“Deciding whether or not to trust a person is like deciding whether or not to climb a tree, because you might get a wonderful view from the highest branch, or you might simply get covered in sap, and for this reason many people choose to spend their time alone and indoors, where it is harder to get a splinter.”
Lately I have heard many people talk about betrayal and how they are making the choice to never trust again. I understand where they are coming from. They have been hurt in the past and they are choosing self-preservation at the cost of cultivating deeper relationships. As the age old saying goes, fool me once… However, this is sad to me because I believe that those who choose not to trust are missing out on the opportunity to have something beautiful in their lives. The following are my thoughts about how to build trust.
Trust People to be Themselves
If you have been hurt in a relationship before, you probably are wary about opening yourself up again. You may be one of those individuals who says, “I tired building trust with others and then I got cheated on so…” or “trust isn’t worth giving to anyone honestly.” I would challenge these people to consider the ways they trust others in small ways in their life every day. For example, you trust your doctor/hair stylist/dentist/ will be in when you show up for your appointment. You trust that your parents will be annoying at thanksgiving. You trust that your teacher will administer an exam when its scheduled. You trust that your friend who forgets to shower may smell when you hang out. If you are starting to see a theme in the examples here, then you may begin to understand my point. People do as they do. There are patterns in their behavior that are consistent so you place faith in the probability that it will continue (with exceptions of course). Sometimes people try to change bad behaviors and if they fail at it, don’t take it personally. You can trust that quitting bad habits is a hard thing to do and that people falter at it along thee way.
Surround Yourself with People who have Similar Values
Since people do as they do and you can trust them to do as they do, then pick someone with similar values to your own. For example, if you value honesty, integrity, and monogamy, then find someone who also values it. Talk about your values with this person and see if they also feel strongly about it. You may start to get a sense of whether you can place trust in this individual. If they live by their principals in the same way that you do, then you are less likely to get hurt. Unfortunately, there are deceptive people out there (The Betrayers) who can fool you. If you place your trust in someone and they betray you, then you have been “covered in sap” on your way up the tree in pursuit of the “wonderful view,” but that does not mean you should “spend your time alone and indoors, where it is harder to get a splinter” (see quote at the top). Furthermore, sometimes people who are trust worthy make a terrible mistake and it’s worth trying to rebuild that trust with them. This is where therapy can help.
Talking about money seems to be a topic so often avoided in our intimate relationships. Culturally we have often been taught more often than not that it is taboo to ask about money. We have learned to never ask someone how much rent they pay, or what they make at their job, or what they are saving for. Money is seen as private, so we don’t ask about it and we don’t talk about it. However, money cannot be avoided. We make money at our jobs, we need money to pay rent and bills, and we need money to do the things we want to do. In many ways, our lives revolve around money, making it even more imperative that we learn how to talk about it openly- especially with our partners.
In couples therapy, part of my job is to help couples learn how to be more comfortable when speaking on the topic of finances. Below are some important steps that can help in making the topic of money one that can be talked about more openly and freely.
2. Getting on the same page- asking the hard questions
This next step is important! Often couples get engaged and married and have never talked about what their financial future will look like together. Will we combine finances? Who will pay for what? If I make more, do I pay for more? Will we have a joint credit card? Joint savings? Is my debt now our debt? Do you get access to my trust? What if I want a prenup? These are extremely important questions to address when approaching marriage or combining finances. Often these questions around money can be charged, and often carry with them a lot of emotions. This is normal! Money is a complicated topic and can have many feelings attached, including shame, stress, anxiety and worry. Being able to acknowledge these and navigate them when talking about money is where therapy can be super helpful. Ask the important questions that need to be asked in order to get on the same page with your partner.
3. Budgeting- setting goals and expectations
As individuals, we often have our own thoughts about spending, saving and budgeting. These are important topics to talk about with your partner, especially if you are going to be combining finances in any way. Is saving a priority? Do we want to buy a house or rent? Do we want to have kids? Do we want to take vacations? Sitting down and talking about what goals you have financially and what those goals will cost is important. This also involves being able to budget together and look at how much money is coming in and going out each month. Having mutual goals surrounding what you want life to look like together can be helpful when carving out where money will be going.
As mentioned- talking about money is hard and something we often have not learned to do well. Couples therapy is a wonderful place to start to explore and talk about this crucial and inevitable topic between partners. When you learn to more openly talk about and navigate the topic of money together, you will be setting yourself up for less stress and better communication in the future.
By: Eric Kruse
The fight or flight response is a physiological response that occurs when danger is present. It was essential to our survival in the Paleolithic period. If the Paleolithic man saw a tiger, the fight or flight response would increase adrenaline and anxiety and cause us to run away from or fight against the source of danger (i.e., the tiger).
Modern society is much different. Generally, there are no tigers running around that are threatening our survival. However, our fight or flight response is still intact, and it gets triggered when we get into arguments with our loved ones. For example, have you ever felt severely emotionally dysregulated when a loved one makes a comment that you perceive as emotionally hurtful? Does this increase your anxiety? Do you get angry? Perhaps you feel like running away or lashing out with hurtful comments. That is your fight or flight response. You feel emotionally dysregulated because your body is perceiving the hurtful comment as a tiger that is threatening your life. However, your life is not threatened. Your loved one is not trying to kill you.
When our adrenaline and anxiety increase, we become impulsive and are at risk of saying things or doing things that we may regret. It is important that we slow down our thoughts and calm down before we react to the present situation. It can be helpful to name what is happening by saying to yourself, “this is my fight or flight response perceiving a threat, but there is no physical threat.” Take a break and step away from the situation if you need to. Just let your loved one know you will come back after you calm down.
Often, having the awareness of what is happening in our body can be the first step to regulating our emotions. It can be comforting to understand why we feel anxious and wound up. Once we feel calmer, we can utilize our “observing mind” to analyze the situation free of judgements, heightened emotions, and adrenaline.
For example, perhaps you get a new job and your partner says, “I never thought you would be able to get that job.” You feel nervous that you will not be able to handle the new job and your partner’s comment triggers your insecurities. Your negative thoughts start to spiral and you feel emotionally dysregulated. You feel the impulse to lash out and make a hurtful comment in return. This is the time to remind yourself that your fight or flight response is perceiving a threat and that you need to calm your thoughts before your react. Consider the possibility that perhaps your partner is proud that you got the job because they thought it was a hard position to get hired for.
The more you pay attention to your body and raise your awareness of when you are feeling emotionally dysregulated and why, the easier it will be for you to center yourself and observe the situation free of judgments and heightened emotional sensitivity. You can look at your interactions from a objective perspective rather than an emotionally reactive perspective. This will increase the quality of your relationships and help reduce the anxiety that you experience in life.
By Ranjita Rao
Do you know what your love language is? Dr. Gary Chapman coined the term “Love Language” to describe five universal ways in which we express and receive love. After studying couples over many years, paying particular attention to their interactions and communication patterns, Dr. Chapman theorized that we all have a primary and secondary love language. He found that we generally express love to our partners in the same way that we ourselves want to receive it from them.
Here is a brief look at the five different love languages:
Words of Affirmation
Individuals who best express and receive love through words of affirmation believe that words hold a lot of value and like to hear specific comments showing that they are cared for. For example, if this is your language, hearing your partner say something like “you are amazing and I appreciate everything you do” can be the best way to make you feel validated.
Some people feel most loved and validated when they receive gifts. If this is your love language, a thoughtful or meaningful present can be the best way to make you feel loved.
Acts of Service
Some people feel most loved when their partner does something nice for them – an act of service. An act of service can come in many different forms. Maybe you feel loved when your partner notices that the gas in your car is almost empty, and fills it up for you.
If this is your love language, you require quality time and undivided attention to feel loved and appreciated. If this is you, a romantic night out, with no cell phones or distractions might be much better than jewelry.
Individuals who value physical touch believe that physical affection is what makes them feel the most loved. This isn’t just intimacy in the bedroom. For these individuals, kissing, hand-holding, hugging, and cuddling can all be ways that express love and deep affection.
So what happens when you enter into a relationship with a partner who does not share your love language(s)? Things get complicated. Recall that we generally treat our partner the way that we want to be treated, rather than the way that they want to be treated. So, simply becoming aware of your own love language and, more importantly, your partner’s love language, can be very beneficial. For example, if you communicate to your partner that you best receive love through words of affirmation and you learn that your partner best receives love through acts of service, you can each understand what you can do to express your love to the other in ways where both of you will feel loved and validated. However, just because you and your partner have differing love languages does not mean that you have to stop expressing love through your own language— even though we favor one or two specific love languages, we oftentimes appreciate traits from others! It is just important to be cognizant of your partner’s love language and make sure that you incorporate it into your actions. You and your partner will both appreciate the results!
Click here to find out more about love languages and what your specific love language is!
It is no doubt that becoming a first time mom or dad is HARD WORK! There are so many changes occurring with your routine, your sleeping, your body and often your relationship with your partner. Adding a new member to the family is quite amazing, but this wonderful new transition can also be an extremely tough one. With so many changes, it can be so hard to focus on yourself and your own care, let alone your marriage or partnership with your significant other.
I hear from a lot of couples that with the new addition to their family also came a bit of a separation in connection, time spent together, and intimacy. It is true that a new baby around sometimes means less sleep, less time together, and less sex. It can be hard for couples to find a balance that feels good and also honors the relationship in a way both partners would like. This balance is by no means easy to strike, but is important to pay attention to when wanting to keep your relationship with your partner strong and united.
With less free time overall and more time focused on the baby, I like to say that quality of time with your partner easier to accomplish over quantity. After the baby goes to sleep, maybe cuddling or a foot rub brings you two together for a few minutes. A dessert after dinner with your spouse can be a time to focus on each other and take a break from the stress of a new baby and all the responsibilities that come along with it. When possible, take the time to get dressed up and go out together. As hard as it may be to find the time and the sitter, dressing up and looking good can make you feel good, and feel sexy, for you and your partner. Even if it can’t be a night out together, having conversations about your child, your future with them and as parents, and sharing your hopes and dreams for your new baby can bring you two together and make you feel like connected partners and parents.
If you are a parent struggling to strike a balance and feel disconnected with your partner, coming to couples therapy can be a positive and safe place to process your relationship, as well as all the stress that comes along with being a new mom or dad. It also provides another hour of the week where couples can sit down, be together and share their heart with the other. Connection is key, and couples therapy can provide this connection that can sometimes feel lost when new baby arrives.
I meet with many couples who come in and tell me that they have been having the same fight for years and years. They will tell me that no matter how many times they talk about the same topic or have the same argument, it always seems to end in gridlock- nothing is solved or resolved, and both people are left frustrated and unheard. I often hear something along the lines of, “He just doesn’t get it”.
When this is the case, I sometimes find both people looking to me as the therapist to tell the other “You're wrong” or “See! I was right!” Although this response would be great for one partner to hear and make one partner feel better, it is often important to look past the content of what is being fought over or argued about, and look at the process of how this argument or fight occurs. If a couple has been having the same disagreement for years, it can often result in a build up of frustration, which can turn into resentment or contempt overtime. Not feeling heard or understood is an isolating experience, and can leave one or both partners in a place where they feel disconnected from the other in a painful way.
In order to make progress in couples therapy, it is so important to hear more than just the ‘facts’ of what the fight is about and really listen to your partner’s experience of what it feels like to have this same fight over and over again. Likely, both partners have a similar struggle of feeling sad, frustrated and unheard. It is important to listen with full attention, and not with the intention of firing back on the defense- which we so often do without realizing. When we listen without worrying about what we are going to say next or how we are going to defend ourselves, we are able to get to a more compassionate and understanding place. When this happens, there can be a large shift in the way that things are talked about and heard.
As a couples therapist, it is my job to help couples get to this place, where they can both speak and listen with their guards down- often guards that have been put up after years of having the same conversation over and over with no resolution. This is a process that takes time, but when it does, can be very healing and transformative. It is hard to ‘back down’ from the shield we have been putting up for so long, but it is also imperative when wishing to make real progress with your partner.
As couples therapist Sue Johnson has said, conflict is not the core issue between couples, emotional disconnection is. In other words, emotional disconnection is the illness, and conflict is the presenting symptom. Conflict can often grow out of a misunderstanding for the emotional needs of our partner. For a lot of us, it can be hard to express to others what we need. So often needing means being vulnerable and open, and this vulnerability can cause great levels of discomfort. Instead of sitting with this uncomfortable feeling, it can become easier to push our needs aside and not communicate them openly and honestly.
When this is done over and over again, it becomes incredibly difficult for our partners to be attuned to what we need in order to feel safe and happy in the relationship. We begin to feel misunderstood by them and they seem to more frequently “miss the point” of what we are saying during conversation and conflict. As a result, conflict seems to happen more, and one or both partners may begin to feel stuck and want to shut down. When one or more partners are shut down, communicating anything feels seemingly difficult, if not totally impossible. In order to remedy this common problem between couples, it can be helpful to go back to the basics. Take some time alone with a pad of paper and think about some of the following questions. What do you need from your partner in order to feel loved and cared for? What makes you feel good in your relationship? Is there something going on that you wish your partner knew more about? What are basic needs that you have in other relationships in your life?
It is important to understand that under the complaints we make about our partner or their behavior, there is often a need we have that is not being met. Answering some of these questions above for yourself can help you to gain a better understanding of what it is you may be needing or wanting more of in your intimate relationship. Oftentimes we do not know exactly what we need or want, so identifying that can be increasingly beneficial to our partner and to us. When we have a better idea of what we need, we are better able to express that to our partner. After you have taken some time to think about yourself and jot down some thoughts, encourage your significant other to do the same, and then sit down together and talk over what you both wrote down. Having an open talk about needs can build a deeper bond and connection, as well as a deeper understanding of this important person in your life.
By Becky White
As a relationship counselor, my passion is helping individuals, couples, and families to heal through healthy relationships. Relationships can come in many forms; most obviously, our relationships with our romantic partners, our families, our friends and coworkers. Other layers of relationships include the relationship to our Self (the most fundamental and important relationship of all); our relationship to work; to self-care; food; alcohol; drugs; sex; exercise, etc.
We may not realize it but we are constantly engaged in a dynamic relationship with all of these facets of ourselves and the external world. We are actively engaged in a relationship-making processwhether or not we are making these decisions at a conscious level.
The most fundamental relationship is the one with ourselves. Taking the time to go inwards, to truly know and understand ourselves, our motivations, triggers, and reactions is crucial for healthy relationships with ourselves and others. Becoming aware of our own reactions is the most important step to being able to actively participate and make decisions consciously, in order to choose a response rather than being stuck in reactive mode.
Through self-exploration, journaling, writing, self-care, and paying attention to ourselves, we are able to take ownership of our relationship making process. This will in turn have cascade affects on our relationships with loved ones, family, friends, and work.
Becky White, M.A., Marriage and Family Therapist Registered Intern #75135
Registered Yoga Teacher
Certified Anger Management Counselor
By Becky White
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy(CBT) is an evidenced- based treatment that has been shown to significantly reduce depression and anxiety which may be contributing to problems in your relationships. Frequently, couples come in to session making broad generalizations about one another: “You never listen!” “You always forget to take out the trash”, “Your work is more important to you than I am!” We then infer meaning from such generalizations such as “You don't love me enough,” “You are losing interest or, “You don't understand me.”
Using CBT, together we can explore the relationships between our thoughts, feelings and actions. According to CBT, every single one of us engages in what are called automatic thought patterns ordistorted thinking patterns, which then have a direct effect on the way we FEEL and therefore the way we ACT. CBT states that our thoughts affect our feelings which then affect our actions/behaviors. Examples of common automatic thinking patterns include catastrophizing (If I don't pass this test I’m going to fail college and will never get a job), black & white thinking (perfect/worthless; success/failure), and personalizing (he ignored me when he walked by so he must hate me versus he didn't see me or he was distracted).
Through uncovering, identifying, and then owning our own automatic thinking patterns, we are then able to track what emotions these thoughts trigger in us (hopelessness, helplessness, fear, anger ) and then observe how these feelings affect our behavior (withdraw, isolate, become aggressive, demanding, violent, etc). Through identifying our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, we are then able to create more balanced thinking patterns, which then affects our feelings and subsequently may lead us to taking different, new actions (engaging, increasing compassion, connecting, applying for your dream job, etc.)