4 Signs That Your Relationship Is In Trouble

January 24th, 2017

4 Signs Your Relationship Is In TroubleAll relationships go through their ups and downs. How do you know if you are really in trouble or if this is just a phase?

Here are some observations I have made based on working with many couples over the years.

  • Strange as it may sound, as a couples therapist, I think when a couple reports that there is no fighting or conflict between them, I believe they are disengaged and disconnected from each other. Some conflict is healthy and unavoidable; it tells me that there is life and some passion here and that the people have not given up.  In a way, when partners fight with each other, they are fighting for their relationship. They are also fighting for themselves to be seen and heard.
  • I think a relationship is in trouble when one of both spend a lot of time on the phone or other device or are in a different space from the other. I think these devices are tools for avoidance and creating distance from your partner and people fall into these patterns, not realizing what they are doing or their meaning. Sometimes when one person spends a lot of time on the phone away from the other, it can mean they are having another relationship.
  • I think that frequent late nights out with no ability to reach one another is another potentially problematic symptom of a troubled relationship. It is disrespectful to not be unreachable almost at any time and especially late in the night for many reasons, including safety and possibility of inappropriate encounters.
  • Sudden changes in your partner’s schedule, more frequent trips, unexplained absences and unaccounted for gaps of time all spell potential trouble and possibility of an affair – sexual or emotional. It is critical to pay attention to ebbs and flows of your connection to your partner.

All couples have problems. To create a relationship built on love and trust is to practice acceptance and compassion for your spouse. Recognizing these four signs in your relationship is a great way to identify whether you are just going through a rough time or it’s something more serious. Consult a trusted loved one or a couples counseling to help you overcome relationship challenges.

What Is A Relationship Dynamic?

October 20th, 2016

What Is A Relationship Dynamic?To me, it refers to a predictable pattern of interaction or communication between a couple, or I call it a cycle in my work. Usually, we talk about negative cycles which are self- reinforcing and self- perpetuating patterns of communication which start with a triggering communication or action from one partner and lead to a predicable negative response of anger or shut down from the other partner. This dynamic or cycle ultimately leads to a disconnection between partners.

To change a negative dynamic or cycle to a positive is the goal of couple’s therapy.

What are some of the easiest ways couples can improve their relationship dynamics?

  • Focus more on what the other person has to say then what you have to say, in other words, listen more then talk.
  • Be willing to be the one to start talking after a disagreement.
  • Be willing to say “I am sorry.”
  • Recognize that when your partner is angry, it really means they are hurt or frightened and are defending themselves, fighting for their own emotional survival, rather than hate you.
  • When your partner is angry, they are actually fighting for the relationship.
  • Show affection by touching, or loving words.
  • Do little things that let them know you are thinking about them.
  • Turn your phone off when talking to your partner.
  • Respond to their email or text quickly.
  • Look them in the eye when you talk to them.
  • Express appreciation and gratitude for what they do and them being in your life.
  • If you see them upset or troubled, make sure ask about what is going on with them.

Why is it important to improve your relationship dynamic?

If you are stuck in negative cycles or self-destructive negative dynamic, your relationship suffers and eventually this can lead emotional and physical disconnect.

Couples will often separate or seek emotional connection elsewhere. Some couples will live in an emotional disconnect for a long time, but this is very unhealthy and leads to depression, anxiety or physical ailments.

One thing for sure, this usually does not get better by itself, you either have to work on it actively on your own or seek professional help.

The Power Of Gratitude

October 13th, 2016

The Power Of GratitudeNeuroscience research reveals that gratitude helps when feeling blue. The most important question to ask yourself is “What am I grateful for?” Gratitude is good because it affects your brain on a biological level. It boosts neurotransmitter dopamine which is what medication Wellbutrin does. Gratitude also increases serotonin as does Prozac. Who knew?

Another powerful effect of thinking about what you are grateful for is that it makes you focus on positive things about your life. Life can be harsh and sometimes it is hard to think of good things or things you feel grateful for. Apparently, even if you can’t think of anything, just thinking about gratitude and searching for the answer is good enough.

Expressing gratitude to people you love makes for better relationships. Better relationships and closer connections also make your brain happier.

But there are times when bad feelings are so intense that it is really hard to deal with them, let alone find something you are grateful for. Still and again, search for something or someone you feel grateful to and for.  It will take you out of the darkness and negativity may be even for a little while.

Gratitude has been one of the most spoken and taught rituals in spiritual practices. I suggest to all my clients to start the day thinking about what they are grateful for and mentally list what you are thankful at the end of your day when going to bed at night.

Let us try and practice daily gratitude.

Honesty In Relationships: How Honest Is Honest?

October 6th, 2016

Honesty In A RelationshipHonesty seems to be a big topic floating around now. This comes up in many sessions with clients and especially with couples as well as seems to interest the media.

Here are some of the questions that have been floating around in my mind.

What does honesty in a relationship mean to you?

To me, it means being authentic and transparent about daily realities of life. It does not mean one has to share every thought and feeling with their partner. People are entitled to privacy. It also doesn’t mean that if a friend tells you a secret, you have to or even should tell your partner. But the daily events or facts about life in a relationship should be disclosed without any omissions and ambiguities. Things like whereabouts, money, plans, etc.

Is there a difference between honesty and full disclosure? A client asked me recently.  I don’t think so. I don’t see the difference between the two in an intimate relationship. That being said, I do not believe it’s a good idea to tell your partner that you have sexual fantasies about someone else unless it’s an accepted conversation between you.

How important is it for people to be on the same page when it comes to honesty?

I think it is extremely important to be on the same page, so there is no ambiguity. If you are not on the same page, there will sooner or later be an issue.

So all relationships have to be an open book?

This may sound like a contradiction, but my thought is not necessarily. We are entitled to some privacy especially when it comes to our thoughts and feelings. It also is not the worst thing to have a little mystery about your partner. It can spice things up. There is also room for surprises which can be really wonderful for a relationship.

The main issue is that your partner deserves to know who you are, your history and what your reality is on day to day basis.

Is It True That Once A Cheater Always A Cheater?

September 28th, 2016

Once A Cheater, Always A CheaterI was recently interviewed by a reporter from New York Post following the breakup news of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. The title of the article was, “If once a cheater always a cheater?”. I think the reporter wanted to believe that that is true. However, I do not necessarily think so.

The idea that she had was that Brad Pitt cheated on Jennifer Aniston, and it is only logical that he would eventually cheat on Angelina.

First of all, I think this couple does not make a rule on the subject. Their lives are in a different category with the various circumstances than most people I come in contact with professionally and personally.

If I believed this, my work with couples who come in the crisis of an affair would be senseless. I think cheating is a complicated business, and all affairs are not created equal. Also, I know couples where one or both people cheated on their partner(s) with each other, proceeded to leave those partners and have had long lasting relationships without cheating. This happens all the time.

It is possible to be married to a wonderful person, meet someone else and feel that you belong to that other person. Many times these types of situations don’t work out, but many times they do.

Unless the cheating happens due to compulsive sexual behaviors, otherwise known as sexual addiction, some complicated emotions and longings lead people to cheat on their partner.  Many times if these feelings and longings are understood and fulfilled, there is no reason for cheating.

What about the idea that you cannot build your happiness and relationship on someone else’s pain? While I think that the cheating partner and his or her new love will feel bad and guilty, again this does not necessarily lead to ruining a new relationship. It depends on many different things and cannot be generalized.

Transforming Stress To Connect Better With Others & Avoid Its Negative Effects

September 21st, 2016

Are you feeling stressed? Do you see it on those around you?

How To Manage StressWhile for many in NYC fall is an exciting time of the year, it tends to, sometimes, be stressful. It’s a start of school for our kids, new projects at work, thinking ahead about the holidays, making new goals and plans…

Over the summer I read a book by one of my mentors George Faller, a gifted couples therapist, and his co-writer Heather Wright, called SACRED STRESS. Some of you who I work with now heard me talk about the book and suggest it. I am choosing this book at a potentially stressful time for many of us, not necessarily because of something terrible happening but just because all of us have so much going on in our lives that it is hard not to get stressed out. And then, of course, recent incident in Chelsea and New Jersey, terror rearing its ugly head again.

One of many points of this book is that stress is inevitable and we can use it to separate ourselves from loved ones and feel alone and helpless or to use our stress to connect and share ourselves in a vulnerable way with those we love to feel closer and safer.

According to the authors, stress takes life and gives life. It is an inescapable part of our existence. It can help or hurt us. The negative effects of stress are clear. We are overworked and overwhelmed much of the time. When we feel stressed we tend to become more defended, guarded, less open to others and self -involved. We tend to have negative feelings and thoughts which push us away from those closest to us, at times many of us tend to turn to unhealthy coping activities such as drinking, drugs, overeating, overspending, zoning out in from of TV, etc.  In these times, negative aspects of life are magnified while positive ones go into the background.

So how can we change this negative feedback loop?

George and Heather suggest noticing how our perceptions of stress skew us too far toward the negative side of the spectrum. What we need to do is to go with the optimistic lends to our understanding of stress. With the bad stress there is also what the authors call “eustress.” It is a positive response to a stressor which may enhance life. It is the fuel for achievement, accomplishment and connection. “Eustress is not an emotion but a generative tension that causes growth – and we often have positive emotional response when we recognize that growth.”

Every challenge we encounter can trigger distress, eustress or both. How we interpret these situations is subjective. We all have the capacity to transform distress into eustress. For one, we can turn to a bottle, or stare at TV or turn to a friend or a partner.

What Are Some Of The Signs That Your Partner Is Dishonest

August 30th, 2016

Signs of A Dishonest PartnerAs I mentioned in one of my previous blogs, honesty is a foundation to any relationship. However, dishonesty in romantic relationships happens often and being caught in a lie or lies is a frequent reason why couples seek therapy.  They want to “get past it”. What they are seeking is to repair the trauma that the relationship has sustained. Sometimes the couple comes in when there is an admitted lie, and sometimes it is not and there is still a battle about the truth.

What are some signs that your partner isn’t honest with you?

First of all, if you are a trusting person and don’t have a history of being suspicious or mistrustful in the past or the current relationship, and you start to get a sickening feeling in your gut that something is going on, chances are, it is. Many lies about affairs or other things get revealed when a spouse has an impulse to look at his or her partner’s phone or computer. There is a feeling that something is wrong. Usually, when they look, they find something.

What leads to this suspicion is a change in your partner’s behavior, there is vagueness or secretiveness in what they say they do and their whereabouts. There is a change in routine, a feeling of distance and disconnection, often there is more time spent on the phone or computer, and the phone is not left unattended, there are calls and texts at unusual times and particular urgency to respond to them. Things feel different. There may have been some problems before, but this is on another level.

It is a traumatic situation for any couples and is a red flag for other issues that are problematic for the relationship. It cannot be ignored or “swept under the rug”. It does not necessarily mean an end of a relationship, but it needs to be attended to very seriously. Honesty is important for any relationship to grow and survive.

Why Is Honesty Important In A Relationship?

August 23rd, 2016

Importance of Honesty in A RelationshipI was recently interviewed for an article in a magazine about the importance of honesty in a relationship. Honesty is paramount in all relationships, and I am talking here about romantic relationships.

I think honesty is probably the MOST important thing for a relationship to survive and thrive. It is a foundation for everything else and is critical in all areas of a couples’ life together. It is essential when discussing and making decisions about children, finances, work, and social life and without it, everything else is unstable and shaky. It is like a house that has structural problems, sooner or later it will fall apart or will need constant repair, only to have problems again.

If there is the lack of honesty, you never truly know who your partner is and what is happening in their inner and outer world.

Dishonesty can be about feelings and thoughts as well as about behavior. Both are extremely damaging to a relationship. Lack of trust will always lead to conflict, doubt, suspicion, insecurity, or anger. It is a wound that keeps getting infected.

I see many couples in my practice who come in to deal with “trust issues.” Breach of trust is a major trauma to a relationship and we, therapists, call it “attachment trauma.” It means exactly as it sounds; it is a blow to a feeling of being connected, attached, loved, protected and cared for which are reasons why we seek romantic love, to begin with. When this connection is shattered or even shaken, a predictable negative cycle of attack-defense usually sets in which leads many couples to feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and tears at the very fabric of love. Many relationships do not survive this trauma.

If you and your partner are stuck in this cycle, consider seeking professional help to help you navigate the tear in your relationship and, maybe, get to a place of repair.

How To Spice Up Your Marriage After Having A Baby

July 28th, 2016

While having a child is the most wonderful and meaningful event in one’s life, predictably, it changes your relationship in profound ways. There is no longer just the two of you, you are now responsible for another life, and the attention and care are no longer just with you and your partner. Even the best relationships go through a major adjustment following a birth of a child. Relationships that are already strained become more strained.

A particular area of married life that is mostly challenged is your romantic and sexual relationship. There is a multitude of reasons for this: sleep deprivation, hormonal shifts, juggling work and family life, anxiety about taking care of a newborn, family pressures, etc. Women experience lower sex drive and desire after giving birth, changes in body appearance, and many simply don’t think about sex. Typically sexual activity diminishes as things get closer to delivery as well as right after birth. It is important not to let that derail you from each other.

Here are some ideas on bringing excitement and romance to your marriage after a baby.

  • Make sure you carve out at least one night a week to be out of the house with your partner. Do something fun, just the two of you. It doesn’t have to be anything extreme, even a walk or a glass of wine in one of your old hangouts.
  • Deliberately think of some fun things to do or things you used to do before.
  • If possible check into a hotel room for a night, once every couple of months.
  • When possible spend some time together after you baby is asleep, don’t use that time as an opportunity to be on the phone, computer or do something other than being with your partner.
  • Enlist your family, friends or babysitter to give you time to go away for a weekend at least 2-3 times a year. These weekends will be priceless in keeping your marriage viable.
  • Do not stop spending time with friends and do at least some of the things you used to do, watch a movie, concert, etc.
  • Make sure you think about your sexual connection and make space and time to connect, even if this requires some planning or conscious effort. You don’t want to become complacent and have a sexless marriage.
  • Deliberately make sure you are thinking about your partner and ensure that he or she is not feeling neglected, unimportant, undesired.
  • Don’t forget to touch and kiss each other often. Giving all your affection to your new baby is easy.
  • Pay attention to your appearance and make an effort to look good to your partner even if it doesn’t seem necessary.

5 Reasons Why Couples Counseling Might Not Work For You

July 18th, 2016

While Couples Counseling is helpful for many couples, it may now work in some cases.

To begin with, to be successful, Couples Counseling requires openness to new ideas, feelings, and experiences as well as willingness to change behaviors and attitudes.

It also requires a good “chemistry” between a couple and their therapist. There has to be a sense of safety in a therapy session. And of course, the skill and training of a therapist make all the difference.5

In order to improve or save a relationship, there has to be willingness and ability to be open and vulnerable to one’s partner at some point in the process. It is also important to be committed to working things out and stay together.

But besides these aspects, there are other reasons why Couples Counseling may not work for some couples.

Here are 5 reasons:

Long History of Emotional Detachment

Some couples enter therapy when the relationship is too far gone. When a couple has major problems for a long time, and there is a long history of resentment and disconnect, one or both partners cannot or are not willing to open their hearts to feeling love and closeness. The defenses are too rigid to allow any vulnerability.

Secret Relationship Affair

Couples Therapy will not work to save a relationship when one of the partners is having a secret emotional and/or sexual relationship with someone else. If this is the case, that partner is mostly out of the relationship already.

Unwillingness To Resolve Disagreements

Couples Counseling will not work if there is a disagreement on a major issue, such as having children, religion, etc. and there is no ability to find a mutually satisfactory way of resolving this.

Relationship Disengagement

Therapy will not succeed if one of the partners already decided that they do not want to stay in the relationship and are just going through the motion of “doing everything he/she can.”

Relationship Dishonesty

Couples Therapy will not work if there is dishonesty on any one or more important topics which is not discussed. Good relationships are based on trust and honesty. Without this nothing can work.

My Partner and I Have A Large Age Gap – Does Age Really Matter in A Relationship?

June 26th, 2016

Relationships are not easy and in my experience, a large age gap adds complexities to an already often challenging situation.

I consider a large age gap if a man is over 15 years than the woman, or the woman is 7-10 years older than the man.

One of the issues that arise with a large age gap is that there is usually a generation gap which often means a parental dynamic between partners which ultimately becomes annoying, unsexy and dysfunctional. This generation gap between partners becomes more pronounced as partners get older, oddly enough.

In a typical situation, the age difference is not an obvious problem until partners start to age. In fact, when they are relatively young it feels great to be with someone who is wiser and more experienced in life, who knows more, “has been around the block.” However, with aging not only generation gap becomes greater, but also the barring unusual circumstances, the level of physical activity, including sexual activity and desire, becomes different. This leads to resentment and frustration and, ultimately, diminished attraction and connection. These differences result in feelings of aloneness, guilt and sometimes depression.

As partners age, there is often a difference in their mental acuity and activity. With physical slow down and health issues, there is often less interest in outside activities as well as social life. As much as I hate to say this, there is just less attraction to your aging partner, which many couples experience, fueled by the limitations it places on the younger partner.

What one of the most common complaints partners with a significant age gap talk about is the discrepancy in sexual desire and functioning. It leads to anger and depression in both partners and often to infidelity and abandonment. It is a real and serious issue which can and does happen to couples that are close in age, however in this scenario; it is a given at a certain point.

Finally, an obvious issue is that while most of us are fearful of our partner’s mortality, this fear is greatly magnified if your partner is much older.

Consider these points before you say “yes” to a partner much older than yourself.

How to Get My Spouse into Couples Counseling

June 13th, 2016

I get asked this question at least twice a week. I will often get a call from a prospective new client asking me about all the ins and outs of couples’ therapy only at the end I would hear them say: “Let me talk to my wife/husband. And by the way how do I get them to come to see you?”

I am, frankly, at a loss about what to tell them. While there are still people in this day and age who shirk from therapy, most of us do not see it as a stigma anymore. More often than not, the other partner feels it’s too late.

Many times, they, themselves, suggested couple’s therapy for a long while to which there was a negative response. And now that the relationship is too far gone, they simply do not wish to give in to the request of their partner who hurt them for too long or they do not want to “work” on their relationship.

There are also those situations when a partner who is resisting therapy, simply has stuff that they do not want to talk about and don’t want to be on the spot by a therapist. Typically, there is either a secret or they simply do not want to talk about what is truly on their mind and are concerned that they will not have a choice when inside a therapist’s office.

By the way, most of the time, I don’t hear again from those callers who need to talk to their partner. So I do not have a magic answer to those asking this question. I suggest talking to him or her and tell them you found a therapist to work with, which shows motivation to get help. Be honest and vulnerable about fears of losing each other in the absence of support and how that would affect you, and what that would mean to you.

In choosing that route, I urge to be vulnerable and empathic and not hold back on expressing emotion. It may or may not make a difference, but when you want to save your relationship, and you feel remorseful, it is important to go all out.

I also suggest reading Sue Johnson’s “Hold me Tight” and John Gottman’s “7 Principles for Making Marriage Work.”  These books are written by great therapists in the field of Couples Therapy and may offer some hope to an otherwise defeated partner.

6 Characteristics of a Good Relationship

June 4th, 2016

There are many things that make a good relationship, but these are the ones that came to mind as I thought about it after a particularly emotional difficult work week.

  • A good relationship is a romantic partnership. What this means is that two people are able to be partners in life and challenges. They can work together on projects, share same or similar goals, complement each other in accomplishing things that need to be done and taking into account their abilities, strengths, etc. Also with that, there is a great importance placed on romance and an erotic connection between them. This manifests in a mutually satisfying sexual relationship and a high premium on fun and romantic activities and gestures, like surprise spontaneous plans, gifts, and activities.
  • In a good relationship, there is genuine caring and concern for the other person’s well-being and feeling of joy in their life. You want your partner to feel good and happy as much as realistically possible. This is important to both partners in regards to each other.
  • You can talk about anything and everything and feel listened to, heard and hopefully understood, and comforted when needed. It is very important to feel that your partner has your back and your best interests at heart.
  • You can be vulnerable and express “weakness” to your partner. It is important to be able to expose most personal, even shameful or simply vulnerable feelings and feel “held”, rather than ridiculed, rejected, criticized or further shamed for the feelings expressed. Some of this may include fears about the attachment or insecurity about desirability and attraction from your significant other.
  • It is important not only that you LOVE your partner but that you like them as a human being. If possible, it is good to admire and respect him or her. This brings a great energy to the connection and often solidifies that bond.
  • It greatly helps a relationship to be good and satisfying if you like each other’s family origin and have a compatible (not necessarily the same) view of religion. These are important aspects of one’s life and when there is a conflict here, it often will tear at the most intense romantic connections.

3 Common Relationship Issues Everyone Experiences

May 24th, 2016

Recently, I contributed to an online dating publication. The journalist wanted my input on common problems that occur in relationships.

These difficulties occur in almost all relationships with, of course, some very few exceptions. It occurs less in relationships where one or both people guard against these problems because of wisdom or intuition. This involves awareness and effort. And there are some relationships which I call “soul mates”.

I have encountered 2 couples so far in my personal life where things are just effortlessly easy, fulfilling and fun. But most of us do not fit into that category and therefore, must be proactive to fight against these issues.

  • Taking each other for granted is a relationship killer. Essentially after being together for some time and feeling secure with one another, there is a tendency to put less effort into the relationship. Small things or big things that happened that made your partner feel loved, special and appreciated don’t happen anymore. This also takes a form of carelessness about one’s appearance and efforts to be attractive and desired by your mate. My advice: think about your partner and particularly about what would make him or her feel happier, more values, desired and wanted. Most infidelities happen because people want to feel special and attractive.
  • Sex and romance take a second or third seat and becomes boring. Sexual intensity and frequency tend to decrease as a relationship progresses. Changes in desire, busy schedules, other responsibilities, work pressures, stress lead to diminished activity and sexual desire, which, by the way, is the most common sexual problem facing couples and sex therapists today. Sexual intimacy and romance are important to most people and if they do not get it in their relationship they may get depressed or look for it elsewhere. Even if they don’t look for it, if there is an opportunity, they go for it. And even if there are no extramarital affairs, there will be resentment and distance in a relationship. My advice is to prioritize sex. It is critical to think about it and create time and space for it.
  • You don’t have fun anymore. One of the common relationship issues for couples that have been together for a while is that they start having less fun and life in general feels less exciting. There are no more fun spontaneous trips, adventures, and outings. There is a tendency to not do new things or even things you did when you were first together. It is critical to have some fun and think of fun things you can do together besides go out to have dinner. It’s important to continue having fun.

4 Common Problems in Long-Term Relationships

May 10th, 2016

Most Couples Therapists would agree that some predictable problems arise in long-term relationships.

  • Taking each other for granted. Unfortunately, couples over time, as they live together, start to take each other for granted, having a false sense that their partner will be there no matter what. What that means, often, is that they become complacent and “lazy” in the relationship. As a result, the relationship goes stale, becomes boring, one of both partners stop putting in effort in how they treat each other. This becomes a dangerous situation, particularly when one of the partners is secretly or openly craving attention. It is a fertile ground for a sexual or emotional affair.
  • Diminished or non-existent romantic and sexual relationship. Over time, especially when a couple becomes parents, children are the focal point of the relationship and partners don’t realize that they are becoming disconnected. Romance and sex take a back seat after all other chores and responsibilities are completed and there is nothing left emotionally or due to exhaustion. We know that couples who manage to continue to have a romantic and sexual connection do so because they make it a priority. They think about it, make time and space for and plan for it.
  • Fun is the thing of the past. Oftentimes, there are less and fewer fun times as the couple continues in their journey together. It is the thing of the past. It is very important to have fun in your relationship and in life. It beats stress and enriches everything you do, it makes you feel alive. Being married and having kids is not a reason the couple cannot plan fun things for themselves. Think back to things you did at the beginning of your romance, new experience you were willing to have and went out of your way to having. Sitting on the couch or going out to dinner once in a while cannot be the only fun things left in your relationship.
  • Long-standing resentments and unresolved conflicts. It is important to be aware of and continue to talk about hurts and disappointments that happen along the way. They are pretty much inevitable. What is critical is that they are not “swept under the rug”, as many of my clients like to say. They need to be talked about, apologized about over and over again and if there is still a conflict, please seek professional help to deal with it.

What Couples Therapists Learn from Their Own Relationships

May 4th, 2016

I am prompted to write this after being interviewed by Huffington Post about what couples therapists learn from their patients that make their relationships better. Before I delve into answers, let me say that marriage therapists also struggle with their relationships. I am forever thankful to my patients because I learn so much from interactions I observe in my office as well as continuous learning from the “Masters”, gurus of couples’ therapy field. So I want to share a few things that I try to do differently in my marriage of 20 plus years.

When my husband is angry at me, rather than attacking him back or being defensive, I try to understand what is underneath his anger. Usually, I somehow hurt him or disappoint him in some way. I want to know about this, think about it and comfort him. I want to reassure him that I care about this a lot and his heart is very important to me.

Another important aspect is to make him feel how important and appreciated he is. It has to be real and genuine. I am not talking about when there is no reason to feel that or if I do not feel that way at that moment. Many of us actually feel these feelings towards our spouse, but they don’t feel it from us. This creates anger, resentment, feelings of being unloved and sometimes rejected and leads to problems which sometimes include looking for these validations elsewhere.

Another thing I have learned is that you cannot and should not take your partner for granted. Statements like “he will never cheat on me” or “she will never leave me”, lead to complacency, laziness and not really caring about the relationship. I see how devastating this turns out for so many couples who think their partner will always be there no matter what.

Last point, related to the ones above is that many marriage therapists understand from the experience of working with couples in distress, the importance of romance and intimacy in a marriage, especially after many years together. This cannot be ignored, put on a shelf “until the kids grow up”. If you do that, there will be nothing left by the time the kids leave. So this must be nurtured and tended to very diligently and has to be a priority.

5 Damaging Things You Should Never Say to Your Spouse

April 26th, 2016

There are some things that are so damaging to your marriage that your spouse may not be able to come back from them. These types of statements can permanently hurt your relationship or at the very least create serious resentments that are difficult to let go of.

  1. Telling your spouse that you can’t stand, hate or don’t like their family or family members. This is extremely hurtful because you cannot change your family and we all identify with our parents and siblings and usually love them. This is often seen as an attack on self and will make your partner feel and act defensively. Saying “I hate your mother” is like saying I hate you or a part of you, because like it or not, we all are a product of our parents. If one really feels that they cannot stand their partners’ parents, please re-think marrying that person. This will be an issue that will be a problem between you always and will invariably damage your marriage.
  1. Telling your spouse that they are a bad parent. We all may have suggestions or requests about each other’s parenting skills or styles. Please be mindful that parenting is a very sensitive issue especially for new parents. It is a major area of disagreements between spouses and needs to handle with kid gloves. This is an area where criticism is very painful and can lead to major resentments, alienation and ultimately a break.
  1. Being critical when one of the partners is having a career or financial crisis. In a marriage, each spouse’s career and money issues affect both parties. It is easy to be critical and angry and say stuff like “you are a failure”, “I am sick of you not making money and feeling lost with your career.” While feelings like this can at times be understandable, saying it is another issue, unless you are ready to call it quits. Calling your partner a failure makes him or her feels demeaned, looked down upon and basically disrespected and unloved.
  1. Another killer statement is “I am not attracted to you anymore”. Attraction in a long term relationship can come and go. Before making a statement like this, be ready for the marriage to be over. It is hard to recover from this and feel sexy and desired after statements like this. Instead, try to think of some constructive suggestions depending on what it is that’s turning you off. Most of the attraction issues have to do with long-standing resentment, hurt and lack of romance.
  1. Another big mistake couples make is threatening separation or divorce when angry or hurt. It is tempting sometimes to make these threats but they are a huge trauma to the attachment and sense of safety within a marriage. We all know that “till death do us part” is not a given in any marriage, but these threats cannot be made in jest. It puts a crack in your commitment and jeopardizes your bond.

Please consider these points before you lash out at your spouse as you may cause irreparable damage to your marriage.

How to Make Your Relationship Better

April 4th, 2016
  1. How about turning your cell phone off for 2 hours after getting home and turning it back on after for a limited time to just check on anything of importance. This really goes a long way. It is not easy, apparently, for many couples to change this bad habit, but the ones who do, find it very worthwhile.
  1. Surprisingly, many people just don’t think about their relationships. They think about their jobs, kids, but relationship goes on sidelines. More thinking should go into how to make it more intimate, fun and satisfying. What part of it needs most attention? What to do about it?
  1. Be available and accessible to your partner. Having TIME, is the most precious commodity. That includes turning off phones, TV and other distractions. I don’t mean to be a broken record, but this comes up over and over again in the sessions with me. People come home and stare at their phones or TV. They eat dinner in front of a TV and they don’t talk.
  1. Of course one obvious problem is when one of the partners has his/her heart elsewhere. But short of that, when there is a palpable anger and resentment which is quite rigid and escalates quickly in a discussion, there is a need for professional help.
  1. Think about your sexual relationship. If there is no sex and one person or both want to do something about it, couples therapy with a therapist who is also a sex therapist is in order. When therapy starts, it is critical to do assignments, read books recommended by the therapist, etc. A relationship can not survive without a sexual connection over long time.
  1. One bad advice is that sometimes things just get better with time. Another is that if you are fighting, you are not a good match. Also, the idea of a soul mate. Most of us are not soul mates, but we find a way to love each other and make it work.
  1. Some say that a good relationship is effortless. Unless you are an unusually well suited and compatible couple, all relationships especially after a long time, require effort.

Relationship Tips and Ideas from Well-Known Couples’ Therapy Experts

March 28th, 2016

I want to share with you some relationship tips and ideas from well-known couples’ therapy experts. These tips come from an article I contributed to in Buzzfeed.com last month. Here they are:

  • The old adage that you can’t go to bed angry is not true. This comes from a relationship coach Rachel De Alto. I actually agree with this. Making up before bedtime places too much pressure to come up with a resolution which may not be organic or make sense. During the evening the couple may be too tired and it is better to tackle the conflict in the morning or next day. So, don’t worry if you are angry at bedtime.
  • One thing that can instantly improve your relationship according to another couples therapist is saying “thank you” more often. Showing sincere appreciation for even mundane tasks goes a long way.
  • It is a good thing to tell your partner about things that annoy you, even if they are small things. Despite “don’t sweat the small stuff” idea, many couples therapists agree that over time, keeping a minor peeve  to oneself, can wind up or turn into a nasty resentment or major irritation. It is important to bring it up in a nice way, before it becomes a bigger issue.
  • Have more discussions especially discussions of problems between you starting with “I” rather then “you”. Express your wants, needs and feelings that come from “I” rather then blaming statements starting with “you”. As an example, instead of saying “you don’t do this or that…” Say “I feel less connected or sad when, etc.…” Starting with “you” instantly puts your partner on the defensive and that means that he or she is now most concerned with defending him or herself rather then get into what you are saying and feeling.
  • Have more conversations that are not about your job, kids and home. Even if you and your partner talk a lot, much of it probably is about day-to-day business of running a home and family. In order to feel closer and more intimate, communicate about your thoughts, feelings, goals, observations, discoveries, desires, and fantasies with each other.
    • Turn off your phones around each other for periods of time especially when you come home from work. (Guess who said that one?) I harp on this all the time. It is important to make time and space for each other and be available and accessible.
  • It’s okay to fight. Everyone feels disappointed or has disagreements. In a fight you both need to communicate with a goal of understanding each other better.
  • According to a relationship coach Jane Greer, it is important to check in with your partner about decisions even if they are small. I agree with this as many of my couples get into trouble even with stuff like, “ I am going to dinner with so and so Friday” instead of “ I am thinking of seeing so and so Friday, is that OK with you?” This make world of difference.
  • Even if you have been together a long time, date like you haven’t. The experts say, it’s not just about “reigniting the spark”, it’s about putting value on fun, excitement, pleasure, getting to know each other. Going out to same old restaurants and sitting in silence or talking about kids is not going to keep things exciting. Do new things.
  • Touch more and not just in sexual ways. It’s important to touch and be affectionate not just as prelude to sex. Touching and kissing keeps good feelings flowing and makes you feel loved and special.
  • Do little things, they are the unsung heroes of successful relationships. Little things are important, they let each of you know that you think of them.

How to Deal with a Jealous Spouse

February 12th, 2016

My spouse is a very jealous person and I worry he may become abusive. How do we address his behavior to prevent anything from happening in the future?

Jealousy is a complicated emotion. In some cases it is a normal human response to a real or perceived thread of loosing your partner to another. Usually, when there is no cause for jealousy and both partners are basically trusting people it is quickly and relatively easily resolved.

In more extreme cases there needs to be an honest assessment as to whether the jealous person has reasons to be jealous. Often jealous people marry or get involved with people who provoke them, sometimes unconsciously. So if one is married to someone jealous, it is important to understand and care about their feelings and do everything possible not to give them any reason to feel threatened and suffer.

Jealousy is rooted in insecurity, lack of trust, betrayal, history of being cheated on or growing up in a family with cheating and seeing its impact on family members. It is important for the partner of a jealous person to know and understand where this is coming from and be sensitive and protective of their feelings.

However, when there is an extreme jealousy bordering on abusive behavior, even if it is based on some real triggers in the relationship, abuse should not be tolerated and it would be very important for the jealous spouse to start individual therapy to figure out what is being triggered and how to cope with the triggers without becoming abusive.

Another possibility is to see a couples therapist to help navigate this dynamic, to help the couple understand if there are triggers to jealousy, what they are, if there are behaviors or situations that bring this on, and more importantly how to communicate and cope with extreme feelings without getting abusive emotionally or physically.

It is also important to see this as a couple issue and not a problem with one spouse. Only in extreme cases this may be an individual issue. This is usually in a case of a jealous spouse having a trauma history involving betrayal or/and infidelity.


Before We Got Married We Didn’t Want Children But Now I Do – What to Do?

February 5th, 2016

When I got married, my spouse and I didn’t want children and now I do. How should we deal with this?

When one spouse decides he/she wants children, when prior to marriage there was a decision or a preference not to have any, there is a major problem. Sometimes this issue leads to an end of a marriage when feelings are very strong on both sides. It can be a deal breaker as this is an extremely emotional issue. If one of the spouses compromise in order to stay together, this may lead to resentment and disconnect, which may, ultimately, result in a divorce.

When this issue arises, it is very important to talk about it openly and understand emotional reasons for the change of heart. This has to be done with utmost caring about each others feelings and meaning of what is happening. This can be a process with discussions and then soul searching only to have more discussions.

Wanting a child has a lot of meaning to the one who changes his/her mind. It often is the female in a heterosexual marriage, coming to mid 30’s and realizing that time is running out bringing with it end of fertility, and possibly newly emerged maternal or paternal instinct and yearnings, longing to experience pregnancy and giving birth to another human being. Sometimes, there is a feeling of emptiness, lack of feeling fulfilled, missing out on something major, watching friends having babies, wanting to be a family and not only a couple.

It is important to honestly weigh the emotional impact for each spouse in whatever decision is reached and the potential consequences of such decisions for each person and the couple.

All this being said, this is clearly a major fork in the road. The spouse who wants to remain childless may feel that a promise or an agreement is being broken or sabotaged. That their spouse can no longer be trusted or is not a true partner. Possibly that he/she is has been mislead or is being deceived. While the one whose mind is changed, can feel as though they are prevented from the most fulfilling experience, possibility of having a legacy, being held back and not cared for. For this partner this may represent the ultimate rejection if he/she feels that having a child is the ultimate commitment between two people.

The themes are similar in same sex marriages, depending if it is a marriage with two males or two females and same meanings and emotional impact exists and needs to be considered.

What to Consider If Your Future Spouse Is A Recovering Alcoholic

January 29th, 2016

My Future Spouse Is A Recovering Alcoholic and Now In AA. I Want To Marry But What Considerations Should I Have?

The good thing about your spouse being in recovery is that he/she is in the process of getting better and healthier. You should make it your business to learn as much as you can about recovery and perhaps attend some AL – ANON meetings so you can understand the addiction world, what it means and takes to be in recovery and your role in living with someone who tries to stay abstinent from alcohol “one day at a time”.

It is also important to know what your spouse is talking about when they go to “meetings”, which most recovering alcoholics do. It is significant part of their world and you should know about it as you would want to about any other important part of their life. I think it is very important to understand all the aspects of dealing with this life long process and sometimes daily struggle.

Another issue you need to discuss with your future spouse is what if any support he/she needs from you in the process of their recovery and day to day life. Can you have alcohol in your house, are they OK with you drinking alcohol in front of them, do you serve drinks in social situations in your home. This greatly varies with people but it is important to understand the needs and reality of your partner and also know that the “rules” may change, depending how your partner’s recovery is unfolding.

It helps to look at this as if your partner has an illness or a vulnerability and to appreciate how difficult their road to recovery may have been or possibly continues to be.

It is a good idea to know and understand your future spouse’s drinking history, what made her or him decide to stop as well as how they stopped, what treatment in any they received, etc.

Recovery from alcohol or drugs is not an event, but a life long process in which you will have a part and will have to learn about and understand. If your future spouse is in therapy, maybe you can have a session or two, with him or her and the therapist together, to understand better about their life and struggles.

How Couples Can Work Things Out When Dealing With Financial Issues

January 22nd, 2016

I Like to Spend Money and My Future Spouse Likes to Save. How Can We Work This Out and Avoid Fighting?

Dealing with finances and money can be a major challenge in a marriage if spouses have different relationship with money. There is no easy fix for this potential “deal breaker”.

First of all, there needs to be an in depth discussion about each partner’s history of making and spending money, and how this had worked out for them in their lives. It is also important to know financial realities when growing up as they clearly will influence the present sensibilities. Often, the “saver” will come into marriage with more savings and the spender may come in with debt. This is sometimes not so if there is a difference in earnings, but all things being equal, this will typically be the case. If it is agreed that the savings adds value to starting your life together, while debt brings with it stress and distress it may be possible to come to a compromise sooner rather then later.

It is important to understand that the saver places great importance on security, predictability and future gains and comforts rather then immediate gratification, while the spender, clearly likes and values immediate pleasure, freedom and sense of living in the moment and not for the future. It is important to take into account these emotional aspects underlying financial differences and be emphatic and compassionate about them, rather than feeling like someone is trying to ruin or control your life. There is no “right” or “wrong” here.

Finally, I think it is very important that a budget is created together and that all bills are paid together so that it is clear how much money is available and how much is going out to pay bills. It is critical to discuss value of savings, how much needs to be saved and for what purposes. It is important to talk about and understand what each person’s future financial goals are and think about whether you are both on the same page. If there are major differences that you cannot resolve without feeling resentment, fear and hurt, think about how this may play out in your marriage over time and wonder about viability of this relationship. Money disagreements are not just about money. There are very intense emotions and beliefs that are attached to this topic.

A word of caution: There will be “slip-ups” with both partners from time to time. It is normal, people don’t change in relation to money easily and quickly. Talk about what is going on, try to understand and learn from each experience, remind each other and yourselves that you are a team now.

What Are Some Of The Questions I Should Ask My Partner Before We Get Engaged And Married?

January 15th, 2016

Getting engaged and subsequently married is one of the most important decisions one makes in life. Your relationship with your spouse is like a music to the dance of your life. If your relationship is loving, supportive, caring, romantic and if you and your spouse feel connected, the entire tone of your life in general with be healthy and will propel you to thrive and feel good. It will make you the best version of you. Even if there are occasional wrinkles.

If the relationship is generally solid and loving, you, together, as a team will deal with life’s adversities or conflicts which are inevitable in every relationship, even a good one.

Before the engagement and marriage, it is important to address the following issues:

  • Talk about how you see your marriage, what is the vision you both have for your life together.
  • Discuss your similarities and differences in every area. It is good to know how you see your partner’s strengths and weaknesses and how these have and will continue to play out in your life together.
  • Talk about what you like/love about each other and what doesn’t quite fit and how you may be able to deal with this in years to come.
  • If there are religious differences, discuss in detail how you plan to deal with those, especially if you plan to have children.
  • It is good to identify characteristics of your parents’ marriages and how this may have influenced you in your views on what marriage looks like for you. (This may be better accomplished in pre-marital counseling).
  • The subject of children, including the number and timing is VERY important as well as what is important to you in their upbringing and education.
  • It is important to discuss how finances will be handled, how they have been dealt with up to now if you have been living together or how this may be different or same after marriage.
  • For couples getting engaged, PLEASE discuss how you see your wedding and how this vision will be translated into reality, meaning finances, influence of each family of origin, the kind of wedding you would like to have. This, often, is an experience that leads to family conflict and disillusionment between partners. Sometimes it leads to engagement and wedding being called off. Wedding is your first project as partners and you have to remember that you are now partners and have to be a team. It is very important not to get caught up in the minutiae of details of wedding planning and not loose sight of what makes you a couple and keep connection and caring as most important priorities.
  • Other topics include where to live, career goals and plans, especially after having a child, leisure and social life.

We Have Different Religions and Cultural Backgrounds – Should We Still Get Married?

January 12th, 2016

Difference in religions and cultural background presents a great challenge for couples contemplating marriage. It has been my personal and professional experience that all things being equal, having those be same or similar is a major plus.

Time and time again, I see in my office tremendous conflict, leading to unhappiness and sometimes, rupture, when people feel very strongly about their religions, especially, those that seem less compatible. Or there is no understanding or difficulty in accepting their partner’s cultural background. Often, these differences create conflict with family of origin and in some more severe cases, ostracism.

There are those from certain cultures or religious affiliation that do not want “outsiders” as part of their future family. Those contemplating marriage in these cases have to be prepared for what may happen and how this may or will affect their future marriage.

Still, many couples decide to marry despite these differences. And sometimes they have good marriages. Here are some suggestions based on my experience as a Couples Therapist:

  • Please discuss and thoroughly understand the religion and culture of your future partner. Understand their impact on your sensibilities and day to day life.
  • Decide if you will stay with your religion or if you will take on that of your partner. If you decide to convert, make sure you are truly OK with this and will not resent or hold it against your partner or in-laws. If you decide to stay with your respective religious affiliations, decide and discuss how you are going to deal with holidays, customs, worship, and most importantly raising a family. This has to be discussed and agreed upon in detail and both parties have to be committed to decisions that are made. The worst thing to do is to think that you will figure it out as you go along.
  • Another major decision is how to deal with cultural issues in wedding planning and feelings of families of origin and community. Most of the time, in my experience, if there are different religions and cultural backgrounds, accommodations are made for both and sometimes, there are two weddings. Sometimes, there is one wedding incorporating both religions and customs.
  • The most important thing is that should you decide to go ahead and get married, you have to be a team and try to make your own decisions together. All efforts need to be made to nurture relationship and connection with families of origin, but at the end of the day, it’s your partner, who is most important.

How To Make The Most Of Your Pre-Marital Counseling Sessions?

December 29th, 2015

In my experience, pre-marital counseling sessions are a combination of identifying and hopefully working on existing relationship issues, dysfunctional communication patterns as well as discussing major topics that often surface in every marriage. Some of these include the timing and number of children, beliefs about childrearing, where to live, finances, relationship with families of origin, career goals, social life, etc.

To get the most out of these sessions, it is important to come prepared for the sessions, in terms of identifying what needs to be dealt with and some open minded and honest soul searching about thoughts  and feelings about  issues at hand as well as willingness to be honest, open and vulnerable in sessions.

As in any therapy, self examination and “homework”, which include discussions and   thinking about the sessions, what has come up during the sessions as well as willingness to make changes are critical. Presence of an experienced therapist in these sessions, hopefully, creates an atmosphere of safety to go into some uncharted territories.

Much of our template for married life comes from observing and taking in the relationship between our parents as we were growing up. Much of pre-marital counseling is exploration, understanding, teasing out and sharing of messages and imprints from our parental relationships which include romance and sex, finances as well as many other aspects of married life. There are many subliminal and straight forward messages we get from observing, participating and growing up in our family of origin. It is very important to understand the messages and images we all get from living inside our families, discuss and explore how each person sees what a marriage is supposed to look like and identify areas of potential conflict and honestly talk about it and distill what each person wants and expects.

The point is not necessarily to reach a compromise but to have an understanding, empathy and appreciation of your potential partner’s reality and desires.

Eight Signs Your Significant Other Is Experiencing Depression

November 29th, 2015

Sometimes in the course of a relationship one partner or another can become depressed. This is usually not an on and off switch, it can happen gradually and over time if unnoticed, can become quite severe and pronounced. Many factors can lead to depression, such as genetics, major disappointment, loss, trauma, rejection, self esteem issues among many factors. These are the signs that your loved one may be depressed.

Your significant other is often tired and does not want to engage in activities you used to enjoy together, that were a lot of fun for the two of you. A typical excuse is tiredness, “not now”, etc.

  1. There is a tendency to either sleep more then usually or not much at all. Changes in sleep patterns are a major sign of depression or that something is wrong. It is important to pay attention to this.
  2. Your partner is loosing weight and generally does not have much appetite. There is generally no interest in food, in buying it or preparing it and certainly not eating.
  3. Your partner is unusually quiet and generally withdrawn socially and even just with just you. There definitely is no desire to do things with other people.
  4. When you are engaged in some activities that were usually fun, there is no pleasure. Nothing is fun or joyful.
  5. There is definitely diminished or none-existing sex drive. There is every excuse to avoid sex or physical intimacy of any kind.
  6. Your loved one looks sad and down all the time.
  7. There is general negative and very pessimistic outlook on life. There is a feeling of doom and gloom.

It is very hard to know how to handle your loved one being depressed. There is a tendency to blame one self, which is mostly not the case. Several important things to consider is that this usually does not last for ever but does need to be attended to. Depression can not be taken lightly and if it does not get better with your love, encouragement and time, you need to seek professional help.

How Couples Can Open The Flow Of Communication

November 29th, 2015

Are you looking to improve communication with your partner?

Often, when there is a disconnect with its share of resentment, animosity and hurt feelings, it feels impossible to start talking again and even if there is talking, how will the outcome be any different than what lead to the estrangement in the first place. Both of you feel alone and hopeless. This is a terrible place to be. This is what brings most couples to my office for couples therapy.

One of the issues is that each party dwells on how they were misunderstood, wronged or hurt by their partner and there is very little willingness or ability to look at what is their contribution to what is going on. Most communications start with “you” rather then “I”. This is the first step to trying to open the communication differently.

Another suggestion is to really try to use empathy, meaning putting yourself in your partner’s shoes. What might be going on with him or her? And if you don’t know, try to start the conversation by asking them to tell you. Then really listen with an open heart and try to see things from their perspective, not yours. When you hear what they have to say, do not try to explain yourself. That is defensive, makes them feel invalidated. Instead, try to zero in on the emotion that is driving them. Chances are, they are upset, hurt, etc. Very likely, you are feeling some of the same feelings.

One of the dynamics I see in almost all first and second sessions with couples is that while one partner is telling their story, the other one is rolling their eyes or shaking their head. Sometimes they are interrupting, or can’t wait to say their piece. How can this help the flow of communication?

One of the main reasons for disruption of communication is that we all are very concerned with what we feel and what we have to say and not enough about our partner’s feelings and concerns. That is the key to love, caring about what is ailing them!

How Comparison May Be Destroying Your Marriage

November 23rd, 2015

It is difficult not to compare ourselves and our marriage to those of others. It is kind of natural. But we need to be careful. There are some constructive parts to this comparison, in that you may see something that others are doing that you want to implement in your relationship or your life. Something you did not think about or were not aware of.

However, most of the time comparisons can create bad feelings, hopelessness and resentment. Not to mention social isolation. These comparisons are also often inaccurate. They can create feelings of jealousy towards others and anger towards your partner.

One thing I know is true – You Never Know What Goes On In Someone Else’s Marriage. This has proven to be true over and over again both in my professional and my personal life. Most couples show you what they want you to see. Most of the time it has no relation to reality and will cause you pain for no reason. Another point is someone else’s happiness or misery has nothing to do with anyone else. If you want to learn from someone’s positive qualities or attributes, that is great, but to put another relationship on a pedestal and devalue yours because of it makes no sense.

Often, when we are comparing our marriage to someone else’s our partner feels criticized and made responsible for what is lacking. This leads to conflict. Even if the partner is not directly implicated in your marriage being less then someone else’s, your partner still feels it is their fault.

If there are issues in your marriage, look at them and deal with them. Everyone comes into life and marriage with their own histories, advantages and disadvantages. We all have to struggle and we all have adversities. Just focus on that.


How To Cope With Personal Anxiety Within A Relationship

October 28th, 2015

What are the causes of anxiety within a relationship? Why would a relationship make you anxious?

One of the reasons for anxiety within a relationship is that the relationship is making you feel insecure about the strength of your commitment or wonder if the feelings and goals are mutual. Sometimes this is because feelings develop at different paces and sometimes it is because there is a sense that there is something going on with the other person that is troubling, and there are real doubts. Generally though, when there is anxiety, there is a reason for it, and that needs to be addressed. If the discussion or exploration of the issues and feelings is unsuccessful or not satisfying, a couple needs to seek professional help in order to understand what is happening and be able to communicate about it constructively. Sometimes this leads to strengthening the bond and sometimes to a realization that the relationship is not going to work.

Another reason for anxiety in a relationship is a history of “bad” relationships. Often when traumatic things happened in a prior relationship such as painful break up, cheating, among other possibilities, there is a tendency to be afraid of that happening again. Often these fears can become self-fulfilling prophecies and there is a tendency to be overly vigilant or suspicious to ward off anxious feelings, thereby alienating one’s partner. This is a good time to explore these fears in therapy to gain a sense of what is really going on.

Sometimes there is personal anxiety in a relationship simply because of an anxiety disorder that is present and untreated. I am talking about an individual who is generally anxious and this anxiety takes over the relationship. This is another situation when therapy and possibly medication may be appropriate.

Is Your Relationship Making You Crazy In Love Or Driving You Crazy?

October 28th, 2015

A reporter recently asked me this question. I had to think about it for a moment as both situations can make you feel off balance, off center and anxious.

I think a major distinction is that being crazy in love is a pleasurable feeling even if somewhat unsettling… Most of us crave this feeling and want to hold on to it as long as possible. It is an emotional high in which the anxiety comes from feeling vulnerable. But it is a state that makes us feel very alive, excited about life, albeit it somewhat scared of loosing the feeling and the person.

When being in love drives us crazy, it is a feeling and a state that is quite untenable and we do not want to remain in that state for a long time as it interferes with other important areas of our life and functioning. It is a state of angst, frustration, anxiety and is extremely uncomfortable. It is a feeling that something is wrong, the relationship is wrong or not good for us. It is an unhappy state.

Sometimes being in love drives us crazy because there is fear of something going wrong, our feelings being unrequited, jealousy and possessiveness can take over. Bur when the feelings of love are mutual and the people involved are reasonably stable, this feeling grows into a mature, fulfilling love. In contrast the craziness evolves into dysfunction and despair, can evolve into depression. This is a kind of a relationship people end up in therapy to get help getting out of.

How Do You Know If Pre-marital Counseling Is Right For You?

October 26th, 2015

People call my office and frequently say something like this: “My fiancée and I are getting married in a few months, we are very happy and everything is great. Do you think we can benefit from having a few pre-marital counseling sessions?”

I am usually stumped at this question. I don’t know what is really being asked of me. If everything is great, and there are no issues, why wonder about this? If there are things of concern that may be should be talked about, then why ask?

Part of the issue here is that this call comes in when there are old conflicts that have either gotten worse or just became more apparent now and the couple is boxed in with all the wedding plans and one of both are conflicted about the predicament. Is it better to deal with stuff and figure out what is going on or is it better “not to rock the boat” and see what happens, maybe it will all get better on the honeymoon or after the wedding when all the stress is over.

Not to be vague about this. I think every couple could benefit from some pre-marital counseling sessions even if there aren’t apparent conflicts or disagreements at this moment, just to talk about their vision for the married life, finances, kids, families, career, leisure, etc. So a few counseling sessions won’t be harmful and will always be helpful in some way.

However, if there are persistent conflicts or doubts that are getting worse with time and the wedding planning has brought out some parts of a potential spouse or his/her family, that are difficult to deal with or accept, I believe it is prudent to dive in and discuss these issues and not wait to see that they magically disappear because the wedding is perfect!

If you are wondering if pre-marital counseling can be beneficial for you, the answer is -YES. It is best not to put if off but to see what is going on between you that worries you or makes you doubt your decision to marry. (And doubt does not necessarily mean you should not marry this person).

Has Your Significant Other Cheated? Here’s What To Do Next

October 26th, 2015

Infidelity in long terms relationships is, unfortunately, quite a common occurrence. There are many complex reasons why it happens and not one path to deal with it.

Here, though, are some general thoughts I have about this after many years of working with this issue in my practice.

First of all, once, the infidelity has been discovered, it is best to “come clean” and have as full a disclosure about the other relationship(s) as possible. It makes the cheating partner ultimately feel like they can be honest and real and there is often a sense of relief after initial feelings of shame and humiliation. It also allows the “injured” partner a sense of truth and understanding of a new reality, which is the start of understanding and coping with what happened. Not having complete honesty is problematic as the “injured” partner will typically continue to search and investigate, which they feel they need to do for themselves and if, ultimately, new information comes out, it is very damaging to the recovery of the trust and therefore, the relationship. I cannot stress this point enough as I have seen many couples, seemingly, recovering from the affair only to be derailed when new information comes out. This often causes irreparable damage.

The next major issue is whether the partner who “cheated” is willing to stop the “other” relationship. For most, this is the most important and deciding factor in continuing the primary relationship or not. For some who are cheating, this is not a difficult decision to make and for some it is. If there is a goal or assumption of a monogamous relationship, most couples cannot really be in a meaningful couples therapy if the affair continues, whether it is known or not. Trust cannot be rebuilt and safety cannot be established if there is another relationship going on in secret or if it is known.

The next step is to seek professional counseling to understand what lead to the affair, provided there is a willingness to stop it and refocus on the relationship. Most of the time in my experience it is a relationship as well as an individual issue. It may be difficult for a couple to navigate all the difficult feelings and realities in an honest and productive manner as these situations are extremely painful and shocking.

Pre-Marital Counseling: Why It Is a Must Before “I Do”

October 5th, 2015

Based on my experience as a marriage and couples therapist, I think most couples planning to tie the knot can benefit from some form of pre-marital counseling. There are several reasons to consider this. Some couples call pre-marital counseling actual couples therapy. They experience repeated conflicts they are not able to resolve and the idea of couples’ therapy “before even being married” is just too disturbing. My answer to them is, “Good for you to realize this and not wait”. In these cases, pre-marital counseling is really no different from couples therapy or marriage counseling and the couple is simply getting a head start on tackling issues that can potentially ruin their marriage later. I applaud these couples in their wisdom and care about their relationship. If calling this “pre-marital counseling” makes them feel better, no problem.

Some come in for pre-marital counseling, not to deal with issues, but because they wish to discuss in a safe atmosphere common realities of married life, such as timing and number of children, work and career after children, finances, relationships with families of origins and friends, work/leisure balance amongst other things. In such cases, the counseling is more structured and each topic is discussed, differences are identified and there is a discussion and decisions made for mutually acceptable solutions. These sessions are very useful and productive in averting future discord, leading to anger, resentments and disconnection.

Sometimes, pre-marital counseling is a combination of both of these factors. Another common and related reason for therapy before marriage is that oftentimes unexpected problems arise during wedding planning. I have had several couples who came into my office because they realized during their engagement and wedding planning something about each other’s values or sensibilities they did not know before, or some issues happened between families that were especially disturbing. I have experienced weddings cancelled or postponed during these times and in these situations.

So, as you can see, I am all for pre-marital counseling or some discussion with a neutral party leading to marriage. Whether done by priest, rabbi or a therapist though all very different agendas and processes, it is healthy to address present or future potential universal marriage issues.



3 Ways To Put That Spark Back In Your Marriage

September 30th, 2015

Over time married life can become less romantic, more routine, disconnected, and businesslike. In other words, it can become quite disappointing. This disconnect becomes a fertile soil for extra-marital affairs, separation and/or depression. The reasons for this are numerous and predictable. Most people don’t think their marriages need care and thought. Many take each other and their relationship for granted. This is the biggest mistake you can make in your marriage, and it almost always means trouble.

Awareness of this reality means that in order to preserve your marriage and to have a good solid relationship, we all have to think about it and constantly do things to keep it alive and exciting.

1. Monogamy in a marriage cannot be taken for granted. Therefore, even though we all know that sex and romance do not stay the same forever, it is very important to think about its importance and create space for time alone. This allows for physical and emotional intimacy. For couples with children, it is critical to make time away, if even for a day or two without kids on a regular basis or as much as possible. A date night once a week is good but may not be enough. Much attention should be given to your emotional and physical connection and a regular sexual relationship is a big part of it. It is a priority.

2. Another way in which you can spark your marriage is to go out of your way to let the other partner know and feel that they are important. It is especially important to make transitions in your daily life meaningful, i.e. time you part in the morning, when one of you comes back at the end of the day, bedtime. Also go out of your way to show the other person you are thinking of them. Make or buy their favorite food, schedule their favorite activity, buy tickets to their favorite show.

3. My last suggestion in this same vain is shut your phone and all other electronic gadgets off when you reunite with your spouse or are simply with them, at least for much of the time. Show them how important and special they are. Instead of staring into your phone, talk to them, touch them, be with them. Do things you used to do when you were dating. Ask questions and share your experiences as if this is new, which it always is….





8 Tips For Improving Your Relationship With Your Stepchildren

September 16th, 2015

Being a step parent is very hard. Your role is not really well defined. You are not a parent, not a friend. Especially if you are living with the parent of your stepchild or spending a lot of time with them, you may at times feel like an outsider. And in a way, at least at first, you are. At the same time you have needs and preferences and how do you communicate those without alienating everyone and yet preserve your own sanity?

You are always compared to the real parent(s) and there can even be hostility because at times you are perceived as the obstacle for parents to be together. It takes kids time to accept that parents will never again live together or be a unit. There is typically suspicion on both sides. It is especially hard for a stepparent who does not have kids of their own. They can feel alone, almost like a third wheel.

Here are some suggestions to navigate this difficult predicament:

1. Go slow…

2. Do not try too hard, don’t push yourself on the kids.

3. Abandon any preconceived ideas and let the relationships unfold as they may.

4. Remember if there is more than one stepchild, the relationship may develop differently with each and at a different pace. Different personalities are involved and chemistry is not the same between people.

5. Be prepared to give some space to the kids and your partner, they need time alone to be together. They have a history that needs to be preserved and respected.

6. Try to put yourself in their shoes and imagine what it is like for them to have this new person have an intimate relationship with their parent.

7. Try to be supportive and helpful to them and develop your own connection.

8. To the extent that is possible, do not be a disciplinarian and put out rules and expectations very gently and respectfully.

Why We Need To Chill Out And Unplug

September 10th, 2015

Summer is almost over…

I can not believe it, but it is the end of August…

I hope you are having a great summer. This has been a great summer for me. After the treacherous winter we had, this has been an amazing respite from the cold, ice and sleet.  The weather has been great, the dollar is strong, work has been busy and challenging as ever.

I am feeling the need to connect and I guess this is what the summer is about. It is, hopefully, about lightness, connection, time off, travel for some of you as it was for me, and time to rest up, think about goals for the fall and year to come, time to chill out and unplug. Which is my topic.  For those who know me well it is an old tune… But I have to say, I really feel strongly about this. Overuse of technology, as I see in my practice, is a major contributor or may be a symptom of many relationship problems, both romantic and other ones.

So, many of you, but, really, most of us, are guilty of not being present for those amazing moments we share with our loved ones, be it spouses, kids, parents, friends… Many of you complain that you come home after a hard days’ work and sit on Facebook or send and receive endless  emails and texts to and from work or people who are NOT WITH YOU, while your loved ones are next to you, often times thinking, “when is he/she going to get off that phone?” This goes on everywhere, home, beach, restaurants, everywhere…With many of you we have worked on turning off phones upon entering your home and not putting them on until a specific designated time. Same goes for computers.  Some of you have done it successfully and have seen the results and some, not so much…It is a work in progress but there has to be progress.

This summer I was in Florence and Tuscany, beautiful places as many of you know and I was struck by the way people live there. I have not been to Italy for years…. Yes, people use phones but in restaurants or at the beach they actually sit and talk and their phones are not on the table next to them or in their hands, even the young ones…They don’t, for the most part, walk around with phones in their hands or talking on them. It was so refreshing to see people really being with each other and taking life slowly and with connection to one another. I took away with me those images of sitting with family and friends, talking, laughing, enjoying time, taking it all in slowly. I want this in my hectic busy life in New York and I am really trying to hold on to it…maybe you will too.





Is It Ever Too Late For Relationship Counseling?

September 2nd, 2015

There is a debate among Couples Therapists whether there is such a thing as too late for Couples Counseling. Some feel that every relationship deserves a chance to get professional help and seek to explore. To understand and get help to bring back connection and love, and break down old negative cycles of interaction and resulting conflict.

I do not like to play God on this issue, but there are couples who come to see me and I can’t help but think they should have been doing this a long time ago and wondering why they did not. Why did they wait so long? I know that there are many reasons why couples wait until the relationship is in a serious threat of a break up. We all have egos and want to think we can solve our problems especially romantic ones. We also all have busy schedules, many have financial restrictions and, truthfully, good therapists are expensive for many. There are sometimes kids and work demands and responsibilities in many cases. All these are good reasons.

However, I feel that your relationship is a huge investment, especially a long, committed one and every troubled relationship deserves a shot.

That being said, there are times, I feel it is too late. Sometimes I can not even put it into words, it is my sense, that there is nothing left. In other cases there is at least one of the partners who already left the relationship and is not willing to go back. I don’t mean physically but sometimes physically and literally. Usually in this case there is so much resentment and such continuous pain, such as trust issues, etcetera, that I can not blame anyone for not wanting to open their heart again. At other times, there is a realization that a wrong choice was made or that one person really changed and the choice made years ago or because of initial romantic infatuation just does not fit any longer and it makes no sense to stay in the relationship.

I have a young man, 28 years old, who came for a first appointment this week who is five weeks from getting married and is in a serious conflict about going through with it. He and his girlfriend have been together four years during which time his career and ambition skyrocketed, while his fiancée has the same job since the day they met, has no ambition and wants to “clean and cook”. While generally there is nothing wrong with this, he is bored with the relationship, feels trapped and has had multiple affairs, feeling not ready to be monogamous. He is seriously questioning his choice for a spouse and in a way is having affairs, hoping to get caught as he does not have strength to brake off the engagement. He has an overwhelming sense of guilt and is torn. He has had a panic at every transitional stage in this relationship: moving in, getting engaged (slept with three different women when he bought a ring). This is clearly a problem.

Sometimes, for various reasons, one of the partners has seriously fallen for someone else. It is not just an affair or a distraction, it is much more. In my experience this type of a relationship is very difficult to put back together, especially if the love with the other is mutual and realistic. These situations, even if the other person is given up, eventually break up. The break has gone too far.

So my pervasive view is that do not wait too long before good Relationship Counseling. It can save your relationship or at the very worst make it clear if it is “fixable “ one or not.

How Trauma Leads to Depression and Anxiety

August 25th, 2015

A few years ago years ago after the Oklahoma City bombing, Hurricane Katrina and Sandy, I contributed to an article for Everydayhealth.com discussing Trauma, Post Traumatic Stress and its impact on Mental Health. This week I wrote an update to this article mentioning more recent events in the past 2-3 years, such as the Boston Marathon shootings in which three people were killed and hundreds injured, murder of a teacher outside a preschool by her husband on March 11, 2014. Not to mention unspeakable executions by ISIS. In doing research for this article, I was shocked about how many violent acts of random violence have occurred in the past two years in schools and colleges all over the country.

Actually this week a patient of mine in marriage counseling, came to the session and announced that she is not really here, there was a “crazy” incident that occurred at her workplace that day. To be sure, she works in a state of the art security building in Midtown Manhattan. Apparently a coworker’s husband was able to get past security and entered their office with a knife. He suspected that his wife was having an affair with a co-worker and intended obviously to use the knife on both of them. He first went after the male and basically was eventually wrestled down by other men in the office who were able to get the knife from him. Security was called and he was luckily arrested. My patient was in a state of shock and was able to talk a little about her fear and what would have happened if he had a gun….

I think that being a New Yorker and having lived through 9/11 has forever changed our nervous systems. Many of us are more on guard and are looking for potential dangerous people or elements in our environment. Fortunately nothing of this magnitude has happened in this city or country since but oftentimes, we all think it will, may be happen again and it certainly has in other parts of the world.

What makes trauma what it is, is the element of it being completely unexpected and out of nowhere. It shakes our basic assumptions about our lives, order and predictability and makes us different. There is a sense of loss that occurs which leads to depression as underlying issues in depression are often loss, disappointment and helplessness. All these feelings are experienced in trauma as the shock lifts. Another related feeling is that of fear, a pervasive fear of this or something like this happening again and the need to be worried and hyper vigilant all the time. There is a sense of life not being safe.

These feelings are common and normal after traumatic experience. However, if they persist, one should seek professional help. Psychotherapy such as EMDR ( Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) is especially effective in clearing trauma so we do not have to live in the grip of sadness and fear.

Children may also experience these symptoms. There are therapists who specialize in treating children after trauma and they use same approaches, such as EMDR. It is important for parents to become educated about this and take an

How Do You Know When Your Relationship Needs Counseling?

August 16th, 2015

I get many calls from people wanting to talk about whether couples therapy is appropriate for them. They almost always start with all the wonderful things about the relationship as if to have me say, they are OK. Then when I ask about what prompted their inquiry, comes the story about fighting, conflict, doubts, “communication problems” that are not getting better and inability to gain any traction with these issues.

My sense in general, is that if someone is questioning if they need couples therapy, the answer usually is that they do. People don’t call me unless they tried to fix things on their own and have failed.

Now there are definitely couples who need relatively few sessions to get past an issue or be able to drop into a more honest and vulnerable mode of communication which restores connection and stops negative cycles of being stuck. But there are more couples who need longer treatment. They are couples who have been chronically unhappy, disconnected for a long time, with a long list of resentments or may have had or are having an affair, which takes a while to heal and make sense of. By the time these couples enter therapy, they are either desperate to “fix” stuff or they are hopeless and resigned and come as a last resort.

So basically, if you are unhappy for a while and things are not getting better, you owe it to yourself, your partner and family, to explore what is going on and to seek professional help. Sometimes, when the couple is in a bad state for a while, they lose perspective or get so stuck in Blame/Defend pattern that they can’t get anywhere.

A consultation with a trained couples therapist is always a good idea. You can try and see how the process works and then decide if you want to commit to the process or look for another therapist for a better fit or do nothing.

Are we Going Through a Bad Phase or Are we Broken?

July 22nd, 2015

This is the question many couples ask in their first session as they sit down on my office couch. This question either starts the sessions or follows a brief introduction and history of their relationship as well as reasons why they are in my office at this particular time. They or at least one of them look at me, anxiously, awaiting my “expert” verdict.

It really is difficult to quickly assess the relationship and its status quickly, but usually by the end of the first or second session I have an idea.

Most couples come to couples therapy with complaint of “communication problems”. This can mean many different things, but usually it means that there is continuous and rather predictable cycle of conflict, escalation and eventually, (hopefully), temporary estrangement or anger which makes both feel alone, fearful and, sometimes, hopeless. Eventually the argument subsides, gets swept under the proverbial rug and all is well until the next time. However, when there is a commitment and caring, combined with willingness to change and be more open and vulnerable, this cycle can change. While this is not exactly a phase, it does not mean the relationship is broken.

Sometimes couples experience a conflict over a particular issue, like in-laws or finances or something else and they hit a wall. This, also, is fixable and natural in all relationships. With patience, empathy and exploration, a couple can come to a place of acceptance and move forward or learn to deal with the differences. Again, there has to be commitment, caring and a basic solid connection.

Even sex and romance issues can be improved with willingness to be open and put energy, time and effort with guidance of a therapist.

However, when a couple is in a midst of one partner having an affair and feeling “in love” with another person, or feeling like the affair opened him or her up to another level of aliveness, or realization that the current relationship has run its course, there is a serious break in attachment and desire or in some cases ability to press on and find a different, deeper connection. This is very painful for the couple and for me to be present for and work with.

There is another situation which can signify that the relationship is broken. It involves a profound disappointment and lack of respect for the partner which makes it impossible to care and stay connected. There are many examples of this, one of which is trust, but also it can involve discovering a personality or character trait, unknown before, which is so shocking and upsetting that things can not be put together again in any kind of real way.

Another sign of a “broken” relationship is when the estrangement, disconnection, resentment have been for so long, that the partners moved too far away and one or both feel that it is easier and more realistic to start over then try to overcome the solid wall that exists between them.

It is always better to address problems earlier on before they partners find other coping ways to deal with chronic unhappiness.



October 20th, 2014

I have been thinking about this question and I am thinking from my experience with many couples that if used sensibly, it may not be so harmful. Especially in long distance relationships, it is the only way to have some connection. At the end of the day its not enough.

Technology is responsible, for better or worse, for many infidelities being uncovered. Many of the couples who come to see me due to affairs are found out by a partner who observes excessive texting or emailing at inappropriate times.

It it especially troubling to me when people are texting during dinners with friends and family and even worse when it’s going on in front of young children.  This has to make them feel invisible and unimportant, but due to their young development, they can not communicate this to their caregivers.

I think its time to rethink and curb the use of technology as it has effect on human connection. More and more people choose to unplug and be more present when interacting socially or during “family time”.