Archive for the ‘Couples Therapy’ Category

What Is A Relationship Dynamic?

Thursday, 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.

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

Wednesday, 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.

5 Reasons Why Couples Counseling Might Not Work For You

Monday, 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 and marriage 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 counseling 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.

How To Get My Spouse Into Couples Counseling?

Monday, 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 marriage counseling and 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.

What Couples Therapists Learn from Their Own Relationships

Wednesday, 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.

How to Make Your Relationship Better

Monday, 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

Monday, 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 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 Couples Can Open The Flow Of Communication

Sunday, 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

Monday, 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

Wednesday, 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.