Category Archives: couples
My book review of Solution Building in Couples Therapy by Elliott Connie was released within the Journal of Sexual and Relationship Therapy. I discover various aspects of Solution Focused Therapy, how this model works, plays into therapy, and the results. Please feel free to read the review. You can read it at the Routledge site linked below or pick up your copy of the Journal of Sexual and Relationship Therapy.
I had the opportunity to interview Dan and Dawn of Erotic Awakening . Erotic Awakenings is one of the most listened to podcasts dealing with kink and erotica. Jay Blevins joined me and we talked to Dan and Dawn about how they have integrated dealing with past trauma into their relationship.
Learn about how to have a healthy power dynamic relationship even when having trauma in your past!
The big American love holiday is right around the corner. If you believe it is all about marketing or you enjoy in the day to remind yourself of your affection for another person, it is really about the ritual. We are habitual by nature and we feel a sense of safety when we can look forward to something positive on a regular basis. Valentine’s day isn’t a negative or a positive, like most things it depends on what it means to you, as to where the emphasis comes from.
I will say this though, around this time of year I start having people talk about a desire for something romantic. Okay, I’m going to generalize here, but usually one person wants a special date and another is looking forward to sex. This too isn’t a positive or negative approach, it simply exists within a system of how people balance out within relationships.
So you have a holiday reminder of love and we approach it perhaps with different meaning and intention. What to do about this situation? As one might expect, as a therapist, I’m going to tell you to verbalize your emotions, thoughts, and desires on love rituals.
If you are a person that wants to go out and make an occasion out of Vday, then you should. If you are someone that wants your partner to make a big occasion about Vday, then you should tell them. If you are a person that hates the holiday and/or it makes you feel negative, then you should also mention that. The point here is not to assume that the other people you are dealing with (romantic or otherwise) share your same values.
We so often mind read and just want the other person to magically know what to do. Then when this doesnt’ happen, we are upset. Instead of playing this game, how about directly talking about why such a day like Valentine’s is meaningful or not to you? The people you are exploring this topic with do not have to agree or disagree, but they will begin to understand where you are coming from on the idea.
So for all of those that are single, within a coupled relationship, or are enjoy multiple partners, talk about your desires. Explore what it is about love rituals that matter to you and those that do not. This way everyone knows how to make the day, week, month, and year something to connect with and grow closer.
It is that time of year where people start to look back on their lives and freak out. They have managed to survive the holiday season thus far and begin to focus on next year. The lists come out of all the things that were not done, all the things to do, and all the things that should be important but that won’t make it to any real list anyway.
You hear it time and time again… resolutions. Then two weeks or two months later… you hear about how they are never kept. I won’t go into why making big grand statements about change don’t work, at least not in this post. But I will say this much, we change as we grow and that isn’t just about an idea, it is about integration. You can wish and hope all day long for something to change, but if you are not truly ready to deal with the consequences (and yes there are scary realities to change even in a positive direction) then it just isn’t going to happen.
So back on to what you can do in 2010. Here is an idea… how about working on your relationships? I know I know… you don’t have the time, the energy, or the desire. But I assure you, if you are devoting time to how you can feel differently about yourself or strengthening the bonds around you, you WILL feel better. We spend an amazing amount of time focusing on the negative that simply seeing one thing positive within ourselves and others, is already a huge shift.
You want to revolutionize your world? Okay…. maybe that is too grand a statement… sounds almost like a resolution.. How about just making a small step towards not putting so many horrible thoughts in your head about yourself or your loved ones? That is workable …. at least the theory is. But how do we really make change with such a large idea? I’m so glad you asked!
Here is a realistic how-to for growing your relationship with yourself or others:
1) Become aware of all the negative things you are saying inside your head. You will be shocked. Write them down with little check marks if you want. It will blow your mind.
2) Once you realize your negative autopilot thought process, start working on actively stopping. In the middle of a negative thought, say “STOP” inside your head our out loud. This changes the cognitive mechanism that is on default. Even if you then still think the thought, you will already started a skill set to change the process.
3) After you have caught yourself in the act, work on some radical acceptance. You don’t have to give up all the negativity cold turkey. However, letting the feelings/thoughts float around as something without impact goes a long way. For instance, if you think “I am stupid” then you stop yourself, and you can allow the thought not to have an impact. You simply have a feeling and thought that is negative but it does not carry weight. It can float past you as the Taoist and Buddhist tend to say “Like leaves on a river they move along.”
4) Then the big moment has arrived. You are ready to start adding on some positivity. You pick something that actually resonantes within you. No choosing a word or feeling that is out of your scope. As with the example above with intellect you could say “I am working on building new levels of intelligience.” This doesn’t negate anything, nor does it put you in a category that isn’t real. You are in fact working on this, by the shear nature of doing these steps.
5) Finally, when you are ready you can really push yourself. *dramatic music* You can start saying positive statements outloud to yourself or others. I know… it sounds intense but work through this with me. You might start to see and feel yourself and others differently, once you geniunely feel some kindness. Using the idea above, someone might say “Wow, that was a really good idea.” You would respond with, “Thank you for saying that.” It sounds like such an easy response right? But when you are struggling with how you deal with yourself and others, it can be a process. You have just validated yourself, the other person’s feelings, and openly expressed appreciation for both.
So let’s look towards 2010 with realistic optimism that we can change ourselves with one thought, emotion, and action at a time. That there is space for us to feel a bit more secure in ourselves and with others. The theme of the new year will be — strength in relationships–.
So often, I hear couples wanting to come in to learn communication skills. They say they can no longer talk to one another without fighting. In truth, it is the rarest of couples that I actually need to teach how to communicate. In fact, it is because they are communicating so well that they are fighting so much.
Couples have figured out what the other person is thinking and feeling (never mind if it is actually true), that they have given up listening. They just wait and respond with contempt, anger, and resentment. This is nothing new, we have seen the classic couple portrayed as fighting it out for as long as we can remember.
Still, why do these people stay together? Well, overall because they love each other. They haven’t stopped loving one another typically, it is that they are no longer know how to share their bigger dreams and desires. This has been documented time and time again by researchers like Dr. Gottman and Dr. Schnarch (who are both experts in the field). The bond hasn’t been torn apart but it has been broken down by snide comments, non follow-through, and unrealistic expectations.
You may read this and think “yep, that is my partner” but here is the catch, it is each and every one of us. We are human and we experience the whole realm of emotions and responses. This includes even when you do and say really crappy things to the people around you that you love.
As a therapist, I’m not here to stop anyone from feeling anything. In fact, I encourage every single feeling you have. I don’t think that suppressing feelings helps anyone. I think that being brave enough and honest enough to say that you hate, love, like, dislike, lust, and admire all different aspects of your partner is important. Our society doesn’t allow us to express these emotions, as in a healthy relationship we are “only supposed to do the happy parts” but that isn’t real. At least this approach isn’t real for something long term.
If you want to pretend that you don’t have times where you hate your partner AND pretend that your partner never has similar thoughts, then therapy may not be the best place for you. If instead, you want to be real and direct about the full scope of emotions and learn how to handle those feelings within yourself and with your partner in a healthy way well then, therapy is the place for you.
It isn’t easy being honest. Sure we all say we want it, but in truth we want someone to just love us exactly as is while we work to change them in all the ways we want. This is pretty much how it is for all of us, you are not alone in this desire. It also isn’t typically the best way to keep a relationship healthy. However, denying that these feelings exist doesn’t help situations either.
So one of the first places to start, is to sit down with yourself and have a real heart to heart. You don’t have to share your feelings with anyone else, but admit if you have moments where you just dislike your partner a great deal. This reality check helps you realize that you are fully capable of being honest. If you struggle with this step, then the rest might be beyond your abilities currently.
Next, consider what kind of context you currently have with your partner. If you have already established a truly open expression of feelings, then you might be able to express fully. However, most couples I know, even the really healthy ones, have trouble saying things when it is about “hard emotions”. No one wants to hurt another person’s feelings, unless of course you are angry. And that is the catch. We want to learn how to express the hard stuff when we are calm and loving rather than in the midst of a fight/flight moment of reaction.
If you don’t have the skills or the kind of relationship where you can share these tough feelings then therapy might be the next step towards becoming closer. Having a third party there to meditate through the emotions, help keep everyone on task, and someone from the outside to listen to everyone can change the dynamics.
Consider if you can be your authentic self with your partner. And if the answer is no, then look into ways that you can be more fully visible within your relationship. If the answer is yes, then smile and know that you are on the right track to a fulfilling life.
Laura Munson wrote an amazing little article about how she didn’t leave her husband when he said he wanted out the marriage. This woman pretty much explains it all perfectly and there isn’t much I can add to her story but I will write this blog to encourage others. First off, read Those are not fighting words … it is an inspiring look at a relationship’s reality.
Now, just in case you decided that the few paragraphs were not worth your time, I will demand you click the link above and read it. I assure you, it is worth your time. Good… now we can move forward.
In my office, I get person after person questioning if they should leave their relationship, if it is already too late, if their relationship can be saved, or if they should just move on. Each person sits with their heart breaking open because they very much love the person with whom they are considering staying/leaving the relationship. These are real people with real emotional ties who want to do what is right.
When are you supposed to leave and when you are supposed to stay? Each situation is different there is no mistaking that point. However, there is something deep about considering that a relationship might be in the stages of some sort of growth that has little to do with you and very much to do with your partner.
If you are overall sure that your needs are being met, boundaries are being respected, that you are not being mistreated in a way that is beyond your capacity, and that you very much love your partner… then it might be worth considering to wait out the situation. Not everyone is prepared for the internal strength it takes to hold on while your partner is flailing about during hard times.
Still, allowing your mate to breathe on their own… find their own path… and to know that you will be there as they find their way … can be the very key to bringing you closer.
I find that many of us have lost sight of the fact that relationships go through hard times and that we can be cruel to one another. We blame, mistrust, and hurt our partner deeply. We say we know this but in action we break often under the pressure. I wish this wasn’t the case but often when two people share their most vulnerable parts they end up needing to protect themselves from the very person they want to be most at peace with. This is simply a truth.
So when things turn nasty and you are being attacked it is natural to want to run away from the situation. But maintaining a sense of self that can stand within the face of someone else hurting is another very true part of relationships. The ability to love without demanding the person change but allowing them to figure themselves out is a powerful expression.
I’m not asking you to stay in a relationship that you don’t want to be in (or that you feel is unhealthy/abusive for you)… however if you look at things and consider that you can wait out storm without attacking your partner then perhaps there will be a rainbow at the end.
Relationships require work and often times they hurt … but they can also bring great joy when you look back and realize that you endured and became stronger for allowing your partner to grow in the way they needed.
Taking space and giving space in loving ways is not an easy task but well worth the effort. Consider taking the wide persective on the situation and see if the long term gains are worth it!
I start off this post by wishing that I had some magic pixie dust to sprinkle around just for those that are going through a breakup. I could say all those things that a therapist, friend, and family member would say about how … “it wasn’t the right fit, you deserve better, or how people just grow in different ways.” All of these plus a million more platitudes may very well be true, but none of them really help with the hurt.
And that is the kicker right? The pain… it just hurts so damn much. Your insides turn over and you feel like your hopes and dreams are shattered. You are supposed to somehow go to work, hang out with people, and take care of yourself all while feeling as if you just want to crawl into a hole. It sucks… and there is no real other way around it.
So what are you supposed to do? We all want to know how to get through/past/over a breakup. I have the answer… truly I do but you don’t want to hear it. Hell, I haven’t wanted to hear it either while I was dealing with breakups. The truth is that your very best answer for dealing with the pain of an ending relationship is feeling it. You simply go one day at a time doing what you have to do.
The first weeks… maybe even months… you just do the basics. You go to work, you cry a lot, you talk with friends, you think about your ex…. you cry some more and you wish things were different. This is normal this is part of the process. The thing is we all want to jump right past this part. We do NOT want to feel so sad, so alone, so vulnerable, so everything. We mostly don’t want to feel at all and this is where the trouble can come into play.
Self soothing and self numbing are not the same thing. And in times of hurt it is easy to confuse the two. You want to not feel what you are feeling so you go out for a drink. This is okay for a once in a while thing but when you are doing it everyday so that you don’t have to think about your ex… well then it is self numbing.
Where self-soothing is allowing yourself to feel the pain and deal with it the best as you can. You cry, you take baths, you do yoga, you eat some crap food, you distract yourself with movies, you take up a hobby, and you do all the things that are good for you. After a break up you may not “feel” they are doing much of anything but they are keeping your mind busy while you process through the grief.
And make no mistake about it… a break up is a grieving process. You are feeling the loss of yourself, your partner, your relationship, your past, your present, and your future. These things take time to heal. And that is the answer to the question about hwo to deal with a breakup that no one wants to hear. TIME!
You gotta give yourself time to cope, grieve, think, change, and recharge. I could tell you a lot of stories about myself and others that found the strength to become a whole person rather than look for someone to complete them after a breakup…. but it doesn’t really matter. You have to find that out for yourself.
And that more than anything else is what I would hope in truth for all of those suffering from the pain of a breakup. That you would realize that this is a time for you to take inventory in yourself, to regroup and rediscover who you are, what you value, and what you want for your life.
We often make the mistake of thinking that a breakup is about the other person but really it is about ourselves as individuals. It is the time for reflection (if we are ready for it or not) to deal with the choices we have made and those we will make in the future.
So cry, scream, be upset, feel the hurt and breathe again remembering that you still have you and that as corny as it may sound when you are in a stronger place you will realize just how important YOU really are!
A friend that I admire greatly recently wrote up an essay that is too good not to share with others. So I present to you the wisdom of Franklin Veaux…
Relationship Ideas That Should Be Obvious But Aren’t.
You can’t expect to have what you want if you don’t ask for what you want.
This is arguably one of the most basic rules for all of life, yet it’s surprising how often we forget. There’s almost no greater recipe for emotional turmoil then wanting something or harboring some expectation, not telling anyone about it, and then not getting it.
Next time you get really, really upset about some desire or expectation not being met, stop and ask yourself: “Did I actually let the people around me know about it?” (Here’s a tip: Dropping hints about what you want doesn’t count. Neither does wishing really hard. Nor waiting for the folks around you to become telepathic.)
If all of your relationships go pear-shaped in the same exact way and end badly in the same exact way, then maybe it’s because of something you’re doing.
Seriously. The one common element in all your relationship failures is you. Someone cheat on you? Well, that sucks, but it happens. Every single person you ever date in your life cheat on you? You’re attracted to folks who cheat.
If all of your relationships end the same way, maybe it’s time to step back and take a good, hard look at the kinds of folks you’re attracted to.
If you find that sex always becomes boring after a while in all your relationships, maybe it’s because you’re choosing to let it.
There’s a lot of fun you can have in (and out) of the bedroom. The total range of the human sexual experience is breathtaking–so much so that if you lived to be a thousand years old and did something different in bed every night for that entire thousand years, you’d still never have time to do it all. Seriously.
If you find that your sex life keeps getting stuck in a rut, maybe it’s time to explore something new. (A sure way to make yourself crazy and have a boring sex life is to keep worrying about whether trying something new would be “too weird.” The expression “That’s too weird” has done more to advance the cause of boring sex than all the world’s religions combined.)
Going into a relationship with the expectation that you can get your partner to change is quite likely to end in tears.
Now, don’t get me wrong–people can and do change. In fact, change is the one constant in life. I’m not the person I was five years ago, and if you’re doing this properly, you aren’t either.
But expecting that a person will change in the ways that you want him to, because you want him to, is setting yourself up for suck and fail. Fixer-upper relationships usually don’t work. And if you go into things thinking “Oh, I can fix him!” you just might find your ship of enthusiasm foundering on the shoals of the fact that maybe he likes being the way he is.
A relationship in which you say “This relationship is absolutely wonderful except for…” is not absolutely wonderful. Especially when the part that comes after the “except for…” is something so horrifying it’d make most folks run for the hills.
This relationship is wonderful except for the fact that we’re completely incompatible in bed. This relationship is wonderful except for the fact that she keeps forgetting to take her meds. This relationship is wonderful except for the fact that he can’t talk honestly about his feelings. Look out!
For maximum effect, try combining “this relationship is wonderful except for…” with “…but I know I can change him” and double your suck!
A partner who is kind to you but not kind to the waitress isn’t a kind person.
Seriously. The fact that he’s kind to you might just mean that he wants something from you. (Or that you’re not his property…yet. Marry that person who’s nice to you but not nice to the waitress and you might just find that once the ring is on your finger, he may start treating you like the waitress. Or worse.)
The way a person treats the folks around him reveals a lot about his true self. Pay attention.
It is possible to deeply, profoundly, genuinely, truly love someone, and yet that person might still not be a good partner for you.
It takes more than love to make a relationship work. A person you love, but who is incompatible with you, or who lacks good relationship skills, or who can’t communicate with you, is not going to make for a functional, healthy relationship. Love and five bucks will get you a cup of coffee. Or, to put it more scientifically, love is necessary but not sufficient, no matter how many Disney movies and romantic comedies say otherwise.
Though really, if you’re taking your cues on relationship from Disney movies and romantic comedies, there’s probably little that I or anyone else can do.
Find a way to build a friendship with that person that honors and respects that love without trying to turn it into something unsustainable and you’ll do okay. And as a corollary:
Being in love with someone doesn’t mean you HAVE to be in a relationship with that person.
Seriously. You have a choice. You can love someone, and acknowledge that love, and still choose not to be romantically involved with that person.
That’s one of the cool things about being a human being You get to choose.
You can’t have intimacy without sharing. If you spend your time hiding things from your partner, or worrying about whether or not you can share something with your partner, you’re not going to have an intimate relationship.
Everything you conceal from your partner undermines the foundation of intimacy upon which relationships are built.
No, that doesn’t mean telling your partner every time oyu take a dump (and why is it that folks who don’t cotton to sharing and openness always reach for that example?). But it does mean sharing everything that’s important, significant, or meaningful. Even if it’s uncomfortable.
Especially if it’s uncomfortable, because the fact that it’s uncomfortable probably means there’s something important lurking in there. Communication ain’t for sissies.
What you get out depends on what you put in. Approach every new partner with fear and suspicion, and you’ll have fearful, suspicious partners.
Te best way to have a friend is to be a friend. The best way to have people around you who have compassion and integrity is to be a person with compassion and integrity. The best way to fill your life with suck and fail is to fill other people’s lives with suck and fail.
You know that saying “opposites attract”? It’s rubbish. Honest people look for, and attract, other honest people.
A person who has cheated on someone else to be with you cannot be trusted not to cheat on you to be with someone else.
No, you’re not different. You’re not a rare and unique flower, so totally set apart from that shrill, obnoxious harpy that he’s with right now. You know how he tells you that you’re so much better than that monster he’s hooked up with? I bet he says the same thing about you to the other person he’s shagging. You know, the one that neither you nor his other partner knows about.
Be wary of a person who trashes all their exes in front of you, for someday you’ll likely be on that list yourself.
You know that person with the long list of former partners, all of whom were shrill, obnoxious harpies? Does something seem odd about that list to you?
Best case scenario, it means he keeps getting involved with the same sorts of people again and again, and doesn’t learn anything from any of those experiences. What do you reckon that says about you?
Worst case scenario, it’s a clear sign of someone who doesn’t take responsibility for his own part in all those past train wrecks. Which means he ain’t learning from any of them. Which means…you’re the next train wreck. What do you suppose he’ll say about you to the train wreck that follows after you?
Tell the truth from the start, and you won’t have to worry about any nasty revelations down the road.
Especially about things you worry might scare her off. Seriously, if the truth about you makes you incompatible as a romantic partner, you want to scare her off. You’re bisexual but your new love interest hates gays? You fancy country music and your partner would rather die than listen to it? Hiding those things doesn’t help your cause; it merely makes the blowup that much more dramatic when the truth comes out.
Which it will, eventually.
Be honest, be true to who you are, and you won’t have to worry about what happens if you slip up. On the other hand, make yourself seem like something you’re not, even if it’s to make yourself seem more attractive to the other person (hell, especially if it’s to make yourself seem more attractive to the other person!) is going to end badly, sooner or later. I promise.
So you and your partner are having problems. Most people like to say “We have problems communicating” however the truth is you and your partner communicate extremely well. You both make assumptions, you read body language, and you know what to talk about and what not to. You are so skilled at communicating you have almost forgotten how to directly.
Couples therapy takes a fresh look at how you two work together, live together, love together. All of a sudden there is a 3rd party who is asking questions, probing in areas that are typically off-limits, and providing skills for handling things differently. It can feel like a train wreck and a saving grace all at once.
The good parts are that you are rediscovering how to understand your partner. The scary part is that you are rediscovering how to understand your partner. While you were silent you could just pretend and now that things are out in the open you can not look away, this is terrifying and exciting.
You come to see your therapist on a regular basis to help deal with the huge fights, put out small fires, and restructure how you deal with differences, resentments, sharing loving, and becoming closer. Therapy is your safety net for a while it allows you to want to change but not know how in a safe environment. You don’t have to have all the answers because you are in therapy to figure out at least a handful of them. In therapy the two of you (or more) can have a structured place to yell, scream, love, be vulnerable, and learn together. Inside the therapist’s office everyone is safe to be themselves and learn to care for each other in new ways without the feeling of being all alone and expected to know the ropes.
And after a while once you figure out that you still love your partner even if you want to sometime scream from the mountaintops, you incorporate the skills you need to self-soothe, take time from an argument, or change your wording to help a fight slow down, then you are on your way towards change.
Never mistake these few paragraphs for something easy. Couples counseling will change your and your partner and you will hear things you never thought would be said in one direction or the other. However, in the end finding out who you are and who your partner really is in the most honest real way possible will only help the relationship even if that moves toward friendship or a more intense love then you have ever experienced before together.
Your relationship is worth the effort… as this is your life your are living and you deserve the best!