Spring is Here: Let’s Have Fun Together

by John Hart, PhD, LCMFT

Friday, April 19th, 2024

Now that spring is officially here, couples are excited about the various levels of connection they can have with each other outside of their homes. It’s time to have fun! Cherry blossom season is here, musical, and cultural events are gearing up, and cities such as Columbia, Baltimore, and even D.C. are mobilizing to be hotspots for all forms of fun attractions for couples in the DMV area. Although the warmer temperatures and the sun shining gives all of us a positive outlook on life, couples still struggle to explore ways that they can have fun together. Issues with communicating wants, troubles with planning fun times, as well as being emotionally available and engaged during these fun moments have historically impacted couples around the idea of having fun together. Who would have thought that couples would experience many levels of conflict when having fun together? But it happens. Having fun as a couple is a major priority for relationships. Below are three tips for couples who are interested in how to have more fun together while managing any form of conflict or disagreement.

1. Make It Collaborative – It is wise that when planning a fun time together, couples do it collaboratively. It is important to be open, flexible, creative, and easy-going when planning a fun time together. Imagine this—how likely are we to experience fun with our partners if the planning of the fun time itself was a disaster? Planning fun time together can be a moment of quality time and we should be positive as we embark on an upcoming bonding moment. Don’t destroy the potential of the fun time by not working collaboratively when planning.
2. Consider Disruptions – To enjoy your fun time together, it is critical to consider the many influences that could disrupt the fun. Factors such as weather, childcare, illness, and finances pose various complications for you and your partner’s time together. This form of planning allows both partners to practice another critical relationship skill—problem solving. Try problem solving and creating alternative plans based on the factors that could impact your intentional time together.
3. Debrief Together – One of the things that gets overlooked after we have had a fun time with our partners is intentionally having a debrief. “Debrief” refers to a conversation between both partners during which they reflect on:
a.  Appreciations about each other based on their time together,
b. What you enjoyed, what you didn’t enjoy, what changes would you make for next time?
c. Having an idea of the next time you both will go have fun (note: this is not about scheduling the next fun time, but it is always helpful to say “let’s try having fun together again in a couple of weeks.”)

2024-04-19T18:01:49-04:00April 19th, 2024|

But I said I’m Sorry…

by Jannel Thomas, LCMFT

March 8th, 2024

Apologies are a great relationship tool that can help partners feel heard, seen, and understood. They are a chance for partners to acknowledge their role in the harm that has been done. They also create an opportunity for healthy communication by showing that you care about your partner’s perspective and feelings. However, apologies are not always received well or accepted by your partner. This can lead you to questioning: what went wrong? Here are some factors to consider when attempting to apologize to your partner:

1. Body Language – It is important for you to convey that your apology is sincere through open body language. Examples of open body language include eye contact, open posture, warm tone of voice, facing your partner directly, and being focused on your partner. If you do not use open body language when apologizing, you may unintentionally be communicating to your partner that your apology is not genuine or honest which is the opposite of what you want. In other words, when issuing an apology, it is important to be mindful of what you are communicating non-verbally, in addition to your word choice.
2. Word Choice – Be intentional about what you want to say when you apologize. A good apology takes ownership of your actions and its consequences. Avoid the word “but” when issuing an apology as it can invalidate anything that you said before it. For example, if you say, “I’m sorry, but you were making me feel upset.” This shifts the blame to your partner and thus deflects from you taking responsibility for your role in the interaction. Although it may take more work, planning out your apology ahead of time can help decrease the possibility of future conflict.
3. Validate Your Partner’s Feelings – Validation can be seen as a recognition that your partner’s feelings and opinions are worthwhile. An example might be, “I can understand why you were angry with me today.” Acknowledging your partner’s feelings conveys that you respect their feelings and care about them. Validating your partner’s feelings also communicates that you have good intentions in the apology.

Apologizing is not always easy. It can be hard to admit that you’re wrong, especially to someone you care about. However, apologies can go a long way in relationships as they usually have a positive impact on your partner and you! Hopefully by keeping these tips in mind your apology will resonate positively with your partner.

2024-03-11T10:09:15-04:00March 11th, 2024|

Sustaining Mental Wellness: A Guide to Maintaining New Year Goals

By Diamond Greene, LCMFT

January 29th, 2024

As the new year begins, many of us are embarking on journeys to improve our lives and setting resolutions related to mental health. However, sustaining these goals can be challenging amidst the rigors of daily life. Thus, our goals are often unmet, and we are left feeling discouraged. Check out these tips to help you maintain your mental health goals throughout the year and build a foundation for lasting well-being.

  1. Establish Realistic Goals – The first step in maintaining your mental health goals is to set realistic and achievable targets. Understand your limitations and create objectives that align with your current circumstances. For instance, attaching a goal to a habit that you have already established will help make a new goal more manageable. Additionally, instead of overwhelming yourself with broad or unrealistic goals, break them down into smaller, manageable steps. By setting achievable milestones, you’ll build a sense of accomplishment, boosting your motivation to continue your mental health journey throughout the year.
  1. Prioritize Self-Care – Maintaining mental health goals requires consistent self-care practices. Prioritize activities that bring you joy, relaxation, and fulfillment. This could include activities such as mindfulness exercises, regular physical activity, proper sleep hygiene, and nurturing social connections. Treat self-care not as a luxury but as a necessity for your well-being. Incorporating these habits into your routine will create a supportive environment for sustaining your mental health goals, helping you navigate challenges with resilience and a positive mindset.
  1. Monitor Progress – Regularly assess your progress toward your mental health goals. Reflect on what is working well and what might need adjustment. Be flexible and willing to adapt your strategies as life circumstances evolve. Celebrate your successes, no matter how small, and use setbacks as opportunities for learning and growth. By staying attuned to your progress, you can make informed decisions about refining your approach, ensuring that your mental health goals remain relevant and achievable throughout the year.

As you navigate the path towards better mental health in the new year, remember to set realistic goals, prioritize self-care, and regularly assess and adjust your strategies. By incorporating these three steps into your journey, you’ll not only sustain your mental health goals but also foster a long-lasting commitment to well-being. Embrace the process, be kind to yourself, and build a foundation for a healthier and more fulfilling life!

2024-01-30T11:49:16-05:00January 30th, 2024|

A Better Holiday Mindset: Enjoy More and Stress Less

by Tamara Hull, LCMFT

December 22, 2023

It’s that time of year again!  The “holiday craze” is upon us!  Along with the usual stress and rapid pace, the holidays can add layers of additional expectations and obligations that impact our peace of mind and the relationships we have.  Three mindsets to consider applying this holiday season to minimize holiday stress and maximize joy are: (1) Keeping your “oxygen mask” on, (2) Giving yourself permission to make new, healthy choices, and (3) Cultivating your ability to actively lower the volume/intensity of stress in your life.

  1. Apply the Oxygen Mask Theory – Many of us have heard this saying before plane takeoff, but the concept of “placing the oxygen mask over your nose and face before trying to help others,” can be applied to managing the stress in your life as well.  Start by periodically taking a moment to “take your own stress temperature” on a scale of 0-10.  Prioritizing your time and energy early as stress levels begin to rise can provide a significant change.  It is far easier and faster to recover from a stress point of 3, than to wait until you have a 7, 8, or higher rating.
  2. Give Generous Self-Permission – Many of us have longstanding holiday traditions and family culture norms, but the holidays can also bring a host of additional demands from those around us.  However, this year can be a time of personal growth.  Give yourself permission to make requests of others, share responsibilities you have traditionally shouldered alone, or to delegate (possibly even eliminate) optional tasks and activities.  By asking for help and giving yourself permission to receive support from colleagues, family members or friends, your work and stress loads can be significantly reduced, and opportunities to experience the joy of the season can increase.
  3. Cultivate Stress Reduction Tools – This holiday season is also a time to grow your resilience by trying short practices designed to help manage your stress.  Devoting 5-10 minutes daily to mindfulness and meditation routines can help prevent the intensity of your stress reactions.  YouTube offers a variety of free meditation options. Finally, taking a moment to practice deep breathing using the 2:1 Exhale/Inhale method can bring stress down quickly. To begin, take a deep breath by inhaling through your nose.  Hold the breath for several seconds and then breath slowly through your mouth.  Repeat for at least three times. This simple exercise activates the part of your nervous system which slows the heart rate and decreases blood pressure.  Consequently, strong emotions are calmed, and the decision-making portions of your brain can operate better during conversation with others after stress has been triggered.

Consciously applying a new mindset and easy practices to manage stress can help replace relationship conflict with peace and joy, and help put the “happy” back into your “Happy Holidays!” Enjoy!

2023-12-26T13:20:30-05:00December 26th, 2023|

Reconnecting With Your Partner

Reconnecting With Your Partner

by Wilson A. Llerena, LCMFT

October 31, 2023

Sometimes, life can get pretty busy. So busy that we lose track of the important things in life. Unfortunately, that could end up being the people we care about most. At the end of a long workweek, we may be lacking energy to commit to being present for the relationship.

Whether you are newly married or are about to celebrate your 25th wedding anniversary, all relationships go through tough times. What will make it last is continuing to be mindful and keeping the relationship a top priority. Here are some ways to re-ignite the relationship and keep the fire burning during these chilly fall evenings.

  1. Create Daily Rituals – While it is always good to have some spontaneity in your life, relationships in general thrive on structure and routine. It can be helpful to find some consistency in connection with your relationship. These could be things you and your partner used to do but got away from, or new rituals you want to create. Daily affirmations, phone calls during lunch, or good morning texts can go a long way to showing your partner that you are thinking about them when you aren’t with them.
  2. Be Intentional with Quality Time – It is really easy to come home from a long day at the office and turn on your favorite tv show with your partner. We are hopeful that our weekends will be filled with fun and adventure, but it can sometimes be more television if we don’t plan properly. Be pro-active with your quality time. Schedule date nights in advance, plan indoor and outdoor weekend activities, and aim to be more present rather than just going through the motions.
  3. Discover New Interests Together – As stated earlier, spontaneity, every once in a while, is a good thing. That thing you want to do that you never did? Now may be the time to give it a try with your partner. Find new hobbies and activities that challenge you or take you out of your comfort zone. Trying a new sport, traveling to new places, experimenting with new cuisine, or even starting a new tradition together can be a great way to reconnect.
2023-10-31T14:34:32-04:00October 31st, 2023|

Dealing with Mental Health Stigma

by Meg Tenny, LCMFT

Wednesday, September 27th, 2023

“Going to a counselor or therapist when you’re feeling sad or overwhelmed should be as normal as going to the doctor when you have the flu. Let’s end the stigma about mental health.” – Peaceful Parenting

September is suicide prevention month and October is depression and mental health awareness month. There remains much stigma surrounding mental health issues and getting the appropriate professional help for them. One strong stigma against getting help might include the belief that you are “crazy” or “defective.” We receive many messages from our wider communities regarding whether it is acceptable or even desirable to seek help for common mental health issues like depression, anxiety or substance abuse.

That is also to say that stigma still abounds against couples being able to get professional assistance with their relationships. One partner in the couple often refuses to attend couple therapy. This may be due, in large part, to stigmas against utilizing couple therapy or having to admit that help is needed. What couple therapists at RCC often see is that couples have waited years to get help and would have benefited from starting therapy earlier.

What can we do to work against couple therapy stigma?

  1. Be Willing to Try – Trying something new and different that requires vulnerability can be scary. Our couple therapists are interested in having a transparent conversation about what is happening in the relationship and we understand that this can be upsetting, frightening and painful. But we are here to support you to get to an emotionally safe space where you can put the work into your relationship.
  2. Don’t Let Fear Dictate Your Decisions – Stigma has a way of infiltrating attitudes and belief systems, particularly if you hear it from those around you. Educate yourself about positive mental health and relationship solutions. Stigma can cause a great amount of self-doubt and shame, and turn you away from seeking help. Don’t let stigma dictate your decisions about receiving help; this is akin to letting fear command your life choices.
  3. Take a Calculated Risk in Sharing – Many couples seek therapy for relationship issues but you often will not hear about it. If you take a calculated risk to share that you and your partner are having issues and are considering couple therapy with a loved one whom you trust, you might be surprised to hear that they also have had difficulty in their relationships and sought couple therapy. Most couples are very private about relationship problems and seeking help, however, if you initiate the conversation, you might be surprised by their responses, which may be the opposite of stigma.

Text 988 (24/7 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline) if you are struggling with a mental health crisis and need to talk to someone.

2023-09-27T10:02:23-04:00September 27th, 2023|

Finding Joy in the Mundane

Finding Joy in the Mundane

by Jasmine Mauss, LCMFT

June 23, 2023

As creatures of habit, we tend to build our sense of safety and security from our own behavioral repetition. Through our weekly schedules, morning routines, and predictable relationships, we are able to rest comfortably in the familiarity of our lives. While this process provides a necessary structure and stability for us to depend on, the novelty and happier moments of our lives can be easily missed and overlooked. What would it look like to refocus our attention on the existing joys in our life? If we mentally shift out of our typical default settings and break out of the autopilot trap, we can appreciate the smaller beauties that our day-to-day has to offer us. There are so many, if we actually pay attention! Here are a few tips on how to cultivate mindfulness to appreciate the fullness that is already your life.

  1. Cultivate Childlike Wonder – Think back to when you were a child, experiencing new moments for the very first time! Your first day of school, your first sport event, falling in love for the first time. There is a childlike awe and wonder that is felt when we are experiencing something with fresh, new eyes. There were so many questions we would ask as children. What’s this? How does this work? Where did this come from? If we view life as a continual platform for growth, we can keep that childlike mindset alive and curious. Apply some of that same curiosity and amazement for the small things that already exist. Perhaps it is trying out a new recipe, taking your dog on a walk, or admiring your partner’s laughter. Is there something new to learn here or admire about the experience? Pretend like this very moment is the first time you’ve experienced it. Better yet, search deeply for the beauty that has always been within it.
  2. Savor Moments – Unfortunately, negative experiences get imprinted within our memories like stubborn stains. It is far more difficult to reflect on the happier and more joyous aspects of our past experiences. In order for any given moment to be transformed into a memory, we have to attach an emotional value to it. Fear not! You have the power to do this in real time, and with positive memories and associations. Next time you feel a wave of happiness, take a moment to pause and deeply savor it. Take note of the things happening around you: the people you are with, the environment it occurred in, and all the details of that present moment. Observe the way happiness feels in your body. Soak up all of the goodness of that very moment and observe your experience through a newfound lens of appreciation. The more you practice this, the greater the gratitude you will feel.
  3. Practice Gratitude Reflections – Speaking of gratitude – studies show that having a consistent gratitude practice is one of the strongest interventions against anxiety and depression. Who knew that such a simple incorporation of thought could be such a natural prevention for poor mental health. It makes sense! The more joy you notice in your life, the less room for negative thoughts and worries. Take a few moments at the end of each day and write down a couple of things that went well. ‘My boss gave me an extension for my deadline,’ ‘I felt really connected to my partner today.’ Even on our worst days, it is likely we can find something worth feeling happy about. And when we add them all up, we find there are far more there than we even realized.

With intention, mindfulness, and gentle awareness, you can ensure that these moments are never again glossed over and forgotten. Even amidst the familiar monotony of our every-day lives, we can always pause to find more presence, power, and appreciation in those moments.

2023-09-27T10:03:38-04:00June 23rd, 2023|

How to Create an Emotionally Safe Space

How to Create an Emotionally Safe Space

by John Hart, PhD, LCMFT

April 14th, 2023

A prime indicator of a healthy relationship is the presence of an emotionally safe space. Emotionally safe spaces are critical to connecting with our relationship partners as it allows us to feel valued, comfortable, seen, and understood. Couples who consistently provide an emotionally safe space to discuss their relationship matters tend to report higher satisfaction and closer connection to their partners. Safe spaces make difficult conversations relatively easier because the safety that people feel in this kind of relational environment allows for vulnerability, transparency, and less judgment. On the other hand, emotionally unsafe relationships are filled with tension, disconnect and defensiveness. Partners in these kinds of relationships report walking on eggshells and being unable to relax around their partner. If you and/or your partner are struggling with creating an emotionally safe space, it is important to seek couple therapy from an MFT as we are well-trained in systemically reshaping an emotionally unsafe space into a safe one that benefits both partners. Here are a few tips on ways to create an emotionally safe space in your relationship:

  1. Be an Active Listener – Listening is the hallmark of emotional safety in a relationship. Great listeners do two things very well – being active and being attentive. One of the ways to show up as an active listener would be to take the time and reflect what you heard your partner said and give good non-verbal communication. An attentive listener is one who provides undivided attention (e.g., no distractions), provides consistent eye contact, and is fully engaged.
    2. Be Curious, Not Judgmental – It is far more beneficial to be curious than judgmental in relationships. I always recommend to clients that asking thoughtful, open-ended questions is a great way to show curiosity. Your partner will perceive you as engaged and want to open up more. Stay away from being judgmental as it will spark defensiveness in your partner and that tends to lead to negative reactions or shutting down.
    3. Be a Cheerleader – People who report higher levels of couple satisfaction tend to voice feeling encouraged and supported by their partner. I recommend being your partner’s biggest cheerleader – encourage them when they are feeling down, celebrate their achievements, and maintain some level of positivity. On the other hand, stay away from criticizing your partner, mocking or making fun of them, and dismissing their experiences. In emotionally safe spaces, it is not about being right per se, it is about having a relaxing moment that is filled with love and support that fosters openness.
2023-04-17T13:22:57-04:00April 17th, 2023|

Lucky in Love

by Jannel Thomas, LCMFT

Friday, March 17th, 2023

What role does luck play in relationships? Are some people just luckier than others to find love? The truth is luck plays a small part, if any, in a successful long-lasting relationship. Relationships require hard work in order to last, but why is that the case?

1. Intimacy Changes Over Time – Both emotional and physical intimacy may come easier in the beginning stages of the relationship, yet with time, things get in the way. There are demanding work schedules, kids, social engagements, exercising, pets, and more. Sometimes it can be hard to even make time for ourselves and so intimacy can be an easy area in relationships to neglect. It takes work and being intentional to ensure that both partners make efforts to maintain intimacy within the relationship.

2. Good Communication is Hard! – Communication requires active listening, in addition to being able to express your feelings, needs, and wants. However, stress, assumptions, and unrealistic expectations can get in the way of healthy communication. Luckily, the therapists at RCC are trained and equipped with tools to help couples improve and work on their communication. Couple therapy is a great avenue to practice and learn good communication skills.

3. Obstacles are Unpredictable – What, when, and how obstacles will occur in relationships is unknown. What is known is that they will happen. Therefore,
relationships require conflict resolution skills, problem-solving skills, and trust that the relationship will be able to withstand any obstacle that comes your way. All of these areas require hard work, not luck, for success and high relationship satisfaction.

Luck may have been a factor when you began your relationship, but when it’s all said and done both partners will have to work hard to build a successful, healthy relationship. Putting hard work and effort into your relationship will result in a happy, long-lasting relationship rather than relying only on luck. However, just like with anything worthwhile, the hard work tends to be worth it.

2023-03-20T14:10:58-04:00March 20th, 2023|

Repairing Conflicts

by Ann Pham, LGMFT

Conflicts and arguments in a relationship are often exhausting and draining. Naturally, we want to avoid an escalating conflict by using healthy communication skills to state our needs and concerns. However, there can be times when those healthy communication skills are forgotten, the bickering has escalated, and everyone is feeling frustrated and dissatisfied with an unresolved problem. Instead of ignoring and avoiding the aftermath of the fight, try to repair the misunderstandings that occurred.

1. Take Responsibility: Think about what you may have said or done to contribute to the argument. It could be a dismissive tone of voice, not paying attention to your partner while they were talking, or even doing something you know that your partner dislikes. Intentionally acknowledging what you may have done to hurt your partner shows you are taking accountability and want to repair the relationship.

2. State and Explain Emotions: Express what you were feeling at the time of the conflict. For example, when we feel jealous, we start doubting. When we feel threatened, we want to defend. When we feel overwhelmed, we shut down. Our feelings influence our behaviors. Instead of making excuses or pointing fingers, acknowledge how your hurtful behavior stemmed from an emotion. By allowing yourself to be vulnerable, your partner can understand you better.

3. Be an Active Listener: It is important during this time for both partners to be fully present and actively listening. Validate your partner’s feelings and take a curious approach to ensure that you understand their perspective.

How we handle the aftermath of an argument is just as important. When we miscommunicate our emotions that leads us to being misunderstood. When we often
feel like we’re being misunderstood because of how we miscommunicate our emotions, we can end up in a repetitive negative communication cycle.

2023-01-23T10:31:19-05:00January 23rd, 2023|
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