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.
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.
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.
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.
“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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Q: On behalf of the Relationship Counseling Center of Maryland (RCC), thank you for being on staff as a therapist! What has been the most exciting part in working with RCC and its clients?
A: Oh, thank you! I am so glad to be at RCC too. One of the most exciting parts has been continuing to meet new and current clients each week. I enjoy working collaboratively with my clients to create and reach their therapy goals. I really enjoy being a therapist and being able to do what I love is so exciting.
Q: In your style of therapy, do you like to tackle the main issue head-on, or focus on the deeper issues first?
A: Sometimes, I think I can help address the main issue first and process through the deeper issues at the same time but I know that’s not feasible. It really depends on the client’s therapy goals and what they are comfortable with sharing initially in session!
Q: Have you yourself been to therapy?
A: Yes! I started attending therapy during my time in graduate school. It helped me manage my stress as a student and I learned a lot about myself.
Q: What was the moment you realized you wanted to be a marriage and family therapist?
A: Growing up, I wished that I could major in “Love” because my friends and I would always share relationship advice with each other. During my senior year in undergrad, I saw a family therapy role-play and I was so intrigued by the therapist I had to learn more about it.
Q: What do you like most about working with people?
A: I really enjoy listening to people’s life stories. I enjoy learning how their experiences and interactions with families have guided them to where they are today.
Q: Outside of being a therapist, what are some of your hobbies?
A: I enjoy visiting new restaurants and trying new cuisines. I also love to visit food markets and support local restaurant owners.
Q: What do you do for self-care?
A: Being consistent with a night-time skin-care routine and practicing yoga has been my favorite way to pamper and de-stress myself!
Q: In your experience, what is the most important thing that can strengthen a relationship?
A: There will be difficulties one or both partners face during the relationship. When there is a willingness to discuss your needs and the ability to reassure your partner through validation and empathy, this can strengthen the relationship in many aspects.
While some of us are looking forward to the change in season and various activities that accompany fall weather, some of us are dreading the emotions that can accompany shorter days and colder temperatures. During colder months, some people notice a more depressed mood, they have trouble falling asleep or sleeping too much, they overeat, and they don’t engage in activities that they would normally enjoy. If this is something that you have experienced, here are a few tips and strategies for managing seasonal depression:
Exercise: During the colder months, we are not able to spend as much time outdoors and many of us notice a decrease in our physical activity. Finding indoor activities that you enjoy can significantly impact your mood. Try joining a gym if you have not already, finding a yoga class, or even try a dance class.
Maintain Social Connections: Colder weather often makes us want to spend more time at home. Spending time with friends and family is a great mood booster and increases feelings of happiness. Try prioritizing social activities with your loved ones or create new connections by joining a book club or volunteering in your community.
Take Advantage of Sunshine: With shorter days, it’s pertinent to try to get outside as much as you can to take advantage of what sunlight there is. Try taking a walk on your lunch break and let in as much natural light as possible whenever you are home or at work.
If the joy of a significant relationship can be compared to the timeless beauty of a rose, then those deeply hurtful differences around critical issues could be considered the thorns. In my work, I’ve found that differences around child rearing, caregiving, or threats to the intimate partner relationship can re-open old wounds, creating new “thorns” in a relationship. Couples often either fight ineffectively about these issues or resort to burying the problem and “moving on.” This can create lasting pain and relationship-deadening disconnection if they aren’t effectively resolved.
The following are suggestions for resolving those persistent “thorny” issues:
Time to Talk:Set aside a time that is conducive to both partners feeling relaxed and focused to discuss the issue together. One option for making this request is: “I know this has been a challenging topic for us, and I’d like for us to set aside a time to talk about (INSERT TOPIC), (i.e. our differences in our disciplinary approaches with the kids), to try to find a way to reduce any negative impacts on our relationship.”2. Reaffirm Solidarity:Although one partner may hold a larger portion of the resentment about the issue, consider that your partner is already aware of the persistent, thorny nature of the concern. This could contribute to expressions of anxiety or defensiveness. I recommend that you help reassure your partner by stating your desire to unite together to fight for the relationship and against the thorns between you, rather than continuing the pattern of fighting against one other.
3. Speak Well, Listen Well: Acknowledge that your partner has a different perspective and has a different worldview from you. it is helpful to make it a priority to hear and demonstrate your understanding of one other fully before focusing on problem-solving. To honor one other’s differences and keep the lines of communication open, try opening the discussion by using statements beginning with, “When ‘X’ happened, I felt very ‘Y’ and the impact on me/us was ‘Z’.” Afterwards, allow your partner to comment and reflect back to them what you heard them say before responding. Take turns speaking and listening until each partner feels heard.
It helps to be patient and compassionate with yourself and with your partner. It may take several gentle and committed conversations over time to see a successful resolution. Keep in mind that “agreeing to disagree” is an acceptable option. If you get stuck at any point, consider seeking assistance from a trusted source who is experienced and/or skilled in helping partners resolve tough conflicts in ways that strengthen and grow the relationship. With patient persistence and an approach that reduces attacking and blaming, you and your partner can begin to resolve thorny issues and restore the lasting beauty, joy and intimacy of your relationship.
It’s fair to be concerned about your children when you are facing a divorce. How are they going to cope with this transition? When is the best time to tell them? The truth of the matter is that your children may be as confused as you are when it comes to the next steps for the family. Here are a few ways to support your children as changes begin to happen in the home.
1. Be Honest: Your children should understand that you are getting divorced and what that means. It is important to explain within reason, making sure your explanation is age-appropriate and not drawn out or too detailed into the workings of your adult relationship. This is not the time for pointing fingers. It is important for you and your spouse to discuss how you want to tell your children about the upcoming divorce to make sure the message is consistent from both of you. Your goal is to be respectful and show that you and your partner can still be civil to each other in front of your children. You don’t want your children siding with one parent over the other. Your children may blame themselves, so it is important to reassure them that this isn’t their fault and that you still love them.
2. Be Consistent: Children operate best with structure and stability. Make sure you communicate with them how schedules may change and what they can expect moving forward. No changes in living arrangements should occur until after you tell them about the divorce. You want to establish routines with your children so they don’t feel like their world is falling apart. Parents need to be consistent with rules and guidelines for both homes, as well as consequences. Remember, your goal is to make sure that your children don’t favor one parent over the other, rather they enjoy the time they spend with both of you. It is important to be reliable and dependable for your children. Don’t make empty promises or commit to something that you can’t deliver on. If you say you are going to be there for them, don’t change plans. Every decision you and your partner make should be for your children’s physical, spiritual, and psychological health and well-being.
3. Be Validating: Your children need to know they can come to you to talk about what they are feeling. Provide them the space to process what they are going through. Try to focus on hearing them rather than trying to distract them from their feelings. While you may not be able to fix their problems or make their sadness go away, it is important to acknowledge their feelings rather than dismiss them. Your children may lash out at you or the other parent. It is important to be empathetic with your children’s anger, but to not allow them to express anger in a disrespectful way to you or the other parent.