How to Get the Most Out of Couples Therapy

As a therapist, I often have a front row seat to relationship miracles. Well, okay, there are no miracles really. The fact is “fixing” a relationship takes work. It takes two people wanting it to work and then putting in the effort.

Having said that, I have seen couples go from nearly ending it to being back in love, and liking and respecting each other.

Couples therapy can be a powerful change agent, there is no doubt about it. But what allows some couples to make it while others don’t? The couples I have seen recover from marital issues and form an even stronger union have all had certain things in common.

Here are some ways you and your partner can get the most out of couples therapy and set yourselves up for success.

  1. Commit

Many couples view therapy as a last-ditch effort, which makes it all the more important to go all-in and commit to the process entirely. And even if therapy is your first attempt to salvage the relationship, it’s important that both parties give it their best effort.

This means even if nothing else has worked, and even if you’re both at each other’s throats most of the time, you leave any Bottom of Form defensiveness, criticism, contempt, or stonewalling at the door. These will only impede any progress that may be made.

  1. Be Open Minded

It’s common to be skeptical of therapy if you have no experience with it. It’s also common to feel skeptical that your particular problems or issues are too big to be overcome. While there are no guarantees in life, my professional experience has shown me that most relationship issues are solvable. But if you believe that they aren’t, you’re setting yourself up for failure right at the outset.

Real change requires an open mind.

  1. Do Your Homework!

You don’t spend money and time on college to NOT do any of your homework. The same goes for couples therapy!

During your sessions, your therapist will help facilitate respectful and effective communication and give you tools to get the same results at home. But it is up to YOU to use these tools at home.

Your relationship will not be “fixed” every Tuesday from 4:15 to 5:00 pm, it will be fixed from the work you both do on your own time. The point of therapy is to learn how to navigate obstacles and conflict as they arise in everyday life outside of the therapist’s office.

Couples therapy is a wonderful resource that helps many couples overcome challenges. If you’re willing to commit to the process, have an open mind, and do the homework, you and your partner have an excellent chance of creating a healthy and respectful relationship.

If you are looking for a couple’s therapist, I’d be happy to speak with you. Let’s talk and see if I might be a good fit for the both of you.

To Age Well, You’re Gonna Need Friends

How many times do we hear about senior citizens who move cross-country to be closer to children and grandchildren? Maybe this person will see their family on a daily or weekly basis. But then again, maybe it won’t be that often, and now they’ve given up their social life and are far away from friends.

As an older person, what’s healthier, being around family or being around friends?

There was a time when most people would have quickly answered, “Being around family, of course.” While no two people are alike, there is evidence that meaningful connection with friends has more of an impact on the aging process.

According to a 2017 study sponsored by the National Institute on Aging, friendship is more important to the health and well-being of senior citizens than familial connections.

The study found that not only do these relationships influence your happiness and habits (whether you’ll smoke or drink, work out, stay thin or become obese) but that the importance of friendship increases with age.

But there is a caveat, and it’s an important one.

The impact of friendship works positively and negatively. Meaning, just as good friendships offer health benefits, friendships that are not so great or even toxic are tied to chronic health problems. The key is to keep friendships in good order, which means you may need to repair or replace friendships as you age.

Another study, this one designed by Michigan State University psychology professor William J. Chopik, looked at two sets of data—one drawn from people around the world at different ages, and another from older Americans.

More than 270,000 volunteers between the ages of 15 to 99 and from roughly 100 different countries answered questions about how highly they valued different kinds of relationships and how happy they were. Instead of tracking the same people over time, the study tracked “representative” groups of different ages at intervals over the years.

The results?

Those people 65 and older valued friendship more than they did when they were younger!

In another analysis, researchers examined data from close to 7,500 American volunteers in their sixties and seventies. The results found that those people who experienced a “strain” within their friendships were more likely to suffer from chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease and psychiatric problems. This was true regardless of whether they had support from family members or not. Strain with family, surprisingly, wasn’t tied to more illness.

The moral of the story is, many of us take our friendships for granted. We think these relationships should be easy, and that our familial relationships are where we should focus our time and energy. But the older we get, the more important it becomes to have strong friendships. When our friendships are happy and healthy, we’re happy and healthy.

Is there a relationship in your life that is bringing you down instead of up? Are you unsure how to communicate with your loved one? Maybe it’s time to end a relationship but you don’t know the best way to do it.

Often, speaking with a therapist can give you clarity over a situation. A therapist can lend an impartial ear and offer advice based not on emotion, but on knowledge of human behavior.

If you or a loved one is interested in exploring treatment, please contact me today. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.

How To Lessen Your Teen’s Back-to-School Stress

It’s almost fall, which means store shelves are stocked with low-priced notebooks and markers and glue, et al. Soon the familiar brake hiss of school buses will be heard in neighborhoods across the country as kids head back to school.

While some kids begrudge alarm clocks and mountains of homework, they still look forward to school; to enjoying friendships and new activities. Some children, however, have a real fear of going back to school. They worry about potential bullying or even violence at school. Some have trouble coping with social pressure, while others feel overwhelmed at what they will be expected to learn.

If your child is feeling stressed at the thought of going back to school, here are some ways you can help:

Ask Them What’s on Their Mind

Some kids might voluntarily share any worries they have about going back to school, but many won’t. If your child is keeping mum, ask them how they’re feeling about school starting up again.

Older kids and teenagers often shut down when questioned about, well, anything really. So try to make a leading statement like, “Seeing your friends every day will be cool. But I’m guessing there is stuff that you might not be looking forward to…” Then wait for a response.

If they don’t respond, try again the next day. Eventually, they will open up to you, and when they do, the important thing is not to say the exact right thing but to simply listen, show interest and concern, and never judge.

Get Them Involved

To some children, summer means a taste of freedom, of making choices for themselves, while school means little or no autonomy. To help counter this feeling, get your kids involved in decision-making at the very beginning.

Hold a “going back to school” family meeting, and make sure there are no media distractions like smartphones or TV on in the background. Discuss the year ahead, plan and set schedules for meals, homework, sports, school activities, and bedtime. Write these plans down and stick a copy on the fridge.

Talk About Bullying

Kids of all ages worry about bullying, so it’s important to bring up the topic. You could make a simple statement, something like, “Bullying is really common and it’s never OK, nor is it the victim’s fault when it happens. If anything happens to you or you see it happen to someone you know, I want you to tell me about it. We can make a plan together of how to handle it.”

Then there are those children who worry about starting school because they have issues with anxiety and depression. These children need help from a professional therapist who can uncover where the issues are coming from and offer tools and resources for coping in the real world.

If you or a loved one is interested in exploring treatment, please contact me today. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.

How To Stop Beating Yourself Up

When was the last time you heard from your inner critic? You know, that voice in your head that constantly judges you, puts you down and compares you to others. The one that tells you you’re not good enough or smart enough and says things you would never dream of saying to another person.

Now you may think this inner critic, while annoying, is relatively harmless. But this is simply not the case. This inner critical voice limits you and stops you from living the life you truly desire. It hinders your emotional well-being and, if left unchecked, can even lead to depression or anxiety.

Here are some ways you can silence that inner critic and stop beating yourself up.

  1. Give it Attention

That’s right, in order to gain control over your inner critic you have to know that it exists. Most of our thinking is automatic. In other words, we don’t give our thoughts much thought. We barely notice a critical thought has passed. Give attention to your thoughts, all of them. This will help you recognize the critical voice.

Here are some emotional clues the critic has reared its ugly head: whenever you feel doubt, guilt, shame, and worthlessness. These are almost always signs of the critic at work.

  1. Separate Yourself from Your Inner Critic

Your inner critic is like a parasite, feeding off you. You were not born with this parasite but acquired it along the way. Your inner critic hopes it can hide and blend in, and that you’ll think ITS thoughts are your own.

You have to separate yourself from this parasite. One way to do that is to give your critic a name. Have fun with this naming. You could call your inner critic anything from “Todd” to “Miss. Annoying Loudmouth.” It doesn’t matter.

What matters is that you learn to separate it from your authentic self.

  1. Talk Back

In order to take the power away from your inner critic, you’ve got to give it a taste of its own medicine. As soon as you recognize your inner critic is speaking to you, tell it to shut up. Tell it that the jig is up, that you know it is a big, fat liar, and that you want it to go away. If you want to really make this voice recoil, tell it you are choosing to be kind to yourself from now on.

Self-compassion to an inner critic is like garlic to a vampire.

  1. Create a New Inner Voice

If you want to defeat an enemy, you need to have a powerful ally on your side. It’s important at this juncture to create an even more powerful inner voice. One that is on your side and acts as your BFF.

To create this new voice, start noticing the good things about yourself. No matter what that nasty critic said about you, the truth is you have fantastic traits and abilities. Start focusing on those. Yes, it will be hard at first to let yourself see you in a positive light, but the more you do it, the easier it will get.

Life is short. To have the most fulfilling one possible, we have to stop wasting time on beating ourselves up. Take these 4 steps and learn to quiet that inner critic. Your best you is waiting to be celebrated.

Some people’s inner critic is stronger than others. Sometimes the greatest ally you can have in your corner is an impartial third party, a therapist who can see you for who you really are.

If you or a loved one could use some help defeating your inner critic and would like to explore therapy, get in touch with me. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.

3 Questions to Ask After an Affair

Discovering that your partner has been unfaithful can feel devastating. On top of the unspeakable pain from the sexual betrayal are the lies they have told – either through words or by their silence. It is common for people to feel completely lost once they discover the infidelity and not know how to feel or react to the situation.

In order to understand what is best for you and how to proceed, here are 3 questions to ask yourself after an affair:

1. How Should I Respond?

Once the affair has been discovered, it’s normal to feel completely out of control both mentally and emotionally. You may find that it is hard for you to think clearly and focus on daily tasks. For this reason, it is important that you avoid making any rash decisions that you might later regret. Rash judgments can hinder the healing process.

Your best response is to take your time to think about what has happened and take note of your feelings before making any decisions. As you gather more information, you will be able to make an informed decision rather than a rash decision in the height of emotion and stress.

2. Is This PTSD?

After discovering your partner’s affair, it is very common to experience symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Sadly, most people believe PTSD is only manifested in individuals returning from combat. The reality is, PTSD can be experienced by individuals who are surviving an affair.

PTSD symptoms include:

  • Reliving the event
  • Avoidance of people, places and activities previously enjoyed
  • Negative mood and cognitions (e.g. I’m not good enough)
  • Heightened emotions and reactivity (e.g. Anxiety, hypervigilance)

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, consider speaking with a therapist who can help you navigate your emotions and decide what’s most needed to help you heal.

3. Do I Feel Differently About Myself?

After discovering your partner’s betrayal, you may begin to question yourself. You may find yourself saying things like, “What did I do to push them away?” Or “What is wrong with me?”

Even the most self-confident people on the planet can be reduced to self-doubters after infidelity. In an instant, you may shift from feeling safe and secure to anxious and fearful. Internalizing the situation or blaming yourself is common, though not very helpful to your overall well-being and can even further traumatization.

If you are dealing with a betrayal, asking yourself these three questions will begin the healing process.

Are you or a loved one dealing with the aftermath of an affair? Do you need help sorting through your emotions and making decisions that are right for you? If you are interested in exploring treatment, please contact me today. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.

5 Benefits of Sex After 50

Life comes at you fast.

It seems one minute you’re avoiding eye contact with your parents as they awkwardly tell you about the birds and the bees, and the next minute? You’re “of an age” where you are not considered a sexual being anymore.

That’s right, as soon as you hit the big 5-0, you are supposed to cease all sexual relations. Or at least, that’s how mature adults are made to feel.

But sex is not just for the young. Studies have shown that older people can benefit from healthy sex lives.

Here are some reasons why sex benefits those over 50:

It Makes You Feel Great

And not just in the obvious way. Certain hormones like dopamine and oxytocin are released during sex and orgasm. These hormones make us feel fantastic and promote feelings of positive attachment to our partners.

It Keeps You Healthy

Sex also increases testosterone in both men and women. Frequency of sex in younger men appears to protect them from prostate cancer later in life and decreases their risk of heart attacks. For women, this testosterone prevents chronic cystitis, eventual prolapse, and incontinence.

Sex is Exercise

The older we get, the more important it is for us to stay active. But not everybody likes to hit the gym or do yoga three times a week.

Sex is a great way to work up a sweat and get your heart pumping and body moving.

Sex Enhances Self-Esteem

We all want to feel desirable. Having a partner who wants to be with you in such an intimate way is an esteem boost at any age. And, according to studies, feelings of self-worth are the basis of psychological health. Sexual behavior has been associated with fewer and less frequent symptoms of depression, both in women and in men.

Sex Helps the Marriage

Though there are stresses to aging that can be challenging within a long-term relationship, sexual contact can help sustain a marriage. One study, which looked at couples over 50 who had been married for at least 20 years, found that impediments or barriers to sexual behaviors were of minimal importance as long as physical intimacy continued.

Of course, sex isn’t a cure-all for relationship woes. The truth is, marriage is work.

And the longer you two have been together, the more trials and tribulations you’ve experienced along the way, the more settled you’ve become in your ways, and the more difficult it can be to see one another the way you used to.

If you’re experiencing marital trouble, couples therapy can be very beneficial. A therapist can facilitate communication and offer tools that can help you reconnect and fall in love all over again.

If you or a loved one is interested in exploring couple’s therapy, please contact me today. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.

5 Ways Codependence Can Be Overcome

Do find you accept responsibility for a loved one’s emotions or actions? Are you constantly trying to please others? Do you neglect your own needs and have difficulty setting realistic personal boundaries? Do you often feel resentful yet have difficulty stepping away from a dysfunctional relationship?

These are some of the symptoms of codependency. Codependent people look for external cues from others to tell them what they should feel, need and act like. While most would agree that sensitivity to others is a wonderful trait, codependents take it to an extreme because of an inability to create healthy boundaries.

But healthy boundaries are important. These boundaries draw a line of distinction and responsibility between our own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and those thoughts, feelings and behaviors of others.

While it may take time to break lifelong patterns of codependency, there are things you can do to overcome it.

1. Recognize Any Denial

The first step to recovery is to be honest with yourself and acknowledge the problem. There is a very good chance you have rationalized your codependence over time. While it can feel scary to admit to being involved in a dysfunctional relationship, honesty is the first step toward healing.

2. Study Your Past

The next step on your path to recovery is to take a look at your family history to uncover experiences that may have contributed to your codependency. What is your family history? Were there events that led to you disconnecting from your inner emotions?

This can be a difficult process and one that involves reliving childhood emotions. You may find that you feel guilty for admitting you were wounded in your formative years.
This type of work can be difficult and is best done in a safe therapy relationship.

3. Detach from Unhealthy Involvements

In order to truly work on ourselves, we have to first detach from what we are obsessed with. Personal growth will require giving up the over-involvement or preoccupation with trying to change, control or please someone else.

This means letting go and acknowledging we cannot fix problems that are not ours to fix.

4. Learn Self-care

Giving up your excessive attempts to please others is a good start to healing, but learning self-care is absolutely necessary. It’s important that you begin to become aware of your own thoughts, feeling and needs, and learn how to communicate them in a relationship. This may feel very wrong at first, as if you are being incredibly selfish. But that’s okay.

In order to form healthy relationships with others, you must first form one with yourself.

5. Get Good at Saying “No”

One of the best ways you can begin to set healthy boundaries is to learn to say no to situations that are detrimental to your own wellbeing. This will feel awkward at first, but the more you do it, the easier it will become.

Seeking the guidance of a therapist will be beneficial as you work your way through these five steps. They will be able to help you safely explore your painful feelings and experiences and learn healthy ways of relating to yourself and others.

If you or a loved one is codependent and interested in exploring treatment, please contact me today. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.

5 Ways to Learn to Like Yourself Better

Quick question: Do you like yourself?

When asked this question, most people respond by saying something like, “Of course I like myself.” While their words say they like themselves, what do their actions say?

Are you someone who’s comfortable in their own skin? Are you happy with your appearance, or are you constantly comparing yourself to others, wishing you could be more like them? When you look in the mirror, what do you see? A superstar, or someone who doesn’t quite live up to your own expectations?

The thing is, our self-esteem is based on how we feel about ourselves, right now in this moment. Sure, it’s okay to strive to become a better version of ourselves, so long as we accept this current version, flaws and all.

If you’re someone who is overly self-critical, here are 5 ways you can learn to like yourself better:

1. Enjoy Your Accomplishments

Some people are so focused on everything that’s wrong with them, they never take a look at what’s right. When you’ve done something well, it’s important that you admit this success and enjoy it.

It doesn’t have to be something huge, either. It could be that you made a really delicious lasagna. Allow yourself the pleasure of enjoying every single bite, and happily receive any compliments from those you cooked for.

2. Understand That No One is Perfect

If you’ve been comparing yourself to other people, it’s time for you to stop and realize that no one is perfect. Not the models you see on the cover of magazines, nor the actors in the movies. They have professional makeup artists and are lit perfectly Heck, most of them have been photoshopped.

Not even the so-called perfect among us are actually perfect. The sooner you can accept this fact the sooner you can relax and like who you are.

3. Have Patience with Yourself

Perhaps there are things about yourself that you would like to change. Do you want to lose weight, get healthier, learn a new language?

Often we hate ourselves for not reaching impossible goals we have set for ourselves. If there are goals you would like to reach, be realistic in setting timelines and be patient with yourself.

4. Look at Your Past with a Kind Eye

Sometimes we don’t like ourselves because of past actions and behaviors. It’s important to give yourself some slack. When you were young, you may not have always acted kindly toward loved ones or strangers. Maybe you acted selfishly more often than you care to admit. But this is a part of being young.

The best thing to do is embrace your past, warts and all, and see what you can learn from your actions and behaviors.

5. Like “Most” of Yourself

You may never like 100% of yourself, and that’s okay. Strive to like 80% or 90%. You can still live an incredibly happy life when you think ‘only’ 85% of you is awesome.

A healthy self-esteem is important to our overall well-being, but getting there can be difficult, especially if you’ve suffered from a low self-esteem your entire life. Working with a therapist can be very beneficial. Someone who is impartial and completely new to you can help you gain clarity and a new perspective on yourself and your life.

If you or a loved one is interested in exploring treatment, please contact me today. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.

3 Ways to Stop Enabling Your Adult Child

According to the latest census data, more than half of people aged 18 to 24 live with their parents, and roughly 13% of adults ages 24 to 35 do as well. While many of these young people are hard-working individuals, trying to save money to pay off school loans, buy a house, or start a business, some are simply children who remain dependent on their parents, unmotivated to live life on their own. These children, though they may not mean to, can become emotionally and financially draining on their parents.

Here are three warning signs you may have children who are too dependent on you, and three ways you can stop enabling them.

Red Flags

1. You are Responsible for Them

If you find yourself shouldering your adult child’s responsibilities, and he or she is perfectly happy to let you do it, you may have a problem. If your child is non-productive while you take on a second job to pay off his or her debt or pay his car insurance, it may be time to have a talk.

2. Your Child is Constantly Borrowing Money from You

It’s perfectly fine to financially help out your adult child every once in a while. But if your son or daughter is constantly borrowing money from you because they can’t seem to hold down a job, and if they constantly promise to pay it back but never do, this is a red flag.

3. You are Often Disrespected

Young people who are struggling to find their place in the world and start their own life are often moody.. But there is a fine line between a bad mood and blatant disrespect in your direction.

Does your son or daughter seem respectful and even loving when they want or need help from you, and then become disrespectful or passive-aggressive should you say “no” to their requests? Though you may want to give them the benefit of the doubt and pass off this behavior to those bad moods, this is a warning sign that your child is too needy in your direction.

Encourage Independence

It’s important that you encourage your child to be independent. It’s equally important that you remain upbeat and avoid being adversarial when talking with them. Calmness yet firmness will go a long way in setting healthy boundaries in the relationship.

1. Agree on a time limit

Sit down with your child and discuss an exit plan. Yes, they may stay but only for an agreed upon amount of time.

2. Have them contribute

Having no financial responsibilities while living with you will not help your adult child prepare for the real world. Ask your son or daughter to contribute to the monthly expenses. If they are currently unemployed, ask them to do chores like gardening, grocery shopping, or cleaning.

3. Don’t indiscriminately give money

Borrowing money to get on their feet and make a car payment is one thing. But you cannot continue to give your adult child money forever. You may lend money with the understanding it should be paid back.

Sometimes, having a heartfelt discussion with your son or daughter can be difficult. At times like these, it’s often helpful to have a family therapist, a neutral third party, guide the discussion and make sure everyone is heard.

If you or a loved one is interested in exploring treatment, please contact me today. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.

3 Ways to Cultivate More Self-Compassion

Many people are brought up to always be kind to others. But how many of us were taught to be kind to ourselves? Self-compassion, or self-love, can often seem like a foreign concept, particularly to those raised in an abusive or unloving home.

Self- compassion and self-love are not to be confused with arrogance or conceit, which are usually indicators of a lack of self-love. Self-compassion has nothing to do with faux superiority and everything to do with being kind and gentle with oneself. It allows us to treat ourselves as we do our greatest loved ones. Instead of harshly judging ourselves for any personal shortcomings, we can instead give ourselves unconditional love and acceptance.

Why is Self-Compassion Important?

Over the last decade, research has shown a correlation between self-compassion and overall psychological well-being. Self-compassion helps us recognize the difference between making a bad choice and being a bad person. It also helps us have greater connections with others and less depression, anxiety, and fear of failure.

A lack of self-compassion can take a toll on our personal and romantic relationships. How we treat ourselves is typically an indicator of how we let others treat us. The less love and compassion we have for ourselves the more likely we end up in abusive and dysfunctional relationships. But, when we have self-compassion, we are less likely to depend on others to validate our self-worth or “complete us.”

Here are 3 ways you can begin practicing self-compassion:

1. Treat Yourself as You Would a Small Child

You would never treat a small child the way you may sometimes treat yourself. You wouldn’t call a child “stupid” for making a poor decision. And you certainly wouldn’t tell them they are unlovable and “will wind up alone forever.”

It may be hard treating yourself with such kindness in the beginning because you are not used to it. But in those moments, decide to treat yourself as you would a child and much progress will be made.

2. Practice Mindfulness

Self-criticism is a mental habit. In order to replace self-criticism with self-compassion, we must practice mindfulness.

When you find yourself caught up in that negative noise and mind chatter, stop, take a deep breath, and refocus your thoughts on something more positive about yourself. What qualities do you like about yourself? What have you done recently that you feel proud about? It can be anything, “I am always on time,” or, “I made the cashier smile.”

When you do find yourself having negative thoughts, DO NOT chastise yourself for having them. Thank those negative thoughts and tell them you no longer need them, then send them on their way to make room for positivity.

3. Give Yourself Permission to Be Human

At the end of the day, self-compassion is about being okay with our own humanity. It’s important to recognize that being human means being flawed, and that’s okay. You and the rest of the world have imperfections in common.

Give yourself permission to make mistakes and accept yourself, warts and all. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how much lighter and happier you will feel.

While it’s incredibly important to learn self-compassion, it’s not always easy cultivating new thought and behavioral patterns on your own. A therapist can give you the support, encouragement and guidance you need to help you make these positive changes in your life.

If you or a loved one has struggled with self-compassion and would like to speak with someone, please give me a call. Let’s discuss how I may best be able to help.