couples counseling in Newport Beach

Misconceptions

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Let’s be honest: there are a ton of misconceptions about what therapy actually entails. And Hollywood has had a field day with their portrayals of what a therapy session looks like.  The most common visual shown, is of a client laying on a couch, looking at the ceiling and talking about whatever comes to mind.

In reality, though, therapy doesn’t always resemble its Hollywood portrayal. The result of the Hollywoodification of therapy has been loads of misconceptions about what people who are seeking help perceive therapy to be.

In my own practice, I see a lot of misconceptions, but especially as they relate to couples’ therapy. Today, I want to dispel a few common misconceptions of couples therapy that I see quite frequently.

Couples’ Therapy Doesn’t have to be “Last Ditch Effort”

By the time many couples enter my office, it’s a “last ditch effort.” In other words, they’ve tried working through marital issues on their own, devoured every Self Help book or blog they can get their hands on, and their gas tanks are nearly empty.

First off, there’s nothing wrong in trying to work through issues together without the help of a professional or reading books or blogs to get educated on the various schools of thought in couples’ therapy.  However, when it comes to making strides in your relationship, however, having an unbiased third party can work wonders.

Far from a last-ditch effort, couples’ therapy can be extremely useful at various stages of any relationship. If one or both sides are struggling with finding fulfillment or are experiencing frustration or betrayal, couples’ therapy can be extremely helpful.  Whether you’re just getting the initial inklings of something being “off” in your relationship or you’re weeks away from separating, couples’ therapy has been proven to help bridge the divide that has entered your relationship.

Learning to Listen

One observation I commonly see when couples are in my office is a lot of talking at one another and very little listening.

Instead of waiting for the other person to finish to get their own point across, I encourage couples to actively listen to their partner. Active listening manifests itself in a number of ways, but I try and ask my patients to repeat parts of what their partner said back to them to ensure understanding. From there, I ask each partner how these issues make them feel before having the other person respond with what has been bothering them.

This act of back-and-forth listening can help build compassion and empathy for both partners in a way that simple “getting things off the chest” doesn’t do.

No One-Size-Fits-All Solution

I like to let people know that therapy is unique to each couple since everyone brings in their own unique histories and perspectives. Not to mention that some couples have children while others don’t, and this factor alone drastically changes the way I approach couples’ therapy.

I believe in the power of couples’ therapy, because of the intimate nature of the sessions. While people can learn different techniques from a book or blog, having a licensed therapist who is actively helping to introduce new skills for communication etc., can be incredibly valuable. And while couples’ therapy doesn’t always result in salvaging a relationship, it often does.  In my experience, regardless of the outcome- both partners come out the other side with more insight and clarity.

When In Doubt, Reach out

If you and your partner are going through a rough patch, consider reaching out to a couples’ therapist.  Just starting the conversation can actually be quite beneficial. And once you decide to seek therapy, I suggest that you ask lots of questions- nothing is off limits. This initial dialogue is a great way to dispel any preconceived notions or misconceptions you may have about couples’ therapy.  Please feel free to be in touch if I can be helpful in finding you a therapist or therapy resources!

Let Love Grow

Let’s face it: Relationships require work. Sometimes, really hard work. All too often, the longer you and your partner have been together, the more work your relationship requires. That seems kind of counter-intuitive, right? After all, the longer you’ve been with someone, the better you should know them. And the better you know someone, the less conflict you should have, right? If only it were that easy! As relationships go on, other stressors and factors enter the picture that may not have been there when the relationship was just starting to blossom. Busy careers, bills, kids, kids’ activities...all of these can cause couples to drift apart. Sound familiar? If it does, don’t worry! There are ways you and your partner can reconnect, bicker less, and grow stronger in your relationship.

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Bickering

Every couple bickers from time to time. Occasionally, that bickering morphs into full-fledged arguments, complete with yelling and exasperated sighs, and migraines. Bickering can actually be really healthy for relationships, as long as it is done respectfully. “Huh?” I’m sure you’re saying. Stay with me! 

Bickering and arguing can be healthy when you’re not just waiting for your turn to speak but when you just shut up and listen to what your partner is saying. Often, the causes of arguments are small things that have built up over a period of time, but which have never been expressly communicated. So, the next time your spouse gets on your case about not cleaning the toilet, listen to what they’re saying. They may not be mad about the toilet; perhaps you’re not taking initiative on cleaning in general.

In the heat of the moment, people can say things they don’t mean or that they instantly regret. Avoid this if possible! The best way to do this is to hit pause. When you recognize that the argument is not yielding anything productive, put it on hold. Whether you both need to walk away and get some fresh air, or (contrary to popular belief) go to bed angry, just give each other some space. These moments of reflection help calm emotions and allow our more rational sides to come back to us. When sufficient time has passed, talk about your argument calmly with one another. Chances are you’ll both find a little humor in what you were arguing about, too.

Sometimes, couples that argue are in healthier relationships than those who don’t bicker at all, because those who aren’t bickering about anything have (sometimes) given up on the relationship without knowing it. When people aren’t bickering and aren’t blissfully in love with their partner, they’re like ships passing in the night. They know the other is there, but they’re not seeing them.

When this happens, what can you do? Sometimes, the easiest thing to do is just talk. Let your partner know what you are feeling, and see if they feel the same way, too. Go into this conversation with an open mind and open heart, and really listen to what your partner has to say. This type of dialogue is essential to growing together as a couple. If you are uncomfortable having this type of conversation or you feel like it has gone beyond the point where simply talking one-on-one with your spouse will work, seek professional guidance from a therapist or marriage counselor.

Reconnect

Relationships are breeding grounds for stress. There is constant pressure from your career; you want to make sure you’re providing the best life you can for your kids; and the result of this is that your relationship with your partner can unintentionally take a backseat. When this happens, it is easier to justify disagreements or, worse, accepting and living in a situation that seems stagnant and doomed.

One way some couples can reconnect and reignite the spark is to either get away or spend some quality Adult Time together. Whether this is a relaxing vacation with just the two of you or sending the kids to the grandparents’ or summer camp for a bit, these moments together can work wonders on a relationship.

Vacations are a great way to hit “reset” and forget about the worries of the real world (just make sure you’re not checking your work email incessantly!). Sitting on a beach with a fruity drink and a trashy novel (followed by some passionate love making in the room) can be just what the doctor ordered. Vacations also get us out of our normal routines and inspire spontaneity that is absent in our day-to-day.

For couples who have the means to do so, sending your kids to summer camp can be an incredible way to fall in love with your partner all over again. This is a great option, because camp offers kids a wonderful opportunity to make new friends and grow into themselves, so you don’t have the same type of guilt that may accompany a parents-only vacation! On top of that, you and your partner can still do your normal career things, but you can enjoy extended happy hours or more frequent date nights without having to worry about getting back in time for the baby sitter.

No matter how long you’ve been with your partner, there is always a way to grow and mature in your love for one another. Sometimes, the monotony of everyday life can grate on us, and our relationships are the first to suffer. Be proactive when you can. But if you find yourself bickering or looking across the dinner table wondering, “Who is this person I’m living with?”, give each other a chance. Talk, communicate, hold one another tightly, and ask for help if you need it! 

Nurturing your Relationship

build better communication as a couple

Relationships are very, very challenging- but they can also be so wonderful and fulfilling. Quite possibly, the most important relationship in many of our lives is with our significant other. Unfortunately, this relationship often doesn’t get the nourishment and focus that it needs to grow and thrive. Why is this?

The business of life seems to get in the way and everything else seems more pressing.   Let’s face it- work demands, family obligations and dealing with children’s needs are all taxing. It’s easy to let life take precedence over love and not give the relationship with our partner attention. Intimacy can become challenging and growth halted as communication falls to the wayside. However, a relationship can be fostered and flourish through some simple actions.

Below, I will outline four tips to help communicate better with your loved one:

  1. Check In – Once a week, find a time and way to check in with each other, whether it’s a date night out, an evening in, or any other activity that is just the two of you. Hold each other accountable for this time together and make it a priority it to show up for it.
  2. Little Things – Simple, thoughtful gestures can make a big impact. Something as small as a sweet text message to let your partner know you’re thinking of them, or a sweet hand written note can go a long way in aiding better communication.
  3. Tune In – Keep electronics OUT of the bedroom. Date your partner NOT your phone. When you’re out for a dinner, make sure to keep phones and other electronics tucked away so that you can focus on each other and really tune in to your partner. Even when you’re at home, take time without your phones, iPads, computers and televisions to just focus on one another.
  4. Plan something – Having a big event or trip to look forward to as a couple is important. Whether it be a weekend trip or a night away, special time blocked off is a space in which to reconnect as a couple. When you’re away, your roles at home (Mom, Dad, Boss, etc.) are set aside and you become a different person. Relaxation helps let barriers down and can provide the space needed to further communication.
Communication with your partner

Remember, no relationship is perfect and all relationships take work. You’re not alone.  I hope these tips are helpful reminders. As always, if you or someone you know is looking for relationship advice or counseling, please reach out! I’m here to help.

Spring Forward or Spring Back?

How to build and receive love

Remember back when the toughest decision you had to make was choosing between the jungle gym and the slide during recess? Fast-forward to your adult years, and chances are you’ve encountered some pretty trying road blocks in life, for some, lots of them.

Your 7-year-old self didn’t have to think about paying bills; about getting along with a boss; about the difficulties of conceiving; about choosing the right parenting techniques; about watching your cholesterol; or about transitioning to a new job or career. You weren’t concerned with any of these things, and you certainly weren’t concerned with overcoming these obstacles with a partner. By now, it’s likely that playground seemed like a much simpler time – you may even kick yourself for ever wanting to grow up too fast.

The truth is these are just a small sampling of life’s road blocks. We’re faced with obstacles every day that not only challenge us as individuals, but also challenge us in our relationships, particularly our romantic ones. If we aren’t careful, our relationships can suffer. We can’t always control the road blocks themselves, but we can (in many cases) control how we deal with them, so that a detour doesn’t become a relationship dead-end.

Amidst the season where we spring forward, here are three simple practices to help you stay ahead of the obstacles without having to spring back in time to that playground.

Communicate.

Simply put, talk to each other! It seems obvious, but sometimes we let life take priority over having a face-to-face conversation with our partner. NOT through emojis; NOT through texts; NOT through email; NOT on their Facebook wall. In person.

I highly encourage you to set aside uninterrupted time with your partner every day to simply talk to them – no TV, no phone, no tablet, no laptop. How are they doing? How are they feeling? If you can’t communicate during the less challenging times, how will you be able to communicate during the really challenging ones?

Acknowledge obstacles head on.

I hear many couples tell me they don’t want to burden their partner with something they are dealing with. However, it’s important to remember that even your personal road blocks can have a great impact on your partner. If it’s burdening you, that burden’s likely to carry over to your partner indirectly. Practice acknowledging these obstacles right away, no matter how small they seem.

Discuss both sides of the situation – how it makes each of you feel, the potential complications and outcomes, and how you can work together to deal with the issue head on. Maybe this is something you’re always going to have to deal with, maybe it’s something that will go away next week. Either way – so long as it’s affecting one of you, you need to communicate about it.

Recognize how you best give love and how you best receive love.

Perhaps most importantly of all, your partner needs to know that you love and support them, and that you appreciate them. To effectively communicate that, you must first know how your partner prefers to receive love and support; and how they prefer to give love and support. Is it through acts of kindness, is it through verbal words, is it physically, is it through all of these things? Your answers to this question might be different – and that’s okay as long as you recognize your communication styles.

Maybe you prefer to receive love through verbal words, in which case your partner should learn how to effectively (and consistently) tell you they love and support you. Maybe you prefer to receive love through acts of thoughtfulness, such as a surprise dinner, tickets to your favorite sports team or singer, or doing the dishes. Whatever the case may be, if your partner isn’t feeling the love, you better fix something, and quick!

We might not be able to go back to a simpler time on that playground – but why would we want to when we can come out even stronger on the other side.