Happy couple who utilizes couples therapy by a licensed therapist at Hillary Counseling in Milwaukee, Wi

The Four Horseman and Their Antidotes…The Secret to Managing Relationship Conflict

The Gottman Institute studies relationships and looks for evidenced based signs of what works, and what doesn’t. They use the metaphor of the “four horsemen of the apocalypse” to describe four dynamics that can predict the end of a romantic relationship. Luckily, they have also discovered the “antidotes” that can change these unhealthy dynamics.

Criticism

Attacking someone’s personality or character, usually with some level of blame. Often “you” statements – “You should have done the laundry by now, you know I wanted to go out later!”

Antidote: Complaining – Expressing anger or disagreement about a specific behavior. Often uses “I” statements – “I wanted the laundry to be finished by now so I could get out before everything closes.” Complaining does not involve blame or get personal.

Next time, try: Instead of criticizing the other person, tell them what you would like them to do instead.

Defensiveness

Avoiding any responsibility for partner’s complaints. This can look like denying responsibility, making excuses, disagreeing with negative mind-reading, cross-complaining, “yes-but”-ing, repeating yourself, whining.

Antidote: Taking responsibility for some part of the problem.

Next time, try: Considering if there any part of the other person’s complaint that makes some sense to you. If so, say, “I can see what you’re saying about (this part).” See how that changes the conversation.

Contempt

The intention here is to insult and psychologically abuse the other person. This happens when the relationship feels so negative, that one partner has difficulty identifying anything positive about the other. It can include insults and name-calling, hostile humor, and mockery. It is also visible in body language and facial expressions. Contempt in communication between partners is a strong predictor of divorce.

Antidote: Culture of appreciation – focus on what you admire about the other person.

Next time, try: Noticing when you are expressing contempt and stopping yourself immediately. There are also exercises that you can do to remember and rekindle the things you admire or appreciate about the other person, which will start to shift the habit of expressing contempt.

Stonewalling

Habitual disengagement during conflict.

Antidote: Self-soothing—Monitor your emotional arousal during arguments; take breaks and do something to calm down. Find a way to stay engaged in the discussion, even if it means taking a break.

Next time, try: Catching yourself when you are starting to get emotionally overwhelmed during a conflict. Let the other person know you are going to take a break, but will return to finish the discussion when you are more calm. It generally takes about 20 minutes to calm down from “emotional flooding

We can help improve your relationship.

Hillary Counseling offers couples therapy and online therapy services to help you gain tools to strengthen your relationship, rebuild your connection, and restore the joy you both once felt.

Contact us to schedule a complimentary 15-minute consultation! →

 

Article summarized from the Gottman Institute Research.

Couple who's happy because they seek marital counseling at Hillary Counseling in Milwaukee, WI

2 Ways to Exit a ‘Peter Pan and Wendy’ Relationship Dynamic

Many people come to therapy when they feel their relationship is overburdened with immaturity. They may say things like:

“My partner does not know how to take care of himself and depends on me for everything. It is almost as if I am his mother, and I have to look after his childlike needs.”

“My partner struggles to establish a functional, long-term plan for his life as an adult.”

“We’ve been dating for so long now, but my boyfriend doesn’t like to label our relationship. It seems like he has commitment fear.”

If you relate to the statements above, chances are you’re in a relationship with a “Peter Pan” type personality.

Often characterized as “the boy who never grows up,” people, mostly men, displaying a Peter Pan-like personality can make maintaining a healthy and balanced relationship difficult. According to one study, people afflicted with this syndrome find it hard to express their emotions, avoid listening to their partner, and shirk basic relationship responsibilities.

A recent study lists five key markers of Peter Pan Syndrome, which include:

Emotional paralysis. Dulled emotions or an inability to express feelings in appropriate ways.

Slowness in action. Being apathetic, procrastinating in tasks, and frequently being late.

Avoidance of responsibility. Avoiding accountability for their mistakes and blaming others.

Mother-like expectations from partners. Difficulty with maternal relationships and treating future romantic partners as mother figures.

-Tensed relationship with father figures. Feelings of distance from one’s father and trouble with male authority figures.

Much like in the children’s story, the female counterparts in these relationships, known as the “Wendy,” often enable Peter Pan to continue living a life without responsibility. They might do this by making decisions on their behalf, cleaning up after them, or offering relentless emotional support without getting anything in return.

Unfortunately, those who fall into the “Wendy” role may not even realize it. This can naturally cause abrasion in relationships and negatively affect the quality of the partnership.

Here are two ways to manage a Peter Pan and Wendy syndrome in your relationship.

1. Help them get a grip on adulthood.

Desiring changes to how a person currently functions through slow and measured steps can help two people in a relationship transform for the better.

As much as we like to say we love people for who they are, remember that at least a little bit of give and take and gradual improvement is necessary for a romantic relationship to flourish.

However, handling the “man-child” of a relationship can be tricky. Fencing them in can suffocate their needs for freedom and play. It’s often better to communicate and advocate for your own needs and desires in the relationship while also allowing them time and space to act in accordance with them.

Do not forget to celebrate your partner’s efforts every step of the way by showing them appreciation and affection. Hold them accountable for what they say they will do and focus on small victories rather than massive behavioral overhauls.

2. Stall your enabling behaviors.

Ending enabling behaviors, like tidying up after them every time they make a mess, getting their car cleaned, or paying their bills, may help them recognize the need for change. Keep in mind that expecting drastic changes is unrealistic. No change can happen overnight. You will have to be patient while you wait to see changes in your partner’s behaviors. Consider these questions while attempting to back out of your enabling behavior.

-Are my actions helping or hurting me in the long run?
-Is it worth shouldering all the responsibilities of a relationship alone?
-Am I truly happy and satisfied in this relationship?
-Can I ignore my current frustration in the grand scheme of things?

Never ask your partner to change who they are. After all, that’s probably the reason you fell in love with them in the first place.

However, it is reasonable to expect people to mature and improve themselves over time. If you feel your partner is perpetually stuck in a juvenile phase and is unable or unwilling to bring about any of the changes you are asking for, you might consider seeking out a new partner whose goals and behaviors are more congruent with yours.

Hillary Counseling offers couples therapy and online therapy services to help you gain tools to improve your relationship.

Contact us to schedule a complimentary 15-minute consultation!

Happy interracial couple who sought premarital counseling by a licensed therapist

Assuming Positive Intentions In Your Relationship

“Happiness is a conscious choice, not an automatic response.” ~Mildred Barthel

I used to think he was out to get me. The man of my dreams was continually plotting to undermine my happiness in countless ways, all for some mysterious reason I couldn’t comprehend.

Can you give me a ride to work today?” He missed his shuttle on the morning I had my first speech, a forty-five-minute drive in the opposite direction. He obviously didn’t want me to succeed in my career.

Are you wearing that tonight?” Oh great, just before we go out to meet friends for dinner he wanted to throw off my confidence in how I looked. Did he think I was getting fat?

Can you come help me with this?” Couldn’t he see that I was in the middle of a relaxing Saturday morning, my first bit of sanity after a very stressful week? He must not care if I got any down time, though you could bet he’d be sitting on the couch watching golf all afternoon.

A lot of my time was spent stewing, working over these scenarios and replaying them in my mind. Overthinking was my specialty, my calling card in life. I prided myself on seeing things other people missed, reading between the lines to get to the “real” meaning.

These little bits of drama took a lot of mental effort for me to concoct, but after a while I became really good at them. I could summon up a motive from his every glance or change of tone, sometimes simply from thin air.

Nevermind that I still considered him my dream man, just one with the not-so-adorable quirk of trying to undermine happiness.

What did that say about me?

Like most of my uncomfortable feelings, I pushed these thoughts down, working to keep things cool on the surface while I boiled underneath.

Life kept moving forward, and then one day my brother had a heart attack. A year later, a friend had a brain aneurysm. Both survived, but it changed our mindset about time and dreams.

We decided to sell everything we owned and travel the world, taking our retirement dreams and living them at midlife instead, when we had the health and energy to enjoy them. It was a beautiful time, planning our grand adventure and then stepping into it together.

But still, I had these nagging thoughts about him and his continued efforts to rob me of my happiness, even as we were living out our biggest dream. Looking back, it was pure insanity.

I read about this site in Northern Peru that’s supposed to be really cool. Want to go there next instead of Machu Picchu?” He knew I was dying to go to Machu Picchu. Why would he try to take that away from me? He didn’t want me to be happy.

Why don’t you write in the early mornings so we still have the days to explore Edinburgh together?” He knew I wasn’t a morning person, so why would he ask such a thing? Because he was a morning person, that’s why. He thought I was lazy.

I’ve been editing the podcasts and you say “this and that” a lot. It detracts from the message. Can you tamp it down?” Hey, I just got a compliment from a guest on my radio voice. Why was he nitpicking like that? He couldn’t stand it that someone said something nice to me.

None of my thoughts were said out loud, but they did needle at my happiness in small bursts multiple times a day. We were rarely apart in this traveling lifestyle, especially when we started publishing books and podcasts together, and I found an ulterior motive in almost everything he said. Over time, my brain almost melted at the continuous effort required to read into his every word. It was a full-time job.

Then a very big fight happened, one of those life-changing arguments, and I let the cat out of the bag. He was stunned.

“Of course I’m not out to get you. I love you.”

At the end of all the harsh words and tears this was a revelation, an insight into this years-long issue in our relationship.

It wasn’t him; it was me.

All those years of reading between the lines, a skill I’d honed since childhood, kept me from seeing reality. I was ignoring the black and white meaning of what he said in favor of some imagined murky gray story with no basis in fact.

My writer’s mind was altering my own life story, as it happened, without the consent or knowledge of the other main character. I was changing a light-hearted romance into a mystery and painting my husband as the bad guy.

In the aftermath of the very big fight, we agreed to always assume the best intentions of the other person, no matter what words were chosen in the delivery. Instead of picking apart how it was said, we would focus on where it came from, which was always from the heart.

Questions were encouraged. Clarification was required. No guessing games allowed.

It was surprising how fast this one change impacted my outlook. I stopped spinning crazy stories in my head and focused on the moment, what this man who loved me was trying to convey. When I didn’t understand, or the understanding I had was negative, I asked for clarification.

He always freely gave it.

He wanted to see everything in the world with me. He wanted me to have time to write, but also to play together. He wanted the work we produced to be as professional as possible, and he knew we both had quirks to overcome.

The meaning was there in plain sight, in the honesty of his words. He wanted the best for us in everything, as anyone in love would.

He wasn’t out to get me. He was out to love me, to share a life with me, and all I had to do was take him at his word.

The day we vowed to always assume the best intentions in each other was as powerful as the day we vowed to be together forever. And it makes honoring that marriage vow a lot more enjoyable.

How to Train Yourself to Assume the Best Intentions

1. Every single day, compliment or thank your partner for something they have done.

Make gratitude for what they do right an everyday thing and the occasional slipups will not seem as big. It also reinforces positive behaviors, making them more likely to continue.

2. When your partner says or does something that rankles you, first stop and ask yourself if a stranger in the room with you right at that moment would have the same reaction.

If you’re overthinking, you will have added layers of meaning that aren’t there. But if you look at it from the outside, it’s a more realistic version of events. It will help center you.

3. If all else fails, ask for clarification.

“I may have taken this the wrong way. Did you mean X?” This gives your partner the chance to clear it up right away, before you’ve had a chance to concoct a story in your head.

It will take some time to train yourself from over thinking and reading between the lines, but it can be done. And you (and your partner) will be happier because of it.

Article written by: Betsy Talbot of Tiny Buddha Blog

We can help improve your relationship.

Hillary Counseling offers couples therapy and online therapy services to help you gain tools to improve your relationship.

Contact us to schedule a complimentary 15-minute consultation! →

Two black LGBTQIA+ women who seek therapy from a licensed therapist at Hillary Counseling in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

5 Secrets to Finding a Great Partner

My friend Katie met her husband-to-be, Tom, during orientation week in college. They were the couple everyone envied. They spent all their time together and they never seemed to argue. They had the same major and shared many of their hobbies. They liked each other’s families and friends. So it wasn’t a big surprise when Katie and Tom got married soon after graduation. They have two sweet kids, a boy and a girl. Katie stays home taking care of the kids and Tom has a well-paid job as an architect in a local company.

And last year… they got divorced.

Katie and Tom’s story is not unique. Almost every second marriage in the U.S. gets divorced at some point.

And yet, if Katie and Tom had been looking for a partner through a matching company, they would have been pretty much a perfect match for each other. But something didn’t go right.

What is it that Katie and Tom, and so many others, are missing? Why do our “perfect matches” often turn out to be less than perfect or downright disappointing?

The Unconscious Foundation of Your Relationships

In our research, we’ve found that there’s much more to true compatibility than variables like age, religion, culture, hobbies, attitudes, and beliefs. Part of the issue is that there’s a lot we do not know about ourselves, and not knowing ourselves sometimes gets in the way of successful relationships.

Everybody has a set of love stories, that is, a set of ideas, beliefs, and preconceptions about what a relationship should be like, how to behave in a relationship, and what the ideal partner should be like. But—we’re not consciously aware of our love stories.

So if you want to find someone who’s a truly good match for you, here are five keys that you need to keep in mind:

1. Your love stories influence every aspect of your relationship.

You have love stories in your mind that determine which potential partners you’re interested in and that shape your expectation of what a relationship should be like, how you should behave in a relationship, how you should interpret your partner’s actions, how you should interact with your partner, and so on.

Your love stories represent the essence of your life—the relationships of family members, neighbors, and friends you have observed since you were a child, your own experiences with other people, the stories you have read in books and watched in movies.

There is no objective reality; rather, it’s your stories that give your relationship meaning.

2. Happy relationships involve matching love stories.

Obviously, you’re not the only one with love stories; everybody else has them as well. But there are stories that tend to work better and others that are maladaptive. Additionally, some stories work better together than others. For example, if you have a fantasy story and are looking for a super romantic relationship with your own personal princess, but your partner is not so much interested in romance but rather in creating a relationship that runs smoothly like a business, ensuring you are making good money and have clearly spelled out duties that need to be fulfilled responsibly, both of you are likely to end up disappointed.

You and your partner do not need to have the same story, but for a happy long-term relationship, you will need stories that are compatible with each other.

3. Understand what you really want from your relationship.

The love stories you have given rise to what we call the “core components of love.” Depending on your love story, you may have a different need for:

  • Intimacy (that is, how close, bonded, and connected you feel)
  • Passion (that is, how much emotional and physical attraction, as well as romance you have in your relationship), and
  • Commitment in your relationship

The issue is—we often are not consciously aware of what we truly want, and where our relationship lags. Dig deep and figure out what you want from your relationship in terms of intimacy, passion, and commitment. Does your partner want the same as you do? If not, try to close those gaps to make your relationship work and fulfill your own needs as well as the needs of your partner.

4. Your partner’s feelings for you matter less than you think.

In our studies, we have found that people often haven’t the foggiest idea of how their partner feels about them—and the people who participated in our studies were in stable relationships!

The point is, we can’t ever really know what someone else thinks or feels.

What matters to our happiness is how we want our partner to feel for us, and whether we believe they’re actually feeling that way. For example, your partner may feel that they’re very committed to your relationship. If you don’t feel that they are committed and consequently feel anxious or jealous most of the time, your partner’s factual commitment really doesn’t matter that much to your happiness.

Think about whether you have enough (or too much) of intimacy, passion, and commitment in a relationship, and if there’s a gap, act!

5. Your relationship needs to match your (and your partner’s) needs—not the expectations of those around you.

Your love stories determine the kind of relationship and partner you’re looking for and what you expect your relationship to be like. You’ll be happiest when you and your partner have compatible love stories and you meet each other’s needs. The expectations of those around you—parents, family, and friends—as well as those of society matter much less.

You have to realize that there is no wrong or right love story, and it’s all right for you to seek your happiness no matter what others think of your conception of a loving relationship.

The key to your happiness is finding someone whose love story is compatible with yours.

Looking to learn more about finding the RIGHT relationship for YOU? Contact us to schedule a FREE 30-minute consultation with one of our relationship experts, info@hillarycounseling.com.

 

Article By: Karen and Robert Sternberg, Ph.Ds

Happy couple who regularly seeks couples therapy by a licensed therapist at Hillary Counseling in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Relationship Tool…How Conflict Helps You Understand Your Partner

The purpose of conflict is to more fully understand your partner.

Does this sound familiar? You think the conflict is about who is going to pick up your child after school. It’s going to be a simple decision—it’s either you or your partner. But, somehow, there is no simple resolution. The conflict seems bigger than that. It feels like something deeper is going on for one or both of you.

The conflict
Let’s use this scenario as an example:

Sam and Chris are discussing who is going to pick up their daughter from school. Sam says to Chris, “I can pick her up after school today.”

Chris says, “No, I’d like to pick her up.”

Sam comes back with, “You’re so busy at work today and I have the day off. I’m happy to do it.”

Chris persists, “You should enjoy your day off. I can fit it into my work day.”

They go back and forth like this for a while.

When the resolution for the conflict feels like it should be easier than it turns out to be, that is the indicator that there might be some dreams within the conflict at play. Step back and go deeper to the dream level.

Questions to gain understanding
To get there, Sam and Chris can ask each other these kinds of questions:

“Can you tell me what makes this important to you?”
“Does this relate to your background in some way?”
“Is there a deeper purpose or goal for you about picking up our child at school?”
“What do you feel about it?”
“What is your wish in this situation? What is your need?”
“What will happen if your dream isn’t honored?”

Chris might share that when they were growing up, Chris’s parents weren’t involved in the daily school pick=up. Perhaps because of this, Chris feels distant from their parents. Chris has decided to parent differently.

Sam might share concerns about Chris’s job stability and doesn’t want to interrupt Chris’s workday when Sam could do the pick-up without intruding on work. Sam might further express a craving for financial security because that was absent from Sam’s childhood.

Dreams within conflict
Consider two things. First, relationships are not better if they are free of conflict, and in fact, all relationships have some sort of conflict in them. Second, the purpose of conflict is not resolution. The purpose of conflict is to more fully understand your partner.

With this conflict definition, understanding each other’s dreams within the conflict can lead to a successful conflict outcome.

Learning to recognize when there is this deeper dream level in a conflict will allow you to explore the dreams within the conflict and then move through the conflict more easily and peacefully.

Sam and Chris now understand each other’s perspectives more fully. Even if they still disagree, they’ve deepened their understanding of one another, they’ve grown closer, and they can come to a solution.

Article By: Jennifer Pesetky of The Gottman Institute

Welcome sign

Hillary Counseling Welcomes A New Psychologist

We are so excited to announce that Dr. Katelyn (Katy) Grusecki, has joined Hillary Counseling.

☼ Katy is a psychologist with a diverse background. She’s worked at medical centers, clinics, inpatient hospitals, outpatient programs and forensic facilities throughout Southern California.⁠ ⁠

☼ Her clinical style is based on a holistic model that attends to all aspect of wellness. Katy uses a client-centered, strengths-based approach and incorporates Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Mindfulness and other treatment modalities to help her clients reach their goals.⁠ ⁠

☼ She specializes in working with individuals and couples who need support navigating: substance abuse, relationship struggles, anxiety, depression, life transitions, personal growth, career direction/professional growth, optimal health and wellness, trauma, improved self-confidence, and living a more authentic and values-driven lifestyle (just to name a few). ⁠ ⁠

MORE FACTS ABOUT KATY:⁠ ⁠

? She received her Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D) from Pepperdine University in California.⁠ ⁠

? In addition to practicing outpatient therapy, she maintains a full-time position as a licensed psychologist on a maximum security unit, focusing on forensic evaluations and psychological assessment.⁠ ⁠

Katy will begin seeing NEW clients Tuesday, April 20th. ⁠ ⁠She offers a FREE 30-minute consultation to begin therapy. For scheduling, you can email her directly at drkaty@hillarycounseling.com.

Couple facing issues and considering relationship and marriage counseling

Milwaukee Couple’s Therapists Share…What Happens to Couples Under Stress

Relationships are hard, even when we are not in the midst of a global pandemic. Nobody knows this more intimately than the Belgian psychotherapist and author Esther Perel, whose hit podcast, “Where Should We Begin?,” allows listeners to play fly on the wall as she conducts actual couples’ therapy sessions. Perel is also the author of the best-selling books “Mating in Captivity” about sex within monogamous relationships, and “The State of Affairs” about navigating infidelity.

In late March, as countries across the globe were enacting social-distancing measures, she launched a special podcast series called “Couples Under Lockdown.” In the series so far, Perel has done therapy sessions with couples in Italy, Belgium, and New York City, counseling them through the challenges of this very anxious, and often exasperating, time. “If we want to look at the challenges of communication, of sexuality, of desire, of conflict in relationships, this is such a Petri-dish moment,” Perel told me recently over Zoom. During our conversation, which has been edited and condensed, we spoke about how to fight with your partner during quarantine, how to go on dates from home, what to do if your partner’s habits are driving you insane, and how to maintain a sense of self when you can’t escape each other.

I saw your husband just walk through the room. Are you together in the house?

We are together, yes. [laughs.]

How’s that going?

You know, right now we are both working, doing psychotherapy. We are in our own professional worlds and then we come together, at different times throughout the day, and have a lot to share. I think what helps a lot is that both of us feel like we’re doing something quite meaningful at the moment, with what we know, what we have practiced. We are physically removed, but we are professionally and psychologically very, very close to what’s going on and, therefore, to each other as well.

I was thinking the other day about one of your first books, “Mating in Captivity.” With what we’re going through now, the captivity has become quite literal.

“Mating in Captivity: The Quarantine Edition.”

You’ve often pointed out that too much is expected of modern relationships: your partner is supposed to be your best friend and your lover and your psychotherapist and your child-care co-worker and, you know, your dishwasher. Everything. And those roles, historically, used to be spread out within communal structures. And it seems like this pandemic has only magnified the degree to which we’re forced to rely on our partners.

I think that, really, what is essential at this moment, especially when we have just one person to give us what an entire village should be providing, is that we create boundaries, routines, and rituals. There needs to be, as best as possible, a separation between daytime and evening, week time and weekend, working time and idle time, family time and individual time, moments that are task-oriented and moments where we stop for a bit. When we’re going to eat, are we going to reset the table or just push our work stuff away a little bit so that we have room to put a plate down? I think that, more than ever, the routine that creates a structure, that brings a certain sense of order in a world that feels so chaotic and so unsure, is crucial. The ritual is what separates the ordinary and the mundane from something that becomes more elevated, more separated, more sacred. All of these three things are essential.

Some of my friends have commented that being at home with their partners has made some of the “invisible work” they do, which their partners took for granted, quite visible. For example, they’re, like, “Who did you think cleans the house and does the dishes? Suddenly, you see all that that I’m doing.” Or, vice versa, maybe someone says, “You have finally seen what I do at work. And you see how hard I work. And you’re not acknowledging it.” What effect does that have, to have these things suddenly visible in a new way?

What is happening now, in this expanded view of ourselves and of our partners, can go in two directions. In one direction, you say, “I’m curious. Tell me more. I never knew. I really appreciate it. I realize how clueless I was, how I let you do everything.” And it becomes really a source of connection. In the other version, it becomes a source of blame: “You want me to tell you how much I’ve been doing? I just did the laundry! I just cleaned the sinks! You would just live in a pigsty! What’s the matter with you?” You begin to complain in such a way that insures that the other person is going to try to chew you out as fast as possible, and you’re not going to get the help.

This brings me to the question of how people should fight. Couples are going to get into arguments and log jams during this time. But you literally can’t walk away. I’m wondering how you are seeing couples work through things when they cannot physically separate.

You don’t need to have a door to leave the house. You can be somewhere there without being absolutely present. I think that couples, by definition, go through harmony, disharmony, and repair. This is a dance that we do no matter what. By definition, we fight. What matters is how you fight. When you get really mad at something, can you afterward say, “O.K., got that out of my system—how are we going to solve this?” or “Look, I realize I was quite unfair. Let me first say what I do appreciate about what you do before I dump on you the whole list of stuff that I don’t think you do”? That’s why I play this little exercise of ten yeses and ten nos, which my colleague Dan Siegel taught me. It’s so powerful. Because, if you start with the yes, you will fight differently. You will actually have a different argument. You can defuse it with humor.

Begin by saying to yourself, “What are the one or two things that they have done that I can appreciate?” Otherwise, it’s whatever is negative I will highlight, and whatever is positive I will take for granted. If we made it on time, it’s because there was no traffic, and, if we got there late, it’s because of you. The negative is attributed to the other person, and the positive is just taken as “that’s the way it should be.”

And you can be all entitled about this and say, “Well, there’s no reason I should appreciate that, because I have done a whole bunch of things, and you haven’t appreciated them either.” But the productive thing is to start with you. You want to change the other? You change you.

Stay focussed on the task. When you want to talk about the dishes, don’t end up talking about five different things, two of which are years old. Don’t “kitchen sink” it. Keep yourself to the one thing that you’re upset about at this moment.

Also, make a request and not just a protest. Tell your partner, “I really wanted you to do this. I counted on you. Can we agree you’ll do it by twelve o’clock today?” Fight from a place of enlightened self-interest, as [the family therapist] Terry Real says, not just to get it out of your system. To get it out of your system, call your friends. Vent as much as you want. And then go back to your partner and be strategic about it. Because you don’t just want to get it out of your system. You actually want a change.

How about sex: There are jokes going around about how many babies will be born in nine months, just so many babies, but how do you create space for sexuality when you are trapped indoors with pets, kids, jobs, etc.?

There are such myths that need to be debunked around what actually preserves erotic interest in a couple. The idea that there is no mystery because I’m in the same room with you is somewhat true, if you simply think that being away from the person is enough. By definition, we need to create that space. For those who have little kids in the house, look at what they do: they don’t need to leave the house to suddenly become the captain of a ship, or the officer of the fortress, or the driver of the truck. They just enter into a character, and, from that “play mode” through their imagination, they transcend all the borders and the limitations of reality. It is the same with the erotic mind. It is the adult version of what children do when they play.

There’s a couple you interviewed on your podcast, a married couple in New York City. They are nearing divorce, and the husband has a girlfriend, and even under quarantine he still wants to go out to visit her. What are you seeing or hearing about issues of infidelity while people are in lockdown? How is that playing out?

Look, the question of infidelity is the same as it always is. It starts with “What do people define as infidelity?” We know that people are spending a lot more time on porn right now. If you consider that an infidelity, well, then there is more of that. Do people have the opportunity to go and meet their lovers in physical terms? No, many don’t. But do they have access, online, to connect with hosts of people? Of course they do. Can they do it while they’re next to their partner? That’s the whole issue with modern infidelity: you can have a full-blown affair with somebody while you’re lying next to your partner in bed. So there’s not that much of a change in that respect.

For people who do have another partner and can’t go see that person right now, I think what’s happening is that, in some cases, people are reconnecting with their partner and disconnecting from their external interests, and, in other cases, people are disconnecting from their partners and becoming more eager to connect with all the other opportunities that they may have on the outside.

Yes, in another episode of the podcast, there’s a German couple where the woman has returned to the man after a period of painful separation because she wanted to be back home during the outbreak.

Before the lockdown, they couldn’t resolve their standoff. “You abandoned me,” she said, and he said, “You abandoned me.” And they were in a real lockdown. But the virus made the decision, and so nobody won. Nobody had to give in. It’s the virus who made it happen, and they could say, “Because of the virus, we are together.” And then, on top of it, once they are together, they realize how much they do appreciate each other.

Let’s talk about other positive stories. Are there ways in which this could be an amazing time for couples?

I think that, in times of distress, our priorities get reorganized, and the superfluous often gets thrown overboard. And disasters function as accelerators as well. So people are making decisions: “We will move. We will change jobs. We will go live closer to our parents. We will have another child. We will start to do the thing that we’ve been meaning to do for so long.” These things are happening a lot. There’s a lot of wonderful, positive things going on. There are so many new openings. But they often don’t get the same media time as the bad stories.

I think, in general, when people live in acute stress, either the cracks in their relationship will be amplified or the light that shines through the cracks will be amplified. You get an amplification of the best and of the worst.

I want to hear your thoughts on people who have recently started dating. How are you advising them to spark new relationships during this time of isolation?

Things are much slower. You’re talking more, a lot more than the typical dating has allowed us; you’re not able to hook up so quickly, so you actually want to have conversations. And the conversations are deeper. New couples talk instantly about “Where are you? Are you safe? How’s your family? Have you had contact with them?” People are sharing a lot more important parts of themselves.

Are you saying that relationships are deeper when you don’t have sex right away?

You know, one of the beautiful sexual formulas is attraction plus obstacles equals excitement. This is what happens in affairs all the time. It’s what people who are apart from each other do. They pine. They gush. They fantasize. They dream. When you can’t meet the person right away, you are prevented from doing the shortcuts, and everybody has their own versions of shortcuts—maybe you have hookups where you don’t even know the person’s name. But, in this moment, people are really in the mood to meet somebody. And I am amazed by how many people are starting real love stories.

There was a great essay in the Times by an editor whose husband got very sick with the coronavirus, describing the incredibly intense experience of caring for him. What would you say to people who are suddenly having to care for each other in this new and incredibly anxiety-making way?

Look, thirty-seven million Americans are caregivers at home on a daily basis, in normal times. [The actual figure is more than forty million.] So we shouldn’t idealize the world before covid-19 and suddenly think that all of this is new. You need three things: you need help for the person who is sick, you need help for the person who is taking care of the person who is sick, and you need structural support. Right now the ones you’d normally rely on may be living too far to actually come to you. So your support system is no longer just your familial group or your friend group. It has to be whoever is physically able to come to you. And since so many people want to be helpful, want some sense of purpose, want to feel less guilty about the fact that they have more than others right now, it’s about engaging people around you like that. You have to geo-locate strangers. And that’s new.

I want to do a kind of lightning round of some current lockdown scenarios I’m hearing about, to hear what you would recommend off the cuff.

Let’s do it.

O.K., this one comes from my mother. My father, in his retirement, has become really obsessed with playing his banjo, and my mother cannot stand the sound of the banjo. They are together all the time now, and she feels like she cannot get away from the noise. And yet playing is his stress relief. What should they do?

If you start with “I can’t stand the noise of this thing,” then you know exactly what conversation you are going to get. But if you start from “I know this gives you tremendous joy,” you can say that, “At the same time, it’s hard to listen to as often, and can we come up with a schedule of some sort? Maybe I can put some headphones on. Maybe you know not to do this in the morning when I haven’t even had my first coffee.” You say to the other person, “Look, I totally get that this is your thing, and I’m so glad you have that thing.” But then you tell them, “As much as I appreciate it for you, I would like to find a way for it not to become the instrument I have to listen to the whole day.”

This is good. I’m going to pass that along to my mom. O.K., next. There is a couple in a studio apartment. One person has a very high libido right now; the other person has no sex drive. How do you suggest they deal?

Does the one who has more interest want to engage with the other one, or are they O.K. with self-stimulation?

O.K., next: If a member of a couple is doing virtual therapy, or talking to their friends on the phone, should the other member of that couple put on headphones?

I think that couples need to regulate togetherness and separateness all the time, with confinement or without. In a situation like this, whether you are in your tiny studio, or whether you are on the verge of separation, you need autonomy. You need space for yourself and space with other people that are not shared necessarily with your partner, regardless of conflict. Your therapy session is private. Your conversations with your best friends are private.

How about a couple where one person always cooks? Should the other person always do the dishes?

You can say, “I know we both have a lot of things we have to take care of. Can we sit down and make a division of roles here? I don’t expect things to be fifty-fifty, but I expect them to feel fair.” Like, I hate to do the garbage, you know?

Does your husband do the garbage then, Esther?

Yes. We divide by the thing that the other person minds the least. Like, I don’t mind emptying the frickin’ dishwasher. I know he really doesn’t want to do it. We have thirty-five years together, and we joke, like, “I don’t do that.” “I don’t fold,” he says to me. And then he comes up to me jokingly and says, “Thank you for folding,” when I haven’t done anything yet. So I get the message. You need a dose of humor, or you are going to take each other by the throat.

What’s the one thing that everybody could do daily to improve their relationship while they’re stuck together during this crisis?

I would say that it’s really important to normalize this. You need to know that this is what happens to couples under stress. They will turn on each other and they will take things out on each other, because they don’t feel that they can control the bigger picture. This is normal. Instead of fighting about it and getting into the “who has it worse here,” just admit it together, and go from the “I and you” to the “we.” “What is this doing to us? What does ‘us’ need at this moment?” If you can think about that third entity called the relationship, and do certain things because the relationship needs it, even if it’s not what you need, that will give you a very hopeful framework.

Article by: Rachel Syme of The New Yorker

Happy couple with a healthy relationship

Milwaukee Relationship Experts Discuss Dating After A Breakup

It can be very hard to get back into the dating world after a breakup or divorce. Some clients that I work with were in a relationship for a short time, and it’s not as hard for them to get back into the swing of things. However, for some who were in decades-long marriages, they are now out on their own trying to figure out the dating world. It can be daunting and scary, and some people give up after only a few tries because they feel overwhelmed.

There are some things to consider when you’re getting back into the dating world or even considering dating.

Getting “back out there”

First thing is to make sure that your friends and work colleagues know that you are ready to start dating again, since it always helps to have friends on your side. They may know somebody they could set you up with or suggest a coffee date with a friend of theirs who might be a good fit. It is good to think in terms of just getting to know new people rather than having to feel like it’s got to be an instant, lifelong connection. Sometimes it can just be meeting somebody new for coffee and striking up a friendship if there’s no romantic spark.

Swiping and clicking

These days roughly one-third of single people have an online dating profile. As you probably already know, this way of dating allows you to find and view people that you would never otherwise meet, and you can chat with them before meeting.

A downfall is that there can be too much choice in online dating. Columbia professor Sheena Iyengar has done experiments revealing that an excess of options can induce indecision and paralysis in decision making. Her experiment involved jam samples at a grocery store. When they offered six types of jam as opposed to 24 types of jam, people were ten times as likely to buy jam from the smaller sample number.

This same indecision and paralysis can happen in online dating, so try to give yourself compassion and know that it’s hard work. You may consider hiring a matchmaker if you can afford it—they gather your information and preferences and find matches and then they also set up the dates, making much less work for you!

From message to meeting

Don’t spend too much time talking online—a week or two at the most—then meet to see if you have chemistry. Helen Fisher, noted anthropologist and consultant for Match.com, states that it is best to avoid long online exchanges. The only way to know if you have a future with a person is to meet face to face since “the brain is the best algorithm.” Laurie Davis, author of “Love at First Click,” recommends no more than six messages before meeting offline, since that gives you enough information to know if they are someone you’d want to date. Meeting someplace public is always the best option for safety reasons. Do post photos on your profile.

People still meet in more traditional ways also (work, neighbors, school, through friends), but no matter how you meet a potential partner, you still have to go on dates! However you meet, remember to ask open-ended questions. Also, remind yourself to be interested in your date rather than trying to be interesting yourself. See the Gottman Card Decks, and go to the Open-ended questions deck if you want some good ideas.

Don’t talk about your ex

Don’t talk about your ex-spouse or -partner! This is crucial. If your date asks you something about your past relationship then it is appropriate to give a brief response. Example: “We grew apart but we get along now when we need to talk about the kids.”

If it was a difficult separation or divorce then keep that very brief. Example: “It was painful and hard but now I am ready to move on and not dwell on the past”

If your date hears you talk about your “crazy ex” and you go on and on about it, that could be a red flag. Same goes if they hear you talking at length about how great your ex is and how you are best friends now—they are going to wonder if you may reconcile or they may feel you are not “over” that person.

Who can you trust?

I’ve had many people ask about how to know who’s safe and trustworthy when you are dating. I find it helpful in my private practice with single clients to go through some of the important points from the book “Safe People” by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend.

Here are some important things to be looking for when you consider safe vs unsafe people:

  • Safe people allow you to feel like an equal vs feeling like their parent or their child.
  • Safe people are stable over time vs being inconsistent.
  • Safe people have empathy and act on it vs being solely concerned with themselves (“I” not “we”).
  • Safe people want to mature and grow, and can admit when they are wrong, while unsafe people avoid working on problems, or admitting fault because they believe they are perfect.
  • Safe people are willing to earn your trust while unsafe people demand it without earning it.
  • Safe people can respect your “no” and honor your boundaries.

In addition: unsafe people apologize without changing their behavior, they blame others, they gossip instead of keeping secrets, and they show up only when they need something.

If you consistently find yourself drawn to unsafe people, then there may be an underlying issue that needs to be addressed. This can be addressed through personal exploration or even individual therapy. As stated in “Safe People,” this could be driven by the need to rescue that unsafe person, fears of isolation or abandonment, or even familiarity with negative relational patterns.

Dr. Gottman has done research on trustworthiness, and found the following five criteria to help separate those who are trustworthy from those who are not. These five criteria are from the book “What Makes Love Last.”

  1. Honesty. Do not trust someone who lies to you. Don’t come up with excuses for why they lied, or talk yourself out of your doubts.
  2. Transparency. Make sure they are an open book, and that they invite you to meet their family and friends.
  3. Accountability. Do they keep their promises and follow through on their commitments?
  4. Ethical Actions. If you are detecting immoral actions or if you are uncomfortable with their morals, then move on.
  5. Proof of Alliance. If they can demonstrate that they have your back, even in small ways, then that is a good sign. Do they take your best interests to heart instead of acting only out of self-interest?

Have fun, try to think about it as an adventure. Stay safe, and make sure you take things slow so that you have time to determine if they are safe and trustworthy. Remember, it is hard work, but it’s worth it. Good luck in your dating journey.

Article By: Stacy Hubbard, LMFT, The Gottman Relationship Blog

Couple that's happy because they seek marriage counseling by a licensed therapist at Milwaukee, Wisconsin

How To Be Supportive When Your Partner Struggles With Mental Health

Mental health is usually a sensitive subject for people. It’s a personal struggle that can feel never ending, and too often people suffer in silence rather than admit that they are having a problem. This is why when someone, like your partner, lets you know that they struggle with mental health, it’s vital to be as supportive as possible. Here are some ways that I support my partner and his mental health:

TRUST AND GOOD COMMUNICATION

In order to help your partner (in anything, not just mental health) the two of you need to have trust and excellent lines of communication. Talking about mental health, admitting that there’s a problem, and figuring out how to get help can be difficult – your partner won’t be able to do any of that if they don’t trust you.

In the summer, my partner and I go for long walks after dinner. We make a point to disconnect from our phones so that we can engage with each other in a more meaningful way. Sometimes we just talk about our days, or something funny we saw, and sometimes it’s more serious. In the winter we cuddle up on the couch with tea or hot chocolate, put on some music, and chat. We make a point to be with each other (without screens around) daily. These conversations build up trust and communication so that we can make ourselves vulnerable and discuss more sensitive things like mental health.

LEARN THEIR TRIGGERS

For many mental health problems there are triggers — things that set off a person’s condition — and once you learn what your partner’s triggers are, you can be better prepared to help them. For example, my partner works in law enforcement and struggles with PTSD. He’s much better than he was five years ago, but it still crops up now and again.

When we first got together, we sat down and discussed his triggers. His triggers are working too many hours, drinking, not being able to go to the gym or study martial arts regularly, and not sleeping enough. Once I knew what his triggers were, I knew what to look for. So, if I notice that he hasn’t slept enough, or hasn’t made time to go to the gym, I point it out. Understanding his triggers helps ensure that there are two of us looking out for him and making sure that he’s okay.

HAVE PATIENCE

Having good mental health is not a contest that you win. You can’t just achieve it and never have to deal with it again. It’s a process that will sometimes be great, and other times won’t be. One of the best things that you can do for your partner is have patience.

Mental health is like climbing a mountain, only to fall down it and have to climb it again. There will be times that your partner’s journey will frustrate you because they’re covering the same ground again and again, but you need to have patience — they’re already struggling and they don’t need anything from you but support.

A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE

It’s almost become a cliché, but eating right, getting enough sleep, and exercising are three key things that you can do to help your partner with their mental health (and your overall health as well). Your body needs these three things to function properly, and when you deprive yourself of them, you suffer.

One of the ways that you can help your partner is by developing good health habits (like these). If you’re not a great cook, take a cooking class together so you can both learn. If you don’t exercise enough, commit to going for a walk after dinner, or sign up together at a gym or fitness class. Sleep, I find, is the thing that can be the most easily neglected, so set an alarm to remind yourself to go to bed, and start winding down together — maybe you read for twenty minutes in bed, maybe you chat about plans for the weekend, or cuddle. Get into the habit of enjoying going to sleep.

Being supportive when your partner struggles with mental health can seem daunting, but once you talk about it, and learn how you can help, it’s simply just another way that you can be there for them. It is important to remember, however, that you are not your partner’s saviour, and sometimes being supportive can mean talking to them about getting professional help. The key is to always keep their trust, and work together to maintain healthy habits and a happy relationship.

mother and daughter

How To Talk To Your Parents about Racism

Over the last few weeks, many of us have had to face a pretty ugly realization: Some of the people we love the most and who’ve cared for us throughout our lives are also people who harbor racist beliefs.

Hearing our parents make racist comments can be particularly upsetting, especially if you’re close to them and talk to them regularly. But the good news is, our family members are the people we’re likely to have the biggest effect on because of our close personal relationships with them.

Addressing racism in your parents—or any loved one, for that matter—can feel daunting, but it’s not impossible. We reached out to three therapists for advice on the best ways to open the conversation and actually help our parents overcome their prejudices:

1. Understand where your parents are coming from.

Try to have a mindset of understanding about your parents’experiences that may have led them to have these beliefs, says therapist Alyssa Mancao, LCSW.

“Keep in mind the generational differences and the conditioning that was bestowed onto them. Remind yourself that you have more access to information that they may not have had access to growing up, due to the whitewashing of history books and absence of social media and internet use during their times,” she explains. “Approach your parents with compassion and understanding. It is also important to note that your parents have had these views and beliefs for their entire lives.”

Understanding your parents background will help you meet them where they’re at and help them unpack prejudices that may be a product of their generation, culture, or upbringing.

2. Avoid using blame statements.

People rarely respond well when they feel like they’re being blamed or attacked, licensed psychologist Ebony Butler, Ph.D., points out. You want to avoid putting your parents on the defensive from the start of the conversation.

“The thing to remember in these types of cases is that you want to be heard and want to feel listened to,” she explains. “Leading with statements that accuse or place blame increases people’s defensiveness and decreases their ability to hear with the intent of understanding. Instead, they listen with the intent to defend.”

Butler recommends leaning on factual information and your trusty “I” statements, rather than “you” statements. Approach with a spirit of warmth and love.

3. Provide them with information and resources.

It can be hard to find the right words, especially when we ourselves are still learning and educating ourselves. In such cases, it can be helpful to offer up links and resources that you’ve found helpful that you think might also be helpful for your parents.

Mancao explains:
“Oftentimes, when parents hold racist sentiments, their sentiments stem from distortion thinking (overgeneralization) and skewed media perspectives, and therefore it is highly important to approach them with factual information regarding institutional racism, systemic inequality, and social stratification. This is a lot to learn and unload, and therefore, when approaching your parents, coming in informed will be helpful. I would also recommend looking for infographics that break down information, offering to watch an educational documentary together, and finding information in their primary language if English is not their first language.”

It can also be helpful to watch movies or podcasts about racism together, she adds, or you can host a book club about race as a family.

4. Remember that helping someone recognize their mistakes and grow from them is a way of showing love.

It’s not your responsibility to “fix” your parents, Mancao says. They are responsible for themselves.

But she notes, “This does not mean be complacent, throw up your hands, and say ‘it is what it is.’ No, we do have a responsibility to share education with them, continually challenge, point out errors in their thinking, and be steady with our approach.”

And as humans who care about justice and equity, she adds, we all have a responsibility to educate each other and to question beliefs that uphold systemic oppression.

5. Know when it’s time to establish boundaries.

As important as it may feel to you to change your parents’ minds about racism at all costs, remember that your time and energy are limited—and there may be better uses of your resources than getting into huge arguments with your parents every time you see them.

“Instead of focusing on changing your parents’ mind to make you feel at ease, use that motivation to motivate others around you to change their viewpoints and hold others accountable,” therapist Patrice Douglas, LMFT, recommends.

If your parents have persistently racist beliefs, Douglas adds that you may need to establish boundaries with them. Unless you’re experiencing significant harm from interacting with them, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to cut your parents off entirely.

“Changing your parent’s mind may never happen, but it’s important to understand where you stand and how you want to move forward in your own life,” she explains. “Instead of your parents having a major role in your life, you may decide to decrease contact and only check in when necessary or have surface conversations with them.”

6. Take care of yourself throughout this process.

“Addressing racism and a person’s anti-blackness can provoke feelings of anger, rage, and helplessness, especially when you feel like your conversation is falling on deaf ears,” Mancao notes. “Learn when to take a pause from the conversation.”

Reach out to loved ones or a mental health professional who can help you cope with the understandably jarring experience of feeling so alienated from a parent.

“This level of rupture can feel like high-level betrayal and might be difficult to recover from,” Butler adds. “In such instances, it can be really beneficial to enlist the help of someone trained in healing and working through interpersonal betrayal and trauma.”

7. Be patient.

“You won’t change a person’s entire belief system in one conversation,” Mancao reminds. “Be steady, persistent, and patient with the process while you keep in mind that these are tightly held beliefs, and it can be quite common for a person to get defensive when their belief systems are being challenged. The conversations you are having with your parents are planting seeds. It’s important to have realistic expectations of how quickly your parents digest and process information.”

Change takes time. Be patient.

Article by: Kelly Gonsalves of Mind,Body Green