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

Downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Welcome Jacob Martinez, Milwaukee’s ACT Expert And Relationship Therapist

You should have listened to your gut, but didn’t, and now you feel stuck. Stuck in a life (relationship, career, city) that isn’t making you happy. The tricky part is…you know intuitively what changes you need to make, but are frozen by your mind, expectations, social pressure, or other responsibilities.
     As an experienced therapist, Jacob can help you create a road map to re-align your life based on what matters most. He is passionate about helping his clients cultivate a life they love.
     Jacob works with highly motivated, deep-thinking individuals who know that tomorrow is not guaranteed and are eager to live a more fulfilling life. He enjoys working with first-time therapy clients, and those who have tried therapy before, but are looking for a more action-oriented therapist who can provide specific guidance.
     Jacob also enjoys working with couples and relationship units who struggle communicating. After careful examination of the way his clients communicate, Jacob offers feedback on crafting words that are more likely to be understood by their partner. Through communication training, deeper connections and more workable solutions can be found. Jacob uses the Gottman Method for relationship counseling, a research-based approach to successful relationships.
     Ultimately, Jacob excels at helping his clients find new and different ways of coping, while moving toward what matters to them most according to their values.
Read more about Jacob on our website:
https://www.hillarycounseling.com/meet-jacob-martinez-lpc/
Email us at info@hillarycounseling.com to schedule a FREE 30-minute consultation.
Let us help you “Live A Life You Love.”
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

Married couple supporting each other

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

Happy couple enjoying their relationship

Cabin Fever for Couples…Here’s How to Make the Most of It

If you live…anywhere in the world, you’re probably practicing social distancing. If you live with your partner, you might be craving a little social distance from them.

Around the world couples are being kept in a pressure cooker called… our homes.

Depending on your dynamic, it might be a little harder than you thought to keep things sailing smoothly.

It’s perfectly normal to experience a little cabin fever at this point, but don’t let isolation turn you and your beloved against one another. Like a research team on Antarctica, you’re going to have to work together to get through the winter til the snow thaws. No matter how annoying your teammates snoring gets.

Here are some key points to battling cabin fever as a cohabitating, quarantined couple.

COMMUNICATE

Now, more than ever, it’s important for you and your beloved to find ways to communicate clearly and respectfully. If you were the last two people on earth, would you passive aggressively complain about the dishes while your teammate is working? Probably not. So why try the same in your own home? You need to think of your household like a team in this time of crisis, and with any team you’re only as strong as your weakest link.

Finding constructive ways to communicate any problems you come across are incredibly important for keeping your team strong and stave off cabin fever. When in doubt, take a deep breath, and remember that your sweetie loves you before spilling any harsh truths about the bad breath that’s been driving a wedge between you for days.

KEEP IN TOUCH WITH THE OUTSIDE WORLD

Just because we’re being asked to stay in our homes, doesn’t mean that the outside world has disappeared! It’s important for you and your partner to keep up contact outside of your apartment bubble. Whether it’s solo calls with your family, or a group hang with other couples, connecting with others can help brighten your mood and give perspective on your current situation. And please, don’t be afraid to have fun with your friends!

Those of us who are healthy need to take every scrap of love that we can right now. So help the greater good and have a Zoom happy hour or play some games with your loved ones on House Party. There are so many great apps to help you stay connected and refreshed for the coming weeks of being cooped up with your honey.

GET SOME AIR

When things are feeling overwhelming or stagnant at home, there’s no harm in blowing off steam by going on a walk by yourself. As long as you can maintain social distancing that is! Go on off-peak hours or to a remote location so that you can skip the weekend bustle of most city parks. Do your part, but also, look after yourself. If going outside is going to help your mental health, and keep cabin fever at bay, then please do it! In a safe way.

If you can’t safely go outside, open up a window! Light some incense! Play some tunes! Anything to get the energy flowing and the mood lifted is a good idea right now. Your sweetie will thank you later. Also: If you and your partner were stranded on the international space station, you’d be isolated for a year AND you couldn’t even open a window! So, you know….be thankful!

MAKE A SCHEDULE

Speaking of space stations, Scott Kelly was isolated on the international space station for an entire year, and his biggest advice for isolating with one other person? Make a schedule. “My wife and I have been making a schedule like we were in space because if you keep to that schedule and it has variety, I think what people will find are the days go by much quicker. ” Keeping a schedule for you and your cutie is a great way to maintain productivity while also spending quality time together. While we’re stuck in the same place, every day doesn’t have to be the same! And scheduling can help achieve that.

CHANGE THINGS UP

After you’ve made that schedule, remember to add in time for whatever the hell you want. Embrace the chaos of the world right now and do what feels good! Have sex, draw a couples bath, take up a new hobby, or hop on the bandwagon and bake a loaf of bread. Doing something outside of your normal routine has the potential to brighten your day and bring you closer as a couple.

Doing something productive together can be fun, but making impromptu margaritas on a Tuesday night is even funner. Embrace your inner child and remember that we’re in uncharted territory right now. That means there’s no rules for what’s normal behavior, so drink that drink, make love in the middle of the day, and do what makes you happy right now. Within reason of course.

REMEMBER YOU’RE IN THIS TOGETHER

More than ever, COVID-19 has made us realize exactly how connected we all are. Globally, nationally, and as a household. Whatever problems you and your sweetie might encounter, remember that while you’re living together. You’re each other’s lifelines. Look out for one another and know who your sweetie wants you to call if things get bad. You can get through cabin fever, but only together. Winter will pass, and spring will come. Try to have as much fun as you can while we wait for the thaw.

children with emotional trauma

How Unhealed Childhood Wounds Wreak Havoc in Our Adult Lives

“The emotional wounds and negative patterns of childhood often manifest as mental conflicts, emotional drama, and unexplained pains in adulthood.” ~Unknown

I am a firm believer in making the unconscious conscious. We cannot influence what we don’t know about. We cannot fix when we don’t know what’s wrong.

I made many choices in my life that I wouldn’t have made had I recognized the unconscious motivation behind them, based on my childhood conditioning.

In the past, I beat myself up over my decisions countless times. Now I feel that I needed to make these choices and have these experiences so that the consequences would help me become aware of what I wasn’t aware of. Maybe, after all, that was the exact way it had to be.

In any case, I am now hugely aware of how we, unbeknownst to us, negatively impact our own lives.

As children, we form unconscious beliefs that motivate our choices, and come up with strategies for keeping ourselves safe. They’re usually effective for us as children; as adults, however, applying our childhood strategies can cause drama, distress, and damage. They simply no longer work. Instead, they wreak havoc in our lives.

One of my particular childhood wounds was that I felt alone. I felt too scared to talk to anyone in my family about my fears or my feelings. It didn’t seem like that was something anyone else did, and so I stayed quiet. There were times I feared I could no longer bear the crushing loneliness and would just die without anyone noticing.

Sometimes the feeling of loneliness would strangle and threaten to suffocate me. I remember trying to hide my fear and panic. I remember screaming into my pillow late at night trying not to wake anyone. It was then that I decided that I never wanted anyone else to feel like me. This pain, I decided, was too much to bear, and I did not wish it on anyone.

As an adult, I sought out, whom I perceived as, people in need. When I saw someone being excluded, I’d be by their side even if it meant that I would miss out in some way. I’d sit with them, talk to them, be with them. I knew nothing about rescuing in those days. It just felt like the right thing to do: see someone alone and be with them so they wouldn’t feel lonely or excluded.

Looking back now, I was clearly trying to heal my childhood wound through other people. I tried to give them what I wish I’d had when I was younger: someone kind, encouraging, and supportive by my side. I tried to prevent them from feeling lonely. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—it’s kind to recognize others in pain and try to be there for them.

The problem with my strategy was that I chose people who were alone for a reason: they behaved badly and no one wanted to be around them. I chose people healthy people would not choose to be with. People who treated others poorly and did not respect themselves, or anyone else for that matter. That included me.

And so I suffered. I suffered because I chose badly for myself. And I chose badly for myself because I followed unconscious motivations. I obediently followed my conditioning. I followed the rules I came up with as a child, but playing by those rules doesn’t work out very well in adulthood.

I never understood why I suffered. I couldn’t see that I had actively welcomed people into my life who simply were not good for me. It didn’t matter where I went or what I changed; for one reason or another, I’d always end up in the same kind of cycle, the same difficult situation.

At one point I realized that I was the common denominator. It then still took me years to figure out what was going on.

Eventually, my increasing self-awareness moved me from my passive victim position into a proactive role of empowered creator. Life has never been the same since. Thankfully. But it wasn’t easy.

I had to look deep within and see truths about myself that were, at first, difficult to bear. But once I was willing to face them and feel the harshness of the reality, the truth set me free. It no longer made sense to play by rules I had long outgrown. I didn’t realize that I had become the adult I had always craved as a child. But I was not responsible for rescuing other adults—that was their job.

I have since witnessed the same issue with everyone I meet and work with. One particular person, who had endured terrible abuse growing up, was constantly giving people the protection he had craved but never received as a child. He gave what he did not receive. And yet, in his adult life it caused nothing but heartache for him.

When he saw, what he perceived as, an injustice like someone being rude to someone else or a driver driving without consideration for others, he intervened. Unfortunately, he often got it wrong and most people didn’t want his input, which left him feeling rejected and led to him becoming verbally aggressive. Eventually, his ‘helping’—his anger and boundary crossing—landed him in prison.

He was not a bad person—far from it. He was simply run by his unconscious motivation to save his younger self. He projected and displaced this onto other people who did not need saving and never asked for his help. But his conditioning won every time and in the process wrecked his life.

What ends this cycle is awareness, understanding, and compassion.

We must learn to look at the consequences of our actions or inactions and then dig deep. We must ask ourselves: What patterns do I keep repeating? What must I believe about myself, others, and life in order to act this way? Why do I want what I want and why do I do what I do? And what would I do differently if I stopped acting on my childhood conditioning?

Beliefs fuel all of our choices. When we don’t like the consequences of our actions, we must turn inward to shine a light onto the unhelpful unconscious beliefs we formed as children. Only awareness can help us find and soothe them. Only understanding can help us make sense of them. And only compassion can help us forgive ourselves for the patterns we unknowingly perpetuated.

We didn’t know what we didn’t know. We couldn’t have made any different choices. But once we begin to see and understand how our minds work and how our conditioning drives everything we do, we grow more powerful than we ever thought possible.

It is then that we are able to make healthier, wiser, and more life-enhancing choices for ourselves. We can then break the cycles that previously kept us stuck in unfulfilling and often harmful situations and relationships.

There is always a different choice. We just have to begin to see it.

Article by: Marlena Tillhon-Haslam of Tiny Buddha

Happy couple working on their marriage

Go On These 8 Dates to Save Your Marriage

I’m just going to say it.

I can’t imagine most couples — including me and my husband — following “Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love” to the letter.

I have mad respect for the authors, world-renowned marriage experts and Gottman Institute co-founders John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman. Together with their co-authors, Doug Abrams and Rachel Carlton Abrams, they bring decades of scientific and clinical research to the table. Their work is solid.

Their new book, out in time for Valentine’s Day, spells out eight dates every couple should go on and the conversations that should transpire.

“Relationships don’t last without talk,” they write. “This book will help you create your own love story by giving you the framework for the eight conversations you and your partner should have before you commit to each other, or once you’ve committed to each other, as well as throughout the years, whenever it is time to recommit. That might happen when you have a baby, when one of you loses a job, during a health crisis, or when the relationship has begun to feel stale.”

Brilliant.

“Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love” has advice for couples.
Still. I have a hard time imagining meeting my husband’s gaze across the table, taking a sip of wine and saying, “I commit to creating our own romantic rituals for connection and creating more passion outside of the bedroom by expressing my affection and love for you.” (Pause for more wine.) “I commit to having a 6-second kiss every time we say goodbye or hello to each other for the next week. I commit to discussing, exploring and renewing our sexual relationship.”

And yet, there it is. On Page 112. “Take turns reading this affirmation out loud to each other. Maintain eye contact while reciting.”

The authors sent more than 300 couples — married, unmarried, heterosexual, same-sex — on the suggested dates and asked them to share their experiences. The couples reported becoming better friends and falling more deeply in love.

I believe it. But I believe it the way I believe eating raw kale for lunch every day will keep me healthier. I’ll eat some raw kale. But I’m also going to eat some tacos.

And maybe that’s the way to approach “Eight Dates” — as a menu. You pick and choose what your relationship is hungry for and leave the rest for another time.

No. 1: The “lean on me” date: This one’s intended to get you talking about trust, commitment and what makes you feel safe and cherished. Without blaming or accusing, ask each other:

How did your parents show their commitment to each other? How did they show a lack of commitment to each other? What do you need from me to show that I’m committed? What areas do you think we need to work on to build trust?

No. 2: The “agree to disagree” date: This is intended to help you address, rather than flee from, conflict. Before you head out, the book suggests an exercise that asks you and your partner to consider some of your differences — in neatness, punctuality, wanting time apart versus wanting time together, how you socialize. With the recognition that not every conflict can (or needs to be) resolved, talk about how to accommodate those differences and ask the following:

How was conflict handled in your family growing up? How do you feel about anger? How do you like to make up after a disagreement?

No. 3: The “let’s get it on” date: In which you discuss how sex and passion should/will look in your relationship. With an open mind and a willingness to be vulnerable, ask some of the following:

What are some of your favorite times we’ve had sex? Is there something you’ve always wanted to try, but have never asked? What can I do to make our sex life better?

No. 4: The “cost of love” date: Work and money are the themes here, and the authors provide a questionnaire to complete before your date. How well off were your parents? Did your family take vacations or travel together when you were growing up? What is your most painful money memory?

Arrive at the date prepared to discuss your answers, and ask each other some of the following: How do you feel about work now? What is your biggest fear around money? What do you need to feel safe talking about how you spend money or make money?

No. 5: The “room to grow” date: Here’s where you talk about what family looks like to each of you. The conversations on this date vary, obviously, depending whether you’re a new-ish couple or married with kids.

For couples without kids, they suggest: What does your ideal family look like? Just us? Kids? What problems do you think we might have maintaining intimacy in our future family?

For couples with kids: How did (or didn’t) your parents appear to maintain their closeness after children? How will we?

No. 6: The “play with me” date: Because shared adventure and fun breed happiness, this date encourages couples to think of new things to try together. (Go fishing! Rent Segways!)

Show up for the date with a list of things you’d like to try, and talk about the following after you share your lists: What adventures do you want to have before you die? What’s a one-day adventure you could imagine us having together?

No. 7: The “something to believe in” date: Growth and spirituality are the topics here. The key, on this one, is asking questions before assuming you know what your partner believes.

They suggest asking: What carries you through your most difficult times? How have you changed in your religious beliefs over the course of your life? What spiritual beliefs do you want to pass on to our kids?

No. 8: The “lifetime of love” date: Talk about your dreams. Not the one where you keep showing up for the history final naked. The one where you find out what your partner wants most out of life: To travel the world? To compete and win at something? To finally ask a particular person for forgiveness?

Again, there’s a questionnaire to fill out ahead of the date. Again, there are questions to ask on the date. On this one, though, I want to highlight the affirmation you’re supposed to tell each other out loud:

“I commit to fully exploring and understanding your dreams and to doing one thing to support one of your dreams in the next six months.”

How beautiful is that? I feel like that statement alone, said with sincerity, could launch and sustain a lifetime of love.

Article By: Heidi Stevens of The Chicago Tribune