A Raleigh Therapist's Blog

Thoughts on counseling, healing, and creating the life you want

Couples Counseling Myths Debunked and Why I'm a Geek

trivial pursuitYou know, I’ll bet that if you gathered all my couples counseling clients in a room and made them contestants in some Trivial Pursuit of marriage data contest, they would blow the other team away. They might do it groaning about how they never want to hear the words “Gottman” or “Research Says” again, but they would kick serious behind. And that is because I’m a big ol’ geek. If you’re sitting down with me to work on your relationship, you’re going to learn more than a little bit about how scientists figure out what makes joyful couples tick.

Don’t get me wrong here–couples are emotional units that have their own rules of governance–many of which are spiritual, emotional and pretty abstract. However, as couples therapists, we are invested in doing more of stuff that is helpful and less of stuff that isn’t. So, people like scientist John Gottman spend an awful lot of time trying to figure out what kinds of things are consistent among happy couples so that we can encourage those behaviors in our therapy rooms. (Some of my clients are reading this right now thinking, “Encourage? How about shove with a stick towards greatness?” I love them all, I swear.)

So, if you’re curious, here are a few of the myths of couples counseling that my clients and I explore every week:

1) Fighting like you like one another: Weird, right? But research does not bear out the myth that happy couples never fight. In fact, couples that never fight might actually have a real emotional disconnect that prevents them from feeling safe in experiencing even constructive conflict. In relationships that work, couples can disagree passionately. What makes a real difference, however, is accepting repair attempts from your partner, softening the startup to your critiques and utilizing assets like a shared sense of humor.

2) Change is hard, but it’s also rewarding: I seriously hate the idea that if you’re “meant” to be together things will just flow and you won’t have to change yourself for your partner. Poppycock. Living with another person in any kind of long-term fashion means that you are agreeing to be molded and shaped by the other. Research shows that when couples accept one another’s influence, they are both happier. I will encourage you to make changes that don’t feel natural at first. That’s ok, it won’t feel natural for me to go run a marathon right now. But, I am pretty certain that if I continue to train past the discomfort and weirdness of it all, my body will decide that being a runner is a pretty “natural” state of affairs. See, it just takes some work.

3) Affairs cause divorce: Actually, in many cases, they don’t. Research shows that something much more insidious than infidelity is usually responsible for that. Only somewhere around 20% of couples say affairs caused the separation. The other whopping 80% of partners say it was a deterioration of connection and emotional intimacy that delivered the death blow. How scary is that? Have you ever read that T.S. Elliott poem, the one that says, “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but a whimper?” (Yes, it’s a double entendre and it stays.) So, I am going to push you to connect with your partner emotionally, even when it’s scary and vulnerable. I have a few skills in my bag of tricks that are almost guaranteed to help you get results in this area.

What beliefs do you hold about relationships that might not be doing you any favors? Are you ready to get your relationship back on track in the new year? I would love to get together and talk about it. I offer a free 30-minute consultation, after all. Come on by!

Your Partner in Healing,

Holly

Are you looking for compassionate individual, couples or group therapy in Raleigh? Call me today to schedule a FREE 30-minute consultation to learn how counseling can help you. Please contact me at (919) 714-7455 or email me at holly@lotustherapycenter.com. Visit me on the web at www.lotustherapycenter.com or:

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Is It Normal? Sex After an Affair

Couples therapists probably have an interesting view on what’s normal. We spend our lives as invited guests on the insides of other people’s relationships. Starting couples therapy is kind of like inviting someone over when you haven’t cleaned up your house and you’re still sitting around in your PJs. It’s your personal space–one in which you are at your most vulnerable–and you may not be all that happy with the state of it. But, as therapists our jobs are to help you take a look at the clutter, streamline and do a good spring cleaning. At our best, we help you find your own special brew of normal.

As I mentioned in my last blog, ‘normal’ is a relative term. Each relationship has its own balance point that is unique and special. So, in the case of this blog, what I really mean to say is, “is it common?” But frankly, “Is it Common” just didn’t sound as good as a title. So, we’re going with normal instead.

This blog is my first foray into creating a column that tackles some of the things you’re curious about, but may feel too awkward to broach. Not everyone has access to a couples counselor, and even the ones that do have a real human reticence to inquire about certain things. The following question is one of the ones that many clients who are coping with a partner’s affair ask…and then say they feel silly for asking. I think it’s an important one:

“Is it normal for me to feel sexually reconnected to my partner after I have discovered his/her affair? Does this mean I’m not “really” dealing with it?”

I think that lots of couples experience this phenomenon. And, I suppose if you want to look at it in a dark light, you could say that it’s a kind of hysterical bonding, clinging to one another in the face of a huge injury to the relationship like refugees after a bombing. It is probably some of that. But it’s something else too–something much more positive. It’s a way to redraw a boundary around the two of you, a way to honor the fact that you have chosen again to be together despite this terrible chapter of your lives. When couples get married, infidelity seems like a fictional nightmare. It’s the very kind of tragedy that could never happen. I mean, how often have you heard someone cavalierly say, “Oh, I love so-and-so. But if he/she cheated on me, that would be it!”

However, what if the worst happens and you don’t want it to be it after all? Surprise.

I think it’s a powerful thing when couples are somehow able to crawl back from that ledge. In my eyes, it denotes something important about the partners’ abilities to choose one another all over again.  And, I think it’s absolutely normal to reach for one another, even in the face of this kind of relational tragedy. Sex after an infidelity is something that should be approached with mutual respect, and an agreement that if intimacy triggers the betrayed partner and he/she needs to stop, that those boundaries will be respected. But, there is nothing wrong with wanting to make love with your partner sooner rather than later. That is normal.

Have you got questions about how to make your normal even better? Please consider this my invitation to you to come in and talk about them.

 

Your Partner in Healing,

Holly

Are you looking for compassionate individual, couples or group therapy in Raleigh? Call me today to schedule a FREE 30-minute consultation to learn how counseling can help you. Please contact me at (919) 714-7455 or email me at holly@lotustherapycenter.com. Visit me on the web at www.lotustherapycenter.com or:

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Failure is Feedback

“One who fears failure limits his activities. Failure is only the opportunity to more intelligently begin again.” —Henry Ford

I have to admit something to you. I almost didn’t write a blog on this topic. Here’s the reason why: if you took me seriously on this idea in any area of your life it would put me right out of business. Finally, a tid bit that can be applied to anything you can imagine, because in its simplicity, it is revolutionary.

Over the years I have worked with a number of highly-accomplished clients. These folks are professional athletes, politicians, business owners and entertainers. You would recognize their names if I told them to you, but since I’m an ethical and law-abiding kind of therapist I won’t do that. Seeing as how I won’t spill those goods, I’ll just give you the important part. Would you like to know the difference between these folks and the rest of us mere mortals?  They believe that failure is feedback. 

Many individuals have a faulty interior logic that tells them that if they don’t succeed the first few times, they probably aren’t meant to do that thing. Worse, they may believe that these initial missteps before greatness are evidence that something is amiss in their intelligence or creativity. High-achieving individuals brainstorm about how their failures give them evidence of the way forward. What new twist or turn has been added to the map that you couldn’t see before? What has become clear?

Therapy is helpful because with help, you can quit catastrophizing and break your goals down into small enough pieces that they become possible. What prep work do you need to do in order to make these successes happen? The worst move you can make is to do too much too soon because you are ashamed that what you envision hasn’t already materialized. Let’s discover why failure has happened in the past and use that as a template to make the microadjustments that will get you on the path to achieving all that you are capable of doing.

Why don’t you come on in so that we can talk about it? I would be delighted to co-architect a plan for an exciting new year.

Your Partner in Healing,

Are you looking for compassionate individual, couples or group therapy in Raleigh? Call me today to schedule a FREE 30-minute consultation to learn how counseling can help you. Please contact me at (919) 714-7455 or email me at holly@lotustherapycenter.com. Visit me on the web at www.lotustherapycenter.com or:

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Couples Therapy is Wonderfully Weird and So are You

If there’s any one thing that I am extremely dedicated to doing when we first meet for couples therapy, it’s finding out how weird you are. I’ll just let that sink in, because I mean that in the most flattering of manners.

See, it’s like this–each relationship is similar to a thumbprint. Who you are together is different from who you would be alone, or who you would be with any other person you had chosen for yourself. Embedded in that conjoined uniqueness is the sweet spot for your relationship. And doggone it, I’m not going to stop until we find it, own it and honor it. You are in the process of writing a story together that doesn’t read like anyone else’s. I want to know more about it. Exploring each couple’s mythology and helping you reauthor disempowering narratives is my area of joy and expertise.

Couples often tell me that they like working with me because I’m irreverent. I can go with that, actually. But, part of the reason I make an effort to be silly sometimes is because it helps me find out more about a couple’s shared sense of humor. Remembering why you tickled one another–are you both dark and sarcastic or goofy and light hearted…do you have an even mix of both–helps me sort out how you will defuse conflicts with kindness and work on the darker parts of your story. Often, partners land in my office for pretty serious troubles. Affairs, spouses growing apart or big disconnects over boundaries are common topics in the therapy room. What gets you out of those holes is a ladder made of compassion and yes, humor.

Coming in to talk to a therapist can be a daunting task. Here you are with your private concerns, sitting with a complete stranger bent on asking you a multitude of personal things. Maybe your burdens are things you haven’t even admitted to your partner. Please know that I take that our commitment to working towards a better place seriously. I am grateful that you are allowing me the honor of helping you coauthor a new story of health, happiness and laughter. Why don’t you come on in so that we can get started making your union a lighter place?

Your Partner in Healing,

Holly

Are you looking for compassionate individual, couples or group therapy in Raleigh? Call me today to schedule a FREE 30-minute consultation to learn how counseling can help you. Please contact me at (919) 714-7455 or email me at holly@lotustherapycenter.com. Visit me on the web at www.lotustherapycenter.com or:

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Why Even One Session of Couples Therapy Can Help You

Would you like to know a little-known secret revelation about couples therapy? Here it is: the first session is often the most helpful. That doesn’t mean that it’s all you can benefit from, or that a longer course of counseling wouldn’t yield even better results. Of course it would. However, I have noticed that for many folks, those first sessions are pretty profound.

Why is that, you ask?

* Triangulating another person into the relationship provides relief from gridlock

* Therapists can help clients begin to change the tenor of their conversations immediately

* Couples therapy gives each partner permission to change while saving face

* The main job of any couples therapist is to help clients inject kindness back into their lives

* Couples therapists offer resources (readings, exercises) that clients may not have discovered otherwise, and can              complete outside of session

I think couples often deny themselves the benefits couples work provides because time and finances are tight and they believe that one session won’t be enough to notice any difference. But, as far as I’m concerned, that isn’t true. When clients tell me upfront that they are going to be using me as a springboard to better things rather than as a weekly addition to their lives, I prepare for the session differently. We will use the first part of the session to examine what common goals the couple has and what behaviors or patterns prevent those goals from being met. During the next part of the session, I will introduce practical tools and resources for study outside of the session. This doesn’t mean that I won’t want you to come back. I will hope that you do. But, I think it’s important to have a lifeline sometimes. Just because you can’t do a whole course of therapy doesn’t mean you should do none at all. We can also work together to do shorter, mini sessions that will follow up on the changes we set into motion.

Have you been curious about how couples therapy can help you, but concerned that you can’t accommodate that kind of commitment right now? Why don’t you give me a call so that we can talk about tailoring a session to your needs.

Your Partner in Healing,

Holly

Are you looking for individual, couples or group therapy in Raleigh? Call me today to schedule a FREE 30-minute consultation to learn how counseling can help you. Please contact me at (919) 714-7455 or email me at holly@lotustherapycenter.com. Visit me on the web at www.lotustherapycenter.com or:

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Happy New Year

So, here we are again–January 2nd. I know that everyone gives New Year’s resolutions a bad rap because we all “have” to make one. So, there are tons of snarky references to these little promises as nothing more than  guilt-fueled ideals that will last precisely from Dec. 31st-January 5th.

But, I kind of like the idea that once a year, we all take a collective deep breath and examine the stuff in our lives that needs to evolve. If New Year’s resolutions do nothing else, they give us permission to renew the vows we have made to ourselves before. You know, even if they haven’t exactly panned out so far. If you decide to start doing something radically different at some random time in August, your friends will kind of go, “huh?” But, isn’t it glorious that once a year in January, you can declare yourself on the path to be a mountain climber, or a person who doesn’t drink like a fish any longer or any other new identity you can come up with, and mostly nobody questions it? They may not think you can achieve it, but at least they don’t begrudge you the attempt.

For these reasons I love January 2nd. The year is yawning out in front of us like a blank page. It’s up to us to challenge ourselves in new ways, or to pick up the gauntlet again and go after that same old pattern that is getting us under its thumb. I propose that you come in and let me help you get your goals for this year underway. Even one or two sessions can help you do the most important part of this work–breaking down the big goals into smaller, achievable morsels of success. Most people fail because they are ashamed that the goals that they have set haven’t been met already. This sense of failure leads you to go for the full Monty too soon. Houses are built by creating a strong foundation, and cutting each and every piece to fit in sequence. They aren’t made by slapping everything together at once. This approach helps reduce the time you struggle deciding how to start, and gets you a foot hold into success.

We can begin your sessions in person and then schedule shorter phone or Skype “power sessions” to keep you on track. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to get our 2013 plans underway!

Your Partner in Healing,

Holly

Are you looking for individual, couples or group therapy in Raleigh? Call me today to schedule a FREE 30-minute consultation to learn how counseling can help you. Please contact me at (919) 714-7455 or email me at holly@lotustherapycenter.com. Visit me on the web at www.lotustherapycenter.com or:

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