A Raleigh Therapist's Blog

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

A Word About Loving Your Parents Well and a Freebie

luck dragon“If you stop to think about it, you’ll have to admit that all the stories in the world consist essentially of twenty-six letters. The letters are always the same, only the arrangement varies. From letters words are formed, from words sentences, from sentences chapters, and from chapters stories.” –Michael Ende

That’s a luck dragon over to the left, by the way. He’ll be helpful later in this post for getting you a free session. Read on, fearless reader!

All of my posts here on A Raleigh Therapist’s blog are directly related to topics I’m covering in sessions with clients. Sometimes, it seems like lots of folks come in with the exact same concern all at once. I’m not sure if that’s a phase of the moon thing, or perhaps this is simply the time of the year for it. But, lately the topic du jour has been this–how in the world do I get along with my parents as an adult child?

Despite all the colorful things I told my folks back when I was an angry Goth girl covered in black clothes and magenta hair, I think they did a pretty good job at shepherding me towards adulthood. And, to tell you the truth, my angry Goth days were sort of essential in shaping me into the person that I am now. That’s maybe a blog post for another day related to a comforting speech I often give parents of my teenage/young adult clients that goes something like, “I also wore black nail polish, had dark taste in music and nurtured a penchant for Sylvia Plath. Here I sit before you in boring, tasteful pumps with a Ph.D.–it’ll probably be fine.”

But, in all honesty, it’s not as simple as that sometimes, is it? Often your differences with your parents continue on long after the turbulence of those early years has settled.  The waters are not always smooth sailing when trying to negotiate an adult identity with the people who will almost always look at you (fondly even) as though you were three.

The relationship with our parents, for most of us, is the first  and most complex bond we’ll ever know until we have children ourselves. It’s rich in both love and conflict, and in so many ways is the template on which we base our adult relationships. So, what happens if the relationship with your parents is one in which you need to set loving boundaries?

1) You’re a Mean One, Mr./Ms. Grinch: You have a right, and even more importantly, a responsibility to behave in a fashion that is congruent with your own morals. When you allow people you love, your parents included, to push you to do things outside of those values (for instance, getting into screaming matches, sidestepping your spouse, or going into debt to offer financial assistance) you are not behaving in a loving way. The worst thing about capitulating to demands that aren’t in alignment with your sense of integrity is that it breeds a particularly vicious kind of resentment on your part. Then, it is impossible to behave in a manner that honors your parents, let alone allows you to enjoy that relationship. Let your parents know what your boundaries are and stick to them in a way that isn’t punitive.

2) Guilty as Charged: The main reason that most folks don’t want to have boundaries with their folks is because they don’t want to feel guilty. And, I think this is pretty freakin’ normal. Your parents may have sacrificed for you. Perhaps they had a difficult upbringing and have done their best to make sure you were raised differently. Denying some requests does not mean you don’t honor your parents’ contributions or that you stop making commentary on your gratitude for them. Rather, it means that the requests you extend yourself to offer you do with a joyful heart. Boundaries don’t mean you’re angry with anyone. If your family of origin translates boundaries as anger, you may need some help to sort out what to say.

3)Boundaries aren’t Walls: Sometimes it’s hard to imagine setting boundaries because we are concerned that the people with whom we set them will think we don’t love them any longer. It may be hard to believe this, but you can love more deeply and intensely when you know where you stand. Then, you don’t have to be angry at yourself and by extension, other people because you allowed yourself to be pushed into places you never wanted to go.

Could you use some help in figuring out how to set loving boundaries? Do you need a better sense of space in your relationships? I’m here to help. I’ll even give you a gimmie. If you’d like to win a free session with me, answer this question about one of my own very first acts of parenting:

My youngest son is named after one of the two lead characters in my favorite book by writer Michael Ende. I loved the idea of an underdog who could save the world with his big imagination. The luck dragon above is a hint. If you’re the first person to email me the name of that character I’ll offer you a free, hour-long session.

Your Partner in Healing,

Holly

Are you looking for compassionate individual, couples or group therapy in Raleigh? Call me today to schedule a 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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All By Myself: Going to Couples Counseling Alone

We have a saying in the Family Therapy field that all counseling is family counseling. That’s not supposed to be a complicated philosophical stance on our part. (Though, we have some of those too–ask any of my therapist friends who have suffered through a Bateson class with me.) Rather, it means that if you change any one part of a family or couple system it will necessarily change the whole. Think of it this way: if you let all the air out of one of your tires, you will have only touched a single component of the car. But, that change will be enough to leave the whole so altered that you’re sitting on the side of the road waiting for the nice lady from AAA to come.

Sometimes, things get so screwed up in your relationship that your partner won’t come to therapy with you. For instance, if you had an affair or have been indulging your really gnarly anger problem by frequently shouting at him or her. Alternatively, perhaps you’re the only one who thinks anything is wrong at all, and you can’t get your partner to see that counseling could help the dynamics between the two of you flow better. What to do?

Tune up that Barry Manilow tenor and come on in to therapy “all by myself.”

Believe me when I say that you have a real shot at changing the relationship simply by attending counseling on your own. Any changes we make in you will reverberate throughout your relationship. And, I can give you homework that will invite your partner to give you feedback that informs the therapy in a relational way. It’s kind of my secret ninja method of facilitating couples changes in individual sessions.

There is something powerful about the kind of guided introspection that counseling is so good at offering.  Conversations about how you make sense of your relationships reveal important things about your values, hopes and more importantly, the internal GPS that tells you which behaviors are acceptable in partnerships. I would be delighted to meet with you to see if individual therapy can be a helpful start to changing your relationship for the better.

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? I Shy Away From Giving Compliments to My Partner

Happy day after 4th of July! I don’t know about you, but I’m happier than a pig in mud. Today is the last day of a fantastic summer vacation, and I’m spending it surrounded by family and friends. It doesn’t get much better than that. I would like to just put my hand up and say that today, I am a completely satisfied inhabitant of the planet earth. So, what better day to write another installment of my favorite (well, and only) blog series: Is it Normal.

It certainly wasn’t hard to wax rhapsodic about my holidays. I bet most of you are probably rubbing your bellies in the same kind of idyllic celebratory haze. But, how about I scare you a bit?  I can give you something that you’re more likely to get stage fright about then nearly anything else in your relationship: complimenting your partner.

In therapy, I encourage couples to do lots of stuff that could be considered hard, abstract cogitating. Talking about dynamics from families of origin and how they relate to the present day, dismantling defense mechanisms…all of that is kind of like relationship calculus. But, believe me when I tell you that clients sail through that like nobel prize-wining brains. Somehow, though, when I ask them to consistently compliment their partners on just about anything at all (and these are the partners they love–the ones they’re in counseling to recommit to) my brave therapy warriors turn into shy preschoolers. It’s rather remarkable to watch, but it is totally consistent across the board.

So, why is that do you suppose? How does it make sense that offering positive affirmations to the person you love most can feel like suddenly, terrifyingly staring into the abyss?

1) Giving Compliments is a Vulnerable Stance: When you give a compliment to anyone, but particularly someone you like a whole lot, you’re putting yourself on the line. Clients tell me that they are often afraid that their partners will reject the compliment or worse still, say something along the lines of, “Wow, so after all this time you’re finally noticing everything I do around here. Uh-huh. What do you want?” Talk about feeling ready to melt into a puddle on the floor! Has it been such a long time that you’re worried your efforts won’t be received well? Every journey begins with a single step as they say. Why not go ahead and take one?

2) He/She already knows I appreciate him/her: I have two words for you on this count: yeah, right. When you were courting one another, part of the reason it all felt so giddy and new was because you constantly topped up your partner’s love tank. Genuine positive regard is the fuel that makes marriages go. I have never in my career had a couple sit on my couch and tell me that part of the problems is that their partners were too kind to them. Instead, it’s the opposite. When we feel disregarded we become distant and cool to one another. That, as you know, is what research tells us drives the nail in the coffin of a marriage. Divorces happen because of lack of connection. You have a responsibility as your partner’s best friend to shore up his or her reserves by pointing out the good stuff.

3) You Don’t Know How to Compliment: Don’t laugh. In some families, complimenting is something that is simply not done. It’s not that love isn’t expressed in these families. It just might have gotten done in another way, for instance doing nice things for one another without a lot of commentary. We get better at everything from Tango to word play by practicing it. If you did not have many dress rehearsals for articulating just what it is you love about your family, it’s easy to get stage fright. However, those of you non-complimenters are especially up for success on this front. Your partner is going to be so bowled over (at first, anyway) by your efforts to change the dynamic, that even small expressions will be appreciated. As an experiment, think of something your partner should “just know” that he or she does well in your book. Now, go home and mention it while looking that awesome guy or gal in the face at the same time. Your eye contact will serve to drive home even a small admission of admiration. You will reap big rewards.

So, there you have it. Yes, complimenting your partner can be a terrifically difficult thing to do. That is normal.Would you like to come on in and figure out how to make your partnership the best it can be? Why don’t you give me a call so that we can talk about it.

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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Marriage Lessons From Our Elders: Quit Sweating Your Differences

I know it’s been quiet around my neck of the woods for a good long time this summer. Though it might be more impressive to tell you that my radio silence has been due to the fact that I’ve been writing my memoirs or solving world hunger, it’s not anything nearly so glamorous as that. You see, I have been doing something anathema in today’s culture. I have been working hard at accomplishing…nothing. And in case you’re wondering, it has been abso-frickin’ awesome. I highly recommend it.

Interestingly, while I have been sipping fruity things with tiny umbrellas down by the pool, new research has come out that significantly bolsters my dearly-held belief that we don’t always have to be frantically accomplishing. Counter-intuitively, we especially don’t have to be accomplishing something in our marriages. So what, gentle readers, would happen if we took a break from negotiating something all of the time (for instance, agreement) in our intimate partnerships and focused on appreciating the small victories we have?

A really interesting study from researchers at San Francisco State University demonstrates that in a 13- year study of long-married couples, older couples who stayed married develop an ability to mutually avoid conflict-laden topics. They were likely to suggest that they knew the issue was not going to get resolved, and to move on quickly. This fits right in with other research that shows that with age, we tend to see arguments as less important and hope to generate more positive experiences instead. If we’re all going to mellow out anyway, why not start incorporating a bit of that acceptance of differences today? Here’s how:

1) Accept that you are not Siamese Twins: My favorite relationship researcher, Dr. John Gottman, has long addressed the idea that not every problem in our partnerships can be resolved. Sometimes, in some instances, you just won’t view something the same way–ever. Now, this doesn’t mean that we should capitulate to all of our partners’ whims, or refuse to talk about important issues that really might be deal breakers. That would be pretty grim. Rather, embedded in all the research about this topic is a strong reference to the fact that we each have unique opinions based on the potently individual cocktail of upbringing and life experiences thus far. Since no two people will have had the exact same brew, there will be points of difference and conflict. The thing that makes some couples weather these storms is an ability to talk about the gridlocked issues with humor, warmth and a a genuine curiosity about their partners’ points of view

2) Agree to Disagree: I think that overtly agreeing to disagree about some topics is important. It communicates in a direct way that you have heard your partner’s point of view, honor it, and still don’t feel the same way. This opens the door for the more important thing that must happen when opinions have diverged in the woods: compromise.

3) You’re Good Enough: You know what, it’s ok that you have a different opinion from that really smart man or woman to whom you’ve chosen to devote  your life. You’re not stupid, misinformed or stubborn. It’s alright to be a self-actualized adult who doesn’t see eye-to-eye with other bright people you like and admire. If you find yourself agreeing with your partner and then hating yourself or him/her for it, it might be time to do a careful inventory of what you believe it means about you to have a dissenting opinion. Where did you learn that and how can you get better at being grounded in yourself?

If you would like to discuss these, or any relationship issue that’s been on your mind, why don’t you come on by for a free consultation. Now that I’m back from vacation, it would be a shame to be sitting in this nice office all by myself. I’m looking forward to seeing you.

 

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:

Twitter: HollyCoxLMFT

Pinterest:DrHollyCox

Facebook: Lotus Therapy Center

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