A Raleigh Therapist's Blog

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

A Big Announcement and the Importance of Unexpected Gifts

I usually update this blog quite a lot. I love to write and therapy sessions offer such fertile soil for topics. It’s probably impossible to go a day without something that I think might make a good entry. But I have been tired lately.

I’ve been tired and pregnant.

So…there’s that.

Dan and I have long been on the fence about having a third child. We hemmed and hawed and discussed the endless pros and cons of the situation. And, as good ol’ John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while we’re busy making other plans.” I’m not sure John meant to apply that quote to the inconsistent use of birth control. But, nonethless, we have been blessed with the gift of a third, so far healthy, addition to our family. Delight that the universe just went ahead and made this decision for me not withstanding, I’m really ready to get this kid out of my tummy and into the real world. Even I am finding my sudden and oddly specific devotion to cornichons and gorgonzola cheese to be a bit tiresome.cornichons

Given the context of my life lately, I have been dwelling a bit on the nature of gifts. Not just the tangible kind we wrap up in a ribbon, but the unexpected little easter eggs life can leave for us when we are not expecting it. If you’ve read my last few blogs, you know I have been musing on how couples get out of problematic communication patterns and work their ways to something better. We’ve covered adequate apologies, listening well, kindness when you don’t feel like it and most importantly, questions.

The asking of good questions is a frequent topic on this blog because I think it is one of the single most essential skills you have in your arsenal. True story. I am often heard in session asking clients to repeat back what they think their partners have said with one important addition–at least one question. I usually require something along the lines of, “Is that right? Is there anything I missed?”

See, most people think that the easter egg–the gift–is in getting the interpretation of what your partner said right. That’s nice, but that’s not really it.

No, the gift is in asking the question.

An invitation to really explore yourself through conversation without interruption is a tremendous luxury. We all know we are connected to someone else when that person offers an intense, purposeful curiosity. It’s one of the hallmarks of courtship and that’s why we miss it so much. When I ask clients what they pine for most about their early days together they often say something along the lines of, “We could stay up all night just talking to one another.” You could do that because each person was a good steward of the conversation, building on what the other said with insight and questions designed to get to know one another better.

When you go into your partnership with the firm belief that since people change, you can never know everything about him or her, you work harder to keep the relationship connected. You ask good questions that keep you in the loop. I know we’re cooking with gas when longtime couples say to one another, “Wow, I didn’t know you felt that way.” That means those partners are open to accepting the idea that knowing one another is an ongoing journey, not a destination that we reach.

Would you like to learn more about what kinds of questions will help you remain connected to your partner? Are you making a run to Whole Foods and want to drop off some cornichons? Why don’t you come on in so we can talk about it.

Your Partner in Healing,

Holly

Are you looking for 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:

Twitter: HollyCoxLMFT

Pinterest:DrHollyCox

Facebook: Lotus Therapy Center

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But I’m Really Nice: The Case for Making Personal Changes in Marriage Therapy

Did you guys know that I have a dirty little secret? It makes me feel so ashamed. But, since we’re all friends here and I assume you aren’t going to rat me out, I’ll share it: I like to lurk on the Facebook page of a news station local to my hometown and argue with the other posters. There, I have brought it out into the light. Though I spend my entire day helping sow seeds of accord and agreement, I sure can be a Honey Badger when behind my keyboard debating about human rights issues. And, we all know what they say about Honey Badgers. It’s not that I am ever ugly to my fellow posters. I wouldn’t do that, because I don’t think it wins you any arguments. But, I can get rather…ahem…firm in my convictions.honey badger

The point is that I’m a really nice gal who realizes that she has to be different across different forums with different folks. That makes you and I not so dissimilar, you see. If we want to have influence, either gentle or assertive, we have to tailor our communication and behaviors to the audience we’re serving at that moment. Balancing authenticity and careful collaboration is one of the great challenges of any relationship. However, the stakes are higher in our intimate partnerships.

Couples therapy is tough going because both people are called to make changes while remaining a version of themselves that still feels real and genuine. I find that this aspect of counseling is one of the hardest for folks to negotiate. So, what can you do to wrap your mind around how to make changes while staying yourself?

1) Ask Better Questions: I have found that the best way to get people to believe that you have any investment in their points of view is to ask them genuine, curious questions. One of the first things I teach couples who are locked in conflict to do is to ask good, relatively neutrally-worded questions–especially when you think you know the answer. Couples develop a relational shorthand that is cute when it’s working and incredibly destructive when it isn’t. Deciding you “already know” without inviting your partner to articulate it is extremely dangerous to your relationship. It also prevents you from understanding many of the deeper issues that fuel surface level arguments.

2) You’re like a Diamond–multifaceted: People don’t need to make changes to have better marriages because they are bad people. They simply need to make changes because the particular partner that they have chosen needs a particular set of responses in order to feel safe and loved. What is healthy and works with one partner may not necessarily be healthy and work with another. I watch couples develop many ways of communication that are extremely idiosyncratic. And, each of those communication solutions is delightful for the people who decide between them that’s what works. I couldn’t possibly transfer one of those solutions sets to another couple without getting major side eye. Find out what your partner needs from you and embody that if it won’t diminish you. You have lots of dimensions to your personality. What does he or she need more of from you? Kindness? Humor? Detachment?

3) Speak Your Truth: Part of the reason I am so rabid about teaching couples to ask good, sane questions is to facilitate a radically intimate noticing of the other person’s feelings. Eventually, you will ask your partner to make a change that he or she just can’t hang with fully. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s normal. But, you have a better shot at negotiating a social contract that will work for both of you if you are in the habit of noticing one another and asking questions about the other person’s emotional landscape. When your partner offers this curiosity be honest and collaborative.

Do you need help sorting out how nice people like you ended up in a couples quagmire like this? I would be delighted to help. Why don’t you come on in so that we can talk about it?

Your Partner in Healing,

Holly

Are you looking for 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:

Twitter: HollyCoxLMFT

Pinterest:DrHollyCox

Facebook: Lotus Therapy Center

Google +: Holly Cox

 

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