Image--Communication Is Not Your Problem

Communication is Not Your Problem: How to Better Connect with Your Partner

As a couple therapist, much of the time when couples come in to see me, they tell me they are having communication problems. “We don’t know how to talk to each other,” they say.  Which confuses me, frankly, because here they are in my office, speaking to me in an articulate, thoughtful manner.  They even help each other out as they explain their situation; when one falters, the other picks up the communication baton and runs with it. I watch as they explain in sync the troubles that plague them, in full detail, with examples and illustrations. They then tell me they have difficulty communicating with the person sitting next to them, the person with whom they just ran a full, coordinated, conversation marathon.

 

My therapist profile on our practice website states that I work with couples with communication issues. Here’s the dirty secret, though: poor communication is almost never the central problem in an intimate partnership.   In my experience, miscommunication is much more often the symptom of relationship troubles rather than the cause. What couples experience is typically not a lapse in communication, but a gap in connection.

 

Of course, connection can feel elusive and its loss scary to contemplate, which is likely why couples feel more comfortable framing their problem as a communication issue. Unfortunately, good communication is simply not enough to sustain a relationship. With good communication, we logically understand the other person speaking to us—we can pass the ‘are you listening to me?’ test (albeit begrudgingly).  But, with connection, we have a felt sense of our partner.  This is the feeling within that says ‘this person is present with me and I am safe with them.’ This is more than simply echoing our partner’s words back to them; it is sharing in their emotional experience. Communication allows an intimate partnership to survive, but through connection, through feeling known and understood by our partner, the relationship can thrive. We should note that connection does not mean perfectly understanding your partner in every interaction, but rather feeling that you can reach towards your partner in an atmosphere of security and comfort.

 

So, how do we connect to our partners? As a couple therapist, there are three key areas in which I work with couples to improve their connection—trust and vulnerability, continuing to reach for your partner even when they have hurt or disappointed you, and, of course, doing stuff together.

Trust Allows for Vulnerability

The idea that we need to trust our partners in order to have a healthy, stable relationship is not novel.  Trust, however, extends past believing that your partner will be faithful to you or that they will not run roughshod on the joint bank account. The type of trust that sustains relationships centers on the ability to be vulnerable with each other, to know that each of you will hold safe the hidden parts of yourselves  that you would not readily expose to the world. With trust, you can be serious or silly, joyful or heart-heavy, and know that your partner will reside in that moment with you. This sharing of your vulnerable parts allows you to create a bond that designates your relationship as sacred and removed from what you share with others. Trust allows for vulnerability, extending your ability to fully and deeply connect as a couple.

Would You Hurt Me…on Purpose?

If your partner does something that hurts or disappoints you, take a moment to reflect on why they might have done what they did. Couples who stay connected give their partners the benefit of the doubt—they consider why their partner might have taken a particular action instead of jumping to their own conclusions. So often we are caught in our own hurt and anger surrounding a situation that we fail to reflect on our partner’s motivations.  One of the questions I often ask couples is if they believe their partner would intentionally hurt them. The vast majority of time, their honest answer is no. I encourage couples to keep this in mind when conflicts arise. When you believe your partner is, at their core, on your side, but simply a flawed human being, it allows for both forgiveness and the opportunity to come back together. And, let’s be clear—giving your partner the benefit of the doubt means just that. It does not necessarily mean agreeing with your partner’s actions or choices.  It means taking a step back to consider where they’re coming from. It means trying to find the path back to each other instead of allowing anger or confusion to leave you stranded in discord.

Do Stuff Together

One of the regular assignments I give to couples is to, you know, do stuff together.  Often, couples have stopped doing activities they really enjoy (or even kind of like) because of conflict or kids or busy work schedules or [insert excuse here]. There is no other relationship—not with a friend or a close family member or even a pet—that we would expect to be sustained without jointly and actively engaging in pleasurable activities.  So, why do we expect our intimate partnerships to survive weeks or even months without dedicated time together? When we participate in enjoyable or relaxing activities with our partner, not only can it be fun (heaven forbid!), but it also helps build what I call our goodwill bank—it gives us something to hold on to during the difficult times.  We remember what we’re fighting for, which spurs us to continue on.  These activities do not have to be exotic trips or fancy dinners; they can be as simple as taking thirty minutes before bed to sit on the porch together and look at the night sky.  If you’re struggling to figure out how to find and spend time together, I highly recommend my colleague’s book, The Date Deck, for ideas.  A relationship not fed with a steady diet of enjoyable (and, on occasion, new) interactions will ultimately starve.

 

While all the methods a couple can use to improve their connection cannot be covered in one blog post, those listed above typically provide a solid foundation to build on. In my experience, couples who work on staying connected find that the rest of their relationship (including good communication!) comes more easily, as they are better able to anticipate and understand each other needs.  So, stop talking about communication, and learn how to connect.

A perfect holiday? It's possible with these 5 tips.

A perfect holiday? It\'s possible with these 5 tips.

The holiday season is one of my favorite times of year.  It’s a time when families focus on giving and spending time together.  It’s a time for delicious meals full of comfort foods and parties with friends and neighbors.  It can also be a time of stress, as many of us work to create the “perfect holiday” for our families.  What does the “perfect holiday” look like?  Well that answer varies from person to person and family to family.  For some people it’s all about decorations and for others it’s about the parties or religious celebrations.  Despite the variety of holiday ideals, there are some tricks to having a ‘perfect holiday’ season that apply to all of us- no matter what we celebrate or who we are.

A perfect holiday? It's possible with these 5 tips.

Don’t underestimate the power of tradition.

There’s a reason that religious holidays involve specific rituals and ceremonies.  These traditions are a part of what brings people together in a spirit of common values and connection.  And they’re what makes for a perfect family holiday as well.  Whether you light a menorah, attend Christmas Eve church services, or just like to spend this time of year with family, it’s important to create your own traditions at home.  And the chances are you’ve already got several.

You may not think that you’re creating a family ritual when you frost sugar cookies with your husband or everyone gathers to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas together on the couch, but these small activities have a big impact on how connected a family feels to each other.  Research has shown, and I’m sure your own experiences will confirm, that being able to count on the people you love to engage in the same holiday activities year after year is comforting and a wonderful reminder that you all belong together. When life is chaotic and busy, it’s nice to know that at least once or twice a year you can count on some things that will always be the same.

Embrace change.

I know this sounds a little counter-intuitive to the advice I just gave about starting and maintaining family traditions but change and tradition really go hand in hand.  Traditions give a secure foundation on which your whole family can find comfort while still being open to the inevitable changes that come with life.  Whether you’ve lost a loved one this year, had a new baby, or have sent a “baby” off to college- life is full of transitions.  Make the holidays a time to celebrate and honor these changes with love and a sense of togetherness.

You can even incorporate these changes into long-standing traditions.  If Dad always cuts turkey for Christmas dinner, maybe it’s time to bestow that honor on your son who just got married or graduated from college; allowing your family to continue the tradition by passing it down to the next generation of adults.

Change also brings the opportunity for new traditions.  Finding a way to remember a family member who has passed away can be difficult for many people during the holiday season.  Creating a special tradition allows everyone to remember the person they loved and also strengthen the bond between those of you who remain.  It will be an emotional decision but with some careful thought and honest communication you can come together as a family and create a new special legacy that will continue year after year.

Practice self-care.

Everyone needs self-care but I want all the moms out there to pay special attention to this step!  Self-care is the greatest gift you can give your family this holiday season.  Why you ask?  The only way to give them your best is to take care of yourself first.  Much like the oxygen mask rule on airplanes; you can’t really help others if you’re drained, tired, and overwhelmed.  Unfortunately for many of us that’s exactly what happens at this time of year.  Our desire to give our family and friends the best can easily turn into a never-ending to-do list and unrealistic schedules.

The path to a ‘perfect holiday’ is learning how to say no when necessary and prioritize.  One helpful way to do this is by starting the season with a different kind of wish list.  Before you list out the gifts you need to buy and the parties you want to attend, make a list of the experiences you want to have.  Decide what things are most important to you this time of year.  Is it celebrating with friends?  Maybe the best part of the holidays for you is in the gift giving?  Or maybe you long to share quiet meals with extended family?

Whatever makes it to the top of your holiday experience wish list is what you should use to drive your decision making for the rest of the season.  Instead of spreading yourself too thin trying to do everything; decide to put self-care first this year.  Focus on just doing those few things that matter most to you and doing them with your full energy.  You’ll enjoy them more and set a good example for the people around.

Capture the memories but don’t forget to live in the moment.

One of my favorite parts of having extended family around is taking great photos and videos.  And with today’s smartphones, everyone can play photographer anytime they want.  Capturing these special moments on film is important but it’s also crucial to learn how to stay in the moment and enjoy creating the memories.  Social media has given us a double-edged sword.  It allows family members and friends who are far away to feel engaged even when they can’t be present which can be an amazing gift.

On the flipside, it can allow people to be in the same room with each other and still not connect.  This holiday season, consider setting aside time to be completely unplugged- no phones, no computer, no iPads!  Instead of tweeting and sharing photos with the world, focus on sharing yourself with the people in front of you.  It’s a perfect time to tell stories ,reminisce about holidays past, and just have fun being together.

Stop chasing perfection.

I know we’ve been talking about creating the ‘perfect holiday’ season but the real secret is that perfection is just an illusion.  The ‘perfect holiday’ is the one where you’re living in the moment, connecting with friends and family in a meaningful way, and fully aware of all that you have to be grateful for.  That can be as simple as sharing hot cocoa after shoveling out the driveway or laughing together over take-out after the dog has eaten your ‘perfect’ turkey.

If you take a moment right now to reflect on some of your favorite ‘perfect holiday’ memories what comes to mind?  I’m willing to bet that it has little to do with having the right decorations, cooking the perfect meal, ortaking J.Crew-catalog worthy family photo.  I’m willing to bet that it was about feeling loved and connected with someone special because in the end that’s the real trick to a ‘perfect holiday’.

The Secret to Saving Money Over the Holidays

The Secret to Saving Money Over the Holidays

The holidays are my favorite time of year. After spending months working, taking exams, and applying for graduate schools, it is really nice to take a step back and spend time with my family and friends. There is no better feeling than sitting with all of the people I love while engaging in traditions I have grown up with over the years. I know my family and I love to spend the day after Thanksgiving decorating the house, our Christmas tree, and our favorite sugar cookies while listening to holiday music. It makes me appreciate all that I have in life.

 

While trying to enjoy all of these wonderful festivities, it can be really overwhelming to think of how much everything costs. Everything from the turkey to the gifts all have a price and sometimes it can get too stressful.

 

Luckily, there are some very helpful ways to reduce the spending during the holidays that will let you relax and enjoy this time.

 

I know my family in particular uses a fake Christmas tree in order to reduce spending. We pull our tree out from basement each year and it looks just as beautiful as a regular tree, plus it is a lot less work! The lights are already on the tree and everything so all you have to do is decorate and you’re done!

 

When it comes to presents, with many people it’s the thought that counts. My friend is paying a small fee to have her high school friend take pictures of her and her siblings to give to her parents. This is an easy and cheap way to give a memorable gift. So find something that could be heartwarming that doesn’t break the bank. These are often the presents that people love the most.

 

Holiday activities are also a must, especially if you have little ones. Children just have to see Santa every year and tell him what they want for Christmas or go ice skating under the twinkling lights. But sometimes it is just too expensive for the whole family to take part in this. That’s where finding affordable activities can be a real lifesaver. The National Christmas Trees in Washington D.C. are a great way to experience the holidays and are 100% FREE. There is even Santa there to take pictures with the kids.

 

So remember, the holidays don’t have to bleed you dry! There are plenty of ways to save money without the stress of spending.

 

What ways do you save money during the holidays? Tell us about it in the comments below!

 

P.S. For 14 more ways to save money during the holidays, check out this article and let us know how you save money during the holiday season.

Maximize Your Holiday Treats without maxing out your waistline

Maximize Your Holiday Feasting Without Maximizing Your Waistline

The holiday season is finally here. Time to put down your work and spend time with family, friends, and enjoy tradition. One of my favorite traditions is indulging in all of the delicious meals prepared by those that I love. Turkey, stuffing, corn pudding, gravy, and best of all pumpkin pie! I cannot wait for Thanksgiving time to enjoy every minute of it.

 

But, if you’re like me and have been trying to eat healthy all of these months, you have a hard time enjoying these meals and holiday goodies knowing that it might ruin all of your hard work.

 

Luckily, there are plenty of great ways to be healthy while still getting the most out of the holidays, including holiday feasting!

 

When it comes to going to the mall to shop during the holiday season, it can be overwhelming when you’re surrounded by the smells of the season like Mrs. Fields cookies and peppermint mocha lattes! Curb these temptations by eating a small snack before you go, that way you’re not overly hungry walking past the food court. I also like to make a list before I leave the house of all the stores I need to visit in order to avoid some of the kiosks that would lure me into buying their delicious goodies.

 

Holiday parties are an exciting part of the season. It’s a time when your friends, family, and coworkers can take some time away from their busy lives to be together and celebrate. But with the beautiful decorations, holiday music, and good cheer also comes good food! It is nearly impossible to say no to all of the delicious treats lurking around every corner. However, bringing your own favorite healthy dish to the party can take the worrying out of the equation and allows you to participate in the fun festivities.  By ensuring that there are healthy options it becomes easier to indulge in a few treats without going overboard.

 

Finally, the biggest temptation of them all….Thanksgiving day. When you are trying to be healthy, a holiday that is entirely focused on eating comfort foods is not ideal. Of course you don’t want to punish yourself and avoid all of the yummy food…that’s why I take very small portions of everything so I can have my cake and eat it too.  It’s important to give yourself a guilt-free pass to take part in all of the food festivities!  And if you are cooking or can offer some ideas to the cook, check your favorite food blogs and recipe sites for healthy variations on old classics like mac & cheese and pumpkin pie.

 

So as you prepare for the holidays, remember, you can feel good enjoying every aspect of the holidays…including the food!

 

For more helpful tips about eating healthy during holidays, check out this article!

Tips to Regain Your Work-Life Balance

All Work and No Play?

If you’re like me, there are just not enough hours in the day. I am always trying to juggle the demands of work with having a personal life. Sometimes I feel like I just can’t win! As a college student, it is particularly difficult to manage classes, a job, homework, extracurricular activities, and trying to have a life aside from all that. It took me a really long time to find a way to balance all of my responsibilities but once I did, life became a lot more fulfilling.

Here are some strategies I use to manage my life:

 

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1. Make a list  

Every morning I like to wake up and write a list of all the things I need to accomplish that day, whether it’s finishing up some homework or going to the gym. This way I won’t forget anything that I need to do and I feel amazing when I get to check something off the list.

2. Be Consistent 

With schedules changing constantly every day, it is important to keep certain aspects of life consistent. I try to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up the same time in the morning. This way I get enough sleep and don’t feel grouchy and angry the next day. No one likes to deal with someone who hasn’t had enough sleep.

3. Take Break  

After working all day, breaks are essential. I would be way too stressed if I didn’t stop to relax after doing busy work. So go to the gym or get dinner with some friends and unwind. This way you can come back and accomplish your tasks with a clear mind.

4. Reward Yourself  

There is no better feeling than finishing everything you have on your list of things to do. I like to reward myself for accomplishing my tasks by going with my friends to a movie and de-stress. It makes me feel really good to be able to catch up with them while taking some time away from my busy schedule.

5. Moderation is Key  

It’s true that everyone should eat healthy most of the time. Eating healthy can really help you stay focused on your work and help you feel good about yourself in the process. But it is perfectly fine to splurge every once in a while. I like to eat healthy six days of the week and then go nuts on the seventh. That way I don’t feel guilty pigging out and it’s another way to treat myself for my hard work.

 

I like to make sure every day is well rounded by incorporating social, personal health, work, and free time into my schedule. That way I never feel like I am missing out on something exciting. These simple tricks have really helped me, but there are plenty of other strategies that work. So tell me in the comments below….how do you keep your life in balance?
P.S. For more tips check out our free e-book, More Joy + Less Stress in 3 Easy Steps.

“Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.” -Thomas Merton

how to start healing after a bad break-up

How To Start Healing After A Bad Breakup

Breakups…everyone goes through them! The lucky ones manage to go through a clean breakup while others are nasty. Unfortunately, I have had my fair share of nasty breakups and they are never fun.

I just wanted to curl up in a ball and watch a romantic movie while eating pounds of chocolate.

Sometimes I worried that I would never feel happy again.

All of my energy went to wallowing in self pity and wondering what went wrong. It wasn’t until my last breakup that I realized it was more important to focus on bettering myself in the here and now than worrying about the past. It turns out that you can use your anger, sadness, and frustration to make yourself a better and stronger person- instead of just eating ice cream.

You’re so used to having that special person around all the time to talk to and hang out with, so you might feel alone when they aren’t there anymore. But instead of staying alone, it’s the perfect time to reconnect with yourself and others. There are so many new things that you could try!

Learn a new language or hike somewhere you’ve never been!

I started going to the gym  several times a week, which was way more than I used to go and I spent more time with my family and friends.

At first, it was really difficult to get used to being without this relationship that I was so comfortable with. But then, I began to strengthen the relationship with myself and that made me feel better as a whole! So try something new and for more tips check out this article by Eddie Baller on Mind, Body, Green

 

p.s. If you’re wondering how to find the motivation to actually go to the gym, check out Erica’s post for some of the most helpful tips I’ve ever read!

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