I heard a quote today that summarized the reason most of us are terrible at apologies. It went something like "acknowledging impact rather than defending intent." Think about that for a minute. How many of us have been in the position of defending intent when we're trying to deliver an apology? It may sound something like, "I'm sorry I yelled at you; I've been so stressed out." The person you just yelled at doesn't care about your stress. At least not immediately after getting yelled at. They care about being yelling at and the impact on them. Imagine if the same person said, "I'm sorry I yelled at you; that must have been really upsetting." That leaves room for a conversation rather than a defense.
This is so common in relationships it's often hard to see. Couples try to be understood without realizing how their behavior has impacted their partner. It can be very disarming when someone recognizes their part and takes accountability because it's vulnerable. Give it a try. I bet it takes the steam out of any argument.
Finding the right therapeutic fit can be stressful. I’ve heard stories of therapists not calling clients back. Sometimes a client didn’t know what type of therapy they needed and found out months later that it wasn't a fit. My intention is to give you some guidance on how to find a therapist that fits your needs.
You’re the consumer. Therapists offer a service. There are many different therapy modalities and even more approaches. It helps to know what you need going into therapy but sometimes not knowing what you need is hard too! Whatever your needs may be, there’s a trained professional who can help.
There are psychodynamic therapists, which may help you build insight. Some psychodynamic therapists may suggest meeting twice, sometimes thrice a week. It can be costly and exactly what some are looking for.
There are CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) practitioners. You focus on your thoughts, behaviors and emotions, and the effect they have on one another. You can expect to answer questions in percentages, track your behaviors and get homework. It’s more actions/results oriented, less insight based (typically) and exactly what some people are looking for.
There are Internal Family Systems therapists. This helps explore the different “maladaptive coping skills” as parts that get developed to protect your core self. It’s effective in addressing childhood trauma, suicidality, substance abuse, etc. and is exactly what some people are looking for.
I suspect most therapists fall under the “eclectic” category. A practitioner that uses a number of interventions and modalities because we know that one style doesn't fit everyone's needs.
The aforementioned are just a few out of dozens of approaches to consider when you're shopping around. The logistical process of shopping can also include asking the therapist questions about their qualifications, e.g., How long have you been licensed? What are your specialties?; or about their expectations and approach, e.g., Do you expect me to come every week? Can you provide an example of how you might address my problem?
Also look for red flags when interviewing therapists: does the therapist get defensive in response to your questions, refuse to offer a free consult call and/or neglect to call you back? If these red flags come up, move on. Ideally, you want a therapist who’s supportive and open with good boundaries, not neglectful, overly rigid and assumes you’ll be a good therapeutic match.
In short, know what you need to the best of your ability, inform yourself about the different therapeutic approaches, ask questions and interview at least 3 therapists. With a little work and patience you'll find your fit. Good luck in your search!
There are a number of resources out there that are helpful with managing pandemic anxiety and keeping connected to group resources.
The picture on the left is from the State of California's Surgeon General's Office. They wrote a wonderful article that offers practical tips on how to incorporate and maintain self-care: https://files.covid19.ca.gov/pdf/wp/california-surgeon-general_stress-busting-playbook_draft-v2clean_ada-04072020.pdf
Psychology Today hosts a number of articles that help with pandemic anxiety. This one in particular addresses anxiety contagion: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/pain-explained/202003/anxiety-contagion-tips-relief
A dear client informed me of this one and its sole purpose is to help with virus anxiety: https://www.virusanxiety.com/
Daybreaker is a worldwide wellness movement that offers yoga and dance in a sober environment. They have been offering virtual events that are also family and kid friendly: https://www.daybreaker.com/city/live/
Day drinking, overeating and maybe even drugs have become more of a thing with more people working from home or not working at all:
Virtual meditation platforms are also helpful, like, InsightTimer, Calm and online sessions via www.shambhalaonline.org.
It's unfortunate that domestic violence and suicide rates increase in times of stress. Below are resources if you find yourself experiencing this type of crisis:
The most helpful thing to remember is that you always have choices. No matter where you're at or with whom.
This post is for couples struggling with staying home together during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tensions are high with job losses, risk of contagion, loved ones with underlying health issues...all of which can exacerbate an already contentious relationship. Let me sympathize by saying it’s hard enough to be in a relationship and now our governor wants us to stay indoors together? For a month? I imagine some people are thinking No F’n way. What are we supposed to do? Talk to one another? We can barely get through the day without arguing. Maybe this is an opportunity to do something different by practicing boundaries and communicating with one another more openly.
I’ve been home for the last two weeks aside from one day I went into the office. Luckily my partner and I get along but I still get annoyed and need my alone time. As does he. It’s normal and I consider it a healthy sign of differentiation. Following are tactics we’ve been using at home to make things more harmonious. My hope is that they may also help you.
Together separateness is an important skill to learn in any relationship. It can look like being in the same room doing different things. Right now, Lucas is watching TV while I plug away at my computer. It takes comfort with silence and not feeling like you have to entertain the other. Plug in your earbuds and create an environment for yourself. You’ll be giving your partner the opportunity to do the same for him/her/their self.
Setting boundaries is trickier as it requires planning, clear communication and reminders about what you need and feel. Sometimes it takes Lucas saying, “Hey, are you okay? I feel like you don’t want me around,” until I realize I need alone time. This is totally unfair to Lucas because it’s putting the initiative on him rather than me taking accountability for my own needs. Yikes! It’s reminded me to practice checking in with myself more regularly so I know what I need. Perhaps checking in with one another at the start of the day is helpful or schedule time for yourself on a shared calendar if you need to. And if you need to get out of the house, go for a walk alone. Give one another permission to talk about what you need.
Stagger your routine. Lucas and I have different bedtimes so I get alone time at night and he has the mornings to himself. I typically suggest launching and landing together so couples stay connected but this is something we’ve had to be flexible around to find time to ourselves. I suspect couples with kids are already pretty skilled at this by tag teaming who does bedtime routine, breakfast, etc. Use that skill for your relationship and finding alone time.
Share your schedules. If you’re lucky enough to still be employed and both working from home, write your schedules and/or meetings on a board somewhere in a community space so you can be mindful of the person’s commitments. It’s really frustrating when you’re in a professional space and your partner’s howling with the dog in the kitchen.
Reach out to friends and family. It’s very important to maintain your relationships outside of your intimate one so you can find a social balance during quarantine. This is especially important for extroverts.
Designate a space you can claim as your own. It’s important to have a space where you can retreat. The quarantine situation is temporary and so will be the designated space. If one of you has to claim the living room, do it. If you live in a studio take the bathroom when/if you need it. There’s always another space you can occupy.
Plan a date at home. Change out of your day or nighttime pajamas, dress up, dance in the living room, plan a romantic dinner in the backyard (if you have one), get creative!
What I know from working with couples is we all want relief. We want to be heard. We want our needs met. Try something different. Use this as an opportunity to find intersections of connection or reconnection. Anything’s better than sitting around and being resentful toward the person you’re committed to.
Infidelity can be hard to define but you can feel it when it's happening. Infidelity is not about sex, it's about betrayal. A betrayal of the couple’s commitment to one another. It’s an interpersonal trauma where the betrayed partner may experience symptoms akin to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Yet, infidelity is not the problem, it’s a symptom of the relationship’s dysfunction.
Infidelity can look like the Hollywood version of a sexual affair to the more subtle emotional infidelity of oversharing with a stranger online. Infidelity can serve as an attempt to save the relationship or passive attempt to end it. Infidelity can signal an inability to communicate unmet needs on the betrayer’s part. Infidelity can stem from family beliefs; sometimes it’s an addiction, although this etiology is open to debate.
That said, there is hope for the couple that experiences infidelity - even if it may not feel that way after its discovery. In my work with couples, I have witnessed more of a willingness toward working through the wounding than allowing infidelity to destroy the relationship. Sometimes the discovery of infidelity can actually strengthen the couple's bond. Unfortunately, a lot of couples don’t seek counseling and choose to separate instead, missing an opportunity for growth and re-connection.
I bring a number of interventions to the table when working with the betrayed and betrayer. I explore family of origin issues, attachment styles, communication and conflict resolution, the quality of the couple’s emotional connection, goal alignment, values and boundaries, to name a few. It’s challenging for both parties to move through the different stages of healing from infidelity. Having a safe space to honestly engage, rebuild trust and forgive can make healing from infidelity more of a possibility.
Since the official shelter in place due to the COVID-19 virus, I’ve been spending a lot of time in the backyard pulling weeds. It dawned on me 4 buckets in that I was avoiding how I felt toward the pandemic.
Yesterday is when the panic hit as I felt it surge through my body. My legs weakened and almost buckled under my weight while a conveyor belt of catastrophic thoughts pushed their way into my mind. My first impulse was to run to my partner (who’s also working from home) and dump my stressful thoughts on him. “That’s what a partner is for, right?” said the scared part of myself. But my adult self empathetically realized how stressful the catastrophe dump would be for him (not to mention the boundary intrusion). Instead I kept weeding, avoiding, stressing and obsessing when I remembered a quote I learned in early recovery: panic doesn’t change the outcome.
I chose to sit down, give my legs a rest and repeated the quote over and over while taking deep breaths. Panic doesn’t change the outcome. Then I was able to tell myself that everything will be okay. Another deep breath. Panic doesn’t change the outcome. No need to run in the house freaking out. No need to torture myself with big scary stories of living in a tent. Just breathe and know that everything is okay right now.
This isn’t to say I always catch myself when I feel anxious but the calm is more accessible the more I practice redirecting those unhelpful thoughts and cutting off the feedback loop between the thought and feeling.
Fear is a normal response to what’s happening in the world and a degree of it is helpful. It motivates us to respect social distancing and connects us through a shared experience. Panic on the other hand just gets in the way. It’s the culprit behind toilet paper hoarding and long lines at gun shops. It increases cortisol, which weakens the immune system. Panic isn’t helpful but you can choose to cope with it by using your mind to redirect your thoughts. Following are a few more of my favorite redirections if you find yourself in a panic state.