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Oct 5


Of course, feeling trapped is a state of mind. No one needs consent to leave a relationship. Millions of people remain in unhappy relationships that range from empty to abusive for many reasons; however, the feeling of suffocation or of having no choices stems from fear that’s often unconscious.

People give many explanations for staying in bad relationships, ranging from caring for young children to caring for a sick mate. One man was too afraid and guilt-ridden to leave his ill wife (11 years his senior). His ambivalence made him so distressed, he died before she did! Money binds couples, too, especially in a bad economy. Yet, more affluent couples may cling to a comfortable lifestyle, while their marriage dissolves into a business arrangement.

Homemakers fear being self-supporting or single moms, and breadwinners dread paying support and seeing their assets divided. Often spouses fear feeling shamed for leaving a “failed” marriage. Some even worry their spouse may harm him- or herself. Battered women may stay out of fear of retaliation. Most people tell themselves “The grass isn’t any greener,” believe they’re too old to find love again and imagine nightmarish online dating scenarios. Also, some cultures still stigmatize divorce.

Unconscious Fears
Despite the abundance of reasons, many of which are realistic, there are deeper, unconscious ones that keep people trapped – usually fears of separation and loneliness. In longer relationships, spouses often don’t develop individual activities or support networks. In the past, an extended family served that function.

Whereas women tend to have girlfriends in whom they confide and are usually closer with their parents, traditionally, men focus on work, but disregard their emotional needs and rely exclusively on their wife for support. Yet, both men and women often neglect developing individual interests. Some codependent women give up their friends, hobbies, and activities and adopt those of their male companions. The combined effect of this adds to fears of loneliness and isolation people envisage from being on their own.

For spouses married a number of years, their identity may be as a “husband” or “wife” – a “provider” or “homemaker.” The loneliness experienced upon divorce is tinged with feeling lost. It’s an identity crisis. This also may be significant for a noncustodial parent, for whom parenting is a major source of self-esteem.

Some people have never lived alone. They left home or their college roommate for a marriage or romantic partner. The relationship helped them leave home – physically. Yet, they’ve never completed the developmental milestone of “leaving home” psychologically, meaning becoming an autonomous adult. They are as tied to their mate as they once were to their parents.

Going through divorce or separation brings with it all of the unfinished work of becoming an independent “adult.” Fears about leaving their spouse and children may be reiterations of the fears and guilt that they would have had upon separating from their parents, which were avoided by quickly getting into a relationship or marriage.

Guilt about leaving a spouse may be due to the fact that their parents didn’t appropriately encourage emotional separation. Although the negative impact of divorce upon children is real, parents’ worries may also be projections of fears for themselves. This is compounded if they suffered from their parents’ divorce.

Lack of Autonomy
Autonomy implies being an emotionally secure, separate, and independent person. The lack of autonomy not only makes separation difficult, it naturally also makes people more dependent upon their partner. The consequence is that people feel trapped or “on the fence” and wracked with ambivalence. On one hand, they crave freedom and independence; on the other hand, they want the security of a relationship – even a bad one. Autonomy doesn’t mean you don’t need others. In fact, it allows you to experience healthy dependence on others without the fear of suffocation. Examples of psychological autonomy include:

You don’t feel lost and empty when you’re alone.
You don’t feel responsible for others’ feelings and actions.
You don’t take things personally.
You can make decisions on your own.
You have your own opinions and values and aren’t easily suggestible.
You can initiate and do things on your own.
You can say “no” and ask for space.
You have your own friends.
Often, it’s this lack of autonomy that makes people unhappy in relationships or unable to commit. Because they can’t leave, they fear getting close. They’re afraid of even more dependence – of losing themselves completely. They may people-please or sacrifice their needs, interests, and friends, and then build resentments toward their partner.

A Way Out of Your Unhappiness
The way out may not require leaving the relationship. Freedom is an inside job. Develop a support system and become more independent and assertive. Take responsibility for your happiness by developing your passions instead of focusing on the relationship. Find out more about becoming assertive in my e-book, How to Speak Your Mind — Become Assertive and Set Limits.

Oct 4

Healthy emotional and physical boundaries are the basis of healthy relationships. Enmeshed relationships, however, are bereft of these boundaries, according to Ross Rosenberg, M.Ed., LCPC, CADC, a national seminar trainer and psychotherapist who specializes in relationships.

Whether it’s a relationship between family members, partners or spouses, limits simply don’t exist in enmeshed relationships, and boundaries are permeable.

“People in enmeshed relationships are defined more by the relationship than by their individuality,” said Rosenberg, also author of the book The Human Magnet Syndrome: Why We Love People Who Hurt Us.

They depend on each other to fulfill their emotional needs, “to make them feel good, whole or healthy, but they do it in a way that sacrifices psychological health.” In other words, “their self-concept is defined by the other person,” and they “lose their individuality to get their needs met.”

For instance, an enmeshed relationship between a parent and child may look like this, according to Rosenberg: Mom is a narcissist, while the son is codependent, “the person who lives to give.” Mom knows that her son is the only one who will listen to her and help her. The son is afraid of standing up to his mom, and she exploits his caregiving.

While it might seem impossible, you can learn to set and sustain personal boundaries in your relationship. Boundary-setting is a skill. Below, Rosenberg shares his tips, along with several signs that you’re in an enmeshed relationship.

Signs of Enmeshed Relationships
Typically people in enmeshed relationships have a hard time recognizing that they’re actually in an unhealthy relationship, Rosenberg said. Doing so means acknowledging their own emotional issues, which can trigger anxiety, shame and guilt, he said.

However, making this realization is liberating. It’s the first step in making positive changes and focusing your attention on building healthy relationships, including the one with yourself.

In his therapy work, Rosenberg does a “cost-benefit analysis” with clients. He helps them understand that they have much more to lose by staying in an enmeshed relationship as is than by making changes and finding healthy relationships.

Rosenberg shared these signs, which are indicative of enmeshed relationships.

You neglect other relationships because of a preoccupation or compulsion to be in the relationship.
Your happiness or contentment relies on your relationship.
Your self-esteem is contingent upon this relationship.
When there’s a conflict or disagreement in your relationship, you feel extreme anxiety or fear or a compulsion to fix the problem.
When you’re not around this person or can’t talk to them, “a feeling of loneliness pervades [your] psyche. Without that connection, the loneliness will increase to the point of creating irrational desires to reconnect.”
There’s a “symbiotic emotional connection.” If they’re angry, anxious or depressed, you’re also angry, anxious or depressed. “You absorb those feelings and are drawn to remediate them.”
Tips for Setting Boundaries
1. Seek professional help.

A trained mental health professional can help you better understand your relationship and take you through setting and practicing healthy boundaries, Rosenberg said. To find a therapist, start here.

2. Set small boundaries.

Start practicing boundary-setting by creating small boundaries in your enmeshed relationship. When stating your boundary, avoid doing it in a shaming, accusatory or judgmental way, Rosenberg said.

Instead, emphasize your love without judging the person for being wrong, and “offer something in return.” Then make sure you follow through. This way you’re still responding to their need and respecting your own limits.

Here’s an example: Your family wants you to come over for Thanksgiving. But this is the third time in a row you and your spouse have been visiting your parents’ home, thereby neglecting her family. To express your boundary, you might tell your dad, “We can’t come for dinner this Thanksgiving because we’ll be spending time with Sarah’s family. But we’d love to stop by for dessert” or “Next year, we’ll do Thanksgiving with you.”

Here’s another example: A daughter goes off to college. Her mom expects to speak and text with her several times a day. Instead of telling her mom, “Mom, you’re suffocating me, and you need to back off,” she’d say: “I know it means a lot for you to talk to me, and you’re doing this out of love, but I really need to focus on my studies and spend more time with my friends at school. Since I enjoy talking to you, let’s talk twice a week. Then I can catch you up on all the great things happening here.”

Setting boundaries this way avoids the negative cycle of enmeshment: Saying that you feel trapped by your parent’s expectations only triggers their anger or passive aggressive reaction (which Rosenberg calls a “narcissistic injury.”) They exclaim that “No one loves me,” which then triggers your shame and guilt, and you let them bulldoze your boundary.

3. Create connections with yourself and others.

“[P]ractice being alone and spending time by yourself,” Rosenberg said. “Work on the parts of your life that make you feel unhealthy, needy or insecure. And come to an understanding that your complete happiness can’t be met with one person.”

He also suggested reaching out to others and developing meaningful relationships; calling friends; making lunch dates and going to the movies.

“Find something that brings you passion, and you’ve kind of lost because of your over-involvement in the relationship.” For instance, volunteer, join a club, take a class or become active in a religious institution, he said.

“Life is too short to be insecure and fearful and tied down to [an unhealthy] relationship.” Learn the skills to create emotional and physical boundaries, and consider seeking professional help. Foster fulfilling relationships, but don’t let them define who you are.

Sep 20

Why Men Cheat More Than Women


By JANICE WOOD Associate News Editor

New research suggests men succumb to sexual temptations more than women — for example, cheating on a partner — because they experience stronger sexual impulses, not because they have weaker self-control.

Recently published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, the study was composed of two experiments. The first was designed to determine how the different sexes reacted to real-life sexual temptations in their past, while the second was designed to pick apart sexual impulses and self-control using a rapid-fire reaction time task.

“Overall, these studies suggest that men are more likely to give in to sexual temptations because they tend to have stronger sexual impulse strength than women do,” said Natasha Tidwell, a doctoral student in the Department of Psychology at Texas A&M University, who co-authored the study.

“But when people exercise self-control in a given situation, this sex difference in behavior is greatly reduced. It makes sense that self-control, which has relatively recent evolutionary origins compared to sexual impulses, would work similarly — and as effectively — for both men and women.”

For the first experiment, researchers recruited 70 male and 148 female participants from the United States.

The participants were asked to describe an attraction to an unavailable or incompatible member of the opposite sex. They then answered survey questions designed to measure strength of sexual impulse, attempts to intentionally control the sexual impulse, and resulting behaviors.

“When men reflected on their past sexual behavior, they reported experiencing relatively stronger impulses and acting on those impulses more than women did,” Tidwell said.

However, men and women did not differ in the extent to which they exerted self-control, she noted.

“When men and women said they actually did exert self-control in sexual situations, impulse strength didn’t predict how much either sex would actually engage in ‘off-limits’ sex,” added Tidwell.

“Men have plenty of self-control — just as much as women,” add co-author Paul Eastwick, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin. “However, if men fail to use self-control, their sexual impulses can be quite strong. This is often the situation when cheating occurs.”

For the second experiment, designed to measure the strength of sexual impulse relative to the strength of impulse control, the researchers recruited 600 undergraduate students — 326 men, 274 women — to participate in a “Partner Selection Game.”

Participants were very briefly shown images of opposite-sex individuals; the images were tagged either “good for you” or “bad for you.” Participants were asked to accept or reject potential partners based on the computer-generated “good for you” or “bad for you” prompt.

While they were shown photographs of both desirable and undesirable individuals, participants were instructed to make acceptance and rejection choices based on the computer-generated tags.

In some trials, participants were asked to accept desirable and reject undesirable individuals; in other trials, participants were asked to go against their inclinations by rejecting desirable individuals and accepting undesirable individuals.

Men experienced a much stronger impulse to “accept” the desirable rather than the undesirable partners, and this impulse partially explained why men performed worse on the task than women, according to the researchers.

However, this same procedure estimates people’s ability to exert control over their responses, and men did not demonstrate a poorer ability to control their responses relative to women, the researchers noted.

Source: The University of Texas at Austin

Sep 19

7 Tips to Become a Better Listener


Listening isn’t the same as hearing someone speak. And it’s not as natural or automatic as many people think.

In fact, most of us make mistakes when listening to others. For instance, we might be more concerned with being heard and voicing our own perspective, according to Mudita Rastogi, Ph.D, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Illinois.

“Often, people come to the conversation with an agenda… When they think they are listening, they are only waiting to get their point across.”

We also might not listen with an open mind. Rather, we might “listen to validate [our] assumptions.”

Listening is a skill, which means that it’s something you can work on and practice. Below, Rastogi shared her tips for becoming a better listener.

Clear your mind. “Check in with your own internal feelings, assumptions and mindset. Ask yourself if you are really ready to listen.” How do you expect this conversation to go? How would you feel about this? For instance, you might think that you’ll be frustrated, Rastogi said. But try to keep an open mind. While you’ve been frustrated in the past, this time might be different. Put your assumptions aside, and “listen for new or different information.”
Ask open-ended questions. For instance, instead of asking, “So did you do what I suggested?” say: “Tell me what you decided to do.” Instead of “Are you upset?” ask: “How do you feel about this?” Instead of “Can you do it this way?” ask: “How shall we tackle this problem?” And instead of “So did you go to college?” say: “Tell me more about yourself.”
Attend to your own nonverbal cues. You don’t just listen with your ears. You listen with your entire body. Make eye contact. Lean forward. Eliminate distractions by putting your phone away and turning off the TV. “Tune into their body language. Nod in affirmation.”
Confirm your understanding. “Listen, and then relay it back to the speaker to clarify if you have understood them correctly,” Rastogi said.
Confirm whether they felt heard. Ask the other person if they felt like you listened and really heard what they were saying.
Consider the written word. “If it is an emotion-laden topic, write down your part, take notes when the other person talks, or send an email.”
Take a breather. When all else fails, take a break, Rastogi said. “A time out helps you come back with a fresh ear.”
Listening goes beyond hearing words. It’s an active process that requires practice.

It’s also a gift. “Listening fully to someone is one of the best gifts we can give them,” Rastogi said.

Sep 19

Cohabitation With Children: What Are the Risks?


Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW
Many authors have written about the benefits and drawbacks of cohabitation in recent years. In my recent Huffington Post article Should I Move In With My Partner?, I write, “While there aren’t any easy answers to the question of whether couples should cohabitate, being aware of the risks involved may help you to make a more informed decision.” However, what I neglected to address in this article is the issue of how to make a wise decision about moving in with a partner when one or both of you have children.

Adding children to the mix makes cohabitation even more complicated. Yet there doesn’t appear to be much research about the impact of parental cohabitation on children. Since single parents make up over 40 percent of all U.S. households, this is an important topic to explore.

If you’re a single parent who is considering cohabitation what are the risks? The answer to this question is two-fold because there are multiple risks. First of all, there is some evidence that cohabitation increases your risk for breakup and divorce — if you decide to marry. Secondly, we need to consider the risk to children who may have a negative reaction to multiple caregivers and loss.

In my opinion, you need to consider that your child may have established a close bond with your partner so they might experience it as a loss if you break up. The late Judith Wallerstein, a distinguished psychologist, was one of the few authors who wrote about this topic. In What About the Kids? she writes, “If they genuinely grow to like or even love the person you’ve invited into your lives and that person disappears one night, it’s another loss. It’s frightening when people disappear and it’s awful to feel rejected.”

Over the last fifty years, there has been a quiet shift in the landscape of family life in America. Approximately two-thirds of couples live together before marriage and this number is compared to one-half of couples 20 years ago according to The Pew Research Center. Rand sociologists, who study family demographics, surveyed 2,600 couples who lived together without marriage. One of the most interesting findings of this study is that young adults who cohabitated had lower levels of commitment than those who marry. Further, couples who cohabitate report lower levels of certainty about the future of their relationships, especially if they are males. While the evidence is mostly anecdotal, most experts agree that cohabitation puts children at risk for possible losses that may compound the original breakup of the family home.

Let’s take a look at some statistics that shed light on this topic:

• Over 50 percent of couples who cohabitate before marriage are broken up within five years (Cherlin, 2009)
• Over 75 percent of children born to couples who are not married no longer live with both parents by the age of fifteen(Cherlin, 2009)
• 47 percent of American women who give birth in their twenties are unmarried at the time (New York Times)
• U.S. taxpayers spent $112 billion in 2011 helping to support children and families with unmarried parents (Washington Post)

It’s no secret that marriage rates are on the decline. In 1960, 72 percent of Americans were married. Today approximately 50 percent are. Understandably, there’s a lot of fear about marriage. Since the divorce rate has hovered around 50 percent for decades, the question for many is: Why marry when there is one in two chances it won’t work out? However, what many people forget is that just because a couple isn’t married when they break up it doesn’t mean they don’t have issues to resolve such as financial claims related to property or combined assets.

One thing is for certain, researchers have found that before you decide to live with someone, it is incredibly important that you and your partner are on the same page. Dr. John Curtis, author of Happily Un-Married highlights the “expectation gap” as a critical consideration before moving in with your partner. He states that the fundamental difference between men and women according to a recent Rand Study is that many women view living together as a step towards marriage while many men see it as a test drive.

What are your motivations for living together? If you want to develop a deeper bond, and most significantly, you see cohabitation as a step toward marriage, having differing expectations may be a problem.

If you decide to cohabitate these are steps to minimize damage to your children:

• Sit down with your partner and clarify your expectations about the future. This can enhance your chances of remaining in a committed relationship.
• Be careful not to bypass these discussions and fall into “sliding not deciding,” according to author of The Defining Decade, Meg Jay.
• Don’t ask your children’s permission to cohabitate — this is too much responsibility for them and will be harder for them to recover from if you breakup.
• Discuss parenting strategies such as how you are going to handle conflicts that will arise with children and between them — especially if you are blending families.
• Prepare your children carefully. Make sure they’ve met the person many times and feel comfortable with them. Reassure your children that they are still a priority and that your partner will not replace their biological parent.
• Set household routines that accommodate your partner and your children. Have regular discussions and share meals together so you can check in about how household issues are going.

Before you make the decision about whether or not to cohabitate, consider the risks to your children if it doesn’t work out. Ask yourself: Am I selling myself short by moving in with my partner? Would cohabitation put my children at risk for more loss? Weigh the advantages of tying the knot or delaying cohabiting until your children launch. In the end, consider that your child may grow to genuinely like or love this person and if the relationship ends, it’s another loss. However, if you decide to cohabitate, approach your new lifestyle with optimism and confidence — because you’ve taken all the steps to enhance your chances of success.

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Sep 1

Couples Therapy


by Alyssa Siegel

The “extrovert” versus the “introvert” partner

One person gets their energy from high levels of stimulation; the other requires solitude to feel grounded. Introverts are not necessarily shy or anti-social, but they often prefer one-on-one or small group settings because they fell more in control. Extroverts tend to respond more quickly, hitting the send button or blurting out their thoughts before filtering them. Introverts need more time to process and come back to a conversation while an extrovert may want to talk it out. Neither approach is better, and the differences can be complementary. But, when a conflict arises, it is often each partner’s characteristic style of handling it, rather than the details of the issue itself that actually creates the problem.

My suggestion: It’s important for the extrovert to understand that how they communicate rather than what they say may be overwhelming to their introvert partner. Pushing a conversation with explanations or conclusions can result in a lock down in which the introvert feels like a deer caught in headlights, causing further withdrawal inward. The introvert, on the other hand, must understand that his or her partner has the best intentions, and the urgency to engage reflects a desire for intimacy and connection or anxiety about leaving conflict unresolved.

It can help if the couple establishes a general “rule” to take some time and space apart in moments of conflict with an agreed upon time to return to the conversation; an hour, maybe the next day, depending on the amount of time it takes for the introvert to regroup so that they aren’t flooded and the extrovert to cool down, both waiting respectively to feel centered again. Most of us can’t think clearly, express ourselves rationally or come to reasonable conclusions when we are least emotionally aroused. Otherwise, we risk saying things that may be hurtful rather than helpful, or we may throw up our hands just to end the conflict without it actually being resolved.

The “rational” versus the “expressive” partner

I work with a lot of activists, teachers and social workers who have partners that may not come from the same tradition or training. While this partner approaches conflict with compassion and reason based on their experiences, the other may have been raised in a home in which everyone yelled at each other. Swearing and insults flew freely and fights blew big but were quickly passed over, everyone going on with their day as usual. For them an eruption of anger is normal and even preferable to bottling it. Once they have had a chance to vent, they don’t understand why things can’t then just move on. When those words land on the person that has worked hard to use reason and ownership of their part in the conflict in their lives to avoid shaming and blaming, anger and insults mean a lot. They feel shocked and sometimes deeply wounded. On the other hand, to the non-trained partner, “I” and “feeling” statements from the “rational” partner come off as condescending and manipulative.

My suggestion: Decide on certain language that is off-limits such as “fuck you,” or “bitch,” or “I want a divorce,” etc, but also understand that these words are the result of extreme frustration, like a tea pot letting off steam at the boiling point. They are not necessarily meant to personally injure. It’s no worse to always overreact passionately in the face of conflict than it is to always react reasonably without any genuine expression of emotion. Build the boundaries by setting limits, and if you’re the rational partner, examine your style of “arguing” for its possible rigidities or hidden hostilities. A more genuine expression of feelings may be experienced as less false or aggressive and lead to a more meaningful conversation.

The “avoidant” versus “aggressive” partner

Though a subtly different dynamic than the “rational versus expressive” one, the “avoidant versus aggressive” interaction is no less painful. Most observers would blame a verbally aggressive partner for a couple troubles because of his loud and in your face style, but a passive partner who seems to turn the other cheek may secretly blame the other, refusing to take ownership of the couple’s difficulties. While the passive partner may feel bullied or abused, the aggressive partner may feel like he or she has been quietly undermined, dismissed or abandoned. The more the passive person shuts down or pulls away, the more the aggressive person leans forward and pushes in, demanding resolution or retribution because he or she feels like their partner doesn’t care.

My obvious suggestion: The aggressive partner should try backing off in order to give the passive partner room to step forward and work towards becoming more assertive in their communication. This behavior needs to be positively reinforced by empathic listening. Of course this is easier said than done because in the middle of a conflict, each partner must stop to reflect on their personal contribution to creating the difficulties.

A stop word can help. Choose a word that either partner can invoke to prevent a conflict from escalating or to call a time out to reflect and gather your words. Use the break to think about how you might be maintaining the conflict. Make a leap, stop acting defensive, and consider that what your partner is saying about you might be true. When both of you are ready, apologize for your behavior. “I’m sorry if I was ……..” Then each should talk about ways to change how you’re interacting. This dynamic generosity – the generosity of love, of support, of spirit – is especially important. One person needs to be willing to start approaching the other with generosity and the other will most likely follow suit, softening and reciprocating in this new way of being present with one another.

The “laid-back” versus the “organized” partner

Opposites attracted in this relationship, at least at first. One person was drawn to the other’s spontaneous and relaxed attitude while the other felt attracted by possibilities of greater certainty, order, and focus. Yet, over time, as the differences proved greater than imagined, each partner became increasingly frustrated. The free spirit now sees their partner as inflexible and rigid; the organizer sees the free spirit as irresponsible and flakey. The desire to change each other grows and they become locked in an unending argument over whose way of doing things should prevail.

My recommendation: Use a stop word to end the argument. Reflect on those qualities about your partner that originally attracted you. It was those qualities that are lacking in yourself and an unconscious desire to attain them that created a feeling of chemistry in the first place. Each person can do something to move closer towards the other’s style of interacting by assuming the behavior they first admired in the other. The organized partner can remind himself that just because he feels a sense of urgency, it doesn’t mean that all matters are urgent. Meditation and practicing letting go can help. For the laid back partner, practicing focus, single-mindedness, planning activities, may satisfy a secret desire for order and security and finally change the dynamic in the relationship.

The “committed” versus “one foot out the door” partner

It is very hard to make much progress in couples therapy when one person’s sense of commitment has changed. A partner may be at their wit’s end after years of frustration or unhappiness, one signature away from a lease on a new apartment. But until he or she feels ready, they have become resigned to live in the relationship, finding evidence for their unhappiness in each failed interaction with their partner. For them “the grass may be greener on the other side.” He or she has made their decision and nothing can change it. The other partner is, however, committed to making the relationship work and willing to make comprises or even sacrifices in order for it to continue.

My advice: Consider this. It’s incredibly easy to see a partner as the source of your unhappiness, and maybe sometimes they are. But just as often, they are the scapegoat for it. No one else’s life is as entwined, and it may feel as if the other is accountable for things that may actually grow from your own unresolved conflicts and unmet needs. Each partner can do a personal inventory of qualities about themselves that may have contributed to the impasse in the relationship. In other words, instead of blaming a partner, consider how your own behavior makes matters worse.

The committed partner might be served by also considering what it is they are holding on to. Are they sacrificing at all costs? Are they in love with the fantasy of what a partner or relationship “could be” rather than what they really are? Acting like the relationship has to continue as a matter of personal survival may not always serve its betterment. Sometimes a more neutral stance allows what is best to happen slowly become apparent. Don’t be so sure of anything. Despite what you think, your survival doesn’t depend on the relationship. Take an inventory of what’s valuable about yourself. If there isn’t going to be reciprocity, leave open the option that the relationship probably isn’t going to work.

Until a decision is made, stop blaming. Again, find a generosity of spirit within yourself – praise, support, and seek to make the partner’s life easier even when your feelings are hurt and resentment has been longstanding. If one partner changes his or her behavior, then chances are the other will pick up on it and do the same. Even if the relationship is ultimately not viable, you can part on more peaceful terms and enjoy kinder times as you come to your decision.

We all have it in us to be better partners. Every relationship can be improved. Relationships are never perfect and maintenance always necessary. With an attitude of generosity versus self-centeredness, self-responsibility versus blaming, open-mindedness versus defensiveness, intractable patterns can be broken and new, more satisfying ones formed.

There are many reasons to prefer being single. The lack of responsibility for another, the freedom in time and in choices. There are also many reasons to prefer being in relationship, such as the feeling of security that comes with knowing someone has your back, and the opportunity to grow and create memories with a partner who supports and respects you. Whatever you chose, honor yourself by asking yourself why it is that you seek out or avoid certain people or kinds of relationships, especially if it seems to be a pattern. Think about the ways in which you can be your best self, both alone or with a partner, and make sure that you are responsible for making that happen and don’t depend on anyone else to do it for you. If you want a relationship, seek out partners that inspire you, not only those that simply need you. Choose instead of waiting to be chosen.

Aug 3

Fixing your marriage is like losing weight


The two have much in common. Not just because they both can be frustrating, confusing, and sometimes ugly, but in a number of other ways.

First, in both fields there are lots of gurus and information. Go to your nearest bookstore or check out Amazon and you will see tons and tons of books on weight loss. From the grapefruit diet to Atkins, you name it, someone made a diet about it. The same can be said about relationships.

Like losing weight, you have got to pick the healthy ones to follow, not fads. Diet or relationship advice that has you doing weird unhealthy things should be tossed out the door. Look for the pattern in the respected experts. In study after study it has been found the reason the fad diets “work” is calories are ultimately less. (The bottom line is calories in versus calories out.) The relationship experts often boil down to some simple ideas of healthy self, communication skills, good boundaries, and respect.

Sometimes a person starts a diet and it backfires. They either go to extremes and restrict uncontrollably, or they feel so starved they begin binging. The same happens in relationships. Someone learns about the importance of talking about their feelings, and they overwhelm their partner and anyone who will listen. On the opposite side is the person who learns the motto “pick your battle” and decides never to talk about things because “they aren’t important.” Both extremes are unhealthy in relationships.

If you are using a healthy format for weight loss, chances are the lifestyle change will also include exercise. I’ll share a story: many years ago I bought an elliptical because I loved them at the gym. I thought, “I’ll work out at home daily and take off those excess pounds.” Fast forward a year; I had been working out for 45 minutes 6 times a week and hadn’t dropped a single pound! Why? I hadn’t watched my food intake. You have to do both.

The same is true in fixing a relationship. You have to work both yourself individually as well as yourself in the relationship. Self health and relationship skill; do both.

Some parts of the work seem easier for one or the other of you. Anyone who has lost weight with someone else will agree; remember the old commercial where they do the same thing and he loses 5 pounds while she gains 10? It’s because some parts are easier; my husband is just naturally good at numbers and so counting calories is a breeze for him- I hate it. I love exercise; he could do without.

In the relationship this may seem more subtle but it is very important. Often women are “better” at the communication of feelings while men are better at thinking things through to a solution immediately. When you are working on a relationship it is important to acknowledge both strengths and weaknesses of each of you. It will help you realize the work your spouse is doing even if you think it should be easy.

Weight loss and relationship change- both need to be attended to daily. Intimacy is a practice that requires regular choices (the way choosing a salad at lunch may help you keep those pounds off.) They both take a long term commitment or you will backslide. However, if you practice them both daily they can become habitual and feel less like “work”.

Lastly, healthy eating and healthy relating are often not supported by those around you. You know what I mean: a culture of fast food and cheating (in both senses of the word.) You will run into saboteurs who will tempt you will “just one piece of cake” or “how will he know?” On a more subtle level it will be the normalcy of divorce as a first line choice instead of a last option. Like you need to surround yourself with people who support you new eating habits, you need to surround yourself with those who support healthy relating (even if you have to educate people on your choices in both venues.)

So what do you think? Are they similar or am I pushing my metaphors too far?

Jul 23

Are You Codependent or Compassionate?


By Therese J. Borchard
If a woman doesn’t want to have sex with her husband but does it anyway to please him, is she codependent or compassionate?

That was the subject of debate a few days ago among some friends and I. Half said she was codependent and half said compassionate.

The line between codependency and compassion can be fuzzy because the intentions of both appear the same. However, while compassion promotes effective communication and mutual respect, codependency destroys the foundation of healthy relationships.

If you are confused, as am I much of the time, as to which activities belong in which category, here are a few questions to ask yourself to determine if you are acting with compassion or codependency.

1. What are your intentions?

The word “compassion” is derived from Latin roots meaning “co-suffering.” Compassion goes beyond the emotion of empathy (ability to feel another’s pain) to actively want to alleviate another’s suffering. The intentions are motivated by love and selflessness. The underlying motive of codependency, on the other hand, is that of self-protection. The codependent person needs to be needed and is pursuing acceptance and safety. She often takes on the role of a martyr or a victim, and makes it about herself. In that way, codependent activity — although seemingly charitable — is closer to selfish than selfless.

2. How do you feel, emotionally and physically?

Because codependency is a form of addiction – relationship addiction – it generates the hangover feeling that most addictions leave you with and deteriorates emotional and physical health. Compassion, on the other hand, promotes general health and well-being. In fact, recent studies show that compassion makes us feel good in a variety of ways. It activates pleasure brain circuits, secretes the “bonding” hormone oxytocin, slows down our heart rate, makes us more resilient to stress, and boosts our immune system.

3. Do you value the other person more than yourself?

Both compassion and codependency may involve attending to others’ needs. At times this requires personal sacrifice. However, a compassionate person continues to care for himself in the process; he or she never abandons himself in order to take care of another. A codependent person, on the other hand, discards his or her own needs, replacing them with the needs of the other person. Then he becomes bitter, resentful, and frustrated when there is nothing left for him at the end of the day.

4. Do you feel like you have a choice?

Codependent persons don’t have a choice — or at least they feel as though they don’t — in taking care of another person. There is an exaggerated sense of responsibility, a fear of abandonment by the other person if they don’t pull through. They are not performing free acts of charity as a compassionate person does. They are imprisoned by a sense that something terrible will happen if they don’t attend to another’s needs and do whatever they need to do to enable behavior, even if they acknowledge that it is destructive.

5. Is the relationship healthy?

Compassion strengthens the fibers of a relationship. Acts of selflessness contribute to mutual appreciation, effective communication, trust, and other key ingredients of successful relationships. Codependency, on the other hand, deteriorates the foundation of relationships, causing dependency, jealousy, bitterness, destructive behavior, poor communication, and a host of other problems. Codependency is usually found in relationships that were dysfunctional from the start, where one or both people are involved in destructive and addictive behavior.

6. Do you feel guilty?

Unlike compassion, codependency is associated with an overwhelming feeling of guilt. Guilt is often the motivating factor for decisions and behaviors within the relationship, even though they don’t make any logical sense.

Of course the distinction between compassion and codependency isn’t always so clear-cut. I think there are many moments in my day that I am acting with both: my intention to help morphs into my meeting a need of my own, or a charitable act becomes less about “co-suffering” than about enabling dysfunctional behaviors. As always, awareness of your actions is key to moving toward compassion.

May 5

How to Support an Anxious Partner


By Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.
Associate Editor

How to Support an Anxious PartnerHaving a partner who struggles with anxiety or has an anxiety disorder can be difficult.

“Partners may find themselves in roles they do not want, such as the compromiser, the protector, or the comforter,” says Kate Thieda, MS, LPCA, NCC, a therapist and author of the excellent book Loving Someone with Anxiety.

They might have to bear the brunt of extra responsibilities and avoid certain places or activities that trigger their partner’s anxiety, she said. This can be very stressful for partners and their relationship.

“Partners of loved ones with anxiety may find themselves angry, frustrated, sad, or disappointed that their dreams for what the relationship was going to be have been limited by anxiety.”

Thieda’s book helps partners better understand anxiety and implement strategies that truly support their spouses, without feeding into or enabling their fears.

Below, she shared five ways to do just that, along with what to do when your partner refuses treatment.

1. Educate yourself about anxiety.

It’s important to learn as much as you can about anxiety, such as the different types of anxiety disorders and their treatment. This will help you better understand what your partner is going through.

Keep in mind that your partner might not fit any of these categories. As Thieda writes in Loving Someone with Anxiety, “The truth is, it doesn’t matter whether your partner’s anxiety is ‘diagnosable.’ If it’s impairing your relationship or diminishing your partner’s quality of life or your own quality of life, it will be worthwhile to make changes.”

2. Avoid accommodating your partner’s anxiety.

“Partners often end up making accommodations for their partner’s anxiety, whether it is intentional [such as] playing the part of the superhero, or because it just makes life easier, as in, doing all the errands because their partner is anxious about driving,” said Thieda, who also created the popular blog “Partners in Wellness” on Psych Central.

However, making accommodations actually exacerbates your partner’s anxiety. For one, she said, it gives your partner zero incentive to overcome their anxiety. And, secondly, it sends the message that there really is something to fear, which only fuels their anxiety.

3. Set boundaries.

Your partner might continue asking for accommodations, such as having you drive everywhere or regularly stay home with them, Thieda said. “You have the right to have a life, too, and this may mean telling your partner on occasion, and in a loving way, that you are going to do what you want and need to do.”

In her book Thieda devotes an entire chapter to effectively communicating this to your partner. Essentially, she suggests being empathetic, using “I” statements and giving specific requests.

For instance, she gives the following examples: Instead of saying, “You worry too much about what other people think of you,” you might say, “I’m concerned that your fears about what others think of you are holding you back at work.”

Instead of saying, “Don’t call me at work so much,” you might say, “It would be helpful if you would try some of the techniques you’ve learned for calming yourself down before calling me at the office.”

Also, “always consider whether a compromise is possible, but also recognize that you have the right to do things independently,” she said.

4. Relax together.

There are many techniques you can try together to alleviate anxiety. According to Thieda, “The body scan is a great couples mindfulness technique because one person can guide the other through the process.”

This promotes mindfulness for both partners. The partner giving instructions needs to pay attention to timing and the specific directions, she said. And the partner receiving the instructions needs to pay attention to each body part and releasing its tension, she said. (Here’s a sample body scan.)

5. Focus on your own care.

According to Thieda in her book, “When you live with an anxious partner, there can be a lot of tension in your relationship and in your home. Having self-care routines and plans in place can help you neutralize the static.”

Consider what you’re already “doing to promote physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, professional, and relationship health,” Thieda said. Assessing where you are helps you better understand where you need to go. For instance, you might want to set goals about improving your health or seek support from others, she said. You might want to work with a therapist or attend support groups.

What to Do When Your Partner Refuses Treatment

Anxiety is highly treatable. But your partner might not want to seek professional help. Thieda suggested considering the reasons behind their refusal.

For instance, they might’ve tried treatment before but it didn’t work. One reason treatment “fails” is because it’s not the right treatment for the person’s anxiety. According to Thieda, “It is best to work with a professional who uses cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques and is specifically trained in working with people who struggle with anxiety.”

They might’ve tried medication or psychotherapy alone, but they’d do better with a combination of treatments, she said. It’s also possible that your partner tried to take on too much, and ended up feeling even more anxious. “Maybe they need to approach their treatment in a different way, breaking down the challenges into smaller, more manageable pieces.”

Ultimately, the decision to seek treatment rests with your partner, Thieda said. “No amount of begging, pleading, or threatening is going to be effective, and will likely make things worse.”

The best thing you can do is to be supportive, encouraging and loving when they do decide to seek help, she said.

Having a spouse who’s struggling with anxiety can naturally become stressful for partners. But while this can be challenging, by educating yourself, setting healthy boundaries and practicing self-care, you can truly help your spouse and your relationship.

Dec 18

Divorce Causes: 5 Ways To Destroy Your Marriage


By Francesca Escoto for

A good friend of mine says that love is blind, but marriage restores your 20/20 vision. Regardless of romance, all marriages — at some point or another — will go through at least one major crisis.

If the relationship survives past the first few years, after the endorphins have subsided, couples will have to deal with the 12-to-20 season: the time between years 12 and 20 when couples typically work out the last major kinks and differences. If they are unable to reach this point, years 12-20 will typically result in divorce.

Here are five signs you might be the reason why your marriage has not worked out its kinks:

1. You can’t handle the in-laws. Research shows that how spouses relate to the in-laws is a strong predictor of marriage longevity. A man who gets along with his wife’s parents is wise — his chances of a strong marriage increases by about 20 percent. Women who get along with their in-laws actually have an increased probability of divorce, by about 20 percent.

If you are the husband who does not invest in knowing or liking the in-laws, or if you are a wife who can’t say no to the mom-in-law’s constant, last-minute demands, you are probably driving your spouse to divorce.

2. You are always the victim. You never do anything wrong, and your spouse is always doing things on purpose, obviously. He/she is completely insensitive, never takes you into consideration and probably even forgets that you exist. In return, you never ask for anything, you allow your spouse to over-indulge and underestimate.

Perhaps your spouse has been unfaithful but you will forgive every single time. If you truly cannot see any of your own faults or imperfections and blame the other person for all that goes wrong, you are probably driving your spouse to divorce.

3. You can’t handle pain or anger. No, this does not mean that you explode in anger every two minutes. This could very well mean you pretend to never get angry in an effort to avoid confrontations. You cannot be fully honest about how you feel because you don’t want to be the bearer of bad news.

The idea of pain is overwhelming, and it is something you avoid because it is “bad.” You always wait until you cool off, which takes about six months and by then you don’t even remember what happened. It must not have been that important…

The idea of anger makes you angry at yourself for even thinking it, because you believe you should never feel angry. When your spouse gets angry, you feel a lot of pain and you work hard to get rid of the pain. Instead of dealing with your hyper-sensitivities, you pretend to not be angry, give silent treatments and fake orgasms, or better yet, you fake headaches to avoid sex altogether. If you are more concerned with keeping the peace than you are with making peace, you are probably driving your spouse to divorce.

4. You know you’re right. Negotiating typically means that your spouse will think it over until they agree with, well — you. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to reason with someone who already knows how the problem will be resolved. Its not that you are being unreasonable, you actually make a lot of sense, which makes everything more difficult.

Since you make sense, you assume that you are right, and that your point of view is therefore the only “right” one. Your spouse never gets it. Ever. Or hardly ever. Because you really are willing to negotiate, just not this time because this time you are right. As usual. If your spouse can’t make decisions without you having a great “suggestion,” as you typically do, you are probably driving your spouse to divorce.

5. You constantly belittle your partner’s needs. Men need words of affirmation and sexual intimacy. Women need time to be heard and appreciated, as well as random acts of kindness. Minimizing how important these are is like denying water to a rose garden and expecting roses.

The bond that holds couples together will never bloom unless you give it what it needs: validation. When couples start to hold their needs against each other, they vanish any possibility of real intimacy. After all, your spouse should be the one person on this planet who wants your needs to be met, even if they can’t meet all of them.

If you withold sex as punishment because you know how important it is for him, or you skip intellectual foreplay consistently because you are too tired to romance her, you are probably driving your spouse to divorce.

Francesca is a speaker, author, and life coach. Join the conversation on Facebook at Living Latina. For speaking information, visit

Oct 5

Can a Relationship Survive an Affair?


By Nathan Feiles, LMSW
It depends.

People respond to learning of a partner’s affair in different ways, depending on personal values. Some may respond by immediately leaving the relationship without looking back. Some may believe in the concept of working through adversity together and seeing if they can make it through as a stronger couple. Some may believe that the family is paramount (especially when children are involved) and want to work things out for the sake of the family staying together. And so on.

No matter the personal value systems at play, a relationship can survive an affair only if both partners actively want it to. If only one partner is interested in fighting for the relationship, it will be a frustrating uphill battle that can have compounding negative effects (e.g. lowered self-esteem and self-worth).

Affairs have several components to them. There is the emotional impact (e.g. hurt, betrayal, anger, etc.) of the affair. There is figuring out what led to the affair in the first place — behaviorally and psychologically for both partners. As part of this component, there’s acknowledging the state of the current relationship (e.g. what was missing or happening in the current relationship for the one who cheated? What was the role of the other partner?), as well as the personal psycho-emotional state of the one acting out by having the affair (e.g. what was going on inside that enabled this behavior?).

Basically, there’s the experience and state of each partner, and there’s the experience and state of the unit as a whole, which all need to be considered in recovering from an affair.

So, after the affair has been revealed, and the emotional dust has had some time to settle, the first question to answer will be if each partner is interested in working to repair the damage caused to the relationship. Of course, for both partners, this question is not usually an easy one to answer. There are many things to consider before deciding which direction you want to see the relationship go. Here’s a list of questions to help figure out the next step:
•How willing am I to work through the process of repairing the relationship?
•Where do I draw the line? (setting boundaries).
•What am I fighting for if I stay, and what will be impacted if I leave (emotionally and actively)? This can take the form of a pros/cons list.
•Which process am I more willing to take on (working to move forward together? or ending the relationship and dealing with all that comes with this?)
•How will I feel later if I decide to leave without trying to repair the relationship first?
•What do I generally want to see happen?

Being able to answer the questions above can help each partner understand the implications the decision will have.

Couples and individual therapy (for each partner) is encouraged as part of the relationship healing process. It is necessary to understand what in the relationship dynamic led to the affair in the first place, in order to prevent a recurrence. However, both partners have room to benefit from individual therapy (not only the one who engaged the affair). The hurt partner could use support to sort out emotions and learn their own role in relationship troubles. Also, the hurt partner at times can develop urges to act out in response to the affair, possibly by engaging in an affair of their own as revenge, or other forms of revenge, including even consideration of physical harm to their partner. So the triad of couples and both individuals in therapy is heavily encouraged for a relationship to make a healthy recovery from an affair.

So the answer is, yes, a relationship can survive an affair. The real question is how much do both partners want it to.

Sep 29

Sex Tips: How to Improve Intimacy in your Marriage


Stay close in and out of the bedroom By Jennine Estes, MFT
Intimacy is an all-encompassing word, with sex merely being one aspect of it. Intimacy in your marriage takes more than just spicing up your sex life.

Intimacy is a vital substance in the healthiest of relationships, and its existence allows partners to share their physical and emotional selves with each other, openly and safely.

If you can find it in yourself to be more emotionally intimate in your relationship, both you and your loved one will definitely reap the rewards in the bedroom!

Here are the top ten ways to increase and maintain intimacy in your marriage:

•Compromise when in disagreement. When you and your partner aren’t seeing things eye-to-eye, take it upon yourselves to reach a happy medium that you can both agree on. Ask each other, “What would make us both happy?”
•Do the 30 minute focus. Spend a minimum of 30 minutes per day with your full attention focused on your partner. This could take place at the dinner table, in the family area/living room with the TV off, cuddled together in bed, etc. Eliminate interruptions, such as roommates, friends, and even children, so you can take the undivided time you need to discuss each other’s day and other personal, intimate topics.
•Plan a “date night.” Date nights help kindle romance and intimacy. Plan the evening together or surprise each other, get dressed up for one another, spend time focusing on each other, and laugh together.
•Empathize and validate. Everyone disagrees once in a while, but make sure when you are in disagreement, you show empathy, monitor your tone of voice, and validate your partner by letting them know you don’t think they are “crazy” for how they feel.
•Take mutual interest in one another. Showing interest and curiosity in their day or things that they like not only helps your partner feel important and special, but also motivates them to do the same with you! Imagine how great it feels when they listen intently to what you have to say. Make sure you do the same for them.
•Spend your free time doing things together. Surprise your partner with an activity that the two of you can enjoy together. Try hiking, picnics, board/card games, etc.
•Leave them love notes. Write things you admire about your partner on sticky notes and hide them in places where you know he or she will find them throughout the day.
•Focus on the positive. If you acknowledge and reinforce the things you appreciate about your partner instead of focusing on the negative, you’ll find they will eagerly repeat the desired behavior, instead of feeling dejected from belittlement.
•Show respect. By listening, avoiding critical language and minimizing your anger (intonation and context), you will show your partner that you have the utmost respect for their thoughts and feelings.
•Stop critical language. “You should …” “You must …” “You are too …” “You never …” “You always …” — each of these are examples of how we point our fingers at our partners while telling them they are not right. Give them a chance and let them carry things out the way they’d like to.
Changing the way you interact with your partner outside of the bedroom can make all the difference for how things go inside the bedroom.

By taking time to validate and appreciate your partner, treating them wth respect, and spending quality time together, you are increasing the chances that you’ll feel close and connected. A couple that is emotionally connected will have an easier time feeling physically connected. Intimacy in your marriage is an on-going process, never ignore it!

To learn more about the author, or to book an appointment with her, visit her website at

In the first scientific study to test whether doubts about getting married are more likely to lead to an unhappy marriage and divorce, UCLA psychologists report that when women have doubts before their wedding, their misgivings are often a warning sign of trouble if they go ahead with the marriage. The UCLA study demonstrates that pre-wedding uncertainty, especially among women, predicts higher divorce rates and less marital satisfaction years later. “People think everybody has premarital doubts and you don’t have to worry about them,” said Justin Lavner, a UCLA doctoral candidate in psychology and lead author of the study. “We found they are common but not benign. Newlywed wives who had doubts about getting married before their wedding were two-and-a-half times more likely to divorce four years later than wives without these doubts. Among couples still married after four years, husbands and wives with doubts were significantly less satisfied with their marriage than those without doubts. “You know yourself, your partner and your relationship better than anybody else does; if you’re feeling nervous about it, pay attention to that,” he added. “It’s worth exploring what you’re nervous about.” The psychologists studied 464 newlywed spouses (232 couples) in Los Angeles within the first few months of marriage and conducted follow-up surveys with the couples every six months for four years. At the time of marriage, the average age of the husbands was 27, and the average age of the wives was 25. The research is published in the online version of the Journal of Family Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association, and will appear in an upcoming print edition.

Read more at:

Aug 18

How well do you know your spouse?


Written on April 7, 2011 by Barbara Peters in relationship advice for couples
“Oh, you like chocolate ice cream best! Imagine that, you love the Beach Boys as much as I do! I can’t believe you love Primitive art too!”

When we first begin to learn about the people who are destined to become our significant others or spouses, the gates of knowledge fling open and a rush of trivia, some good, some bad and some downright ugly, floods our heads. We just can’t learn enough about the person we find so attractive.

Somehow we tend to assume nothing changes as years pass, until one day we overhear our spouse telling an acquaintance, “My favorite ice cream is strawberry.” What in blazes is going on here?

How well do you really know your spouse?

Turn off the TV for an evening and try an experiment I often suggest to couples having a difficult time communicating with each other. All it takes is a pad of paper, pen and a good dose of reality.

Each should jot down at least ten questions to ask the other, but both must answer to spread the wealth of knowledge sure to be discovered. Start with easy questions like “What’s your favorite song, vacation, dessert,” and so on.

Then begin probing a little deeper . . . What are you passionate about? What do you fear the most? Who is your hero? All these questions will require thought and may take some time to answer. No rush, this should be a work in progress.

There is no score to tally; the goal is to learn more about your partner, possibly discovering things and thoughts which might surprise you. It’s fun to do, and you could uncover interests you never knew you shared.

Aug 15

By Rick Nauert PhD Senior News Editor
Couples Therapy Reduces PTSD, Improves Relationship As an individual recovers from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), his or her partner often confronts significant caregiver burden and psychological distress.

A new study discovers that participation in disorder-specific couples therapy resulted in decreased PTSD symptom severity and increased patient relationship satisfaction, compared with couples who were placed on a wait list for therapy. The study is discussed in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Experts all agree that there are well-documented associations between PTSD and intimate relationship problems, including relationship distress and aggression.

“Although currently available individual psychotherapies for PTSD produce overall improvements in psychosocial functioning, these improvements are not specifically found in intimate relationship functioning. “Moreover, it has been shown that even when patients receive state-of-the-art individual psychotherapy for the disorder, negative interpersonal relations predict worse treatment outcomes,” study authors said.

In the study, Candice M. Monson, Ph.D., and colleagues examined the effect of a cognitive-behavioral conjoint therapy (CBCT) for PTSD, designed to treat PTSD and its symptoms and enhance intimate relationships in couples. Researchers conducted the randomized controlled trial from 2008 to 2012, and included heterosexual and same-sex couples (n = 40 couples; n = 80 individuals) in which one partner met criteria for PTSD.

Symptoms of PTSD, co-existing conditions, and relationship satisfaction were collected by assessors at the beginning of the study, at mid treatment (median [midpoint], 8 weeks after baseline), and at post-treatment (median, 16 weeks after baseline). An uncontrolled 3-month follow-up was also completed. Couples were randomly assigned to take part in the 15-session cognitive-behavioral conjoint therapy for PTSD protocol immediately (n = 20) or were placed on a wait list for the therapy (n = 20).

Researchers studied if the intervention helped reduce PTSD symptom severity (as a primary outcome); and if intimate relationship satisfaction, patient- and partner-rated PTSD symptoms, and co-existing symptoms were also improved (secondary outcomes).

The researchers found that PTSD symptom severity and patients’ intimate relationship satisfaction were significantly more improved in couple therapy than in the wait-list condition. Additionally, PTSD symptom severity decreased almost 3 times more in CBCT from pretreatment to post-treatment compared with the wait list; and patient-reported relationship satisfaction increased more than 4 times more in CBCT compared with the wait list.

The secondary outcomes of depression, general anxiety, and anger expression symptoms also improved more in CBCT relative to the wait list. Treatment effects were maintained at three-month follow-up. “This randomized controlled trial provides evidence for the efficacy of a couple therapy for the treatment of PTSD and comorbid symptoms, as well as enhancements in intimate relationship satisfaction,” said researchers.

Notably, improvements occurred in a sample of couples in which the patients varied with regard to sex, type of trauma experienced, and sexual orientation. Researchers discovered the treatment outcomes for PTSD and related symptoms were comparable with or better than effects found for individual psychotherapies for PTSD.

In addition, patients reported enhancements in relationship satisfaction consistent with or better than prior trials of couple therapy with distressed couples and stronger than those found for interventions designed to enhance relationship functioning in nondistressed couples, report the authors.

In summary, researchers believe cognitive-behavioral conjoint therapy can be an effective strategy to address individual and relational dimensions of traumatization. The therapy technique may be of benefit to individuals with PTSD who have stable relationships, and partners willing to engage in treatment with them.

Aug 2

By Allison Cohen, M.A., MFT for

We’ve all heard the dauntingly horrible statistic: 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. No one wants to be a cliché, and everyone wants to find themselves amongst the 50 percent that beat the odds.

What if you could identify the biggest indicators before it was too late? What if you had the chance to turn it all around? Would you seize the moment, even if it meant taking an unpleasant look at the reality of your relationship and digging in to repair the damage?

Look at the indicators below to see where you fall on the spectrum of marital turmoil:

1. You become a one-woman consulting firm. You used to ask your partner for their opinions on a variety of subjects. Everything from what you should do about your difficult boss to what plans you’ll make for the weekend. Those days are gone, and you find yourself making decisions without consideration for your spouse’s feelings or how it might affect him.

2. You pull out your scorecard and start tallying. The ease of give and take has been replaced with playing “Tit for Tat”, and you actively keep mental notes on how much you are contributing versus how much your partner isn’t.

3. You anoint yourself king/queen of the castle. In a successful relationship, no one person’s needs are more important. Your desires are equally considered and equal attempts are made to bring them to fruition. However, now that there is stress, resentment and tension, you make your needs priority one.

4. You move from teammates to roommates. Teammates work in tandem to accomplish goals. They share ideas for how to succeed and envision home and life plans together. Roommates take on singular projects with no respect or thought towards the other person in the house. They clean their space. They do their laundry. Their separate plans become your separate lives.

5. You pull out your needle and start jabbing. Anyone in a long-term relationship knows their partner well enough to have a keen awareness of their hot buttons. In days past, you accidentally pressed them, learned from your mistakes and vowed not to repeat them. Today, you press them with full awareness, and you like it.

6. You stop dating. When you two were happy and in love, you “dated” each other. You did all the little things that kept the romance alive. You sent the sweet text in the middle of the day. You brought home the dessert from that little café you know they love. You made an effort to keep up your appearance. Now, you see your mate as a ball and chain instead of the hot date you used to roll out the red carpet for.

7. You move your love tank to someone else’s truck. Whether it’s emotional or physical, you are reaching out to anyone and everyone other than your mate to connect with and feel connected to.

8. You kidnapped cupid and you’re holding him for ransom. People joke that you stop having sex when you get married because you no longer “have to.” But the truth is that often times, people stop having sex when they start losing the positive feelings towards their mate. No one wants to have sex with the person they see as an impediment to their happiness. Even if you still have sexual feelings, you stop pursuing them to punish, play games or make a point to your partner.

9. Words are saved for scrabble. Gone are the days of staying up late, talking. Conversations with your mate seem futile and exhausting. Instead, you use as few words as possible to convey your sentiments and conversations devolve into what needs to get done around the house or who is running carpool tomorrow.

10. You checked out of your relationship and into your mental hotel. In happier times, your partner was your refuge because they were your best friend, your comfort and your joy. As tension sets in, you blindly interact with your mate without giving them your presence of mind. Your mindfulness has been replaced with fantasies of your new life, away from your partner.

If you’re determinedly shaking your head in agreeance, that’s a flashing yellow light that trouble is brewing. No one said it would be a snap, but then again, nothing worth having comes easy. You have a finite opportunity to get your marriage out of trouble before that yellow light turns red.

If you’re debating and looking for the motivation you’ve been missing, remember that no fantasy holds up to the reality and complexities of a relationship. Even the best partnerships are messy, challenging and can often send you to the brink. They all require effort, diligence and consistency. Be part of the solution and defy those nasty odds.

Jul 17

Shasta Nelson, M.Div. What should you do when you know that your friend’s significant other is cheating on her?

You might expect a friendship advocate to champion, “Always tell your girlfriend the truth! Our loyalty is to each other!” And while I agree with that second sentence, I don’t think the first sentence always leads to that result. How we tell that truth is often what matters most.

Principles to Consider Before Confessing News that Could Ruin Her Life

Do you tell a girlfriend when her husband is cheating on her? Most women say they want to know… but how we do it can determine whether the friendship is protected. Every friendship is different, every marriage is different and every affair is different. There is no one answer to the question that will fit everyone, all the time. Some of us will have added complications if we also feel loyal to the person we know is cheating, if we all hang out together regularly as couples or families, if we know she’s had painful history with this subject, if she thinks her relationship is perfectly fine, if she’s pregnant or has young kids or any other number of variations.

Here are some things to consider before you tell her what you know about her husband or boyfriend that could devastate her.

First, know that your burden isn’t the priority. Yes, it feels like the worst secret ever. And you’re sick to your stomach with what you know. Unfortunately, that is not the biggest concern here. What you are feeling is nothing compared to what she will feel. Your feelings are big and scary, but if you’re thinking of confessing the truth so that you feel better — that is the worst reason to do so. Even if it is causing fights in your own marriage or keeping you up at night — that is not her fault. Vomiting the truth so that she hurts and you feel better is not friendship. Maturity means we learn to find our peace in the midst of painful situations. So if you do tell her, don’t breathe a word about how it’s impacting you, what you would do in this situation, or how mad at him you are. As much pain as you are in, don’t make this about you. This is her nightmare.

Women know when they’re ready to know, usually. I’ve talked to many women after they found out that their husbands were cheating and almost all of them saw warning signs and red flags when they looked back at the relationship. We might act like we don’t know, for a while, because we’re not ready to face the truth or because we’re not ready to have it called into question. So think long and hard about whether you think your friend doesn’t already know. In the coaching world we say, “Don’t have their ah-ha for them.” It’s usually more life changing for her to come to her own truth, than for us for force feed it to her. So if you do tell her, I’d start with the least amount of information you need to give. Being loyal to her doesn’t mean telling her everything you know, it means telling her enough so that she can try it on and make her best decisions. It’s usually best to tell her what you know with a little bit of doubt, allowing her to save face if she chooses denial for a little longer. Don’t force a long conversation or intervention now, just move on. You can know she’ll undoubtedly keep thinking about it.

You need to know that most women stay. I think it’s worth reminding you that most women stay in marriages even after an affair. And unless you’ve been there, you can’t judge it. Sometimes there are higher values at stake, other needs being met and alternative priorities that she chooses. That is not a choice of weakness; to stay is hard and it takes tremendous strength. But you need to know this because it’s not a given that she’s going to thank you for the information and leave him tomorrow. Supporting her means supporting her relationships, choices, decisions and timing. Supporting her means accepting her no matter whether you approve. So if you do tell her, then be sure you tell her that it’s okay if she stays or wants to try to work it out and that you can still understand what she loves about him. You should feel no invested stake in what choice she makes (even if it affects your ability to go out on double-dates — that is not the highest priority right now!), when she makes it, or how; let her know that you will fully support her and journey with her in any direction. And you’ll support her if she changes her mind down the road, too. Life is a journey, let her take hers.

Women don’t want to have to defend their family. Even when we know our mom is impossible, we don’t want someone else to say it. Even when we know our children are trouble-makers, we don’t want everyone else to think less of them. Even when our spouse makes us madder than mad, we don’t want our friends to not admire him. In fact it’s common that most women will blame the “other woman” more than they will their own spouse — its how we react to people we love. Like a mama bear with her cubs, chances are high that she will defend him; it’s partly how she defends herself. So if you do tell her, be very, very careful to still speak highly of him, to only share the bare minimum and to never speak poorly of him or their marriage. Even if she reacts with anger toward him, tell her you understand the feelings, but don’t agree with her or express your own opinion. What he did was a hurtful thing, but he is not a bad man. Even if she leaves him eventually, she will heal better if people around her aren’t devaluing him or feeding her anger.

The messenger can become the threat. If she’s defending him (or herself, since we all want to believe that we chose the perfect person, are worthy of their love and have a great marriage), you are at risk for being seen as the threat. At her very healthiest, she would be able to separate you from the message, but when we’re scared, we don’t always react rationally. She may accuse you of lying, see it as evidence that you’ve never really supported her relationship with him, or simply be so ashamed she can’t face you anymore for what you come to represent to her. If the truth comes out later, she may not want to face you and feel the embarrassment of an “I told you so,” and if she decides to stay, she may feel like she can never talk about it with you. So if you do tell her, know this distance is normal and a likely consequence of telling the truth. The best way to minimize this is by never placing yourself against him; rather just keep expressing how much you love her and will stick by her no matter what. Express deep regret for having to tell her, but simply tell her you would regret it more if she someday found out you knew and didn’t tell her.

Be ready and willing to handle the grief. If you’re not close enough to her to be someone who is ready to go through the grief cycle with her, you may not be close enough to her to tell her this news. She will likely need to grieve; whether it ends her relationship or not, there is still some loss. The stages of grief include denial, anger, bargaining, and depression — all of which she may take out on you. All of which are healthy and normal stages. Pray for the courage and tenacity to not take things personally. So if you tell her, you need to be committed to showing up in all those stages, reminding her how much you love her and support her. That might mean doing all the initiating for a while. That might mean being her place to vent or her person to ignore. No matter what she does, you should just keep saying to her, “You have a right to be mad. I would be to. That’s okay. But I’m going to still be here no matter what. You can yell at me, but I still love you.” It means being ready to clean up the vomit that was spewed. Because that’s real loyalty.

You’ve been put in a tough place knowing this information. But you can handle this choice. Loyalty may mean protecting her from this news for now if you feel that’s the best option. Loyalty can also mean helping her face her feelings, no matter how reactionary they are. Either way, you can love her and help her see her best self, so that when she goes through phases when she can’t see it herself — she can see herself through your eyes.
For more articles that deal with friendship break-ups, drift-aparts and rifts, go to Shasta’s Friendship

As a divorced parent, what lessons and behaviors are you modeling for your children? The messages you convey will influence your children into adulthood. Here is valuable advice on leaving a positive imprint on your innocent children.

Bad things can happen to good people. Divorce is a prime example. Good people get divorced. Responsible people who are loving parents get caught in the decision to end a loveless or deceitful marriage.

The consequences of that decision can either be life affirming or destroying, depending upon how each parent approaches this transition. Parents who are blinded by blame and anger are not likely to learn much through the experience. They see their former spouse as the total problem in their life and are convinced that getting rid of that problem through divorce will bring ultimate resolution. These parents are often self-righteous about the subject and give little thought to what part they may have played in the dissolution of the marriage.

Parents at this level of awareness are not looking to grow through the divorce process. They are more likely to ultimately find another partner with whom they have similar challenges or battles and once again find themselves caught in the pain of an unhappy relationship.

There are others, however, for whom divorce can be a threshold into greater self-understanding and reflection. These parents don’t want to repeat the same mistakes and want to be fully aware of any part they played in the failure of the marriage. Self-reflective people ask themselves questions and search within — often with the assistance of a professional counselor or coach — to understand what they did or did not do and how it affected the connection with their spouse.

These introspective parents consider how they might have behaved differently in certain circumstances. They question their motives and actions to make sure they came from a place of clarity and good intentions. They replay difficult periods within the marriage to see what they can learn, improve, let go of or accept. They take responsibility for their behaviors and apologize for those that were counter-productive. They also forgive themselves for errors made in the past and look toward being able to forgive their spouse in the same light.

These parents are honest with their children when discussing the divorce — to the age-appropriate degree that their children can understand. (That doesn’t mean confiding adult-level information to children who cannot grasp these issues!)They remind their children that both Mom and Dad still, and always will, love them. And they remember their former spouse will always be a parent to their children and therefore speak about them with respect around the kids.

By applying what they learned from the dissolved marriage to their future relationships, these mature adults start the momentum to recreate new lives in a better, more fulfilling way. From this perspective, they see their former marriage as not a mistake, but rather a stepping-stone to a brighter future — both for themselves and for their children. When you choose to learn from your life lessons, they were never experienced in vain. Isn’t this a lesson you want to teach your children?

* * *

Rosalind Sedacca, CCT is a Divorce & Parenting Coach and author of How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children — with Love!

Jul 11

How to Have a Healthy Relationship


By Wyatt Myers If you read gossip pages or celebrity magazines, you may think that no relationship lasts in this country anymore. Unfortunately, the reality of our romantic relationships isn’t too far from that. It is currently estimated that almost half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce.

With so many breakups going on, how is it that some couples thrive while the rest fail to survive? The truth is that it takes some work to keep relationships healthy. And most people find that the work is well worth the effort when their relationship is still going strong decades after it began. Some simple strategies can help couples strengthen their romantic relationships, no matter what obstacles they face together.

Maintain the Right Ratio

Christine M. Allen, PhD, knows about maintaining a romantic relationship. Not only is she a psychologist and a life coach, but she has also had a strong, healthy relationship with her husband for more than 25 years in the hustle and bustle of New York City.

The secret, Dr. Allen says, is to make sure the positives in the relationship outweigh the negatives by at least a 5:1 ratio. “If you have a lot of complaints, it helps to counterbalance that with a lot of praise, recognition, and affection for all the things that go right in your life,” she says.

Allen has important suggestions to help you maintain that special balance. “When possible, turn a complaint into a request,” she says. “In other words, rather than say, ‘It is thoughtless to be late,’ say, ‘I would like you to call me if you are going to be late.’ Also make any complaining specific to an action. For example, say, ‘When you do X, I feel Y.’”

Striking a Balance

This idea of finding the right ratio in a healthy relationship applies not only to the positives and negatives, but to all aspects of the relationship. Says Allen, “It is important to have shared activities, whether they be going to the movies, playing golf, or having conversation. Each partner in a couple can enjoy time together and time apart from the other. In a healthy romance, you do not expect to get all of your needs met by your partner in some idealized or unrealistic way.”

When there are children in the relationship, the same rules of balance need to apply, says Allen. “Have a date night, even if you don’t go out of the house,” she suggests. “Have dinner together without the children one night a week. Feed them early, and let them watch a DVD while you have a grown-up dinner.”

Handling Arguments

Of course, some fighting is inevitable in a relationship, but Allen says it’s how you handle those disagreements that marks the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships. “Do not avoid conflict, as avoiding conflict can be the kiss of death over time in relationships. But don’t vent anger toward each other in a conflict,” she says. “Instead, manage hurt and anger, so it is neither withheld nor vented on your partner. Use awareness of hurt and anger to express more directly and constructively your needs and concerns.”

Keeping the Romance Real

The other critical component of a healthy relationship is to make physical contact and intimacy a priority. Here again, you have to actively work at this part of your relationship to keep it fresh and vital through the years. And this aspect of the relationship doesn’t always have to be about sex, says Elaine Ducharme, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist and an adjunct professor at at the University of Hartford in Connecticut.

“People can actually feel more intimate just sharing a cup of coffee in a small café or walking hand-in-hand than having sex,” Ducharme says. “Take time in the evening to touch, not necessarily have sex. Lie in bed together, or sit on the sofa and gently massage your partner’s arm or neck. It is a wonderful way to connect and have feelings of relaxation connected to each other.”

Ultimately, a healthy, long-lasting relationship is a partnership. “A healthy romance is one in which each partner sees the best in the other and each of you becomes better than you would have been on your own,” says Allen. “Your partner’s love for you and appreciation of you helps you continue to believe more in yourself. We also accept the other person’s foibles and do not judge him or her on the small stuff.”

Learn more in the Everyday Health Emotional Health Center.

Jun 30

Does Cheating Automatically Mean Divorce?


By Sari Eckler Cooper Is it possible to move on after a spouse has had an affair?

As a certified sex and licensed couples therapist, I have worked with many couples in the aftermath of an affair. Those first few weeks and months seem crazy to the hurt partner as they try to piece together their life, which is usually in shambles.

Surprisingly, many couples that face infidelity do end up remaining together. However, it is not obvious in the early stage of discovery. For some unfaithful partners, the endless questioning by their spouse frustrates them and makes them feel ashamed constantly. They may truly feel sorry for their actions or they may feel like their admission and apologies have entitled them to move forward without going over the details. I try to balance the information I think the hurt partner has a right to know and what I think may be hurtful to know in the long run. I ask hurt partners to save their questions to ask in a couples’ session so I can slowly unwrap the meaning of the question and give my expertise on whether I think the answer to the question will be helpful or hurtful in the long run.

The couples with whom I’ve worked that ended up staying together worked hard to go over the story of the affair and what new boundaries or guidelines needed to be put into place to prevent it from happening again. They also remained in therapy long enough to explore the aspects of the relationship itself that may have contributed to the partner straying, in addition to deeper feelings related to their childhood (at times there was a parent that abandoned the family either emotionally and/or physically) that were begin replayed in the marriage.

My clients who transformed their relationships after an affair also explored the timing of the affair(s) in their lifecycle. One husband felt abandoned by his wife when she became so involved with child-rearing that she left little time for their relationship. It reminded him of his experience as a child in a large family who was left to himself most of the time because his mother was too busy taking care of younger children and cooking meals. Another woman felt overwhelmed by depression after her mother died of cancer and she thought, “Is that all there is?” Many times a person will use an affair to escape a painful experience because they don’t have the words or trust that their partner or anyone else could understand what they’re going through. The work in therapy allowed these feelings to come to the surface and allowed the hurt partner to feel empathy for their spouse, thus making them feel closer and more open to sharing in the future.

My clients who didn’t remain together after an affair had a cheating partner who already had decided to end the marriage before coming into therapy. Other couples who split had a hurt spouse that couldn’t move past the anger phase into the more curious or inquisitive phase of healing. Another couple that had trouble healing was one whose marriage had been in a state of apathy for years. An affair is terribly painful for a couple but with the right steps, divorce can be avoided.

Here are some tips if you find yourself in the aftermath of an affair:

1. Commit to a certain period of time in couples therapy to work on the relationship.

2. Write down questions you have regarding the affair that you would like to understand better and bring them to therapy.

3. Find out why the affair happened when it did.

4. Don’t act out by having an affair of your own in retaliation.

5. Establish specific actions which the partner who strayed can do to begin to repair the trust, including showing up when they say they will, giving names of hotels and names of colleagues on business trips (if the affairs took place out of town) and letting your partner know if the person with whom you had the affair has contacted you.

6. Refrain from making a decision about the marriage or threatening divorce while you’re working on healing for the agreed upon time in therapy.

7. Make sure there are no more secrets regarding this affair or others that may emerge and thus ruin the trust you are trying to rebuild.

8. Make time to spend outside of therapy alone as a couple without talking about the affair to reestablish some good feeling and bonding.

9. Don’t overshare details of what is going on with children. Children need stability to feel safe and secure, and while they can be told you’re having troubles, they can also be told you’re working on it without going into details. If a decision to divorce ensues, there are steps involved to prepare them for the change.

10. If you can, work with a certified sex therapist who is also an experienced couples therapist. You’ll have a better chance of exploring ways to restore and improve the sexual life following an affair.

Jun 13

Can my child’s ADHD break my marriage?


VOXXI Blogs I met my husband when we were very young – we were high school sweethearts all the way. When we could legally do so, we made it official and then started a family. Not too long after, we had our first child, Kennedy. From my personal experience and observations, having children brings two people closer or drives them apart – either way, things definitely change.

When they’re babies, you can’t ever get enough alone time and the nighttime waking will make anyone irritable. Then toddlerhood has you in a constant state of pre-panic attack from all the falling, running off, climbing, and general ‘everywhereness’ of children that age – oh! and those are the so called “easy years!” Strong couples usually prevail, and sadly many married people barely end up nearly managing to be functional parents together- if they can. So, what happens when you add a high needs child with a disorder that spells out pure and utter chaos? Relationships are pushed to their absolute limits!

I once read a statistic that said married parents of an ADHD child were twice as likely to divorce by the time the child turned 8. My child is 8, and even though my marriage is nowhere near being close to the threat of divorce – I understand why this statistic is true.

Factors that could cause distress in relationships

When you have a child with ADHD, you can expect to have those toddler-like issues for many years past the toddler age group.
adhd2 Can my childs ADHD break my marriage? Having children is a wonderful thing, although it puts an additional strain on your relationship. But what about if your child has ADHD? Children with ADHD are very immature and self-destructive. Imagine having a child that’s in a perpetual state of the “terrible twos,” it gets to be overwhelming.

They don’t pay attention while they’re in motion and have a high tendency towards injuring themselves. My son has broken more bones just walking than anyone I know. He’s also very messy because of his lack of attention. He leaves everything scattered while playing and eating, which extends beyond the normal 8 year-old boy mess. These things alone put a lot of strain on me as an individual since my focus and attention are so monopolized by my attempts to contain the chaos.

One major factor that I feel puts a huge stress on marriages is the disagreement on how to handle a child with a learning disability. You and you’re spouse are probably not going to agree entirely on issues like discipline, how to address behavior problems at school, or medications. Some times the wrong decision can have negative implications, and then resentment and blame over a bad parenting decision become part of the martial equations.

My tips for coping

While I am proud to say that I feel like my marriage has survived the really hard parts of figuring out how to function under the added stress, it is a constant ‘practice’ to keep the wrecking ball at bay. Strong couples usually prevail the arrival of children, and sadly many married people end up just nearly managing to be functional parents together- if they can. So, what happens when you add a high needs child with a disorder that spells out pure and utter chaos? Relationships are pushed to their absolute limits!

At least once a week, we escape together. It doesn’t really matter what we do, we just do it without my son. He gets a day or two to get totally spoiled rotten by his grandparents, and we can enjoy the things other parents of children Kennedy’s age and childless couples take for granted. If you are having a hard time in a strained marriage – take regular breaks together.

My other major marriage protector is that we talk to each other about how we’re being affected by the situation, and how it makes us feel. It’s so good to know that you’re not alone in it, and your spouse knows how it feels to parent a high needs child, particularly your high needs ADHD child, better than any of your friends of family.

The hardest thing I have to force myself to do is – agree to disagree. I am a woman that wants people to follow my lead. I’m the alpha (in my mind), and I don’t like to be questioned – in other words, I’m a woman!

That attitude can bring any relationship to its knees, and when it comes to parenting, having that attitude with your spouse just makes you a bully. So, I have to accept that my husband has every right to disagree with me, and to ‘think’ he’s right, because all in all, we’re both trying to do the right thing for our son.

Jun 12

5 Surefire Ways to Destroy a Healthy Marriage


5 Surefire Ways to Destroy a Healthy Marriage By Dr. Rich Nicastro
In the interest of alternative forms of learning, every once in a while I like to turn relationship help advice upside down and talk about the common ways couples mess up perfectly solid marriages/relationships. Knowing what not to do can be as informative as learning what to do in an effort to build a better relationship. So remember, if you follow the marriage/relationship help tips below (which isn’t recommended) you will aggravate your spouse/partner, communication will plummet and intimacy will be a thing of the past!

You probably have made some (or all) of the five mistakes listed below—and if you haven’t, it might be just a matter of time. Strong relationships aren’t devoid of mistakes. The goal is to become aware of potential problems in your marriage or relationship before they snowball into major issues.

So don’t panic if you see yourself (or your spouse/partner) in any of these errors that can destroy a healthy relationship.

5 Surefire Ways to Destroy a Healthy Marriage/Relationship (or what not to do!)

1. Make Mind-reading your number one form of communication.

Mind-reading is simple and easy to do. You just guess what your partner is thinking or feeling and staunchly assume you’re right. Sure, it’s like playing darts blindfolded, but you can rest assured that sooner or later a dart will hit the board (just make sure you have plenty of darts). Here’s a brief example of mind-reading in action:

(Lori just arrived home after a very stressful day at work)

Brad: You’re still mad at me. I can tell. [Note the mind-reading.]

Lori: No, I’m not.

Brad: I know you. I can tell when you’re pissed off. [Note the further mind-reading and assuming he’s right.]

Lori: I just got home and I had a terrible day at work. I got a bad evaluation for that big project I’ve been working on.

Brad: Forget it. You never admit it when I’m right. That’s part of your problem!

Sure, Brad could have listened to Lori’s feedback about her work day, but that would have required him to stop mind-reading and actively listen to his wife (we all know how tiresome that can get). Two of the major benefits of mind-reading are that you won’t have to waste your time directly asking your partner how s/he is actually feeling and you can also ignore his/her feedback, since mind-reading usually breeds more mind-reading. Mind-reading can often be pretty subtle (unlike the example above), so look closely at your own ways of communicating to see if you already use this time-tested relationship destroyer.

2. Get passive about passion

Anyone in a long-term marriage or relationship understands the challenges of keeping romance and passion alive. Candlelit dinners, gazing into each other’s eyes, and the priority of talking and making love begin to buckle under the pressure of busy schedules, the demands of maintaining a household, the stresses of work, and for all those parents out there, the constant attention and energy children require. Familiarity is a double-edged sword for most couples. Familiarity and repetitive routines can make you and your partner feel safe and comfortable with one another, but these same relationship staples can slowly cool the embers of passion.

For many, passion and novelty go hand in hand–new love is inherently passionate and sexually exciting. Just remember the level of passion you and your partner experienced early on in your relationship and you’ll know what I’m talking about. But those spontaneous fireworks cannot last indefinitely—at some point attention and effort is needed to nurture this part of your relationship. Expecting spontaneous passion (and waiting for it rather than working on it) can surely hurt this important part of your relationship.

3. Multi-task whenever your partner needs you

There’s no denying it, we live in a world where doing several things at once is the norm. And some of us are becoming really good at it. But the truth is, you can never be fully present for your spouse/partner without slowing down, prioritizing and really listening. For those of you who remain committed to spreading yourself really thin while creating the illusion of emotional availability, it’s important to remember that emotional intimacy (and that sense of feeling deeply understood by and important to your partner) is likely to allude your relationship when your partner becomes one more item to check off on your overwhelming “to do” list.

4. Make unilateral decisions that affect both of you

For those of you who have been single for quite some time before entering into a committed relationship, it’s probably easy to recall the old days of making decisions without having to check in with anyone.

Your favorite color was red and you liked small, fast cars, so you ran out and purchased the cherry red sports car; The one bedroom apartment felt just right to you, so you didn’t think twice about signing the lease; You wanted a tattoo and a few Margaritas later, “I love Hank” was scrawled on your upper back. (Unfortunately, you didn’t know anyone named Hank) But then you fell head over heels in love and made a commitment to another person (and a commitment to the relationship).

You probably wouldn’t argue with the fact that certain responsibilities come with being part of an intimate, committed relationship (you now exist as part of an “us,” in addition to being a “me”). One such responsibility includes consulting with your partner whenever you’re faced with an important decision. The thinking here is that big decisions impact both of you, so it only makes sense to talk about your partner’s feelings regarding any potentially important decision. One surefire way to drive a wedge between you and your partner is to begin making decisions as if you were single again—doing so is guaranteed to make your spouse/partner feel marginalized and before you know it, you’ll be single again and you won’t have to consult with anyone except your lonely self.

5. Forget about the present: There’s no time like the past

Every second of every day you’re faced with a decision. You can focus your energies and attention on events that have already happened in your life, especially past hurts and lingering resentments and grievances.
When you are fully present, you approach new experiences with the openness and awe of a curious child. When couples are fully present with each other, a special connection is created that isn’t weighed down by the expectations and baggage of the past.

If you want to wreak havoc on your marriage/relationship, dwell in the past and resist the present. Rip open the scabs of past hurts, remind your partner of all the things s/he’s done wrong in the past (even when s/he is trying to change in the present) and for heaven’s sake, whenever it feels like the relationship is going well, pull up as many gloom-and-doom expectations that will remind you that life will eventually stink, so you better stop having a good time with your partner. (This is the “being stuck in the bleak future” approach.)

There you have it, five behaviors that if left unchecked can really knock-out even a healthy marriage/relationship. The antidote for these common relationship mistakes is to be mindful when you and your partner fall into these traps so that they do not become a regular part of your relationship.

Marriage/Relationship Help Resources Are you ready to bring your relationship to the next level? Check out my Marriage Enrichment special offer (this special offer brings together my 3 most popular e-workbooks at a 25% discount).
Dr. Rich Nicastro

Jun 7

By Jennifer Oikle, PhD. This article first appeared on

So, you’re really hitting it off with that new guy in your office. You look forward to seeing him, and chatting with him and you’ve even confided a couple things to him over lunch. He’s just a friend, right? No harm in that…

Hold on. Think it through. Sure, it’s good to have friends, but you could be inching down the slippery slope to emotional infidelity without even knowing it. The trouble? Emotional connections often slide into sexual cheating, even if you are happy in your current relationship. So you want to be on the lookout to protect your bond before it’s too late!

But what exactly is emotional infidelity? Emotional infidelity happens when you allow someone of the opposite sex to fulfill emotional needs that should be met by your partner, creating an intimacy that leads to an emotional attachment that then frequently culminates in sex. It can start innocently enough, that’s why you need to be aware of the behaviors that open the door to an inappropriate connection.

Signs You’re Heading into Emotional Infidelity

1. You look forward to seeing him with more excitement than a typical friend, and spend more time with him than you should.

2. You find yourself dressing up and paying more attention to your appearance in a hope that he’ll notice you.

3. You confide in him about your relationship troubles at home.

4. You flirt with him, touching him while talking or making playful comments.

5. You turn to him first, before your partner, when something is troubling you.

6. You fantasize about what it would be like to be together in a relationship or sexually.

7. You either talk way too much about him to your partner & friends, or you never mention him at all, keeping him a secret.

8. You wouldn’t feel completely comfortable telling your partner everything about your relationship with this person because you know some of it is inappropriate.

Basically, when you’re nurturing an emotional bond with an attractive member of the opposite sex that includes a spark of chemistry and secrecy, you know you’re in trouble!

Stopping the Slide into Emotional Infidelity

If you find yourself slipping into the danger zone, it’s time to take precautions to protect your relationship by moving away from the magnetic pull of cheating — even if it’s not so much fun. Now is your opportunity to set some new boundaries to ensure your relationship stays strong. Try these:

1. Step away from the attraction by setting limits on the amount of contact you have.

2. No longer share your troubles, turn to your partner first for support.

3. Only spend time together in groups.

4. Refocus your attention on your partner by stopping all thoughts and fantasies about the new guy.

5. Plan some fun with your partner so you can reconnect and get the spark going again.

It’s important to recognize that everyone is at risk for emotional infidelity, even if you have a solid relationship, because attention and affection from someone new always feels good. So don’t beat yourself up when you notice the pull toward another cutie, just use that as a sign to move closer to the one you already love and spice it up, instead of straying outside the boundaries to get your needs met. As long as you keep the boundaries around your primary relationship strong, you’ll stay safely in love!

What are the lines that you draw? What is appropriate/inappropriate in male-female friendships if in a relationship? We want to hear from you!

Jun 6

Relationship Skills for Conflicts


By Jenise Harmon, LISW Being in a close, loving relationship is many things. It’s comforting, satisfying, challenging, enlightening, and fun. The one thing that a close relationship is not, however, is simple.

In the beginning of a new relationship, the time I think of as the Golden Days, your partner can do no wrong. Snoring is cute. Picking up the socks that end up all over the house is an act of love. The thought of a serious fight seems impossible — until it happens.

The person you love the most, to whom you are closest, becomes irritating, stupid, or irrational. Suddenly the Golden Days are replaced with reality. You and your partner are shedding your pretenses. Neither you nor your loved one feels the need to impress the other. You are committed to each other. You’re comfortable together.

But the snoring starts to drive you crazy, and you resent the socks you have to pick up. Conflict arrives.

All couples experience conflict, but there are ways to minimize its pain and maximize its growth. Instead of drawing you and your partner apart, conflict can bring your relationship to a new level of intimacy. This happens not by chance, but through learning new ways of relating to your partner and new relationship skills.

1. Decide on a topic and a time.

If there is an issue you want to resolve with your partner, decide together on a time and day to discuss it. Don’t plan it for when you’re tired, or likely to be stressed. If you can, make it for when you’ll have the privacy and time you need. For some, this means talking after the kids are in bed, or when you can hire a babysitter. It may mean planning time on the weekend, when your stress level is lower. Make it an appointment that you have thought about and agreed upon with your partner, and stick to it.

2. Keep on topic.

I can’t stress this one enough. If you’ve set aside time to talk about needed home repairs, don’t start discussing how your partner didn’t take down the Christmas lights until August. It can be very easy to try to get all of your complaints in at once, but resist that temptation. This time is for the agreed-upon topic only. Otherwise you will both become overwhelmed, angry, and frustrated.

3. Learn how to actively listen.

Active listening is more than simply hearing. It is listening with all your attention on what your partner is saying. It means not thinking of what you want to say next, but focusing your entire self on your partner.

As you actively listen, you want to make sure what you’re hearing is what your partner is saying. Saying something like “so, it sounds like you’re really angry that I didn’t go with you to your work party” gives your partner space to clarify — “no, it wasn’t that. It was that you didn’t even ask me how it went when I came home.” Then you try again with a statement such as “you wanted me to show interest in it.”

Ask and clarify until your partner feels like you get it. It might feel strange at first, but once you get a handle on active listening, you will find it is an incredible tool to have for all sorts of conflict in your life, not just in your relationship.

4. Compromise.

A relationship is a partnership that entails give and take. If there is something that you and your partner cannot agree on, then you need to figure out some sort of compromise.You don’t need to be completely enthusiastic about it, but you do have to feel comfortable with it.

5. Be kind.

Some people call this “fighting fair,” but you don’t need to be fighting to use this skill. Don’t call your partner names. This is never helpful, and it only increases tension. Don’t use the word “always” (because it’s often untrue). Try to use “I” statements: “I feel….I think…I need.” Don’t try and read your partner’s mind. “You feel…you think….you need” are phrases to stay away from. Only you partner knows these things — you can only assume or guess.

Learning and using these five skills will improve how you and your partner interact, and your relationship will grow. Couples who have good communication skills are able to work through problems in a healthy way. Conflict will never be fun, but it is expected and normal. Being able to work through problems can lead to growth and deeper levels of intimacy, and in the end makes a relationship stronger.

Jun 5

Why Good Women Stay In Bad Relationships


When people think about an “abused woman,” they probably don’t picture a strong, smart, intelligent, and sassy kind of person. I’d guess they’d picture a housewife wearing Mom jeans crying into her apron over her latest black eye.

Couldn’t be farther from the truth. ANY woman can get caught up in a bad relationship – be it the executive down the hall or the janitor who sweeps up after you in the ladies room.

So let’s break down those stereotypes and figure out why women – all KINDS of women – stay in bad relationships.

1) Fear of being alone. I know in this day and age, we women are supposed to be tough and fearless, but it’s not always the case. We can behave as though we’re tough and fearless, while inside, we long to be wanted by our partner.

2) The devil you know versus the devil you don’t. There’s something comforting in staying with your partner – bad relationship and all – because at least you know what’s next.

3) Fear that this is the best there is out there. A lot of people – women who have been in bad relationships, especially – have their self-esteem eroded slowly by their partner (and life) so much that they honestly believe their current partner IS the best they’ll ever get.

4) “It’s not that bad.” I don’t know how many times I’ve run across those words on my non-profit site, where we get a great number of domestic abuse stories sent in to us. Women believe erroneously that because their story isn’t as graphic or as horrible as someone else’s, it’s not really worth it to talk about their partners who really only get upset when they “do something wrong.”

5) You’re a perfectionist. Everything you do is the BEST out there. Therefore, your relationship must not be broken, it’s just facing “challenges.” The idea of failure is so tremendous that leaving never even crosses your mind.

6) He has some sort of leverage. Often men who are truly abusive threaten a woman, saying he will hurt her children, her pets, or her family if she leaves him.

7) You love him – plain and simple.

8) You believe he will change. He says he will. He’s TRYING to change. You just make him SO MAD. If only you STOPPED making him SO MAD!

9) He makes you feel special beyond compare. Even if you’re not quite good enough (his words), he’ll manipulate you into feeling grateful that someone like him could be with someone like YOU.

10) You can’t see how truly bad it is. Whether it’s because you’ve been isolated from friends or family or you don’t want to see how bad things are, you don’t have any idea things have gotten this dire.

How do I know all this? I’ve been there, too.

May 15

Are You and Your Spouse Financially Compatible?


And… they lived happily ever after. This is true in fairy tales, but in real life, many marriages end on a different note. The fact of the matter is many times, couples find financial disparity in their relationship, do not deal with it directly, and begin to see problems arise. Regardless of the issue, differences must be realized and discussed up front, before the financial bottom falls out.

Considering that financial problems are cited as a leading cause of divorce, it is vital to make sure you and your partner are on the same financial page. By speaking openly and honestly about finances, couples can manage their differences and find their way to compatibility.

Financial Compatibility Clues in Your Mate

The following areas should be considered in an effort to help your relationship stay “on track” financially.

Credit and debt: Disclose your credit statements to one another. How much debt do you each have? This would include credit card debt, vehicle loans and student loan obligations. Don’t hide anything, as that’s really getting off on the wrong foot. (Red flag alert if your mate is defensive or won’t talk about debt.)

Saving philosophy: What is your attitude toward saving, what is your spouse’s? It is important to be honest and realistic or any saving plan that you develop is sure to fail.

Spending attitude: What’s your approach to spending? Do you want a joint or separate checking account? Who will be responsible for each household expense? Will the dollar amount be divided evenly?

Retirement planning: What are both your views on retirement planning? Should both parties contribute to the retirement account? How much is needed?

Financial checklist: Make a list of your financial goals and achievements to date. Then, have your spouse do the same. Determine if your short and long-term financial goals match.

How to Manage if Your Viewpoints Don’t Match

Financial differences don’t have to be the catalyst for a huge fight. Just because your money beliefs don’t fit immediately, doesn’t mean you can’t both work on it together, find some middle ground and move forward to your “happily ever after.”

Ask the following of yourself and your spouse:
* What beliefs must you stand your ground on?
* What are you willing to give up for the greater good?
* What are your top 10 goals to accomplish over the next three, five, 10, 20, 40 years?
Compare both of your top 10 lists and prioritize what is important collectively.

The most important aspect of determining the financial compatibility in a marriage is discovering how you and your partner’s monetary viewpoints match up early on. If money differences are brought to the surface in time, a little compromise and strategic planning can put your relationship back on the right track.

Kimberly Foss is a Certified Financial Planner and personal finance expert with 28 years industry experience. Kimberly founded Empyrion Wealth Management (Roseville, Calif.) 22 years ago and focuses on managing the financial lives of pre-retirees, retirees and women in transition. For more information please visit Empyrion Wealth Management ( or call 916-786-7626.

May 11

Building A Compassionate Marriage


BY ESTHER BOYKIN, LMFT At the start of the year I adopted a theme for the year. A single concept to help direct my projects, personal and professional, as well as a guidepost to help me get centered again when life got overwhelming or out of control as it inevitably does. My theme for this year is compassion. It’s a simple idea really, but I have found that not only has it helped lend some order to my otherwise crazy life, it has become an essential theme to my clinical work with married couples.

So, what is compassion exactly and how can it help bring harmony, joy and a deeper love into your marriage? Let’s start with the definition: “Compassion is an emotion prompted by the pain of others. More vigorous than empathy, the feeling commonly gives rise to an active desire to alleviate another’s suffering.”

In simple terms, compassion is empathy in action. So then what is empathy, really? For many of us, empathy is a sometimes-elusive concept. Similar to sympathy, empathy takes us from feeling bad for someone’s predicament to a place where we actual put ourselves in their shoes and feel what they are feeling as if it were happening to us.

I think Actress Rosie Perez said it best in the movie “White Men Can’t Jump” when she said, “When your wife is thirsty, empathy says, ‘I too know what it is to thirst.’ Compassion says the same thing and then gets up and gets her a bottle of water.”

If empathy is to feel another person’s suffering, compassion is to feel it and then try to comfort them as if their pain were your pain. Simple enough, right? Well not exactly.

Compassion is not about fixing. It’s about understanding and comforting. For many, husbands who have to hear their wife’s complaint about a co-worker or a problem with one of the kids now positions themselves in a role to now become the “fixer” and immediately offer solutions or make decisions to solve the perceived problem. These poor guys and gals (there are “fixer” wives out there too) are missing the most essential key to a compassionate marriage—understanding. Compassion begins with understanding on an emotional level, the reason for our partner’s suffering. The trouble is that understanding our spouse means that they have to understand the root of their suffering first.

Recognizing Compassionate Moments
Now I know that suffering may sound like an extreme description for a tough day at the office or a minor misunderstanding between spouses, but I use this word on purpose. When we are stressed, overwhelmed, upset or emotionally disconnected from our loved ones (even briefly), the emotional response is one of suffering. It is real and it is powerful and the first step to truly understanding our partner and ourselves is to acknowledge the magnitude of “minor issues” on our well-being. The interesting paradox is that the more compassionate we are with ourselves, the more we begin to appreciate that everyone around us is suffering too, and suddenly we are more compassionate with everyone.

For many, the most difficult part of living more compassionately is learning to be compassionate with ourselves and trusting that our partners will do the same. How many times have we gotten into a debate about who had a more stressful day at work? Husbands and wives are not bickering over who has a tougher day because they really think that one of them will win, there’s no prize for having the crappiest day. They are fighting for the right to be comforted. It is as if we believe that only one person can be comforted at a time and we must fight to claim it for ourselves. There are not a limited number of spots for compassion or special criteria you must meet. There isn’t a shortage of comforting unless we create one. The unfortunate reality is that suffering is everywhere and with everyone. And just as suffering is in endless supply, fortunately so is comfort and compassion.

The trouble is that we are often taught to minimize our problems. We compare our issues to someone else’s and feel that we are not worthy of compassion because our problems aren’t that bad. We tell our children, and ourselves, to stop complaining because someone else is worse off than you? How often do you chastise yourself for feeling upset about your husband’s lack of help around the house when you know that your neighbor’s husband just moved in with his mistress? This is a common response but it keeps us stuck. When we force ourselves (and our spouse) to defend our experience of suffering we build resentment and create a cycle of increasing pain. In order to move forward we must learn to shift from a mentality of shortage to one of abundance. Just as there is an abundance of pain there can be an abundance of love and understanding but we must begin with ourselves.

Putting Compassion Into Action
Of course there are degrees of suffering. Your frustration with your husband’s lack of bathroom cleaning is not the same as someone else’s struggle with infidelity; but dismissing your experience as unworthy of compassion sets you and your spouse up for even greater distress. Many times we think that by allowing ourselves to feel upset or sad or hurt by minor issues (however you choose to define that) we are being self-indulgent or giving power to these experiences. The truth is that our pain gets its power from our denial or minimization of it. Like a small area of mold in your basement, left untreated our pain only grows and spreads, it will not resolve itself without our attention. When we validate the suffering in our lives, no matter how small or “insignificant” they may seem, we are suddenly able to accept the comfort we so desperately seek and let it go. Moving on means first acknowledging where we are.

When you can gently acknowledge that your suffering over the dirty bathrooms is real, you are then able to go deeper and learn to understand more about yourself. Maybe the pain about housework is just a tangible example of loneliness you feel when your husband is preoccupied and too busy to take care of you and the house. By being compassionate with yourself first, you can help your husband understand that experience, enabling him to offer comfort to your emotional pain rather than solutions to a physical problem. Hiring a cleaning person to clean bathrooms once a week in not likely to alleviate your sense of abandonment; however hiring someone and then using that time to go on a date together could give you the comfort you seek, and keep those toilets sparkling.

This is where the magic of compassionate living happens, as you learn to be compassionate with yourself, you create a space for your spouse to be more compassionate with you. If you can learn to look at each other with compassion rather than competition, you will find that there is more than enough to go around. And as you learn to stop fighting for comfort your suffering is relieved and you are better able to offer your spouse the compassion that he seeks. And so a new cycle begins, one of understanding, validation, and loving connection. A compassionate marriage is built on the idea that everyone experiences some level of pain everyday and that by honoring that and seeking to really understand it you can grow closer to one another. And together, you can create a life and relationship in which you are able to put empathy into action and love each other more fully.

Eshter Boykin is the co-owner/founder of Group Therapy Associates

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