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The vast majority of what relationship therapists do with clients is help the clients unravel “What went wrong” (it’s true; as my own therapist once told me a long time ago, almost no-one comes to see us when they’re happy and everything is going along swimmingly).

This article about how some people end up simply marrying “the wrong person” crossed my desktop recently from a number of different directions, and while I cringed a great deal at the opening tone (“Unhappiness is a constant” ? really? Where’s a healthier sense of that classically-Rogerian “unconditional positive regard”??), I found the principles are consistent with the dramas that play out over and over in the counselling office. A great number of us, myself frequently included, don’t know what we want on some deep level, and even when we do, we often feel hampered for a mind-boggling array of reasons in our ability to ask for it. We don’t always know our partners’ minds; we interpret and assume, because that’s less risky and vulnerable than asking for actual information from the source… assuming we trust the source to know with any accuracy what *they* want. And then we all go reacting to interpretations and assumptions rather than making accurately-informed decisions (you know, with *real* information)… and all hell breaks loose when we find our expectations crashing hard on the rocks of those ill-formed assumptions.

Then we add in pressures mounting against being single, the lack of emotional resilience so many people seem to develop as adults to turbulence in relationships, how we want to “freeze happiness” to the extent of being unwilling or unable to cope with unhappiness and distress in relationships. It’s a heady mix of factors that can make us feel like we’ve married the villain (or become the villain) rather than the hero or heroine of the piece.

The good news is, many of these are surmountable with self-awareness, good faith, and consistent practice in monitoring and communicating self. Obviously it works best when both parties are doing the work of smoothing out the places where the points made by the author come into conflict, but no one point *has* to indicate the impending doom of a relationship. We sometimes do find ourselves in relationships with Completely Inappropriate People, and not every relationship can be salvaged. But for one that both parties cherish and respect, addressing these kinds of points of difficulty in an effective manner can go a long way towards salvaging something worth nurturing and continuing to grow.

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I’ve been a fan of John Gottman and his research into what makes relationships tick since someone first thrust a battered copy of his book, “Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” into my hands aeons ago (look it up on Amazon; it’s worth owning). His clear identification of what creates toxic relationships and how successful repair attempts help counter and even mend that toxicity, are seminal influences in a lot of relationship psychotherapy in the late 20th and 21st centuries.

This article provides a handy introduction to the principles he has witnessed time and time again in almost 30 years of observing couples in his “Love Lab”, and provides some solidly-scientific basis for the kinds of changes we therapists often work to introduce into clients who are in relational distress. And find a copy of his “Seven Principles”; it really is worth the investment of time to read.

Article links, Relationships, Uncategorized

Honestly, I’m just trying to catch back up to all the links I save in OneTab with all the best intentions of writing thoughtful in-depth reviews of them… Then I just get busy or distracted and have to clear out the backlog in scattershot blasts like I’m doing this week.

I know, I know: “Therapist, manage thyself”. (We may hear this among ourselves all the time. I’m just sayin’… remember, your therapist is also a human being 🙂

Today I’m sharing a number of links that shape some commonly-held-to-be-true beliefs about what makes relationship more or less effective as an intimate partnership. As with many of these, especially the list posts that offer “Ten of These” of “Five of Those”, bear in mind these are topical suggestions at best. Good ones, but generally left to the couples to explore best-practices for implementation. In many senses left unexplored by these kinds of articles, it’s often not about the *action* itself, it’s about understanding the meaning(s) of these actions between partners. Or to put it another way, sometimes what makes a relationship strong is not following the letter of the law, but understanding the spirit of the law and finding adaptable ways of meeting the need in the spirit, rather than adhering to the limited code of the lettering.

As always, take most web-based advice with a grain of salt… including mine 🙂


The Ten Habits of Happy Couples
I’ve never been really good about the whole “go to bed at the same time”, because in most of my relationships, one or the other of us has been a night owl for whatever reason. But the rest of these are good suggestions, if sometimes challenging to practice in times of tension.

9 Qualities Of People Who Are Great At Relationships
Moving out of what makes *relationships work well”, we come to a nifty list of some common qualities of people most capable of having really good relationships. I aspire to many of these; like I tell my clients, some days are better than others when it comes to actively practicing anything that is an ideal. In the end, we’re all human, and sometimes under stress we resort to earliest patterning. The point is that people who are good at relationships know how to forgive… including themselves.

4 Surefire Ways To Make Your Partner Feel Loved
Number 4 in this list, “letting go of the need to be right”, is something a lot of my clients struggle with. Fighting in relationships makes us fearful, and when afraid, we dig the emotional equivalent of defensive trenches and prepare to defend our positions at all costs… even against our own partners. I’ve done it; I’ve lost relationships because of it. It’s a natural response to what feels like a hostile action from quarters we otherwise presumed to be friendly and supportive, trusted allies. And let me tell you, once you start digging those kinds of trenches through your relationship, it becomes increasingly difficult to dig your way out of them.

Finding Love, The Old-fashioned Way
I really appreciate PT’s ability to present complicated things in relatively simple language, including the complexity of human courtship rituals in the 21st century.

[P]eople feel forced to put up a false front for the suitor?or for their own families. The result is that their more complicated inner selves, personal issues, and needs are not revealed. When that is the case, disillusionment is around the corner. […]
Social media and the widespread use of internet dating sites have compressed the amount of time devoted to the getting-to-know-you process. This may produce a pseudo-courtship in which participants develop the illusion that they are getting to know one another, but there is no nuanced, deep level of mutual appreciation. Oddly enough, this kind of courtship is similar to the early 19th-century chaperoned relationships in which the incentive was to create a suitable persona for the occasion. In both cases, the real self may be omitted. This is akin to building a home on a sinkhole.

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May was a good month for testing auto-publishing articles and posts to the website. Technology is great if you make effective use of it. I’ve had to put reading and writing on hold since late May to get a personal project out the door, but now that that particular commitment has finally wound down, I can get back to adding what I hope is useful reference content to this site.

There is also a non-zero chance that the practice hours may be returning to the original evenings-only format in the near future, as I am currently looking for supplemental employment. The nature of a private practice is inconsistent in terms of clients coming through the door and in terms of fees, as sometimes clients need to make use of the sliding scale for short (or long) periods of time, and that makes it harder to pay the bills in a practice this small. I’m not the only therapist I know working multiple jobs for this reason, but that doesn’t always make it easier on the clients impacted by the compressed and limited availability. When the employment situation changes for sure, I will communicate the new availability out to existing active clients, and will determine then whether or not I will still be open to new clients for the duration of any contract I take on.

The only thing certain in life is change, and a therapist’s life is no different in that regard than anyone else’s. It’s a good reminder to practice mindfulness and groundlessness in the moment as things shift on many fronts!

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It’s not uncommon for me to encounter clients who, for a variety of reasons, resort to eating as a coping strategy when bored, stressed, angry, sad or depressed… and who then often end up in a different cycle of disappointment or depression with self-esteem issues associated with their weight, looks in general, lifestyle and choices in general.

I have found some good resources on topics like mindful or emotional eating at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating’s website, particularly in their blog. Information covers not only nutritional topics in general, but looks at how individuals form relationships with food that affect everything from self-image to intimacy in interpersonal relationships. as with all online blogs intended to promote other products from an author, company, or institute, the articles are often teasers or light(er) reading on deeper subjects meant to be explored through dedicated coursework. But as starting points for personal reflection and thought provocation around individual habits, they’ve been good triggers for doing research on our own time and through other resources if we need them. At the very least, many of these blog posts can provide an excellent entry point into conversations we want to have with our partners, families, or our selves, on the topic of change.

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Another really great resource link from Tiny Buddha, this one has been in my bookmarks folder since it was originally posted.

It was one of the first things I read that referred to the idea that “depression lies to you”, a concept I have since dealt with on personal and professional levels more times than I can count. And the author approaches the idea with a gentleness and compassion that comes only from experience, and speaks to the tiny light in all of us that never goes out even on the darkest, can’t-get-out-of-bed days.

One of the few non-psychotherapeutic authors I know who has dealt with depression as clearly is comic artist Allie Brosh, author of the weblog “Hyperbole and a half”, who almost single-handedly transformed a huge swath of the internet when she illustrated the devastating impact of depression in a pair of strips that went live, the first in 2011, the second in 2013.

These three resources have been invaluable in helping me work with clients who have slid down the rabbit hole and are working hard to bootstrap themselves even incrementally back up from the darkness.

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Another Lifehacker article that proved to be surprisingly well-grounded in useful things to think about, is this one about the things we all wish we had learned about relationships before the one(s) we’re in fell apart.

Obviously, as a psychotherapist dealing with relationships, I’m always looking for ways to make repair attempts, but even I know that sometimes relationship will sink under the weight of failures-to-date, no matter how much bailing we do trying to save things (and I say that as a survivor of two failed marriages; I know, highly ironic for a marriage therapist, no? :). Sometimes all we can do is give our clients support and whatever tools might seem helpful in the moment to keep heads above water when the marriage falls apart. But if I could simply download this kind of information ? some learned by reading, some by internal reflection and contemplation, most by hard and painfully-gained experience ? to people on their way into relationships, maybe there would be a chance I’d see fewer of them coming into my office in the late or ending stages of relationship crisis.

(I’m particularly fond of how this article specifically addresses attachment styles, since Chapman’s “Five Love Languages” and attachment anxieties in relationship seem to be a big part of the work I do with many clients these days.)

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In the wake of a seasonal surge in new client intake requests in the past week or so, I’m fielding a lot of questions from individuals and couples who have never done psychotherapy before and have no idea what to expect from counselling.

There are some good resources on the web discussing expectations, good questions to ask before you book the initial consultation or intake session, but this article has long been one of my go-to resources for people wondering what to expect from marriage counselling in particular. I’m not normally a big fan of LifeHacker articles, but once in a while they get it right (or their guest bloggers do).

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The Toronto Star recently reported that arguing with loved ones may be contributing to a higher risk of stress-related health issues, and even death.

“Middle-aged adults who frequently fought with their husband or wife were more than twice as likely to die at a relatively young age compared to people who rarely fought, according to a study published online this week in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Frequent fights with friends were even more hazardous ? people who fell into this category were 2.6 times more likely to die prematurely than people who got along with their pals. Worst of all were persistent fights with neighbours, the researchers found. These types of argumentative people were more than three times more likely to die prematurely than the go-with-the-flow types.”

Moral of the story? Most of us need better ways to regain and retain a calm centre in the middle of confrontation, and to find better ways of grounding out the stress and tension of those encounters before, during, and after they happen.

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Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits blog has been a must-read for me for a long time. He’s a minimalist who has streamlined his life in ways that thrill and terrify me simultaneously, and gotten his entire family on board with “simple living” principles in big ways.

Like most of us, his life isn’t entirely bread and roses and he’s had a previous marriage fail along the way as well as the usual intimate struggles with his current wife. But he’s done such an excellent job of documenting things along the way that even when he’s providing some fairly simplistic, superficial glimpses into processes that have worked out better for him this time around, I find he always gives me more to chew on than the simple words imply. And he’s breath-takingly honest about the places where changes are still very much works in progress where sometimes things work… and sometimes, not so much.