Helping couples heal

We just completed another Hold Me Tight workshop. It has been an amazing journey to lead and present these workshops. I am in awe of the courage couples have to come to these couples weekends and give what they do in an effort to grow and save their marriage.

With each Hold Me Tight workshop, the tension, discomfort and skepticism when the group comes in is palpable. And I sit with this anxious anticipation of holding this information knowing the impact it is going to have and wanting to package it up and hand it over immediately, but I have to sit back and allow it to unfold at the necessary pace. It’s a process. And it’s amazing to observe.

I know the information is sound, it’s scientific, it resonates with everyone who learns it, there isn’t anyone who doesn’t get it when they are presented with it, whether in the workshop, or in my counseling office. But it still doesn’t cease to amaze me when I watch it work. And in such a short time, over the course of 2 days. I want everyone to have it. I want every couple to come and do this.

The first day is rough. I won’t sugar coat it. It’s the digging in and digging deep. It’s entering into the dark and painful places to draw into awareness what is happening, to identify the raw parts and make sense of them. To gain clarity on the stuck places and why they are happening. It’s raw and it’s real. And then the second day is when the healing comes. It’s identifying, ok, we know now what goes wrong….how do we fix it? And that’s where the magic happens. Just as the tension and skepticism is palpable on day one, the closeness and comfort and love and hope  is equally palpable on day 2. You can see and feel the transformation in the air amongst the couples in the room. And it is such a wonderful thing to be part of. Every couple that comes through my office inspires me. I learn and I grow and I am in awe. And I am grateful.

I love that I get to do this work. I am honored by the couples who put their trust in me to guide them toward healing and bonding and reconciliation. And I continue to be inspired by the courage it takes to look inside and do this hard but wholly worthwhile work.

Jodi Clarke (my presenting partner) and I both leave these workshops feeling jubilated and proclaiming we want to do them every weekend! They are so powerful and meaningful and satisfying. I hope you’ll join us. Our next workshop is August 26th and 27th. You can get more information at www.holdmetightknoxville.com.

Wishing you love and happiness always,

Dana

A marriage counseling success story

 

This is the first in a series I am starting. The series is going to involve couples stories. Some of them will be success stories, and some of them not. But each of them will give you a glimpse into what other couples struggle with. I think you'll find that you are not alone in your own struggles. I hope that from reading these stories, you find insight into your own marriage and how to make improvements. These stories come from my experiences in counseling couples. In my 4 years of practice, I have treated over four hundred couples. To protect the confidentiality of those involved, names are not used. I will also leave out certain details or edit parts of the story so that the couple cannot be identified and confidentiality is maintained.

Remember to like my facebook page, follow me on Twitter or Linkedin, or subscribe to my rss feed so that you can keep up with the series.
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In Crisis: Where to Begin When You’ve Just Found Out About the Affair

Where do you begin when you’ve just found out your spouse has had an affair? Or, what if you are the one who’s had the affair and your partner has just found out?

If you’ve just found out your partner has had an affair, be prepared for the roller coaster of emotions. It is not a time to make any permanent life-changing decisions. Here are some important things to consider:

You do not have to know right now if you are going to stay or go. You are in crisis and may feel like the rug has been pulled out from under you. Give yourself time to make important decisions. Emotions are very raw right now so it’s okay to not know which direction to go yet.

Some people make the mistake of telling friends and family and then regret it later. So be choosy about who you share this with, the best route is to seek out a counselor who can help you sort through all the challenges that are in front of you. It’s also important to have a support system, again, select confidants carefully. There may be support groups in your area, seek these out through your local church or counseling center.

You are going to experience a lot of different emotions from anger to sadness, betrayal and fear, confusion and frustration. All this is normal. Research has shown that individuals who have been betrayed show symptoms of post traumatic stress. You may have flashbacks of the affair and images that you never even experienced. You will have triggers like when the phone rings or your partner gets a text message, where the fear and anger comes alive. You may want to cry one minute and scream the next.

In this kind of situation, the fight or flight response kicks in, but neither are conducive to moving forward. If you want to save your marriage, you can neither fight nor flight. A normal human reaction is to act out the rage and blame, yell at, accuse, distrust or check up on your partner. While these are normal reactions, they do continued damage to the relationship and to your own self esteem. Sometimes what might make you temporarily feel better in the moment, makes matters worse in the long run.

 Self care is critical during the time of healing. Self care includes things such as exercise, going for walks, getting enough sleep, spending time with those who are supportive, getting counseling, making sure you eat well and enough. These small things might seem trivial or difficult to do, but it is important to take care of yourself.

 You may want to ask questions or know details about the affair. It is okay to ask these questions, just be sure that you really want to know the answers. For some people the not knowing causes suffering and they would rather know, for others they would rather not know. There is no right or wrong, only you can know what is going to be helpful.

If you are the person who has had the affair, some important things to consider:

There is no right time frame for getting over an affair. So do not push your partner. Your patience and support is critical. Do not avoid talking about the affair, do not give excuses or blame. Right now your partner needs to know that you understand the impact this has had. This is not going to be easy for you either, but it is important that you remain supportive during this challenging period.

This may seem obvious but it bears pointing out: be honest. Be where you say you will be, do what you say you will do, don’t leave anything out no matter how insignificant it seems. Rebuilding trust is going to take time, but it starts now

Listen to your partner. If they ask questions and want to know the answers, it is important that you answer them with total honesty. Do not decide for them what they should and should not need to know. It is important to allow your partner to make the determination what he/she needs to or wants to know.

Be an open book for your partner. And remember, this is temporary. But this is an important time to be in close physical proximity to your partner to maintain a sense of safety. Allow your partner to see your phone, text messages, emails, to regain a sense of safety. You can, and it is necessary to, have your privacy back at some point, but for right now your partner may need this to begin the process of rebuilding trust and feeling safe.

You are going to go through difficult emotions as well. Guilt, shame, regret are all normal feelings to experience. It is important not to let them get in the way of being there and listening to your partner. It is also a good idea for you to seek counseling as well to deal with these emotions and to understand why you made this choice.

If you want to save the marriage (or even if you are unsure) it is important to seek couples counseling as soon as possible. It may take some time to find a counselor that you feel comfortable with. Remember, affairs happen in good marriages and to good people. There are many reasons why an affair occurs and it can take one to two years to recover whether you stay in the marriage or not. Take your time, seek help and work together to begin the healing process.

How to rebuild trust in your marriage

Emotional safety is an essential part of a healthy relationship. To trust another human being in an intimate relationship is a choice made when one feels emotionally safe. When this sense of safety has been compromised in a relationship, it can be very difficult to rebuild trust, but it can be done.

The first step to rebuilding trust is acknowledging the impact of the hurt that has been caused. For example, if there has been an affair. The partner who had the affair must fully understand and acknowledge the damage and pain this act has caused. Your partner must feel like you “get it”.

The next step is understanding why the betrayal occurred. There can be many reasons. I’ll site a few common examples. If a man is working overtime and is rarely home, his wife may feel neglected and unappreciated. She may then look for attention and affection elsewhere. This example shows a breakdown in communication. It does not excuse the behavior, but there must be understanding of what is going on in the relationship for the behavior to occur. The wife needs to communicate her needs to her husband and he needs to be responsive to those needs. (I am oversimplifying here just to illustrate the point.)

Another example may be of a husband who lies. When he tells the truth about a matter, he pays a high price. His wife may yell and criticize him so he deals with it by avoiding confrontation and continuing to lie. While you are not responsible for the choices your partner makes, it is important to reflect on your contribution to the dynamic of the marriage. Understanding where your communication with each other breaks down and your responsibility in that, is important to healing and rebuilding trust.

During the process of rebuilding trust, it is important not to do more damage. There is no room for punishment. This may feel better in the moment, but to use the incident as ammunition does nothing to heal and rebuild trust. For example: the wife whose husband had an affair, anytime he gets upset at her for something, she brings up the affair as retaliation. This continues to do damage to the marriage.

It is necessary to have open, honest, respectful communication with each other on a regular basis. It is important that you keep your word, follow through on commitments, and always treat each other with respect. If you are feeling pain, communicate your experience to your partner without attacking or blaming. For example: “whenever I think of the affair, it stirs up all the negative images and feelings and I am having a hard time dealing with it. Remembering the affair makes it so difficult to trust and believe this won’t happen again.” This is an example of sharing an experience without attacking or blaming. A responsive partner might say something like this: “I know I made a mistake and I am so sorry. I realize you are in a lot of pain right now. Is there anything I can say or do right that would help?”

These are just a few of the tools it takes to rebuild trust. Rebuilding safety in a relationship after a betrayal takes time, patience and committment. Counseling can be a helpful tool through the process. Having a third party to help you cope with the pain and not cause more damage can make for a smoother process. If you have experienced a trauma in your relationship and need help, call anytime. (865) 283-1777

Saving Face

What does it mean to save face?

Have you ever seen someone trip or do something you deemed embarrassing but looked away so they wouldn’t have to feel embarrassed? If you have, you have allowed someone to “save face”.

What does this mean in a relationship? When couples get into arguments, they often get caught up in trying to prove themselves right and each other wrong. When one is wrong they are in the position of being the loser. When one loses, the relationship loses. By allowing your partner to save face (even in the event they were wrong!) no one is a loser and the relationship wins.  

 So why is this important?  Whenever you get into pointing fingers, making each other own up to every mistake, demanding apologies, demanding he/she see your point of view, it does damage to your relationship, to your connection with one another.

  Let me illustrate this point with an example. A couple has their wedding anniversary coming up. She plans a special dinner for her husband for when he gets home from work. He forgets it’s their anniversary and un-knowningly makes the decision to stay late at work to finish up a project. There are two reactions she might have. She may get angry and yell at him something like, “how could you forget our anniversary, you always do this kind of thing, you just don’t care about me or what’s important to me!” Or she might say, “You must have forgot our anniversary, let’s plan somthing special for tomorrow night and you can make it up to me” (said in a lighthearted manner). The latter is an example of allowing your partner to save face. There are other important relationship skills at play in this scenario, but allowing your partner to save face keeps kindness, forgiveness, acceptance, and love alive in the relationship. I will leave you with a quote that embraces this idea: “Sheila and I just celebrated our thirtieth wedding anniversary. Somebody asked her, what was our secret? She answered, “On my wedding day, I decided to make a list of ten of Tim’s faults which, for the sake of our marriage, I would always overlook. I figured I could live with at least ten!” When she was asked which faults she had listed, Shelia replied, “I never did get around to listing them. Instead, every time he does something that makes me mad, I simply say to myself, ‘Lucky for him, it’s one of the ten!'”
Tim Hudson, Chicken Soup for the Romantic Soul, 2002