It’s a healing pain

There’s a scene in an old episode of Grey’s Anatomy. I was unsuccessful in locating it so I could post it here, so I’ll have to just tell you about it. It was years ago that I saw it, but I never forgot it because it was quite impactful to me.

A mother was talking to the doctor shortly after her son had major surgery. She was suffering because her son was in such intense pain. The doctor said to her something along the lines of, “just remember, it’s a healing pain, not a dying pain.” Ooof! I found that to be a pretty profound statement.

Therapy is like this. Sometimes people avoid coming to therapy because they don’t want to drudge up painful stuff. If you are in a long term intimate relationship, odds are you have caused each other pain. If you are a human being that was a part of a family during your growing years, odds are that they also caused you some pain. These pains vary in degrees from person to person, but we all have them. If we suppress or avoid this pain, it becomes a dying pain. It cuts us off from parts of ourself. It puts walls between us and our loved ones leaving us isolated and alone. We act it out in ways we may not even be aware of.

When we decide to face that pain, turn toward it, allow ourselves to feel it, process it, understand it, and share it, we create space for it to heal. This hurts. It’s not easy to do. We have to feel it to heal it. But the pain you feel during that process, it’s a healing pain, not a dying pain. It is not meant for us to suffer alone. When we can share with a safe other, we can heal. If you would like to know more about us, go to www.marriagecounselingknoxville.com/team

It takes courage to reach for help and support. You are strong enough.

Wishing you love and happiness always,

Dana

Love relationships in a technological world

Social media and technology come up again and again in therapy sessions with couples as a source of distress, disconnection and concern. It comes up in a variety of ways. Here is a list of the most common complaints we hear from partners:

My partner’s face is always in his/her phone.

I don’t know if my partner is just playing a game or doing something important, so I don’t know if I can/should interrupt or  not. I might start talking, and find my partner isn’t even paying attention to me.

I was doing something important on my phone, and my partner just starts talking without realizing I am in the middle of something, and that’s frustrating.

Friends or contact with people on social media that feel threatening to the bond of the relationship.

Answering texts or phone calls during time that is otherwise expected to be sacred to the couple.

Addictive habits around scrolling on social media during time together.

You can probably add your own complaints to this list.

In a world where we are all starving for more connection, we are looking for it in the wrong places. Social media and technology connect us in ways that we have never been connected before. We have friends on Facebook and instagram that we’ve never even met in person because we may have similar interests or ideas. But yet, it disconnects us more than ever because it takes us away from being present in the world around us and engaging with our important others who are right in front of us.

So what can we do about this? Here are some suggestions from unplugging from the digital world, and plugging in to your loved ones and being more present and accessible.

Put time limits on your phone around certain activities. For example; your phone can alert you when you’ve been on Facebook for more than an hour. Or when you’ve been playing candy crush for 2 hours.

Set some boundaries around when it’s time to put phones and internet away. Maybe it’s during dinner time, or maybe after 6pm. Or even just for an hour to engage with your family talking about your day and being with each other.

Check in with each other when you see your partner on their phone. Ask what they are doing and is it okay to interrupt so that you may share or have a conversation.

If you see your partner spending a lot of time in the digital world, rather than accuse or attack, let them know you miss them and would like to be more engaged and request to make a plan for that.

Be intentional about spending quality time with each other, and make that a time that phones are on silent and put away. If you don’t want to silence a possible important call from your child, or that doctor’s office you are waiting to hear from, put it on do not disturb and then set the exception to the numbers you will allow to ring through.

Be open and transparent about who you are interacting with digitally. Have conversations around expected boundaries to protect your relationship and each other. This is going to be different for everyone. Some couples are okay with their partner communicating with an ex on Facebook, some are not. Know and talk about how you and your partner feel about these things to avoid hurts down the road. You matter to and impact one another. Be thoughtful about how your communications with others might impact your partner. Also be reflective about why you might be engaging in certain communications. What need isn’t being met. Address it rather than avoid and seek it elsewhere.

These are just a few issues and suggestions about protecting your connection with one another by being thoughtful and intentional about digital and social media use. I invite you to come up with your own ways of being present with and connecting with those around you in your real life. Your partner and your family need that from you.

If you need help repairing your intimate connection with your partner, contact us today. We are here to help.

Wishing you love and happiness always,

Dana

 

How Parents Can Help Kids with the Stress of COVID-19

As we settle into 2021, we have a great opportunity to pause and reflect on what we have experienced in the final months of last year. We started 2020 with certain hopes, plans, and expectations, many of which were altered or wiped out due to COVID-19. This has caused immense amounts of stress, especially for families. It’s one thing for an individual to carry the weight of these unexpected changes and disappointments. It gets messier when several people are involved, all feeling stress in different ways being one of the reasons doctors tend to prescribe supplements like this disposable cart by fresh bros.

Putting together a memory book is a great option to slow down and reflect on the past year. The good, the bad, the stressful, the funny can all be remembered. Options for a memory book can include a scrapbook, a storybook, or if you’re really ambitious, you could get creative with something like a comic book to tell the story of the year. Whatever form you choose, this activity facilitates reflection where all the voices and perspectives of your family can be heard and valued. Being heard and feeling connected to loved ones relieves stress and promotes resilience for future stressors. During an activity like this, it’s important to intentionally listen to and reflect what your child shares, being careful to catch any reactions or responses that might dismiss or deny your child’s experience.

Below are questions you can ask your kids to help generate ideas and conversation about what you’d like to include in a memory book:

  1. What do you want to remember about the past year?
  2. How would you describe the past year? You can use a color, an animal, a kind of weather or a feeling to describe it. Consider having everyone (adults included!) try to draw a picture that portrays what this year has felt like
  3. What was disappointing about the past year? Were there times you felt sad? Scared?
  4. What are you thankful for in the past year? What were things that were fun and brought you joy?
  5. How would you explain this past year to other kids if they hadn’t lived through it, and they were asking you what it was like?

Whether you use paper, markers, and tape on hand to throw a book together, or want to go all out with crafting supplies, use reflection time to compile pictures, drawings, and memories from everyone in your family. If each voice has a lot to be heard, consider compiling a memory book per person that all comes together as a series.

Other Resources:

This book is a great read for any age, combining evidenced based research with helpful applications for how to engage children across developmental stages.

This book was written by a woman who specializes in helping children process distressing experiences. It’s specifically related to COVID-19 and is available online as a free PDF.

Relationships and learning to ski

Most couples come into therapy or relationship education expecting it to be like grade school, but a better metaphor might be ski school. No amount of talking about or studying skiing can make us appreciably better at skiing. We need to practice a different way of relating to a slippery, steep, downhill slope than any of our primal instincts would suggest that we should. I remember the first time I went skiing, and when I started to stumble, I immediately leaned back and of course ended up toppling over. What I slowly learned through practice was that when I felt that fear of losing stability and the panic response caused me to lean back, I instead needed to lean forward. I needed to lean towards the downhill that I was afraid of tumbling down and I needed to keep my skis in contact with the ground. I needed to be more assertive and turn into the snow not less assertive and turn away. The only way to move forward was to practice a new way of relating to my fears. They told me something like this in the training, but I needed to have practice and help to get better.

Relationships are much more like a craft than an academic discipline and require guided practice to excel at it. Much like skiing, we need to work against our natural emotional tendencies and we need to feel our way through it. Reading books on relationships can be helpful, but most of us need practice to be able to ski down the slope of our relationship. We need to practice a new way of relating to our fears that causes us to lean towards, not away from them. Couples need to practice sharing vulnerably instead of reacting according to our normal tendencies of anger or pulling away. If you and your partner find yourself slip-sliding all over the slope or you are an advanced skier looking to take your game to the next level, come join us, class is in session!

Remembering love’s everyday gifts

Valentine’s Day often conjures up images of grand gestures and big gifts as people try their hardest to show their love to one another. While these are often beautiful and meaningful themselves, it can also be helpful to remember the small, everyday gifts we’re capable of providing to our partner. These are the things that help keep you connected on a daily basis, through the ups and downs, and it can be helpful to think of those to stay more connected to your partner.

One reason we can all have trouble with this, is we can lose sight of just how much of an impact we have on our partner, especially as time goes by in our relationship. Partners actually become exquisitely attuned to one another. Just a look or a touch from one another can be incredibly soothing and comforting. Research shows us that we are not wired to go through life alone, and it can often be the small things that signal to your partner that you are emotionally accessible and responsive. If we truly knew how much some of the little things meant, we would probably do them more.  You do have the power to impact your partner and help them feel loved and cherished, and you can choose to embrace it and harness it.

If you’d like to try, here’s some things to consider. It is important to let your partner guide you toward how they feel most loved, comforted, or soothed. Talk to them about the small acts of love and kindness that matter most to them, and be willing to share your own. The answers might surprise you! Loving your partner how they like to be loved, rather than based on our own preference, makes the impact even greater.  If you or your partner are unsure where to start, here are a few small ways you can show your partner love, no matter the day, based on things I often hear couples talk about in therapy. Get creative and see how you can take these ideas and make them your own, or use them as a jumping off point to find your own ideas.

1. Honoring reunions and goodbyes – Make it a point to slow down and take a moment with one another when you leave each other for the day and when you return. As we leave, we carry that sense of love with us through the day, and it makes us stronger. When we get home and are acknowledged by our partner, it reminds us how much we matter, that we’re not just one of the many other people and things in the word, but instead that we fill a special role in our partner’s world.

2. Non-sexual touch – This kind of touch, which can be as small as gently touching your partner’s shoulder as you walk by, can signal to your partner your appreciation and care for them as a person. This is a way of touching that doesn’t ask anything in return but simply provide a moment of emotional contact. What happens in the bedroom can also be an incredibly important expression of love and affection, but these other opportunities for touch can be just as important a way of communicating care and tenderness.

3. Listening well – In trainings, we therapists are sometimes asked to listen to one another and refrain from asking any questions or providing any feedback. Our job is simply to listen and reflect back what we’re hearing. I am always still struck by how it feels be to heard in that way – without an agenda or judgement. Just to understand. Of course we are not always going to be in that sort of mode. That’s not real life. But we can try to take key moments to listen with our whole hearts. Remember, you don’t necessarily have to fix your partner’s problems. Just having someone genuinely listen can be a powerful antidote to the stresses of life.

4. Providing recognition – Your partner may actually already be doing a number of “small things” intended to show love, care, or support that go unnoticed. For many people, it means the world for their partner to acknowledge their efforts. Without it, people can feel like their contribution doesn’t really matter or that whatever they do will never be enough. This doesn’t mean anything nice your partner does has to be met with groveling gratitude. A few words, expressed intentionally and lovingly often suffices. A little acknowledgement can go a long way!

 

Wishing you love and happiness on this Valetine’s Day,

Clay Culp, Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist at Healing Hearts Counseling

Violence in Relationships

Violence in relationships, this is a tricky topic to discuss on a blog. I want to be sure to first and foremost say, violence is never okay. But if we are going to stop relationship violence, we have to understand it.

As mentioned on this web-site, there are 2 different types of relationship violence. The first is domestic terrorism. That is when one partner aims to control and manipulate the other more vulnerable partner. If you are in this situation, it is of utmost importance to get a safety plan in place and you should also get a reputable divorce lawyer. You can contact 800-356-6767 (TN) which is the Tennessee Domestic Violence helpline. This is not the type of violence I am addressing in this blog. Please contact an Investigation hotline if you need assistance in this area.

The second type of violence is the violence that occurs between intimate partners when they have a volatile cycle with each other where conflict erupts into verbal and/or physical lash outs. It can leave both partners feeling bewildered, confused, hurt, angry, helpless and afraid. It’s not uncommon, and there is something you can do about it. It doesn’t mean the relationship has to end, but you do need intervention.

So how do things get to this point? A very common cycle in couples is what is called pursue/withdraw. Both partners feel disconnected from the other, and their reactions to feelings of disconnect pull the other into the negative pattern. Think of an infinity loop. There is no beginning and no end and it can be triggered at anytime.

In this cycle, the pursuer is looking to get a reaction from their withdrawn partner. They often feel alone, unloved, indivisible, that they don’t matter, or are unimportant. When they are feeling this way, they often engage in behaviors in an attempt to resolve these hurts. They can become provoking (any response is better than no response), critical (why don’t you help me more?! You are always on your phone! You care more about work than you do about your family!), blaming (I get so angry because you don’t listen to me!), demanding (Why can’t you be more affectionate with me?! I need you to listen to me!). This often comes across as attacking to their partner’s character and behaviors. But underneath the attacks is the despairing pain of isolation and loneliness calling to be heard and soothed.

The withdrawing partner is typically trying to calm the waters by avoiding conflict. They can also feel paralyzed because they feel anything they say or do will be the wrong thing, so they do nothing. They appear stoic and uncaring to their partner, cold and distant, but behind the wall they are feeling inadequate (no matter what I do or how hard I try, it’s never good enough), feelings of failure (I can’t seem to get it right, I can’t make my partner happy). When everything they do seems to make it worse, they withdraw farther and farther. They withhold thoughts and emotions and have a lot of inner turmoil even though on the outside it may appear they don’t care.

So the more the pursuer criticizes and attacks, the more the withdrawer feels unsafe and withdraws. The more the withdrawer withdraws, the more unsafe the pursuer feels and keeps going seeking a response. For the pursuer, if they didn’t pursue, the fear is they will end up more isolated and alone. The withdrawer fears if they don’t withdraw, things will escalate and get worse. Both in their own way are trying to protect the connection in the relationship while also trying to protect themselves from further hurt and despair. It’s a vicious painful cycle and both partners are caught.

When this pattern gets very rigid and continues to worsen, it can lead to violence. The pursuer feels so ignored and invisible their protest gets more out of control and they may say and do things desperate for a reaction. The withdrawer may feel so backed into a corner, they lash out to get their pursuing partner to give them space and distance.

In this pattern there is no perpetrator. Both partners are victims to this painful cycle of disconnection. But both are impacting each other with their reactions and inviting the other (unintentionally) into this dance.

There is a way out. It takes slowing it down, making it safe for each other to risk and be vulnerable to be able to share the deeply hidden emotions that drive this cycle to find the comfort and support that is needed from each other. This is not easy, it takes time, and often needs the help of a professional to help you see where you are stuck and how you can exit this painful pattern.

If this pattern sounds like your relationship, or maybe it’s not quite to that point yet, family solicitors chester are here to help if you’re filing for divorce. There is a way to pull out of this pattern and work toward co-creating a loving, caring, safe place with one another. It takes courage and a willingness to risk and be vulnerable.

Wishing you love and happiness and Happy New Year!

Dana

Helping your relationship survive football season

Clay on the news talking football and relationships

Nothing brings people together quite like a football Saturday in Knoxville. But, if you
and your partner have significantly different levels of interest in football, the season can
instead lead to feelings of distance and tension. The tension can be ratcheted up even
higher when if it’s a particularly frustrating season. So, if the Vols slow start has you
down, make sure it doesn’t bring your relationship down too. The people that get violent need to be faced with domestic violence cases and the victims need legal protection. If  you are wondering – can you own a gun if you have a domestic violence record, you need to get help from experts or hire attorneys for such legal matters.

Football fans:
Pay attention: Attention is one of the most basic forms of love. It makes sense then,
your partner might feel neglected when you shift a significant portion of your attention
to football. The way you tune in physically and emotionally to a game, is often the very
attention your partner craves. If your partner starts thinking “Gosh, I wish I was as
interesting as a football game,” that can go beyond annoying to actually being hurtful.
Football and your relationship might seem like separate issues from your perspective,
but if attention is not being paid to your partner at other times, game time can become a
Big Orange representation of that disconnect. There’s nothing wrong with watching the
game and rooting for your team. Just remember not to let your love of the game get in
the way of the love for your partner.

Watch out for spillover: A football game may only last a few hours, but its impact
can go far beyond that. Emotional spillover can be a major problem, especially after a
tough loss. If football is taking up a lot of your time, the importance of protecting
your other time becomes even more important. This means finding ways to calm
yourself down and hit the reset button so you can be present with your partner.
Remember, over-doing it with tailgating and alcohol will only make this harder. Add
excess alcohol to the emotions of a football game, and you can quickly have a
relationship disaster on your hands. Alcohol lowers reduces our capacity for self-control,
making hurtful statements and even physical violence more likely. Make it your
responsibility not to let your negative emotions contaminate otherwise quality time.

Non-football fans:
Accept your partner: The struggle to change someone is often even more exhausting
than the issue itself. Trying to convince your partner that football doesn’t or shouldn’t
matter will not work. The result of your efforts will likely be increased anger and
resentment. Instead, try accepting their fandom as one of many things that make your
partner who they are, not a problem that needs to be fixed. You may believe that if you
offer any acceptance, you won’t get what you want. It may seem counter-intuitive, but
adding a dose of acceptance can loosen the grip of frustrating emotions that keep you
and your partner stuck, allowing new solutions to arise.
Communicate the real issue:

Your partners focus on football could be upsetting for
a variety of reasons, like lack of quality time or even increased spending.Regardless,                                                                  the key is communicating in a direct and constructive manner. Instead of blaming football
itself or attacking your partner, explain specifically how you are feeling and being
affected by what’s happening. The challenge is to move past your initial reactive emotion
and tune into the deeper meaning behind it, which if often about your sense of
connection to your partner. One thing that can help is to remember to complain rather
than criticize. There is a huge difference between saying; “Will you quit staring at the
TV? All you care about is football!”; (criticism) and “I’m feeling disappointed that you’ve
spent most of the day watching football and we didn’t get a chance to connect. Can we
spend some time together?” (complaint).  Criticisms paint your partner with a broad
brush and feel more like an attack on who they are as a person, whereas complaints
focus narrowly and explain how you feel, rather than a negative assumption about your
partners intention or character. At their core, both approaches are bids for attention and
care, but criticisms are likely to be seen as an attack and cause your partner to pull
become defensive. Complaints aren’t always easy to hear either, but they are much more
likely to bring your partner closer. And that’s exactly what you really want.

For both:
Celebrate your differences: If you and your partner were exactly the same, things
would get boring really quickly. Your difference around this issue can be an exciting
opportunity to get to know each other better. Discover what excites the other and makes
them tick. If you don’t like football that much, be curious and try to learn what your
partner likes about it so much. If your partner doesn’t like football, find out what
they do like and do it with them. Getting into one another’s world through both activity
and conversation helps strengthen your bond and keep things interesting. Think back to
when you and your partner first met. I would venture to guess that much of what fueled
your sense of connection was an intense desire to know and be known by your partner.
Even if you’ve been together for a long time, I can assure you that if you tap into that
sense of curiosity there’s more to discover.

Written by Dr. Clay Culp, Emotionally Focused Therapist at Healing Hearts Counseling

Validation is not always agreement

Agreement and validation are not the same thing. Partners often need validation, but what if we disagree? This is a common stuck place for couples. I want you to hear me, to validate my experience. But what if I disagree with you? Validation does not mean agreement. 

Here is a fictitious example: Bob grew up in the home of a very poor family and they never knew where the next meal was going to come from. He experienced what it was like to go without food, sometimes for many days. The lack of food can be a very alarming experience for him. Becky normally did the grocery shopping and on a particularly busy week, she didn’t get a chance to go and the fridge was rather empty. Becky doesn’t understand why Bob is upset. To her, this is not a big deal. To him, it sets off alarm bells and feels like a big deal. They don’t need to agree. But if Becky tunes in, she can validate that it’s a big deal to Bob from his perspective without agreeing that it’s a big deal.

When we understand someone’s story, we can understand their fears, pain and reactions.

If we give each other enough safe space to process feelings and reactions to a situation, we can then understand and validate it, even if we see it differently. 

Our wounds, life experiences, personality, history and beliefs together shape how we perceive the world. If I only look through my own window, how could I possibly understand the view from your window. Of course the view from my window looks different. This is why it’s important to take a moment to look through each other’s window, to see what the other sees. This makes us feel with, understood, it makes us feel closer, safer, and loved. 

Wishing you love and happiness always,

Dana

Affairs aren’t the only threats to a relationship

When most people think of something that is a threat to their relationship, they may automatically think  attractive members of the opposite sex or affairs. But that is not the only thing that can threaten a relationship.

When couples come in for counseling, often times issues may surround many different things like work, hobbies, friendships (both same sex and opposite sex) and it can be confusing why these things are an issue.

For example, a husband works 60 hours a week and then has an avid golf hobby that he engages in on Saturdays and Sunday and he’s gone for hours. Or maybe he likes to ride his motorcycle on Saturdays and is gone most of the day. His wife gets really upset at this and becomes critical or seemingly controlling of the time that he needs to decompress from his work week.

Or maybe it’s a wife who has a really close relationship with her mother and it bothers the husband that her mother is more of a confidant for her than he is. He may complain that she is on the phone with her mother for hours and it really bothers him. She struggles to comprehend this because it’s her mother and they are close and what could possibly be wrong with that.

Or maybe it’s one partners job, they are passionate about their work and dedicate a lot of time and energy toward it to the point the other partner feels resentful.

What is going on in these scenarios? How are these seemingly innocent things a threat to the relationship?

They are threats to connection and closeness, as well as to a partners feeling of being important, not a priority more than it is about the thing itself. When this is the case, the threat can be literally anything if it ends up leaving your partner feeling unimportant, ignored, second place, neglected or something that results in your partners needs for closeness and connection not being met. When we can understand that it is that music that’s playing underneath the conflict then we can address it in a different way.

It’s important to realize that the issue is coming up because you are important and special to your partner, and they want to feel important and special to you. It’s rarely because they want to control you or rob you of joy, although their reactive behavior can sometimes look like that.

So what do we do when this kind of conflict is happening in your relationship? It’s important to address it from a place of compassion and realize that it’s driven by hurt and fear and longing to be close, important and connected. Seek to understand why your partner isn’t feeling safely and securely connected to you. The answer does not lie in giving up other important aspects, activities or relationships in your life to appease your partner. For one it wouldn’t really work in helping your partner feel more secure, but it would also lead to resentment for giving up things that matter to you. So it’s important to get to the root and find a way to reassure your partner that they have a special number 1 place with you. And to work at balancing your time, attention and affection with them and other things that matter to you in your life. Often times there are other root issues that need to be addressed to get back into safe, secure connection with each other. That’s where marriage counseling can help.

If you find yourself stuck in these negative patterns with one another and aren’t sure how to break out of them, don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help from an Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist.

Wishing you love and happiness,

Dana