The importance of celebrating the strengths in your relationship

Listen in as our therapist, Dr. Clay Culp, discusses how to identify the strengths in your relationship and the importance of doing so. Clay is an emotionally focused couples therapist with Healing Hearts Counseling and also conducts relationship wellness assessments, visit https://relationshipcheckuptn.com.

Dating ideas for you and your partner while you are sheltered in

These are hard times for all of us! Many of us are sheltered in and feeling the strain. It is likely that you are spending a lot of time with your spouse right now, but just because 2 people are in the same house, or even the same room, does not necessarily mean they are feeling connected.
So how can you stay connected to one another during this difficult time?
Here are some in home “date” ideas to keep your relationship thriving during this time of being sheltered in.

After the kids are asleep, have a candle light dinner together. If the weather is nice, have it on the front or back porch for added romance (and for even more added romance, take time to dress up).
Start a new show together.
Soak in a hot bath together (candles are good here too!).
Take time to check out of electronics. Turn the phones, TVs and computers off.
Do a home workout together.
Do yoga for couples.
Go for a walk. Or a run.
Play a card game, board game or maybe some heads up using the app on your phone.
Share what you are grateful for.
Have an afternoon picnic in the yard.
Paint together using art instructional videos online (a sort of painting with a twist, with an extra twist!)
Do your own book club for 2. Pick a book to read and then share your thoughts and reactions with one another.
This can be a time to explore sexuality. There are online resources for tantric sex or Kama sutra. Explore with one another.
Finish an at home project together that you just haven’t had time to complete.
Turn some music on and dance together, slow or fast, whatever you’re in the mood for. You can even make some videos for the rest of us on facebook!
Write random love notes to each other.
Cook a nice meal or try a new recipe together.
Hold each other and share what you are feeling in all of this. Let your partner know you are there, they are not alone. Find ways to comfort and reassure each other as you go through this.

This can be a time of deep intimate connection with your partner, keep turning toward one another and finding ways to stay engaged and connected. We all need more of that right now.

And if you are struggling, we are here. We are offering therapy online to couples. It may seem strange at first, but we have had great success counseling couples through telehealth and research shows that it is a very effective means of therapy. And our couples are finding in some ways they like it better! So please don’t hesitate to reach out if you need support. You can reach us at 865-283-1777.

Wishing you love and happiness always,
Dana

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.

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. 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 the helpline 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, we are here to help. 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

You don’t have to fix it, you just have to be there

In your relationship when your partner is in pain, your first instinct may be to try and fix it. None of us want the person we love and care about to be in pain. The problem is, often times our attempts to fix it make it worse. We may explain, hey, I didn’t mean it that way, here’s my perspective. In which case, your partner is likely to not feel heard, or is likely to feel dismissed. We may get defensive, because sometimes when our partner hurts because of something we said or did, we want to correct the record and defend our good name and get them to see that they have it all wrong. Hey, I’m the good guy here, not the bad guy! And if you just saw that, we’d be okay. Again, this typically leaves a partner feeling unheard, dismissed and alone in their pain.

What your partner is looking for is not for you to fix it. In fact, they will often hear that  you are trying to fix them. That their feelings are wrong and they shouldn’t feel that way. What your partner wants and needs, in many cases, is just for you to hear and understand their perspective, their hurt and they also want permission to feel what they feel, not to be made to feel it’s wrong, or silly, or stupid. They want to know their pain makes sense to someone, that they are seen and heard and understood. Once that occurs, then you can ask for what they need. And usually, it’s some type of reassurance that he/she matters to you, that their feelings matter and are important to you. That you’ll be there to listen and give your care and support and a moment that it was missed.

Simply being there, being present is often enough. It’s not about performance or having all the answers. It’s about being present, engaged, hearing, seeing. I like to tell people when your partner is sharing, leave your window for a moment, and walk over to your partners window to see what the picture look like from their point of view. Look through the lens of their story, their experiences, their personality, to see out their window the way they see it, then they will feel heard, and held and comforted and seen. You don’t have to have the answer, what your partner needs, is you.

Reflecting on 12 years in practice

Today marks the 12th birthday of my counseling practice, LinkedIn let me know, otherwise it would have passed right by me. It’s caused me to reflect on the past 12 years.

I remember when I decided to start my counseling practice. I was newly licensed, my firstborn son was 9 months old, and it felt like time. I knew for a long time it was what I wanted, but I had no idea what I was doing. I asked my mentor a lot of questions, and he guided me along the way. I put lots of ideas on paper of how to get started and I jumped right in. I’m like that, I don’t look too long before I dive. I decide and then I go and I figure it out along the way. I knew I wanted to work with couples, but on my journey toward licensure, without private practice, there was not much opportunity to gain experience with couples, so I had to learn as I went with only my education as my guide. Phew, that was scary!

I remember asking Gary Dudell, my professor and mentor who has now passed and is dearly missed, what is the key to being successful? His answer was, Just show up. Be there. Keep your word. I realize now the wisdom of his words. I show up, I’m present, every day, not just in my practice, but in my life, the best that I can. And it really does make a huge difference. People don’t expect people to show up, really show up. Meaning to be fully emotionally present. So when someone does, and hears them, and sees them, amazing things happen. I mean, really amazing things.

I am so grateful for every single couple that has passed through my doors. What they have taught me, what they have given me, is way more then I could ever put into words. They have taught me such big things about life, love, pain, grief, healing, bravery, strength, and resiliency in ways that at times takes my breath away. I have seen what love can endure, and how love can persevere when we are willing to be brave, to show up, to be vulnerable, to walk through wounds and shame toward growth and healing. It has been more than humbling to be witness to,  and it has grown me in ways I could never quantify.

Something I think about often, and it would be hard to put into words, is that every couple I encounter helps me help the couples that follow them. Because I learn from each and every one. And it makes me better to help the next. There is such a tapestry of interwoven connectedness that cannot be seen, but as the one who links these amazing people to one another, I can sort of see it and feel it, but it’s still more vast than even I can grasp. 12 years. 12 years of that. Of connecting couples not just to each other, but to the others who are struggling beside them, and they don’t even know it. It’s such a beautiful thing to be part of.

People often ask, how do you do this work? How do you sit and listen to people’s problems all day long? I admit, sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes the intense pain levels me. Especially when someone else’s pain touches my own raw pain of whatever is going on in my life at that time. But I’m not listening to “other people’s problems”, I’m in it with them. I’m journeying along side of them. They are not a burden, they are a gift. And it’s so enriching and rewarding and humbling the ways in which I am entrusted with the deeply intimate lives and stories of others. It’s a window that many don’t get to look through. And what I see is that we are more alike than we are different. We all want to be loved. We all want to be seen and accepted. We all want to know that we matter to those important others in our lives, to be known, understood and felt. We all want to know that our important others will show up for and with us. We all want to know we are irreplaceable to a special few.

My work has held a mirror up to my own humanness and it’s made me understand myself on such a deeper level in my own everyday struggles of life and love. For that I am so grateful. Because we all struggle. And at one time or another, we all need a helping hand. For someone to see us. For someone to wholly show up for us. So here’s to the next 12 years. I am going to keep showing up. I am going to continue to be present for and with the people who embark on this journey with me. I am ever thankful for getting to do this work. It grows me every single day. And the courage I see humbles and amazes me every single day.

Wishing you love and happiness always,

Dana

 

Marital conflict: assigning blame

So many couples find themselves immersed in the blame/shame game. It’s a tit for tat back and forth of who’s fault it is that we are stuck, that we are fighting, disconnected, unhappy, distressed. It’s because you (finger pointing) never listen to me. It’s because you are always critical of me. Then when the finger is pointing at us, we then get defensive, dismissive and point back. And boy is it a stuck painful place to be for two people who love each other, who both just want to feel loved, understood and accepted. We don’t realize that is what is under this type of fight. The questions beneath are: do you really love me? Am I good enough for you? Do you see me? Can you understand and accept me? We are pleading for this. And in doing so, we don’t realize that in trying to get seen and heard, we are attacking our partner and not hearing and seeing them. It’s a vicious cycle.

How does a couple pull out of this? It feels so hopeless and defeating when it happens. And it feels so impossible and painful. But there is a way out. First we have to tune into those underlying questions and listen to the softer, vulnerable voice that asks those questions,  not the loud and angry, or cold and distant voice that is protecting the self from the perceived threat of our attacking partner.

The other really difficult part is recognizing where our partner is coming from. That they also have those questions. That they too are caught in this vicious cycle and are getting hurt in it too and being reactive. We can embrace and express our own experience of hurt and pain while still recognizing that our partner is not reacting and being hurtful on purpose, but just like us they are reacting to the vicious cycle and their own pain. We can stop blaming and shaming each other for this and recognize we are both hurting human beings who want to be heard, understood and accepted. There is no bad guy in this. We are both trying to be heard. We are both asking these vital, painful, vulnerable questions. We can both step back from this together, stop pointing the finger and go to the softer more vulnerable place and share what is happening there. That makes it a lot easier for our partner to come close and listen, and offer comfort.

What that looks like, instead of saying, you are never there for me, say…when we get caught in this, I end up feeling so alone and I don’t know how to get you to hear me, and that feels scary. Instead of saying, you are always angry, negative and critical, say…I worry I won’t be good enough for you, that I can’t make you happy, and I end up not knowing what to do to make it better, and that gets scary.

We can then talk about what we need from each other. Be willing to express as well as listen to one another’s longings for connection, acceptance, and understanding.

If you need help with this, our counselors are here to offer assistance.

Wishing you love and happiness always,

Dana

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

The damage of dismissing

One of the things that happens when couples get into distress, when one partner feels attacked, they get defensive. When this defensiveness occurs, you may end up dismissing the experience your partner is trying to share with you.

I understand that if your partner comes at you in an aggressive way (i.e. angry or blaming) it can be hard to hear the message of hurt behind the attack. Keep in mind, the height of the anger is equal to the depth of the hurt. Typically when a partner is acting out with anger, they are protesting disconnection and expressing deep hurt. If you respond by defending yourself by saying something along the lines of “that’s not true…I didn’t do that…that wasn’t what I intended…you are blowing this way out of proportion”, you end up dismissing your partner’s experience, which is very real and true for them.

The best way to disarm and diffuse the conflict, is turn toward and tune into your partner. Help slow them down by getting curious about what they are feeling and why. Really listen as they talk to what meaning they are giving the situation and why it hurts. Then your partner doesn’t have to fight so hard to be heard. The more you understand, the more comfort and reassurance you can offer. Then your parter will likely soften, and you’ll have room and space to also talk about what you are feeling and experiencing. When you understand someone’s story, you can often understand their reactions, so tuning in and listening can bring closeness, rather than both of you going off into the separate corners of painful disconnection.

Thank you for reading.

Wishing you love and happiness,

Dana

P.S. For more marriage enrichment, visit www.holdmetightknoxville.com and learn about our upcoming weekend workshops for couples.

The EFT process of getting unstuck from the cycle

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy is a science based theoretical model of therapy for couples established by Sue Johnson. It is proven to work to help over 70% of couples who complete the EFT model of therapy. It is a map and strategy for understanding love relationships and where they go wrong.

If you are thinking of attending therapy with an EFT counselor, here’s a simple adaptation of a quote by Portia Nelson, written by Katty Coffron, PhD, on the process of EFT.

Chapter 1
We walked down the sidewalk and fell into a deep hole. We couldn’t get out and we couldn’t figure out why. I thought it must be either your fault or my fault. We never quite got out of the hole; we just somehow moved on.

Chapter 2
We walked down the sidewalk and fell into the same deep hole. We couldn’t understand. I still thought it must be either your fault, or my fault . It was a real struggle and we realized we needed help to get out. We didn’t just move on.

Chapter 3
We started EFT therapy. We walked down the sidewalk and fell into the same deep hole again. This time we started to understand- it wasn’t my fault and it wasn’t your fault. It was the cycle’s fault. It was a struggle to get out, but we did get out.

Chapter 4
We continued EFT therapy. We walked down the sidewalk and fell into the same deep hole again. This time we knew- it wasn’t my fault or your fault- we were both caught by the cycle. We knew we were both hurting. We reached for each other, and we got out.

Chapter 5
We continued EFT therapy. We walked down the sidewalk and saw the hole. We reached for each other and we walked around it. We didn’t fall into the hole.

Chapter 6
We finished EFT therapy. We reached for each other and we chose another sidewalk.

In your relationship, you may have experienced your own black hole. There is a way out. It’s not uncommon for couples to fall into these holes and get stuck, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

It takes a lot of courage to reach out for help. Many people, especially those who have had bad experiences with standard marriage counseling in the past, may think there is no help for them. But there is. We now have science and a map to understand love relationships, how to see the holes we fall into, and learn how through creating emotional safety with one another, we can learn to better understand and communicate our hurts and needs so that we can reach for each other and find each other in a way that creates the closeness and connection we all long for.

Thank you for reading.

Wishing you love and happiness,

Dana