About the Healthy Relationships Blog

This blog is a place where people can easily access information about how to have healthy relationships. The key to having healthy relationships on all levels, begins with knowing who you are and becoming a whole, healthy person yourself. I am a licensed professional counselor, whose theoretical orientation is primarily cognitive-behavioral, and solution-focused. I believe that a person must be willing to change his/her thought patterns, which will in turn facilitate changes in negative feelings and behaviors. This is important when one is working on “the self” and relationships. I hope that the articles that I write and the ones that I recommend from other professionals are useful tools on your self-discovery journey! I look forward to reading your posts.

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Erin A. Alexander, LPC Posted from WordPress for Android

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How to be “Just Friends”, by Erin A. Alexander, LPC

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We’ve all experienced those relationships that were intimate in nature, but purely platonic. Many people believe that it is impossible to maintain them and I disagree with that. There are reasons these relationships “don’t work out”; one is because there was no clarification of what the relationship was from the beginning; another reason is because feelings developed by one or both parties; and finally, one or both of the partners had insecurity and trust issues.

So how does one master this skill? Before I even begin, if you have already cultivated deep, meaningful friendships, these should be maintained. Humans are social beings, and it is healthy to want connections with others. You should not have to give up your support systems because you enter into a sexual relationship with someone else. If giving up your friendships is one of the criteria for being in your new relationship, that is already a red flag for disaster. Yes, the level of intimacy may change and the time you spend with your platonic friend may change, but you should hold on to people who are in your social network. What if something happens to your new partner and you have completely isolated yourself from the people closest to you? This situation can contribute to feelings of depression, and sometimes even thoughts of suicide.

Ok, so first of all, you must be honest with yourself, and so must your platonic friend. Both of you should ask yourself these questions?

Do you fantasize about each other on a sexual level?

If either of you were not in a relationship, would the two of you be in a relationship?

Do you think that the two of you would make better romantic partners than friends?

What does it feel like when you talk about emotional or sexual things?

Could the two of you sleep in the same bed or share a living space without any feelings?

How do you feel about his/her partner, if he/she is in a sexual relationship with someone else?

Based on the answers, you may want to rethink things!

Next, there should be very open communication about the relationship. Don’t assume anything. The expectations should be clearly verbalized so that there are no misunderstandings. If there are any questions or doubts, talk about them! Define what the relationship is from your perspective.

If you are in a sexual relationship with someone else, be sure that you also have open communication about your platonic friendship(s). Don’t be secretive. Clearly state the reasons that these people are important to you and that you are committed to the friendships. Also establish your boundaries and be assertive. Explain the limitations of your relationship with your friend(s), and also offer to include your new partner as much as possible, like group outings, etc., so that your partner can get to know your friend(s). It will not always be possible, however, because you will want to continue your own bonding time, which is healthy. Remember, humans are social beings. It is not reasonable to think that you are going to have all of your needs met by one person on the planet!

If there are jealousy and insecurity issues, these need to be addressed in counseling. You should not have to spend your time proving or disproving anything. If you and everyone involved are being open/honest, and if all of the expectations have been identified up front, then the insecurity/jealousy issues probably existed already. The trust is part of the foundation that should exist, and if a partner is struggling with this, then perhaps he/she has personal challenges to work on in counseling.

Now, what I’ve explained is the way things should work in an ideal situation. Much of the research that exists suggests that it is not possible for [heterosexual] platonic, opposite-sex relationships to exist. When I read these articles, what I take from the information is what each party is perceiving about the other person. So, again, that is why communication is essential. Don’t assume or perceive anything. Be clear about your thoughts and feelings.

Aside

Personality Trait worksheet (from the Mad About You workshop) Is Your Partner Qualified?

Last week was all about Relationship Patterns, and I sent the material for Relationship History work and a sheet for Relationship Patterns. The last sheet is a Personality Trait worksheet that accompanies #3 in Relationship Patterns exercise. Here you will get to consider the traits of your ideal partner.

Personality Trait Profile

As something additional to think about, consider that recurrent patterns or themes in relationships typically happen outside  our awareness, often unfolding relatively subtly and gradually. This can make it difficult to detect your own contributions to your patterns, to understand underlying causes, and to work out how to change. Engaging in these exercises is helping you become aware and better able to change your patterns!

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See you Thursday night! (Any questions please contact Sidney Gaskins at sidneygaskins@gmail.com)

Why I Appreciate Being Single, by Erin A. Alexander, LPC

IMG_0888Why do I value my own single lifestyle as much as I do? Well, this may sound strange, but in my profession, I do mostly couples and relationship counseling/coaching. When people ask me, “Are you married, or are you in a relationship?” I used to pause, and want to use the counseling cliché, “well, this isn’t about me, this is about you.” Now, I proudly say that I am happily single and that I have been married before. I have also had my share of various relationships.

So what do I mean when I say that I do the work that I do, and this work helps me to appreciate my single life more? What do I mean when I tell people that I am happily single? Am I truly happy?

First, let’s talk about what I do for a living. I am a psychotherapist. I primarily work with couples (straight, gay, lesbian, Christian, non-Christian, whatever), and I work with people who are dealing with other transitions in their lives, like divorce, grief/loss, career/education goals, break-ups, retirement, new relationships, etc.).  And since San Antonio is a military city, I do work a great deal with active duty military members who generally have a lot of transition going on in their lives. I love my work, and I believe that this is the career path that was chosen for me despite all of my efforts to do other things. I was initially on the pre-med path and changed my major to Psychology because I became fascinated with the study of human behavior; I later used my work in the criminal justice system as a presentence investigator and probation officer as a stepping stone to enhance my educational goals/internships; and I used my special education teaching certification to enhance my knowledge of behavior modification, which is crucial when one is a therapist.  I’ve worked with every population one can imagine, and that has prepared me for what I believe is my true calling…relationship counseling and coaching.

When people come to me about relationship issues, they generally come to me when the relationship is in crisis. For example, there has been the threat of a divorce, or break-up; or there has been a separation; or there has even been domestic violence.  I rarely have people come in at the beginning of a relationship for general guidance, and I rarely have people come in when they just want guidance on learning how to become a whole healthy person themselves.  Don’t get me wrong…it does happen, it’s just rare. And it is rather refreshing for people to be proactive rather than reactive.

Because I know all of the work/effort that is involved in maintaining a relationship (an intimate relationship), I know that an intimate relationship is not something that is right for me at this time. That does not mean that I’m not capable, it means that I am CHOOSING to be single and not engage in all of the things that are necessary to start/maintain what society deems an intimate relationship. I find fulfillment and happiness from all of the relationships that I have in my life…whatever they may be and on whatever level they exist. I am also happy being alone, but I do not feel lonely. I control who is in my life (or not), and to what degree. I am not concerned about “making anyone happy”, except myself because I already know that it is impossible to make someone else happy. I have already learned how stressful it is to try to please everyone else around me, so I don’t do that anymore. Everyone else is responsible for his/her own happiness. Learning that has been like a huge burden lifted from my shoulders, because I used to be a perfectionist, and I used to want to make sure everyone was “happy”.  Now, my philosophy is that the burden is now on their shoulders, not mine.

I know that all of this may sound cold and selfish to many people, and that’s OK. I am continuing to work on my own wholeness as a person, and I am enjoying the journey. I look at life’s challenges and see them as learning experiences. I appreciate and respect all of the various relationships that I do have in my life. I can honestly say that I am a happy person…I am happily single!

Activities from the Mad About You Workshop

Relationship PatternsRelationship History 2Relationship History 1

Relationship histories are interesting to consider and I want to thank you for sharing yesterday. Attached are the Relationship History sheets along with the Relationship Patterns sheet.

Think about the patterns that have shown up in your relationships. Additionally, I will send the list of traits within 48 hours to give you time to think and work. If you have any questions about the materials or class, please feel free to send me an email! sidneygaskins@gmail.com

Enjoy your weekend!

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Choosing Singlehood Doesn’t Mean You are Lonely and Miserable, by Mary Jo Rapini

Life passages happen in order…usually. Kids grow up, go to school, graduate, go on to college or begin a job, find a partner, get married and have kids. These passages are dictated or expected by society. As society changes these passages may change, but it doesn’t happen overnight. Younger people are marrying later and later, and more and more are remaining single. If you’re a single woman or man over thirty, you may or may not want to marry, but one thing is for sure, you will be asked when you are going to marry. You will actually feel pressure to marry, especially if you are a woman.

 

I counsel many women who feel defeated, frustrated and judged due to their single status. Exploring their feelings further, it becomes apparent that it isn’t really their life they feel badly about, but the way others perceive them if they aren’t married. They can be the president of a corporation, a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher or an artist, but there is a nagging feeling in the back of their mind in regards to their not having a partner.

Experts agree that, especially for women, relationships are important. The key to happiness is not so much marriage, but rather the amount of significant relationships you have in your life. Men too are more and more affected by their relationships, especially after the age of thirty-five. Older men (over 40) tell me repeatedly that it is not the sex they crave, but the intimacy. You can maintain a single lifestyle and have healthy relationships and intimacy in your life.

Clients often ask what is it that causes others to judge their lifestyle as void of meaning just because they are single? This question is complicated because there are many reasons. Parents especially seem to experience a sense of relief when their children are married, because they believe their child will be taken care of and this affords them a sense of peace. Many older people look forward to grandchildren, and assume the next step that when their child is married they will have kids. Parents also may worry if their child is not able to be in a marriage or monogamous relationship with someone else, what it reflects about their own parenting skills.  Married friends want other friends to marry because it makes them more comfortable for going out, and enjoying one another during couple activities. There is nothing more threatening than inviting your single friend out with you and your spouse every weekend. Most of the reasons people pressure others to get married are self-serving, but single people being asked why they aren’t married or with someone don’t consider this. They instead judge and criticize themselves as to why they aren’t with someone.

If you opt for the single lifestyle, it is important that you fill your life with friends, relationships and interests or hobbies you love. Every happiness scale includes these three elements for happiness as well as several others. Below are ways you can choose singlehood and have a full, meaningful, and interesting life you love. Technology has changed the way we communicate, but the human heart continues to derive happiness the same as it always has. What we decide in our minds dictates how happy or unhappy our lives are whether single or with someone.

Your attitude and what you choose to believe is a key to living single. If you let others shame you or make you feel less than because you aren’t married, you will make a miserable single person. Build a life others envy instead of pity.

“Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Abraham Lincoln

Live in the present as much as possible. Most single people are happiest when they leave their single status for the future to determine. Plan for your retirement as if you are going to remain single so you will have enough, but live very much in the present. Do each day what you value and love most. We are most attractive and content when we are happy.

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens, but often we look so long at the closed-door that we do not see the one that has been opened for us.” Helen Keller

Give back and make someone else happy. Every happiness scale shows the importance of volunteer work. It helps people feel connected, needed and included. Being single, these feelings may be more difficult to make. Therefore, when you focus on helping or giving back to others you complete your need for relationships and inclusion.

Do something or act. Very often when people are asked what made them feel most alive or happy they responded that they took a risk, did something even if they regretted it, or had an adventure. When single people are asked what makes them feel like they are missing something they often say there is no one to do things with. If you are single you have to take adventures, and that can be scary. Join a travel group or singles group. Any group to get you out and do something will help you love your single life more.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”  Mark Twain

Be grateful. Your relationship status is never as important as your ability to be grateful for what you have. Others cannot resist grateful people. They find themselves wanting to give more, be more and live more. The single one ingredient for being happy single is to be grateful for your life.

No matter if you choose single or not, it will be forced upon you through life at some time. It may not happen until you are old, or it may happen unexpectedly, but it will happen. Knowing who you are, and what makes you happy and feeling good in your own skin, are keys to being happy.   You cannot be an effective partner for anyone until you are complete within yourself. Celebrate your singlehood; get to know yourself so when and if you join another, you will have two complete people instead of two halves. –Mary Jo Rapini

http://www.myfoxhouston.com/story/23882552/2013/11/05/5-key-points-in-achieving-happiness

 

What respect really means in a relationship, By TWOOFUS.ORG

Self-help books and television shows are riddled with references to “respect” and how foundational it is to a healthy relationship. But for all this talk, the word is rarely defined in practical terms. What does respect look like in a romantic relationship? And how do you go about establishing respect, especially in a relationship where it has been lacking?

Showing respect to your partner

We often focus on what we should be “getting” from our partner in terms of respect. But respect has a giving component as well:

-Choose your words carefully: Words come out quickly and can be hard to take back. So before launch a verbal tirade against your partner, consider the desired outcome of your words. Do you really want to “punish” your partner – or are you simply longing for him/her to be more considerate of your needs? If so, a diplomatic approach is more likely to achieve this goal.

-Acknowledge contributions: There’s no way around it: Your partner is going to let you down sometimes. But most likely, he or she is also making some positive contributions to the relationship. Be sure to affirm these qualities, even amid other frustrations. Doing so will help your partner lower his/her defenses and lead to a more constructive partnership.

-Honor boundaries: Understand and respect your partner’s personal boundaries regarding time together/apart, physical contact, etc.

-Be willing to compromise: Being respected doesn’t mean your needs always take priority over your partner’s. Compromise gives a relationship the flexibility it needs to keep from ripping apart.

-Show consideration: Help with the housework, give sincere compliments and be generally thoughtful toward your partner.

-Be strong enough to admit when you’re wrong: When you are confident in your self-worth, apologizing shouldn’t make you feel threatened. We all make mistakes; admitting so when it happens allows your relationship to move forward, rather than back.

-Protect your partner: Never compromise your partner’s physical or emotional well-being. If your temper is out of control, seek professional help immediately.

Being respected by your partner

-Understand your worth: Self-esteem isn’t about thinking you are better than others; however, you should have an unshakeable conviction that your thoughts, feelings and physical person warrant respect. If you are truly convinced that you are worthy of respect, others are unlikely to doubt it.

-Act honorably: While our fundamental human dignity calls for respect, being a person of character makes it easier for people to respect you. People who act with integrity rarely do anything to harm another person; accordingly, such people are more likely to be respected by others.

-Set and uphold boundaries: When you love someone, it’s easy to let certain things slide. “He or she didn’t really mean it.” “It was just that one time.” “I know, but he/she has been working really hard lately.” If you find yourself regularly making excuses for your partner, he or she may be taking advantage of your poor boundaries. It is up to you to protect your worth and your boundaries from anyone who would undermine them.

-Be a man or woman of your word: When you lie to your partner or break promises, you undermine trust in the relationship. And lack of trust often leads to a lack of respect.

-Show respect: To be truly respected, we must also respect. If you can’t find anything in your partner worth respecting, consider why you are even in the relationship. If just a few of your partner’s actions or attitudes are causing mistrust or resentment, actively address those issues. Taking a marriage/relationship education workshop can help you resolve conflict more efficiently and respectfully.

Respect means recognizing our own worth – and the worth of others. When we respect our partner, we are able to rise above pettiness, jealousy and cruelty. When we respect ourselves, we are able to transcend insecurity, defensiveness and fear. And respecting both ourselves and our partners enables us to build strong, lasting and mutually-supportive relationships.

Psycho-educational Workshops, Erin A. Alexander, LPC

The primary focus of psycho-educational workshops are to educate about a psychological concept or topic. Psycho educational groups are in all kind of settings including businesses, hospitals, universities and governmental/social services agencies. I have participated in many types and conducted many types. They can be facilitated by mental health professionals, students, members of the community, experts on certain topics, or anyone.
My idea is to have more of them in local eating establishments, as I have already started doing.
Benefits?
  • people can order what they want and there is no cost to the person facilitating the group
  • the environment is casual, relaxed, non-clinical
  • this can help local businesses
  • this is a great way to network in the community
  • the workshops can be free of cost to those who attend
  • those doing internships can use these to count towards academic requirements (hours), just as they would at another location
  • the workshops can be 1-hour (breakfast time, lunch, or the dinner hour)
  • They are open to the public
  • the workshops are general and brief, focus on a single topic, not getting into anyone’s personal issues (not psychotherapy)
What are your thoughts on this?

Pursuit of happiness (from the Plymouth Herald)

Happiness is not a destination, it is an ongoing pursuit which means there are things that you can do along life’s journey. Here is a list of things to do to boost your mood:

CRANK UP THE MUSIC

We don’t need scientific proof to convince us of the inspiring powers of  music but, in case you’re wondering, scientific proof does exist – and lots of  it. Early  summer, a study by the University of Missouri in the US found that  listening to uplifting music boosted mood.

So put on some feel-good music, turn off the TV, forget about everything  else, and really absorb it – then feel the tension ease away and your spirits  lift.

GO FOR A WALK

It’s free, you can do it anywhere, and it can be as strenuous or relaxing as  you want it to be – the benefits of a good stroll are certainly endless.

As well as the health benefits and feel-good hormones released from being  active, being outdoors and surrounded by nature brings an added boost.

CATCH UP WITH A FRIEND

When it comes to feeling happy, studies have found that people who regularly  have a coffee, for instance, with a close friend are happier than those who  focus more on ‘bigger’ rewards, like expensive holidays.

Indeed, little regular boosts can be more beneficial than skipping the small  pleasures to save up for that  TV or shiny car.

WRITE A LETTER

With email and mobile phones, instant communication has  become so easy, but it lacks the meaning of an old-fashioned letter. Sitting  down to write enables you to focus your thoughts and reflect on what’s going on  in your world – and there’s the pleasure of knowing you’ll be making the lucky  recipient’s day too.

WEAR BRIGHTS

Have you ever stopped to wonder why going for a stroll on a bright summer’s  day, when all the flowers are in bloom, really lifts the spirits? While stepping  out on a gloomy, grey day has the opposite effect? Our moods respond to  brightness and colour, and this is something fashion stylists have been using to  their advantage for years. So for an instant mood-booster, throw on some  colour.

BROWSE OLD PHOTOS

Whether it’s a wedding or a holiday when the children were young, why not  dust off those old photo albums and indulge in the memories? A healthy dose of  nostalgia can be comforting and reviving.

REACH FOR THE TROWEL

Earlier this year, a survey by Gardeners’ World magazine revealed that 90% of  gardeners believe their hobby boosts their mood. People who regularly gardened  were less likely to report feeling unhappy or depressed, too.

You don’t have to be an expert – pottering around outdoors can be relaxing  and rewarding and seeing the fruits of your labour brings great fulfilment.

DO A GOOD DEED

Don’t worry if you don’t have time to volunteer for a charity or much money  to spare – small acts of kindness, like offering to pick up a neighbour’s  groceries, donating biscuits to a care home, or picking up the phone to ask a  relative how they are doing all make a big difference.

PICK UP A BOOK

A good book can stay with your for years and in the short term, reading can  have happiness-boosting powers too. As one benefit, it requires you to find  peace and quiet and switch off from ‘normal’ life, and this in itself is  relaxing and stress-relieving.

GET BAKING

Baking has enjoyed a revival in recent years, with the success of shows like  The Great British Bake Off, and no wonder – it’s one of life’s real simple  pleasures. Keen bakers rave about the therapeutic qualities of retreating to the  kitchen for a few hours.  Don’t get hung up on whether your brownies or cakes  are perfect. Just make sure you have fun trying.

Read more: http://www.plymouthherald.co.uk/Pursuit-happiness/story-20056545-detail/story.html#ixzz2kFK2KSFo