How Important is Your Relationship to You? Erin A. Alexander, LPC

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I am a counselor who does primarily couples and relationship-building counseling. I love what I do! It’s challenging and rewarding. I’m writing this post because I want to let people know how counselors gauge their ability to work with you…from the first phone call and scheduled appointment, to the discharge.

 

First of all, counselors have specific office hours just like any other professional. It’s unlikely that a counselor is going to go out of her/his way to see you at any time except during the designated office hours. Would you expect for your doctor to do that? No, you wouldn’t. You know that the doctor’s office is closed at certain times and there are urgent care facilities to handle emergencies. The same goes for counseling. In the case of an emergency, we would not see you in the office anyway…you would need to be assessed in the emergency room. That is standard protocol.

 

I’ve had people leave messages on my voice mail stating how critical their situation is regarding their marriage/relationship, then they will follow that up with, “We are only available to come in after 6pm or on Sundays.” Really?? I don’t work on Sunday either! As far as I’m concerned, you’ve already told me your level of commitment to counseling and your relationship. I do not return those calls.

 

If your marriage/relationship is on the rocks, you should be willing to come in whenever the counselor needs for you to come in so that your situation can be assessed as soon as possible. Just like if you were having problems with your blood sugar or some other moderate-level medical issue, you would get to the doctor Wednesday, at 2pm in the afternoon, if that’s what was available. Your health is at risk, and if you prolong things, your life could be at risk.

 

For some reason, people don’t view mental health that way, not even when their relationships are in jeopardy. Many people wait until there is a crisis, like an impending break-up, or the threat of a divorce before they call a counselor. As mental health professionals, we know that the problems did not just happen overnight. It’s been a slow build-up for months or years.

 

So here’s the deal, when you are having even the slightest problem in your relationship, go ahead and schedule an appointment BEFORE things escalate. Be flexible with your schedule and demonstrate your level of commitment to the process. A counselor is more likely to be flexible with you if you show how important your relationship is to you. Next, be willing to work; counselors give homework and readings that are to be done between sessions. This represents application of what is being discussed in the sessions. Finally, if the counselor make recommendations that may supplement the relationship-building interventions, follow the recommendations. These can include one or both parties getting into individual counseling, attending some sort of group/workshop/retreat, or participation in other community resources. The counselor may also recommend that you see your primary care doctor for a physical.

 

Remember, this is about your relationship. This is about you and the person you love, and are committed to. Surely, the months or years you’ve already invested is worth an afternoon from your busy schedule.

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Support Groups for Relationship Issues, Support, Self-Improvement, and Healthy Living (from the Gazette)

Most communities have support/self-help groups on various topics. These informal meetings can be invaluable resources and extensions of services that are provided by health and mental health professionals. This is also a way for interns to obtain their required clinical hours towards licensure…by facilitating these types of psycho-educational groups.

 

For a full list of upcoming health events visit www.gazettenet.com/living/health/

CODEPENDENCE — A Codependence Anonymous meeting for adults recovering from codependence and learning to develop healthy relationships meets every Sunday night, 7 to 8:30 p.m., Immanuel Lutheran Church, 867 N. Pleasant St., Amherst.

 

Carolyn Hax: A single woman wants to keep the nosy questions at bay during weddings

I was at a wedding recently where family members kept coming up to me and asking me why I wasn’t married and if I had a boyfriend. I’m a 34-year-old single woman and these relatives hadn’t seen me in a few years. I was really uncomfortable with the incessant questioning.

What is a good response when people ask intrusive questions regarding your relationship status? I am really still angry at how rude and insensitive the relatives were and I don’t really plan to go to another family wedding because of this. Am I being too sensitive/overreacting? I see no excuse — I have never gone up to a married couple and asked them why they didn’t have children or something similar, so I don’t see how this behavior is excusable and why I should have to put up with it.

Single at a Wedding

It isn’t excusable and you shouldn’t put up with it, but I hope you won’t keep yourself from occasions you might otherwise enjoy because of it. These people exist whether you stay home or not; think carefully before you hand them any controls over your life.

The truth gives you a range of options when you’re faced with intrusive questions. Take advantage of that from now on whenever people start prying: “You’re the 14th person to ask me that today,” for example, is an important non-answer that gives people a glimpse of the cumulative effect of what they assume is a cute or innocent query. An incredulous, “People still ask that?” gets to the truth of how dated this whole line of questioning is. “I was quizzed so mercilessly on my romantic life at the last wedding that I almost didn’t come to this one” is another truth in need of airing. Then there’s always the Miss Manners staple, “Why do you ask?”

You are under no obligation to be the one who tells any of these truths, and staying home is your prerogative. However, even if staying home is exactly what you want and choose to do, the question will still probably find you anyway, so I suggest being prepared.

Your outrage is completely justified. Since it’s clearly no fun for you to continue harboring it, though, I think you will feel better if you prepare yourself to neutralize future interrogations. That sense of mastery can be the little bit of good that comes from this frustrating experience.

Re: Single:

About the Miss Manners staple, “Why do you ask?”: Lamentably, pushy folks don’t allow themselves to be shut up with gentle responses, and keep on pressing. How do you recommend people deal with those who won’t take the hint to let things go?

Anonymous

“Aren’t you . . .” sweet/funny/curious/determined/[your not-unkind word here], with a smile, and an “Excuse me, I need to rescue a friend.” They don’t have to know that, in this instance, you’re your own friend.

In other words, deflect and exit. You really truly absolutely don’t need to stand there and take it.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

The Best Way to Tell if Your Relationship Will Last, by Casey Gueren

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Getting cold feet before your wedding is usually just brushed off as nerves, but new research suggests it might be a really bad sign. When it comes to newlyweds, gut feelings predict future relationship happiness better than self-reported feelings, according to a new study published in the journal Science.

Researchers from Florida State University recruited 135 couples who had been married for less than six months, then surveyed them twice a year for four years. First, they asked the individuals to report on their relationship satisfaction and any problems they were having. Then, they measured their gut-level feelings about their bond by flashing a photo of their spouse on a computer screen, followed by a positive or negative word (like “awesome” or “terrible”). The researchers measured their reaction time as they pressed a button indicating whether the word they saw was positive or negative.

So what does all that button pressing have do with your bond? Previous research has found that our gut-level attitudes make it easier to identify similar gut feelings—for instance, when you’re already anxious, you’re quick to respond to other stressful cues. In this task, if you have good vibes about your spouse, seeing their picture will make you identify the positive words faster. But if you have negative feelings toward them, you’ll be better equipped to identify the negative words quickly.

Here’s where it gets interesting: When they followed up with the couples down the line, their self-reported attitudes as newlyweds were totally unrelated to any changes in marital satisfaction. But the people who showed negative or meh gut feelings during the lab test reported the most marital dissatisfaction four years later.

So can a computer task really tell you if you’re headed for happily ever after? Who knows for sure. But the research suggests that you should tune in to your gut when it comes to your relationships—that big ball of stress in your belly may be trying to tell you something about your bond.

Why the Holidays are Hazardous to Your Love Life, by Emily Shore

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Tis the season for bad relationship decisions, says a new survey from the dating site PlentyOfFish. Holidays are not only a time for good cheer and gift-giving, it’s also the time for hooking up with old flames and contemplating making out with your boss under the mistletoe.

A survey of 9,000 users ages 20 to 40 revealed that December is not the best month for creating stable, healthy relationships. Apparently, Santa’s sleigh travels down roads that are never, ever meant to be revisited. Amongst the most common poor choices, 26 percent say they have slept with exes over the holidays, and 40 percent say they would like to hook up with their high school sweetheart.

It’s not the combination of copious fruitcake and hearing Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” on loop that impairs people’s decision-making skills (though, let’s be honest, they probably do).

Sarah Gooding, who helped conduct the survey, hypothesizes these behaviors come from a desire for comfort during the holidays. She believes that the holiday season is “designed for people in relationships,” which can make singles feel worse, while also adding “a lot of pressure to feel happy.” Therefore, during the holiday season, it’s not uncommon for people “to revert to things that are comfortable.” For some, that’s eating an entire Yule log. For others, it’s making out with the guy who you de-tagged from all of your Facebook photos six months earlier.

There’s also the not-so-subtle nudges from family members. There are only so many times you can hear Aunt Estelle try to set you up with the grandsons of her Canasta buddies before you’re willing to hook up with your homecoming date who still lives in his parents’ basement.

By the way, singles aren’t the only ones whose loneliness (or fear of it) drive them to harmful relationship behavior. There’s a strong correlation between being willing to stay in bad relationships and a fear of loneliness, and this holds extra true around the holidays. Eighty-nine percent of respondents said that if they were in a bad relationship, they would have to time a break up either before December or stick it out until after New Year’s Eve.

Other than the forced sense of happiness that reminds you of your own flailing relationships or sense of deathly loneliness, the holidays are also a time for over-indulgence. “We’re overspending. We’re overeating,” says Gooding, and, of course, “it’s time with a lot of drinking.”

So often this overindulgence is with coworkers, which is a toxic cocktail for office embarrassment, especially for dudes. Thirty percent of men surveyed say they would hook up with their boss at a holiday party, and 25 percent think the best time to reveal secret romantic feelings to a coworker is at a holiday party.

Of course, the correct response to these acts is hell no! When everyone’s getting drunk fast on a well-drinks-only two-hour open bar, do not attempt to realize your Jim and Pam fantasy.

And while singles are more willing to engage in risky business over the holidays, couples just get more paranoid. Forty-six percent say when they’re away from the people they’re dating over the holidays, they monitor them by checking their Facebook profiles. Many others stalk their Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn profiles, the latter of which seems completely ineffective unless they’re sleeping with a headhunter.

But while our end-of-the-year antics may sour our relationships, reopen old romantic wounds, and ruin work relationships, people seem to always bounce back the following year. Not for nothing does Gooding report a 20 percent spike in membership come January.

This article originally appeared in The Week.

Erin A. Alexander, LPC Posted from WordPress for Android

7 Ingredients of a Healthy Relationship, by Rebecca Lammersen

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I’ve collected a lot of data over the years.

Am I scientist? Nope, I’m just a girl who’s experienced quite a few relationships, talked with a lot of people in and out of relationships, and learned lessons from them all.

My research has spanned over two decades, and recently I’ve come to a conclusion — actually it’s more like a recipe — I like to call HICCUPS. It has seven main ingredients when mixed together, create a healthy, happy long-lasting relationship.

Here are the ingredients:

1. Honesty Love is honest, brutally honest. A relationship built on the foundation of honesty has an indestructible framework of trust.

Honesty and trust breed respect. Respecting your partner is critical. Without respect, love can’t last. Be honest, no matter what. If you are honest and the relationship ends, it is meant to end. If a relationship is meant, nothing you say (if you are speaking truthfully) will cause it to cease. Have faith in the truth.

2. Intellectual Compatibility Two people must be friends in mind, not necessarily like-minded, but equal-minded. The smarty/bimbo combo has a shelf life, a short one.

If you are on the same intellectual wave length, you will always have something to talk and laugh about. In turn, you will never bore of each other — which is vital if you plan to last after your nest empties and erectile dysfunction sets in.

The ability to give each other a mind-gasm is more explosive and longevous than a physical one — it will keep you cumming for a lifetime.

3. Communication “We never argue or fight.” That’s not something to brag about. It’s a red flag.

If a couple doesn’t argue, it is a sign of distrust. One or both members of the relationship are avoiding confrontation, and dismissing their own thoughts and feelings to please their partner in order to escape the discomfort of discourse. These relationships will not last because there is an absence of trust and an overwhelming presence of fear.

Examine your relationship and ask these questions:

Do each of us have the ability to listen and sift through the words, the tears or the yells to see the heart of what our partner is trying to communicate to us?

Are we willing to step outside of our desires to be right and validate each other’s feelings?

For those who are afraid of confrontation, focus on the solution, because it’s not about the argument, it’s the resolution that matters. Healthy relationships allow space for discomfort, because they know their partner is equally as committed to finding a solution. What destroys a relationship is the need to win. What strengthens a relationship is the ability to listen. An argument will dissolve when the people having the argument feel heard.

When each person feels heard, there is peace. When there is peace, there is perspective. With perspective comes an apology. Giving an apology is important, but the acceptance of the apology is more important.

How does the recipient accept the apology? Does he or she accept the apology and release the residue that can lead to a terminal grudge and resentment? If he or she doesn’t accept the apology, contempt will seep into the relationship. Once contempt is present, the relationship is over.

Fighting fairly and honorably is an art. It is a lifelong practice. When partners are committed to the relationship, they will devote to communicating well and approach their disagreements as an opportunity to improve their partnership.

4. Compromise A relationship is only as happy as the least happiest person in it, and the relationship is happiest in the middle of the two people in it. Mature participants of a relationship know sometimes one person has to travel a little farther to the center than the other. They are willing to make the trek, because they trust that the other will do the same when it is their turn.

When compromise is necessary ask yourself, “What matters more to me, my want to get my way or my need for peace? What do I need to do to create harmony right now?”

When you think and act in favor of the well being of your relationship, you will always air in favor of compromise; even if that means you travel a little farther than your partner because you know, if your partner is miserable, you will be, too, and so will your relationship.

5. Understanding You may know your partner now, but you weren’t born into his or her family. You didn’t experience his or her life firsthand. Everyone is formed and conditioned by their circumstance. We are taught how to communicate and function (whether directly or indirectly) by our parents.

You and your partner come to your relationship with different needs and ways of communicating. As his or her partner, it’s imperative you are understanding and accepting of your differences. Instead of expecting them to communicate how you do, study them like a foreign language and learn their language with the same passion you show your favorite hobby. This will keep you from entering the gates of judgment and frustration, as you learn to “speak their language” and love them the way they need to be loved.

6. Patience No one belongs to you. You can’t control anyone either. Despite how hard you try to persuade or manipulate another to respond and react in the way you want, they won’t and they don’t. Everyone thinks, feels and acts in their own way, on their own time.

If you try to rush someone’s process or push them to do something they don’t want to do, they will feel pressured. When a person feels pressured, they feel unsafe, unloved and unable to give love. They will no longer be themselves, and when someone is not themselves, they are not honest. Without honesty, love dies, as will the relationship.

The most important thing you can do for the person you love is give them space. When a person has space, they feel free — free to feel and think, do what they love and be who they are in their own way, on their own time and they will want to share themselves with you. Remember, love is not in a rush, it has all the time in the world.

7. Sex I use the word “sex” to describe the seventh ingredient, but it’s more than just intercourse. It’s affection, touch, attention, warmth and kindness. The ingredient of sex is comprised of reciprocity (an equality of service to one another) and the desire to show your partner he or she is special and wanted by you. When a person feels wanted, they feel safe, loved and free (there’s that freedom part again).

Sex and all its components disappear because the individuals in the relationship stop feeling special, wanted and acknowledged by the other. The feelings of love develop effortlessly, but if you want to keep love alive, you have to maintain it — you must work at it. Relationships demand effort by both people, equally at the same time.

Daily effort applied to a relationship by its partners will lead to a lifetime of love. It can be a simple effort — a gentle touch, a sweet kiss, an arm wrapped around her belly as she washes dishes, or sitting by his side as he reads a book or watches his favorite show. All of these actions are a reminder to your partner –I see you, I acknowledge you, I choose you, I’m trying because I love you and I want to keep loving you.

I’ve been alive for 34.5 years, and I have concluded that love is undefinable. Although I do know one thing I am absolutely sure of, and that is love is a choice.

Loving another person is a moment-by-moment choice. “I choose to love this person with everything I have right now.” If you are in a relationship, I hope you commit to loving your partner with an honest heart, a fully present mind, transparency in feeling and thought, a willingness to compromise (because you understand who they are and what they need to feel loved).

I hope you choose to be patient with their process and you always find the time to express your love with a hug and a kiss, as if this moment is the last time you will ever hold them in your arms. Oh, one last thing, never forget to say I love you — we can never say it too much.

Erin A. Alexander, LPC Posted from WordPress for Android

Thankful for Those in my Life

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I hope that everyone had a wonderful holiday weekend! We have traditionally viewed Thanksgiving as a time of the year when we remember how much we appreciate who and what we have in our lives.

I spent Thanksgiving day with Rhonda and her family. Rhonda is like a sister to me…we graduated together. I feel so blessed to have her in my life. As I went on my meditative hike today, I thought about all of the wonderful people in my life, and even people who may not be so wonderful, but they have contributed to my being the strong person that I am today. I don’t think I would change the course of things if I could.

I often see quotes about how to essentially “weed” people out of your life when they are not inspirational, or if they are not otherwise contributing to your overall happiness. This is hard to do sometimes, but really necessary if you are to be a whole healthy person. These people still played an important role, because they helped teach you lessons and helped you make better decisions.

So, what are some of the lessons you’ve learned from people who crossed your path?

Erin A. Alexander, LPC Posted from WordPress for Android

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)

Holiday-proofing relationships

There is a common perception out there that relationships seem to take a turn for the worst during the holiday-season…and we can attest to that!

After all; our busiest times are after long weekends or holidays…

But is it really a case of relationships going wrong over December times, or might there be something else going on entirely?

In one of the many books I have read this year, someone said – (sorry; I can’t remember who it was) – some of the key components to a successful relationship/marriage include friendship, commitment, trust, social support, similarities and a constant determination to create positive affect, and I completely agree with this list of attributes. I would, however like to add a few of my own; communication, intimacy and quality time for instance.

So let’s assume that; for your relationship to be a healthy and successful one, most of these attributes listed above should, ideally, be present and accounted for in your relationship with your partner/spouse. Agree? Now, let’s just focus on the present. At the moment everything is absolute chaos. Its year-end functions and Christmas parties, its school concerts and rapport cards…everyone is struggling to get everything done work-wise before closing shop for December.

Everyone is battling with what to get whom for Christmas, where are we going to spend Christmas and who with… as I said; chaos.

But let’s take a few steps back, focusing on the rest of the year as well – excluding holidays that is. To me it seems like our lives have become one huge race against time. Not because days are getting shorter or we are getting older, but because we fill it with so many things. I find that in many – not all but many – people, there is this need to be busy, a need to, almost be able to brag about how absolutely drenched we are in all that is going on in our lives.

It’s almost as if we are in competition to see who has the most on their plate!

This goes on year round…except during school holidays, or long weekends for some, and December months for most…During December holidays, everything slows down, the “commitments” and every day “responsibilities” seem to…vanish…and all we are left with to fill the void is…each other. For the first time in almost a year, we have the TIME on our hands to really focus on one another and our relationship…or lack thereof.

You see; relationships are hard work, they really – truly, honestly are. And, in order to put that kind of effort into a relationship, we need…you guessed it – TIME.

Go and read through the list of attributes/components of a healthy relationship again. How many of those are truly possible when you switch your computer off at 02h00 in the morning, getting 4 to 5 hours sleep a night? How much quality is present in the little time we do have for one another, in between the multitude of play dates and extra-curricular activities our kids just “have” to be involved in or the work reports that cannot wait another day as we could not fit them in yesterday?

How much determination is there to be positive, to actively listen to our spouses, to make someone feel loved and cared for, to personally stand up and take responsibility for our contribution to a healthy and successful relationship? I would guess the answer to these would not be positive ones.

December times, force us to stand still and take a long hard look at the person we are “committed” to.  And for some of us, what we see is not all that pleasant. We see someone that we barely know any more, we see a relationship that is just not cutting it, we are disappointed and dismayed…and we start focusing on the negatives that are so blatantly obvious and it starts spiraling out of control (also read: Change – The Finger).

In my opinion, therefore, it is not December times that are to blame for the downfall of so many relationships, it’s the lack of actively working on relationships during the rest of the year that cause us to be emotionally disconnected by the time we get to December.

So how do you holiday proof your relationship?

You start actively implementing the list of attributes I gave you earlier (also read: Onvoorwaardelike Liefde).

But don’t go demanding your partners’ undivided attention the moment you’ve finished reading this article. If you are one of the many couples faced with the dilemma that we are discussing; you need to realize that you cannot expect stuff to just change overnight; it’s not going to happen. And, by forcing the situation or putting too much pressure on someone, you might actually have the opposite of your wish granted – more distance, rejection, withdrawal…

Rather take it slow, day by day; getting to know one another again, but also giving each other a little space. And when January comes rolling around; don’t make the same mistakes again. Renew your commitment to one another and make a true effort to spend time together; to stay emotionally connected, to be an active listener, to take control of the one and only thing we have some control over – your own thoughts, words, actions and choices…

Good luck!

http://www.news24.com/MyNews24/Holiday-proofing-relationships-20131106