couples counseling tips

I Go a Bit Crazy When...

...My husband says anything like “I need you to…”  “I want you to…”, pretty much if it doesn’t sound like a request I get irritated.


I think Chad (husband) and I had about a one hour conversation yesterday around the whole subject of making a request vs. making a demand. He honestly can get a little flustered / totally overwhelmed by me and I know this so I try to temper myself. It doesn’t always work, but I try. Yesterday, we had a talk and I literally gave him the words to use with me so that he can get his way. I also told him if he doesn’t know how to approach me, to just say that and I can help out.

Sound stupid? Maybe, but it works. I just expect him to know then I am really asking him to be psychic which will never happen in a million years. So if you are expecting your partner to just KNOW because you have been together for decades, well dream on my friend. You might have to have the same conversation over and over. Lord knows we have. In fact, yesterday I told him I was going to have a laminated cue card made for him. I was joking but I’m also seriously considered it. I think I will do it and wrap a nice bow around it. His brain works differently than mine so I do need to tread lightly. He wouldn’t care if I said to him “I need you to…” or “I want you to…”, but I care.

It is in your best interest to figure out how to let your partner know how to communicate with you so that you get almost everything you want. In yesterday’s conversation, I gave him the roadmap to use so that he can get what he wants. Do yourself and your relationship a favor, tell your significant other how you need to be approached when they want something. It’s a million times better than guessing and ending up in an argument. Now, off to do some laminating!  


Constant Attention

Having a healthy relationship takes work. It never stops taking work. That doesn't mean it has to be difficult or a daily grind, far from it.  But it needs daily attention, care and love or it will suffer. I promise. I see and hear about it every day.

I had a couple in today who I haven’t seen in about 2 years.  They were in a good place, both putting in the effort.  Life went on, they got back into their routines, sank back into bad habits and you can guess the rest. The good news is that they already know what they need to be doing. They ignored the habits they learned and quickly began blaming the other person and the defensiveness was back in full force.  

In order to get these two back on track we have to brush the cobwebs off and unearth the love. They came in highly critical and full of contempt, but they both softened by the end. It feels so bad for them right now because the fear of abandonment, perceived or real, iis masked by anger and resentment. It’s much easier to be pissed off then to enter a place of vulnerability and tenderness. Learning how to be safe in your relationship again will take a bit of time and effort. The point is that when you are not paying attention to your relationship, it will wither and eventually die if not tended to appropriately.  

If you need to brush off some cobwebs, we will help you through that process. Give us a call today and get back on track ASAP.

Bored in Your Relationship? Maybe it's Because You're Boring!

A cause of stress, complaints, and unrest I hear is usually because couples feel bored with their relationship. At its best, it leaves people feeling stale. At its worse, it leaves people leaving the relationship, having affairs, or creating excitement/numbing boredom with addictions (food, gambling, drugs, alcohol, shopping...).

So how can we avoid that, or at least decrease the likelihood of that??

Don't be boring! Create excitement. Create novelty.

When people first start dating, their brains are lit up by the newness of the relationship. You're meeting a new person and finding out about their personality, their quirks, their interests. You're exploring your chemistry and how to be intimate and sexual with each other. You're probably going on dates and trying new restaurants or hikes or vacation spots. New new new!

Then familiarity and routine set in. While this can provide comfort, it can lead to neglect of people's need for novelty and excitement. Enter boredom!

So, here’s a hot tip to help when you are bored in your relationship: proactively create novelty! Go on dates! Experiment with sex! Tell different stories! Work on new projects together!

Other, not so sexy, tip: practice beginner's mind. Beginner's mind is a mindfulness concept of dropping preconceptions and engaging in life and interactions as if it’s your first time. Don't be a know-it-all. Don't buy whatever same old boring story you come up with about how the day or activity will go. Just be in the moment. Even if it’s just cooking dinner, see what you can learn or notice. See how you can find excitement. Create novelty in the mundane.

Holidays are a great time to get un-boring! Plus novelty and beginner's mind are the gifts that keep on giving. Enjoy!

Something THIS bad?

Today a client asked me if I have ever dealt with “something this bad” in my practice.  Her marriage is in a shambles in ways that frankly are hard to imagine.  To her, it’s worse than any horror movie.  I told her that I’ve never seen her exact situation, but I’ve had all the pain in the world in my practice from different clients in too many situations to count.  So the question is not about judging the extent of the “badness”.  The question is have I ever seen this much pain.  The answer will always be “yes”. 

Part of her question asks about a “degree of pain marker” to be put on situations.  The first time I realized I couldn’t put a measurement on the degree of emotional pain was when my son was in the NICU for three and a half months.  He was born three and a half months early.  I would get comments that people could relate because their child was born 4 weeks early.  I came to the conclusion that if your worst event in your whole life was your child being 4 weeks early and it scared the living shit out of you, then who am I to say mine was worse?  We were equally scared shitless.

Don’t compare your pain or life situation to anything else.  You pain is your pain no matter what anybody else thinks.  If your partner does or says things that are belittling and mean according to you, then they are belittling and mean.  I have clients from the east coast who can talk to each other in ways that would make my mid-west clients lose their mind.  The point is that if you have a feeling or an emotion or a pain, it’s real and it’s ok.

The other point is that yes, you can move beyond it if you want, but you don’t have to.  If what happened is the straw that broke the camel’s back, then it’s broken.  If you want to try everything and anything to repair it, then let’s go for it.  Just don’t feel like you have to do what all your friends say because they don’t think your pain or your situation is that bad.  Your wound might not be big to them, but to you, your heart has been ripped out.  Pay attention to your feelings, to your grief and to your needs.

I have seen pain, I have felt sad and hurt. I am here to help you get through what ever level of “bad” you are experiencing. Call and make an appointment today.

When Your Partner's Not on Board with Couples Counseling

"I know something needs to change. I've brought up counseling to my partner but they don't want to go. I think we need it, but they aren't budging."

Sound familiar? If this if you, you're not alone.  I hear this from clients (and friends) a lot.  It's a tough place to be in and may bring up a number of thoughts and feelings in you when you need couples therapy but you're partner is not on board. You may give up, bury feelings of sadness, fear, and resentment only have those feelings come out sideways at a later time. You may try to argue, coerce, threaten, or pester. You may even be passive aggressive. Unfortunately all these strategies are effective in making things worse, but not effective in making your relationship better or getting your partner to therapy. They may even reinforce your partner's idea that this is your problem and push them farther away from agreeing to work on their own part in all this.

"Yikes, that is NOT what I want!"

I know! My suggestion: take the advice of Gandhi to "be the change you wish to see in the world" and do couples counseling for one.

"But, Erika," you say, "if I go to therapy, the terrorists win! That's not fair. My partner needs to do this with me too."

Maybe. In a perfect world, you wouldn't couples therapy need it in the first place. But are you willing to give up or burn up the relationship because it’s not fair!?!

So, while you'd prefer for your partner to join, is that always imperative in order to create positive change in your relationship?? Maybe not. Here's some points to ponder...

  1. You are ultimately the only one you can change. The Serenity prayer says "grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."  You can’t change your partner, but you can change you and individual therapy can help with that.
  2. In systems theory, changing one part of the system can promote change the whole system. If you’ve been stressed, chances are you’ve been operating at a suboptimal level in your relationship. It’s possible the poor communication and bad habits of your partner are a reaction to some of your poor communication and bad habits. When you change you, it’s possible some of those negative feedback loops can change too.
  3. When you are working on you, you are in a better position to suggest the other person be working and changing too. When they see that therapy isn’t horrible, it isn’t about blaming, and that it’s promoting change that benefits both partners, some people are more open to going themselves.
  4. Waiting until both people agree to get help often means both people are in crisis, both have been severely hurt. Both are, simultaneously, more desperate for change and more deeply stuck. And then people wonder why therapy doesn’t feel helpful. The deeper you dig that pain pit, the longer it takes to crawl out of it...even with help.

For more info about how to create change in your relationship, contact us today. We're here to help.

3 Reasons Why Fighting Matters

We ALL fall short.  We know we are doing it, and sometimes we just don’t care.  So when one of you has one of those days, it’s up to the other person to bring their A game.  It’s also important to realize why fighting matters.  We will worry about the repair part later when you can apologize and really mean it.

People who think that they will never fight in a relationship are, quite frankly, delusional.  In my opinion, if you are in one of those relationships, then you either aren’t being honest about things that bother you or you are sweeping things under the rug and pushing problems aside.

In my many years of couples and marriage counseling, and being in my own 17 year relationship, I KNOW fighting is healthy.  In some of my best fights with my husband, we have had our best conversations and realizations.  

Here are some reasons fighting with your spouse or significant other is important:

  1. Anger sets a line in the sand, a boundary, telling the other person they have just crossed over. Anger as an emotion isn’t bad.  Your boundaries show the other person what you are willing to put up with to a point and then it’s a game changer.  If you don’t set up boundaries, people will walk right over your line without knowing or respecting it.
  2. Fighting appropriately let’s you stand up for yourself and get your point across when the other person may not have realized your goals or intentions.  Don’t rob the other person of the chance to understanding your position.
  3. People exist differently in the world.  Do not make the other person wrong just because you disagree.  We all need to learn that difference does not = wrong, it equals different!  It’s not OK to pout or be hurt because your partner has a different view.

Obviously, these are just a few examples.  There are many more how and why to fight fair.  If you want to know how to fight without making the other person wrong, without attacking their character, without being defensive or critical, then call me so I can give you the exact tools you need.

My couples therapy practice is based on over 40 years of scientifically validated research from the top minds in the field.  If you want to know what works, I have it and want to share it all. Let’s get started today!