I Just Want It To Be Over

“I just want it to be over.”

A sentiment I hear on repeat, from all walks of life, from the left as well as the right. From men, women, non-binary, White and POC.

“I just want it to be over” …but it’s not. It’s not going to be for a while.

Wishing for difficult moments in time to be over is natural. It’s human to try to escape suffering. That is what our brains are made for. Itch? Scratch. Uncomfortable? Adjust. Sad? Distract. It’s as if we are addicted to the pursuit of not feeling negative feelings. This addiction blinds us, though, to all the potential joy we could be experiencing. Right now.

Here are two reasons you are robbing yourself of joy when you wish for now to be over and the future, surely full of awesomeness, to be here now.

1. When you wish for something to be different, you are shifting out of acceptance. This is a topic I talk about often, but here is another reminder. Acceptance is essentially acknowledgement. This is what is. When in acceptance, we are not condoning, being “okay with,” or embracing anything. We are simply acknowledging life as it stands. In this space, there are feelings. All the feels, but we’ll get to feelings in a minute.

When you step out of acceptance, you step into either aversion or attachment. Aversion says “I don’t want what I have,” while attachment says “I want what I can’t have.” Can you feel the instant ache? These are the places we experience suffering. “I just want this to be over” is a deeply painful cross between these two points of suffering. I ache to escape what I have and long for something not possible. Oye. Is it any wonder we’re suffering so much?

2. You can’t block out one “type” of feelings. Therapist bias here, but feelings can’t be broken down into types. Feelings are feelings. If you try to block out sadness, you block out joy. If you try to block out anger, you block out peace. You cannot pick and choose. You are either numb to feelings or open to experiencing them. And no matter how long or how much you try to hide from feelings, you can never escape them. They’ll pitch a tent and wait for you to open your door for other moments. This is why grief can snowball. Often, when we lose someone, we lose everyone we’ve lost before them all over again because we’ve mistakenly believed we could shelve our experience.

How much easier would all this feeling stuff be if we just thought feelings were… feelings? Not good. Not bad. Not desirable or undesirable. Just that – a passing emotional experience. Just as waves are not separate from the ocean, our experiences are not separate from ourselves. The ocean never fears that the current wave will last forever. The ocean doesn’t try to block out certain waves or believe it is this current wave. They simply arise, move through, and return to the ocean. You could have embarrassment or jealousy arise and, instead of losing your peace of mind by resisting, believing it is who you are, or falling prey to thoughts about its permanency – you could choose to get curious and lean into the experience. You might find when you do this, feelings are juicy. They’re fascinating. Exciting. You could feel child-like awe about them. Suddenly, all feelings are awe-some.

“I just want this to be over.” Okay. But engage with this intentionally. Finish the thought: “I want this to be over, and I know it isn’t and that I cannot control that. So, instead of sitting in the discomfort and allowing it to be temporary, I’m going to consume, distract, numb, or stuff my feelings and turn this difficult time in my life into a long-lasting suffering that will take me years to unpack. But, that sounds like future me’s problem.”

If it feels ridiculous, you’re doing it right.

Sometimes we have to be a little ridiculous with ourselves to see where we’re getting stuck. 2020 has given us a ride, and from the look of it, we’re only halfway through. We can’t fast forward. Can’t numb out until it’s over (ever seen Click?). 2020 is giving us an opportunity to tune in. To greet the grief and overwhelm – both ours and in our communities. Sit in discomfort. It’s good for you. If you’re comfortable, you’re not changing. We often have to look for opportunities to get uncomfortable to create change.

Not this year.

Lean in. Reach out for help. Try not to wish your life away. If you’re reading this, you’re alive. Look at your family, your friends. Whisper to yourself, “we’re alive.” Breathe it in.

D

Swirling Minds

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There are so many questions – mine, clients, the world. It seems as though we’re walking around our homes and neighborhoods with swirling minds. Wondering. Pondering questions that we may never get answers to. Fearing the answers to others.

There are questions about why, how it started, and why we didn’t do things differently. Fears and frustrations around governments, lack of access to food and medical care, and the perpetual unknown of who is sick and who is not.

There are questions that hit us to our core, too. Our attempts to understand the why and how behind the moment set aside, we wonder how our world will be when it all comes to an end:

Will people be kinder, will they focus more on what matters? Will I?

How is this changing the next generations? Will they fear for safety? Will they come together faster? Will they learn to mourn losses without pushing them aside or numbing them out? Will the littlest of them remember?

What will it feel like to go to the grocery store, concert, airplane, or birthday party after this? Will I ever not feel afraid?

I think we’re seeing a lot of reality all at once these days. We’re being shown our privilege in high definition, and it can be painful. We are usually able to go to a building and purchase food whenever we want regardless of the season. We normally have endless connections, freedom to move about and travel our world, and yet very little contact with the people we live with.

I’ve been amazed by the countless stories of people finding themselves in better positions, emotionally, throughout this process. Reversals in who does the primary parenting, more time together as a family, and gratitude for having work we might otherwise be unsatisfied with.

I’ve also seen a lot of suffering. Most of the suffering I’ve seen have been of broken expectations and plans, fear and anxiety, and guilt around not enjoying this time like so many people post about online.

Whatever your experience, give yourself permission to feel it. It’s okay if you’re enjoying this time while people in the world suffer. It’s okay if you’re suffering during this time while people on Instagram are enjoying the downtime. Give yourself the grace to move through this however you need.

Try writing down the questions that you find swirling around in your mind to get them out, and then spend some time answering them for yourself. It’s okay not to have all the answers but to just think things through clearly. You could also color, draw, or tell a story for yourself. Once you’ve done this, you can keep it for later or release it by safely burning it outside.

Example: What will it feel like to go to the grocery store after this? I might be hesitant. I might wash my hands more, touch my face less, and need to regulate my breathing. I might be more appreciative of the people who work there. I might find myself hesitant to move close to people or stepping back when someone approaches. And I might have a completely different experience – that’s okay too.

The best work we can do right now is to learn to allow our experiences. Focus on how they feel in our bodies. Anxiety is often felt like a shaky, butterfly-wing, pressure in our chest or knots in our stomach. Anger is hot and tight, where sadness might be heavier and feel like choking. Start with just breathing to acknowledge and allow. Then, breathe peace into the physical sensation of the emotion. Breathe out and imagine breathing out the emotion like a dragon breathes out fire. Focus your mind and try not to follow thoughts (when you do, bring yourself back with the next breath).

We still have a few more weeks to go. And we can do this. Reach out for help if you need it.

Be safe out there,

D

We’re Still Here…

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It can feel a bit like the world is spiraling these days. People are struggling with the loss of work, being cooped up at home, or having their regular self-care activities come to a screeching halt. This could feel like the end of the world. This could also feel like an opportunity.

As a therapist working in the world right now (currently, through telehealth), I have to share: I’ve been amazed. I’ve been amazed by how many people have been seeing this as an opportunity. Amidst the loss and uncertainty, I’m hearing stories of gratitude for being required to slow down, spend more time with family, get more creative with self-care.

I’ve seen a lot of tears in the last two weeks, and I undoubtedly will see more. Heck, I’ve had my own. And that’s okay. Let it out, feel your way through it. Uncertainty can feel heavy on your chest, and tears can release some of the tension.

I’ve seen a lot of hope in the last two weeks, and I hope to see more. Maybe the world will get a wake-up call. Maybe we’ll realize what is really important and care more about our people than we do about how pretty our homes look for Instagram pictures. Maybe we’ll put our phones down and look up to the sky or into the eyes of those we love more often. Maybe we’ll Facetime Grandma more than once a never.

Maybe, just maybe, we’ll realize that we don’t have to face a pandemic to appreciate those we love, take good care of ourselves, and slow down.

If you’re struggling, please reach out to a therapist or other trusted person. You don’t have to go it alone.

We’re still here.

All services have been moved to Telehealth through programs like Google, Doxy, Theranest, SimplePractice, and Zoom. But we’re here. Here are a few tips to get the best experience out of your telehealth sessions:

  • Find a quiet, comfortable, private place to engage in therapy (though we never mind meeting your dogs and cats!). If you can’t find a quiet place, plan to stop a few times throughout the session to take a few deep breaths and refocus your energy.
  • Have a few things you’re hoping to touch on in the session. When you feel prepared, sessions feel smoother and you walk away feeling like you got more from them. It also helps you feel like you have power in an otherwise uncertain time.
  • When you’re talking, look at the camera instead of your therapist. While you’re talking, we’ll look at you. Then, when we talk, we’ll look at the camera and you can look at the video of us. This back and forth helps it feel more connected.
  • Be patient. Everyone and their mother is using telehealth services, so sometimes there are blips. Though it can be tough, we’re still here and we can see it as an opportunity to pause and breathe.
  • Relax. The hour is yours. Laugh, cry, be uncertain. Just be you.

Keep an eye out for some at-home self-care things, and check out our Facebook or Instagram for ideas. Get creative!

You can do this. We’re still “here” with you.

D

Willingness for Vulnerability

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I’m sitting in a chair, barefoot and holding a warm glass of tea meant to bring some calm into my life. It’s my first time in this place, a mindful community, and the three others there have been kind and welcoming. I’ve needed this, a sangha. It’s been hard to find one that fits. The task before me is a check-in, much like a therapy group, but without feedback or conversation. Just brief attuned listening. Real space to exist for a moment.

I thought perhaps I’d share something mid-level. In grad school, we used to call it a 4 or a 5 on a scale of 1-10, where 10 is the trauma you’d share with a therapist and 1 something you’d share with a stranger. After all, I don’t know these people. I haven’t even decided whether this is my place or my community. Why let them know me?

Ready to share something mostly meaningless, it struck me. A question I ask myself perhaps to often: “What would I tell a client do to?”

I’d probably say, “what would happen if you actually shared how you felt? What might you gain? What is there to lose?”

My turn came. I made the brave choice.

I’m feeling grateful to be here tonight. I’ve been spending so much time trying to take care of others that I’ve forgotten myself. I used to rely on my meditation practice to help me be my true self, and when my daughter was born that nearly disappeared. I let it. And now I don’t always recognize myself. I get frustrated for such mundane reasons and then spiral into shame for not being the woman I know how to be. It hurts. I’m ready to find what makes me radiate again. My daughter deserves to grow up with that version of me.

It came easily. And it reminded me of something I so frequently encourage in others. Shame only holds power when you keep it secret. Letting the air and light in sends the shadows scampering.

Not every place or person is safe. And, if you are standing firmly in an open, willing vulnerability, nothing anyone says can hurt you. You are open and willing, so you examine it, integrate what helps you heal and grow, and allow the rest to fall away.

Naming what shames us is freeing. It takes back the power that shame steals from us. The power we sometimes hand over willingly. It says, no I won’t disappear inside. I won’t hide or fight it. I’ll open the door laughing and invite it in. Only then do I have any chance to let it go.

Is there some shame you might be able to bring into the light? Where might you be able or willing to be vulnerable?

Reach out if you need help.

D

Can’t You See These Flaws

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There’s a shaky feeling. I should be taller. I should be thinner. Everyone else has the body I wish I had. I’ll never be quite as attractive as that. I mean, it’s fine I guess.

I just know if I were a little more __________ then I’d be more loveable, too. More deserving.

Can we talk about body dysmorphia?

It’s been coming up a lot lately. There is this thin veil of “it’s no big deal,” and beneath it a quivering, painful fear. Hate or disgust. It hurts down to the bone, and we make passing jokes about it. Yet we don’t share just how deep this hurt goes.

I’ve fallen prey to it, myself. It wasn’t long ago I realized a pattern I had. I’d look back at younger pictures of myself and think, “my goodness, I was so _____ back then.” Insert whichever wishful adjective you’d like. Over time, I realized that I felt poorly about my body at the time the picture was taken, just to be wistful at having lost the beauty a few years later. Pictures became mirrors I couldn’t ignore. Maybe, just maybe, I never looked as bad as I felt I did at the time, and only with some years of separation from that body could I see it for what it was: beautiful.

We learn a lot about how we feel about our bodies from our families growing up. We hear our parents, who we initially idolize, judging their own bodies, ours, or strangers on the street. We learn what beauty is supposed to look like, and then we measure ourselves against that standard as we grow into our adult bodies. If we don’t quite measure up, we hate ourselves. If we gain too much weight, we skip meals, restrict calories, or exercise too much. It begs a question: can you hate and/or punish yourself into being attractive?

As a kid, I remember my mom saying how old her hands looked. Now when I look down, the same age she was, I see my mom’s hands in place of my own. I hear the words she spoke and have to be intentional about not buying into that, myself. When I see my hands and notice their age, I try to feel gratitude for having made it this far. For having a daughter who will love these hands like I loved my mom’s.

Culture feeds into it, too, right? With all the airbrushing, photoshopping, and filters, we forget what real humans look like. There’s a reason I’m not often keen on following back those fitness moms who post endless “before and after” pictures of their bodies. Those folks who are always DMing me asking if I’d like to lose weight or get more fit. I’m so glad for them that they are working on themselves. And yet, it doesn’t suit everyone to see so many pictures day in and day out of bodies, with the intention to idealize, improve, or boost sex appeal. It can become obsessive, and it concerns me for the dozens of folx I know who still struggle with loving their bodies. The constant suggestion that there might be an ideal body can be vexatious to the spirit. Confused, the spirit starts to ask, “why can’t I look like that?” The answer is simple: because you’re not them. It can be painful when you feel like culture, family, or your own ideals don’t align with the body you were given.

Body dysmorphia wants you to think you’re flawed. That there is some piece of you that is wrong when in reality, there’s not. But saying that is like saying, “don’t be sad” to someone with depression. In fact, it’s closely tied to anxiety, depression, trauma, and OCD. They share a common struggle: believing that happiness, peace, or worth is something that comes from the outside. Each struggle forgets that worth is inherent and happiness comes from within.

Here’s my thought: Why not love yourself into being healthier?

How about instead of hating, obsessing in the mirror, and shaming ourselves for rolls, wrinkles, or too big/too small of something, why don’t we just love ourselves and show it by being gentle, kind, and tending to ourselves? Eat food that makes your body feel healthy. Get restful sleep. Engage in supportive relationships. Take walks. Enjoy the fresh air. Unplug. Drink water. Wear clothes that match your spirit. Laugh. And under no circumstances, stress yourself out doing any of the above.

Perhaps we’ve had it backward all along. Perhaps it isn’t “once I look this way, I’ll be able to love myself.” Maybe we get further by loving ourselves first, respecting and honoring our bodies, and allowing them to rest in their happy place. Then we think, “I love myself, so I love what my body is.”

There are so many ways to start down this road. Here are a few places to start:

  1. Meditation and Mindfulness.
  2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
  3. Radical Acceptance.

There’s something to be said for an attitude of gratitude. Your body will never be “perfect” by any standard other than your own. And sure, walks and happy thoughts won’t make you taller, have different genitals, or re-grow hair. But that’s not the point.

This is the body you have. You won’t ever have another body in this life. This is it. Hating your body is like cooking angry. Your anger taints the food and robs it of its brilliance. Hating your body taints your life and robs it of its brilliance, too.

Think of it this way. Does your body generally work? Try to remember that it’s a miracle you exist. The fact that you can think, that you can breathe, that your heart beats. Maybe you’re missing some digits, or maybe you have a degenerative disease. That’s okay- you still have so many other blessings that many people don’t have. Do you have the disorder where your brain forgets to breathe while you sleep? Imagine being afraid to go to sleep at night because you could forget to breathe and not wake up. Sometimes we need to be grateful for what we have that we consider basic. What we take for granted. Accepting what we have and being grateful can help us see the bigger picture.

Note: Acceptance is not the same as being okay with or giving up. Acceptance simply acknowledges what is. I have a body. It’s not attachment (“I wish I could have a body like that”) or aversion (“I hate that my ____ is so ____”). Acceptance likes facts. This is my body. This is the only body I have. This body allows me to move, speak, breathe, love, and experience pleasure and pain. This is my body. 

Once you can acknowledge your body as it is, you can work toward loving it as it is.

You can do this. If you need help, reach out.

I see your beauty,

D

 

If you’re looking for some body positive insta’s, try: @thebirdspapaya or @lizzobeeating.

When You’re Not Quite Enough

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We can push so hard sometimes. We push away experiences that we find unpleasant, like anxiety, anger, and sadness. We create these beliefs about what it means to be human and then we measure our worth based on how well we meet those expectations. Unsurprisingly, it’s never quite enough, so we hate ourselves a little harder and then hope that by hating ourselves, we’ll learn to do better. But hate is exhausting, so when sticky thoughts come back up we believe them without question. Then, we hold ourselves to those beliefs, and it continues.

Welcome to misery. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Clients often come in wanting me to help them make the sadness, anxiety, or anger go away. I’m here to tell you that I can’t do that. I cannot make your emotions go away, because you’re a human. Humans have emotions. Sure, I can help you learn how to navigate, manage, and experience those emotions without falling into despair, but that’ll take a lot of effort on your part day in and day out.

Geez, don’t sugar coat it, Danielle.

I know. I’m a bit of a pragmatist – I also believe that’s where peace comes from. It’s time we acknowledge (aka accept) where we are. Who we are. Then we can adjust our expectations within attainable limits and feel the joy of small victories.

Meet Sophia. Sophia feels like she should be doing better. She should be further along in her career, more successful in love, and adulting in a way that looks right. She’s been coming to therapy for a while, so she feels like she shouldn’t be still feeling sad or anxious. She snaps at her loved ones when she doesn’t mean to, she questions her worth so frequently she doesn’t even notice half the time, and she clings onto others like air. She sees herself doing these things, and she knows better, so she gets angry that she’s still doing them. The anger doesn’t take long to drift into sadness and despair that she will always live with this struggle. That somehow, she’s broken.

I’ve created Sophia out of thin air. She’s not real. But my guess is that if you’re reading this, she doesn’t need to be. You already know her. I know dozens of Sophias: Men/Women/Non-Binary, later in life and just starting out. I could maybe go so far as to say we all have a little bit of Sophia in us. Some (not so) distant fear that there may, in fact, be something wrong with us when we’re anxious or sad.

There is nothing wrong with you. You are supposed to have all the feels.

It can be really confusing when you’re in recovery from something like Generalized Anxiety Disorder or Major Depressive Disorder. It can also be frustrating when you’re trying to get into recovery from something like this. The push to feel better sometimes makes us forget we’re still supposed to have sadness and anxiety.

Without sadness, we wouldn’t be able to recognize what is important to us. Without anxiety, we would make rash, potentially dangerous decisions. Feelings serve a purpose. Ever seen the movie Inside Out? That’s what it’s all about. Understanding the why behind our emotions.

Here’s a favorite poem, which I’ll describe more in-depth in another post:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-Rumi

When we try to push away all feelings we label as negative, we end up numbing ourselves to all emotions, including the ones we typically think of as “good,” like happiness, love, excitement, peace, etc.

Maybe, just maybe, if you could learn to experience your feelings, regardless of whether they are “good” or “bad,” you could see that you are beautifully human. That no amount of sadness, anxiety, or anger makes you broken. You always have room to grow and heal. And yes, you can experience sadness without being depressed.

Our goal, then, should not be to remove the existence of difficult feelings, but rather to flow with them, acknowledging both their presence and their temporary nature. We get curious about them, looking for what they’re trying to teach us, and then allow them to pass when they’re ready. In Buddhism, this is called inviting it in for tea.

How to do this? I recommend you start with getting good at a body scan meditation, which helps you learn how to shift your mind, feel your body without holding/resisting/judging, and bring awareness into your breath.

If you need help, reach out.

Good luck out there,

D

When You Love Your Opposite

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Most couples who come to see me don’t come in already having figured out how to relate to one another. Most people come to see me because they trigger each other and are unsure of how to navigate to a healthier place.

Working with couples has taught me that there are often two kinds of people in stressed relationships: outwardly emotional people and inwardly emotional people. Those who are outwardly emotional can be seen as intimidating or sensitive. The inward emotional folks are the shutdown, aloof bunch. Outward folks may have fears of abandonment and self-worth issues. Inward people may fear being smothered and struggle with vulnerability. Both people typically struggle with emotion regulation, trust, and healthy boundaries. Both people struggle with insecure attachment styles.

We call those outward folks’ attachment style Ambivalent or Preoccupied, aka “the jungle.” For inward folks, we call their attachment style Dismissive or Avoidant, aka “the desert.” In Wired for Love, Stan Tatkin explains these types as waves (outward/preoccupied) and islands (inward/avoidant). His book is great for a deeper dive into the topic.

When a preoccupied and an avoidant person come together, it can be a bit tricky. The preoccupied person may be too needy, reach out too often, and feel easily rejected or abandoned. Fearing being smothered, the avoidant person may pull back at the first sign of these behaviors to protect themselves, be dismissive of the other person’s feelings, or accuse them of being too sensitive. In turn, the preoccupied person reaches out harder. Then the avoidant retreats further. It’s a bit of a cycle. Too often people try to be heard/seen by getting louder or to show overwhelm with closing down. This cycle leaves both people feeling frustrated and confused.

Fun fact: when a preoccupied person gets overwhelmed their heart rate skyrockets. Inversely, an avoidant person’s heart rate plummets. Makes sense, right?

Lightbulb! Don’t have those attachment styles get together! … if only it were that easy. Preoccupied people are interested in avoidant people because it perpetuates their anxious beliefs about relationships and vice versa. Even when we try not to, we inevitably end up with someone who fills our unconscious expectations. Here’s a great video to illustrate:

“We may describe someone as not sexy or boring when in truth we mean, unlikely to make me suffer in the way I need to suffer in order to feel that love is real.”

Our attachment styles come from how we were parented. To add some fun to the mix, attachment styles can also vary from relationship to relationship and change over time. The good news in this is that attachment styles can be healed.

Once we know our attachment style and the style of our partner, we can work together to heal. The avoidant person works to notice when they get overwhelmed and chooses to lean into the relationship instead of pull away. The preoccupied person works to notice when they get overwhelmed and chooses to lean on themselves first instead of believing their needs can only be met by the other person.

As the video shows, we try to listen to our knee-jerk reaction to learn what is being triggered within us, and then work to respond as our adult self instead of reacting as our younger self. This takes time, patience, and commitment.

Ready to find your attachment style?

Reach out for help if you need it.

Take care out there,

D

Our Modern Blended Family – An Intro

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I am excited to announce my first book is being released on November 26th!

At the beginning of summer I was approached by a publisher asking me to write a book about blending families. I’ve always loved writing, and books have been a long-time dream of mine, so it was an honor to be a part of this project.

Our Modern Blended Family is a book based on personal and professional experience. In writing it, I sought to offer useful tips and techniques, understanding the challenges you’re facing, as well as encouraging positive ways of relating to your new family.

You can find my book on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Any visits to my book’s page help to promote my book on those websites, so if you have a minute and don’t mind checking it out, it would be greatly appreciated!

 

Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:

I, too, am living in the thick of blended family life. If I’m being honest, and I will be throughout this book, I’ll tell you we’ve made mistakes. Our road hasn’t been an easy one, and I don’t write before you as some mystical stepmom goddess who did everything perfectly. Trust me, I did not. Blending families is hard work.

But what are blended families? They come in all shapes and sizes. You’re a blended family because one or both of you have children from a previous relationship, and you have chosen to become a family. You may have once been married but are no longer because of divorce or loss, you may have never been married but still co-parent, or you may be a single parent bringing in new family members. Perhaps you’re just starting to come together as a blended family. Maybe you’ve been at this for a while and are still struggling or in need of a refresher. Wherever you stand today, you’re up for a tough job—though a worthwhile one.

Being a parent can be a difficult job all on its own. It comes with long nights, short days, and endless to-dos. It includes the worry, care, and time you put into your children. When you add blending a family into the mix, everything gets more complicated. You may have many questions. How will we come together? What
will happen to our relationship? How will we co-parent? What will our future bring?

Blended families travel different roads than other families. Sure, this road will have bumps, sharp curves, and sometimes drastic changes in altitude. But you know what? All of these expe- riences make you stronger. I’m here to say that having a happy blended family is possible. I’m here to say you can do this. You can laugh with your children, nourish your partnership, navigate tricky waters, and come out the other side with love and ease. Some of our most beautiful and satisfying experiences in life come as the result of a little extra elbow grease.

 

I look forward to sharing more with you soon! If you want more, Amazon and Barnes and Noble are taking pre-orders now. 🙂

Take care out there,

D

Fears and Frustrations in Couples Counseling

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When I tell people that I really love doing couples, premarital, and marriage counseling, I typically receive one of two responses:

“Wow, good for you! I can’t imagine doing that.”

or

“That’s tough. I went through/knew of someone who got divorced after marriage counseling.”

 

I get it. There is something about working within the most important relationships in our lives that gets people a little on edge. Sure, there are other important relationships, like with our children and our friends. But none with stakes quite as high as our partners. Our partners are in our everyday lives. As important as children are to us, they eventually grow up and live on their own. Our partners, on the other hand, we’re with day in and day out until one of us dies. There’s a reason we call them our significant other. If they weren’t so significant, we’d just call them our other. Or, that person over there. Let’s face it, how we relate to them matters.

It can be scary to not only recognize that such a significant portion of your life is struggling, but that it also needs more help than you can do alone. Reaching out for individual therapy can be vulnerable, so reaching out for two people, doubly so. There are a lot of fears and frustrations people have, and I’d like to share a few things to help you both know my approach, but also to relieve some of the pressure in case you need a little boost to reach out to someone for help.

I’ve gathered these fears and frustrations from people I’ve spoken to over the years.

Three common fears about the outcome of couples therapy:

  1. We’ll get divorced/split up. This must be the number one fear, from my experience. There is truth to it, too, which I think really lights people up. There is a risk of separation or divorce when you come to marriage counseling. Just like there is if you don’t. I think what made couples counseling get such a tough reputation is that people often wait until they are ready to divorce to reach out for help. At this point, the odds of a breakup are high. It’s not impossible, as I’ve seen couples come back from the brink. That happens, though, because they choose for it to. When a relationship is truly over in the heart of one or both partners, there is little a therapist can do to change that. We aren’t in the business of changing hearts. We’re here to help you align your life and mind with your heart and values.
  2. Nothing will change. Also high up there, the fear that once therapy completes, they’ll return to the status quo. This is also possible and is a fear for a reason. Humans are creatures of habit, and they’ll eventually revert to what feels natural if they aren’t putting in constant effort toward new behavior for at least two years. You read that right, folks. It takes at least two years of constant effort to create a new, more connected, more positive status quo. So no, a few months of therapy will not undo fifteen years of discord in a relationship. But a few months of therapy combined with constant effort, openness, and willingness… that can change things.
  3. Everything will change. Isn’t that the trick, though? We want change so badly, but then we often end up deeply fearing the actual process or experience. What if everything changes and I no longer recognize my partner? What if they no longer love me, or I no longer love them? What if our new normal isn’t the normal I thought I signed up for? Can’t they just go back to who they were when we met? Well, can you? You are an imperfect human trying to create a life with another imperfect human. Change can be scary, unknown, and sometimes a little painful. But if you’re really committed- if you really want to spend your days with your partner, then you’ll love whoever they are today and you’ll make efforts to adjust your sails together as you each grow. They’ll need to do the same. I can’t promise you can go back to how it was when you fell in love – in fact, I can near-promise it won’t. If you’re really in this for life, together, I do believe you can create a new relationship, despite the fear.

Three common frustrations, sometimes born out of fear and unfortunately others, out of an experience, about the couples counselor or process:

  1. The counselor will take sides. They’ll believe everything my partner is saying, I’ll be the bad guy, and “couples counseling” will really be just about trying to fix me. Sometimes people actually want a therapist to take sides, but in that case, they want the side taken to be theirs, not that of their partner. Nobody wants to be the “wrong one.” And frankly, I don’t believe relationships can ever be just one person’s problem. Even if one person has done the primary betrayal, the other person has participated in the relationship getting to the place it was. It may not always be 50-50, but it is typically pretty close. The approach I take is to not be on either party’s side but on the side of the relationship. Sometimes that means I’m a little harsher on Person A for a session or two, but then it typically switches and the heat is on for Person B. It’s not about who is right. The moment that is the focus, the relationship suffers. It’s more important to be on the lookout for what is best for the relationship as a whole. Find a therapist who will fight for your relationship, you can search for them on the website Marriage Friendly Therapists.
  2. It will be one way in the office, and another way at home. I often hear this, that one person will misrepresent themselves or their partner in therapy. Maybe at therapy, they’re understanding, open, and honest, but at home, they’re closed emotionally and dig in their heels. This happens sometimes- that’s okay. Try and remember that therapy is a practice ground, with the hope that eventually what is practiced will come home with you. Unfortunately, yes, that means both people have to be conscientious about bringing the good home. If you find yourself stuck, find words that are both kind and honest to share in counseling that you’re seeing a pattern. Not only is that good practice for you, but also that way your counselor can help you break down barriers and come up with solutions.
  3. It’ll just be a waste of time. Some couples express this as their frustration. They go to therapy, argue it out, then go home angrier than they came. Nothing gets accomplished, nothing changes. This certainly can happen, and sometimes hashing out an argument can help clarify the pattern you’re stuck in and encourage you to listen differently. Let’s talk about a few things that will keep your therapy focused:
    1. Spend some time in advance thinking about what you think the problem is. Hint: it’s not your partner. If you think it is, okay. Also, come up with what is your responsibility. Do so before each session, with the goal of looking for patterns between you that need mending. This way once you’re in the room, you can express a few hopes you have for that day.
    2. Seek out skills to use at home. Marriage counseling is a combination of processing hurts and increasing skills to change patterns, like improving communication, friendship, and fair fighting. Most of the skills I recommend come from Mindfulness and The Gottman Institute. It may be worth looking around at the different modalities therapists use, and finding someone who aligns closely with what you think would work best for you. There are so many books out there- ask for some recommendations that will support your work and read through them as a team effort with your partner.
    3. Plan on doing homework every. single. day. One hour once per week in therapy will not undo the many hours of interactions between. You must take what you learn in counseling home and put it to practice, then come back and discuss what worked and what didn’t so your counselor can make adjustments to the plan. Remember that you’ll need to put some effort forth every day for the next several years as a start, then for the rest of time, thereafter. This is a commitment to the health and happiness of you, your partner, your relationship, and anyone else involved (like kids, furr babies, etc). It will be tough, but it can also be worth it.

 

Relationships require that you each take care of yourselves, one another, and the relationship itself. You can do this. Reach out for help when you need it (preferably, long before you contemplate divorce!).

D

Even Play Has Its Limits

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Have you been working toward your Registered Play Therapist certificate? If so, you’ll need to submit your application by June 30th, 2019 in order to use the previous application standards.

Don’t worry, though, you can still get your RPT and RPT-S. The Association for Play Therapy (A4PT) went through a helpful and much-needed update to have the certificates show the excellence we carry in working with children. We want them to have high standards in what they expect of us because we have high standards in the care we provide. So what does this mean? You can check out the new official letter A4PT put out here. I’ll explain the highlights below:

  1. New application requirements will be available on their website by March 31st, 2019. Old applications will be accepted until the end of June this year. Then, no applications will be accepted July through the end of December. Any applications sent in during this moratorium will be returned to sender.
  2. Starting January 1st, 2019, applications (postmarked after that date) that meet the new criteria will be accepted.
    1. All live webinar training will be counted toward non-contact hours, which have a maximum of 50 hours of the required training.
    2. Hours must be supervised by an RPT-S. Don’t worry, I’m here for you. Go ahead and contact me now to get started.
    3. Supervisors will have a process to assess and monitor your growth. Yay!
    4. Want to become an RPT-S someday? You’ll need to first hold your RPT for three years to show your advanced level of skill.

I’m happy to answer any questions you might have and support you on your path to providing excellent care to the next generation. As always, feel free to reach out and get the quality supervision you need.

Stay Playful,

D