When They Bolt Out of the Blue: How to Survive the “Houdini Phenomenon”

When They Bolt Out of the Blue: How to Survive the “Houdini Phenomenon”

If someone disappears on you, it really is on them. As a psychotherapist, I hear countless dating stories and associated experiences of excitement, fear, anxiety, and rejection. It is natural that this topic would occupy a lot of space; after all, opening ourselves to love is one of the most vulnerable experiences in the world. But something I hear about regularly—which particularly saddens me, because it causes an unnecessary layer of anguish beyond the inevitable hurts of dating—is what I call the Houdini Phenomenon: when the person you have been dating disappears without an explanation. I cannot tell you how many times a client comes into my office in hysterics, wondering how this could have happened. The contrast between the initial proactive interest and the sudden disappearance is shocking; the ambiguity and lack of closure are crushing. What is worse, people tend to wonder what is wrong with themselves. They think, “If only I had done something different, he or she would have stuck around.” It is heart-wrenching to watch people take someone else’s issue and turn it against themselves. This is one of those cases wherein the cliché “It’s not you, it’s me” is actually true! If someone disappears on you, it really is on them. Why in the world would someone prefer to disappear than to have closure? Simply put, the Houdini Phenomenon is characteristic of a high level of avoidance. Here is an anecdote that might give you a window into this type of psyche: I was buying a gift for someone on behalf of her close friends, emailing to ask who wanted to participate. Multiple people went silent. I followed up and got a response from only one brave soul who felt bold enough to tell me that his answer was “no.” I thanked him and […]

Navigating Open Relationships, Part 1: “Is this for us?”

Navigating Open Relationships, Part 1: “Is this for us?”

Open relationships can yield opportunities to expand your sexuality, exercise freedom, and jump out of comfort zones. People often approach relationships like fad diets: they want to sign up and reap the rewards, but underestimate the work that it entails. It’s not an easy road, and there are no shortcuts or magic ingredients. Navigating any loving relationship involves continuous, sustained effort on the part of both partners, along with the acknowledgement that there will be success and failure along the way. The secret lies in creating the conditions which allow this cycle of success and failure to nourish the relationship rather than weaken or endanger it. Of course, the sustainability of any loving relationship depends on the unique characteristics, experiences, and attitudes of the individuals in it. However, there does seem to be one common thing that undermines long-term relationships. It seems we humans are often at odds with our physical selves and the resulting awkwardness around craving other people sexually, which often leads to infidelity and the end of the relationship. The idea that we can love one person but may desire another is such a taboo subject that couples rarely broach it for fear of hurting each other or breaching trust. When this condition persists long enough cheating can happen, and the table is set for the emotionally charged feelings of inadequacy, betrayal, guilt, and ultimately, the death spiral of an otherwise healthy and loving relationship. So what if we were able to talk openly and honestly about this subject and include our partners in the process? This could simply mean developing honesty around your fantasies or attractions to others, geared toward including our partners in our desires. This could also lead into a discussion around nonmonogamy or opening up the relationship. Is this for us? Before deciding […]

How to love, part 1: The dance’s most essential step

How to love, part 1: The dance’s most essential step

By turning your attention to the other’s experience, love happens. “How to love?” This ambitious question has been asked as far back in history as our collective beating hearts began. The experience of love, of course, defies description and is so profound that our greatest philosophers and spiritual traditions often regard it as the ultimate truth of life itself. On a practical level, however, recent decades of research in human bonding, neuroscience, and the study of living systems have revealed common behaviors that we practice when we experience love in our daily lives. This includes love with our partner, our children, or even within ourselves. As Dr. Sue Johnson, psychologist and developer of one of the most proven methods of couples therapy, Emotionally Focused Therapy, has asserted, we now can study, learn, and teach how to love. This amazing and hopeful development means that we can choose to bring this experience of love into our lives by learning and practicing the moves. Dr. Johnson compares this to learning the steps of a dance; she uses “the tango” as a metaphor for loving interaction. This post is the first in a series of “love maps” that I’ve gleaned from my mentors, the masters in this field. What I write is verified by my own life experience in relationship, and my ongoing practice. I don’t expect you to adopt a map just because a research team has observed it; instead, my fondest hope is that you test these offerings against your own daily experience with those in your life. “Turning toward” as an act of love These maps of loving behavior share one starting point, put into a simple two-word phrase by Dr. John Gottman, considered by many to be the preeminent relationship researcher of our day: “turning toward.” This refers to […]

Why You and Your Partner Have Different Versions of Your Last Fight

Why You and Your Partner Have Different Versions of Your Last Fight

Our emotions are a result of our interpretations of a situation, not the situation itself. Jack and Betty come to their second couples counseling session obviously tense. “So what happened?” I ask. Jack sighs and Betty says, “You were so mean to me last night! You were angry and raised your voice and told me you didn’t want to talk to me.” “What?” says Jack, surprised. “I was just busy. I tried to tell you I can’t do our vacation planning right now because I have to finish something for work. I even remember being calm about it. But then you got really upset and yelled at me!” Have you and your partner had a similar experience? Do each of you remember a situation quite differently and then argue about who’s right or wrong? Once you get sucked down that rabbit hole, you’re not even talking about the issue itself anymore—you’re just trying to prove whose version of what happened is the right one. How do you fix the relationship? Strong Emotions Are Sticky Why does this happen? Well, we’re not computers, and our memories are deeply affected by the emotions we’re feeling. If something feels emotionally neutral, we might not remember it—because we don’t need to. It doesn’t threaten our sense of self, and so it doesn’t affect how we approach future events. Can you remember what you ate for lunch two days ago? Maybe you can (if it was intensely good or bad), but otherwise, remembering what you ate probably took some effort. We tend to remember an event more easily when it carries a strong emotional tone. These include the fun times as well as the unpleasant, but unfortunately, negative, painful situations can be especially memorable. (This is what psychologists and neuroscientists call the brain’s “negativity bias.”) […]

Men: Want Better Sex? Foreplay Starts Today

Men: Want Better Sex? Foreplay Starts Today

She needs to know your affection doesn’t always have an agenda. Guys, you know how in the beginning of a relationship, there’s a magical feeling between you and your lady? You feel close to each other, and passion is always in the air. She’s really into you, too—and ordinary interaction easily becomes sexual (and you two end up in bed). Fast-forward four or five years later, and now your partner—maybe your wife—seems far less interested in sex. You are physical less often, and sex isn’t that great when you do. She may seem less present or engaged than you’d like, or perhaps she’s complaining that you don’t know how to get her in the mood. Many men don’t understand what their partner means by that. Routine: the Intimacy Killer Once routine settles into your relationship, many men start giving less affection to their partner, saving it only for when they want to have sex. These men view touching, kissing, or caressing as foreplay, and they’re become far less physical because they (mistakenly) believe that foreplay only starts when there’s an intention for sex. In other words, men have a short foreplay-to-sex time span! But for many women this is different. Women are in the mood for sex more when they feel consistent affection from their man — but the affection that men consider “foreplay” doesn’t always have to lead to sex. Think of that moment in the kitchen when you pass each other and you put a hand on her back, or when you surprise her with a quick kiss on the neck. How does she respond in those moments of straightforward affection, as opposed to when you do the same thing deliberately looking for sex? It’s everyday passionate attention that shows her you’re interested in her all the time, […]

5 Changes to Make Now if You’re Having an Emotional Affair

5 Changes to Make Now if You’re Having an Emotional Affair

An emotional affair, even without sex, can be just as detrimental to your relationship’s safety and future. The foundation of a successful partnership is trust—and a betrayal of that trust can derail even the closest relationship. While such betrayals often come in the form of physical affairs, an emotional affair, even without sex, can be just as detrimental to your relationship’s safety and future. An emotional affair is an intimate connection with someone other than your partner. Warning signs include: The person is becoming central in your life and has taken on the important functions of your partner. You spend a lot of time with them, confide in them, and support each other emotionally (whether it’s over the phone or in person). You find yourself growing distant from your partner and are becoming less interested in them. You’re beginning to compare the other person more favorably to your partner, and you’re become increasingly annoyed or frustrated with them as a result. If your emotional investment in the other person is drawing energy and dedication away from your relationship, you may be at risk. Physical intimacy often follows a deepened connection, and as your emotional closeness grows, you may find yourself sliding towards a sexual affair without even noticing. What can you do about an emotional affair? If you suspect that you’re having an emotional affair, it’s time to reevaluate your partnership and make changes right away. Here are five ways to begin: Ask yourself whether there are issues in your relationship with your partner that you’re not addressing. Perhaps this other person is making up for what you’re missing with your partner. If this is the case, commit to talking to your partner about your feelings and resolve your issues directly. Healthy boundaries are crucial. If you’ve been overstepping them, […]

Who’s Really to Blame When You Fight?

Who’s Really to Blame When You Fight?

Emotions that function to defend or fight against a perceived threat sabotage productive communication. Ever had the experience of being in the middle of a fight with your partner, hearing the strong words coming out of your mouth, and suddenly not recognizing yourself? Or have you taken a look at your partner and wondered where the person you married went? Behind the reactive behavior that causes many a fight is likely a part of your brain called the amygdala. That’s right: the fight culprit isn’t your partner, but how our brains are wired. Thankfully, that brain wiring is normal—and changeable. Which Part of Your Brain Is In Charge? Simply put, there are two relevant brain players that emerge during a fight. The amygdala is part of what some people refer to as the “lower brain” (part of the limbic system), whose responsibility it is to process emotion. This is the part of your brain that reacts to a perceived threat—physical or emotional—by producing knee-jerk, automatic responses based on past events. This part of the brain is great when we’re physically threatened. We don’t stand around deciding what to do when a car is coming too fast at us; we run, and are therefore kept safe by our quick-acting lower brain. But when the threat is emotional versus physical in nature and our lower brain takes over to protect us, the overreaction can be very harmful to our relationship. In contrast, the “high brain” (part of the frontal lobes of the cerebral cortex) is slow moving. It handles conscious processing, reasoning, reflection, language, and empathy, allowing us to better choose coping strategies and options. This part is activated when there is no perceived threat—you know, the communication that seems sane and stimulating, where you really consider things, weigh the pros and […]

Beyond Sex: The Bigger (Erotic) Picture

Beyond Sex: The Bigger (Erotic) Picture

The benefits of being erotic…allow for a deeper and more meaningful experience all around. If you Google “sex,” you’ll get a range of pages aimed at improving your sex life through the use of vitamins, exercises, better techniques, and tips on how to make the experience more pleasurable. You’ll find pages upon pages dedicated to toys and tools that can be used to spice up your sex life. (And yes, you’ll find a lot of porn sites, too.) While these tips and techniques are all geared toward improving your sexual experience (and many of them do have valuable insights, for sure), they fail to address the entire sexual picture. As we’ve mentioned here before, sex is more than just a physical experience—it connects to the bigger way you experience pleasure, and is just one aspect of being sensual or erotic. A sensual experience is more than the position or toy you’re using, and even more than whether you have an orgasm or not. It involves arousing all of the sensations in your body and using each of your senses. It’s about being 100% present and open to pleasure, exploration, and surrendering to the moment. Enjoy Using Your Senses Have you noticed that when you stop to pay attention to the cup of coffee you’re drinking, the taste and experience is enhanced? Try it next time: pause and take in the smell of the coffee beans, the feel of the frothed milk as it touches your lips, the sensation of heat as you take your first sip, the warmth radiating as you swallow. Feel all that? Congratulations—you’ve just practiced mindfulness, or being in the moment. Imagine if you savored sex in the same way. Remember, being erotic means enjoying sex on more than just one level; it’s about experiencing each sensual […]

Why You’re Not Having Mind-Blowing Sex

Why You’re Not Having Mind-Blowing Sex

Great sex happens when two people are intimately connected with each other in the moment and fully present. Being present during sex is one of the first and most effective ways to improve your sex life. It sounds deciptively simple, but being 100% in the moment during sex is actually quite rare. It’s so easy for our minds to drift off—perhaps you begin to wander into your favorite fantasy, or maybe you start recapping tomorrow’s to-do list. Whatever the topic, when your mind begins to drift, you dissociate from your body and you dissociate from the moment. Great sex happens when two people are intimately connected with each other in the moment and fully present, sensing their own bodies fully, free of thoughts and distractions. The closer you can get to presence, the better. Think about it: if you’re eating while you’re busy or preoccupied, the food is finished before you know it and you barely seemed to taste it. But when you stop to savor the meal you’re eating, doesn’t it seem to taste better? It’s the same with sex. While it’s completely normal for your mind to drift, continually bring your thoughts back to your partner and the sensations happening in the now. The more you’re able to be present with your partner—in your body and in the moment—the more you’ll increase your pleasure and connectedness. Why You’re Feeling Disconnected Believe it or not, it’s our natural state to be present, so it’s important to discover what’s keeping us disconnected. Most often, there are two reasons: Being distracted. An unfocused, drifting mind is common, and often has to do with performance anxiety or avoidance of a particular emotion or thought. In cases of performance anxiety, it’s often very difficult to stay in the moment and fully connected as […]

How Mindfulness Can Improve Your Relationship

How Mindfulness Can Improve Your Relationship

You don’t have to sit on a cushion for 10 days to learn to be mindful. I first heard about meditation when I was 23 and traveling in India. As someone who had been interested in personal growth since my teen years (trying to understand my relationship drama, of course), I was fascinated with the idea. I decided to do a 10-day meditation course in Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama lives. Thinking it would be easy for an introspective guy like me, I was surprised and unsettled that just sitting doing nothing and being with my thoughts and feelings could be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. The first three to four days were extremely difficult and I thought of leaving the scene repeatedly. But then, as my mind began to quiet down, I experienced an amazing sense of peace and clarity. Life seemed to slow down, my mind was quiet, and I felt very present and alive. The key to meditation is mindfulness: paying attention to our present-moment experience and observing what is happening before we react. While meditating in India, I learned that our thoughts, feelings, and body sensations are connected and that we have more control over them than we think we do. In our busy day-to-day lives, we react to situations automatically and rarely get a chance to step back and study them. The skills I’ve gained in my meditation practice have helped me grow and change in fundamental ways. I’ve seen the biggest difference in my relationship with my wife. When she came over to hug me one morning, I noticed my body turning away slightly. Instead of brushing my reaction aside, I got curious—why was this happening? When I listened to my experience, I realized I was upset because I was still […]

A Couple’s Guide to Menstruation Challenges

A Couple’s Guide to Menstruation Challenges

The more we accept this process as natural and healing, the more we embellish our beings. For some couples, “menstruation time” can be a real challenge. Symptoms such as severe cramping, throbbing headaches, bloating, distressing mood swings, or heightened sensitivity to environment and people can all occur. A little over a decade ago, I personally started experiencing painful cramps several days (and sometimes weeks) before my period. As the months went by, these symptoms got progressively worse. So, I’ve had plenty of motivation to research and explore alternative healing options over the past number of years. In my practice, I find that my experience can really help clients at times, and so I make it my business to track clients’ period cycles no matter how challenging or light their cycle is. A couple’s challenges with this can vary depending on the personalities involved. Men will never know what it’s like to have a menstruation cycle and can sometimes have a hard time empathizing with their partners. I’ve heard men say things like “I feel like I’m walking on eggshells” or “No matter what button I press, it’s always the wrong button.” With same-sex partners, both women may experience their cycles in sync, which can prove demanding when they both need nurturing and care at the same time. The medical term for extreme emotional reaction to the release of estrogen and progesterone hormones (known as the “sex hormones”) is premenstrual dysphonic disorder (PMDD). The challenge here is that the fluctuation in sex hormones causes a decrease in the neurotransmitter GABA. According to Julia Ross Ma, author of The Mood Cure, the GABA neurotransmitter is one of the brain’s most relaxing chemicals. She discusses in detail how women over age 35 tend to feel more stressed and release less GABA approaching their […]

Premarital Podcast: Communication Skills for a Lasting Relationship

Premarital Podcast: Communication Skills for a Lasting Relationship

Make your relationship more important than the issue. What’s the most common reason partners struggle in their relationship? If you’re like most couples, it’s the lack of communication skills. Whether you’re arguing over chores or fighting about finances, the ways you and your partner talk (and listen) to each other during disagreements is even more important than the topics that trigger them. Gal Szekely, founder of The Couples Center, recently appeared on the I Do Podcast to discuss premarital communication. While new couples tend to view disagreements as a potential red flag—possibly leading them to wonder if they chose the right partner—this is actually normal in a relationship. Most of us didn’t learn the necessary skills for navigating this crucial component of marriage—but because it is so important to your relationship’s well-being, it’s also one of the most effective ways to improve it. Tune in to Gal’s podcast to learn: How your family upbringing influences your communication today Two different communication styles, two different solutions Why you don’t need to compromise during a dispute What to ask yourself when you’re in the middle of an argument What to do when you’re questioning your partner’s intentions The four essentials of a successful relationship One single piece of advice for creating a lasting marriage     The best way to prepare for your future together is by learning the tools and skills that form the foundation of a successful long-term relationship. Our marriage counselors or premarital workshops can help. Contact us today and start creating the relationship you want!

3 Paths to a Hotter Sex Life

3 Paths to a Hotter Sex Life

Improving your sex life means focusing on more than just the physical. Has your sex life dwindled from a hot, steamy affair to a lukewarm, occasional romp in the bedroom? You’re not alone; many couples worry that their relationship is losing its original flair when the physical fun begins to simmer down. While this may mean that your relationship is deepening into a new phase, a healthy sex life certainly goes a long way in terms of keeping partners connected. So how do you maintain it? Here’s something you need to know: improving your sex life means focusing on more than just the physical. While connecting on the physical level is essential, remember that sex is an interpersonal act that occurs within the context of your unique relationship. In addition to the physical and interpersonal levels, your personal feelings and attitudes toward sex play a major role in the quality of your sex life. If any one of these aspects feels off to you or your partner, your sex life probably will, too. Let’s look at each level in more detail: The physical On the most basic level, the experience of sex is a primal and physical one that relates to arousal and sexual pleasure. Difficulty allowing or tolerating these experiences can stand as an obstacle to sexual enjoyment. In this sense, men are often (though not always) focused more on reaching orgasm—the end result—than on the gradual enjoyment of sexual arousal and pleasure. Unfortunately, this can mean missing out on feeling physically connected to your partner. In much the same way, women often feel unable to “let go” and truly experience the sensations of pleasure. This inhibition often leads to lack of exploration or sexual connectedness. By learning to let go and relax into the physical sensations and pleasure […]

How to Manage Stress in Your Relationship

How to Manage Stress in Your Relationship

Once you can begin to recognize your stress behavior, you can begin to change it. Let’s face it—many of us are stressed. And when we’re triggered by a stressful event, we often take it out on the ones we love, making stress the probable cause of many of our toughest relationship issues. So what is stress, exactly, and how can we begin to manage it more effectively in our relationships? Stress is an evolved condition Ironically, rather than the nuisance we tend to experience it as, stress is actually an ancient biological mechanism of our nervous system that helps us survive when we perceive danger or a threat in our environment. Robert Sapulsky, a Stanford University neurobiologist, explains how stress was originally designed to protect us: “If you’re a normal mammal, what stress is about is three minutes of screaming terror on the savannah, after which either it’s over with or you’re over with.” For us humans, stress is caused by all kinds of issues that may or may not be truly life threatening. This is because we have a self-referential internal environment powered by the cerebral cortex, a part of the brain that plays a key role in memory, attention, perceptual awareness, thought, language, and consciousness—you know, those ways we evolved beyond normal mammals. Because we have an internal environment, we’re essentially programmed to react to internal “threats” as if they were external ones. Therefore, we can continue the stress response long after the triggering event is over—keeping our bodies on edge, our senses vigilant, and our emotions ready for a fight. So, unfortunately, when we come home after a stressful day at work, we’re primed to attack the person we care about the most. Letting go of stress is a choice Zebras don’t get ulcers, Sapulsky explains, because they […]

How well do you understand body language? Test yourself!

How well do you understand body language? Test yourself!

In many cases, your partner’s body language is more important than their words. In a strong relationship, we’re deeply connected to and interdependent on our partners—which makes us very sensitive to their body language. And this is no small thing; our nonverbal messages can be even more powerful than our words. The automatic, emotional side of our brain is constantly checking out our partner for signs of safety. Seeing something on our partner’s face, the look in their eyes, or the tone of their voice can make us feel cared for—or set us off. Because this process is fast, innate, and mostly unconscious, we can easily misinterpret it. Even if we’re great at labeling our partner’s nonverbals—knowing he’s surprised, for instance—our interpretations could make or break what happens next. (“Does his irritated tone of voice mean he’s angry about my important request, or is he preoccupied with his tough day at work?”) Couples counseling can help you demystify your partner’s cues and read them in a way that improves your communication and enhances your connection. How well can you read nonverbal communication? Think you’re clued in, or do you need a little guidance? Try out these lighthearted quizzes and see where you stand—or better yet, have your partner take them with you for an animated, revealing discussion! 1. Can You Read People’s Emotions? The Well Quiz by the New York Times Are you tuned in to the emotions of others, or have you been accused of being insensitive? Find out how well you read others’ emotions with the Well quiz, based on an assessment tool developed by University of Cambridge professor Simon Baron-Cohen. 2. Test Yourself! by Your Amazing Brain Your Amazing Brain offers quizzes that test your reading of body language and facial expressions, plus mental fitness exercises and […]

Understanding the Brain: 3 Ways It Can Unlock the Mystery of Love

Understanding the Brain: 3 Ways It Can Unlock the Mystery of Love

What can the scientists working in the lab teach us about love? In recent years, we’ve seen more and more research on the intersection of neurobiology and psychology, explaining the connection between our brain, nervous system, and emotional world. Of the vast amount of information out there, there are certain key insights that I usually share with couples coming to counseling—and I’d like to share them with you, too. So what can scientists working in the lab teach us about love? “Are you there for me?” The relationship as a safe place. Our brains are designed for survival. But we usually think of “survival” in terms of being physically attacked or hurt. We now know that feeling connected to the people we love is as important as physical survival. When we need our partner and they don’t respond to us—or worse, threatens to break up—our brain reacts as if we’re in danger and switches to emergency mode. To create emotional safety, make sure not to threaten your relationship, even when you’re angry or fighting. For a great relationship, you need to give your partner the feeling that you’re there for them no matter what. “I’m ok when you’re ok.” Sharing emotions is crucial. Have you noticed that when your partner feels anxious or stressed, you feel it, too? Similarly, when they’re happy, some of that rubs onto you as well. There’s a scientific basis for this phenomenon: our brains contain “mirror neurons” designed to establish empathy and secure bonds—therefore, we tend to feel what other people are feeling, especially those close to us. This means that it’s in your best interest to know how to calm your partner down or cheer them up. Yes, it’s their responsibility first—but because our partner’s emotional state can impact us so deeply, it’s crucial […]

Communication Issues? You Might Have Two Different Communication Styles

Communication Issues? You Might Have Two Different Communication Styles

Many couples believe their arguments never get resolved because one partner seems to find the confrontation easy while the other wants to avoid it. “We just can’t communicate!” is a frequent statement we hear from couples in counseling. This communication pattern is very common. It usually looks something like this: John and Sue are frequently getting into arguments that result in John storming off and giving Sue the cold shoulder. Sue just gets angrier with John when he does this and, despite how many times he says he doesn’t want to talk about it anymore, she continues to have her say and gets even louder and more intense. Back in therapy, John says he just can’t handle it when Sue gets so intense and feels like he wants to get away from her. Even so, as they describe the route their arguments normally take, it’s clear that they really love each other and want to find a better way of resolving issues. Understanding the communication pattern The pattern happens when one partner approaches the confrontation head-on while the other partner wants to move away from the conflict and calm things down. The first partner has a “hot style”—they want to engage immediately, to “put things on the table” and get it done. If things don’t get resolved immediately, they might feel anxious, distressed, or preoccupied. On the other hand, the partner with the “cold style” doesn’t do well with the intensity, or “heat” of the first person. They need time to cool off and think things through, so they might prefer to stop the argument and come back to it when they have had some time to reflect and feel calmer. Having this difference is normal in relationships! Many couples learn to deal with it and accept their differences. But […]

Client success story: Show me you’re listening

Client success story: Show me you’re listening

Note: This post is part of a series of true stories of clients who came to The Couples Center for marriage counseling. Identifying information has been changed to protect their privacy. After a hard year dealing with a health issue, a woman and her partner, both in their late 40s, arrived at The Couples Center to address what she described as his “distance and disconnection” from her. At this point, she said, she even suspected him of cheating. He seemed surprised by her accusations, telling me that he’s remained loyal to her and, although the past year has been difficult for them, he loves her and has always been by her side. Distraught, they hoped marriage counseling could help them understand what was happening. Communication involves the whole body I was curious about the difference in their stories. As I worked with them, I observed their communication pattern—the woman was very talkative, while the man was mostly quiet. Physically, her body was usually turned toward his, while he sat facing me, eyes downcast. I decided to check that out with them. I pointed out the pattern, then invited them to experiment with it: I advised the woman to continue talking as usual and then, giving the man a cue, had him look directly at her for a few seconds. The woman stopped immediately, in the middle of her sentence. She looked at me in surprise and said, “Now he’s listening. I always wanted him to be present with me and to feel heard, and it never happened until now.” The man also looked surprised, realizing that the reason why she’d repeat herself so much to him was that she never felt heard. He asked me, “Is it possible that such a small thing is so significant in our relationship?” The answer […]

How to stop fighting over money, forever!

How to stop fighting over money, forever!

In a recent marriage counseling session, a couple Andy and Dina came in visibly stressed. When I asked them what happened Andy said that they were fighting over money. “We are spending too much money recently and need to cut back but she doesn’t want to,” he said. “Well, we’ve been working really hard lately and deserve to have fun. All I wanted is to go on a weekend getaway,” Dina responded. Money is one of the most common topics couples fight about. It’s one of those perpetual issues—issues that surface over and over again despite having discussed them and seemingly resolved them before. In fact, talking about money is hard for almost any person. The topic usually brings up anxiety, hopes, dreams, regrets and much more. No surprise then that when two people with two different perspectives are involved it becomes even more complicated. However, there’s one important insight that can change the way you talk about money forever: The problem is not the money itself, but that which money symbolizes. Think for a moment what would happen if you had double the money that you currently have. What will you do with it? Perhaps you start thinking about that holiday you always dreamed of or that car you always fancied. Maybe, instead, you immediately plan how much you will put aside for retirement. Or maybe you would like to donate some of that money or lend it to a friend in need. Why did you choose these things and not others? It’s because they reflect certain values that you hold. Now consider that your partner will have their own associations and feelings about the finances and, most likely, these will differ from yours…a recipe for an argument? It doesn’t need to be. When we realize that money acts as a symbol for certain […]

Couples counseling FAQ

After having spent years working with hundreds of couples, we know that couples counseling really works. We also know however that when they are considering couples therapy a great many people have concerns and questions they would like answered first. Therefore we would like to address some of the most commonly questions and concerns here: 1. How can someone outside my relationship really help me? That is certainly a valid question. However couples who have been together for some time tend to have begun to operate along certain patterns, often without even realizing it. Having a neutral third party can help you understand what is really happening in your relationship. Here’s an example. In the case of one couple the female partner felt that her voice was not being heard in the relationship. However, her partner felt put down. After simply observing them talk for a minutes certain patterns became obvious. When the woman spoke to her partner she looked at him but he looked at the floor. She also did most of the talking, he said very little. By simply suggesting that her husband looked at her while she spoke the woman said she finally felt as if he was listening to her. One small change made a huge difference. 2. If we can’t resolve things on our own maybe we are not right for each other after all. Relationships are wonderful. They are also very emotional. Much of the time couples trigger each other so they interact in a very emotional way and their usual logical, rational thought process tends to go out of the window. Often all it takes is the presence of a neutral third party to help a couple see their relationship in a different, less emotionally charged light and begin working on the real […]

15 Romantic things to do in San Francisco

15 Romantic things to do in San Francisco

In the last month we asked couples what are their favorite romantic things to do in San Francisco or just at their own home… We got many creative and unique responses! Therefore, we collected 15 of the best ideas and summarized them for you. Most of the information we provide below is published online, please check the details when you plan the activities. Cozy, romantic and fun in your own living room 1. Home picnic Too cold to go out? Surprise your partner with organizing a picnic… in your home (or plan it together with them). Preparation: Put a log in the fireplace, or heat up the place, set up a blanket on the floor, throw on some pillows. Place some candles all around your picnic area. Food ideas:  A loaf of crusty bread, crackers, fresh butter, a sharp cheddar cheese and a soft brie, strawberries and a bowl of whipped cream, an antipasto platter with cured meats such as rolled up salami, large pepperonis, prosciutto and  bowl of olives. Drinks: A bottle of wine or a good cocktail, also make sure you have a bottle of water ready. Make it sensual:  Cover your partner eyes with a tie and begin feeding him/her the picnic’s foods ever so slowly with your fingers. Ask them to guess what they are eating. When they had enough, it’s your partner’s turn to feed you. For more ideas, see this article 2. Play a childhood game… Be cozy in your living room couch, order pizza, uncork a bottle of wine, and teach your partner how to play your favorite old-school card game or board game. Breaking out the old board games or dipping into your child’s stash can actually make you two feel closer.     3. Play sexy…. Ready for some sexy, intimate time? If you want to spice things up here are nine different sexy games…So don’t think too much, […]

What to expect from marriage counseling

What to expect from marriage counseling

Seeking marital therapy can be an anxiety provoking experience, which is often the reason that many couples avoid going for couple’s therapy. Knowing what to expect from the process and understanding how couple’s therapy sessions work may take some of the mystery out of the process and help you to make the decision to seek help. What makes couple’s therapy useful? Couples seek counseling when they want to improve their relationship or have become unhappy in their marriage. They may feel that their needs are not being heard or met or they might be stuck in unresolved conflicts. Many times, it feels like the relationship is stuck and they are repeating the same conversation and the same conflict over and over again. Couple’s therapy is useful in helping the couple move from a conflict situation to a more emotionally and intimately connected situation where needs are being met and problems are collaboratively and constructively solved. Even if the relationship is relatively good couples therapy be enormously beneficial in improving intimacy and connection and creating a more satisfying and fulfilling relationship in general.   Couples therapy create a safe and neutral space for you and your partner to explore your relationship. Having a third party who is objective can help you say things to your spouse that you could not do just on your own. Even more important, an experienced couples therapist has worked with many couples like you so they can tell you what to expect from your marriage and what needs to change in order for you to have a different and better experience than you have at home. Learning how to communicate In any relationship, both partners want to be heard, loved, accepted. However, most couples get caught in unproductive communication patterns and end up feeling frustrated and […]

3 reasons why getting married is stressful

Most people think about being engaged and getting married as a happy time, a time in which they finally get to settle down and be secure that they have found someone to love them. And in many ways it is, but there are aspects of the engagement stage leading to the wedding that make it stressful. In fact, studies have found that getting married is rated in the top 10 most stressful life events. In doing pre marriage counseling with couples I have often found that couples are surprised when they encounter these challenges and they think that something is wrong in their relationship. They might even doubt their partner or their commitment. Why is it so stressful? 1. You might have fears and concerns – Getting married is a huge commitment, a lifelong commitment, so it’s absolutely natural to have fears, concerns and doubts. You might find yourself having an inner dialogue where one part of you is saying “Of course I love him/her and want to get married!” While the other part is bringing up all sorts of arguments to the contrary, such as “I’m not ready”, or “how do I know s/he is the right partner for me?”. You may even find yourself testing your love every day, looking for signs that this is the right move and that you really love this person. What can you do about it? – It is important to realize that most people have fears, concerns and doubts and that this is very natural. In fact, it is probably a good thing to have a realistic view on your relationship – knowing that a healthy relationship is not necessarily perfect. Realize that your confidence in your relationship will always go up and down. There will always be periods in which you […]

How to get the most out of couples counseling

How to get the most out of couples counseling

I want to congratulate you for making the decision to attend couples counseling! Your relationship is worth it and by coming to meet with a professional you are making a big step towards making it better. It is really important for me and The Couples Center’s staff that the process is positive and meets your needs as a couple, helping you to achieve the goals you have for your relationship. Therefore, based on our experience of working with many couples, we have created guidelines to help you get the most out of your counseling sessions. Please read them carefully. The goals of couples counseling For many couples, the goals of couples therapy may involve learning how to create an easier, happier and more satisfying relationship. In some cases it may also involve deciding whether or not you should stay together. Whatever your specific goals are, the therapist generally works with both partners to create a win-win situation where both partners feel heard and understood. Most importantly, the therapist helps to create a situation where both partners learn how to respond to each other in the best way without having to compromise any important values that they may hold. 4 key principles for making couples therapy work for you Focus on yourself: It is common to want your partner to change, believing that the problems are a result of his / her behavior. But this “blame game” is ineffective and often leads to defensiveness and a breakdown in communication. It also leaves you powerless, because there is no way that you can change another person – you can only change yourself! By focusing on your own role in the dynamics and focusing on changing yourself, rather than your partner, you will create the right environment for your partner to change as […]

When it’s not just the two of you anymore

When it’s not just the two of you anymore

Couples are always thrilled at the arrival of a new bundle of joy, but when it is your first child the adjustment to becoming parents can often be very stressful. You have become accustomed to the dynamic in your relationship when it was just the two of you. Now suddenly there is a third person and it changes everything. It changes the way you view yourself and it may even change the way you view your partner. This new person puts new demands and new pressures on the couple and the whole role of parenting places a new type of strain on the relationship. The potential problems that come with a new family You have different roles to play The early stages of having a new family member can be very stressful as both partners begin to adjust to the new demands placed on them. Baby seems to need mom all the time for feeding, for changing and sometimes just for comfort. In many cases, dad may begin to feel a little left out and, on occasion, may even begin to feel jealous of all the time that baby gets to spend with mom. This becomes even more difficult since many new moms have lower desire for sex. The partner may feel that suddenly his wife is no longer available emotionally or physically in the same way she used to be and this is a massive adjustment for both partners. You are more tired and have less time for everything Having a new born in the house means waking up every three hours for a feed, a nappy change and generally seeing to the baby. Sleep deprivation is hard on new parents and can be a source of stress within the relationship. The little bit of free time that you […]

How to have a healthy relationship as a new parent

How to have a healthy relationship as a new parent

As we know, being a parent is a full time job and doesn’t leave room for very much else. Most couples struggle with adjusting to the new roles and often they forget how to be a couple. In fact, research shows that many couples become distant and disconnected when starting a family and really struggle to juggle having a relationship as well as being good parents. As with most things, if you want your relationship to function then it needs some good old maintenance and with a little effort you will find that you can be both – a partner in a healthy relationship and a good parent. Shaking off the parent role Parenting is all consuming and new parents often lose part of their previous identities when they start out as parents. Women lose the high heels, ditch the makeup and opt for more practical attire. Men might stop exercising or keeping with healthy lifestyle. Both parents might focus so much on the new born that they don’t maintain any of their regular routine – social life, hobbies etc. If you want to maintain a healthy relationship as a couple, you need to shake off the parent role every now and then and return to your former role as a sensual partner. You need to be able to see yourself as more than just a mom or dad and relate to one another as you have done in the past. Of course the dynamic changes between you, but it is important that you don’t lose sight of your selves and remain connected. How do we stay connected? Children are demanding and require a lot of attention. It is very easy to focus only on the kids and forget about one another. The next thing you know there are awkward […]

How to encourage your partner to come to couples therapy

How to encourage your partner to come to couples therapy

There are many couples who are struggling with problems in their relationship but one of the partners is unwilling to attend therapy. It is common for people to feel that if they need marriage counseling in their relationship then the relationship has failed already. Other people believe that therapy is only indicated when things are really bad. Either way, below are important suggestions about what to do when your partner doesn’t want to go to couple’s therapy in San Francisco. Going alone Although two is always better than one when it comes to couple’s therapy, it is possible for you to make improvements in the relationship by attending therapy alone. By making sure that your therapist is a qualified couple’s counselor you will be able to work on some of the problems in your relationship by attending individual therapy. Remember that in a relationship all problems are co-created. This means that both partners have a role to play in the problems that have ensued. Often negative patterns of interaction and communication are set up and become entrenched in such a way that the couple tends to revert to this default negative pattern each time a conflict situation arises. As a result, when one partner begins to change the way in which they behave within the relationship, it automatically begins to shift the dynamics in the relationship. So if you attend couple’s therapy alone, you will be able to make positive shifts in your relationship by accepting the role you play in the negative patterns in your relationship and looking at ways in which you could change your behavior to affect the relationship positively. Encouraging your partner to join you indirectly Unfortunately we cannot change other people and we cannot force them to do things that they do not want to […]

Are you heading towards a divorce? Lessons from couples research

Are you heading towards a divorce? Lessons from couples research

Marriage is a commitment that involves dedicated work and effort to keeping the relationship alive and healthy. According to John Gottman, a well-known couples therapist who has spent years studying marriages, there are clear signs that marriages are beginning to fail and might be heading towards divorce. Being aware of these predictors helps partners to pick up the pieces and mend the relationship before it is too late. Many couples take their relationships for granted, let things slide and before they know it they might be headed for a breakup.   Harsh Start-Up The first sign that the relationship is on a downward spiral is the way a discussion is started in a relationship. When one partner begins discussing an issue in a negative, accusatory and criticizing tone it most often results in a failed discussion. Partners who start their discussion around sensitive issues in a positive, soft and kind way are more likely to have a positive outcome. Four Horsemen of Apocalypse This term, coined by Gottman, refers to four types of negative interactions that are severely damaging to a relationship. Criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. When one partner attacks the character of the other partner instead of simply complaining about their behavior then the interaction becomes a criticism. Criticism can very often lead to contempt where sarcasm, name calling, mockery and hostile comments are used. Contempt is a dangerous thing as it communicates dislike and disgust with one’s partner – a frightening thing to feel in a relationship. Typically defensiveness will surface when these interactions are at play and this is a way of blaming your partner by implying or stating that “the problem isn’t with me it’s with you”. When issues remain unresolved, the relationship begins to deteriorate. Before long one partner will begin to shut the other one out – refusing […]

Recommended Relationship Books

Recommended Relationship Books

No ones learns about relationships in school. Yet, like any other topic, if you want to be good at it you have to gain some knowledge and skills. To save you time, here’s a list of my favorite relationship books. All of them are highly recommended. Relationship books Hold me tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, by Sue Johnson This is one of the best books for couples by Dr. Sue Johnson, the creator of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT). The book is a therapy program that helped many couples learn how to de-escalate conflict, create a safe emotional connection, and strengthen bonds between partners. The book includes case studies, illuminating advice, and practical exercises. Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples, by Harville Hendrix A classic best seller by Dr. Harville Hendrix, who, in partnership with his wife, originated Imago Relationship Therapy. This book would help you discover the unconscious patterns that influence your relationship and how to move from “unconscious partnership” to “conscious partnership”. The book includes a set of practical exercises. The New Rules of Marriage: What You Need to Know to Make Love Work, by Terrence Real The many changes that women have undergone in the last few decades have led to the demand for a radically new kind of relationship. Terrance Real explains what men need to do to adjust to this situation and offers couples a set of effective tools with which they can create the truly intimate relationship. Wired for Love: How understanding your brain can help you diffuse conflict…, by Stan Tatkin Understanding how your brain operates when it comes to romantic relationships can give you surprising insights and tools for creating a great relationship. This book brings a synthesis of neuroscience, attachment theory, and emotion regulation into a simple […]

10 Tips for New Parents

10 Tips for New Parents

Bringing a baby into your home for the first time is a daunting experience. Unfortunately little babies don’t come with a ‘how to’ manual so first time parenting is a game of trial and error.  Often these beginning stages create stress in the relationship as the couple learns to adjust to the new role of parenting.  Here are a few tips that may be useful to new parents in adjusting to their new roles and coping with the stresses that parenting brings. 1. Take care of yourselves: Having a baby in the house is demanding to say the least and often so much energy is spent on taking care of the new born that the parents forget to take care of themselves. Time seems to run away with you, and with the all the new demands placed on you, you forget to put a decent meal on your plate. Make sure that you are eating properly and drinking enough water. This may seem like an insignificant piece of advice, but the health of your family depends on the health of the parents. 2. Be kind to yourselves: Relax your standards a bit in the early days. It is not important to have a spotless house and be the super hostess every time someone pops in to visit you and your baby. You have enough to take care of at this stage – relax and let it go. Be gentle with one another too. Adjusting to the new parenting role with all its demands can be overwhelming and tensions may run high. Understand that lack of sleep often results in a lack of humour and new parents often find themselves being short or snapping at each other. Remember you are in this together and you are each other’s best support. 3. Maintain perspective: […]