Why Couples Therapy Often Fails

Couples often start therapy years after they first need it. I work with couples who tell me about their struggles years before they end up in my office. Its sad to hear how they saw the need for help, but didn’t get it for one reason or another. I hear them talk about things they try, reading books, talking with church leaders, trying harder, date nights…to no avail. There is nothing wrong with these types of activities as they do help strengthen a marriage. The problem is that the couple needs more fundamental healing and work. They need a solid relationship foundation (i.e., secure attachment, emotional safety), not a superficial fix (i.e., date night).

Here is what I tell these couples – start focusing on yours and your spouses emotional needs and experiences. Most couples struggle to do this because it is scary and unfamiliar. Understanding what your emotional needs are helps you to know what to communicate with your spouse. The trick is, at that point, communicating those needs in an appropriate manner. Extending an Invitation rather than an Demand regarding these needs is important. Invite your spouse to understand your needs and collaborate with you how to get them met. The more you then do this for your spouse the better your relationship will be. Understanding their needs and trying to meet them will help them feel safe and secure in your relationship and give them the ability to do this for you. This can be a difficult experience for both of you. Its scary to be that vulnerable and exposed with your spouse. No one else can hurt you like they can in this world. Opening up in this manner requires that you trust them to take care of you and be soft and caring. Them opening up in this manner requires the same type of trust in you.

A couples counselor can help you learn to be that vulnerable with each other while maintaining emotional safety.

By Dr. Triston Morgan, LMFT

Fighting Fair – Couples Therapy

Couples often fight. Leading researcher, John Gottman, found through decades of successful research, that it’s not the presence of fighting or arguing in a marriage that causes divorce. He found that it was how a couple fights that would cause them to divorce. Learning how to fight fair, in a sense, is important for a healthy relationship.

 

Here are a few principles to consider when learning to fight fair:

  • Soft Start-up – how you start your discussion matters. If you come at your spouse with an accusatory tone, it would be called a harsh start up and usually not end well. Starting your discussion with a softness can really help. For example, you might say, ‘I’m trying to understand how you feel about this, but struggling to do so. Can you tell me more about…’ This sends the message that you are not looking for a fight, but rather to partner up with your spouse in this difficult time.
  • Solve your solvable problems – There are solvable problems and perpetual problems. Knowing the difference and then knowing how to focus on your solvable problems will help you not get stuck. Perpetual problems are ones that seem like they just won’t budge. Most of marriage problems fall into this category. However, you don’t’ have to solve these for your marriage to work well. You just want to know how to deal with them in a manner that allows for them to be present and for your marriage not to fail.
  • Listen to your body – When you argue, your body often reacts in a manner that makes it difficult to use the skills you know. John Gottman calls this flooding. Your body gets overwhelmed. The trick is to let your body calm down when you are in an argument. This often takes some time alone. Let your body’s signals tell you when it’s the right time to take this time-out. Your body might respond to arguing by an increased heart rate, body temperature, sweating, or pressure. As soon as you feel this, know that you are becoming flooded and need to take a break.

Using these three simple principles will help you have a happier marriage and one that can last. If using these principles don’t seem to help, come in to see a therapist. We can help with marital problems such as infidelity, pornography problems, depression, anxiety, arguing, parenting issues,

Taken from John Gottman’s book: the Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.

 

Written by Dr. Triston Morgan, LMFT

 

Telling Your Kids About Divorce

Making the decision to divorce is hard enough when thinking about only the spouses involved, add kids to the mix and things get ten times more difficult. If you are going through a divorce, most likely you are concerned about how your decision to separate will affect your children, and how are you going to tell them? As parents we are constantly trying to protect our children from any pain and suffering, the reality is that the news of your parents’ divorcing, no matter how carefully delivered, is going to cause some kind of pain, hurt, or confusion in the eyes of your child.  Although you can’t control how you or your child will feel during this stressful time in your lives, you can make the choice to commit to seeking out effective ways to handle and offer a positive healthy source of support for your children. Committing to this will allow them to adjust to the divorce in a positive way, and in their own way as you lovingly guide them through the process.

TIPS 

  • If possible the news of the divorce should come from both Mom and Dad together as a family.  During this conversation stress the fact that even though family life is going to look very different, you will both continue to love them.
  • Tell the children that the divorce has nothing to do with anything that any of the children may have done or not done. Reassure them that they are not the cause of the divorce.
  • Children thrive on structure, especially during transition periods. Keep a daily routine with school, activities, and their regular everyday life. Keeping as much consistency as possible helps the children to feel more secure.
  • Having some kind of a plan of what life might now look like for them can be very beneficial. It is comforting for them to know where they will be going to school, where they will be sleeping, and how often they will see mom or dad. Nothing is permanent in this arrangement but offering them some sort of idea of how their lives will and won’t change will again help them to feel secure. 
  • Address your children’s concerns. Encourage them to talk, scream, cry or celebrate. Help them to feel safe in expressing their feelings.
  • Lastly, make sure that they are told how much you both love them and how that will never change.

Studies show that children do best and have fewer long-term emotional, social or academic problems when parents can establish a healthy, respectful, co-parenting relationship. Transitioning into a new type of relationship and putting aside the hurt and anger that are associated with the broken marriage can be extremely difficult for many parents to accomplish. But through patience with each other and hard work, it can be done. Divorce changes families but it does not end your commitment to your children. Make sure you take the time to find the solutions that work best for your family to ensure a positive outcome for you and your children.

**If you or your children are struggling to deal with the life transitions involved with divorce, seek out professional assistance for individual or family therapy. The therapist can assist in encouraging better communication, and be helping all families members to properly heal and process the trauma of divorce.

 

Brandi Hess, MA, LAMFT

Brandi Hess has a passion for helping people to work through life’s difficulties, assisting them in finding joy, and the strength to reach their full potential. Brandi strives to ensure that she understands each of her clients’ unique needs. She provides therapy and counseling sessions tailored specifically to obtain her clients’ goals, in an individual or family setting. She offers a kind, honest, and straight-forward approach in therapy, allowing for trusting relationships to be built. She specializes in couples and family distress, pre/post-divorce, and adolescent treatment. One of Brandi’s many strengths is being able to connect with adolescents by creating a therapeutic environment where the adolescent feels safe and willing to start the process of change. Brandi works with a variety of concerns such as depression/anxiety, women’s issues, and trauma. Brandi received her Bachelors of Science in Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Utah, and her Master’s degree in Marriage & Family Therapy from Argosy University.

5 Simple Tips for The Mother of a Teenage Daughter – Part II

Are You Even Listening to Me?

This may be a statement that we say as adults to children, but more times than not our daughters are wondering the same thing. Through your example you can teach your daughter the powerful skill of active listening. This skill will not only strengthen your and her relationship, but it will also benefit her in every other relationship that she has.

Active listening techniques include: building trust and establishing rapport, demonstrating concern, paraphrasing and repeating back what you are hearing, demonstrating nonverbal cues which show understanding, such as nodding, eye contact, or leaning forward and lastly affirmations like “I see” or “I understand”. As you practice active listening pay close attention to the feelings underlying the message, this is often the real message. Active listening allows us to connect and understand each other on a deeper level. Through genuinely listening you are showing your daughter that she is worthy of your time. In that moment she will feel that she is more important to you then whoever is texting you, or that mountain of laundry that is piled on the floor.

Repair Because You Care

People in healthy relationships don’t avoid conflict. Conflict is inevitable in any type of relationship, so practice dealing with the conflict head on. The sooner you address the conflict issue with your daughter, the less time there is for feelings of anger, frustration or resentment to keep building. Avoiding conflict will not only weaken your relationship, but it will also cement a pattern of not resolving conflict for your daughter. Teaching your daughter how to address conflict gives her the tools necessary to have tough uncomfortable conversations without being afraid. It exemplifies unconditional love and tells her that you respect her and value your relationship with her, even if you are arguing for the fourth time that week!

Check back soon for part III.

Written by Brandi Hess, LAMFT – Therapist at Holladay Center for Couples and Families

5 Simple Tips for The Mother of a Teenage Daughter – Part I

I have a vivid memory of holding my newborn baby girl, rocking her late into the night, staring at her chubby face and thinking that she and I will be best friends forever. Flash forward to today and one might now find me in the late hours of the night googling the realities of demons actually being able to take over bodies, because surely that is what is going on with my teenage daughter…right?

There is something magical about the idea of a strong mother/daughter bond. Many people crave it or grieve because they don’t have it. Whether you consider your relationship with your mother/daughter to be strong or weak, there is always room to strengthen it and connect on deeper more meaningful levels. Below five simple ways to help strengthen your relationship with your daughter, helping you to thrive rather than survive the teenage years.

Communicate

Many mothers and daughters are simply not communicating. When was the last time that you sat down with your daughter and really talked to her about her day, her life, her dreams and goals, with the purpose of truly gaining an understanding of who she is. Find ways to spend time with your daughter. This will create communication opportunities. Go for a walk, cook a meal together, go shopping, anything that you and her can enjoy together. As you laugh, and talk you become connected through joy. As the connection is strengthened communication becomes more natural, allowing you both to feel comfortable discussing the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Check back soon for part II and part III.

Written by Brandi Hess, LAMFT – Therapist at Holladay Center for Couples and Families

What to do if you are on a path of divorce – Couples Counseling

Marriage is never easy. Have you ever wondered how so many people seem to look so happy in theirs? Well – they might be, but chances are, they struggle too. The difference might be how you handle the struggle as a couple that can bring you happiness or not. It’s important to know that how you argue with your spouse matters more to the life and longevity and healthy of your marriage than the simple fact or presence of arguments in the first place – according to marital researcher John Gottman. Learning how to argue or fight fair is crucial to building a relationship that lasts. John Gottman outlines several important types of fighting that can harm your marriage. The first is criticism. This is where you directly complain and nitpick at your spouse. The second is contempt. This is harsher than criticism because you start to attack the character of your spouse instead of just what they are doing. The third is defensiveness. This is where you react with a defensive posture to things that your spouse does or says. Lastly, stonewalling. This is where you cut your spouse off emotionally and don’t engage in any way. John Gottman found that when these types of interactions are present in your marriage, that it’s in trouble. Come to counseling to find out what to do if you are engaged with your spouse in these ways of fighting. They can help fix and turn things around.

Couples Counseling with an Expert

Couples counseling, if done right, isn’t a refereed fight in a therapist’s office. A trained therapist will help you to identify underlying, unmet emotional needs after helping you to deescalate from the tension and fighting you have been experiencing with your spouse. The problem is that most couples come into therapy years too late and it is difficult to change course – to learn a new way. It is possible, however! John Gottman, a world-renowned researcher on marital stability and satisfaction, has found that it is not the presence of argument that causes divorce, but rather it’s how a couple argues that causes divorce. Knowing this, couples don’t have to ignore what they are feeling, but rather they can communicate it differently and in a healthier manner.

Marriage and family therapists are trained to do this type of work. This is a specific degree and license type that focuses on relationships between people (husband and wife; father and son; mother and daughter, etc…) as the point of intervention rather than just focusing on fixing symptoms (depression; anxiety, etc…). Its important to alleviating depression and anxiety and its crucial to build relationships that help someone deal better with anxiety and depression in the first place.

Pornography Counseling

Pornography addiction is becoming more prevalent in our society. Organizations like Fight the New Drug do a great job of educating the public on the harmful effects of pornography. What do you do if you struggle and can’t seem to find a way out? For many, the way out seems elusive and unobtainable. It’s difficult to find how when you have tried so many things, only to have this problem keep coming back. Many that come into counseling have already been before and are discouraged that they just can’t ‘get over it’. Knowing how to use the power or education and relationships is part of the answer. A good therapist can help you access both in your efforts to let go of this addiction. At the Holladay Center for Couples and Families we specialize in relationship therapy in regard to pornography use. Knowing how to communicate with your loved ones about this difficulty is an important part of the process.

Family Therapy

Families often struggle to communicate. We often work with families that have a hard time creating and enforcing rule and boundaries, co-parenting and dealign with adolescents and teenagers. A good family therapist will help a family develop relationship patterns instead of just treating symptoms (i.e., depression and anxiety). Symptom abatement will result in additional problems (really just the same problem manifesting itself again). Working on fundamental change will help progress continue past therapy. We do counseling for families in Holladay, Cottonwood Heights, Millcreek, Murray, Sandy and Sugar House.

Depression Counseling

Depression is something that everyone faces at some point in their life. If it is situational and you have the ability to cope, then you probably don’t need therapy. Sometimes, however, it is more severe than that and a good therapist can help. We work with depressed individual and couples. Utilizing best practice methods, we can help you understand the nature of depression, develop healthy coping skills and strengthen relationships that can help. Call us to find out how to start changing today at the Holladay Center for Couples and Families – located on Highland Drive.