Communication Problems – How Marriage Therapy Can Help

One of the most common complaints that we hear from new clients is that they have communication problems. It is very common in marriage to struggle with communicating. Part of the problem is that couples communicate the wrong message that they actually are trying to get across. Their intentions are usually good, but they send the wrong message. For example, a husband might say to his wife, “You don’t know how hard I work for this family!” What he is probably trying to communicate is that, “I feel hurt and unseen”, but what he is communicating to his wife in this instance is that he is angry and emotionally shoving her back. Most statements like his when he says, “You don’t’ know how hard I work for this family!” come from underlying emotions. These emotions are difficult to recognize in the first place and even more difficult to embrace by most people. What comes out is anger, instead. Anger usually is used here because the husband is feeling unsafe and hurt. He doesn’t want to get hurt more so he uses a technique that pushes his wife away and seemingly keeps him from getting more hurt. This isn’t what he thinks in the moment, he just acts it out on auto-pilot. Turning off auto-pilot is essential to making progress and approaching that problem differently. It takes courage, humility and a deliberate effort to say, “I feel hurt” versus “You don’t know how hard I work!”.

A trained marriage and family therapist will be able to help you and your spouse get to that emotionally safe and vulnerable space together. We’ve been doing it for years – let us help.

Thoughts vs Emotions – There is a Difference and it Matters

In couples therapy I often hear couples start a conversation by saying, “I feel like…” and then the proceed to talk about how their spouse isn’t living up to their end of the marriage bargain. “I feel like you just don’t listen to me”, for example. It often comes across as blaming or attacking. This statement is misleading because the person who says it often thinks that they are doing well by talking about their emotions. After all, they did use the word ‘feel’! Aren’t you supposed to use I Feel Statements? Aren’t you supposed to talk about your emotions? The use of the word ‘feel’ here makes them think they did well. This statement is usually followed up by the other person being defensive and telling them whey they are wrong.

The problem with using the phrase, “I feel like…” or “I feel that…” is that you aren’t talking about your emotions, you are talking about your thoughts – in a painful and unhealthy manner, usually. It leads to long fights when both spouses go in on what they ‘feel like’. There is rarely a resolution or emotional safety. Your thoughts in these instances are interpretations of the your partner that aren’t helping.

What I suggest to couples in my office is to try to catch themselves (not each other) saying this phrase and then to ask themselves if they are trying to describe a thought or an emotion. If you are trying to describe an emotion then what you need to do is drop the ‘like’ or the ‘that’. Say instead, “I feel sad.” Or you might insert another one word emotion there. It is harder to do this because it is vulnerable and you expose yourself to being hurt if yoru partner isn’t willing to be safe. It is, however, the correct way to talk about your emotions. If you are trying to describe your thoughts then change “I feel like…” to “It seems like…” and change “I feel that…” to “I think that…”. There is a different and softer feel to the latter that helps conversations go better.

This might not seem like a big deal, but it is. It is difficult to root out this bad habit and your marriage will thank you if you do.

Attachment Theory – Couples Therapy

John Bowlby is known for attachment theory in the world of couple’s therapy. His ideas lend themselves to the end of others attachment and others soothing. We are not built to be alone, but rather, we are built to connect to others. In light of this, there is no such thing as ‘self sufficiency’. We need others. He has also stated that there is no such thing as over-dependency. Through deliberate practice, couples can create ‘effective dependency’ with each other. Emotionally Focused Therapy is a couple’s therapy approach that helps create this between spouses. The more securely attached you are to the ones you love the more separate and confident you can be. Emotional isolation is dangerous and, in fact, leads to a higher rate of suffering a stroke. Personal connection with people you love literally impacts how your blood flows through your veins. Bowlby would talk about two important states that couples want to create in their marriage. First, a ‘safe haven’. This is a place to go to, retreat to, to come back to that is safe from the world. When life is difficult, we need a place to come back to that is safe. This can be our spouse. Second is a ‘secure base’ to go out from. This gives us courage to go out and face the world when we are unsure or scared. Couples therapy can help spouses create these states within their marriage. It can help them create a secure attachment to others where fear doesn’t get in the way of them creating resonance with each other – becoming synchronous and in tune. We have been practicing Emotionally Focused Therapy in this manner in our Orem Counseling Center for over a decade.

 

These concepts and ideas were gathered from a presentation by Susan Johnson at the Brigham Young University Campus in October of 2012.

Affairs – a Few Things to Consider as You try to Heal

Infidelity is the oft most cited reason for divorce among couples (Atkins, Baucom & Jacobson, 2001 – Understanding Infidelity: Correlations in a national random sample). Around 30% of couples who start couples therapy because of an affair (Whisman, Dixon & Johnson, 1997 – Therapists’ perspectives of couple problems and treatment issues in couple therapy).

This certainly holds true in our experience in couples therapy in Orem, Utah. Research would state that there are certain factors which play a role in a couple’s recovery from an affair. Here are several to consider (see Gordon, Baucom, Snyder & Dixon 2008 – Couple Therapy and the Treatment of Affairs in Clinical Handbook of Couple Therapy edited by Alan Gurman): 1) the more committed and satisfied a couple is coming into treatment the more likely they are going to be to successfully engage and complete the tasks in the course of therapy, 2) The couples ability to discuss the affair and what led up to it are a good indicator of eventual success in therapy, 3) the gender of the one who has the affair lends itself to a higher likelihood of divorce, where when a woman has the affair, the couples is more likely to divorce, 4) the level of strength of an injured partner assumptions about the cheating partner plays a role how traumatized the injured partner might become.

As marriage and family therapists, we help couples dealing with affairs and infidelity or different kinds.

Orem Counseling for Couples

Couples often wait too long to seek help when they need it. Research would say that they come in years after when they first probably needed to. Counseling can be scary, expensive and uncomfortable. Ironically, couples often put it off and live in a relationship that is also scary, expensive and uncomfortable. With a trained marriage and family therapist, couples have a chance to improve their communication, listening and problem solving skills. It seems like it gets a little worse before it gets better for some couples because when they come to therapy they actually start addressing the issues – and that’s hard. With a counselor guiding the way you will learn how to work through problems in a more effective manner. This doesn’t mean that it with be without discomfort. Talking through hard issues is uncomfortable – however, there is a healthy way to do it and an unhealthy way to do it. Most couple’s therapists use an approach called Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples. Through this approach, couples are able to work through issues together and increase their attachment and heal wounds.

 

We are trained as couple’s therapists and can help. We have worked with hundreds of couples and have helped them find happiness and peace. We would be happy to help you as well.

Pornography Use – How Parents Can Help Their Kids

Pornography use is on the rise. Many of my clients are reporting earlier and earlier first-time use. The ease of access has increase as well as the severity of first-time exposure. Many of my clients report that they stumbled upon pornography online as they were researching something for school when they were in elementary. They state that they weren’t looking for it, but saw it and became curious. They went on to view it without others knowing. For years, they report, they used it being ‘curious’. It eventually, however, turned into something that they became to rely on. As the stress and uncomfortableness of life increased, dopamine (among other natural chemicals in the body) numbed them and helped them feel ‘good’ when they weren’t. This is partly how they ended up using more and more over time and how it becomes an addiction. The behavioral patterns (for example – making sure you are alone, opening a web browser, typing in search terms, viewing and then masturbating) became a routine that they went to deal with life. Many of my clients ended up not talking to someone in the beginning because they didn’t think about it, or they didn’t want to get in trouble, or they didn’t think it was a problem, etc. They went years without anyone asking about their emotions or specifically if they had had any experience with pornography. Parents are in a perfect position to intervene early. They can watch for warning signs, or they can just assume that exposure to pornography is going to happen and talk with their children about it. When you do this, make sure you talk with your children specifically instead of in general terms. Instead of saying, ‘is everything ok?’ ask them, ‘have you ever seen pornography online?’. Deciding when is the right time to talk with them about it and what specific questions to ask can be tricky. However, asking them in some form and at some point – early on – is crucial. Instead of shaming them if they say that they have (for example – ‘you shouldn’t have done that!’), talk with them about being curious, about how it might be interesting to wonder about their body and about how they work and how they are meant to feel good. You can also talk about your standards of how and when to appropriately explore your body and others. Sometimes a good counselor can help navigate these discussions. Over the years, I have worked with numerous individuals who tell me they wish that their parents had talked with them earlier on about pornography. They tell me that they might have avoided the years of pain and struggle that followed early first-time exposure and use.

 

We have counselors in our Orem, Spanish Fork and American Fork offices that are trained to help you and your loved ones heal from the devastating impact of pornography.

Parenting: It’s Not What You Think

 

Parenting: It’s Not What You Think

The ever-growing ideologies of parenthood offer two polar scenarios. The first is a beautiful imagery of always smiling children, as if they are cherubim with harps playing harmoniously in the background. Parents and children holding and hands and skipping in sync with bluebird’s sweet calls, complete with a rainbow crowning every day’s joyous experience. Alternatively, parenting children can be pictured as Jack-Jack from The Incredibles is portrayed: little devils that are on a merciless rampage, destroying everyone and everything in their path. While there is truth to both, it is no falsification that parenthood can be fulfilling and enjoyable and yet incredibly frustrating and draining. When your child hits their sibling, spills their dinner, yells incessantly, how do you react? What is in your arsenal of go-to consequences? At the end of a long day, filled with negative behavior left and right, do you find yourself defeatedly asking, “what do I do when nothing has worked?” What if you were told, “it’s not them, its you?” 

It can be terrifying to admit that you may be maintaining problematic behaviors, but shame aside, there is an intrinsic freedom in it. Recognizing detriments to progress delivers hope and increases motivation. I specialize in working with children who struggle with behavioral problems, focusing on systemic parental influences. I use the “Parenting Pyramid”, developed by the Arbinger Institute, to understand and treat underlying issues. The pyramid incorporates five different facets, often unaddressed, that unknowingly influence parenting proficiency. (Pictured below) 

At the foundation of positive parenting is each parent’s personal way of being. It is difficult to show endless compassion and love to others when you do not have it for yourself. Working the 24/7 hours of parenthood while battling one’s own debilitating depression, anxiety, physical ailment or self-deprecation is nearly unbearable. Therefore, seeking help for personal issues is the first step in improving your child’s behavior. 

If a positive relationship with one’s self is the foundation of positive parenting, the husband/wife (partnered) relationship is a close second. Children quickly pick up on emotions, behaviors and processes. Consciously or not, parents are continuously modeling to their children appropriate ways to behave in relationships with others. Partners that are close and connected are better able to model positive behavior to their children. 

Similarly, the specific parent/child relationship is of vital importance. Children will mirror what they see, behaving in relationships how they are treated themselves. If parent/child relationships are built on connection, unwavering love and trust, children will be more open to being taught, advised and if necessary, corrected. 

Most have heard the popular saying, “Give a man a fish and he will eat for one day. Teach a man to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime.” The same should be emphasized for children. If they are taught the reasoning behind not doing something (i.e., Please do not jump on the couch. Remember how badly it hurt when you tripped and scraped your knee? If you fall off the couch, you could scrape your knees even worse than that, and seeing you in pain makes me sad) they are much more likely to understand and follow through with requests. It is much easier to move forward if you know the direction that you are supposed to be moving in. 

At the very top, and let me emphasize, after all facets below have been addressed thoroughly, children can receive correction. Notice that the word is not punishment or criticism. Correction is an opportunity to express disapproval of one’s behavior, while teaching and modeling correct behavior in a loving manner. When you spank your child is out of anger? When words are harshly uttered do you regret it? Correction is behavior management that makes sense and is done purposefully. Using this approach, the parent/child relationship maintains its stability and the likelihood of the continuation of the negative behavior decreases.

 

Quick Tips for Behavior Change:

  • Don’t react out of anger. If your child does something that frustrates you, take a break, and then use correction in a purposeful manner. 
  • Go out on a date with your significant other to strengthen your relationship.
  • Take time to do something for yourself. Reflect on what you may need to do more or less of to enhance personal well-being. 
  • Positive Time-Out- If children are overstimulated and need a break from others, provide a safe place where they can experience a positive outlet. (i.e., read a book, do a puzzle, play with stuffed animals, draw/color/paint, etc.)
  • Balance every corrective statement you give your child with 5 compliments or encouragements. 
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This article was provided by Kaelie Lemmon, therapist at the Center for Couples and Families.
Kaelie works with individuals, couples, and families, and is currently taking new clients in our Orem office. 
To learn more and schedule an appointment, contact us at 801 477 0041, or via email at assistant@provofamilies.com. 

 

PTSD and Trauma

 

I specialize in treating individuals and couples affected by trauma and PTSD. For trauma survivors, I utilize the systemic approaches of internal family systems and emotion-focused therapy, which focus on strengthening attachment that exists both outside and inside of the self. I also use play therapy when treating children and young adolescents who have experienced trauma. 

Trauma often feels like such a broad term because of the wide array of situations that it can include. Traumatic events may be physical, sexual, emotional, or life-threatening in nature. They also include experiences that are both direct and indirect, such as witnessing loss, injury, or more in the lives of others. Whatever your experience may be, my focus for treatment in therapy will always be to create an environment of safety, trust, and compassion in order to empower your ability to be vulnerable and find refuge from the challenges that prevent happiness and security in your everyday life.

Research shows that play therapy increases the level of comfort and safety in the therapeutic environment and teaches children effective ways to manage their emotions and direct the energy behind those emotions in appropriate, safe ways. Additionally, play therapy empowers children and families to engage with one another through fun and compassion.

I believe that within every person exists multiple parts and pieces that make up the concept of the “self”. These parts are created and developed based upon the personal experience and context of your life. Some parts may appear to be more attractive or “better”, while others may inspire shame and hurt. However, the beauty of the therapeutic process comes through the knowledge that no part is “good” or “bad”. Instead, I view each part as being necessary to your growth and survival through the trauma that affects you. In this process, I will work with you to find peace and closure with your parts that contribute to the cycle of shame, pain, or sadness. 

Whatever your story may be, my hope for you is that you will know that there is always hope for a brighter, happier tomorrow, filled with support and love. I am ready to hear your story and provide the professional treatment to help you manage your burdens through tools and skills of resiliency and attachment.

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This article was provided by Hayden Gillies, therapist at the Center for Couples and Families.
Hayden works with individuals, couples, and families, and is currently taking new clients in our Orem office. 
To learn more and schedule an appointment, contact us at 801 477 0041, or via email at assistant@provofamilies.com. 

Therapist Spotlight: Hayden Gillies

Hayden Gillies received his Bachelors degree in Family Science from Utah Valley University in 2019. He is currently working to earn a Masters degree in Marriage and Family Therapy, also from Utah Valley University. He has worked with the Foundation for Family Life of Utah to oversee an addiction recovery program and has performed evaluative interviews and taught fatherhood classes at the Salt Lake County Jail.

Hayden is passionate about helping families, couples, and individuals. He believes that connection is vital to a healthy physical, social, and mental life, and he works hard to help his clients take necessary steps to achieve their goals. He is driven to help all those who may be struggling with anxiety, marital conflict, self-harm, and many other mental health and familial issues. Hayden is also highly familiar with challenges facing the LGBTQ+ community.
Hayden lives in Spanish Fork with his wife. In his free time, he enjoys singing, reading, and playing board games with his family.
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Hayden works with individuals, couples, and families, and is currently taking new clients in our Orem office. 
To learn more and schedule an appointment, contact us at 801 477 0041, or via email at assistant@provofamilies.com. 

Anxiety as Young Adults

Anxiety is a common struggle among many young adults. Between the stresses of school, work, dating, family relationships, thinking about the future, or other similar things it can seem impossible not to be anxious at times. With anxiety being highly treatable, there are many of things that you can do, even at home to help relieve the symptoms of anxiety. Understanding what is going on with your brain and body when you experience anxiety is an important first step in feeling relief.

 

When you are feeling anxious it is like your brain is setting off a fire alarm, telling the rest of your body that you are in danger. Even though you are likely not in danger your body, in this moment, reacts as if you were. While this fire alarm is going off in your brain you may experience sweaty hands, tense shoulders or neck, stomach wrenching, throat feeling closed off, chest pain, blood pumping faster, headaches, or tight muscles. It is helpful to realize and become aware of the physical symptoms you experience, as it can be difficult to realize when you are feeling anxious otherwise. Once you are able to recognize some of the symptoms, then you can try a technique to soothe your mind and body.

 

One of the quickest and easiest ways to relieve anxiety is deep breathing exercises. A great breathing exercise you can try is to simply take a deep breath in for a count of 4, then hold your breath for a count of 7, then breath out for a count of 8. (It is important to keep in mind that each person’s lung capacity is different, so adjust the counts as necessary.) Do as many sets of the breathing as necessary to start feeling calmer, but usually somewhere around 5-7 sets. If you still feel panicked and anxious, continue to do as many sets as you need to feel your body start to slow down.

 

Taking some deep breaths may seem too simple to actually help, after all anxiety can feel crippling at times. However, deep breathing has been proven over and over again to change your bodies’ physiological response to anxiety. When your body is under these moments of stress and panic, the sympathetic nervous system releases adrenaline and other chemicals which create all those symptoms mentioned earlier. Taking deep breaths activates the vagus nerve-one of the largest nerves in the body starting in the brain stem and extending down the neck all the way to the abdomen. The vagus nerve is responsible for mood regulation, heart rate, and digestion, so it is no wonder that by breathing and activating the vagus nerve it can make such a big difference in the way our bodies and minds feel.

 

The next time you find yourself becoming overwhelmed with life’s many tasks and stressors, take a moment, wherever you are, and take some deep breaths to invite your body and mind to relax and come back to the present moment. Although anxiety may feel overwhelming and like you are stuck, remember there is always a way out.

 

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This article was written by Hannah Grow, MFT Intern for the Center for Couples and Families.

Hannah is currently taking new clients at our Orem location.

To schedule an appointment, call us at 801 477 0041.