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.

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- Hannah Grow

Hannah earned her bachelor’s degree in Behavioral Science from Utah Valley University. She is currently working on a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Utah Valley University. She is a certified Family Wellness Instructor and has taught education courses to teens and families to help improve relationships and life skills. She is currently working as an adjunct faculty in the Family Science department at Utah Valley University and loves it.
 
She is particularly passionate about working with couples experiencing infertility and communication problems, adolescents struggling with depression and anxiety, and young adults facing transitional issues.
Hannah enjoys yoga, snowboarding, hiking, camping, caring for her plants, organizing, and weightlifting.
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Hannah 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. 

Myth: Marriage needs to be 50/50

One of the great myths of marriage is that it needs to be a 50/50 split. Everything done and contributed needs to be equal. This simply is false. What marriage needs is 100% from each partner. In some instances, that means that one spouse will do more than the other because of their strengths. For example, if one spouse has a background in finance and interest in doing the personal finances at home, then they are more likely to do 80% of the work there. That’s ok. It doesn’t need to be 50/50 In that same marriage the other spouse might have an interest in doing yard work and pick up 90% of it. That’s ok too. There is no need to keep score about who is doing how much and in what category.

 

Keep in mind that everyone brings strengths and weaknesses to a marriage – hopefully there are some that are complimentary to each other. The key here, I help couples in counseling in our Orem office, is to communicate with each other well. If you can communicate effectively about these differences and how both of you are contributing, you will more likely avoid resentment and arguments. You will build a relationship of trust and reliance on each other highlighting the strengths you both have and being aware and considerate of your weaknesses as well.

 

One thing I counsel pre-marital couples is that ‘what you see is what you get – just a lot more of it’ – meaning, if you see weaknesses in your spouse before you get married, they will have those weaknesses after you get married and they will be amplified. The same goes for their strengths. They will also have those same strengths amplified after you get married. Celebrate each others strengths and be understanding about their weaknesses.

Utah Valley Couples Counseling – Orem

Young happy couple is enjoying view

One of the first things I teach couples in couple’s therapy is to talk about themselves. This might sound strange, but people usually talk about their spouses and how they need to change. It’s one of the most common things I hear as a therapist – “He isn’t treating me well!”, or “She needs to get off back!” These statements might both be true, as a client shares them with me, but the problem is that you can’t change your spouse. You don’t have control over that. You do have control over your own actions and how you respond to them not treating you well or being on your back.

 

Speaking about yourself makes you vulnerable and being vulnerable is scary. Opening up to your spouse, the one person in this world that can hurt you like no other person can, makes you exposed. It’s hard to imagine them not blasting you after you open up, given what you know about them or have seen in the past, right? So instead, you tell them what to do so that you feel safer. You tell them how they need to change so that you can then tell them what you are really going through emotionally. This, simply, doesn’t work – and if it seems to work, it only works for a little while and then things go back to not being good.

 

So, the trick is, I teach my clients in therapy, to start talking about your own emotional experiences and needs rather than your spouse and what they need to do. You can share with them how their actions impact you emotionally, that’s fine. But when you start to interpret their behavior for them (for example – “You don’t call and let me know you’re coming home late because you don’t care about me!”) or when you pretend to be their boss (for example – “So, you need to start calling me!”), then you continue the cycle of hurt and pain.

 

A good therapist will be able to help you through this. We just moved our counseling center to Orem, Utah, by the mouth of Provo Canyon. We’d love to help.