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.

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.

_____________________________________________________________________
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.
_____________________________________________________________________
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.

Couples Therapy – Pornography Problems

Pornography use is on the rise and the age of first exposure is starting earlier and earlier. Research (Davis, Perry in 2017) has also found that breakups in romantic relationships are twice as more likely to happen 6 years down the road for those who use pornography compared to those who don’t. Others have found that sexual satisfaction levels are negatively impacted in couples when pornography is used (Willoughby, Brown, Busby, Carroll, Larson, Yorgason in 2017).

 

There is no question that pornography use negatively impacts individuals and relationships. But, what do you do about it? For many, counseling is seen as taboo or something they do not want to do. Some struggle with it because they do not want to face the issues in their marriage. Some come to therapy because they have been given an ultimatum. Others come because they think that a therapist can ‘fix’ them. It is difficult to get in for therapy, let alone getting in for an issue with pornography. Pornography issues are seen as a dirty, disgusting thing that you don’t talk about and don’t get help with – something that you can overcome on your own. The problem is that it is not something that people overcome on their own. They need help.

 

Couples therapy for those struggling with pornography use is different than you might imagine. It is not shamming or blaming. It takes into consideration everyone’s experiences and emotions. Counseling includes everyone rather than excludes someone. It doesn’t excuse behavior, but rather holds them accountable in an appropriate manner.

 

We recently moved to Orem. We offer professional, high quality counseling for couples in Orem, Utah and Utah Valley.

More Communication Problems

One of the most common issues couples complain of when they call for counseling is ‘communication problems’. This means a variety of things. It’s difficult to tell as a therapist at first glance what it might exactly be, but here are a few possibilities:

  • Communication problems – yes, it might just be that a couple is healthy in all other areas of their relationship, but they just don’t know how to communicate. This usually isn’t the case, but it is possible.
  • He/She did something to hurt me – Infidelity, pornography problems, choosing friends over a spouse are some things that could be done to hurt each other.
  • Sexual issues – it might be that a couple is having difficulty being intimate and they don’t want to talk about it. This can be a sensitive issue, especially in an area like Utah County where sex seems to be taboo. It’s something that you don’t talk about before you are married or something you talk about after you are married. It’s based in shame and seen as dirty, or something so sacred that you should just be good at it and enjoy it after you are married.
  • We don’t’ know what is going on! And it’s getting worse! – Sometimes couples know it’s not good, but aren’t sure why it isn’t working between the two of them. The confusion they feel is frustrating as they try to understand what to fix.
  • And others…

 

The good thing about coming to therapy with any of these issues is that there are therapists that can help. A good therapist will be able to identify what is going on with a couple so that they know what to work on.

 

We offer couples counseling in Orem, Spanish Fork and American Fork. We are a group of competent couples counselors that can help you and your partner.

 

“I’m Sorry, What’s Wrong?”- Part One

“I’m sorry”… We hear it almost as often as we hear hello. We ask for those words, and yet when we hear them they are so overused it often doesn’t feel like enough. This leaves both parties confused as to what is actually needed to repair their relationship. There are currently two ways we use “I’m Sorry.” The first is to apologize for wronging someone, the second is to share distress with someone else. Both are over used and no longer hold the meaning they once did.

When I’m sorry is used to apologize to often it begins to feel like a get out of jail free card people often come into therapy feeling hopeless. Often there is no understanding as to why an apology is needed and they are simply trying to move past the anxiety in the relationship. However, every time they use “I’m sorry”, it loses meaning. The person needing an apology continues interpreting others behavior as intent to inflict pain, because they felt like there was an understanding and the behavior continues.

Naturally the question becomes what should we do instead. Most important is understanding. We simply can’t be responsible for knowing instinctively everything people find insulting. What some people find inexcusable in a relationship others may encourage in a relationship as funny due to the meaning they have attached to past experiences and personal tolerance levels. It is each person’s responsibility to let others know when someone has crossed their personal boundaries. You need to clearly and calmly let people know when they have crossed your boundary every time they do so, that way they don’t think your just overwhelmed elsewhere and you’re being irrational. When really you’re just trying to be patient until you no longer can.

Knowing that your being understood is extremely important in this process. If the other person can’t tell you what they understood in their own words you need to keep reframing the story your telling yourself, until they understand how your interpreting their intent. Once they understand they have a few options that tend toward healthier communication. They can explain their intent was not meant to cause pain, and explain what their intent was.

They can also express an “I wish” statement, considering this is often a new concept allow me to explain. I wish statements are used to create a blueprint for what should have gone differently on your end. This is not to say that you wish you were all perfect and no problems arose. It is however used to say within the problems that existed that were not in your control how you wish you responded to all of that.

This blueprint needs to be a genuine alternative or its meaningless. This blueprint makes it more likely that you will do something different when your emotionally overwhelmed. We are all flawed and it takes time to truly change our behavior, but when we make an I wish statement we are first of all stating that we can see how we damaged the relationship and that you see an alternative that could meet both of your needs next time. If you do the same behavior own up to it and either let the person know that you were being reactive and you continue to wish for the alternative healthier response, or that the response you had thought of is not as realistic during an emotional exchange as you had thought.

 

Written By Madison Zundel, MA, LAMFT, Therapist at Holladay Center for Couples and Families