The Key to Sexual Fulfillment? by Jonathan Decker, LMFT

Couple holding hands.THE KEY TO SEXUAL FULFILLMENT? IT’S NOT WHAT MANY PEOPLE SAY IT IS…

CHASING AFTER MIRAGES
You see the headlines screaming at you from the magazine rack at the grocery store. They say things like “Rock His World Tonight,” and “101 Forbidden Positions to Spice Things Up!” If you check your junk mail you’ll likely find invitations to try supplements guaranteed to enhance your anatomy. Neither holds the key to sexual fulfillment.

Our culture has become obsessed with sex, as evidenced by the rampant popularity of internet pornography and erotic novels like 50 Shades of Grey. In our craze over kink and fixation over the size of body parts, we may think we’re breaking taboos and tapping into sexuality’s full pleasure potential, but it’s never enough. When things don’t satisfy like they used to, we go for something more extreme.

Some think that sexual confidence comes from having a movie star (or porn star) body and go to unhealthy lengths to get there. Others believe that the key to sexual satisfaction is learning more techniques than a kung fu master. People try to maximize their sexual pleasure by hooking up with as many partners as they can, chasing the novelty. Through it all, they try to quench their thirst for sexual satisfaction by chasing after mirages, but the overflowing fountain lies in a different direction.
The key to sexual fulfillment has always been the relationship. It provides the soul and beauty of human sexuality. Take that away and sex doesn’t reach its full potential. Certainly there is a room for creativity and experimentation in the bedroom. There’s also plenty of evidence to support that physical fitness has sexual benefits. In some cases medical treatments are legitimate and helpful. But without the trust of commitment and the affection of intimacy, the sexual experience fails to meet its potential.

MP900387517“HOOKING UP” NOW CAN IMPAIR LIFELONG COMMITMENT LATER
In their book, Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting our Children, Dr. Joe S. McIlhaney and Dr. Freda McKissic Bush explain that sex naturally creates a strong emotional connection through the release of bonding hormones such as oxytocin and vasopressin. These uniting effects of sex facilitate lifelong pairing. Combined with the release of the “pleasure” neurotransmitter dopamine, these bonding hormones create a sexual experience that is both physically and emotionally satisfying.

When a relationship dissolves (often because too-early physical intimacy has created an illusion of emotional intimacy which fades), the rupturing of these bonds can cause intense depression, much more so than if sex were never part of the relationship. As this cycle is repeated, with bonds made and broken time after time, the brain releases less and less of the bonding hormones in order to curb the emotional damage of breakup pain. Over time, therefore, a person associates sex less with commitment and emotional closeness and more with simple pleasure.

While sex without attachment may seem appealing in today’s hook-up culture, it’s actually second-rate sex. Scientifically speaking, you’re getting the effects of dopamine release without the full pleasure of emotional bonding. What’s more, down the road this process can impede a person’s ability to bond sexually with a long-term partner. Staying faithful can be difficult if the brain has come to associate sex with variety instead of intimacy, affection, and fidelity. Today’s fun lifestyle can be tomorrow’s relationship devastation.

The good news is that, with effort, these associations can be reversed as persons enter into, and stay in, committed and healthy relationships. Oxytocin and vasopressin levels can gradually start to increase again and bonding may resume over time. If you’ve had a numerous sexual partners and want to be in a healthy committed relationship, it may be time to make some changes. If your sexual experience is limited but a long-term relationship is your goal, you can take precautions for the future.
SEX IS LIKE…PIZZA? QUALITY REQUIRES TIME AND CARE.
Odd as it may sound, physical intimacy is a lot like pizza. During my bachelor days I microwaved my share of pizzas. They always came out soggy. I contrast that to a date I had where we made our own pizza from scratch, rolling the dough, grating the cheese, chopping the ingredients, and cooking it in a brick oven. It took nearly an hour, partially because we were playing and flirting, but mostly because quality took time. It couldn’t be rushed. That was some of the best pizza I’ve ever tasted.

Young Woman Biting Her Finger NailPeople try to microwave their relationships so they can get to sex as soon as possible, but the best kind of physical intimacy is the kind that comes after a relationship has slow-cooked in the oven. In his book How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk, Dr. John Van Epp explains that waiting in dating can improve sex in a committed relationship later on. It takes time to really get to know another person, to build trust, and to truly commit.

This process is distorted by early sexual involvement because the bonding hormones create a false sense of intimacy. This means that having sex (or engaging in passionate sexual foreplay) early in the relationship can make you think you’re more in love than you actually are. It can cause you to trust someone more than you should or think you know them more than you actually do. Dr. Van Epp explains that saving sexual involvement until levels of knowledge, trust, reliance, and commitment are high minimizes the emotional risks of sex and maximizes a relationship’s potential to endure.
“JUST A KISS GOODNIGHT…”

Sex can be one of life’s greatest experiences, so why not do it right? Taking time to develop a committed relationship of trust, friendship, and respect before getting sexually involved isn’t about being prudish, it’s about being smart. This mentality is slowly making its way back into pop culture, as evidenced by Lady Antebellum’s hit song “Just a Kiss.” Consider these selected lyrics in light of the current topic:

So hard to hold back when I’m holding you in my arms
We don’t need to rush this
Let’s just take it slow

I know that if we give this a little time
It’ll only bring us closer to the love we wanna find
It’s never felt so real
No it’s never felt so right
Just a kiss on your lips in the moonlight
Just a touch of the fire burning so bright
No, I don’t wanna mess this thing up
I don’t wanna push too far
Just a shot in the dark that you just might
Be the one I’ve been waiting for my whole life
So baby I’m alright
With just a kiss goodnight

No I don’t want to say goodnight
I know it’s time to leave, but you’ll be in my dreams
Tonight

??????OVERCOMING SEXUAL PERFORMANCE ANXIETY
With media often portraying sex as a toe-curling, earth-moving experience between hot young people with perfect bodies, those wanting to replicate that (or even believing it to be ‘expected’) may feel inadequate when reality happens instead. There seems to be a standard of amazing sex that some of us chase after, resulting in a type of performance anxiety. Like speaking in public or interviewing for a job, the more nervous we get about our sexual performance, the more likely we’ll have a frustrating experience and feel embarrassed about it.

I was fortunate once to attend a seminar by noted psychologist, marriage counselor, and sex therapist Dr. Michael Metz, who introduced me to the idea of “good-enough sex.” His research shows that couples who focus on emotional intimacy, the pleasure of physical touch, and feeling happy together are able to relax and enjoy sex whether everything “goes right” or not. They know that sex doesn’t have to be amazing to be satisfying. It can be “good-enough.” Here’s the kicker, though: couples who focus on affectionately enjoying each other, with “good-enough sex” as the standard, end up having amazing sex more often than the couples whose main concern is having amazing sex! (“Good-Enough Sex” model for couple sexual satisfaction. Sexual and Relationship Therapy; August 2007; Volume 22 No. 3 Pages 351-362)

MP900440326The fact is, the human body is an imperfect organism. It’s not going to work perfectly every time you have sex (or do anything, for that matter). It’s nothing to be ashamed of, yet so many feel shame when it happens. Difficulty getting aroused, staying aroused, or achieving orgasm happens to everyone at some time or another. Acknowledging this, and even expecting it from time to time, normalizes socially what is quite normal physiologically, which in turn minimizes shame and “performance anxiety.”

Being in a relationship where trust, reliance, and commitment have developed over time, where friendship is paramount and affection is unconditional, diminishes the shame of a less-than-stellar sexual experience. There’s no fear of losing your partner because you didn’t “rock their world this time.” There’s less anxiety over trying again, which makes sexual satisfaction much more likely in the future. What’s more, couples who communicate openly and honestly are more able to give (and apply) loving feedback about sexual needs.

CONCLUSION: “THE WAITING IS THE HARDEST PART”

To be clear, once again, I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive for healthier bodies. I’m not saying “don’t try new things or get creative with your partner.” I’m not advocating against medical intervention when necessary. What I am saying is that without the level of trust that comes with strong commitment, without the type of comfort that comes from unconditional affection, we rob ourselves of sex at its most satisfying. If we rush sexual involvement we’re likely to develop emotional bonds that end painfully and risk our ability maintain lasting romantic relationships. Taking the time to develop a deep love and abiding commitment before intense physical intimacy allows us to grow closer with confidence Tom Petty famously sang that “the waiting is the hardest part.” That’s true, but it also yields the greatest rewards.

jonathan - CopyAbout the Author: Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist at the St. George Center for Couples and Families and is the Clinical Manager of the Online Center for Couples and Families. He is available for face-to-face or online video conferencing sessions. He can be contacted at jdeckertherapy@gmail.com or by phone at (435) 215-6113. To read more of Jonathan’s articles, please visit www.jdeckertherapy.com.

Kids Are the Future of Tomorrow… So How’s Their Health? By Camille Olson

mid section view of a woman cutting vegetablesHow is the Health of our kids? We have all heard the old adage, “The kids of today are the future of tomorrow.” What happens when the kids of today are less healthy than the kids of yesterday? It is no secret that our children today have many health obstacles to overcome to ensure that they have a bright tomorrow.

I recently read an article by Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Michael Roizen. I could not believe what the research revealed about our children and their future health. I have included below some of my favorite parts from the article.

“Today’s teens are developing heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes at a younger age than any generation before them. After 40 years of improvement in America’s heart health, they’re likely to live shorter lives than their parents. There is no way to sugar coat this. More than 70 percent of teens studied already had one or more of these red flags: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high triglycerides (a menacing blood fat), low levels of healthy HDL cholesterol, and lots of excess pounds.

CB100665How did kid’s health get so big? Blame the four S’s:
1. Sugary drinks and snacks: about 30 percent of teens’ daily calories now come from them.

2. Salt: kids eat more blood pressure-boosting sodium than any other age group.

3. Skipping the good stuff: only about 20 percent of kids eat five servings of fruit and veggies a day, or enough whole grains.

4. Sitting around: just 20 percent of teens get an hour of physical activity per day, the minimum for good health.

So as parents, and adult role models, what can we do to help? Truth is, we know what really keeps kids’ hearts healthy, not lectures and weigh-ins. Kids click with what YOU do. Don’t shame them, but focus on positives and their health. Start with these five basic recommendations:

peopleGet every kids’ cholesterol checked. Heart-health experts now recommend that all kids have a cholesterol test between ages 9 and 11 and again at age 17 to 21. Total cholesterol over 189, LDLs over 199 and triglycerides over 114, and healthy HDL below 45 means it is time to eat smarter.

Know your kids’ blood pressure. Your pediatrician can tell you if you child is fine, or needs help.
Change your menu. Today. Don’t wait! Few teens get even half the cholesterol-lowering fiber they need. Serve more fruits, veggies and grains. Toss walnuts and raisins on oatmeal, or Cheerio’s, keep apples and oranges on the counter, make sandwiches with 100 percent whole-grain bread, sprinkle veggies with almonds and serve water instead of sugary soft drinks.” Lead the way.

Downshift on pizza and other teen salt bombs: The single largest source of sodium in teens’ diets is pizza, so make it a once-a-month treat-and start with a big salad so a couple of slices of pizza will fill them up. Cutting back on salt now will cut your teens’ risk for high blood pressure later by 63 percent.
Tun off the TV and get moving: Play back-yard soccer, go to the playground, go skating or play Wii Fit. Simply cutting your family’s staring at TV time in half will help everyone burn calories and build muscle and as a result, self confidence.”

Not only do we need to follow these guidelines from Dr. Oz, but we need to realize the impact (both positive and negative) that parents and peers have on their children. Modeling good healthy behaviors will benefit both the leader and follower. These behaviors include: exercise, healthy eating, taking time for ourselves to “recharge” our batteries, and getting the proper amount of sleep. If you or a loved one is struggling, a therapist or health coach/trainers at Whole Fit can help support your efforts to change.

Whole Fit provides a comprehensive approach to wellness, weight management, and performance training. Our team includes experienced professionals with a wide range of health and wellness backgrounds. To learn more about our team visit us online at www.wholefitwellness.com.

camille2About the Author: Camille Olson is currently working in the marketing department at the South Shore Center for Couples & Families. She received her B.S. degree from Brigham Young University in elementary education. She is married and is the mother of five children.

Courage

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Adversity

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7 Things Amazing Dads Do by Jonathan Decker, LMFT

CB009188While some dads are deadbeats and some mothers truly do an amazing job raising kids on their own, the lasting effects of a great father cannot be underestimated. I should know, because my dad is amazing. I say this neither to boast nor to gush, but rather because, in both my personal and professional opinion, he’s got this dad thing pretty much figured out. Allow me to share seven fatherhood lessons that I learned from him (along with a few of my own thoughts).

1. Be a good man. Recognize the importance of your example. Your kids will do what you do, not what you say. If you want honest kids, be honest. If you want polite, gracious, patient, and forgiving kids, be polite, gracious, patient, and forgiving. Model the virtues that you want to see in them.

2. Love (and/or respect) their mother. This could be a whole post in and of itself, but to be brief: if you’re still with the mother of your children, don’t be ashamed to love her the most and put her first. If you have a daughter, ask yourself how you’d want her husband to treat her one day; that’s how you should treat your wife. It’ll benefit your own marriage and help your sons and daughters to know how to be and what to look for. I know for a fact that my siblings and I all strive to emulate the marriage of my parents.
If, on the other hand, you’re divorced or separated from the mother of your children, let whatever issues you have between you stay there. Don’t badmouth your children’s mother in front of them. Your kids are not the persons you should be processing with and venting to.

3. Work hard, but make regular time for your children. My dad was a busy man (something I can relate to these days), but no matter how tired he was, he always made a little time for each of us. It was more about quality than quantity, and it made a difference. Because my dad regularly connected with me about my life, I felt comfortable approaching him with my questions about love, money, faith, sex, and anything else.

MP9002629684. Share your interests, but encourage your kids in theirs. My father is an attorney. My brother is an attorney. My uncle is an attorney. I have cousins who are attorneys. It seems to be what Decker men do. Though dad suggested I look into the profession, he never pushed. He was supportive when I chose a different path. Although Dad was a distance runner, he was thrilled when my brother chose to play basketball. We’ve always felt free and encouraged to find ourselves, and that’s largely because my parents understood this simple principle: Live for your kids, not through them.
If you were the star quarterback but your son wants to do theatre, be proud of him for exploring his interests. That’s not to say you shouldn’t introduce him to the pigskin to see how he likes it. I love running, nature, certain music, and classic Westerns largely because of my dad’s influence, but those things were not forced upon me, and he supported me in my own interests. For example, he was never a filmmaker, but when I showed passion for it, he helped me to scout locations for my projects.

Family in Pool5. Influence instead of control: Far too many parents think their job is to get their children to behave a certain way or make certain decisions. The fact is, children are a stewardship to watch over, guide, and influence, not a property to control. Of course teach them right from wrong, but allow them to make their own choices, even if you disagree with them. When they’re children, that means establishing and communicating consequences (good and bad) for actions, then letting your kids choose while you firmly follow through with the consequences. When they’re adults, they may make choices you disagree with. Let them know if you must, but make it clear that you respect their right to make their own decisions, and will be loved no matter what.

6. Openly express affection: Dads, I know sometimes we’re socialized to be rough and gruff, but seriously: don’t assume that your kids know you love them. Explicitly let them know. You needn’t say or do anything that makes anyone overly uncomfortable, but it should be clear and unmistakable.

7. Don’t lose your playful side: You may think being stern is a dad’s job, and certainly you must be firm at times, but many kids connect with the father who takes the time to have fun with them. You’re busy. You’re stressed. You’ve got a lot weighing down on you. You may think you don’t have time for play. Trust me, you do have the time. What’s more, it’s as good for you as it is your kids.

jonathan - CopyAbout the Author: Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist. He is the Clinical Manager of the Online Center for Couples and Families. He also has a private practice in St. George. He is available for face-to-face or online video conferencing sessions. He can be contacted at jdeckertherapy@gmail.com or by phone at (435) 215-6113. To read more of Jonathan’s articles, please visit www.jdeckertherapy.com.

Feeling Anxiety? by Garret Roundy, LMFT, MS

Anxiety in response to feared situations or experiences plays a part in everyone’s lives, but for some, calming the anxiety requires a bit more help. Let’s take a look at a few ways to invite more calm into our daily lives.

Stressed BusinesswomanNeuroscientists have identified what they call fear extinguishing circuits in the brain (Herry et al., 2008). These circuits interrupt the basic fear response, so that previously feared stimuli do not activate the physiological and behavioral sequence that you feel as fear or anxiety. In other words, activating the fear extinguishing brain in response to fears keeps you feeling calm and engaged with life. Because anxiety is a response to a perceived threat, anxiety can be calmed if the threat is addressed.
So, what experiences can activate the fear extinguishing circuits? Glenn Veenstra (2013) succinctly cites four: security, safety, tolerance, and mastery.

1. Security is our most basic, inherited form of achieving calm after encountering a fear-inducing threat. We obtain a feeling of security through connection and proximity to other people who can protect us. Sometimes, just knowing we are not alone in a trial changes how we feel about it.

MP9003854012. Safety is achieved when the probability of danger is low. If I am afraid of lightning, safety is attained when I see a blue sky and my brain senses the threat of being struck by lightning is minimal to none. Oftentimes, much of our anxiety is needlessly produced by an overestimation of the probability of danger. Furthermore, this overestimation continues because of anxiety’s chief accomplice, avoidance. As long as the feared situation is avoided, a true evaluation of the danger cannot be made. Having someone help us along (#1, security) in facing our fears can make a big difference in discovering our overestimated threats and attaining a sense of safety.

3. Tolerance of the feared outcome can activate fear extinguishing circuits because the evaluation of “threat” is changed. If I can tolerate the pain of a paper cut and know that I can take care of it properly until it heals, then my mind isn’t threatened by the outcome and will not feel anxiety about reading the newspaper. That’s fine for a paper cut, but what about really big threats, like death? When death itself is a feared outcome that can be tolerated (or accepted!), then its power over us can be transformed into calm purpose in living; we can then live life without anxiously running from an inevitable transition.
For many who carry burdens from trauma, the continual pain caused by that danger in previous experiences remains clear evidence that the danger is not tolerable. The damage, much more than a paper cut, remains a wound that warns them to avoid certain threats because the cost of the danger is too high. Extinguishing this fear through tolerance will not happen until we experience healing and know that we can handle the pain and are stronger than the injury. After healing, the danger is tolerable. That is the earned peace of many people who have reached out to qualified help and received treatment for emotional and spiritual wounds.

?????????????????????4. Mastery is achieved through knowing we have the skill to master the danger. For example, anxiety about meeting new people because of feared negative social outcomes may be extinguished by mastering the skills of social interaction in such situations. A man, we’ll call Jim, avoided social situations with new people because they provoked intense anxiety. His perceived threat was that everyone (#2 overestimation of danger) would think he was strange or awkward and reject or not like him. Jim combined #3 (tolerance) with #4 (mastery) to find calm in this once feared situation. After feeling that he would be okay if some (#2, not everyone) people did think those things about him (#3), he reversed his pattern of avoidance and set the goal of meeting someone new every day. Instead of focusing on his defects or anxiety, he began observing and experimenting in these daily experiences, noticing what he and other people did and tried out different ways of interacting. I caught up with him after he had met over 1,000 new people. With time and practice, and certainly some tolerably awkward introductions, he developed the skills needed to master the danger inherent in social introductions and ultimately became very skilled and comfortable talking with people from all walks of life about everything!

balanceWhen the bottom line answer to our questions is “I’ll be okay because I am resilient and connected with others who can help me when needed,” then calm can quiet our fears and we can enjoy the energy of being fully present in our lives (Siegel, 2012). If you wonder about this possibility in your life, I invite you to hope and choose the path of courage, because greater peace is awaiting you.

Herry, C., et al. (2008). Switching on and off fear by distinct neuronal circuits. Nature, 454, 600-606.
Siegel, D. J. (2012). The developing mind: Toward a neurobiology of interpersonal experience. New York: Guilford Press.
Veenstra, G. J. (2013). Neuroscience advances for improving anxiety therapies. Anxiety disorders and Depression Conference, La Jolla, CA.

Garret Roundy2About the Author: Garret Roundy is a licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist in the state of Utah. He earned an M.S. from Brigham Young University and is currently completing his PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy. Garret has developed a specialization in the treatment of anxiety and trauma-related disorders through studying scientific research and completing advanced clinical trainings. He has also presented on these topics in professional and community settings. Garret is a therapist at the Provo Center for Couples and Families.

Can Facebook Harm Your Marriage? by Dr. Mark White Ph.D, MFT

Mature couple with laptop.Can Facebook harm your Marriage?  Although we’ve been hearing since 2009 that Facebook may be playing a role in divorce, a recent study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior1, appears to be the first to scientifically examine divorce rates, marital quality, and the use of social networking sites (SNS) like Facebook.

The researchers examined two kinds of data. For each US state, they collected recent divorce rates and the proportion of persons in each state with a Facebook account. The second was an online survey of almost 1200 individuals specifically examining marital well-being and SNS use.

Across the 50 states, they found that as the proportion of Facebook users increased, there was a slight elevation in the divorce rate. While this finding is interesting, it doesn’t tell us anything about what’s going on for the individuals in that state. That’s where the individual-level data comes to play.

Attractive couple portrait.The researchers were able to control several variables in these analyses, such as income, education, race, age, and religious attendance. After removing the contribution of such factors, increased SNS use was shown to play a small role in predicting lower marital quality, less perceived happiness in the current marriage, more perceived troubles in the current marriage, and thoughts in the last year about leaving spouse.

Unfortunately, the design of this study did allow the re searchers to identify which is the cause and which is the effect (the perennial chicken and egg problem). Does SNS involvement cause marital problems, or do people in unhappy marriages spend more time on SNS? Although these data cannot answer that question, common sense would suggest that both occur.
For some, SNS detracts from the marriage and also provide an avenue for various forms of infidelity (such as wondering what your high school girlfriend is up to these days). Others seek support and contact with others to cope with an unhappy marriage.

Young Woman Sitting Looking at Laptop ScreenSo how can you prevent Facebook from harming your marriage? Here are 10 common sense suggestions:
1. Don’t hide anything on Facebook from your partner and don’t have anything to hide.
2. Have a shared understanding about how you each will use SNS. Some couples have a shared Facebook site (BradndSusan), others share the password to each other’s account, while others frequently look at Facebook together. There’s no right solution here—I just recommend you reach an agreement about the use of these sites.
3. Do not friend, or promptly unfriend, any person that makes your partner uncomfortable.
4. Analyze how you spend your time—are you spending more time with your virtual friends or your real-life partner?
5. If you discover that you’d rather post another kitten meme or play Candy Crush Saga than be intimate with your partner, it’s time to seek help.
6. Be willing to ask yourself some hard questions if you find yourself tempted to spend time perusing the pages of your ex, old flames, or people you find attractive (either on or offline). What’s going on in your life or your marriage that makes such behaviors appealing?
7. If you are unhappy about some aspect of your marriage, address your concerns with your partner rather than seeking support online.
8. If you both enjoy SNS, use them to flirt and communicate with each other. Message each other and post on each other’s page regularly. Make sure your status updates and photo albums convey that you are happily married.
9. Do not engage in any activity on an SNS (posting pictures, sending messages, etc.) that you would not participate in if your partner were sitting next to you, viewing the same screen.
10. Remember Rule #1.

1 Valenzula, S., Halpern, D., & Katz, J. E. (2014). Social network sites, marriage well-being and divorce: Survey and state-level evidence from the United States. Computers in Human Behavior, 36, 94-101.

markAbout the Author: Dr. Mark B. White is the Marriage and Family Therapy Doctoral Program Director at Northcentral University. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist and AAMFT Approved Supervisor and provides therapy at the Vernal Center for Couples & Families

Couple Counseling…What to Expect? by Mahtab Moradi

??????Seeking couples counseling can be an emotionally draining process for both spouses. Initially couples may experience a sense of hope followed by acute episodes of anxiety and depression. It is normal to feel more distant after sessions. Each spouse may experience feelings of anger, guilt and shame. Depending on each person’s past experience with therapy, couples vary in their ability to communicate and problem solve. Many couples give up before seeing results. Typically this is the time that core issues come to the surface. This is also a time when couples feel most vulnerable. There is something comforting about what feels “normal” and for some this means tolerating the problems instead of taking risks.

 

1.  What are some common interventions in couples counseling?
Couples counseling involves emotion focused therapy, communication skills training, problem solving strategies, and exploring emotional patterns and values that impact the couple dynamics. The role of the therapist is to mediate and coach each spouse to express their thoughts and feelings in a safe and productive manner.
2.  What is the duration of counseling?
Couples should expect to meet 2-4 times per month for the initial 6 months. As each spouse becomes more equipped to problem solve, session can be reduced to 1-2 times per month. For real change, couples should expect to be in treatment between 6-18 months. Solution focused interventions are helpful for some couples with acute distress and do not yield the same results for couples with more chronic issues. There are individual differences in how we benefit from therapy. Some of us are more prone to resist change and may feel forced into the process.
business man with laptop over head - mad3.  What are some common issues that bring couples to seek counseling?
Communication problems, parenting conflict, in-law issues, blended family issues, lack of intimacy, infidelity, conflict in values, financial in-equality, alcoholism, substance abuse, and abuse are common reasons couples seek counseling.
4.  What couples do in between sessions?
It is recommended that each spouse does their best to maintain normalcy between sessions. Couples should avoid letting marital issues dictate their lives. This is especially important for couples with small children. The purpose of marital counseling is to allocate that time to those core issues. Discussing difficult topics outside of sessions is not recommended especially in the initial 2-4 months of therapy. This is because change takes time. Some therapists recommend no discussions while others give specific guidelines and homework assignments targeted at practicing communication skills. It’s important to communicate your needs to your therapist. Some of us do better with structure and having something to do in between sessions and for others this time can be utilized to exercise self-reflection.
5.  When are couples vulnerable for marital distress?
It is best to seek help before problems dominate our relationship. Couples are most vulnerable for marital distress during life transitions. Couples who have small children under the age of 5 are at highest risk due to the challenges of becoming new parents and role changes.
MP9003091396.  Who benefits from couples counseling?
Couples who have equal investment in staying married have the best chance of recovering. It’s important to communicate ground rules before beginning the process. This includes, both spouses making a commitment to invest their energy into making changes and refrain from making threats of divorce or separation while seeking help. Many therapists also implement a “no secrets” clause during this process to promote mutual trust. Couples who take the team approach are also more likely to take responsibility for their actions, offer support, and embrace the idea of change.
Couple holding hands.7.  What are some tips to surviving couples counseling?

  • Pick a therapist you trust and is competent in their work.
  • Be kind and forgiving to yourself during this process.Let a trusting friend and family member know you are seeking help without sharing details.
  • Be mindful of how the process may be impacting you (e.g. noted signs of depression, poor self- esteem, negative self-talk, symptoms of anxiety). Ask for help if you need support or referral for individual therapy.
  • Avoid isolating
  • Be present with your spouse. Acknowledge that both of you are going through this process together. Show support and respect your spouse’s need for personal space and emotional reflection.
  • Be aware of your language and avoid taking your frustrations out on family members
  • Make it a point to create a positive outlet to your emotions. Show gratitude for having the opportunity to get help and re-evaluate your relationship.
  • Plan a vacation. Give yourself permission to take a break.

 

Mahtab 2- webAbout the Author: Mahtab had earned her Masters in Psychology (Marriage and Family Therapy) at University of Houston – Clear Lake and an undergraduate degree in Psychology at the University of Texas in Austin. She completed a postgraduate fellowship at UTMB in Behavioral Medicine and Medical Family Therapy. Her work currently focuses on severe mental illness and helping young adults cope with schizophrenia, bipolar and recovery. She helps families embrace change, identify core issues and explore opportunities for growth.