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.

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.

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. 

 

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.

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.

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.